Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Guest Post: The Power of Breastfeeding

I'm pleased to present a guest post today by Rebecca Jackson-Artis, a mover and shaker in the breastfeeding world in Chicago. Rebecca inspires me with her passion and you will understand why after you read this post. *Trigger warning for talk of sexual molestation*

When Elita asked me to write a guest post about my personal breastfeeding story, I thought, “What should I write….hmmm… I KNOW!” Okay, it’s going to be kind of uncomfortable but in the end you will have more of a grasp of why I am so extraordinarily passionate about the empowerment of breastfeeding. *Inhale, exhale*

When I talk about exclusive breastfeeding I talk about the empowerment that automatically comes with it. Many people don’t really get why my words are so blunt and abrasive at times. Often their response is, “Okay, Rebecca, I get it. “ My friends joke with me. Many send me articles via e-mail. My mother and her friends even cut out articles and photocopy documents they come across on the subject of lactation. Their e-mails or cut-outs are introduced with, “Have you heard about this?” or “I thought you’d be interested in this.” I love it all even if I know about it already. It lets me know I am getting their attention and my voice is reflecting the empowerment I received from birthing Thrice and Jack naturally (both with midwives and one of them at home) and putting them to my breasts, nourishing them mind, body and soul. The word “breasts” is a very powerful word even for me to type. Breasts. The reason is (get ready for the uncomfortable part)…..I was molested.

Yes, I was molested. It took me many years to say that and a lot of forcing myself to accept repressed memories of the multiple times my female cousin raped my innocence. Wow, powerful description, true description. I was so fearful for years to talk about it thinking people would be disgusted with me, blame me and lash out at me for allowing the despicable acts I faced as a child from four to about ten years old. I don’t remember when was the definite time it stopped because I told myself it needed to be forgotten. My cousin became a highly sought after basketball player who eventually dropped out of college, used illegal drugs regularly, birthed a son and became a faint figure in our family, appearing at family events every five years or so. Ironically, she made me the godmother of her son who is amazing in every way and I applaud him for not succumbing to the abandonment by his mother with rebellion.

When my cousin would groom me for her personal suppression of pain and sexual domination over the creeps who her mother allowed to violate her natural childhood maturation, she would use words that made me feel uneasy about my body. Words that may be difficult for you to know were said to a five, six, seven-year-old girl whose mother wouldn’t allow her to even hear “y’all” too many times in an hour. She would do these acts at family gatherings while the adults trusted the children to play amongst themselves, safely. My older cousin would always end the dark room moment with a threat to not let anyone know and how they wouldn’t understand what went on in the dark room. I hated her. I hated the feelings I felt. I hated myself which included everything about being female.

My grandmother, mother and, to my former frustration, I have the large breasts gene that suddenly crept up on me at the age of 13. By this time, I hadn’t been molested for a few years, started having crushes on boys and worked really hard at proving I was a good kid. My father’s affection toward me lessened (he was rarely affectionate before I hit puberty so imagine what it was like while going through it and after…a hand shake was a Hallmark moment for us) and he repetitively listed at random moments why boys were evil, low-life beings who roamed the Earth. So, I hated my body, hated my female energy, I was so fearful of connecting with males and most important, I hated my breasts. It was no wonder I spiraled into a deep depression that lasted until I was in my twenties. I was in and out of therapists’ offices until I finally found one I felt comfortable with. It was a December day while home from college that I finally told him what I had learned so well to bury. “I was molested.” I waited until the very end of our session at the last appointment before heading back to college for Spring Semester. I was 20. I went back and had some more sessions with Dr. G but we never brought it up because I wouldn’t let him. In my early twenties I had a problem with sex. I associated it with chores. It was something you had to do when you are in a relationship even though you would rather go to work and surf the internet for that coupon code to the department store seasonal sale that coupled with your department store credit card’s 10% off discount would give you all the escape from reality you needed. Weirdly enough, I always had a date, a boyfriend or a guy to call me and put up with my extreme artistic, neurotic personality. After my father made his transition in 2003 and my live-in boyfriend died after a motorcycle accident in 2005, I met this amazing man who spoke to me in ways I had never been spoken to with words that fit into my life like missing puzzle pieces which guided me to creating a firm foundation and brought me out of serious clinical depression. I married Craston in 2006, got pregnant with our first son in 2007 and gave birth two weeks after my 30th birthday in January 2008.

Okay, I know what you thinking now, What does this have to do with breastfeeding? This is where I tie it all together. *cracking my knuckles*

While I was pregnant I firmly decided on two things, (1) I was going to have a complete non-intervention birth and (2) I was going to exclusively breastfeed. There was no negotiation in my mind, none! I meditated on it, got one of the best doulas in Chicago and had a very supportive husband who researched everything. I had a completely natural birth and I did it at a pretty progressive hospital with a great midwifery program. Now, it’s time for the breastfeeding. No problem. I took a class, have a holistic husband to support me, there’s a great doula at my side and OH NO! ONE THING I FORGOT! You need to expose your breasts when you breastfeed! OH MY WORDLY POSSESSIONS!!! It was like everything went into slow motion in that birthing room. The midwife signaled to the doula that everything was fine. The doula began speaking in the slow motion voice that makes even the most high-pitched mousey voices go baritone. “Noooowww, taaakkke offffff yoooour goooowwwwn.” I did. Surrounding the bed were my mother, the midwife, the nurse assistant, my husband and the doula. Well, send me to San Fernando Valley and yell action for God’s sake! Thrice then scooted, ever so gently, to my left breast with the doula’s help for his first latch. I was gearing up for that emotional molestation recall when *latch*: a flood of joy, amazement and spiritual awe poured over me. The room became much smaller and everyone in it disappeared. It was just my newborn son and me. I realized the negativity I had for so many years about my breasts was wasted negative energy that was easily turned into love. I realized my vagina was the path to the onset of life (creating and producing). I realized my body was not sexual at all but beautifully functional, created with balance. Most importantly, I realized I was everything I needed and more, completely and abundantly. The hate, fear, pain and anxiety came from something that had been passed on to me which was made up of lies and rage.

The first couple of weeks I was closely monitored due to my history of clinical depression. I had a slight case of baby blues which my husband reminded me of this past weekend while we celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary. I completely forgot because even though I had a small case of the blues I gained so much power in the first month. I became a woman in every sense of the word. The culmination of giving birth and putting Thrice to my breast helped to complete a rite of passage. It was the beginning of me healing from years of violation, fear and anger. I began allowing myself to forgive my cousin. I saw her with a different perspective. I started to open up to my husband, family and friends about the molestation. I viewed it differently, almost thanking my cousin for helping me to see my strength by having the ability to get to the other side, still loving a man and allowing myself to be vulnerable to a partnership of unconditional spiritual love. I wrote a play talking about the story. I forgave myself.

This all hasn’t come without a cost. My mother, the following year, had a massive stroke which left her partially paralyzed. Our relationship has changed vastly and the molestation has been brought to the surface which she cannot deal with. I totally understand. She feels like she let something slip by her and she is upset with me for not telling her years ago. Many of my relatives are upset with me and tell me, “Just get over it, Rebecca, please. You’re holding on to something that won’t change.” Every time they tell me that I share my story again. I am slightly overprotective of my step-daughter and sons. I make sure at family events all doors are open and the kids are where we all can see each other at all times. Also, my youngest son is 18 months old (we are not having any more children) and I know I have about another year to nurse him which makes me wonder what level of empowerment that milestone will take me. Thinking about it makes me clutch my chest.

So, breastfeeding has opened a wonderful new chapter in my life which has made me face some elements of it that I had been avoiding intentionally. I learned to trust; trust my body, trust my babies. I had no clue what I was doing but innately I knew to just put them to the breast and nature would take its course. Breastfeeding has empowered me in ways that has taken me to levels of enlightenment and peace and healing and love. Breastfeeding has been a path to my Creator, my Source, God, The Universe. I see the world much clearer. I see people as part of the collective source energy. There is a strong connection between mind and body. Thoughts and words are powerful. I truly see every living being as One. I know it all sounds like a big cliché but it is so true for me. The subject of Oneness is not just talk anymore, it’s reality.

I may get upset with someone but I turn back to my Source energy and give thanks for that someone being in my life. I give thanks to my cousin. I slowly let the negative part of her go, no longer controlling my freedom. I send her joy, peace and love. You see, she’s a part of the collective Source which many of us call God.

Now, that’s the power of Breastfeeding!

Rebecca Jackson-Artis, CLS lives in Chicago with her very supportive husband, Craston and her two breastfed sons, Craston III and Jackson. She is a professional actress and writer who became a Certified Lactation Specialist in April 2009 when she realized the lack of resources and support mothers of color have regarding breastfeeding. She started an online community to support mothers of color called The Abiyamo Omo Society in 2008. In August 2010, she co-founded The Monolatry Group with Vanessa Stokes, a company that provides lactation resources and clinical assistance to municipalities, corporations and mothers of all racial and economic backgrounds.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Breastfeeding Is Normal, Any Time, Anywhere

I'm loving this new breastfeeding campaign, Breastfeeding Is Normal, Any Time, Anywhere. A group of moms in Florida got together with photographer Nicole Gillette to photograph nursing in public throughout the West Central area of the state (they will be launching a Kickstarter page soon to fund more shoots in other areas). The goal is to create a display to normalize nursing in public that will be exhibited at the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa by the end of the year.

Of course I am a sucker (bad pun?) for pictures of breastfeeding, but I love these! Kudos to these moms for using a diverse group of women who were all shapes and sizes and colors feeding babies of all ages, in public, without covers. I can't wait to see more photos from this collection. And if you guys head to Ft. Lauderdale, call me!

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Breastmilk Stunts

Have you heard about the latest breastmilk stunt? No, it's not making breastmilk ice cream or cheese. Nor is it a man trying to induce lactation. This week we've got the husband of a mom who pumps a ton of milk trying to see how long he can survive on breastmilk alone.

Meet Curtis and Katie. Katie is a doula, childbirth educator and CLE. She is the mom of three preemies (the youngest is 9 months old) and has become a pumping powerhouse. Because of this, she has a ton of milk stored in her freezer but no one to give it to. According to their new blog, Katie seems to have a philosophical issue with both non-profit milk banks (HMBANA) as well as the for-profit Prolacta banks. She says she tried to informally share her milk but couldn't find a family to accept the milk (she has donated over 10,000 ounces to another mom in the past). So instead her husband Curtis is going to attempt to live on breastmilk alone.

Apparently Curtis has some "digestive issues" and has consumed her breastmilk before, but now he is going to see how long he can maintain his weight of 185 pounds on nothing but Katie's milk. They claim they are not doing this for attention, but that they mentioned the idea to a friend who encouraged them to blog about the experience.

I honestly don't know how I feel about this. I know this couple feels like they are not "wasting" the milk by consuming it themselves, but it sure feels that way to me. I can understand having an issue with a Prolacta milk bank cashing in on your milk while you get nothing but the satisfaction of helping a baby in return, but why not donate to a HMBANA milk bank?

And what about the stunt factor? Do you think this helps to normalize breastfeeding or bring awareness to the issues surrounding milk donation? Or are most people just thinking "gross" and rolling their eyes when they hear about grown folks consuming breastmilk? And really, do we need anyone to tell us that even an adult can survive on breastmilk alone, at least for a time? Last year, Esquire magazine posed the question, "If a human being could only eat one food for an entire month, what should it be?" to a group of nutritionists (including my friend's dad!) and the overwhelming response was "Breastmilk."

So what do you think? Just the latest stupid stunt surrounding breastmilk or a way to educate the public on just how amazing breastmilk really is?

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Guest Post: Breastfeeding: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

I'm pleased to have dianthe hall guest post for me today on her breastfeeding experience. I discovered dianthe's blog in my Google Alerts when she wrote about nursing her toddler daughter, Sydney and I've been hooked ever since!

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – My Breastfeeding Story

The Good

I always knew I would breastfeed my kids. My mom did it and I never questioned it because I thought that was just what you did. Plus it was free and I’m lazy. Kidding. Sort of. I had never considered formula feeding but having heard about the cost from friends, it was definitely a deterrent. I like to spend my extra cash on shoes! And the idea of making and warming bottles at 3am didn’t appeal to me either.

Though my original goal was to breastfeed for 6 months, I ended up breastfeeding my daughter for 3 years and 13 days. Currently, I’m breastfeeding my 19 month old son. For those of you doing the math, I’ve been breastfeeding nonstop for 3 ½ years including a year of tandem nursing. It was a great experience and I would definitely do it again, but it has been a lot of work … and I’m not finished yet! Like Sydney, Myles is all about the boob so I have no doubt that we’ll make it well past my goal of 2 years.

For the most part, my breastfeeding experience has been positive. From the moment my children were born, I’ve had nothing but support. I was blessed with a fantastic OB who supported my breastfeeding decisions (even nursing through my pregnancy) 110%. And while my friends and family may think I’m crazy, they’re still supportive! I was fortunate to find a local Mommy Message Board with a ton of nursing mamas who became my breastfeeding mentors. Even when things are going well and you don’t necessarily need advice, it never hurts to have someone to celebrate (or commiserate) those nursing milestones with.

The best breastfeeding advice I ever got was from my doula who taught me how to nurse side-lying. Sydney refused to sleep on her back so I slept with her on my chest for the first couple of weeks. Then she got her days and nights mixed up and I was literally BEGGING her to go to sleep. Once I learned to nurse her side-lying, we were a much happier family!

Another positive breastfeeding experience was nursing in public. When I was pregnant, my mom gave me a nursing cover. I will never forget how pissed Sydney was when I tried to practice feeding her with that dark cover over her head. Ever the diva, she was all about being the center of attention. Even if it was just the two of us sitting on the floor of her nursery. She wouldn’t even tolerate a light blanket. That’s when I knew I was either going to have to suck it up or prepare for a lifetime at home. Soon after, I figured out the whole “pull up-pull down” method and we were on our way. I was still nervous the first couple of times but when I realized that no one was paying attention to me, I began to relax. Since then, I’ve nursed just about everywhere – the middle of the mall, the library, even in a sling walking through Costco. No one has ever said a negative word to me though I have gotten many smiles!

And then there was that whole tandem nursing thing … Though Sydney nursed about 6 months longer than I would have liked (I was all about the “gentle weaning” method!), she was a lifesaver those first couple of months. Myles was a great eater but even he couldn’t keep up with my oversupply. Enter his big sister who was only too happy to pick up his slack! I was glad that she would be nursing through flu season and her scrawny behind even gained a couple of pounds! I also loved the bond that tandem nursing created for them. I was afraid she might be jealous having a new baby around, but despite a few incidents where she asked my husband to “hold Baby Myles”, she didn’t mind sharing at all! Looking back, I’d pay money to snuggle and nurse both my babies again. Those memories of Myles nursing while sitting in Sydney’s lap are priceless! Though I do recall it being a tad uncomfortable for me!!

The Bad

Now don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t all been roses. Those first couple of days were ROUGH! Both of my children breastfed almost immediately without any problems so I assumed it would be all good. Little did I know what would happen once we got home. The nurse at the hospital told me to breastfeed Sydney every 2 1/2 -3 hours. Which would have been fine except that my daughter needed to eat every hour to hour and a half. And in my post-partum haze, I recalled reading somewhere that I shouldn’t pump in the first few weeks, though I couldn’t remember why. The combination left me with boulder filled breasts, crying in the shower and hand expressing my precious liquid gold down the drain. And don’t get me started on my crying baby! Thankfully, my doula swooped in to save the day and talked to me about nursing on demand.

Many of my friends struggled with a low supply while I dealt with an oversupply. It sounds like a great problem to have until you realize that the reason your baby has green poopy diapers is because she’s filling up on foremilk and never getting to the fatty hindmilk. I could easily pump 12+ ounces in one sitting and over half of it would be foremilk. I leaked milk everywhere I went and couldn’t take off my bra without literally spraying milk everywhere. It took a good 6-9 months for my supply to level out.

And what about work? My daughter was 10 weeks old when I went back to work. At the time, I worked for a very small company in very close quarters. There was no extra space or empty offices and the only available place to pump would have been in my car (or the bathroom – no.) And because of my schedule and job duties, it would have been difficult to get away so I had to improvise. I pumped in the morning while I did my hair and makeup and then as soon as I got off work, I would race home to either feed Sydney or pump again. There were days where I would go as long as 8-10 hours without pumping and sometimes resorted to pumping in the car as I drove home.

The Ugly

For the most part, everyone has been supportive. I’ve had a few family members jokingly tell me it’s time to wean but they know me well enough not to push the issue. I’ll wean my kids when it’s time and not a minute before. And then there was that crazy phlebotomist …

I had to take Myles to the lab to have some blood drawn for some tests a couple of months ago. Of course as soon as they were done, Myles started screaming and I immediately tried to nurse him to calm him down. As I was trying to get him latched on, I heard the phlebotomist say, “Mommy, I’m too old for that." I was so caught off guard that I wasn’t sure I’d heard her correctly. But then she said it again. And of course by the time it registered, she was gone. Normally I would have gone off on her but I was so shocked that I couldn’t even put a sentence together. Fortunately I pulled it together when I got home and immediately reported her. Not even an hour later I got a follow-up phone call from her supervisor letting me know that she was out of line, her behavior was unacceptable and that they had already taken care of the matter. Breastfeeding – 1, Ignorance – 0!!

Breastfeeding has been an awesome experience for me, although there have been a few rough spots. I think if I’d taken a breastfeeding class, it would have been a little easier. I knew nothing about feeding on demand or engorgement issues and a heads up would have been nice! If you’re on the fence about breastfeeding, I would absolutely recommend it. I think the key is to do what you can, don’t stress yourself out and ask for help if you need it. Even if you only breastfeed for a little while or part time, something is better than nothing. Everyone has different circumstances and comparing your situation to someone else’s is detrimental to all of us. You can only do what’s best for you and your baby! Just like being a mom, just because it’s natural doesn’t mean that it won’t be hard!

dianthe hall (with a lowercase d) is Wifey to Kelley and Mommy to Sydney Jane (3 ½) and Myles Emanuel (19 months).  In her professional life she plans weddings, blogs for a syndicated morning radio show and masquerades as a wanna-be-writer at  In her spare time (ha!) she wastes time on Facebook and Twitter, watches reality tv and eats a LOT of Blue Bell ice cream.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Nursing in Public BINGO

Every day when I check my Google alerts, I find a story about a mom who has been harassed for nursing in public. Moms are being kicked off buses, asked to leave women's only gyms, Whole Foods, public pools and parks, all because they are simply trying to feed their babies. Rule No. 1 of checking out an article about breastfeeding online is "Never read the comments." But as I am a glutton for punishment, I typically do. So this BINGO card is made up of actual comments I've read over the last few days on various stories about breastfeeding in public.

(click to enlarge)

So did I miss anything? What other ridiculous comments have you heard about breastfeeding in public? Anything you'd add to my free space?

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