Saturday, December 17, 2005


Yeah, I'll admit it, finally. I, most proud of being non-mainstream in word and deed, am duly addicted to the TV show "Sex and the City." Very little will come in the way of my watching it every Tuesday night on TBS. There's a good chance I like it so much because it's the "abridged" version of the HBO series -- edited for primetime, sans full-on nudity and liberal use of the "F-word." I can see when they're swearing but a substitute word is always dubbed over. I still wouldn't let the TV be on while my daughter is awake, but I don't feel as polluted as if I were watching the unadulterated, pure original version (which I'm very tempted to ask for on DVD for my birthday, truth be told).

Anyway, I am very engrossed in the lives of Carrie Bradshaw, Charlotte York, Miranda Hobbes and Samantha Jones. I think about which woman I am (I'd say 50% Charlotte, 25% Miranda, 20% Carrie, 5% Samantha) and how my life compares to theirs. I'd say the most remarkable thing about my fascination with the show is that I never was 30-something and single. I never lived in the city -- any city, really. I never even wanted to have the lifestyle I so enjoy living vicariously through them...but now, as I am 32 (and a half!), married, two children, and a very stable career (everything I ever wanted), I find myself transfixed for 75 minutes each week by the colorful (if immoral) lives led by Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha. I don't even leave my chair for commercials.

The series is presented from the point of view of Carrie, a relationship columnist for a newspaper. Throughout the episodes, her relationship with one man, while not always the central focus, pervades...she refers to him as "Big." We don't find out his name until the final episode, when it flashes on her cell phone caller-ID (and I sort of wish I hadn't seen that last show until I'd seen all the others).

While my life couldn't be more different from the lives of my Tuesday night heroines, I, too, have a "Big" relationship.

He's The One That Got Away in some respects, even though I broke up with him and don't regret doing so...he was my first love. We met when we were 10 and things were tumultuous from the beginning. We dated in 11th grade and what a ride it was. I've had many relationships in my life, but this is the only one that was Big.

Like Carrie’s Big, my Big is evasive. Repeatedly, he’d be present, oh, so blissfully present, then gone – so painfully gone, leaving a big aching emptiness where he stood just a day before. Over the years, his coming and going has been on so many levels – first love, then friendship, then electronic pen pal (so unlike Carrie!). We’ve settled into a nice pattern of seeing each other every 5-1/2 years. I have yet to discover the significance of this time span, but it works for us. June 1993, December 1998, June 2004…our next meeting, probably with children everywhere and uncomfortable smiles between spouses, is cosmically scheduled for December of 2009, probably whether we like it or not, and whether we try to make it so or avoid it being so. We always promise “this time we won’t let so long pass…” but that’s just how it goes.

Carrie finds herself constantly challenged by Big – he’s smart, he asks the tough questions about her relationships and direction in life, and he lives his own Big Life. It’s the same with my Big. Our lifestyles are grossly incompatible, yet our lives fit right together…when both of us choose to make ourselves available to the possibility. That’s a difficult choice to make, because this Big Thing can get out of control pretty easily. So, there’s always the undercurrent of strife between us. Big Strife, representing our dual refusal to get along.

In Carrie’s life, it always comes back to Big. In the end, Carrie and Big finally get it together and probably live Happily Ever After. In my life, it always comes back to Big, but in the end, I doubt we’ll get it together in the literal sense, and certainly not happily. I have no desire to change the life I have, because I have everything I ever wanted. He likely feels the same about the circumstances he's created for himself. I have embraced the place in my life Big will always occupy, for better or for worse. There’s no letting go of Big, and that’s OK.

And there you have it, some of that deep and dark I promised.
Happy Birthday, Big.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Weaning, Part I

I call this "part I" because I am certain that it will be the first of many discussions I have with myself (and anyone else who cares to get into my brain) on the often-controversial subject of weaning.

Weaning is a prominent issue on my mind these days, as I am still happily (well, most days, anyway) nursing my almost three year-old daughter but facing the pressure and questions from the world at large about when Anna might stop. Nursing Anna can be hard some days, because I am also nursing her 13-month old brother, Simon…but in my mind, I can’t really imagine how I will relate to Anna when she stops asking for milk or announcing “milk time!” before we go settle down in bed together for the night.

If you ask me about “when” to wean, I cannot come up with a definitive answer. I used to think that one year would be a good, full term of breastfeeding a child. I guess I still do think 12 months is terrific, from a nutritional standpoint, anyway, but I believe that breastfeeding is about more than just food. As that one-year mark approached and Anna was showing no signs of giving up her “bock” (Anna’s primitive word for mamma-milk), I realized I had to reframe my ideas about when to wean her. Anna was slow to take solid food (and she has lots of food allergies) and was always a petite little girl; she nursed every 90 minutes or so through the night until she was 18 months old. In my quest to convince my husband that putting an arbitrary time limit on my nursing relationship with Anna was a bad idea, it started to occur to me: there is really no appropriate time limit, not one year, not three years, not any amount of time that I can forecast now and say “Anna will be done.”

That’s not to say I don’t fantasize, sometimes, about the day she will be finished with mamma milk. When I was toward the end of my pregnancy with Simon, I dreaded every nursing session with Anna, the contractions it gave me, the discomfort and even the mental anguish nursing her brought to me. I had several escapist methods, only one of which limited Anna herself – sometimes, I would count to 10 aloud, which she knew meant the end of the nursing session. Anna nursed even when there was no milk in my breasts. She was, of course, thrilled to pieces when the milk came in for Simon – and she promptly swore off all solid food (much to the chagrin of my visiting mother-in-law) until Simon was about 4 months old. She has since transitioned back to the eagerly eating little girl she was before Simon’s arrival.

I do set limits on Anna’s nursing now that she is more verbal and we can talk about her desires and mine, as well. The fact that, most days, it’s not difficult to dissuade her indicates to me that she is ready for this move. There are days that she insists on “one milk, mamma, ONE mamma milk, please” (while holding up one finger and looking directly at my face) – on those days, I oblige her request. Anna gets “wake up milk” first thing in the morning, and on some of the mornings I go to work, she gets “bye bye milk.” The first word out of her mouth most days upon my return home from work at noon is “milk?” That usually ends up being her “nap milk” while I chat with my friend Lisa, who is her caregiver while I’m gone (she is usually nursing her same-age daughter, Abigail, at the same time). Some days, she is groggy after her nap and needs some more “wake up milk,” and, if the rest of the day is a good day, without tantrums or disappointments, she’ll have “night night milk” after her bath. Most nights, Anna will wake up to use the potty between midnight and 2 a.m. – until a few weeks ago, I’d nurse her back down, but lately, my husband and I are encouraging her to accept him at that waking to go to the potty and climb into bed with us. I used to save my left breast (the slow-flow side) for her all night, because she used to use her arrival at my bedside to announce “milk time!” Now, she just climbs into bed and is content to hold a few strands of my hair between her thumb and forefinger to soothe herself back to sleep. I will admit, I look forward to her arrival in the night now, because I still miss having her there beside me. It doesn’t matter that Simon’s taken her place physically.

Do the limits I’m setting mean I want to wean Anna? I don’t think so, not yet. I do know I was looking for some relief a few months ago, when I felt a little bit like Anna was greedy. I felt guilty for thinking that of her – after all, it wasn’t her fault we spaced her sibling so close to her – but that was the reality. I couldn’t tell a 2-year old “you don’t know how good you have it!” because she doesn’t know that most kids her age were weaned against their will many months ago.

And that’s when it hits me, my incredibly protective sense about Anna’s nursing. Am I protective of it for my sake, or for hers? I’d have to say both…on her account, I know Anna still relies on nursing as a pick-me-up and as a definite way to have was a classic toddler, pushing away from me and coming back several times each day – forging her independence but needing reassurance that Mamma is still there for her. Now, as a pre-schooler, she is proud of her independence but still relies on those re-connection times each day. I’m happy to be steady in meeting her needs. As for me, like I said earlier, I’m not sure I can imagine relating to a non-nursing Anna just yet. We’re so at home nursing after a tantrum or when she’s stressed out. She drifts off for her nap so easily most days, just from nursing. I’m happy to still have this “trick” when we’re out at a restaurant and Anna’s about to “expire” just before dessert arrives (though she hasn't needed to nurse in public in a pretty long time). I also feel like our continued nursing relationship helps make up for the hours of separation we experience while I work outside the home, hours I spend feeling awful for being away (more on this in another essay). It is my desire to be pregnant again next year, but I’m pretty sure I don’t want to tandem nurse two children while pregnant. I know, then, that Anna’s weaning or not weaning will be a determining factor in how our family planning progresses, until the time arrives that I feel that my desire to become pregnant outweighs her need to still nurse. I feel confident that I will know this time has arrived, if it ever does.

I do not presume to know another mother’s threshold for the discomfort accompanied by nursing while pregnant, nor can I assume to know whether a mother can negotiate the demands of continuing to breastfeed after a return to work outside the home. I cannot decide for another mother that her child is too old to still nurse or that she should honor her child’s wishes to breastfeed after his second birthday. I can only relate how I have personally dealt with these circumstances and I can hopefully find a way to share that Anna’s well-being hinged on my ability to put her needs ahead of my own – a concept I think any mother can understand and connect with on some level. I hope my example speaks to the idea that our society’s common “excuses” for weaning did not influence my feeling that breastfeeding is more than nutrition and a child’s need for nursing is very real.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Does anyone actually enjoy swimsuit shopping?

It's that time of year again. We've made our reservations for the great hotel on the beach (well, we think it's great) at the New Jersey shore. And I need a swimsuit, or two.

I don't think anyone actually likes to go shopping for a swimsuit -- it's one of those things that even I fit right into the mainstream on...sort of. I mean, I've spent a lot of time and mental energy learning to accept my body for what it is, for what it can do, and yes, for what it looks like. In that regard, I'd venture to say I'm a little more evolved than the average 32-year old woman, only because there was a time in my life when I was in a very, very bad place with my body image. I kicked and screamed through some very productive therapy...and I've made a commitment to show my daughter a positive attitude toward my own body. I don't want her to ever be in the place I have been in, that place of such severe hatred and loathing and total disconnect from this body that houses my soul.

I should mention that it's entirely possible that I am ignorant and I really have a hideously proportioned body...but I just don't feel that way these days. I feel like I've done something miraculous, twice, in growing, birthing, and feeding two children with my body. I weigh less now than I have in a long time. Other than the occasional indulgence of homemade baked goods or "I ate too much" social gathering, my diet is quite healthy, and I enjoy regular moderate exercise. I fit pretty comfortably into a size 10. No one's ever yelled "tidal wave!" when I've jumped into a swimming pool, nor have I been on the receiving end of any harpoons. Not ever.

Anyway, it's pretty universal that bathing suit shopping, for women, is at best a chore and at worst, torture. I've taken it to a whole new level, though -- I flat out refuse to go to a store and try anything on. I pore over catalogs and internet sites, desperately seeking something that will cover what the world was not meant to see and allow me to enjoy myself at the beach. Because I really, really love the beach.

So, I've just spent over two hours (which could have been better spent elsewise) in this quest. It's not as if I have nothing to wear to the beach this summer, it's just that I really feel like it's time for something new. The last suits I bought were during my pregnancies. Lands' End makes really great mix and match tops and bottoms, so I could adequately cover up my size 16 breasts and pregnant belly without worrying that my size 10 rear end would drown in fabric too big for it. I have a terrific red faille tankini and a blue patterned one, both of which fit when I'm great with child or in my current non-pregnant-and-trying-to-be-fit stage. I also have an awesome black tank suit, made from some "miracle" fabric that promises to take 10 pounds off. The 10 pounds don't exactly go anywhere, but they are very well-contained in this suit.

Except for my breasts. These bad boys refuse to be contained by the suit that does right by the rest of my body. Well, some women might be comfortable covering their nipples and letting 68% of each breast swell out the top of the suit...but I'm not one of those women. I'm going to be chasing my toddler daughter into the surf. I'm going to be on all fours, crawling in the sand with my baby son. I can't risk a black eye from an errant bounce, or a "falling out" because I push gravity too far -- I need total containment.

Enter the D-cup suit, or, in some styles from Eddie Bauer, the DD-cup suit. I've never actually tried one of these, but it would make logical sense that one might do the job, satisfying my desire for a suit that fits my body. The investment is pretty steep, though. There are no bargains in the D-cup world, not for bras or swimsuits or anything else. And, there's the big question -- which size should I get? If the top is made for size DD breasts, does that mean I can get a size 10? The size charts don't account for the extra boob-room. And by the way, accodring to those charts, my bust wears a size 16, my waist is a 10, and I'm an 8 in the hips. Hello, my name is Diana, and I suffer from multiple body part disorder.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure it even matters. The one suit I think I could wear and love, with a fabulously high neckline and a great print, is on backorder, not available until 6 weeks after my beach trip.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Now, some of that otherhood I promised...

I recently participated with a trio in a masterclass with Kalmen Opperman, a mogul in the clarinet world (he was Richard Stoltzman's teacher). It was really scary. He's 85 and about my height (5 foot-nuthin'). He's not a very constructive or encouraging man. He kept asking me "what the hell are you doing? " and was forever saying things like "did you think that was a crescendo? Didn't I tell you to make a crescendo? What, do you think you're better than I am? What the hell is wrong with you?"

It was really quite shocking to me because of how antithetical his approach was to how we talk to Anna. He also told me that I was incredibly talented and someday I'd graduate to a "proper" teacher (this was after asking me who I had studied with and telling me my mentors were all trash).

See, this man approaches everyone who touches a clarinet like the clarinet is the center of life. He believes that if it is not the center of everything, you have no right to call yourself a musician -- that music is too important and too special to be "professed" by anyone but the very, very elite. I do not agree. I have never fancied myself world class nor do I aspire to anything greater than what I've already achieved. He kept talking about what was going to happen after retirement and in my head, I was laughing because when I retire from the band (assuming I make it that far), I want to take the civil service exam and deliver the mail for a living...I sure as heck don't want to live hand to mouth trying to find work as a clarinet player.

I was remarkably unruffled by the whole experience, though. The man focused entirely on me the whole morning -- over two hours. My breasts were aching and full and I had zero concentration left and he wanted to know why I wasn't asking for more when I finally got up to go home to my baby. Everyone who had witnessed all or part of the morning was concerned -- my phone rang off the hook! I was really very peaceful and had it all in perspective. After just taking everything he threw at me all morning, I finally threw something back -- "I have a 4-month old baby at home who depends on me for food."

My contribution to this world isn't going to be that I was a musician, it's going to be that I was a mother. That, my friends, was a remarkable insight for me, who once told a doctor, "If you can't fix my hands and I can't play the clarinet anymore, just kill me, because there will be nothing left for me, not a single reason to live."

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Breastfeeding in the U.S. -- view from my soapbox, part II

Back to this "freedom of choice" some TV. Count the formula ads. Now, count the ads that promote breastfeeding. Wait! There are none -- those might SCARE someone or OFFEND someone! OK, turn off the TV and open a magazine. Count the forumla ads. Count the ads/articles that promote breastfeeding. I'm talking "mainstream" here, folks, not Compleat Mother or Mothering. How many mailings did YOU get during your pregnancy encouraging you to breastfeed? How many dollars-off coupons did you get for Mother's Milk Tea?

I don't think TRUE freedom of choice exists in this country over this issue. Women who choose to breastfeed have to swim against the stream. Heaven forbid they have problems and can't locate support. Women who choose to formula feed have all the support in the world.

By the way, next time you're in a hospital maternity ward, look at the small print on the "routine" items. The paper tape measure used to size up my newborn -- formula company. The little tag on her basinette that said "I'm a girl..." -- formula company. The growth charts her height, weight, and head circumference were plotted on -- yep! Formula company.

Baby dolls come with bottles unless you buy them from a "crunchy" website. Pacifiers are attached to baby shower gifts with ribbons as decorations. Find me a baby-themed item -- any item will do, blanket, cross-stitch sampler, baby book -- that represents a breastfed baby, a mother breastfeeding her child, etc. While we all agree that breast is better, why is bottle-feeding so pervasive and breastfeeding so "counter-culture?"

My point is this: some mothers who have chosen formula did so knowing all the facts. Good for them. They knew what they needed to do to be the best mother they knew how, quit breastfeeding or never start, whatever the situation was. However, I would contend that MOST women in this country who chose formula did so WITHOUT all of the facts. They weaned or didn't breastfeed because it was "easier" or "normal" to formula feed, because they didn't know anyone who had breastfed, because no one told them that formula ISN'T 100% the same as breastmilk, because every cultural representation of babies bears a bottle.

THAT is why I feel sad and frustrated. Not because someone made a decision I wouldn't make.

How to increase breastfeeding duration in the U.S.:

--longer paid maternity leave for breastfeeding moms
--more education of health care professionals
--get the AAP the hell out of bed with the pharmaceuticals so pediatricians can give unbiased information based on the health of children, not $$$
--increase breastfeeding support! Support La Leche League!
--Breastfeeding mothers, nurse in public. Talk about breastfeeding. Don't be apologetic about it! The more women I meet who do it/have done it, the more empowered I feel.
--Workplaces HAVE to receive training on the breastfeeding mother who works outside the home. Too many mothers feel like they are "getting away" with something because they pump at work or take advantage of flex-time...because their employers have a negative attitude toward breastfeeding.

I am in the (very slow) process of writing and proposing an Army Regulation governing the treatment of breastfeeding mothers in the Army. I have decided to take this on because, when my daughter was 8 months old, my job (band member -- not infantry!) required I spend 6+ hours at a football stadium, away from my baby.

I am a Staff Sergeant, which, translated, means I'm a big nobody with some seniority. The Chief of Primary Care at our health care facility, who was in charge of medical operations for the stadium on these days I had to work there, was a Colonel, which, translated, means he was a VERY HIGH RANKING, educated individual who had a lot of power in the Army, as well as a lot of experience.

I contacted him to request a clean, private place to use my breast pump. He told me I was lucky to breastfeed as long as I did, too bad the responsibility to keep it up rested on me, the individual, not the institution.

This, from a respected medical professional! I told him (bear in mind the difference in rank!) I was sorry he felt that he could not design a workplace that was conducive to my continued breastfeeding, especially considering that he, as a medical doctor, should be well aware that current recommendations suggest a child not be weaned, if possible until after the first birthday.

Knowledge is power.
There was a freshly-painted cubicle with an electrical outlet and a locking door at the football stadium that weekend.

My little corner of the world was a little more baby-friendly...what are you doing to make yours better?

Breastfeeding in the U.S. -- a soapbox rant

Before I climb aboard my soapbox, let me make one thing crystal clear: my beef is with the formula companies, not the women who use formula. Are there any questions so far?

Now, my treatise. In this country, breastfeeding rates are alarmingly low, both at birth and as time goes on. In countries where formula is used FOR ITS INTENDED PURPOSE, for babies that could not, for whatever reason, have breastmilk, breastfeeding is the NORM.

Why is it not here in the U.S.? Because Americans are driven by the almighty dollar. And no one makes a stinking dime if I breastfeed my children.

Breasts are sexualized here to such a point that many women are actually afraid to use their breasts to feed a child. I've had people ask me if I'm afraid I'll make my 2 and a half year old daughter a lesbian because she still nurses. (If she's a lesbian to begin with, that's fine with me, but to imply that extended nursing MADE her that way?)

I'm all for freedom of choice. I'll bitch and moan here on this blog and with my like-minded friends about how sad and frustrated I am that breastfeeding is still considered a "fringe behavior," but I'll never tell a mother she made a bad choice. I have no right to do that -- I don't walk in her shoes. And, along those lines, I'd certainly never accuse someone of being a "bad mother" for not breastfeeding any sooner than I'd applaud someone for being a "good mother" simply because she breastfeeds!

My friend at work (yes, I did say FRIEND, in fact, one of the most loyal buds I've ever known) was so anxiety-ridden about going back to work and pumping, she had panic attacks. Is she a bad mother for weaning at 6 weeks to go back to work? No way. She does, however, tell me that if I had done it first and she had seen how I manage our job and breastfeeding a baby (well, two babies now), she might have stuck it out a little bit longer.

My own mother never gave me so much as a drop of colostrum, yet I strive, daily, to be the kind of mother she is. Breastfeeding alone does not make a good mother. It is but one piece of a very large puzzle.


I have to admit, I can't really wrap my head around all the time, energy, and cash parents-to-be spend "preparing" for their babies' arrival. I'm talking about baby showers, baby registries, and nursery decorations. Sure, people might think it's kind of fun to adorn a former storage room with frills and lace or appliques of sports equpiment...but, will the baby care?

This is not going to turn into a soapbox rant about where babies want to sleep -- I'll save that for another day when I'm not so ready for bed myself...but while I'm on this soapbox, I think I will rant about baby showers. I don't like them. I feel like a freak at them. People who are normally easy to get along with suddenly morph into materialistic "thing getters" who seem to view the soon-to-arrive new life as either a doll to dress up or a noisemaker to quiet. Loud plastic gadgets designed to amuse babies are passed around. Guests who already have children start with the horror stories, "Oh, MY son wouldn't sleep anywhere but in the swing..." or "Make sure you bring a pacifier to the hospital -- you don't want your baby getting used to the ugly ones they give you for free there!"

The horror stories don't stop there. Every woman who has ever given birth considers it her duty to tell the expectant mother about every ounce of pain she felt during the bloodbath that was the birth of her child. Dare I speak up and share the peaceful, gentle, drug-free hospital birth I had with my daughter, or, GADS! Do I let on that I gave birth to my son AT HOME, or will that clue everyone in to the fact that I really am, in fact, a total freak?

Invariably, the conversation goes to breastfeeding, circumcision, and all the other things that seemingly everyone does one way, and I do another.

I think, if people spent even a fraction of the time and energy on preparing themselves for BIRTH as they spend on choosing and gathering all the STUFF, birth outcomes in this country would be far better. Fewer c-sections, fewer drugs, fewer instrument interventions, happier mammas, healthier babies.

Amongst the boxes of disposable diapers and flame-retardant pajamas, it becomes very clear to me that no one at the baby shower wants to hear my opinion or my experience. I've decided it would be best if I just don't go to baby showers anymore.