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Senior editor and story wrangler, WordPress.com and Longreads. Not to be fed after midnight.

A Rare Toy Heist, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

Original Star Wars action figures at the Monroe County Local History Room in Sparta, Wis. (Peter Thomson/La Crosse Tribune via AP)

In the world of Star Wars memorabilia and toy collecting, one of the rarest collectibles is said to be a 1979 prototype action figure: a Boba “Rockett” Fett that came with a spring-loaded backpack that fired a plastic missile. But it was never released. After a child choked on another toy with a similar missile, toy company Kenner scrapped the design — but not before several of these original figures had already been made.

Today, an enthusiastic Star Wars fan community buys, sells, and collects “Lucasian memorabilia,” often going to great lengths to track down rare items. When Zach Tann got a text in 2017 from a fellow collector, Carl Cunningham, about purchasing this coveted Rocket Fett, things began to get fishy.

At Popular Mechanics, Alexander Huls recounts one of the biggest scandals in Star Wars collecting history.

Tann was one purchase away from a unicorn. The offer was too good to pass up, and Tann paid Cunningham the asking price. “I’d been working my butt off for four years, and I felt like, finally, I found my guy that’s going to hook me up with a lot of great stuff,” Tann says. “This is what every collector dreams of.”

Cunningham was away in California at the time but promised he’d get Tann his collectible once he returned home. But a little over a week later, Tann’s phone vibrated with another notification, this time a Facebook message from a friend.

The message contained a screenshot of a post on the forum Rebelscum.com, a popular Star Wars collector website. Titled “My Proto Rocket Fett was Stolen,” the post received over 26,000 views and shocked the community. “Man this is horrible. I could just imagine the gut wrenching feeling, the pitfall in your stomach. Wow. That is messed up,” said one typical reply.

The Rebelscum post was written by prominent Star Wars collector Philip Wise, whose 20,000-item collection is a place of pilgrimage for many Star Wars collectors. Wise detailed how his Rocket Fett prototype had been taken sometime in the last two weeks from his private Star Wars museum, where it was prominently on display. He made a plea: “If anybody should hear anything about a Fett like this floating around, please contact me.”

Wise’s words punched Tann in the stomach. Cunningham couldn’t be the thief, right? It wasn’t his Rocket Fett, was it?

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‘The South Is Different Now. So Are We.’

In two road trips taken two decades apart, Pete Candler and his friend John toured the backroads of the South, searching for vestiges of a history they weren’t taught as “private-school white boys” and uncovering truths about Candler’s ancestors never passed down through family lore (“My family name is front-and-center in the history of lynching of African Americans in the United States. How am I only just now hearing about it?”).

Candler writes of his hometown, Atlanta, as a place of amnesia: detached from history, allergic to preservation. “It is as if even the city’s buildings themselves desire oblivion,” he writes. “Truth has not been especially well remembered in a city that has made forgetfulness a marketing strategy.”

In his personal essay at the LA Review of Books, Candler recounts both road trips — the first one in the 1990s, when the men were in their mid-20s, armed with rolls of black-and-white film and a basic knowledge of Flannery O’Connor; and their more recent journey in 2018, as they retraced their steps and revisited monuments with wide eyes and a different perspective.

Revisiting takes work. A first experience of a place is primarily an act of reception, of taking in what you had never seen before. But going back a second time requires the additional work of reckoning the fact that you are not the same person you were the first time, and neither is the place itself. The South is different now. So are we.

Twenty years ago, I wasn’t wise to the ways the legacy of white supremacy is written into the landscape of places like Tuskegee, how monuments to Confederate soldiers were put up in public places like the town square here as reminders to African Americans of their place in an overtly racist regime, and as a warning to them not to forget it. I might have been able to believe then that the monuments were pretty banal, just part of the landscape, but exceptions to America’s story of itself. I failed to ask some pretty basic questions.

I read Du Bois now under the shadow of my distant cousin. I am not especially surprised that my family has never mentioned Allen Candler. Nor am I surprised to learn that he was a racist. What is surprising is that, even in my own tight-lipped family, an event of such local and national significance should have been so completely passed over in silence.

O’Connor’s work helped introduce me to a South I had little experience with. But she also introduced me to the idea that hope — for oneself, for one’s city, for one’s nation — is only to be found in an honest, and often violent, confrontation with the past — one’s own, one’s city’s, and one’s nation’s. Mythologies may be soothing, and even good for tourism, but they cannot save us. O’Connor showed me that there is no future for any of us without a clear-eyed and unsentimental reckoning with our own complicity in the suffering of others. That there is nothing more terrifying, exciting, and liberating than the unlearning of untruths, the dethroning of the self and its enabling illusions, the freedom of spaces newly opened up where lies once were.

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‘We All Live in the Great Database in the Sky’: On Silicon Valley and UFO Culture

In a review of D.W. Pasulka’s new book American Cosmic: UFOs, Religion, Technology at The Baffler, Emily Harnett offers her take on Silicon Valley’s appropriation of UFO culture.

This might explain why Vallee’s suggestion that aliens are just like Google is so powerfully soul-killing. His theory suggests that the feeling of being digitally surveilled is one of almost mystical possibility. But when Google’s advertising software intuits, for instance, my desire for an Instant Pot, it doesn’t feel to me like a revelatory encounter with a celestial being. It feels like I’ve been psychically violated by an algorithm, which is to say it feels like everything else on the internet. Yet it’s true that both UFOs and data-mined advertisements are marked by “synchronicities,” or “powerful, meaning-filled coincidences.” UFO experiencers will often observe, for instance, mysterious pulsing lights in the sky for days after an initial sighting. Similarly, I need only contemplate the ugly ubiquity of sneaker startup Allbirds before flocks of them alight menacingly on my browser. In the former case, UFO experiencers may begin to suspect that a cosmic intelligence is tracking their movements. In the latter, I begin to suspect that my thoughts are being tracked by hideous sneakers, or at least the people who want to sell them to me.

The sublime—whether a feature of the natural world, or of UFOs, or of religious experience—is a sense of our own vanishing smallness before something impossibly vast: a mountain range, a churning ocean, the universe, God. What we get in return for being so existentially demeaned is freedom from the tyranny of our own personalities, a sort of liberating oblivion. But data-extracting platforms don’t sublimate our personalities; they multiply and magnify them. And the Data Sublime, far from making the internet feel thrillingly big, has conspired to make it feel smaller, claustrophobic, and profoundly boring. As Facebook and Google metastasize, the more interesting destinations on the internet are dying off; recent sweeping media layoffs were also largely the result of Facebook, Google, and Amazon’s stranglehold on advertising revenue. The sublime promises a sort of redemptive immensity, but Silicon Valley strives to compress all of digital experience into a single, monotonous feed, mainlining capital into the pockets of billionaires.

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The Problem of Too Many Hotels, Too Many Parties, and Too Many Tourists In Tulum

Photo of Tulum in its more idyllic state by Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Unceasing development. The constant hum of diesel generators on the beach. Out-of-control EDM festivals. Contaminated cenotes. The problems continue to pile up in Tulum, a five-mile strip of white-sand beach on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. At The Cut, Reeves Wiedeman takes a look at how a mix of poor infrastructure, unsustainable hotel practices, drugs, too many DJs, and tourists of all flavors over the years — backpackers, hippies, wealthy hippies, pseudo-spiritual partiers, influencers, celebrities — has ruined a once-chill getaway destination.

The activists have been most successful in decreasing the use of plastic — many restaurants now serve agave straws and cutlery made from avocado seed — but the more serious ecological problems don’t have agave solutions. Tulum is built on highly permeable limestone, the geologic equivalent of Swiss cheese, below which flows one of the world’s largest underground river systems. Some of Tulum’s biggest non-beach attractions are its cenotes, where the ground has collapsed to reveal open-air pools with highly Instagrammable turquoise water. The trouble is that less than 10 percent of the town is connected to the municipal sewer system. The beach, and many of the newer developments, aren’t connected at all. Most businesses depend, instead, on septic tanks, but, whether by accident, neglect, or ignorance — willful or otherwise — a significant amount of Tulum’s waste ends up in the ground, where it eventually leaches through the limestone into the water. In January, a documentary called The Dark Side of Tulum was released with footage shot by cave divers of feces floating in the rivers. According to Mexico’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, 80 percent of the cenotes in the Yucatán Peninsula have some level of contamination, and researchers have found traces of the entire Tulum consumption cycle: skin-care products, cocaine, Viagra, and ibuprofen.

Hotels in Tulum like to describe themselves as “eco-chic,” a term Melissa Perlman claims to have coined — she had recently considered sending cease-and-desist orders for its unauthorized use — but Olmo Torres-Talamante, a local biologist who runs an environmental NGO, said that, while a few places are trying harder than others, none of the hotels in Tulum operates sustainably. The do-what-you-want ethos of Tulum’s early days has produced fresh consequences now that people show up to party as much as they do to commune with nature, and the sacrifices being asked of tourists are comically small. (The first rule posted on a government sign instructing visitors on how to interact with sea turtles is a request not to sit on them.) One of the new EDM festivals encouraged attendees to use “biodegradable glitter,” but no one seemed eager to grapple with the inherent unsustainability of clearing a spot in the jungle to put in a giant speaker system.

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Health Care Sponcon: Where Big Pharma Meets Instagram Influencer

Photo via Pexels

I’ve been reading about Instagram influencers of all flavors recently, from kid stars to travel bloggers. Enter the latest type of influencer marketing: health care sponcon. That’s right: pharmaceutical companies and Silicon Valley health startups are teaming up with social influencers to sell new drugs and medical devices.

“There is no doubt that this type of health care advertising-cum-storytelling is effective, and is frequently compliant with federal regulations,” writes Suzanne Zuppello. But is it ethical? For Vox‘s The Goods, Zuppello digs into influencer pharma marketing and investigates how the FDA and FTC are attempting to regulate this type of sponsored content.

Lesley Murphy, a former contestant on The Bachelor and current travel blogger, uses her platform to disseminate information that benefits people like her who are affected by a BRCA genetic mutation, which increases a person’s risk of breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers. Murphy, who did not respond to requests for comment, documented her experience of undergoing a preventive double mastectomy on Instagram. Now she advertises ReSensation, a surgical technique launched in October 2018 that may help women undergoing breast reconstruction to retain some or all sensation in their breasts, to her 422K followers. Although ads for most surgical procedures are under the FTC’s purview, ReSensation’s use of human nerves also gives the FDA jurisdiction over Murphy’s Instagram and blog posts.

When asked how the influencer program was developed, Annette Ruzicka, a spokesperson for AxoGen, the company that developed ReSensation, said, “The only request of contributors was to write openly about their breast reconstruction process, and to also share factual information with their followers about the ReSensation technique. We shared publicly available information about the ReSensation technique to ensure that all content shared with the public was accurate. We provided no other content requirements for contributors.”

Murphy, who is not the only ReSensation influencer, has not undergone the procedure herself. But her followers may not realize this detail until they reach the end of her Instagram caption, where she directs readers to a blog post where, at the very end, she discloses her personal inexperience with the technique. Though this does not violate federal guidelines, nor those put forth by AxoGen, it does speak to the ethical obligation an influencer has to their followers.

The reality star’s Instagram post about the technique received almost 11,500 likes, giving ReSensation considerable exposure, yet Murphy omits disclosures required by both the FTC and FDA. She uses the term #partner to disclose that she is a compensated influencer, but the term is considered too vague, even for the FTC, for a user to clearly understand the relationship. She also fails to offer any information about the technique, disregarding federal guidelines to disclose risks and benefits that may impact patient decision-making. Instead, she directs followers to her blog where she discusses “a new technique designed to restore sensation in breasts after surgery,” lamenting the numbness in her breasts since her mastectomy and reconstruction.

Her blog post is where we finally learn the technique was not used on Murphy and cannot be used in conjunction with implant reconstruction, the most common and least complicated form of breast reconstruction, and the type of reconstruction Murphy underwent. Neither Murphy’s posts nor the ReSensation website discloses the success rate of the technique, instead focusing on an insecurity that has plagued mastectomy patients for decades: numb breasts.

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‘Stanford Is the Valley’: On Grooming Tech’s Next Generation

For years, Stanford University has been ground zero for Silicon Valley talent, and employers like Facebook and Google have been considered dream companies to work for. But given the major scandals and constant stream of negative news in the industry, there’s a “growing skepticism of the inherent goodness of technology,” writes Victor Luckerson, and a push at the university to revamp its computer science courses to address the ethical challenges that companies, especially the corporate giants, currently face.

At The Ringer, Luckerson explores Stanford’s ties to Silicon Valley’s biggest employers, the evolution of its computer science curriculum, and its students’ changing views on what it means to work in tech.

As tech comes to dominate an ever-expanding portion of our daily lives, Stanford’s role as an educator of the industry’s engineers and a financier of its startups grows increasingly important. The school may not be responsible for creating our digital world, but it trains the architects. And right now, students are weighing tough decisions about how they plan to make a living in a world that was clearly constructed the wrong way. “To me it seemed super empowering that a line of code that I wrote could be used by millions of people the next day,” says Matthew Sun, a junior majoring in computer science and public policy, who helped organize the Theranos event. “Now we’re realizing that’s maybe not always a good thing.”

Landing a job at a major tech firm is often as much about prestige as passion, which is one reason the CS major has expanded so dramatically. But a company’s tarnished reputation can transfer to its employees. Students debate whether fewer of their peers are actually taking gigs at Facebook, or whether they’re just less vocal in bragging about it. At lunch at a Burmese restaurant on campus, Hall and Sun summed up the transition succinctly. “No one’s like, ‘I got an internship at Uber!’” Sun says. Hall follows up: “They’re like, ‘I got an internship … at Uber …’”

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‘Leaving the Bay Area is the Best Thing You Can Do Right Now, If You Have a Dream’

In an essay at Curbed San Francisco, Diana Helmuth explores why so many young people have left California. It’s not normal, she writes, considering a dozen loved ones have moved away in the past two years.

We are witnessing two migrations. One is the continuation of the Californian dream, where young people flock here for gold and glory, ready to hustle and disrupt, hammering to hit the motherlode and laughing at the odds. The other is the migration of young people out of California, which seems to have affected everyone I know, but which I rarely hear examined. These people want to be artists, teachers, blacksmiths, therapists, mechanics, and musicians. They want to have children, open bakeries, own a house. But they can’t. There is no room here for those kinds of dreams anymore.

Eleanor, the twelfth person in Helmuth’s life that’s decided to leave, had moved back in with her parents a few years ago, to her little hometown of Stinson Beach. North of San Francisco, it had gradually become a getaway destination of Airbnbs for rich tourists and well-off city residents alike.

“Imagine working at Disneyland, then going home to your place in the back of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride while drunk frat grads puke into the water,” she told me.

To be clear, she loved her town and its bearing in the coastal California fantasy. She wanted to share it, brag about it, celebrate it. But selling bourgeoise yogurt crocks and $100 bottles of wine to people who didn’t see her as part of their shabby-chic fantasy was becoming difficult to bear.

After visiting Pittsburgh and witnessing the success of other friends who had relocated and were living their lives, Eleanor wanted to give it a shot there, too. But this exodus from the Golden State means an influx of Californians to more affordable cities like Pittsburgh — and not all in these places are welcoming. To these residents, Helmuth wants “the record set straight about who exactly is moving where and, above all, why.”

To the angry locals of Portland, Seattle, Denver, New Orleans, Kansas City, Phoenix, Austin, and elsewhere, please hear this defense: The Californians who are coming in and “ruining” your cities are not snobs. They don’t have trust funds. They aren’t entitled. They are the opposite. They have been kicked out of their own backyards for not learning Python fast enough or not having a dad who could introduce them to VC firms or not wanting to live in their family’s in-law unit at age 30 or not being able to afford a $2,000/month studio on a $20/hour paycheck. They aren’t techies; they had the audacity to want something besides tech. They are some of our best, most creative, most hardworking people—and you are getting them. We are losing them.

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In the Age of Instagram’s Travel Influencer, Your Pretty Home Is the Backdrop for Their Photoshoot

These days, whether you like it or not, your photogenic house may be a prime location for tourists’ photoshoots. Take “T,” for instance, who lived in one of the three picture-perfect houses with pastel trim on Rainbow Row in Savannah, Georgia. In May 2017, her home’s very Instagrammable exterior was the backdrop for a travel blogger’s carefree action shot, which included this bit in the caption:

This was about 3 seconds before the little old lady living in the green house came out and scowled at me for taking pictures in front of her home (which mind you is famous in Savannah and mentioned on all of the trolley tours). If it were me, I would have taken advantage of the tourist attention and started a mimosa stand or something!

Posing in front of photo-worthy facades, from famous landmarks to street murals, is nothing new. But with the rise of influencers on the world’s most popular photo app, snapping photos in front of or on someone’s property — when adorable porches and picturesque stoops are involved — brings up issues of privacy and etiquette. At Curbed, Alexandra Marvar explores homeownership in the age of the Instagram travel influencer.

Halpern’s brand, Live Like It’s the Weekend, asks the question: “Wouldn’t it be freaking awesome if people […] felt free to follow their passions every day, not just on the weekends?” Her curated target audience is the “creative female traveler,” her feed a litany of styled jet-setting and starry-eyed wonder. Sometimes she breaks to reflect on the personal, disclosing a struggle in a caption, reminding us that we shouldn’t assume a person is as they appear—that they may not be the look they’re giving you. For Halpern, discussing the personal details of her life—including the difficult ones—is right on brand. She shares her thoughts openly with her followers, right alongside a post plugging a jumpsuit she loves or a spa she just visited. And her followers seem to love it.

They liked the post of T’s house too (1,581 times, last I checked), but to identify a private home and evaluate the behavior of its owner to an audience of 60,000 isn’t the same as evaluating a resort stay or an outfit, things given to her or that she paid for. The act ate at me, and at T’s family. What right did she have?

Halpern has every right to snap such a picture from public property. We all do. She has every right, as the copyright owner of her photographs, to use them for commercial gain. She is perfectly welcome to use a social media caption as a platform to rally moral support from digital disciples, a feature of social media we all love. Save for some forms of name-calling, and any certain nuisance (excessive noise, blocking the sidewalk, and so on), the law allows for all of this.

But since Instagram exploded into the world in 2010, photography—travel photography in particular—has evolved faster than the law can accommodate. Where the law falls short, we have ethics—moral principles that guide our conduct in business and life. And in the application of our ethics, we have etiquette—a societal code that shows us how to be polite.

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A Reading List to Celebrate World Breast Pumping Day

The Willow wearable breast pump on display at CES International 2018. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

As my daughter Emilia turns 7 months old on January 27, which happens to be World Breast Pumping Day, I can say I’ve finally gotten the hang of pumping breast milk. On my maternity leave, I was lucky to be able to exclusively breastfeed her for the first six months. As I prepared for the transition back to work full time, I pumped periodically to get familiar with the bulky, noisy machine I’d soon spend a lot of time with, as well as to build a modest freezer stash of milk for all the future occasions I’d be away from the baby. (Spoiler: there haven’t been many.)

I wouldn’t say I enjoy pumping in the same way I enjoy nursing (well, when Emilia wants to nurse, which — in her recently distractible state — has been less frequent). But it can be very satisfying to collect ounces of milk, the only substance my baby really needs in her first year to live and thrive, from my own body. Serena Williams, after all, called breastfeeding a superpower; I too feel invincible, even if just for those moments, being able to provide nourishment for this tiny human I’ve made.

But, like so many women before me have said, pumping is also awkward and onerous. I look at this image of ultra-runner Sophie Power from last fall, who stopped halfway through the 105-mile Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc race to pump and breastfeed her son, and think, wow, here is someone partaking in an incredibly demanding activity, pushing the limits of the human body, but — just like any other mother — she can’t get around the physical need to pump.

Because no matter who you are, the logistics of pumping can be challenging, if not impossible. Even if you can afford the newest wearable models that promise more freedom, like the $500 Willow and Elvie pumps, pumping is still a commitment and huge part of your day-to-day life.

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A million reasons why I wanted to post this picture. Obviously #rachelmcadams looks incredible and was quite literally the dream to work with but also this shoot was about 6 months post her giving birth to her son, so between shots she was expressing/pumping as still breastfeeding. We had a mutual appreciation disagreement about whose idea it was to take this picture but I’m still sure it was hers which makes me love her even more. Breastfeeding is the most normal thing in the world and I can’t for the life of me imagine why or how it is ever frowned upon or scared of. I don’t even think it needs explaining but just wanted to put this out there, as if it even changes one person’s perception of something so natural, so normal, so amazing then that’s great. Besides she’s wearing Versace and @bulgariofficial diamonds and is just fucking major. Big shout out to all the girls 💪🏽 #rachelmcadams for @girls.girls.girls.magazine .com cover shoot 📸 @clairerothstein #pleaseshare . . . Side note: I did not look anywhere near as fabulous as this when feeding/pumping. And that’s ok too. . . . Stylist: @alicialombardini 👠 #girlsgirlsgirlsmag #girlsgirlsgirls #bringingbackthewoman #nogrungejustglamour #independentmagazine #printisnotdead #normalisebreastfeeding #normalizebreastfeeding #breastfeeding #life #women #versace #bulgari

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It was interesting, then, to follow the larger conversation around Rachel McAdams’ high-fashion breast pump photo. Last month, while doing a Girls Girls Girls magazine cover shoot, the actress was photographed wearing a Versace jacket and Bulgari diamond necklace — while pumping from both breasts. While the photo was praised by some for its attempt to #NormalizeBreastfeeding and show that even celebrities need to take pumping breaks, some say it missed the mark and wasn’t truly subversive, while many mothers expressed that the image did not represent them — and what a pumping session really looks like.

As I settle into new motherhood, and as each day brings new challenges — why won’t she nurse? where can I pump? why has my milk supply dipped? — I continue to read as much as I can: to learn how mothers juggle the task with everything else in their lives, and to remind myself that I’m not alone. Here’s a reading list of stories, new and old, that explore the complicated act of breast pumping.

1. Baby Food (Jill Lepore, January 2009, The New Yorker)

In this piece from 10 years ago, Lepore discusses the history of breastfeeding versus bottle feeding, and the rise of the breast pump.

In 1904, one Chicago pediatrician argued that “the nursing function is destined gradually to disappear.” Gilded Age American women were so refined, so civilized, so delicate. How could they suckle like a barnyard animal? (By the turn of the century, the cow’s udder, or, more often, its head, had replaced the female human breast as the icon of milk.) Behind this question lay another: how could a white woman nurse a baby the way a black woman did? (Generations of black women, slave and free alike, not only nursed their own infants but also served as wet nurses to white babies.) Racial theorists ran microscopic tests of human milk: the whiter the mother, chemists claimed, the less nutritious her milk. On downy white breasts, rosy-red nipples had become all but vestigial. It was hardly surprising, then, that well-heeled women told their doctors that they had insufficient milk. By the nineteen-tens, a study of a thousand Boston women reported that ninety per cent of the poor mothers breast-fed, while only seventeen per cent of the wealthy mothers did. (Just about the opposite of the situation today.) Doctors, pointing out that evolution doesn’t happen so fast, tried to persuade these Brahmins to breast-feed, but by then it was too late.

2. Why Women Really Quit Breastfeeding (Jenna Sauers, July 2018, Harper’s Bazaar)

For many women, the circumstances in which they pump are unacceptable or worse, nonexistent.

Under the Affordable Care Act, U.S. companies are required to provide break time and a clean, private place to pump milk. Sauers offers an overview of pumping legislation in the U.S. and the challenges of pumping in a variety of work places, from co-working spaces with open floor plans to hospitals and college campuses.

But even as doctors and nurses promote breastfeeding to patients, their own working conditions sometimes make pumping difficult.

Sarah, a registered nurse at Northside Hospital in Atlanta who spoke on condition of anonymity, said she is currently struggling to pump at work. She and her colleagues, several of whom are also pumping, work 12-hour shifts. Sarah gets to work early so that the last thing she does before clocking in is pump; that way she can go as long as possible before taking a break. When her shift begins at 7 a.m., that means rising at 3:45 a.m.

“Typically, the way our patient flow goes, I probably won’t get another opportunity to pump until about 9 or 10 a.m.,” she says. “From there, it varies. A lot of days, we don’t even have the staffing to relieve people for lunch. I have to tread lightly asking for a pump break when most people aren’t even getting lunch breaks.”

3. ‘A Pumping Conspiracy’: Why Workers Smuggled Breast Pumps Into Prison (Natalie Kitroeff, December 2018, The New York Times)

Kitroeff reports on the staff nurses at Deerfield state prison in Capron, Virginia, who weren’t allowed to bring breast pumps into the facility. Some tried to pump in an unpleasant men’s restroom; others resorted to expressing milk in the backseat of their car in the parking lot. But one nurse, Susan Van Son, had had enough — and she smuggled her breast pump in, piece by piece.

In July 2016, another Deerfield nurse, LaQuita Dundlow, 32, returned to work after giving birth to her second daughter. Like Ms. Olds, Ms. Dundlow said managers told her to pump in the men’s restroom. She couldn’t produce milk in the fetid space. “The smell, it messed with me,” she said.

So Ms. Dundlow hung baby blankets from the windows of her Ford Expedition. Three times a day, she came out to express. Occasionally, she said, she had to explain the situation to a security guard who tapped on her window, wanting to know what was going on inside.

Sometimes, she didn’t have time to take the quarter-mile walk from one end of the prison to her S.U.V. On those occasions, painfully engorged, she would take a sterile cup normally used to collect urine samples, go to the bathroom and express milk by squeezing her breasts. Then she would hand the cup to her husband, who was also employed at the prison, as a correctional officer. He would take it to a cooler in their car.

4. Stop Shaming Working Moms Into Pumping (Jessica Machado, December 2015, Elle)

As Jen Gann writes in The Cut, figuring out how and when to pump is a privileged problem to have.

After returning to work after a 12-week maternity leave, Machado quickly realized that pumping was an activity around which she would structure her entire life. “I had become not a breastfeeder, but a pair of breasts owned by a machine,” she writes, describing her shame over not being able to keep up with her son’s demand. She explores why working mothers in America are pressured to pump.

I live in Brooklyn, just south of Park Slope, where the mommy wars have been won by upper-middle-class leftists in comfortable fair-trade sandals. Though I am neither in the right income bracket nor organic threads to think of myself as a Park Slope mom, there is a bar of motherhood that is set by those around me that can’t help but seep into my subconscious. Women wear their babies in slings as a badge of attachment parenting; they buy vegetables from the co-op to puree in top-of-the-line food processors; many have nannies to assist them in the juggling of domestic priorities. When working mothers have problems breastfeeding in my area, they reach out to lactation consultants, who charge $125 to $400 a visit to show them tips like adjusting the pump’s speeds and making sure the pump’s parts fit properly. These moms can also combat dwindling supply by renting a hospital-grade pump, which is not covered by insurance but costs upwards of $70 a month––a pretty high price tag for people like me who are already struggling with the added expenses of daycare and baby necessities.

And my breastfeeding peer pressures and pumping obstacles are minimal compared to most. I’m not a cashier or a server or a police officer or a professional driver or basically anyone whose job is to serve people when they need to be tended to, who can’t just drop everything to keep up with a pumping schedule. I am not an employee who has to share my pumping space with a conference room or a break room or a broom closet. I’ve never had to pump in the car or a public restroom. I’ve never had a coworker or stranger walk in on me, half-naked, while cones were on my breasts sucking like vacuums. I am not a mom on WIC assistance who is punished for formula-feeding by getting benefits for half as long as those who breastfeed.

5. The Unseen Consequences of Pumping Breast Milk (Olivia Campbell, November 2014, Pacific Standard

“There’s an assumption that bottle-feeding breast milk to a child is equivalent to breastfeeding, but that may not be the case.” Campbell looks at studies that suggest exclusive pumping may not be as beneficial for mothers and babies, citing issues like milk contamination, an increase in coughing and wheezing in infants, and potential health impacts for mothers (including the risk of postpartum depression, reproductive cancers, and more).

Thorley has written extensively on the potential perils of “normalizing” the separation of breast milk from breasts. She says that bottle-feeding of breast milk has a place in specific circumstances, such as when a baby is unable to adequately stimulate the mother’s milk supply, or in cases like Boss’, where a baby is unable to nurse directly. And while she agrees bottled breast milk is better than infant formula, “breastfeeding is about more than the milk.” Babies don’t just breastfeed for nutrition; they nurse for comfort, closeness, soothing, and security.

6. The More I Learn About Breast Milk, the More Amazed I Am (Angela Garbes, August 2015, The Stranger)

Breast milk contains all the vitamins and nutrients that a baby needs in its first six months of life. It’s also dynamic: adapting to the baby’s needs. And like a fine red wine, writes Garbes, the flavors in a mother’s breast milk are subtle, reflecting its terroir: her body. Garbes takes a closer look at the complex makeup — and value — of this precious liquid.

I love the idea that even before her first encounter with solid food, her taste buds had already begun telling her that she is part of a city filled with the cuisines of many nations, a household that supports local farmers, and a Filipino family with an abiding love of pork and fermented shrimp paste.

We can’t expect the value of breast-feeding to just trickle down to mothers in the trenches, pumping away in cramped offices and broom closets, working multiple jobs, forking over significant portions of income to day care, and, yes, tired and close to the breaking point, cursing their own desire to continue feeding their children their milk. We have to make an effort to reach all mothers, not just those actively seeking support and information.

7. A Certain Kind of Mammal (Meaghan O’Connell, April 2018, Longreads)

In this excerpt from her book And Now We Have Everything, Meaghan O’Connell describes the all-consuming activity of nursing her son.

I had tried the breast pump a few times, recreationally, but not yet so as to explicitly buy time away with my own milk. The pump looked just like I’d imagined, like something you’d use to masturbate a farm animal. The bulk of the machine was a little yellow box the size of a toaster oven that gasped and sighed with a rhythmic, mechanical sucking noise that was initially disturbing, like it was trying to tell me something but couldn’t quite find the language. There were two snaking rubber tubes that ran from the box to the air-horn-looking boob funnels and from there into baby bottles that collected the milk. The horns were where the magic happened, where your tits went. Sucked into the machine, my nipples looked like long, pink taffy, stretched and then milked.

The first time I saw milk stream out of my body and into this contraption, I felt woozy and then oddly turned on. It’s not often in life we gain a brand-new secretion.

A Fascinating Case of Precocious Puberty

Image by Chetan Menaria / Pexels

The LHCGR gene (luteinizing hormone/choriogonadotropin receptor) triggers ovulation in women and testosterone production in men. And like all the men in his family, Patrick Burleigh carried the same gene mutation, leading to an extremely rare disease, testotoxicosis, which brings on puberty prematurely. The result? Burleigh got his first pubic hair when he was 2 years old. He went on to have a difficult time growing up until he reached the age of 14, he writes, when “puberty was finally done with me.”

At The Cut, in partnership with Epic magazine, Burleigh shares a beautiful personal essay on his unusual childhood.

Testotoxicosis affects fewer than one in a million men, and a leading expert estimates that we may only number in the hundreds. Being an anomaly for having pubes when you’re still breastfeeding isn’t typically something one brags about, which is why, like my forefathers, I spent the majority of my life hiding it, lying about it, repressing it, and avoiding it. This feeling of freakishness, of being strange and different, persisted well into adulthood, such that I refused to talk about it with anyone other than close friends and family.

That is, until a little over four years ago, when my wife and I were trying to have a baby of our own, an endeavor that took two years and countless episodes of joyless appointment sex before we finally decided to do in vitro fertilization. I came in a cup, my wife pumped her body full of hormones, scientists fertilized the eggs, and we ended up with five viable embryos. Everything looked great. And then I was faced with the hardest decision of my life.

We learned that we could biopsy the embryos to find out if any of them carried the mutant LHCGR gene: the mutant responsible for a childhood rife with shame, embarrassment, and bullying; the mutant responsible for my violent, antisocial behavior as a boy; the mutant responsible for the troubled adolescence that my father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and I all endured, an adolescence that nearly delivered each of us to jail or worse. If one of our embryos tested positive for a mutation of the LHCGR gene, we could eliminate it. My body would be the final destination of the disease that had defined my family for generations.

There was no reason not to do this. But I hesitated. Yes, my childhood had been unusually challenging, but I was now 34 years old and, by most metrics, I had a great life. How much of that life would have been different if I’d cast off the very thing that had made me me? Then again, could I watch as my son suffered, knowing I could have saved him from that suffering? I didn’t know. So I went back. Back to my childhood. Back to my infancy. Back to that first little baby pube.

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