Crystal McCullough & The Big Woody’s Incident
My name is Crystal and I am married to my husband Mike. I have a smart 11 year old step son named Aidan and I am still nursing my 14 month old daughter, Miranda. She was born a day after her due date. Sept. 12, 2013 this 6 lb 1 oz tiny girl came into the world. Pregnancy was a breeze but we had concerns about her heart. I have a right aortic arch which required Vascular Ring surgery at two months of age. We knew Miranda had a right aortic arch as well so we monitored her with Ultrasounds and Stress tests every two weeks or so. She was also born with a Pilonidal Tract (Cyst). We thought it was a Sacral Dimple and her spinal cord was tethered but an MRI showed that she was fine. So far no complications from either medical concern. Delivery was a little scary at the end because both of our heart rates were dropping but with one more push she came out ripping me on the inside. I needed to be sutured up twice to ensure that bleeding would stop and I didn’t need a transfusion. Miranda took to breastfeeding within an hour after delivery and we never had any problems. I was able to stash plenty of milk in the freezer too. I also pump during the day when Miranda is at daycare. Nursing has been such a comfort for us both. For months after she was born it felt like we were one. That we were intertwined body and soul and I couldn’t separate my existence from her. It was an indescribable and magical feeling. Breastfeeding was just a no brainer for me when I thought about what I wanted to feed my baby when she was born. I had an unspoken goal of 6 months, then a year, and now it’s baby led weaning. I am very fortunate that I have had no problems besides one clogged duct for about a week or so. Right now though we are working on night weaning because having Mommy up 3-5 times a night is wearing me out! Right now I am advocating for getting a law enacted in Virginia that protects mother’s right to breastfeed in public places. This personal crusade started for me after I was kicked out of a restaurant for breastfeeding. I am excited about this journey and working with other moms and businesses in getting Virginia to recognize a child’s right to nurse anywhere. I am always helping other moms with breastfeeding and sharing resources.
During my breastfeeding journey, I have not had many instances where people stared, said anything etc while out in public. It wasn’t until when my daughter was almost one year old that I was harassed and kicked out of a restaurant for breastfeeding. Here is that story:
On September 1st, 2014, Monday afternoon at 3:43 pm, our friends (married couple) texted my husband and I to see if we wanted to meet them at Big Woody’s, (123 Battlefield Blvd N Suite H Chesapeake, VA 23320 (757) 436-1919). We texted back sure, as we had just finished a long weekend of shopping, cleaning, painting and unpacking at our new house. We needed a break, could celebrate the new house and could grab dinner at Big Woody’s while we were there. We arrived after 4:00 pm. I told my husband that I needed to use the bathroom first and that I would need to feed our daughter (breastfeed). He took our daughter to the outside covered deck of the restaurant while I used the bathroom. Our friends were already there sitting at the first table to the left when you exit the inside restaurant doors onto the covered deck. When I arrived at the table a round of beers and a round of Fireball shots were just getting to the table by our server. They were ordered by my husband. The server asked if we needed anything else and I said a water please. I had sat down in the seat closest to the door but with my back to it. I then asked my husband for our daughter and he handed her over to me. I was faced away from everyone on the deck, and no one inside would have been able to see me unless they really went out of their way. I sat her in my lap, lifted up the right side of my tank top, put her close and pulled down my nursing bra so she could latch. My husband and friends made a toast and drank their shot and sipped their beer. Our waitress had already brought me my water so I was busy drinking that. While my daughter was nursing, I only had one or two sips of my beer. I did not have any of the Fireball shot while nursing. I switched my daughter to the left side to nurse. A man then came thru the doors behind me and I could tell by his body language that he was nervous or and acting awkward. Mother’s instinct told me that I knew he was coming to ask me to stop nursing. He came up to me and had a very hard time talking to me (stumbling his words, moving his body and hands). He said I don’t really know how to tell you this but I need you to be more discreet because the locals are complaining. I looked at him and said I am being discreet and it is a law that I am allowed to breastfeed in public (at the time I was getting upset and forgot that in Virginia, the law only protects nursing mothers on property that is owned, leased or controlled by the Commonwealth). At this time already my daughter had stopped nursing, my nursing bra and shirt were placed back and she was still in my lap. My husband, as well as our friends, tried to tell the man that I was being discreet and we all said I would be more discreet. Sometime during this encounter we asked him who he was. He said he was the General Manager Danny. Danny then looked at the table and asked me if I was drinking. I said no I am drinking this water. The beer is for when I am done and there is no law that says I can’t drink and breastfeed. Danny then said he had a right to refuse service and would be cashing us out and we would be leaving. I said are you kidding me? He said no and started to walk back indoors. I said to him as he left that I would take this to social media to which he shrugged his shoulders and said he did not care. At some point I gave my daughter back to my husband. I sat there in disbelief, angered, embarrassed, humiliated, not sure what to say or do. My husband and friends were the same way and trying to figure out a way to keep defending me and get Danny to come back to talk to. I kept thinking about how the past 11 months all the other public places I have been to and nursed and no one approached us like that or kicked us out. I was thinking about wow you hear about this on the news and mothers hold a nurse in. I thought well if Danny doesn’t make this right, I will probably do one too once I take this to social media. I thought what is he accusing me off? How could he be so insensitive, cruel and not even listen first and try to understand. He jumped to conclusions and got an attitude with us. We may have raised our voices some but only to be able to talk over one another as we explained to him about nursing in public and that I wasn’t drinking heavily and the sips I already had would not harm my daughter. He walked away so fast I could not cite several research studies on breastfeeding and alcohol consumption. We never used bad language or became combative. We were never offered an alternative table, situation etc. The waitress came back with our check and was apologizing. We said it wasn’t her fault. We gave her our cards to pay the bills. I took a sip of the Fireball shot in front of me and a few more sips of my beer. I was too disgusted and angry. My husband and friends drank more of their beer. I then gave the rest of my beer and Fireball to my husband. The waitress came back with our cards, we signed the papers and got up from the table. We were all exclaiming how we could not believe what just happened. My husband said he was going to try and talk to Danny one more time before we left. That he would meet us outside at the car. I took my daughter and walked into the restaurant to the front doors and out into the parking lot. Wait staff and patrons stared at me as I walked past. I couldn’t tell what they were feeling. It was humiliating. We all kept our mouths shut and just exited the restaurant while my husband went to find and talk to Danny. My husband approached Danny inside and said he wanted to talk to him. My husband did tell him that he didn’t know what he just did because I do not back down. That he won’t hear the end of us and this. Danny said he was going to offer me a back room and a towel but we took that option off the table. He said that this was a family establishment and that the locals who grew up here were uncomfortable. Danny said he called the owner and he was on the same page. My husband asked him what if it was his wife and kids and someone said stop breastfeeding. He said his wife doesn’t breastfeed. My husband said that he may have many lactating woman protesting at his place soon. Danny said he didn’t care, that he would just call the cops. My husband thanked him, shook his hand and left. My husband met me and our friends at our car. We decided to go to another restaurant for dinner. Once we got there I wrote a review on Big Woody’s Facebook page in the link below and posted a status update to my own Facebook page.
I also Facebook messaged several news and radio stations, breastfeeding advocacy groups and the ACLU brief statements about what happened similar to my review on Big Woody’s page and asked for help.
Many employees and patrons of Big Woody’s have made negative, nasty lying comments all over social media.
On September 2, 2014 Wednesday, Big Woody’s posted an apology on their Facebook page.
“Our sincere apologies for not responding sooner, but due to the seriousness of the issue, we wanted to make sure to interview staff and patrons and review our security video to be sure of all the facts. Let us first state that we are very sympathetic to the needs and cares of all our nursing mothers. In our five years of being in business, this is the only issue involving the treatment of breast feeding mothers.
With that said, in this particular incident, we were asked to address concerns by other patrons who were observing the situation. Our manager went to address those concerns and accommodate all parties involved. Unfortunately, we were unable to do this and attempted to rectify the situation amicably without success. We feel that providing more details publiclly would not benefit the situation. We would rather use this incident as an opportunity to provide knowledge to others and help educate the public on the rights of nursing mothers.
We have always strived to be a positive influence in our community and our mission is to provide a safe and comfortable environment for all of our customers, regardless of age.
Big Woody’s Ownership and Management”
The following news interviewed me on September 3, 2014, Wednesday.
WVEC Channel 13, WTKR Channel 3 and Wavy TV Channel 10 all of the Hampton Roads area. Times were around 5, 5:30, 6 EST. Maybe even on the late news. You can also capture the broadcasts online through their websites.
My husband Facebook messaged Jeff LeRoy, owner at Big Woody’s, from his account and mine on September 3, 2014 late Wednesday night. Jeff did not respond. Jeff mentioned that they could have handled it better. And he also made comments insinuating that I was a bad mother. He reported that it was about the beer and shot in front of me and not seeing breast. Jeff mentioned that he would be willing to work with me on a fundraiser and education. I called Big Woody’s on September 4, 2014, Thursday and Jeff called me back several hours later. I explained that my husband and I wanted to meet with him and turn this into a positive thing. That if he is serious we will work with him on a fundraiser, education and helping get laws changed. He said his business partner is out of town until Sunday (September 7, 2014) and he would call me back after talking with him. I called Big Woody’s and asked for Jeff on September 9, 2014 and asked to be called back. He called me back later that evening but I was unavailable. He left a message and said he was sorry he was just getting back to me now but that he talked with his partner in length and wanted to call me the next day and tell me what they talked about. I did not hear from him so I called on September 10 around 7 pm at his restaurant and left a message. I called on September 11 at 4:02 pm and left a message. I called on September 12 at 6:30 and left a message. I called on September 13 at 12:17 pm and left a message. Jeff finally called me back on September 13 at 4:50 pm and we spoke. They want to handle a fundraiser internally and I am welcome to come. The fundraiser is for the Breastfeeding Welcome Here program with EVMS. He is also having them come to his restaurants to educate this staff/managers. We both wish no ill will towards the other and want to move forward and turn this into a positive thing. I still received no apology just that Danny feels bad and should have approached me differently. I asked to be kept informed and that I will support in any way and can bring support groups to the fundraiser. I called the restaurant again September 16, 2014 because I heard Big Woody’s was going to be on the news later and I wanted to know the status of the fundraiser etc. I have not heard from Jeff yet as of September 18, 2014. I plan on trying to call again to see about the fundraiser and further trying to work together.
I called EVMS on September 4, 2014 and talked to Amy Paulson in regards to helping with the Breastfeeding is Welcome here program. We talked for almost 45 minutes and she was a wealth of knowledge. She is adding me to the email list and then I will be updated as to how I can help. http://www.evms.edu/community/brock_institute/community_and_global_health_projects_database/breastfeeding_welcome_here/
I plan on calling several other breastfeeding/advocacy groups, hospitals, legislators etc. I plan on moving ahead to help change laws and education the public on breastfeeding. My story has stayed consistent and I have not left anything out. So many media outlets (bloggers, news/radio stations, online print) have rewritten my story in such a way that has turned it into lies and insinuations. As of September 8, 2014, no one contacted me to verify this situation except for a reporter in Australia from Essential Baby. Many headlines and content in the articles are upsetting and steer the attention away from the real issues – breastfeeding in public, changing laws to protect nursing mothers and getting the education and resources out there so it is more normalized and accepted at places of employment, churches, daycares, government places, etc. Everywhere should know about breastfeeding and how to accommodate and be ok with it.
Several things for thought here:
We were not confrontational, just trying to talk to Danny to educate him. We tried to work it out with him when he first approached us and as we were leaving (husband tried to). We were going to ask to speak to the owner but as Danny told my husband, Danny already called the owner and the owner was on the same page. We gave them amble opportunity to make it right before I went to social media.
Danny approached me about being discreet first. When we said I was and we would be more discreet and I mentioned Virginia Law, it didn’t appear he liked our answers, so he made it about the alcohol in front of me to which I only had one to two sips of the beer while nursing.
Big Woody’s is not an apology. The apology is not for the incident, but for not responding sooner. I was never directly apologized too. The manager did not try to accommodate all parties involved. If the security tapes were released you would see I have told the truth the entire time. They are not educating others or helping provide knowledge on the rights of nursing mothers. Jeff said it was about the alcohol and not the breasts. However, why would Danny come up to me and ask me to be discreet and then tell my husband as we left that we was going to offer me a back room and towel if it was about the beer and shot? Why would several employees of Big Woody’s post comments about not wanting to see breasts?
A Marie Watkins (who appears to work at Big Woody’s and was there that afternoon – she may have been our waitress) stated on my Big Woody’s review on Facebook comment thread “what is crazy about this is the fact that you aren’t telling the entire story…You weren’t discreet in the least it was boob and baby-face…No cover or blanket. Furthermore you had a beer and a shot in front of you. Me along with 20 other guests want your child to eat, but don’t wanna see your boob while I’m eating my dinner.” Posted Monday at 9:14 pm
I truly want positives out of this and the spotlight away from ‘oh my goodness I had a beer and a shot in front of me so I must be a horrible mother and in the wrong’. I believe that Big Woody’s made this about the alcohol. So then the media and people in general who don’t know me or the situation (only what the media chooses to print) took off with that and/or only concentrate on that.
Since the news reports and other reports online, I have encountered horrible backlash and accusations where it is like my character is being defamed. The story has been spun to reflect me drinking heavily and nursing. Media has made their headlines imply heavily that this is the case when it is not. It has reached National and International attention. I almost fear going out in public in case someone recognizes me and will confront me and cause me physical or more emotional harm. But I have an amazing amount of support too.
I get that there are people uncomfortable with breastfeeding. And if there is alcohol on the table in front of the people I am with, in front of me and I take a few sips of beer while nursing. I get that people could perceive made up scenarios in their head and pass judgment. But I did not break any laws or put anyone in jeopardy. You cannot tell someone to stop something just because you think they are going to do something. No one could predict what I was going to do. Big Woody’s staff and patrons assumed, made judgment and acted prematurely. Misunderstandings happen. However, this situation was not handled appropriately by the General Manager. Thus the need for education and resources to help those that own and manage businesses.
At the time this happended, my daughter was almost 12 months old and only nurses about every 4-6 hours at about 5 minutes or less on each breast. She also eats food for breakfast, snack, lunch and dinner. There is plenty of time before she needs to eat again for the little amount of alcohol that I had to be digested and gone from my system. In addition, my husband and I had recently had a huge BBQ lunch about 2 hours prior to coming to Big Woody’s. A full stomach decreases absorption of alcohol. I have done my research from creditable sources during pregnancy and after to know what I can and cannot do with and to my body so that it doesn’t affect my child. Check these links out and read the articles in its entirety:
Breastfeeding and Nursing:
Big Woody’s Bar and Grill:
Media and other people are having a hard time with the name of Big Woody’s because it has Bar in the Title. They are a restaurant that calls itself a Bar and Grill. Like most restaurants, they have a bar. They specialize in wings and sandwiches. We were not sitting at the bar. We were at a table on the covered deck. They even have a kids menu.
Virginia Breastfeeding Laws:
Change in the laws need to happen so that nursing women are protected everywhere and there is an enforcement law as well. Here is the link to your legislator in Virginia. Write them letters, emails etc. I will post a good letter to Facebook soon.
Here are some articles written about my story: