Archive | June, 2015

My Mothering Druthers

28 Jun

Imagine: I’m sitting in my office wearing a stretchy tube top with holes cut over the nipples. There’s a knock on my closed and locked door. I sit silently, resisting both the normal urge to say, “Come in!” and the other urge to say “Go away! I’m busy!” Instead I pretend I’m not there, holding my breath, even though the whoop-whoop of the breast pump is much louder than my breathing, and I’m not sure if they can hear the machine out there or not. I feel sheepish and illicit somehow, and frustrated that I might be ignoring some student in need of help. There are no official rules that I know of about pumping while at work. I haven’t asked about it, either, just in case I get any grief.  As far as I know, I’m the only one at work who does it. It’s not what I’d rather be doing, but it’s what I am doing, so that’s that. Everything’s a tradeoff.

I have a love / hate relationship with my breast pump. As I mentioned last week, most people in my state have no idea that breast pumps exist. Considering that, it’s pretty much a miracle that so far I’m pulling off this daunting feat of working full time and feeding Khalil only with breast milk. So on one hand, I’m surprised, pleased, and amazed every day that passes in which I don’t have to buy formula. I’m incredibly grateful to live in this moment in history when the technology exists to do such a crazy thing. I’m even more grateful to have access to these tools (especially my fancy electrical breast pump, which you can’t buy around here) and to have a work life / schedule that allow me to do this.

On the other hand, I despise the fact that I’m a slave to more chores- all this washing bottles and pump parts. I hate the inefficiency of it- all this time to extract and store and reheat when putting the baby to the breast is so wham, bam, thank-you-ma’am. Not to mention that a machine is never gonna get ‘er done like a crying, smiling, hormone-inducing baby. Plus when you are acutely aware of every drop coming (or not coming) out, you get to fret over whether you’re getting enough milk out, as if you needed an extra worry in your life.

baby versus breast pump... or I guess I have to keep both

baby versus breast pump… or I guess I have to keep both

And it is stressful. My rigged-up hands-free pumping situation helps me get work done while pumping, but all the set-up and clean-up still take some time out of my workday. I suspect I make up for it since I don’t spend nearly the time I used to responding to emails and checking the news on NPR and such, but nonetheless, sometimes I’m just barely caught up on work instead of the “ahead of the game” that I prefer. Okay, I can live with that.

The stress over milk production is something else, though. With Lucia, and before I went back to work with Khalil, I had what you call an “oversupply” of milk- more than even my chubby little baby needs. When I first went back to work I was pumping about 15 ounces or more a day without even blinking. But pumps can’t do exactly what babies can, and my pumping ability has dwindled and dwindled to some days as little as 5 or 6 ounces. I’ve added in an extra morning session, even on the weekends, which I thought was going to be a horrendous burden. But I’ve gotten used to it. I still stress about how much is coming out, whether it’s enough, and I hate knowing that this is only a problem because I can’t just let my baby nurse whenever he wants. I’d still rather be sleeping or exercising instead of pumping first thing in the morning while Khalil’s still asleep. I’d rather be nursing than working and pumping pretty much everytime I pick up the pump. But I’m doing it. I’m pulling it off, and I’m grateful.

Beforehand, going back to work and pumping was terrifying. It was unchartered territory for me, so the dread of all the unknowns was much worse than the reality. When Lucia was a baby, I had the great privilege / misery of not working outside the home until she was over a year old. It was both joyful and abysmal, because changing diapers and cooing and doing housework all day every day was stressful, rewarding and terribly mind numbing all at once for me. But one of the biggest perks was that it made breastfeeding super easy and convenient. Breastfeeding was something I wanted to do and that I enjoyed (at least the whole first year), so it was a pretty big perk. I loved that there was nothing extra to pack when I went out (besides diapers, of course), no bottles to wash. I was lucky to have lots of good help in learning to nurse when Lucia was a newborn, and to have copious amounts of milk for my fat and happy infant. It was semi-bliss.

Except, of course, when I wanted to go out without the baby. Or have more than 2 drinks (yes, 2 alcoholic beverages is acceptable! A lifeline for relaxing!) If I wanted more than an hour’s freedom from baby, I was S.O.L. Lucia would have preferred to starve rather than take a bottle, even of my milk. It was our fault, granted. We’d given her a couple bottles of pumped milk just before leaving the US, which she’d taken just fine at 6 weeks old. But then I wasn’t very motivated to pump after we moved to Mexico (is anyone excited about pumping? I bet not), so we ended up not trying to give her a bottle again until she was several months old, by which point she wasn’t having any of it. Oops.

For the most part, though, I enjoyed that bond with Lucia and wanted the same with Khalil. But going back to work was a must, so here I am. Now I’d like to state for the record that I am not a formula-hater, and certainly not a mama-hater. I breastfeed because I want to and I’m able to, period. I’m not at all interested in judging anybody else’s reasons or decisions about how they feeding their babies.  But because I want to breastfeed and work, I have to accept the tradeoffs. I gotta get intimate with my breast pump several times a day. I gotta spend some at-home time with the pump, too. The plus side is that I can go out without Khalil sometimes, which I couldn’t do with Lucia, and I still haven’t had to buy formula. Like everything about parenting, there’s an upside and a downside, all the damn time. There’s no perfect world or any perfection at all when it comes to this parenting business (and this whole being human business).  So I’ll take my tradeoffs and accept the perfect imperfection of my situation and the wondrous, maddening adventure that is motherhood.

The Effect of the Illusion of Infinite Choices (Ain’t No Breast Pumps in Oaxaca)

21 Jun

Those petty Mommy Wars don’t exist here in Southern Mexico. I started to write about me going back to work and pumping, but I got sidetracked by my need to explain some background info first. It’s a good news / bad news situation. The good news is that there’s no absurd culture war between moms. The bad news is, I think it’s mostly due to a lack of options.

It’s not that people aren’t judgmental, because of course some people are, but there is a general lack of hating on moms for doing what they have to do for their families. Or I guess I could say that people seem to understand better that the decisions that we make about how we live are often not based 100% on choice, but rather on what needs to happen given the circumstances. Perhaps because people here both perceive and really do have fewer choices in life, it’s not an automatic to be crappy to someone for their life “choices.”

I live in a state where, compared to the U.S., there is an incredibly obvious lack of choice about most things. You don’t have to stand staring bewilderedly at the 20 kinds of rice in my grocery store, because there are probably only two choices, and there are a whole two choices only because rice is a popular food. There are fewer life decisions to make, too, because people don’t have a lot of power in this very poor state, and nobody here grew up being told to pull themselves up by their boot straps. People know that if you were born poor, you will probably be poor your whole life, and so will your kids and their kids. They hope they will be less poor in the future. They hope they’ll be able to provide the basics for their kids, that their kids won’t struggle as hard as them, but they don’t have this inherent idea that everyone can get out of poverty on their own. In general, they don’t have this idea that everyone has limitless choices, either, or even that we should have limitless choices.

So of course this lack of choices applies to moms, for better and for worse. For moms here, mostly you use cloth diapers if you can’t afford disposables. You work outside the home if you have to, and if not you bust your butt at home and possibly earn money in some other unofficial capacity (selling tortillas, sewing on the side, etc.). You take care of your kids the best way you can, possibly along with your mother or mother-in-law helping take care of them, too. There’s pretty much no talk of parenting styles. Some people use baby carriers, which have reached this corner of the world, or they use rebozos, which is the original form of baby carrying, and some use strollers, but it’s more a question of whether your street is paved enough to make a stroller worthwhile than anything else. It’s not about being a better mom than other people. Who has the time and energy for that?

the hands-free, in-the-back style around here…. there’s another in-the-front style around here but you have to use one arm and I couldn’t find a picture of it. this photo is from google, not mine. 

For better or for worse, I live in a state where most people have never even heard of a breast pump, much less seen or owned one. Even in the state capital, Oaxaca City, my nurse friend tells me that moms with babies are in the equivalent of the NICU are given sterilized cups and told to squeeze their milk into there with their hand. That’s it. In my “backwards” state of Kentucky the hospital gives you access to a fancy electric breast pump. Here, in my small but touristy town, you can buy some nicer types of manual breast pumps, but they’re not common- not for working moms and not even for moms whose babies can’t nurse yet. Forget about the easy and convenient electric kind.

So there’s a lack of resources and often information, but there is plenty of support for nursing- much more so than in the U.S. It seems like nearly every mom breastfeeds, at least part-time, at least at some point in their baby’s life. It is so normal that nobody bats an eye at moms whipping out their nipple to feed their baby, in restaurants, while walking down the street, or anywhere else that they damn well please. Female family members help new moms learn how to nurse. Cushy jobs that follow federal guidelines give moms an hour a day off of work for nursing, up until their baby is 6 months old (and yes! I get this benefit!!). Breastfeeding here is totally normal and accepted without the nasty this-is-the-only-right-option attitude that you often find in the U.S., which I think is just a defensive reaction because other people are out attacking and badmouthing breastfeeding moms for doing it in public.

The laid-back situation here might also be related to the fact that a large portion of moms here use formula and breastfeed. None of them seem to have any drama around it, either. It’s not some crazy black and white issue. It’s not even an issue, period. They nurse when it works for them and bottle feed when needed, and nobody goes around shaming or lecturing them for either of those things. It is pretty much a given, due to the lack of breast pumps and pumping information / culture, that moms who have to work are going to give their babies formula, because almost nobody thinks there are any other options.

On one hand I think it stinks that working moms don’t have any options, because I’m sure there are some moms who would prefer to pump rather than give formula. But on the other hand I love that people aren’t trying to make moms feel guilty about doing what they have to do. Just like almost everybody here recognizes that moms who work outside the home do so because that’s what they have to do in their situation. People don’t usually discuss having a job as something they do for self-fulfillment, which means you can’t really give moms a hard time about “selfishly” going back to work after having a baby.

While there is still a much larger percentage of women here than in the U.S. who aren’t part of the official labor force, people here are much less likely to perceive your domestic / working life as a choice. If you were lucky enough to do well in school and be able to finish high school and then go on to college, then of course you work in a professional job if there’s work available for you. If you weren’t lucky enough to finish school, didn’t want to or couldn’t for whatever reason, then you might or might not have steady paid employment if you’re a mom. It depends on the other factors in your household- how many other people have jobs, what other unofficial earning options are available to you, if you are doing all the stay-at-home work for several family members, etc. But nobody seems to be telling stay-at-home moms to get a career. And while there’s some conservative women-belong-at-home attitude that still happens here, most people recognize the economic necessity of working and thus don’t criticize (as long as they still do housework, mind you. I didn’t say things were perfect.)

It’s a different mindset, and while I can’t advocate for people having fewer choices in life, I think the U.S., and mamas everywhere, could learn a lot from being down here. I think people in the U.S. could really stand to contemplate what choices are important (and it ain’t the number of products in the grocery store), and that choices are a luxury that many people don’t have a lot of (yes, including people in the U.S.). I think moms, and by extension families, in the U.S. would be much better off if they put less energy into worrying about each other’s life “choices” and accepted that we all do what needs to be done, based on our circumstances and what’s available to us. If we could quit being so against each other, if we could share information and resources without insisting that our way is better than someone else’s, then maybe we could have all have access to more of the choices that matter in life.

Thomas Edison, Eat Your Heart Out

13 Jun

It’s a household revolution! It’s a miracle! Perhaps you call it science, or a basic modern commodity. It’s sometimes discussed as part of human rights. We have it at our house for the first time ever! “We got electricity! Electricity!” Lucia and I ran shouting through the house last night, giggling, jumping up and down, flipping light switches on and off, plugging things in. Thomas Edison was surely smiling in his grave from our delight in his invention. Our house has been equipped with light bulbs for months now, but we hadn’t been able to use them until just now. It is, indeed, rather miraculous, simple science or not.

flipping the switch! oh the novelty!

flipping the switch! oh the novelty!

Joy!! No Sleep because there is

Joy!! No Sleep because there is “lectricity”

Last November, after being here installed in our light-free home for a year, some politicians came and grandly announced they were bringing electricity to our humble neighborhood. There’s a three block radius where we live where there are houses but there weren’t electric lines yet. Electricity was so close we could see it, but couldn’t have it ourselves. If you’ve never lived without electricity (as I certainly hadn’t beyond a couple weeks of camping), you have no idea how frustrating it is. It affects so many aspects of life. Imagine no washing machines. No refrigerator. No ceiling fans in the land of eternal summer. Not being able to charge a computer or a cell phone. Not being able to use a nebulizer when your kid is sick and not breathing well. Worrying about your expressed breast milk going bad because there’s not much ice left in the cooler today.
So they announced this exciting revolutionary change in our lives, and promised we’d be able to have lights on the Christmas tree. They didn’t tell us in what year that might happen, though. It sure didn’t happen this past Christmas. Work was slow on the project, supposedly because there were three neighborhoods that were getting electric lines. Even if there had been 30 places though, it wouldn’t have been this slow if there were any accountability here.
At the end of November they came and dug some holes, and then nothing else happened until the end of December. They put posts in the holes, and nothing else happened for another six weeks. My birthday came and went. My son was born in March, although he had tried to hold out for the electricity. Now we’ve been sitting here since early April with everything ready, where all they had to do was install meters and flip a switch. It’s the middle of June and there’s still no word on when that might happen, no signs of action. And worst of all, there was no one to protest to, no one to hold accountable. So we’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting, getting more bitter and jaded every day. I mean, it’s a waste for the electric company, too! They could be making money off of us for the use of electricity, but no! The senselessness, the absurdity of sitting here with everything set up, still in darkness, is infuriating! Every day I curse this area, and whoever’s responsible for this total oversight, for making us forgotten and powerless.
We do have a connection to someone who works for the electric company. And he’s tried to help us, but hadn’t been able to do anything. Until suddenly, last night, as we were all about to fall asleep- the four of us, plus Paulina and Emmanuel (who’s visiting thanks to the teacher strike letting him out of classes)- I heard Lucia say someone’s name (who won’t be revealed here on the internet, just in case). And ta-da! He was here in the company truck, silently hooking up our electricity. In 10 minutes our entire life changed. All it took was ten minutes, and knowing how to rig things, since he didn’t have the official lever. Instead he used a rock to weight down whatever it is that needs to be weighed down (reminded me of when we used big rocks as brakes on that borrowed car, and I thought, “Sometimes I love this country”). And we invited him and his partner in for some coffee and cake we just happened to have, and none of us slept until way past our bedtime, because who needs to sleep when there’s light!?
And here I am, working on the computer in my very own house, not worrying about whether I’ll be able to write my blog and do an exercise video, because I can plug in the computer when the battery is low. I mean, imagínate! You really can’t imagine. It’s rainy and dark out and my kitchen has a bright light shining overhead. Imagínate! It is so simple, and marvelous and incredible. “Now we all have electricity!” Lucia announced to me this morning, flipping switches all over the place. “Now Abia got electricity, and Nonna got electricity, and we got electricity!”
Unfortunately, our neighbors don’t have electricity yet. There are still loads of people in the world without electricity. Life is still unfair, and the situation around here is still absurd. But I still rejoice that finally, finally we have electricity. It will never, even mean the same to me as it did before.
Our magic electricity is arriving just in time for Lucia’s 3rd birthday tomorrow, and so she probably won’t remember this period of our life. Khalil certainly won’t. I’ll be reminding them, though, of the early part of their lives when we didn’t have electricity. I hope they never again have to live their lives without this basic, fabulous commodity, but I also hope we don’t take it too much for granted. I haven’t decided what all I’ll do to remind myself of how wonderful this is, but remind myself I will. Because it is revolutionary, it is a miracle, every single minute that we have it. Let there be light! Woo hoo!!!!

Everything looks different with light!

Everything looks different with light!

Serious Business in Oaxaca Education

7 Jun

Today is election day here in Mexico, and teachers are out in the streets, burning ballots and other voting materials. In Oaxaca City things were the most extreme, and they arrested 88 teachers there, but the protests are happening throughout the state, including here in my little coastal town. It’s all part of the ongoing protest against the new educational reform.

Here’s a photo from El Diario:

And here’s a shot a friend took from here in Puerto:IMG-20150607-WA0003

This time around, teachers have been on strike for over a week, so all public school students are out of classes. It’s predicted that they’ll be out through the end of the school year, which ends next month. I don’t know exactly what affect that will have on their grades, on their education in general, but I am sure that it affects their education in the long and short term, and not in a good way. I am sure that it affects some parents who might be scrambling to find childcare- although it doesn’t affect as many that way as it would in the U.S.

The strikes and protests affect the general public in all kinds of ways, too, of course. For instance, before the elections, the teachers had shut down the airport in Oaxaca City, not letting anyone in. They were also blocking an oil refinery, effectively preventing gasoline from being produced or going out on the market (at least I heard it was a refinery, although later I read they were blocking gas stations). By Thursday we were hearing that there was no gasoline available in Oaxaca City, and by noon there were lines winding their way all through the gas station and out into the street. We filled up our tank and ran out to the grocery store, just in case they blockaded there, too, which is a frequent occurrence. A friend of ours was telling us how one time when the teachers were on strike for over two months, it put so many people out of work with their protests that taxi drivers and all kinds of other workers were all out looking for aluminum cans to sell and other desperate measures. The teachers union in the state of Oaxaca, Section 22 of the National Union of Workers, as it’s called, is serious business.

Unfortunately, it is serious business in more ways than one. As in, it’s big business because the union itself (its leaders) are profitting the most, and the students are not winning much of anything. Normally, I’m a big fan of teachers and unions and thus of any protests they might stage. But the teacher’s union here is more like the mafia than what I’d like to imagine as a union of fabulous people, aka teachers. The teachers get some great benefits, thanks to the union, but they also pretty much have their hands tied by the union. They are obligated to go to protests. Usually they are fined in they don’t participate, and additionally, they get their name at the bottom or the list for other benefits like loans if they don’t have good participation points. From what I’ve heard from teachers, they don’t really have any say in what goes on.

Furthermore, it’s always a bit vague exactly what they’re protesting. Whenever there’s a strike I have to dig and dig on the internet media to find some reason why it’s happening. Apparently the media doesn’t think anybody needs to know, or that we don’t care why- just that there is a strike happening is enough information.

Now, I am not the most informed person on Earth about this by any stretch of the imagination. So I’m just repeating these bits and pieces of info that I’ve picked up, mostly from teachers themselves. (And no, the university I work for doesn’t have a union, and definitely not this union.) I do know that this time around, they are protesting the big Education Reform, which they’ve been protesting on and off since it came out nationally.

The reform wants teachers to be on contract and to be able to get rid of teachers who don’t live up to some basic standards. They want to do away with this union entirely. which normally I’d be against, too. But in this case a total overhaul of the union would be the minimum action possible to make a positive change in education. The reform also proposes to do away with the current system of being able to sell your position when you retire. This current system is a serious problem because you end up with some teachers who have zero training to be teachers. Nobody wants that for their kids’ education. We should be demanding quality teachers who can at least past a standardized test. Are standardized tests a total solution? Of course not. But it’s better than nothing.

Education in Mexico is already some of the worst in the world (it ranked one of the worst 3 out of 50 in this study: http:// Here in Oaxaca it is worse than in the rest of the country, partly but not exclusively due to the serious poverty in the state. Reform is desperately needed. But the proposed reform doesn’t take into account the circumstances in Oaxaca. It doesn’t take into account the indigenous languages spoken here. It talks about getting a computer for every classroom when many schools don’t even have real classrooms, or other basic, necessary resources. So it certainly has problems, and I would bet that even if it gets put into effect in some way here, it will only help minimally.

So what is the solution? The union is strong enough to make change happen, but so far it hasn’t benefitted education here. If only these strikes and protests would draw the right attention to Oaxaca, would cause enough of a stir to somehow make some real, positive change in the system, to make a change in children’s lives. That would be some seriously good business. Sadly, I’m not holding my breath.

For some further reading in English on this union :