Musings on language, images and life

Month: October, 2011

Food Source

Written in conjunction with Blog Action Day 2011.

About 4 hours into a relatively short 8-hour natural labor with my daughter, I turned to my sister after moaning and swaying through a particularly arduous contraction and said, “I feel like that cow in the birthing barn at the State Fair.”

“Yeah,” she replied. “It’s a mammal thing.” She was right, and at that moment, I had no idea how intimately connected I would be to my mammalhood (mammalness? mammalitude?) during the coming months.

Before I became one, I didn’t really think about what it would be like to be a food source.  I just figured breastfeeding would be what it would be, end of story. As it turns out, I was right not to over think it. There was no way I could have ever comprehended what it means to be the sole provider of nourishment to a quickly growing human. Along the way, I’ve discovered many things about my place in the world as a food source.

As a food source, I have to trust my body.

The first time I nursed Lyla, it was simultaneously the most natural and the most daunting thing I had ever done. After the postpartum high wore off, I remember thinking, “Wow. It’s all on me. I’m the one who needs to make sure she gets enough food.”

Lyla was a good two weeks overdue, so she came out waterlogged and full of meconium. As all of this passed out of her system, she lost weight quickly. I was pressured by the pediatrician to give her formula. I resisted, knowing this could compromise the success of our nursing relationship. Instead, I trusted that my body would do what it was made to do. Sure enough, it did. My daughter continues to thrive on what I alone can give her.

As a food source, I am envied.

“She loves you so much. She eats what you make. I wish I could give her food, too.” These words were uttered by a bleary-eyed papa as he watched me nursing the babe to sleep one night. Michael has always been in charge of the food in our house; he cooks, grocery shops, and researches food trends/practices/realities to keep us in good health and eating extremely tasty food. The fact that I’m the only one who can feed Lyla has been challenging for him, since feeding people is one of the primary ways in which he shows friends and family he cares about them.

As a food source, I am tired and sore.

There are times when exclusive, on-demand breastfeeding kicks my butt…hard. At the same time, I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is only a short period of time in which I can do this for my daughter, and I know these days will pass quickly.

As a food source, I am more aware of my choices.

It’s mind-blowing how many nutritional options are available to me every day. I realize how fortunate I am; I live in a place where I have access to the best quality food anyone could hope for and I have the means to acquire it. This is a privilege and also a responsibility. Being a food source to another person has made me think more about what I put in my own body, ultimately making me a healthier and more engaged person. It is my responsibility to help sustain those who are working to provide healthy, fresh food so that eventually these opportunities will become more prevalent and accessible to all. It is also my responsibility to help open up access to food choices to those who do not have the means to purchase nutritious food for themselves and their children. We’re all in this together.

As a food source, I am powerful.

Each time I look at my daughter, I am awed by how much she has grown. I am grateful to my body for providing what she needs to thrive. There is so much power in the female body. Not only can I nourish her physically, but also emotionally as I cradle her, sing to her and speak softly to her. The nursing relationship is so complete, so full.

As a food source, I am humbled.

I am humbled when I think of single mothers who nurse to exhaustion. I am humbled by mothers who nurse multiples and those who tandem nurse. I am humbled when I think of women who go without so that their children will have enough to eat. I am humbled by women who go to the hospital every day to nurse their sick infants. What strength, what perseverance, what love.

As a food source, I am connected.

Every day, I feel connected to the sisterhood of women who feed and nurture their children, not only at the breast, but in other ways as well. When I feed Lyla, I think of the women who have fed children in various ways over the centuries. What an amazing gift we have. What an awesome responsibility.

I am proud to be taking part in Blog Action Day OCT 16 2011


35 Years: Musings on the Power of Love

For Barb and Dan Westmoreland on their 35th wedding anniversary.

My parents are a power couple. No, not the kind with his and hers BMWs, inflated egos and power suits— the kind that lovingly changes lives, one person at a time. Tomorrow they will celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary. For those who know them well, this milestone of love and commitment comes as no surprise. After all, Barb and Dan’s marriage is a microcosm of how they live their lives— with gusto, compassion, and devotion.

A few weeks ago, I came across a photo of my parents on their second date (to the Renaissance Festival) in 1972. My second comment (after mocking whatever mismatched…er…”fashion-forward?” polyester apparel my dad was sporting—you know, obligatory daughter stuff) upon seeing it was “Wow. It’s amazing to think that you had a life before us.” I was only half-kidding. It blows my mind to think of my parents meeting, dating and falling in love. I can’t fathom the fact that, just like the rest of us who have made commitments to partners, they went through that heady period of truly getting know each other—the good comes first, of course, followed by the not so good—the exhilaration, the vulnerabilities, the anxieties, the desires, the setbacks, the personality flaws that you finally decide you can work with, the love that you can’t imagine living without. Even though I’ve seen the photos and heard the recording of my dad’s emotion-filled voice singing to his bride, it’s hard for me to imagine them taking this major step in their lives together— committing to be there for each other, to have and to hold, from that day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do they part.

That’s because, when it comes to the Barb and Dan I’ve known my entire life, this sense of love and commitment has always been a given. Their relationship is not perfect; I’ve never seen one that is. However, the bedrock is solid. I’ve seen them withstand some intense challenges over the years— dying parents, struggling friends, and I know there have been periods when Annie or I stressed them to the max. They’ve always rolled up their sleeves, dug right in, and dealt with the problem at its root. As I look back on those times, the thing that strikes me most is their partnership. Whatever challenge Mom was facing became Dad’s challenge, too, and vice versa.

It’s been wonderful to watch my parents grow as individuals (taking on new projects, becoming interested in new things, refining their skills) and as partners, especially over the past few years. Their relationship has never stopped evolving. I am inspired by their ability to pour themselves into their work, passion projects, friendships and families. I am even more inspired by the way they support each other, making it possible for each of them to achieve greatness in so many ways.

Not a day goes by that I don’t recognize how fortunate I am to have grown up with such loving, engaged parents. I know that 99% of why I am happy and fulfilled today has to do with my parents’ influence. I also realize that this process started the moment I was born, and I was reminded of this fact a few months ago.

Several weeks after I gave birth to Lyla, we were over at Mom and Dad’s. I gave Lyla to Dad while I went to use the restroom. When I came back out to the living room, Dad and Lyla were nowhere to be found. As I was looking for them, I heard muffled giggling coming from Mom and Dad’s bedroom. I opened the door slowly and saw that Dad had snuggled Lyla up next to Mom as she was waking up from her nap. Mom was sleepily playing with Lyla’s little toes and cooing loving words in her ear. Dad was lying on the other side of Lyla, stroking her head. When he saw me at the door, he jokingly said “Go away! This is our baby!” and turned back to his granddaughter. I disobeyed his “order,” and as I watched them with her, it dawned on me that this is what my first days on earth must have looked like. It was like staring into a time capsule. My eyes filled as I thought of my parents sharing all of the love they had as a couple with their first child, then a second child, and friends, and family and eventually the communities they both serve.

Indeed, something powerful was happening in that photo from 1972. Perhaps unbeknownst to them at the time, my parents were laying the foundation for a beautiful life. Not just for themselves, but for so many others.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.