30 Apr 2012

Shipping Bodily Fluids

Our deep freezer piled high with donor milk
Breast milk storage bags!
My hubby is known to the local Greyhound employees as a human tissues guy - he collects frozen breast milk. I think we've used the company five times now to receive human milk arriving from out of town.

When Jacob was a few weeks old, a generous mom in Thunder Bay sent us her freezer stash. After a night of "sleep" with our newborn Ian went early in the morning to meet the incoming bus. We thought we were receiving the Holy Grail - this batch of milk would keep Jacob exclusively breastfed for his first month of life. We breathed a huge sigh of relief when we opened the cooler and saw that the milk was still frozen solid.

Shipping breast milk is obviously a time-sensitive endeavor. It also depends upon the milk being well-packed in a sturdy cooler, especially in the summer. If the amount is over about 500 ounces, there is no need to use dry ice, but in any case breast milk should be packed tightly. Any remaining air space in the cooler should be taken up by newspaper, foam, or other material. We always try to pick up shipped milk as soon as it has made it into town, although that sometimes involves a bit of convincing (shall we say prodding, even?) and educating about the importance and benefits of human milk.

Last summer when we were visiting Calgary, we asked friends back home in Winnipeg to ship us additional milk because Jacob had jumped into a growth spurt, quickly eating his way through what we'd brought with us. We struggled to reach the bus company on the phone, and when we did we were given an incorrect shipping schedule. In short, we realized at 6:40pm that the milk had already arrived and that the depot closed at 7pm. There was no way we would make it to the depot in time, but we got a friend who was closer to try to collect the milk for us.

"I can only release this package to Ian. That is, unless you have written permission from him to pick it up." Apparently the tracking number and confirmation via phone would not do.

My friend blurted out, "But this is breast milk for a very sick baby. It will go bad if we leave it here overnight. We have to get it into a freezer."

Of course, Jacob was fine, but we certainly didn't want to be tossing out spoiled breast milk the next day and feeding him formula. The woman gave up the parcel, and back at my friend's place we unpacked the milk to find it on the verge of starting to thaw.

More recently, we've been receiving breast milk from a prolific, amazing donor in Saskatoon and sharing the goods with several other local families in need. The bus from Saskatoon gets into Winnipeg at 9pm, exactly when the bus depot's counters close. Twice Ian has managed to convince an employee to keep one counter open just a little later.

"Well, how warm is your warehouse?" he asked the shipping guy.

"Does this stuff have to stay frozen or something?"

"Yes," he repeated, "It's frozen human breast milk. It will spoil if it thaws. You could help feed several babies tonight, you know!" Each time, the man at the counter relented and admitted that it didn't make much difference to him if he stayed open a few minutes longer - he had to be there still anyway.

Finally, this last time, one of the Greyhound employees saw Ian and said, "Oh, yeah, you're here for breast milk, right?"

He told Ian that they regularly keep a counter open late for a few doctors receiving samples and for the guys from Canadian Blood Services. How appropriate that, in the shipping world at least, breast milk is taking its place among other human medical necessities.

20 Apr 2012

One Step Forward For Human Rights

A momentous decision for transgender people has come out of Ontario today: the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has ordered the provincial government to amend its legal requirement for sex designation change within 180 days. Currently, Ontario's Vital Statistics Act stipulates that a trans person must undergo sex reassignment surgery before his/her gender marker can be changed. The human rights tribunal declared this to be discriminatory.

Male symbol
Today's decision is huge for transgender people across the country, including myself. I transitioned from female to male by taking testosterone and having a chest surgery. I have a beard and my voice is deep - no stranger on the street would ever think that I am anything other than a regular guy. But since I have not had a complete ovariohysterectomy (or in veterinary language, a spaying), I am legally female. My driver's license has an F on it, and my passport blares FEMALE in giant print. When we applied for Jacob's birth certificate, we had to check off the "mother" box for me, and then we attached an essay in explanation.

Your birth certificate is the go-to document that must be used to apply for passports or to make changes to any other document. I am required to out myself as transgender every time I present my ID or other legal documents.

So why didn't I just get bottom surgery? Well, it is hugely expensive, rather risky, and involves a long recovery. And... I would not have the family I do now if I had removed my female organs. I live happily and comfortably as male, and what is between my legs is nobody's business besides my partner and my doctor.

Sometimes the discrepancy between my appearance and my documents is just an annoyance and a hassle, but in other situations it is a matter of personal safety. Two years ago Ian and I traveled to India and Nepal - every time I showed my passport to board a plane or even apply for a park pass, I worried that someone would notice the word FEMALE. In those countries, could I be harassed by police or customs officials? Could I be detained? Before we left for our trip, my doctor wrote me a note of explanation, and that's all we had to depend upon. Luckily, my fears were never realized and I am grateful.

It is my hope that the tribunal's decision will quickly help to change regulations in other provinces as well as at the federal level. I know I will breathe a great sigh of relief on the day when my legal documents finally match my gender identity. I look forward to being recognized by my government as my son's Dad.

11 Apr 2012

Lactation Education: Age Four

My friend Ana and her four-year-old daughter, Lucy, visit us every week. We share food, the kids play with toys, and Ana and I always end up talking about breastfeeding at some point. Usually Ana and Lucy stay long enough that eventually Jacob wants to nurse, even though these days he mostly just likes to crawl about and play when we have guests over. Still, Lucy has seen me using the supplemental nursing system fairly frequently. Her Mom told me this story the other day:
Girl nursing her doll on a red couch.
At home, Lucy found a tube somewhere-or-other, and put the end of it in a bottle. Then she placed the other end of the tube next to her nipple, and proceeded to nurse her doll. Her Mom asked, "Oh, are you feeding your baby with an SNS?"
"Yes, I don't have enough oppai, so I'm giving my baby oppai but there's pumped milk in the bottle, too, see?"
I have no doubt that if Lucy has her own children, it will be second nature to her to breastfeed them. If she turns out to be one of the very few people who truly cannot make enough milk, she'll know that by using a supplemental nursing system she can feed her baby at her breast and maintain a satisfying nursing relationship. Even that will be second nature to her, too. And, of course, she'll know to ask her nursing friends if they might be able to donate some pumped milk for her baby.
This is why we must defend not only the right to nurse in public, but also the right of our children to see all kinds of people nursing in public.
*oppai is the term Lucy uses for nursing. It comes from the Japanese.

4 Apr 2012

Responsive Parenting

The first word that comes to mind when I think of attachment parenting is "responsive". I want to respond quickly and compassionately to my child. Since I'm just at the beginning of my adventures in parenting, this has mostly meant breastfeeding so far. What do you do when an infant wakes up crying? Breastfeed! What do you do when your baby is hurt? Breastfeed! Scared? Breastfeed! Tired? Breastfeed! But for me, responding to my baby appropriately also means ignoring everyone else - the glares, the stares, and the giggles. I'm transgender and I breastfeed because it is what my baby expects and deserves.

Bottle of injectible testosterone
My infant doesn't know I'm transgender.

At this point in his short life, my child has no idea that I'm any different from any other breastfeeding parent. He doesn't know that I was born female but took testosterone to transition. He doesn't know that I had chest surgery and that's why we have to nurse using a supplemental nursing system. He doesn't know that while he has two dads, most other kids have a mom and a dad.

What does my baby know? He feels that he wants to be held a lot, although this is beginning to change as he explores the world more and more. He knows that when he nurses, much of his body touches a warm, caring adult body and he is safe. He feels that he wants to suck, A LOT.

So I have to respond selectively to the people around me, which is not always easy. I'm ultra-sensitive to my boy. I try to breastfeed him when he gives early signs that he may want to nurse. I am insensitive to the man in the restaurant who is staring as I latch on my little guy. If I'm feeling brave, I look up and smile at him, but mostly I pay attention to positioning my baby and the SNS. I don't respond to the woman who stares at me or the teenagers who point and giggle. I'm busy. If these other folks are hungry, I'm pretty sure they can go off and find their own food without my help, but my baby is depending on me. He trusts me.

I will always remember the funny looks I've received, while my baby may or may not remember breastfeeding depending on his age when we stop. But he will get through his toddlerhood and early childhood with a strong sense of attachment. He knows that I will always respond.

This post is part of the Attachment Parenting is for Everyone blog carnival, hosted by Attachment Parenting International. Learn more by visiting API Speaks, the blog of Attachment Parenting International.

1 Apr 2012

Pump It Out!

This evening when I thawed some donor milk for Jacob, I noticed that written on that bag was not only the date and amount of milk pumped, but also, "Happy Birthday Auntie Sue *heart*!" This is not the first time I've seen notes written on milk bags. Donors frequently mark Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, and other holidays on their liquid gold. There are no vacations from pumping.
Anyone who has breastfed a baby for even a short period of time understands that there is serious commitment involved in the enterprise, but the full-time pumpers are truly in a class of their own when it comes to dedication. They spend a minimum of fifteen minutes, at the very least three times a day, but more often something like five, attached to a machine. This includes nighttime sessions, where they must get up and pump, in addition to feeding their babies bottles when required. Nursing, on the other hand, is also time consuming and sometimes very challenging, but when it is going well, it is the best cuddling anyone can give or get. It is a pleasure, while pumping is something that must be done.
Pumped breast milk marks the passage of time in many ways. The date is of course written on the bags, and in the case of one of our donors, this includes the time on the 24-hour clock. The little messages and congratulatory notes remind us of the big calendar days. The milk too changes with time. Milk pumped for a newborn is very yellow and rich and then gradually becomes more clear and pale as the baby gets older. People who nurse their babies directly don't get to see any of this and are often surprised to observe the sheer volume of milk that Jacob drinks.
Our main donor has been pumping for us for nearly an entire year now. Every week we have driven to her house to pick up fresh breast milk. Her production is finally slowing down, and she has happily given up her middle of the night pumping session. Last week, after suffering from the flu, her supply took a real hit and there was no fresh milk for our boy. This woman pumped not only for her own baby who never learned how to breastfeed, but also for ours, for almost twelve months straight, multiple times per day. To top it off, she seems terribly apologetic for no longer being able to give us milk for Jacob. My only question is, how can we possibly thank her appropriately for this astonishing gift?