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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Breastfeeding and jury duty

Only twelve states exempt breastfeeding women from jury
I live in New York State and have been summoned for the dreaded jury duty twice. Both times, I panicked - not because I wanted to shirk my public duty, but because I was the sole care provider for a breastfed infant. I lived hours away from family, had some neighbors - but they either worked or had their own kids to care for. What was I going to do?

Thankfully I was exempted. Maybe they think I'm still breeding, because they haven't called me back (perhaps I'll jinx myself by saying this).

Unfortunately this Missouri mom wasn't so lucky - her state does not have a breastfeeding exemption, and the judge gave her two options when she showed up in court holding her seven-month-old son: put him in childcare or bring someone with you to watch him while you sit in court.

The judge apparently said she could take breaks to pump (and someone else said 'to feed' the baby but these are two entirely different things), but I don't see how this would help her if her child refuses to take a bottle. I'm also curious where she would be allowed to pump: a judge's posh quarters, or the nasty public bathroom down the hall? Hmm... sounds like a tempting offer.

Only twelve states exempt breastfeeding mothers from jury duty. This is pathetic. And while Trickle's state recognizes 'undue physical or extreme financial hardship' as a reason to excuse someone, I'm almost sensing here that the court thinks that because she's a stay at home mom with presumably no income to lose, that there's therefore nothing lost because she's not earning a paycheck from a "real job."

Judge Marco Roldan, who is presiding over the case, said in the past he's exempted potential jurors because of a death in the family (did they provide a death certificate? *eyeroll*) or teachers who were scheduled to give mid-term exams. Seriously? You're joking, right? 

Of course, like any other mothering/childbirth/pregnancy/breastfeeding topic, it comes with no shortage of public outcry, usually from people who understand little about the mechanics of the subject. So as a former breastfeeding mother who has spent ... let's see.... roughly 6 1/2 years of her life nursing a child of varying ages, I can say that it's definitely not easy, especially when there are ridiculous limitations like this creating even more roadblocks to a successful breastfeeding relationship.

When you realize how engrained infant formula has become for decades - since probably the 1940s and 50s - it's not a wonder that many people just don't get it or even understand what the norm is for a breastfed baby. And this being Breast Cancer Awareness Month and all, let's not forget that recent studies have shown that breastfeeding can reduce cancer rates - yet we put up more hurdles that discourage or inhibit a mother's ability to nurse her child.

Many moms, myself included, cannot pump. It's not a sign that something is wrong with you; it's totally normal to be able to successfully breastfeed a baby but be able to pump next to nothing, even with a good pump. It doesn't matter anyway if the child refuses the bottle; some mothers try countless nipples (and they do come in a myriad of shapes and sizes) with no luck.

As far as childcare, when you're a full-time stay at home mom, you probably feel there are few reasons to really need it. I still don't have a regular babysitter whom I trust not to text the entire time she's watching my kids, and mine are 9, 7 and 4. I live hours away from family members, and many of the moms I know are either working by now or have kids of their own to watch; I cannot imagine handing off my baby to them for several hours a day for the duration of a trial (which can either be short and sweet or drag on for weeks, if not months). If you're paying for childcare, usually you have to agree to it long-term, and it can be hard to find one that will agree to short-term care. And of course, daycare is extremely expensive to boot.

The judge's other option was to bring someone with her to court so she could nurse the baby on breaks.  I hope she has really, reeeally good friends, because I personally know no one who would've been willing or even able to do this for me. Again, I'm sure many, if not most, of Trickle's friends either have infants of their own to care for or, if they don't, are working. Even if she could find someone, are they going to hang out all day wandering the courthouse, waiting for the next feeding? Perhaps set up a Pack-n-Play on the front lawn? Would she have to endure more financial hardship by providing additional monies for gas and activities if the babysitter decides to drive all over town day after day keeping baby occupied?

It all seems ridiculous and overly complicated when it doesn't really need to be: just exempt the breastfeeding mother.

More reading:
Jury duty is sometimes a trial for nursing moms - Best for Babes 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Doing the unthinkable: questioning Breast Cancer "Awareness" Month

Right now, as I type this, a college friend is going through what we can only guess are the final throes of brain cancer. It has been a horrible downward spiral to watch, dragged out over the course of several years, that - like most cancers seem to - started out as a battle initially won and then proved to be much, much worse.

Why is that? Have you ever noticed that "survivors" often end up getting cancer a second time, this time much more aggressive than the first? I am so sick of "pink ribbons" I could scream: namely because it seems few people really understand the truth behind them, or the often subversive, misleading marketing behind it. But how dare you ask? How dare you question it?

It's a reality that many of us probably think about, dread, pray will never come knocking at our door. It seems every time you turn around, someone you know or a friend of a friend has it. And it also seems that while advancements have been made, the medical community knows just as little about it as they always have.

Years ago when I was writing for a newspaper, I interviewed a top cancer surgeon at a nationally esteemed cancer facility. He told me that around the turn of the century, there was little they could do for cancer patients, and death from it was often brutal. You were basically just left to die, he said.

I was thinking today of my friend and wondered, if in some ways, that's not still true. Treatment options might work - or at least appear to - and then wham, a recurrence hits you like a ten ton truck several years later. This seems especially true with breast cancer, everyone's favorite 'pet project.'

And I just realized - it's October! Hey, Breast Cancer "awareness" month. Yeah, you're aware of it. But do you really know anything about it? What your risk factors are? How much money is poured into research that is inconclusive, misguided or redundant? The financial toll is one thing; the human toll is unspeakable.

Take a moment to consider:

• A company can merely slap a pink ribbon on a product that makes you think they're "doing something" for cancer research, when in fact they may not be donating anything at all
Products that contain known carcinogens (like personal care products) are often touting that cancer awareness ribbon

The documentary "Pink Ribbons" alludes to the fact that many studies are irrelevant and seemingly poorly organized. In one such study, a commenter responds that while an effort was made to do studies on breast cancer among black women, all the subjects were white. (Seriously?!) How is that making the best use of the millions of dollars funneled into "research" every year? If that's the best they can do, should we be more inclined to just hope for the best and take our chances?

Sometimes the treatment sounds scarier than the disease itself, and yet even if you're questioning traditional medicine at this point you're almost too scared not to seek it, even if it won't be successful. The last I knew, our friend has been reluctant to admit this might be the end, and I'm not sure who is worse - her tenacious (but completely understandable) struggle for survival or the doctors who keep pumping her full of this that and the other, doing surgery after surgery, instead of just addressing the truth head on. The same thing happened with another friend of ours who succumbed to brain cancer nearly 18 months ago. Literally days before he died, there was a medication switch, as if in some last-ditch effort to save him from one of the deadliest brain cancers there is. Why? To practice on him like some kind of guinea pig?

We've been so hopelessly exposed to chemicals in food, pesticides, plastics and who knows what else that of course, there's no surefire paper trail of where it comes from so all we can say for now is "Who knows?" and move on. It doesn't explain why some people get sick and some don't. I personally think the effects are cumulative, no doubt starting with our parents, grandparents, maybe even great-grandparents. Slowly, generationally, we are a nation of sick people - with everything from ADD to cancer, obesity, hypothyroidism, diabetes and a host of other things that seem to crop up in larger and larger numbers. When a company can produce products that cause cancer and then fund cancer research, it should make you seriously question where priorities lie, both in ourselves and in the industry that fuels this paradox. And why won't they tell you when they've got too many fingers in one pie, or conflicted interests that show you your health is really not their top priority?

Our age of quick fixes and 'feel as little pain as possible' living has far removed us from the idea that, really, there are no guarantees in life.

More reading:
Flawed research appalls cancer patient
Medical research studies: Are too many using flawed designs?
Conflicts of interest often under-reported in clinical trials
Clinical trials flawed by biased reporting