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Did My Milk Just Come In or…

…did I read that the IRS finally decided to treat breastfeeding supplies (pumps, pads, etc.) as allowable  medical expenses?!

*looks down at dry shirt*

Nope–looks like it’s true!

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/11/business/11breast.html

Wow!  I am impressed!  As a BF advocate, I thought it would be another few years before the IRS came around on this.  I must say I’m stoked, and not just because I need a new pump!  This means that you can either deduct breastfeeding equipment/supplies as a medical expense when you file your taxes, or you can be reimbursed out of a flex spending account (if you have no idea what that is then fuhgeddaboudit) for the cost.  This rewrite of the code is a hallelujah to anyone who has ever had to shell a couple hundy outfor a decent pump to go back to work, ensure proper nutrition for their child, and duck  the Leaky Boob Fairy.  This little change allows families to do that without breaking the bank, thereby giving a little financial security in insecure times.  I, personally, find it nice that other nursing supplies are included in this deduction adjust–ahh, the money I could have gotten back nursing pads alone…

This is one of a few recent legislative/policy shifts that signal the government might finally be serious about protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding families.   Given the disparities and social stigma still attached, it’s nice to see the recent stall in breastfeeding support start moving again in the right direction.  To moms, it says, “Hey, you’re doing great and, even though your insurance companies are dicks that won’t cover your equipment,  we’ve got your back.’

I like that feeling.

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The Babysitter Confesses

Glad to be back post-WBW hvoc, and I’m here to discuss an unexpectedly frank and factual conversation I had recently with my child care provider.

Let me start by saying that I think my sitter is pretty cool.  She is not a schooling-type caretaker, and believes that the kids should be allowed to be kids, generally being left to their own devices while supervised appropriately and learning to treat each other with respect and love.  At first I wasn’t sure this was for us since the previous sitter, though less trustworthy, at least had a kind of structured ‘school’ that she did at least three days a week.  I’ve seen, though, that despite a structured environment, she loves my kids like her own, and I trust her to take care of them in my absence, which is worth its weight in gold.

When we started there, my youngest was still nursing at 15 months, and she is still doing so, but I was already well past the point of needing to pump to keep up with her, so she’d never really seen her ‘in action’.

About a month ago, it came up in conversation that her internet was on the fritz.  I, being the  ‘conversational’ gal that I am, inadvertently offered for my IT-savvy husband to have a quick look to see if she was dealing with a large or small problem.  We sat on the couch and chatted, expecting that he’d be finished in a minute.

An hour later the kiddo was getting restless, and as her biological clock directs her to do at roughly the same time each night, she very politely hopped into my lap and said, “Mommy, I want bub please. ” I wasn’t sure how much longer the Man vs. Computer Eternal Techno-Showdown would be, so I unobtrusively pulled my shirt aside, covered with my blazer, and started to nurse.

“Is it okay if I ask you something?” says the sitter abruptly.

Hm… a loaded question or not?  I felt my body tense, waiting for a showdown.  At the twinge of any negative commentary, I was ready to spew the latest positives of breastfeeding, go on about benefits of nursing a child past two, preach the miracle of the female form, etc.  I feared the worst but consented to the interview; I could handle whatever she was going to throw my way, right?

“I have zero problem with any mom nursing,” she went on, “and it’s cool that your’e nursing Ripley right now, I’m fine with that, I’m just curious… What made you decide that you wanted to nurse the girls?  I mean, I never did it with either of mine.  Even though I know that it’s better and all that, honestly, for some reason, the thought of having to do that and have them at the breast made me, personally, physically ill.  I mean even thinking about it now is a little hard to fathom…  So… I don’t know.  How did you know that’s what you wanted to do?”

So… really?  It was just a simple question?  I felt bad about thinking she was just trying to engage me in a battle, and a bit humbled that she was just asking for my thoughts.  Even with all the yikkity-yak I do about breastfeeding on a daily basis, not one person has ever asked me why I nurse, so I didn’t know exactly what to say.

I blinked.  I breathed.  I squinted and scrinched my face in thought and turned my eyes skyward to search for the answer.   I was also a little afraid that I’d say something that offended her, being not only my sitter, but also another mom who obviously hadn’t made the same choices I had, but was nonetheless deserving of a respectful answer to her query.

I guess it wasn’t so much a ‘decision’ to start for me as it was a part of my more base animal instincts to protect and feed my kids.  Almost as a spider knows how to make a web to catch food, I somehow knew that the changes in my body were meant to sustain my child.  (Not to say I was very good at it–pain for 2 months was the pennance I paid for my ignorance.)To be honest, I don’t remember even making a conscious decision toward bottle or breast.  I knew nothing about feeding babies, and I was too busy working and failing out of college to care.  My education on the subject consisted of an oft-repeated story about poor medical advice from Mom (“they made me stop nursing because they thought he was allergic to my milk–it was really the juice the doc told me to give him”) and Grandma’s tale about her abusive spouse’s marital restrictions (“he said ‘those aren’t for the kids–those are MINE”), with a dash of what What to Expect… thrown in.

She was alright with the fact that I couldn’t give her a good answer, and we just moved on from there. I feel pretty awesome that she felt comfortable enough with me to speak honestly about something that, too often today, is considered taboo.  But it still left me feeling horribly awkward and ashamed.  Why had I become tense about talking to a woman that I trust with my kids almost as much as I trust myself?  Why did it make me uncomfortable to broach the subject with even one of my peers?

I don’t have a great answer for that, either.  Figuring out why I bristled at the thought of someone talking about my parenting choices has been a bit of a mental exercise.  In large part, I think, it’s because there are so many opinions thrown out and judgments made based on sound bytes or commentary on a web page that we are always at attention, expecting a fight, or ready to defend our causes with venom.  I was surprised to have someone just be interested in my experience as a mom without looking for a reason to pick apart my parenting style. I don’t even get that at home some days.  It felt good to have an ear to air my opinions and feelings for a change, even if we didn’t or don’t plan to raise our kids exactly the same.

I’d love to see more moms opening up and asking each other these questions, being there for each other with civil discussion and genuine curiosity without feeling judged or threatened.  It’s simple acts like the “Confession” that endear me even more to this woman, and things like this that keep my brain from getting smooth.

 

Thanks.

You Betta Reckanize (World Breastfeeding Week, that is)

Today marks the beginning of World Breastfeeding Week in the United States.  Always celebrated from August 1-7, this is one of many tricks we have up our sleeves as moms and health professionals to publicly flaunt the awesomeness of nursing.

I can’t help feeling a little irritated though. Yes, I’ll take advantage of the Governor’s proclamation.  Yes, I will take all the free promotional products you will hand me, Medela.  Of course I’ll orchestrate a health fair in the middle of the week.  But the truth is that I’m downright exasperated that I even need to do it.

All mammals provide milk for their young, whether it be from a teat, a slit, or a duct.  Most of us learned this by the third grade or so–it’s THE defining trait for our animal class.  Why then, with that being a basic fact, is it such a challenge to get people to understand or even acknowledge breastfeeding?  Why does it take practically an international holiday to educate the general public about a natural function of their bodies?  And why does it take federal, state, and local laws for a woman to keep from being labeled as ‘indecent’ for feeding her kid from the tap?

The answer is so multi-faceted, buried in not only our culture and social structure, but also our economy, our beliefs, technological advancements… so many things that there have been books upon books written showing who is most at fault or in cahoots with who.  Basically, though, it comes down to a lack of education on a basic level and a lack of support.

I have met women who had no idea that they would make milk when their baby was born.  They thought breasts were for sex and that’s it.  (Put that in my baby’s mouth?  Are you kidding?  I’m not a pervert!)  Women come to me that believe being angry or standing near a hot stove or microwave will spoil the milk inside their bodies.  More myths and misconceptions about breastfeeding exist than you might think, and they are persistent and hard to dispel among  believers.  And when these myths, though proven untrue with evidence, are passed on by the nurses, doctors, friends, and family of a new mother, she can’t help but be skeptical of science.  She can’t always tell wisdom from ignorance, and too often, nursing advice from trusted sources is more fiction than fact.

The answer?  Educate the support people as well as the mom.  Create a collective memory of breastfeeding information.  Talk to everyone who comes in contact with that mom and baby so that when she has a question, she doesn’t look to the little package of ‘magic dust’ for help–she looks to her mom, her aunt, her brother, her husband, her friend, her healthcare provider–and knows that she has everything she needs to succeed.

So even though I’m irrationally bothered by the lack of basics booby brains in the US of A, the intelligence quotient and endurance of the human race is on the line… and I guess that’s reason enough for me to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week.  Thanks.

Boobs.

“Boobs.  I’d like to say that again.  Boobs.”

I laugh every time I think about this scene in Beavis and Butthead Do America:

Beavis and Butthead are about to be eighty-sixed by a dangerous criminal, and when asked if he has any last words, his response is not about his mom, not about regrets about things he wished he’d done.  It is, instead, about ‘that softening, o’erpowe’ring knell, the tocsin of the soul…’  majesitcal chesticles.

That  his dying words are a monosyllabic expression of love for the female form is flattering.  Considering that there are literally hundreds of euphamisms for mammaries  in the English language, it also speaks to the (ahem) weight they carry in our culture.  Pain, pleasure, comfort, food, life, death;  we hold the survival of the human race not in our hands, but at the breast.

So call ’em what you like–titties, chichis, sweater meat, milk bags, jugs, and all the rest–but respect the power they wield.  They are, after all, nothing short of amazing.

Even a goober like Beavis figured that one out.