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.