Thursday, December 21, 2017

Things I Wish My Boss Knew About Maternity Leave

With a newborn, the days are long but the years are short. My baby turned ten weeks this past weekend. Which means I have two more weeks of maternity leave.

Yes, I am on maternity leave. No, maternity leave is not a vacation. To the employers who consider maternity leave is for fun or moms on maternity leave are being lazy, I have something to say.

I do want to work. I still deeply care about my career. 
I’m not taking maternity leave because of laziness. The fact that I love my career does not change because of motherhood. After becoming a mother, I have one more mouth to feed and an example to set. I am going to show up for work because I have to and I want to.

Nothing about this leave is a vacation. I need time to heal and to bond with my new baby.
Thank to the progress of modern medicine, many have forgotten that giving birth is like walking through the gates of the hell. The standard six weeks of maternity leave is just the very minimum time that it takes for a woman’s body to heal from the trauma of birthing a human being. And new moms need time to bond with their new babies. Research shows that bonding is essential for normal infant development.

The phase back transition is important, and flexibility is everything. 
According to CEB analysis, 90% of women leave the workforce because of other workplace problems rather than having a child. It’s enterprises’ loss. Evidence shows that supporting work-life balance helps companies to raise the retention rates of moms, to attract and keep more talented women.

I’m not conflicted about loving both my baby and my career.
Baby and career should not be a zero-sum game. In an ideal world, every woman should be able to have both—as long as she wants.

Motherhood gives me amazing new skills on multitasking.
I am a criminal and disaster reporter. The most challenge work I have done is not in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, or in Mexico during the drug war, but at home trying to keep a small human being alive. I’m learning some new skills with this motherhood thing that are going to make me an even better employee than before. When I’m ready, I’ll be back and I’ll thrive.

Last but not least, why should the government support paid maternity leave? That’s simple: The country needs women to have babies, because demographers suggest that a country needs a fertility rate of just over two children per woman to hit replacement fertility. The country also needs women in workforce, because it impacts the economic pie for all. As the Chinese proverb says, “You cannot ask the horse run without feeding it.” The government cannot asks women to work and to have babies without supporting them. Paid maternity leave is the first step to support working mothers.

Still think maternity leave is a vacation for lazy moms to have fun? Think again.

This is an original post for MomsRising by To-wen Tseng. Photo credits to Mu-huan Chiang. 

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 violence

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


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

Monday, October 2, 2017

Breastfeeding Helps Babies with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Dr. Yvonne Vaucher talks about breastfeeding and NAS at an SDCBC meeting.

Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is a term for a group of problems a baby experiences when withdrawing from exposure to narcotics. It is a concern because when a mother uses illicit substances, she places her baby at risk for many problems.

Most neonatal clinicians are acutely aware of the increase in neonatal abstinence syndrome: a nationwide increase from 7/1000 births in 2004 to 27/1000 births in 2013 is reported. Here in California, about 1,190 newborns were diagnosed with drug withdrawal syndrome in 2014, up more than 50 percent from a decade earlier.

Symptoms of withdrawal in full-term babies may include:

  • Tremors (trembling) 
  • Irritability (excessive crying) 
  • Sleep problems 
  • High-pitched crying 
  • Tight muscle tone 
  • Hyperactive reflexes 
  • Seizures 
  • Yawning, stuffy nose, and sneezing 
  • Poor feeding and suck 
  • Vomiting Diarrhea Dehydration 
  • Sweating 
  • Fever or unstable temperature 
The cost of care for infants with NAS is quite high as many of them are admitted to the NICU for withdrawal symptoms and associated care. The length of stay is 16.4 days, comparing with an average 3.3 days of stay for healthy infants. A 2015 study cites more frequent readmissions for these infants. Researchers found these infants were 2.5 times more likely to be readmitted within 30 days than healthy infants.

The current standard care for narcotics-exposed infants involves limiting exposure to lights and noise, promoting clustering of care to minimize handling and promote rest, swaddling and holding the infant, and providing opportunities for non-nutritive sucking. These soothing techniques, though commonly used to comfort infants, have not been evaluated in relation to such outcomes as the severity of the neonatal abstinence syndrome or the length of the hospital stay.

The strongest evidence from systematic reviews for improving outcomes is in support breastfeeding, with emerging evidence that favors rooming-in. Studies have consistently shown that infants with NAS who are breastfed tend to have less severe symptoms, require less pharmacologic treatment, and have a shorter length of stay than formula-fed infants. Breastfeeding should therefore be encouraged for mothers who are stable and receiving opioid-substitute treatment, unless there are contraindications, such as HIV infection or concurrent use of illicit substances. Similarly, emerging evidence suggests that babies who stay in the room with their moms have a shorter hospital stay and duration of therapy and are more likely to be discharged home with their moms. Rooming-in has also been associated with improved breastfeeding outcomes, enhanced maternal satisfaction, and greater maternal involvement in the care of the newborn.

The increased incidence of the NAS and soaring increased in associated health care costs warrant a consistent and comprehensive approach to mitigating the negative outcomes for affected infants, their mothers, and the health care system. Recent innovations in management include standardized protocols for treatment, which have positive effects on important outcomes such as the duration of opioid treatment, the length of the hospital stay, and the use of empirically based dosing protocols. Breastfeeding and rooming-in are promising nonpharmacologic strategies that may also improve outcomes for babies and moms.

This is an original post for San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition by To-wen Tseng. Photo courtesy Heidi Burke-Pevney.

Monday, September 18, 2017

For Dads: Breastfeeding and You

A Maryland mother was ordered to give her breastfed infant formula at father’s request because the judge considered “giving a father time with his child is more important than breastfeeding a baby.”

Mom’s milk is powerful stuff, so is the relationship between dad and the baby. It is unfortunate that parents have choose between the two. Of course, in this case, the couple are separated and embroiled in a court battle. But, in most cases, there shouldn’t be any conflicts between breastfeeding and father-baby-time. In fact, breastfeeding can help dad build a meaningful relationship with the baby.

Breastfeeding takes teamwork. Research shows that moms whose partners support their breastfeeding efforts breastfeed longer. As a dad, there are many ways you can be helpful.

During pregnancy, you can encourage mom to take a breastfeeding plan and set goals, letting her know that he’ll be there to help along the way. You can plan the delivery together, that means choosing a doctor and hospital that support breastfeeding, going to doctor’s appointments, and going to prenatal classes. You can tour hospitals or birthing facilities together and choose that supports their breastfeeding goal. You can also start learning about baby behavior so that you’ll be prepared to help the mom when baby comes.

After delivery, you can support skin-to-skin time for mom and baby during the first hour after delivery. Even babies who are delivered by cesarean can do skin-to-skin in the first hour. You can request rooming-in at the hospital so that you and mom have more time to get to know your baby and settle into a healthy routine. You can get plenty skin-to-skin time where you cuddle the baby on your bare chest. This is great bond time with lots of benefits for both of you.

Back at home, you should be prepared--newborns eat at least 8 to 112 times a day and sleep only a few hours at a time. You can be encouraging by letting the mom know you’re proud of her. You can be helpful by holding the baby after a feeding until he falls sound asleep, changing diapers, learning how to calm the baby when he cries, taking care of meals and household chores, and giving mom a break so she can shower or nap. She will be grateful, and you’ll get more time with the baby.

If the mom plans to return to school or work, she needs your support so she can keep breastfeeding. You can encourage her to pump and store her breastmilk once she’s gotten the hand of breastfeeding and her supply is set. Mom should start pumping at least two weeks before going back to work. At first she may not get a lot of milk, but pumping once a day will help build a supply of milk in the freezer to use while the is away. When mom and baby are together, regular breastfeeding will keep her milk supply up.

This is an original post for San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition by To-wen Tseng.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Parents As Seen Through The Eyes Of Children

My husband is a software engineer who specializes in smart phone application development. Our four-year-old son described his father’s job as “very challenging.” He said, “Dad is always fixing phones, lots of phones. His lab is loaded with phones.”

I am an independent journalist and a freelance writer. Our son described my job as “very easy.” He said, “Mom is always playing with her computer, chatting on the phone, and traveling by air.”

So this is how my son looks at writing to deadline, phone interviews, and business trips. How cute, yet how annoying! My husband and I joked about this, and I told him, “So our son thinks your job is challenging and mine is easy. That’s not fair. I don’t want to be looked down on—not by our own child!”

For the first time I saw myself through my child’s eyes. I was both surprise and amused to realize that I actually have a fear of being looked down on by my child. Then I thought about my mother, and what she was like in my eyes when I was four years old.

Back then, I was afraid of my mother. She was a so-called “tiger mom” who spanked me often. Most of the time, I didn’t know what I had done wrong. I was constantly scolded for my “bad attitude” when I was too young to even understand what an attitude is. I vividly remember how scary my mother was when she was beating me, but I barely remember what I did to anger her.

There are a few things that I remember, though. Here is one memory. My mother used to make fried rice noodles and throw in a lot of dried shrimp. The smell of the dried shrimp totally covered the flavor of the shiitake mushrooms and the sweetness of the cabbage.

I asked my mom, “Can you not put so much dried shrimp in the fried rice noodles?”

She effectively silenced me with an angry shout: “This amount of dried shrimp is necessary in fried rice noodles! Shut your month and eat up, or I’ll beat you up.”

When we visited my mom's brother, his wife made fried rice noodles, but without the dried shrimp. It was delicious. I ate two bowls and happily said to my mother, “Look, Auntie made fried rice noodles with no dried shrimp! It’s good! Let’s try this, too!”

When we got home that day, my mother grabbed a tennis racquet standing by the door and started to strike me with it. She was too upset to find the rattan that she usually used. The racquet strokes fell on me like raindrops; the pain was great. I started to cry, “Why are you hitting me?”

She shouted, “Because you have a bad attitude! Stop crying or I’ll beat you even more!”

For a long time, I didn’t know why I was punished. My mother was an irritable and horrible person in my eyes. I guessed she hated me, but I wasn’t sure. I dared not ask.

Later, when I was in middle school, a friend of mine lent me her CD of Blur’s. I brought it home, totally forgetting that we didn’t even have a CD player. I put the CD on my desk.

My mother saw it and asked me, “What’s this?”

I said, “It’s a CD I borrowed from a friend. But we don’t have a CD player at home, so never mind.” 

My mother asked me what a CD was. I said, “A CD is a compact disc. You don’t know that?”

She suddenly raged, grabbed a clothes hanger and hit me in the face. I cried, “Why are you doing this?”

She shouted, “Because you have a bad attitude!”

I was fourteen years old. While I was being hit by that hanger, I started to hate my mother. I thought she was being unreasonable. I thought she was just randomly beating me up because she happened to be in a bad mood, or worse, for no reason at all. I vowed that I would never become somebody like her.

Then I grew up. I left my parents a long time ago, but I’m still searching for the answer to the tough question, “Why my mother physically abuse me?” I tried to look at her from a mature woman’s eyes, and not from a child’s eyes. I finally figured out that maybe, just maybe, I knew one of the reasons behind my mother’s abuse. She spent her whole adult life as a housewife, and was kept at home for the whole time. My father’s parents did not have a harmonious marriage. My grandmother once ran away from home, and as a result, my father was insecure about relationships. He limited my mother’s social and career life. My mother hated to be isolated from the outside world, but she was helpless. She was afraid of being despised, especially by her children. And when I showed the attitude that she considered scornful—for example, by criticizing her cooking or questioning her knowledge—she beat me to maintain her dignity.

When I was a child, I first feared and then hated my mother, but I didn’t despise her until I became a teenager. Now, when I think of her sense of inferiority, my heart almost aches. But I don’t want to be sympathetic. My mother had a big ego, and it would be painful for her to know that her daughter had sympathy for her.

When my own son described my job as “very easy,” I realized that I too did not want to be underestimated by my child. So I reminded myself about my own mother. She was eventually despised by her own daughter, not because she made bad fried rice noodles, not because she didn’t know what a CD was, and not because she was an isolated housewife, but because she had abused her child. Ironically, she abused her child exactly because she didn’t want the contempt.

I realized that children are not confused. They only despise parents when the parents despise themselves.

I asked my son, “Surely Dad is great! When you grow up, do you want to be an engineer just like him?”

He said, “No. I want to be a writer just like you. So that I can play with my computer, chat on the phone, and get on airplanes all the time.”

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

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

How hard (or easy) breastfeeding can be

A mother shared a tearful photo about the pain of breastfeeding, saying that “I cannot hide the struggle.” She wrote, “I love seeing all these beautiful women in their beautiful nursing clothes smiling down at their babes as they lovingly look up back at them hand in hand while breastfeeding…That is not my reality.” As the post going viral, we have to ask, how hard breastfeeding can be?

The truth is, it can be as hard as one can imagine, for both stay-at-home and working moms.

Breastfeeding moms can have a variety of issues: Whether the baby is latching on properly; whether the mom is producing enough milk; whether the mom’s nipples are adequate. Maybe the new role overwhelms the mom; maybe the hormones have her; maybe the nipple shield is ill-fitted. Some babies demand nursing every 10 minutes and it exhausts their moms. Some breastfeeding moms are starving all the time and have to get up at 3 a.m. and eat. Some moms struggle with nursing twins. Some preemies are too small to nurse.

And it’s even harder if the mom’s breastfeeding while working. Even before going back to work, these moms have to build up their breastmilk supply and store extra milk. Pumping can be an unpleasant, sometimes hour-long process. And pumping at work sucks for many women. In spite of the workplace support in federal law, many of the working moms are still stuck pumping in bathrooms, or attempting to find privacy. Those lucky moms who actually get support at work still have to block off at least two 30-minute increments on their calendar to protect pumping time. The stress at work can impact breast milk production, not to mention some mothers are facing breastfeeding discrimination situation at workplace.

The “breast is best” message has returned after the formula-filled decades from the not-so-distant past. Breastmilk helps build crucial antibodies. Breastfed babies are less likely to face obesity, diabetes or other problems. Breastfeeding moms will lose the pregnancy weight easier… Most moms learned all of these in the lead-up to their babies’ birth and set their breastfeeding goals. But this kind of determination is not enough to help moms to reach their goal. According to a 2016 study, only 40 percent babies were breastfed at 12 month, though 63 percent of the mothers had planned to go to a year. What helps mothers to reach their breastfeeding goal, said the lead author of the study, is support.

Breastfeeding is a team effort. During this period of time, moms need their partners to be patient and assist them with a variety of houseworks. They need nurses in the hospital to assess their milk production. They need lactation consultants help them with the various holds until finding the one that feels quite right. They need encouragement from family members and friends.

Breastfeeding is hard. But with proper support, it can be wonderful like a breeze. Let’s help breastfeeding moms thrive, not just survive.

*This is an original post for San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition by To-wen Tseng.

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Dream Deferred

Do you remember Joaquin Luna Jr.?

I do. He was a high school kid living in Texas. His family were undocumented immigrants. He was born in Mexico and brought to the U.S. as an infant. In his senior year he applied to college, only found out that he wasn’t an American on paper. After the Senate’s failure to pass the Dream Act, Joaquin felt despair over his immigration status and lost hope of becoming the first in his family to go to college. On the day after Thanksgiving, he put on a maroon shirt and a tie, lay down next to his mother and told her he was sorry he was never going to be the person he wanted to be. Then he went into the bathroom, put a handgun underneath his chin and pulled the trigger.

It was in 2011, the same year I heard about Keish. She was a college student living in Georgia. Her family were also undocumented immigrants. Keish was born in Korea and brought to the U.S. as a young child. After finishing high school, she couldn’t enter public college due to her immigration status, and her family couldn’t afford private college. She had no choice but to work at a flee market. Later that year, a group of professors at University of Georgia started a Freedom University, providing tuition-free education to undocumented students banned from public higher education in Georgia. Keish immediately enrolled in the university.

Freedom University doesn’t offer diplomas recognized by the U.S. Dept. of Education, but Keish said she had no regrets, “I’m happy to be here. I’m here to learn, not to get a diploma.”

There are many people who would say, “why should we as taxpayers pay for these illegal immigrants to go to school?” They don’t know that undocumented immigrants are also tax payers. It’s this kind of bias defer the dreams of the young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and were raised here like Joaquin and Keish.

On June 15, 2012, President Barack Obama announced that his administration would stop deporting young illegal immigrants who match certain criteria previously proposed under the DREAM ACT. After that I heard that Keish won a scholarship to college. I sincerely felt happy for her. And then I thought of Joaquin. His death was unfortunate. He probably didn’t have to die if he waited for another year.

These young immigrants are DREAMers. On September 5th, 800,000 of them will be at risk of losing their legal status that allows them to be able to work, go to school, and continue to contribute and live in the communities where they have grown up.

Please join MomsRising in urging Congress to protect DREAMers from losing the protections that allow them to be an active part of our communities and our economy by quickly passing the bipartisan DREAM Act 2017.

Let’s not forget about Joaquin Luna Jr.

Watch a story I reported on Freedom University and Keish for KSCI in 2011:

Friday, August 18, 2017

Breastfeeding and Postpartum Mood Disorders: Milk, Tears, and Hope

While many women experience mood changes during or after the birth of a child, 15 to 20 percent of women experience significant symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety. This World Breastfeeding Week, UCSD and SDCBC mini-seminar discussed how to treat a women suffering from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) and help her with her breastfeeding goals.

Many healthcare providers have not received adequate refining in how to recognize, screen for PMADs, and refer mothers for help. This is unfortunate because “recent research has confirmed that the optimum development of an infants social and emotional health hinges on the responses of and relationships with their caregivers, often the mother,” according to Bethany Warren, licensed clinical social worker and the president of Postpartum Health Alliance.

There are effective and well-researched treatment options that can prevent worsening of symptoms and help women fully recover. “New moms are going through an identity shift, and our goal is to help them recognize their expectation, reducing the perfectionism and comparison, manage the anger, and resolve the conflict and grief,” explained My Hanh Nguyen, a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner of UCSD Dept. of Psychiatry. “Not all expectations happen and that’s okay.” Common strategies including interpersonal psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, support groups, and of course, medication.

Because of the possibility of exposing the baby to medication through the breastmilk, many are hesitate to treat breastfeeding moms with drugs. However, as Jason Sauberan, Doctor of Pharmacy of Sharp Mary Birch, pointed out, “we don’t want the drug to hurt the baby, but we don’t want to tell moms that you cannot be treated while breastfeeding, either.” The important thing is to help medicated moms reach their breastfeeding goals by understanding the physiochemical drug properties and milk transfer, judging infant risk and making the right decision. This is crucial because breastfeeding has a protective role for both mother and infant.

When supporting a breastfeeding mother with postpartum depression or anxiety, clinicians need to employ messages to all mothers experiencing the symptoms, “You’re not alone. You’re not to blame. With help, you will be well.” When identifying the mom at risk, “the most important aspect of assessment is to listen to the women’s story,” said SDCBC’s Rose deVinge-Jackiewicz, RN, MPH, IBCLC, “Her story is unique to her.” Moms need to be heard, clarified, validated and categorized. “Sometimes, even what you see tells a lot,” deVinge-Jackiewicz told the seminar attendees. Is the mom holding her baby? How’s she interacting with her husband, boy friend or in-laws?

To understand what’s PMADs really like, Jessica Furland, clinical social worker of UCSD recommended three documentaries: The Dark Side of the Full Moon, When the Bough Breaks and The Emily Effect. Each of the documentary delves into the unseen world of maternal metal health in the U.S, brings attention to this public health issue and illustrates the lack of awareness and appropriate treatment options for postpartum mood disorders by looking into a woman’s journey to recovery.

*This is an original post for San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition by To-wen Tseng.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Helping Asian Mothers Reach Their Breastfeeding Goals

It is National Breastfeeding Month and I was just in an Asian Breastfeeding Task Force kick-off meeting last week. Healthcare providers in Los Angeles and Orange County came together and formed this task force because they feel it’s clear that there are special and unique cultural and education issues when working with the population and breastfeeding practices.

Los Angeles County is home to the largest Asian American population in the US. In 2015, 2/3 of the babies born in Garfield Hospital and half of the babies born in San Gabriel Valley Hospital were Asian, according to data from AHMC medical group. Garfield and SGV are the two of the largest hospitals in Los Angeles County. Also according to the hospital data, most of the mothers were first generation immigrants. Their parenting style is deeply rooted in their culture.

I was born and raised in Taiwan. I was not breastfed. Growing up in the 1980s I’ve never seen or heard of anybody breastfeed. Of infants born in 2013 in China, 20.8% were breastfed at 6 months and 11.5% were breastfed at 1 year of age, comparing with 49% were breastfed at 6 months and 27% at 12 months in the US.

Merely two generations ago, Asian mothers did breastfeed. But aggressive infant formula marketing changed everything. UNICEF’s Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative is not adopted in China. WHO’s International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes was adopted by the Chinese government in 2011 but not enforced. In 2013, CCTV exposed how infant formula companies bribe doctors and nurses to force formula on parents in order to hook the babies to specified branded formula. A CCTV reporter who went undercover posing as a mom at a hospital in Tianjin was told on camera, “You are not allowed to feed your own baby.”

Back in Southern California, high percentage of foreign born Asian patients brought new challenges. Hospital staff found that some Asian mothers believe that “US formula is best, even better than breastmilk.” Many Asian mothers bring to hospital their nannies and family members who often encourage formula usage so that the moms can rest. On top of all these, there is language barrier and the trend of “birth tourism”—Asian, mostly Chinese, moms travel to the US for the purpose of giving birth.

In spite of the obstacles, nursing staff want to encourage Asian moms to breastfeed. They found that prenatal education is very important because it’s hard to persuade mothers to breastfeed after the birth if the mother doesn’t have any prior breastfeeding knowledge. Participants at the kick-off meeting decided to bring more Asian community leaders to the table and reach out more to the community.

The good news is, the younger generation of Asian mothers are aware of the benefits of breastfeeding and actually want to breastfeed. A medical staff from one of the Los Angeles hospital shared her experience at the meeting,

“Last year a young Chinese mother reported that our nurse gave her baby formula without her permission. When I questioned the nurse, she explained that it was the grandma asked for formula, and since the mom is of Chinese background, she assumed the family wants formula. But it turned out the mom actually wanted to exclusively breastfed.”

The incident tells a lot. The younger Asian generation is changing and it encourages the healthcare providers to reach out to them. The task force is a good start.

*This is an original post for MomsRising by To-wen Tseng.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Why donate your breast milk?

Breastfeeding mothers, have you ever thought about becoming a human milk donor? Maybe you are producing more milk than your baby can eat and you feel responsible for what you have. Maybe you want to help vulnerable infants around the country. Either way, being a human milk donor is a deeply rewarding experience.

When thinking about milk donation, many mothers first consider finding someone in their area who need milk for their babies and casually sharing it with them. But there are safety issues. Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement against informal milk sharing because of the risk of bacterial and viral contamination. A 2013 study found that 74 percent of breast milk bought on the Internet had high levels of bacterial growth, particularly strep and staph.

So instead of casual sharing, you should look into human milk banks. There are currently 18 human milk banks in the United States and Canada that are affiliated with the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, which sets guidelines for ensuring donor breast milk safety. Milk banks pasteurize donor milk to kill bacteria, combine it with other donor’s milk to make sure the milk components are well balanced, and test the milk for contamination. They then provide the milk to premature babies and other infants whose mothers may not be able to breastfeed.

Last year, 9.6 percent of U.S. infants were born prematurely, which can cause a host of health issues, including necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a serious disease in which babies’ intestines are damaged or die, causing waste to leak into their bloodstream. In 2013, preterm-birth complications were responsible for one third of U.S. infants death, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The World Health Organization says preemies should drink their own mother’s milk when possible. While donor milk is good for babies, it’s not as powerful as their own mother’s milk, because a mother’s milk composition rapidly changes to meet her baby’s needs. However, WHO does recommend donor milk as the best backup.

As you prepare to donate, you have to pass a month-long screening process, which included a phone interview, blood test for infectious disease, and releasing your baby’s and your medical records so the milk bank staff could ensure donating wouldn’t be detrimental to either of you. Your milk can help prevent infections in premature babies and encourage there mothers’ own breastfeeding efforts. Upcoming milk drive in San Diego area:

Date: Saturday, August 5, 2017
Time: 3pm
Location: UC San Diego Health East Campus Office Building
For more information, please visit 

Date: Monday, August 7, 2017
Time: 7:30 am
Location: Sharp Mary Birch Hospital
For more information, please visit 

Read more:
When breast milk goes big business
The dangers of buying breast milk online 
Breast milk is love. Share love!

*This is an original post for San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition by To-wen Tseng.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Milk and Marijuana: “First Do No Harm”

Dr. Stellawagen speaks at San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition meeting.
When California voters approved Proposition 64 and legalize marijuana last year, the basic idea was simple: a majority of people in the state believe that adults should be able to consume marijuana if they feel like it, just like a glass of wine at 5 o’clock. But how about pregnant and/or breastfeeding women? Shall we tell mothers not to breastfeed if they use marijuana?

According to Dr. Lisa Stellawagen (MD, FAAP) of UCSD Medical Center, It’s complicated. Marijuana usage during pregnancy and breastfeeding is an emerging public health problem. At a recent San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition meeting, Dr. Stellawagen said that THC use is common in pregnancy. Survey shows that 10.9% of pregnant women used Cannabis in the past year. 

In fact, it’s hard for medical staff to know how many mothers actually used Cannabis because self report is not accurate. A 1993 study tested 7470 pregnant women in five centers from 1984 to 1989. All women were asked about drug use and tested by serum analysis. While 31% of the women were confirmed with serum testing, only 11% of them admitted to use marijuana.

Currently we do not have good quality evidence that THC use is bad for infant. Fetal effects of prenatal Marijuana exposure includes small decrease in growth, double increase in stillbirth, but there is no association with birth defects, and the risk of prematurity is unclear. As for neurodevelopment, study found inconsistent effect on newborn behavior.

We do not have good quality evidence that THC use in lactation causes poor outcomes, either. A 1990 study looked at maternal marijuana use during lactation and infant development in one year. Researchers compared one year developmental testing with days of postnatal exposure if breastfeeding, and found that infant’s daily exposure to marijuana in the first month was associated with a 14% decrease in Bayley motor scores, but metal scores were not affected.

We don’t even know how much THC gets into the milk when mother uses marijuana. A 1982 study found that after using THC for one day, there were 105 mcg of THC detected and after using seven days, there were 340 mcg of THC detected per liter of maternal milk. But there was no metabolite detected in infant urine.

That says, before we tell mothers not to breastfeed, we should be sure the risk outweighs the benefit. Benefits of breastmilk for the neonate is of specific significance to the illicit drug exposed infant. Breastfeeding reduces SIDS, decreases risk of neglect, has neurodevelopment effects. Breastfed preterm infant has less NEC, less infection, and better neurodevelopment outcomes.

We do know that THC does get into the baby and mother’s milk, though. So instead of "do not breastfeed if you're using THC," we should tell mothers “do not use THC when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.” What if mothers are using THC? Dr. Stellawagen suggested, “Others should be available to care for your baby if you use THC. And if you use THC, smoke outside and use a ‘smoking jacket’ to minimize baby exposure.”​

*This is an original post for San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition by To-wen Tseng.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Quick Guide to Successful Breastfeeding

There’s a big global push in from experts to have mothers of newborns breastfeed exclusively for at least six months. And many new moms want to. But only about 60 percent who start off breastfeeding keep it up for six moths or more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here’s a quick guide to advice from lactation consultants, pediatricians and researchers who had tips for women on how to reach their breastfeeding goals.

Expect problems at first
Breastfeeding is natural, but that doesn’t mean it is automatic and easy, as many people think of. 

People often think moms and babies will know exactly what to do, and they won’t even have to think about it. Some times that happens, but it’s not the most common outcome.

Even in traditional societies that don’t use formula or bottles, women often struggle to breastfeed, it turns out.

Take Himba mothers in the desert of northern Namibia for example. As NPR reported, essentially all Himba moms breastfeed their babies. But about two-thirds of these women have problems at the beginning, researchers found.

Line up a lactation coach before the baby comes
Since problems are likely, moms need to be ready.

Arrange to have somebody who’s experienced with breastfeeding present at baby’s birth or right after the birth to coach the new mom is suggested.

The coach can be a friend, a relative or a professional lactation consultant.

Many moms are looking on the Internet and on the YouTube about how babies should latch and what to do. That can be helpful, too, but moms still need hands-on guidance.

Many health insurers cover consultations from lactation consultants. Moms can check International Lactation Consultant Association’s website to find a nearby lactation consultant.

Create a support network for breastfeeding
Mothers still feel really isolated and confused about what they’re supposed to do after birth, reported BBC.

But being isolated with a newborn is the opposite of how humans evolved. Throughout evolutionary history, humans have relied so much on others to share the load of caring for babies. It’s one of things that make us human.

Traditionally, new moms all over the world have been taught how to breastfeed. They had their moms or aunts or close friends there to help.

Every new mother needs a support network for breastfeeding. It takes a whole village.

Don’t sweat a little supplementation with formula
New mothers often hear a lot from family, friends and experts about the importance about exclusively breastfeeding. That’s what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends for the first six months. 

Decades of scientific research proves the formula is nutritionally inferior to breastmilk. But, when a mother’s own breastmilk or human donor milk is not available, infant formula is an important third option that can, at times, save lives. Also, supplement option can be a tool that helps moms work to establish their breastmilk supply.

The bottom line is, supplementing with formula is no way means mom’s failed.

*This is an original post for San Diego Breastfeeding Coalition by To-wen Tseng.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Anything we can do, we can literally do it while growing a human inside of us?

Me, into 29 weeks pregnant. 
There has been a video circulating on the Internet. It shows Serena Williams playing in the Australian Open, Gal Gadot doing Wonder Woman reshoots, Alysia Montano racing at U.S. Championships, Beyoncé dancing on the stage, Nur Syryani Mohd Taibi shooting at Olympics, all during their pregnancy. The video concluded with “Anything you can do, we can literally do it while growing a human inside of us.”

Merely 26 weeks ago, I’d totally agree with the statement. I was a tough cookie during my first pregnancy. I stood under scorching sun for 11 hours to shoot the final landing of Space Shuttle Endeavour when I was two months pregnant. I covered smuggling stories from Mexico when I was eight months pregnant. I worked till the last day of my delivery, I even finished a short article while dilating in the delivery room. I traveled abroad several times through the entire pregnancy. Yes, everything I could do, I could literally do it while growing my first one inside of me.

Now that first one is four years old and I’m 26 weeks pregnant today. I thought I was going to be the tough cookie again. But this time I had pregnancy complications since the very beginning. I suffered from bad nausea, so bad that I have to move my computer to the restroom and do my works between vomiting sessions. I’ve been bleeding and had to cancel two business trips per doctor’s recommendation. I want to do everything I can do while growing my second one inside of me, but I’m trapped in this heavy, pregnant body.

I never realized how hard a pregnancy could be, and how essential supporting like paid family and medical leave could be. I’ve always been a supporter of paid family leave bills but I once thought I could live without them. Now I realized I can’t. Nobody can.

That’s why SB 5975, the paid family and medical leave bill the Washington State legislature passed last night was such a monumental victory, not only for working families and small business in Washington, but for the entire nation. I’m not saying this because I'm having a rough pregnancy myself. I’m saying this because maternity complications could happen to any woman, any family. Our country needs parents to work, also needs parents to have babies. For this very reason, all parents deserve supports.

Once it becomes law, SB 5975 will allow workers in Washington to take 12 weeks of family leave and 12 weeks of medical leave, with a maximum cap of 16 weeks of paid leave per year. In addition, the legislation provides for two more weeks of paid leave for women who experience maternity complications, offering much-needed relief to new moms who suffer difficult pregnancies. The legislation covers all workers in the state, even self-employed individuals who can opt in the program. It’s a great start and can be a model for the nation.

*This is an original post for by To-wen Tseng.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Breastfeeding: It takes a whole village

Feeding my child at the intermission of a LA breastfeeding conference.
When my first child was born, I did not have a breastfeeding plan. Then my pediatrician advised me about the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines: exclusive breastfeeding for the baby’s first six months. Then, as foods are introduced, continuing breastfeeding until at least his first birthday.

A friend gave me an electric breast pump. Another friend gave me a cooler and some ice packs. I got serious.

I breastfed my child, relied on pre-pumped breastmilk to get through day care days. I faced breastfeeding discrimination situation at work by six months. I had four business trips by one year. But I insisted.

I insisted not because I am a true believer in the benefits of breastfeeding, but mostly because of the support I had.

Dr. Michael Kramer, a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at McGill University Faculty of Medicine, led a research on the Promotion of Breastfeeding Intervention Trial, which studied 17,000 mother-infant pairs in Belarus starting in the mid-90s. Half of the mothers, who had all begun breastfeeding at birth, received addition support and encouragement to keep breastfeeding.

Dr. Maryam Sattari, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Florida, was the lead author of a 2016 study on the breastfeeding intentions and practices of 72 internal medicine physicians. The study found that 78 percent of the babies were exclusively breastfed at birth and 40 percent of them at 12 month, though 63 percent of the mothers had planned to go to a year. “These are moms who are highly educated, highly motivated, they all want to do it,” Dr. Sattari told New York Times.

What helped these mothers, she said, was encouragement from medical leadership, as well as appropriate space and time to pump.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s breastfeeding report card on women in the United States breastfeeding babies born in 2013 (the year my first was born), while breastfeeding overall is on the rise, the numbers show that many mothers in this country are not following the A.A.P. recommendations. Compared to 2003, more women in 2013 were initiating breastfeeding (81 percent, up from 73 percent), but only 31 percent still breastfeeding at a year. Cria Perrine, an epidemiologist in the C.D.C’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, said that our culture need to do a better job of supporting women who breastfeed.

With my first child, I made it to six months exclusively. We kept going till he was a little over two years old. I initiated breastfeeding with the support from my pediatrician and lactation consultants in the hospital. I made the business trips with my trusty electric breast pump and the help from airline and hotel staff members. I went through the breastfeeding discrimination lawsuit with the help from Legal Aid Society, local breastfeeding coalitions, along with others. The experience made me deeply aware of how hard it would have been to do this if I was less well supported.

*This is an original post for San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition by To-wen Tseng.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Things To Know About Storing Breast Milk For A Flight

A horror story about a mom being forced to dump her breast milk in an airport is circulating on Internet. It reminds me about the two years when I was breastfeeding. I travel frequently for work and flew a few times with my breast pumps during that two years. My impression is that traveling as a breastfeeding mom can be challenging, but not impossible. Most agents do understand breast milk security procedures, and mothers should be good if they know the TSA guidelines in regards to breast milk storage.

Here are several things to keep in mind when carrying breast milk on a flight.

Travel with an unlimited quantity of breast milk
According to the TSA guidelines, you can bring as much breast milk as you want. I once flew with a whole gallon of breast milk from Phoenix to Los Angeles, no problem at all.

Declare breast milk to agents
You can travel with as much breast milk as you want, but TSA guidelines recommend you inform a TSA officer at the beginning of a screening process. Alerting agents ahead of time makes the process smoother and faster for everyone involved.

Breast milk will be inspected
Your breast milk may still be subjected to the X-ray machine, but if you don’t want it to go through there you can request an alternative screening method. I tried the alternative method once at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. It includes a pat-down and was time-consuming. Personally I prefer they just run my breast milk through the X-ray machine.

Bring small coolers and ice packs
Accessories to keep breast milk frozen, partially frozen, or in a cool state are permitted per TSA guidelines. I always bring a personal cooler with ice packs. Yon can ask a flight attendant for ice if you forget.

Store breast milk safely
The best way to transport breast milk and keep it fresh while traveling is in sealed containers kept in a small, insulated cooler with frozen ice packs. The breast milk should be used within 24 hours. If you won’t be using your milk right away it should go in a refrigerator or freezer as soon as you get to your destination. Always make sure label your breast milk bags with the date you pumped.

Moms don’t have to travel with their children to have breast milk
As explained on the TSA website, you don’t need to have your baby or child with you to travel with breast milk. I often travel for work with my breast pump and breast milk, but not with my child. 

Breast pump doesn’t count as a “carry on”
When bring your breast pump you don’t need to cut it as part of carry ons. Breast pump is considered a medical device and won’t need to be counted. But you should be prepared to keep telling agents that it’s a medical device. However, cooler does count as one of your carry ons. Personally I just bring the pump as a personal item and the cooler as a carry on.

*This is an original post for SDCBC by To-wen Tseng

Monday, June 5, 2017

Raising a bilingual child while losing my accent

Serving as a substitute teacher at my local Chinese-language school.
I’ve served as a judge at some local children’s Chinese-language speech and/or recitation contests on several occasions. I still remember my first time. I saw a little boy in a suit and tie, speaking with a crisp voice, saying, “Summer is my favorite season because the sunny days are cheerful and inspire me to do great things for my people.” When speaking, he raised his two fists high in the air.

Then I saw a little girl in a dress and high heels, with a clear voice she said, “Winter is my favorite season because it reminds me the Chinese fairy tale ‘Snow Child,’ a story that describes the noble sentiments of Chinese people.” Then she wiped her eyes in an exaggerated way.

These children were all born in the States, of Chinese descent. It was surprising to see they speak Chinese in such crisp and clear voices. But the speech content was very confusing. I really wanted to ask the girl what she meant by “the noble sentiments of Chinese people,” or the boy what the “great things” he was going to do for his people. I’ve got the impression that most of the scripts were written by parents.

After the young children spoke, the older kids stepped on the stage. Next, I saw a couple of teenagers in T-shirts and shorts hesitantly walked up, muttering things like, “We should respect our teachers, because…because Chinese people believe in their teachers, well I’m American, not Chinese, but…oh well, let’s just respect our teachers” or, “We should respect our parents because…because they are too old to understand anything we say…let’s just listen to them when we are home.”

It was funny to see young people with apparent Chinese appearance speaking with such strong American accents--so strong that I could barely understand most of them. Nine out of ten parents sitting in the auditorium frowned, clearly not enjoying the speech. Were they sad because their teenagers were not speaking Chinese as well as they had in elementary school? Were they worried because their children’s speech was not good enough to get them into college?

While considering how to score, I thought of my own child. He was then nine month old. I couldn’t help it but wonder whether he would be able to tell the fairy tale Snow Child in fluent Mandarin Chinese. Will he become an American kid with an American accent and complain “Mom is too old to understand anything I say”?

I frowned, like all the parents in auditorium.

In my family, we speak Chinese at home and English at work or school. My son was a late talker, but our pediatrician comforted us, saying that although bilingual kids can be slow to speak at the beginning, they usually catch up quickly. He encouraged us to insist on speaking Chinese at home.

We tried to create a Chinese-only environment at home with the hopes that the my son's first word would be a Chinese word. But the hope came to naught. His first word was an English word he learned at daycare: “Daddy.” This was my first failure in raising a bilingual child. In spite of this, we continue to speak Chinese at home. Every night we read bed time stories together in Chinese. By the time he turned three, my son could speak fluent Chinese, could tell Snow Child and many other fairy tales without help. I was very proud.

But my pride didn’t last for long. Just a couple of months ago, his preschool teacher told me that he had a hitting problem. The theory was that because my son didn’t speak English as well as other kids, his ability to stand up for himself in arguments was limited, and he turned to physical means of expressing himself.

The teacher suggested that we set an “English time” at home to help my son improve his English. I didn’t like the idea: the more I exposed him to English, the less chance he got to speak Chinese. Didn’t he speak a whole lot of English at school already?

But the hitting problem got worse. After consulting our pediatrician and therapist, I finally gave in and started a daily English story time at home. Kids are really like sponges, and his English improved in no time. He stopped hitting his preschool classmates, but his Chinese language skills went backwards.

I started to understand why I would keep seeing the same thing at Chinese speech and recitation contests: the younger the children are, the better their Chinese language skills as. I started to understand my hope of raising a bilingual child fluent in Chinese might once again come to naught.

I worked as a staff writer at a local Chinese-language newspaper when I was young. Many times, I interviewed outstanding second or third generation Chinese-Americans. When I asked them for a Chinese name for publishing purpose, they often said, “I don’t remember my Chinese name.”

A Chinese-American anti-death penalty activist once “drew” down her Chinese name for me after an interview. I couldn’t read the symbols she had drawn. I tried to guess and wrote down two characters next to her drawing. She read my writing and happily announced, “Yes, that’s my name!”

The article was published the next day. I got a phone call in the newsroom. On the other side of the phone was an old lady speaking Chinese with a sweet Beijing accent. She identified herself as the mother of the anti-death penalty activist, and said that I had gotten her daughter’s name wrong. I apologized, and she said, “That’s okay, I understand. My daughter must made the mistake herself. She never remembered her Chinese name. But I just want to let you know.” Then she was silent. “Hello! Hello?” I said, wasn't sure if I should hang up. Then she started to talk again, asking me where I was from, if I’m married, and if I had children.

At that time I was married but no children yet. The old lady said earnestly, “Take my advice. When you have your own kids, always speak Chinese to them.”

“Sure, sure,” I said, just saying that to make her happy.

Through the years I’ve seen many second generation Chinese-American kids struggling to learn Chinese. Since having my own kid, I often think of the old lady and her daughter who couldn't remember her own Chinese name. The thought is almost painful.

It’s not just the America-born children who are struggling. The away-from-home adults are also struggling. I’m a professional writer who was born to Chinese parents and raised in Taiwan, but who spent her entire adulthood in the States. I struggled to improve my English during my first years in the States. Now I write English more then Chinese. I can see clearly that I no longer speak Chinese as well as I used to. When I was in my twenties, I was eager to get rid of my Chinese accent. Now I’m desperate to maintain my Chinese language skill.

My son will soon be four, old enough to go to Chinese language school. I decided to let him start this fall. He didn’t like the idea of going to school on weekends and asked, “Why do I have to learn Chinese?”

I didn’t know how to explain the concept of culture to a toddler. I just told him, “So you can read ‘Journey to the West’.” The other night I read him the chapter “Monkey Subdues White-Skeleton Demon” from the classic novel. He wanted to know if the Monkey eventually returned to his teacher Xuanzang. I wouldn’t tell him. I told him that he’ll read it one day by himself.

I still hope to raise a bilingual child who speak fluent English and at least understandable Chinese. I don't expect him to love Chinese language right away. Language is always first a tool and then an art. I hope my son will first learn how to use the tool, and then, maybe one day, he’ll truly fall in love with the art.

This is an original post for a World Moms Network by To-wen Tseng. Photo credit: David Sprouse. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

I pumped here and there

The best place I pumped.

According to a study published in the journal Women’s Health Issues, 60% of pumping women don’t have basic workplace accommodations or adequate break times.

That’s no news. I personally have pumped in many weird places. I returned to work three month after giving birth as a staff writer at a Chinese-language newspaper based in Los Angeles. The company didn't have a nursing room, even though California law requires appropriate reasonable space for pumping.

I pumped in the restroom. When there is a line in the restroom, I pumped in my car. When the weather is too warm or the pump battery is too low, I sat on the floor under my office desk to pump, covering by a jacket. Some male colleagues claimed that I distracted them by sitting under my desk. Later a female colleague helped me to hide in the company storage to pump. It’s dirty in the storage and there were dead cockroaches on the floor, but I am forever grateful for her help.

My job requested frequent travel. Never a time during my entire life that I loved business trips that much. For that’s the only time I got to pump at decent places like an airport nursing station or a hotel room. Collecting and transporting breast milk while traveling is challenging, but not as challenging as sharing pumping room with roaches.

I eventually quit my job and sued the newspaper for sex discrimination. In spite of my effort of hiding myself when pumping, I was harassed. When I washed my pump parts in the kitchen, some of my colleagues would say, “don’t wash your dirty panties in the office.” I reported this to Human Resources, but they never dealt with it. I discussed the possibility of having a space to pump with my supervisor, but was told “nobody ever pumped in the office. We are Chinese company and we don’t follow American rules.”

The suit was settled and one thing I didn’t agree was confidentiality. They wanted to pay me for not talking about this incident again which I refused. Other than that I’m happy about the agreement, it requires the company to change its policies regarding lactation accommodations and to share these policies with staff in multiple languages. Moreover, all supervisors will be trained on the policy and how to respond to requests for lactation accommodation.

I hope I would be the last mother who had to quit her job and go through a law suit simply for a reasonable place to pump. We can do better. Please join me and sign the petition that support all breastfeeding and working moms.

And MomsRising just launched #IPumpedHere campaign that demand to bring breastfeeding women into the pumping rooms they deserve. This campaign kicked in right on time because with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) being repealed, the situation can be worse for millions of working and breastfeeding moms. Please visit IPumpedHere and see what you can do to help your employer help you, and help other women pumping in a bathroom stall, inside a car, or under her office desk.

This is an original for by To-wen Tseng.