Friday, November 22, 2013

The woman breastfed on a refugee boat

I have a breastfeeding story.

It was 1949, in the middle of Chinese civil war. A mother trying to escape from the war-torn China got on a refugee boat in Guangzhou with her 3-year-old and 1-year-old.

The boat was sailing to Kaohsiung. Soon after they left the port, the two children started to cry. People on the boat were afraid that the kids crying would attract the communist navy searching for refugees, and were going to throw the kids into the sea.

The mother fought against those people with all her strength, promising that she would stop the children crying. She took off her blouse, put the two kids under her arms, one on each side, and then put her nipples into the kids' months. Comforted by the mother's breasts, the children calmed down. The mother kept nursing her children until they arrived Kaohsiung safely two days later.

The mother in the story is my grandmother. Those two children are my father and my uncle.

I heard the story from my grandmother when I was a little girl. It's been such a long time that I almost forgot about it.

Then I had my son. Two hours later after the delivery, he cried for food for the first time. The nurse showed me how to latch the baby. Soon as I brought him onto my breast, he opened his mouth widely and latched on. It was amazing. We never really had a latching problem. However, a real problem happened six months later, when Jade started to teething. He wanted to nurse constantly because the nursing is soothing to him. Sometimes he bit me. It hurt so badly that I often burst into tears.

Funny enough, I thought about my grandma's breastfeeding story every time Jade bit me. I was too young to understand what breastfeeding's really like when I first heard about the story. Now I knew. But, still, my grandma was constantly breastfed two toddlers (with teeth!) for 48 hours on a refugee boat. What's that really like? I could still hardly to imagine.

All in a sudden I just wanted to call my grandma, tell her how great she was, and ask her to tell me the story in detail again. But I couldn't. She passed away three years ago. I could only search for the brave woman who breastfed on a refugee boat in my memory.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Because I'd rather be breastfeeding.

Becoming a mother can really change the way a woman looks at the world. Before having Jade, my son, I'd never think that I'd leave my journalism job at the largest Chinese-language newspaper in North America just to say no to a working environment that's not friendly to breastfeeding mothers.

But I did. Today I left my job as a staff writer at World Journal, the newspaper that calls itself the largest Chinese-language paper serving North America.

On Oct 21, the paper published an article that, well, I hate to use the word, discriminate against breastfeeding mothers. Titled "Breastfeeding photos embarrass Chinese-American to death," the article cited a bunch of anonymous resources, labeled breastfeeding photos as "R-rated-photos," described those photos as "disturbing" and "disgusting."

As a journalist, I was shocked. As a breastfeeding mother, I was offended. I had a 10-year-relationship with United Daily News Group, the mother company of World Journal. "Righteous reporting" has always been their motto. I simply couldn't believe that the editor used such an article as the headline story of the paper's local page. I was simply shocked!

"Breastfeeding photos embarrass Chinese-American to death"
Well, maybe not that shocked. The company wasn't very friendly to breastfeeding mothers at the first place. There is no nursing room in the company facility, so I've been pumping in the restroom. Some of my colleagues said "don't wash your dirty panties here" when I was washing the pumping accessories in the kitchen.

I tried to deal with all of these--after all, many of my colleagues were from China, where 70% of the newborns were formula-fed. Maybe they are not used to have breastfeeding mothers pumping in the company restroom.

But, an article calling breastfeeding "disturbing" and "disgusting?" That I definitely couldn't deal with. I tried to talk to my editor, but he thought I was overreacting. Our conversation could never reach a conclusion. Angry readers wrote to the newspaper, but the paper didn't respond.

I was disappointed. I thought the problem with that article was obvious, even Facebook said sorry for banning breastfeeding photos. But there was my editor, a newsperson who I once admired, sitting in front of me, insisting that there was nothing wrong with that article, that I was overreacting, that I had a personal issue.

Later I took Jade to a local breastfeeding support group, and learned that the California law actually requires employers to provide employees with reasonable time and space for nursing. Federal law also requires any employer with more than 50 employees to do the sam. World Journal Los Angels has much more than 50 employees but no nursing room, which is against both federal and CA law.

It turned out even me myself didn't know what right I should have. I realized I actually helped to form the unfriendly atmosphere--I didn't ask for a nursing room right upon my return from maternity leave; I didn't report to HR when my colleagues harass me about washing pumping accessories in the kitchen.

We all need to be educated. We thought our right to breastfeed is protected, but the truth is, it's not. I've been thinking about these during the past two weeks, and found myself so passionate about this issue that I must do something to make a difference.

I realized that I wouldn't be able to do anything if I stay with that newspaper. So I quit my job, started this blog, and then starting tomorrow I'll be volunteering with local breastfeeding organizations.

If I didn't have Jade, it's very likely I'd write for World Journal until the day I retire. But my little one really changed the direction of my life. I never expected this when I got pregnant. What an adventure. I look forward to this new chapter of my life, and yes, I'd rather be breastfeeding.

"And I'd rather be breastfed."