Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Photocopies and Dinosaurs (No Big Deal)

No big deal - just nursing at the park a few weeks ago. 

Today was a good NIP day.

No one gave me a thumbs up or thanked me for nursing in public.  No "You go, girl!"  But this might just have been better.

Bellybean got hungry in potentially negative situations, and it was no big deal.

I mean, every situation is potentially negative, right?  That's part of what sucks - you never know when or where someone may confront you.  That's part of the problem. 

But these were awkward for me.

I work in the copy room for an hour or so most Wednesdays and Fridays, with Bellybean in the Ergo on my back.  Kids aren't allowed to be in the copy room (safety issue), but as long as he's attached to me, we're cool.  Well today he started to fuss, and I thought it was just that he was tired.  I was bouncing him around, talking to the Chair of the school carnival about the silent auction, somewhat oblivious to my noisy boy.  The assistant principal let me know that there was a tester in an office nearby, so we closed the copy room door.  I realized that he'd have fallen asleep already if he was tired, and that meant that he must be hungry.  Crap.  He's supposed to be in the carrier when we're in the copy room.  But if I left the room he'd be hollering in the hall, disturbing the student who was taking a test.  There were two teachers in the copy room.  My friend said something encouraging so I just sat down and fed him.  And quiet reigned.  One of the teachers on her way out glanced at us and said, "Oh, somebody was hungry, huh?"

No big deal.  I mean, it was, to me - it was a big deal that, to her, it was no big deal!

Then this afternoon Sweet Pea had a class at the Austin Nature and Science Center, and we found out afterwards that there was a dinosaur show.  I guess it was a preview for Erth: Dino Petting Zoo at the Long Center.  The dinosaur was fantastic - but scary for some, including my Sweet Pea.  But before we knew that, while we waited for the dino to arrive, Sweet Pea played in the dino pit while I sat with Bellybean near a mother of five I was chatting with.  Her kids were sweet - one of her little girls seemed smitten with the baby.  Which was awesome, until he started to act hungry, and I began to worry that the mom would be offended if I nursed him right next to her daughter, even though I am discreet.  But I didn't want to ask permission.  She said something about him being cute or little or something, I forget what, and I said that he was cute or little and hungry.  I held off for a minute, un-tucking my shirt from under the Ergo strap, stalling - wanting her to have time to understand that I was about to breastfeed, and to move if she wanted to.  Finally I latched him on, and kept my hand right on my shirt, ready to cover if he got distracted.  She called to her daughters, but one stayed put next to me.  Maybe one of them asked; I heard Mom say I was feeding him special milk.  Then she said to me, to let her know if her daughter made me nervous!  I smiled, "Oh no, not at all."

And it was no big deal.

Which was a pretty big deal.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Distratction & Disruption During the Board Meeting

What's more distracting and disruptive than a baby being breastfed at a school?  A baby who didn't nap well all day, and is up past his bedtime for a board meeting. 

The following is the speech I gave at tonight's board meeting.  Until we post it to our YouTube channel, you can read it while imagining me bouncing for two minutes an adorable and vocal baby.  Adam stayed home to get the big boys to bed on time, and Bellybean has separation anxiety so I had to decline the very kind offer to hold him that was made by someone at the meeting.  I did okay given the circumstances - got a bit breathless in my nervousness.  But mostly, I was just completely upstaged by Mr. Cutey Pants.

Good evening. I want to thank you for sending the issue of breastfeeding on school campuses to the Board Policy Committee. While I feel it could be as simple as writing a policy which states the law, I do appreciate the desire for due diligence. 
In December the School Health Advisory Council was asked for individual opinions and in January they were told that there would be no further work on a policy. It may provide valuable input to ask for the SHAC’s standing as a group.

As to the idea that a regulation or policy would include language that allows for sequestering a nursing mother if her breastfeeding is a distraction or disruption, I would like to point out that it is actually a negative reaction to nursing that could cause a scene. In almost six months I have nursed this baby in the lobby, in a parent/teacher conference, a 504 meeting, in the empty classroom stuffing Thursday Folders, in the classroom full of students and parents for two parties and Market Days, in the hallway, the library, and the cafeteria. The only time that there was ever a problem was when a staff member complained that as she walked through the otherwise empty lobby, I sat discreetly nursing my baby while I waited for my three-year-old to be brought back to the lobby after his hour of speech therapy. I needed to be there when he arrived, not hidden away in a private conference room. Just as I needed to be in the cafeteria if I was to visit my oldest son at lunch, and in the classroom to set up for the parties as I had volunteered to do, and in the classroom to see and help with Market Days just like any other parent who wants to be a part of their children’s lives and educations. These moments are too short to excuse yourself from them for 20 minutes to feed your baby.

Breastfed babies often refuse bottles – and exclusively breastfeeding moms don’t necessarily even pump milk or have a pump. Breastfed babies eat frequently, and not always on a predictable schedule. And holing ourselves up in our homes for six months to a year is a recipe for postpartum depression. So we rely on the law that protects our right to breastfeed in public. And now we are relying on you to ensure - without stigmatizing breastfeeding as a disrupting, distracting, deviant act - that we do not have to choose between optimal nutrition for our babies and participating in our children’s educations.

So thank you for the time and thought that you are giving to this issue.

Signing up to speak at last month's Board Meeting.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Board Policy Committee Meeting - February

I want to start by saying that our Board of Trustees comprises nine people who spend time and money to be elected to a four-year commitment - potentially longer if they seek another term.  During those four-plus years they spend quite a few late nights in meetings each month, many of them after a full day of work, in an effort to make the best possible choices to positively shape the education of tens of thousands of students.  In a district this size, they must receive a slew of letters, emails, and telephone calls.  They certainly receive ridicule.  What they don't receive is one red cent.  They are volunteers, and as a mom of AISD students, I state with complete honesty and no attempt to win their favor (I don't imagine they have time to read this blog, anyways), that I appreciate their service.

That said, bureaucracy sucks.  Dealing with this issue has been like trying to get a health insurance company to cover something they're supposed to cover when they see the possibility that they could wriggle out of it.  Nonetheless, the committee met last night and on this issue alone, they spoke for over an hour. They want more information before moving forward, and if I'd been told that in an email (or on Facebook), I would totally think it was just a filibuster move.  But I was there, privy to the conversation and attitudes, and I truly believe that they simply want to get it right this time.  Administration ran the now-rescinded regulation by the Board Policy Committee last fall (different members then), and there were no objections to it at that time.  This time, this committee wants to give it due diligence.

At least a trustee clarified early on that they would not be making a decision that night.  So I tempered my expectations.  

Not that I'm not a little crushed.  This has been exhausting.  I'm ready for some relief of the anxiety it has caused. What I wanted to happen would have sounded a little like this:

*******************************made-up conversation*********************************
Lori Moya: The first item on the agenda is breastfeeding.  It's clearly time to adopt a board policy.

Gina Hinojosa: I agree.  I've had to breastfeed my baby at school.  A mother deserves to be able to participate in her school-aged child's life while still meeting her baby's needs.

Cheryl Bradley: Dr. Carstarphen prefers to handle situations on a case by case basis.  Mr. Waxler suggests we clarify that the district will have to send a mother to a private room if her breastfeeding is a distraction from the teaching and learning environment.

Ann Teich: Breastfeeding isn't a distraction, people reacting negatively to breastfeeding is a distraction.  We have proposed language here from Central Texas Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition and Keep Austin Nursing in Public, and I think it's just what we need.

Cheryl Bradley: We really do need to show that we support breastfeeding.  It's a public health issue.

Gina Hinojosa: As a lawyer, I think this language is spot on.

Lori Moya: All in favor of adopting this language as our policy, say aye.

Lori Moya, Gina Hinojosa, Ann Teich, Cheryl Bradley: Aye!
***********************this did not happen - it's just a fantasy******************************

It occurs to me that Mel Waxler, the Chief of Staff and top legal adviser, has a tremendous amount of power.  Here we are essentially going over his head to the Board of Trustees, and there he is, at the table for this meeting, being consulted and seeming to have more influence than any other single person.

Thankfully, he has some experience with breastfeeding and appreciates that there are benefits.  It's not like we're dealing with someone who completely devalues it.  But, and maybe it's because he's a lawyer, he seems to see so very many shades of gray. 

Mr. Waxler reported that most districts, according to his in-house counsel group, handle any breastfeeding issues on a case by case basis, as the Superintendent wants to do.  He was saying that if there is a substantial disruption as a result of - and here he paused to search for a word, and Lori Moya said "as a result of a mother breastfeeding her baby?" and winked at me! - before Mel went on to say something about differing philosophies or opinions or something.

His concern seems to be that there are opposing views on the propriety of breastfeeding in public, and that allowances for those differing views, that "diversity of opinion," must be a part of a policy if one is written.  That's not a quote, just my understanding of his position; I could be mistaken.  Throughout this whole post, these are only my perceptions of where everyone stands and how they feel.  I will not intentionally misrepresent anything, of course - I am doing my best to be as accurate as I can.

Here's the thing about people who are opposed to breastfeeding in public: it's a prejudice. 

From Wikipedia on prejudice: "It can also refer to unfounded beliefs and may include 'any unreasonable attitude that is unusually resistant to rational influence.'"  I don't know how "my baby needs to eat" couldn't qualify as rational influence, before you even get into all of the health benefits of breastfeeding, and the myriad other justifications for feeding a hungry baby when and where he is hungry.  

But this realization, that a policy written to respect the views of others is in fact respecting the prejudice of others - this was not my realization, it was that of the amazing and wonderful Marianne Baker, shared with me after the meeting.  Thank goodness for that, because if it had occurred to me, it would have been one more thing to bite my tongue over as I sat in a chair along the wall and listened, unable for most of the meeting to comment.  

As I sat holding my tongue, I took notes when I wasn't nursing Bellybean, who hadn't napped well during the day.  Adam held him much of the time, and took him into the room outside of the conference room when he got very vocal, so I was able to pay attention.  But this whole post may be very disjointed as I try to address all of my notes.  So, let's see...

Luckily, we have at least three of the four women on the Board Policy Committee who have breastfed their babies and who are supportive of breastfeeding.  So there's that.

TASB, the Texas Association of School Boards, has apparently recommended addressing breastfeeding concerns on a case by case basis, and expressed a preference for a regulation (generated by administration) over a policy (adopted by the board).  Which stinks because we really want TASB to take a pro-breastfeeding stand.  TASB has as a resource a collection of policies that school districts can use, so we really want one day (soon) for TASB to have a good breastfeeding policy. 

There was a lot of talk about the potential for a mother breastfeeding to cause a substantial distraction or disruption to the teaching and learning environment.  Uh, no.  A mother feeding her baby is not a distraction.  Another person's reaction to breastfeeding may be a distraction or disruption. 

Mr. Waxler quoted a court case, someone versus Forth Worth - "The predominant interest of the school is to educate its students.  If a particular type of conduct has the effect of disrupting the learning atmosphere it should be subject to regulation."  (I think I got the quote right - Bellybean was "talking" towards the end.)

So he wants language (which is stigmatizing) to address the idea that breastfeeding could be a substantial disruption.

And what is considered a substantial disruption?  I still don't know.  There was talk of upbringings and opinions of teachers, parents, and students.  But other than parents yelling, I don't know what counts.  I do know Mr. Waxler feels that if a teacher is so uncomfortable that she is driven to distraction, that may constitute reason to remove a nursing mom from her older child's classroom.

But what if we were to replace the word "nursing" with some other word or phrase?  Vegan, tattooed, pierced, smelling strongly of some spice or perfume?  Gina Hinojosa said there all sorts of examples where you wouldn't allow that exception.  The one she gave was someone who might be uncomfortable with people who speak Spanish in front of them.  She also spoke of gender inequities and our biological status and can I just say I love Gina and am proud that I voted for her?

Nursing mothers are not a protected class.  But what if we replaced the word "nursing" with some adjective describing a mother's age, race, national origin, religion, etc.  We certainly wouldn't be having this conversation about a teacher's comfort level, and we wouldn't be considering appending a supportive policy with a caveat about distraction. 

Now thankfully, Mr. Waxler said that a complaint alone is not dispositive of having to ask a mom to go to  a private room (as was the case in my situation, which was defended as a long-standing practice - so we are moving the needle). If a complaint was made, a principal would have to show due dilligence, documenting whether and how students were impacted by the breastfeeding mother disrupting the teaching and learning environment.

But again, what IS a substantial distraction?  And more importantly than defining substantial, how do we define a reaction to breastfeeding as breastfeeding?  I mean, it's just crazy talk.  All these intelligent, well-meaning adults in this conversation and as I write about it I'm just overcome with how utterly ridiculous it is.  When I am feeding my baby, I am not responsible if some yahoo in the cafeteria starts hollering at me to stop.  Now if I holler back, I'm responsible for that behavior, but the breastfeeding is not the problem.

So when is breastfeeding the problem?

Even if people are uncomfortable with a mother who may not cover when nursing (which may not be in keeping with societal expectations but is not illegal), or with a mother who nurses a baby older than is the social norm (which would include anyone following the World Health Organization's recommendation to breastfeed for at least two years), the breastfeeding is still not the problem.  If a mom is nursing her toddler waiting to pick up her older child and no one either notices or cares, would that be a substantial distraction?  If a mother is in the back of the room at a class party, nursing her baby who refuses to remain under a blanket, and the top of her breast is visible but no one is any more concerned than they would be to see far more skin at a beach, is that a substantial disruption?  I am guessing that there are people who would be uncomfortable even just reading these questions, including administration.  And if that's the case - if Mr. Waxler feels so strongly about including a repetitive provision affirming the district's right by federal law to put a stop to disruptions because they want to control not the reaction to breastfeeding but the details of it - then the distraction/disruption concern is really just a red herring. 

There were other good questions, as well.  Gina Hinojosa asked what a mother can do if she feels she was not treated right.  Mel Waxler said that she can file an FNG complaint.  I don't know who would inform her of this, though...

There was the question of how to proceed.  No one seemed to think that continuing on a case by case basis seems prudent.  Someone pointed out that I was "a case."  There was much discussion of whether the breastfeeding issue should be addressed by an administrative regulation (which helps to effectuate a policy) or a board policy (which has higher authority than a regulation).  I am not sure if Gina said which she preferred, but she is very supportive of breastfeeding.  She really has had to breastfeed in her son's class, and sees this issue as one that affects a mother's ability to participate fully in her older child's life.  Ann Teich and Lori Moya both wanted, after the failed regulation, to have a board policy.  It would take away the gray area, and after the rescinded regulation it would serve to show where the district stands.  Ms. Teich was just terrific.  She felt that a policy could be just as simple as the law.  To which of course Mr. Waxler wanted to say it's really pretty complicated because the interpretation is affected by other laws...  

By the end of the meeting I think perhaps everyone would have been fine with a regulation as long as it is well-crafted.  Trustee Robert Schneider was in attendance, though I don't believe he is on the committee, and he expressed that he felt breastfeeding should be addressed by a regulation.  He seemed disinterested in the issue, or even perhaps disdainful of it, saying that if a policy needed tweaking it would have to come back to the board.  (Maybe I'm just over sensitive.)  Cheryl Bradley also prefers a regulation.  She is a longtime board member, and said that breastfeeding concerns have never come to the board before.  She feels it can be handled at the regulation level.  She asked me a few questions.  I wouldn't know how I had answered if Adam hadn't videotaped it (see below), what with the "Hallelujah Chorus" blaring in my head and all.  I felt her comments were supportive.  After explaining my situation, she said from what happened there, we shouldn't be here.  That I was in the lobby, I didn't disrupt the classroom, I didn't disrupt anything.  

And Mr. Waxler said that this was before there was a policy.  That you have principals who make judgement calls...

It preceded the policy, but it followed the practice.

I think my principal make the wrong call - obviously.  But I believe I understand why she did it.  She wanted to avoid conflict, her experiences have led her to feel that nursing in the lobby at a school is inappropriate, and because it has been a longstanding practice of the district to isolate breastfeeding mothers.  

So she was a little bit thrown under the bus by that statement. 

Which is weird, because Mr. Waxler has been gung ho in his support of her and the practice that has been followed for his decade with the district.  In fact, he went so far as to say, months ago, that the same practice was employed by other local school districts, UT, Seton Family of Hospitals, Travis County, and the City of Austin - most of which is patently untrue. 

Actually, I really appreciate that Mr. Waxler's opinion seems to have evolved.  But don't blame the principals when this is the advice they've been given, dude.

And then he said that my incident should not be the one determines what the regulation or policy is.  Huh? 

But moving on.  Mr. Waxler agreed that my situation should have been handled differently.  He said that if it had to happen all over again, if he was called for guidance, he would say "let me speak to the person who filed the complaint."

To give everyone props, leave it to the educators to recognize a need for training.  While businesses throughout the country regularly deal with the fallout of an employee making the mistake of confronting nursing mothers, yet fail to train their staff, I am proud to report that my district states an intent to train principals on how to handle any complaints about breastfeeding on their campuses.  Mel would like for the training, which will be done by Tracy Lunoff, the AISD School Health Health Coordinator, to focus mostly on the health benefits of breastfeeding.  The principals would be told that in general, the rule is that mothers are free to breastfeed wherever they choose, and if a complaint is lodged, the complaint would be acknowledged with respect and the statute would be brought to that person's attention.  Lori Moya said that she is an adult trainer, and while you can talk about things in a class, you have to role play situations.  So I'm excited that there will be a sensitivity training!  Just as soon as they figure out what to tell everyone to do...

Maybe we should have role played in the meeting to determine what exactly constitutes a substantial disruption or distraction.  

Bellybean was a bit distracting through most of the meeting, what with being super cute, and very talkative because he was overtired.  But, he was least disruptive when I nursed him...
They're still trying to balance the rights of mothers and babies against the prejudices of others.  Others who may have written letters, I don't know - but I know they haven't been at the board meetings, or the SHAC meetings, and they weren't there Tuesday night.  In an attempt to make sure no one feels overlooked, the possibility exists that a regulation or policy would address "one or two people a year" instead of just supporting breastfeeding.  And I seriously don't really think there are even one or two people a year causing substantial disruptions, though - I think it would be far fewer than that given that Mel Waxler only recalls one incident besides mine that has caused any kind of a ruckus.

So why not just let federal law cover the rare instance where a reaction to breastfeeding causes a substantial distraction or disruption?

Let's see, random notes here...  Please forgive me if I get repetitive and disjointed.  So much info to cover...  Mel liked the language "that is non-disruptive."  For a written policy or regulation, he likes the idea of saying something like "a mother who is breastfeeding in a manner that is non-disruptive..."  That's even worse than the whole caveat about creating a disruption.

SHAC was brought up as a possible resource.  I felt that SHAC's position was misrepresented.  They never really had an opportunity to come to a decision as a group.  In December they were asked not for a group decision but for individual comments - the overwhelming majority of which were pro-breastfeeding and against the rescinded regulation.  In January they were told that the district had rescinded the regulation and would handle breastfeeding issues on a case by case basis, and that no new regulation would be written.  So the perception was that there was no further role for the SHAC in the issue.  I was late (went to the wrong building) and missed the conversation, but in speaking to many SHAC members and reading the meeting minutes, it's clear to me that it's a mischaracterization to say they "gave it back to administration" and "did not take a stand either way."  The SHAC rocks, and given time to discuss it, I feel confident that they would support breastfeeding mothers and babies without stipulations.

The teachers' union, Education Austin, and the principals' union, will be consulted for feedback.  I know we have the support of the president of Ed. Austin, Ken Zarifis.  He has thanked us at the board meetings when we've spoken.  

A lot of talk went into determining a deadline for collecting this feedback before meeting again.  Everyone is busy, with the legislature in session.  This is where it was clear that most everyone wants to resolve this as soon as possible.  Ms. Teich and Ms. Moya in particular were vocal about that.  I loved when Ms. Moya said she wanted to put the issue to rest, and "The Donmoyers have been stressed for months."  Yes.  Yes, we have.  She asked if I'm okay at school, and I said, "I'm as comfortable as I'm gonna get."  I feed Bellybean wherever he's hungry at school.  I have a moment of feeling anxious and wonder if I could or should find a different location, but I buck up and feed him where he's hungry. 

They will try for the end of March.  Mel said that if any issues arise between now and then it would REALLY have to be a substantial disruption - whatever that means.  ;)  I'm being catty to be funny, to blow off steam.  But I do appreciate this attempt at a reassurance that moms can breastfeed during this process without fear of discrimination.  I think that's what he was getting at.

So I didn't get what I wanted on Tuesday, but progress is being made.  And I did get probably the closest thing I'll ever get to an apology from the district.  Mel said of the rescinded reg., "In retrospect, I don't think it was a good regulation."

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Two Best Things

The two best things that ever happened to me, as a breastfeeding mom, sucked. 

No, I'm not talking about my kids (I have three, anyways) - it's not literal, just an unintended pun I decided to commit to.

One of the things that sucked was being shamed for nursing in public.  But I wouldn't change that it happened.  It's what motivated me start this blog and my Facebook page.  A positive difference is being made because of that one moment.  

The other - the first thing - I would change in a heartbeat if I had a TARDIS

The worst of the first was experienced by my younger sister.  But it was hard to watch.  

I was childless when my first nephew was born.  M always did like to do things before me.  She flew on an airplane long before I got to, shaved her legs younger than when I was first allowed, same thing with makeup.  Dated an Australian before I ever - well, no, I never dated an Australian.  I just had a crush on her boyfriend before she started dating him.  But I digress.

I knew from a friend - the only one I had with children, and a La Leche League leader - that breast is best. 
I thought that surely the one thing a baby comes out knowing is how to eat.  But no.  There are instincts, but babies have to learn to latch on.  

The learning curve is even steeper for moms.  They have to learn how to read early hunger cues, how to position the baby, how to help him latch, how to problem solve.  Learning to breastfeed takes time, effort, and a lot of support.      

I remember M's support in the hospital.  How they grasped her boob and roughly plopped it into her crying newborn's mouth.  In pain and exhausted, she grew anxious at the strangers' hands on her breasts, the unsatisfied cries of her baby.  When a nurse cup fed her new little boy formula, she did not object.  

Little did we know that his stomach was only the size of a marble, easily filled by the colostrum in her breasts. He spent that night in the nursery so my sister could rest, being bottle fed formula by well-meaning nurses.

Spigoo, "Romain et Clémence" May 12, 2011, via Flikr, Creative Commons Attribution
It was the beginning of the end of her breastfeeding relationship.  Armed with a free formula sample, we left the hospital, all of us in shock that they were letting us take this little person with us - just her, her husband, and me.

The baby's latch just wasn't right.  M's nipples were so sore she couldn't take it.  By now her milk had come in and her breasts were engorged, causing even more pain.  The formula provided by the hospital was just too convenient.  Baby J took to the bottle quickly.  No struggle to latch, no work to bring down the milk.  Just pop the silicone nipple in and the "milk" flowed freely.

She tried awhile longer.  She's very conservative, and when she was out she would go to her car to nurse.  But even there, she felt too exposed.  She pumped for awhile.  But despite her best efforts, despite thinking she was prepared, with nursing nightgowns and the short breastfeeding class offered at the hospital - her breastfeeding relationship was doomed to fail.  It was sabotaged from the very beginning.  The staff at the hospital certainly didn't mean to sabotage her, but they did.

Watching it was so sad.  I felt helpless.  At the time I didn't even know that anything had hurt her chances of breastfeeding successfully.  I put that all together later, when I learned more.

But I knew from that moment in the hospital when she was struggling, overwhelmed by the anxiety of her vulnerability and her baby's hungry tears, that breastfeeding could be hard.

It prepared me for the obstacles I've faced as a breastfeeding mom.  It brought out my stubborn streak.  

It was one of the most important things I've ever learned in my life.

Were you prepared for the challenges breastfeeding can present?  
Did you get the support you needed to meet your breastfeeding goals?  

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Adam's Speech to the Board

My dear, sweet, lactivist husband spoke too, of course.  He's been so incredibly supportive.  So much so that he even put KANIP on Pinterest and pinned a bunch of breastfeeding comics!  If every mother was blessed with a partner as supportive as mine, our breastfeeding rates would definitely be higher.  

His speech:
I tell my boys bravery doesn’t mean not afraid. On the contrary, it’s doing what needs done, even if you’re scared, because it’s the right thing to do.

I’m Adam Donmoyer and I’m gonna embarrass my wife.
The first time she nursed in public she was terrified. But he was hungry, so she did. She’s brave.

She’s also brilliant, authoring a blog at that’s been read over twenty thousand times in the past three months.
She’s strong - three boys. Well, four counting me. Just saying.

And she’s determined - case in point, this issue. When she’s right, she won’t back down.
The district told her she couldn’t nurse our newborn while waiting for our three-year-old who was in speech. She was completely covered and in a lobby empty of students and she could have felt the victim. But instead she was empowered.

Example of her powers? When she learned Hays CISD was considering similar language to the policy you recently rescinded (thanks for that by the way) she called them up, introduced herself, and politely asked them to reconsider.  They recently emailed her the new policy, and let’s just say, it makes my wife very happy.

You want her on your side. Because she always, always, puts the greater good first. (And also ‘cause she’s a room mom who co-chaired the most successful silent auction in our elementary school’s history.)

If you want to support her and all the other parents just like her, adopt her policy. Not because it follows Texas law, which it does, or because she has a couple thousand signatures on her petition. Do it, ‘cause like my wife, Austin ISD is brave, brilliant, strong and determined to do what’s right.

Thank you.
  Yeah, he's pretty sweet.  

Barbara's Speech to the Board

I contacted our local breastfeeding coalition, Central Texas Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, early on in my efforts with AISD to ask for advice.  Member Barbara Brawn emailed as soon as she heard about my situation to offer her assistance.  In December she tracked down contact information for the SHAC members so that I could email them before the SHAC meeting, which let members know our perspective, and led to an opportunity to speak with a couple of members before the meeting.  The day after that meeting the discriminatory policy was rescinded.  Here is Barbara's speech:
Breastfeeding is universally acknowledged as the healthiest way to feed a baby, but it can be a daunting task.  Lack of support from family and friends, widespread misinformation, and inadequate maternity leave present barriers that can be difficult to overcome.  But according to a recent study, the greatest barrier to successful breastfeeding for 40% of women is concern over nursing in public.  Texas's  law protecting a baby's right to nurse wherever his mother is otherwise authorized to be has been on the books since 1995.  Unfortunately, store managers, school principals, and others in authority still flout the law and ask mothers to breastfeed in private - usually a bathroom, conference room, or other area away from the activity in which the mother is participating.  The usual justification for asking a mother to move is that by breastfeeding her baby, she's making other people uncomfortable.  Having her move out of sight seems like an appropriate compromise, doesn't it?  Not when you realize that the same logic underlay the once common "separate but equal" policies that we now consider morally reprehensible.  In the words of one mother chastised for breastfeeding in a restaurant, "It’s like saying, 'Rosa Parks still has to sit at the back of the bus, but we’ll give her a pillow so she’s comfortable back there.'”  The Texas Legislature recognizes the importance of protecting the rights of mothers and babies to breastfeed anywhere and everywhere they are otherwise authorized to be.  It's time AISD followed the law and did the same.
I just want to say that this quote isn't trying to equate experiences.  It's drawing a parallel, and it means, to me, that we should have learned this lesson not to segregate and discriminate long ago.  

Pusteblumenland, "Breastfeeding (" July 15, 2011 via Flikr, Creative Commons Attribution

Friday, February 1, 2013

Lauren's Speech to the Board

Tedeytan, "EBW Partners 17790" Dec. 5, 2012 via Flikr, Creative Commons Attribution
Lauren Reyes is an IBCLC, and the breastfeeding world is lucky to have her.  She's so dedicated to resolving this issue with AISD that she has used vacation time to be available for meetings we've had.  On top of being very intelligent, kind, and amazing with kids, she's super cool.  Plus, she was on Sesame Street was a kid!  

In her speech to the board, Lauren quotes the Surgeon General's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding.  As you'll see from Lauren's speech, the Surgeon General has our backs. 
Good evening board members, ladies and gentlemen.

Please accept my deepest thanks for rescinding the previous breastfeeding policy that segregated breastfeeding mothers from the public view. I also thank you for siding with Texas law, which expressly confirms a woman’s right to breastfeed in any location she is otherwise authorized to be.

It is now time for us to take the next step towards ensuring that no other woman will be discriminated against in any AISD facility for breastfeeding. It is time to create a new policy that aims to educate and direct staff and visitors to honor the law.

From a public health perspective it is clear that breastfeeding gives children the best start in life and thus an advantage when they start school. The fact remains that,
“Many mothers in the United States want to breastfeed, and most try. And yet within only three months after giving birth, more than two thirds of breastfeeding mothers have already begun using formula. By six months postpartum, more than half of mothers have given up on breastfeeding...” (Call to Action)
So why are American women not meeting their goals for breastfeeding?

One major reason is a mother’s community…
“A woman’s ability to initiate and sustain breastfeeding is influenced by a host of factors, including the community in which she lives. A woman’s community has many components, such as public health and other community based programs, coalitions and organizations, schools and child care centers, businesses and industry, and the media. The extent to which each of these entities supports or discourages breastfeeding can be crucial to a mother’s success in breastfeeding.” (Call to Action)
I humbly ask that this board place the implementation of a breastfeeding support policy on next month’s agenda. I thank you sincerely for all the work that you have already done in preparation for our final goal... Mutual respect and support for breastfeeding Mother’s and their sweet babies.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Officeof the Surgeon General; 2011.

Marianne's Speech to the Board

This is the speech Marianne Baker gave to the board at the January 28th meeting.  Marianne has been such a vital part of the progress we have made so far.  She's a lawyer, and her knowledge is invaluable.  She is intelligent, savvy, tenacious, and full of grace.  I didn't get to see The Avengers, but Adam showed me a clip where Loki says, "I have an army."  And Tony Stark shoots back, "We have a hulk."

AISD is a huge district, with all the bureaucracy that comes with any large institution, and complete with a team of lawyers.  It could be daunting.  But it's not. 

We have a Marianne. 

Here is her speech:
We came and spoke to you in November about the problems with the new AISD regulation that required principals to send mothers to nurse their babies in a place out of public view.  Many thanks to Superintendent Carstarphen for listening and ultimately rescinding that regulation.  In particular, I commend Mel Waxler for his thoughtfulness and willingness to work with us on this issue. 

While rescinding the old regulation is a positive step, principals are now affirmative guidance on this issue.  So, we ask you to continue your progress.  We ask that you put this issue on your agenda for next month and adopt a policy that complies with the plain language of the right to breastfeed law – a mother is entitled to breastfeed her baby in any location in which the mother is authorized to be. 
When this law was considered in 1995, some legislators didn’t know why a positive statement was needed since women were free to breastfeed their babies; there was no law against it. 
Then one legislator spoke up and said that only the week before, he and his wife had been at a restaurant, and the manager asked his wife to not breastfeed her baby there.  The right to breastfeed statute ultimately became law.
Sadly, 18 years later, it is clear that this positive guidance is still necessary.
A mother quietly feeding her baby is not disruptive and does not interfere with the teaching and learning that goes on in schools.  Someone might not like it, but someone’s dislike doesn’t turn a nursing mother into a disruption. 
AISD needs mothers.  Mothers as volunteers, doing Friday folders, helping in the cafeteria; Mothers who participate in their children’s education, attending conferences and class presentations.  A mother can watch the class play or do the Friday folders while quietly nursing her baby.  She can’t participate if she has to leave the room.  If you adopt a policy that complies with the law, then moms and babies are protected and AISD wins, too. 
We have provided you with suggested policy language.  We ask that you set this issue on next month's agenda and adopt a policy that supports mothers and babies and complies with the law.