Places I have Breastfed my Baby

Klimt

My daughter is exclusively breastfed, and she asks to eat about every 2-3 hours.  Sometimes it is just not practical to rush back to your house to feed the baby.  My liberty of movement is important to me, and as such has led me to feed my little girl in various different places that I would never have expected throughout her first 3 months of life.

 

Places I have breastfed my baby:

  • On the side of the highway at a park-n-ride overlooking the St. Lawrence River
  • My father-in-law’s bedroom (uh…it was way less sketchy than this sounds)
  • In a yoga studio
  • At a CLSC (community health clinic)
  • In the parking lot outside my office (in the car)
  • Ikea Boucherville (they have a sweet set-up for nursing!)
  • Waterbury, Vermont
  • Promenades Saint-Bruno (top of the line “salle d’allaitement”, but a bummer men aren’t allowed.  Papa waited outside.)
  • US Consulate in Montreal (security cleared!)
  • On a movie set (no joke, but no, we’re not stage parents, it was a favour for a friend who is a filmmaker)
  • In the bathtub, in bed, on the couch, in front of the TV, in the kitchen…
  • All over my house!

I’m looking forward to feeding her:

  • At the office on lunch break when Papa brings her to visit
  • In the garden on lazy sunny summer days
  • Anywhere, every day!

Some general observations about feeding your baby on the go:

  • What you wear makes a difference.  Whether you are a fan of the tank top underneath tactic or the draw-back v-neck thing, there are two major comfort/practical considerations: 1) you need a good nursing bra no matter what and 2) make sure you are comfortable with the various states of undress you may find yourself in.  For instance, if you are wearing a dress that zips up the back that you need help getting in and out of – that may not be your most pragmatic choice.
  • If you ask, “Are you comfortable with me feeding my daughter here?”, people either say “No problem, go ahead!” and actually mean it or they say “No problem, go ahead!” with a terrified and freaked out look on their face.  And then they proceed to either frantically avert their eyes, stare at my breast, or make intense I’m-not-looking-at-your-breast eye contact with me.  Either way, I appreciate every effort made to make me feel comfortable while I care for my baby.  It is very endearing.
  • Nursing covers or hoods are crap.  At least in my experience.  My baby doesn’t like having the hood over her and she gets all hot and agitated.  When she starts squirming around, the hood gets all displaced and I end up flashing people anyway.  Also, it’s not true that you can see your baby while nursing with the hood unless you position it perfectly and then neither of you move!  Like that is going to happen!

My advice to new nursing mothers:

No matter where or when you end up feeding your baby, like other parts of parenting, go with what feel right and comfortable for you.  Your baby and its health comes before anyone else’s breast issues.

My feminist rant:

I never intended for this post to be about public breastfeeding as a cause.  I am not even terribly comfortable feeding my baby in all of the wacky places I’ve done it so far.  Sometimes, though, duty calls.  Baby gets hungry.  And when you are a mother, your baby’s needs just surge ahead of anything and everything else.  I am physically incapable of letting my child cry or stuffing a pacifier in her mouth when she is hungry.  And babies can get hungry any time!  Even when you just fed before leaving and hoped to be back in time for the next one.  Parenting is a lot of gray area – things don’t always work out the way you planned!

Nonetheless, I had never really considered my feelings about what I considered a battle that I felt concerned others willing to take up the fight, not me.  My thoughts on the issue started to gel for me when reading this fabulous blog post by the Feminist Breeder.  I realized that if you are a nursing mother, you automatically have to deal with the nursing in public issue unless you plan to hole up in your house for 6-12 months and never invite anyone over.  If that’s your plan, great.  If not, there will likely be a time in which you’ll have to breastfeed in front of relatives (some of whom can be the most freaked out!), strangers, medical professionals, men, children and pets.

I now firmly believe that it is good for everyone to observe breastfeeding.  Not ALL the time.  Don’t get me wrong, I cherish my sweet, intimate feedings with my little girl with her beautiful eyes looking up at me as we snuggle and feed.  But, it should not be treated as something that is secret or shameful that must be closeted and put out of sight, either.  In fact, I believe that public exposure to breastfeeding would go a long way in the battle against they hypersexualization of women and girls.  If we demonstrated and accepted the breast as something other than an object of sexual arousal and desire, but rather as a life-giving resource, perhaps the way women’s bodies are viewed in general would be more balanced.  The more we saw it, the more comfortable everyone would be!  Youth would grow up respecting the power of a woman’s body to create and carry life for 40 weeks and then provide nourishment for that little being into toddlerhood.

It really is a beautiful and amazing thing.  We should all revel.

Namasté!

Feel free to comment: Where are some notable places you’ve breastfed your baby?

Introducing: The Pregnant Feminist Series

The Pregnant Feminist at Work!

The Pregnant Feminist at Work!

On January 20, 2013 my life changed forever – I was blessed by the birth of my first child, a precious daughter.  During my pregnancy I faced challenges regarding my identity as a feminist, which resulted in a three-part missive, The Pregnant Feminist Series.  I didn’t publish the posts right away (I wanted to be sure that I still agreed with my assertions post-pregnancy hormones haha), but have chosen to share them now.  Hopefully this series will eventually give birth (hoho, pun intended) to a series on feminism and motherhood.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, please enjoy The Pregnant Feminist Series:

  1. Part 1: The Feminist’s Pregnant Body and The Public
  2. Part 2: The Pregnant Feminist and her Social Life
  3. Part 3: The Postpartum Feminist and the New Normal

The Pregnant Feminist Series: Part 1

5 months

As I write these words, I am 22 weeks pregnant, which is 5.05966 months pregnant for those who are not week-literate.  It’s my first pregnancy: with every passing week, new sensations and social phenomena blow my mind; I am becoming increasingly convinced that pregnancy is the feminist’s final frontier.  In fact, I have had so many hormone-fueled thoughts on the matter, that I decided that I would need to break this down into a series of blog entries.  Aside from Part 1: The Feminist’s Pregnant Body and The Public, please see also Part 2: The Pregnant Feminist and her Social Life and Part 3: The Postpartum Feminist and the New Normal.

Part 1: The Feminist’s Pregnant Body and The Public

I find it horribly unfair that I have to be the one that is pregnant.  My partner and I have often bemoaned that fact that he is in a far better position physically, professionally and geographically than I am to support a pregnancy.  An avid runner, he is in the best shape of his life.  I gobble down sachets of instant oatmeal as I run from meetings to networking events.  He is an entrepreneur that works from home and can self-manage his time and workload.  I am just beginning year two of a two year contract that keeps me hopping days, nights and weekends (not to mention jobhunting at the end of the contract).  We live 10 minutes walk from his family.  I am separated from my family by an international border.  But alas, I am the one with a uterus in this couple, and so tag – I’m it!

It hasn’t kept me from grumbling to myself – Equality is a feminist illusion.  And we will never truly gain equity until we can reconcile this whole child-bearing thing.

But that, my dear readers, is another rant.  Today, I make the grim observation that in North America, the pregnant body is public property.  Oh yes.

And we all know how people treat public property.

It’s not so much the belly touching for me.  Although the belly touching does make me uncomfortable (thoughts that run through my head – is my belly too soft?  Were they expecting a firmer baby bump?  That’s not where the baby even is, but please don’t go poking around 4 inches lower…), I have accepted it as something that people can’t seem to control themselves from doing.  It started at the dawn of month 4 when I was just barely starting to show and hadn’t even come to terms with my own changing body yet.  And it’s not just your old Aunt Matilda that does it – I have had my belly stroked, patted or poked at family barbecues, yes, but also at networking events and at the office, at restaurants by waitstaff, and at the locker room at a public pool.  It’s like I have this giant magnet strapped to the front of me and people run from all directions to put their hands on it.  Ok, I shouldn’t say people – women!  The day a strange man puts his hand on my belly without my consent will be a very unpleasant day for him, I can guarantee it.

Like I said, though, it’s not so much the belly groping that I take issue with.  I have been far more put off by some of the insensitive comments, observations and questions.  My body is now a point of speculation for the self-appointed pregnancy experts, the uninitiated in the wonders of child-bearing and the curious.  I’m not to say that all comments, observations or questions are unwelcome.  I have encountered very many kind, gentle and tactful people in the past several months and I heartily welcome their insight, shared experiences and well-meaning queries.  In fact, one question I love to hear is “How are you feeling?” – when asked sincerely by someone who really wants to know, it is a relief for me to be able to vent about the variety of new sensations, physical and emotional, that I am experiencing.  But when I am asked, “How much weight are you allowed to gain?” or told, “You don’t look very pregnant”, I have to wonder what planet these people are on.

I haven’t gained very much weight at all, mostly due to the fact that I was vomiting multiple times a day for the first 4 months and just desperately trying to get nutrients into my body.  It was really worrisome to not be able to keep down every attempt at providing a balance of vitamins and minerals, proteins and carbohydrates.  And hard to not count pounds and calories and to focus on how I feel.  I talked about it with my doctor, read some books on the matter, developed game plans with my partner – things are going better now, and we have things under control.  So then to hear from some random acquaintance that “you really should try harder to gain some weight”, I feel like killing them.  Like I want to have to explain my concerns and strategies to this person I barely know so that they can feel like I’m not intentionally trying to not gain weight.

I’m not the type of person that needs other people’s approval – but then again, I’m not used to be confronted so directly on issues that I am already feeling vulnerable about.

I gave a presentation to a room full of regional managers at work.  At the end of the presentation, I announced my pregnancy and intentions regarding leave and the continuation of my project.  One of them shouts out, “Where are you hiding it?”, and they all laugh.  Yeah, yeah, it’s really funny that I am 5 months along and just look like I’ve had a few too many beers.

Like a lot of women, I have always had a difficult relationship with my body image and weight (see: Having a Positive Body Image: A Feminist Devoir).  When the morning sickness subsided and I started to put weight back on instead of shed the pounds, it was the first time in my life that I have been happy to gain weight.  Relieved, even.  And it has taken nerves of steel to reaffirm to myself everything that I believe about my body, and owning my experience, and believing in myself in the face of criticism.

So here is my advice to other first-time pregnant feminists out there:

  1. Focus on intention.  When some awkward dope in your entourage says something that makes you want to unfriend them from Facebook, just try to remember that 99% of the time it is well-intended (believe it or not).
  2. Rally the troops.  Bring your confidantes in closer and build a network of allies.  If you’re finding social situations hard to handle, check out Part 2: The Pregnant Feminist and her Social Life.
  3. Make self-care community-care.  You are not alone.  No, seriously, remember – you are not alone.  All of that public property awkwardness stems from the fact that in North American culture, having a baby is a community event.  Work that to your advantage.
  4. Stay true.  Just because you are the pregnant version of you and are probably not feeling quite like yourself these days, don’t forget that you are still you – all of the boundaries and beliefs that you held pre-pregnancy may be evolving, but they are still your own.  Don’t give them up or hand them over to anyone else.
  5. Take the time to fall in love.  You are going to be a mother!  If you are a gen-y feminist like me, that probably scares the crap out of you as much as it energizes you.  Take the time to marvel at the wonderful weirdness of your body and the life that you are creating.  This is what’s important – the rest of what’s going on outside of you and your body right now, it all takes the backseat to this.

Namasté!

MissRep Review: An Unanticipated Reaction

The documentary Miss Representation, by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, and aired on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. The film explores how the media’s misrepresentations of women have led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence.

Ok, let’s be honest, this is not actually a review.  Rather, it’s an anecdote of this girl’s response to watching the documentary for the first time – one that took me wholeheartedly by surprise.

I have the best husband there ever was, that ever will be.  It’s Saturday night, I’ve been working all day (yes, on a Saturday), and I come home about 2 hours later than originally planned.  The woodsy odor of toasted almonds greets me as I open the door – Sole amandine, my favourite.  He tells me that we’re having a movie night.  Perfect.  What’s on the schedule?  First up, Miss Representation.  I melt.  I have managed to marry the most feminist man on the planet.  (Second up is Dédé à travers les brumes, another great choice, btw).

One of the reasons I was so psyched to be seeing MissRep right then was because I am planning on attending a screening and panel discussion on the documentary for International Women’s Day (March 8th).  I thought it would behoove me to see it for myself first, reflect, and then have intelligent things to say or questions to ask. I’m not that good on the spot.

Plus, I’ve been dying to see it since watching the trailer.  The trailer was sent to me by a fellow Girl Guide back in October.  Her commentary was short and sweet: This is why girls need Guides.  Watching it back then was like getting punched in the stomach.  Alone in my office, eyes wide, it made me feel sick, physically nauseated.  Powerful.

So, my husband and I sat down with our dinner and away we go.  What was I expecting?  I thought I would be shocked, outraged, called to arms, indignant.  Yes, I felt that.  What I didn’t expect was guilt, affliction, grief.  3 minutes into the film I burst into tears, and they continued to flow for the duration.

I cried my heart out for the entire 90 minutes of Miss Representation.  I cried for myself, I cried for every woman I had met and those I hadn’t, I cried for men, for children, for America.  I even cried for Sarah Palin.

In my drama and despair, I told my partner that I could not bear the risk of bringing a child into this world.  I realized that the world that I believe in and dream of is generations away from reality, that my children will be victims the way that we are victims, without any way of knowing if it will get better.  I told him I felt like I was wasting my time with non-profits empowering women and girls – that my passion would be better utilized in the corporate world or in politics.

He stopped the film.  He’s not used to seeing me feeling hopeless, and I can see that I’ve got him worried.  He knows that I want to have children with all of my heart.  He knows that I believe that the struggle is not just necessary, it is essential to work to improve the lives of future generations.  He knows it.  I know it.  But for 90 intense minutes, the dark side caught up with me.

It is important to look at the dark side.  But it is also important to bring as much light with you as possible!

The light that you bring with you when you examine and explore the most painful parts of humanity is the love that you have for humanity.  You bring your friends, you bring your partner, you bring your family and even that jerk that cut you off on your way in to work.  You bring every ounce of forgiveness you can muster.

Saturday night I held on to my darling husband and counted my lucky stars.  I will keep up the fight and generating light.  Roland Barthes asks: Is it better to last or to burn?  I say you gotta do both – you need to just keep adding fuel.

*** TRIGGER WARNING ***

Miss Representation Trailer: It’s 8 minutes and 52 seconds that are worth your time.  Watch it.

 

World Thinking Day: Something to Think About

I'm proud to be a Girl Guide in Québec!

I’m proud to be a Girl Guide in Québec!

Happy World Thinking Day everyone!  

Today is a big deal for Guides and Scouts – this is my first Thinking Day as a Girl Guide and *wow* have I been enlightened!  I could not believe my eyes this morning as my Facebook, Twitter and inbox were flooded with warm fuzzies from Guides and Scouts from around the world!  The outpouring of solidarity and sorority deeply touched me, I must say.  Sometimes, oddly enough, when your heart is truly in something, it can be rather isolating.  You wonder, does anyone else feel as strongly as you do?  Does anyone else understand?

Today was a beautiful demonstration that there are women and girls – ten million strong – that are linked by Guiding and share in a common mission – to enable girls to be confident, resourceful and courageous, and to make a difference in the world.

Ironically, not really “thinking” about the fact that today was Thinking Day, I set up an appointment to meet up with another local women’s organization to discuss goals and values, and potential collaboration.  It was one of those encounters where things just click. I immediately felt the warmth that these ladies radiated and everything they said, it could have been me saying it.  There was a lot of head-nodding in agreement and as we spoke, a large circle was being drawn in my mind.  As we connected so freely and easily, sparks were going off, synapses were firing, lightbulbs illuminated my view of women, myself as a woman, of women’s issues – in a way I had never before understood.

Everything is interrelated and we are all inter-connected.  

I am fully aware of the cheesiness of what I just wrote.  There was definitely a “duh” factor in all of this sparking/firing/illuminating, so cut me some slack.  To admit, I had always seen my cause as “ending violence against women”.  I did not feel terribly called to arms by “eating disorders” or “breast cancer” or “more women executives” or the panoply of “women’s issues” out there.  Don’t get me wrong, these are great causes that I support wholeheartedly, but the one that would always get me out on the streets with a banner is violence against women.  I have witnessed the violence.  I have felt it.  I have gone from the process of experiencing my own pain to experiencing others’ pain.  It has been a visceral, defining element of who I am.  And I want it to stop.  It has to stop. – I will always feel very passionate about physical abuse and sexual assault and other forms of gender-based violence.  It is a part of me.

But it is just one link in the chain.  Preventing violence against women means talking about women’s bodies, women’s self-esteem, women’s health, the way that society views women, they way the media views women, the way that women view themselves.  And here we open the door to eating disorders, women executives and decision-makers, definitions of beauty and body image, toxic beauty products and even cancer.  When you talk about female leadership you are automatically talking about violence against women, albeit indirectly.

Just as we are ten million Girl Guides and Girl Scouts standing together on February 22nd to empower ourselves and each other, all women and women’s organizations should see themselves as sisters.  We have the same cause.

Happy Thinking Day to all my sisters around the world.  Je vous aime toutes!

Having a Positive Body Image: A Feminist Devoir

I love long car rides.  There is something about having a (literally) captive audience for hours on end that so completely satisfies my need for external processing.  During one of these vehicular conversations, my partner and I were discussing 5-year plans, career goals, and the professional development areas that would get us there.  We talked about financial literacy and fiscality, networking and personal branding, work-life balance…and then he hit me with a stunner – body image.  It was a good thing that I wasn’t driving because I was floored!  Not me!

Nevertheless, the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was dead-on.  The shame was instantaneous.

I spend my days working for a non-profit organization that empowers girls and young women.  Body image and self-esteem (two different things that are related, but are, in fact, distinct personal phenomena) are a HUGE part of our mission and programming.  I tout self-love and acceptance importunately!  I know all the sound-bites, read all the books, articles and rhetoric.  The societal repercussions of negative body image are vast and devastating.  Girls die from eating disorders.  We slather ourselves with toxic chemical beauty products.  We subject ourselves to risky surgical procedures.  And this is just body image – the results of low self-esteem follow right behind in a tragically frightening long list.  I truly believe that all women are beautiful – and that they should think so too!  

Except, somewhere in the deepest, most shameful part of my psyche, I was also harbouring the belief that all of this did not apply to me.

I have a complicated relationship with my body (oh, don’t we all).  I will make a long story short by turning into a mini pictorial:

When I was 2, I thought I was hot stuff!

When I was 2, I thought I was hot stuff!

When I was 22 I was ashamed because I felt that I "took up too much space".


When I was 22 I was ashamed because I felt that I “took up too much space”.

 

So I started running - lost over 100 lbs - and felt like a superhero!

So I started running – lost over 100 lbs – and felt like a superhero!

Nowadays it's all about BALANCE.

Nowadays it’s all about BALANCE.

Honestly, it was hard finding pictures of myself!  I avoided looking in the mirror or being photographed more than the neck up for years.  But to summarize – I started out thinking I was pretty cute, gained a lot of weight, lost a lot of weight, and still struggle with the way I perceive my body.  So, obviously body image doesn’t really have anything to do with the number on the scale.  In fact, it was almost like the thinner I got, the more insecure about my body I was getting!  What the heck!?

Then it hit me – you can only improve your body image if you try!

I wasn’t trying!  I mean, I wasn’t not trying, but I certainly wasn’t doing anything about it.  And ladies, I am here to say to you today – it is our DUTY to work on our body image.  How else are we going to raise daughters with a healthy sense of their bodies?  Girls that feel powerful and capable – that nothing can hold them back!  Well, it’s not going to happen just by hearing others tell us that we’re gorgeous or any other external source.  It must come from within and is within your control.

So how exactly do you do that?

1 – Fight the negative internal dialogue.  Start by observing it.  When does that little voice inside you pop in and say things you wouldn’t tell your worst enemy?  Once you’ve identified it, give it a name.  No, really…  Bertha.  Then, give yourself a you-champ, a voice that tells Bertha that she’s wrong.  Give her a name.  Belinda.  Then give Belinda every weapon you’ve got for the battles that will ensue.

2 – Believe your you-champs.  If your best friend tells you that you’re looking hot, accept the compliment!  When your partner says “you’re so beautiful” and you haven’t brushed your teeth yet, rejoice!  Trust the people that don’t otherwise lie to you.

3 – Exercise and eat your veggies.  When you are doing right by your body, you can’t help but feel better about it!

4 – Celebrate your successes.  Did Belinda just give you a compliment, and Bertha didn’t even have a comeback?  Yahoooo!  That’s one for the good guys!

Infuse yourselves with bold courage, my friends.  You are beautiful (and if Bertha just piped up in your head while you were reading that, send Belinda to go smother her in kisses).

What strategies do you use to improve your body image?  Comment!