Breastfeeding and Ballet, making it work- Sarah Ricard Orza and the Pacific Northwest Ballet

Sarah Orza breastfeeding mother ballerina

Sarah Ricard Orza performing Giselle with the Pacific Northwest Ballet  ©Lindsay Thomas

The first time I saw soloist Sarah Orza dance was as she performed the role of the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty at Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, Washington. She was sublime and the 4 preteen/teen girls I was sitting with gasped and whispered about her extension, her feet, her artistry, and her hands. Their excitement was palpable (sorry anyone sitting near us that may have been disturbed by the energy coming from our row) but mine was more subdued. While I admired her skill and artistry and marveled at her technique and her performance was stunning, I was intrigued by her for other reasons.

Like how does she not leak all over those gorgeous costumes?

By act 2 her boobs must be so engorged.

She can dance on her toes, extend a leg past her head balanced on a piece of paper mache, leap effortless over people’s heads, AND make milk for her 10 month old?

Yes, yes she can. Perhaps even more amazing (can it get more amazing?) was the reality that she could do much of that not only because of her biology, talent, skill, and hard work, but because she is in a supportive environment.

The ballet world is known for rigorous schedules, demanding physical requirements, competitive peers, limited opportunities, body type expectations, controlling dietary habits, short careers, and breath-taking performances of athletic artistry. Nobody has ever thought of the ballet profession as being family friendly. Yet at a time when major corporations are struggling with implementing federal regulations supportive of mothers pumping their breastmilk in the work place, an organization in the nonprofit ballet profession is figuring out how to make it work. In an extremely competitive field where motherhood used to be seen as career ending situation, more and more women are finding they can start a family and continue on their professional track.

Sarah Orza Breastfeeding ballerina

Sarah Ricard Orza and William Lin-Yee ©Lindsay Thomas Pacific Northwest Ballet.

At just 4 years of age, little Sarah was enrolled in her first ballet class. She enjoyed it and was encouraged for her natural aptitude. Around 12 and 13 years of age, with the encouragement of her instructors, Sarah experienced a resurgence of interest. Her devotion and hard work paid off with the opportunity for even more devotion and hard work when she was accepted and attended the prestigious School of American Ballet in New York. At just 18 she received an apprenticeship at the New York City Ballet where she danced her way up the ranks for 7 years. Then, in an unusual move that would foreshadow what was to come in her career, Sarah stepped away from dance to listen to her heart. Burned out and unsure of what she wanted to do next, she worked in jewelry design for a year. In ballet, a year is an eternity, leaving the studio for a year often means you don’t go back.

But not for Sarah, engaged to a principal dancer, she wasn’t far from the dance world and in 2008 moved from New York to Seattle for her future husband’s career. The stage began calling and Sarah asked for an audition at PNB as well, in just 3 weeks of getting back into the studio, she had her audition and subsequently, a job offer.

From 2008-2012, Sarah and husband Seth, a principal dancer with PNB, enjoyed marriage and dance together. Then in 2012 they went into parenthood with careful planning. Looking at the season schedule, they tried to time the pregnancy, birth, and postpartum recovery just right and lucky for them, their plan worked. Sarah’s last performance with PNB before she gave birth was in the Nutcracker near the end of her first trimester. At that point, also enrolled in college classes, Sarah worked in the marketing and communications department of the company as an intern until the home birth of her daughter Lola on May 15th, 2013.

Sarah took 8 weeks to just recover and babymoon. She didn’t even think about returning to physical activity in that time, just respected her body’s need for rest and both her’s and Lola’s need for bonding. When I asked her about that time and how she approached that time and the time after she said “My body created this life, I didn’t really lose the weight at first, I wanted to hold onto it. It was important to enjoy this window of time and my body had already done so much for me as an amazing vessel, I wanted to be gentle with it. I was never going to feel the same again, I couldn’t go back to what my body was before having Lola and maybe that’s ok.”

Certainly her body was changed forever and her desire to breastfeed was one very obvious change for her body. Breastfed herself until she was 3 years old, a year before starting her what would be training for her professional career, Sarah was confident that she would breastfeed her own children. Seth was on board and willing to do what he could to support her in reaching her goals and Sarah prepared for returning from maternity leave by communicating with Peter Boal, artistic director of Pacific Northwest Ballet, that she would be breastfeeding and it was a priority. While the administrative side of PNB had provisions for breastfeeding mothers in the office, there hadn’t been many ballerinas that required accommodations for pumping. Still, willing to learn and having had some experience with a few ballerinas before, Mr. Boal and the company were ready and willing to support Sarah.

Sarah Orza Breastfeeding ballerina

Sarah Ricard Orza with husband Seth Orza and daughter Lola ©Lindsay Thomas, Pacific Northwest Ballet

When she returned to the company in the fall of 2013 arrangements had been made and flexibility was required of everyone. The community of the company was supportive and not only did Sarah get back in shape, the 2013-2014 season found her cast as a soloist in some impressive and demanding roles including the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty and one of the most demanding roles in classical ballet, Giselle in spite of hiccups along the way. Early on, as she was working on toning and becoming familiar with this new version of her body, Sarah often found herself in a nearby closet during class time pumping her milk and missing out on the grande allegro portion of the class. This impacted her jumps resulting in this strength of hers a temporary weakness. Sometimes the cast would have to wait for her for rehearsals but they would take advantage of the opportunity to work pieces without her. During performances she would pump in the dressing room as needed and the other ballerinas got used to seeing Sarah hooked up to the pump expressing her milk. “I had two full time jobs plus being a mother, pumping and dance, I worked at both of them full time.” With videos and a piece of Lola’s clothing she tucked into her dance bag, Sarah found that she responded well to the pump even with all the demands she put on her body as an athletic artist.

But between the support of her husband Seth, her mother staying with Lola close enough to the theater and studio for Sarah to run home during the day to breastfeed some of the feeds, Peter, and the rest of the PNB family, she was able to make it work, not only being able to exclusively breastfeed (with her pumping when she was away from Lola) but pumping enough to donate. It wasn’t long before Sarah’s jumps were soaring again too.

Sarah made it clear that she knew going into this that she was willing to sacrifice to make it work, her breastfeeding goals were so important to her that she would skip going back to work if necessary. With a mixture of pride and gratitude Sarah explained it didn’t come to that because of the support of Seth as a very hands on dad, support from her mother, her boss Peter as the artistic director of the company, and her coworkers understanding that her lactating didn’t impair her dancing. What kept her going she said: “I’ve kept my eye on the prize, Lola, her health and safety all along.”

Sarah Ricard Orza with daughter Lola ©Lindsay Thomas, Pacific Northwest Ballet

Sarah Ricard Orza with daughter Lola ©Lindsay Thomas, Pacific Northwest Ballet

And it’s Lola that inspires her in continuing to take leaps in her dance. Sarah isn’t done with ballet, at 33 years old she has quite a few good years still ahead of her and she’s working hard pursuing her career goals along with her family goals. “It’s not worth leaving Lola if I don’t push myself. I’m going to keep reaching, I love ballet and I love my daughter, I have to commit myself fully to both to make it worth the sacrifices required. Both Seth and I do.”

Sarah has been a leader within the company regarding maternity policy and breastfeeding. This year three other ballerinas were expecting little ones and there were open conversations about breastfeeding in the studio and dressing rooms. PNB was ready and prepared to have appropriate accommodations in place for these dancers should they need space to pump for their babies as well.

Lola and Sarah are still breastfeeding, Sarah plans to let Lola wean when she’s ready. This next season Sarah isn’t planning on pumping backstage as Lola has taken to solids just fine and is well over a year. But that breastfeeding bond is still special for them right now.

When I got to go back with my eldest to Seattle to see Sarah dance as Giselle this past spring, I was moved to tears by her performance. The grace, strength, and dedication as she played the role of a young maiden driven insane by love lost and then sacrificed herself as one of the mysterious willis dancing all night to keep the man she loved alive, I forgot during the performance that she is also the mother of a sweet little girl. Her dedication and passion for her craft made it so all I saw was the heartbroken Giselle on stage. When I got to hug Sarah following the performance, all I saw was the sweet dedicated mother with a passion for her daughter.

Sarah will be onstage again this year at Pacific Northwest Ballet and I’m certain I’ll be making the drive from Portland to Seattle to be mesmerized by her performance again. To get tickets to a performance, visit pnb.org. You can also find Sarah pictured on PNBs Facebook and Instagram as well as on her own Instagram.

 

Sarah Orza breastfeeding ballerina

Sarah Ricard Orza with daughter Lola ©Lindsay Thomas, Pacific Northwest Ballet

 

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How has your place of employment supported you in your breastfeeding journey? How did your coworkers respond? What do you think would help more women reach their breastfeeding goals while maintaining a presence in the work place?

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Why Black Breastfeeding Week Is Important To Me

by Carmen Castillo-Barrett

Carmen Black Breastfeeding Week

I am an immigrant Dominican mother, with African American roots on my father’s side. My husband is of Caribbean decent. We got pregnant with our daughter in 2006. The almost 42-week pregnancy allowed my husband and I time to explore and talk to each other about parenting. We decided we were going to do things differently than how the rest of our family did them simply because it’s what works for our family. We expected to be met with lots of questions and lack of understanding as to why we were doing things differently, but I was certainly not prepared for the ongoing negativity that was associated with our decision for me to breastfeed. I am not the only one who shares this experience. Below are just some of the reactions I got and reasons why Black Breastfeeding Week  is important.

1- “You’re going to kill your baby”
At four weeks postpartum, my mother-in-law began to express concern over the fact that all my newborn had to eat was breast milk. I’d done enough research while pregnant to know that breast milk is all an infant needs, but the research never heeded any warning about being confronted with the accusation that I was going to kill my baby by exclusively breastfeeding. My mother-in-law’s concern was real to her because she didn’t know any better. She called relentlessly, offering bad advice that wasn’t solicited, all while expressing concern that there was no way my daughter has getting the nourishment she needed. This was the most significant obstacle I’ve faced as a nursing mother and it ultimately undermined my confidence and affected my decision to discontinue nursing my daughter.

2- “You’re still breastfeeding?!?”
This question started popping up around the time both kids turned 6 weeks old. Both sides of our family saw no need to continue nursing past six weeks of age and thought that the natural progression of things was to introduce formula. My mother had no experience nursing a baby past trying it out for a couple of weeks with me, so her contribution to my growth as a breastfeeding mother was to state that the baby was now “old enough for formula” and I was now “finally free” to stop breastfeeding. There was no real reason why everyone thought I should wean, it was simply a matter of never having seen a non-white mother nursing past the immediate infancy phase.

3- “What? You can’t afford formula?”
When my daughter was two months old, we went out to lunch with my husband’s cousin and his wife, whom had two children of their own. While at the restaurant, my daughter needed to eat, so I discreetly breastfed her at the table. No one at the table batted an eye, but just as I was feeling confident that my nursing in public wasn’t a big deal, I was met with the question of “Why are you still breastfeeding? You guys can’t afford formula?”. I was so mad! Worse still is that when I called my mom about it, she felt the comment was perfectly justified and offered to send me money for formula. Somehow, my breastfeeding was seen as a reflection of our economic status rather than a conscious decision on how to feed our baby.

4- “You’re just trying to be white.”
A common way to dismiss a non-white mother’s parenting choices is to wave them off as her “trying to be white”. This comment is applied to much more than breastfeeding. If you are a non-white mom who co-sleeps, uses cloth diapers, has a home birth, employs a doula, teaches your baby to sign, or does anything outside of the “normal” things a non-white mom is “supposed” to do, then your parenting choices aren’t seen as something that simply works for your family, but a desire to leave behind your true roots to pursue one’s desire to emulate a white mother. This label is applied to non-white women of all shades as a means to shame, ignore, undermine, second guess, disrespect, and pigeonhole our choices to parent as best as we can.

5- “Your baby has teeth, that means it’s time to wean.”
By the time my daughter got her first tooth at 9 months, I was no longer nursing. My son, on the other hand, started getting teeth really early at barely four months old. I made the unfortunate mistake of posting a picture of him grinning with his new itty bitty baby teeth on Facebook. The immediate and overwhelming response from both sides of the family (and some friends) was that it was time to wean because “obviously” his incoming teeth meant it was time for “real food”. Up to this day I’m still unsure what “real food” I was supposed to feed a baby that young.

6- “You’re going to turn him gay.”
While it’s a scandalous thing to say to anyone, this last comment is particularly held as true among Caribbean families. Due to bigotry embraced by both older and younger generations and stubborn cultural superstitions, many Caribbean families believe that one can be “turned” gay and that nursing one’s son past a certain acceptable age will contribute to their sexual orientation. The lack of support and obstacles I faced when nursing my daughter were nothing compared to the outright hatred that the possibility of me nursing my son into a batty boy brought out in members of our family. This is why, after 7 months of exclusively nursing my son, I started pretending that I had weaned him. Only my husband and close friends knew that I was still breastfeeding.

Imagine if your entire breastfeeding experience was framed by the comments I listed above. How successful do you think you could be? This is why Black Breastfeeding Week is so important.

Carmen Castillo-Barrett is a wife and mom who resides in Brooklyn, NY. She is the Executive Director of the non-profit organization, Kiddie Science.

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Why I breastfed my 2 year old on a crowded public transit train

by Jessica Martin-Weber

This isn’t a statement, it’s not even as significant as a photo op. It’s just a moment. An average, regular, normal moment for my daughter and me. In 2 years of breastfeeding, she and I have had thousands like it. Taking public transportation on our way for a day downtown with the family, she got tired, wanted a cuddle, and a little mama milk. And I snapped a few breastfeeding selfies because this regular, normal moment is important to me and a big part of my life. A life I share with my online community and when something is important pretending it doesn’t exist and never happens is lonely.

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Would you, could you, on a train?

At first I distracted her and put her off. I didn’t want to breastfeed my 2 year old in public and face possible harassment for doing so. Though I know the law protects me, I also know many people are uncomfortable with breastfeeding babies in public let alone toddlers. I didn’t want to be the source of the discomfort of others or worse, possible conflict. At 2 she’s old enough to wait and can have other food and drink for snack.

But I had just returned that morning from a three day trip and my littlest missed her mama. Being close, having mama milk, was all a part of our reconnecting. Could I really place the possible discomfort of others above the need my little girl had for comfort and closeness? Yes, we could have comfort, connectedness, and closeness in other ways but breastfeeding was still her favorite, should my 2 year old forgo what she enjoyed the most because some strangers may not understand what a woman’s breasts are really for?

I decided no, I would not do that to her and my daughter would come first. And I breastfed her. On a packed train headed downtown on a Sunday afternoon. There was no agenda, no ulterior motive. In that normal moment with my daughter, though I had a pinch of anxiety that someone may take issue with me feeding and comforting my daughter at my breast, my focus was on her, not normalizing breastfeeding. Because that’s not why I breastfeed.

It isn’t normal to see breastfeeding still in most western societies. Though breastfeeding is elevated and preached, it’s hardly visible enough to be considered normal. We’ve allowed ourselves to accept a definition of the female breasts limited to just the sexual nature the mature mammary glands can have. With that we’ve lost sight of the biological and anthropological norm. Something I write and speak about often. Working to change such perceptions is part of why I do The Leaky Boob at all.

But still, that’s not why I breastfed my daughter that day. Or any day. I fed her because she needed it. Because I’m her mommy and feeding and comforting our children is just what moms do.

And that’s just… Normal.

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Oh! The Places You Go! World Breastfeeding Week/World Breastfeeding Month 2014

by Jessica Martin-Weber

#BFingPlaces

Oh the places you go!  Families are busy, on the go in their daily life be it at the grocery store, the park, school, the museum, parents’ work, church, community activities, you name it.  And then there are special events such as vacations at the beach, mountain top weddings, saying goodbye to a loved one, excursions to historical sites, and theme parks.  And along the way, we’re doing what we do, caring for our children, like normal.

It’s about to be World Breastfeeding Week/Month.  I confess, for the last several years I’ve really struggled with this month.  It seems like it should be my favorite, certainly as an outspoken breastfeeding supporter World Breastfeeding Week/Month has a lot of meaning and significance, yet still, I have been increasingly uncomfortable with it.  There are major world wide events bringing breastfeeding moms together, thousands of blog posts sharing personal stories of breastfeeding, mainstream media coverage on the importance of breastfeeding, thousands of brands offering promotions on breastfeeding related products, memes of breastfeeding sayings, giveaways galore, and informative posts as to the virtues of breastfeeding.  Overall, this sounds like a good thing, so why was I uncomfortable

Because somehow, I felt the focus was off (at least my own was) and the audience, well, the audience was mostly the choir.  World Breastfeeding Week/Month was preaching to the choir.  And sometimes the not so thinly veiled, if unintentional message was “breastfeeding moms are better than non-breastfeeding moms.”

I considered not participating, considered taking a position that every single day is World Breastfeeding Day at TLB and just continue on as normal with nothing special for the month.  There was conversation about ignoring it completely but that seemed impractical and kind of weird. Since I see the need for awareness and supportive conversation about breastfeeding, I do believe World Breastfeeding Week/Month has a lot of value, we just needed to figure out what that was in our context and how that fit TLB’s mission. As The Leaky Boob team started discussing how we could celebrate World Breastfeeding Week/World Breastfeeding Month, we knew we wanted it to focus on the moms first and then families. Instead of announcing to the world that breastfeeding is awesome (it is awesome, it’s also really just normal) and jumping in on the megaphone that ends up just going back to the moms that are already aware, we wanted to do something a little more intentional.  Though it makes me feel a little ridiculous to say, we have lost something when it comes to breastfeeding, we have lost it being normally accepted by society.  Plenty of people seem aware of breastfeeding, maybe even too aware, and I know very few people will even debate that breastfeeding is good for babies yet it hardly seems normal.  As absurd as it may sounds, breastfeeding still desperately needs to be (re)normalized.  Since we’re mammals though, that’s like saying breathing isn’t normal, or walking needs to be normalized.

Ultimately though, regardless of how absurd it sounds, women are harassed for feeding their babies, asked to leave restaurants, fear meeting their child’s needs in public due to public shaming, face judgment for how they feed their children, and feel pressured to feed a certain way but be invisible. Weirdly enough though, women that don’t feed their baby directly at their breast or with breastmilk, face much of the same. And those women experience World Breastfeeding Week/Month too but without the cheering support that breastfeeding moms receive.

Feed your baby way up high,

Or way down low?

In the sun

Or in the snow?

By the water

At the bay?

Feed your baby every day.

Show us the path you take

As your baby eats his steak*

What you see

Or what you do

On your journey

We support you.

*or milk, snack, baby food…

Help us celebrate families and normalize feeding babies without debate or judgment by taking and sharing pictures on social media.  Whether you feed at the breast, with a cover or without, with an at the breast supplementer, or using a bottle, your journey is part of normal infant feeding.  By posting images of the wide diversity there is in infant and toddler feeding, we can help remind ourselves and the rest of the world that we are people with feelings just trying to do our best in the normal act of feeding our children and we can be trusted to make the best decisions about that according to information, our personal circumstances, and our access to resources.  The image can be of you feeding your baby or of what you see as you’re feeding your baby.  Share your journey and together we can support each other with #BFingPlaces and #ISupportYou.  Post your images on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, or whatever social media platform you love to use and use those hashtags.  Be on the look out for some amazing giveaways and remember, every day is a day for support.

This year, World Breastfeeding Week/Month is still going to be celebrated at TLB.  There will be giveaways (one huge prize pack every week for five weeks!) and information sharing, personal stories and memes posted, and events gathering together moms that feed their babies with breastmilk.  But there will also be support for all families regardless of what their journey looks like when it comes to how they feed their children.  We’re celebrating you with the goal to normalize feeding children including breast and bottle feeding.  Free of judgment, full of support, we support you where you are.  Wherever you go.  And Oh!  The places you go.

 

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A 14 year old girl’s thoughts on breasts, breastfeeding, sex appeal, and society.

Reposting this article from last year, at a time when there is public outrage and debate about women posting photos online of themselves breastfeeding and arguments rage about how appropriate inappropriate it is to breastfeeding in public,  it seems timely to share the thoughts of a 14 year old girl on what messages she sees in the world of breasts, breastfeeding, sex appeal, and society. 
by Ophélia Martin-Weber
Photo credit Dorothea Lange, 1936 Library of Congress, American Memory

Photo credit Dorothea Lange, 1936 Library of Congress, American Memory

I wonder when people started treating boobs as objects used just for sex.  A long time ago did people respect moms and their breasts feeding hungry babies?  Even though they didn’t see women as equal did they know that breastfeeding was the healthiest, easiest, and natural source of nutrients to feed the baby and nothing to shun?  There was a time when women didn’t have the right to vote but could freely pull out their breast and feed their baby and today it seems like we have flipped those.  In some ways we have come so far in how women are treated and viewed in society but in other ways women, particularly mothers, are dismissed as their real value being only in their appeal to the opposite sex.  I wonder if we’ve lost something.  Then I wonder what that means for me and I’m only a 14 year old girl. When I was younger I didn’t know breasts had amazing powers to produce milk even though my mom breastfed my sisters and me.  All that I knew was that I had little boobies and I couldn’t wait for the day when my nipples would transform into breasts.  I don’t remember when the fact that mature breasts can give milk really stuck in my head but when it did I thought humans were related to cows.  Sure, humans and cows are both mammals but when I was a kid I thought maybe women actually were cows.  Today I know that’s not true and I also understand there is a lot of attention given to the sexiness of the female breast and that makes me uncomfortable.  Uncomfortable because now that I have breasts I find myself wanting smaller breasts in part because I’m a ballerina but also because I know that bigger breasts are supposed draw attention from guys, are seen as more sexy, and could decide how I am treated by others.  Part of me feels that if I want to be liked I have to have big breasts.  I want guys to notice me but I don’t want guys to notice me (yes, I know this is a contradiction) and I really don’t want them to think I’m just here to have sex with.  I’m just not ready for that and don’t know if I ever will be.  To me, I’m so much more than my sex appeal.  So I’m careful about what I wear, I don’t want communicate that I want attention based on sex but that frustrates me too.  The clothes I like the best and find most comfortable are more form fitting but if I wear yoga pants that fit my butt well will it be communicating that I want the wrong kind of attention?  Or in a leotard are my breasts speaking louder than my mind or my art?  I hope not.  I want to matter to others for more than just my body.  As a dancer, I work with my body a lot and I work hard to make it strong and healthy but not for attention.  That work is to help me tell stories, to use my body as an artist and an athlete.  Struggling with my body every day is part of my lot as a dancer and I have a love hate relationship with it and I’m ok with that.  What I don’t want is to question my natural biology simply because of how others say it should be.  Sometimes it feels as though society wants to punish those with female body parts yet tell us we’re equal without having to act like we really are.  I don’t get it, I understand that breasts are considered sex things but they don’t seem any more “sexy” than most of the other parts of my body such as my lips, my arms, my shoulders, my legs.  Men may find them sexy (is it that way in every culture or just ours?) but they aren’t sexy to me, they feed babies. Urban ballerina Looking back to what my childish mind was thinking and comparing it to some people’s opinions about moms openly breastfeeding in public, I wonder if they too see breastfeeding moms as cows?  Do breastfeeding mothers need to be fenced and herded together, separate from everyone else?  I know there are people that think about moms that way but not everyone does.  A lot of my adult friends have different opinions about breastfeeding but they don’t think poorly about my mom and they don’t ask her to cover when she’s feeding my little sister.  It doesn’t bother them that part of my mom’s breast is visible.  Pictures of beautiful and sexy women show off breasts at least as much as a mom’s breast is seen when she is breastfeeding.  In our culture, what is the most sexy part about women’s breasts?  The breast that is popping out of a too small shirt or the covered nipple?  Why?  If it’s the nipple, why is it such a big deal about breastfeeding in public if the baby is hiding the nipple?  Maybe it’s understandable because of the messages we get from certain parts of society, they might think it is sexual because a person’s mouth, even if it is a baby is on a woman’s breast but they need to get a grip and review their history lessons.   And also learn how breastfeeding works. Why is it ok for men to show off their mammary glands but women can’t?  Why aren’t women “allowed” to expose their chest as much as men can?  Why is it considered indecent for me to be topless by my neighbor across the street can walk around just in his shorts and nobody has a problem with it?  How is that equal?  How is that not discrimination?  Stop telling me I can be equal to my male counterparts but then tell me I have to hide my body more as if there is something wrong with me. I’m not sure I even want to have babies but if I do I will breastfeed them though I have to admit the idea of breastfeeding in public scares me because I know how people think of breasts, women, and moms.  That kind of attention isn’t what I want for myself.  I don’t know what I will do though because I know too much about breastfeeding to not breastfeed and I don’t think I’d want to just stay home all the time.  How sad is it that anyone would be afraid to feed their baby in public?  I’m a little disappointed in myself for feeling this way, I mean, my mom is The Leaky Boob, I feel like she’s the queen of breastfeeding.  But that’s where I am right now.  Fortunately, I have a long time to figure that out and I know I have a family that will support me along the way. If all this obsession with female breasts didn’t actually happen, what would life be like?  If we could change the attitudes against breastfeeding would we actually change attitudes about women?  I hope we can learn from our mistakes because I think people are being hurt by the accepted cultural attitudes of social norms.  And I’m still young, I have to have hope.

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What do you think?  

Do you feel attitudes about breastfeeding are related in any way to our attitudes about women in general?  

How did you think about breasts, breastfeeding, and your own body when you were a teen?

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Completely unrelated to this post, this video shares the author’s story of dance, her dance aspirations, and her current project.

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teen ballerina Ophélia Martin-Weber is 15 years old, the eldest of six girls.  Ophélia is in 8th grade, homeschooled, and is passionate about dance.  A few years ago Ophélia wrote for The Leaky Boob, sharing her views as an 11 year old on breastfeeding and Jessica recently shared a proud mama moment about Ophélia.  You can see some of Ophélia’s dancing and hear her share her dance story and dreams in this video.
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7 Risks To Feeding Your Child- You’re Screwed No Matter What

by Jessica Martin-Weber

 

risks to feeding children

You have a kid?  Congrats!  What should you feed them?  Trying to decide?  Weighing all your options and carefully assessing the risks?  Great!  You should do that.  Also, you’re screwed no matter what you do.  In 15 years of parenting 6 kids, having both breastfed and formula fed, and gone through phases in nutrition standards (yeah, there was a period with lots of Hamburger Helper and soda pop at each dinner and then a period of only organic, homemade, but most of the time somewhere in the middle), I have found that the “right” way was not only subjective but also highly circumstantial.

That there are some actual risks associated with formula feeding and breastfeeding is undeniable, if heavily debated.  Risks such as possible lowered natural immunity and increased chance of ear infections with formula feeding or risks of mastitis and dietary sensitivities with breastfeeding.  Nothing in life comes without risks.  Yep, you’re facing being screwed or screwing up your kids no matter what you do!  As parents all we can do is try our best to mitigate the risks our children face without putting them in a bubble.  There’s risk to that too, what with BPA concerns, the possible damper on social skills development, and the need for oxygenMay as well let them live in the big bad scary world.  Carefully weighing all the possible options, doing personal research, and making the best informed decisions we can according to our personal circumstances and resources means we have to learn to live with some risks.  Regardless of how you feed your child, there are risks you face no matter how carefully you studied, planned, and executed your decision.  Be it breastmilk straight from the tap, pumped breastmilk, donor milk, or formula and then eventually, before you know it, store bought baby food (organic or not), homemade baby food (organic or not), or baby-led solids, followed by McDonald’s Happy Meals, Whole Foods shopping carts, homemade, or homegrown; there are a few unavoidable risks to feeding your child.

  1. There will likely be times you question yourself.  Is this really necessary?  Am I doing it right?  Am I doing it wrong?  Am I stressing out about nothing?  Have I ruined my child for life?  Has my child ruined me for life?  The answer to all these and more is: probably.
  2. There is little doubt that new information will come out that you have, in fact, made the wrong choice.  Those organic apples weren’t actually organic, breastmilk can have toxins in it (have you had yours tested?!), formula used an unnecessary ingredient now deemed dangerous and cancer causing, the baby food company didn’t list all the ingredients they actually used, artificial colors not only suck the actually cause two horns and a tail to grow on some kids… whatever it is, there will be something that’s bad about the choice you made.
  3. Your child will grow to like junk food.  Like moths to the flame, little kids love toxic laden junk food, the more carcinogens the better.  Try as you might, they will discover the joys of foods you’d rather they not consume thanks to a grandparent, a little friend, a mother more lazy and uninformed than you (admit it, you have been judging her and she knew it), or more likely, daddy. And they will, at some point in time, eat something disgusting off the ground or the floor of your minivan.  They will also pick their nose and eat it.  They will lick something that will make you gag.  No matter what you do to cultivate their palate to make discriminating food choices, they will be drawn to the junk and you will wonder if it ever even mattered.
  4. The growth chart will scare you.  Too big, too little, too average, whatever it is, you’ll probably have at least one appointment with your child’s doctor that will make you concerned about your child’s growth pattern.  Because if there’s anything that can be truly charted, it’s that kids are predictably unpredictable.
  5. Statistics aren’t guarantees.  All the scary stuff that isn’t supposed to happen/is supposed to happen based on how you’re feeding your child doesn’t come true.  The proverbial “they” said if you feed your child “this” way they won’t get sick, or that’s what you understood anyway, and yet you’re wiping green snot off your child’s face every day for months.  And someone is bound to point this out to you, trumpeting how their kid is never sick.  Immune systems can be such ignorant traitors clueless on the what all those studies say.
  6. You will be judged.  Pull out a breast or bottle to feed your baby and watch the judgment fly.  Too long, too brief, too-not-what-they-did.  Bad mom, exhibitionist, endangering your child, endangering other people’s children (their poor eyes may see the choice you’ve made and confuse them!), pouring toxins into your child, doing that in public, you name it, judgment will come from all directions no matter what you do.
  7. You can make yourself crazy.  Trying to do it perfectly right could be exactly what drives you over the edge of sanity.  A very real risk.

And if you think it’s bad when they’re infants, just wait until your child is begging for cheetos and refusing the organic avocado and kale chips at playdates.  No matter how you feed your children as infants, they will someday inevitably grow into toddlers eating their own boogers (and sometimes those of others), tasting dirt on the playground, sucking a sucker they found on the floor of the public bathroom, and licking the railing at a public park.  The good news is, most of the time they really are going to be just fine even though.

Which is why it’s a good thing we don’t feed our children for others.  Good luck!  Whatever you do, there are risks.  This is just one aspect of parenting, have confidence, there are even bigger risk you face in this journey.  Go on, feed your kids, take a deep breath, and take the risks as they come.  You’ve got this.

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Why take and share breastfeeding photos?

by Jessica Martin-Weber
why women share breastfeeding photos

Photo credit: Cleo Photography

What is the deal with all those breastfeeding photos moms are doing?  Breastfeeding selfies, professional photo sessions, family snapshots, they’re showing up on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, even birth announcements and Christmas cards, and hanging on walls.  This hasn’t always been a thing, has it?  (Check out these and these historic photos that show it isn’t quite as new as you may think.)  When TLB was kicked off Facebook in 2011, allegedly for posting breastfeeding photos, I was asked frequently why post breastfeeding photos in the first place.  What is the point, they wondered, why do women feel the need to share such an intimate moment with the world?  I have been patiently explaining this phenomenon for years, sharing blog posts like this one from Annie at PhD in Parenting, this one from sons & daughters photography,  and personal stories as to why and content to leave it at that.

Still, comments on websites, social media threads, and some times in person continue to come in comparing these photos to sharing an image of someone taking a dump, calling the women posting them “attention whores”, and sometimes even accusing them of sexual abuse.  The reasons why these people may be uncomfortable seeing breastfeeding totally aside (and here are 9 potential reasons), it’s obvious they don’t understand why this would be important.

Over the years I’ve seen the power of breastfeeding photos being shared.  Much like images of other aspects of every day life, seeing breastfeeding photos reminds us of the importance of the mundane in our daily lives.  There are more reasons than I can list, but there are real reasons none the less.

Sharing breastfeeding images is important in offering support.  Many women haven’t seen breastfeeding or have only seen it briefly.  Seeing breastfeeding and hearing the breastfeeding stories of other women supports women where they are in their journey and gives them the space to ask questions and know they aren’t alone.

Sharing breastfeeding images is important in offering information and options.  For some women, breastfeeding is as natural as breathing, everything just works.  Others encounter difficulties.  Seeing how another woman navigates the obstacles she experiences in breastfeeding, such as when Jenna shared an image of feeding her daughter with a supplemental nursing system, mothers who had never heard of such a thing suddenly had a new option.

Sharing breastfeeding images is important in offering community.  Because breastfeeding has been replaced in some cases with alternative feeding methods, some breastfeeding mothers find themselves feeling isolated.  Thanks to the global community now accessible via the internet, mothers can connect with others that can relate to their journey.  While many are willing to walk alone, it is comforting to know you don’t have to.  Sharing the visual builds a community built on more than words.

Sharing breastfeeding images is important in offering encouragement.   When Serena Tremblay shared her photo of breastfeeding in the ICU with the help of a nurse, she never imagined how it would touch and reach so many with encouragement and inspiration.  But that’s exactly what her photo did.

Sharing breastfeeding images is important in offering recognition.  It’s not for attention, the sharing is more about connection and celebration.  But when a woman shares her breastfeeding journey through images, she is recognizing (and helping others recognize for themselves) this very important aspect of her life.  She does it day in and day out, it consumes much of her time, and sometimes it can feel quite invisible.  Or worse, shameful.  Recognizing the time and commitment breastfeeding requires can be a reminder of why it’s all worth it.

Sharing breastfeeding images is important in offering normalization.  More times than I can count people have written in to say that before they joined The Leaky Boob community they thought breastfeeding was gross and creepy.  They didn’t want to see it because they thought it was like watching sex.  But then they saw it and learned that it wasn’t that at all, in fact, it was oddly normal.  Then there are the mothers that discovered they weren’t freaks for continuing to breastfeed past the first 12 months when they discovered there are many others like them.

Sharing breastfeeding images is important in rehumanizing.  I know, I know, that’s not really a word.  But the objectification of women has reached such high levels that unless a woman is airbrushed, painted, surgically altered, pushed up/in, and posed, she isn’t seen as being a woman.  A woman’s worth is almost entirely wrapped up in her looks.  Women are barely seen as human or at least, aren’t allowed to be human.  Images of woman that aren’t airbrushed, painted, surgically altered, pushed up/in, and posed remind all of us what living, breathing, human woman really look like.  Breastfeeding women remind us that a woman’s body is for her to use as she pleases and her worth not dictated by how sexually attractive she is.

Sharing breastfeeding images is important in celebrating.  Parenting is hard work and much of it goes unnoticed and under appreciated.  Celebrating the milestones and goals reached, be they breastfeeding, potty learning, educational, or any other important aspect of parenting, is energizing.  Celebrating them with others even more so.

Leilani and her daughter Ava featured in the photo at the top of this post, understands this, which is why Leilani sent this beautiful photo in with her story:

I made the decision to try breastfeeding while I was still pregnant. I read Ina May’s guide to breastfeeding (religiously), and it gave me the confidence I needed during that very first time Ava latched on. Knowing that I was capable of producing the best nutrition for my child is what inspired me to nurse. There were a handful of bumps in the road during this past year of breastfeeding, but I’m proud to say, we surpassed them. My daughter had jaundice (pretty bad) her first week of life. Due to an incompatible blood type between her and I, the doctors encouraged me to supplement, in order for her jaundice to go away faster. I refused, and as scary as it was, the jaundice went away, and she didn’t need one drop of supplement to assist. I also thought I needed a pump and bottles to nurse more effectively. Turns out that the pump caused my supply to dwindle, and I forced to deal with a baby that wasn’t getting the correct amount of milk she needed. Rather than giving up or supplementing, I was patient and nursed her as often as she’d allow. My supply finally was back to normal. Between those hurdles and moving cross-country TWICE in two months (military family), I am proud to say that Ava at (almost) thirteen months is still nursing and the bond we share is something even more special than I imagined.

 

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Breastfeeding, sexism, and public opinion polls

Oh look, another poll from a media outlet for their audience to weigh in about women breastfeeding in public or past a certain age!  Isn’t this fun?  Scary boobs, scary breastmilk, scary baby, vote now!  Breastfeeding, sexism and breastfeeding, is that even an issue?  Does everybody really get to weigh in on a woman feeding her baby?  Is it helping anyone?  Or is it just a form of sexist entertainment?

Taking a deeper look at how these types of polls are hurting mothers and why I’m over these polls and won’t be sharing them anymore:

What do you think, are polls like these helping or hurting?  Should we be voting on how women feed their children or do we have better things to do?

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9 Reasons you may be uncomfortable with seeing breastfeeding

by Jessica Martin-Weber
Photo from Instagram user Jeniholland.

Photo from Instagram user Jeniholland.

We’re well into the 21st century yet breastfeeding appears to still make many people uncomfortable.  I keep hoping those individuals that get upset about the biologically normal way to feed a baby are really a rarity but, unfortunately, it still seems to be a hot button issue.  Regardless of how a woman is most comfortable feeding her baby, be it uncovered at the breast, covered at the breast, a bottle of expressed breastmilk, or a bottle of formula, plenty of people are uncomfortable witnessing a woman feeding her child and any form of breastfeeding seems to especially elicit vocal expressions of discomfort from others.  I identified 9 reasons people may be uncomfortable seeing breastfeeding be it on social media or in person settings and tried to offer some solutions in overcoming what is essentially a discomfort about babies being fed.  And that brings us to our first point:

  1. Agism.  Breasts aren’t the issue for you, nope.  You just don’t think babies and small children have the right to eat in public.  Or you think that every. single. time they do eat the experience should be charged with connection and intimacy between that child and their care-giver, staring deeply into each others’ eyes approximately 8-24 times a day and not witnessed by anyone else.  Those babies, they need to keep that stuff happening in private!  And yes, a baby or the needs of a small child should actually come second to your own personal comfort about what you witness.  Older people, that’s a totally different story, they can eat when they need to eat and for the most part, where they need to eat and how they need to eat it without harassment, expectation of high level bonding, or a blanket.  On the go, sitting at a table in public, while reading a book or talking with friends, it’s fine for those over the age of 2 to eat in public and even for them to post pictures of their meals on social media.  But those babies better at least keep it under wraps!  Spending some time watching just exactly how adults eat or watching this video could be key in getting you over your prejudices.  No?  You don’t discriminate against babies eating in public?  Ok, have you considered that you could have…
  2. Boob-phobia.  It’s a real thing, check it out.  Perhaps you’re uncomfortable by the sight of breastfeeding because you have Mastrophobia, a phobia of breasts (or cousins gynophobia, a fear of female parts, or papillaphobia, a fear of nipples) and seeing breastfeeding makes you want to run away.  Which maybe that’s what you should do, complete with screaming and waving your arms hysterically.  Or do what I do when watching a scary movie, hide behind a pillow only risking a peek here and there.  Actually though, if you do really have boob-phobia, you should seek professional help.  If that’s not it though, maybe it’s…
  3. Brainwashing.  Which is totally understandable and you can’t help the cultural conditioning that has brainwashed you into thinking breasts are truly only for sexual pleasure.  You’re a victim of marketing and fear.  Boobs aren’t for babies, boobs are for men/selling cars/selling beer/selling clothes/selling sex/selling music/selling movies/selling… selling, or at least that’s what the prevailing messages in much of society seems to be selling.  If this is an issue, walking around with a blanket over your head to cut out these messages could be the solution.  But maybe you are completely immune to marketing and the societal messages thrown at us from every which way, in which case it could be…
  4. Judgment.  You believe, and the reasons why are unimportant (certainly not fear or brainwashing), that breasts that aren’t properly shielded and covered belong to an immoral, immodest individual of low character.  Women that don’t keep those things contained and pull them out and stick them in the mouth of their hungry child must not have a shred of decency and you judge them for that.  Even if they define modesty or decency differently than you do.  Such as “it would be indecent of me not to feed my child when they are hungry…”  Heading to the bathroom to have your dinner may be exactly what you need to get you over this unfortunate character flaw.  Not a judgmental person?  Don’t care what other people do?  Then maybe you’re uncomfortable with seeing breastfeeding because…
  5. Insecurity.  It could be anything.  Insecurity about your own breasts (male or female), insecurity about your friend/father/husband/brother/son seeing someone’s breasts (which of course means you make sure they avoid all malls, sports shows, magazines, and movies), insecurity in seeing someone breastfeed their child when you didn’t/don’t breastfeed yours, insecurity that breastfeeding or not breastfeeding is some kind of mark of “good parenting”, insecurity that others may be uncomfortable with someone else breastfeeding and you feel the need to make sure everyone (but the breastfeeding pair) is comfortable, or maybe just insecurity that humans are all mammals.  Whatever it is, and it could be anything, you personally battle insecurity and rather than face it in yourself you project your issues on to others.  Sitting next to a breastfeeding mother while she feeds her child and having a conversation with her may do the trick.  Not insecure?  If you’re confident enough to not be threatened by a woman feeding her child, could it be…
  6. Confusion.  You get grossed out by the sight of breastfeeding because of two words: body fluids.  It freaks you out that body fluids are free-flowing from a woman right into her baby!  Who needs to see that, right?  It doesn’t matter that it’s only natural because, hello, pooping, peeing, and sex are natural too and you don’t want to see any of THAT in public either, right?  It’s certainly only a matter of time before they’re bottling those body fluids up and feeding them to children too, I’m sure.  Fake urine will be flooding the shelves in no time, specially formulated to be just like the real thing.  Aside from the obvious fact that you really can’t see it happening during the act of breastfeeding, basic biology helps clear this up a bit: breastmilk = nutrition, urine/feces = waste, genital secretions = not food.  Some time studying basic nutrition and biology and understanding the basic differences should fix that right up.  Get the difference and not confused?  Moving on then, maybe it’s…
  7. Misogyny.  This goes along with the brainwashing point but it’s a little deeper.  If you’re uncomfortable seeing breastfeeding because of misogyny, you actually hate women and consider them less than men.  As such, their bodies are purely for men and a woman that would dare exercise her autonomy in using her body as she should choose, well she’s just asking for it, isn’t she?  A breastfeeding woman is just rubbing it in your face, isn’t she?  How dare she act as though she independently has worth and power over her own body.  Besides, seeing breasts in use in such an a-sexual way is a bit unsettling.  You haven’t sanctioned this and it’s uncomfortable to think that you have something in common with human babies. The way through this could be quite painful: start listening to women and catch a production of the Vagina Monologues.  But you’re not a misogynist?  Totally down with women as equals?  Great!  So what about…
  8. Denial.  There are people that spend time researching the emotion of disgust and have a disgust scale.  What is it, why do we experience it, etc.  Some triggers of disgust are understandable, like food contamination disgust.  We don’t want to get sick.  Obviously.  So why are you disgusted by breastfeeding, AKA, feeding babies?  It’s possible, these researchers theorize, that you just don’t like to be reminded of your animality.  Humanity is good in your mind but anything that connects you to the animal side of humans grosses you out.  That humans are mammals (creatures with mammary glands that use their mammaries to feed their young) is a fact you would rather forget.  Watch some Discovery channel, you’ll have to eventually confront that breastfeeding our young isn’t the only animal-like behavior we homo sapiens have.  Not that?  Then…
  9. Unfamiliarity.  When we’re not used to seeing something it can be startling when we come across it.  This isn’t your fault, you’re just not familiar with this as normal and actually expect the alternative to the biological norm instead.  You just haven’t seen breastfeeding enough to be totally down with it.  The fix to this one is pretty easy, see more breastfeeding.  You’ll get over your discomfort the more you see it and soon it will become just as normal as it actually is.  Don’t worry, more and more women are doing their part in feeding their babies in public, with and without covers, and you’ll get more comfortable with it the more you see them out and about or posting their photos on social media so hang in there, there’s hope for you yet!

 

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 What would you add to our list?  Why do you think people may have issues with witnessing breastfeeding or encountering breastfeeding images?  If you’re uncomfortable seeing breastfeeding, why do you think that is?   Did you used to be uncomfortable seeing breastfeeding but are ok with it now?

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Sitting in the dirt- the simplicity of (breastfeeding) support

by Jessica Martin-Weber
Photo by Abby Camarata of bump2baby Birth Photography, used with permission.

Photo by Abby Camarata of bump2baby Birth Photography, used with permission.

I first noticed her as I knelt to read what one of the little students in my workshop had scratched into the dirt.  Exploring language together, we were using the immediate tools available to us and writing our favorite words in the earth around us, this particular boy had written love.  English isn’t his first language, he’s spoken Telegu for most of his life, only being introduced to English a few months before.  But he knew this word and he knew it well.

“Love?” I asked him.

“Yes miss” with the head bobble I was still getting accustomed to instead of nodding indicating he heard me.

I looked around for Shamma, the interpreter helping me but he was busy with another student.

“What is love?” I wasn’t sure he would understand me.  While many of the students were already quite competent with English, there were many that only understood and spoke a few words, love often being one of them.  A good number of the 83 students attending this rural school in South Eastern India had only been there a couple months.

He smiled shyly and looked away, whether to think about an answer or because he didn’t understand what I asked I couldn’t be sure.  After giving him some time I asked him if he understood me, again the head bobble.  I smiled and shifted to sit next to him on the ground and repeated my question.  Another shy smile as he looked away and thoughtfully said “love…” questioningly.  He didn’t have the words to say.  His voice trailed off and then, suddenly, his face lit up with a bright and confident smile.

“Love!”  His eyes were no longer searching and I followed his gaze.

Two women seated on the dirt quietly observing our little group.  Their colorful saris created a beautiful contrast against the dusty ground and trees around us and the women seemed perfectly comfortable.  From the lap of one, tiny legs kicked and a little arm waved absently.  I smiled.  Yes, love; a mother and her baby.  He knew exactly what the word meant.  The mother looked down at the infant in her lap and I noticed the baby was feeding.

Yes, this was love.  Not the only expression of love available to mothers but one the little boy next to me understood.  A mother feeding her child, a parent meeting their child’s needs.  Love.

I couldn’t wait for break time when the kids would scamper off to play.  This woman, sitting there in the dirt feeding her baby, drew me and she didn’t know it.  Her baby was younger than my nursling but she was the first woman I had seen breastfeeding since before we had arrived in India and I was ready to sit with her and just be.  When my students were occupied writing their words this time in bright colors in our sketch book, I braved the few steps away to say hi but as soon as she saw me approaching, she took her child off her breast and sat her up.  The baby cried, understandably upset that her meal had been interrupted.  The mother comforted her and I apologized, excusing myself.  Never wanting to get in the way of a child and their food, I headed back to my small workshop.

The women were stunning, completely comfortable sitting there in the dirt under the shade of a tree just feet away from the extra large pot over an open flame cooking the rice for lunch for the entire school.  Nobody was phased by their presence or the baby being fed.  When the break came, Sugarbaby had already joined me hanging out with my group of students and as soon as the students were released to escape their swarm of attention, she wanted to nurse.  Scooping her up, I headed back over to where the mom was still seated breastfeeding now chatting with her companion.  Once again, she went to remove her daughter from her breast as I approached but I indicated that I didn’t want to disrupt her baby’s meal, I just wanted to sit with her while I breastfed my nursling too.  She smiled and bobbled her head with a somewhat nervous expression.  Sugarbaby and I got comfortable on the ground and she hungrily latched quickly and sighed with contentment.  When I looked up from my contented toddler, the other mother was staring at me with a small smile and her friend seemed to approve.

Photo by Abby Camarata of bump2baby Birth Photography, used with permission.

Photo by Abby Camarata of bump2baby Birth Photography, used with permission.

At first we just sat there quietly feeding our children.  Then we sat smiling and taking in the children playing around us.  After a moment she reached over and lightly brushed Sugarbaby’s arm and patted her head.  Following her cues, I reached out and gently stroked her daughter’s silky ebony hair.  I wanted to ask questions but had been teaching and was grateful for the break from talking.  Plus I strongly suspected neither of the women spoke any English and I certainly didn’t speak Telegu.  Finally breaking our silence, I ventured to ask if they spoke English and though they were friendly, it was clear they didn’t understand me.  So we sat for a bit smiling and occasionally affectionally touching each other’s baby.

Our moment together was brief and I did eventually ask an interpreter to join us so we could communicate but just being there in the dirt together was powerful.  In spite of a lack of words, we understood some things about each other.  Our tongues couldn’t form words the other would understand yet we spoke the language of motherhood.  The challenges we each faced may be different and in many ways we couldn’t imagine each others’ struggles but still, we care for our children, feed them, sacrificed for them, and seek education and opportunity for them.  Outside of my usual cultural context, even as experienced as I am in breastfeeding, I found comfort in their presence.  A simple support of understanding in the dirt.

Without even saying a word, these women reminded me that support, breastfeeding or otherwise, isn’t always about sharing all the same experiences, speaking the same language, or even being able to help each other with information and answers.  Sometimes, it’s just about sitting together in the dirt, as we live our own realities of the mundane but important.  Sometimes, it’s that we’re not alone.

If you are interested in ways you can sit in the dirt with other parents in India through a financial donation, consider sponsoring a child with a school scholarship at $40/month.  More information on child sponsorship can be found here.

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