Monday, January 30, 2012

Cultural Covering of Breastfeeding

I wrote a long post on this topic last night, but my husband put the kibosh on it, saying that I would probably offend people.  I decided to try again.  Please know that I am sincerely not trying to offend people with my opinion.  This post is not directed at the individual, but rather our culture. Please read with an open mind.

I posted this week on the BFBS Facebook page my belief that the breastfeeding covers have done more to hurt the NIP (Nursing in Public) cause than help it.  Before I go on, I know plenty of people that use the covers.  I am glad that they are breastfeeding and not giving their baby a bottle of formula.  I realize that for some women, it's all they can do to actually be out in public breastfeeding, even with a cover.  I've had moms come to childbirth class reunions and wear the covers and say, "Screw you, Donna, I'm using it!"  I don't really care.  I really don't.  I love them for that.  I really don't care about the individual use of the covers.  I am, however, concerned about the perpetual use -- the expectation that all breastfeeding women should cover -- that concerns me.   I think women are being told to cover up more often because of the covers.

We all know that the breasts are totally sexualized in the United States.  Breasts are sexual, like it or not.  I'm not going to tell you to not think of breasts that way.  But it is OK that they have a function too.  People -- men and women -- are uncomfortable with this.  We see breasts and cleavage hanging out everywhere we go, but using them in a functional way, to nourish a baby through sucking at the breast, makes just about everyone uncomfortable. We want rights and we demand that everyone not sexualize the breast, but then we wear the covers which, in effect, hides their function.

Several people commented on the Facebook page that they were concerned about men, teenagers, and children being exposed to breastfeeding.  This perpetuates the problem, that we are not allowing them to be around breastfeeding.  I've seen people make comments that "Everyone knows what's going on under there," but that's not necessarily true.  A lot of people have no idea what's going on under there because they've never witnessed a woman breastfeeding, especially if everyone is using these covers!  Children don't know what you are doing.  Teenagers probably don't know either.  Even if they do, it is obvious that you are hiding it, so by the very nature of the hiding behavior, it must be shameful or embarrassing.  They do not learn that breasts serve another purpose besides sexual excitement. 

I was at the park with a friend a couple of years ago who had a nursing baby.  My children were back and forth from the picnic table, but my son (then about 12), was hanging out at the table with us.  She always breastfed anywhere, so I was surprised when she asked if she should cover or go sit in her car.  For a split second, I thought maybe she should cover.  I immediately told her of course not.  Feed her baby.  She did, and Daymon didn't even bat an eye.  He didn't try to look away or look uncomfortable.  I think he was already aware that breasts have a function and the baby needed to nurse.

Likewise, my girls have never acted weird about it either.  They see women breastfeeding in our house all the time.  They don't look away or act embarrassed.  It's just how women feed their babies.  But I don't act weird about it -- or even draw attention to it -- and so they don't either.  Occasionally  I will have someone using a cover and at least one of my girls will stare.  She'll look confused, knowing there was a baby in her lap before, but now they are all covered up.  She has no idea she is feeding her baby.

I am happy you are choosing to breastfeed. I just want women to have confidence in themselves to breastfeed in public.  There are so many ways to wear your clothing.  You do not have to be immodest to not use a cover.  I believe that our children -- and husbands -- will be more excepting of breastfeeding and it will become accepted, not shameful, if women will just casually nurse their babies without hiding.  People often say they are covering because it makes them more comfortable, and this is what makes me sad -- that they are made to feel uncomfortable in our society. 

I realize that you may sweat bullets when you have to nurse in public.  It is stressful for some women. I don't want women to feel like they are damned if they do and damned if they don't.  All I am trying to get across is that if you feel like you could easily handle nursing in public without a cover, from a cultural perspective, I think it's good for people to see women proudly breastfeeding.   If you just can't get over it, then by all means, use a cover, knowing you are doing the best you can.  I promise I won't say a single thing to you if I see you using a cover!

Before I let you go, I wanted to show you the bathroom my students -- and everyone else that comes to my house -- uses.  It is devoted to pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding.  It's gorgeous!  For some, it's probably their only exposure to breastfeeding!  Enjoy.  If you come to my house, don't forget to ask to use my bathroom. 

"Breastfeeding is a mother's gift to herself, her child, and the earth."

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Pinch Hitting Husband - Hospital to Homebirth

For some men, the thought of a homebirth is frightening and a little weird.  I know that it was for me.

I didn't want a homebirth. I thought my wife and baby would be safer in a hospital. What if something were to happen?  I've always believed in Murphy's law -- anything that can go wrong will go wrong. (It happened to my Texas Rangers last year in the World Series!)

Besides, everyone goes to a hospital to have a baby, right? You have to be some kind of a new-age nut or hippie-wannabe to birth a baby at home.  Not to mention the mess.  I faint at the sight of blood. Does having a baby at home mean that I'm going to have to mop up after the placenta?

So how did Donna convince me that homebirth was the right choice for us?

We were all set to have our third baby in a hospital in Albuquerque. We had a good group of midwives, and everything was going as planned. Until Donna asked them about videotaping the birth. (We used videotapes in our camcorders back in those days.) The hospital had a no-videotaping policy. This pushed Donna over the edge. She called me at work in tears, yadda, yadda, yadda, we decided to have a homebirth.

My first concern of course was Murphy's law. How could I ever face my in-laws if something were to happen to Donna or the baby?

Our first homebirth midwife was an EMT and had worked as a park ranger at a national park. Her gear bag was reassuring.  It was a cornucopia of medical devices, oxygen, needles, vials, chuck pads, etc. She appeared capable of taking care of any emergency. At the time that was very reassuring.

And that surprised/reassured me why? Because I was ignorant that's why! I had a preconceived notion that a medical doctor was more qualified to deliver a baby. What did I expect a midwife to be?  Some daffy old fruitcake chanting and burning incense -- hoping that the baby makes it out OK somehow?

The truth is that most doctors are great at handling medical issues and not so great at delivering babies naturally. That's what they are trained for, right? As with any profession, you do what you are trained to do.  Natural birth is right in the wheelhouse of the homebirth midwife -- that's what they train and prepare for.

Looking back, having a baby at home was the best experience possible. We didn't have to worry about the drive to the hospital. We didn't have to deal with any cranky hospital personnel poking and prodding all hours of the day and night. We didn't have to deal with hospital regulations, the nursery, and the list goes on. And I never had to deal with any bloody mess whatsoever!

Our fourth and last baby, Darcy was born in our bed. I'll never forget lying down before Donna's labor started.  I could feel Darcy moving around. Donna's labor started shortly after.  The midwife made it to our house right as it was time to push. It was a beautiful birth. After everyone was gone, it was just me, Donna, and Darcy -- this time on the outside. I'll never forget looking at little new born Darcy, eyes wide open, snuggled up next to her momma nursing.

So, my fellow fathers and fathers-to-be, if you have the option to have a homebirth, make like Nike and just do it! You will never regret it. Plus it's a really fun conversation starter at office parties and so forth.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Another Old Lady Post -- Featuring Trace Adkins

There's always a couple of things that happen during the week that spark an idea for the weekly blog post.  The first was a question one of my former students posed on her Facebook page about letting her seven-week-old baby cry to sleep.  The other was a conversation with an old friend.

Remember when you were in the grocery store and an older woman stopped you and told you to enjoy your babies while they are little?  One day they will be grown and you'll wonder where the time has gone.  Alisa (yes, the Alisa that sparked my journey towards natural birth) and I were talking about this yesterday -- how we couldn't really grasp what the "old" lady was saying at the time.  But now, well, it's happening.  Neither of us have little babies and toddlers at home at anymore.  They are all in school.

I was telling my 15-year-old this week that if he could just see the big picture, he would probably do things a little differently.  I told him even at 25, I'm not sure I could see it.  At nearly 41, I'm seeing the big picture a bit clearer.

My 50-something-year-old cousin -- a prison guard -- made this comment on his Wall this week:  I remember as a parent, a swat across the butt would get their attention. Now as a grandparent a hug gets their hearts....and mine. I've finally figured out that their hearts are more important than their attention. I guess the old saying is the time you are old enough to be a grandparent, you are mature enough to be a parent.

I'm not quite there yet - thankfully - but I'm seeing what the "old" people are talking about.  When Darcy was still small enough to hold, maybe 3 or so, I told her that one day I wouldn't be able to hold her anymore.  She got real sad and refused to believe that was true.  We went one by one through the other kids and I asked her if she ever sees me carry them.  At the time, the only one taller than me was my son.  The image of me carrying him around made Darcy giggle.  She's tried to stay small, but it's not working out!  She's almost 7 now, and needless to say, I can't carry her anymore.

I have a house with bigger kids now.  Two of my kids are taller than me now.  They all go to sleep on their own and sleep through the night.  They can mostly take care of themselves.  Darcy still needs some help, but it's readily available by other people besides just me.  I can leave the house by myself almost whenever I need to.  Rarely do I have someone sitting on my lap.  I don't get to read to anyone much anymore now that they all can do that on their own.   The slings I carried them in are all tucked neatly away in their baby buckets.

My point?  These phases that we are in -- even the ones that seem like they will last forever -- don't.  They will end.  Every day we make memories and lay a foundation.  Hold your babies.  You cannot spoil them.  I do think you can "spoil" an older child, but that's a story for another day!  A baby's needs and wants are the same thing.

I keep telling myself,  "This too shall pass" with the 15-year-old, but unfortunately, I've got 3 more right behind him!  Ha!  I'll do my best to follow my own advice and love them, enjoy this time, knowing it won't last forever.  I wish the baby phase back -- not sure I'll wish for the teenage years back though!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Guest Post: Mama Birth's Banned From Baby Showers Moments -- Does She Keep Her Mouth Shut?

Don't worry.  You've stopped by the right blog.  It's still me, Donna.  I thought it would be fun to have Sarah -- AKA Mama Birth in the birth world-- post for me this week about her Banned From Baby Showers moments.  Her response totally surprised me, and probably you too.

Before going on, I want you to know that I met Sarah when we were in the same ward together (our LDS readers understand the lingo).  It just means we went to church together.  She had just gotten married and she was our son's Sunday School teacher when he was 4-years-old.  It was the year 2000. 
She has always been outspoken.  Long before she was pregnant with her first baby, Sarah knew she'd give birth without medication, unlike myself.  I wanted the drugs and was scared to death of childbirth with my first baby.  
Because of my experiences -- having a fear-based epidural and not wanting to be informed, followed by 3 unmedicated births and 2 homebirths -- my perspective is different when talking to people who want the epidural.  I understand the fear.  It's not a good place to be.  I have a hard time not wanting to give information.  In case you missed the most recent explanation of my blog title, here it is

Anyway, I think the world of Sarah.  She knows who she is.  She loves birth.  She tells it like it is.  I know she is a fabulous teacher (even my son said so!).  But regardless of what she tries to tell you, she is the most sarcastic person on the planet.  Love ya Sarah!  Thanks for stepping in this week.
 Donna is a dear friend of mine. 


I met her before I ever had kids and despite what others said, I never thought she was crazy. 
(She thinks I am sarcastic.  Can you believe that?!)

So, when I found myself pregnant, I took her class.  She was teaching natural birth classes by then and we signed up.  I think Donna said, "You are signing up for my class," and so I did.  She can be quite forceful you know. 

Miss Donna is very busy these days and she asked me to write a little post on my OWN banned from baby shower moments.  You know, those moments where you have to leave because you are going to open your big mouth, or conversely, you want to leave because everybody is opening their big mouth and offending you. 

Here is the thing though.  I don't really have many. 

I know.  Let me explain. 

I think people assume that because I am Mormon and in what is considered a "conservative" religion that I must get a lot of flack about birthing at home and breastfeeding and all that jazz.  But I don't.

Sure, I have had family members e-mail me articles about how my kids and the entire neighborhood are all going to burst into flames because they (my children) have not been vaccinated.  I had somebody sew me a nursing cover so that I could cover up when nursing.  I know that some people probably say things about me behind my back, but stuff I don't know is said about me tends to not hurt my feelings. 

These little instances I guess COULD offend me, but they don't because I know that all those people are well meaning (even the gossips just worry that I will bleed out at home).  They come form people who love me and genuinely don't want my kids to be hurt because they aren't vaccinated.  I have family member's who remember people getting Polio.  It doesn't bother me that they worry about my kids.  It doesn't even bother me that people try to help me cover when  I nurse.  I don't want everybody to see my nipples either.

 The truth is this- I am probably both pretty lucky with the people who surround me and also pretty oblivious to those around me even when they DO offend me. 

Lucky?  How am I lucky?

Well, growing up I remember my mom talking about the benefits of gravity in birth and the invention of the birth stool.  I knew that I was born c-section- but only AFTER my mother was risked out of a home birth because I was persistently breech and then in the hospital only AFTER a  generous trial of labor. 

When my son was born my brother said to me, "Are you going to circumcise him?  Because when I look at mine, I think, 'That HAD to hurt'- you shouldn't do that."

When I got pregnant with my third baby I had not one but TWO family members hint that maybe I should consider just doing the birth with my husband and me. "It would be cheaper!" said my mom.

Then, when I had my fourth baby at home unassisted (on accident) my parents came back to bring the kids and discovered me and my husband with a baby and no midwives, and nobody freaked out.  "You had the baby!  That was fast!" was about it. 

Because my husband is almost always gone on Sunday and because I have three other kids that would make a ruckus, I nurse my baby, without a cover (she would push it away) EVERY week, front and center in the middle of church.  Maybe people stare, but I don't make eye contact when I nurse!  (Except for with the baby.)
So, in all honesty I feel that the people in my life are kind and loving towards me.  Maybe it is because I am from Northern California where I am really pretty conservative compared to many.  Maybe they think I am crazy- but maybe they just expect that from me and so they don't say anything?  (I did have a friend from high school say, "You WOULD do that!" when she found out I birthed at home.) I don't know what it is, but people around me are very kind and supportive. 

"But, don't you ever say the wrong thing?  Don't you ever have to ban yourself from female functions because you are so offensive?" you ask. 
What makes you think I am offensive?!  Have you been reading my blog?

I did once tell a woman that she didn't need her c-section.  Not my proudest moment, I will admit. 

I am, by nature, oblivious to my impact on those around me.  I am pretty sure this is a family trait.  I could be offending people left and right and they are just too nice to tell me what a witch I am.  

In truth though- even though I don't agree with everybody I meet on their choices, I know they don't always approve of mine, so I figure live and let live.  These people are all kind enough to let me birth and nurse in peace so I probably owe them the same privilege. 

Even women I know who do things I don't- like circumcise or spank or even occasionally cry it out are...well, FRIENDS.  And when I look at the way they parent or the choices they make- I get it.  People in real life don't just birth in the hospital because they are "uneducated" or get induced because they are "selfish" - in real life they usually have good reasons for that.  

Plus- when I pay attention, I realize how much I have to learn from them.  Maybe I do some things right- but even the mothers I have met with whom I disagree the most, do plenty better than I do. 

Let me give you an example.  

I WAS at a baby shower once where I wanted to jump up and slap my hand over the mouth of another mother.  She had one child, and we were celebrating the upcoming birth of a friend's first baby.  The "mom" I wanted to stop from speaking first discussed how awful birth was.  Then she went on to discuss the horrors of breastfeeding.  

You know what- I have probably never met anybody with whom I have disagreed so strongly on parenting and birthing choices.  I did have a hard time being around her.  

You know what else?  I really think she had been damaged by her birth.  She was told she could never birth vaginally and that her body could handle 10 c-sections.  She went from thinking about a VBAC to planning c-sections, probably to avoid what surely would just be another c-section anyway.  

Did I hate that she had been screwed like that by the medical machine?    Umm- YES!

Did I disagree with her views on breastfeeding?  Yes again.
Her attitudes towards her babies I frankly found disturbing.  She was one who let her newborns cry it out so she could get her "needed" 10 hours a night.  (For the record she is the ONE AND ONLY mom I have ever met whose approach to cry it out was so early and so harsh.)

But she had reasons for her opinions, just like I had reasons for mine.  She had been told by those she trusted (medical doctors, her mother, other loved ones) that this was the way to do things.  Those choices worked well for her personality.  Did I worry about her kids?  Yes, I did.  

Guess what- she probably worried about mine because of my "reckless" choices.  

For the record I did try to explain to her why her supply of milk dropped when her newborn was sleeping ten hours a night.  She asked, but then she didn't want to hear it.  And I made DANG sure that I helped that poor mama at the baby shower get on her way nursing her newborn.  I also filled her with stories and tips on having a natural birth.  I did what I could to fix that negativity- but I don't get to pick how other people parent or birth their babies.  
That is not up to me.  And lucky for me, how I birth and nurture mine, isn't up to them.  

I feel blessed to have people in my life who are kind and who care about me.  I feel honored to be surrounded by so many wonderful mothers who I can learn from and who keep their mouths shut when I judge them before I understand where they are coming from.  

Life is good- and I still go to baby showers, even though my friend Donna won't be there!