Friday, September 20, 2013

Comfort Food

When we speak up for a woman's right to nurse in public, we usually stick to the most important, basic need of the baby to be fed.

Nursing mothers know that breastfeeding is so much more than just food and physical health benefits.  Among other things, breastfeeding is a comfort for a child.  Whether they're tired, hurt, or overstimulated, breastfeeding is sometimes a cure-all.  But not just for baby.

Do you find nursing to be a comfort to you?  A moment to sit and find peace, soothing for frayed nerves, healing for a sad heart?

Last night my 16-year-old Yorkie mix couldn't breathe well as his heart began to give out on him. He held his nose in the air, breathing shallowly, rapidly.  I knew that the end was near, but hoped we might be able to keep him longer or at least ease his suffering.

By the time Adam had him at the after-hours emergency vet, our three sons were asleep.  I had stayed behind with them, waiting for Adam's call. 

After many questions and more tears, we decided to wake the boys and take them to the vet, where we said goodbye as Thurber fell asleep for the last time.

He was our first baby.  The snooze button on our biological clocks when we considered children in our early twenties, as I craved the mother-child connection I'd lost when my mother died of breast cancer months before.  He was so healing, our little dog.  Caring for him helped me to wade through my grief.

And now it's him I grieve.

This morning the air feels heavy, weighing on me, slowing my thoughts, trying to slow my feelings as shock fades and I realize repeatedly that no, the little noise I just heard in the other room isn't Thurber.  No, I needn't set out a plate of food.  No need to pay attention for a break in this rain to let him outside.  No need to worry that the baby will toddle over him and pat him too roughly.

The baby.  My last little boy, my sweet nursling.  He's lying across my nap, having nursed to sleep easily in a matter of minutes after the sleep he lost last night.  Every time this morning that he has nursed, to sleep just now and earlier even just for a sip, has been a comfort to me.  Each sweet snuggle, each moment of connection, I have breathed easier. 

It's not always like that, of course.  Sometimes I'm touched out, or so busy I don't want to stop every five minutes even for that quick sip.  But so often, and especially today, breastfeeding is a comfort not just for my baby, but also a comfort for me.

In labor with Bellybean.  Thurber curled
up at my back & he was like a little heating
pad, comforting me through contractions.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Happy Breastfeeding in Public Story - A Guest Post

My friend Mandi shared this on my Facebook page, and it's too good a story to just let it scroll down the page over time until it's too far down to be read again, so I asked if I could share it here.  

Breastfeeding advocate Mandi Chase Wolfe is a working mother of two girls, ages 3 years and 6 months. When she isn't hard at work interpreting for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing she is busy hanging out with her family, breastfeeding and playing princesses, sometimes at the same time.

Yesterday my family went to eat and play at Southpark Meadows. My three-and-a-half-year-old daughter waltzed around the empty stage and made a new friend, a(n almost) two-year-old boy. I wore my six-month-old on my chest as I sat with my husband and the boy's dad, laughing and taking pictures while our kids did the most adorable little dance together. As the mom and pop-arazzi took their shots, up walked the little boy's mom.

She was nursing a seven-week-old baby boy using a cover. The show stopped and the dancing fiends came over to us as we all started to chat. My daughter - who has never seen me breastfeed with a cover - soon realized there was a baby under there and started trying to peek in through the top and lift the edges so she could see the tiny baby. I swiftly grabbed her hand and reminded her about privacy, concerned that she was going to embarass the little boy's mom.

"I'm so sorry, she is so used to seeing me nurse that she doesn't realize you might not want to show yourself," I apologize.

To my surprise the nursing momma tells me, "If it's ok with you it doesn't bother me if she looks."

I let go of my daughter's hand and tell her it is OK to look. She lifts the cover, sticks her ENTIRE head in there and looks at the little baby, still latched on.

"Aaaawwwwwwwwww! CUTE baby!" She squeals.

Then... nothing. There was no talk of breasts, milk or how babies eat. She made no judgement on her new friend's exposed breast, how her baby ate or the choices she made. Just an observation of how cute that tiny little baby was and then we all moved on with our conversation.

It struck me later how insignificant this was to my daughter because breastfeeding is so NORMAL to her. I am so thankful to this mom, whom I didn't even know, for being open to sharing her nursing experience with my daughter so that I could witness this beautiful "nothing."

What if we lived in a world where women could breastfeed their babies, exposed, in public, and the only whisper to be heard would be, "Awwwwwwww! What a cute baby!"

Normalize breastfeeding. It works.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Happy Anniversary to Me! An Update on Austin ISD

A year ago today I had one of the crummier experiences of my life. 

In the lobby of my sons' school while waiting for my middle child, I nursed my baby to sleep.  I was told to move to a private room, as though what I was doing was something shameful to be hidden away.

I was hurt, deeply.  And I was furious.

And now, I am grateful.

One year later on the bench where it all started - I tried to nurse him, but he wasn't hungry!
  The greatest need for support is in those early days and months.  Mothers nursing in public
and employees needing to pump aren't asking for the moon.  Just support, just for a little while.

I went home that day fighting tears and I immediately sought support from Facebook friends.  I was overwhelmed by the response.

I started a letter that night of which I am proud.  It is informative, diplomatic, and firm.  It set the tone for all of the advocacy that I have done since that day. 

And (tooting my own horn here which is a little uncomfortable for me, but) I have done a lot.  I've heard from mothers who say that they have been inspired to nurse in public by my blog or Facebook page, and that means the world to me.  Hays CISD has a new breastfeeding policy that I got to influence.  I got to be a part of breastfeeding legislation that, while it did not become law, laid the groundwork for passing pro-breastfeeding bills in the future.  And finally, fiiiiiiiiiiiinnaaalllllllyyyyyyy, Austin Independent School District has a breastfeeding regulation that is in accordance with Texas law!

I have by no means achieved anything on my own.  The number of people who have played a part in these accomplishments is tremendous.  2,049 people signed the petition asking AISD to adopt a policy that upholds the law.  More than 1,600 people have liked my Facebook page.  My letter has been viewed 9,961 times and my blog has over 42,000 views.  I have no idea how many people wrote and called the school district or their legislators, but I know that AISD administration took note, and that staffers I talked to at the Capitol knew what bills I was talking about, often just by their numbers.  An impressive number of people have spoken at school board meetings and testified at a House committee hearing.  SO many mamas gathered information and drafted sample letters to make contacting the lege easier.  Every person at the Education Austin (teachers union) board meeting I attended was in support of breastfeeding mothers.  Not one vote opposed the final recommendation of the Student Health Advisory Council (SHAC) supporting a policy that reflects the law.  Some of the AISD board members supported our efforts.  And my family has given so very much support, too, and made many sacrifices (like never having a clean house).

Both in the work with school districts and with legislation, many, many people have contributed to our successes.

You made an impact.

Thank you.

For the teacher who saw me nurturing my infant and complained, that day one year ago was just a butterfly flapping its wings.

But it could have damaged my breastfeeding relationship, had circumstances been different.  Thankfully, being confident in my right and in the importance of breastfeeding, being very experienced as a breastfeeding mother, the impact of that moment has been positive.  And this has been one heck of a hurricane!

It has been thrilling, and exhausting.  I write at slothspeed, so it's been awhile since I posted much of an update about AISD.  And now I have so much to share!  So this is a long post because it is long overdue.

In May I spoke at another board meeting. In June I went to a board policy meeting.  That night, I got to post this:

It was a very happy night, despite my concern that it was not yet official.

My reservations were well-founded.  Sort of.

There is now a regulation!  Sort of.

I received this via the grape vine:

I cannot find it online, so I assume either it awaits a webmaster or TASB approval.

What I don't love about the wording is that it retains language from the right-to-pump law that the district confused with the nursing-in-public law months ago when they had an abysmal regulation that was rescinded in December.  I feel like either they're thumbing their noses at me (we can write a law-abiding reg and still imply that y'all should be locked away - nana-nana-boo-boo!) or the editing of that rescinded policy was intensely lazy:

Rescinded Reg:
The District shall provide a parent or visitor who has properly
checked in at a campus during the school day, a place, other
than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from in-
trusion by students, employees, and the public, which shall be
used to breastfeed or express milk.

The principal or designee shall direct the parent or visitor to
the place designated by the principal for breastfeeding or ex-
pressing milk.

New Reg:
A visitor who is breastfeeding her baby will not be denied ac-
cess to any area she is otherwise authorized to be. Adminis-
trators will identify and make available a designated area,
other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free
from intrusion by students, employees, and the public, which

shall be available to breastfeed or express milk.
A staff mem-
ber that offers a private room must clarify that the mother is
welcome to breastfeed wherever she prefers and is author-
ized to be.

I suppose it seems like I'm being nitpicky, and maybe I am a bit.  I'm sort of joking, too.  Sort if.  I know a lot of AISD peeps put a lot of time into this issue (which could have been avoided if the right thing had been done from the get-go...).

Nitpicky, maybe - BUT, the reg has already been misinterpreted.

A principal who received the new reg has interpreted it to mean that she has to offer a private room to a parent or staff member who wants to breastfeed.  She understands that mothers can't be forced to a private room and can nurse where they're authorized to be, but takes the reg to mean that she must try to offer a private room first. 

I know some women - and some babies - would prefer a quiet, out of the way spot to nurse.  I support that, of course.  But I want a regulation or policy that respects a woman's right, not one that tries to circumvent it.

I am so tired.  So, so, so, so, so so so so tired.  I want to look at this and say, "Well, okay, it's far from perfect, but at least it reiterates to administrators that a private room must be identified for pumping employees, which is awesome."  And that fact is awesome.

But I can't just ignore that the reg as written can be interpreted as saying that breastfeeding mothers must be hunted down and politely offered a private room where they can lock themselves away to nourish their babies.

So.  Next steps in this project-that-just-will-not-end:

I will email administration to let them know how the regulation has been interpreted, and to offer for Central Texas Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition to present a training on the importance of breastfeeding and of community support as Mr. Waxler once discussed with one of our members.  Because hopefully the misinterpretation was just because of the language.  If principals have already had training and that's where this interpretation comes from, then I am at a loss.  I would feel so defeated and disappointed that I'd want to crawl into a hole and sleep there for a week. 

But not today.  Today is my anniversary.  And I want some gluten-free, egg-free cake to celebrate!