Yesterday, while I was leaving work, my friends wished me a nice weekend, acknowledging that I was taking today off in honor of my birthday. Happy Birthday they chimed while sweetly presenting me with a sunflower plant. As I have for the past twenty-seven years when asked about birthday plans, I am apt to explain that it is also my son’s birthday. Though my day’s celebration is no longer actively intertwined with his as it was when he was young, I cannot extricate my birth from his.
When I mentioned this, Josie commented on how for every parent, the birthday (or receiving day) of their first child marks their own re-birth as well, no matter the confluence of dates. It is the day that changes profoundly everything that may have preceded it. This is quite true. Cathy added that she birthed her first child exactly at the moment Mount St. Helena’s volcano erupted in 1980! While distanced by an entire continent, for her the event was no less spectacular.
Still, I remain as tickled and surprised by my calendrical coincidence of blazing glory incarnation as I was the mid-summer night it occurred. And, as I have mentioned in previous posts, I enjoy that the date I first brought babe to breast coincides with World Breastfeeding Week/Breastfeeding Awareness Month. As a matter with so many implications for health, nutrition, and societal well being, and one rife with dilemmas, I try to bring attention to this important activism each year. Thanks to Mary Ellen, here’s a nice little video from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation about Growing a First Food Movement Naturally that helps give perspective to the story of infant feeding.
This year’s theme for World Breastfeeding Week is Breastfeeding and Work: Let’s Make it Work. Its focus is on furthering support for nursing women working in formal, non-formal or home settings so as they can continue to breastfeed their babies and maintain their right to breastfeed. The need to return to work–exacerbated by the lack of mandated and satisfactory maternity leave policies–is one of the main factors why women stop nursing. The initiatives associated with this year’s campaign highlight and advocate for improved national and state labor laws and practices; employer awareness and compliance with existing laws; and ways to create clean, comfortable, private and safe areas for women to nurse or to express breast milk in the workplace.
It is encouraging to witness that some real strides are being made. Government agencies, global health organizations, national groups, and local coalitions have been working hard so that women do not have to stop nursing their babies in order to keep food on the table for themselves and their families. Lactation spaces are becoming available in various public and private settings. Closets and storage areas in offices, factory buildings, schools, and daycare centers are being transformed into comfy lactation rooms; and creative and caring entrepreneurs are designing nursing pods for women working, recreating, or relaxing in various field and outdoor settings.
In the fall of 2013, I attended a Nets basketball game at the then newly anointed and crazily crowded Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Navigating the many corridors along with throngs of people was not easy. Having made it up to our seats in the nosebleed section, the female contingent of my party had to then descend back down a few levels to find a bathroom. Literally relieved to find the facilities, we were also quite surprised to find a door marked ‘lactation room’. A burly guard stood by the entrance. Our supportive interest piqued, we asked him about the room. As though protecting a highly paid all-star, he tersely informed us that there was someone in there. Though I probably wouldn’t bring my baby to such a noisy environment–unless it was a nursing toddles or if a family member was playing in the game or singing the national anthem–but if I did, I’d be nursing in my own seat, jumbotron cameras and all. But, for those mamas and babies who deserve a modicum of privacy and quiet dining, having such an option in such an incongruous setting is quite incredible. I wonder who there is to thank for that.
My own awareness of the many aspects of this year’s Let’s Make It Work campaign was heightened yesterday as well, when I was fortunate, as in previous years, to watch SUNY Albany’s School of Public Health/New York State Department of Health’s Bureau of Supplemental Foods annual webcast presentation of Breastfeeding Grand Rounds. This was, as always, an excellent program and it highlighted many great examples of breastfeeding-friendly environments. Though it left me feeling inspired, it also reminded me how amazing women are and how damn hard they work.
Stories and images of women shlepping breast pumps and accessories to work, utilizing break and lunchtime to sit in secluded rooms listening to the whir of mechanical pumps, rushing into daycare centers in the middle of the workday to nurse a baby, sequestering into hidden spaces to feed their young, and negotiating with employers individually for their own rights–god bless them all.
My mixed reaction to the situation also was evident as I attempted to find an image for my new Lifeseeds Nutrition Instagram post to honor the week and encountered some difficulties. The breastfeeding photos I most easily found depicted either beatific, blissed-out industrialized world mothers posed in pristine settings or somber-faced traditional world mothers huddled in sparse environments. Though I appreciate the beauty of both, neither captured what I was looking for– a reflection of how working mothers often feel in our modern society–weary from its many demands and yet comforted in the respite of feeding their child. I hope the one I finally chose came close.
As for my birthday, I wished really only for a little quiet me time. Though no longer tending daily to my children’s needs, with one child still in college I am still a working mom. The memories of running from babysitter to job to various activities with a baby in tow are still pretty fresh and my plate continues to feel pretty full. Thankfully, I got what I wished for. It is a perfect sunny day and my little village is exquisitely tranquil. My front porch cradles me, and I have some time to write. Soon I will have the phone conversation with my son where we simultaneously say, Happy Birthday.
Until then, wishing all the hard-working mommas, and all who support them, good nourishment of both body and soul.
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In health, Elyn
My Plate Haiku
Hard toiling mamas
Hear their hungry babies cry
Breastfeeding and work–let’s make it work