By CATHERINE CONNORS

When I had my first child, Emilia, I was terrified of taking her out in public. What if I had to nurse her? What if her diaper exploded? What if she screamed? What would people think?

The idea of doing my mommy business right out there in public where everyone could see me made me want to stay inside and cower in a corner. Which I did, a lot, minus the cowering, until I finally got tired of staring at the walls of my house and ventured out into the wild, public world. Whereupon, of course, I discovered that it was totally fine - pleasurable, even - to do my mommy business in public. Nobody looked at me twice when I nursed, nobody gave me dirty looks when Emilia shrieked, and that one time that her diaper exploded at the mall there was no shortage of sympathetic moms who rushed to help me. What had I been afraid of? When I look back on it now, I'm almost embarrassed. I'm also peeved that I missed out on months of using Emilia as an excuse to just go wander around the mall, but that's another story.

The thing of it is, though, that the ease of public parenting that I discovered once I summoned the nerve to step out of doors and try it is not necessarily the norm. I was living in Toronto, in a neighborhood full of young urban families, the sort of neighborhood in which the Starbucks is jammed with Bugaboo strollers and the toddlers wear ironic Che Guevara t-shirts and you're more likely to be looked at funny if you struggle with one of those nursing cover-ups than if you just pop baby on the boob without even putting down your latte. But as I discovered when I traveled with my second baby, Jasper, being able to perform parenting duties in public without getting the stink-eye was something that I'd maybe started to take for granted: nursing Jasper on a secluded bench at DisneyWorld got me a talking-to from an outraged grandmother (there were children there, for goodness' sake!), walking a screaming Jasper up and down the aisle of a Continental flight got me no end of dirty looks, a diaper incident in a restroom at the airport in Houston got me even dirtier looks. Which got me thinking: was it a Canadian thing? Is public tolerance of public displays of motherhood higher in Canada?

It's a loaded question, obviously. As Canadians, we're hardwired to believe that we're more open and more tolerant and more progressive and more everything than Americans. Even in the face of evidence to the contrary - I was once asked to cover up while nursing Jasper on a domestic WestJet flight, a story that just added to the multitude of stories from moms around the country about being asked to not nurse in public or to cover up while nursing in public or to not take their strollers on public transit, etc, etc. - it's tempting to believe that my experiences as a parent in my baby-friendly, hipsterish urban Toronto neighborhood could be generalizable to Canada as a whole. I mean, this is Canada, right? We're tolerant of everything.

Obviously, there's no way to test my theory, apart from undertaking massive statistical survey studies in both Canada and the US on attitudes toward public displays of parenthood and then comparing the two, which I'm neither equipped nor inclined to do. But what do you think? Setting aside the question of whether we're more tolerant of public parenting than are, say, Americans: are Canadians really all that tolerant of public parenting at all? Do the incidences of discrimination against mothers who nurse in public or the expressions of frustration toward parents that clog the comments sections of news stories about moms with strollers being kicked off buses or denied entrance to restaurants tell a different story than the one that I've woven around my own personal experience? Or are those exceptions that make news or get attention because they're at variance with the norm? What's been your experience?

Visit Catherine Connors' blog Herbadmother.com