Change and Magic

June 26, 2014

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Yesterday was my birthday. Today was the last day of school for NYC Public School children. This weekend all three of my children will begin their summer at camp in the Berkshires and Rob and I will be alone for four weeks.

My oldest child has one year of college under her belt. My second child will be researching high schools in the fall. My youngest will begin fourth grade.

This summer many friends are leaving New York. They are going to Portugal, Massachusetts, Portland (both East and West) Israel, and Phoenix. The list goes on.

Change is hard. I have trouble with change. I have a hard time packing. I am challenged to move things around like furniture and art on my walls. I am a creature of habit.

But I also have change envy. I am envious of all those friends starting out on new adventures. I feel a little left behind.

Working with breastfeeding moms and babies I get to relive those early challenges of motherhood, the dramatic changes in the body and the heart. As someone who advises about weaning I get to relive the emotions of that milestone.

I was talking to Finn on the way to school this morning and he told me he wishes he could perform magic. The first thing I imagined I would do if I was magic would be to bring back my mother. This year in October it will be ten years since she died.

If I was magic . . .

Oh, the possibilities.

For now, I will remain in New York. I will continue to mother my children through all of the changes they experience. I will nurture my relationship with Rob. And I shall seek change that is positive. I will embrace each day, each challenge, each wrinkle and gray hair.

You see, this is about getting older. Yesterday was my 49th birthday and I am thinking deeply about 50. It is such a milestone. When I was a kid I used to imagine a grownup being 35 years old. I am past that quite a bit. I have to consider what this means.

I walk down the street and I look at other women. I try to figure out how old they are. I try to analyze their state of mind. I try to figure out if they are happy and healthy.

I will take in this final year of my forties. I am happy and I am healthy. And I know deep down I do possess some magic!

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As an active member of the breastfeeding community for nearly two decades I have seen so much marketing of formula from a personal place and for new parents. The marketing gets more and more clever and nefarious each day.

I was once helping a mom and baby in an apartment building in New York City where one has to be buzzed in. I was with this family for about an hour and a half. The buzzer never buzzed and the doorbell never rang. Upon my departure I nearly fell over a box of formula. The mom had not ordered this.

Currently infant formula manufacturers make formula specifically for breastfeeding moms. Why? Is it really different? Breastfeeding is the biggest market competitor for formula companies.

It was very exciting for me when, in 2012, Mayor Bloomberg took the marketing of formula out of New York City hospitals. Many people were upset by this action. They claimed that they were being bullied into breastfeeding. They were angry that they were not getting their “free” gift from the hospital. This was not the case at all.

What they did not realize is that by giving these “free” gift bags the citizens and patients were actually paying for these goodies.

When a hospital gives away promotional items they are endorsing this product and they are using human power to handle these items. These “free” gift bags are taking up precious real estate in our already crowded hospitals. This is FREE advertising for the pharmaceutical industry. FREE advertising. Those guys have plenty of cash to buy advertising but why spend it when the hospital will do it for free?

In May of 1980 the 27th World Health Assembly endorsed the WHO/UNICEF recommendation that “There should be an international code of marketing of infant formula and other products used as breast-milk substitutes.”

This is important because we know that breastfeeding rates decline where formula is marketed.

This is not an anti-formula campaign rather it is a recommendation to support healthy outcomes both long term and short term. The campaign is designed to take an ethical approach to promote breastfeeding as the normal way to feed babies.

Unfortunately the United States has not agreed to this recommendation.

On this anniversary the Public Citizen’s campaign to End Infant Formula Marketing in Healthcare Facilities is firing up to bring awareness to the continued marketing of formula in the US.

They are encouraging participants to use social media to get the message across by making signs that say “No Formula Ads in Hospitals” or “Follow the WHO Code.”

As an advocate for breastfeeding families I will join this day of action. What will you do to promote breastfeeding?

 

 

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I have seen the documentary Breastmilk twice.

The first time around I was happy to see the diversity of the subjects, the inclusion of gay families and the normalization of milk sharing.

 

I came away knowing that Dana Ben-Ari is a true documentarian in that the viewer is brought into the scenes unobtrusively. We observed real life situations and outcomes.

The second time around I was sitting next to woman who nursed her child a decade earlier. She squirmed in her seat and whispered to me, “If I had seen this before having my son I would’ve been afraid because it seems so hard to nurse.”

 

Certain elements were left out that I believe only a seasoned eye would catch. Missing from the film: physicians trained to support breastfeeding, pre-natal education, support for the mom and baby and extended work leave. Were with these elements missing from the film because they are missing in real life?

 

There were a handful of subjects followed from pregnancy through the first birthday of the baby. In the end only one of those babies was nursing.

 

The moms who experienced premature weaning talked extensively about how was “really okay”, that “the doctors were right”, they “had their baby’s health in their best interest” and “thanked goodness that their baby was healthy.” What I saw behind those words was grief, defeat and lots of justification for their unplanned weaning.

 

The producers, Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein, say the outcomes of the subjects of their film align statistically in the United States with breastfeeding rates.

I believe documentaries are made not only to show real life but to affect a change or to educate or to inform.

 

There were experts talking about the cultural anthropological aspects of breast-feeding in the Western world but there was no real information on how to make breast-feeding easier or even pointing out what got in the way. We did see a bit on how our culture gets in the way: the boyfriend who not wanting to be patient as his baby nursed, the nurse not wanting to be patient as the parents wanted to baby to self attach, the moms who had to go to work and could not keep up making milk. Once again women, these new mothers, are at the mercy of the system, a system that does not support women or children.

 

In my documentary I would show women all of the world breastfeeding. I would show statistics on breastfeeding rates in different countries. I would show how birth practices impact breastfeeding, how working outside of the home impacts breastfeeding, how education and lack of education affect breastfeeding.

 

But I am not a filmmaker. I am a lactation consultant, a La Leche League Leader, a mom, a friend. I am working in the field daily to support mothers and babies one by one.

 

The longer I work in this field the more obstacles I see. What do you think? How do you see breastfeeding? Do you see it as easy? Do you see it as a privilege? Do you see it as impossible? How does a baby see breastfeeding? What if we asked babies? Would that change our outcomes? Would that change our culture?

 

 

Boxes

April 7, 2014

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Computers are boxes that hold information. They are solid, finite. Computers rely on an algorithm of complete ideas. Computers categorize our lives, our files, our ideas.

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Humans are not boxes. We are fluid forms, soft, curvy. Our ideas are amorphous and infinite. I worry that the coming generations are going to be trapped in these boxes, these categories.

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I am a woman. I am in my forties. I am married. I am a mother. I am college educated.

These are categories in which I fit but this is not all of me.

I think of the challenges of checking off answers. The other day I called the United States Post Office. I needed to find out where a package was that my oldest daughter accidentally had shipped to our home address instead of her dorm. I needed to know if I could pick up her package even though it was not in my name.

There was a recording asking me various questions including the tracking number. This number was illegible as I imagine author of said numbers was in the habit of checking off boxes and not actually used to writing. The tracking number option was not an option. In fact, none of the boxes the recorded voice wanted me to choose was of any help to my situation so I said “Operator.”

She responded in confusion. So I said “customer service.”

She still wanted me to choose: send a package or repeat previous options.

I then said “Human.”

Her reply: I am sorry, I do not understand, do you want me . . .”

“FUCKING HUMAN!!” I screamed in to my phone. She didn’t flinch. I hung up.

Another recent situation with computer options was a package ordered form Target. My eight-year-old son has a new position: General of the Spy Club in his third grade class. For this position he needs to wear a jacket and tie. My husband ordered a crisp white shirt and sharp navy jacket. It was supposed to be delivered on Wednesday the 26th. On Thursday the 27th I tracked the package from an email with all of the ordering details. I tracked the package through UPS. They handed it off the USPS. On Friday March 28 I called and checked and tracked. According to USPS it was on time for delivery on Wednesday the 26th – remember I am calling on Friday the 28th. I placed several calls. The only human I talked with was from Target and every word uttered was from a script which I imagine had little check marks for each situation.

“I am sorry you feel this way. Your package is scheduled for delivery on Wednesday the 26th.”

“Do you know what today is? It is the 28th.”

There was not a way for anyone to help me because computers do not have arms, eyes or hearts. They cannot call and speak to UPS or the USPS and ask where my son’s General suit is.

My worst box checking experience was when I was sitting in the pre-op for a D & C at St. Vincent’s Hospital. I had been 17 weeks pregnant and a Doppler could not pick up my baby’s heartbeat so I went for a sonogram. The baby inside me had died. My body still felt pregnant and I did not physically miscarry. We decided on a D & C.

The Physicians Assistant asked me a series of questions before the procedure. Then this one:

“Are you pregnant?”

“Do you know why I am here?”

“I just need to know if you are pregnant.”

“I don’t know,” my eyes filled with tears for the thirtieth time that day. I didn’t think I could produce another drop.

“I need to check off a box.”

“How about: yes, I am pregnant, with a dead baby? Do you have a box for that?”

When people are trained to check off boxes they should get sensitivity training. There should always be an “other” box with a line for explanation. And that line should be endless.

I worry about so many new mothers these days. It must be so hard to be instinctive. They are encouraged to follow a set of rules that they can track. They have apps for everything: feeding, diapers, pee and poo.

When I had my babies and I was nursing them in the early days I was trying to keep my breasts balanced. When it was time to nurse I would gently squeeze my breasts to see which felt fuller so I could start with that breast. Ask many moms today and she may say, “hold on, let me look, I have it on an app.”

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Technology has a its place but not at the price of humanity. We are culturing the instincts out of ourselves. New mothers are following all these concepts:

Are you any of the following?

  • Attachment Parenting
  • Co-sleeping
  • Ferber
  • Sleep training
  • Home birth
  • Planned Caesarean
  • Home school
  • Public school
  • Private school
  • Breastfeed
  • Bottle feed
  • Homemade food
  • Prepackaged food
  • Baby led weaning
  • Blonde
  • Brunette
  • Bald
  • Young
  • Old
  • Friendly
  • Shy
  • Silly
  • Frustrated

It is my hope that we can learn to live in harmony with computers, that we not let them do our thinking.

Step outside of the box. Look into someone’s eyes. Think for yourself.

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Do you remember falling in love? The excitement of seeing that special someone? Your heart speeding up? Remember catching each others’ eyes? The way it felt when your skin touched? The vulnerability you allowed yourself?

As your relationship developed both of you revealed your flaws because you let your guards down. Sometimes you got angry but you recovered because love created a place of safety, forgiveness and acceptance, unconditionally.

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This happens with babies.  We have to negotiate our time and space to accommodate this feeling. Our hearts have unending abundance. There is an excitement and fear because we did not realize our capacity to feel such profound emotions.

Welcome to parenting. This journey is all about falling in love. Love can be wonderful and scary, frustrating and exhilarating.

Fall in love amidst the chaos of a life that is no longer yours alone. You find that you have lost control of your environment. You don’t have time for yourself, your home is a disaster. When did you last shower? Did you eat breakfast?  What happened to your body? Will you ever make love again?

But then you catch your baby’s eyes and all the mess fades away, if only momentarily.

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Your baby doesn’t care about dust bunnies and dishes piled high. She simply needs you.

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Remember in the early days with your partner wanting to be together constantly? This is how your baby feels. She wants you to hold her and feed her, to talk to her and to touch her. Your baby does not want to leave your side.

As you fell in love with your significant other there were times of uncertainty. If you put limitations on your time together would that make you feel secure or insecure?

Babies feel the same. Putting limitations on touch, holding and feeding can make a baby feel unsettled. She may build up defense mechanisms. Allow yourself to dive deep into this new relationship.

In this new phase of your life you will find you tap into your intuition. Trust this gift. Listen to your baby and listen to your heart.

Life is messy. It is speckled with moments of great amazement and awe but mostly it is ordinary. Life with a new baby can be overwhelming all of the time but after an adjustment period it will be mostly ordinary. You will find the comfort of this new kind of love extraordinary.

Here are some strategies to help you enjoy this new chapter of your life:

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~Talk to your baby, tell her your life story – she loves the sound of your voice

~Ask for help – and accept it!

~Tell people honestly what you need: food (prepared), to clean your house, to hold your baby while you sleep or shower

~Sleep when your baby sleeps – yes, take naps when the sun is shining

~Wear your baby – this can let you move about while still keeping her happy on your body

~Keep diapers and changing gear in more than one place – the nursery, your bedroom, the living room – so you don’t have to travel

~Set up nursing stations – a glass of water for you, snacks, a burp cloth in various areas

~Put an outgoing message on all your communications – “Hello, thank you for contacting the Smiths, we are busy bonding with our baby, please leave a message and we will call you back when we get a chance.”

 

Be vulnerable, take emotional risks, fall in love.

 

 

Feeding for the Future

February 9, 2014

Breastfeeding. It is a loaded word. It is powerful. Every piece of evidence says we should be doing it. Makes sense – we are mammals – what are breasts but mammary glands?

So why is it such a challenge? Why is it so loaded? My theory is that it is an integral part of mothering. Mothering is so complex, yet so simple.

In New York, in this newish millennium, life is complex – so many choices, so many options, so many acceptable variations on “the norm.” What is the norm? Who knows anymore?

For many years breastfeeding was considered special, exceptional. Well guess what? It isn’t – simply put, breastfeeding is normal. That’s all – normal. Of course, anyone who has breastfed will tell you that they feel special, exceptional. Well, being a mother is special, exceptional and normal. Procreation has kept the human race going. Well, breastfeeding has also kept the human race going. Mothering and breastfeeding go hand in hand.

So, what happened? Breastfeeding was replaced as was much of our nutrition and where has that gotten us? Going back to whole foods, sustainability.  We are shopping for organic foods, preparing fresh meals. What about those of us who don’t know how to cook, who don’t have time to cook, who choose not to cook? Do we go hungry? No, we go out! The trend in restaurants is to offer fare that is seasonal and locally grown.  It is green, good for the environment. The people have spoken and we want our health back.

Many mothers truly need to work to support their family. Many mothers are very fulfilled by their jobs outside of mothering and make a commitment to the balancing act of mothering, working, taking care of herself. The babies of these mothers want and deserve proper nutrition.

Babies can’t speak so obviously. Those of you with babies know better. They want their milk and they want what is theirs.  What about the moms who don’t have enough milk, don’t want to breastfeed, have to work and don’t have access to quality pumps, or pumping breaks? Shouldn’t these babies still get human milk? These babies deserve access to appropriate nutrition, their mothers deserve informed choice and these babies deserve access to banked human milk.  The people need to speak out on behalf of our future. There is nothing more sustainable or greener than breastfeeding.

How can we make this happen? Create a need – if you are pregnant tell your health care providers that you will be breastfeeding and you want to know how they will support you and your baby.  Talk to nursing moms, attend a La Leche League Meeting, take a breastfeeding class. If you are nursing, share your joys and challenges. Avoid nursing in the closet. If breastfeeding is not going well, surround yourself with support, seek help from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, tell your health care providers and pediatrician.

Mothers need support. Let us support one another in our mothering.  Sometimes we make different choices from our peers.  Sometimes choices are made for us.  Mothering is about the future – our babies are the future. Let us celebrate the next generation and work toward a healthier future for our children.Image

Love Lines and Body Love

February 9, 2014

My body is the only body I have, the only body I will ever have. It is where I live. My body is where I grew my babies, first inside then outside. I grew them with my breasts, my hugs. I lugged them around on my hips. I am happy to have these soft hips to balance a baby and my soft bosom to catch hugs. If you look closely at my hips and my breasts, if you catch the light just right you will see a light pattern, a texture, almost silvery, once purple but softly faded lines. Some people call them stretch marks I prefer love lines.

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Love created my babies. Rob’s loving hands caress my body. I love the feeling of skin on skin.

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I once held fantasies of having a perfectly toned body, a model size body but I don’t naturally have that body type and life is too much fun to work that hard for an elusive dream.

I had warts as a kid. Mama used to have me take an old silver spoon, rub it on the warts in a circular motion and toss the spoon behind me into the woods. This was supposed to disappear the warts. I was warned to never search for the spoon because if I ever found it the warts would grow back. The spoon trick never worked. Mama said I didn’t believe hard enough.

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When I was fifteen I had thirteen warts on my left knee. The doctor numbed up the middle of my leg and I lay back. I saw a miniature melon-baller in his hand and moments later I felt warm syrup dripping down my ankle. He scooped out those warts and red streaks of blood lined my leg and speckled the tile floor.

To this day I can see the silvery amoeba shape on my knee, particularly in summer when I catch a bit of color.

Speaking of tanning I have been cursed with a skin cancer gene. If you look closely at my chest and face you will see that they are marked up like old pair of jeans that have been reworked, stitches here and there, threadbare in some spots. I am a dermatologist’s dream. I don’t have bad cancer, just basel and squamous cells, moles, things that need to be removed here and there but are nothing lethal. I am a steady customer.

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I have plenty of moles. There is one on my left side, the part that curves in at the waist, just handy for a nursling’s little hand to migrate to and pull and pinch and finger. I had another one that he loved on my upper chest near my arm that was easy access when nursing. I complained to the dermatologist and he froze it off. The boy knew the one on my waist was bigger and softer anyway so he didn’t complain.

My daughters love my curves. They love to cuddle into me. My husband and son love hand-holding and spooning.

The chorus of love I hear is: “Let’s cuddle.” “Spoon me.” “I need a hug.”

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Legs tangle together on the sofa. We are a network of limbs, touching, embracing, kicking. My family is connected physically and emotionally. I feel like we sprang from my marked and curvy body.