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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The F Word

So a funny thing happened last Tuesday night--my son started growling while he nursed. And he's done it every day since. Yup...he growls like a rottweiler with a bone to gnaw on. He grabs on with both hands, twists his sharp-nailed little fingers into my flesh, stares right up into my eyes and bitches. He's telling me something. And I'm pretty sure it's that he hasn't forgiven me for last Monday. See, Monday I was in the hospital having surgery, and my now-rabid little beast was only allowed to nurse once in about 24 hours--not at all up to his standards of whenever-the-hell-he-pleases.

So on Monday we visited the F word.

It's one of those words nursing women don't want to hear. Not because it's a horrible thing, but because we work hard to provide for the tiny humans from within our bodies, and having to resort to dipping powder from a can after everything we've done to get our bodies to work properly makes us feel like failures. I felt that way at least. And feeling like a failure bites. I mean, OW.

But things happen. The tiny freezer stash of milk I'd painstakingly built up slowly dwindled to nearly nothing--spills and sour milk, growth spurts and leaking storage bags. I couldn't find a donor because of my kid's dietary restrictions. There were complications during surgery, making it take longer than usual. They had to use more and different medications, which made the pump and dump time a little longer than it would have been. Though the hospital staff had assured us the baby could stay in the room with me so I could feed him when it was safe, the nurse on duty decided otherwise and sent him away after one little session, my wife with him. One bag of frozen milk lay forgotten and overlooked in the back of the fridge. Things happened--and so did formula.

It wasn't much. Maybe 6-8 ounces total. Apart from the gas and the upset belly and the gross diaper a day or two later, it was nothing in the scheme of things. I wasn't even there to see it (the formula, not the diaper...no, that diaper was all mine). But it still bites. I worried about the possibility of cross-contamination, about the formula making him sick--and it did a bit, but only because his body wasn't used to it. I worried he wouldn't eat it--he did. I worried he wouldn't want breastmilk again--no problem there but...have you tried formula? It's like paste. And yes, I felt like a failure.

For a day. Or a moment. And maybe again next month when it crosses my mind while I'm pumping early in the morning. I failed to feed my child what he was born to eat.

But then, every time I pump instead of feeding him directly, he's not getting exactly what he's supposed to. Every time I go to work, he cries because he wants me home with him. Every time I cry from exhaustion and hand over a bottle of pumped milk while I'm home so I can take a NAP, he's not getting exactly what he needs from me.

And that's okay.

It's not perfect. Sometimes it kinda bites. But it's okay. I have never once been perfect--I only hope to do the best I can from one day to the next. And last Monday, when the stored milk was all gone and milk from a donor who wasn't gluten-free would have hurt him a LOT more than anything else--on that day, formula was the best thing for him. He was hungry, and we fed him. And when I got home the next day, I fed him again in the way I love best. He growled and bitched at me the entire time for skipping out on him for 24 hours, but still--I fed him.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Pumping is a Right...and it Sucks

**Re-posted from my original blog**

I have been a mother for five years, but until two months ago, I had never given birth. I had never breastfed. My son is breathtaking. I love feeding him. I love it when we’re wide awake, and I love it when we’re drowsing through it. The other day, I loved it when he latched on in the parking lot of Publix, his cries from being in the car immediately silenced—we’d been fighting his aversion to nursing, something that had taken hold after I returned to work, and this was the first time he remembered that nursing came with a kind of comfort that bottles couldn’t provide.     

I am a breastfeeding mother now, and I’m also a working mother. So when I watched this news report, it left me cold. The story is about an assistant manager at Popeye’s Chicken with a breastfed infant, like me. She’s a secondary supervisor, like me. She has to take breaks at work to pump milk for her son to eat the next day, like me. Unlike me, though, her manager cut her hours and then demoted her from her assistant management position...for feeding her child. This woman’s boss went so far as to tell her that she would have both her hours and her position back if she quit breastfeeding. Wow. Okay, first of all, that’s illegal in the United States. I know because I looked it up before I returned to work after my son was born. The Fair Standards Labor Act mandates that all companies who employ more than fifty people are required to provide nursing mothers with clean, private spaces (read: not bathrooms) to pump milk, and time in which to do so. Now, I work for a city fire department, and they employ about 500 people, so correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m guessing a national restaurant chain is bound to have at least as many. They have to let her pump. They cannot fire her, demote her, cut her hours or in any other way discriminate against her for pumping at work. The only thing they can do is refuse to pay her for the time she spends pumping, which, oddly enough, she says they didn’t do.

As bad as the legal ramifications of illegally treating your employees like crap are, though, it’s the comments underneath the article that really get to me. I know…don’t read internet comments. I should know that by now. But it’s kind of like a train wreck…I really just can’t help but glance down, and once I have, I can’t erase what my eyes have seen. People ridiculed this woman. She should be using formula. She’s ungrateful. She’s taking advantage of her boss. She’s getting more breaks than other employees and that’s not fair. Of course she got demoted—she can’t supervise if she’s pumping milk. Really, the ignorance was almost impressive. It’s 2014, and people still haven’t learned that babies have to eat. I don’t expect people to know obscure breastfeeding laws if they don’t breastfeed (although it helps to know them before you comment on a breastfeeding news report, or you just end up sounding like an idiot when you say they had every right to demote her), but I do expect them to have compassion for hungry infants whose mothers are doing their best to both feed them and make next month’s rent. I also expect them to possess enough common sense to be able to deduce that a woman taking a break to pump milk isn’t actually taking a break.

See, my breast pump and I have gotten very familiar with one another in the three weeks since I’ve returned to work. My bosses knew I would be pumping milk because I told them so. And after I told them so, they verified with their bosses that pumping breaks were a thing now, and they also looked up the FSLA laws because, I don't know, they were born with both brains and the ability to google. They’ve been great. They provided me with a room that has a chair, a door and an outlet (and no toilet in sight…or smell). They give me all the time I need to pump throughout my shifts, and they don’t even take the breaks out of my pay. None of my co-workers are angry about it, and no one cares that I store my breast milk in our refrigerator for the duration of my shift. They couldn’t be more supportive if they tried, and you know what? Pumping still sucks.

So, since I’ve learned that I can’t rely on people to a) care about hungry babies or b) have the sense to know that pumping isn’t like playing with a barrel of puppies, I’m going to explain a little about how breastfeeding and pumping work. First of all, a woman who’s taking a break to pump breastmilk isn’t having fun. She’s not catching up on last week’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy. She’s not drag racing in the parking lot. No, instead she’s likely sitting in a closet and exposing parts of her body that she usually keeps hidden so she can hook herself up to an electric machine that sucks her nipples repeatedly into hard plastic tubes and treats her like a dairy cow…every 2-3 hours, every shift she works, and every other time she has to be away from her baby. 

See, every two and a half hours (it’s what works best for my supply, and it’s different for every pumping woman), I have to leave my cushy, expensive chair and my laptop that might very well be playing last week’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy and relegate myself to the storage room in my boss’s office. I prop my electric pump on a wooden box and assemble my pump pieces on another wooden box and then connect it all together. Lift my shirt, unhook my bra cups and expose my breasts to the cold air. Rub them a little to warm them up and get the milk ready to, hopefully, flow. Push hard plastic funnels up against my nipples and hold them there for what feels like a very, very long time while milk flows into the bottles underneath. My breasts are too large for hands free bras, see, and I can’t actually pump in any position other than leaning forward, otherwise the milk oozes out around the plastic funnels that are supposed to be sucking it down into the bottles, and all I succeed in doing is soaking my shirt, my pants and the floor, but not actually catching any milk for my kid. Seriously—whoever said you shouldn’t cry over spilled milk clearly never had to use a breast pump. So I sit in my chair, lean forward while holding the pumps against my breasts and stare at the same leftover batteries and packs of alcohol wipes on the same shelves that I’ve been staring at during every other pumping break…for fifteen minutes…every two and a half hours…for twelve hours in a row, for forty to sixty hours a week. Do you have any idea how much hell that puts my back through? And my arms? It’s enough to make me cry. And then there’s the guilt for being in the closet rather than at my desk when I hear the phone ring and the fear that my milk supply is dropping when my letdown takes longer than usual and the constant worry that nothing’s going to come out at all, and all of these things don’t do anything to make crying any less likely. And then after crying (I mean…pumping…), I have to get up, go to the kitchen I’m lucky to have access to, pull apart my pump, wash and scrub all the parts, set it out to dry, and then come back two and a half hours later to reassemble it (hopefully without breaking the most delicate bits because replacements ain’t cheap) and start the whole process over again.

These aren’t super awesome fun breaks. These aren’t smoke breaks that leave you relaxed and smelling of fresh nicotine when you come back in the door. They aren’t let-me-walk-around-the-parking-lot-and-see-the-night-sky breaks. They aren’t oh-my-God-I’m-starving-and-need-a-Snickers breaks. They aren’t even breaks at all. The only reason to do it is to make sure your kid has enough to eat when you go back in to work tomorrow. I mean, I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve never been a big fan of starving my kids. I think there might even be a law against that or something. Read: if a mother doesn’t pump, then her baby doesn’t eat. 

You know what else happens if a breastfeeding woman doesn’t pump? Her milk supply drops or dries up altogether. Or she can get engorged, which is when her breasts get so full they’re painful and hard to the touch, and it’s difficult for her baby to latch on properly. Or she can get clogged ducts—those are painful lumps in her breasts that can quickly get infected. Speaking of infection, she can get mastitis, which can lead to hospitalization and have a drastic effect on her milk supply. All of this because some people think that her taking breaks isn’t fair to the other employees, or that the mere presence of breastmilk in the building is a crime against humanity, or that her productivity will suffer because she’s taking time away from work to pump. Feel free to let me know how that nasty boob infection affects her performance next week, though, okay?

Breastfeeding is hard. And breastfeeding women are badasses. On a daily basis, they deal with sore nipples, cracked and bleeding nipples, sorting out lip ties and tongue ties and shallow latches, working through oversupplies, undersupplies and foremilk/hindmilk imbalances, exclusively pumping because their baby is unable to latch, babies who need to feed every hour, every forty-five minutes, every twenty minutes because they are going through a growth spurt, nursing strikes on the part of the baby, nursing and/or pumping aversions on the part of the mother, infections, thrush, clogged ducts, screaming babies who refuse the bottle, screaming babies who refuse the breast after being given bottles, babies who bite, babies who kick, punch and scratch, babies who tap dance on one breast while eating from the other (It’s true, believe me…I have one of those), pumping every couple of hours at work, pumping at home after baby’s eaten or while baby is taking a nap because pumps aren’t as efficient as a baby and pumping at work doesn’t produce enough to actually cover baby’s needs, and a thousand other struggles. On top of that is the embarrassment of having to undress in public to feed your child every time you go out, the fear that someone will say something and you’ll a) cry, b) punch them, or even c) both of the above. Then there’s the constant fear that you aren’t producing enough, that your milk isn’t fatty enough, that what you’re eating is hurting your baby, that your medications are hurting your baby, that the mimosa you had at dinner is hurting your baby (it isn’t). Then there’s wondering whether you should breastfeed your baby when you’re sick and whether it’s safe to give them milk that you bled into (yes, you should, and yes, it is). 

Then there are doctors who are still using weight charts based on formula-fed babies and are telling you that your child is being starved to death and you have to supplement, doctors who weren’t taught anything about breastfeeding and tell you that breastmilk is garbage after twelve months, nine months or even six months, and doctors who don’t know it takes several days for a woman’s milk to come in after birth and urge formula feeding instead or who don’t know that breastfed babies lose more weight after birth than formula fed babies and again, urge formula feeding instead, and doctors who don’t know enough about latching on a baby to help teach a new mother how to do it and, yet again, urge formula feeding instead (it’s amazing how much doctors just don’t know, isn’t it?). And then there are employers who (illegally) turn pumping into a nightmare and do things like demote a woman or slash her hours and tell her she can have her former position back if she quits breastfeeding her child and know they can get away with it because those women need those jobs to pay their bills and it’s damn hard to find another one. 

It is a freaking badass woman who can still breastfeed in the face of all that.
I never used to be a breastfeeding advocate. I never gave breastfeeding much thought before I had children, and my first child was largely formula fed. My wife (she gave birth to our first child) had issues with her milk, and we didn’t know much of anything about how to address them at that point, so we switched to formula. We were fine with it. We’re still fine with it—our daughter is happy, healthy, amazing and alive. There’s no way of knowing now whether access to a lactation consultant could have fixed the problem. We didn’t even know there were such things as lactation consultants and the La Leche League available to us to ask back then, and that’s okay. I mean, it’s not really, because these are things that all women should be told about when they give birth or even when they adopt a baby, but we’re at peace with it. I didn’t really start thinking about breastfeeding until I got pregnant last year and realized I was having a son who, due to health concerns that run through my family lines, needed—absolutely needed—to be breastfed. But when I realized that, I started researching it and reading everything I could about it, and I believe now that we all need to be advocates. We all need to learn about breastfeeding, whether we have children or not. Why?
Because breastfeeding saves lives. Breastfeeding is so important that women whose babies have weaned still pump milk every day so they can donate it to babies whose mothers can't provide it for them. Breastfeeding is so important and so amazing for the body that scientists are trying to use breastmilk to cure cancer. Breastfeeding is so important that the Surgeon General of the United States has issued a call to action for breastfeeding support. Why? Because formula fed babies have a higher risk of SIDS. Let me say that again, in a different way: feeding a baby formula instead of breastmilk increases its risk of suddenly dropping dead. Formula fed babies have a higher risk of developing asthma (which also increases your chance of suddenly dropping dead), and they have higher instances of infections, like ear, throat and respiratory infections, as well as higher incidences of repeat infections. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding a child for at least two years, for health purposes. Do you know how many American babies are still exclusively breastfed (meaning, without supplementing with formula) at even twelve months? I do—13%...and only 8% among African American babies.
It’s a human rights issue—babies deserve to eat the best food we can give them and women deserve the right, the ability, and the knowledge, encourage and support needed in order to give them that. There’s a reason that formula fed babies have a higher rate of illness and SIDS…formula is, at the heart of it, unnatural. It will never be as good for a child as breastmilk. America has the highest infant death rate of any first world country. With all our research, all our pharmaceutical companies and cutting edge medical procedures, we have the highest infant death rate. Our low breastfeeding rate is definitely a contributing factor there, and the way we treat breastfeeding women is, in turn, a huge contributing factor to our low breastfeeding rate. Being an advocate for breastfeeding and for the rights of women to breastfeed their children literally saves lives. By humiliating a woman for daring to breastfeed her child in public, by sexualizing breastfeeding, by making it hard or impossible for her to both pump milk and keep her job, by not educating our doctors on the way breastfeeding really works, by pushing formula on women and sending them home with it in the hospital even when they intend to breastfeed, by not making breastfeeding help and support easily available to all women from the day their children are born or even before, by not mandating paid maternity leave like every other first world nation has done—by doing all these things, we drive women away from breastfeeding. We make it embarrassing for them. We make it a struggle. For some, we make it impossible and for others, we keep them from realizing that it’s even an option. And some of those children who were switched to formula or never breastfed in the first place will suffer for it. Some of them will even die. And some of those women who didn’t breastfeed or who stopped when they had a problem, like we did with our daughter, will regret missing out on an experience they really wanted to have.
I’m lucky. I gave birth in a breastfeeding friendly hospital, attended by a breastfeeding friendly midwife, and my son has a breastfeeding friendly pediatrician. My family and friends are supportive and not at all grossed out by the sight of a baby having dinner, and they don’t think I’m flashing them for attention or to flirt with their husbands (or wives, in my case…) when I feed my son at their houses. My milk came in with no problems. I have a good supply and I respond well to a pump. My baby doesn’t have any difficulty latching or with taking bottles; my employer gives me no problems about my need to pump milk at work, and I have ready access to an extremely competent lactation consultant (she’s friends with my sister…yippy!) who has never hesitated in answering my questions.
Even with all of that, we’ve had our struggles. My son had jaundice and a slow weight gain for the first month of his life. I had a pump I didn’t respond to and not enough money to buy a different one ($200 is a lot of money to spend on something when you can’t test it out beforehand, and there’s no way a woman can know which pump will actually work for her in advance). I have a high needs infant who needs to be nursed constantly, which makes it hard to sleep…or cook…or clean…or shower, and yet, after I started working, he developed an aversion to nursing because the bottles required less effort on his part. The days of screaming while we worked through that almost drove everyone in my house to insanity. There have been days I have wanted to quit, days that I almost didn’t care that formula feeding my son would increase his chance of developing celiac disease, if he hasn’t already been born with it.
But I haven’t quit, not yet. Nine weeks (such a short span of time…), and I haven’t quit. The best piece of advice I was given was, “Don’t quit on your worst day.” So on the bad days, I breathe, I cry…and I go again the next day. And the next day I remember that I love nursing. I love his giant eyes looking up at me and the look of intense concentration on his face when the milk starts flowing more slowly and he has to work harder. I love this simple picture I took with my crummy phone

I love how his eyes roll back in his head and he starts looking like a tiny drunk person about halfway through, and I love how my wife texts me when I’m gone because he’s screaming nonstop, so I take a short drive home, give him a kiss and a cuddle, pop a breast into his mouth and bask in the way he stills, calms and goes right to sleep after a few minutes of us nursing together. I love that last night I pumped fourteen ounces of milk at work, and sixteen ounces tonight in between writing this, even though I usually only get ten or eleven ounces. I mean, really…that makes me feel like a freaking superhero.
And this woman, this woman who works at Popeye’s…she’s freaking epic. She’s doing her damnedest to give her kid the best nutrition she can, and she’s facing a lot of opposition to do it. Think about that for a second. A woman lost her supervisor position. She lost her full time hours. She had those things stripped away from her…because she was trying to feed her child. When is it ever okay to punish someone for feeding a baby? The worst thing about it to me is that this woman’s boss, this person who is treating her so very badly for simply being a mother and for acting within the bounds of what the law allows her to do, is another woman. When women are discriminating against other women, against each other, it’s a sign that there is something very, very broken in our society.
Support breastfeeding women. Support women, period. Don’t compare our pumping at work to another person’s thirty cigarette breaks. Don’t accuse us of slacking off or taking advantage of our bosses or fellow coworkers. I take so many pumping breaks that I don’t even like taking a regular break because I know there are other people who need to get up and do things. So, in order to feed my child, I have given up walking at work, lifting weights at work, just breathing in the rainy air outside or even indulging in eating dinner away from my desk at work, because I am thinking about other people. If you don’t know how breastfeeding or pumping works, then ask before you accuse. I mean, if there’s one thing women with children have in common, it’s that they love talking about their babies.  Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my last pump break before I go home and feed the baby who will wake up as soon as he smells my milk jugs walk through the door.

Feeding Fear

The first time I realized that breastfeeding bites is when I was still pregnant. I was thinking about my unborn son, and it hit me--my wife wasn't able to breastfeed our daughter. She tried. She struggled. She powered through for four (to her) ridiculously long weeks. And in the end, despite help from her mother (who successfully breastfed eight children), we switched to formula. And we were lucky--our daughter didn't have any problems with formula. No allergies, no reflux, no digestive issues. She grew; she thrived--she's now 5 years old, 4 feet tall and 65lbs. I know, right? Try babywearing that, why doncha.

But I didn't want to do that with this one, for two reasons. One--his health. I have celiac disease. We knew, when we decided that I would have this baby for us, that his being born with or developing celiac disease was a huge possibility. And we knew that breastfeeding would reduce his chances of developing if he didn't pop out with it already and reduce his chances of developing complications from it if he did. Two--I wanted the experience. But what if I, like my wife, couldn't breastfeed? Man, that would bite. 

The fear was almost overwhelming. Oddly enough, I had no fear of birth, but miles of it laid out for breastfeeding. 

And then he was born, and I learned that the fear didn't stop there. I mean, breastfeeding went great for us. The biggest problem he and I had just after birth was comfort nursing. I'd done my reading. I knew that comfort nursing was good for him, and good for my milk! So I let him nurse away to his heart's content--waking, sleeping and in between. And then the lactation consultant came in. "So how long's he been nursing?"

"About an hour or so."

"Hmm. You might want to check your nipple and make sure everything's okay."

And sure enough, the suckling little bastard had sucked it to a painful point, and I had a gash across the tip that took a week to heal. What a jerk. But I learned that while comfort nursing is great, I need to keep an eye on his mouth and my nipple to make sure that that drama doesn't happen again. 

And so things were fine until his two week checkup, when I learned that not only had he not regained his birth weight, he'd actually lost 4 more ounces. So there was that fear again. Am I not making enough? Because it leaks all over the bed. Maybe it all leaks out? Maybe I make plenty, but it's just crummy filler milk and not nutritious-make-you-grow milk. Am I not eating enough? Drinking enough? Did I miss some essential snack that's supposed to make your milk magical? IS MY BABY STARVING TO DEATH??? Yeah...drama. Turns out he was tired from trekking it back and forth to the hospital every day to test his blood levels (he had jaundice), and I needed to change up the way I nursed him a bit. I had enough milk in each breast to fill him up for a feeding, so shifting him to the other breast after he paused and got burped and all was really just giving him too much foremilk and not enough hindmilk. So once I stopped going to the hospital, started home health instead and started putting him back onto the same side instead of the opposite one, he started growing like a boss. 

And then the time to return to work was looming close, and I learned I didn't respond to the pump I'd bought. And I didn't have money to get a different pump that might work better for me, and it was back to, MY BABY IS GOING TO STARVE TO DEATH!!! Applying for WIC at the suggestion of an LC fixed that one. They gave me a pump, and that pump and I are still going strong. 

After that was the fear that my baby liked bottles better than me (he did for a few days, but we worked through it), that I wasn't pumping enough, that the pumped milk is all going to go bad (some of it has), that it's all going to be spilled (some of it has been), and my current fear is that my heart surgery next week is going to somehow dry up all my milk (ridiculous) or that I'll have to pump and dump for longer than I have milk for (less ridiculous, but still a long shot). 

It bites that my easy, amazing, wonderful breastfeeding relationship with my child is also so riddled with fear. And those fears about my actual ability to feed him don't even include the fears about other things, like the fear of nursing in public or the fear that someone will say something to me about nursing in public, the fear of getting clogged ducts or mastitis, and the fear of accidentally eating something contaminated by gluten and getting both myself and my son sick (that one has happened already, and it sucked). He feeds wonderfully. He takes bottles like a champ. He's growing, as mentioned, like a boss. He's awesome. My milk is awesome, and I mean that in the truest sense of the word, because it is awe-inspiring to me that my body makes exactly what he needs to thrive in this world. But even with all the awesome we have going on--there's fear. If it's not one thing, it's another. And what I've learned, from talking to other women, is that I'm not the only one who has those fears. I'm not the only one who is less terrified of having a surgeon applying electrical shocks to my heart than I am of not being able to feed my son afterward. 

And that's why I started this blog, and the facebook page that goes with it. Because as cool as breastfeeding is (and as cheap as it is, which is good too), it comes with a lot of annoying roommates that aren't nearly as fun to be around. And because people should know when they're not alone...especially when it seems to them like they just might be slightly crazy. I mean, I'm okay with being slightly crazy, but it's nice to be crazy with company, isn't it? 

So that's what I am. Company. Lactating, only somewhat crazy company. And that right there is enough to make me feel just a little less afraid.