'BABIES CARRY DISEASES'
By Rachael Espinet Thursday, September 26 2013
A second woman has come forward to Newsday saying a male usher prevented her from breast-feeding her baby during the family play Phantom of the NAPA, at the National Academy of the Performing Arts (NAPA), Port-of-Spain, on Sunday, telling her breast-feeding babies throw up on the seats and “carry communicable diseases.”
Dixie-Ann Baptiste-Knight contacted Newsday yesterday to tell her story after reading the paper’s exclusive report on Tuesday of Antonia Sealy, who was told by the same usher “that beverages are not allowed” when he saw her breast-feeding her son. Sealy had to nurse her baby in the VIP lounge. Baptiste-Knight explained she took her three-month-old son Caiden to NAPA to see his father act in the play.
She said she was supposed to be seated in the special reserve section, but a male usher seated her at the end of the aisle because she had a baby.
She said when the show began and the theatre got dark, Caiden became “fussy”. Realising she was going to nurse, the usher approached her and said no breast-feeding was allowed in the auditorium.
“I was going to start to breast-feed, but he motioned to me and said, ‘No, no, not here.’ He was a little snappy when he said it,” Baptiste-Knight said.
Thinking that breast-feeding was not allowed in the theatre, she took out a bottle to feed the baby. She said the usher returned to her and said, “No, no, no. No beverages allowed.”
The usher escorted Baptiste-Knight out of the theatre and brought a female usher to her.
The female usher said she would take her to a place where she could nurse, but Baptiste-Knight chose to give her baby a bottle instead.
After she returned to her seat, Baptiste-Knight said she saw the male usher do the same thing to the woman in front of her. This woman was Sealy who was nursing her 12-month-old son, Giovanni, when the usher told her breast-feeding is not allowed in the auditorium. When her husband Roger asked why, the usher told the couple “beverages are not allowed inside the auditorium.” Sealy was then escorted by a female usher to the VIP lounge to nurse.
“He did the same thing to her, and the husband got angry and asked to speak to the manager. After that, they never came back in,” Baptiste-Knight said. During the intermission, the usher, who identified himself as “Bailey” to Baptiste-Knight told her that breast-feeding is not allowed in NAPA because the theatre is not made for children.
“I told him that Sheldon Narine’s (Crazy Catholic) plays are all about family, and children are supposed to be here. But he (the usher “Bailey”) said a fed baby tends to throw up and that could mess up the seat. He asked me how would I feel as a patron coming to sit on a seat that a baby threw up on?” she said. Baptiste-Knight said she was flabbergasted by the usher’s statement, but he continued to tell her the ills of having children in the theatre which included “babies carry communicable diseases.”
Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan and women’s activists all expressed shock at how the breast-feeding women were treated at NAPA, and agree that breast-feeding is the best for a baby anywhere.
Khan said he was shocked when he heard of Sealy’s ordeal from his wife Dr Carol Bhaghan-Khan.
“When my wife first told me about this story, I could not believe it. I don’t understand that level of crass behaviour. Trinidad and Tobago people look at breast-feeding as a bad thing, but it is important for many reasons,” he said.
Khan told Newsday breast milk was the best milk for a baby to feed on. He said not only does nursing help to bond mother and child, but it helps prevent non- communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension. As well babies will never be allergic to breast milk like they could if they take formula.
Khan said his ministry has been trying to promote breast-feeding, but he worries that people are not educating themselves about the values of breast-feeding. He said incidents like these discourage women from breast-feeding their babies.
He said the actions of the usher showed that he was uneducated to the needs of babies and nursing women, and added that the usher should not have been working at NAPA.
“Rather than making the mother comfortable, he made the mother uncomfortable. He is somebody who should not be working there,” Khan said. Newsday learned NAPA has a breast-feeding policy which states that nursing women are to be escorted to the VIP lounge. However, there are no visible signs indicating this policy at the venue.
Khan said he understood that some patrons may feel uncomfortable by nursing women, but insisted they should not be kept away from plays.
He suggested that if NAPA wants to have a breast-feeding room, there should be a screen in that room so that the nursing mother would not miss out on anything.
Sealy, the first complaining mother who was at home with Giovanni who turned one-year-old yesterday, told Newsday she felt like she was being punished for nursing her son.
“My child just loves to be on the breast because that is his comfort. I would have just been in the back, and miss out on the whole show. It was like they were punishing me for breast-feeding my child. This makes me feel as if, as a mother, I do not have proper judgement because I do not know when or where I am to carry a child,” she said.
She hopes the public will become sensitised towards nursing mothers, but fears that people do not care.
Hazel Brown, coordinator of the Network of NGOs, said the usher’s action was like violence towards women.
“People are learning to devalue breast-feeding. This is the epitome of learned stupidity. That kind of behaviour is like violence against women,” Brown said.
She lamented that while women’s organisations have fought in the country for women’s rights, incidents like this show that there is a lot more work to do so that women could be full participating members of society.
Dr Gabrielle Hosein, senior lecturer in the University of the West Indies Institute of Gender and Development, told Newsday, “Women should not be secluded when they breast-feed.”
Hosein further quipped that “people need to eat in public, and babies feed off breast milk. Separating mothers is not the solution.”
Candice Alcantara, head of corporate communications at the Ministry of the Arts and Multiculturalism told Newsday, “In consideration of all its patrons, it is the custom and practice of NAPA to provide access to the VIP room for mothers that need to breast-feed or change their young. NAPA ushers are briefed on this practice which is instituted for the privacy and comfort of mothers.”
Alcantara further said she and NAPA’s management are investigating Sealy’s incident, and will further comment when they have fully assessed the situation.