About two dozen nursing mothers fed their infants Friday at the New York State Museum to show solidarity with an Albany woman, Kristin Kelly, who was at the event with her three children.
Kelly also had been at the museum on Tuesday. On that day, she said, a woman with a name tag identifying her as a museum employee named Michelle had directed her to stop breast-feeding in public. Kelly said the woman told her to do it in a restroom or not at all. Kelly said she disregarded the instruction, and the woman came back and told her again, by which time she was ready to stop feeding her 4-month-old son, Zackary.
However, museum officials cast doubt on the story, saying no one matching Kelly’s description of Michelle was on duty on that time.
The museum does not discourage breast-feeding, said its director, Cliff Siegfried. He noted that the rights of breast-feeding mothers are legally protected and that the museum itself has a diorama with bare-breasted Iroquois women, one of whom is shown breast-feeding.
Near that diorama, on the other side of the Iroquois longhouse, two women were breast-feeding infants Friday.
“It would be hypocritical,” Siegfried said, for the museum to discourage breast-feeding, and it does not do so. There have been no prior complaints, he said.
Ann Winnicki, who operates the carousel on the museum’s fourth floor, said mothers have ridden on the carousel’s red sleigh and nursed their babies, who are usually asleep by the time the ride stops.
Dr. Laura Staff, a board member of the state Breast Feeding Coalition, said she had delivered Zackary, and was there in support of his mother.
Kelly, who was wearing a “Got Milk” shirt on Friday, said she had been upset by Tuesday’s encounter. She agreed with Staff that it is possible she was mistaken about the description of who it was who told her not to breast-feed. But, she said, “I was made to feel like I was doing something wrong.”
“There’s a disconnect here,” Staff said. “Either we have the name wrong or the description is wrong.” But Staff said Kelly’s account is credible and similar incidents “happen all the time. It keeps a lot of women from breast-feeding.”
Kelly said her daughter Allana had been upset by Tuesday’s incident, worried that they wouldn’t be allowed back into the museum.
Abby Ritter was one of the nursing mothers at Friday’s event. She also helped set up a local Web site this week, supportbreastfeeding.weebly.com.
Museum spokeswoman Joanne Guilmette hoped the breast-feeding story would not distract people from this weekend’s New York in Bloom show, a once-a-year fundraiser for the museum’s after-school programs “for youths from Albany’s undeserved neighborhoods.”
Ritter said she was going to take in the show, and is a fan of the museum. “The exhibits are great,” she said.
A $6 ticket today and Sunday lets adults in the museum to see the flowers exhibited all over, and the Gem, Mineral and Fossil Show. Their children get in free.
One of the flower displays, which was made by children in the museum’s after-school program, is at the Harlem exhibit in the New York City section. It honors Martha Lewis, who was an active volunteer at the museum after she retired as deputy commissioner of the state Social Services Department, and who died last year.
Daisies, mums and tree fern leaves are bedecked with ribbons, on which are written messages in honor of people who have served as inspirations. Ribbons and markers are provided, and viewers are invited to hang one.
Other floral displays include orange roses set against an orange, 1929 New York City taxi, and blue flowers from the Sand Lake Garden Club in front of a big blue photo of New York City harbor.
This is the only weekend of the year that the museum charges admission. In the lobby, flowers were offered for sale at $1 a stem, $4 a bunch, also to benefit the after-school programs.