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?