The Lactivist

February 4, 2015


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.


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.



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.

Change and Magic

June 26, 2014


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!

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.


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.


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




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:


~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.



A Love Story

May 28, 2013

I the winter of 89-90 I had had it with a particularly gray summer and the dreary winter. I could not take another day in New York. I was going to move to sunny Los Angeles. I did some networking. I found a friend of a friend who needed a roommate. I found someone selling a car – cheap. I found a sister company to the law firm where I was paralegal temping.  I bought a one-way ticket on Southwest Airlines. I was also in debt and not making any money from acting. Of course they would love me in LA. Maybe I wasn’t thin enough but I had New York acting experience and stand-up comedy chops.

At the time I was living on the fourth floor of a six-floor walk up on Second Avenue near Gramercy Park. On the third floor was a cool girl named Audrey, on the second floor was my friend Terry and her gay Australian roommate Peter. and on the first floor there were two guys. Terry kept telling me how nice one of them was. Rob wasn’t my type – whatever that meant.

Terry asked me to go hear some music with her and her boyfriend Tom and neighbor Rob. We went to Mondo Cane in the West Village. We heard the Spin Doctors. Remember the song Kryptonite? In the hall Rob gave me a quick kiss on the cheek.

One night I was locked out of my apartment – I won’t get into the details of the bad date I was on but Rob came home and offered up his couch for me to sleep on. We stayed up was past midnight talking. He gave me a T-shirt and shorts to sleep in.

I continued my west coast networking. I contacted a woman who had been in New York and saw me do Stand Up. I took a couple of private acting classes with a teacher I heard would look good on my resume. I kept working as much as possible to save money and pay off debt. Audrey invited me to a party on the third floor. I met a cute Italian guy named Massimiliano.

In 1990 Valentine’s Day fell on a Wednesday. Massimiliano was busy. Peter and I were chatting on the phone and I told him I was thinking of calling neighbor Rob and asking him if he wanted to grab a bite to eat and rent a movie. There was a beep on my red Conair plastic phone. It was Rob. He said, “Do want to go get a bite to eat and then watch a movie at my place?

Rob and I went to Lorango on Third Avenue. We had burritos and sangria. We went back to his place and watched a Peter Sellars film. Rob invited to me to go a wedding on Long Island with him that Saturday. I went. There were no risks. I was leaving in six weeks.

We had fun. I met his parents and sister. There was no fear. I was leaving. Rob invited me to go to Montauk on the east end of Long Island the next weekend. We had a great time.  The following weekend he invited me to go to the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania with him and his friend Rob and Rob’s wife Mary. Every weekend we had some fun adventure.

I started staying at his place. My room on the fourth floor had become more of a closet. Catherine, my roommate was probably enjoying a mostly solo living arrangement with half the rent.

One night before Rob and I went to sleep I decided to take a leap. I said “I love you.” Out loud. There was a silence. I felt so embarrassed and vulnerable and at the same time strong. Then Rob said, “I am pretty sure I love you too.” That was huge coming from a twenty-four year old who never stayed with a woman longer than three months. It was usually more like three weeks.

A week before March 10 I was having a going away party. I invited everyone – all of my stand-up comedy and improv friends, my friends from all of may various temp jobs, friends from acting classes and, of course, my building friends. The party was on a Friday March 2. I had gotten into the habit of going first to Rob’s place before going up to my fourth floor home. Catherine saw that things were progressing with Rob and kept dropping hints about how important love is and how love doesn’t happen in every corner. She warned me about leaving. Even asked if I was running away.

That night before I was going to change into my party clothes I was talking with Rob. I told him how I was feeling conflicted about leaving. Then I said, “ Well, of course I am going to go to LA.I am a strong, independent feminist woman.” He blurted out, “but your mother doesn’t want you to.” That was Rob’s way of saying, “Please don’t go, I love you.” We went to the Going Away Party and I took all of my friends aside one by one and whispered that I was not leaving after all.

Catherine, who had already placed an ad in the Village Voice to replace me, told me I could keep my room but that I could not move out in three months. She helped me pack when Rob and I moved a couple of blocks away that July.

May 30, 1993 Rob and I married in the back yard of my parents’ house in North Carolina. I have never once regretted not moving to Los Angeles. I have never once felt that I was not a strong woman. In fact, I feel it was a bold move to take a chance on real love. Twenty years later we have three beautiful children. We have lived through wonderful joys and terrible tragedy but always, when I see a silly Disney movie or hear a sappy love song my heart beats a little faster because I am always reminded of Rob. When I see him in the morning or at the end of the day I still get a giddy feeling. Catherine and Terry were both right.




In the year following my mother’s death Daddy existed with two dark crescent moons under his eyes. He cried often. He wrapped his fingers on the table. He now only made one pot of coffee, no longer needing to make Mama’s decaf.


He walked around the house like a child who cannot find his mother, lost. Daddy called me one day to tell me he had just gotten a free pair of Levi’s.

Daddy needed to shop for his clothes now. A lifetime in the army wearing green camouflage fatigues and a wife with a great sense of style left him with a new need to walk the shopping malls in search of new clothes. His new Levi’s were too long, another new pair were too short. For years Mama bought his 38 x 30 Levi’s jeans and Dockers khakis. Now that he was in charge he would get to the bottom of the tomfoolery around his dungarees.

Having avoided Mama’s sewing room he trudged up the stairs past her paintings, past her writing notebooks, past the Singer sewing machine and the boxes of Butterick and Vogue patterns to the basket of supplies. There he found the faded six-foot long tape measure. 


On the kitchen table he laid out his half dozen pairs of blue jeans and began to measure each leg. Each inseam was supposed to be 28 inches. Not one pair measured up. He looked at the tags and noticed a pattern. The jeans manufactured in Vietnam were actually 27 inches. The jeans made in China were 29 inches. The jeans made in Sri Lanka were 26 inches. Daddy was pissed. He called Levi’s and explained that his darling wife had always bought his Levi’s and Dockers and now that he needed to buy them they were all sized incorrectly. He proceeded to read off the numbers of each pair stacked on the kitchen table next to his coffee mug. The kind woman on the line from the west coast mailed Daddy a coupon for one pair of Levi’s or Dockers of his choice. 


Remember this story:

And then I wrote this:

Dear Erica Jong

July 13, 2011

Dear Erica,

I read your essay in the New York Times “Is Sex Passe?”

This passage really got my ire up!

Better to give up men and sleep with one’s children. Better to wear one’s baby in a man-distancing sling and breast-feed at all hours so your mate knows your breasts don’t belong to him. Our current orgy of multiple maternity does indeed leave little room for sexuality. With children in your bed, is there any space for sexual passion? The question lingers in the air, unanswered.

Well allow me to answer!

I remember when my first child, Phoebe, was a few weeks old and we attended an afternoon barbecue at my in-laws. The topic of sleep – the ultimate new parent topic – arose I shared that we had Phoebe in our bed. Cousin Norma jumped right in, “You can’t do that! It will ruin your marriage!” I was shocked.

I kept Phoebe in our bed initially as a survival method. When I placed her in the bassinet at the end of our bed in the tiny house in the NYC suburbs she looked like she was in California. Neither Rob nor I needed to leave our bed to attend to our baby. We adored her and loved having her close to us. It also made it much easier to feed her through the night. Rob and I could cuddle and make love without disturbing her. Having a baby in bed increased our intimacy. We were more focused, more intense.

At this backyard shindig I learned that Cousin Norma had  been married and divorced three times. She was the one with marital problems.

And Erica, I know you breastfed your daughter. Did you co-sleep? Did you put Molly between you and your husband?

When you parent you have to have a sense of humor. You have to laugh if one moment you are a sexual goddess caught up in the moment and suddenly you switch gears, twist your body toward your baby, offer a breast, keep skin-to-skin contact with two people, be two at once, settle the baby down and go back to being the passionate goddess. You have to be able to laugh.

You do not have to divide yourself into sections. Similar to parenting more than one child – you meet the needs of a younger child and an older child. You can be a present wife and mother.

Oh, dear Erica, I think you feel you need to be an orange – all segmented. Me, I am a juicy peach- no segments, a complete package.

After 18 years of marriage, twelve years of breastfeeding and even more years of a family bed Rob and I are a happy couple with an enviable sex life.

As a woman who writes essays about the guilt of mothering and feminism please do not discount attachment as anti-woman. You are stoking the Mommy War fires.


Leigh Anne


Well, I sent my letter directly to Erica as the New York Times was no longer accepting responses. And she wrote back.

Leigh Anne–

Thanks so much for writing. You’re right: we don’t need to be segmented. 

I don’t think I was writing so much about myself as about my view of other parents who are not as whole and loving as you.
I so appreciate your taking the time to write your beautiful letter!
Erica Jong
I imagine as a writer you have to stir things up a bit. I will take her lead and not hold back. Not always be the sweet polite southerner. I can be tough and opinionated! So look out, y’all!