The Power of Tears

January 10, 2015

You never know what may come out of your mouth and how it may impact another person

In my early years as a La Leche Leauge Leader I used to hold meetings in my apartment. One steamy summer afternoon I sat on the floor of my living room folding laundry as Phoebe napped. The buzzer jolted me as I wasn’t expecting anyone. It was the day after the Series Meeting. A voice over the intercom said “I am here for the Meeting.” I buzzed her in.

At my door was a petite new mom with auburn curls and a five-month-old baby asleep in a dark red Baby Bjorn carrier. Beads of sweat speckled her stiff body. Tension permeated her.

“I am sorry but the Meeting was yesterday. Come on in and have a glass of water,” I said.

Her face fell but her body remained at attention.

“Come on in, I‘m just folding laundry. Have a seat.”

“No, I don’t want the baby to wake,” she replied.

She stood in my living room as I sat back down on the floor and went back to the task of folding a load of pinks, greens, oranges and yellows.

“It’s hard being a new mom isn’t it?” I asked.

“Yes.” There was a pause.

Then, “and my own mother wants me to stop breastfeeding. She doesn’t understand me. I just want to cry,” she blurted out.

“Well, then, cry,” I offered.

“I don’t want to cry in front of my baby. I don’t want her to think I am weak,” she was incredulous.

“You know, there is strength in tears,” I said as I folded one of Phoebe’s flowery sundresses.

The floodgates opened. I didn’t know if it was five months of pent of tears or a lifetime.

Her body softened with each sob. Even her curls fell easier around her face. Her baby girl woke up and she sat on my couch and nursed her. At first she was stiff. I touched her shoulder and gently pressed her back into the back cushion. More tears fell.

This woman had traveled from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to the East Village. If you live in New York City you know that is quite a journey on public transportation, particularly for a new mom.

I never saw the woman again or heard from her but I learned the power of simple words that day.

I often cry with the moms with whom I work and I cry in front of my children. I always feel powerful after.

This morning I attended a panel discussion of the Children’s Health Council at Cornell Weill Medical College on New York City’s upper east side. The topic was Tots to Teens: Sleep and Your Child.

The panelists were Vikash K. Modi, M.D., FAAP, Haviva Veler, M.D. and Mary J. Ward, Ph.D.

The topics they addressed are the things I discuss with my clients: routine, rhythm and consistency for good sleep hygiene. The topic of co-sleeping was mentioned but was never actually addressed during the panel discussion. It was great to hear these panelists discuss normal sleep behavior and when medical conditions get in the way.

Then they talked about the importance of letting babies learn to sleep on their own. They even encouraged Cry It Out. What was especially compelling was the fact that the two moms on the panel confessed their own discomfort with letting their own babies Cry It Out. I was relieved to hear this because it confirmed I was listening to real people with real life experience. But I wonder why. Why they have expectations that others should “do as they say, not as they do?”

They discussed the problems of electronics and irregular schedules. They discussed how light disrupts the excretion of melatonin.

They never discussed diet. They touched on allergies, mostly airborne allergies causing inflamed adenoids and obstructing airways. But they did not discuss what and how babies are fed. I wonder if they considered this in their research.

They talked about sleep associations like music, blankets and parents. They insist these “objects” need to not be there when the baby falls asleep or they will need these associations when they wake in the middle of the night. They did not discuss breastmilk or the melatonin levels that change throughout the day to help babies to sleep more. They discussed circadian rhythms.

I learned the two factors that determine the need for sleep are 1)circadian rhythms and 2)how much time has elapsed between sleep sessions.

During the Question & Answer period there were many parents asking about their own children’s sleep issues. Luckily I got a chance to ask my question. Into the microphone, I spoke, “I am a Private Practice Lactation Consultant and one of my favorite things to show new families is how to SAFELY lay down and nurse their babies and to know how to SAFELY fall asleep if that were to happen. Why then when families pass into the borders of the United States do their bodies suddenly become dangerous?”

Dr. Ward admitted that she may be biased toward Western philosophy and mentioned a study that showed most parents do not like sleeping with their babies or children.

It made me wonder if the participants in that study answered that they don’t like it because they are conditioned to think it is bad? Are they conditioned culturally to think that babies are not supposed to cross the border of the marriage bed? Maybe I am reading too much into it. Maybe my personal bias towards wanting more sleep and wanting to breastfeed comfortably colors my thoughts on this controversy.

Gerald M. Laughlin, M.D. suggested that in this country the mattresses on adult beds as so soft as to cause suffocation as opposed to the hard mattresses in Asia where co-sleeping is the norm. I am not an anthropologist but I do sit on a lot of beds and very few I have examined are soft enough to cause a risk for babies.

Dr. Veler stated that there is research that states that there is an increase in SIDS when sleeping with parents. I told her I have research that negates that untruth.


I brought along two copies of Sweet SleepNightime and Naptime Strategies for the Breastfeeding Family, the new book by Diane Wiessinger, Diana West, Linda J. Smith and Teresa Pitman published by La Leche League International. This book debunks many myths around sleep. The authors really went through many studies with a fine tooth comb and proved that in specific circumstances co-sleeping is the safest for babies.

They talk about the Safe Sleep Seven. For this to work a mom needs to be:

1) a non-smoker

2) sober

3) breastfeeding

the baby needs to be:

4) full-term and healthy

5) kept on his back when he is not nursing

6) unswaddled, in a onesie or light pajamas

and they both need to be

7) on a safe surface.


This is nearly a five-hundred-page book so if you are really interested I recommend you check it out – many of those pages notes with citation of studies and research.

I gave one to Dr. Veler and the other to Dr. Loughlin.

It is my hope that these doctors will really look at them, take in the research and consider their words when they are asking parents to do what goes against their instincts.

I did take away some good information about my own older children. I learned how sleep works. My knowledge of the technology interfering with sleep is a real thing. I learned that it is absolutely normal for my thirteen year old to not want to wake up early in the morning.

I also learned that by trusting my instincts and paying attention to my children’s sleep I know what works against them getting good sleep and what helps. As babies we all slept better together. I did not mind being their sleep association “object.” It reminds me of the time when Phoebe was a toddler and she was holding onto her little red Elmo and another mom asked me, “Is Elmo her security object?” I was stunned then I realized what she was asking. “No.” I replied. “Well, what is,” she needed to know. “Um.” A beat, then “I am,” I beamed.

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!


I am a group person. Let me just put that out there right up front. You may find it hard to believe but I was a very shy child. Not until fourth grade when I cracked a joke and most of the class laughed did I feel any level of confidence. Until that moment I was a loner, hiding behind Mama’s legs then using my baby sister as a shield.




 In sixth grade Mama took us to Ala-teen, a support group for teenagers with alcoholic loved ones. I joined the theatre. When I moved to New York I joined a Buddhist cult – for only a day and half but I still joined! When I became a mom I joined La Leche League. When I wanted to lose weight I joined Weight Watchers.  I lead various breastfeeding support groups. I belong to the B & N 5 – a writing group.  

Last spring I was talking to my friend Amy, she and her husband own a fantastic café in the East Village , ciao for now. Amy and I often talk about parenting – we both have three children. I whined a bit about Phoebe graduating high school and starting her freshman year of college. We both welled up with tears lamenting the passing of time. I mentioned my changing body, peri-menopause, aging, all the changes we women experience. “We need a support group for that!” we nearly sang in unison. Amy immediately offered up her café  as a spot for our group. I let the idea simmer for a couple of days. I had also mentioned to the B & N 5 that I wanted to teach a writing class. An idea gelled. Writing Through Transitions! I search the web and found a woman on the west coast had written an e-book and was doing workshops by that name, so much for original ideas.

I bought and read her book. It was good but she is a therapist and her approach was different.

My background is more in peer-to-peer support.  My new group would be for women, we would talk and write about all of these changes, these transitions. I have creative strategies for managing the group and divining memories from the past while being able to express oneself and to be heard.  A few of us gathered last fall to workshop the idea at ciao for now. I saw what worked and what I needed to change. So now, beginning March 20 we launch the official Women Words & Transitions workshop at Lila Wellness.

If you are a woman of any age in or around New York City I hope you will consider joining me in this creative, self-exploration journey. You need not be a writer just a woman.  I can help you explore the many changes in your body, mind, relationships and more.

I plan to offer weekend long workshops for those who cannot commit to weekly meetings. Let me know if you are interested!


My home . . . in jeopardy?

December 19, 2013

Stuyvesant Town is my home. It is a haven in the big city. But something nefarious has been seeping into my oasis: Big Business. Stuyvesant Town was built for the middle and working-class. The first tenants were soldiers returning home, nurses, firefighters, police officers, families.


For most of its history, Stuyvesant Town kept a list for potential residents. One had to qualify by falling into a certain income level – not too low, not too high – just to get on this list. When your name came up, it was like winning the lottery.

After our first baby was born, we could not afford to stay in Manhattan, so we moved to Westchester County. I pined for my beloved gritty streets, the convenience of walking everywhere, the cultural diversity. I moved to New York from North Carolina with dreams of raising little urbanites.

The day we got the call that our name came up on the list, I danced the ultimate happy dance. The ten months in the “burbs” confirmed my desire, my need to be in the Manhattan. With our ten-month-old daughter, Rob and I set up home. The playgrounds, particularly Playground Twelve is where I forged deep friendships and made acquaintances. The laundry room is where Mrs. O’Connell watched Phoebe and Chloe grow. She would share stories of being one of the original tenants as we slipped quarters into the washers and dimes into the dryers.

I lost weight, making laps around the oval with Gina and Louise. We also swapped stories and consoled each other through life’s ups and downs.


We discussed the controversy of opening up the lawn for people to walk on. Yes, we lived here, when the oval was fenced off and only maintenance workers dared step upon the green. We watched families grow, and we watched some families move away.

The grounds of Stuyvesant Town are where my children learned to ride scooters and bikes, to run on asphalt through sprinklers on sticky summer days and to build snowmen on snowy winter days. Our family grew here.

When we discovered, we were having a third child, Rob and I switched rooms, gave the kids the larger bedroom. Two daughters and a son sharing a room work to a certain point. But the suburbs are not an option. We have deep roots here.

We noticed that through various transitions, Stuyvesant Town tried to compete with the ever-growing luxury housing. Shifting and murky laws made it so that our middle class oasis was morphing into a temporary crash pad. I actually heard a rep for Stuyvesant Town showing a prospective renter say, “this is a good place when you’re single before you have kids and move to the suburbs.” My jaw dropped. This is a place for families. Where you can walk to work or take public transportation. No long commutes. A couple of bookshelves gave privacy to our oldest. But she needed more. Rob hung a door between two of them. Light spilled over the shelves but no little brother could play peeping tom.

During an inspection in late September, I was told verbally that the shelves and door were fine. They were less structural than the walls Stuyvesant Town puts up to chop up the apartments for NYU students and new, young residents.


A few weeks after our inspection, we found a letter slipped under our door stating that we were in violation of our lease. They said our options were to 1) Terminate the lease and move (giving them the chance to cosmetically renovate and dramatically increase the rent) or 2) Rectify the violation. We removed the door and had a certified architect inspect the room to confirm we are in legal rights of our lease. We photographed this, copied it and sent all of this to Stuyvesant Town management via an attorney.

We never heard from Stuyvesant Town Management until Monday December 16th where during dinner, a loud knock jolted us. Our buzzer had not been rung. Our eight-year-old son and I answered the door. A stranger called out my name, handed me a package of paper, which included a lease termination for December 31st.  This Notice of Termination was dated November 25, 2013. Where was it all this time?


Today copies of this letter came via USPS certified as well as in my mailbox.

We have contacted the ST Tenants Association, Garodnick’s office and various attorneys. We have been assured that we cannot be kicked out of our home of nearly two decades. Still, the stress of having to be faced with this menacing behavior, particularly during the holidays is unconscionable.

I have not slept well this week. I am spending time away from my children, my clients, last minute Christmas shopping and preparation.  The spaces of my mind are preoccupied with this bullying.

I know the original developers of Stuyvesant Town never had this intention. This was created as a sanctuary in the big city, a place to call home, to raise children, to walk to the butcher, the baker, the sandwich maker.

I hope that our new mayor will push for affordable housing for the middle class. I hope that whomever is in charge of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village find a soul and some sense of humanity and stop harassing long time tenants.

Migrant Mother at MoMA

March 9, 2011

I took a trip with Chloe’s 4th/5th grade class to the Museum of Modern Art. They are studying heroes – everyday heroes. Brandon, one of Chloe’s classmates quickly pointed out that moms are heroes. He loves his mom. He told me, “Moms work really hard all day long but they make it look easy.”

Our MoMa tour guide, Grace, took us through the Museum. It was Tuesday, which is the day MoMA is closed to the public. It was so great to see the amazing art without crowds. Grace took us to the gallery to see Van Gogh’s Starry Night. It was truly breathtaking.

We saw Andy Warhol’s Gold Marilyn Monroe, Picasso’s Girl in the Mirror and the beautiful sculpture Unique Forms of Continuity and Space by Umberto Boccioni.

The most moving exhibit for me yesterday was Dorothea Lange’s photographs of the Great Depression. We focused on Migrant Mother. Grace asked the children to comment on it and share their observations. They noted her pained look into the distance, they noted the determination in her expression, they noted the children  on either side of her. I was proud that Chloe noticed the baby in her lap – it is not so obvious. I noticed the baby looked full faced, well fed. I asked Chloe if she knew why the bay looked healthy when the others looked thin. She  rolled her eyes and let out a sigh and said, “because she nurses him.”  Grace looked over at us. I shared my observation of the full faced baby and Grace commented, “well, yes, the mother is determined to get her children fed.”  I said, “the baby is clearly breastfed.” Grace looked at me askance. I smiled. We moved on.

I was so moved by the exhibit and this photograph. I went home and googled Dorothea Lange and Migrant Mother. The Migrant Mother is Florence Owens Thompson. I will not get into the controversy surrounding the photos of Mrs. Thompson but I did find that Dorothea Lange took a few other images of her. There is a beautiful image of her nursing the baby.

Go to the MOMA.