Saturday, October 14, 2006

Yes, He's Old Enough to Ask For It

I'm talking about Simon, age 2, and I'm talking about breastfeeding.

When Anna was about 3 months old, I shared a recital with my clarinet quartet. We had our customary gathering of celebration afterwards, and of course, Anna was there with me. I went nowhere without her, because she was breastfed and didn't take a bottle. I was the only woman in the quartet, and Bryan and I were the only couple at the gathering with a child, so I stole off to an upstairs bedroom when Anna needed to nurse, in the interest of my comfort and the comfort of the others present. (Today, I would probably just nurse right there, because all of those people have seen me nurse in far more public places, like concert sites.)

When I returned from my upstairs exile, a conversation started between me and some of my more curious co-workers.

"Does it hurt?"

"Is it...messy?"

"Is it really any different from the stuff you can buy in a can?"

I enjoyed answering these questions and giving folks the opportunity to learn about something they had likely never had any contact with, at least any that they remembered (though most of my age group was not breastfed at all). But then, the conversation turned a bit:

"I'm glad I don't have to see it."

"It's OK when they're babies, but when they're old enough to ask for it, that's just gross."

This "old enough to ask for it" business has come up more than once in my nearly 4 years of breastfeeding. It seems that public opinion includes provisions for the non-verbal child, but one who can indicate with his voice that he wants to breastfeed is just a blink away from a pervert. Turning gay. A molester in the making. Porn addict. Right?

I had to laugh about this at the time. When Anna was just 3 months old...heck, when she was 3 days old, she let me know, in no uncertain terms, that she wanted to breastfeed. She "asked" for it by smashing her little bobbly head into my chest, pulling back and quickly "banging" on me. After a few weeks, she'd make a little noise: "uh? uh? uh? uh-uh-uh-uh!" There was never any question what she wanted.

Of course, once she got to be 3 years old, and beyond, Anna could clearly express, in conversational terms, that she wanted to nurse. She told me what it tasted like (macaroni), why she liked it so much ("because I love your smell, Mamma"), which side she wanted, and how long she expected to be there. Now that she's done, she still tells me, in a wistful tone, "I sure did like mamma-milk. I used to enjoy it so much, when I was a baby." She still likes to be cradled in my arms when we're sharing some special time together...only now we talk or laugh instead of nursing.

Simon, at age 2, is nowhere near his sister's verbal level at that age, but he has his own way of communicating. One of his first "words" was un, which is how he describes breastfeeding. (This is not to be confused with untch, which is his word for drinking anything else from a cup, or even a reference to the cup itself.) Simon is happy to let me know not only that he wants to nurse, but where! "Un-cha" is nursing in the chair. "Un-bit" is nursing in the bed. "Un-ball" is nursing here at the computer, while I'm sitting on my yoga ball. Lately, when he's tired, Simon's been asking for "un-car!" (nursing in the car!), and getting very upset when I tell him we are not going to the car to nurse.

Having been through a full course of breastfeeding, through a primarily child-led weaning (with some encouragement from me, tandem nursing was starting to wear me down a little bit after almost 2 years of it), I can't imagine denying a child's requests for nursing (I'm talking in the grand scheme of things -- there are definitely times I distract Simon, like when he asks for "un-store"). He knows what he wants, and he asks for it the way he knows how.

And he's always so happy with a tummy full of "un."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

It's the End of the World as I Know It...

...and I haven't really decided how I feel about it.

I mean, I've realized time and again that the "right" decision makes me feel sad (but feels very right) and the "wrong" decision just leaves me feeling unsettled.

I'm talking about my decision to give up music, to quit playing the clarinet as my career. It's something I never would have thought would happen. I mean, there was a time in my life when I actually said "If I can't play the clarinet, there's no reason for me to be alive." I naturally assumed I'd stay at my job for 20+ years, until I was ready to retire, as in, live the rest of my life into old age with no formal job. Really, what else was I ever going to do?

I'm not entirely sure where to lay the blame of changes. At first glance, one might assume that having Anna was the big turning point, the event that ripped me from my commitment to music...but I don't think it was really that simple. I experienced one of the pinnacles of my career, a chamber music performance at the International Clarinet Association Conference with Larry Combs -- when Anna was 7-1/2 months old.

Another pinnacle of sorts happened a few weeks ago, at what was likely to be my last solo recital. Before I began, I was emotionally unstable -- one of the musicians who came to play the Appalachian Spring with me was simply awestruck that I, with a 2-year old (and an almost 4-year old!) would be giving a recital. Her own daughter was nearly 2. I wanted to tell her that I wasn't what I looked to be -- I wasn't at all "together" or balancing my career with motherhood the way it obviously seemed to her. I wanted to tell her that I was losing my mind and feeling completely out of control...but I didn't.

People I worked with came to my recital, which I didn't want to know before I played but I saw them coming in. I expected some of them -- my friends, who had come to support me. It was the "others" that surprised and unnerved me, the colleagues who probably say mean things about me behind my back and just bring negative energy to the room. One (confirimed) friend later told me how neat it was to see so many of our co-workers there, and I shared with her that I thought some were there for the sheer spectacle of what they expected to be a terrible performance. She was shocked that I could be so cynical, but there it was. Knowing "they" were there rattled me enough that I performed with an element of fear for a little while.

Of course, that was almost completely counterbalanced by the presence of the most incredibly lovely man alive (I can't control the tears even today as I type about him!), my clarinet teacher from high school. Mr. Scott is big as a mountain, with a heart of gold even bigger than his body, and he came to hear me play. I choked back the tears before I took my place beside the piano, and said aloud, "I can't possibly play poorly with Mr. Scott in the room!" (OK, I'm sobbing all out now, and I don't even have PMS.) God brought me to Mr. Scott halfway through my freshman year of high school. I will do an entire blog entry about him someday, for sure. He gave me a lot of what I should have gotten from my father during my adolescence -- encouragement, love, patience, and the expectation of greatness. I worked so hard to live up to his perceptions of me. At my recital, I was boosted again by the years-old desire to make him proud of me. Several years ago, at his retirement dinner, he announced to everyone in attendance that I was "the best" he had ever taught. I went home that night and cried for hours, that I could be that significant to a man as he wrapped up decades of teaching.

I chose a program for the recital that I would feel connected to, pieces of music that I felt spoke of my past, my present, and my future as a clarinet player, and as a human. Honestly, though...I had no idea just how connected I would feel until I was actually giving the performance. It was the first time in years (really, in years!) that I wasn't just playing the notes. I had something to say. A lot of things to say, about who I was, what I am going through, what I look forward to and desire.

I made my best stab at the clarinet concerto of Aaron Copland. I had performed it before, but only recently realized just how freaking HARD it is! My standards have evolved, I guess. What struck me as funny during the recital was how everything I used to totally suck at -- smooth, legato connections; intonation, especially in the high register; tone quality -- these were the aspects of my performance that were terrific ("sublime," as one friend described it). The things that used to define me as the best around -- my fast tongue and fingers, my aggressive style -- I missed the mark. I left the stage feeling like I shouldn't have attempted the piece. I was later chastised for not taking a second bow, because the audience kept clapping after I left. I just couldn't go back out there after I played the way I felt I did. I felt that I hadn't properly honored the musician I used to be, and I was kind of pissed off about it!

My second piece was the song As It Fell Upon a Day, which I performed with two very strong women -- women who have endured tremendous hardship in their lives. I chose them not for their musicianship (though they are both excellent musicians), but for their presence in my life and for the example they have set for me in how they've lived their lives with grace and dignity, even through difficulties. I knew I had a connection to the words of the song, and as we performed, even though there were minor flaws in the execution, I felt as if I was appropriately honoring my place in time today -- respecting that I am encountering a bump in the road, but that no one would feel sorry for me, because that bump is mine alone to get over. Most people wouldn't even begin to understand how or why this circumstance creates such a quandary for me, anyway...people change careers, or decide to stay home with their kids all the time, right?

I had waited 15 years to perform Appalachian Spring. I nearly had a chance my senior year of college, when I was slotted to play it with an ensemble at school. My audition for my current job was scheduled for a Thursday and I would miss the dress rehearsal for Appalachian Spring, which was to be performed on Saturday evening. My conductor, with whom I had a great relationship, let me know that he was uncomfortable with that situation. I considered not taking the audition in favor of performing the work, but chose instead to go get myself a job, figuring I would have an opportunity to play it someday. Eleven years later, I still hadn't played it, and I knew I needed to make it happen -- now or never.

It cost me more money than I could really afford, what with renting the parts and score (Boosey and Hawkes are pretty stingy with their music!) and paying the musicians (who all worked for dirt, really -- I appealed upon their sense of humanity in the hopes that people who would play for very little money and a bag of Bryan's chocolate chip cookies might also be the sorts who would pour their hearts into the music and not concern themselves with every little technical nuance), as well as properly thanking my friends/co-workers who also offered their time to fill out the wind parts and conduct. All told, I'm out $1000 for that experience, but it was worth every penny.

Another (confirmed) friend who came to hear my recital said later "Anyone who wasn't here today could never understand what exactly happened here." He is right. Appalachian Spring was truly the stuff dreams are made of. So my pianist wasn't always in the right place. The strings sometimes came in before the conductor cued them. I missed a few notes. But, it didn't matter, at least not to me or the people who could see my heart on my sleeve during that 25 minutes of my life. There were moments I just couldn't even believe -- perfectly in tune, broad lines shared between the bassoonist and myself; quiet but vibrant whipers by the strings, punctuated with a singing melody from my (confirmed!) friend's A-clarinet (which I boldly chose to play half an hour before the recital, knowing it would be better than mine -- and it was like driving a Ferrari!), the big, sweeping statement of "Simple Gifts" near the end of the work that told everyone there, whether they knew it or not, what I really want out of my life -- to be simple and free, to receive the gift of coming down, where I ought to be!

I sobbed (probably audibly, but I haven't listened to the recording yet) right there on the stage. One (confirmed) friend told me a few days after the recital that he had never seen me so happy as I was during that piece of music. I was filled with joy and sadness and direction and confusion about my future, all at once. I crave the simplicity of motherhood, without the shackles of all this "otherhood..." the negativity that has crept into my musical experience over the last few years that gives me real, tangible, physical pain every time I put my clarinet together; the hatred I feel in my bones for the people who have ruined my happy workplace with their rigidity and left-brained applications that just don't work in a right-brained endeavor like music; the despair I feel to my core because I can't just take what works for me and ignore the rest -- I can't ignore the people who value cold, stark precision over communication of a musical emotion, the bullshit of having to work 6 days a week "because you could be in Afghanistan," the demoralization of seeing people with real integrity getting squashed by others who are hollow and empty. That's not to say there aren't instances of humanity and beauty in my job anymore...they are just overshadowed by cynicism and a spirit of meanness. I'm guilty, too.

Therein lies the heart of why I cannot continue as a musician, why I can't swallow the difficult logistics of balancing my hard-sought career with my even harder-sought family (because let's face it, I've made it this far with two kids and a zillion stupid trips, I can do it for 8-3/4 more years if I wanted to!). I can't get past everything that is wrong about the human part of my job, because I can't possibly connect myself to the task of making music with people who have bought into the "other side" of what we do. I shut down years ago, probably before Anna was even born. I've finally given up hope that I'll ever feel like what I'm doing is worthwhile in the grand scheme of things -- I've realized that my mark on the world is going to be more significant if I concentrate my energies elsewhere, and my own sense of "center" will be easier to find once I'm away from the huge negative force that brings me such frustration and illness. Today, I got home after far too long at work, and spewed poison at Bryan for 20 minutes. I did not say one positive thing for 20 minutes. I finally got a bad, acid taste of heartburn -- I've been getting that a lot lately -- and knew I had to just take a breath and send the day away. I can't infect my kids with my anger. Tums can fix the reflux, but it can't give my babies a happy, responsive mother.

I feel that music chose me -- I know I could never have gone on to pursue anything else without feeling debilitating, paralyzing regret. Now, as "the end" is approaching for me, I wonder whether I'll look back on this time and wish I had found just a little more fortitude to get myself through the hard patch, or if I'll feel that I did the right thing by leaving my life as a musician. A few nights ago, still buoyed by the experience of my recital, I went into the music room to practice, and felt sad that I won't ever have anything to "sink my teeth into" again. I was looking for a challenge. I don't know whether I'll find a way to satisfy that need somehow, or if that part of me will just have to go unanswered.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

As It Fell Upon a Day

So, I am really feeling serious that I am going to give up being a musician within the next few years. What will likely be my "farewell" recital is set to take place on October 1st, and will be an all-Copland program. The program will open with the clarinet concerto, paying homage to the young girl who decided that music was the center of her life and would stop at nothing to achieve what others deemed impossible. I am also playing the Appalachian Spring original version for 13 instruments (and practically going broke for it), fulfilling a dream I've had since the summer of 1989, when I first fell in love with Copland's music after hearing the orchestral version of the same work at music camp.

Aaron Copland died in December of 1990, just days before my audition at Ithaca College, where I got my music degree. I was performing the cadenza from his concerto as the main selection of my audition program, having lived with it for the year prior. I remember feeling very connected to him because so much of the music we play is written by composers who are long dead...but my maturity on the Copland concerto spans time he was alive as well as post-mortem.

I've been nagged lately by an inexplicable urge to learn about a lesser-known work of Copland's, entitled As It Fell Upon a Day for clarinet, flute, and soprano voice. After reading the words, I understand why I feel the need to perform the piece on this recital.

None alive will pity heart is breaking in two as I decide to abandon my music career. I simply cannot continue in the environment my workplace has become. The negativity, stupidity, senselessness of it all have taken over and eclipsed my love for music.

None alive will pity me...but they've taken my very soul away.

As It Fell Upon a Day (Words from Richard Barnefield)
As it fell upon a day,
In the merry month of May,
Sitting in a pleasant shade,
Which a grove of myrtles made
Beasts did leap and birds did sing
Trees did grow and plants did spring
Ev'rything did banish moan
Save the nightingale alone
She poor bird as all forlorn
Lean'd her breast up till a thorn
And there sung the doleful'st ditty
That to hear it was great pity
Now would she cry
Tereu, Tereu, by and by
That to hear her so complain
Scarce I could from tears refrain
For her griefs so lively shown
Made me think upon mine own
Ah! thought I thou mournst in vain
None takes pity on thy pain
Senseless trees they cannot hear thee
Ruthless bears they will not cheer thee
King Pandion he is dead
All thy friends are lapp'd in lead
All thy fellow birds do sing
Careless of thy sorrowing
Even so poor bird like thee
None alive will pity me
(public domain)

Monday, July 24, 2006

Flourish for Wind Band

Fall, 1987.
My adolescent world had been smashed to bits -- not by a boy, but because the new band director, John Lynch, put me 2nd chair to my then-best friend, Jeannette. It wasn't supposed to be that way. We were in the freshman band, and I was supposed to be the concertmistress. My fragile ego could tolerate nothing less.

Adding insult to injury every day in rehearsal was the fact that one piece we were working on, Vaughn-Williams' Flourish for Wind Band, had two distinct first clarinet parts -- Solo Clarinet I and Ripieno Clarinet I. Ripieno? What the heck was Ripieno? I didn't want to know, and I sure as heck didn't want to be playing it if it was the opposite of Solo.

Flourish for Wind Band isn't a technically demanding piece (unless you ask my then-dear friend Amy, who played principal trumpet and threatened to shit her pants every time she had to go for the 1st-ledger-line A), but it is good, valid music. John Lynch was the master of that -- exposing us to music that challenged our ability level but wasn't the tripe that most high school bands out there play.

It's on the program for this weekend's concerts. I'm playing 2nd clarinet and I don't feel any significant attachment or anxiety about playing 1st (but I was feeling a little antsy about playing 1st on Pineapple Poll, and I got my wish literally seconds before the downbeat when our principal player realized he needed 2 on Solo to cover divided parts -- so I'm playing 1st and am very happy about it).

I've been feeling lately that my days as a clarinet player are getting numbered -- I am grossly unhappy in the band and feel that a change is imminent and I won't be playing anymore. On the surface, I know it is a good idea, but deep down, I'm not sure I'll ever let go 100% of having been a musician. Anyway, a few seconds into the introduction of Flourish for Wind Band this morning had me choking back tears and sobs as I remembered John Lynch and his inspiration, as well as the obsessive motivation I had in the fall of 1987 to be the very best.

Weeks after being seated behind Jeannette, before we ever played Flourish for Wind Band in concert, I won first chair in the high school all-county band, out-playing students in grades 9-12. Jeannette was selected to be an alternate, more than 20 spots behind me. I came out on top, but in doing so, I believe I began the process of alienating Jeannette. She was one of many friends I loved and lost in high school, probably because my intensity made people uncomfortable and my drive made me appear self-centered. I saw her during the summer of 1994, at an outdoor bar in Buffalo. She was visibly uncomfortable to have run into me, and I later heard that she reported negative impressions of me to the grapevine of our old circles.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Identity Crisis

I think an identity crisis is my real problem. But, who wants to hear someone like me, who's "got it all," complain about feeling like I don't have anything?

My problem stems from trying to balance the fact that I'm a desperately independent individual, possessing a very concrete and real need for alone time, with the reality that I'm someone's wife, someone's subordinate, and two people's mother...among other things too numerous and complicated to list.

I love my husband, adore my kids, and hate my job -- but all three are necessary in my world...and all three suck all of my energy and there's so little left

Writing is one thing I enjoy and vowed to do more of last year when I was on vacation and trying to come up wiht a plan for my life. I do write some, but I don't feel like it's enough. I want to write more, and I want to get better at writing and expressing myself. I feel like I have a lot to say and there are certain niches that might actually care to read about it.

I've taken up running again, because it's the only thing I do that feels good physically, mentally, and emotionally (after I stop -- while I'm doing it, I feel like I might die). But, it's the first thing to go when life gets crazy, and, let's face it: my life is always crazy.

I practiced the Copland clarinet concerto tonight. For many reasons, I've decided to perform it in recital this fall. That piece defined me for many years -- I was the rare high school clarinetist who attempted it and played it well - the piece helped me prove my mettle as a musician. My freshman year of college, I played the cadenza for my seating audition and shook the school up -- getting 2nd chair in the wind ensemble. I performed it for my senior recital, as well...but haven't played it since. It's been over 11 years. Tonight, I remembered a lot of things about playing that piece -- why I originally chose it just before my junior year of high school, living with it the way a musician has to live with a piece of music, the people I shared my progress with, how the melodies and rhythms fit into my life at that time. (On a side note -- I think part of why my connection to my past is so strong has to do with being a musician. Hearing music 10, 15 years later rouses a part of my brain that stored away all my emotional trappings of the time I first heard the music. The muscle memory of performing music does the same thing. It's amazing, a little scary, and slightly annoying.)

As happy as I am to no longer have to define myself as a clarinet player, gosh -- it was so easy to just define myself as a clarinet player!

Who am I? Can a rogue independent woman exist inside the body of a cog in everyone's machine? Where is the balance? How do I find the line between self-care and selfishness?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Today is the day before my colonoscopy. My job today is to allow my colon to get completely purged. This is accomplished by fasting (I've had nothing to eat since midnight), drinking only clear fluids, and, in about an hour, starting to drink this phospho-soda stuff that is going to finish the job in a big hurry. My instructions read "stay close to the toilet after taking this preparation." Should be interesting.

Ironically, yesterday, I experienced a purging of another sort -- while trying to archive several hundred old e-mail messages onto a "jump drive," I somehow made a grave error and lost every message I had in my Outlook Box -- every deleted item, sent item, special folder, and the entire inbox. I lost over 1000 messages. They might be somewhere on my computer...but only a serious techie would find them and my quasi-techie friends looked as hard as they could, to no avail.

At first, I couldn't breathe. I rely on my e-mail for so many things! I had neglected to save a lot of attachments to my hard drive because...why bother? I have the e-mail! (Luckily, I didn't do this too much -- I recently went through and cleaned house a bit, saving the attachments I wanted...I only lost some recent release forms, session outlines, and the like for some speaking and writing engagements I have coming up. I should be able to contact folks and recover them.)
A lot of the e-mail I had saved was sentiments from people, friends or fellow list members, saying nice things to me. On a tough day, a low self-concept day, I'd go through them and remind myself that people do like me and I've impacted on the world a little bit. The tangible reminder is gone, but somehow I still know it's all true.

I'm beginning to accept, even embrace the new, empty, clean slate in my Outlook mail program now. (What makes the situation easier is that somehow, the function that remembers who I am sending mail to remained intact -- I can still type the first letter of a person's name in the "to" line and get that person's address. This is huge, because all "contacts" are gone.) Perhaps it was time to purge.

I'm feeling anxious and scared about the next 20 hours or so, though. I don't want to take the Fleet Phospho-Sodas I was given at my pre-op appointment. I want to have some tortilla chips and bean dip. I want some popcorn, maybe some cheese. I'm hungry!

I don't know what the doctor is going to see when he does the colonoscopy. I have a hunch, but who knows? I've been trying to talk to Bryan about it, but he refuses. "Let's not worry about things until they're real -- let's not think about 'what ifs' right now." He's right.

In about 20 hours, my purge will be over, and I will eat something very satisfying. I'll also have a "clean slate" to start out with, which I will likely learn to accept and embrace. Perhaps, it was time to purge.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

That which we desire


Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

I'd like to take this piece of writing, which I try to read as often as possible, and expand upon each bit. There's just too much truth in "that which we desire" for me to not take the time to explore it.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Anna, The Reflective Listener

So, my little girl, age 3, knocks my socks off on a regular basis. I mean, she's just incredible as a rule...but today, I couldn't believe how amazing she was.

Yesterday, we found out that neither I or my husband had been selected for promotion at work. There were 6 promotions -- we both felt (as did most of our co-workers) that I was a sure thing for one of them. We thought he had an outside chance, as well.

I took the news rather well -- my heart hasn't been in that job since I gave birth to Anna and I sort of embrace this latest slap in the face as motivation to get moving, fast, on getting a job as an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). I've always been drawn to the medical field and to work in an allied health capacity like that seems like the perfect fit for me.
Bryan was and continues to be livid, just raging mad (not about him, about me -- he feels like I was wronged beyond belief).

Anyway, this morning, I offered to drive Anna to school because I wasn't hungry for breakfast anyway -- Bryan and I are both just sick trying to process all of this information and make big life decisions. When we got in the car, the conversation went like this:

Anna: Mamma, how come you're not hungry today?

Me: Well, sweetie, some bad things happened at work yesterday and I'm not very happy about them.

Anna: Are you angry and sad?

Me: Yes, baby, I'm feeling angry and sad.

Anna: What happened?

Me: They were picking some people to be special leaders at work, and they didn't pick me or daddy, so we feel hurt.

Anna: Were they mean?

Me: Yes, I guess they were mean.

Anna: Mom, just *deal* with it! (undoubtedly a reflection of what we say to her on a regular basis!)

Me: (holding back a laugh) I am, sweetie. I have a lot of other things to be happy about.
Anna: (sighs) So, do you want to talk about this?

Me: (still trying not to laugh) Sure, baby. Let's talk about it.

Anna: OK. So. They picked special leaders at work, and they were mean and didn't pick you or daddy, so you are feeling angry and sad and hurt. Is that right?

My daughter, the reflective listener, gave me a world of perspective this morning. We're doing something very, very right.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Health and Denial

I'm stuck in this funny place where I can't really tell whether I'm being stupid or sane.

I don't like doctors, I don't like the notion that someone knows my body bettter than I do, I am not interested in medication and invasive intervention for the most part.

I feel that I have a good working understanding of my body and its functions, probably better than that of the average American doctor-worshipper.

That said, it's entirely possible that my desire to avoid doctors might have gone a little too far.

I have found an MD I really like -- she supports my extended breastfeeding, and has worked really hard to help me find answers to the extreme exhaustion I've experienced over the last two years -- exhaustion beyond that which is normal for a mother of two young children.

I haven't told her everything, though, in all of the visits I've made to her since August of last year, when I had gotten sick of fainting and feeling lousy all the time. I told her what I thought was relevant to the situation -- that I couldn't digest "easy" foods, that I was tired all the time, fainting at work, couldn't sleep at night. She told me about Addison's disease and suggested I had a lesser but similar condition called adrenal fatigue. I looked it up and, sure enough, I fit the profile of a patient wiht fizzled-out adrenals. The most remarkable thing was my blood pressure, a whopping 70/45.

I started working to get more rest and take better care of myself. I felt marginally better, but all the sleep in the world wasn't helping the exhaustion abate. My doctor ran some tests; surprisingly, I am iron deficient. I've started supplementing with liquid iron and I feel a lot better, after 10 days of faithful consumption.

But, I still haven't told her everything.

I took my little Anna to see the pediatrician the other day, because sometimes, when I wipe her bottom, there is blood on the paper. I was concerned about why a little girl of 3 might have rectal bleeding and whether she was losing any significant amount of blood.

The pediatrician turned the appointment around to me, about my own history.

I told him everything.

He scared the living daylights out of me and now, I am going back to my doctor to tell her everything. I'm going to tell her that I've been losing disarming amounts of blood in the toilet since May of last year, which is likely contributing to my iron deficiency and my exhaustion. I'm likely going to need some kind of colonoscopy, which I just don't want to make the time for.

My instincts don't tell me I'm sick, and I don't think there's anything wrong with me, but the doctor said "This isn't about you anymore. You have children, and you owe it to them to take the best care of yourself that you can."

What's funny is that, when asked about my chief complaint about my parents, it's that they don't take care of themselves.

Maybe the apple doesn't fall as far from the tree as I thought it did.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

My breasts, for better or for worse

My mother has big breasts. Her mother has, basically, no breasts. My dad's mother -- her breasts were huge, but she had only one leg so her breasts were never much of an issue to me (she was a diabetic amputee and not very nice and I was terrified of her). My dad's sisters both have enormous breasts. I didn't inherit my maternal grandmother's genes.

I remember asking my mother when I was young, after a bath, "Mommy, when will my nee-nees look like yours?" I pulled on them, as if to stretch them out. She told me when I grew up, they would look like hers.

I needed a bra in 5th grade. I was a skinny little thing with big boobs. Then puberty hit hard and I was a short, stubby little thing, with even bigger boobs. I'm only 5 feet tall.

I was wearing minimizers, size 36C, in 7th grade. Other girls could wear cute, strappy things, sleeveless tops, v-neck shirts, but not me! I hid in billowy t-shirts and chunky sweaters. I was so embarrassed.

I was never the last girl picked in gym class, rather, I was quite athletic...until the jokes about whether I'd get a black eye started -- "Hey Diana, don't run too fast, or you might knock yourself out with one of those things!"

The jokes came from my father. Perhaps he was uncomfortable with the sexual development of his little girl. More likely, he needed someone to pick on because his work environment was so toxic. Regardless of his motives, he hurt me. I began secretly hating my breasts, and the rest of my body. I couldn't find clothes to fit or flatter. I looked hideous, with no sense of style. My hair was curly, not "feathered" like everyone else's...I didn't wear make-up, I was disgusted with my appearance.

Yet, I found myself in the spotlight often. I was a superstar on the clarinet, "first chair" everywhere I went...and nothing could shake my confidence in that venue.

But, back to my breasts.

In college, I developed an eating disorder (well, it developed before that but college was the first place I had control over my food intake) and lost some weight. I never got "anorexic looking," but I did get pretty sick. My boobs were a 34D, and very popular with the boys. They always said it was my smile, though, that drew them to me. And the gay ones, not out of the closet yet, swore it was my personality that made me their "last ditch" at being straight. Imagine my self-esteem when guys asked me out and came out of the closet the following month!

So this eating disorder came to a head my senior year, and I got some therapy. It was a very structured program. My breasts weren't involved, really.

I began to feel more comfortable with myself. I learned how to buy clothes. I enlisted in the Army (to be a musician, by the way, I had won an audition already) and went to basic training, where my female drill sergeant told me daily to "harness those doggone provocations." Apparently, I hadn't discovered good sports bras...and there certainly weren't any available to me on an Army post. She yelled at me like I was some kind of slut -- "don't go wigglin' those jugs around thinkin' they're gonna git you anything special..." she used to tell me.

I reported to my band after basic training. My first week there, I heard men in their locker room -- "Have you seen the new clarinet player? Have you seen her boobs?" I was too naive to worry about a sexually hostile work environment. I just wanted a boyfriend.

A boyfriend I got, one who told me he'd help me get fit, lose weight, and have a good body. I married him. He had no interest in my breasts, but was very interested in cutting all fat out of my diet because he didn't want a fat wife. He was also interested in internet porn, things no Christian woman could ever imagine. He wanted me to look at pictures with him that were horrific. I'm not talking your standard porn here. I'm talking cracked-up counter-culture weird ass shit.

I divorced him.

A few weeks after I left him, I let a pianist play with my breasts one evening. We were great friends and he was really quite impressed with them. This experience still uplifts me today! (He called them my "orbs of happiness.")

The summer after I turned 26, I was single and having a good time with my life. I was dating some, and I was pretty taken with Bryan, a trumpet player at work. We were best friends, but nothing more.

I was running marathons at this point. I had severe chafing across my rib cage and shoulders. I had rashes under my breasts. When I went for my annual well-woman exam, the nurse practitioner examining me blurted out, "Honey! Why haven't you had these things reduced? They're obviously a problem!" A problem? I hadn't thought of them that way. Yes, hated them, I hated the backaches, the bra shopping (and spending! I can't get a bra that works for less than $40), the feeling that I had something to hide. I let her put me in for a referral to see a cosmetic surgeon.

Remember, I'm in the Army. All of my healthcare is free. I was to go to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in D.C. to get evaluated for a breast reduction.

Again, I remind you, I'm in the Army. In order to authorize the trip, many people where I work knew where I was going -- and why.

The doctor who saw me agreed I was a candidate for reduction surgery. I fantasized about strappy sundresses, lacy bras, bikini swimsuits. I wasn't overweight -- I wore a size 8 pants -- but needed at least a 12 for my top.

He told me he wouldn't reduce me. Not until after I was done having children...which incensed me! Why was everything based on my status as a single, childless woman? Why couldn't my life begin anew NOW?

The week after I saw that doctor, I traveled to the country of my ancestry, Malta. My father was born there. My luggage got lost, and I had no clothes. I had to go shopping, which, in Malta, isn't like it is here in the U.S. Malta is a very small country. Department stores, as we know them, do not exist there. I ventured in to a women's clothing store, and told the male associate, "I'm hard to fit. My body isn't like other peoples'." He asked me to look around -- which body did not look like mine?

My feelings toward my breasts changed in that very instant. In Malta, everyone was short, with dark curly hair and really big boobs! The "minimizers" started at size F cups...not C like here in the states. ALL THE A AND B CUP BRAS WERE IN A SEPARATE DRAWER! This was no Victoria's Secret, where only two bras in stock would even go around my body without splitting at the seams. This was a place for MY body!

I stocked up on cheap bras that fit. I spent my vacation (which, by the way, was a solo trip) happier than a pig in mud. I met lots of people and radiated a confidence I never felt before.

I returned home. Bryan and I started to progress with our relationship and were engaged less than a year later. We took our honeymoon in the Caribbean, where some women went topless. I wasn't ready to show my breasts to the public at large yet, though.

Bryan is not a "breast man." My now 34DD's were not terribly interesting to him. He loves my smile and my legs but doesn't have much to say about my breasts.

That doesn't matter.

Anna Maria, my perfect little baby girl, adores my breasts. They provide her with nourishment, comfort, warmth, and contentment. I wonder what life was like before my breasts had such an important function. I can't imagine a time when they will be mere decorations under my sweaters again.

When I was pregnant with Anna, I was fascinated with the drops of colostrum I could squeeze out of my nipples. I never imagined the flow of milk that would come from them. I was both delighted and disgusted when it came...there was so much, and I was always leaking.

I am now thankful for my breasts, the very same ones that brought me shame and hatred before. My breasts are healthy. My mother had a portion of her right breast removed last year...she is now a breast cancer survivor. She never breastfed us. She was always "the most highly developed girl in the whole class" (according to my father), but I often wonder how she feels about her breasts, other than that they're a burden to shop for and one harbored a deadly tumor.

I am again pregnant and I find myself with mixed emotions about my breasts. They feel "too big" for my body, though they still nourish Anna Maria. They hurt. They may become a point of contention between my daughter and myself, should I need to set limits on her nursing for my own sanity later in my pregnancy and when my new baby comes.

I look forward to the time when my breasts will provide sole nourishment for another life for 6 months. I also look forward to the time when I can wrap my breasts up tight again, and take my body for a run. I don't know when that day will come. --1 June 2004

Monday, February 13, 2006

Supporting Working Moms who Breastfeed

It's not just about teaching them how to leave breastmilk behind, though many people seem to think that covers it. Here's what else I think:

The kind of support I really needed from La Leche League wasn't so much the pumping logistics, I had those figured out and could find other answers to "mechanical" questions online pretty easily. I appreciated the creative ideas about the SITUATION of a mom who has to separate from her baby (suggestions about how to keep baby close to mom, even in a more traditional work setting; suggestions about ways to negotiate some work from home to minimize the length of separations; reminders that there is no substitute for mother's milk or presence and maintaining the breastfeeding relationship serves both needs so well!).

Reminding the mothers that babies will likely reverse cycle at night after mom returns to work (and that this is normal and good) and suggesting ways for getting more rest (giving permission for a messy house, getting help with all things not related to personal care, baby care, or work) might be helpful.

Encouraging breastfeeding on demand round the clock when mother and baby are together will help extend the nursing relationship. One mom I worked with thought she should "cut" the nursing she'd miss when she was away from her child when they were together, so he wouldn't "expect" it when they were separated. I stressed to her that her absence alone would serve to let him know that he shouldn't expect to nurse, and that her presence alone would encourage him to nurse -- both good things (this child was over 1 year old and still nursing when she went back to work, and she truly wanted to make the separations as easy as possible on him).

A reminder that some breastmilk is better than no breastmilk might be appropriate. I've been heartbroken to see mothers who just couldn't keep up with their babies' demands completely throw in the towel. Do what you can to eliminate the "all or nothing" feeling a lot of mothers have IF they seem unwilling or unable to commit to exclusive EBM feeding and breastfeeding (of course, the ideal is to encourage as much breastfeeding and breastmilk as possible in the first place). Even if it comes down to baby nurses when they're together and gets 1-2 bottles each day of EBM, the rest ABM...that's still better than total weaning on all counts, especially in that it keeps the baby at the breast when mom is near and keeps mom motivated to be near as often as possible. This is a very important point. A mother who is no longer breastfeeding at all is less likely to stay attached to her baby in other many, the end of the nursing relationship "lets her off the hook" so to speak (which is very sad but is also an attitude I encounter a lot). Encouraging any mothering at the breast (and any pumping to keep production going) helps that mother have a real reason to hurry home to her baby and stay close to him as much as possible when she's not at work.

Fathers/partners MUST be supportive and involved! There are lots of ways to work on this.

It never hurts to offer a few tips on how to minimize judgemental statements from group members at La Leche League meetings when a mother who will be separating raises a question. I've been discouraged to hear stories from moms who work outside the home about experiences at meetings that have been really negative. A gentle reminder to Leaders that anyone who needs information about breastfeeding is welcome at our meetings, and some positive steps to ensure all mothers can feel supported in their breastfeeding needs are really important. These moms are already in a compromised situation by having to separate -- affirming their choice to keep breastfeeding and providing the tools to help them do so will be a great service to those mothers and their babies.