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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When your older, weaned child asks to breastfeed

by Jessica Martin-Weber

Today my 4 year old Smunchie who hasn’t breastfed in quite some time, asked for bobbies.  She hadn’t been feeling well all day and though it had been a while since she had breastfed, it was obvious that she found even the idea comforting.  Her eyes wide and a seriousness about her, she implored for some mama milk.  I offered to try to express some into a cup for her and the tiny bit of hope in her face dropped as she said ok but she really wanted to try to get the milk herself.  Without missing a beat, her two year old little sister rushed over, hands out, and screamed “my bobbies!”

Yes, my children were fighting over my boobs.

I gently reminded 2 year old Sugarbaby that they were my bobbies but that I share them and decided to invite both girls to cuddle up to nurse.

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I expect this post will make some people uncomfortable but we need to talk about it anyway.

Sometimes, older, weaned children will ask to breastfeed.  Whether it be a new baby added to the family or just what seems a random interest, it’s not unusual for a child to see breastfeeding and want to give it a try.  They may be quite insistent or perhaps shy and act embarrassed.  It may come when you’re sitting there feeding their younger sibling or when they get a moment alone with you.  There is a possibility that they are more than a little curious and will want to re-establish a breastfeeding relationship.

Before you freak out (probably too late), keep in mind that children don’t have a developed sense of sexuality or even what makes something sexual.  Unless the child is more like a teenager, the interest in breastfeeding has more to do with curiosity than sexual confusion.  Even though adults in much of westernized society place a heavy emphasis on the sexual function of the female breasts over the nutritional and nurturing functions, children just don’t see it that way so you can take a deep breath and know that there is nothing wrong with your child, they’re just a normal child with normal curiosity.  Breasts are another body part made intriguing by the fact that children have yet to develop breasts themselves and if a child encounters breastfeeding and had it explained to them without shame, they are going to understand breasts as a food source rather than identifying breasts for sexual pleasure.  Please note: gender identity, the differences between the sexes, perceived gender roles, attachment, emotional bonds, body autonomy, and understanding appropriate touching is developing from infancy.

And no, feeding children well past infancy into early childhood is not messing them up.  You don’t have to worry about psychological damage from breastfeeding past one or two years old.  That myth has totally been debunked both through scientific research and anecdotally by many older children and adults that remember breastfeeding at such an age.  Read one such account from an outspoken 12 year old who breastfed until she was 4.

If their sexual awareness has yet to develop, they don’t yet buy into society’s emphasis on female breasts primarily as sex objects, and it’s not messing kids up to breastfeed well beyond the 1st year of life, how should we respond?

With patience.  With love.  With acceptance.  With gentleness.  Without shame.  Without fear.  Without judgment.

As is often the case, the manner with which we respond to our children is more important than what we actually do.  If your older, weaned child asks to breastfeed, saying yes or no is less important than how you say it.  Before you respond, ask yourself what your reaction could be communicating to your child.  Is it loving?  Does it communicate acceptance? Or is it expressing shock and disgust?  Could they confuse your response as a rejection of them?  That they did something wrong?  That breastfeeding is shameful?

What should you do if your older, weaned child asks to breastfeed?  I have no idea.  Whatever is right for you.  I would just encourage you not to rush your decision, take a moment and reflect on why or why not you may be comfortable with that.  With older children, a conversation is usually possible and a reasonable place to start.  Involving them in a conversation as part of your decision making could be a bonding experience for you both.

Your decision is completely up to you and your personal boundaries.  If you’re not comfortable letting your older, weaned child breastfeed then don’t.  If you think you may be ok with it, then let them.  Your boundaries and modeling bodily autonomy is important too and an older child is capable of understanding such boundaries.  If you decide you’re comfortable with it and even want to encourage them to relearn how to properly latch (yes, that is an option) and that works for both of you, that can be significant journey as well.  Whatever you decide, just do so gently and you’ll both be fine.

My two eldest children never expressed an interest in breastfeeding once they weaned, not even when siblings were born.  Curiosity and copying with their own babies (dolls), absolutely, but they were never interested in trying to breastfeed for themselves.  Since then though I’ve had each of my 4 younger ones ask to try.  It weirded me out at first and I refused but that particular child began to ask repeatedly every time I sat to feed her younger sister and eventually I decided I didn’t actually have a good reason not to.  Having such a large child at my breast (she was 4) seemed strange to me but it only took one try and then a polite thank you with a hug to make me realize that was about my issues and what I considered normal than it was about somehow being wrong.  She did enjoy having my milk in a cup for months afterward though and that was something that meant a lot to her.  The most common reaction my children have is to have no idea what to do at the breast, attempt a couple of sucks, giggle, pull away, and inform me they aren’t babies any more and “bobbies are for babies.”  Sometimes they do get milk and don’t like the taste.  Even if they are interested in trying again, once their curiosity was satisfied they were happy to move on and leave breastfeeding to babies.

But that’s not what has happened with my current 4 year old.  She returns every so often to the breast, has even figured out that if she can get her little sister to start on one breast and then switch after let down, it’s easier for her and she’ll get more milk.  It doesn’t happen often, increasingly less and less, but she does still ask from time to time.  This time, after latching and not getting any milk, she decided she was good with just a cuddle.

“I like your milk, mommy, but I like your cuddles best.”

For us, it was worth letting her try.

breastfeeding the weaned child

 

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What do you think you would do if your previously weaned child asked to breastfeed again?

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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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Tattoo risk while breastfeeding

We’re giving away some tattoo aftercare balm and a tattoo.  Seriously.  Keep reading.  But if you want to skip to the giveaway part, the short version is that if you’re using a safe, reputable shop, there is almost no risk to getting a tattoo while breastfeeding.  Which is good news if you’re breastfeeding and want to get a tattoo.  Woohoo!

open line work tree and bird arm tattoo

 

From time to time we’re asked on The Leaky Boob Facebook page about the safety of getting tattoos while breastfeeding.  While there isn’t a lot of information out there regarding studies done specifically on getting tattoos while breastfeeding, most health care professionals agree that as long as you are using a reputable shop that follows all the guidelines required for safe-handling and hygiene, there is no real risk to the breastfeeding relationship for the mother to get a tattoo.

Please note: don’t tattoo babies or small children, that would just be mean.

Just a few weeks ago, following Camp MommyCon near Denver, Colorado, I had a what has been a long planned appointment for my very first tattoo.  And yes, I’m still breastfeeding 2 year old Sugarbaby.  This appointment with Colin Kolker at Chroma Collective Tattoo Co. was in the works for a long time, generously gifted to help me realize a healing dream I’ve had for over 2 years to reclaim a spot on my arm scarred along my motherhood journey.  Colin helped me express my healing, inner strength, and the beauty that I have found along the way with a symbolic and meaningful tattoo that represented all of that to me.  You can read about the story and meaning behind my tattoo here.

 

open line work delicate tree and birds tattoo

Before I even made the appointment, I answered all the questions I could on breastfeeding and getting a tattoo.  Personally I decided that the risk, while minimal, was enough for me to want to wait at least until Sugarbaby was over 12 months old simply because should something happen she would no longer be dependent on just breastmilk.  Even though I was confident nothing would happen.  Finances and opportunity pushed it back another year.  At that point I felt I was well informed on any potential risk and what I could do to all but eliminate even that.  Confident that it was safe, the only nervousness I had going into my appointment that evening was that it would hurt.

It did hurt.  I had tattoolas to help me though.  Because support makes all the difference, don’t you know.  Also, people, stop comparing tattoos to giving birth.  It’s totally different and just because I can handle pain when necessary (and I can’t actually stop it anyway) in order to push out a baby does not mean I’m not a wuss about other pain.  To be clear, I’m a total wimp.  Tattoos hurt.  About like you think it would hurt to be repeatedly stabbed and scratched with a needle.  Because that’s exactly what’s happening.  But the pain was totally worth it and in some spots it even felt good, kind of like a tens unit.  Other spots felt like torture.  Still, not like giving birth, the sensation is much less than that of giving birth.

mom tattoo Chroma Tattoo

Shout out to the MommyCon Tattoolas Laney, Xza, and Alyssa!

Here’s what I considered in making my decision to get a tattoo as a breastfeeding mother:

  1. Ink molecules are too large to get into the blood stream and milk.  Sugarbaby wouldn’t have ink flavored milk but I did love that Chroma Collective Tattoo Co. used nontoxic vegan ink they were happy to show me and explain.  This also meant I was less likely to have an allergic reaction to the ink as an immune response and made me feel more comfortable with my decision.
  2. The shop I chose meets all safety standards, sterilizing the equipment and practicing good hygiene.  Breastfeeding or not, seriously, this is a minimum.  Avoid infection by going to a clean, licensed, reputable shop.  They should have an autoclave, single-use inks, gloves, and needles.  Look them up on review sites and check with the local department of health to see if they comply with health code standards.
  3. My health was in my hands, if I followed the protocol for aftercare I would further reduce any risk of infection or possible harm to me and Sugarbaby.  I followed Colin’s directions exactly and not only did I not have any issues, using the Motherlove Tatto Care, I healed surprisingly fast and with almost no flaking or peeling.
  4. Tattoos have been a part of various cultures for a very long time and is legally supported.  Some tattoo artists may refuse to give a breastfeeding mother a tattoo but no major recognized medical body (such as the AAP or WHO) have issued warnings against the practice.  I felt history and science indicated that it was a safe choice for me.  The considerations put forth in this article were helpful.
  5. I don’t tend to have allergies so I wasn’t personally worried that I was likely to have an allergic reaction to the ink.

delicate tree and birds tattoo and breastfeeding

Tattoos aren’t for everyone and some who may want a tattoo may still feel more comfortable waiting until their nursling has weaned.  For me going through with my ink dream is something I’m incredibly glad I did knowing the risk was almost nothing.

I promised a giveaway.

nontoxic tattoo aftercare

And now… you can get a tattoo and take care of it too!  Motherlove Herbal Company is giving away their Tattoo Care to 3 lucky Leakies.  I used Motherlove Tattoo Care from the very beginning as part of my aftercare regimen.  Colin had instructed me to keep the area moist, not letting it dry out by rubbing in Motherlove Tattoo Care several times a day.  It worked like a charm.  Motherlove Tattoo Care is made with certified organic ingredients, handcrafted in Colorado using the same tried and true organic ingredients that have been trusted in other Motherlove products for over 20 years. This thoughtful formulation of herbs provides optimal moisturizing and healing properties, yet retains a consistency that is comfortable to apply. Unlike petroleum based products, Motherlove Tattoo Care allows the skin to breathe, promotes quicker healing, and allows ink to fully penetrate the skin.

Chroma Collective Tattoo Co. Giveaway

Tattoo in progress selfie!

 

We’re also giving away a 2 hour session with Colin Kolker at Chroma Collective Tattoo Co. in Parker, Colorado (outside Denver).  One lucky Leaky will win a  2-hour custom tattoo session at Chroma Collective Tattoo Co. in Parker, Colorado with artist Colin Kolker. Value: $300 but no cash value. Gift Certificate will be mailed to winner or can be picked up at the shop.  Some restrictions apply.  If the piece is more detailed/larger, the winner will be responsible to pay any remaining difference. If the tattoo takes less than 2 hours, the remaining balance cannot be rolled over into a second tattoo/session- good for one session only. Colin is booked pretty solid but has a few availabilities in Sept/Oct and on so there could be a wait time for an appointment.  Must be 18+ and the winner is responsible for their own transportation to and from the Parker, Colorado shop location.

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Leaving the parenting island and asking for help

by Jessica Martin-Weber
Parenting Island and asking for help

Parenting Island AKA Poop Rock.

 

I was struck by the beauty of that island looking rock from afar on the shore in San Francisco.  Then my friend told me it was so pretty because it was covered in bird poop.  Poop Rock.  Reminded me a lot of parenting, pretty from afar but sometimes lonely and covered in poop when you get up close.

Don’t lecture me, I know parenting is wonderful, I love it but that doesn’t mean it’s not sometimes really hard and stinky like a rock covered in poop.

Last week, my good friend Cindy was battling pneumonia.  It was horrible and scary.  Her husband is in the military and away at the moment so she and her 4 children are on their own as she struggles to get well.  I couldn’t get to her, we’re over 8 hours from each other in different countries, but I wish I could.  Every time I saw her share something of her struggle I was moved, inspired, and ready to jump in the van (that broke down 4 days after I wrote this).  Through Facebook, I feel like I get to keep up with my friend and in some small way offer support.  I wish I could do more.  Yet even so sick and all the way in Canada, my friend reminded me of something incredibly important: we all need help from time to time.

Asking for help is one of the hardest needs to voice sometimes.  Or all the time.  People judge and are judged for even needing help and we all feel it.  There is such shame attached to needing help or even encouragement.  We’re all supposed to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and in made for TV moments, triumph over whatever challenges we face.  Alone.  Without resources.  Without bragging. Without getting anything we don’t deserve because by our own blood, sweat, and tears we paid for it or worked for it or fought for it all on our own.  We talk about the strength of the human spirit and applaud those that figure out how to go it without help.  And anyone that is worn out, broken down, or overwhelmed must be less of a person.  Even in a safe place, like The Leaky Boob Facebook, mothers (and sometimes dads too) may take the bold step to admit they are struggling but do so with trepidation, beating themselves up for being a “horrible parent, feeling like a failure” before someone else does, all because they find parenting hard sometimes.

This cultural attitude of glorifying individualism and self-sufficiency is hard enough when children aren’t involved, but when we become parents it’s not just us any more.  Our pride can get in the way of seeking out desperately needed help.  Pregnancy and childbirth set the precedent in parenting without help and while I love doulas and highly recommend having doula support for birthing women (I have for mine), traditionally the role wasn’t a paid position but one filled by a family member, friend, or a member of the community.  There seems to be a growing sense of shame in needing help from someone who isn’t designated as a paid professional.  We see it in infant nutrition all the time, mothers struggling but too embarrassed to admit breastfeeding isn’t working as well as it “naturally” should as she struggles with pain and a frustrated baby or families not knowing where to turn when they need an alternative.  In fact, the number one reason mother’s don’t reach their personal breastfeeding goals is lack of support.  Support = help.  But it certainly isn’t isolated to the area of infant nutrition, pregnancy, and child birth.  Parenting dilemmas such as health care, child care, discipline, education, financial stress, housing, safety, you name it, are often hindered by our own pride in asking for help.  As though needing a helping hand occasionally, let alone for a long season, is an indication of inadequacies or failure.  Afraid it reflects badly on us and our abilities, many parents forgo voicing their need for support and actual help because we know people will say things like “you shouldn’t have had children if you couldn’t handle it” (what are parents supposed to do, put the kids back from where they got them?), we suffer quietly and so do our children.  Sometimes it’s major roadblocks that threaten the health and safety of the family, particularly the children, others deplete personal internal resources and reinforce feelings of failing over every day aspects of parenting that may wear us down.  Either way, while learning to deal with hardships and having the experience of overcoming them on our own once in a while can be empowering, is this isolation really what we want to be the norm?

But the truth is we all benefit when we help each other, yes, even when we admit we need help and ask for it.  Not only individually are we strengthened, our communities are too.  It can be risky though, by admitting our struggles, we’re opening ourselves up for criticizing judgment or worse, being ignored and that is more than hard, it’s down right terrifyingly heart breaking.  Most parents would do anything including swallowing their pride to care for their children, there’s not a job we wouldn’t work or begging we are above when it comes to the safety and provision of our children.  That fear though, the fear of judgment or of not mattering enough for someone to even notice, can be paralyzing and parents may, unintentionally, cause suffering for their children simply because the cultural attitudes about asking for help have effectively silenced them for issuing the call when most needed.  Yet almost no parent would say their child deserved less.

Asking for help is something I continue to grow in along with knowing how to offer help, carefully avoiding judgment.  Including learning how to have grace without judgment for myself.  The journey hasn’t been easy and I’m still learning.  How does one master admitting you can’t do something on your own?  That you don’t have it all together and need others?  I’m not sure yet but I know it has gotten easier for me simply by looking at my children, I never want them to be afraid to ask for my help when they encounter difficulties.  They have not only been my inspiration in seeking out help when I need it, but sometimes my teachers.  They have shown me the joy that comes from helping and being helped, the agony that comes from pride getting in the way.  From communicating my need for help during difficult pregnancies to admitting I don’t know how to handle certain parenting situations, to finding a mentor in understanding child development when my children were driving me crazy to even asking for financial support because we lack the funds required to help our daughter reacher her dreams, though Jeremy and I work hard for our family, admitting we can’t always do it on our own and that we’re not an island but in fact need the village, our children are the ones that have benefited the most from us humbling ourselves to say three little words: “help me please.”  Accepting our limitations is the first step in being able to strengthen each other.  I firmly believe that in strengthening, supporting, and yes helping, parents makes for a healthier community that is stronger, more creative, and more skilled.  What a gift we can give our children.

My friend Cindy, has posted on Facebook a few pleas for help with her children so she can rest.  Yes, she could keep trying to go it on her own, likely prolonging her illness and a lower level of care for her children while she tries to recover.  There are risks to her not recovering, potentially problematic for those around her.  Worse, she could end up in the hospital and her children in the custody of someone else for an indeterminate amount of time.  It is to her health benefit, the benefit of the health care system, the benefit of her children, and the benefit of her friends for her to ask for help.  Her recovery will be aided and the community circles around her will be stronger as a result.  Relationships are being fortified as her friends respond to her pleas and offer their support not only physically but emotionally and spiritually as well.  I am so incredibly proud of her asking for help.  Knowing her personally I know that she is a capable, strong, and hard working woman, talented as a journalist and an attentive and loving mother.  This moment of needing help (and the next one that comes her way) are not a reflection of her capabilities, simply a moment where her humanity is evident.  And she has already paid it forward and will do so again.  Because she gets that we need each other.  We all do.

 

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Will you allow me a proud mama moment?

This post was originally published in 2013, updated for 2014 by Jessica Martin-Weber

Sometimes it seems like these days of breastfeeding, diaper changes, and needy babies are going to last forever.  We fear losing ourselves in the blur of caring for our children.  Counting diapers, checking ounces, charting milestones… every day becomes so full it doesn’t seem like this time will ever really end. I always hate it when “they” say to hold on to this time, it goes so fast and the next thing you know you’ll be sad how fast they grew up.  It never really helps me, just makes me question if I’m ungrateful and selfish to not savor the poop filled, constantly breastfeeding stage when I’m tired and worn out.  And I have had moments where I’ve been convinced that my child would be the first child to actually still be breastfeeding when they go to college. But you know what?  “They” are right.  I have 6 children, 6 beautiful girls ages 2 years to 15 years old.  I blinked, you know, blinked and I have a 15 year old.  I could swear she was just a baby.  And no, she’s not still breastfeeding.

Help Ophélia Martin-Weber go to summer dance intensives

“They” are totally right. It goes so fast.  Faster than saying can even convey.  And it is so bittersweet.  One day you feel stuck in a whirlwind of diapers and boobs and the next you’re helping them plan leaving for the summer.  Or forever. Over 15 years ago I was made a mother when The Piano Man and I had our eldest.  Some days I look at her and remember the breastfeeding challenges I encountered with her and smile to think how far we’ve come and how distant that time feels.  Yet how very close still.  She helped mold and shape me to not only be the mother she needed but also to help form me to be the mother her little sisters would need and even set me on the path that led to starting The Leaky Boob.  I have shared the breastfeeding journey she and I experienced together, why I breastfeed for her even today, shared some of her sexual abuse survivor story, and she’s even written for The Leaky Boob herself sharing her views on breastfeeding just before she turned 12.  I am one proud mama. We named her Ophélia Chantelle, which means little helper, little song but I call her Earth Baby here to give her a little bit of distance between her real life and what I share online.  She’s not completely anonymous.  With her permission I’ve shared her face, her name, and parts of her story.  She follows The Leaky B@@b and Beyond Moi and has seen conversations I’ve had and from time to time she will help make a post using my phone and taking dictation while I’m driving.  Thanks to her questions and sharing her thoughts, I’ve been inspired for articles, status updates, and tweets.  Her critical thinking has pushed me to reconsider my views on some topics and to open myself up to considering other perspectives.  Her giving, kind, and generous heart moves her to care deeply about others and inspires me to do the same.  I am one proud mama. Giving and full of love, she is a model big sister, making room in her life to play with her 5 little sisters in ways that are meaningful for them from building forts to playing peek-a-boo to going on walks to games of Battleship and climbing trees.  Creativity exudes from her, she knits, bakes, draws, writes, and above all, dances.  Her heart is big and she cares deeply not only for her family but friends and even strangers.  Sharing meals with homeless members of our community, volunteering to help others with babysitting, donating her funds when she can, volunteering for local and international efforts, and even making the choice to prioritize fair-trade chocolate so the treats she enjoys don’t oppress another child.  I am one proud mama. She loves learning and is willing to take risks to pursue what she loves.  An introvert, she is growing every day in understanding herself more and putting herself out there.  Nothing brings that quite together like dance does and in just 3 years we’ve watched as she went from the girl turning 11 and begging for ballet lessons more than anything, even saying to us “I don’t care if I ever get an iPod, a cell phone, or a car, I just want to dance!” to today blooming into a young ballerina with opportunities to pursue her dreams.  Bloodied feet and being behind most dancers her age have never deterred her, just spurred her to work harder until she caught up.  This past January she pushed herself to a new level and attended auditions for summer ballet intensives with hundreds of other students, most of whom have been dancing at least twice if not three times as long as she has.  It was scary but she did it.  I am one proud mama. It was worth it too.  She got into most of the programs for which she auditioned.  Consulting with her instructors and with The Piano Man and I, she narrowed down her choices to 2 programs.  Before she was even sure of where she wanted to go she began baking, running an ongoing bake sale to raise the funds that would be required to attend these training programs.  In a few weeks she raised enough to cover the registration to the two programs she selected.  I am one proud mama. So it is from that place that I share her efforts and invite you to hear from her as she works to reach her goal.  Putting it all out there, she’s raising the funds to get to these summer ballet intensives to train further.  Employing the help of her sisters and her father and me, she created a video and fundraising campaign to try and get the rest of the funds before the deadline.  We had hoped for scholarships but that didn’t happen this time around and the costs involved simply are not in our budget, all the scrimping and saving couldn’t make it so.  The sisters worked together to plan, film, and edit the video sharing Ophelia’s love for dance and her willingness to work hard for her dreams.  I am one proud mama. It’s not easy for her to ask for funds to reach these dreams, doing so is just one more indicator of how motivated she is to take risks and work hard towards her goals, goals that include helping others and using her talents to be a voice for the voiceless.  A tenacity that will serve her well through out her life, I believe.  Check out her fundraising campaign, it’s worth watching the video even if you’re not able to donate.  I’m sharing this and I hope you watch it then share it too because I’m one proud mama.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=j9wzWcV_gSs

Last year’s video, it’s amazing to see how much one year changes things even at this age! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycG-NW1UGno

From a needy little baby to an increasingly independent young woman, I am one proud mama.  Thanks for letting me have a proud mama moment! See her fundraiser here, every contribution, big or small, helps:

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The Leaky Boob Launches Product Review Program

by Jessica Martin-Weber

One of the best parts of The Leaky Boob community is the diversity of experiences.  No two stories or perspectives are exactly alike.  From breastfeeding to returning to work to our birth stories and introducing solids, our journeys are varied and complex.  When it comes to talking about products, this is even more apparent.  One person’s trash is another’s treasure.  What my family couldn’t live without, yours may find completely worthless.  It’s not unusual for me to be asked for my opinion or if I have written a review about a specific product.  The truth is I don’t really like writing reviews.  Some are a lot of fun and some, well, aren’t.  If I actually get the chance to write though, I don’t usually want to write about a product, it’s just not a creative or inspiring outlet for me.  Yet within our community be it here, on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, we often discuss topics that extend way beyond breastfeeding including various products and I discovered I am often giving casual, on the spot reviews anyway.  That doesn’t bother me, it’s just a conversation, but it hit me that even though I don’t care to write reviews, people are looking for them and because they already trust TLB as part of their community, it makes sense for them to seek that resource here.

Plus, there are so many great products out there from companies that truly support and value families.  Wanting to connect the parents looking and the companies with the product through honest, unbiased perspectives, we began discussing what it could look like.  With that, The Leaky Boob Review Program was born.  Believing that for a review to be unbiased, the reviewer needed to not fear that they would receive backlash from the company if they were critical.  Talking with Jeremy and then Amy West, we determined that we wanted to pay our reviewers independently so not only would they receive the product, they would be compensated for taking the time to evaluate and write a thorough review of the product, free of any pressure to make the company happy.  Continuing the approach to reviews already established on TLB, reviewers would go over the good, the bad, and the ugly of each product, to be as objective and trustworthy as possible.  Our reviewers were hand-selected by Jeremy and me and represent some of the diversity we see within The Leaky Boob community, communicate clearly in written word, and are able to give objective feedback on their experience with a product.  Being parents first, all of our reviewers are able to evaluate a product as any other parent would, not based on insider knowledge of the baby industry (both a handicap and an advantage) and would use it as any parent new to a product would.  Each new review launched in our review program is covered by at least 2 of the writers to provide 2 perspectives right off the bat and we encourage anyone to ask questions in the comments section of each review and anyone with experience with that particular product to comment on the review sharing their own personal experience review as well.  Together we will grow a resource of trusted, diverse reviews reflecting a wide variety of opinions and experiences.  Our review writers include a mom of 2 (preschooler and infant at the time of this writing), a husband and wife with 4 children (ages 6, 4, 2, and infant), a new first time mom of an infant, and occasionally parents of 6 and creators of The Leaky Boob, Jeremy or me.  Check out their bios here and get to know them through their reviews.

We’re going to continue our primary focus on supporting families in feeding their children, specifically when it comes to breastfeeding and breastmilk.  This new development won’t be taking anything away from our core purpose, merely adding to it.  In true TLB style, it’s more than just us, this new extension of our community will greatly depend on the input and connections shared in your own personal stories and support.

Help us make this a useful resource for you and others.  What products would you like to see reviewed?  How would you like our reviews to be different from others you have seen?  Please tell us what is important to you in a review.

I’m excited to see TLB grow in this way.  We’ve already been doing it, we’re just making it TLB official.

~Jessica

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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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