“Does She Drink Breastmilk or Normal Food?”

November 1, 2010

I overheard the above quote at a children’s Halloween party last night. It’s not an uncommon question for those of us who aim for full-term breastfeeding or delay introducing solids; it’s kind of a rude question anyway (and since when is breastmilk abnormal?), but the kicker is that the dude was not asking about the food habits of a six-month-old or a toddler – he was asking a new mother about her 7-week-old.

I could go into all the ways that my little lactivist heart died when I heard that, but I shan’t. This is an open thread, friends. Tell me about your weekend, vent, share links or halloween pics, do whatever. If you read this blog but rarely or have never commented, then at least take the time to say howdy.

[Image description: A rear shot of me, dressed in black sweats, and Eve, dressed in a cow costume, walking up someone’s driveway to trick-or-treat.]

Clowned

October 29, 2010

When I was in high school, a group of my friends and I decided to attend the local Renn Fest. I had never been before, but it sounded like fun, and I was pretty excited about it. To make the day extra fun, my very white friends decided to go whole hog and dress up in high-class Renaissance era garb.

I was the only brown face amongst the group, and I did not have any desire to dress up in European clothing. Instead, I selected some fabric with an “African” design on it from the “ethnic” section of Joann’s Fabrics, and my friend’s mother sewed it into a simple dress with a matching head wrap. I also had a black sash with some kind of gold filigreed design in the middle of it, and at some point I bought a large peacock feather and carried it around with me for the rest of the day.

The whole ensemble was a bastardization of what I supposed was my ancestors’ culture. Every single aspect of the costume was picked because it “looked African,” which meant that they satisfied the requirements for the stereotypical African monolith, a dark continent with no distinguishable differences between cultural practices, beliefs, and norms. I felt so disconnected from my own roots, so lost and ignorant of my past; but still so desperate to know and recognize my own cultural heritage that even the cultural equivalent of a fucking clown costume satisfied me.

I felt proud of that costume, and I got a lot of compliments for it, from white and black folks alike. Now I look back with embarrassment. If the person I am today had seen that teenaged girl at the Renn Fair, dressed in clothing that so fully satisfied the white gaze, surrounded by her white friends, I would not compliment her. I would feel sorry for her loss, for her desperation, for the hole in her heart.

I still feel that loss today. I have to wonder if that hole will ever heal for me, and for all of us.

Need To Express Your Hatred Towards Trans Women? There’s An App For That

October 28, 2010

Apple has apparently decided to put its stamp of approval on the mocking and belittling of of trans women. There is an app available in iTunes called “Peek-a-boo Tr***y.” In case you couldn’t tell from the transmisogynistic slur in the title, it exists for the express purpose of being fucked up, offensive, and hateful. And it targets trans women, who are among the most horrifically oppressed women in our society.

Call Apple at +1 (408) 974-2042 and tell them that this is not acceptable.

Link Love: Trans* Health Care, Bisexuality, and Forced Sterilization

October 27, 2010

Spread the love, ya’ll.

New Report Shows Trans* People Experience Huge Gaps in Health Care Access (emphasis below is mine):

…the final bullet bears special mention, in light of the recent media attention on the high suicide rate for gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth that has almost entirely ignored the suicide epidemic among trans* youth. An attempted suicide rate over 25 times higher than the general population is profoundly distressing, and points rather strongly to systemic discrimination harassment, and huge gaps in health care, including mental health care.

Bisexuality, Binarism, And Why Everyone Has It Wrong:

What happens is, instead of recognizing that biphobia is actually a form of monosexism and bisexuality one simple form of polysexuality, bisexuality replaces polysexuality as the label for non monosexual orientations and biphobia is equated to polysexuality. This erasure is destructive to these other sexualities and centers bisexuality as the only polysexual option beyond pansexuality (which many bisexuals even approach in a bigoted fashion) which creates binarism within bisexuality.

So people on both of the major sides of this debate on bisexuality and binarism are both engaging in binarism, cissexism, erasure and are just flat out wrong. Bisexuality doesn’t enforce the binary and cissexism, the erasing way it is used to mean polysexual, the way essentialism is spilled into it and the way it is policed to only be about men and women does.

Report Shows HIV-positive Women in Chile Forcibly Sterilized, Denied Medical Treatment:

During the first trimester of her pregnancy, Julia began experiencing an orange-colored vaginal discharge. Concerned, she went to the hospital to have it checked out. Instead of treating her, however, hospital workers turned her away and told her to return for her regularly scheduled check-up. She was admitted to the hospital three days later, hemorrhaging and with severe abdominal pain, but she still sat untreated while the hospital staff attended all the HIV-negative patients first, including those who arrived after Julia. Her pregnancy ended in a miscarriage shortly thereafter, and a paramedic told her, “‘It is because God knows, because you were going to have a sick child.’”

What Does A Friend Do?

October 26, 2010

A friend and coworker of mine has been, for as long as I’ve known her, struggling with accepting her body. She diets all the time and is obsessed with the numbers associated with that; she counts calories, counts pounds, and micromanages every ounce of her diet.

Now, I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with being aware of the things that you’re putting into your body; to the contrary, that’s something I’ve got to start paying more attention to myself. But I have never really felt comfortable with the idea of purposefully withholding food from oneself when one is hungry. I understand why people do it (and we can thank the intersecting axes of sexism, ableism, and probably a whole hank of other oppressions for it), but when the people around me talk about forcing hunger onto themselves as if such behavior is desirable…I tend to tune them out, because nothing I have to say about it is anything close to what they want to hear.

Last week this friend told me about a new diet she was considering, called the hCG diet. For those of you who don’t know, hCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin, is a hormone that is produced by a person when xie is pregnant. The hype is that if you take hCG and limit your daily caloric intake to no more than 500 calories per day, then the hormone will [supposedly] cause the fat to practically fall off of you while allowing your muscle tissue to remain intact.

My reaction to the news that she was considering this diet was pure horror. Even now, a week later, I can barely wrap my mind around the fact that “eat less than 500 calories a day and take this hormone extracted from the pee of pregnant folks” registers as a reasonable course of action for her. She told me a few days later at lunch that she has decided to do it, and I went quiet. She and another coworker went on to talk about diets and hormones and pregnancy, and I just quietly ate my lunch until it was time to get back to work.

After lunch, we talked. She thought that I was mad at her because she was “giving into society’s expectations” or something. I told her that I wasn’t mad at her, nor was I disappointed in her for “giving in” (which is something that we ALL do, anyway, so I’d be a hypocrite if I was). I told her that I just didn’t know what to say, and that I didn’t want to disrespect her by giving my unsolicited opinion on the subject.

Then I proceeded to give her my unsolicited opinion. I kept it short and sweet, and just said, “It’s your body and you have the right to do what you want. But this diet is dangerous, and you’re beautiful, and I wish you wouldn’t do it.”

She said, “My clothes don’t fit” and I responded, “Because your clothes are too small. There’s nothing wrong with your body. Your body is not too big. Your clothes are too small.”

The conversation ended with me looking sad and troubled, and with her looking apologetic. I wished that she wouldn’t look so guilty about it; I don’t want her to feel guilty. I want her to feel love for her body, for her figure. I want her to stop feeling inadequate about her body and to start feeling angry about the inadequacy of her clothing and rage towards the axes of oppression that have intersected to convince her that her body is “wrong” unless she starves herself.

But I can’t force that on anyone, and I can’t control what and how much she eats, and I can’t make her change her mind about anything. I’m not sure that I handled this situation the right way, in a way that respected her agency as a woman but still addressed the problematic nature of the diet she intends to follow.

I love her and I want her to be happy and unhurt. I just don’t know how to make that happen. What does a friend do in a situation like this?

Gladys and Elizabeth

October 25, 2010

[Image Description: The image depicts a portrait of a black woman nursing her child, who has a light brown afro and appears to be about 2 years old. The woman is wearing a black tank and skirt, and the child she is cradling on her lap is naked. The heads of both mother and child are each framed by a gold halo.]

I am now the proud owner of this breathtakingly gorgeous piece of art.

The artist’s name is Kate Hansen, and this piece, “Gladys and Elizabeth,” is part of her Madonna and Child project. While there are several portraits in the series, this piece seems to be the only one that she is selling prints of (which I am thankful for, since this is the one that I like best by far, although the others are also beautiful).

There are several things about this portrait that speak to me, as a black mother and as a lactivist. First, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m generally a little frustrated with the very limited selection of non-white breastfeeding art that is out there. It also makes me feel warm and fuzzy to see a black mother-child dyad depicted so lovingly; I sometimes feel bombarded by the onslaught of images and stories in the media that frame black motherhood as being naturally dysfunctional, and therefore detrimental to not only the involved family members, but to society at large.

It’s also wonderful to see a child other than a newborn or infant nursing. Even among pro-breastfeeding literature and resources, there seems to be a shortage of images normalizing the act of nourishing or comforting a toddler at the breast. Take note the next time you see an ad or public service announcement that is geared toward encouraging parents to breastfeed – when is the last time you saw one of those PSAs featuring a contented toddler snuggling, nomming, or sleeping at the breast?

I also love that Elizabeth, the child, is sporting a natural ‘do; and while you wouldn’t expect to see a child her age with a perm anyway, it still seems somehow more refreshing and organic to see a black child with her hair completely unrestrained, untied, and allowed to fully blossom, without even a bow to distract from the power and beauty of her kinks. To me, Elizabeth’s nakedness reinforces the reality of her dependence and the necessity of her trust in her mother. It’s also nice to see a reminder that I’m not the only parent who nurses my child while either of us is in various states of undress.

The halos are a wonderful touch, especially to a woman like myself who has, in every other single piece of similar art, only ever seen halos framing the heads of very white women and their very white babies. Black motherhood, as I’ve mentioned before, is so frequently dismissed as dangerous – or, at best, inadequate – and to see it depicted here as not merely loving and desirable, but also holy…well, it gives me chills, even as person who identifies very strongly as an atheist.

Some day, when I have my own private practice, I intend for this portrait to be one of the first things that my clients see when they walk through the door. I can only hope that they will appreciate and take as much comfort from it as I do.

Edited to add: Thankfully, I was wrong about “Gladys and Elizabeth” being the only print available for sale. Here is Kate’s clarification:

I do offer prints of some of the other portraits, but I only offer a high quality giclee of this one. I just don’t have the money to make a file for the rest. The other prints are from digital photographs, so they can onl…y be printed up in a small size or they lose resolution.

A Short, Unoffensive Matter of Race

October 18, 2010

Yesterday, Eve and I attended a Longaberger basket party at a coworker’s house. If you haven’t heard of Longaberger, they make very pretty baskets and sell them for hundreds of dollars – a single hamper literally costs several hundred dollars. I attended in order to support my coworker; I had no intention whatsoever of making a purchase (and I didn’t; I didn’t have $150 to blow, and I buy all my baskets from Goodwill and yard sales anyway).

Eve and I were the only non-white women attending the party, as I expected. Eve decided to be totally adorable by attaching herself to my coworker’s 7-year-old nephew, M. She kept grabbing him by the hand and dragging him around the house, and on a couple of occasions even hugged him for no apparent reason.

At one point she dragged him into a back room (I followed, naturally) and M chattered on and on about cats and cat food and other stuff. He mentioned a friend of his and asked me, “Guess what?”

“What?” I asked.

“My friend D is in my grade. And he’s the same color as you. And he has hair like Evie’s.”

“Oh,” I said. “That’s cool.”

He then changed the subject to something completely unrelated to race, possibly back to cats again (my coworker has six of them, so they were everywhere). All I could think in that moment was about how grateful I was that we had been alone in the room, that none of the white women at the party were there to turn his innocent comments into something a lot more awkward. I’ve seen white folks act horrified by their children’s observations of the differences between bodies, and that reaction is a whole hell of a lot more othering and obnoxious.

After reading and hearing so much offensive racist crap for so long, it was actually pretty refreshing to have a discussion about race (albeit a short one) that was, for all intents and purposes, completely neutral. It was a reminder that the harmful racial dynamics that permeate our society are learned, not inherent, and that means that we do have the power to change them.

I’m Car-Lite and I’m All Right

October 14, 2010

I’m in my second week of taking the rail to work, and I feel pretty good about how it’s going. It’s cold early in the morning, and today the sky looked like it wanted to start pouring down at any moment and I don’t have an umbrella or rain coat, and it sucks having to sometimes wait up to twenty minutes for the next train if I missed the one I meant to take – but I still feel that it’s worth doing.

I save 30 miles every day that I take the rail instead of driving. I knit, read, or nap on the train, things I definitely can’t do in my car. I no longer have the ability to just jump in the car and drive to the closest McDonald’s if the cafeteria here at work is closed, so that means that I don’t work through my lunch time anymore; I take the time to stop and eat in the middle of my workday, which is something that I rarely did before.

Not everyone can give up their cars full-time or even part-time like me. I’m fortunate to have a public transport system that’s fairly convenient, a job that does not have rigid hours (so it doesn’t matter if I oversleep, I can still afford to take the train and be an hour and a half late…like I did today), and no disabilities that require private travel in a vehicle. The fact that going car-lite is an option available to me because of my various privileges is something that I’m sorry to say that I failed to acknowledge in my last post about killing my car.

The public discourse regarding driving and its effect on the environment for the most part does not seem to take into account all of the people who, for a myriad of reasons, really CAN’T ride a bike or take the train or walk to work or the grocery store. There are definitely people for whom cars are a luxury (I would count myself among them), but there are plenty for whom cars are a necessity. There are people who literally NEED their cars to either support themselves, their livelihoods, or their families. Public transportation can only go so far, and there are definitely limits in accessibility (wheelchair ramps are really not the end-all, be-all of accessibility, ya’ll) on trains and busses.

We need to expand the dialogue to include those who have been left out if we really intend to find solutions. Some people will always need private vehicles, but there are others who are currently locked out of non-vehicular travel options and they need not be.

Race and Birth Activism

October 13, 2010

Jill from The Unnecesarean posted this sobering slideshow about racism and its effects on the lives of black women and their babies. Black women are much more likely than other races to go into labor early, and their babies are more than twice as likely as white babies to die before their first birthday. This is true even when controlling for socioeconomic status, maternal smoking, and dozens of other factors.

The conclusion drawn from these studies is that the racism that black women face is responsible for the disparity.

That’s not a shocker to me. Racism kills people of color. My desire to dismantle the racial hierarchy that we live in does not stem from some hippy we-are-the-world type of philosophy; it’s because racism murders people of color. So when people say things like “I’m not really an anti-racist, I don’t see what the big deal is,” what I hear is “I don’t care whether people of color live or die.”

Jill’s post was excellent, but the comment section was, predictably, full to the brim with fail. Here are some snippets:

I am not buying it. It really comes off as flashing the race card…You never even listed reasons for these babies to die. Did they die in that first year due to child abuse? Improper care? Murder? Domestic abuse? Malnutrition?

As Tim Wise has said, what kind of a card is race? Also, racism doesn’t kill babies. Black mothers (who are apparently abusive, murderous, and neglectful) kill babies.

I truly hope that it turns out to be something a little more controllable than the nebulous “racism.”

The definition of nebulous is “lacking definite form or limits; vague.” Doesn’t sound like racism fits the bill to me.

I am a mom who was pregnant with a visible disability. If you want to talk about interpersonal stress, it would seem women with disabilities would have to deal with that at least as much as black women

Oppression Olympics: bingo!

The entire conversation was more than a little disheartening for me, as an aspiring health care professional. My future colleagues are going to be overwhelmingly white, and thus many will be happily unaware of their racial privilege. What are they going to say when I, a woman of color, speak up about the racial disparity in breastfeeding rates and outcomes? I want to help black parents breastfeed; I feel that as a black woman and lactivist, that it is my obligation to help identify and address the obstacles that black parents face when they choose to nurse their children. And I want to make sure that black parents have a choice in the first place.

Will addressing these concerns earn me the label of racemonger, of a woman who plays the “race card” in order to gain some intangible benefit? I’m sure it will, and I do not look forward to it. But I intend to put myself out there anyway, because racism is killing little brown babies like mine.

I think commenter Heather said it best on Jill’s blog:

Holy crap. Much of this comment thread is like a cross between racism bingo and Derailment for Dummies.

Yep, that pretty well covers it.

Boobies Are Complicated

October 10, 2010

At the request of my very best friend, The Roaming Naturalist, I am writing an update about my lactation studies. It has been more challenging than I expected in two ways: first, the lessons themselves are dense and difficult for someone who does not have a medical background, and secondly – it’s hard as hell to find time to study with a toddler running around the house!

I take a lot of notes, and I prefer to devote a solid 3 hours towards a lesson, because only finishing one halfway and then picking it up later only leaves me more confused. I have never – EVER! – had three hours of time to myself since Eve’s birth, unless you count the time I spend at work (and I sure as hell don’t). I have attempted to study while she is in the room, but it’s hard to concentrate and listen to the lecture when she’s climbing into my lap to nurse for boredom, funsies, or attention about once every ten minutes. And when she’s kicking the keyboard. And pulling all of the DVDs off of the shelf. And…well, you get the idea.

That being said, human breasts are nothing short of FASCINATING. It kinda makes me want to wear a t-shirt that says MAMMALIAN PRIDE. And honestly, I may just screenprint just such a shirt for myself…if I can find the time.

In addition to the usual studies, I’ve also found myself chairing the marketing/promotions committee of my local breastfeeding advocacy group. It pretty literally fell into my lap, and while I haven’t been able to exactly DO anything yet (I’m still waiting to receive the contact information of the rest of the committee members), I have big, big plans and a list of ideas a mile long.

How has everyone else been faring?