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Up close and personal: Leakies Q & A on TLB, personal, and “other”

This is the last of what could have been called “more than you ever really wanted to know about me.”  I responded to your questions about pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding here and family, children, and work here.  In this post I answer some of your questions about The Leaky Boob, more personal questions, and the proverbial “other.”

Photography by Kelli Elizabeth Photography in Houston, TX

TLB, personal, and “Other”

Q: How do you eliminate negativity in your life?

When I figure that out I’ll let you know. 😉

Ok, that was a major copout answer.  I don’t eliminate it.  I’m an artist by nature, it’s a huge part of who I am and how I see the world.  I am prone to times of depression, part of the ebb and flow of life and a crucial part of the creative process.  For a long time I denied and suppressed that part of me but after one particularly difficult time with postpartum depression I’ve learned to embrace it.  By accepting negativity, including my own, for what it is when it arises I’m more equipped to leave it and not let it effect me.  Too much.  I have found that acknowledging it has made me see that there isn’t as much as I once thought.  Additionally I have learned to recognize it, identify the source, call it what it is, and if need be put boundaries in place.

Q: What inspired you to begin TLB?

You can read about that here.

Q: Tell us more about your faith – where do you go to church and can you tell us anything about your plans for Paris?

I am a protestant Christian with a huge passion for social justice and mercy ministry.  We attend a local Vineyard church and consider ourselves Christ-followers, not affiliated with a denomination.  Our plans for Paris have been delayed a few months due to the pregnancy (we’re already supposed to be there) but we are in non-profit arts, family, and social justice work.  Tentatively the plan is for us to be in Paris come late this summer.

Q:  What particular challenges did you face as a busy mom and writer? And what tips/tricks/advice helped you overcome those challenges?

Sleep.  Sleep is always my biggest challenge.  I’m a night owl but several of my kids are early risers.  When I’m not pregnant I overcome that with coffee.  When I’m pregnant, I fall asleep on the couch.  Often.  😉

What works for me is to be honest with myself and with The Piano Man about what I need and I expect the same from him.  I grew up seeing us kids as the center of my mom’s world and while that was really nice, it also made me feel responsible in the long run for her having a center of her world.  By the time I was a preteen I desperately wanted her to do something, ANYTHING, that was for herself and pursuing her own interests.  As a young adult I vowed not to have kids because I watched my mom flounder.  Not to mention the shock when the rest of the world wouldn’t let me be the center of their attention until I proved I deserved it.  There was quite the adjustment for me there.  So I’ve always made it a priority to have my kids see me into other activities that don’t involve them and I encourage them to pursue interests that don’t involve me all the while coming back to our center in our home.  It’s like a base, not a focal point, and where I’m grounded.  It’s where we regroup and energize, not what defines us.

Meal plans, not every day but for several of our busiest days a week help but still afford us the flexibility we enjoy in our cooking.  Enlisting the kids to help with housework and accepting that it may not always be done to my standards teaches them responsibility and life skills and helping around the house.  We require a quiet time for all of us to get some space from each other and actively work on our own projects be it writing, knitting, coloring, napping, etc.  Insisting that the girls play outside and me joining them there on a blanket with my work to keep an eye on them as they have free play.   They are regularly actively engaged in healthy play and having a rough schedule or rhythm that doesn’t control our lives but does provide a framework to stretch our canvas in order to live it really helps.  But most importantly, lightening up.  Relaxing.  Deciding what’s really important and learning to accept a certain amount of chaos.

Typical day?  Different every time!  But I promise we do eat, sleep, play, work, and love like crazy.

Q: What is the most rewarding thing you have experienced as a mother?

I’m really not sure I could narrow it down to one thing but I can say that seeing my daughters grow in independence, confidence, and with character I’m pleased to see developing, I feel the most encouraged in my parenting.  But there’s also just those moments of little arms flung around my neck, squeezing tight that feel incredibly rewarding, even more so because that’s not at all how they are thinking of it, they’re just expressing their genuine feelings.

Q: What’s your go-to-dinner? How do you take your coffee?

Go-to dinner: beans and rice with a salad.

Coffee: when I’m not pregnant I either like it with cream and sugar or a strong espresso, black.  Always fair trade.

Q: Do you have siblings? What is your relationship with your parents? Where did you grow up? How do you balance your work and your family? How are you so freaking awesome?!

I do have siblings, an older brother and a younger sister.  That’s right, I’m the middle child.  Bum-bum-BUUUUUUUM!  I live too far from my family and don’t do as good of a job as I’d like keeping in touch and staying connected.  My relationship with my parents is constantly changing.  It’s a good reminder that we’re all still growing.  There is a lot of love and though we don’t always see eye-to-eye, there is a lot of effort put into understanding and accepting our differences.  I grew up in Florida (Yankee South), born and reared there.  As to how I balance work and family, it’s a constant adjusting.  Just when I think I have it all worked out, something shifts and we have to reevaluate and re-tweak.  The key for us is to be flexible and maintain communication so we can adjust where and when necessary.  As for the awesome thing, my family could fill you in that I’m not so awesome.  😉

Q: Besides the amazing benefits of bfing for mom and baby, what compelled you to be such a huge advocate for bfing? Was there one specific person/event that made you realize this to be a passion of yours? What are some other things that define you as a person beside family and lactivism?

Believe it or not, it wasn’t about breastfeeding to me really when I started it.  It was about women, children, and families.  It still is.  Breastfeeding is just a piece of it, a piece I can talk about and facilitate a community where others can engage in a safe dialogue about breastfeeding… and more.  As for what are other things that define me, you can find more of those in some of the other answers to the questions here.  I’m passionate about so much!

Q: How did you got into knitting!!

Bed rest with #2!  Took me like 7 years to knit one scarf.  Then Earth Baby started knitting in school and I helped her with a project and realized I loved it and it just took off.

Q: What are you other passions besides all things breastfeeding, mothering, and blogging….?

The arts in general.  I’m very involved in the arts, went to school for music performance and also have a love for visual arts, theater, and the written word.  Helping people connect with the arts, use the arts, express themselves through the arts is a passion of mine.  Building up and encouraging artists is another.  Challenging artists to use their voice to help tell the stories of others, particularly the oppressed, is a big part of my life.  

Social justice, specifically related to human trafficking is my heart of hearts though.  It’s what fires me up like no other and is what breaks my heart over and over again.  

I’m also passionate about birth, building up women and girls, and sexual abuse issues.

On the lighter side, I love to read, knit, dance, ride bikes, sew, paint, and more.

Q: What inspired you to become such a passionate breastfeeding advocate? What were your thoughts and opinions on breastfeeding before you had children? And while i have your attention thank you for what you started. I would not be sitting here nursing my lo if i hadn’t joined your page shortly before becoming pregnant 🙂

Congrats on your breastfeeding!  So grateful TLB could be a part of that journey with you.

I figured I’d always breastfeed.  I remember being weirded out by a friend’s mom breastfeeding when I was a teen but when I voiced that thought to my mom I promptly got put in my place about how breastfeeding is normal and I better never forget it as I was breastfed until I was 2.5.  Though uncomfortable a bit with the idea when my turn came, I did feel it was the normal way to feed a baby so I got over it.

Q: When was the last time you peed in private in your own home? Cause, idk about you but I usually have a parade follow me into the bathroom followed by a play-by-play commentary…lol

Recently, actually.  They entertain each other so well lately that going with mommy to the potty the 25 times a day she goes has gotten boring.  The real challenge for me is to not have to yell something while I’m on the toilet: “wait, what are we climbing?  I don’t think so, don’t climb the doll stroller to get on top of the shelves!  I can get the toy, just let me finish peeing!”

Q: Are you Canadian?

Nope, never even been there.  I do plan to rectify that some day.  As my friend Cindy would say, I only wish I was that cool!

Q: Are you able to keep up with everything else, like cleaning, paying bills, friends, etc.? Or are you like me with a dirty house, stacks of paperwork, and little time for friends?

Like you!  I make time for friends though, it’s crucial to my personal health.

Q: Are you making money doing this, I noticed you advertise. Which is fine, just wondering! And if you become rich from this, can you promise not to change? : )

I do get money from the sponsors but not anything I’m going to be getting rich with any time soon!  But I won’t change, the DNA of TLB is pretty set, I like what it is and want to keep it going.  I have a pretty big vision for TLB, one step at a time but at the heart, it’s going to stay what it is.

Q: I don’t have a question, but many of the above questions have been running through my mind since reading your posts! I’m excited to hear your answers. There’s much to admire about you … especially that you’re raising such an obviously loving family but are also able to keep your art alive. I guess I do have a question: how do you find the time for your art pieces?

It’s slowed down some during the pregnancy though I picked up my brushes the other day to work on a family piece I’ve been conceptualizing.  I find time by letting other things go.  Involving my children helps too, they love to get set up with paints, brushes, paper or canvas, etc.  They do their work while I do mine.  It’s more clean up later but clean up I enjoy because the time spent creating together feeds my soul.

Q: I know you were a coffee drinker while bf are you while pregnant?

More like a coffee puker while pregnant.  😉

Q: You inspire many women, what inspires you?

All of the Leakies!  And my children.  And beautiful art.  And seeing things that I feel need to change.

A Translation Guide for Navigating the Terrain Between Breastfeeders and Formula-Feeders

Talking about breastmilk or formula can be difficult to navigate with a loose, slippery, and uneven terrain.  One second you think you have sure-footing and the next you’re on your butt.

I’m not going to deny that hurtful phrases come from breastfeeding supporters, occasionally in the form of personal attacks, and if you’ve personally experienced that, I’m truly sorry.  Please know that most of us just want to get information out there, encourage others and want to see babies fed.  Including me.

More often I see what are truly meant as innocuous statements of information and education that are simply misunderstood.  All of us experience life through a variety of personal filters and we often have sensitive areas that automatically put us on our guard and we may take things as a personal attack when that’s hardly the intent.  When it comes to feeding babies all those devoted moms doing their best have some serious passion.

An article is released sharing the findings of a new study that revealing some new findings about breastmilk or there may be some issues with formula and hundreds of comments pour in with things like “formula is the same thing, really and all the breastfed kids I know are sick all the time but my formula fed kids have genius IQs and are never sick” or “you know, not everyone can breastfeed so I guess I’m a bad mom because my breasts just didn’t work.”  To add fuel to the fire there are the comments that say things like “See, this is why I’m so glad I gave my babies the best and breastfed.”  And really, what does saying something like that do for anyone?  Heaven forbid it be an article on a formula recall and the “so glad I breastfeed, breastmilk is never recalled” comments start flooding Facebook newsfeeds and loading the comments section on blogs and articles.  Nothing like rubbing someone’s face in their scary circumstances and flaunting “sucks to be you!”  If we’re not careful we cross the line from passionate advocacy into plain ol’ bullying.

Then there’s the mom celebrating her success in breastfeeding, sharing “So excited we’ve made it to 6 months without even one drop of formula!  GO BOOBIE MILK!  WOOT!”  In that moment that mom is inviting everyone to a party at her house because she’s truly excited about her accomplishment.  But just as sure as she’s about to pop the cork on that sparkling grape juice to pour a round for everyone someone says something like “I don’t know why everyone has to be so down on formula, it makes moms that use it feel bad.”

They probably don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer and they don’t intend to dismiss the celebration of that mom (or maybe they do, I can’t really say) but stirring in their internal narrative of parenting confidence are insecurities on this issue, perhaps closer to the surface than they realized.  Instead of being able to celebrate with that mom, they are having to deal with their own less than happy feelings and defend, at least to themselves, their reality.

Thankfully, most of the time people can just say some encouraging and supportive words.  Once in a while, far more often than I’d like, the communication deteriorates.  Quickly.  As though we’re trying to have an important conversation but lack the skills.  Like we’re speaking different languages.

Maybe we need an interpreter?  What follows is my light-hearted attempt at some translations to help us navigate these slippery slopes.

 

It’s not a put down on formula feeding mothers when breastfeeding advocates say:

 

“Breastfeeding is the normal way to feed a baby.”

What we don’t mean:  “Formula feeding moms are less of a mother and less than normal.”  We know that’s not true.  We also know that breastfeeding isn’t (yet) accepted as normal in society.  We certainly don’t mean that it is always easy or even possible for every mom.  Or that formula feeding moms don’t deserve to be treated as normal, loving, caring mothers because we know they are normal, loving, caring mothers.  Nope, none of those things are what we mean.

What we do mean:  Breastfeeding is the biologically normal way to feed a baby.  A mother’s body is programmed to breastfeed and a newborn baby is programmed TO breastfeed.  Meaning that, barring any physical difficulties, babies are born ready to breastfeed; the delivery of the placenta signals the mother’s breasts to produce milk to feed, the mother’s body biologically responds to birth by producing milk, and human milk is (usually) the perfectly formulated food biologically for a human baby.

 

“I’m proud to breastfeed.”

We don’t mean:  “I’m better than a formula feeding mom.”  Just like being proud to be a mother isn’t a put down to those aren’t mothers, so being proud of breastfeeding isn’t a put down to those that don’t breastfeed.

We do mean:  Breastfeeding is important to us and sometimes it’s hard and comes with recognized challenges.  We’re celebrating our accomplishment of something we value as important for ourselves.  We’re also recognizing that there is a lot in our society that sabotages moms that want to breastfeed and combating that can be challenging.

 

“I love the bond I have with my baby with breastfeeding.”

We don’t mean:  “Moms that don’t breastfeed aren’t as connected to their babies.”  Feeding a baby is a deep connection no matter how it’s done and is just one way parents bond with their babies.  Most of us know moms that formula-fed and are incredibly bonded to their children and don’t doubt for a second that formula-feeding moms deeply love their children.

We do mean:  This is something we consider special and helps us feel connected to our child.  That, to us, breastfeeding has a deep feeling of interconnection that goes beyond something we can explain but we try even thought words fail us.  Feeding our babies with our milk and at our breasts is one way we feel deeply bonded to our babies.

 

“I’m so glad I’ve never had to give my baby formula” or “I’m so glad she’s not had 1 drop of formula.”

We don’t mean:  “Formula feeding moms are lazy or giving their babies poison.”  Nope, it’s not a commentary on what someone else does.  We’re not saying that somehow formula feeding moms should be ashamed of giving their babies formula or that never giving a baby formula is some dividing line between the good moms and the bad moms.

We do mean:  Like being proud of breastfeeding, not giving their baby formula just feels like a personal accomplishment.  It is in no way a reflection of our opinion of anyone else’s choice or situation, merely an acknowledgment of a personal goal.

 

“Breastfeeding is beautiful!”

We don’t mean:  “It’s perfectly beautiful all the time.”  Finding something beautiful doesn’t mean it’s easy or right for everyone and it doesn’t even mean we always enjoy the experience.

We do mean:  Not only do we NOT find it gross, we also think it is special, something wonderful, and to be celebrated.  It is more than nutrition to us and is a beautiful experience we treasure even though it has plenty of challenges along the way.  We also know that not everyone agrees with us, that’s part of why we say it though so we can hope to change negative cultural attitudes toward breastfeeding.

 

“Breast is best!”

We don’t mean:  “The moms that breastfeed are the best moms and the moms that don’t are just ok or bad.”  That’s not it at all.  In fact, this slogan came first from formula companies when they were forced to acknowledge that breastmilk was a superior product to formula.  They had to acknowledge that but had to find a way that could make formula sound normal and breastfeeding to sound like it was a parenting “extra,” an optional choice.

We do mean:  Breast milk is the best food choice available for a baby and young child.  Personally, I don’t care for this statement myself (you can find more on that here) but I know when people say it they aren’t intending anything other than their enthusiasm for breastfeeding and stating a simple fact: breast milk is good for babies.  It’s not a put down towards anyone.

 

“I feel sorry for babies that aren’t breastfed.”

We don’t mean:  “Those kids are just so screwed.”  This comment makes me uncomfortable, I don’t like it.  But I understand where it’s coming from and why it’s said.  Those of us that breastfeed see the joy and delight our own children have in the experience, how they love breastfeeding.  We are completely convinced it is special for both them and ourselves in a purely innocent, sweet way.  While it can be very close to a put down, I don’t believe it usually is intended as such and we don’t actually full on pity children that didn’t get to breastfeed but rather mourn the loss of an experience we consider special.

We do mean:  This is an awkward but genuine expression of sadness for those missing out on something we feel is so special.  Should it be said?  I don’t think so.  But if it is I hope formula-feeding moms can understand it is most likely only because the speaker/writer truly believes every child should get to have the marvelous experience her own enjoyed so much.

 

“There need to be strict regulations regarding the manufacturing and marketing of formula.”

We don’t mean:  “Formula-feeding parents are gullible and fall for the marketing of poisonous formula.”  Voicing the view point that there need to be standards in how formula is marketed and that there should be strict regulations for formula as a product isn’t a reflection on the parents at all.  It may reflect a cynical distrust that formula manufactures have anything other than a bottom line on their mind (Unsupportive Support- For a Profit).  Ultimately though, those of us that believe that the manufacturing and marketing of artificial breastmilk substitutes in infant and toddler nutrition believe so for the good of the children’ receiving the product.

We do mean:  Even if our children don’t receive formula, the children that do are worth higher standards of excellence.  We demand transparency and better regulations for artificial breastmilk substitutes manufacturing for the babies that need it. Formula is necessary, the health of many children depend on it being manufactured with integrity.

 

Before you find yourself careening down a conversation on your butt, try to remember that most people aren’t trying to start something and those that are probably aren’t worth your time.  As a breastfeeding mother, I promise, I’m not trying to push formula feeding parents down.  We’re all just carefully trying to pick our way over the rocks, slippery spots, and potential jabs to enjoy the view life has to offer and with a little bit of sensitivity and understanding going both ways, we can all offer a hand to each other in spite of our differences.

Breastfeeding? Check. Now What?

by Nancy Massotto, Ph.D

Parenthood is often the threshold we cross that brings us into a greater awareness of healthy and sustainability. As an expectant or new mom, we start to investigate the benefits and risks of all of our parenting decisions and consider how our choices impact our children and the future. When you’re new to breastfeeding, your focus is on the mechanics of milk production and latch. You have questions about how to solve problems like thrush or what pump to buy. Once you have settled into a pattern, we tend to settle into a routine. But then what? How do you continue to advocate for breastfeeding after your children are weaned?

When you bring home a newborn it seems like you’ll never have a child in junior high, but that day comes sooner than you realize, and slowly, over the years, our focus as moms changes from diapers and starting solid foods and breastfeeding to PTA meetings and whether our kids really need a cell phone. But, to really change how our babies are fed, we can’t leave the important issues, like breastfeeding, behind.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to do more than just say we’re advocates and actually be activists lately. Not everyone is willing or able to march in Washington, DC but the simple actions that we take are, indeed, activist and contribute to change – or not. Apathy and a lack of participation is one of our culture’s greatest dangers. At HMN, we fight hard against both of these challenges.

For example, our Holistic Moms Conference had to change locations due to a labor dispute that was affecting low-wage working moms, and the struggle to promote the new location, explain why it’s so important to meet face-to-face with other moms and answer questions has been taking up all my time.

Supporting our event is critical for the future of our 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and yet getting people committed to making change is an uphill battle. Many people are too busy to stand up and make a difference, even in something small like supporting a cause or event. It made me realize that it’s easy to lose sight of what activism really is, and how important it is to keep breastfeeding, holistic living, and other important issues front and center with our kids.

Whether you have a nursling or a grandchild, we all need to “do” something to promote breastfeeding as the normal way to feed human babies and not just claim to be breastfeeding supporters. How do you do that? For many of us, we support nursing moms when we run into one at the mall or when a friend gets pregnant and we have the opportunity to offer support and encourage her. But, we don’t feed that passion for breastfeeding on an every day basis.

I’ve spent years researching and promoting real-life interaction and community-building for mothers. Numerous studies show that online communities are fantastic but they are not the same as looking someone in the eye and feeling their empathy when you are having a rough day. We all need to feel accepted, empowered and loved in a way that only a face-to-face encounter can provide.

The bottom line is that we need mom-to-mom interactions and community in our real life. That’s why I founded Holistic Moms Network. Whether you’re a holistic mom or a mainstream mom or a mom who wants to hang with other moms who are young, enjoy opera music, or are otherwise unique, the important thing is that you need to do it. You need to feed yourself, your passions, and the motherhood movement by being a participant, not by being a bystander or sidelines cheerleader.

Sure, for many of us it sounds like another thing to put on the calendar or another thing to take time away from family or sleep. But, connecting with others revitalizes you, makes you feel better about yourself as a woman and a mom, and gives resources you didn’t have before.

In the case of La Leche League or Holistic Moms or another natural parenting group, you also show your kids that you are passionate about breastfeeding, that you help other moms breastfeed long after you stop breastfeeding your own children, and that you care deeply about how babies are fed and raised. You empower your daughters to find a tribe when they are new mothers and not give up on their goals. You show your sons how to support their breastfeeding partners and they grow up knowing it’s important. And, along the way, you form deep friendships that can grow with you as your children grow.

Of course, I’m partial to our upcoming Natural Living Conference and believe it is an amazing way to show support, fill your cup, and feel connected. It is a fabulous opportunity to meet eco-celebrities and companies that you may talk to on Twitter but never get to interact with in person. Imagine how life changing it can be to spend a whole day surrounded by people who understand your passions and support your views? It doesn’t matter how green/holistic you are – HMN is about the journey to more natural lifestyle, the challenges we each face, and supporting one another along the way. The whole point of our organization is not to judge other parents but to empower all of us as a community to research and make educated choices. Being a participant is a gift to you, to others, and to the entire community.

Show your children that you care enough about something to show up, to be there, and to be open to learning, growing, and connecting!

For a chance to go to the Natural Living Conference for free, check out this giveaway.

 Holistic Parenting Expert and Executive Director of the Holistic Moms Network,  Dr. Nancy Massotto, Ph.D is a dedicated advocate for holistic medicine and green  living. She is the mother of two boys, both born at home. Before embarking on her  journey into motherhood, Dr. Massotto earned her Ph.D. in political science from  the University of Maryland, specializing in gender studies, women’s issues, and  international affairs. She also holds Master’s degrees from George Washington  University, Elliot School of International Affairs, and the University of Maryland.  Dr. Massotto has lectured at several universities on gender studies, international relations, and women’s issues, including at American University and George Washington University. She conducted research on women’s issues while working for non-profit research institutes and organizations in the Washington, D.C. area, including the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and the Women’s Research and Education Institute (WREI), authoring and co-authoring publications during her tenure.
Motherhood renewed her interest in community building and strengthened her commitment to natural living, from which the Holistic Moms Network was born.