For the Nursing Moms and the “Friend” Who Reported My National Breastfeeding Month Photos

It’s National Breastfeeding Month! It is time to celebrate breastfeeding, promote it’s benefits and instill confidence in the women who want to breastfeed their babies. Did you celebrate by making your profile picture a breastfeeding photo? I did. And STILL is, even after being reported to Facebook for “containing nudity.”

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This morning I changed my Facebook profile picture to a new breastfeeding photo. I actually post A LOT of #breastfeedingselfies regardless of the month, so I was surprised when within minutes of posting I recieved a notice from Facebook that my picture had been reported for nudity. The person who reported my profile picture scrolled through more pictures and reported two breastfeeding selfies of mine within a minute of each other. This hadn’t happened since last year this time. Facebook had just changed their policies right before World Breastfeeding Week, so I had faith that my photo would not be taken down by Facebook, and it wasn’t. So this time, while surprised, I knew I was well within my rights.

I responded by posting a screenshot of the report and then posted yet another breastfeeding photo (I have so many!). My husband encouraged me to post more as my timeline filled with outrage, support, videos and memes. When my vindictive stalker/friend reported the third photo within minutes I pulled out the big guns and shared a breastfeeding photo that included an exposed nipple. That was the last photo to be reported even though I continued to post more breastfeeding photos. I don’t know if they thought I was toast because of the #freethenipple photo or if the overwhelming support from my friends got to them, but they stopped.

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The words of my friends who came to my defense were heart warming. They came from people of all backgrounds; My family, my friends, my co workers. There were hearts everywhere and the words “love” more times than I could count. A great conversation about tandem breastfeeding broke out and things were learned and normalized. Some shared their own breastfeeding photos – a few people even shared my photos on their timelines!

Here are some of my favorite comments:

“I reported your photo as BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!!” – A mother of teens

“Hmm wonder if those peeps also complain about girls in skimpy swimsuits too!” – A male with no children

“Beautiful “motherhood” photo.”
– A gay male friend

“Whoever it was should unfriend you instead if reporting you! Your pictures are beautiful and classy!”
-A nursing mother

“If a woman feeding her child offends you, then don’t look, unfollow, or unfriend the person. Handle you f* business like an adult and don’t go “tattling to the teacher” because something most people are cool with offends your uptight, puritanical sensibilities. I see people post “torture porn’ all the time on FB (and I get they usually want to bring attention to cruelty) but show a woman, feeding her child, or wearing too little clothing for your taste, and start howling to FB. Why? why do they get to be the FB picture police? Because it makes them uncomfortable? Because “won’t someone please think of the children?!!!”? A picture of a mother lovingly caring for her child is something they should not see? Really?!!!! And if you are that concerned about when your kid is seeing, MONITOR THEIR ONLINE ACTIVITIES!!!!!”
-A male with no children

“That was my first thought “come on people you have met Mandi, right?????” Why did you friend her if boobies offend you? heehee”
-A mom/colleague

“I love you and so glad you are my cousin’s wonderful wife. And you stand up for yourself .. you rock!”
-My husband’s cousin

“Crazy!!! Why are people so close minded it’s a normal beautiful thing, I wish I could have nursed (my son) longer but the stress of losing my grandfather so suddenly caused things to dry up. It was a great 6 weeks a wonderful bonding experience one like no other. Keep fighting!!!!”
-A childhood friend

“It’s a beautiful picture! Nothing offensive about it. People are crazy!!”
-A previous client

“Oh my goodness you have got to be kidding me!!!! Really??? This infuriates me to degrees I cannot express here! I wish these were not anonymous . That is wrong on so many levels! Thank you for sharing that Facebook got it right! Glad it happened to you Mandi! You don’t crumble to this kind of nonsense whereas someone else might. Love you with your badass self!”
-A mom of older children

“OH MY GOD A NAKED BOOOOOOOOBIE!!!!! How dare you? My EYES!!! They were so naive and virginal before this!!! *cough gasp cough* But, really, I effing love you.”
– A female colleague with no children

“Breastfeeding is beautiful, I can’t wait to do it again!! I don’t understand why this person doesn’t just ignore it if they find it offensive, or unfriend you completely. Bizarre that people have an issue with something so natural and healthy.”
-A childhood friend

“They obviously have zero life. It’s easier (for me) to pity them, than counter them. Keep doing you! The majority of cerebral, thinking adults are not offended by these beautiful images. What a sad life that a nipple would get you up in arms! I can think of some words/images worth being upset over: Ferguson, Gaza, ISIS, food scarcity for children in the US, the polar ice caps. Nipple? Not so much.”
– A recent second time mom

“Keep em coming girl!! This is beautiful and you’re beautiful!”
-A female with no children

“Maybe we should all stick our phones inside our shirts, take a photo, tag you in it and add a hashtag of #suckthis”
-My husband’s cousin, who nursed her four children

“There are so many things to push back against, protest against, and change. This is not one of them. This person needs a good talking to and if you figure out who it is, I volunteer for the job.” -A mom of older boys, of whom I have nursed in front of

“Why don’t we all share Mandi’s photo? If we all share enough, it’ll be all over the place in no time!!”
-My Aunt, who also shared her own breastfeeding experience in another post

“Breastfeeding is like the most historically ancient natural thing ever. Eve did not have Similac… (glad I did) Unfortunately, the things that ought to be reported get passed around and giggled at. And clicked on so much they pass the viruses with the smut….” -A college friend

“Lemme at ’em, I’ll squirt ’em in the eye!” – A nursing mother

“What a happy baby. Screw those who have inferior brains. I’m for one happy to see baby and breasts intermingled. Certainly there was no Infamil back in the day when women delivered in the rice/cotton/corn field. I would love to show my baby happily nursing on her mommy any day of the year!” – A college friend

“Me thinketh someone likes your boobies they get you all riled up and voila! More boobies!”
– A full term breastfeeding mom/colleague

“I hope this was a stranger and not someone in your “friends list”. I mean you see more “nudity ” than that on prime tv.”
– A mom who did not breastfeed

“Rock the f* on, Mandi!! Keep posting! (‘Scuse my language but this reporting of pictures REALLY pisses me off!!)”
-A nursing mom

One friend with an older child simply posted a GIF of Robert Downey Jr rolling his eyes

Then, as the “pending review” status of my reported photos started coming back with “This doesn’t violate the community standard, so it has not been removed” I gleefully shared screen shots of the reports! The true test was when the photo with the exposed nipple was deemed to meet the community standards. I felt like I had won.

A little bit. The only thing that would make me happier than this particular individual unfriending me would be if they actually understood that breastfeeding is just how some moms feed their babies. That it is not sexual, it is not gross. It IS something to be seen and celebrated, and explained to children everywhere that THAT is what breasts are for. Not cleavage, not sex (although those things are fun) but are milk bags that feed babies and happen to have secondary sexual characteristics.

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BREASTFEEDING IS NORMAL.

I am so glad for today. For all of the breastfeeding love that was spread, the support that was given and the lessons that were learned. Mostly I am glad that Facebook diligently adhered to their established standards.

So moms, have no fear. While there are still vindictive, ignorant twits out in the world, me and Facebook got your back. Post those breastfeeding photos for National Breastfeeding Month! Only a few weeks left!

#NBM14 #breastfeedingisnormal #FeelFreetoNIP #suckthis #breastfeedingisbeautiful #NIP

Formula: The Mommy War Within

My baby took formula for the first time today – and I am flooded with grief and relief, and grief for feeling relief.

It’s not really a big deal, but it is. My lactivism and breastfeeding advocacy is widely known among my friends and followers so my daughter’s “Exclusively Breastfed” (EBF) status is kind of a source of pride for me. I now realize that a lot of this pride stems from my first breastfeeding experience – I told people that my first daughter was EBF, only to later learn on a mommy thread that I had been dead wrong. A mom wrote in response to a post about a mom who mostly breastfed and casually used formula:

“If your baby has ever received one drop of formula, they are NOT EBF”

I was crushed by that reality, and the accusing tone of the author. I felt like she was pointing a finger at me, calling me out as a fraud. My first baby breastfed for almost two years, only being supplemented in her first month, and then again later when I went back to work. In the beginning our formula use had been based on fear, fear of jaundice and Bili lights. Then, when she turned six months old and I went back to work, her occasional formula bottle let my mother feed her easily out and about. It gave me reprieve from the stress of being the sole source of nutrition for my little baby, making pumping much less stressful – and therefore more successful.

Pumping at work is an unpaid "break" where I sit in a tiny, stark white room and hook myself up to a machine and scroll through my Facebook feed at least twice a day while my colleagues and clients form bonds and collaborate.

Pumping at work is an unpaid “break” where I sit in a tiny, stark white room and hook myself up to a machine and scroll through my Facebook feed at least twice a day while my colleagues and clients form bonds and collaborate.

Pumping at work is boring, time consuming and stressful. It was nice to have something to fall back on. But I had never considered that my baby wasn’t “Exclusively Breastfed”.

So when my second was born I was excited when I seemed to have milk-a-plenty. I shed my “first-time-mom” fears and nursed in public with reckless abandon, shared my breast milk with a friend’s newly adopted newborn, gave well intended advice to new mothers and used breast milk to cure every ailment that made it’s way into my home. I was proud that this time, THIS TIME, I had an EBF baby. No one could take that away from me!

Then, again, when my second and final baby was six months old I went back to work and baby girl went with grandma. After four months of stressing about pumping; finding a place, making the time, keeping up with my work while taking extra unpaid breaks throughout my day, explaining to too many judging faces (“you said your baby is HOW OLD?”) that I was nursing and needed accommodations, cleaning my pump adequately and storing the milk appropriately – my padded stash started to dwindle. The final straw was when we all got the flu. We were now sending milk to grandma’s house on a day-to-day basis. I couldn’t help but feel that my body was failing me.

Me breastfeeding my first born at 8 weeks. This photo was my profile picture on Facebook for World Breastfeeding Week. It was reported as "Nudity/Pornography" within hours.

Me breastfeeding my first born at 8 weeks. This photo was my profile picture on Facebook for World Breastfeeding Week. It was reported as “Nudity/Pornography” within hours.

I was stressing so hard about being able to pump and produce enough that my mom tried a formula bottle. Baby girl took one taste and spit it right back out. The same response happened three times in a row. I beamed with pride – what a smart baby I have! She knows what’s up! But at the same time I felt my fears and inadequacies creeping up on me. We moms, we do this to ourselves so much. I should have pumped more diligently and taken Fenugreek daily. Why didn’t I make oatmeal this morning?? I could have pumped again at work if I hadn’t had lunch with my colleague. What if I can’t keep up? What if I spill some? I brought myself to tears thinking about it every time I pumped less than four ounces. Ironically I later learned that the WHO definition of EBF suggests that after solids a baby is no longer EBF, so she wasn’t technically EBF after six months anyway! All of that worry about some status for NOTHING.

Nursing my youngest at four months old.

Nursing my youngest at four months old.

Then I stepped back and asked myself “What is this angst?! There are women who try and try but can’t breastfeed at all, what are you complaining about?! Your first child took formula and you NEVER second guessed yourself! What’s so different now?”

What is different now is that I am entrenched in the mommy community. I belong to groups upon groups of support networks for moms, and I love them. In no other groups have I seen a mother ask for help so timidly and be barraged by helpful advice and words of support so quickly – no judgement, just information and experience sharing. But on the opposite end of this you find social media threads where the magical anonymity of the internet begs for callous judgements full of “you should”s. This is why my rule is “don’t read the comments”. Every time I break this rule I lose a little faith in humanity. While mommies have this innate gift for creating community to uplift each other, there is a dark side where we tear each other down with no mercy. This is aptly named “The Mommy Wars”.

 

Discussion and open dialogue over important issues are invaluable to successful and savvy Mommy-hood, and the one thing most moms have in common is that we really just want to do the best that we can do for our babies. I love hanging with other moms. I get really excited when they share some of the core values I apply to my parenting, but I have yet to meet a mom that does EVERYthing like me. Some vaccinate, some don’t. Some use cloth diapers, some use disposables. Some use formula, some breastfeed. But the ones I am closest to? The ones who accept our differences and continue to share information and celebrate what we do have in common. We take our differences, turn them into discussions, and don’t take any of it personally. These are the moms that I rely on to hash out the hardest decision I have to make as a mom.

I look at each of my mommy friends and I see women who would do anything for her baby, and does everything that her current situation permits. If she breastfeeds like me I tend to get excited because we share something unique in common. If she decides to consider formula I will do my best to give her the support (Successful breastfeeding really takes a village!) she needs to continue to breastfeed. If it so happens that her situation doesn’t permit her to continue breastfeeding I will not to judge her. It is better to be a sane and present mother than a breastfeeding mother. I will try to assume the best of her – that she is doing the best she has with what she’s got, and trust that she made the right decision for HER situation.

So I think about my situation – my baby is ten months old. She will get some formula, but it will allow me to relax a little and continue to breastfeed her because I will also continue to pump at work. I had zero reason to feel bad about that, but I did. Why? Because ONE mom shared her snotty standards of Exclusive Breastfeeding on some mommy site – and it wasn’t even directed at ME!! Our words are so powerful, and we sling them all over the interwebs, pulling down mommas we don’t even know. It has to stop.

We all just do our best

We all just do our best

I see this “look” on another moms face sometimes – the one when I tell her I did something differently than she did. It’s a combination of fear and curiosity, a look of expectant judgement. It always makes me wonder what I did wrong to make her think that I would judge her, but I know it isn’t me. I know it’s her experiences with people who think like me. I know it might be because some militant crunchy mom on her hospital tour accused her of trying to kill her baby with her choice to get an epidural. I know it was probably another woman, who probably didn’t even know her, who shamed her for not “trying hard enough” to breastfeed. I’m sure I get this look on my face, too, when I tell a bottle feeding mom that I am still breastfeeding at 18 months or when I need to nurse my baby in a public space. It is a shame that women treat each other this way so often that we expect it, and it IS almost always coming from other women.

For example; a mother here in Austin was told to leave a store by a female employee after asking to use a vacant dressing room to breastfeed her young son. She *could* technically have legally nursed anywhere in the mall, but this employee chose to humiliate her. When the media blew up the comments made me question my faith in humanity. Uneducated childless people said things like “Go in the bathroom!” or “Gross, you might have spilled some breast milk in that stall!” but it wasn’t these that offended me most. It was the other moms. The moms who said “that’s what a pump is for” (no, just no. See above photo.) and “I support breastfeeding, but only if you are modest and use a cover” (if you have to say I support something, BUT… you probably don’t really support it). And even the moms who said “You should have just whipped it out! You don’t have to ask, be a strong woman!” (it is important to support a breastfeeding mom REGARDLESS of their personal comfort level when nursing).

And in that same vein; a breastfeeding support page, The Leaky Boob, found out that a picture that they had shared – intended to inspire women – was taken and perverted into something else.

It was a photo of one of the admins after she gave birth. Her birth had rendered her temporarily quadriplegic and the photo showed a nurse holding her newborn to her breast, giving her the support (emphasis – SUPPORT) to begin a breastfeeding relationship despite the circumstances. Beautiful! But another parenting site took the photo and added a tag line that suggested that women who weren’t breastfeeding weren’t trying hard enough. They turned something uplifting and encouraging into judgement and belittlement.

That’s right. It comes from both sides. So no matter what a mother does, she is ridiculed. If we breastfeed we are shunned and embarrassed when we feed our babies. If we formula feed we are made to feel inadequate. Guess we might as well do what we want anyway, right?

Take a time out and look at this sleepy-time drool face. She is sweet and precious and healthy, and that is all that we can hope for.

Take a time out and look at this sleepy-time drool face. She is sweet and precious and healthy, and that is all that we can hope for.

We can never judge the life of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path. ~ Paulo Coelho

Think next time you join in a discussion with another mom, think: is what I am going to say informative, or judgmental? Is it helpful or hurtful? What can I say to uplift this momma? I know it will be a challenge and none of us are perfect, but I’m going to do my best to control my knee-jerk judgements. I’m going to try to gently inform where it is welcome and otherwise be the change I want to see in the world. I hope you’ll join me in trying to change the dialogue in the Mommy Wars to an information based discussion. None of us learn from being hurt and belittled for our choices. When we know better, we do better. Let’s do better. It might have a bigger impact than you expect.

 

 

 

 

A Preemie Story: World Prematurity Day

Cassie has an infectious smile

Cassie has an infectious smile

Cassie is a beautiful, vibrant and curious baby girl of about 18 months, and is the youngest of five children. Her arrival, however, was much different from her siblings. The celebration of her life had to be balanced with the trauma of her birth.

Nan, Cassie’s mom, had only experienced natural, drug-free birth before then. Her water broke early – too early – at 31 weeks. She went to the hospital and was put on strict bed rest hoping to keep baby girl in for just a few more weeks, but Cassie had her own plans. At 32 weeks pregnant Nan was whisked to the operating room for a C-Section – with Cassie’s leg already through the birth canal. The procedure was complicated by the protruding limb, but after much work by the surgeons Cassie was born weighing in at 3 pounds 14 ounces.

Once Nan began to heal from the surgery she did the hardest thing that one should never have to do – leave their baby at the hospital while they go home.

Nan knew that breast milk would be the best choice for her preemie daughter and her weak immune system, so while she was recovering, and not producing milk yet, Cassie received the blessed gift of donor milk.

Cassie signs "Milk" with her mom

Cassie signs “Milk” with her mom

Nan had an advantage that many moms of preemies don’t have – she had breastfed all four of her previous children. Knowing that she could do it she pumped relentlessly. She hooked herself up every two hours for almost a week. Finally her body responded and she was able to pump her own milk to feed her baby, even though she could not directly breastfeed her. Yet.

As things started to look up Nan and her husband Dan were hit with another obstacle; Cassie was struggling to breathe so she had to be rushed via ambulance to another hospital that was better equipped to help her. This is where the doctors found that she had congenital diaphragmatic hernia, an opening in the diaphragm that allows the stomach and intestines to crowd and affect development of the lungs. At four weeks of age, or what would have been 36 weeks gestation, Cassie had surgery to repair the hernia. Fluid had to be removed from her lungs through a tube multiple times. The breast milk that Nan had been pumping had to be processed by the milk bank to remove the fat so that Cassie’s system could properly digest the nutrients as her diaphragm, stomach and intestines healed.

Cassie still gets important nutrients for her immune system though extended breastfeeding

Cassie still gets important nutrients for her immune system though extended breastfeeding

Nan and Dan took turns being with Cassie in the hospital, having to explain to their older children that they could not visit their little sister. Finally, at two months old, Cassie went home. Her homecoming marked what would have been her original estimated due date.

Cassie and all of her siblings - photo credit to Jennifer Ricca and Deltona Markel.

Cassie and all of her siblings – photo credit to Jennifer Ricca and Deltona Markel.

Nan struggled to get Cassie to latch properly but persevered and is still nursing today. In fact, in her efforts to pump enough milk to keep up with Cassie she actually ended up having so much extra milk that she was able to donate two gallons back to the Milk Bank. She told me that it was a great feeling to be able to help other mothers who might be overwhelmed with the challenges of beginning a breastfeeding relationship with a preemie.

The peaceful face of a full baby after a nursing session

The peaceful face of a full baby after a nursing session

When I met with Nan in August to take these pictures for National Breastfeeding Month Cassie was 18 months old and had just been diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy in her legs. She was not walking independently yet (it sure didn’t stop her from getting around, though!) and was just learning to use her walker. The image of her with her new apparatus is so beautiful and shiny that it inspired the nickname “Golden Girl”.

Cassie is all smiles as she learns to walk with assistance

Cassie is all smiles as she learns to walk with assistance

Since then Cassie has progressed with the help of physical therapy and can finally walk short distances independently. While her lungs may never function like yours or mine, she is tenacious and has so much to offer the world. Her smile is so bright and innocent that you can’t help but look past her challenges and see the beauty and joy that she brings to her family and friends.

If you are interested in learning more about supporting parents of preemies or breast milk donation check out these links:
http://www.parentsofpreemiesday.org/main.html
http://www.marchofdimes.com/mission/world-prematurity-day.aspx
http://www.milkbank.org/

Normalizing: A Happy Breastfeeding in Public Story

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Breastfeeding in Public

Yesterday my family went to eat and play at Southpark Meadows. My three-and-a-half-year-old daughter waltzed around the empty stage and made a new friend, a(n almost) two-year-old boy. I wore my six-month-old on my chest as I sat with my husband and the boy’s dad, laughing and taking pictures while our kids did the most adorable little dance together. As the mom and pop-arazzi took their shots, up walked the little boy’s mom.

She was nursing a seven-week-old baby boy using a cover. The show stopped and the dancing fiends came over to us as we all started to chat. My daughter – who has never seen me breastfeed with a cover – soon realized there was a baby under there and started trying to peek in through the top and lift the edges so she could see the tiny baby. I swiftly grabbed her hand and reminded her about privacy, concerned that she was going to embarrass the little boy’s mom.

“I’m so sorry, she is so used to seeing me nurse that she doesn’t realize you might not want to show yourself,” I apologize.

To my surprise the nursing momma tells me, “If it’s ok with you it doesn’t bother me if she looks.”

I let go of my daughter’s hand and tell her it is OK to look. She lifts the cover, sticks her ENTIRE head in there and looks at the little baby, still latched on.

“Aaaawwwwwwwwww! CUTE baby!” She squeals.

Then… nothing. There was no talk of breasts, milk or how babies eat. She made no judgement on her new friend’s exposed breast, how her baby ate or the choices she made. Just an observation of how cute that tiny little baby was and then we all moved on with our conversation.

It struck me later how insignificant this was to my daughter because breastfeeding is so NORMAL to her. I am so thankful to this mom, whom I didn’t even know, for being open to sharing her nursing experience with my daughter so that I could witness this beautiful “nothing.”

What if we lived in a world where women could breastfeed their babies, exposed, in public, and the only whisper to be heard would be, “Awwwwwwww! What a cute baby!”

Normalize breastfeeding. It works.

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You can also find this story here: http://keepaustinnip.blogspot.com/2013/09/happy-breastfeeding-in-public-story.html#links