According to its web site, Ronald McDonald House "offers a home away from home to the families of children undergoing treatment for cancer and other serious illnesses." Jessica Swimeley, mother of a 17-month-old twin undergoing surgery on a brain tumor, thought she had found a safe and welcoming haven at Hollcombe House, a Ronald McDonald House near the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, but was shocked when asked by an RMH employee to leave a common area of the house, where she and her children normally eat, and nurse her son in their room, three floors up (where, by the way, the family is not suppose to eat). Understanding the importance of breastfeeding on demand, especially for a sick child and knowing the inconvenience of frequent trips to her room, this mom protested the request, that appears to be a violation of Texas law. She spoke to the person on staff who originally told her to nurse in her room, then had a phone conversation with Arlene Whatley, the Hollcombe House Director of Operations, who told Jessica that families who do not "acclimate to the environment at RMH should find somewhere else to stay."
Jessica's husband is serving in the Air Force, so her sister Melanie Mayo-Laakso is staying at Hollcombe House to help with the children. She said she came down to the common room to find her sister in tears after speaking with Arlene on the phone. Wanting to help her sister, who understandably is under a lot of strain already, Melanie tried speaking with the RMH employees, too. On the Mothering magazine discussion forum, Melanie writes, "I pulled up the state law on my laptop and after a lengthy discussion the administrator acted as if she was going to examine the law so she understood it and move on. I thought that was the end of it. Today I find out they may be kicking us out of the RMH because we refused to comply with what they call their 'interpretation of the law.' Their interpretation is that if they provide somewhere else for us to nurse they don't have to let us nurse in public places."
Does this sound like "separate but equal" to you, too?
Human breast milk kills cancer cells and even adult cancer patients drink breast milk to boost their immune systems and get relief from the side effects of chemotherapy. Infringing upon this child's access to potentially life-saving nourishment is a gross violation of his human rights. Ronald McDonald House Charities does so much to help families and I hold out hope that someone in the organization will do the right thing, right away, and ensure that families with sick children find accommodations that support and protect breastfeeding families, rather than shame and threaten them. Please, now, write to Naomi Scott, Ronald McDonald House Houston Executive Director and insist that she call for an immediate change in policy, welcoming breastfeeding in all public areas of RMH Houston and make plans to educate all RMH employees about the importance of providing breastfeeding friendly accommodations. Please send copies of your letters Susie Richard, RMH Houston Director of Operations and to Arlene Whatley, Hollcombe House Director of Operations. If you can, please fax a copy of your letter to Ronald McDonald House Charities headquarters, 630.623.7488, or call 630.623.7048 to register your concern about this situation in Houston. Let them know that families across North America are appalled by what's happening to this family and demand immediate resolution.