Monthly Archives: August 2012

Lila’s a “Star Night”

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One year ago, I sat at Star Night, a benefit for Siskin Children’s Institute in Chattanooga.  My goal was simple: to meet Kenny Rogers. You see, years before, when I was only five or six, I started to notice the presence of a strange salt-and-pepper haired man in my house. Not my Daddy (he still isn’t grey), but a different, distinguished looking gentleman whose face was plastered everywhere.  Even on the inside of our kitchen cabinet doors, in a pose that can only be described as 1980’s classy.

My introduction to the one-and-only Kenny Rogers came at an early age in the form of make-shift karaoke sessions to “Islands in the Stream” and “Coward of the County.” I was, weirdly, just as in love with him as my Mom seemed to be. So when I found out my station had tickets to Siskin’s Star Night and Kenny was the headliner, I was in.

That night, I met Kenny (stretched face and all).  He even commented on my 6-month pregnant belly. I told him if we didn’t already have a name picked out, I would have considered McKenna.

But Mr. Rogers wasn’t the only person I was introduced to that night.  For the first time, I heard of 13-year-old Anna Frierson and her place on her middle school cheerleading team.  Anna has Down Syndrome and is a graduate of Siskin’s Early Learning Center. A few weeks later, I met Anna and her parents to do a story for Newschannel 9. I knew everyone who saw the piece would fall in love with Anna just like I did.   Because of her determination, her spirit, her easy way of fitting in with every other girl on the sidelines. Anna was making herself at home in a spot where no other special needs student had before in Hamilton County.

That night, Anna’s father told me, “We never let any doctor’s diagnosis define our daughter.” I could see the love in his eyes for Anna, his pride.  Little did I know how I would look back on that day, that meeting, and realize it happened for such a special reason. At this moment, Down Syndrome was only the subject of a story to me. A reason to admire the strength of another family. I had no idea, three months later, it would be my reality.

I told that story to introduce this year’s Star Night Video.  I stood in front of a few thousand people and introduced them to the light of my life. But, as it has so frequently in the past 8 months, it didn’t come without tears.  And when I choked up, and told the black-tie audience that I was sorry for getting so emotional, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was my sweet husband. He told me later he felt like he was being pushed out of his seat, that he couldn’t sit still while I cried on stage.  He held my hand while I finished, and everyone got to see the reason we were there.

After the crowd saw that video, they donated another $40,000 to Siskin Children’s Institute.  I like to think that my Lila helped write a few of those checks.

As the night went on, I met so many wonderful families who shared their stories with me. Many came up just to say that they had been in our shoes, and wouldn’t change it for the world.  It reminded me that whether we are on the stage in front of a crowd decked out in sequins and tuxes, at the grocery store or on the playground, we are not alone on this journey. Someone else knows our pain, our struggles, our pride, our happiness.  As I said to the crowd that night, sometimes life throws you a curve ball, and you just have to adjust your swing.  And you can STILL knock one out of the park.

We sure did.

Banished to the Bathroom…

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Let’s just get it out there.  Being a Mom can be a dirty job.  You have to deal with pee and poop. A LOT. That’s even AFTER you figure out that those swimmy diapers rip off on the side so you don’t have to rake poop down your baby’s legs at the pool (trust me, it’s messy). So, after all that, who wants to spend more time in the bathroom than you have to? Not me, but I’ve noticed that’s where mothers end up, though not by their own choice.

One of the stipulations of the Affordable Care Act, that just went into effect recently, forced employers to provide a place for nursing mothers who returned to work to pump.  A private place that is NOT a bathroom. What’s the big deal with pumping in the bathroom you may ask? Well I have become somewhat of an expert. These are all the places I had the “pleasure” of pumping when Charlie, my Dad and I went to Alaska recently.

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I was shocked to see some of the weary and startled faces I encountered when I had to ask people the best place for nursing mothers to find a little privacy.  The worst? The customer service desk at the Dallas Airport. She looked at me like I literally had two heads (instead of just two boobs that have been working overtime the past 8 months to nourish my child).  So a few times in those 12 hour travel days, I ended up in the family restroom at a couple of different airports.  For twenty minutes I sat there, perched over the bench that is only supposed to hold your purse so I didn’t have to sit on the toilet, while other people knocked on the door and the smell of dirty diapers radiated from the nearby trash can.  Not a pleasant experience.  The Alaska Railroad was a lot more accommodating, thank goodness. On that 5 hour train ride, the conductor personally walked me up and down the whole train, until we found an employee bathroom with a working electrical outlet that would power the pump.  Even the 22 year old summer employee at Kantishna Roadhouse, the only lodge inside Denali National Park, hid his smirk pretty well when he suggested I use an employee cabin.

I realize that traveling, away from your baby, while you are still breastfeeding, is a challenge that I chose to take on in order to experience a once-in-a-lifetime trip with my father.  But was it really necessary to spend all of that time in a “foreign” bathroom, just to feed my sweet Lila? Can’t we all just get over the giggle that seems to go hand-in-hand with the image of what breastfeeding/pumping entails, and be a little more accommodating to women who sacrifice a lot of time to do the best they can by their baby?

I’m not even going to go into all of the strange/somewhat offensive responses I got when I had to call a dozen places in Anchorage, Alaska to find one that was willing to help me ship my breast milk overnight so my supply wouldn’t be wasted.

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If you’re ever in Alaska, be sure to visit the New Sagaya Market, they’ll take extra care in shipping both your freshly-caught Salmon and your breast milk :).

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I am lucky that my employer went above and beyond when it came time for me to come back to work, suggesting a private, unused office that was out of the way for my two 20-minute sessions a day.  I know most people aren’t that lucky, even though it’s now federally mandated that they be. Some will still be banished to the bathroom.

The same is true for moms who find themselves breastfeeding in public.  No one WANTS to whip out a boob in Target, trust me. But sometimes your baby needs to eat and you need diapers AT THE SAME TIME! So don’t give them the stink eye if they’re sitting in the chair by the fitting room, trying to make sure they don’t flash unsuspecting shoppers.

All any of us are trying to do do, whether we are pumpers or breastfeeders, is just make it through the next feeding with a happy baby. 

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We shouldn’t have to spend 3 extra hours a day in the loo just to make sure we get there.