Archive for June, 2011

Breastfeeding at Work. Make Your Own Rules!

I am a big believer in breastfeeding. I breast fed all four of my children. But I also deeply respect the choice not to breastfeed. So although the next section is dedicated to breastfeeding – this is not a breastfeeding manifesto. It is much more about logistics.

It was my first day of work as a “working mom”. I was driving to my office with my infant daughter. About 20 minutes into the drive, I realized that I had forgotten my breast pump…terror! I had remembered all the things that my daughter needed: the diapers, wipes, back-up clothes, and sanitized bottles. But of course, I had forgotten what I needed. So in a panic I weighed the prospect of arriving late on my first day back or managing without my pump. Needless to say…I turned the car around.

Rule #1: Have a good breast pump and have it with you at all times. And let’s take one minute to qualify a “good” pump. Good is what works for you. My favorite, most effective, comfortable pump was a little plastic hand-pump that I bought in 2000 and used for 8 years. Many of my friends were horrified that it was not even electric. But I had tried the turbo-charged electric pump and it just did not work for me. That little plastic gizmo was perfect. It fit in any bag (even in some jacket pockets). It fit my breast. And it was quick.

My approach to pumping at work was somewhat unorthodox. I was exclusively a “pump and dumper”. This was a learned strategy for me. When I came back from leave after my oldest son, he was only 4 months old. I was deep in breastfeeding mode. This was different from my older daughter who was 7 months old when I returned and I was in weaning mode. I lost my milk quickly with my son because I was trying to save and store my milk. The process of trying to maintain sanitized bottles and find a clean place to pump defeated my ability to relax and just pump. I was disappointed that I was not able to nurse longer.

Somehow with my second son, the light went on. I realized that what I loved about nursing was the connection with my baby after work and on the weekends. So if the end goal was to keep my milk robust so that I could share a nursing experience with my child, then the rules of the game changed. During work, I could pump any time, any place and just dump it out. I could live with supplementation for my baby when I was not there. But if I kept my milk up, I could nurse when I WAS THERE. And so it goes. I have pumped with my handy, dandy manual hand-pump everywhere…on Amtrak trains, in parking lots, in ladies rooms all over the country. I was able to keep nursing for well over a year with my 4th child because I was no longer dragged down by the process. So figure out what works for you. It may be extremely gratifying to fill a freezer full of breast milk. And that is the motivation that works for you.

Rule #2:  Go with whatever works for you! Enjoy the process as much as you can. Breastfeeding does not have to “suck”!

How Do We Find Our Methods?

As the troubling story of disgraced Rep. Anthony Weiner and his wife Huma Abedin unfolds, it raises an interesting question for the PRIMARY DILEMMA. How do women find their methods? Are they driven by instinct or influenced by external events? Or is it a blend of both?
The revelation that Huma Abedin is three months pregnant, in the midst of her marital chaos, begs the question of how this event will influence her approach to working parenthood. She is an exceptional woman, in an exceptional situation. But the choices of working parenthood remain fundamental.
The choices are really about the control that one needs or is willing to give up. As a primary career, one maintains financial control and independence from a partner or spouse. As a primary parent, one maintains parenting control and can be less reliant on childcare help. For many women, it is difficult to give up any control and that is what leads so many of us to feel frustrated and guilty. Something has to give. It is impossible to do it all.
There are all kinds of external circumstances that influence our methods. A challenging pregnancy can make primary parenthood the most appealing choice. A family financial crisis can make primary career the only option. The choice of spouse can make an equal balance between career and family more possible. So circumstance is tremendously influential.
But then there is also instinct and temperament. I have had many women confess to me that they don’t really enjoy the daily duties of motherhood and that primary parenting would make them crazy. This is ok too. And with awareness of their method, these women create fantastic family lives with their children.
Huma Abedin’s choices will not be easy. She has already chosen to demonstrate a strong, thoughtful independence from her husband. Unlike other “disgraced wives” who have publically supported their husbands, Huma has been silent and absent. Strength, resolve and comfort in whatever method she adopts will make her thrive as a working mom.