N is also for Nipples
Did you know there was a hugely divisive edition of Time magazine recently? Oh well of course you did! You read that article and the aftermath so long ago you’ve forgotten about it by now. And I’m still here waiting for my edition of Time come through the diplomatic pouch. We have to wait a little longer to get our mail as we’re in the foreign service. Whatever your thoughts on attached parenting and breastfeeding, don’t you find it interesting that the whole thing blew up around (US) Mother’s Day?
I have boobs, with nipples attached, and they’ve served me well during my time overseas. In fact, I breastfed in eight countries, some of them more accepting than others. That is just another reality of life in the foreign service. I fondly remember a sweet elderly lady in France tenderly stroking my shoulder in support as I nursed my hungry infant. Or the midwives in Luxembourg who marveled at Pudding’s ability to eat and eat from the moment she was born. During one notable incident in Germany- I even got paid for it!
Pudding was a mere two weeks old, and we’d gone to a Christmas Market in Germany with my visiting parents. Recovering from Pudding’s birth took a long time, and she had the biggest appetite, so when she began screaming in the middle of the market, I abandoned my parents and looked for somewhere to nurse.
I found some steps, sat down and used our American stroller (pushchair) to block the view as best I could (not very well). As Pudding screams turned into contented suckling, I noticed that the steps I’d chosen to sit on were actually part of a huge Nativity scene. I was torn between moving so as not to upset anybody’s religious beliefs, and telling myself that Jesus nursed at the breast too. Plus I figured people would be more disturbed by the fury of Pudding if I were to stop her when she hadn’t had her fill. I decided to nurse it out.
A few minutes later, I noticed a man coming towards me. I can’t see my parents anywhere, and I realize how both public and vulnerable I am at this point. If I’ve upset this man’s sensibilities, I’m a sitting target. I want to tell him that I’m not actually a lactivist, but a mother trying to do her best, but I don’t speak enough German for that. He marches determinedly up to me, then puts something in the cupholder of my stroller. When Pudding finally finishes her meal, I discover a shiny new 2 euro coin! Obviously in my bedraggled state, without a fancy European stroller accessory, I looked like I was begging!
I was part of a group of international mothers all living overseas at the time, who all found this story hilarious. Some of us breastfed, others didn’t. Some of us worked, others didn’t. It’s all good in the Motherhood. Rather than judging one another, we offered as much support as we could- all of us sharing the not-so-simple task of raising our children in a foreign country without any family support at hand.
A couple of weeks ago, here in South Africa, I had a breast exam and the doctor described my breasts as ‘lumpy.’ She wasn’t immediately concerned, but she feels that sooner rather than later, I need to have a mammogram, rather than waiting until I’m 40 or 50 or whatever my heath insurance dictates is the optimum time. I immediately thought of my foreign service friend Jen, who bravely navigated the process of discovering a lump to multiple surgeries, and blogged about the process of dealing with that, children, oh, and her husband on an unaccompanied tour in Iraq. Amusing anecdotes aside, I don’t have much to say about my boobs. Jen’s on the other hand, have a very important and relevant story to tell.
This week, Jen and her nipples have been dismissed from the State Department’s foreign service blog roll. When she asked why she had been deleted, she was specifically referred to a post about her nipples which was deemed ‘too personal’ to be seen by other members of the foreign service or potential candidates. Not only does her family have to go through one of the most traumatic experiences, deal with how that affects her husband’s career (and by extension their entire life), but then to be told that is the reason she isn’t a relevant part of the foreign service community is entirely too much.
It came as no surprise to me to find that my blog was never added to the list. This kind of exclusion comes in stark contrast to the supportive and welcoming foreign service community that is my extended family while overseas. One that I’m proud to begin representing soon as Community Liaison Office Co-Ordinator. I’d like to know exactly why our family isn’t considered a relevant part of the foreign service experience.
Being the parent of a special needs child certainly changes your experience of the foreign service. And being part of the foreign service changes your experience of special needs parenting. I’d say, like Jen’s nipples, this is something we should be talking about. Indeed, considered a vital resource for anybody else who finds their life- foreign service or otherwise- is turning out differently than expected. Sooner or later, life will get too personal, and if that happens to be because of cancer or autism, you might just want to read about someone who has been through it too. I believe our stories show that even when your world gets rocked, it keeps on spinning. A lot of spinning, in our case.
I don’t mind being excluded because I chose to write about my money-makers, they aren’t important like my friend’s. Just note that we usually call them galou-galous around here. Please don’t exclude any of us for talking about things that are important, and essential, but not always pleasant. And please don’t try to paint a picture of a homogenic community, because that is a far more distasteful than nipples as an image for the foreign service of today.
Now I’ll return to waiting to collect the diplomatic pouch with my Time magazine. It asks ‘Are You Mom Enough’ and I would reply- absolutely, I just might not be Foreign Service enough to blog.
This post is sort of part of my A-Z series, but not really because people have gone a little crazy over breasts and as well as all my other hats I wear, I’m a female blogger and it makes me mad. Perhaps instead I’ll file it under Foreign Service Life instead. And then begin to fear what google searches will come my way now…
Here are some other very relevant foreign service bloggers talking about what has been descibed as “Nips for Dips”: