The Lactation Pharmacist guest post in honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Leslie Southard, PharmD, BCACP, CLC is a community pharmacist turned lactation activist on a mission to “provide up-to-date, evidence-based information regarding medications and lactation so individuals are able to make educated decisions regarding their health while reaching their lactating goals, and so healthcare providers can make the best recommendations for their lactating patients,” as she describes in her The Lactation Pharmacist bio.

Last year, Southard published Stop Using the Words “Just” and “Only”, a piece describing part of her journey navigating childhood cancer.

In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Southard’s work and her family’s journey fighting cancer, we’re republishing that piece here on Our Milky Way.

You can find more at The Lactation Pharmacist blog here.

Stop Using the Words “Just” and “Only”

LESLIE SOUTHARD

As a newly inducted member of a group no one wants to be apart of – the Cancer Mom group – I’ve had a lot of emotions. Our world changed with one touch, and then one doctor’s appointment, and then a series of tests that led to the ultimate diagnosis: cancer. I’ve never experienced so many emotions in such a short period of time and forced to keep going with the rest of my life. This has led to a lot of thinking and working through what I’m feeling, because you can’t earn a living to support your family if you’re an emotional blob that breaks down every 5 minutes.

Multiple people recently told me “it’s just/only hair, it’ll grow back” when I told them that my daughter’s hair was falling out. This made my blood boil, and it took me a while to figure out why. Here’s the deal – it’s NOT “just” hair. If it was, we’d all be able to just up and shave our heads without any concern. My daughter’s hair represents so much in this cancer journey. We lost our lives as we knew them as soon as the doctor’s appointments and tests started. My daughter is losing a chunk of her childhood – no, not just the part that involves treatment, but the years after for follow up. My husband and I were robbed of the “easy” parental concerns. Now, we’re on high alert any time she spikes a fever, stumbles, mentions something is cold when it’s not, doesn’t pee or poop as much as normal, complains about her stomach hurting, etc. Any of those issues could mean a call to the doctor, a trip to the emergency room, or a side effect of her chemotherapy. Cancer has given me a whole list of worries I never expected. This person had no way of knowing how I’d feel about such a seemingly harmless statement, but it’s important to know that it isn’t and won’t ever be “just” or “only” hair.

This has made me think of all the other times we use the words “just” or “only”. I “just” had a cesarean birth. I “only” lactated for 2 days. I “only” pumped 2 ounces. I “only” lost 2 pounds. It’s “just” a job.

STOP.

By using the words “just” and “only”, you are dismissing all the emotional turmoil something caused you, dismissing all the hard work you put into something, dismissing what the rest of that statement means to you. DROP the “just” and “only” words from your vocabulary. What you did, what has happened to you, what you’re going through MATTERS, and the words ”just” and “only” rob you of that importance.

Children’s book celebrates the joy of natural-term breastfeeding

Monica Haywood is a researcher by nature. When she became pregnant with her daughter, she read all of the baby books. 

She read about prenatal vitamins, proper nutrition, prenatal appointments, etc., etc., etc. 

“I wanted to do everything right,” Haywood says. 

Sometime during her second trimester, her focus narrowed in on breastfeeding. She was familiar with the stories her mother told about breastfeeding her, but she wanted to know more. Haywood attended La Leche League of Louisville meetings and scoured websites for infant feeding information. 

She felt prepared and laid out a plan to breastfeed her baby for three months. 

“Little did I know, the journey was slightly different,” she laughs. “You can read, read, read, but be prepared to pivot on things that you may have read about.”

Baby Noelle was born in 2017 and instead of breastfeeding for the planned three months, Noelle and Haywood nursed for 34 months. 

Haywood says that while exclusive, natural-term breastfeeding was sometimes challenging like balancing her baby’s needs and self-care and managing other people’s perceptions mostly, breastfeeding created a sense of empowerment and bonding. 

Haywood shared another connection with Noelle through her love of books early on. 

“She was only a couple months old and my husband and I were reading books to her,” she shares. 

“[Reading] helps with language development, and we also thought it was important to find books that she could relate to… characters that look like her and that can relate to her experience,” Haywood continues.  

She found that most children’s breastfeeding books were geared toward weaning, but she was looking for something that celebrates the breastfeeding journey, something that could capture what she and Noelle were doing. 

And when she couldn’t find it, she created it. Haywood wrote Noey Loves Nursing, a colorful book that commemorates her nursing journey, celebrates a diverse character,  and educates and brings awareness to extended breastfeeding. 

“I wish I could get it in the hands of every breastfeeding mother!” Haywood exclaims. 

The book is highly admired by younger readers including her daughter who Haywood says is really excited by the book. 

Another young reader, Blake, shares his reading of Noey Loves Nursing @readingwith_blake

“When I saw [the video],  it literally brought me to tears,” Haywood says. “It’s just awesome.” 

Before COVID-19, Haywood enjoyed sharing Noey Loves Nursing at in-person gatherings like LLL Louisville’s Live Love Latch during National Breastfeeding Month and Healthy Children Project’s International Breastfeeding Conference. She’s also shared her story with local WIC offices.

This summer, Haywood adapted to Zoom and Facebook Live events to celebrate Black Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month with her book. 

Haywood looks forward to the United States Breastfeeding Committee’s (USBC) National Conference in 2021 where she hopes to bring her mother and Noelle– three generations sharing their breastfeeding journeys. 

The second edition of Noey Loves Nursing will be released later this year or in early 2021. Get connected with Haywood on social media @noeylovesnursing, @monicareneeinc and on Facebook.

Lactation counselor invents one-of-a-kind, hand expression education device

For as long as there have been humans, there has been human milk. As it happens, according to Greek mythology our entire galaxy originates from breastmilk. 

Although people have been breastfeeding for millennia, breastfeeding doesn’t necessarily come naturally, especially in our modern world where common birth practice, industry influence and cultural phenomena are at play. 

Adhering to a mentality where breastfeeding is viewed as completely natural, is one of the most “harmful and hurtful” beliefs because it assumes that lactating people don’t need support, Founder/CEO of Orolait Ana Rojas Bastidas, CLC explains. 

“The majority of women are not able to fulfill their [infant feeding] goals, and that’s unbelievably sad,” Rojas Bastidas says. 

“That’s where innovation comes in,” she continues. 

Rojas Bastidas’s company Orolait, is a breastfeeding apparel company at its core, but this summer she released a one-of-a-kind lactation education tool: the LactoPRO Trainer

The LactoPRO is an anatomically-correct, tissue-mimicking human breast used for demonstrating hand expression. The device features a realistically-sized areola, nipple, and six lactiferous ducts and effectively ejects a human milk-like or colostrum-like substance. The breast is available in various skin shades too. 

In April 2020, Rojas Bastidas shifted Orolait operations to help provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to a hospital in Haiti alongside a Houston-based company that creates surgical organs.  With Rojas Bastidas’s vision and entrepreneurship and the company’s patented technology, the LactoPRO Trainer came to fruition. 

Rojas Bastidas and the team are working to create a model with inverted nipples as well as fashioning a breast that can develop clogs and mastitis. 

Rojas Bastidas emphasizes that she is always working to make her contributions more affordable and accessible.

“Having great things that are not accessible to the community are not helpful to anyone,” she says. 

Through her movement PowerToPrevail and other projects,  Rojas Bastidas has been a force for body positivity, cultivating self worth and supporting modern motherhood. This work led her to complete the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) earlier this year. 

“As I was going through the course and tried to teach hand expression, I became frustrated by the lack of options to demonstrate it accurately and in a constructive way,” she reports. 

Evidence-based lactation care emphasizes a hands-off approach. Couple this with the idea that infant feeding is a learned behavior and in American culture we don’t grow up seeing lactating breasts and breastfeeding, hand expression is a terribly abstract practice to teach. 

The LactoPRO helps fill this void. 

“Innovation in the lactation space has been slow and overlooked, so this is really exciting for me,” Rojas Bastidas says. “I’ve created something for the private sector that’s going to push public perception.” 

She likens her invention to the evolution of professional lactation care services; maternal child health advocates took a stand and refused to let women suffer, she explains. Like lactation care, Rojas Bastidas has created something that validates people’s stories and experiences. 

Rojas Bastidas’s influence stems from her experience as a new mom and the way she viewed her evolving body. 

“I didn’t realize that the way I viewed my body was impacting so much of my life including my breastfeeding journey,” she says. 

So many parents sympathize with the conundrum of breastfeeding in public spaces for instance. To do so discreetly often means lifting your shirt and exposing the midsection.

It seems vain and trivial, Rojas Bastidas acknowledges but when you multiply it by the millions of moms who experience challenges like this, there’s got to be a solution.

“Don’t be afraid to tackle whatever problem you see,” Rojas Bastidas encourages. “Innovation is for anyone.” 

Rojas Bastidas’s apparel serves as functional fashion. Simultaneously, her pursuit celebrates the bodies that have been largely misrepresented and often altogether censored. 

“The absence of bodies sends a broader message that those bodies don’t exist,” she explains. 

“It makes every battle so much harder, but that’s what keeps driving me. I  should have just closed up shop because this is so hard, but  I’m going to make as many people as uncomfortable as humanly possible,” Rojas Bastidas says of being a female innovator in health and wellness advocacy. 

She adds that by showing the public what bodies actually look like, it frees us, elevates us and empowers us. 

“Lactating individuals deserve to be seen, heard and helped.”

Rojas Bastidas has a lot to offer on her website including her shop, lactation counseling services, a member forum and blog. Check it out here

Follow her on social media @orolaitofficial and @powertoprevail

Musings on unity beyond National Breastfeeding Month

This year’s National Breastfeeding Month (NBM) celebration has come to an end, but our momentum as maternal child health advocates– striving for equitable care for all– powers on. 

The 2020 NBM theme, Many Voices United, called on us to come together to identify and implement the policy and system changes that are needed to ensure that all families have the support and resources they need in order to feed their babies healthily. 

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
Colorful Hands 1 of 3 / George Fox students Annabelle Wombacher, Jared Mar, Sierra Ratcliff and Benjamin Cahoon collaborated on the mural. / Article: https://www.orartswatch.org/painting-the-town-in-newberg/

Achieving this shared goal requires daily self-work and individual introspection so that our collective can be as effective as ever. No matter how socially-conscious, open-minded, anti-racist, (insert adjective), we think we may be, we still have learned biases and prejudices that require near constant attention. Much like I remind my children to brush their teeth every morning and every night, as a white, binary woman, I must remind myself to examine my biases and my privilege daily.  

With NBM’s theme of unity in mind, this Upworthy video features an art installation that demonstrates our society’s interconnectedness. With a piece of string, the installation shows an intricate, densely-woven web created by individuals wrapping thread around 32 poles with identifiers arranged in a circle. 

“You can see that even though we all have different experiences and we all identify in different ways…We are really one,” the project’s creator says in the video. 

The sentiment and the product are truly beautiful and fascinating. While appreciating the beauty of unity, it’s important to keep our critical thinking and progressive attitude sharp, refraining from slipping into too comfortable a space where change cannot happen.  

Recently, I’ve seen a few statements on unity circulating social media that I’d like to embrace with a “Yes!” Instead, I find myself reacting, “Yes! But…” 

My worry is that these well-intentioned mantras we live by– much like some might argue certain microaggressions are well-intentioned– are also dismissive. 

  1. We all bleed the same blood. 
  1. Children are not born racist.
  1. I will teach my child to love your child. Period. 

Let’s break those down starting with “We all bleed the same blood.”  Some things to consider:

First, Ashley May for The Thirbly writes,

“Black breasts do not exist separate from Black bodies and the situated existence we navigate in this world nor the racialized experience of motherhood. Racism and classism intertwine to act as a containment, working to make some of us feel as if we are walking in quicksand. Add to this the complexities of new motherhood and the needs of the postpartum body and now we have a cocktail for failure. Literal milk plugs. So, although her precious body may be able to produce milk, her situation prevents her and her baby from receiving it. Even the intention to breastfeed cannot save the milk of the mother who cannot find time for pump breaks as she works the night shift as a security guard. Or, perhaps she cannot figure out why pumping is not working, but she doesn’t have the time to seek the educational or financial resources to help her problem solve.” (underline added by OMW) 

Racism affects People of Color (POC) at a cellular level. Studies show that the experience of racial discrimination accelerates the shortening of telomeres (the repetitive sequences of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that protect the cell) and ultimately contributes to an increase in people’s risks of developing diseases. 

It’s epigenetics; the environments POC of are growing in affect their biology.  

Children are not born racist, but white children are born into a racist society that they will benefit from. 

From the very beginning, white children have a better chance of survival than Children of Color; African Americans have 2.3 times the infant mortality rate as non-Hispanic whites

What’s more, Black children are three times more likely to die when cared for by white doctors, while the mortality rate for white babies is largely unaffected by the doctor’s race, a recent study found. 

White children are born into being part of the problem and just the same, can be part of equitable solutions. 

I will teach my child to love your child. Period. 

Love is action, and even if it’s easier said than done, there are so many ways to teach our children about race, inequities and injustice. Afterall, “If Black children are ‘old enough’ to experience racism then white children are ‘old enough’ to learn about it.” – Blair Amadeus Imani

  • Be careful what you say. As a young girl on my way to ballet class one day, my mom, while locking the car doors,  pointed out the barred doors and boarded windows in the neighborhood we rolled through. 

“That’s how you know this is not a safe neighborhood,” my mom warned me. 

No questions asked, I noted the building facades, and then I noted the Black people. Because there wasn’t any further conversation, I made the connection that Black people must be “not safe” and ultimately, that there must be something wrong with Black people if they’re confined to neighborhoods “like this.” 

Imagine the impact we could make if we showed our children that there is nothing inherently wrong with Black people that ending racism can’t solve.

As a nation we are apathetic, made apparent by a recent poll. The survey shows that only 30 percent of white people have taken concrete action to better understand racial issues after George Floyd’s killing. 

The poll also shows that White Americans are also the least likely to support the Black Lives Matter movement, with 47 percent expressing support.

Is it because we don’t claim it as our problem? Is it because we misunderstand the problem? Is it because it’s easier to point fingers at others than ourselves? 

I’d like to leave you with this video of writer Kimberly Jones where she provides a brief history of the American economy told through an analogy using the board game Monopoly. I urge you to watch it, and then watch it again, and again, and again. 

There is no time for complacency within these truly abhorrent systems. When we start to lose sight of that, envision the tangle of yarn from the aforementioned unity art installation and remember that vastly different experiences are networked together.