27 Feb 2012

A Bottlefeeding Guide?

I just finished reading a depressing, inaccurate, misleading book entitled When Breastfeeding Is Not an Option: A Reassuring Guide for Loving Parents by Peggy Robin. I happened to see it in my local public library and checked it out on a whim. The book was published in 1998 and I was dearly hoping that it is unavailable or out of print somehow, but I just looked on Amazon.com, and there it is...

Robin goes to great lengths to downplay the benefits of breast milk, saying she doesn't believe the studies that show formula-fed infants to be at greater risk of diabetes, allergies, and a whole host of other problems. She uses anecdotal evidence to support her claims, noting that of all the infants she personally knows about, the formula-fed ones are not any sicker than the breastfed ones - nya nya nya nya boo boo, so there, and take THAT fancy shmancy "science" (ok, so she doesn't exactly actually say that last bit, but you get the idea). How did this thing ever get published???

 Robin emphasizes and exaggerates the few physical problems in parents and babies that can cause breastfeeding to fail, and she claims that feeding with a supplemental nursing system (SNS) is impossibly difficult. If you can't breastfeed exclusively, then don't do it at all, is her message. This is the exact opposite of Diana West's gentle and encouraging advice in Defining Your Own Success: Breastfeeding After Reduction Surgery. West insists that any amount of breast milk is beneficial and something to be cherished. As the proud user of an SNS for the past ten months, I must argue that after an initial learning period, it is really not so bad, and it does save the breastfeeding relationship. And to me it is worth any kind of effort to give my baby even a teaspoon of my own body's milk since it is exactly right for him.

Of course, Robin makes no mention whatsoever of the possibility of finding donated human milk if the parent's own milk supply is insufficient. Instead, she moves quickly to praising the ease and complete nutrition of formula (because you'd never heard of it before, right?).

Robin cites many bottlefeeding parents who have felt personally attacked by "breastfeeding militants." I am very sorry for anyone who has been given a rough time for his/her feeding choices. We should never make assumptions about why someone may not be breastfeeding or what he/she may have been through. Furthermore, in our culture we cannot blame individuals for low breastfeeding rates across North America - there is too much wrong with hospital care, breastfeeding support, and attitudes in general. Many parents don't get breastfeeding figured out, and this is a shame, but the last thing we need to remedy the problem is a bottlefeeding support guide.

Milk Sharing Frenzy

Milk sharing seems to be gaining ground quickly! Local chapters of Human Milk 4 Human Babies are seeing a flurry of activity. I've also noticed several milk sharing blogs lately:

http://milksharing.blogspot.com/ This blog has wonderful info on how to store and ship milk safely.

http://missionmamamilk.blogspot.com/ Mission Mama Milk is a new blog, started just last month and has two authors - one woman giving her precious milk and another receiving it for her little one.

http://milkforbabyanthony.blogspot.com/ Milk For Baby Anthony is all about getting human milk for a sick little guy who cannot tolerate anything else.

I also came across a "Milk For Baby Chad" page and a "Milk for Baby Logan" page and there are probably countless others.

Maybe things are finally beginning to change, and more and more people will appreciate the life-giving qualities of human milk! And, yay for the internet.

19 Feb 2012

Blog Review: Free Range Kids

Cover of Free Range Kids
A friend told me today about Lenore Skenazy's blog, Free Range Kids.  I'd heard already a few times that various experts feel that children today do not have enough opportunities for unstructured, outdoor play. I'm personally alarmed to hear the shopping list of activities in which my neighbour's kids are required to participate - cross-country skiing, Ukranian dancing, horse back riding, piano, violin, biathlons, and every other sport or art you can think of. These kids love Jacob and are always wanting me to bring him over for a visit, but typically when I ask their Mom, the answer is, "well, today's no good, and neither is tomorrow, but I think two weeks from Friday you guys could come over for half an hour although it'll be a bit tight."

So, I was happy to peruse Skenazy's blog and see if she had any great ideas for how to give today's kids a more generous dose of unsupervised play. I wondered though, if the topic could really be worth blogging about. Do you actually have to do anything special, or is it more that you need to not do a few things and allow your kids to play on their own?

Skenazy argues that modern parents are terrified of letting their school age children out of sight. She blames much of this fearful attitude on the media and TV dramas that hype up child abductions. She coolly provides some data showing how American cities are in fact safer than they were a few decades ago, and suggests that we give our kids more independence so that they can grow up learning how to make their own decisions and run their own lives. All this sounds fine to me.

Skenazy loses me though, when she says that we needn't try so hard to be superparents, for example, by breastfeeding our babies. She writes,

 "80% of moms are using some formula by the time their children are 6 months old. That’s a lot of guilt about something very common and not harmful. A lot of parents today (including me) were raised on formula. It’s not rat poison."

Just because you're doing something very common doesn't mean it isn't harmful. Many people smoke, yet smoking is harmful. Many people spend too long at their desks, yet leading a sedentary life is harmful. The fact that 80% of people are failing to provide their babies with biologically normal food ought to be a serious wake-up call.

I agree with Skenazy that those who have ended up bottlefeeding their babies formula should not feel guilty over it. Breastfeeding is hard in a society where so few people practice it for a decent length of time. But this doesn't make bottlefeeding an acceptable choice for the majority of babies.

I am eternally grateful for all the support that I've received that has made it possible for me to breastfeed despite being a transgender man with virtually no breast tissue. During Jacob's first two days of life, my close friend and La Leche League Leader came over to our house to check on our latch about four times. She was also available by phone at any time, day or night. And it is now a total of more than twenty remarkable women who have donated breast milk so that Jacob can have the kind of food his little body fully expects and deserves. I wish that this wasn't an unusual or special or lucky or particularly fortunate situation to enjoy in this society of ours, but it really is. I am deeply appreciative, though I don't think I'm a superparent for being able to latch Jacob onto my chest. I'm feeding him in the most biologically normal way I can, despite the chest surgery that was part of my transition. And if I am capable of doing this, then anyone, with the right information and support, is too.

18 Feb 2012

Hanging on to My Kid

Ice path in Winnipeg
If you are depressed in the winter time in Winnipeg, my best suggestion has always been to bundle up your kids and head outside onto the city's two frozen rivers at the Forks. Many days lately have been sparkling, sunny, and even somewhat warm.

It often seems like a great effort to get going and make it out with little ones in the winter. I feed Jacob and change him right before leaving and then hope that he'll be happy enough during our adventures to hang on until we get back home. I strap him into my cloth carrier, put my gigantic winter coat over both of us, leash up the dog, and off we go for our walk. Down on the river path we amuse ourselves by watching kids skate past - some of them are toddlers who are sliding along for the first time, doing little more than a funny-looking shuffly walk while others are macho teens rocketing up and down the river despite gaping cracks and holes in the ice. Jacob smiles at the border collie dogs who zip by pulling their owners on cross-country skis. Everyone out there seems to be laughing and we almost always stop to talk to someone we know. Winnipeg is a small town.

Sometimes we see something truly bizarre. A few weeks ago, Jacob and I crossed paths with a man and a woman, skating cautiously, holding their infant in a car seat between them. Now, I don't even like to walk that way, but skating, carrying a bucket seat? Really?

I had to say something. "Well, that's an interesting way to do it. Looks like you're having fun."

"Yeah, we don't have a stroller yet but we really wanted to get out."

I replied, "I tried to skate with this little guy on the path in a stroller but he would have none of it. He wanted to be held."

The man explained to me, "Oh, we've been very careful since the beginning to not let ours get used to being held. I mean, that would be like being in prison - he'd want it all the time."

I think I stared blankly for a moment and then wished them a lovely afternoon. When we North Americans don't want to be "tied" to our babies, we tie them down instead to an unending variety of inanimate devices. We strap them into car seats (whether or not we are driving anywhere), strollers, bouncy seats, jolly jumpers, and excersaucers and shut them up in cribs, bassinets and playpens. All this to avoid an adult human holding a human baby, because that would be nothing less than incarceration.

And yet I feel the opposite of a loss of freedom when I'm holding Jacob. With him snuggled up against my chest I know that I can comfort and protect him against anything, and this makes me feel safe. All I can say is that at least everyone in that family I met was outside enjoying the sun's rays and their promise of spring to come.

7 Feb 2012

Why I Oughta

It's been about 24 hours since my encounter with the fanatic on the airplane, and her words are still bumping around in my head: "Why are you breastfeeding this baby?"

And, finally, I have thought of a dozen answers far snappier than the honest, straightforward one I gave her.

1. Because he is hungry.
2. Because he finds it comforting.
3. Because I want to.
4. Because he is my baby.
5. Because I am his parent.
6. Because he wants me to.
7. Because my body makes a small but precious amount of the best food in the world for him, including antibodies that will protect him from YOUR nasty germs.
8. Because he is in a strange place.
9. Because he is scared.
10. Because his ears are hurting him.
11. Because it is good for his jaw development.
12. Because I love him.

I'll guess I'll save these up for next time around.

Nursing in flight

Today I boarded a flight with my ten month old son, a cooler packed with donated breast milk, a ton of fascinating finger foods and a few favourite toys. After that all I could do was hope. Flying with a baby is rarely easy, but being the only adult responsible for that baby is a genuine challenge. Ahead of time I started to wonder about things like how I would answer a call of nature holding a wriggling almost-toddler in one of those tiny airplane bathrooms. And how on earth would I entertain someone, solely in my lap, whose only mission these days is to conquer the universe on his hands and knees?

Mostly we managed ok. Jacob fought sleep like his life depended on it, but we found a nice woman to talk to for a while. She asked if I had bottles or a soother with me. "Well, no, that's a bit complicated..." I said.

"Everybody's complicated. We're complicated too!"

Well, ok. She seemed decent enough. I explained all about being transgender and breastfeeding Jacob donated milk, etc. etc. She thought everything was fantastic. Jacob got a little calmer. "Maybe Daddy has a nice cookie or something for you," she said.

Cookie? Sugar for my ten month old? Not a chance. But I did have some cut-up grapes. I got them out and Jacob enjoyed picking them up himself and chowing down on them. Then he gagged a little. He started to spit up the half-grape when the lady vigorously wacked him on the back and simultaneously jammed her finger down his throat, shouting, "he's choking!"

"Stop that! No, he's not! He's crying - that means his airway is not blocked."

Jacob screamed, and screamed some more, I believe at this insult of having a strange lady's finger shoved into his mouth. I took him to the back of the plane and held him until he cooled down a bit. Then I nursed him to sleep, finally, and enjoyed a few pages of a book and a sandwich for myself.

I felt the plane starting to descend so I immediately got out the supplementary nursing system. If I had only one goal on this flight, it was to nurse during take-off and landing to help Jacob relieve the pressure in his ears. He nursed in his sleep for about half of the descent. I watched the mountains become clearer through my window. It was good to be going back to Vancouver, where I was born.

Suddenly Jacob came off and started to cry, and I could not convince him to latch back on. The pilot turned on the seatbelt sign, so we were stuck. I offered him a drink of water from a cup but he only turned his head away and screamed louder. Desperate to get him to swallow, I took the tube out of the bottle of milk and tried to get him to suck on the plastic nipple to no avail. He started to do that horrible sobbing, gasping cry that twists my own insides in knots.

"Don't you have a bottle or a soother or something for that baby?" Genius. Wow! Why hadn't I thought of those things? I explained to this thoughtful woman a few rows up that I had tried but he wasn't willing to take anything in his mouth. She frowned and informed me that his ears were probably hurting.

We landed, and then Jacob latched on. Suck, swallow, suck, suck, swallow, hiccup, suck, suck, swallow. He calmed down.

The woman from a few rows forward pushed her way past a few people to stand right in front of me. "Why are you breastfeeding this baby?"

I couldn't tell if she was accusatory or just curious. I glanced around and reminded myself that I was on a crowded airplane. She couldn't do anything physically dangerous to us here. I decided to be frank with her. "I'm transgendered, I birthed my baby myself, and I breastfeed him."

"Well, he needs a real boob, MAN. Come on!"

"No, I actually do make a little bit of milk for him, and the rest he gets through this." I held up the SNS.

"You're going to wreck his ears doing this, flying with him like this. He needs an actual boob. It's about time someone told you this."

I made what I thought was a rather generous offer to squirt some milk in her face, but she declined. I actually could have done it; I'd only managed to latch Jacob onto one side, so my other side was relatively full.

I could see her revving up, so I said, "I hope you have a good vacation. Take care."

"You too. You know, Jesus loves you. I hope you know that."

Ugh. I couldn't go anywhere since the door to the plane wasn't open yet and nobody was moving. I ignored her as best I could and tried to chat with the guy in front of me, who rolled his eyes at my adversary.

After she left, I packed up my things and cried along with Jacob whose ears were probably still sore. I wish someone could teach me how to grow a thicker skin. I'll need it to keep on being this parent raising this child. I'm astonished that this was the first time I've been directly confronted by a stranger for breastfeeding my baby. I've been incredibly lucky so far, but still, it hurt me to hear this woman telling me that I'm failing as a parent and damaging my baby.

At the luggage belt, the man who'd sat in front of me came up to me, looking serious. "Don't you let anyone keep the joy of this baby from you," he said. And then he repeated it. "Don't let anyone keep the joy of this baby from you."

Another passenger approached me to say that I have a beautiful child. I will try to keep these well-wishers in mind while I do my best to develop the protective hide of an elephant.