If you’ve read Birth of a Lactivisit, or even About, you know that I experienced mistreatment while breastfeeding my baby at a Pottery Barn store. I responded with a letter that led to a lot of good things. While this wasn’t originally an open letter to the Pottery Barn, I’ve decided it’s time to share it with the world. Emails from women in search of sample letters to use in their own campaigns to create a more breastfeeding-friendly world made it clear: we need to share resources with each other.
Letter to Pottery Barn (click here for a printer-friendly version)
March 15, 2007
4400 Sharon Rd.
Charlotte, NC 28211
Dear Ms. Simpson:
I wish to bring to your attention the shocking treatment I received while shopping at your Pottery Barn store at Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Virginia, on Friday evening, March 9, 2007. This incident was particularly upsetting because, as a long-time customer of the Williams-Sonoma, Inc. family of stores throughout the country, I have experienced only the highest level of customer service.
While discreetly breastfeeding my 7-week-old baby in the store, the store manager, ______, requested that I stop, and she offered that I may continue in the ladies’ room. I asked if a customer had complained. She said no. I asked her to clarify what the problem was.
______ answered that there were children at the front of the store. Not having noticed any children near me during my visit, I looked around and spotted some children about 15 yards away – who I noticed did not look my way again during the remainder of my visit. Baffled as to the connection between these children and me, I probed for more details. Ms. ______ explained that she felt they were “making eyes” at me and assumed it was because I was breastfeeding. This seemed strange to me. Based on my experience, children are thrilled to see newborn babies; perhaps from Ms. ______’s perspective, that kind of natural interest appeared somehow inappropriate.
Again, I asked Ms. ______ if any customers had said anything to her and she replied no, repeating that she felt the children were “making eyes.” She suggested that I might be more comfortable breastfeeding my baby in the restroom. I assured her that I would not. In my experience, unless a restroom has a lounge area, it is not the sort of place anyone would opt to eat – why feed a baby there? I knew from numerous shopping trips to that Pottery Barn location that their bathroom does not have a lounge area.
I expressed my severe disappointment and shock at her request. Until that moment, I had only ever received kind, courteous, and accommodating looks and words from others in public – both employees and customers at numerous establishments – over the course of a combined 35 months of breastfeeding my children. Not wishing to make a scene, I stopped breastfeeding my baby, who naturally went on to fuss while I waited for my husband and three-year-old son to return to me. I am certain that my hungry, crying baby was more distracting to other customers than my discreet, quiet nursing was. Needless to say, I did not resume shopping. I was too upset by Ms. ______’s intolerance.
I can assure you that I am among the most discreet breastfeeding women I know. I do not wish to attract the attention of strangers and am a keen observer of others’ comfort level when I am nursing. I breastfeed so discreetly that my colleagues and friends often do not notice when I do so, even though I do not cover my babies with a blanket when they nurse; when I have tried they inevitably remove it and cause a fuss, bringing attention to our nursing session.
Had Ms. ______ confronted a customer lacking in confidence about breastfeeding, she may have caused irreparable damage to that woman’s breastfeeding relationship with her baby. Research shows that women who feel a lack of support for breastfeeding in public are more likely to choose not to breastfeed or to wean their babies before the recommended minimum of one year, denying their children the numerous nutritional and developmental benefits exclusive to breastfeeding, as widely acknowledged and promoted by the World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics, and countless other groups. Luckily, my commitment to breastfeeding cannot be shaken by the ignorance or intolerance of others. This brings to mind the question: how many customers before me have been offended, and how many more customers does Pottery Barn want to lose?
You may be aware of similar highly-publicized incidents in the last five years which have prompted other corporations to change their policies and employee training programs to support their customers who choose to breastfeed in public. In particular, I applaud Starbucks and Delta and Freedom Airlines for their just decisions to apologize to the offended, change their policies as needed, educate their employees, and win back lost support from nursing mothers and families – key segments of their customer base.
By copy of this letter, I am alerting several Charlottesville, Richmond, and national women’s groups of this incident. Your timely, positive response may dissuade me from contacting the media or setting in motion protest movements similar to those that brought much attention to the aforementioned companies following embarrassing treatment of their breastfeeding customers. I will join legions of Virginia women who are currently writing to state legislators, citing examples of the need to expand Virginia law to expressly protect breastfeeding in places of private business, and will report on this incident and your response to it when I do so.
I hope Pottery Barn, indeed all the Williams-Sonoma brands, will seize this opportunity to take a progressive lead to champion breastfeeding – a practice that could reduce the death rate of U.S. children under the age of five by 19%, according to the 2005 Progress Report on Breastfeeding, issued at the United Nation’s 49th Session on the Commission on the Status of Women. Support for women who need to breastfeed their children in public is in line with Williams-Sonoma, Inc.’s forward-thinking core values and would avert any negative impact from Ms. ______’s treatment and any potential activist and media follow-up.
Given that your company has stores across the country, it is in your interest to reflect in your corporate policies and practices the growing number of state laws that protect a woman’s right to nurse in public. (See http://www.lalecheleague.org/Law/Bills14.html and http://www.lalecheleague.org/Law/Bills11.html for Florida and California law, for example.) You may even consider placing a pro-breastfeeding symbol in your store windows, such as the one found at: http://www.mothering.com/sections/action_alerts/iconcontest/icon-downloads.html. Such a decision would echo what the quiet majority support; according to Mothering Magazine, studies show that 93% of people in the United States are comfortable with women breastfeeding in public.
I would be sincerely pleased to provide ideas for policies and training your company can implement in support of breastfeeding. As a regular Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids, and Williams-Sonoma customer, I trust you will restore my confidence in your commitment to your customers and to making the world a more family- and child-centered place.
I look forward to your prompt reply.
Emily Mohajeri Norris