Today I boarded a flight with my ten month old son, a cooler packed
with donated breast milk, a ton of fascinating finger foods and a few
favourite toys. After that all I could do was hope. Flying with a baby
is rarely easy, but being the only adult responsible for that baby is a
genuine challenge. Ahead of time I started to wonder about things like
how I would answer a call of nature holding a wriggling almost-toddler
in one of those tiny airplane bathrooms. And how on earth would I
entertain someone, solely in my lap, whose only mission these days is
to conquer the universe on his hands and knees?
Mostly we managed ok. Jacob fought sleep like his life depended on it,
but we found a nice woman to talk to for a while. She asked if I had
bottles or a soother with me. "Well, no, that's a bit complicated..." I
"Everybody's complicated. We're complicated too!"
Well, ok. She seemed decent enough. I explained all about being
transgender and breastfeeding Jacob donated milk, etc. etc. She thought
everything was fantastic. Jacob got a little calmer. "Maybe Daddy has a
nice cookie or something for you," she said.
Cookie? Sugar for my ten month old? Not a chance. But I did have some
cut-up grapes. I got them out and Jacob enjoyed picking them up himself
and chowing down on them. Then he gagged a little. He started to spit
up the half-grape when the lady vigorously wacked him on the back and
simultaneously jammed her finger down his throat, shouting, "he's
"Stop that! No, he's not! He's crying - that means his airway is not blocked."
Jacob screamed, and screamed some more, I believe at this insult of
having a strange lady's finger shoved into his mouth. I took him to the
back of the plane and held him until he cooled down a bit. Then I
nursed him to sleep, finally, and enjoyed a few pages of a book and a
sandwich for myself.
I felt the plane starting to descend so I immediately got out the
supplementary nursing system. If I had only one goal on this flight, it
was to nurse during take-off and landing to help Jacob relieve the
pressure in his ears. He nursed in his sleep for about half of the
descent. I watched the mountains become clearer through my window. It
was good to be going back to Vancouver, where I was born.
Suddenly Jacob came off and started to cry, and I could not convince
him to latch back on. The pilot turned on the seatbelt sign, so we were
stuck. I offered him a drink of water from a cup but he only turned his
head away and screamed louder. Desperate to get him to swallow, I took
the tube out of the bottle of milk and tried to get him to suck on the
plastic nipple to no avail. He started to do that horrible sobbing,
gasping cry that twists my own insides in knots.
"Don't you have a bottle or a soother or something for that baby?"
Genius. Wow! Why hadn't I thought of those things? I explained to this
thoughtful woman a few rows up that I had tried but he wasn't willing
to take anything in his mouth. She frowned and informed me that his
ears were probably hurting.
We landed, and then Jacob latched on. Suck, swallow, suck, suck, swallow, hiccup, suck, suck, swallow. He calmed down.
The woman from a few rows forward pushed her way past a few people to
stand right in front of me. "Why are you breastfeeding this baby?"
I couldn't tell if she was accusatory or just curious. I glanced around
and reminded myself that I was on a crowded airplane. She couldn't do
anything physically dangerous to us here. I decided to be frank with
her. "I'm transgendered, I birthed my baby myself, and I breastfeed
"Well, he needs a real boob, MAN. Come on!"
"No, I actually do make a little bit of milk for him, and the rest he gets through this." I held up the SNS.
"You're going to wreck his ears doing this, flying with him like this.
He needs an actual boob. It's about time someone told you this."
I made what I thought was a rather generous offer to squirt some milk
in her face, but she declined. I actually could have done it; I'd only
managed to latch Jacob onto one side, so my other side was relatively
I could see her revving up, so I said, "I hope you have a good vacation. Take care."
"You too. You know, Jesus loves you. I hope you know that."
Ugh. I couldn't go anywhere since the door to the plane wasn't open yet
and nobody was moving. I ignored her as best I could and tried to chat
with the guy in front of me, who rolled his eyes at my adversary.
After she left, I packed up my things and cried along with Jacob whose
ears were probably still sore. I wish someone could teach me how to
grow a thicker skin. I'll need it to keep on being this parent raising
this child. I'm astonished that this was the first time I've been
directly confronted by a stranger for breastfeeding my baby. I've been
incredibly lucky so far, but still, it hurt me to hear this woman
telling me that I'm failing as a parent and damaging my baby.
At the luggage belt, the man who'd sat in front of me came up to me,
looking serious. "Don't you let anyone keep the joy of this baby from
you," he said. And then he repeated it. "Don't let anyone keep the joy
of this baby from you."
Another passenger approached me to say that I have a beautiful child. I
will try to keep these well-wishers in mind while I do my best to
develop the protective hide of an elephant.