Almost four years ago, I wrote 100 Life Goals, which consist of major accomplishments I want to complete during my lifetime. The goals are divvied up into five categories: family goals, travel goals, physical goals, experience goals and lastly, influence goals. Influence goals include goals that affect others. The reach of these goals touches a greater audience than just you and your immediate family. Under the influence goal section it reads:
86. Support mothers globally – not sure how
87. Support breastfeeding legislation by developing lactivism.com
I’ve always had a burden and felt compelled to help mothers. There is something global, no universal, about motherhood. No matter a women’s race, socioeconomic status, class, ethnicity, you name it, mothers have one thing in common. We have a shared experience that creates a perspective through which we see the world. This passion and shared linkage inspired me to explore the challenges that mothers face. I discovered, through my experiences breastfeeding, that it is a simple yet hard, endearing yet controversial, rewarding yet painful burden and joy that all breastfeeding mothers carry.
Before I wrote my 100 Life Goals, I purchased the domain name lactivism.com because I knew my heart was happy at the intersection of my passionate desire to breastfeed, and my sheltered, bubbling tenacity to become an activist for its cause. I experienced my first challenge breastfeeding in the hospital the day after Gadget was born. Every time the lactation consultant was present, I had no issues, but just like a fairy with pretty little wings, as soon as she disappeared I couldn’t even get started. When she would return, like magic, she did her thang, and baby boy was happily resuming his meal, but I had so many issues with one side that she introduced me to a shield. I’m convinced that even saying the word ‘shield’ went against everything in her body. Skin to skin contact is so crucial and critical to a great start in so many ways: for bonding, for helping baby to stay warm, and for a quick-start at successful breastfeeding. A shield is a plastic nipple that covers the real one for mothers that have issues which a shield can easily fix. Of course, I abused the shield and was still using it three months later, and after realizing I was doing fine by myself I finally abandoned it.
A few weeks later I’d hit a wall. I seriously wondered why the breast had not evolved at the same rate as mankind’s other technological advances. I knew from day one I was going to breastfeed, no matter the challenges, but I was truly caught off guard when it hit me, I was my child’s breakfast slave. And his lunch, dinner, AM snack, PM snack, midnight snack, ‘just because you’re there’ snack and everything in between snack. I could look at the telephone and see how it had evolved, thanks to man’s inventions. Now, I could hold a phone, without a cord, the size of my palm, in my pocket, and take pictures with it, let alone make a phone call. It baffled me that I was virtually tethered to this boy, because mankind had not yet figured out how to evolve breastfeeding into a click, download, hologram or whatnot.
My no-mother-required-for-breastfeeding daydreaming quickly ended, and upon returning to work I experienced my second major barrier. Pumping. I hated that my life revolved around a 3-4 hour pumping clock, and I did not even get to enjoy the intimacy of breastfeeding my baby. Yes, I got to breastfeed Gadget in the morning and again when I returned home from work, but dragging around my mechanical baby, aka my Avent double electric pump, was making me spite the blessing that breastfeeding was meant to be. Aside from this, I had no private place to pump. I revealed the first glimpse of the activist in me as the outcome of a horror story when I requested (demanded) that I have a place to pump at work. A mother’s room was created, and to my knowledge still remains today in a manufacturing plant in South Jersey, available for all salaried, hourly and temporary workers to use.
Of course, by the end of the eight months I shared nursing Gadget, I was head over heels in love with the unique experience and gift breastfeeding had given us. Fast forward to my second son, who gave me an incredible freedom with breastfeeding. Hubby and I lived in New York City by then, and we were professional on-the-go parents. We’d take the subway, taxis, and walk dozens of blocks pushing one baby in the stroller, and carrying the other one strapped to our chest. We could fold a stroller with one hand, while giving the other one a binky, on the sidewalk, in Times Square. We had this thing down pat. And we had to because the pace was so different. I had to quickly remove all reservations I had about breastfeeding in public. I had never done it before, and it felt so uncomfortable yet liberating. I was definitely embarrassed at first, because of my insecurities surrounding it, and placed more barriers by assuming the social and cultural norm was NOT to breastfeed in public. I bought the cutest nursing cover I could find, and off I went. And I had to embrace it, because nobody had time to clean the pump (because I hadn’t cleaned it after the previous use), hand wash a few bottles in a hurry, pump, clean the pump (like I was supposed to do the last time), pack a bottle bag, oh shoot, the baby’s hungry now, but I can’t nurse him because I just pumped everything into a bottle, give him a few ounces and hope it ties him over, and THEN leave. Whew, what was I thinking? I also revived my love-hate relationship with my pump since I was a full-time business school student and pumped everyday at noon. Being a student forced me to make some tradeoffs, and in the end I decided on my MBA career. When I received the opportunity to travel to Australia for a three week class, I selfishly decided I was not going to pump, and quickly transitioned Boots from an almost entirely breastmilk exclusive diet, to formula at six months. Looking back, now five years later, yes, I wish I had lugged that pump around Melbourne with me (even if it meant to wine tastings, the Australian open, cricket test matches, watching Pandas and Kangaroos at the zoo, and while holding a Didgeridoo), but I didn’t.
By the time Miss C came along, I was so cocky and sure that breastfeeding was going to be a breeze, that I was dumbfounded when I quit three weeks in. Yes, I just said quit. We had an excellent start in a baby friendly hospital and tremendous resources, but at week three a reality check brought me to my knees. It. Hurt. Soooooo. Bad. I couldn’t believe how much pain I was in. Convinced I had mastitis or something, I stopped nursing and pumping for 48 hours. I needed to recover. My body was cracked and tired, and those two days were exactly what I needed to get back into the ring. I traveled so much after I returned to work from maternity leave, that I frequently pumped in the Admiral’s Club, I knew how to find a replacement pump after business hours, and I knew the sorrow of losing hundreds of ounces of stored milk to a power strip mishap (friendly note: do not plug deep freezers into power strips, use the wall outlet) which is how I personally know breastmilk is liquid gold. Basically, after three kids, I’d experienced enough challenges to know that several women had it inconceivably worse than my breastfeeding ups and downs and we could use some additional support.
What if there was a way to bring women together in order to support the cause of breastfeeding? How could we band together to help remove the barriers that many, many women face while trying to just feed our babies? How could I take the same knowledge I’d learned at La Leche League meetings and have women across the nation having focused conversations about breastfeeding for an entire month? The brand manager in me came out at full force, and this month I founded Au Baby (pronounced Oh Baby). Au Baby is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to enable women to start and keep breastfeeding as long as they want.
There was a gap – a need for a branded, promotional breastfeeding campaign that was simple and appealing. When the government coined August as breastfeeding month a few years ago, no one had taken advantage of that and created one voice for breastfeeding advocacy. One voice, whose sole purpose was to raise funds to remove the barriers that prevent mothers from reaching their breastfeeding goals. Au Baby’s vision is to transform the look of breastfeeding advocacy and seeks to inspire, educate, and raise funds and awareness for breastfeeding. And I want to do all of this using gold eyeshadow.
My vision is that each year in August, during National Breastfeeding Awareness month, women will paint their eyelids with bright gold eye shadow and seek sponsorship from friends and family for wearing the shadow for 31 days. Why gold? Gold, the element Au, is chosen because of its shared properties with breastmilk: delicate, precious and valuable – one drop is like liquid gold! The funds raised will be donated to existing breastfeeding support and advocacy groups who are already rolling up their sleeves to remove the barriers which prevent moms from reaching their breastfeeding goals.
I am going to “Make August Glow,” and I am so freakin’ excited to have my passion come together into something real. Almost. The official campaign will launch August 2014, but I couldn’t let this year’s awareness month go dull. So, I’m launching an Indiegogo campaign to help make this idea a reality. Stay tuned for more details!