#YesMe

This series of tweets constituted one of two of my contributions to the #YesAllWomen Twitter campaign. (The other I previously wrote about here and tweeted here.) I considered writing about the experience soon after it occurred, but the motivation never hit me. Now seems like a good time so here it is.

In mid-April, I was walking through my neighborhood on the way to see a friend’s band play. Rather than sticking with the main streets, I cut behind the grocery store near my house. It is a residential street, not a legit “alley,” but it was definitely darker and more isolated than other streets in the neighborhood.

On the way, I encountered an older (fifty-something?) man. His salutation? “Hey, you’re pretty.” My response? An awkward and uncomfortable, “Uh, thanks?” Had it ended there, I’d have walked away thinking that a neighbor was maybe a bit out of touch but harmless. Of course, it didn’t stop there or you wouldn’t be reading this post. The rest is a little fuzzy because it happened two months ago, but it went something like this:

Creep: “Hey, you want to make some money?”

Me: [Picked up the pace, “Shit, he’s really going there.”]

Creep: “My wife just left me and I’m lonely.”

M: “No.” [Walking faster towards the next cross street.]

Creep: “You don’t have to run, I’m not going to follow you, baby.” [Said as he was following me.]

In retrospect, I don’t think he was actually following me. Rather, he was likely heading to a bar in the same direction as my destination. And as I read the transcript above, it doesn’t seem nearly as frightening as it was in the moment. So much is lost when recounting a memory in writing two months after an event. Words can’t easily convey tone or feeling.

I repeated this scenario over and over in my head for weeks. At first, I was so pissed that I didn’t say something. Something loud. Something hostile. And I recall thinking about how I wasn’t wearing anything particularly provocative. A corduroy jacket, skinny jeans, a pair of Toms. And then I got furious that my wardrobe should even be a consideration. Wearing a skirt should be no more likely to result in solicitation than overalls and a flannel.

Since then, I’ve made peace with the fact that it was a fight or flight response and my instinct was the safest option. GET. THE. FUCK. OUT.

Think what you will about #YesAllWomen. Many of its critics wouldn’t admit it, but I suspect much of the negativity surrounding the movement is a defense mechanism. Trivializing it is easier and requires much less self-reflection than contemplating the reality of life as a woman. “If I accept that this is an issue, then I also accept that I likely have been complicit or flat out guilty of this behavior myself.”

But that thinking is faulty. We are ALL complicit. We are ALL guilty of sexism from time to time. Even feminists fall into the trap of slut shaming, critiquing a woman’s choice to stay at home or to work, for being too skinny or too fat, for wearing too much or not enough makeup. If we can’t have an open dialogue, if we can’t call each other out on this type of thinking, we can’t progress.

There will always be misogynists. But it isn’t the pickup artists or the PUAHaters holding women back. It is the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) yet oh-so-pervasive sexism of everyday life. And if there is something that #YesAllWomen has done, it has been to bring the most common forms of sexism and harassment into plain sight. The stuff we turn a blind eye to, or worse, don’t even notice when we see it in public.

Your mother, your wife, your sister, your cousin, your friend, your daughter, your granddaughter, your boss, your dentist, your psychiatrist. You. Me. #YesAllWomen

 


 

Do you have a #YesAllWomen story you couldn’t fit into 140 characters? Find your local Hollaback! site on http://www.ihollaback.org and share your experience. Pittsburgh readers, yours can be found here.

Wiggles and Jiggles and Leaks, Oh My

A few weekends ago, I had a great ladies’ night out. Food, drinks, dancing; it was long overdue. A particularly fun song came on – you know, the kind that makes you jump up and down. And I did. A lot. It didn’t take long for me to realize, oh piss, I really should have done those kegels. I managed to finish my night without actually springing a leak (I think) but the next day, it occurred to me how little I have been caring for myself since Ruby was born.

P.J. and I have been saying it for months: “We really should start exercising again.” I’ve looked into gyms, but none are practically located and as it is, I only have a good hour and a half with Ruby before she goes to bed in the evenings. Gym workouts would pretty much eliminate our time so that isn’t an option. Then a few days ago, a friend posted an article to her Facebook page in advance of the Pittsburgh Marathon. The gist of the article is that being a slow runner is a state of mind. It resonated with me.

There have been two different periods in my life during which I tried running. The first was in high school. I joined cross country and track because a crush told me that I should try running and that I had a runner’s body. I’m not sure if that meant I looked fit or lanky, but as embarrassing as it is to admit, I joined the team to impress that guy. Impress might be the wrong word. If never actually training outside of team practices and always coming in last in every event are impressive, then call me Usain Bolt.

The second time I tried running was a couple years before Ruby was born. P.J and I had been pretty good about getting to the gym, but I decided I wanted to start a Couch to 5k program. I made it two weeks and quit.

I’ve never been a good runner, nor have I ever TRIED to be a good runner. So when I read that article last week, I realized that I was the only thing holding me back. And when P.J., Rubz, and I went to our neighborhood’s marathon street party this morning and I saw that even elite marathon runners take walking breaks, I no longer felt as though I was too terrible to even try.

Guess what? I went for a run tonight. I had a few minutes before dinner and took advantage of the opportunity. In 20 minutes, I ran just over a mile and a half at a pace of 12 minutes, 44 seconds. There is definitely some work ahead of me to get to the point I could run a 5k, but it’s a start. Some things that were different than last time:

  • Running outside rather than on an indoor track is SO much better.
  • Not having an app telling me when to walk and run was actually beneficial. The app let me off the hook when I could have kept going.
  • There was a lot more jiggling (I blame Ruby).

Running is only one piece of the health puzzle. Some sort of strength training needs to happen and I really need to do some ab work to repair the diastasis recti that developed in my pregnancy. P.J. and I already eat pretty healthfully and we are eagerly awaiting the start of our new CSA. Though as Ruby and I scale back on breastfeeding, I also need to scale back on that extra 500 calories per day.

The only question mark is whether or not I can sustain this motivation. Past attempts have been foiled by negative self-talk and laziness. But now, it isn’t as simple as letting myself down. There is a whole lot more at stake. A sweet little monkey is counting on me to be around for the next fifty years. It’s time to make sure that happens.

Adventures in Breastfeeding

We did everything right.

Attended breastfeeding classes, Le Leche League meetings and a breastfeeding moms’ support group, read several books, surrounded myself with other breastfeeding moms including most of my coworkers, planned and executed a low intervention birth with an incredible midwife. So it was quite a kick in the gut when a nurse in the pediatrician’s office said, “She isn’t gaining fast enough. You need to supplement her. You *could* pump and supplement with that but…here, take this formula. It’s not the end of the world. But if she hasn’t gained an ounce by tomorrow, we’re sending her for blood work to rule out metabolic issues.”

Despite all that preparation, one thing you can’t plan for is a stubborn, bilobed placenta leading to a postpartum hemorrhage that leaves you with no appetite for a week. I was back to my pre-baby weight in less than seven days. Every woman’s dream, right?

One of the things I most looked forward to while planning our unmedicated, out of hospital birth was allowing Ruby to find her way to my breast on her own immediately after birth, a phenomenon known as the Breast Crawl. At one of my breastfeeding classes, we watched a video showing a breast crawl and it was magical. And to be honest, our birth was magical in so many ways (stay tuned for future posts about our birth story and how we came to choose a home birth midwife), but this just wasn’t in the cards for us. By the time the bleeding was under control, I got some food in my stomach, felt strong enough to sit upright, and we attempted to get Ruby to latch, it was probably a good three hours after birth. At that point, she was exhausted and much more interested in snoozing than suckling.

Over the next few days, we continued trying to keep her alert enough to feed but all she wanted to do was sleep. I didn’t know it then, but babies who aren’t getting enough calories sleep to conserve energy. I also didn’t know that a hemorrhage can negatively impact milk production but I certainly do now. When she wasn’t sleeping, she was wailing. I recall one night, sometime late in the first week, she was so obviously starving and would not stop crying. It was about 2AM and, desperate to calm her, I called my midwife. She asked if my milk had come in yet and I really had no idea. She suggested I try pumping and to spoon feed her any milk I was able to express. Low and behold, it was milk I expressed, not colostrum so my milk had indeed come in. When you hear women talk about their milk coming in, they often describe the sudden appearance of porn star boobs overnight. Well, porn star boobs I did not have. But it was still encouraging to see that I was actually producing milk.

So, fast forward to that appointment with the nurse. We were not unaware that she wasn’t gaining as quickly as the docs like to see. We were going in for daily weight checks because of that very concern. However, it wasn’t until that appointment that anyone made it seem like it was an urgent situation. Had it not been for all of our breastfeeding research and preparation, that appointment would have been the beginning of the end of our breastfeeding relationship. The second the nurse downplayed pumping, shoved formula in our faces and threatened to stick our daughter with needles, alarm bells were blaring. I knew enough about breast function to know that when a woman is experiencing supply issues, supplementing with formula will only exacerbate those issues. Less time at the breast = less production. Phil and I left that appointment, drove straight to Target and purchased the last Medela double electric pump in stock (dropped $100 more on it than we would have had we ordered in online, but time was of the essence) and headed home to set it up.

And so marked the beginning of an exhausting routine. Nurse Ruby, pump until my breasts were empty, nurse Ruby and supplement her with what I pumped last time, pump again, nurse Ruby. You get the idea. We went back to the pediatrician’s office 18 hours later and to our relief and utter joy, she had gained 2/3 of an ounce and the nurse was satisfied. When we came in for the appointment, the front desk staff informed us that they had actually rescheduled us with different nurse who happened to be a lactation consultant. We got the impression that our original nurse was not a friend to nursing mothers. The kicker was that the new nurse pretty much said that Ruby was on the right track, and that the situation was not really at a critical level yet. We continued our routine through the weekend, came in for another weight check on Monday and she had gained three ounces and was finally back to her birth weight, 3 1/2 weeks after birth. For reference, babies often lose some weight immediately following birth. I believe this is more of an issue in breastfed babies as it can be several days before mom’s milk comes in. Pediatricians don’t like to see more than a 10% loss and the ideal time for a baby to be back to birth weight is 2 weeks. The pediatrician we met with that day was comfortable enough with her progress that we didn’t have to come in again until her two month appointment.

While this was encouraging, we knew we still had a lot of work to do. We visited an excellent lactation consultant who explained that Ruby’s latch wasn’t ideal, nor was our positioning. She loaned us an infant scale so that we could do our own before and after feeding weight checks to see how many ounces she was getting at the breast. I began taking fenugreek supplements and kept up our pumping routine.

I don’t recall how long we pumped round the clock. I do remember it was grueling at times. It turned a 20 minute nursing session into a 40-50 minute ordeal and we did it day and night for at least a month or two. P.J., my dear sweet P.J., washed pump parts until his hands were raw and cracking. But once it got the point where Ruby refused to take any supplementation, we knew we were in the home stretch. At this point, we were using a homemade version of supplemental nursing system (SNS) similar to this and Ruby would yank the tube out of her mouth as soon as I put it in. The benefit of an SNS is that the baby gets the supplementation while at the breast which aids in supply stimulation and avoids nipple confusion and bottle flow preference. When she started refusing it, I began freezing it and before I knew it, we had more than we could fit in our freezer.

My goal was to exclusively breastfeed for six months and to continue until at least one year. Today, Ruby is 16 month old, we are still going strong and I no longer have a goal in mind. We’ll continue until one or both of us is ready to move on. We had our bumps in the road in the form of nursing strikes, mastitis, biting, galactoceles, etc., but this has been one of the most rewarding and wonderful experiences in my life. I can say with 100% certainty that if I did not have the resources and support that I had before our birth and during the early days, breastfeeding would not have worked out for us.

Let me be clear on one thing. There is nothing wrong with formula feeding your child. Infant feeding is a very personal decision, one that only mom, dad and baby can make. I was formula fed, my brother was formula fed, P.J. was formula fed. Had pumping not solved her weight issues, Ruby would have been formula fed. What I hate to see is for a family who wants to breastfeed not succeed because of a lack of information or support or, in extreme cases, intentional sabotage. There are many great things about the US, but support for new parents and breastfeeding mothers is not one of them. If you plan to breastfeed, learn as much as you can and find as many resources as you can BEFORE you have your baby. Identify an international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) BEFORE your birth. Yes, the hospital will likely have lactation consultants, but you may or may not have the hang of it by the time you are discharged.

In closing this post, I’m listing a number of resources I found valuable in my breastfeeding journey. I’ll likely add more as I remember them. Take what you like, leave what you don’t. But if you are interested in learning more about why breastfeeding is currently so difficult in our country, consider seeing the documentary, The Milky Way. It is screening on Saturday, May 10th at 12:00pm at Southside Works Cinema in Pittsburgh. Tickets can be purchased here. This event is a fundraiser for the Three Rivers Mothers’ Milk Bank, a group working to establish Pennsylvania’s first donor milk bank by 2015.  Read more about their mission and development plans on their Facebook page. I plan to see the movie myself.

Resources

Books

Websites

 

What’s Wrong with Pink Shit?

July 16, 2012. The day we found out we were having a daughter. From that date on, we had one very specific request. Please don’t get us a bunch of pink shit. We don’t need tutus and pants with “princess” or “diva” printed on the ass. We don’t need “girly” legos so Ruby can build a nail salon. Can we please avoid busty yet anorexic, hyper-sexualized dolls? At least half of the clothes we purchased for Ruby we found in the boys department. Did you know they don’t sell awesome pirate attire for girls? Yaaaarrrr!

But this isn’t a post about how we wanted to avoid pushing gender normative behavior onto our daughter. I have much to say on that subject, but I’ll save that rant for another day.

As I began to think about having a second child, it occurred to me that we might have a boy. And if we have a boy, we’ll need to buy a bunch of new clothes because despite our request to avoid a bunch of pink shit, we had a bunch of pink shit. As soon as that thought leaked from my brain, I realized that my views on gender norms weren’t as enlightened as I believed them to be. I can say with 100% certainty that if my son showed a preference for “girly” things, I’d be totally supportive and would encourage him express himself in his own way. But would it occur to me to voluntarily dress him in the pink shit? Nope. Hello, cognitive dissonance.

I suppose what really bugs me about this realization is the implication that there is something inherently undesirable about exhibiting “girly” preferences or traits. It is fine for me to encourage my daughter to play with trucks and to embrace more masculine qualities, but I somehow have an aversion to actively encouraging my hypothetical son to wear sparkles and hearts and pink nail polish. I am not okay with that. I realize this is a self-imposed mindset and it is one that I intend to work on. But it cannot be denied that this way of thinking is a symptom of living in a sexist culture.

At this point, I don’t have the answers. And I don’t have a son. But I do feel this is a conversation worth having. As a society, we need to figure out why femininity is considered to be a character flaw. It isn’t. Please, though, no more pants with gendered messages printed on the ass.

 

When I Have Kids, I’ll Never Do That

If I had a diaper for every time I observed another family and thought, “When we have kids, we’ll never do that,” I’d need to rent a warehouse for storage. Oh, I had lofty plans for how we would raise Ruby. Plans and goals are great, and we achieved many of them. But parenting is a Darwinian endeavor. Adapt or perish. 

Without further ado, here are a few things I swore I’d never do and why we ended up doing them:

  • Bedshare – When a newborn wails every time you set them down in the bedside co-sleeper but sleeps soundly with you in bed, you do what you gotta do to survive. Bedsharing is quite a polarizing subject, but with the right setup, it can be just as safe as sleeping separately. Also, many more parents do it than would ever admit. 
  • Give her sweets – To be fair, she doesn’t get much, but yes, she gets a sample here and there.
  • Give her fried/processed/less-than-ideal foods – Again, in moderation, but when she flings her organic whole-grain, greek yogurt fruit veg blend across the room and you have some french fries handy, a babe’s gotta eat. 
  • Let her cry it out – And for a long time we didn’t. It never felt right. We bought gentle sleep/attachment parenting type books and we tried our best. When it came time to transition her from our bed to her crib at around six months, nothing else worked. I put her in the crib, she cried, I picked her up, nursed her some more, put her back down and she cried. Lather, rinse, and repeat. After a couple of days of about 20 minutes of crying at bedtime, we had a routine and we were all sleeping better for it. 
  • Let TV/tech get in the way of giving her my full attention 100% of the time – I do. I’m trying to be more self-aware, though. 
  • Entertain her with TV – They say children under 2 should get 0 hours of screen time…so parents with children under 2 can never have the TV on during the daytime hours. Sometimes, a mama or a papa needs to be able to make a cup of tea or prep dinner with a sleepy/hungry baby present. If Word Girl or Sid the Science Kid can make that happen, so be it. 
  • Rely on smart phone entertainment when out in public – Restaurant tantrum preventer. End of story. 

Do I still find myself saying, “We won’t do that with our kids?” Yep. Because establishing goals and plans is part of parenting. But at this point, I know plans change. We’re making it up as we go along, just like every other parent out there. 

 

 

The Imperfect Feminist in the Mirror

Have you ever been subjected to street harassment by a seven year old? I’m sad to report that I knocked that off my anti-bucket list last week. A coworker and I, both in skirts and heels, were leaving a meeting and were about to pass a father and his young son. I glanced down at the child, who couldn’t have been more than seven or eight, just as he gazed up at his father and said, “Rawr!” Ladies, you know the noise. The message cannot be misinterpreted or misunderstood. And that gaze, you know what that was? A request for approval for a job well done, as in, “Daddy, I used that word just like you, right?”

Responding wasn’t an option. I was wearing my work ID and my brain just didn’t come up with a suitable response in time. A knee-jerk reaction indicating how offended I was would not have helped the situation. To be honest, offense was not the primary emotion I felt. I was sad. Sad for the way this child was being raised to disrespect and objectify women. Sad for his future girlfriends. Sad for his mother. This occurred three days ago and I’m still not sure what I would have liked to say if I had the chance.

Initially this post was going to be a judgmental rant about how terrible it is for this man to pass along his lecherous behavior to his son, but what would that achieve? If you are reading this, you and I likely share a similar world view on the subject of feminism and you need no convincing that this type of behavior is offensive. After sitting on it for a few days, I dismounted my moral high-horse and instead reflected on my own not-so-noble tendencies. What pieces of my own baggage might I pass along to Ruby if I’m not careful and reasonably self-aware?

  • “Hey, asshole, where’s your turn signal?”
  • “No, P.J., we can’t go to breakfast until I get a shower. I look awful.” (This came out of my mouth today. We didn’t leave until I got a shower, put on makeup and styled my hair.)
  • “I need to get a new swim suit this year. This one makes my thighs look too big.”
  • “Oh my god, look at that little skirt she is wearing!”

Road rage, body image issues, judging other women for what they wear, what they don’t wear, with whom they sleep. Those last few seriously pain me to admit it because I spend an inordinate amount of time posting things on Facebook condemning that kind of behavior (e.g. http://tinyurl.com/kdddghw). And I am fundamentally against it, but that doesn’t stop those awful, intrusive thoughts from popping into my head from time to time. These are things I absolutely do not want to pass on to Ruby because they are thoughts and actions I want to shed and I refuse to believe they are indicative of who I really am as a person.

Maybe this is the perfect time to start behaving like the person I want to be. Those big eyes and that sponge of a brain are continually watching me for social cues. She will look to me for approval in the same way that little boy looked to his father. I want to be proud to offer her the approval she seeks, not embarrassed at seeing myself reflected in her. My daughter will grow up to be a strong feminist woman, not a judgmental hypocrite. So that’s who I need to be.

End of an Era

Radio silence on the blog for the last week or two, but not for lack of activity. Last Thursday, P.J. wrapped up a chapter in his [our] life that began back in 2005 when we relocated to State College. That fall, he began a graduate program at Penn State. 

No one is surprised to hear that grad school is an intense commitment and requires enormous sacrifice and discipline from a student. But it also requires a certain level of sacrifice from said student’s partner. The early years in the program, though they required plenty of reading, writing and teaching on his part, were actually quite enjoyable. We were in our mid-twenties and, aside from my own career and his studies, we had pretty much zero commitments and felt free to continue the carefree lifestyle we enjoyed in our undergrad days. With better beer, of course. We had fun, drank to our hearts’ content while establishing some great and lasting friendships. 

And then comps happened. Comprehensive exams. If I had to choose between taking comps and another drug-free childbirth, I’d totally choose the childbirth. Unless it was a three day labor on a total of about six hours of sleep. Then, well, they’d be pretty damn similar.

Once that milestone was out of the way, Mr. ABD got down to business with his research. And by research, I mean travel. It started off small. A five week trip to Nova Scotia for a language course. The following year brought a three month trip to the English countryside, one week of which I was able to share with him. The year after that, seven months split between London and a seaport on the western coast of France. My awesome holiday break at Penn State allowed me to spend three weeks with him for the last trip, but wow, was that a long time to be alone. 

When P.J. returned from his last trip, I was beyond relieved and ecstatic. For the next couple of years, we had a pretty good balance between work and play. Around the time we began to think about starting a family, he also had to start cranking out his dissertation. I can’t speak for him, but I’d wager a bet that our struggle to conceive was quite a distraction. When we finally made that babe, he had to balance his writing with being the supportive partner of an uncomfortable wife. I’m happy to report that I think the diss may have drawn the short straw because he certainly provided me all the support I could have hoped for. And what comes next? Haha, dissertation, meet baby. Beautiful, awesome time-suck of a baby.

Each leg of this journey presented its own unique challenges. These last six months or so? As P.J. once so eloquently put it, he’s been a dissertation hermit holed up in the basement. Most evenings, most weekends, it was me and Rubz doing our thing with daddy in the basement doing his. Until last Thursday. Last Thursday was the end of an era. P.J. became Dr. P.J. and I couldn’t be more proud. It’s an incredible feeling to witness your family’s collective sacrifices culminate in a victory. 

There is still work for P.J. to do before graduation, but for the first time in a long time, I feel like we can spend time together without the feeling that something critical isn’t getting done. To be clear, there are plenty of things still not getting done. I could probably knit a sweater with the amount of cat hair that is currently in the carpet. But who cares? I’m married to a doctor.