Tuesday, 7 February 2012

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.

38 comments:

  1. You have a beautiful child and you are parenting in the most loving and amazing way. Your story moved me to tears. But at the end when I read, "Don't let anyone keep the joy of this baby from you," I felt peace, for you, and for our world. For every ignorant person who can't see beyond their own tortured biases are legions of loving souls. I know who Jacob will grow up to be.

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  2. You handled it much more respectfully than I would have. Thank you for sharing your stories publicly on this blog. I hope it helps people become more accepting and aware!

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    1. Thank you! I hope so too. At the beginning of this whole parenting journey I never dreamed I'd be writing about our lives in this way but it feels so right and necessary to do so now.

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  3. Weepy, here. Love to your family.

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  4. One shouldn't have to grow a thick hide to be out and about in society....I'm sorry that humans can be so uncaring and cruel. You are doing the very best thing for you, for your child, for your family...so just keep on and know that many, many people are grateful for your presence and for helping change awareness.

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    1. So grateful for your encouragement, Ren!

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  5. There will always be one person who will get under your skin. Tough or not. Really, she should be reciting "Jesus loves me" for criticizing you like that.

    On a side note, I have flown alone with each of my kids when they were tiny. First off, there are two oxygen masks in the bathrooms but feel free to ask a steward to hold your baby while you use the facilities. I learned both these things after the fact when a stewardess looked at me wide eyed as I left the bathroom with a few kids. "Next time ask me to watch them!!" I think it also depends on what airline. I find West Jet to be the most kid/baby friendly airline ever!

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    1. Wow I wouldn't have thought to ask a steward to hold the baby. Cool that they would do that! He might not go to a stranger happily while I disappear to the bathroom though...

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    2. Yes, flight attendants will gladly help you to look after your baby for a while. You can either let them carry your baby or leave him at his seat with his favourite toys and the stewards/stewardesses will try to keep him occupied.

      I'm speaking from experience. I was a stewardess :)

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    3. ive flown alone quite a few times with my now 2 and 8 year old daughters, flight attendants are my lifesavers! baby is nursing, older needs to go to the bathroom... push the call button lol theyre very helpful :) and ugh my heart goes out to you in this harsh situation. im a mom and still have felt a bit... intrusive... on other passengers when i try to nurse my kicky squirmy almost 2 year old lol "please excuse my nipple 5 inches from your elbow, just gotta nurse this baby" :)

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  6. I've just discovered your blog. What a heartwrenching story this one was! I'm impressed that you're willing to out yourself and explain your family makeup so continually. It must get exhausting sometimes, but people need their heads exploded every now and then. What an amazing example you're setting for your son - that he can be proud of his dads, proud of where he came from, that narrow minds can afford to be expanded, and that while not everyone will understand right away, that's okay, too, as long as they're trying. Your little boy is lucky to have you.

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    1. Hey, thanks for reading and for your support!

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  7. I just discovered your blog via Facebook. You are my new hero. I breastfed my triplets for almost 2 years. I know the comments and the looks I got for 'making that poor baby WAIT her turn' and it was so hard to not say not-very-nice things to people. You are amazing. I cant even begin to imagine the dedication you have. Your partner and your son are very lucky to have you. You are an amazing Daddy.

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    1. Nicole, you are MY hero! Breastfeeding triplets for 2 years!!! That is fantastic, and must be very rare in our society. Good for you. I'm sorry for the stupid comments you got but so happy for your children.

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  8. I wonder why u keep explaining yourself to all this stupid, shallow minded people. WHY? Stop doing that! And yes, the answer is "Because I want to! Just because! and it is non of your bussiness!!!!"

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    1. Good question. I think at first I just didn't know she was going to be hostile. This was honestly the first and only time I've received such a nasty reaction. And, I think I'm by nature a pretty open person - I'm not ashamed of who I am, and I don't feel I need to hide it. Often this attitude results in getting to meet some really great, interesting people and/or having a chance to educate a curious but well-intentioned person.

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  9. That's right, don't let anybody steal your joy! You're a great dad!!

    I think a certain level of curiosity is normal, but that woman was just plain HORRID. This has really given me new insight into transgendered parenting. I'm glad you were able to ignore her and get through it. Sometimes we have to endure a lot of crap just to take care of our kids. :/

    Keep calm and breastfeed on, daddy! You're doing great!

    ---A not-so-hateful Christian, Breastfeeding mama (13 months :D)

    PS. And I just realized that Nicole, a few posts up, has a blog I've read multiple times. She didnt mention she cloth-diapers too! Breastfeeding AND CDing triplets. I can't imagine.

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    1. Thanks Yvonne! Your encouragement means a lot to me.

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    2. Just stopped by to see how things were going with you, and remembered my comment....my daughter just weaned (almost 16 months). I was totally not ready for it...
      Glad to see your son is still going strong!

      Keep it up! You're doing great!

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  10. Just found your blog today, and I just want to say keep up the good work! With your kindness of explaining & informing, hopefully someday the stares will be lessened & the rude remarks kept quite as people learn not to tolerate, but to accept people who "different" than their "norm."
    I nursed my first child through a second pregnancy, then tandem until he weaned close to age 4, and the second weaned himself around age 2.5 You're definitely doing a good,sometimes tough for ANYONE thing for your child. =)

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    1. Congratulations on your extended breastfeeding. I have such admiration for people who choose to do it. I hope (and expect) that Jacob will continue to nurse for a good long while :)

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  11. I've just discovered your blog - what incredible dedication you both have. So many people would have used formula without a second thought and yet you have made such a huge effort to do what's best for your little guy. I've only read up to here so far and felt compelled to comment. As a breastfeeding mother, I have had my fair share of derogatory comments and I often wish I was ruder myself as I just make a polite response and go away to cry in private but I wanted to say - do not let some ridiculous woman's rudeness detract from what you're doing. I know it's harder to forget a nasty comment than a nice one but what the man at the baggage carousel said is true: you are doing a wonderful thing, don't let one ridiculous woman detract from that.

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    1. Thank you! Well, we started out assuming that our baby would be formula fed, but then I started reading. I learned soooo much during that pregnancy!

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  12. Wow - way to go! Just found your blog from Phd in Parenting. I'm very impressed. LOVE the way you're raising your son.

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    1. Thanks for your kind words, Alex.

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  13. Also here from PhD in Parenting and been reading your archives. You are amazing, an inspiration, and that woman on the plane was rude, mean and wrong. I'm so glad that the man behind you said what he did; it's heartening to know how many kind, accepting people there really are in a world that can feel very uncaring sometimes.

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    1. Thank you. Yes, I am so grateful for the man at the luggage belt.

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  14. Another one from PhD in Parenting! You have an amazing blog. I can't wait to read more of your family adventures (well, happy adventures because that plane trip was super sad but life is not all sugar!!!). Take care and you rock!

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  15. you are simply amazing. an inspiration to everyone, not just the transgendered community. keep it up and don't listen to hateful people!

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  16. Howdy, fellow breastfeeding Manitoban writing...

    What a story! I can't believe that woman had the audacity to attack you like that! The important thing is that YOU know you're doing what's best for your child. Heck, for any child. People will judge you no matter WHAT you do - after all, as a parent, you suddenly, magically become the object of people's speculation and condemnation. I think it begins when baby is still in the womb & they start going, "Oh, I bet it's a boy/girl - I can tell just by looking at you!" As if that has anything to do with the sex chromosome passed on by the partner.

    But I digress.

    I don't think parents ever really develop a thick skin. It hurts to be criticized by outsiders for the choices we've made, even if we know, deep down inside, that it was the best choice we could possibly have made. That we have nothing to feel guilty for. We crave that connection with others, whether it's logical or not.

    You and your family have accomplished SO much and I am SO, SO proud of you guys. I'll be keeping an eye out for you on future ventures to the city.

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    1. Hi Maddy! Nice to hear from a local!! Yes, I completely agree that it all seems to start during pregnancy. Strangers think it's fine to touch your belly, and insist on offering all kinds of advice. Maybe this is instinct coming through? Wanting to help care for the next generation? But it sure is misguided some of the time...

      Yeah, the thick skin will probably never come and I guess that is for the best. I have great support from family and friends and must remind myself of that when I have a nasty encounter.

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  17. Those two people on the plane were right: don't you let anything keep you from the joy of raising this beautiful baby. You are doing great and I'm cheering for you. If I were sitting on that plane I would have given that awful woman a really awful public scolding - you were way, way more composed than I would have been. Take care. (-:

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  18. It's insane how nosy these busy-bodies can be about other people's child rearing. Keep your chin up. Both of you.

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  19. As a Christian and as a new mom (with "real boobs" and my own set of lactation issues) I am so offended by her comments and embarrassed by her behavior (as I'm sure she thought she was a Christian too). Parenting is hard; keep taking care of your child the best you can. Love to your family!

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