Friday, May 16, 2014

My Boobs, My Choice

Why is it that, in some circles, when it comes to abortion, women's bodies are sacrosanct?  She's granted complete sovereignty over her person when it comes to the embryo or fetus within her.  She alone gets to choose.

But when it comes to breastfeeding, those same people who trumpet a woman's right to choose on the front end of the pregnancy also act as if, once the baby's drawn breath, there's no choice, no sovereignty of the body anymore. 

Lady, if you brought that child to term, you must breastfeed.  You don't have the right to choose what you do with your boobs.

Let me tell you a little bit about my experience:  I was 40 years old, fresh off a month of bedrest.  My breasts have always been plenty "full," but they were not -- they were never -- full of milk.  I starved my son for the first five days of his life trying to offer him a nearly dry teat.

And then, AND THEN, the lactation consultant came.  She made remarks about my nipples, their quality and type, even their ethnicity.


She encouraged me to use the breast pump to stimulate milk production when my child was not feeding instead of, you know, holding and bonding with my baby or taking a nap.

She even suggested that I use some weird contraption involving a catheter threaded from a bottle with formula or, preferably, expressed milk, alongside my own breast down to my nipple and into my son's mouth so that, even if he was not getting milk from the actual boob, he was still sucking it through the effing catheter.  (You should imagine me typing really hard on that last bit there.)

Because the only way to bond with your child is if he's sucking your teat.


I went along with the pumping-all-the-damned-time-thing, but the catheter was a bridge too far.

I'm sure the lactation consultant felt I was an utter failure for having rejected the ridiculous catheter trick.

What not a single professional said to me -- not the pediatrician, not the lactation consultant, not the OB/GYNs -- was that it was okay to let go.

No, the breastfeeding was too important:  More important than me getting rest.  More important than me sitting and holding my baby.  The agenda was more important than me.

And I bought into it.  I pumped incessantly.  I worried about there not being enough milk.  I gloried in the mere six ounces a day of anemic breast milk that I brought home from work each day.  (Until, at age six months, my son rejected both boob and breast-milky-like substance, mercifully freeing me from that sucking machine.)

If I had to do it all over again, I'd tell that consultant to walk on by so fast.  I would enjoy my maternity leave.  I would actually sleep when the baby sleeps.  I would allow that having a newborn is stressful enough without adding to the stress by trying to make happen what was clearly not going to happen.

I would relieve myself of the daily humiliation of half-disrobing in my office four times a day to pump while I worked.  I would also relieve my co-workers of the awkwardness of finding my bag of sterilized pump parts in the microwave where I'd forgotten them after a harried pumping session.

I would give myself a break, even when no one else would.  And in so doing, I think, I think, I would have been a more present and better rested mommy of a new human.  (But who knows, right?  Because newborns are challenging even when no breast pumps are present.)

One thing I know for sure:  I wouldn't feel betrayed and bullied by a system that means too well.  Breastfeeding is not so important to the bonding process that we need to pretend that we're doing it by means of a catheter.  That's just nuts.  I know the intentions are good, but someone needs to say, "Enough is enough, if it's not working, use the formula, lady.  It will be okay.  You'll still love your kid and your kid will be fine."

Because new mothers are as vulnerable as newborn babies.  We want to do everything just right.  We don't want to screw up.  We're terrified we'll accidentally harm this precious gift we've been given, our baby girls and boys.  Someone in the breastfeeding establishment needs to say, "You tried.  It's okay to quit."

Hey, if your boobs work well, and breastfeeding your child is a breeze, more power to you.  I am envious.  It wasn't easy for me.  I wanted it to be, but it wasn't.

But if you're having trouble, if you're feeling wrung out, if you feel like a slave to the breast pump, if you just don't want to do it anymore or at all (even though your boobs work fine), it's okay to let go.  I give you permission.  They're your boobs.  It's your choice.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Where's my AARP card?


I'll be 44 this year. 

I've written before about certain sometimes age-related issues:  infertility in my late 30s; bifocals; ill-advised 40-something cartwheels; my skin on my face feeling loose sometimes; being middle aged.

I've written ad nauseum about struggling to lose weight. 

So want to hear some more TMI?

Lately, I've been having other weird symptoms....general irritability, hot flashes, trouble sleeping, bloating, moderate to severe cramping....oh, and a period that's been absent for going on three months (which followed years of an irregular menstrual cycle).   And some other symptoms that I won't go into great detail about that involve dryness. 

Are you feeling uncomfortable by my over-sharing yet?

This is kind of worse than when I owned my stress incontinence, I admit.  (Which is totally gone, by the way.  Whoop!)

The problem is that these symptoms can indicate a lot of different health issues and the only way to figure out what's wrong is to go to the doctor.  You could have thyroid disease. You could have a food or chemical sensitivity. You could have a hormonal imbalance.

So when you do go to the doctor, you need to be clear about your symptoms and your suspicions about your condition.

So that's what I did a few weeks ago.

And he talked to me for a long time about my symptoms and my distress about them.  He told me his suspicion, but didn't immediately diagnose, because only blood work could tell us for sure what was going on.  So he took lots of blood (lots of blood) for lots of blood work.  And he ordered what turned out to be the most grueling sonogram I've ever had in my life to ensure all the internal girl structures were tumors, etc.

And in the end, I got a diagnosis:  everything about me is normal...for a  perimenopausal woman.

My estrogen level was extremely low.  My lutenizing hormone and follicle stimulating hormone levels were quite high.

This is my reproductive system doing the job of dumping the remaining eggs from my ovaries in preparation for my senescence, in which I will buy a comfortable rocker, place it on my front porch and wave my cane at those darned kids that keep getting on my lawn. 

Oh, wait. I have a three year old. So none of that's happening before at least 2040.  (I hope.)

But this is the beginning of the end of my fertile (I use that term loosely given my history) years.

That's all. 

Perimenopause can last for years, the doctor said.  A decade, sometimes.


You can still get pregnant during perimenopause. 


Perimenopause isn't menopause. It's the slow and annoying approach to menopause.

But there are treatments.

Oh yeah, I'm talking about hormone replacement therapy.

Sure, I'm worried about the increased risk of breast cancer if I take hormones.

But when you're constantly irritable and in moderate to severe pain from the cramping more often than not....

When you have to check with your husband whether the room is really hot or you're just having your own personal summer....

When you're pissed off all the time....

Well, you think you might give HRT a whirl . . . at least in the beginning.

Fortunately, for me, for now, all that means is that I now take a low dose birth control pill.

And it has made all the difference in my well-being:  more energy, less cranky, no hot flashes, no more cramps.  Everything has improved.  So, for now, I'm happy as a middle-aged clam to be back on the pill.  (Hey, and thanks to the Affordable Care Act, it's absolutely free!  Bonus.)

The one thing I can tell you for certain about my reaction to this new stage of life that I'm entering is that I'm not sad about being perimenopausal. This is a normal part of aging.  And I'm fine with aging. 

Hey, some people go gray or bald before they're 30 or 40.  So I'm heading into "the change" a tad earlier than others.  Big deal.

I don't feel less female.

I don't feel less valuable.

I don't feel less attractive.

I'm just getting older.

And that's okay.

 I'm still me, and I like that. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Cheerleader Feminism

NFL cheerleaders are fighting back against the unfair pay they have, historically, received for, er, the privilege of being NFL cheerleaders. Because that's essentially the argument from management:  you get the privilege of being associated with the team and being thought of as the hottest chicks in town -- you might even marry a rich dude -- so, really, you should thank us for the privilege.

Some of these ladies get paid as little as $105 a season, while being subjected to jiggle tests and fines for gaining five pounds.  Some teams even have bizarre personal (and we're talking very personal) hygiene rules.  And the teams and their owners meanwhile make millions, a portion of which may be attributable to the cheerleaders' work.

On the latest edition of the Double X Gabfest Hanna Rosin quipped, off-hand (so I don't hold her responsible for the opinion only for reporting it), that it is harder for feminists to get behind cheerleaders than, for instance, strippers. Strippers sometimes describe themselves as artists, she said. And strippers are edgier.

Feminist -- old line feminists, I suppose -- like an in your face hyper-sexualized traditionally female profession, but only if it's edgy. 

But why?!

Look at the patronizing rationale for not paying NFL cheerleaders a decent, minimum wage. Why are old-line feminists not outraged by such belittling treatment of young women?

Often NFL cheerleaders are college students, ill-equipped to fight back, unschooled in the cruel world. Their cheerleader contracts may be the first employment contract they've ever signed. They probably don't have the document reviewed by independent legal counsel. Why doesn't the "sisterhood" stand up for them?

Is it because NFL cheerleading seems fakey?  Seems smarmy?  Too middle America?  Too mainstream?  Maybe the cheerleaders deserve it?  Maybe they're asking for the unfair treatment?  Surely, no right thinking feminist would think that way. Not and also fight for the rights of edgy, arty strippers. 

I guess I should pause to say, perhaps superfluously, that I'm not a huge fan of NFL cheerleaders.  Or the NFL. Or football in general.

I don't mind what I think of as "real" cheerleaders -- those acrobats of the fields. Those ladies (and gentlemen) are straight up impressive athletes.  But booty shaking, booby jiggling, pom-pon waving pin-up girls -- I'm not a fan.  I don't care if they are considered "ambassadors of the team."  (I'm not all that into the "team," anyway.)

But I'm a feminist and, by damn, if we feminists can line up for fair treatment for strippers, I see no reason why we cannot line up for an equal wage and fair treatment for NFL cheerleaders.

They deserve to be paid for the work that they do. They deserve at least minimum wage.  They deserve more.  They deserve to be afforded a modicum of human dignity while on the job. And I do not think that being considered a "hot girl" substitutes for monetary compensation or excuses ill-treatment by their employers.  Neither should anyone else.  Go team.