James Madison University - Wilson Hall

Sarah Butters’ story and treatment first by the three men who sexually assaulted her and distributed widely a cameraphone video of the assault, and then by the university who issued an incomprehensible sanction against those three men have rippled through the JMU alumni community. JMU is where I spent five years, first transferring in to earn a BA, and then staying to earn a MEd. Harrisonburg and JMU hold special places in my heart. Years after I graduated from JMU, every time I encounter a JMU alumni we always reminisce about our times on the quad, the special sort of spell that JMU has over its students. It is JMU. It is magic.

So as an alumna of JMU it broke my heart to read this story yesterday morning. As a former student affairs professional (trained at JMU), having worked at a few universities across the country, I am well aware of sexual assault, rape culture, and how sexism is practiced every single day in our world. I am not surprised that women are sexually assaulted and that institutions of authority (in this case, JMU) sometimes (most of the time?) do not do the right thing. I am also keenly aware that we are not aware of everything that went on inside the judicial director’s office, or the discussions the appeals boards had.

The thing that’s breaking my heart the most is not only that a student at my beloved alma mater was hurt, badly, by her community members, but the reverberation of this hurt across JMU, other universities, as well as its alumni and prospective students. I know from experience that some of the most loving and amazing professionals work at JMU – I worked with them and know that they are there, day and night, putting in hours upon hours of overtime for which they’ll never see a red cent. The university let them down too, and that is just not okay.


A few of us wanted to do something – anything – to reclaim that JMU magic we all felt and maybe still feel whenever we see exit 245. Let’s channel our anger and outrage into showing solidarity with Sarah. Contribute to her educational fund and let’s help a sister get back to school and back down to business.


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In Chinese, the word for father or dad is “baba” and that’s what we’ve chosen to use in our family. When Matthew started talking, he didn’t call Josh “Baba” until Lindsey was old enough to start talking and she called him “Baba”.

All the same, he is Baba. Happy Father’s Day to my partner in crime. When we first met, having children was the furthest thing on my mind, but in hindsight, I would not have picked someone else who was more supportive and awesome with our kiddos.

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Planning for the unexpected: How to manage your NICU experience

A few weeks ago, Leslee and I were talking about ways to support a mom who’s facing a NICU stay for her newborn(s). Here is my take on how you can manage your NICU experience. This is obviously from my perspective and the NICU where Will was housed in – your hospital experience can and will vary widely! Quick background – Will was born at 32 weeks gestation and spent almost 8 weeks (7 weeks and 6 days, the day before his due date, the stinker!) in Tallahassee Memorial Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

So, this post is split into two parts: first, breastfeeding the NICU baby; and second, being a mom to a NICU baby. Both for me are intertwined, yet deserve their own attention and focus.

First, breastfeeding the NICU baby.


the Ameda elite – hospital grade pump

The question of whether to breastfeed. As you probably guessed from all of my blathering on, I am pro-breastfeeding. It is a natural mammalian function. However, it is not always the easiest thing in the world, and beyond being pro-breastfeeding, I am pro-woman and I firmly believe in choice of what you do with your body. As natural as breastmilk is for most women, when you’re faced with a NICU situation, you’ve likely had a crappy pregnancy that has been medicalized all up the wazoo, so it may be harder than it already is.

So, if you are wavering – think about it this way: your body knows that you gave birth to a premature baby and is making milk designed to feed that tiny, tender little baby. Whatever you can make will be beneficial to your baby.  So here we go.


  • If you can, before you have the baby, request a hospital grade pump from your labor and delivery ward, and a kit to get you started. You want that there in your recovery room once the baby is born and you are recovering.
  • If you can’t get a pump right away, massaging and hand-expressing will help you bring your supply in (Thank you Leslee!)
  • Hospital grade pumps are usually one of two brands – Ameda and Medela. Both are great. You need to use one of these – it’s the Cadillac of machines and specifically designed to help bring in a mother’s milk supply absent a baby to do so for her.
  • Check the flange sizes. This is a great article by Medela to check to see if you have the right size or if you need to size up.
  • Invest in a pumping bra. Chances are you will be sitting with this blasted machine for hours to come. Be comfortable! Here is the one I used.
  • As soon as possible, start pumping. I had a c-section and wasn’t able to start pumping until a full 14 hours after Will’s birth. I would have started sooner, in hindsight, but didn’t have the equipment I needed to get started.
  • bf3For the first four days, I pumped every 2-2.5 hours, 20 minutes at a time, double pumping with the hospital grade pump. To make this easier for me, I set alarms on my iPhone to remind me. I rested between the hours of 12am and  5am, so my pumping started at 5am, then I went back to sleep for a little while longer, up with everyone at 7:30, then pump again at 10, 12:30, 3, 5:30, 7, 9:30, 12am. After a few weeks I aligned my pumping time to every 3 hours, aligned with Will’s feeding time at the hospital.
  • Hands-on pumping helps remove as much milk as possible!
  • Remember, your milk is perfect for your baby, regardless of age or stage. If your baby is born early, your milk is specially designed to help a preemie.

  • If you had a c-section or lots of medicine/drugs involved prior to and during your birth, your milk might take a bit to come in. That’s ok. Keep working at it. The more you remove, the more your body will make.
  • Have an IBCLC come and work with you, even if you’ve breastfed babies in the past before. Breastfeeding a preemie is a whole new ball of wax. Ascertain there are no tongue or lip ties that may prevent successful or consistent latching on.
  • In many NICUs, the standard of care indicates that babies younger than 34 weeks are too weak to attempt feeding by mouth, although there is evidence to the contrary. The article I linked there was written by Dr. Jack Newman, the mack daddy of all things breastfeeding. I wish I’d seen that when I was traipsing back and forth to the NICU. We went by what the doctors and nurses said in the NICU and waited to nurse him until 34 weeks. In the meantime, should you decide also to wait, push for kangaroo time. The skin-to-skin interaction will help your baby and you with milk production and, really, all the happy feels in the world.
  • Babies in the NICU will most likely be given a pacifier to help him or her coordinate the suck/swallow/breathe reflex. This will not interfere with baby nursing from you. Babies realize very quickly what teats have milk and what don’t. :)

Second, parenting in the NICU is a whole new ball of wax that you don’t ever imagine you’d be doing. But here you are.

  • 2013-05-13 21.54.29-2Hopefully, if your impending birth is such that you have some prep time, see if you can speak with the attending neonatologist. They will be able to give you some background on what to expect for your NICU.
  • Ask to be roomed on the antenatal floor. I can’t tell you how heartbreaking it is to be on a labor and delivery recovery floor, listening to babies cry and you’re by yourself with a pump. No bueno.
  • Take time out for yourself. This is so, so important. Our neonatologist told us that babies, especially preemies, cannot tell time and do not know if you have been there for an hour or five minutes, AND most importantly do not know (or really care!) if you were there five minutes or five hours ago. So go home, recover and rest and be good to yourself. If you are breastfeeding and pumping, you need to be well rested to make that milk.
  • Everything at the NICU revolves around a strict hierarchy of those in charge. Even the most obvious of tasks will require consultation with the medical staff – for instance, we had to specifically request (multiple times!!) to be able to touch and hold Will skin-to-skin – it had to be put into the computer as an order after the RN in charge consulted with the neonatologist. Remember that you are a part of the team responsible for your baby’s well-being. Speak up if you have questions, even if someone’s answered them multiple times. Be the voice for your baby and for YOU.
  • That being said, the nurses on each shift will be your allies, friends, comforts, counselors, and confidants. And if they are not, ask the RN in charge to switch the staffing around. We were lucky that all of the nurses who cared for Will were so incredibly kind and loving – to both him and to me.
  • Even under the best of circumstances, do not expect your child to go home before your original due date. Things twist and turn in the NICU and an illness might set you back, or as in Will’s case, a case of the wimpy white boy syndrome.
  • Don’t get your hopes up (I say this but it’s near impossible, isn’t it?). Operate under the assumption that the baby will be there until he is actually being wheeled out to his carseat in your car.
  • Drink a lot of water!
  • When you can parent your baby, do so! And tell the nursing staff 2013-05-29 16.44.07-2what you want to do. I had a set time every day that I would nurse Will, so the morning nurse knew not to prepare a bottle for him because I’d be coming in to feed him. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays were bath days in the NICU. I asked them to ask me whether or not I’d be in to bathe Will. It’s the little things. I changed as many diapers as I could, checked his temperature, changed his clothes – just to have a few minutes where I could do tangible things to be his mom.
  • Keep a journal (on your phone, in a notebook, etc.) of any questions you have for the doctor or charge nurse. I found this app really helpful (for the iPhone).
  • Remember to take care of yourself. Even under the best of circumstances – with your baby in the NICU “only” to feed and grow, the pressure of daily hospital visits, frustration at not having your family home and complete, plus recovering from birth – all of that is, pardon my language, some really awful shit to deal with. Please seek help early and often. Take care of you. You matter.
  • If you had a cesarean section, find a chapter of ICAN near you and go to the meetings. It was my lifeline.

I know I’ve probably forgotten something or you may have had a different experience – so share in the comments!



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One year

(side note, I promise life on my blog is not all boob, all the time!)

A year ago, I nursed Will for the first time. He turned one on May 10th, born two months early. It wasn’t until he was 18 days old that we nursed for the first time. With Matthew and Lindsey, they were nursing pretty much minutes after they were born, but for Will, 18 days passed. The prevailing standard of practice at Will’s NICU was that babies born younger than 34 weeks gestation were not strong enough to coordinate the three main reflexes needed to eat from a bottle or breast well – the suck, swallow, and breathe reflexes. So we waited until he was 34 weeks, over a weekend so we could use the NICU lactation consultant to help out. And he nursed for the first time.


I cried. After a difficult pregnancy, culminating in Will’s premature birth, to know I could do something that I’ve done successfully twice before was such a relief. Of course, when this particular photo happened, I had no idea what was in store in terms of our breastfeeding relationship. Tongue ties? Lip ties? What? But I am so grateful they worked themselves out. We have had an amazing experience thus far and I am happy that I have this as a part of my parenting arsenal.

One whole year. I am blessed.

Will, just having finished (undisturbed and uncovered) on a US Airways flight. :)

taken by my friend Tabitha. <3

taken by my friend Tabitha. <3

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The aftermath of #feedwill

First of all, I am stunned and energized by the response to our experience. Thank you for the hundreds of messages of support, not only for me, but for all breastfeeding moms. I am touched and grateful.

I spoke just now with Susanna Curtis, the Executive Assistant to the CEO, Richard H. Anderson. As I mentioned in my previous post, my interactions with her have been very pleasant, and I feel badly she’s in the position to clean up the mess these flight attendants have undergone. She told me just now that the leadership team met this morning and within the next few days, all flight attendants will be undergoing mandatory training on this specific policy (Delta’s version: Delta fully supports a woman’s right to breast-feed on board Delta and Delta Connection aircraft and in Delta facilities.) and how flight attendants are to enforce this – so if someone complains about another passenger breastfeeding, the flight attendant is to offer any other available seat to the complaining customer – and NOT ask the mom to cover up. Flight attendants will be mandated to read the policy, sign an acknowledgement that they’ve read the policy/procedures.

I offered Ms. Curtis the collective brain of all of the folks who have been commenting here and on Facebook and via Twitter, and if you’d like to participate, feel free via comments. As a nursing mom (or even a pumping mom, let’s get crazy ;) ), how would you want to be treated by a service professional?

Ms. Curtis said that she would be happy to forward these suggestions onto the in-flight operations team for consideration, but that all of the official training that occurs needs to be FAA approved. So let’s take them on next. :) But regardless, I think this is a good start.

Regarding the flight attendants with whom I had these unfortunate interactions, I will be documenting my experience with them and forwarding them to Ms. Curtis and Mr. Anderson for their disciplinary processes. As someone who has supervised others in a professional capacity, I understand and appreciate the need for privacy with regards to personnel. My hope is that they learn from these experiences, and realize that as employees who are in charge of in-flight operations, they do in fact wield a certain amount of power, and using that power, combined with their inherited privilege, to intimidate others is never okay.

And for all moms out there, if you’re nursing or not – you are awesome. If something like this happens to you, and I sincerely hope it does not, but you know how fallible all of us humans can be, you have power yourself: stand up and be assertive and do not let anyone tell you how to parent your child or how to feed your child. Document everything. Kick ass and take names. You are awesome.

PS – for the very few of you who have said that I should have not made a big deal about this and just covered up, that no one wanted to see my tits anyway, that I was just being dramatic about this, I salute you with both birds flying high. I worked DAMN HARD to nurse this baby. This is the way I nurse:

Even if I wanted to fling my shirt off and nurse barechested, I would be within my rights to do so. This is the way I want to nurse. If you have a problem with it, stop staring at my chest. And if you STILL have a problem with me talking about it on the blog I’ve installed and on the hosting I’ve purchased, you are kindly invited to go fuck yourself on another blog.

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