Judged And Humiliated: Woman Gets Questioned For Breastfeeding In A Courtroom


Judge Asks Woman If She Thinks It Is "Appropriate" To Breastfeed In A Courtroom

Recently, Natalie Hegedus of Paw Paw, Michigan was in court to make an appearance before Judge Robert T. Hentchel, a District Court judge for the 7th District Court in Michigan. Her 5 month old son had been fighting a fever for the previous three days and was diagnosed with an ear infection the night before her scheduled court appearance. She did what she felt she had to do and brought her little one with her. After waiting a considerable amount of time (over 2 hours) for her name to be called, her son got hungry. She did what any mother would do - she fed him.

As she did this, the bailiff wrote down on a piece of paper that "a woman was breastfeeding in the courtroom". When her name was called, Judge Robert T. Hentchel asked her if she thought that a courtroom was an appropriate place to breastfeed her baby. She claimed that breastfeeding was not illegal and that she did  not feel that it was not appropriate. The judge then told her that it was his courtroom and he DID feel that it was an inappropriate place for her to feed her hungry baby.

Now, there has been a lot of debate over "how big of a deal" this really is. The judge states that it was no big deal. To him it was an exchange of only a few sentences about it and that there really weren't very many people in the courtroom, so why should she feel embarrassed? Other people have commented on how "she shouldn't have had her child there anyways", or "it's his courtroom and he has a legal right to make the rules".  But, these are all distractions from the bigger picture.

To us at Free 2 Feed, we are passionate about mothers rights to feed her child anywhere she is otherwise allowed to be - without expressed judgement. Breastfeeding discrimination and prejudice is real and it strongly discourages women from doing it. Even one passing comment from a complete stranger about her nursing in public can have an immense emotional and psychological impact on a breastfeeding mother and could potentially discourage her from breastfeeding all together.

Breastfeeding isn't always easy - and if you know ANYTHING about it, you know there there are certain circumstances where you do not have a choice on whether or not to breastfeed in public (bottles sometimes interrupt the process of getting a baby to successfully latch and could set the mother & baby WAY back). Mothers are not only expected to balance bringing a baby somewhere with them, remembering enough diapers, wipes, favorite toys, etc. - she has to try and keep this little person happy (and, let's admit it - we do that for the comfort of others as much as ourselves) all while trying to get whatever it is she needs to do  done. How dare anyone worry more about their own discomfort than hers. How dare anyone make her feel guilty, dirty or ashamed for simply feeding her baby.

We certainly can't legislate opinions or what people are allowed to say - but - telling a woman in any format that it is inappropriate to breastfeed in public should be as unacceptable as it is to call someone a "fag" or "nigger". This incidence is only one of the many that are compiling together that display an unacceptable public opinion about breastfeeding that we believe strongly correlates with this country's poor breastfeeding rates. For a public official - a judge - to question the appropriateness of her breastfeeding this child is not something that should be glossed over.  Let's remember, he did not question whether it was appropriate to have the baby there in the first place - the baby had been there for hours....he only questioned the fact that she was breastfeeding the baby. If she had given the baby a bottle, do you think they would have questioned her? No one has the right to say how she should have "felt" after that. I don't care if it was only her and the judge in the room - what he said hurt her - and that's what counts.

The whole motivation behind Free 2 Feed is to help stop these things from happening. To make it known that breastfeeding is normal and that we will no longer stand for being treated as though we are doing something shameful when in reality the people who are offended by breastfeeding should be the ones ashamed of themselves for sexualizing breasts to the point that they have forgotten their original origin of use.

We are planning to take action. One idea is to establish a "Nurse In Public Day" where we will encourage women all over the world to nurse somewhere in public - by themselves or in independently organized nurse-ins. They would be able to log their location into an interactive map to show that they "Nursed In" and also be able to share their stories. We are also encouraging EVERYONE to write a letter to Judge Robert T. Hentchel and let him know how you feel about the situation, and why he might like to consider apologizing for his behavior.

UPDATE: Apparently, this judge has contacted some of the people who have wrote him and have said that it is NOT approriate to write him unless you have a question....so, here are a couple of suggestions: "Do you think it is appropriate to discourage a woman from feeding her baby?" - or - "When do you plan to apologize to this woman for breastfeeding in your courtroom?" - or, how about - "Why was this woman singled out over the act of breastfeeding? Was it the child who was distracting or the breastfeeding?"

Share the questions you would like to ask this judge in the comments below!

Here is the contact information: http://www.vbco.org/government0344.asp

212 Paw Paw St., Suite 130; Paw Paw, MI 49079
Contact Information:
Main Phone: 269 657-8222
Main Fax: 269 657-0719


1 comment:

  1. I think that we should organize a nurse in at the courthouse until this judge apologizes. Breast-feeding is not only a woman's right, but it is also a public health issue. This judge needs to understand the consequences of a person in power making comments like this, and a message needs to be sent that this is not okay.