After a long day celebrating her sister’s wedding, Emily Locke paused from taking pictures at the Western Reserve Historial Society museum in Cleveland, Ohio, to nurse her 9-month-old son.
A few minutes later, a female employee approached the breastfeeding Locke, telling her bluntly, “You can’t do that here.”
Shocked, Locke tells PEOPLE, “The first words out of my mouth were: ‘Oh no.’ ”
“It didn’t even start as a conversation,” Locke, 33, says. “She said, ‘I’m going to need you to move.’ And I said, ‘Actually, legally, I can breastfeed my son wherever I want. And I’m fine right here.’ I was so shocked by her reaction and tone.”
The employee said she needed to talk to her manager, who then came over to Locke and told her exactly the same thing.
“I was expecting her to either say, ‘Yes, you can stay there,’ or I expected her to have a more rehearsed, practiced thing to say,” Locke recalls. “But then the manager came over and said the same thing.”
“She said, ‘Well, regardless we have a policy against it. This is a family museum.’ And I said, ‘Well, this is a family moment,’ and she said, ‘I’m just trying to protect the innocent children.’ ” Locke says. “I couldn’t even comprehend it. I was sitting here feeding my child, and most of the people around were my two sons. So it’s not like she’s not protecting them from me.”
Shocked by the entire exchange, Locke wrote about her experience on Facebook, in a post that’s since gone viral with 53,000 likes and 11,000 comments. And the museum has responded in kind.
“I spoke with their CEO, Kelly Hall, and she was wonderful,” Locke says. “She breastfed her own children, and she was very apologetic, and she said that they’re working on the training, and she said they’re working on displaying some historic art relating to women breastfeeding.”
In a statement to PEOPLE, the museum explained that the employees were misinformed and they do not have a policy against breastfeeding in the museum.
“We’re just happy that this opened up a larger conversation about women in the workplace and women who are nursing,” Lauren Welch, the society’s marking manager, tells PEOPLE. “We’re actively raising awareness and finding new ways where our staff can be informed on the topic and surrounding institutions can be well informed on the topic as well.”
Locke hopes that her experience will give a greater voice to other breastfeeding women.
“I’m a pretty confident person,” she says. “I think the problem is if you’re not already that sort of person, it’s really easy to be intimidated. I’d love to see moms that are not as confident feel that they can get there.”
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“I don’t want a mom out nursing her child and be made to feel that she’s not doing something right and give up on breastfeeding because she feels too isolated and like she can’t go out anywhere,” she says. “I don’t want nursing moms to feel isolated; I want them to be empowered.”
And the incident opened her eyes to how often public shaming towards breastfeeding can happen.
“I guess I always thought that the women this happened to were just at a store or restaurant where the people were particularly rude or something, or the women were in a really open place with a lot of people around,” Locke says. “So for me to experience it when the museum was almost empty, in a historical museum – I felt that I needed to put my story out there. I needed them to know about it.”