Tuesday, January 29, 2013

My Speech to the Board

Me nursing Bellybean at the November board meeting

Last night we spoke to the school board.  There were six speakers, and a few more supporters in the audience.  Later we'll post video of the speeches.  For now, I'll just post the text of my speech.  I gave it while breastfeeding.  As we waited our turn, Bellybean was so tired in Adam's arms that he'd start to nod off, but then every two minutes another speech would end and the applause would wake him.  Adam handed him to me and I nursed him to sleep, and he was still nursing when my turn came.  It wasn't a stunt or a statement - just a necessity.

On behalf of about two thousand people who signed this petition, thank you for rescinding the administrative regulation that isolated breastfeeding mothers.  We're halfway there!

Now mothers need reassurance that they can feed their babies without fear of being confronted for doing so. 

Doctors have been telling us for years that breastmilk is the best nutrition to feed our babies.  But breastfeeding is not the intuitive, easy-peasy thing one might expect.  While tongue-tie, mastitis and thrush may be medical challenges that a new mom might expect the possibility of facing, being confronted for nursing her baby in a public place should not be a barrier to breastfeeding. 

These past five months I have been steeped in news about nursing in public.  I can tell you, unequivocally, there is a shift that is happening across the country.  Women are demanding that this discrimination come to an end.  Eighty percent of women want to breastfeed.  With all of the things that threaten to complicate a breastfeeding relationship, most of us are done allowing this issue to stand in our way. 

Yes, there are some who feel it is in conflict with social mores.  But mores refers either to manners, or morals.  Morals trump manners.  And it is nothing short of immoral to know the health benefits of breastfeeding to both mother and baby, and to nonetheless erect a barrier to breastfeeding.  To paraphrase  a comment made by a SHAC member last month, "It's time for people to catch up." 

There will be parents who are uncomfortable if their children witness a baby being held close and lovingly fed at a mother's breast.  But if we - if they - are to insure the best possible health for all of our grandchildren and great grandchildren, they must bear that discomfort.  Because as the American Academy of Pediatrics has asserted, breastfeeding is not just about a lifestyle choice, it is a public health issue. 

It is far from inappropriate to expose our children to the reality that some babies are breastfed.  It is in fact crucial to optimal public health. 

We urge you, trustees, to adopt a board policy that conforms to the law, and supports breastfeeding mothers. 

Thank you. 

Friday, January 25, 2013


Meteo, "Early Addiction" May 15, 2010 via Flikr, Creative Commons Attribution

The other morning we went to Starbucks while my middle son Sweet Pea was in speech. Once I had my decaf latte (which the baby did not share - the photo above is just a silly pic I found on Flikr), I thought I should probably nurse Bellybean, as it had been awhile since he'd eaten or slept - a recipe for car seat tears. 

I saw there was only one chair left, and it was practically on top of one occupied by a man. Bellybean wasn't fussy at that point, and I didn't particularly want to breastfeed practically in the lap of a stranger, so I told myself he'd be fine. 

Of course, the moment I put him down in his car seat, he looked at me accusingly and began to cry. 

I gave him a toy, and talked soothingly to him as I buckled him in. As soothingly as I could, as I anxiously registered the time - there wasn't much left to get back to the school. At that point I knew if I took him out and nursed him sitting in the front seat, he might well fall asleep in my arms, and on the way back into the car seat, wake crying to be nursed to sleep all over again.   

So rather than get him out, I did an advanced nursing position - the Car-Seat-Lean-In. 

Worst. Breastfeeding. Position. Ever. 

Five minutes of that and he was reluctantly willing to be distracted by the new toothbrush I'd left in the car after a dentist visit the other day, and we were on time to pick up Sweet Pea from speech.

But if I'd just trusted my instincts and sat down to feed him - or even latched him on standing there - I could have avoided a stressful few minutes for both of us, and a painful few for me. 

I don't think I would've made the same choice if it weren't for my one negative nursing in public experience. Six years of all good experiences, and that one moment has affected me even four months later. 

People don't understand the tremendous impact they can have when they are anything but 100% supportive of breastfeeding mothers. If they did, surely they'd only ever smile and give a thumbs up.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Replies - His & Mine

I was pleasantly surprised to receive a reply the next day.  Until I read it. 
Dear Ms. Donmoyer,
I just wanted to acknowledge receipt of your email.  I have not had a chance to visit with the Superintendent about it because she is out of town until we return to the office next Tuesday.  Even then, please be advised that with more than 85,000 students in the district, 120+ campuses, over 150,000 parents/guardians, family and community, and over 11,000 employees, we move as fast as we can, especially in these days with fewer staff than is required to meet all the needs and respond to all the questions and concerns before us.  I do hope you understand that we cannot always move as quickly as either you or we may like.  It was absolutely not anyone's intent to dismiss you or give this issue short shrift.  Indeed, I was the one who asked Marianne for suggestions for an alternative regulation.  I appreciated her response.  Nothing has been dropped as we continue to consider how to marry the intent of your proposed language with the district's continuing concern about disruption/distraction to the teaching and learning process in the rare occasion that such might occur.  I was even under the impression that the SHAC might be considering taking a look at the issue after I met with them to give the administration the benefit of any guidance it might provide.
I look forward to continuing to work with you on this very important matter.
Mel Waxler

Sagolla, "Skeptical Baby" 2/24/08 via Flikr, Creative Commons Attribution
Actually, I was frustrated by the reply.  I had not yet contacted all of the trustees, and here Mr. Waxler was, saying they had never dismissed the issue, as I had been writing in my emails to the first few board members I did contact.  So I'm wondering, does this make me look like a liar?  I'm quite certain it makes me look unreasonable and impatient.  (Never mind that my baby was 12 weeks old when this happened and he is now, to varying degrees, sitting, crawling, and pulling himself up; he has five teeth, and is seven and a half months old.)

So I started rewriting the email I'd begun on the assumption that they would receive information that contradicted what I'd been writing.  But with a weekend full of working with my oldest son on a big school project and celebrating my husband's birthday, it took me until today to reply:

Dear Mr. Waxler,

Thank you for your reply last week. 

As a mother of three, I can certainly understand that you cannot always move as quickly as you may like.  This is a major theme in my life!  However, I will say that your email rather hit a nerve.  It may not have been your intention, but there does seem to be an implication that I am unreasonably impatient.  And this implication was shared with at least one trustee.  My frustration is less with the timeline of this joint effort than with the fact that I was told the effort, for your part, had ceased.

I attended the January 9th SHAC meeting as a visitor, but unfortunately I went first to the board auditorium, before realizing that the January meeting was being held at Austin High.  By the time I arrived, the breastfeeding regulation had already been discussed.  I was told that (the
Administrative Supervisor of Health Services) had communicated to the SHAC what had been communicated to her - that administration did not intend to replace the rescinded regulation.  The SHAC determined that in that case, there was no further role for them to play.  I spoke with (the Administrative Supervisor of Health Services), (the Co-Chair of the SHAC), ...the medical director for AISD Student Health Services, and three or four other members, and they all seemed to be under the same impression as I am - administration was done with the breastfeeding issue. 

And you wrote to Marianne Baker, "There is no active work on an alternative regulation at this time."

Setting all of that aside, I'd like to address this distraction concern.

You wrote, "Nothing has been dropped as we continue to consider how to marry the intent of your proposed language with the district's continuing concern about disruption/distraction to the teaching and learning process in the rare occasion that such might occur."  Our proposed language affirms the importance of breastfeeding, assures mothers that they will not be shamed or isolated for feeding their babies, and serves to educate staff about the importance of staying true to the intent of the language.  Across the country mothers are seeing a growing need for sensitivity training regarding breastfeeding; the least that can be done here is to put a policy in writing.  To do so does not negate the district's unchallenged right to control for (rare) distractions in the teaching and learning environment, enshrined in district regulations. 

To address disruptions in the breastfeeding regulation would be, at best, redundant.  At worst, it still reads as discriminatory.  To stipulate that breastfeeding is acceptable as long as it is not disruptive stigmatizes breastfeeding as something which might commonly be considered disruptive, as though it is such an aberrant, deviant behavior that in and of itself it is a disruption.  No such stipulation would be made about bottle-feeding a baby, because the limitation is placed not on the baby's presence but on the feeding of the baby.

I look forward to a resolution of this issue.

Best Regards,
Krisdee Donmoyer

Outreach Coordinator, Central Texas Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition
Blogger/Administrator, Keep Austin Nursing in Public

Email to Administration 1/17/13

Viralbus, "Phyllis breastfeeding" September 23, 2010 via Flikr, Creative Commons Attribution.

This is the email I sent on January 17, a week after the SHAC meeting.  It took me so long to write and send it in part because I was so disappointed and frustrated that I wanted to make sure I expressed myself as diplomatically as I could.  

Dear Dr. Carstarphen and Mr. Waxler,

I hope you both had a wonderful holiday season and were able to begin the new year well-rested!  I took advantage of the winter break to focus on my family and our holidays together.  Now that school is back in session, I anticipated with excitement moving forward with the new breastfeeding regulation, and then being able to move on and begin work on (our school's) silent auction for our spring carnival.  I am extremely appreciative that the regulation that isolated nursing mothers was rescinded.  I was given to understand that the district would be working with us to put in place a new, supportive regulation.  When Marianne Baker did not receive any language from Mr. Waxler following the rescission of the regulation, I thought perhaps he was waiting on our language, which Ms. Baker sent just before the break.  When we still didn't hear from you as time wore on, I chalked it up to the holidays.  It never occurred to me that it would just be dropped - and worse, without even any notice.  You can imagine how shocked I was to find out when I attended the SHAC meeting last week. 

I did not begin my efforts merely to remove the regulation that was adopted.  This all began when I realized that there is no guidance for AISD staff regarding the treatment of breastfeeding mothers.  The rescission of the regulation leaves a void that must be filled.  An email to staff - presuming that there has been an email - will not provide consistency across the district.  As new staff members are hired, only a regulation might manage to reach everyone.  Furthermore, it would serve to communicate to the public that the district values the health of Austinites - especially the most vulnerable among us.

The district needs to take a pro-health, mother- and baby-friendly stand, supporting breastfeeding moms.  This is about more than just discrimination and rights - women's, civil, and parents' -  it is a serious public health issue.  In the 2012 Lansinoh Breastfeeding Study a survey of 5,000 women showed nursing in public to be the top concern that served as a barrier to breastfeeding.  In fact, 40% of American women were worried about feeding their babies in public places.  For AISD to feed into that worry with the old regulation, and then fail to replace it with a regulation that communicates that they support breastfeeding moms, is doing a serious disservice to mothers and babies.

When I first contacted your offices, I was dismissed.  It was over a week before I heard from anyone.  When I eventually was contacted, emails were almost all a sentence or two.  It took five weeks to basically edit what was described to me as the longstanding practice into a regulation.  Of course I understand that you have many things on your plates that are important.  As a mother of an AISD second grader, a drop-in speech student, and another future AISD student, I certainly want you to be able to focus on what is important.  Thing is, I thought after realizing there is more than just one mom concerned here that you would see that this IS important.  And it's not going away. 

There is a shift happening in this country, a shift propelled by organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization, and propelled by thousands of mothers who refuse to see their babies' rights denied.  You have an opportunity here to be a leader in the change that is taking place, rather than to be on the wrong side of the issue.  And when you fail to replace a discriminatory regulation with a supportive one, you are not neutral.  You continue to take a stand against the rights of mothers and babies. 

I know that is not your intention.  I hope that you will reconsider, and will in fact adopt a new regulation, and soon.  Below is our proposed language.  I would appreciate a reply.

Thank you,
Krisdee Donmoyer

AISD recognizes that breastfeeding is an important and basic act of nurture that must be encouraged in the interests of maternal and child health and family values.  It is also crucial for public health and reducing health care costs.   The Texas Legislature says that a mother is entitled to breastfeed her baby in any location in which the mother is authorized to be.
In keeping with these principles, mothers are welcome to breastfeed on AISD school campuses.  Therefore, a visitor who is breastfeeding her baby may not be denied the right to be in any part of a campus that would otherwise be available to her.  If she requests, a breastfeeding mother must be given access to the private room designated by the campus principal to be used by employees to breastfeed or pump.  Any offer to use this room should be made only with genuine assurances that the mother is welcome to breastfeed her baby wherever she chooses.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

January School Board Meeting Monday the 28th

NIP at the November board meeting
The January board meeting is Monday, January 28 at 7pm.  It is held at 1111 West 6th St in the Carruth Administration Center Board Auditorium, Room B100.
Please invite all of your local friends. We will attend the AISD regular meeting to ask the trustees to adopt a pro-health, mother- and baby-friendly board policy to support nursing mothers' right to breastfeed their babies wherever they are hungry, without fear of confrontation or discrimination, and without having to choose between participating in their school children's lives and feeding their babies optimal nutrition as recommended by, among others, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization.

In the fall, Austin ISD enacted and the rescinded a discriminatory regulation which isolated nursing mothers. The rescission of the regulation is appreciated, but leaves a void. As administration has decided to dismiss the issue, it is vital that a board policy be adopted to serve as a means to educate staff on how to treat breastfeeding mothers in a way that supports the health of our community. You can attend to show your support whether or not you choose to speak.

There is a hallway outside of the board auditorium where children can be if you are concerned about them being bored or loud in the auditorium. I imagine we can support each other in keeping an eye on them all.

I will update with the time for Citizens Communication when an agenda is made available.

If anyone has trouble finding the building or anything, you can call or text me on my cell at (512) 655-9NIP.

The following information is from AISD's website:

Every Regular Board meeting includes one hour for Citizens Communication. Each speaker is allotted two minutes. This allows up to 30 speakers, who speak in the order in which they signed up, to address the Board about the issue of their choice.

If you wish to speak during Citizens Communication, you must sign up on the day of the meeting, before the meeting begins. You can sign up in the Superintendent's Office (Rm. A-250) during regular work hours (7:45 am to 4:45 pm), or in the Board Auditorium between 4:45 pm and 7:00 pm. Speakers will be asked to provide the following information: The subject to be addressed, speaker's name, address, and telephone number, and, if applicable, the group or organization the speaker represents. An individual may not sign up for another person, nor can speakers exchange time or yield time to others.

All citizens' comments at Regular Board meetings are televised and rebroadcast on AISD Cable Channel 22 and over the AISD Website.

To get an idea of what the board meetings are like, you can view one here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrCYXG73LqM
Citizen Communication begins just before the 29 minute mark.

You can find some talking points & resources thanks to Marianne Baker Bolduc at http://keepaustinnip.blogspot.com/2012/11/talking-points-resources.html

Another great way to prepare to speak can be found in this fascinating TED Talk - http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are.html
It's a very worthwhile 20 minutes. You should watch this even if you won't be at the board meeting. It's awesome.

Please let us know if you plan to attend. Thank you!

Learn more about what led to the need for this event at www.KeepAustinNIP.com.
Please sign & share our petition at www.tinyurl.com/PetitionKANIP
Like us on Facebook
& follow us on Twitter

Thursday, January 10, 2013

SHAC Shocked

Stephen Topp, "Day One Hundred Fifty-four" March 10, 2011 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

I got cocky today.  I went to the Central Texas Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies meeting and gave an update on the Hollister nurse-in and on AISD and another local school district.  I was feeling jazzed, sharing about how all these moms came together and had largely positive experiences (with the notable exception of Concord Mall).  I was happy to be able to share that we had submitted language for our proposed regulation and that we were hopeful that there would be a new AISD regulation soon.  I was particularly excited to share that another local district drafted a policy and I was able to influence how that policy reads.

I was feeling so high and empowered that I agreed to be our HMHB representative on the Austin Independent School District's School Health Advisory Council (AISD's SHAC), and I think I might have also volunteered to be an Outreach Coordinator.

Like the laundry's just going to do itself.  Like I actually have the hang of this three kids thing, and have time on my hands.  But I was steeped in the happy of all this success, and feeling like I could take on the world.

I got super cocky.

So tonight I went to the SHAC meeting.  Unfortunately, I went to the wrong location, the one where it was held last month.  By the time I had the baby back in the van and arrived at this month's location, wouldn't you know it, I missed the discussion about the breastfeeding regulation.  Someone was kind enough to come over to me and let me know what had transpired.

The district has decided not to write a new policy. 

They're just going to follow the law, apparently.

The law that their chief of staff and legal clerk wrote a four-page legal memorandum decrying.  The law Mr. Waxler says is "open to interpretation."

The law that was in place when I and countless other mothers were shamed for feeding our babies at AISD schools over the years.

A policy - or regulation, whatever we call it - is obviously necessary to communicate expectations to staff.  There needs to be something in writing that will be seen by the staff of one hundred twenty-four schools.  Do you know the attrition rates in education?  They can't just send out an email one month and figure there will suddenly be consistency across the district.

They need to stand up and do the right thing.  Be an example of supporting breastfeeding mothers.  Be a leader in the shift that is happening across the country, whether everyone is ready for it or not.
Nursing a baby in public is not shocking. 
But AISD's decision to forgo adoption of an obviously-needed
breastfeeding regulation - that's shocking.
Photo by Jewell Stremler

I spent the meeting trying to focus, despite being distracted by my baby (who was supposed to be sleeping, but I guess he didn't get the memo), and by the shock that kept sending my mind back to the need for a breastfeeding policy.  We were told we'd get language soon a month ago.  We were told they would work with us.  I thought the delay was the holidays, not that they'd dropped the whole thing and not bothered to communicate that with any of us. 

But given how this has all unfolded, I'm starting to wonder where my shock came from.  Really, why am I even surprised?

I let myself think we were almost there.  I grew complacent.

No more.

The winter break is over.  It's time to go back to school.

Please sign and share our petition and Facebook page.  We're also (though less so) on Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest.  Please help get the word out, and show AISD that it's not enough to be right back where we started.  If the administration won't write a regulation, let's write to the trustees to ask for a board policy.  And if you're local, please attend the board meeting on the evening of January 28th (more info to follow).  

As always, thank you for your support of breastfeeding moms and babies!