So This Is The New Year…

When I was fourteen years old, I wanted, for the first time, to make a very big deal out of New Year’s Eve. It was 1999, and for months people had wondered if the world would end, if the computers would panic, if leaping over that imaginary line between 1999 and 2000 would somehow change everything. It seemed like it had to, it was a new millennium, not just a new year. I wasn’t expecting the apocalypse, but I certainly wanted it to be, well, something. I had done the math as a child, and had for years looked forward to this most exciting New Year’s Eve, because when 2000 came around, I would be a teenager and everything would be fun and fabulous. At ten, I had sat in my bedroom and pictured what it would be like when, in four years, my cool teenage self headed off to a totally wild New Year’s Eve party. I didn’t realize that what I was picturing in my head was essentially a Barbie commercial.

What really happened of course is that my best friend came over to spend the night, and I insisted that we watch the countdown on MTV instead of ABC (we’re teenagers now!). It was, to put it mildly, really boring. A few hours before the clock struck midnight, we all collectively remembered that time zones are a thing that exists. And as the the calendar switched over in other places and nothing imploded, we slowly marched towards anticlimax. At midnight, I tried very hard to get excited. By 12:30 I was a grumpy fourteen year old, who was angry that nothing was going according to plan. Nothing was different, so we went to bed.

***

I’ve been avoiding writing about the current political climate on this blog. It isn’t that I don’t think it’s important, I think it’s very important. It’s just that I didn’t want this space to become yet another place where that man’s name appears a thousand times. I didn’t want to get swept away in the news cycle. Can you believe he said this? Can you believe he did that?

But the reality is, of course, that on November 8th, 2016, Donald Trump won the presidential election. And the personal is political, and the political is personal, and this spells very bad news for American Democracy in general, and my little family in specific. The reality is that we are totally fucking screwed. And since the election, I have lived with a shadow of fear constantly hanging over me. And also since the election, I’ve been more or less constantly sick. I don’t believe that these things are coincidental.

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In December, as the celebrity death toll rose and rose, as things felt more and more hopeless, as it became clear that the Democratic Party would not attempt to save us, and the electoral college wouldn’t save us, and no one would save us…. folks began to personify 2016. In an attempt to cling to some tiny thread of hope for the future, every bad thing that happened was 2016’s fault.

“2016 strikes again!”

Meanwhile, many of us lived with an increasing sense of fear and foreboding. Could the new year possibly bring us anything better? It seemed likely to bring problems that were even worse.

***

After the year 2000 was such a bust, I lost interest in the concept of the new year all together, really. It never seemed like as big of a change as anyone wanted it to be, we all woke up on January first the same people with the same problems we had had on December thirty-first. I was done with my formal schooling by the age of 20, but I lived in college towns, and with my birthday taking place in August, the bigger “new year” change seemed to happen in late summer and early fall.

But then I fell in love with the person who would become my wifespouse. She was born at midnight, the first baby of her birth year. I love birthdays, my own and everyone else’s, so I started celebrating with her, and it started to really matter to me.

Going to a party is hard when you have a one year old, but we get out so rarely, I planned ahead to make sure it would work. We picked an event that seemed to be brimming with hope, and fun, and excitement. I was excited to celebrate the love of my life, and try to pick up a little bit of her relentless optimism in the face of oppression and fear.

Then the entire family got sick.

***

At 8pm on December 31st, instead of getting ready to go out dancing, we were coming home from the children’s ER, with an exhausted toddler who had his very first ear infection. He was so congested that he couldn’t breastfeed, which meant that he was pissed off and my boobs hurt. Nowhere was opened to fill his prescription, and eventually we tried to put him to bed. At midnight, instead of kissing on the dance floor, I was half asleep on our couch (where I could prop up my own congested head) while my incredible partner tried to soothe a screaming baby who just got angrier when I tried to comfort him.

For the first time I can remember, the new year feels new. Everything feels different, and it isn’t an exciting hope filled kind of different. It’s more like falling into cold water. Ten days later, I’m still reeling from it. We are still trying to figure out when we’re going to get to really celebrate my wife’s birthday. The baby can breath through his nose now, but we’re all still so stuffed up, and he’s still terrified to nurse. It may be that he never will again.

And in the midst of all of our illnesses (three cases of the flu, two ear infections, and a sinus infection!) we learn that despite what so many said to comfort us, we are almost certainly going to be losing our insurance very soon. When the Affordable Care Act is repealed, my wife and I will be left without coverage, without any kind of security in terms of health.

As a gay mother who gets sick several times a year, suffers from PTSD, and needs dental work, it’s not a particularly hopeful time. As a defensive pessimist, it’s difficult to find any silver lining in this at all. As a nursing parent, it’s traumatic to deal with sudden physical and hormonal changes on top of everything else. And as a freelancer, my bank account has taken a huge hit from my being this ill. So this is the new year, and what the fuck are we going to do?

Sorry this isn’t more uplifting.

I have a Patreon now, if you want to support my writing here, and elsewhere!

Hello I Am Here To Write About Breastfeeding Thank You

Yesterday morning, I posted a rant about breastfeeding on Facebook. I was complaining. I like to complain. I’m often annoyed in life, and for some reason (probably how well adjusted I am) I derive a real satisfaction from sharing that annoyance with others. Especially if other people find it humorous or relatable. Look at me, I’m connecting with people!

I can really see how the nursing habits of SOME toddlers might convince people that self weaning is a myth and OMG what if you are nursing this kid until he goes to college?

Just another day, just another exhausted mother lifting up her shirt every ten minutes because when she does the calculous of “if the too tired to nurse feeling more or less strong than the too tired to listen to the baby scream?” she can’t actually finish the math because the baby is too loud and she will actually do anything to make it stop. Just another LOLSOB moment to share with friends because hey at least you can use the internet on your phone while you’re nursing, right? I mean, until the kid kicks it out of your hand and across the room, and then kicks you in the neck, and then starts laughing.

I actually really love breastfeeding. I love it a lot, I love it so much I’m maybe embarrassed to talk about that.

But it turns out I complain about breastfeeding kind of a lot.

It also turns out that this week is World Breastfeeding Week.

***

When I was in the hospital, after my child was cut out of my body by a stranger who forgot him immediately, an army of lactation consultants helped us learn how to get him fed. My wife slept on the little sofa in the room and changed almost all of the diapers (we didn’t ask for permission for this arrangement, it simply was) and I slept in the hospital bed and continued to try to put boob and baby together. I didn’t love being in the hospital, but I was grateful for the support, grateful for expert hands that pushed my nipple into my kid’s mouth while I was still confused about getting the angle right and treating him like he was made of glass.

I was exhausted from the long labor and the birth and the drugs, and they were concerned that I was nursing enough, and for long enough. Their faces blur together in my mind now, but I can hear them saying “at least ten minutes on each side” over and over and over again.

At some point, we had what I considered to be a really successful nursing session. I proudly told that next lactation consultant to grab my breast that our last nursing session had lasted way more than ten minutes on each side! “It was more like twenty on the one side, honestly it might have been longer.”

“Oh no.” she was suddenly stern, “that’s too long.”

I felt like it was probably fine, and the next lactation consultant in the army confirmed that it was probably fine. But it turned out to be foreshadowing, in a kind of way. Because my child eats a lot. He eats a lot, he eats often, and he eats for long stretches. And sure, it’s varied throughout his life, but more or less, it’s always been this way.

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***

Breastfeeding, or chestfeeding, as many nursing transgender and gender nonconforming people prefer, is a choice. It isn’t a choice everyone has the luxury and privilege of making, especially here in the States where crappy parental leave policies and hostile work places often make it a non-option. Paradoxically, in other parts of the world, lack of access to clean water and formula makes it a choice many don’t have the luxury of making as well, just in the other direction. But for me, and for many others, breastfeeding is a choice. It should be a choice. No one should be required to do something with their own body that they don’t consent to, and my friends who have chosen to feed formula instead are every bit as wonderful of parents as those of us who feed our children from our own bodies.

It’s also a choice that’s highly politicized.

Other people have written about this before, have written about this better than I will and better than I ever could.

On the one hand, we have the constant “breast is best” rhetoric and the constant pressure birthing parents face to breastfeeding. On the other hand, we have basically zero institutional or cultural support for breastfeeding parents. When a parent chooses not to breastfeed (often because they have to work and they have the choice ripped from them, or because our culture has shamed them so deeply for the crime of having a body that they feel self conscious and gross feeding their own child) our culture cleverly deflects attention from the real problem (that is, our culture) and tells us instead that we have to support that parent’s choice to formula feed and if we don’t, we’re perpetuating the literal worst thing in the universe: Mommy Wars.

It isn’t individual parents who decide, for whatever reason, that formula is the better option, that I have a problem with.

It’s formula companies pushing the stuff on exhausted new parents. It’s policies that make it almost impossible to not formula feed. It’s an entire culture that, despite the breast is best rhetoric, continues to normalize formula feeding and treat breastfeeding as bizarre and animalistic. It’s the fact that I would breastfeed almost anywhere, except the city bus because I’m afraid that a dude might actually grab my tit if I try it.

I live in a culture that wants me to breastfeed, but really only if I can manage to do it without having breasts or drawing attention to them.

***

So like I said, I like to complain.

The first time I complained about breastfeeding, I was immediately advised to just do it less. I was told that if I just limited my infant’s nursing, he would “figure it out” and nurse more efficiently when he had the chance. The idea of asking a really young baby, who just wanted to eat and snuggle and feel safe, to just “figure it out” seemed weird to me and unnecessarily hostile. When I told my spouse that, she pointed out that the person was likely just responding to the fact that I was complaining. I seemed bothered by the amount of breastfeeding I was doing, and this person was merely offering a helpful suggestion.

So it goes, basically.

My kid, who has always loved to nurse, occasionally goes through a growth spurt or a bout of teething (thank your lucky stars you can’t remember growing molars, friends) and then he nurses even more. And there I am, bending down to give him a hug and instead he rips open my shirt. And so I complain. Of course I complain. If he’s nursing every three hours when he’s distracted, every two hours on average, and then it suddenly jumps to every half hour or really just as often as he can get it…. that’s overwhelming. And when I tell people about it, their eyebrows raise.

And someone is always there to remind me that I have a choice. I could choose to nurse less. I could choose to say no.

Honestly, sometimes I have appreciated these reminders.

But I know what my choices are. If I was looking to nurse less, I would just do that. If I was at the end of my rope and needing to wean, I would just do that. I’m not there. Where I am, though, is really really freaking tired, and needing space to be honest about how hard this is, sometimes.

And I do make choices. I make the choice to continue nursing. I make the choice to continue nursing on demand, without a schedule. And sometimes I make the choice to say “not now” and “not yet.” I made the choice, months ago, to cut down his night feedings considerably, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. And I make the choice, I make the choice every single day, to continue a nursing relationship that is sometimes hard, sometimes complicated. As he gets older, as he becomes more and more of a toddler, I make that choice knowing full well that it is not always going to be considered normal, not always going to be supported.

So I don’t, necessarily, always need to be reminded that I could be making another choice.

***

I complain about breastfeeding, but I actually really like it. I find myself talking about how much I like it less, maybe less than I should. Partly, I think, it’s because I’m embarrassed about it… our culture asks that we breastfeed without drawing attention to our breasts, it asks that we breastfeed for nutritional and health related purposes exclusively and never acknowledge that nursing is complicated and emotional and social. But partly it’s just me. I’ve always found it easier to gripe about what’s wrong than to talk about what’s right. Who wants to talk about how lovely the world is? It’s boring.

***

I adore nursing my child. There’s very little I can say about it that won’t sound cliche and flowery and stupid. There’s very little I can say about it that won’t just be more of the same, more of what you’ve already heard.

But this is the thing.

I adore breastfeeding so much that I am choosing to persevere through a very week of nursing. I adore it so much that despite how trying it is, I still feel incredibly lucky and privileged that this is the problem that I have. I adore it so much that even when he’s begging to nurse for the third time in one hour, sometimes I still laugh, and smile, and say “oh just come here, sweet baby!” and I roll my eyes while I do it but I secretly feel like a superhero. And I am overwhelmed with emotion. I am overwhelmed with tiredness, too, and thirst. But I am overwhelmed with emotion. The feeling that I know, deeply and completely, that he is getting all that he needs. If we are out and I forgot to pack a snack or a drink for him, I know he isn’t screwed. And I know he’s happy.

I know he’s happy because he smiles at me, he hums, he laughs.

***

Breastfeeding is a choice. It is a choice I am making every single day. Some days, it is a choice I am making fifteen or more times a day. It is a choice I am sometimes making joyfully, sometimes despondently, sometimes ambivalently. But it is still a choice that I am making, and in that, I am lucky.

The goal, to my mind, of breastfeeding advocacy is to make this choice available to everyone. They may have perfectly good reasons to choose something else, and that’s fine, but I want them to have that same opportunity to make a decision that I had, and continue to have. In order to do that, we have to stop passing the buck. We have to hold institutions, employers, our government, and our culture, accountable for their massive role in taking away that choice.

When a new mom says she isn’t breastfeeding because her work won’t allow her space to pump, we need to recognize that she isn’t really being given a choice and advocate for her. Rather than trying to pressure new parents into “choosing” the right think (AKA breast is best) we need to be working our asses off to make sure they have the same choices I do.

 

 

On Feeding My Baby

When I was a little girl, I knew that some people fed their babies from their own bodies, but I had never seen such a thing actually happen. I was fascinated by the concept, though. I took my baby dolls outside, and hid under a bushy tree in the backyard. I lifted my T-shirt and pressed a doll’s hard plastic face to my tiny nipple. Our latch and positioning were abysmal.

I had to hide under a tree to perform this act of parenting, because at seven years old, I understood that female breasts were inherently sexual. And I understood that neither me being a child, or the act of feeding a child, could neutralize that. I was certain that if anyone saw me nursing my baby doll, they would be shocked and horrified. So I hid. But as I sat there in the grass, I thought to myself, when I am a mother this is how I will feed my babies.

And then I will not be ashamed.

***

Because I believe that birth is a mostly natural process and bodies mostly know what they are doing, I planned a nice intimate homebirth. Because I know that things don’t always go according to plan, I went to the hospital when it became clear that I needed to. I ended up having a C-section. I do not regret it.

But of course I had fantasized about the moment of my child’s birth. I had tried to imagine what the rush of emotions would be like. I would be on or near the big cozy bed my wife and I share with our herd of cats, the midwife and my mother would be in the background, offering encouragement, and Chelsea would catch the baby in her arms and then pass him up to me. His first cry would pierce through the quiet in the room, it would pierce my heart with it’s beauty and strength, and Chelsea and I would laugh and cry together just like we did the day we found out I was pregnant.

Instead, my wife stood near my head in a spacesuit made of dryer sheets, peaking over the curtain that protected me from the gore, while a doctor I had only met once an hour before cut into me. The drugs made me feel sick and made my teeth chatter, and my only defense was a kind of cold detachment. I only knew our child was born by the sudden change in expression on my wife’s face, and when she said “did you hear that?!?!” I realized that I had missed his first cry entirely. I was too spaced out, and the chattering of my teeth was too loud.

After that, I became sort of obsessed with breastfeeding.

***

At the hospital where I gave birth, the pediatrics team started talking about supplementing with formula before my milk even came in. It wasn’t even late. I had more colostrum than anyone I’ve ever heard of. And yet they thought supplementation “would be best.”

I had to fight. When he had to go to the nursery because of his jaundice, they assured me they would bring him to me to feed every two hours, but instead waiting four. I had to set an alarm for every hour and a half at night, and call a nurse and ask for my child to be brought to me. They were impatient when it took us time to get the latch right, or when he nursed for longer than average. But I held my ground. He ate from my breasts, and then my milk came, and then he started to grow.

Why was it so important to me? It’s complicated. But I had read birth stories, and imagined that his birth would be a triumph of my physical ability. And then it wasn’t. And feeding him felt like the only thing my body knew how to do. And I wasn’t going to give that up, not unless it was necessary. And it wasn’t. So I didn’t.

***

The first time I fed him in public was at his pediatrician’s office. I was five days post op, and one day without my pain meds. I could barely see the pain was so intense. I was so anxious I didn’t want people even looking at him, everything felt like a threat.

But there he was, hungry in the waiting room. I asked Chelsea to help me cover up with one of his blankets. It made the whole procedure more complicated, and it fell down twice.

***

The second time I fed him in public was in the emergency room. I was four weeks postpartum, and I was having my third gallbladder attack. My mother was there to help look after the baby. Several emergency room workers told us it was the busiest ER day they had ever seen. The place was packed. And as my case was not a life or death situation, I kept getting bumped back.

And my baby needed to eat. And we were sitting across from two women if full burkas. They kept smiling at us and telling us how beautiful our child was. I wasn’t sure if they would be offended by my breasts or not. I wasn’t sure about anything, truth be told. I let my mother help me arrange the blanket. Two days later I was still in the hospital, and he had to have formula for the first time. I was so afraid of losing my supply that I pumped too much while in the hospital, and when we were reunited I had way too much milk.

***

In the dark, in our big bed, his small body is snuggled against mine. He is holding on to my finger as tightly as he can. I feel like the most powerful person in the whole world.

***

I am hungry all the time.

***

My mom came to take me to my six week postpartum follow up appointment, by that point Chelsea had already taken way too much time off work, so it was me, mom, and the baby. When he started looking for a nipple on my mom’s neck, I knew it was time to feed him. She handed him off to me, and I started to get him into position.

“Do you want me to get the blanket?” she asked, trying to be kind.

“Oh, that’s ok, I don’t need it.” I said.

There was a pause. And then I felt her drape the light cloth over me. I saw my son’s face disappear. And I felt the shame. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything.

***

The week before last, I was finally strong enough to put him in the wrap and take him for a walk. I was proud to be the one carrying him, while Chelsea walked beside us. Only I was so excited, I pushed myself a little too far. I ended up tripping over my own foot and skinning my knee on the sidewalk. For one horrible moment I thought I was going to fall on top of him.

Afterwards we were both so scared, we needed to sit down. For a moment I looked around in panic. And then I saw that we happened to be right next to a little park.

Without thinking about what I was doing, I found a bushy tree to sit under. And then I sat there on the grass, and I fed my baby.

***

Without shame.

Note: I started writing this last week, for world breastfeeding week, but of course I didn’t finish it on time because I have a real live baby. Apparently it is still world breastfeeding month though? Happy world breastfeeding month I guess!