My Weaning Party: thoughts on breastfeeding on the occasion of having weaned my daughter.

June 10, 2016


There is nothing I can say in the space of this essay that won’t have an emotional impact on someone. I need to say that first. This is my story of breastfeeding and I know I can’t speak for anyone else. However, it’s a sensitive and emotional subject for many. Myself included. This is the story of breastfeeding in the current moment. It is so hard to talk about openly and because of that before this past year, nothing. Or next to nothing.

I came into breastfeeding knowing very little. I had a friend who upon giving loads of advice in my late pregnancy told me her wife was unable to breastfeed and she has it much easier. The advice was: don’t stress about it, either way you’ll be okay. The comment was the first time I realized that feeding my child could potentially be a challenge.

Now I know, breastfeeding is one of the most challenging things that women’s bodies can do. That it is a rarity for it to come easily to a woman and her child. But it is easy to forget in the haze of the early months that we struggled to achieve the ability to feed our children with our bodies. Breastfeeding makes pregnancy look easy.

And here we get into challenging territory. My mother, who cherished her time nursing her children, really wanted me to succeed. She gave me a couple of books including one that she said had been very helpful for her. The book basically said that if you don’t succeed at breastfeeding it is probably caused by a lack of education about how breastfeeding works.

And here a binary is set up: you can breastfeed and succeed or you cannot breastfeed and fail. The “Breast is best” campaign started ringing in my ears and I knew I needed to succeed. I wanted to believe that I had the education, that I had the desire and that my body could provide what my child needed. This child I had fed for almost 10 months inside of me could continue to be nurtured by my body.

Every bump we hit I felt as my body failing me and my child. She wasn’t gaining enough weight, my milk wasn’t coming in enough even as my breasts ached and burned. She wanted to eat all of the time but according to the lactation consultant her latch wasn’t effective and even the amount of time she spent pulling on my nipple (pulling to the point that I bled) didn’t amount to much. And so like many women, I had to start supplementing. First with a bit of formula and then as I started to pump more with my pumped milk.

My maternity leave consisted of breastfeeding, feeding her the pumped milk, attempting to get  Joan to sleep, or giving her to my husband or another visitor and going to pump. I watched a lot of Anthony Bourdain in those early days. I was pumping and visiting some place around the world where I watched a man execute his privilege over and over. And pumping itself wasn’t easy. As the machine went to work so did I. At the end of twenty minutes of hands on work I was frustrated looking at my ounce or two wishing I could produce more.

At around two months we experienced a shift. I don’t know if it was her or me but she gained fine (still/always a tiny little thing) and no longer seemed to need to supplement. For the last few weeks of my maternity leave things were working the way I had always expected them to. When she was hungry and got fussy I adjusted my shirt, she latched and we nursed until she was satisfied. The nipples healed up and breastfeeding became pleasant.

As a working mother that pleasant relationship was bound to change.  For the first few weeks of daycare I pumped five times a day. I woke up, nursed Joan, got us dressed and pumped while she “played” on her mat next to me. At work I pumped three times a day. I got home, nursed and then pumped again after dinner. Now I watched Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Agents of Shield, Jane the Virgin or Scandal the dramatic shifting action occupying my mind while my hands pressed into my breasts trying to push out every little bit of milk available. And still I was hardly making enough for her daycare bottles.

I felt like a failure. I was a wreck. My body was pushed to the extreme, I was exhausted (in addition to the schedule above Joan was still waking 2-4 times a night to nurse at that point) and emotionally I was hardly holding on. Andrew in the middle of one of my exhausted crying episodes suggested getting some formula just to have as a back-up to release me of the pressure of having to stress about all of the pumping. Sure, I said but only as a back-up, just in case I can’t make enough one day.

But the truth is that formula released me. One level of the stress went away. It didn’t have to be all on me and my body. Joan would be okay. Formula even filled with chemicals and looking/smelling gross was created just for this purpose to make sure my daughter got fed.

Within a week I gave up my morning pump and life got much easier. I continued on for about five more months. When Joan was about 8 months old, and had started solids, I pulled back to two pumps at work. At about 10 months I stopped my evening pump. And at eleven months I stopped pumping at work all together. With each pump I dropped Joan got another bottle of formula. Each time I felt more free despite the hard-to-shake guilt that I somehow failed.

For those who haven’t breastfed you may not realize that it’s not a choice to pump or nurse. Your body demands it. For most of the past year I couldn’t go three hours without needing to do one or the other. I would be sitting in a meeting, onstage at a discussion or walking down the street and I would feel at first a bit uncomfortable, then a huge anxiety and nervous energy (I took this to be a biological internal monitor letting my know my baby was starving – my monitor obviously isn’t aware of formula) and then pain and at times a release. One night when Joan slept longer than usual, she woke up and I changed her diaper before feeding her. Standing at her changing table I felt something drip on my foot – is our air conditioning leaking? – nope, just my breast dripping onto my foot.

Is this what success looks like? A year of stress, anxiety and even pain? My body connected to the demands of my daughter even if she is happily drinking a bottle miles away at daycare? I left dinners early, I avoided going to the theatre, I got frustrated easily in meetings when I was passed my pump time, I certainly fought with my husband when he didn’t deserve it just because my body was being pulled by its biological obligation. Is that success?

Nursing has really special moments. The first time I realized Joan could see and focus was when she was nursing and suddenly looked up and made eye contact. Thinking about that moment now makes my heart swell. As she got older nursing could be gentle or playful. Her head nestling into me with its soft curls, or her fingers pinching and exploring.

I spent time with mothers who nursed their children until they were well into toddlerhood. I wondered if I would, could. “Stop by the time she can ask for it”– friends would say – not realizing that she started asking for it by pulling at my shirt when she was three months. I had hoped she would wean herself (but secretly I hoped that would happen soon).

Joan is starting to develop language. She can ask for water with a word that sounds like a mix of water and agua: wagua. She still asks to nurse by pulling on my shirt. And in the past week I’ve said no. It was my choice not hers. Part of me still feels bad about it – that I’m somehow failing her that I should keep going until she no longer wants it.  And I was nervous I would lose that time of closeness of her eyes in mine, her hair against me, and her fingers taking ownership of my skin.

As far as I can tell this is the point of parenting: to take a helpless being who relies only on you and helping them get to the point when they don’t need you anymore. Joan doesn’t need me for sustenance: she drinks milk, water and eats EVERYTHING.  I feel both a loss and a huge gain.

And so we are done with that part of our relationship. In Genesis it is mentioned that Isaac had a weaning party. I love that idea. I want to celebrate Joan’s growth and I want to celebrate my freedom. My body is finally my own again almost two years after I first got pregnant. Instead of having a party last night I bought a ring. It’s a milky white rose and a reminder to me that I was successful. That despite all the self-doubt, the feeling that I wasn’t good enough, and the hours spent pumping, I was successful. My body did what it was supposed to do: it allowed me to make my own choices. That Joan’s body did what it was supposed to do: it thrived.

Bye, breastfeeding, so long.


My weaning ring. Purchased at Brookland Arts Walk made by the talented Rachel Pfeffer.


Translate this! My take on #ShakesGate

October 1, 2015

The playwright Jenny Lane asked on facebook:

I have been thinking a lot about this [the new OSF commission Play on! 36 playwrights translate Shakespeare] as peers and colleagues that I trust and admire have weighed in. But I have come to the conclusion that the ONLY thing I love about this project is that it’s work for lots of playwrights and dramaturges.

I think I’d be into it if the playwrights were given more freedom to play, but they’re really not. Here are the guidelines:

“First, do no harm. There is language that will not need translating and some that does. Each team is being asked to examine the play line-by-line and translate to contemporary modern English those lines that need translating. There is to be no cutting or editing of scenes and playwrights may not add their personal politics. Second, put the same kind of pressure on the language as Shakespeare put on his. This means the playwright must consider the meter, rhyme, rhythm, metaphor, rhetoric, character action and theme of the original. These translations are not adaptations. Setting, time period and references will remain unchanged.”

Shakespeare’s language is what I’ve loved about Shakespeare. His stories are largely blatantly taken from elsewhere, so… is it Shakespeare if we’re no longer grappling with his language? I don’t think that it is. So then… what’s the point?

Someone argue with me and convince me this is a good idea because it just frustrates me right now.

And I wrote my thoughts which then disappeared into air as my metro went underground. So, I thought I would try again off of facebook in a space where I (hopefully) can articulate my thoughts.

I am very excited about Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s new commission project. If you haven’t been following you can read an article about it here and see the full list of artists commissioned here.

I have now participated in many discussions on-line and off and have more thoughts roaring through my head then I have time to write. So here’s the outline for a longer explanation.

A. Shakespeare would have dug it.

  1. People may disagree with me but I believe a couple of things about Shakespeare.
  2. His work rewrote older works – both stories but also made use of language.
  3. He cared about his audience understanding his work. It was theatre made for the people.
  4. He was a playwright – what playwright would’t want their work gone through with a fine-tooth comb arguing about what you were thinking by a team of artists 400 years after their death.

B. Maintaining original intentions. Not an adaptation.

  1. The motto for the project is “Do no harm.”
  2. They want to maintain the structure, artistry and content of these plays.
  3. Some of Shakespeare’s work is fully comprehensible some is not. This is translating the parts that for whatever reason are unclear and doing so in an artistic fashion.
  4. Just as in a language to language translation it is impossible not to impart some of the translators voice but the goal remains to tell the author’s story in the way the author would want it told.
  5. That’s why it is important that the writers stay apolitical or rather keep their own politics clear – they are not there to further their agenda but like a good translator to tell the original story in a different language.
  6. Yes, Shakespeare’s English is today’s English. We use the same vocabularies. That doesn’t mean we speak the same language. You and I reader use the same vocabulary, sometimes we do not speak the same language. If I was to travel back in time it would probably be a challenge to communicate meaning even with the same words. Language changes and shifts in time.
  7. This is not No Fear Shakespeare where the goal is to make the story clear. This is not about plot but about poetic language.
  8. Plus, the rules state that they only change the language where it is needed. This is not getting rid of Shakespeare’s poetry.

C. I like that they lack freedom.

  1. I’m a firm believer that structure and restrictions aid creativity.
  2. Adaption is relatively easy since the output comes directly from the artist – but to find the balance between intention and art takes brave, intelligent and creative people. It is a huge challenge.

D. These will never replace Shakespeare’s greatest works. But they may help understand them.

  1. As an part-time educator (and in conversation with my husband the actual educator) I think that it is helpful to have multiple texts to be able to compare and further understanding.
  2. Shakespeare has lasted 400 years. Why would we think a new play will overthrow his importance?
  3. And, if one of these plays does end up being so brilliant that it helps to clarify meaning that went over the heads of even the most erudite viewers/readers, then why wouldn’t we want that in the world?
  4. There is no clean text of Shakespeare anyway. All productions and published editions make choices about language to change and lines to edit based on either clarity or history. This just adds to that conversation. And like the individual writers of the talmud, it’s just another voice adding to the conversation about a central text.

E. I love an intellectual exercise.

  1. These lucky artists get to go line by line through the text and work to understand it. They get to do what few have the time to do. And then they get to take what they find and relay it.
  2. It is so important that Dramaturgs are included in the commission. And it’s exciting to see respected peers on the list alongside my teachers (including my Shakespeare teacher from Columbia). These are smart people who love Shakespeare’s language. I trust them to work to not only do no harm but elevate what is wonderful about the original.
  3. I’m a nerd. And I picture the dramaturg and playwright huddled together like hevruta (think Yentl and Avigdor). If people look at Shakespeare as so sacrosanct then doesn’t it make sense like the scholars of old for the texts to be explored in this way.

F. This is for everyone.

  1. Seeing facebook friends talk about how this is “dumbing the work down” or Shakespeare for people who are “lazy” or that it is “spoon feeding” makes me sad.
  2. Yes, Shakespeare’s language can be understood by anyone who has the time (or the teacher) willing to showcase it. Or if they see a great production, more on that below, but that doesn’t mean that if they don’t understand something they can’t have paths for accessing it.
  3. And really, some of Shakespeare’s texts are harder than others. Hamlet may be easy but even The Tempest has some real linguistic challenges. Some get the tools to understand and some do not.
  4. I love that I work in an education department that believes that Shakespeare’s language can be understood by everyone. I love that we strive for that. But, there are still plays we choose not to do with students because of the challenges that they bring up. There are parts of Loves Labours Lost that will always be cut because the language is so dense and dated. And that’ all okay.
  5. The mission of this project is to not cut but reevaluate the language. To open it up. For everyone not just those who don’t have access to a great education.

G: Sure, A good production is clear.

  1. A number of the comments have asked why we even need something like this. If the work is done by the director and actors then meaning can be imparted through action, visuals and context.
  2. Sure. But, then someone is doing that work and doing more than this is asking for.
  3. Words get cut and changed in every production, usually by a director. This is opening up the room to a playwright as well (though it should be noted some of the commissioned artists are directors & actors).
  4. There will be no cutting to make this clear. It is only adjustments to the language.

H: Shakespeare isn’t infallible.

  1. People love them that Shakespeare. But he was a writer. A person. Some work is brilliant. Some isn’t.
  2. He isn’t a deity. He doesn’t need to be worshiped.

H: It may fail.

  1. Isn’t that exciting?
  2. It’s art!
  3. New art in the world!
  4. And it could suck!
  5. Or be brilliant!
  6. And yet people get paid and something gets created. And that is the best part of all.

Okay, have at me naysayers.

Evolution of fashion, or how Hannah changes her mind.

August 7, 2015

When I was in middle school I decided I hated jeans. I don’t really remember the reasons. Maybe it was the roughness of the fabric or the fact that everyone seemed to wear them constantly. Either way, I decided no jeans for me. All through high school I did what I could to avoid them. I wore corduroys, vintage dress pants, skirts but no jeans. Between the ages of 13 and 18 I was jeans-free.

Then came college and how things changed. I bought my first pair of jeans and for the next 10 years, jeans became the foundation of (almost) everything I wore. No big deal just a huge change. I didn’t even think about how long I had loathed them jeans were all I wanted.

Almost ten years ago people started wearing leggings on a regular basis. Leggings are the worst, I thought, lazy dressing. Well, here I am post-pregnancy and all I want to wear are leggings.

Maybe I am now lazy. Maybe it’s just that I’m in-between sizes. Maybe when you are schlepping around an almost three-month infant there is just no time to think about dressing beyond stretch. Or, maybe my style has changed.

I’m going back to work on Monday. Leggings and a nursing tank are not really work appropriate. And now I feel at a stylistic loss. What to wear when I want to wear the easy and comfort I’ve come to love on leave, need to wear something that will allow ease of access for pumping 3x daily and still looks like I’m an adult in a workplace. Oh, that doesn’t cost much money because new parent. Time to evolve.

(this post brought to you by a Joanie-nap)

last week on Tumblr: homes & fashion

May 15, 2015

Some inspiration from Hannah’s House of Dreams and What Hannah Would Wear – because sometimes Tumblr is just an excuse to dream.

 a bright room calls for some stylish sunglasses.

last week on the Tumblr: Theatre Collage edition.

May 11, 2015

Highlights from a week of posts on Theatre Collage:

Diana Vishneva: Dialogues. Ms. Vishneva in the work “Subject to Change” at City Center, March 2012. Photograph by Mark Olich.

The fierce and seductive men of flamenco, captured by Ruven Afanador.

“I don’t know if you know that sort of feeling you get on these days round about the end of April and the beginning of May, when the sky’s a light blue with cotton-wool clouds and there’s a bit of a breeze blowing from the west? Kind of uplifted feeling. Romantic, if you know what I mean. I’m not much of a ladies’ man, but on this particular morning it seemed to me that what I really wanted was some charming girl to buzz up and ask me to save her from assassins or something.”

At the table…

May 9, 2015

I love food. I love eating it, learning about it, reading about it and watching it. One of the reasons I’m glad I don’t have cable is my propensity to spend unnecessary hours with the food network.

And so, when looking for something to watch on Netflix I noticed a new series called Chef’s Table I dove right in. I discovered the unexpected in these six documentaries. Rather than getting a mediation on food (though there was some) or inspiration on dishes (again, there was some) what I found was a compelling look at the lives of artists.

The six chef’s from all over the world have different styles of living and cooking but what binds them all is the uniqueness of their visions and the passion of their drives. I was only familiar with one of them: Dan Barber whose book The Third Plate I devoured while on vacation last summer. The rest were new to me and I was impressed with the choices that covered much of the globe: LA to Sweden to Patagonia. I was glad to see a woman highlighted (LA’s Niki Nakayama). The director’s weaves personal stories, food stories and the politics of artistic entrepreneurship in a way that makes the viewer feel like you’re getting a glimpse at something special.

And all of this made me think about theatre.

In DC it is hard not to make the leap between participation on the arts and in food life. The amount of disposable income being plunked down on restaurants in this city is massive and I’m guessing I’m not the only art maker who wishes that some of that excitement and money could be shifted over to arts makers.

And yet, the thing that became clear while watching is that these chef’s are artists. And they make theatre. At least three of the documentaries discussed the theatrics or performance of the meal. The diner in all cases was being considered as an audience member. The artist/chefs ruminated on the same questions that face any kind of artist (but particularly theatre makers): how do you balance vision and economy? How do you work with a team to provide and receive inspiration? How do you maintain work/life balance? How does your product represent the immediate (the time and place, here and now)?

Imagine my shock when in the first of the series, Italian chef Massimo Bottura describes his wife Laura as being indispensable to the process of his creation. She is “looking at the things from a distance, so she sees everything very clear.” That may be one of the clearest descriptions of the role of dramaturg I’ve seen.

There must be ways of merging the creativity of food-making with the creativity of performance making. With blending the two worlds and economies not as separate but connected modes of sensual storytelling.

In the meantime, watch the documentaries. If you don’t have the time to take them all in, I’d suggest watching Mossimo Bottura and Niki Nakayama first.

If I don’t have a baby this week

May 4, 2015

Monday: dinner with a dear friend.
Tuesday: Sufjan Stevens at DAR
Thursday: Dinner with friend and seeing Very Still & Hard to See at Rorschach.
Friday: Maybe crashing my husband’s school’s prom to delight his students with my giant belly.
Saturday: AGE OF ULTRON and maybe this weekend also Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea.

Baby, hold off until your due date – Mama has some culture to soak in.