The Lactivist

February 4, 2015

Lactivist

Chloe nursing at the World Walk for Breastfeeding NYC 2002

The word was accusatory. I felt her anger over the internet.

What had I done to her? I did not say anything about formula feeding. I did make the case against the unethical marketing of formula. That is distinctly different from condemning moms who formula feed.

There is a formula campaign going around social media under the guise of making the “Mommy Wars” go away. In actuality most of the conflict of motherhood, parenthood really, is sparked by media and advertising.

The line between marketing and entertainment is becoming more and more murky. I have learned for the most part to discern what is being sold to me as opposed to what is there to entertain me.

This is the comment I made:

This is not about breastfeeding vs formula feeding, it is about the nefarious marketing of the pharmaceutical industry that undermines all families. Formula has its place. This is about using guilt to promote their product and to make us divisive – are we really? At the heart of it on the playground I can say that most moms get along. The images in the media create fear and defensiveness. I work professionally to support all mothers, I know when formula is needed and wanted. People are not always given the opportunity to make an informed choice.

Why was she angry with me? Why did she think I was attacking her?

I started thinking about it. She was directing her anger at me because I am safe. She does not know me – I am just that breastfeeding advocate. What had happened to her? Was she really experiencing grief and anger over her baby feeding experience?

I have many friends who did not breastfeed and they are not angry at me. They made informed decisions or at least dealt with what they were handed and they have made peace with it.

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I thought about the times I get angry at people. I moved to New York for many reasons but one of the big ones was for an acting career. I am not a Broadway or TV or movie star. I could list all of the obstacles that prevented me from becoming famous but it doesn’t matter. I still get jealous and angry sometimes when I see actors my age who have made it. I also wrote and performed stand-up comedy. I loved watching the Golden Globes but I felt little jolts of envy watching Tina and Amy up there.

These feelings are far overshadowed by my happy life. I have a loving husband whom I love hanging out with – he really is my best friend and I am looking forward to growing old with him. We have three awesome children who are smart, healthy and beautiful.

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I have moved on. (Casting directors – I can still provide a resume!)

I am also a bit envious of the moms who have had babies at home. Complications prevented that from happening with my babies and me. Still, I ache a bit about some of the birth experiences my babies and I went through. In the end they are all healthy and we made it through.

I have worked out the things in my life that got in the way of some of my goals. I have accomplished many of my goals and I am a happy woman.

So, going back to the name caller, I think she is angry and sad that she is not breastfeeding. I do not know if her birth interfered with her plans. I do not know if her family gave her a hard time about breastfeeding. I do not know if she is taking a medication that is incompatible with breastfeeding. I do not know if her body never made milk. I do not know what experiences she may have had in her past that makes it uncomfortable for her to have anyone touch her breasts.

I sure as hell bet she loves her baby immensely. I hope she can find some peace. I will be the brunt of many a new mom’s anger and frustration.

That is a role I can play.

Uniforms and Fairy Dust

January 30, 2015

Why do new parents seem so guarded or opinionated or defensive? Well, much of it is that they are protecting their new family.

Another thing I have noticed is that parents feel they have to subscribe to a specific style. In the years since I first became a new mom – over nineteen years ago, I have noticed that so much around parenting is trademarked. I believe that is all about marketing. I have written about how poor parents are the biggest target of marketing these days.

I remember when it was time to start feeding Phoebe solid food a mom at a La Leche League meeting suggested baby led weaning. This made sense to me – let her take food off the table – I would bite off a tiny piece of apple and let her chew it, I would continue to nurse her. Eventually I became a La Leche League Leader. A couple of years back at a meeting I was leading for toddlers a mom mentioned baby led weaning and I was thrilled to hear this concept being embraced until I heard about all the “rules around it. Rules? There is a book! Wow. I thought it was about being instinctive with a few guidelines about what foods to give and which foods to avoid so that they would not choke.

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I also noticed how people would comment on how attached Phoebe and I were. Of course, I am her mom, we are together (the company I worked for closed while I was on maternity leave and I was a full time mom then.) Then I learned there is an organization called Attachment Parenting – which I love! But I hear moms asking, “Is it is AP to . . . “ Or “does it go against AP if I . . .”

Then there are the breast feeders and the bottle feeders and the co-sleepers and the baby never comes into my bed, and there are “Never let the baby cry” and the Cry It Outs.

I belong to way too many groups on Facebook and I hear so many new moms asking permission to go outside of the rules of whichever category they have chosen to join. I hear arguments about how you cannot do this or you should do that.

Titles: Tiger Mom, Hippie Mom, Crunchy Mom, Stay At Home Mom, Working Mom

Does one need only belong to one “club?” Does anyone only do things exactly as planned out in a book? Do breastfeeding moms never give their babies a bottle? Do most parents have their kids in their bed at least some of the time? Do the families that make their own baby food sometimes use a jar or sometimes eat convenient food? Do the touchy feely moms yell? Does the Tiger mom cuddle? Does the home-schooling mom want to send her kid away to boarding school? Does the mom with the most awesome and fulfilling career want to quit her job and stay home?

If you asked these questions to these parents you would get a resounding YES from time to time.

It seems like a new mom has to wear armor to defend herself and her choices. She has to seek permission to care for her baby. Whatever happened to instincts? Have we cultured intuition away by writing books and coining phrases and categorizing everything and everyone?

Maybe the extended family has done things differently so a new mom feels she needs to defend her choices. Perhaps she is faced with criticism and needs to wear a uniform.

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Whatever it is I wish I could hug all new moms and blow some instinct like fairy dust at them and let them take it in, take in their babies. I want them to clear out the noise so they can hear. So they can hear that voice inside them that tells them: this is your baby, your child, do not strive to fit in, strive to find love, strive to find the wonder in your little person, strive to grow along with them.

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In the meantime I will interject my thoughts in those groups when I have it in me to do so. I imagine fairy dust with each click of the keyboard.IMG_7271

Those Eyes

November 13, 2014

Looking through old photos of Phoebe I was taken back to the moments she was born. The thing I remember more than the pushing, the pain, the fear of what was going on with my body, more than thinking about our apartment move as I was in labor, more than thinking about moving out of Manhattan, more than thinking of whether she would be a boy or a girl, about what we would name her, I remember those eyes. Those eyes saw right into me. More than thinking if I would be a good enough mother, more than thinking about breastfeeding I remember those eyes.

She is a young adult now and I am still taken with her eyes. Looking at this photo when she was about two years old, the image is a bit blurry but look at those eyes.

Little Phoebe

I would wonder what was going on behind those eyes, what she was thinking.

There are certain moments in mothering that leave indelible images in my mind. There was when Chloe, at three weeks of age told me she did not like the light in her eyes while she was nursing – she pulled off my breast, turned her head toward the lamp beside the bed and fake cried then turned back toward me and stopped – she repeated this action until I figured out to turn off the light. She then happily latched on and nursed herself to sleep in the dimmed room.

There was the moment when two year old Finn looked up at me, a stressed moody mama trying to get out the door and get three children to school on time on a rainy day – you know that level of stress – I began to raise my voice, speak angrily. Instead of heading my demands to get into the stroller he stopped, crossed his little arms across his chest and proclaimed, “you have to be patient, Mama.” A tear rolled down his check. I listened.

There are many stories like this but there is nothing like a first. Phoebe’s first look into my soul made me the mom I am. Never forget to look into your child’s eyes. Never forget to watch your baby’s actions. Never forget to listen to the wisdom of a two year old.

Crash!

Right outside the Earth School, Tuesday morning October 28, just after 8:30am drop off. I was chatting with another mom and we were startled into silence.

Was it two cars that slammed into each other?

I peered into the street. Oh my god! The young woman splayed out on the intersection of Avenue B and 5th Street had been on a bike. I thought to myself “call 911.” Even if others are calling I will still call. I needed to do something.

I began to shake. The windshield of the mini van was shattered and dented.

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Thank God she was wearing a helmet. She was conscious. People gathered around. I spoke to the dispatcher. “It is on Avenue B and 5th street in Manhattan,” I told him.

“Is there an address?”

“Is there an address?” I repeated out loud so others could help.

“There is a big school. The other businesses are closed and their gates are down.”

Sirens are heard in the distance. The thirty-something Asian couple from the van is stunned. Had he sped up to make the light?

One of the dads from school said he saw the women fly through the air.

“He was SPEEDING – GOING TOO FAST,” he said in slow motion staccato.

He saw the impact where I only heard it. I could see the impact on his face. Why am I crying?

The fire department paramedics came. The police came. The ambulance came.

I searched online to see if I could find out how she is. None of us outside the school recognized her.

This morning, Wednesday October 29 as I walked my son to school I noticed a bit of a commotion outside St. Brigid’s church on Avenue B. Could it be a funeral? I saw no hearse. The boy in the green polo shirt and khaki pants, the uniform of St. Brigid’s School, sat on the church steps holding his socked foot, crying.

“What happened?” a passerby asked.

“A cab hit his foot.”

I held tight to Finn’s hand.

After I dropped Finn to his class I passed Donna.

“I am so glad you wear a helmet.” I showed her the image of the smashed minivan windshield I captured with my phone. I heard sirens heading toward St. Brigid’s.

“You need to show that to Carol, she sometimes rides her bike without her helmet.”

I marched to Carol’s class.

“Only because I love you am I showing you this. This is where her head impacted the van. Without a helmet she would be dead. Please, please always wear a helmet.”

“I will,” she promised.

I walked around all day my body tense, my muscles tightened every time I saw a bare head on a bike.

Yesterday I baked Rob a red velvet cake for his birthday – it softened my muscles, it gave me joy.

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And then seeing the Catholic boy’s foot stiffened me up again.

We need to have speed bumps. We need crossing guards at every school intersection. We need to ticket speeding drivers.

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!

How Finn Saved Me

July 25, 2013

I had a dream last night where it I was holding onto a colorful umbrella and it was incredibly windy. I was about to be lifted into the sky and taken a way. Just as my feet were leaving the ground my eight-year-old son, Finn, grabbed my hand and said, “kiss me.” I saw his little pursed lips and that kiss saved me. His kiss kept me from being lost forever.

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This is not the first time Finn has saved me.

I believe he saved me nearly nine years ago. Finn was conceived the week my mother died. Mama and I were very close. Her death was a tragedy. She died of lung cancer less than five months after her diagnosis. The last time I saw her I should have known it would be the last but Mama was never good at good-byes. It was October and she said she would see me for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I should have known when she had me return a sweater to J. Jill that was just her style. I should have known when she gave me a floppy disc with her writing on it – she never shared her writing until she was ready. I should have known when her face looked gray and ashen as she slept on Daddy’s recliner. But we both pretended we would see each other again soon.

When Daddy called to tell me Mama had died I screamed and fell to the floor. I felt a huge hole in my chest. It was a physical pain as much as it was an emotional pain. That pain lingered for months and sometimes echoes through my body at trigger moments.

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A few weeks after her death I discovered I was pregnant. It was bittersweet. How could I have another baby without my Mama and after two miscarriages? How could I take another loss so soon?

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Not everyone loves being pregnant but I sure do. I am not one to get morning sickness. I love growing a little human inside of me. I always dream about my babies. Growing Finn gave me a focus away from my grief. Sometimes my joy and grief intertwined and I did not know I how I felt.

When Finn was born I noticed his blue eyes right away. Mama had blue eyes. Neither Rob, nor our daughters nor I have blue eyes. I wondered if they would stay blue. They have.

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Along the way Finn has guided me in many ways. He was terrible at nursing in the beginning so I learned the reasons why so many women want to stop nursing. I learned how to latch better. I learned about pumping and hand expressing. I learned to be a better Lactation Consultant.

He has informed my mothering. One morning when he was about two and I tried against all odds to get the children out the door to school on time I lost my temper and yelled at he kids. Finn stopped and with big alligator tears he told me, “You have to be patient.”

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I don’t know what happens when we die but Finn used to talk about where he was before he came into my belly. I like to pretend that Finn is Mama all over again. Finn loves me unconditionally the way Mama did. He tells me the truth and keeps me in line the way Mama did. Finn does not replace Mama but he fills a gap and has eased that pain in my chest.

Life and death are full of mysteries. These days many mysteries can be proven or disproven by science. There are some aspects of life I like to keep mysterious: love, dreams, the afterlife.

I will keep trying to listen, be patient and not fly away to soon.

Monday morning was dark and rainy, a hard situation to get yourself out of bed. I had to tickle and cajole Finn.

Finally he slumped into the red chair and ate his English muffin. The large half with mixed berry jam the smaller half with honey. When he finished I told him to go brush his teeth.

I walked back to the bathroom and he was not there. I spied by him in his bed with his cozy blue blanket.

“I have a stomachache,” he said.

 “Come on, you gotta go to school,” I tell him.

I convinced him to get dressed.

“Sometimes the fresh air fixes a stomachache,” I say. “Let’s get dressed and go.”

 Finn reluctantly got ready.  As we stepped outside, we were speckled by raindrops. I popped open my bright pink umbrella.

“My stomach still hurts.”

I keep walking.

“What was your favorite part of the movie yesterday?” I ask.

 “I like the that the creature can smell your fear and when the boy realized he could be fearless the creature could not find him anymore. I also like the part where he was dreaming about his sister.”

 

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And all the way down Avenue B Finn and I discussed After Earth.

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He happily walked into school to see his friends after the weekend and did not mention his stomach again.

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