On being the dog

"Oh, so this is the game. You throw something to the floor and I pick it up. It's called fetch. I've played this before. Except this time I'm the dog..." -- Jessa

On making friends

"Baby, what's that in your mouth? WHAT'S THAT IN YOUR MOUTH? ... Um, sorry, I thought he was just pulling her pig-tails but actually my son was stealing your daughter's barrette. Here ya go. It's kind of wet."

Une Vache à Lait: Milk Banks, Co-Operatives, and Corporations

I overheard a conversation today. I was sitting in the sweet little Le Marche St. George with my sweet little friend Le Jessa when two mothers came in. One had a babe in arms and the other had two kids under five.

"She had an undersupply issue," said one.
"Yeah, so that's what I'm saying. She just went to the milk bank." Said the other.
"I heard it's so expensive."

Nobody ever seems to like it when I butt in on their conversations so I just kept my questions -- and my excitement -- to myself (and Jessa). The thing is, I'd forgotten all about this little stream of alterna-parenting: not-for-profit human breast milk cooperatives.

It's no secret that many women in the West (15% of women who breastfeed) as well as a small percentage worldwide (less than 5%, more on this later) have difficulties producing enough milk for their babies. Any breastfeeding difficulty can be physically trying; this particular one has an intense emotional impact. Sarah, my co-blogger, wrote about some of these challenges (and her success!) in this post.

So what happens if you want to have an EBF (Exclusively Breast Fed) baby but your milk supply doesn't seem to be high enough? At first, mama and baby work on the problem themselves with more frequent nursing and maybe a Lactation Consultant's suggestions. But if baby isn't gaining weight or soiling enough diapers, it's time to supplement. Most mamas supplement with formula. Some are happy with this. But many aren't. Isn't there an alternative?

There are mamas with the opposite problem: oversupply. That was me for the first six months of Sweet Baby James' life. Milk, milk everywhere, and not a drop to drink (thirsty?...). Compared to undersupply it's a blessing. But it wasn't fun. I went through four pairs of the best (and most expensive) nursing pads every day. I shoved clean cloth diapers in my bra at night and soaked through them. I actually broke into tears one morning when I realized that no matter what I did, I was going to wake up with my pajamas plastered to my skin with sticky, smelly milk -- and I'd worn my last clean pajama top three nights ago.

The worst part was the run-off. I poured dozens of bottles of expressed milk down the drain and every time I did I felt a twinge of guilt: here I have so much while some have so little. I guess you could say I was the 1% of milk producers.

Thinking there must be some better way, I looked into donating to a milk bank. There are only a handful in the world. There is one in Canada -- it's in BC and if you want to donate you have to pay $ to ship your milk there. Glad to see we have a bank but I'm not in a position to pay to be generous these days.

There's also the International Breast Milk Project which pays for all shipping and has set up a free milk bank for orphaned babies in South Africa... Only problem is, they have also "partnered" with Prolacta Bioscience, a for-profit corporation that charges American parents big bucks to provide their premie babies with breast milk -- the same breast milk that has been donated by American women. Only 25% (10% if the amount received exceeds 400,000 oz.) of the milk donated actually gets to the bank in South Africa. The rest is sold for profit within America.

Prolacta 'invests' $1 per ounce they sell within America in humanitarian aid projects in South Africa. The fact that they can donate that much just shows just how valuable breast milk really is. Feeding a baby on milk bank milk costs about $100/day (EBF babies take in an average of 25 ounces/day). Way to be generous with the proceeds from sales of a material you acquired for free with sanctimonious preachings about helping the needy, Prolacta BioSCAMience.

So I did nothing, and bags of milk I had conscientiously stored in the freezer got chucked in the garbage when we moved. I'd done my research, but not very well. Because tonight I found this site, Milk Share, which hooks up donor and recipient families. Not a milk bank, not a big corporation (you can tell from Milk Share's ugly website -- Prolacta's is way sexier), though recipient families have to pay $20 to sign up. Just a little 'missed connections' messaging board for the lactationally yearning.

In fact, I could make some pretty good cash selling milk within the US through sites like this one, Only the Breast. I'll wait for my Green Card to come through first. But since it's only the state of California (where Prolacta is based...) that consumer-to-consumer sale is outright prohibited, we'd better move to New Jersey. You know, where they're more into this kind of thing.

The ickiness factor, however, kind of ramps up when I think of being paid for my milk. It's not that I'm against being paid for a product of my body (I worked damn hard in a lot of crappy jobs in my day -- what else is elbow grease but a bodily fluid?) but I'm a bit put off by the buyers. 48 of the 204 'Milk Wanted' ads on Only the Breast were posted by people who admit to being men.

Not that men can't be looking to buy breast milk for their babies. You just have to admit it's kind of unlikely. Take this guy whose ad claims a "low vitamin D level" for which he's willing to travel up to 75 miles to get FRESH breast milk. He says he found his vitamin D levels rose while "helping my wife with producing enough milk to feed our child" and he'd like to, you know, uh, get those levels up again.
HINT: Breast milk doesn't contain Vitamin D, that's why we Canadians have to give our babies Vitamin D drops.
HINT: People who do this don't have "a child," they have "a baby".
HINT: If you're a mom working on your milk supply, you're probably pumping a lot and letting the baby comfort nurse a lot, and not generally offering up your mammaries like an extra-handy Gatorade bottle to your thirsty, needs-to-get-out-in-the-sun-more husband.

Ladies, if you want to deal with mail-order fetishists, just sell your panties on Craigslist and be done with it. You'll benefit from a higher profit margin. And there's no need to refrigerate.

Like everything to do with bodies in our society, the issue is complicated. The ethics of buying, selling, and donating are complicated. The logistics are complicated. But it's great that breast milk is becoming more available to mamas who need it. Supplementing with formula doesn't work for everybody -- all babies have a (minor) dairy allergy, and some have a severe one; some babies are allergic to soy. They've gotta eat something. But keeping the digestive tract clear of everything but breast milk for the first six months is supposed to help the villi in the stomach lining to develop.

If you're comfortable with it, breast is best. Even if it's somebody else's.

First Class, Baby (Part III)

Air Canada flight 137, Toronto to Vancouver. One hour delayed.

The day begins with both mother and baby cranky, tired, feelings still smarting from our big fight the night before. It was all the baby's fault. My patience is wearing as thin as the two threadbare tank-tops I've been rotating (exchanging?) throughout this trip. It's also looking a little stained. One of its straps has broken.

He fusses at breakfast, at a hipster-only cafe on Dundas Street. I find this especially frustrating because they don't have a highchair or a changing table -- and Sweet Baby James' behaviour is only going to encourage them to keep not having these things. I tell the waiter that not having a highchair makes it hard for me to patronize them. He gives me a nonplussed look as Sweet Baby James lets out a wail (no, you may not wield the fork). I leave my friends to chat (about art! about our generation! about a really interesting conversation!) and stand outside with the baby. A cold wind blows. He's quiet for a minute and I take a deep breath. "SBJ," I say, "We have to pull together. Today is going to be a long day." "Hrgh," he replies.

I'll take that as a yes.

We take public transit to the airport since I'm not traveling with the carseat. It's not all that hard on TO's transit system, especially since I've packed so light (two tanktops, people. Two!). We check our bag and head to security.

About to get on the streetcar (who's bigger, baby or suitcase?)

At Toronto's Pearson International Airport, there are two security line-ups. One is for important people, and the other is for cattle. I approach the young woman guarding the VIP security section. "Excuse me," I say, "Can I go in this line?" I gesture to the baby on my hip who, for once, is using his cuteness to my advantage. She glances at me, gives an imperceptible shake of her head and looks back at her list. I am tired, I am hungry, I am cranky, and now, I am enraged. So I say what any normal person would say while pure feminist outrage coursed through her veins. "Well that's unfortunate!"

(and here I'm reminded of the time my friend was groped while running along the Lachine canal. The guy copped a feel and then rode away on his douchebag low-rider bicycle. "I can't believe it, out of all the things I could have yelled, you know what I said? 'There's something the matter with you!' Yes, that's right. [laughing] I wrote him a strongly worded letter.")

So I walk to the other line. The two gentlemen monitoring this line give us big smiles. They expedite us to the front. Then they transfer us to the Big Person's line. Their generosity only serves to incense me further. How dare she treat me so poorly? How dare she brush me off like a speck of dirt on her (polyester) lapel?

I march up to her. "You know what?" I say, "Actually, I can go in this line. So thanks a lot." I'm stalking off when she says,
"Excuse me, Ma'am, what's your name?" And I think Oh shit. Oh shit, I'm one of those people who yells at airline employees.
"Svea." I say.
"Oh, well it's not like I'm going to risk my job just to put you in the line."
"Well that's fine," I say, "But there are nicer ways of saying that. You could say, 'I'm sorry, you need to go in this line over here.' But instead you just looked through me."
"I was talking to someone else," she lies.
"Well, whatever the case, I felt like it was rude. I hope you have a good night."
"Well, I'm sorry" she says, in the least sorry voice she's ever been not-sorry with.

I'm actually shaking as I struggle to untie my laces to remove my boots for the X-ray machine. "Watch the baby's head" someone says and it's true that he's keeling to the side like a slice of tomato slipping out of an over-stuffed sandwich. But he's silent, somehow awed by his mother's kickass assertiveness. "He's so cute!" says the security guard. "Thanks," I say, "I think so too."

I stop at a family washroom/nursing room on the way to the plane because I want to write about it for my blog. A small sign on the door says "occupied". I reach out to test the handle and a woman in a suit jacket breaks the monologue she's speaking into her cell phone to bark at me. "Occupied!" she says. Yes, I sigh. Rude, rude, rude. I really have to do something about that kick-me sign on my forehead.

We get to our gate and although they're already boarding I run to the washroom to get in one last pre-plane couche change. They have a nice stainless steel changing table (of course) in a nicely sectioned-off little bit of the washroom. Too bad there's not a shelf or even a hook to hang your stuff on. I pile coat, sweater, passports, boarding passes, changing kit, all atop our little backpack, which goes on the floor. The baby voices his disapproval as I change him. I am feeling seriously fed up. Or maybe just hungry. I have no time to stop and pick up a snack, since I spent that time picking up a (seriously overrated) copy of Ondaatje's most recent book.

"What a beautiful child," someone says as she walks into a stall. I try to feel that way, like I am the mother of a beautiful child, the kind of child who shines light into the lives of people (most frequently, myself), who is lovely and enthusiastic and most certainly not going to scream for the next five hours.

It's all about positive thinking, right?

As we're boarding the plane (the last to get on), I count six strollers in the entrance. That's a lot of babies. This is the baby flight. Suddenly, Sweet Baby James' chances of survival are a lot better. I sing to him as we get settled in. The flight attendant comes over to instruct me to hold him facing me during take-off. Which would be fine if he were a little baby, but he's not, and he doesn't fit in my lap like that. So he ends up standing on my thighs, playing a one-sided (his) peek-a-boo with the lady sitting behind us. Probably not what the flight attendant had in mind, but... Quietly, quietly.

He's kind of a grouch for most of the flight but, then, so am I. We watch a little bit of The Wiggles on mute. In case you don't know, The Wiggles are a group of Australian men who like to squat. They perform squatting song-and-dance routines. I hold one earphone up to the baby and the other to myself. As I suspected, they have no rhythm. But this is the first time our baby actually seems compelled by the TV, and this compels me to stretch my own preferences.

The only other notable events of this flight are reflections of the flight attendants' genuine interest and affection: one of them looks ready to take Sweet Baby James home with her, since "My ex-husband was Muslim, I'm Native, it didn't work out." (to which the other attendant replies, "But it's not too late, is it?") I promise to bring the baby in to her restaurant; and the lone male attendant comps me a bowl of oatmeal. Win!

My mom's there to meet us at the other end, and what joy, she has also remembered the carseat. She treats me to the $22 parking lot fee and pulls out onto the highway. I sing the baby some ants as he whimpers his way through the streets of my hometown for the very first time in his very short life.

On time zones

"You know, I really love coming west from being out east. Because of the time difference my baby goes to bed at 9:30, not midnight. It totally makes me seem like a better mother."

10 Signs You Need to Find Yourself Some Mama Friends

Can you still be close after you've had a baby and your friend hasn't? The featured article in my La Leche League magazine says Well, not really. But that's bullshit. It has to be bullshit. I love my old friends and since none of them have kids yet, I refuse to become a self-made social pariah just because I have a totally new life with drastically different priorities baby.

But there are differences. I don't have the time I used to. I don't have the patience I used to. And I definitely can't give my friends the kind of attention they're used to. I'm too focused on getting Sweet Baby James to stop eating that french fry he peeled off the cafe floor.

The writing's on the wall. I'll never leave my old friends but I need some Mama friends to share my pain /germs. Maybe you're in the same boat.

Here are 10 Signs You Need to Find Yourself Some Mama Friends
1. Your baby's been to the bar more times than he's been to the playground. He plays better pool than you do. He thinks the bartender is his father friend.
2. The bartender actually is his friend.
3. You discuss defecation at all manner of social functions. In fact, you discuss it at all social functions. The bartender knows if baby's pooped today.
4. Pregnant women cross the street when they see you coming. Your desperation to bond is only exceeded by their desire to get to yoga.
5. You sit down for lunch with your friend the party animal. She says she's 'exhausted'. You quash an urge to gouge her eyes out.
6. You update your status to say you're putting the baby to sleep. Your friends think this is a good time to call and say hi.
7. You refuse to have a conversation with anyone before you know their stance on vaccination and crying it out. The letter-carrier and cashier at your local grocery conduct their services in silence.
8. You start advising your friends to stick with Mr. Wrong because you're secretly hoping they'll get knocked up.
9. All those people who said they'd babysit when you were pregnant now define your baby as "the best form of birth control."
10. Your milk lets down and the only thing you can find to catch it is your friend's half-drunk martini. You call this ground-breaking. She calls it "a waste".