For Andrea Scannell, her local middle school's free lunch program can be a welcome help every week. Scannell often stops by when she can with her 3-year-old and 6-month-old, so her toddler can get a free meal alongside other kids from town.
But last week was different. As the mom of two sat by her 3-year-old, the baby got a bit fussy; it was time for her to eat, too. So Scannell began nursing in what she thought was a discreet enough way. Only problem? Not everyone around her agreed.
Minutes later, a worker at the school swung by and handed Scannell a letter that had apparently been typed up in advance and sealed in an envelope. "I highly encourage you to read this," she was told. Scannell immediately asked if it had something to do with the fact that she'd just been breast-feeding. The worker's response? "Just read it, it’s very tasteful."
Opening the envelope — which had been printed on the school's letterhead and signed by its principal — began to strongly suggest, in several paragraphs, that Scannell either find another place to breast-feed her baby, or cover herself with a blanket. Either way, the letter states that she should not breast-feed her baby while so "exposed." While the principal noted that he himself supports breast-feeding, public breast-feeding seems to be a different story. After all, he wouldn't even want his own child "exposed to public exposure without the opportunity to discuss it with them."
But Scannell, who later shared her story on BabyCenter's community boards, naturally found this all pretty upsetting — especially since she says she never actually exposed herself in the first place. "I'm not exposing anything," she wrote in her post. "Even if I was, under the law, no one can ask me to cover up or move."
Plus, she'd like to add that the whole scene went down at a lunch program where people specifically go to feed their kids. Was what she did really all that scandalous? "I never expected anyone to have an issue with me feeding my baby while everyone is there to feed their children," she said.
The story quickly went viral in her town after Scannell's husband shared it on Facebook. The next thing she knew, local breast-feeding groups were sharing the story and a nurse-in was staged at the school, where local news reporters started asking for interviews. Meanwhile, Scannell also shared the letter on BabyCenter, and was shocked by the response she received from strangers all over the country. "We're in solidarity with you, mama!!!!!" one user wrote.
"I was looking for support and wanted to see what they would have to say," Scannell said. "I'm overwhelmed by how much support I’ve received!"
Still, Scannell would like to stress that her goal here isn't to get back at the school or the principal in any way; she just wants her voice heard. "I simply want awareness, and for shaming and bullying of breast-feeding women to stop," she said. "I'm standing up for every breast-feeding mother out there who can’t stand up for herself for whatever reason. There are so many reasons women choose not to breast-feed, but cultural and social implications should not be a factor. There are far too many women who choose not to breast-feed at all out of fear of this kind of treatment."