Thursday, May 3, 2012

Naperville Fertility Clinic and Pump-Gate 2012

Aside from taking care of the kids, and the occasional play date or night out, there have been a couple issues that I've gotten myself mixed up in...

I'm a passionate person, if you hadn't noticed. When things come up that I care about, I fight for them.

In late March, I learned via the Facebook page for Resolve, the National Infertility Association, that there was some controversy surrounding a proposed fertility clinic in Naperville. (Article here) Thirty some people showed up at a city council meeting in opposition of the clinic. Some of the reasons these wackos gave was that the clinic was close to the church/school, and kids would walk by the clinic... The clinic was close to North Central College, and would target college students as egg donors... The clinic would destroy embryos, which they equate with abortion.

Reading about these wack-a-doos, I was livid! I could not believe that something that started as a zoning issue had been tabled because of the dissent of a handful of crazies. Word spread on the internet community and articles ran in the paper. A week later, close to 300 people showed up, the vast majority in support of the clinic. I took Emily, and joined the dozens of other IVF mommies, daddies, kids, and friends (including my friend Stephanie and her sister Melissa, and my friend Melissa from an IVF message board - that night was the first time we met in person!) in support of the doctor and proposed clinic. Now bear in mind, not my doctor, not my clinic, but IVF gave me my family, and I'm going to stand up for something that I believe in, and something that can help give other couples the families they wish for.

I was one of 50 some people who spoke before the council. I wrote an impassioned account of my IVF experience and somehow kept it together as I read it in front of the crowd, with Emily asleep on my shoulder. As I walked back to my seat, several people told me I had done a good job. I thanked them, and I knew I had. I had done something that not many people in this world do. I stood up for something I believe in. This is what I said:

"My name is Mindy Koechling and while I am not a patient of Dr Morris, I am proud to say that I am the mother of two IVF miracles. Noah and Emily were both conceived in love, despite the fact that my eggs were fertilized in a dish by doctors to whom I owe my world.

The fact that the purposed fertility clinic here in Naperville is being opposed by so many is an outrage to me, and frankly a slap in the face to my family and the families of so many amazing IVF children.

I do not wish infertility on anyone. The months and years of trying to conceive my children were the hardest of my life. Countless nights I cried myself to sleep, and my emotions ate away at my heart each day that I was not pregnant. It was not just the pain of the sadness of not being able to conceive a child that we so desperately wanted, but the self-blame and guilt that my body, one that was meant to conceive and carry a baby, was failing me, and with that, I felt I was failing my husband and our families.

After months of trying on our own and with the fertility drug Clomid, we decided to pursue IVF. On my third cycle, my son Noah was conceived. I was in awe of the entire process, and even to this day, I cannot forgot seeing the beautiful embryo that would become my boy, being transferred into my uterus on the ultrasound. I watched that image with sheer amazement and gratitude to science and the doctors and staff who finally helped me reach my goal.

IVF children are unique in that they are born out of a special kind of love. IVF is *not* for the light of heart, and unfortunately, I feel that the process is downplayed in the media. These people who are opposing the clinic *think* they know what the process entails and how and why embryos are chosen for use or for freezing. The fact of the matter is, this is not something that any right minded person would choose to do if they did not need to. The months of preparation- pills, shots, doctor visits, blood work, ultrasounds, and a wide range of emotions – all leading up to *surgery* to retrieve eggs and then back a few days later to transfer the embryos in hopes that THIS TIME it will work. And when it doesn’t, those who have the opportunity of having embryos to freeze (which very sadly, I do not), can go back to the drawing board, this time though, without having to do so many shots, visits to the doctors office, or surgery, not to mention the significantly lesser cost of a frozen IVF cycle. Frozen embryos not only allow a woman to have multiple attempts at conceiving a child in the first place, but also offer hope of conceiving a sibling, which is something that many couples without infertility take for granted. Furthermore, embryos (frozen or fresh) are just that – embryos. Not babies. Not people. They are clusters of cells. There is no brain, no heartbeat or face. If these were babies, as some claim, does that make me the mother of 12, because that’s the number of embryos I’ve produced in my four IVF cycles…

Through my infertility and IVF journey, which I am very proud to speak publicly about, I have met dozens of amazing people who have changed my life for the better because I did not have to walk this path alone. Each one of them and their children are like family to me, because we have been able to support each other through the lowest of lows, and the greatest joys a parent can know.

Infertility is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with, but it is also my greatest triumph. I would honestly do it all over again, because of the two amazing children it gave me. They are not manufactured. They are not lesser people. They are in fact the opposite. They are children who were fought for, and who were wanted with such great desire, and who have changed my life in a way that I cannot put into words.

In summary, I strongly urge the council to vote to allow the Naperville Fertility Clinic to be built. As infertility affects 1 in 8 people, these services will benefit many in Naperville , as well as the surrounding suburbs. Thank you for your time."

The council voted 7-2 to approve the clinic. The article is here and yes - that's a picture of yours truly and my beauty girl making it on the web AND in the Tribune the next day! :)

A few weeks later came Pump-Gate 2012...

I've been documenting the situation as it's occurred. Here's what I have thus far:

I returned to work in early March 2012. I began pumping in my cubicle twice per day upon returning to work, and the ladies who sit immediately surrounding me were supportive of my pumping. After being back to work for about a month, my supervisor called me into her office on Monday, April 9th and told me that HR had asked her to ask me to not pump at my desk because someone had notified HR that it made them uncomfortable. I was initially caught off guard as I had been doing it for four weeks, and was not the first in office to do so (only the first to be "caught" by the complainant). It is important to note that my office is 90+% female and the two men who i work directly with are also supportive of my pumping at my desk.

The agency IS in compliance with the state and federal requirements to provide a clean, private place to pump, however it is my belief that my job is not one that can be done productively away from my own personal workspace.

I spoke to my supervisor again on Wednesday April 11th, and expressed my frustration and disappointment with the situation, and let her know that I was fearful that my work was going to suffer by having to leave my desk to pump. She encouraged me to ask HR if I could have a conversation with the complainant to try to reach a compromise.

I emailed HR, and later sat down to talk with her on Tuesday April 17th. She informed me that the complainant would be happy to have a conversation with me, and let me know that it was a male, and the associate director of the agency, with whom I do no have daily contact, nor does he have any need to walk past my cubicle for any reason. I expressed my concerns and frustration, and HR stated that she would bring my concerns to the management meeting a few days later. After meeting with HR, I emailed my supervisor to let her know who the complainant was and to ask her to go to bat for me in the management meeting.

The next day (Wed April 18), I spoke with my supervisor again, and she told me that she asked HR to NOT bring the issue to the management meeting because she did not want it to become a matter of policy before I had the opportunity to have a conversation with the complainant. I agreed, and told her that I would try to schedule a meeting as soon as possible, though the rest of the week was very busy and I would not have time to contact him or have a meeting. (I was out of the office both April 19 and 20th.)

My work is suffering. My milk output and let down while I'm at the office have decreased. I am stressed out and it is affecting my family. I can understand why most working moms don't breast feed back 6 months. I am not feeling supported by the place I have worked for the last eight years, and I am fearful that this matter will either cause me to decrease my pumping and therefore affect my supply, or continue to negatively affect my work productivity, neither of which I am okay with.

Well, I get in Monday morning April 23rd, and what's in my email, but a new nursing mothers in the workplace policy, that basically states the law (they are required by state & federal law to provide a clean, private space to pump), but then the last line is the kicker. To paraphrase, says pumping anywhere other than designated areas is PROHIBITED.

I went straight to my supervisor and was like WHAT THE HELL? I said was this policy and not being enforced, or new. She said it was new and could barely talk about it. I could practically see the steam coming out of her ears. She was so frustrated that they made a policy before I even talked with them. She told me that I needed to talk with them before she could address it. So I emailed HR and complainant asking for a meeting to discuss the issue ASAP. Had an email back that they could meet the next morning.

Tuesday morning, I go in to meet with HR and complainant armed with an AMAZING letter from my co-worker, who is the other girl who "got away with" pumping in her cube for 4mo, merely because her row is no a high traffic area and upper management never "caught" her. (my supervisor knew and didn't care.) The letter was great because it spelled out everything I hoped to be able to convey about the challenge of having to gather my stuff, go to the other room, pump for 40min, move all my stuff again, and get re-situated at my desk, and the effect that that all has on productivity, as well as the importance of breastfeeding and maintaining supply, etc.

I say my piece. I'm frustrated that this has become a policy when I had made an effect to be discrete (wore a hooter hider, facing inward toward the wall/desk) and that the pumping room, while appreciated (and required by law), is not functional for the work we do. I did not do a good job of expressing myself and could not keep myself together. I HATE that I'm a crier in these situations.

The complainant went on to say that he understands where I'm coming from. His wife BF and pumped (20+yrs ago), blah, blah blah, but they are within the guidelines of the law and it's not about one or a few people feeling uncomfortable, but making sure everyone in the office is comfortable, including clients and other visitors.

I straight out told him that I am sorry if people are uncomfortable by it, but that is their issue to deal with, not mine. I said I know the law is gray and doesn't say anything about pumping in public.

He says he knows the law protects nursing in public, but pumping in public isn't the same thing. I said that is a matter of opinion, and it is my belief that they are the same thing.

They said they they felt like this was a good policy and was best for the office. That was that.

I went straight to my supervisor, and told her what happened. I told her I did my best to stay professional but that I did stand my ground. She seemed disappointed with the outcome, but said she would follow up with them. I said to her, thinking ahead, what if nothing changes? I'm really struggling, and cannot see leaving my desk to pump working long term. I ask, what happens if I break policy and pump at my desk? She doesn't say anything and kind of shrugs. She says not to do anything until she has a chance to talk to them.

Crazy week, whatever, I email her on Thursday, and she hadn't had a chance to talk to them yet.

Through out the week, I've talked to a few people about it, all of whom seem supportive, and say hell yeah, break policy, pump at your desk, have Ben/MIL brings baby into the office to nurse, etc.

Friday, chatting about something else with supervisor, she asks if I have a minute to talk. Sure, thinking she just wants to debrief before she meets with them.

Apparently I've been blissfully fu*king naive this whole time. Turns out three people have gone to her in the last few days with concerns about the route this going. Apparently people are fearful of what could happen if I test it and break policy. They're afraid that management will crack down on other things, like our flexible schedules, how much time people spend on email/FB/etc... They've commented that I'm so concerned about not getting my work done, but I keep wasting time talking about the issue. I told her, yeah, I've talked with people about it but generally only to debrief after conversations with her or when I met with the other two. I totally broke down and said I was so frustrated that this was even an issue and that I'm sad that people won't come to me with their concerns. She told me she's not sure now how to move forward because she needs to make sure to keep the group in mind. She said she doesn't want me to think that she's dropping the ball on the issue, but just asked me to think about what she said, and we can chat again next week.

I'm basically beside myself that a) this is becoming such a big issue, b) the staff that I apparently naively thought supported me is now more concerned about themselves than supporting me and the cause...

My next step is to either contact a lawyer/advocacy group, consider either pumping or nursing at my desk, or just straight up quitting. i'm honestly leaning toward the latter at this point. i have been thinking for a long time about leaving, and i feel like maybe this is a sign from the universe........

After all of that, I get a message from one of the girls in my IVF group with this:

From: John Novack, Communications Director, Inspire Hi members, A reporter with contacted us last night seeking to interview a woman for an article about breast feeding and workplace issues. Here's what she wrote: "I’m working on a story on breast feeding – a new study found that women who breast feed beyond six months actually end up earning less money than women who breast feed for six months as well as women who favor bottle feeding. One of the biggest reasons is because women may have to work less or stop working entirely, and contributing to that is the fact that many workplaces are not conducive to pumping, etc. I’m interested in talking to a woman who perhaps has run into this sort of challenge. Maybe she has had problems at work with pumping or stigma related to lactation, etc. Maybe there’s a woman who decided to no longer work because of obstacles – something like that." If you fit the profile of what the reporter is seeking, and you'd be willing to be interviewed by phone, please email me at today, April 27, by 4 p.m. EST. I'll put you in contact with the reporter. Please include a phone number when responding and include "ABC" in the subject line of your email.

How timely! It was after the deadline, but I emailed him, he forwarded my info, and the next morning, I heard from the reporter. I did a phone interview with her on Sunday, and Tuesday morning, my story was out. now this isn't really public knowledge (well, it is now, i suppose) because of the shit show at work. There is already enough drama being created by people who are either too selfish or ignorant to give a shit about something that is important to me and is something I'm fighting for to help the group as a whole in the long term.

I'm exhausted and frustrated and sad about all of this. I really just wish I could stay home with my kids and not have to stress about all of this. But in the meantime, I have to fight for what I believe in, even if it doesn't change anything. I'm hopefully at least showing people that it is important to stand up for your beliefs and not just follow along like lemmings, always doing as told. Question authority when they're making bad decisions. Fight for things that matter to you, things you believe in. Care about SOMETHING. Don't just follow the pack. I won't apologize for who I am or for standing up for my beliefs just because it makes others feel uncomfortable. Grow the fuck up.

I'm still holding on to about a 1% chance my boss will convince upper management to compromise with me, but realistically, I have to come to terms with pumping in the "pump room" as long as I continue to pump or until I find a new job... :/ I don't want to have to leave because of this, but honestly, my family needs to be my priority and if that's what it comes to, so be it.

I think because I won't have more kids, I am savoring breastfeeding. Emily is so good at it, and I love that she and I are able to share that time. I hate pumping, but I do it because I have to work and so that I can continue to nurse her. I want to be with her and Noah all day, every day but can't so it is what it is. For coworkers to question why I am pushing the issue so hard frustrates me. Why is it so hard to see why this is worth fighting for? How do people go through life without fighting for anything, without believing in anything? I could go on a political tangent here too, but I won't. I think this all just proves my theory that the majority of Americans are mindless idiots. You've got the 99% that I am a part of economically, but then you've got the 1% that I am a part of in terms of having a brain, using it, and giving a shit.

Emily nursing. Does it get much sweeter?

Update on the kids and fam

I can't believe it's been almost two months since I last posted, and I *STILL* have yet to finish the birth story. UGH.

Emily is now 4 1/2 months old! (I've lost count of the number of weeks!) She is doing amazingly! She is talking non-stop, all kinds of sounds, big cheesy smiles, coos, giggles, chuckles... She is IN LOVE with Noah (and vice versa) and she watches his every move.

She is growing well, and we've developed a pretty consistent feeding routine, with her usually waking around 6am to eat, and then I try to feed her before I leave for work (between 8 and 9), and then she'll eat at 12, 3, 6, 9 and then she's out for the night! At her 4 month appt, she was in the 80's (percentile) for height, 60's for length, and her head was at 99, just like her brother. We will be seeing our neurosurgeon, Dr Tomita at Children's with Emily after we get an ultrasound of her head at CDH. I haven't moved on that yet, because honestly, I've yet to have my follow up with my OB (went to the two week post-op, but the 6 week got cancelled by him and then by me when I had the flu) and I cancelled my rheumatologist appt last month. And that's not to mention the fact that we have piles of medical bills, and I don't really feel like adding to them right now when the fact of the matter is I feel incredibly confident that Emily's large nog is genetics, and nothing more.

Anywho, we did go back to Children's for follow up with our hemotologist, Dr Liem. Everything is looking good. Her hemoglobin has continued to go up - was in the 8's in January, 9's in March, and over 10 in April. They want us back in 3 months and then they will do the osmotic fragility test to confirm the hereditary spherocytosis (HS) diagnosis, which we are assuming she has given her jaundice at birth and lowish hemoglobin since birth.

Emily is really inconsistent with rolling, but I've seen her roll both ways. She's a rock star on her tummy, and really does great in tummy time especially when she has Noah to watch.

She has two teeth already! I'm pretty sure Noah didn't have his first tooth until 6 months. They came through in just about a two week period. I first noticed them that there was clearly something just under the surface on a Saturday. By the following Wednesday (April 25th), the bottom left one popped through, followed by the bottom right on Saturday (April 28th).

Emily started rice cereal a few nights ago. She seems to be enjoying it, but hasn't quite figured out to open her mouth for the spoon. She tries to suck on it like she's nursing! Occasionally, her mouth opens wide, I pop the spoon in, and she gets a big bite. When that happens, the look on her face says "oh my, this stuff is GOOD!"

Noah has continued to do so well with using the potty. A few weeks ago, we finally convinced him to stand up to pee, and there's not a lot cuter than Noah, pants around his ankles, hands on his hips, leaning back just a bit, peeing in the toilet. And then there's the little pelvic thrust to "shake it off". Cracks me up everytime!!

Just today, Noah went to the Dentist for the second time. The first time (back in January), the hygienist basically just counted his teeth and the dentist took a look to make sure we were brushing well enough. THIS time, he got a full on cleaning, polish and floss. Wish I would have been there, but Ben said he did amazingly. So proud of him!

We took the kids to Cubs opening day. It was cold and they lost, but it was fun nonetheless. Noah actually sat in his seat and was relaxed for most of the game. Toward the end, both kids were kind of over it, so we left a little early.... on our way back to the car, a random guy gave Noah a baseball which he though was awesome. Great souvenir for the day!

Ben and I went to the Bulls playoff game two night ago. They lost. :( Noah is *very* into the Bulls this year, and we've agreed that we need to take him to a game next year! We did get tickets to see "The Fresh Beat Band" in October with the kids. Ha, we're officially those parents!