Moms and babies shouldn’t need heroes to defend their right to breastfeed, but in a world where nursing is still looked upon as disgusting and something to be closeted, they surely do. John Kinker is a military dad who has had to stick up for his wife’s right to breastfeed more than once. He is not just a soldier, he’s a breastfeeding defender.
My name is John Kinker, and I’ve been married to Tess for eleven years. We are blessed to have 5 amazing kids, all of whom were breastfed. After nine years of active duty service, I decided to move our family back to our small hometown of Alliance, Ohio where we currently reside.
I was never raised around breastfeeding. As we began to have children, my wife insisted on breastfeeding being the best option for adequate nutrition. Based upon all the research about breastfeeding being such a benefit to mom and baby, it was a no-brainer that our choice would be to breastfeed our children. When our first child, a son, was born that was the first time I was introduced to breastfeeding. At first I felt a little uncomfortable with it, but I wanted to support my bride. I watched her nurse, and thought to myself “how loving, how beautiful.” I was in awe of the natural bond breastfeeding formed between all of us. I never felt left out, as I snuggled with my wife and nursing son.
Our second, a girl, was born fourteen months later. Even though I wasn’t there for the first five months of her life, I encouraged my wife to nurse. I recall many emails and many letters filled with pictures, discussing how healthy and chunky our little girl was getting from mommy’s milk. I remember walking around the ship those five months showing off the beautiful pictures of my family. In a letter to my wife, I wrote: “I was showing off the picture of you and Ev and one of my newly wed shipmates, who’s wife will be giving birth shortly after we return, asked me why you had the blanket covering your shoulder. I proudly told him you were feeding Katie.”
It was four years before we would have our third child, another son. Four months after moving to our new assignment, Tess gave birth to our third child. During this time, I had found out that our base had a thrift store. We started shopping there, and while we did, my wife nursed. As always, due to her comfort level and our beliefs, she would cover up if she needed to nurse while she was shopping. About two months after we began shopping there, a newly selected chief (a friend of ours) came to our home. He had me step outside- away from my wife- and told me that if we were to continue shopping there, that my wife could not nurse. It made too many of the volunteers uncomfortable. He said “you can try to fight this if you want, but you won’t win. Even if you do, it’s still going to come out bad for you.” My exact words to him were, “I will handle this, chief.”
I went back into our home, absolutely mortified at the news I had to tell my wife. When I did, the look that crossed her face mirrored what I felt… and she began to cry. Despite any comfort I tried to provide, for the next two days, all she could do was cry. We had not just shopped there, but also volunteered there. The commissary didn’t have any problem with her nursing while grocery shopping… so why did the thrift store? After those two days, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I did not want my wife to think that if she chose to nurse our child she had to give up any social freedom, and hide away from society. I got on the computer and pulled up the state, federal, and base laws concerning breastfeeding. I printed them out, and took them to the thrift store and the chief that had delivered the ultimatum. The chief got really upset, and yelled at me saying: “This wasn’t my decision, it came from higher up. I’m just doing what I’m told, why can’t you do the same?” It went up the chain of command, and eventually my wife was allowed to nurse and shop again. However, my stance to support my wife did end up costing us.
In the four years between that incident and now, we’ve been blessed with two more breastfeeding children. Those four years are full of fond memories, and bonding moments. However, with our fifth child, the peace would soon be shattered again. Our most recent plight has been one concerning the Boy Scouts of America, for our cub scout pack. My wife was the Committee Chair, and myself an actively involved Den Leader for Cub Scout Pack 170. On July 16th, my wife went to her committee meeting with our youngest (#5) in tow. I showed up about a half hour into the meeting. When I arrived at the meeting, I watched my wife silently take the verbal and emotional abuse of everyone there. It only took me a moment to realize what they were raking her over the coals about. Breastfeeding… as the CC during the meetings, and as a mother at the go-see-it’s, at the pack meetings, and at the Blue and Gold banquet. They were yelling at her that breastfeeding was disgusting, had no place in scouts, and that they wanted her to be removed from her position because of it. When my wife tried to defend herself by telling them about the laws that protected nursing mothers and their children, they shut her down. They said the BSA is a private organization. That her rights to breastfeed didn’t hold up, and her complaints would be treated much like the GLBT vs BSA case. At this point, I could not be silent any longer. I stood up, and started defending my wife and son’s rights. They said she couldn’t perform her duties while breastfeeding, I told them that she had at least one more hand free than a bottle feeding mother. They said that she didn’t take her position seriously, I told them to just look over the records of what she had done. There was more than adequate proof there that she was amazing at her job. They said that breastfeeding was sexual and had no place among the scouting organization, I said (the first scout) Sir Baden Powell, Jesus Christ, and most of our world’s great leaders were breastfed. I explained to them that breasts were not any more a sexual organ than a hand or a foot. Formula was not created until 1876 by Mr. Nestle. They ignored me.
At this point they started to question my military service and condition of discharge. (Honorable, in case anyone here is wondering.) Then, the woman that took over my wife’s position after our removal, stood up. She got in my wife’s face and said: “I shouldn’t have to explain to my eleven year old daughter what you are doing under that blanket! It’s disgusting!” The COR, Distrect Rep, and rest of the committee said at this point they were advising my wife and I to step down because we were a liability. This made me sure that there was nothing more that I could do. So, I picked up my breastfed infant son, took him to the van, and waited for my wife.
Husbands, support your wife if she chooses to breastfeed. It is an amazing experience. I can’t even find the words to describe how it will change your view, your wife, and enrich your family; how healthy it is for your child and your wife. I hope that this would set the bar for other men -who’s wives are breastfeeding- to stand up in their defense should someone try to trample their rights. It is what a husbands and fathers are charged with… the protection of their family. Sometimes, it may come at a high cost, but it is well worth it. It’s not just your wife’s rights to nurse, it’s your child’s right to eat whenever they are hungry! Don’t let ANYONE ever tell you that your hungry baby doesn’t have the right to eat just because it makes that person uncomfortable.
Do you think the Boy Scouts of America has a right to remove a breastfeeding mom from her volunteer position because she was nursing?