Archive | October, 2012

Activist mama

22 Oct

ImageIt’s been just over a week since we switched to bottle feeding, and a whole new world has opened up for Daphne and I. We are both so much happier. Feedings are no longer a scream-filled trial, and I have stopped doing mental calculations about how long I can be out of the house before she may get hungry again. I haven’t had a panic attack or a wave of anxiety since making the big decision. And I feel like I finally have room in my life again for exercise, yoga and activism.

Last week, the media in Ottawa uncovered a case where a woman was forced to give birth unassisted in an isolation cell at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre. She was in jail after breaching bail conditions, but had not been convicted of any crime. She says that prison staff ignored her repeated cries for help when she went into labour, and when she became too agitated, they put her into solitary confinement. She gave birth alone in a tiny concrete cell. Her baby came out “feet first” — a dangerous breech birth that could have killed him. She was only allowed to hold her baby in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. After that, she was separated from him and only allowed to see him through plexiglass.

As a new mother with the experience of childbirth fresh in my mind, I was horrified. A group of local women — including criminology professor Dawn Moore — quickly pulled together an action in front of Correctional Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur’s office. We brought our babies and wrote messages demanding justice for Julie Bilotta on diapers, which we left outside her office (as she refused to acknowledge our presence). The hastily created Mom and Baby Coalition for Justice made national news, and Meilleur was forced to respond to our demand for an inquiry into the treatment of incarcerated women in Ontario. Two days later, Bilotta was released on bail and reunited with her son Gionni.

This is the kind of kitchen-table activism that formed the basis of second wave feminism. It felt great to pull together an effective protest so quickly. All of the members the coalition wrote media releases, networked through social media and wrote campaign materials, while bouncing our babies on our knees. While the action was open to anyone interested in seeking justice for Julie and her son, the image of mothers and babies was a powerful one. It drew media attention (the adorable factor certainly helped) and helped demonstrate mainstream, middle-class support for the rights of incarcerated women in Ontario and across the country.

Since we “birthed” this new coalition last week, we have heard from people across Canada, including former prisoners and parents of incarcerated women. In the coming weeks, we plan to re-group and start developing a vision for our new activist coalition. Our goal is to use our resources to support marginalized women and children, using nap times and brief moments of respite to try and make some change.

It feels great to be an activist mama. Here’s a news clip of me being interviewed at the demo, while bouncing Daphne in the baby carrier. Apparently the best way to get her to nap is to take her to a demonstration.


Embracing the bottle

12 Oct

It’s 9:30 am and my baby has been asleep for 15 minutes. She showed signs of tiredness, so I put her down in her crib. She closed her eyes and fell asleep instantly. This is revolutionary. Until now, getting her to nap has been a stop and start process, involving multiple nursing sessions and bouncing her in the baby carrier. What changed? She is no longer hungry and I am not making her cry 10-12 times a day. You know what else has changed? My pain level. My shoulder is no longer locked and I can actually turn my head to the left. How did this all happen so quickly? I made peace with the bottle and stopped forcing my baby onto the boob.

I spent much of this week in a state of acute anxiety. After three weeks of excruciating shoulder pain, I decided to pump and bottle feed a few times a day, to give my body a break and avoid the inevitable meltdowns while nursing in public. Daphne loved it. She gobbled up the milk and was suddenly able to go more than 90 minutes between feedings. My shoulder started to (finally!) feel better and I started to feel somewhat liberated. But then the inevitable happened. She went on a complete nursing strike on Tuesday night and refused to nurse at all, even with a nipple shield. This sent me in a tailspin, but it also forced me to acknowledge that my milk supply and her method of nursing were no longer efficient or sustainable. She was hungry and didn’t want to struggle so hard for every feeding. I didn’t blame her.

Still, I took the boob rejection personally and spent a couple of days grieving the fact that nursing had never proven to be easy or comfortable for either of us. I concocted a plan to pump and bottle feed her and started taking large doses of herbs. After being up all night on Tuesday with panic attacks and shortness of breath, I went to my doctor and came home with a prescription for Zoloft and for a drug to increase my milk supply.

Wednesday night was even worse. The Zoloft made me nauseous and even more panicked. I also started freaking out when I realized that there was no way that my supply would meet her demand anymore. I bit the bullet and fed her some formula, but I felt terrible about it. I got up three times in the middle of the night to pump milk, contributing to my exhaustion and hyper vigilance. But yesterday afternoon, I was an absolute wreck. I also felt like I was ignoring my baby — trying to distract her with toys and soothers, while I hooked myself up to a milking machine.

I called my Mom and my best friend. I cried and cried. And then I realized there was a solution staring me in the face. I could stop all of this foolishness, feed my baby formula and spent my days nurturing her, instead of worrying about where her next meal would come from.

I immediately felt better. I ditched the Zoloft and the herbs. And I finally got some decent sleep. And you know what’s amazing? Caitlyn was able to put Daphne to bed last night and and give her a bottle before going to work this morning. We are now equally equipped to feed her, comfort her and get her to sleep. It feels amazing and opens up so much possibility.

I have decided to pump milk when convenient. That way my milk supply will slowly taper off, and Daphne will get the benefit of some breast milk until she is six months old. But if given the choice between cuddling her or pumping more milk, I will always choose to pick her up and nurture her. She is now missing the extended cuddles that came with nursing, so I am going to hold her and wear her in the baby carrier as much as possible. She is already responding well to this. She is so much more relaxed and happy. So am I.

I also decided not to take Daphne to have her tongue tie burned off a second time. There is no medical reason to do so now and I see no reason to put her through any more pain or upset. At this point, it would have been more for me than for her.

Everyone around me has been amazingly supportive about my decision, especially Caitlyn. I feel so liberated and so much more grounded, even if I feel like I am still shouldering the guilt of not conforming to the “breast is best” ideal.

In looking for inspiring and feminist perspectives on formula feeding, I stumbled upon Jessica Valenti’s writings on this issue. I really identify with what she went through — the initial shame and devastation and then the light bulb moment, realizing that there really is another way. I am sure that there is still a lot more grief for me to process over this. I had hoped for an effortless, pain-free, extended nursing relationship with my baby. But now I can focus on parenting Daphne, instead of over-analyzing my status as an inadequate milk delivery vehicle. And to quote Valenti — if anyone has a problem with this, they can suck my left one.

I mean, does this baby look deprived to you?


Nursing: the struggle continues

3 Oct

I am using Daphne’s hard-won morning nap time to pound out a long overdue blog post, rather than dealing with the laundry bomb sitting in front of me. Our sweet baby is just over three months old and is a total delight. She spends more and more time awake and alert. She smiles readily and has developed this hilarious and adorable squeal/laugh. Caitlyn and I are actually getting a reasonable amount of sleep (usually no more than two wake-ups) and I am slowly returning to a reasonable level of fitness. That is, I was until I threw out my neck last week. While I am starting to feel more calm and competent as the parent of a small baby, one issue still nags at me and remains unresolved. It’s also the cause of my seized up neck and shoulders.

I’m not going to lie. Breastfeeding is still really hard and I am not sure how long I am going to stick it out for. It’s the one aspect of parenting that fills me with anxiety and doubt. I know I am doing the best under difficult circumstances, but I question myself daily, wondering if I am still doing the right thing for both of us.

The great thing is that Daphne is thriving on my milk. She is gaining weight steadily and is more and more alert every day. But every feeding is a struggle and it’s exacting a significant toll on my mental and physical health. At 15 weeks old, she is still using a nipple shield and insists on being held on a pillow, in the exact same physical position. This means that I must contort myself into a really uncomfortable angle to get her to stay on the breast. I threw out my neck last week and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. I don’t think it will until something changes.

We solved part of the mystery a few weeks ago when we put her on medication for reflux. She stopped arching her back and pulling away during most feedings. At first it seemed like she would be more willing to latch without the shield because she was suddenly more relaxed. I booked a session with a wonderful lactation consultant and it looked like we were about to have a major breakthrough. But the LC confirmed a suspicion of mine — the tongue tie has grown back. And since then, she has been totally resistant to any change. I can see her struggling to stick her tongue out and her tears of frustration tear at my heart.

On top of all of this, nursing in public has become a complete nightmare. She is now more easily distracted, leading to a lot of flailing. We had to leave a restaurant on the weekend when she became hysterical with frustration when I attempted to feed her. She was screaming, I was crying, the nipple shield kept falling off, and my boob was exposed for everyone to see. Fun times.

It didn’t help my morale when I received a condescending and ridiculous response to my plea for help from an internationally recognized breastfeeding expert. He told me that the way I’ve been feeding my baby is “an illusion” and that nipple shields “should be banned.” How helpful. Shaming women is an excellent way to promote breastfeeding!

So we are at a standstill. The status quo is unsustainable and not good for my mental and physical health. The current plan is to take Daphne to have her tongue tie assessed one more time. We will have it zapped if necessary and hope that this proves to be the final step toward a functional and enjoyable breastfeeding relationship. And if it doesn’t make much difference, I am going to to start mixing in a couple bottles of pumped milk and/or formula per day, to help protect my back and my sanity.

I have received nothing but support and encouragement from the people around me. But I still feel such pressure from the medical establishment and the breastfeeding advocacy community. My original goal was to nurse her for a year, but now I have my sights set on six months. Because the nursing mother’s mental and physical health is just as important as the food source.