Melee in the Mother’s Lounge

My ward contains a “Mother’s Lounge,” and it is plainly labeled as such. You can find it on the other side of the foyer from the chapel doors, right next to the Bishop’s office. Young mothers with newborn children (and there are many of them in my ward) often use the room as a respite from the noisy commotion out in the hall, or as a place to change their baby’s diaper, or as a refuge where they can move their screaming babies out of earshot from other ward members, or what have you. The lounge consists of a sofa and some chairs hidden behind a shear curtain that partially provides another layer of privacy in the event the outer door is left open. There is also a changing table just inside the door, and various other items in the room. For all I know, many wards have just such a lounge (I’ve never had my own baby before, so I’ve never bothered to notice), so you can probably picture what I’m talking about.

A couple of weeks ago, the wife left me out in the foyer with our baby daughter, Annika, during Sacrament meeting. Alas, Annika really needed to have her diaper changed. I didn’t think that changing her in the foyer was a good idea, so I decided we needed to relocate elsewhere. As I stood up to find a more private spot, I noticed my wife’s visiting-teacher walking into the “Mother’s Lounge” with her own newborn. Interpreting “Mothers Lounge” to mean “Parent-with-Child Lounge,” I promptly followed her inside.

Immediately to my left was the changing table. I would have plopped my daughter down on it, but for some reason, I didn’t recognize it for what it was. Thus, I figured it made sense to just change my daughter’s diaper on the couch. I walked around to the other side of the curtain and prepared to sit down on the sofa. Meanwhile, the sister I had followed into the room was sitting on one of the chairs, holding her baby with one hand, and fidgeting with her blouse with the other.

“Hello,” I said, non-chalantly. “I think we’ll be joining you.”

There was a long, awkward pause.

“Umm …” replied the sister. “Actually, I’m about to breastfeed my child.”

Another not-so-long, but definitely awkward pause.

“Oh! Right…” I said. “Sorry.”

I picked up Annika, and quickly exited the lounge, rather embarrassed. I don’t remember where I changed Annika, but somehow I found another spot. A short while later, I told my wife what had happened. (Apparently, so did her visiting teacher). She was aghast.

“How in the world could you have thought it was a good idea to barge into the Mother’s Lounge?!” she exclaimed.

“What’s the big deal?” I responded. “Plenty of men in the ward take care of their babies during Church meetings all the time. I just figured this is where “parents” with babies are supposed to hang out.”

“Don’t you know how to read?” the wife retorted. “Mother” means “mother.” Plenty of women don’t want to breastfeed with you sitting next to them.”

“But dear,” I responded sarcastically. “You know how I’m in the business of raising everyone’s consciousness. I just don’t believe in acknowledging invidious gender discrimination in the Church. It empowers sexism and unnecessarily demeans my sisters in the Gospel. To my mind, men and women should have full and equal access to all the blessings, powers and perks of the Kingdom.”

I thought it was a clever riposte, but she disagreed.

Anyway, what is the moral of this story?

1. I have exquisitely fine-tuned feminist sensibilities, which instinctively prevent me from interpreting signals or messages (or prominently placed placards) that rely on or support traditional gender roles in the Church. I am truly ahead of my time. I deserve a medal.

2. I am a hopelessly awkward buffoon, too clueless to realize that some breastfeeding mothers actually don’t like being gawked at by the Priesthood, and I should consider myself lucky I haven’t solidified my reputation as the “ward perve.”

3. We should all strive to create a world in which women feel free to breastfeed wherever and whenever they want, and I was admirably doing my part to foster just such a liberated environment. Another medal is in order.

4. Maybe all LDS wards should have mandatory “Father’s Lounges” (or at least changing tables in the Men’s restrooms) so that incidents like these don’t repeat themselves.

My wife concurs with #2 and #4. What do you think?

Aaron B

Comments

  1. #2 and #4

    All the newer buildings seem to have changing stations in the mens room these days. At least around here they do.

  2. Yeah, you’ve got to lobby for changing tables in the men’s loo. Every ward I’ve been in in the last 10 years has them.

  3. George Holmes says:

    Most of the newer buildings have a diaper changing station in both the womens and mens restrooms as well as the mothers lounge. Usually it is fold down changing station. All the buildings I have been in for years have had a changing station in the mens room.

  4. #2, and get over yourself.

  5. Steve, you’re just jealous that your feminist street cred pales in comparison with my own. :)

    Aaron B

  6. My advice: get out of the “having children” business and start having grandchildren. Then you can leave the diaper changing to another generation.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    The only “mother’s lounge” in our building is an annex to the women’s room, so there could not possibly be any confusion in our case They have a nice lounger and a baby changing station in there.

    There is a smallish table attached to and jutting from the wall in the men’s room that men use for changing diapers. It is not actually a diaper changing table (I think its original purpose was to place books and such while doing one’s business) and you’ve got to hang on to the squirming kid for dear life to avoid dropping it. But I’ve never seen any men complain, they just do what they have to do in there.

  8. Our old member-built building has been retrofited with a changing station in the men’s room. I’m lobbying to have it removed for the next 6 – 12 months.

  9. The only “mother’s lounge” in our building is an annex to the women’s room, so there could not possibly be any confusion in our case They have a nice lounger and a baby changing station in there.

    As a mother, I HATE it when the lounge is ajacent to the bathroom. It smells, it’s noisy–you might as well be feeding your child in the bathroom! I really wish there was a standard in all the buildings for mother’s lounges. I also do not think the changing station, or at least not the trash/diaper pail should be in the lounge–no one want to sit in a poorly ventilated room full of diapers.

    A lot of us wish we could breastfeed anywhere–aeven modestly, but that clearly makes too many people uncomfortable.

  10. Really, the problem, IMHO, is that I can’t feed my babies in my meetings. “Mother’s Room” is LDS code for “Breastfeeding closet”- often adjacent to a bathroom, often containing a changing table, and often not ventilated or having a window, where I am expected to go to feed my child. Grrrr.

    And yes, the men’s areas need a changing area too- probably in the bathrooms, where the women’s ought to be as well. Who want’s to eat where they… well, you know.

  11. hilarious! i’ve only ever seen them attached to a restroom, so i’m REALLY giggling here! in our old ward, there was a sign posted beneath the “mother’s lounge” sign that read, “NO MEN ALLOWED EVER!!!!!!!!” yes, eight exclamation points. in that same ward, the lounge happened to be used primarily as a nest for the hens to cluck instead of attending sacrament meeting and classes.

    i’ve never left the chapel for the sake of nursing. it never bothered me and i always figured there was never a more appropriate place for it… i mean we’re almost all there because we believe the same core beliefs, right? it’s not just pure coincidence that i lactate when i have a baby, right?

    anyway, i have noticed that our current ward almost exclusively bottle-feeds and i commented to my husband that i wondered if it would be weird for me to nurse there when our impending arrival, uh, arrives. he told me i was crazy. two weeks later, a conversation arose where a group of a half dozen moms (all who breastfed, mind you) discussed in front of me how “ridiculous” and “inappropriate” it was to nurse a baby in sacrament meeting/the chapel. my mind was boggled. it has never been an issue elsewhere.

  12. “Mother’s Room” is LDS code for “Breastfeeding closet”

    Exactly. The part about this post that baffled me the most was Aaron’s description of what happens in a mother’s lounge. All I’ve ever known to happen was nursing, and diaper changing. Sometimes desperate attempts to get a baby to sleep, but that’s pretty rare. In the buildings I’ve attended the mother’s lounge is not a pleasant place to be, and most mothers only went in out of pressure to not nurse in more public areas. The worst was a tiny room with two nice chairs, three stackable ones and 8 or 9 mothers crammed in there all at the same time.

  13. Our’s is a closet, literally. It is the changing room for baptisms with the shower and it’s by the bathroom. We have 13 expectant mothers before fall–many will breastfeed. Where are they supposed to go?

  14. Don’t worry, you’re not the first. There was this weirdo in my sister’s ward that insisted on rocking his baby in the mother’s lounge. I think he stopped when he was threatened with a bishop’s court or something.

    Anyway, my experience is much like Starfoxy’s. 9 nursing mothers crowded in an 8’x8′ room. Usually I was the one crouching in the only tiny space left in the corner, very comfortable.

    It’s funny though, once one of the two rocker recliners became available all of the crouching mothers got a hostile look in their eye as they hurled themselves at the vacant chair.

    It’s alright. I’ll crouch in the corner of a closet so I won’t offend the busybodies of the ward or inadvertently turn the deacons on by breastfeeding in the chapel.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    I’ve seen women breast feeding in the chapel before and didn’t realize there was much of an issue about it. They always cover themselves modestly with a baby blanket and it seems like no big deal. If this church (with its emphasis on big families) can’t tolerate breastfeeding, we’ve got a problem.

  16. Kevin- then we’ve got a problem. Because by and large, most people at church still don’t want to see a mother nursing, and heaven forbid a small wayward glimpse of a breast be seen. Egad!!

    The problem is manifest, as so many here have commented, in the stinky, small, literal closets most of us have to endure to feed our babies.

  17. Once in sacrament meeting, I was breastfeeding, the woman in front of me was breastfeeding, and the woman next to me was breastfeeding. We called it ‘Lactation Row’.
    Luckily, DS is good at nursing under a blanket, so I pretty much will feed him anywhere, including whatever church meeting I happen to attend. There are also a lot of nursing mothers in our ward, along with a LLL group leader, so it’s very nursing-friendly. My experience is that if more than one woman is willing to do it, other women will feel license to do the same. If you want to breastfeed in sacrament meeting and know other women who breastfeed, enlist them to do likewise.
    Ask for a changing table in the men’s bathroom; you might just be lucky enough to get one!

  18. I always breastfed my babies in sacrament meeting. No one noticed (uh… at least no one said anything), and I guess I was too oblivious to think otherwise. I think I may have been too discreet. On more than one occasion I had people come up to me and peer down to get a better look at the “sleeping baby.” (uh… at least that’s what they said they were doing).

  19. So do I live in a weird ward, then? Because we had ladies up in arms when a non-member friend of mine nursed in RS- wacky.

  20. I’ve seen women who even appear to be bothered by nursing in the Mother’s Lounge.They’ll pull a chair over so their back is to everyone else, and cover up with a blanket too. You’d have caused heart failure in this demographic if you’d walked in on them.

    And I agree– mother’s lounges that are part of a bathroom are just icky.

    I think that we can thank Exponent II for the changing tables in the men’s rooms. The need for those was a frequent topic of discussion in Ex. II 20 years ago.

  21. Melissa De Leon Mason says:

    Though I’ve never been in there, I hear friends complain constantly about how small the Mother’s Room is. The story is that in putting in preferences for the building, whoever was in charge locally wanted extra wide hallways (not quite large enough to turn a carriage completely around in, but almost). As a result, the Mother’s Room is indeed a closet… and so are most of the primary rooms. You can fit about 4 chairs in there before you run out of room.

  22. i’ve never used a blanket while nursing, but have also never flashed anyone. my babies would have thrown fits to be covered! we’ve also had some of those awkward “oh, what a cute sleeping baby, oh, um, er, i’m, uh, sorry, i didn’t, uh…” no mind! we did have one mom who was a little more “show-y” than most. someone made the mistake of speaking to her about it and whoa! she lit into them!

    my husbands family has babies in cycles and they call us the milkmaids because there’s always a group of us gals nursing at the same time at family functions. (i think i hold the current record for our generation, going on five years of consecutive nursing and/or pregnancy. my poor husband!)

    since melissa mentioned carriages… what’s with people bringing the cadillac strollers to church? in one ward, you’d have to work hard to weave your way up the aisles because there were so many strollers. i think a few people did it and it became contagious. if you didn’t hurry into gd, you were shut out by the gridlock of strollers in the rear walkway. i’ve never needed to bring a stroller or carseat into church, let alone the chapel, so maybe it’s just me?

  23. Our ward has a mouther’s lounge that is not attached or near a bathroom and is also not often used, though there are infants in the ward. I have four children. I recognized the room as the “mother’s” lounge, but if no one was in there I would go in, change my daughter, sing to her and rock her in the rocking chair. I don’t know if anyone was ever offended by that.

  24. Wes,
    I don’t think that is offensive, as long as you don’t leave the diaper in there!

  25. In our building, the mother’s lounge is accessible only through the females’ washroom. There is also a change table in the males’ washroom.

  26. Melissa, I doubt that anyone local could control the width of the halls, unless your building is very old. I’ve lived through the building process in my own ward twice in the last ten years, and locals are given very little choice. I think maybe they can choose the basic plan within the plans approved for that size of ward, and maybe the colors inside, but that was about it. Those teeny primary rooms are everywhere.

  27. I’ve changed all three of my kids on rickety tables in the corner of the mens’ room. I’ve also changed my oldest son on the floor of the mens’ room in an older chapel. That wasn’t pleasant for either of us. I’m glad the church is getting with the times. My current chapel has a nice baby changing station in the mens’ room.

  28. I go with 1 and 3.

  29. (pins medals on)

  30. Yep I agreee. #1 and #3… you get the medals from me…
    I also agree with #4 too…
    Having nursed 5 babies, I HATE the mother’s lounge.
    I have always seen it as a silent admonition to nurse your baby elsewhere… funny how you never see bottle feeding mothers in there! :]
    As for nursing in church, I nurse everywhere. I was really self conscious about it with my first baby because I have large breasts and its more difficult to be discreet unless you are smaller but I actually practiced nursing in front of a mirror at home until i got confident enough to do it discreetly anywhere… and now I no longer use the Mother’s Lounge…it’s usually crowded with no sitting room, smelly, and either too hot or too cold.
    My opinion is God created my body to nurse my babies and if anyone else has a problem with that, they should take it up with Him!

  31. Older chapels sure suck in this regard. Our chapel doesn’t have a changing table for men although one of the bathrooms has a table (you know the linoleum like in your kitchen with the sinks in that). I really isn’t ideal for baby changing since the garbage isn’t anywhere near it. So I have ended up with dirty diapers falling poo side down on the floor.

  32. #1 & #3! (and probably #4).

    I have been there. When our twins were infants, we had to do the breatfeeding switch, and it meant me running in and out of the changing room, and changing them as well. Nobody really challenged me (I’m a big, ugly bloke), but I know we got some funny looks. But that was London, and our ward was international enough that there was no consensus on these matters. In Helsinki, there are mothers who breastfeed in sacrament meeting, but it is quite discrete.

  33. jothegrill says:

    With my first child I was extremely grateful for the mother’s lounge because I was really bad at breastfeeding. I actually considered bringing a huge blanket with me everywhere and using it as a tent for feeding my baby, with my second however, I wished that I felt comfortable just feeding where I was. We had a new sister move into our ward a month ago, and she breastfeeds wherever,and I wanted to tell her, “You go girl!” but I don’t want to make her self-concious about it. So I’ll just think it. Our mother’s lounge is a converted closet. They sealed it off from the foyer and there is no heat, and no ventilation. But, at least it’s bigger, and not part of the bathroom.
    My little brother asked me when he started passing the sacrament what he was supposed to do about the women in the mother’s lounge. He had some suggestions:
    1. send a girl in first to make sure everyone was covered.
    2. go in backwards so as to give them some warning.
    3. just stick the tray through the door and if someone wanted to take the sacrament they could come and take it.
    I told him not to worry about it. They could come out if needed. It was pretty funny.

  34. a random John says:

    My guess is that they wanted you out of there ASAP in order to minimize the chances of you seeing the mortar and pestle in which they grind up Prozac prior to snorting it.

    Personally I can’t stand the mothers lounge as it always smells terribly of dirty diapers. I try to spend as little time as possible there.

  35. There will never be a Father’s Lounge, just like there are no “Fathers and Daughters Campouts” anymore. Anyway, if there were, women would certainly use it also and then really all it would be is a “No Breastfeeding Lounge” which would be obviously inappropriate and redundant, too, since most of the building is an unofficial “No breastfeeding lounge”.

    The only way the Mother’s Lounge works at all as a quiet place is because over half the population feels uninvited in the first place. If men were welcome, then so would the little sons of the mothers. I am not saying that boys are louder than girls, but the little girls I have seen in the Mother’s Lounges seem sort of hushed while watching the secret order of the Lounge.

  36. I would love to read a post about the cleanliness (or lack thereof) of our buildings, especially the bathrooms and Mother’s Lounges. After visiting my friend’s sparkling clean Lutheran church in Minnesota, I seriously question what impression we give to investigators with our nasty bathrooms. I will be cleaning the building next week and I will see if any of that smell even comes out.

  37. Diapers, except for those of very small, non-stinky, newborns, should be changed in the (well-ventilated) bathrooms. No one wants to nurse a baby in a haze of stink. I’m all for nursing wherever you need to, but it is nice to have a quiet, clean place sometimes with a newborn, or distractable, tired older baby.

    All I had to do to get a changing table installed in the men’s room of our (circa 1996) building was suggest it to the Bishop. Granted, he was a very young expectant father, but it got done pretty quickly.

  38. Diapers can end up being changed just about anywhere.

    Just before a baptismal service we had placed refreshments (that would be served after the baptismal service) on two tables in the back of the room. I watched a little uneasily as a mother in the ward put her baby on one of the tables (that still had some food on it) and changed its diaper. It was obvious to me she didn’t think a thing of it. Mothers obviously have proprietary rights to any space – food and hygiene be damned.

    I kept imagining alarms clanging or representatives of the Health Department showing up and shutting us all down.

    Then again, no one died. Why should I care.

  39. I agree with all four, but I exuberantly agree with number three. Our society has got to ease up on the breastfeeding in public issue. I have nursed my babies in the chapel during sacrament meeting, in relief society and out in the foyer for all to see. Of course I always cover up with a blanket. Continue on your noble quest and maybe someday you will receive that medal.

  40. Oh, I want to chime in on the blanket thing. It should not be assumed that a blanket is the most discreet thing to do; to me, it is like a big neon sign with an arrow: “Breasts being used under here!” AND, most babies past a few months will not tolerate a blanket. And, some of us live in tropical climates where the idea is ridiculous at best.

  41. I’ll put my vote in for breast feeding anywhere – even if 12 year old boys are around. It is the purpose of their creation and the healthiest form of nourishment. People need to understand and rejoice in their purpose. Breasts shouldn’t be treated as a dirty little secret.

  42. When I was a teenager, the mother’s lounge was mainly for the youth to skip class, make out, and/or eat the donuts purchased during Sunday School.

    I thought having a baby of breastfeeding age meant that you could skip church. Is that not true? Sheesh. What do we have kids for but to skip church?!

  43. danithew, I think your story makes the same point we’re all making–poop belongs in the bathroom, food and eating should be done somewhere else! Babies shouldn’t have to eat in a room that smells like poop any more than you should.

  44. Amri, what exactly is ‘breastfeeding age?’ I think I would have missed the majority of the last decade of church if I never went when I had a breastfeeding ‘baby.’ :-)

  45. I attended church for the first time last Sunday in our brand-spankin’ new building. And the Mothers’ Lounges in the new buildings *rock*. They’re beautiful. There’s a full-length mirror so you can check that your clothing is properly adjusted. Brand-new rockers. Sink and changing table (I change the diaper there and carry it to the bathroom – I didn’t notice if there’s a changing table in the bathroom or just a counter). Wonderfully clear sound piped in from the chapel.

    Of course, there are only two rockers, and lots of moms. But most of us only take 20-30 minutes, so we rotate through pretty quickly.

    It’s next door to the RS room, on the other side of the church from the bathrooms.

    Ahhh, progress!

  46. I can only speak for myself.

    When I am on diaper duty. I have the excuse to go outside and change them in the car trunk or back of the Jeep etc. It’s a nice flat surface and makes for a good break. Sometimes I close the back of the Jeep and play peekaboo. I live in Arizona so this doesn’t work as a summertime game.

    Don’t want to cook the little bugger!

  47. melinda,
    It is my undrstanding that Mother’s lounges are unfortunately not standard fare, and that it is entirely up to local officials how and where they put the rooms. Be grateful your local leaders took the initiative.
    (But all the rockers, etc, are available in the catalog for buliding furnishings–again the initiative is left to local authorities to simply buy them)

  48. Our new chapel (opening in May) has a mothers lounge hidden behind as part of women’s washroom .

  49. Re 30. I kinda see your point, but please understand that you were fortunate in your babies if you could “nurse anywhere.”

    Several of mine were fine nursing in meetings during the early months, but when they got older (about 9-10 months), they were easily distracted and would constantly pull off the breast and look around, which was painful after a bit, as well as taking up time, and perhaps causing a disturbance to those around us. But if I took them in the mother’s lounge, with less stimuli, they could be fed much more quickly and easily.

    Also, one of mine had a poor suck reflex and it took a lot of concentration to get her to nurse. I could never read while nursing her, the entire year. The mother’s lounge was also a good venue for her, because the chairs were more comfortable than the chapel (the armrest was very helpful).

    I don’t see the mother’s lounge so much as a place to which moms are relegated, but rather as a resource that is there if needed. I needed it. It’s wonderful you didn’t, but please understand that all babies are different.

  50. jothegrill (#33): PLEASE tell the new sister what you think! it’ll make her feel good and give her reassurance, should she need any!

    danithew (#38): in high school, i watched in horror as my future in-laws changed a baby’s diaper on the kitchen counter while preparing thanksgiving dinner. we all survived, but it STILL gives me the willies. ick!

    amri (#42): if i stayed home due to a breastfeeding baby, i’d have missed over three of the last 4.5 years. and i’d be missing the next two years, too. especially when they’re brand new, babies are extremely portable and packable and easy to lug around. it’s when they get older that they’re pains. and by that time, motherly guilt has kicked in enough that even when you’re in labor, you grin and bear gd and rs because it’s your daughter’s first sunday in primary “with the big kids” and she’d be crushed if she had to miss class.

  51. There will never be a Father’s Lounge, just like there are no “Fathers and Daughters Campouts” anymore.

    Yes they do, the Stake Daddies and Daughter’s campout is one of the highlights of my daughter’s year. Have they been discontinued in some places?

  52. Fun post Aaron B. I got a kick out of it.
    I vote for #2 and #4.:)
    Kinda reminded me of when we moved to our current ward 15 years ago. I was then nursing #2 son. Every time I went to nurse him in the mother’s lounge (it had a sign on the door) another ward’s Elder’s Quorum presidency was holding their weekly meeting in the mother’s nursing lounge. So it became a competition for me to get that room before they did. It took a month or so before they got the hint.

  53. I am usually outspoken and blunt and open about most things, but I personally have not felt comfortable nursing in public. I am surprised by myself. I thought I would be fine, but I prefer it to be private. I have no problems when other women nurse in public.
    having said that, I hate the mothers lounge. I live in a ward with lots of little babies, and the chapel is brand new. The Mothers lounge is off the bathroom, and is way too small. Usually several mothers in there at the same time. They all sit and gossip. It feels so strange to me. I used it for a couple of weeks, and couldn’t do it anymore. I have taken to bringing a bottle to church. Sometimes, if I feed right before and after, I do not even need the bottle. I see nothing wrong with breastfeeding in Relief Society, Sunday School, and Sacrament, but do not think I would feel comfortable. I feel that everyone is looking at me, wondering why I don’t just go into the mothers lounge.
    I did not notice this problem in New York. The few young children their were nursed where ever, and no one complained.

  54. One Sunday I walked past the primary room and saw my wife (primary chorister)breastfeeding while holding my daughter in her left arm and standing in front of the whole primary directing a song with her left arm.

    I sat down and watched the eyes of one sister bug out of her sockets as she walked by the open door. I am no prude but I told my wife afterwards that I thought that her breastfeeding was a bit much. And she didn’t care.

    I kid you not!

  55. I mean, directing music with her right arm.

  56. eh, i’m with your wife, todd.

  57. I saw an amazing woman breastfeeding while playing the organ in sacrament meeting. The baby was in a sling–and you couldn’t see a thing, very modest–very amaxing.

  58. I can’t get that image out of my mind of the Sister all bug-eyed when seeing the Primary Choirister breastfeeding. I am laughing like crazy. I think it’s fine for women to breastfeed wherever if they can be discreet.

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