Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Would you like to have a meal in a public bathroom?

I started this post last Friday, but we had to travel to D.C./Maryland (we went to my uncle's house and then helped out and participate of my nephew's first birthday party).

I know I'm a little "late" reacting to this, but I just can't let it go!! Kateri (at Wet Feet) linked to an article in a recent post which made me SO upset, so angry that I just had to write about it. To save you time, so you don't need to register in the "Philadelphia Daily News" to read, I'll do what Julie (at Woman in the Mirror) did for a recent NY Times article (the link is to her DotMoms post that has the NYT article about Ivy league female students who plan to quit their jobs when they become moms)
[That's another issue worth thinking and writing about, but lots of people have done so already, for example, Playground revolution and Mothershock, and Swisslovebaby's latest post is related to the issue as well]

I'm pasting the article below and adding my comments in italics.

First, a comment: I respect any mother's choice in terms of breasfeeding or using formula for their babies, I just think that breasfeeding does not receive enough support in many places of the world, particularly here in the U.S. and this lack of support from people such as this writer/lawyer and Barbara Walters makes it even harder for moms to breasfeed. Later in the post I'll share my own experience (if there's room).
Posted in the Philadelphia Daily News on Monday Sep. 19, 2005.

Written by Christine M. Flowers


THE OTHER DAY, I was counseling a client on her legal options when, without pausing to ask if I minded, she lifted her blouse and began to breast-feed her infant daughter.

Taken aback and not wanting to interrupt the child's meal, I guided the consultation to a swift conclusion.

There would have been no problem had the client asked if she could excuse herself and take the child to our bathroom or to a vacant office. What irritated me was the assumption that her right to nurse the infant trumped any obligation on her part to be courteous and ask, "Do you mind?"
Why is it implied that's necessary to ask permission to breastfeed? Does anyone need permission to bottle feed, or even to eat? Why only a bathroom or an empty room?
When I read this I immediately recalled that last year I breastfed my 1 m. old at our lawyer's office on the day that we closed on the sale of our house. For a split-second I thought about asking, but then just went ahead and did it.

I would never presume to tell someone what they could do in their bed, in their bathtub or at their dinner table. But what I expect and demand is that people not force their own militant preferences on me in public places.
OK, does it mean one can only breastfeed at home? Why is it that breastfeeding is a "militant preference" and not a "natural way to feed a child"? WOW, "forcing" is very strong language! And as far as I know, it is LAW that women can breastfeed wherever they're allowed in public with babies (which is almost everywhere).

I actually started this piece at least three times, searching for an inoffensive way to say it.
It's very clear that you haven't found an inoffensive way, far from it.

There was the sensible, statistic-driven approach that emphasized the overwhelming health benefits of breast milk. Too safe, I decided.

There was the acknowledgment that nursing was a unique form of love, representing the eternal bond between mother and child. Too cliched, I thought.

There was even an attempt at humor, as in "I really need to get this off my chest." (Who was it that told me puns were the indication of a deficient mind?)

But the only way to say it is boldly and without apology, girding myself for the onslaught of criticism from the La Leche activists:

Women shouldn't breast-feed wherever they choose.
What??? Well, at least you said it, you didn't come out with that "I felt uncomfortable" talk of a Barbara Walters. And I think you were corageous. But why, then? Let's read on and see if your arguments hold.

If I'd said, "Men shouldn't urinate in public," it's unlikely that anyone would vociferously object. But I feel the backs stiffen and the claws unsheath at the mere suggestion that nursing is a private affair.

Infants are magnificent creatures. While certain specimens may eventually turn out to be unpleasant (e.g., the ones who develop into adults like Paris Hilton and Michael Moore), the consensus is that they bring joy and hope for the future.

Without them, in fact, there would be no future. So it is important for us to do whatever we can to ensure their survival.

At a minimum, they need to be fed. Newborns have a lot of time on their hands since they don't hold down jobs, drive or fret about the state of the world, so eating becomes disproportionately important to them. They crave nutrition on an hourly basis, regardless of where they might be.

For nursing infants, "appetizer-entree-dessert" is wherever mommy happens to be when the urge strikes. So unless nursing mothers agree to be trapped in their homes for the first year of junior's life, they sometimes have to breast-feed in public.
OK, that's not a very pleasant option. What would you suggest then, if women should NOT breastfeed in public?

That's not the problem. Women should be permitted to nurse unobtrusively in restrooms and other public places specifically designated for the purpose.
Oh... all right. Woud YOU want to eat in the bathroom, sitting in the toilet? Looking at that dirty floor, enjoying that clean, spacious, inviting space? Public places specifically designated for the purpose? Sometimes it's hard enough to find changing tables in certain public places, let alone a private place where one can sit comfortably.

The craving for nutrition and the ability to satisfy it are natural and beautiful, as are a woman's breasts. The problem arises when an essentially private activity becomes part of the public domain.
Why is breasfeeding "an essentially private activity"? It has to be because of the way our society views breasts, or maybe it goes deeper than that - many people feel bothered by the presence of young children, or babies who are not quiet, and cry or scream in public places - it seems our society is not comfortable with the presence of mothers/fathers and young children, and breasfeeding is only an obvious target because it is not such a prevalent practice or choice (unfortunately) .

There are, of course, ways to accommodate both modesty and utility, allowing breast-feeding in certain areas and prohibiting it in others, just as we do with any activity that encroaches on the public domain, like smoking and playing loud music.
Wow, does breasfeeding unsettle people so much that it lends itself to a comparison with an activity that actually harms other people's health such as smoking, or constitutes a kind of "auditorial polution" (loud music)? And it should be thus prohibited from certain places? It's just like prohibiting a mother with young baby to go to those places! (she does try to respond to this in the next sentence)

To those who resent the implication that breast-feeding might be as annoying as cigarettes and blaring hip-hop, I say that bared breasts can make some people very uncomfortable, even when a child is attached to one of them.
Usually, unless the child is very restless, there are no "bared breasts", only a little bit of a nipple when the latch on is taking place. More often one sees part of the mother's belly. Actually, it seems to be rather that people are "more uncomfortable" when there's a child is "attached to them", not "even when" one is.

There is also the option of using a breast pump to express the milk at home, and then using a bottle in public. This way, the child gains all of the benefits of mother's milk while society is spared the sight of a human Playtex nurser.
Whoa! that last sentence was pretty forceful. Society needs to be SPARED THE SIGHT of a nursing mother? A "human bottle"? About pumping, does she have any idea what she's saying? Pumping is wonderful, very useful for those who work or those (such as myself) whose infants aren't able to nurse for some reason (prematurity, inability to latch on, and so on), but pumping is a bit of a hassle. I pumped for 8 months and 5 months for each of my sons because I wanted them to eat cereal with my milk, but it was quite a hassle to find a suitable time, when I had enough milk supply to pump, and I was not busy caring for my children (in my particular case, I never needed to give my sons bottles, I was always around them).

When I mentioned this to a friend, she looked at me in horror and said, "But then people would think I was feeding my child formula!" It was as if I'd accused her of being Jim Jones on a Kool-Aid jag.
That seems to be the problem with many nursing mothers - it's more about the image than about the child.
No, I don't think it's all about the image. Her friend is right - unfortunately there's a lot of terrible criticism from mother to mother, but in no way I think mothers choose to breasfeed because of the "image". Some may start out that way, but if that's their real motivation, they probably don't continue for very long. I think that's a very weak argument about/against breasfeeding.

And at the risk of sounding deficient, it feels good to get that off my chest.
Well, yes, in the end, it's good you wrote this. I can only imagine how many people, probably thousands and thousands, if not millions of them think the same way but are "polite enough" to refrain from expressing their views. That's why I feel that many women feel too intimidated to even nurse their babies. They interiorize this and think it's kind of "unnatural" -- because if something is not legitimized by being allowed in public, people tend to shrink from it.
I don't know... I have no idea whether I'm making any sense in my counter-arguments either. I have decided to write another post to share my story. I don't think it fits in here anymore both because this post is too long already, and because I want it to be a positive post.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Finally I'm doing some progress in the dissertation work (sigh). I should be making even more progress from now on, because I bought a couple of books that are actually very useful: this more recent one and this older one (which doesn't even mention computers :) Edited to add: he doesn't mention computers for word processing, he does write about computer use for the analysis of data (available in 1981)

I'm not a very organized person, and the worst procrastinator you can think of, but I need to finish, and I will. I may not be able to do it on time to defend and file by April 30 in order to participate of the commencement in May, but I think I can do it at the latest by the end of next summer. Maybe it helps that I'm writing about this here, with an audience (however small :) . It sounds like I'm making a pledge. I'll keep you updated about this.

Some fun stuff:
Last Sunday we went to the beach again, this time for the whole day. We went to Island Beach State Park (NJ), and it was great! Maybe I'll add some pics to this post later...

Now... back to work!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Potty problems – Help!!

I guess I liked asking questions, so here’s another one for all the Mamas out there :)

Kelvin (3 ½) has been sleeping without diapers for a week now (no accidents so far – he just got up late one night when I was still at the computer and I took him to the bathroom), and he’s been peeing in the toilet (standing up) quite effectively since last April when we came back from Brazil. Sometimes I have to remind him to go, or just take him there so he won’t get his pants wet, but he’s been getting better and better about going on his own, etc.

There’s just one little problem. When he needs to poop, he asks for a diaper. No amount of coaxing or bribing (we’ve promised tons of presents if he does it in the potty/ toilet) will make him even try to go and sit. I think part of the problem is that he learned to pee standing up from the start, and he also poops standing up (always hidden in a corner or in the bathroom) as well (that’s another reason why I think it’s easier with girls, or so they say).

Any advice? I really don’t know what to do. I mean, I’m just tired of wasting perfectly good [disposable] diapers. When he still used them at night, we’d keep the lightly wet diapers and use them later, since he only had them on for a minute or so… but now, it’s just such a waste! I have no idea if he has any “retention issues” or anything – he’s never been constipated, and for over a year now he knows exactly when he needs to have a BM. I know I have to be patient, and wait, and eventually he’ll learn to do it, but I’m really tired of this whole situation, and even more tired of trying to reason with him (other than that he’s a pretty “reasonable” little boy :)

Friday, September 16, 2005

Do you write on library books?

Why do people write on library books? I just got a pile of new books for the methodology part of my dissertation, and many of them, almost all of them, are written on. I know it's absolutely pathetic, but since most of these annotations and underlinings are in pencil, I find myself erasing pages upon pages of library books (sigh)... I also happen to be a fervent annotator, but for me, library books are kind of "sacred" or something. If I really need to write on it, I make a photocopy, but I mostly use post-it notes (which, by the way, librarians shun because I think they're not acid-free or have harmful chemicals and can damage the books - but I figure it's much better than writing on them).
Anyway, do you write on library books? Why? Or do you, like me, feel annoyed at the practice?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Better late than never, or Beach in September

So, we went to "the Shore" (the way they call the New Jersey coast here) yesterday. I've wanted to go to the beach all summer, but DH was working hard, and I didn't want to go on Sundays, because I knew there'd be terrible traffic (it's impossible to stay sane in traffic with a 1 year old :)Anyway, the day was hot (here at home the maximum temperature was to 34 C/ 93 F), and we had food prepared because my cousin came to visit Monday night/ Tuesday morning (that's another story). So we packed a pic-nic and went, me, my parents and the boys. I took the laptop, and even worked a bit on the way to Atlantic City (my parents wanted to go there). We drove around a bit so my parents could see the Casinos, and stuff (I should say that I don't like casinos at all, I HATED Vegas when we were there 2 years ago. Atlantic City is not that bad because there's the sea. I don't like the boardwalk very much either)... Anyway, we'd been there last year in October, and climbed the Absecon Lighthouse. From up there, we had a beautiful view of Brigantine beach:

So I decided to go there yesterday, after we'd driven around AC a bit. It was a very good choice. The beach had a wide (or should I say long?) strip of lot of sand, it was mostly empty, and the water was nice and almost warm! Even my mom, who is super sensitive to cold (she's super friorenta) went in a bit! Linton went crazy when he saw the waves coming, he laughed and tried to run into the water, we had to hold him back! My dad has back problems and LOVES to have a free massage from the waves, so he stayed in the water for the longest time possible. I went in with Linton (after he decided to lay down "taste the sand") and my dad he carried Kelvin, who's a little scared of the big crashing waves. We were there for around an hour and a half, and we were in the water most of that time. We left only because Linton was getting cold and cranky because he needed a nap. It was great! I love the sea, and just looking at the waves crashing lifts my spirits. Going into the water and feeling the white foam against my skin brings me back to all my childhood summers spent at the beach. I hope in the future our family will be able to enjoy several days at the beach each summer, not just one :) I'm saying this, but my MIL has already reserved a house for us to spend 10 days at the beach in Brazil in December - that will be great, I'm sure! I'm posting some pictures below.

PS. edited to add: as I was finishing this post, it was almost 2 am, not 9:32 - the time I saved my first draft of the post - the baby opened the bedroom door and walked out - I can't belive he's wide awake in the middle of the night!!! Well , I'll go to bed with him now, hopefully he'll remain asleep this time :)

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


This is the Brazilian flag. The banner in the middle says “Order and Progress.” We learn in school that the green represents the forests, the yellow the gold, and the blue is obviously the sky, which features the “Southern Cross” as its most prominent constellation (oh, how I miss to see these stars in the familiar night sky under which I grew up).
Today is Brazil’s “Independence Day” or, as it’s more commonly called there Dia da Pátria (Day of the Homeland [more literally “Fatherland”]). I’m taking advantage of this fact and of Sophie La Porte’s question in the comments for the previous post, to write a bit about my home country.

It’s a sad thing to be thinking of Brasil nowadays, given the encompassing corruption scandal in which the president’s party (PT – Partido dos Trabalhadores/ Worker’s Party) is involved, but I won’t talk about the scandal, even because I don’t know, and don’t want to know much about it.

Brasil is a huge country, larger than the continental USA. It has a very diverse population, first, because of the country was inhabited by various tribes of Native Americans when it was “discovered” on 1500 by the Portuguese sailor Pedro Álvares Cabral. A second and important reason for the racial diversity is the African Diaspora, politically correct name for the atrocious practice of slavery, which took place in Brazil for almost 300 years (from the mid 1500s to 1888). Then, there were the various immigration waves, Italians, Germans, Lebanese, Japanese (Brazil is the country with the most Japanese immigrants in the world) and others.

The country was named after Brazilwood, a red wood which provided a much sought after dye which the Portuguese exported to Europe. It was a Portuguese colony until September 7, 1822 and a monarchy (with two Emperors, Dom Pedro I and Dom Pedro II) until 1889, when it became a Republic. It endured two main dictatorships, the first, “Estado Novo” (New State) 1930-1945, under Getúlio Vargas, the second, under the military, 1964-1974 (but only in 1984 a non-military president was indirectly elected). The first president elected directly by the people was impeached for corruption charges in 1992, and it might happen again with Lula, the current president.

Our country faces huge social problems. The gap between the immensely rich minority and the majority of poor, actually, miserable, people is astounding. Most people live in the large cities, close to the coast, and these large cities have millions of people living in sub-human conditions in the favelas (slums, precariously built shacks that in Rio de Janeiro cover the many steep mountains of the city, and in São Paulo, cover the valleys in between extremely rich neighborhoods, and most of the suburbs). Drug trafficking, street gangs, violence and crimes such as kidnapping are all over these big cities. Brasil is “famous” for having many street children (Sophie mentioned the film Pixote, and more recently, you can “see” the life in a favela in the movie City of God), perhaps as much as it is known for Carnival or the Amazon forest.

Well, there are many, many great things to say about Brasil, and I don’t want to get lost in my criticism (it’s easy to add a “but” to several things I’m listing next – part of being an expatriate, at least for me and my husband, involves over analyzing every single aspect of “being Brazilian”), so I’ll try to remember only the good things. First and foremost, Brazilians are a very friendly, warm people, usually very talkative, opinionated, and loud, especially because people love to hang out with friends and/or family members most of the time. People kiss and hug a lot, even perfect strangers (you always kiss when you’re introduced to someone). Brazilians are usually quite happy, and love to tell jokes and tease other people, just for fun. Brazilians can be very “relaxed” about everything, and famous for never being on time.

Brazilian popular music, particularly “classic” MPB (Música Popular Brasileira) and Bossa Nova is awesome. I just love it, and can’t say enough good things about composers/performers such as Tom Jobim, Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque, Gilberto Gil, João Gilberto, Ivan Lins, Ellis Regina, Gal Costa, Zizi Possi, etc, etc, etc…

What do I miss the most in a day-to-day basis? The fruit. Ripe papaya every morning. The wonderful, tart, soft grapes. Fruta-do-conde. Big plump sweet purple figs. Jabuticaba. The different kinds of persimmons, both the “chocolate” version (hard), and the juicy soft bright orange kind. Mangoes of all kinds and sizes. The “exotic” fruits of the North and North-east whose pulp we buy in frozen bags in the South (where my family lives) and transform into the most wonderful juices in the world: cajá, cupuaçu, umbu, graviola, açaí!

There’s so much more… but I have to stop here. Both because I want to post this today, “Sete de Setembro” (Sept. seven), but because I need to go back to my work in the dissertation. I feel like posting tons of pictures of Brazil and links, and stuff, I know, I shouldn’t have even started!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

"Being Poor is..." - and I fall silent

I had to link to this, post by Whatever (John Scalzi), that I found at This woman's work. Don't forget to look at the comments, they go beyond what he wrote, and bring on even more poignancy and real life stories with other "being poor is" statements (discounting a few critics).

This all I can do here as my belated reaction to Katrina. We don't have cable, and we don't really watch TV, but the little I saw, the few minutes of NPR I listened to made incredibly upset.

I come from Brazil, and I know about poverty and need, but I just didn't expect to see a tragedy this disconcerting here in the U.S. Hopefully Americans will be more aware now of what has been happening under their noses (poor people without a way out), but maybe not. I can't believe how hard it is for people who don't know about "being poor" to understand what "being poor" entails. The other posts and links by John Scalzi about Katrina are worth reading as well. That someone could say those who stayed are partly responsible for their situation now? U-N-B-E-L-I-E-V-A-B-L-E!

And I fall silent. I can't even believe I ever thought of writing about class and blogs or something like that. I'm glad I didn't. What do I know about being poor, really?