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

June 10, 2016

Breastfeeding.

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.

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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.


NEA New Play Development Program Launches at Arena

August 14, 2009

David Dower yesterday posted an outline for the New Play Development Program that the NEA is funding at Arena Stage.  This program is an exciting step for theaters nation wide and in DC.

As some of you know, I’ve been playing around with an idea for a new play development center. In fact it’s looking like the conceiving of my dream space and creating a business model is going to be my thesis.  I’ve been spending a great deal of thought time on what works and what doesn’t in the current theatrical model.  It seems from reading through David’s plans that he has as well.  There are some aspects of the NPDP that seem to be huge steps forward.  The Producer Fellowship in particular is a fantastic idea.  One huge problem in American theater is the rush to produce a new play like it was an established play. The two need different models of production, different framing and a different type of rehearsal process. The people who come out of that fellowship will really be in a position to bring new work to theaters in a conscientious way.

I’m also very excited about their discussion series which will be bringing together artists from the DC area and through out the country to discuss issues related to New Play development.  Creating new conversations is always a fantastic way to keep everyone moving forward.

The one piece to the announced program that I am not so keen on is the Theater 101 Audience development program.  Creating audiences for new plays is a large part of my mission and I’m glad that the NPDP recognizes it as an issue. However, there is something that feels very stale about their proposed program.  Even the name “Theater 101” presumes that the audience is remedial, it places them a step lower than the artists, as people who need to be taught what theater is rather than people who are an intrinsic part of making theater happen.  The program plans on taking a select group of audience members and basically showing them what happens behind the curtains. There is nothing new about this approach.  It does not feel to me like an effective way of training a larger audience, “the” audience,  how to approach coming to see theater.

All in all though, it’s a very exciting project and I am looking forward to seeing how it develops.


wait for it

May 11, 2009

I first heard about the Marshmallow experiment listening to one of my new favorite podcasts* Radio Lab a few weeks ago.  The basic experiment which happened in the 60s tested childrens self-control in the face of a mighty challenge – to eat one marshmallow now or to wait and get two.  They found that there were some children who were emotionally distraught over the idea of having to wait, there were some who tricked the system and there were some who were able to delay gratification.  The study itself is interesting, though more interesting is the work that’s been done since the original experiment. The researchers were able to keep track of the original subjects and look at whether their reactions to the marshmallows were an indicator of how they would live their lives. Those who were able to delay gratification ended up more sucessful in their lives. The skills that they used to wait for two marshmallows ended up being the same skills that helped them study rather than party, and other similar choices.

I am reminded of the podcast by a New Yorker article I just read that outlines both the original investigation and the experiements the researchers are still actively pursuing.  It all just makes me think about where I would fit on that scale.  I feel like as a child I would have possibly been able to resist the marshmallow (maybe my parents would tell me differently) but now I don’t know if I could. I mean, I obviously could resist a marshallow in front of me but I have a hard time with delayed gratification especially when it comes to the internet. I think the internet will skew the data coming out.  Here I sit with my wordpress page open, and up in my tabs gmail (with gchats going), fbook, the new yorker open and if I wanted to check something else at the moment I could. Then next to me is my phone with it’s own assortment of distractions. And everything is automatic. And everything is updated. And when you send something out you expect something quickly back in return. If an email goes unreplied over a couple of hours or even minutes you start to wonder if something is wrong.  I see people online in gchat and I want to say something to them just so I can have them say something to me – even when there is really nothing for us to say. I crave the contact that the inernet gives me – that’s why I write on a blog as well.  I want to know that my words are being read (and I know when I look at my stats). And I want to hear that people are responding to them.  That’s why I get excited when someone comments. Read the rest of this entry »


theatre collage – something new

March 25, 2009

so, because i like being overstimulated i started a new blog. The new blog (theatrecollage.tumblr.com) is more like an inspiration journal than a blog. It’s the web equivalent of what i  had in the days of paper – clipped out articles and images from newspapers and magazines, quotes I wanted to remember, and little quick notes.  It is not personal. It will not take a way from or replace any aspect of what this blog does.  Everything on Theater Collage will some how connect to the theatrical – whether directly or indirectly. My comments on it will be kept to a minimum.

I hope that you visit and bookmark or add it to your feed reader of choice.  I hope that even if you’re not in theater you’ll be able to find inspiration in the things I add.

Theatre Collage will not have commenting set for it so if you have any thoughts email, fbook or comment on here.

Enjoy!


leaving the theater

March 6, 2009

After seeing Richard Foreman and Meredith Monk’s work this week I’ve been thinking about the necessity of understanding to enjoying a show. For me, if a piece doesn’t want me to understand it then I am totally okay just going on for the ride but I know there are people, friends and classmates included, who feel angry when they don’t have a narrative or symbolic structure to follow. It feels, to them, pointless.  So I’m curious about how others want to feel when leaving a play. Do you mind having questions unanswered? Do you mind not understanding at all?


this post may be a little personal, i’m just in that kind of mood, then again, maybe it won’t ’cause i don’t really do that do i

January 23, 2009

Diving right in I go. Two days of classes so far it doesn’t seem like much but that shift has started again. It’s back into the busy times and once more I am reminded that I love being busy. That I start to feel alive again. That though being relaxed and doing nothing all day is in part great it doesn’t feel like reality. It doesn’t feel like it matters. Instead it feels that the world is slowing down or that I am slowing down. That somehow the world and I are disconnected, and from there depression or loneliness or bitterness can creep in. I start worrying about things that don’t matter.

And then deep breath I dive right back in and it’s exciting. It’s like taking a plunge in a chilly lake in the early morning, something I haven’t don nearly enough. You are ready for it and you aren’t it feels unnatural and at the same time it is heavenly, just right as your body acclimates and it feels like home.  I know already it will be a busy semester. I welcome it. The difficulty will be keeping out the tensions that plagued me last year, the petty jealousies and disappointments, the questioning of decisions. Keeping in the moment and open are difficult when faced with long lists of reading assignments, multitudes of rehearsals, hundreds of plays I really should see, and you know maintaining some aspects of a social life. Read the rest of this entry »