Friday, December 1, 2017

Paternity Leave—Not Just Maternity Leave—Is Crucial Support For Breastfeeding


I’m having a miserable day. So miserable that I feel an urgent necessity to write this post.

Earlier this week, my husband flew to Asia for work on the day our new baby turned 6 weeks old. At this age, the baby still eats every two to three hours, and sleeps only a few hours at a time, day or night. Surely I always get out of the bed much more quickly than my husband when our baby cries in the middle of the night, but still, breastfeeding is much easier when there is someone who does the laundry, washes the dishes, and watches the older children.

My husband is a supportive partner and has been doing all these for me—until he has to return to work six weeks after the baby was born. Now on top of breastfeeding every three hours, I’m cooking, washing the dishes, doing the laundry, and running after our 4-year-old. I’m ridiculously tired. Right now I’m covered in spit-up, which really adds insult to injury when being sleep-deprived. Unfortunately, I don’t have the energy to do anything about it. So I’m sitting here, with the baby in my left arm, and typing this article with my right hand.

And that’s not a bad version of what most working parents in the US experience. At least my husband has six weeks of paid family leave. According to OECD, out of 41 countries, the US is the only one that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents. The Family Medical Leave Act ensures that women cannot lose their jobs for 12 weeks after having a baby, provided the company they work for has more than 50 employees. It does not concern itself with how to cover the parent’s lost earnings. Only 16% of employers offer fully-paid maternity leave, fewer offer paid paternity leave.

And paternity leave—not just maternity leave—is crucial for breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is team work; it actually takes three people—mom, baby, and dad—to breastfeed. Research shows that the chance of a baby being breastfed for six months is significantly higher if the dad supports breastfeeding. Among other things, a supportive father can offer rest, food, water, and encouragement. Paid paternity leave can empower dads to be supportive dads.

When it comes to baby feeding, the science is clear—there’s nothing better than breastmilk for baby, mom and the environment. Breastfed babies get fewer infections, mother who breastfeed have lower risk of osteoporosis, and breastfeeding leaves no foot print. However, breastfeeding would never work without paid family leave.

My husband is flying home next week. I miss him. He is a very hands-on dad. He burbs and holds our baby after each feeding, he reads with our 4-year-old every evening. I only wish men in this country could have a longer paternity leave. Japanese fathers have 30 weeks. Korean dads have 16 weeks. I’d be happy with just 12 weeks.

This is an original post for San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition by To-wen Tseng. Photo credit to the author.  

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Commonsense Gun Safety, Now Is the Time

LA Police hosts gun buyback in wake of Sandy Hook shooting in 2012.
I am an American but my job allows me to look at America with a foreigner’s eye—I’ve spent most of my career life working as a U.S. based correspondent for a various of Chinese media outlets. Through the years I can’t help it but notice many senseless things in this country’s system. Paid family leave, for one. Gun safety, for another.

Last month I wrote a piece on how to talk to kids about tragic events for Taiwan’s Commonwealth Parenting Magazine in light of the Las Vegas shooting. Even though the attack happened here in America, increased anxiety among children in other countries is common, because social media makes the world feel very small.

In the article I quoted one of the experts I talked to and pointed out that “parents can tell their children that security will likely be increased in response to an event like this to work to keep people safe.”

Soon after the article was up on Commonwealth Parenting Magazine’s website, I received a message from a man, describing himself as a Taiwanese American, a faithful reader of the magazine, and a father of two. In the message he asked me “so what has been done to increase the security and keep people safe?”

I was embarrassed because I did not know what has been done to increase the security. In fact, I would say that nothing has been done even after repeated mass shooting. Merely one month after I wrote that piece, we had Sutherland Spring shooting and then Rancho Tehama shooting. Yet nobody seemed to give a damn.

My husband and I dared not to talk about these news stories at home because we’re afraid that our 4-year-old would, too, ask questions like what has been done to keep people safe. I know I would not be able to answer his question in spite of that article I wrote. How ironic.

Our 4-year-old already senses not everywhere is like this. He has cousins living in Asia and Europe, where nobody carries gun around. He wants to know why this is the case here in the U.S. I, on the other hand, cannot talk to him about something that I cannot make sense of myself. I cannot tell him that gun ownership stops crimes as a few of those interest groups claim because hard numbers show that an armed home is not a safer home.

I need to think of what to tell my children. That’s why I’m thrilled to learn that Senators introduced assault weapons ban. Now at least after every mass shooting with a military-style assault weapon, I can tell my children that a tool to reduce these massacres is sitting in the Senate, ready for debate and a vote.

As Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) stated in a press release, “To those who say now isn’t the time, they’re right—we should have extended the original ban 13 years ago, before hundreds more American were murdered with these weapons of war.” It’s time to urge the Congress do their job and stem the tide of gun violencehttp://action.momsrising.org/sign/las_vegas_ACT_NOW/.

This is an original post for MomsRising.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Tell Me about Tongue and Lip Ties!

Feeding my baby during a follow-up check after the tongue-tie release treatment. 
It all started with one fuzzy baby and two sore nipples.

I gave birth at midnight on Sunday. It wasn’t my first baby—I’ve breastfed for two years, and I thought I knew exactly what to do. Yet the latch was painful, even worse than what I experienced when my first child was teething.

By the end of Monday, my baby was hungry and angry, and my nipples were cracked and bleeding. On Tuesday, the nurse came to check on me and kindly offered some infant formula to supplement the baby. I didn’t like the idea. I had lots of milk; I could feel it. But by Wednesday, the baby had already dropped his birth weight by 7%.

Then on Thursday the baby dropped weight by another 3%. We were discharged from the hospital with two boxes of infant formula. When I saw the pediatrician on Friday I almost burst into tears while telling him that I wasn’t able to breastfeed even though I know I have milk.

“He might not suck efficiently. You should see a lactation consultant and see what she says. Before we find out what’s going on, I want you to supplement him with 1 oz of formula after each feeding.”

The baby started to gain weight after we supplemented him. It’s embarrassing, felt like being told that my own milk was not good as formula.

I saw the lactation consultant on the next Friday. It turned out the baby had tongue tie! It’s almost funny because I’ve been writing for the breastfeeding coalition for years and tongue tie was a topic that has been brought up often. Yet I was clueless when it actually happened to my baby.

Knowing what’s causing all those problems, we immediately scheduled an appointment with a pediatric dentist. At the dentist’s office she showed us how my baby didn’t only have a tongue tie but also a lip tie. It did look abnormal. I wondered how I didn’t notice it earlier.

We decided to have the ties released on the same day. The dentist explained to us how a frenotomy is performed and how to take care of the baby’s tongue and lips after the procedure, including massaging his mouth with coconut oil and giving him Tylenol to control the pain. She suggested us to wait in the reception so that we wouldn’t hear the baby cry during the procedure, “it might be upsetting.”

But I could still hear the baby cry at the reception even though we were three rooms away from where the baby was being treated. That was scary. I told my husband, “Oh my goodness it sounds like he’s in great pain!” For one minute I wanted to stop the procedure and just formula feed. My husband stared at me, “are you out of your mind?”

The dentist brought us our baby in 10 minutes, probably the longest 10-minute in my life. I saw a diamond-shaped wound under his tongue and a little bit of blood in his mouth—just a little, but was enough to freak me out.

That night the baby was very difficult. Every time I tried to massage his mouth with coconut oil, he cried as if I was trying to cut his head off. Baby Tylenol wasn't seem to work. I couldn't help but worry that our neighbors would call the police; thank God that did not happen.

But things became very easy after that first night! Latching was a breeze, and the baby effortlessly gained one whole pound in just one week after the procedure (without formula!) I’m glad we had it done early. He turned one month today. We have two more years to breastfeed.

This is a post originally for San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition. Photo credit to Mu-huan Chiang.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Baby Doe: Why Can't We Stop Child Homelessness?


Last October, I attended an Interfaith Memorial Service for the homeless at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in East Los Angeles. The service remembered the 472 homeless people who died on the streets in Los Angeles County in 2016. Seven of the deceased were under three years old.

At the service I thought of a girl who called herself Latoya, who I met eight years ago while covering an adolescent drug dealing story. She moved into a teenage drug dealer’s tent under an overpass in downtown San Diego after running away from her foster family. One year later she gave birth to a baby girl. She was fifteen; her boyfriend was eighteen. Social workers took away their baby because apparently, the parents were too young, on drugs, and homeless.

When I met Latoya, I was fresh out of journalism school and she was long out of school. She was seeking help from a volunteer attorney with a non-profit organization helping homeless children. 

“She wanted to go back to school, get a real job,” the lawyer told me. “And eventually get her daughter back.”

That surprised me. I had assumed that drug-using, homeless, teen parents were irresponsible and careless people. The reality is that they love and care their children just like any other parent.

When the adolescent drug dealing story was done, I wanted to follow up with Latoya’s story, but my assignment editor decided to cut it because “following a homeless teen mom is way too resource consuming, we cannot afford it.”

In the end I wrote a short article about Latoya and her efforts. The piece was included in my first book “Wēi Zúyǐ Dào”, published in 2011. The book sold 80,000 copies in five years, but Latoya’s story remains incomplete. I lost contact with her, but in eight years I have never forgotten her. In fact, over the years I have met many Latoyas and their children.

One of the Latoyas was 25-year-old Venessa Ibarra, who last June set her SUV on fire, threw in her three-year-old daughter Natalie, and then got in herself. They both died.

The death of a homeless child gets very little attention, and the authorities have many difficulties determining their identities. These children are called “baby doe” and their stories are rarely told.

In the cases where these stories do get attention, the media tends to sensationalize them, playing up the deaths of the poor children, especially babies. A negative connotation that has arisen from these over-sensationalized stories is that less advantaged women are not to be trusted with babies. This has a backlash for homeless mothers who also need help.

I tried to follow up with Ibarra’s story, but it was difficult. The authorities said that she had experienced “issues and a little bit of a drug problem.” But many questions remained unanswered. There weren’t even records to show whether she had received medical attention, or whether any efforts had been made to prevent the tragedy.

I can’t stop thinking about Latoya, Ibarra, and other mothers who live out of cars, in tents, under bridges and on the streets with their babies. How well could they be coping while living on the streets? Homelessness affects every facet of a child’s life, inhibiting his or her physical, emotional, cognitive, social, and behavioral development. And without proper maternal care, the pregnancies of homeless women can be at risk from many preventable obstacles. As a journalist, I don’t just want to present the statistics stacked up against homeless mothers and their children, I want to listen to them. Yet they are so hard to reach, with most of them fleeing from the media and social workers. That is one of the reasons why this country’s child welfare program is unable to help homeless children. In addition, most programs serving the poor are underfunded.

Los Angeles has seen another sharp rise in homelessness and outdoor tents over the last year, as local officials struggle to identify funding for billion-dollar plans they approved last year to combat homelessness.

Last November, Los Angeles County voters approved Measure HHH, a proposal to create 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing and affordable housing for the city’s homeless population. The measure has not yet translated into visible effects, and homelessness remains an ongoing public health issue.

Two days after the Interfaith Memorial Service, the remains of the 472 deceased, including the children, were cremated and interred in a common grave with only one plaque marking the year of interment. Baby does didn’t get a name. Their story remains untold. It is Autumn again and the church is preparing for another service. More baby does will soon join those buried.

*This is an original post for World Moms Network by To-Wen Tseng. Photo credit: Mu-huan Chiang

Sunday, October 8, 2017

ANNOUNCEMENT

Heading to the hospital for baby's birthday party! No blog updates till the end of October.

Heading to the hospital for birthday party 🏥 👶 🎉

A post shared by To-wen Tseng 曾 多聞 (@twtseng) on