Dairy Air

I was perusing my blogs this morning, a favorite pastime while Maggie dutifully empties the toy box, inspects the contents, turns it over, and scoots into it backward. I can usually make it through about half my Google Reader list before Maggie bleats to be removed from her tiny toy prison. Today I read one of my favorites, The Everywhereist, who writes the sort of travel blog I once aspired to before I ran out of time, money, and sanity. You only need two of the three to write a travel blog, but not having any is a difficult obstacle.

Today’s post, The Inherent Sexism of Airport Security, really struck home for me, especially this line:

“While I can’t really figure out TSAs motivations, I will say this: if dudes lactated, there is no way that the TSA would dare try to throw away breast milk. Seriously, imagine walking up to some 300-pound bruiser of a man and telling him that you were going to toss out his child’s food, food that he himself had made with his own body. You’d spend the next three days pulling your own teeth out of your ass.”

The first five months of Maggie’s life was spent training her for a huge trip for my sister’s wedding in September. We got her to both love and look forward to sleeping against our bodies in a sling. We nursed in all manner of positions so it would be easier on the plane to Boston. We went to the Big Island for a long weekend to serve as a practice airport run. We practiced packing our bags to make security clearance a breeze. And in preparation for commitments that would prohibit nursing–the all-day bachelorette party, an actual movie date with my husband, holy shit, the ceremony and reception that I would be both in and photographing–I pumped like a madwoman. No babysitters for those first five months; I had to stockpile my bottles. I never quite got the knack of pumping so it was hard for me, even though my supply has always hovered between “abundant” and “Can we just send you to Africa for a month to feed this village?” By the time we were to fly from Honolulu to Boston, I had amassed about 30oz in small bottles in a wee cooler to take with us.

Then I panicked. The word from the official website was that the TSA rules allowed frozen breastmilk, though I may have to get ice from the food court and flight attendants after clearing security. From other moms and anecdotal stories…it was a crapshoot. It seemed it would be left totally to the discretion of the agent, agents who do not have a reputation for compassion or understanding. It seemed highly possible that I could lose my precious supply. Maggie had never had formula after that one bottle in the hospital; I stayed home with her, she had reflux, so why spend the money on trying formula that her belly wouldn’t accept? The idea of giving her sensitive, refluxy belly a new liquid in a new environment during the happiest day of her aunt’s life seemed like a disaster in the making.

Thus I went to the airport prepared. I printed the TSA guidelines to bring along, I went to our pediatrician and had her write a note on letterhead declaring the medical necessity of our milk. It turned out to be nothing–I had my sheaf of paper ready to go, all our other baby-related liquids neatly packaged and labeled in my Ziploc, and the woman smiled at me, scanned the liquid, and passed us through. She even said “Hi” to the baby. No fuss, no stress. I don’t want to make the statement that because she was a female agent she understood more than a male agent would; I know many men who value the nutritional benefits of breastmilk, and have encountered many women TSA agents who have a chip on their shoulder trying to seem as tough as their male colleagues in a viciously stressful and complicated job. But it could easily have gone the other way.

Pumping is hard work. It is uncomfortable. It is clinical. It inspires some of us to moo mournfully at the machine while we wait to fill up a bottle. I hate it. I can’t imagine the despair I would have felt if the agent had taken my stockpile away or the depth of my humiliation if my baby’s food that I worked so hard to produce, my baby’s food that was an extension of my own body, was thrown away like so much garbage.

So to my moo-cow sisters out there, good luck to you. Print the guidelines, get a note from the pediatrician just in case. I hope you don’t have to use it; you probably won’t. But do it just in case. And to the TSA–I’m a model flyer. My husband is too, and we’re going to do everything we can to make your jobs easier. But in the process of doing your job, don’t make my job harder.

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