There's this thing that my 4-month-old does when he's hungry. I call it "The Dive Bomb." He starts with a sweet cuddle in the crook of my neck and nuzzles his little rosebud mouth against my skin. Within seconds, he turns his entire body toward my collarbone, and throws all 15+ pounds of himself against my chest. His head bobs like a woodpecker, and suddenly, he's transformed from a cooing, happy baby to a frantic, wiggling armful of desperation.
In the 17 seconds that it takes me to undo my nursing bra and slide Ben down my chest to nurse him, I am transformed too. My heart pounds with the drumbeat of mothers everywhere. Will I move quickly enough? I don't want to make him wait for even one second longer.My fingers fumble with the snaps on my shirt. And suddenly, after a tiny sniffle and a sigh escapes his little rosebud mouth, he is latched on. I love those 17 seconds, because the look that he gets when he finally takes a breath and begins to drink tells me everything that I need to know about being a mom. His eyes roll back in his head and his eyelids flutter. His body melts into the curve of my belly, his warm neck resting on my arm. I am enough. I have enough to give him. I am feeding him with love.
But this isn't true for every mom tonight.
There are moms who are lying awake right now, trying to figure out how they will feed their babies tomorrow. Moms who are going to bed hungry, because there is only enough food to have one meal a day. Moms who are making sure that their children eat, and then there isn't anything left for the grown-ups. In many homes tonight, there simply isn't enough. I'm not talking about counting for 17 seconds. I'm talking about counting the days until the food stamp card is reloaded. I'm talking about counting the slices of bread that are left, asking kindergartners to take half so that there is enough for tomorrow's lunch too. I'm talking about counting the ways that a mother can tell her child that there aren't any seconds, aren't any snacks, aren't any options.
This is not about politics. I live in a house divided, where my husband watches Fox News and I listen to CNN on the radio as I drive my son to preschool. The government shutdown is not the only reason why families will go hungry tonight. In California, WIC has pledged to honor their commitment to families in need by continuing to provide benefits for food and nutrition services. That isn't enough.
When Suzanne Barston, Jamie Lynne Grumet and I joined together to create "I Support You," we realized that support begins with basic care. Basic care for many of the mothers in this country means that they need to have access to healthy food for their families. Breastfeeding mothers don't always need a lactation consultant or a quiet place to nurse. Sometimes, they need breakfast. I am nursing a 4-month-old, and I usually eat two dinners. I am hungry all.the.time. But I have a full pantry cupboard and a refrigerator that I frequently have to clean out. Many mothers don't. Formula feeding moms don't always need the newest bottles or the support to feed their babies proudly. Sometimes, they need enough powder left in the can to get them through until their next paycheck, so they don't have to water each bottle down.
This is OUR responsibility. The children of this country are our responsibility. How can we encourage other parents to feed their children with love if they don't have anything to feed them?
I know what my 4-month-old will have for breakfast tomorrow. Some moms don't.
I know that I've eaten enough today, so that when Ben begins his "Dive Bomb" slide in the middle of the night tonight, my body will produce all of the milk that he needs. Some moms have bodies that won't.
There has been a lot of hand-wringing this week as people jockey for position in our government and play the blame game. Feel helpless? You're not. Here's what you CAN do:
1. Call your local food bank, transitional housing program, homeless or domestic violence shelter. Ask them what they need. Please don't be surprised when what they need is not the almost-expired cans of random crap from your pantry cupboard. They need fresh fruits and vegetables. They need pantry staple items. They need lunch and snack items that kids can eat on the bus or mom can take to work. They need grocery store gift cards. Their breastfeeding moms need healthy food choices, easy snack items and foods that are great for lactation. Formula-feeding moms need access to the formula of their choice, bottles and the facilities to keep their supplies organized and clean. Some moms might need breast pumps or freezer storage systems for pumped milk. All moms need to know that they are allowed to eat and take care of themselves, and that it won't be at the expense of their children.
2. Organize, mobilize, call your "people." Send an email to the parents in your child's class. Talk to the other moms on the soccer field. Mention to your neighbors that you are putting a basket together or making a grocery store run. Ask your local bakery if they want to donate a sweet treat. See if the bagel shop will match your purchase and help you to provide a full breakfast for families who might have had to skip breakfast otherwise. Encourage your friends to "buy two." When you grab your child's favorite snack food, buy two. When you buy formula or diapers, buy two. Save the extras and drop them off at the food bank.
3. Share your strengths. Volunteer your time at a transitional housing program, teaching new moms to breastfeed. Donate your breastfeeding books, your nursing covers, your Boppy. Mentor a new mom who is struggling with finding breastfeeding support. Bake a batch of lactation cookies and deliver them with the recipe (and all of the ingredients so a mom can make her own!) Donate formula mixers and bottles and drying racks. Sit with a formula-feeding mom and share some of your best tips. If you truly support feeding choice, find a mom who is struggling to provide food and support her efforts.
Look around, Moms. Our sisters need us. I am watching my sleeping babies on their video monitors right now. I am watching Ben wiggle and rustle around in his crib. I can hear his funny little breathing sounds, and the whisper-sighs that mean he will be waking up soon. He will be waking up hungry... so hungry that his breathing quickens and his little hands grab at my shirt. It will only take me 17 seconds to feed him. I know that I have enough. So it's up to me to make sure that other moms do too.
How can we ask mothers to feed with love, if they don't have any food?
Let's make sure that our nation's children don't have to wait longer than 17 seconds. Let's fill the gap.
This is how we feed with love.