On Sunday, December 2, Jamie Boyd and Joseph Taylor met at Felix’s Restaurant in Lincoln Park to eat dinner and to swap their children to Mom (Boyd) after a weekend with Dad. They sat at a table near an open door in the back of the restaurant. Only 2 of the 15 or 20 other tables were occupied, both with families. Football games played on every television screen. While Boyd and her family waited for their food, she began to nurse her 20-month-old daughter.
“The waitress, who has known us forever, came over and said, ‘Can I get you a napkin or a tablecloth?’” Boyd says. “I didn’t get what she meant. I thought she meant because kids make messes and need lots of napkins or something.”
Boyd smiled, thanked the waitress, and said no, she didn’t need any extra napkins. A few minutes later, the restaurant’s owner, Felix Berry, approached the table. They’d met him several times before and considered him a part of their community, not only because they frequent his business, but also because he’s a personal friend of Taylor’s aunt and uncle. Although the restaurant’s Euclid Avenue location had opened just a few months prior, the family had been dining at the Oceanside location since Boyd was pregnant with her now–four-year-old daughter.
“I had expected that he was coming over to say, ‘How are you?’ and ‘Thanks for supporting my business.’ I told him congratulations on the new restaurant and he asked me if he could get me a tablecloth,” Boyd says. “Then he said, ‘You can go to the toilet or the office.’ I still didn’t get it.”
When she realized that he was asking her to hide her breastfeeding or leave the room to do it, she was stunned.
“I was wearing a trench coat and a long-sleeved shirt, and meanwhile the Charger girls were up there [on the televisions] shaking it,” she says. “On a Friday night in there, people are showing way more breast tissue than I am. I’m sure Felix has never thrown out a scantily clad woman on a Friday night.”
California is one of 45 states with specific laws that allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location; one of 24 that has laws relating to breastfeeding in the workplace; and one of 5 that has implemented or encouraged breastfeeding-awareness education campaigns. Boyd, an acupuncturist who specializes in women’s health and pediatrics, is not only familiar with these laws, she’s an advocate.
“I looked at him and said, ‘Felix, you don’t want to do this. It’s a law in the state of California,’” she says. “And he said, ‘I don’t want to speak legalese with you.’”
The way Berry tells it, the incident was not a matter of legalities but of courtesy.
“The problem was that there was a family in close proximity that had young children,” he says, “and all we were saying was someone needs to get permission from this family to say it’s okay for their children to be exposed. In other words, your rights don’t supersede someone else’s rights.”
During the 15-minute conversation between Berry and Boyd’s family, no one raised their voices. Several times during the discussion, Boyd thought they might reconcile, but again, Berry suggested that her options were to breastfeed in the bathroom, her office, or perhaps her car.
“We have four bathrooms,” he says. “If it was really just a matter of feeding your child, there was a bathroom not 20 feet away. So, it wasn’t a question of her rights. It was a question of her ability to do what she wanted, how she wanted to do it.”
The family decided to leave and they haven’t been back since, but a personal boycott of the restaurant isn’t enough for Boyd. As an advocate for breastfeeding, she wanted to make an educational point, but nothing so dramatic as a nurse-in.
“I have clients who cry that they can’t breastfeed in their home because their mother-in-law is not comfortable with it,” she says. “I don’t want to embarrass Felix, but I want to remind the public that breast milk is the best food for our children.”
Boyd makes it a point to distance herself from the “attached parenting” extremists portrayed on a Time magazine cover back in May of 2012, which showed a mother breastfeeding her almost four-year-old son. Though she doesn’t consider herself quite that radical, she is concerned about public education around breastfeeding benefits and laws.
“It’s not that I’m a brazen attached parent, although one could argue that I am,” she says. “But the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding up to two years, and I’m going to make the healthiest choice that I can for my children.”
While the family who had complained may or may not have had an issue with breastfeeding in general, Berry claims that this was never his stance.
“I don’t take a position. If you take a position, human nature is to defend it,” he says. “All I was trying to do was make an atmosphere that was congenial for everyone. It didn’t make any sense to me why someone wouldn’t use that little bit of discretion to the benefit of the entire restaurant.”
He expresses his disappointment at the loss of what he thought was going to be a “wonderful relationship for many years” between himself and the family.
Boyd says she’s “totally bummed” that she no longer feels welcome or comfortable at Felix’s, but she’s also disappointed that the incident happened at all in the state of California.
“You’d think this would’ve happened to me in Missouri. But I go home to Missouri all the time, and I’ve never been asked to leave a restaurant for breastfeeding,” she says. “In my California bubble, I’d like it to be a California bubble.”
Boyd says that, for the most part, her and Taylor’s families have been supportive of the couple and “outraged” about the situation at Felix’s. But Taylor’s octogenarian grandmother sided with Berry. “She said, ‘About time!’” Boyd says. “‘I’ve been having to watch her breastfeed all these years.’” ■