Wednesday, November 4, 2009

We all have a choice

I know that a lot of people think the whole organics thing is just a bunch of bull designed to make us spend more money on trendy foods…I know because I used to believe that too. It was about 10 years ago when the whole organics trend started popping up in my world and I remember thinking “Oh, great, eating fruits and vegetables is no longer good enough, now they have to be organic?!” Then I relied on what I normally do when faced with questions I don’t have the answers to, research, research, research.

Turns out that there is a multitude of research, stats and information regarding the organic movement (which has been around a lot longer than 10 years) and why it is so important to our health and the environment. Now, people in my parents’ generation are often the ones turning their nose up at the idea, but these ideas are not new. They have always been aware of the risks associated with all these chemicals on our food (hello, Silent Spring was published in 1962 and I’d hazard to guess that even though it resulted in DDT getting removed, this issue hasn't really improved since then), they were just hoping that they could dilute the facts enough to prove that the risks were minimal and by the time you get it on your plate, they’re even less.

Well, it’s not just the risk of ingesting these chemicals directly from the food (which is pretty significant by the way) but also through our daily lives. These chemicals leach into our soil, water systems and air, effecting the delicate balance our ecosystem hangs by and effecting all life on this planet. Now, I have heard people state that “people have been saying that the world is coming to an end for ages,” like that justifies us ignoring them or something. I find it truly abhorrent that we have become a society that doesn’t care about the impact of our actions today on future generations. Even if you don't care about the environment though, it doesn't take a huge mental leap to see there is a connection between our food choices (and sedentary lifestyles) and the astronomical rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes in our country.

When I hear people say that “buying organic is too expensive” or even “buying healthy foods is too expensive,” I think to myself these same people who complain about the cost of buying 'healthy foods' (or organic) are the same ones that don’t have a problem laying down inordinate amounts of money on shoes, bags, cars or housing they can’t really afford. Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that there is a price tag associated with buying organic, and there are people that honestly cannot stretch a dollar any further than they already are…I’m not talking about these people. I’m talking about the people that support places like Wal-mart, stating that it’s cheaper and they’re just trying to save a buck, while pulling up in their Hummers and Escalades. Not to mention there have been a number of celebrity chefs, cook books and blogs showing how buying more plant based foods is not only the healthiest but also the cheapest. The problem is that most people don’t know how to prepare a meal if it doesn’t come out of a box or the freezer and in my opinion this is not by accident.

It didn't start overnight, it actually took a gradual shift to organics for me, I started buying from a local organic delivery service so I didn't have to hunt down organics and within a year most of our produce was organic or locally grown. When I choose to spend the extra money it takes to buy organic, I believe that not only am I making a decision for the health of myself and my family but I am also sending a message to the mass production food industry that they will not get my money or support. It comes down to more than just money here (at least for me), I feel that the importance of supporting local farming, sustainable business practices and providing food with the least amount of genetic engineering, chemicals, hormones and pesticides is worth the extra $.20/lb. We will continue to live in what most would call a modest home (which has more than enough room for the three of us), take care of our paid off cars so they run as long as possible for us (in the hopes that light rail will finally be available before then so we don’t have to buy another) and cook our meals at home where it is not only cheaper but healthier so spending the extra $.20-.50 for organic is not a hardship. This is the food that will nourish mine and my family’s bodies, so I really don’t see it as an option to choose price over health. It is only when we make a collective shift away from the foods that pose such great health and environmental risks that there will be real change in our food systems and health.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Princesses, fairies and kittens oh my!

I believe I was born a feminist, it’s the only explanation that in spite of my mother’s efforts to get me to conform to the gender roles of being female, I constantly questioned it’s rational and fairness. I remember being forced to wear dresses and pig tails and if it weren’t for my brothers and cousins the only toy choices I would’ve had growing up would’ve been dolls and an easy bake oven. I especially remember a time when I played on a co-ed soccer team with my little brother, after the game I saw the boys taking off their shirts to cool off (probably mimicking what they saw their fathers or older brothers do) and when I attempted to do the same, my mother told me that I couldn’t. When I asked why, she said ‘girls don’t do that.’ I was 7 years old and already learning about the inexplicable privileges of being a boy [man].

Don’t get me wrong, I liked being a girl (and still do). I was the only girl in my immediate family and the first granddaughter to my paternal grandmother who had two boys and no daughters. I realized at a very young age that being a girl was special and a good thing, and this message is something I credit with my self-confidence growing up and avoiding nasty relationships with boys/men. It is a message I hope to send very clearly to my daughter, which is one of the reasons her father and I choose not to limit her to traditional girl roles…which sounds crazy when you think about the fact that we are talking about a 1 year old. It seems our need to force our children into ‘appropriate’ gender roles is something that begins before they even show their beautiful little faces, which is exactly why I chose not to find out the gender of our baby when I was pregnant. I didn’t want my unborn child inundated with gender specific wardrobe, toys and stroller before they even took a breath. I wanted to focus on the joy of bringing a life into this world and all the possibilities that go along with that. I felt that once we found out the gender of our baby, others (and possibly even us) would begin limiting the possibilities based on this one characteristic without seeing the whole person.

I know a lot of people saw my views as wacky because most have not delved into the vast amount of sociological, educational and developmental research that shows the effects of our traditional gender roles on boys and girls and how they feel about themselves as a son/daughter, student, brother/sister, and later in life, wife/husband/partner, employee and parent. I get strange looks whenever I bring this up because lets face it this is an issue that is systemic and therefore rarely thought about or even noticed (although there are a lot of very valuable programs out there that are trying to make a difference). It just seems natural to push pink, purple and dolls on girls and blue, green and trucks on boys without considering the message we send with these ‘choices.’ While I won’t go into all the research that shows that these gender roles tend to stack the deck against girls, stifling their development, dreams and choices, I will mention that there is significant longitudinal research findings that indicate that there is a point in a young girls’ education (somewhere between elementary and middle school) where her answer to the popular “What do you want to be when you grow up” question turns from “doctor,” “astronaut,” and “lawyer” to “nurse,” “teacher,” and “mom” (while boys answers don’t change much over time). There is also extensive research that tries to discount the gender wage gap (in case you aren’t aware, women are still making approximately $.75 to every $1.00 a man does) by showing that women are only getting paid less than men because they choose traditionally lower paying jobs like teaching and social work or they are choosing to take part-time work to spend more time with their families. Is it really a choice or are girls following the limited paths they were given growing up through the messages sent to them either at home, through media or at school?

While dressed as a green dragon for Halloween my adorable little girl kept getting called a boy (something that truly doesn’t bother me in the least) and some even had the nerve to say “but she’s a girl, she should be dressed as a princess or something frilly.” The fact of the matter is that she picked out her costume (as much as a pointing, grunting, mostly non-verbal human can) and any observer could tell that she felt pretty special wearing it and she was in fact the cutest dragon around if I do say so myself. Isn’t Halloween all about pretending and fantasizing anyhow? Wouldn’t this be an opportunity to instead of trying to cement those gender roles by dressing our girls as princesses, fairies and kittens encourage them to explore their imagination and be anything they want, why not wizards, ninjas or lions?

I know what most would say “but she wanted to be a princess.” I suppose that could be true but only based on the limited choices given to girls in the first place and the messages sent from the time they are born (sometimes even before). I mean, if given the choice to ‘dress up’ for Halloween as a kitten where I get to wear a set of ears, whiskers, a black leotard and a tail or a princess where I get to wear a big frilly dress, shiny shoes, glittery make up, jewelry and a tiara…it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that a child will most likely choose the flashier of these two choices. The same can be said when perusing the clothing racks and toy shelves of children’s stores where I am forced to shop in the boys section in order to get my little girl a pair of pants that aren’t pink or purple or has ruffles on the butt (or shorts that actually cover up her butt!). Girls are given the choice of pink, pink or purple and princesses or flowers; boys are given the choice of blue, grey, green, red, orange and yellow and cars/trucks, animals, airplanes/rocket ships, bugs and robots…get my drift?

I have heard people say that boys and girls are ‘just different’ and while I agree that there are obvious physical differences and even some physiological differences that distinguish the two, I would also like to point out that each of us humans, both male and female, are different from the next, so why differentiate based on this one aspect? The fact of the matter is that we are all unique and this is the message that should be sent to our children find your uniqueness and flourish. Being yet another princess or fairy in a land of other princesses and fairies sends the message that you should try to blend in and be like every other girl, which is not only impossible but sends a pretty significant message to our daughters…don’t stand out, hide your uniqueness, just try and be the prettiest of princesses. It filled me with such joy to watch our little girl walk around in her dragon costume with a big smile on her face feeling special I hope she never loses that smile, confidence or feeling that she is unique and special. Because like a National Organization for Women (NOW) bumper sticker that I’m sure most of you have read, “Well Behaved Women Rarely make history.” Go ahead little girl make some history.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

the new feminist revolution

Back in the day, before I knew I wanted kids, when I was in the heyday of my youth and falling in love with the freedom of college, the knowledge it offered and the opportunities it gave me to meet some of the most important people in my life still, including my husband, I felt I was unstoppable.

I guess it started as early as high school, when I started my 'countdown to freedom' sometime in my junior year. I saw college as an opportunity to spread my wings, exercise my independence and learn about the world that I was so curious about. I remember when I was making light of my best friend getting stressed about whether she was going to get her college application completed in time, she told me "you don't understand, you want to be successful and do something with your life, I just want to be a mom!" I remember being completely shocked by this statement for many different reasons but mainly because at that point in my life I couldn't imagine only aspiring to be a 'mom.' I had bigger plans.

I remember feeling at a very young age that I was out of my element and people my age just didn't get me. This is why college was such a revelation, it was the first time in my life where I could have thoughtful conversations about significant issues and really felt like I was on the same page with these people. It let me explore my 'radical' side and really articulate my thoughts and beliefs. This was also where I found what I really wanted to do with my life(only after realizing that being a veterinarian would require a better grade than a D in Chemistry!). It was a long slippery slope of going from marriage counselor to sex therapist to finally social worker. Although at the time I didn't realize that's where a degree in Family Studies would land me, I knew I didn't want to be a social worker, too messy and not enough pay, but I did want to help families, that much I knew.

Getting my degree was a bumpy road filled with failures and successes, but I did it and armed with my degree and idealism, I was ready to save the world! I got what, at the time, was my dream job, working for a residential program for adolescent girls with mental illness. I quickly worked my way up to managing the program and staff within 3 years. Ever since then I have been working my way up, including earning my Masters in Community Services something I hoped would offer me more opportunities and more money. Whenever the subject of children would come up in it's usual hypothetical way in our lives, we both would joke that he would be the stay-at-home parent while I continued to exercise my feminist rights climbing the professional ladder. I dreamed of being a Director for a non-profit or possibly even starting my own non-profit. I even went so far as to see us living large on my salary, taking great vacations, partying with our friends, going out to nice dinners and following our every whim. He didn't mind this dream either.

This dream came to a screeching halt when we finally got pregnant after nearly two years of discussions, planning and trying. As the due date approached I found myself hoping for an alternative to working full-time so that I could stay home longer with my baby (I could not imagine having to hand my 3-month-old over to a stranger to take care of for the majority of the day, and I was becoming blatantly aware of my inability to do this). I found myself no longer looking for positions with more money and power but with more flexibility and no travel. My future began to quickly take on a completely different look. What had happened to my dreams, goals and ambition? I was a feminist damn it, I need to be out there chasing that carrot for all the women before me that didn't even have the opportunity to enter the race.

Then I remembered a conversation with a roommate in college, one that started when she said something along the lines of "if it weren't for the women's movement, I'd be married with kids and not spending all this money on tuition!" I was shocked that she had it all so wrong...the point of the women's movement was not to limit women but to offer women the choice. I guess I am finally realizing this reality...because now my dream consists of being able to be a full-time mom, being the primary influence on her growth and development and showing her the world. Now, my best friend from high school is an inspiration to me because, I finally understand that being 'just' a mom is probably the most important job there is.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

'crunchy' and the mommy wars

Being what most would refer to as a parent of the 'crunchy' variety is more challenging than I ever could have imagined. It seems everyday, I learn more and more about how people can throw judgement and even scorn our way because we are doing something 'different.' It started when I was pregnant.

When I divulged my plans for a natural birth and to use cloth diapers, I was shocked at the responses I would get. People would say "Are you crazy? You'll be begging for an epidural!" or "Yea I give you a week before you go to disposables." When I saw a really good friend who was due a few weeks before my due date (who also planned on a natural birth) basically attacked at her own baby shower by family and friends, it was difficult for me to contain my outrage. What is it that would bring such aggressive criticism from women who were there to support her? Luckily I didn't have a similar experience, mine were more passive aggressive, snide comments like "good luck," or "we'll see." If I (or her) were to achieve a labor and delivery without the use of medication would that somehow take away from their birth experiences? Is having an epidural a rite of passage into true motherhood these days and if you don't have one, you're not accepted into the mommy club? I still can't figure this one out.

Fast forward to today, I am a proud mother of a beautiful daughter (who was unfortunately born via c-section after 46 hours of unmedicated labor...another blog for another day) and yes, we are still using the cloth diapers, making her food (she has yet to have a jar of any packaged baby food), eating organic and hormone/gmo-free foods whenever possible and we strive to ensure she gets the rest, stimulation and comfort she needs. The criticism continues, from hearing "that won't last" or "wait till you have the next one" to "you should just make it easier on yourself." Again, what is so threatening to other parents (moms) that they feel the need to criticize our choices? Do they feel like we are criticizing their choices by not doing as they do? If that is the case, I can honestly tell you we don't...we don't have time for that!!

The scary part is, if we were plugging our 1 year old in to the TV/DVD, feeding her cake and soda everyday and keeping her up till she passed out from utter exhaustion, we would get next to no criticism!! Since when did trying to do the best job possible raising our kids become a point of contention? I hear people say things like "they won't break," or "they'll survive," and I agree, children are resilient, some have survived horrific beginnings to go on and become decent adults who make a positive impact on our society. My point is that I did not get in to this parenting gig so I could figure out a way to make it easiest on myself, or to skate by hoping that resilience will pull her through in the end (and I'm NOT saying that other parents did or are). I did a lot of soul searching and discussing with my husband before deciding to do this; and I got in to this to put all my knowledge and experience into doing the absolute best job I can do. I don't want my child to 'survive' childhood, my hope is that she will thrive, at least in part, because of something we did as her parents.

I believe as Oprah or Maya Angelou said that 'when you know better, you do better,' so if I know (because of all the research, the AAP and countless examples in our society) that my child should not be consuming excess salt, sugar or TV at this age then why should I 'just do it' because I 'drank pop' or 'watched TV' as a kid? Isn't this whole parenting thing about correcting at least some of the mistakes our parents made because they didn't know any better? I really don't want to start an argument because you choose to do things differently than we do, but I cannot help but ask, what is it about our choices that leave so many feeling threatened or defensive?

I am doing the best I know how in raising our daughter and I will believe that most are doing the same. The beauty of our society is that for the most part we have choices and as a family you should make yours based on your own family values/beliefs. Just remember that when someone is doing something that you can't figure out why they would take the time, money or effort to do, they are doing it because they feel it is best for themselves or their family. If you don't understand and want to...ask, but try not to do it in a condescending way. We all have a lot to learn and if we choose to, we could learn from each other, but only if we approach it in a non-judgmental, receptive manner. Mommies, put down your bows and arrows, we're all doing our best.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

oh yea, let's go there...

I have really been trying to think of a diplomatic way to talk about this, but really, I'm so damn pissed about it, I can hardly see straight. So here it is, my opinion (and it's always been a strong one).

They have been airing this commercial recently (and by 'they,' I mean those scary people we allow to hijack terms like christian [read 'not a terrorist'] and patriotic). These people find their ways into the curriculum that educates nearly 90% of American youth (and hello, the other 11% are attending private [read religious] schools), as well as in our media, where American youth are really getting their education. I'm glad I can't think of the name of the organization [read cult] that is paying for this ad because I wouldn't want to give them any credit (even if only a handful of people read this and they mostly agree with me!).

It's basically a montage of elementary age children saying what they are going to be when they grow up, it reeks of the stench of right-wing conservatism. And, of course it ends with the all so famous "I am a life" message. Now, don't get me wrong, I am perfectly aware that a pregnancy can end in many painful ways and no matter how it happens there is a woman and possibly a family on the end of that pain. That includes when a woman has to make the decision herself to end a pregnancy. There are of course many very justifiable reasons (based on our own sensibilities) that most of us (even christians) would be able to forgive her for. Then there are the other reasons...

The fact of the matter is I am glad I have not changed my stance on this issue after becoming a mother (and I've seen it happen to women I consider my contemporaries, so I was kinda worried). A woman's right to her own body is paramount to a civilized society. Now, I am a feminist, through and through (and my feminist theories could be a whole other blog) but I put great effort into not being a 'femi-nazi' (I believe you 'get more bees with honey') so a lot of people that know me can be surprised with some of my 'radical' beliefs. I could get into all the issues that oppress both men (because I believe feminism is as much a male issue as it is a female issue) and women in our culture. But this one has to be the priority, because if women lose any right to any part of their body then they become less worthy than men and in a sense, lose power over their own body, even in intimate relationships where trust and dignity are crucial.

I won't even go into the fact that the majority of these people that run these ads playing the 'what if' card are no where to be seen once they have talked a woman into walking away from a decision she had made by pulling on that ever so delicate string that was ready to unravel anyhow. Where are 'they' when this woman is now faced with a child she cannot support, who doesn't have any support or safety net of her own? It is hideous that there are so many perfectly healthy, children who are in dire need of love, attention and a family in our very own country (yes, Angelina, you don't have to travel across the world to be a hero) and yet there are people trying to convince someone who is making the toughest decision of her life while trying to consider the possible outcomes for this unborn child that she should just trust in "whoever" that everything will be ok.

When I look at my daughter who, I hope never has to deal with a pregnancy that ends in any other way than she intended, I am filled with overwhelming love and commitment to ensuring her safety and providing a supportive environment that teaches her she can be and do anything she dreams of. It saddens me that there are people that for whatever their reasons are, cannot look at their child with the same amount of love and commitment, or just don't have the ability to care for them the way they know they deserve to, or are dealing with demons that most of us can't even imagine. Now, I have spent the majority of my 'professional' life in social work, so I am all about helping people keep it together, but because of my direct experience with those in need, I also understand how overwhelmingly difficult it can be for those with even the best intentions.

It is difficult not to impose our own beliefs (especially the strong ones) on others. When we feel we are acting on behalf of the innocent, the helpless, it can be even more difficult not to want to make that decision...for everyone. Keep in mind though, we are talking about adult women, they are American citizens, afforded the right to an education, to earn a living (albeit, still at a fraction of what her male counterparts earn), to vote, to ride in any seat on the bus. Therefore, they should be afforded the right to their own bodies whom "God," her mother, or whomever she believes 'gave' to her. Remember that nobody makes a decision to end a pregnancy lightly, and believe that whoever is making that decision has the best interests of all involved. Not an easy pill to swallow for many, but it had to be said.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

religion, spirituality or whatever you want to call it...

I openly admit to not being a religious person.  Not that I haven't attended my fair share of church services...I was baptized Catholic, confirmed Methodist and have experienced several other denominations along the way.  In fact during my early adolescence, I had a really good time meeting some really good people at church.  It was in the United Methodist church that I attended when I was between the ages of 10-14 that I realized that church didn't have to be the stuffy hypocritical experience that I found the Catholic church to be.  At Sunday school we talked about the crazy partying some of the older kids did the night before and there was the expected hooking up on the youth group ski trips and overnighters with other churches.  I also attended a christian summer camp where I again, met some really good people and had a really good time, even learning about the Bible and Jesus Christ...overall, I cannot say I personally have had a 'bad' experience with religion. 

So, why do I say I'm not 'religious?'  I guess mostly it's because of the underlying hypocrisy of most of the organized religions out there.  That, and the judgement...I mean, I haven't read it cover to cover, but I know there is something in the Bible about not judging.  Yet, I see people using religion all the time to judge, persecute, and otherwise hate (another topic, I'm pretty confident is covered in the Bible as something not to do).  Now, I am fully aware of the cropping up of new churches taking a new spin on religion not only to lure more attendees (in case you haven't heard, churches are really hurting for followers...seems I'm not the only one feeling a little bored with main stream religion), but also to feed the overwhelmingly obvious appetites of the new 'spirituality.'

Spirituality, a word that used to be associated with new age, hippy, off the deep end, holistic medicine, incense burning folk living out in the desert tripping on peyote.  It is now a word that is becoming more and more common to our vernacular.  It's a word I associate better with than religion, since it seems to encompass more than just a belief in God, Allah, Buddha, etc.  To me it embraces the entirety of beliefs out there.  Do I believe in "God?" I really don't know (I lean more toward no), but do I believe in something, bigger than you or I? Yes, it's nearly impossible to deny that we are surrounded by forces beyond our control, be it mother nature, the universe, whatever you want to call it. So why must I put a name on it?

The topic of religion is becoming more of an issue around our house now that we have a child, as we both feel it is our responsibility to introduce her to all sorts of options out there and not force our beliefs or lack there of on her.  Not only that, but let's face it, for the most part, the average church has a good deal of good people attending them and can that be all bad.  Church is more than religion, it is a sense of community, connectedness, security...all the things that we as humans truly need to live a fulfilling life.  So how do two non-religious people introduce religion to their child while remaining unbiased?  I think it comes down to the golden rule, which I think most religions are supposed to be teaching but somehow it gets lost along the way...being a good person, someone who doesn't judge others, who helps those in need, who lives their life with integrity, and truly treats others as they would want to be treated.

But why do we need religion to live our lives this way?  Sometimes I feel like I live my life with more integrity than a lot of the crazy right wing religious fanatics that get all the pub.  I mean really, bombing abortion clinics, saying that AIDS and the war in the middle east is "God's" pay back for homosexuality?  How are these acts supported by anything Jesus Christ preached or lived his life by...and how can anyone who calls him their 'savior' truly believe that they are doing "God's" work?  This is when I get really frustrated with the middle of the road, honest to goodness, good people that truly live their lives as Christians...why are you letting these nut cases high jack your religion and beliefs and represent them to the world?

In the end, I'm sure we will find our own way of showing our daughter the good, the bad and the ugly, all while encouraging her to make her own decision as she sees fit. Either way, we will be teaching her to be a good person, to be honest, to be grateful and to never judge. As any parent does, we will do our best to set a good example by doing ourselves what we expect of her.

Monday, August 24, 2009

sleep and the transientness of babyhood

I don’t know if there is a subject more prevalent in a new parent’s conversations, thoughts and desires than sleep. There are many books regarding getting enough, how to get your baby to get it and how important it is to be a functioning parent. Although I had heard that babies sleep whenever and wherever they need to in the beginning, my Sweet Pea was not one of those babies. She was apparently very sensitive and seeking comfort by nursing all the time and only fell asleep while nursing and when I tried to set her down she woke up and began screaming as though she was starving, even though she had just been nursing for no less than 45 minutes approximately 10 minutes ago.

Needless to say, after 7 weeks of sleeping in 5-10 minute intervals and maybe if I was lucky (and laid real still) 30-45 minute stretches at night sleeping where else, on the breast…she was TIRED and cranky (and I didn’t even remember what it felt like to actually sleep) I had checked out all the books my library had on sleep and ‘difficult’ babies and after reading [skimming to the parts about sleep] all of them, I didn’t feel any more prepared to get my precious girl to sleep. She was in fact so tired that she was what all the books described as ‘overtired’ and so sensitive that unless she was nursing she was crying. One book changed our lives, ‘Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child’ by Dr. Marc Weissbluth. Although Dr. Weissbluth advocated the ‘cry-it-out’ method (he actually offers other options too) which at this point I was totally opposed to, I felt that at 7 weeks she was still too young to just be left to cry all alone, the mere thought of it broke my heart, I kept reading and learning. The thing that I found most important was all his research in sleep and sleep disturbances; he really breaks the anatomy of sleep down and the neurological importance of sleep in all its facets. I had learned (like I didn’t already know) that sleep was not only necessary for a healthy baby’s attitude but was very important for that brain of theirs which is growing at the speed of light!

So, you’re thinking, this seems like something someone with the education and background in child development that I have should have already figured out. In a way I guess I did and that is probably why I was so worried about getting that little girl some quality shut eye. So, when at 8 weeks we hit a wall and even despite my desire to not listen to my precious baby cry, she had reached a point of exhaustion (and probably frustration too) where nothing would soothe her. My trusty breast that had provided comfort for all that ailed her up until now was letting me down, she didn’t want it, she didn’t want anything, she was TIRED and needed sleep. I tried everything that I had read, swaddling, rocking, shhhing, white noise, EVERYTHING, nothing worked! It was at this point that I realized that all the things I was trying in order to comfort her were only causing more distress…all I had left to do was walk away with tears in my eyes as I heard her cry her exhausted cry. Then, the most amazing thing happened, after about 20 minutes of crying she stopped…she had actually fallen asleep! That was a pivotal evening for all of us, it was the night we realized that sleep was actually possible. I am not saying it was easy; I spent the rest of my maternity leave (approx. 4 more weeks) continuing to help her sleep first at night and then during the day in some structured way, there was a big part of me that wanted to chuck it all and just hold her for those last fleeting weeks (and some days I did just that), but for the sake of my own sanity as well as the development of her growing brain, I continued on.

By the end of week 11 and my maternity leave, I had successfully gotten her to sleep in her bassinet for 5-8 hour stretches at night and sometimes up to an hour for naps. DH took over when I went back to work and there were many times the topic of who got the easier baby to care for came up. He finally had a baby that didn’t mind him holding her and feeding her and one that was actually becoming rested and much more pleasant…even darn right happy. A lot of people might think like he does, that he got the good end of the deal, but in reality I’m glad that I was the one to see her through those early weeks of unrest. As I watch her grow at an alarming rate, I cherish those early weeks where all she wanted was to be held and close to me.

She still sleeps, really well actually and it is a rare occasion that I need to get up to tend to her before 6 or 7am (there have even been moments where I had to wake her up to nurse her before leaving for work), so those early months when I had to go to her 1 or 2 times in the night, gave me some quiet moments with her that I will never have again. When I heard the usual comments of “you’re still nursing” or “you’re still going to her in the night,” I thought (and did not always say) that these moments are fleeting, it does not last forever (no matter how it feels at the time), why do people try and rush through this brief, early period? I think most people are so hung up on resuming their old lives before children where they could sleep whenever (and for as long as) they wanted that they miss out on irreplaceable moments. I also believe that if more people would look at these moments for what they are, momentary, they might be able to appreciate the preciousness of them instead of resenting them. Losing sleep holding a baby new to this world looking for comfort is something I will take over losing sleep hoping a teenager looking for their place in this world, finds their way home unharmed. Appreciate every moment.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Breastfeeding drama

Being of the somewhat ‘crunchy’ persuasion (I wanted and planned for a natural birth, we use cloth diapers, eat organic, I prefer holistic methods of dealing with what ails me, etc.) it was no surprise that I intended to breastfeed my child. I mean, come on, we ALL know that it is not only the best option but human milk is what human babies are supposed to survive on…another soap box for a later time. I did the usual research I do when embarking on the unknown and read what I could find (although I never did get around to reading 'The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding' which everyone suggested!) and talked with my friends and other women who had successfully breastfed their babies. I counted on the fact that I could do it even though I knew that it would not be easy, I mean not only do I have few to no models to normalize the whole thing for me, but I live in the US where breastfeeding is still looked on as fairly primitive and in some circles ‘disgusting.’ But hey, I’m not one to shy away from a challenge or an opportunity to prove the naysayers wrong. Due to a c-section delivery (a WHOLE other story for another day), I did not get to attempt breastfeeding until approximately 1.5-2 hours after our darling daughter was born while I was in the recovery room. She of course was pretty groggy from a long labor and finally the drugs necessary for the c-section and I was still recovering so it was slow going at first. When we finally got in our room and really got in to it, it seemed to go pretty well; the usual issues I’m sure, dealing with the IV (what a pain), getting a pain-free latch, finding a comfortable position, etc. The biggest issue was keeping her awake long enough to nurse adequately but she was wetting and dirtying the ‘required’ amount of diapers to prevent nurses from pushing formula so I figured all was well. Needless to say it was a blurry eyed filled couple days with visitors coming and going and little to no sleep before heading home with our new baby/family, but overall it seemed that the breastfeeding thing was going along ‘smoothly.’ Given the discomfort of some family members who were in town (and my own reservations of bearing all to the world), I felt the need to consider everyone’s feelings (a mistake I think many first time moms make) and attempted to continue to learn this new skill undercover, while trying to give everyone a piece of their desired time holding her. Again, overall, I thought I was doing pretty good, she seemed to latch on and nurse although, still falling asleep every time. Little did I know, these were the salad days and I should have been taking advantage of her sleepiness and the visitors to get some much needed sleep. The problems began when my daughter was 11 days old, I felt a small lump that felt sore to the touch on my right breast. I assumed it was a clogged milk duct (I had a friend that had one and had heard it was common in the first few weeks of breastfeeding). I called my ob/gyn office who told me that I needed to continue to nurse to try and get rid of it and to call them if I got a fever which would indicate an infection (mastitis). So, I launched into my research again as well as trying to get my daughter to nurse longer than about 10 minutes before passing out. I tried everything that I read would help, dry heat, wet heat, hot shower, massage, trying to line her chin up with the clogged duct while nursing…for days. At one point I felt like I was doing more harm than good as my breast was getting so sore from all the pressure from my determination to massage it out. On day 16 (postnatal) I woke up to my breast feeling like it was on fire and painfully engorged (i.e. huge and hard as a rock). I had taken my temp during the night in the hopes that I had a fever so I could finally go to the doctor and have them fix this, finding that in fact I did have a fever. Of course it was a Sunday so I went to the Easy Care Clinic in pain and highly emotional since I was feeling like this could derail my plans to continue breastfeeding my baby. I was in so much pain and in tears when the nurse and doctor examined me and confirmed that yes it was mastitis and prescribed antibiotics and instructed me to see my doctor for a follow-up in two days to make sure it does not progress (OH MY GOD, it could get WORSE?!!!). That day and night I was a mess, sobbing as my daughter took her first bottle of formula because the one breast she would take was cracked and bleeding (which at the time I thought meant I could not use it), I felt like a failure and I had only been a mom for a little over two weeks. Apparently I was such an emotional mess that my dear, well-meaning husband called my parents unbeknownst to me to tell them they needed to speed up their arrival by 4 days because he was worried about me (worried I would do what, I still don’t know?). I was less than thrilled when I found this out, like I really needed a bigger audience for my emotional breakdown and failure! They were there the next day, completely unaware of what to do or how to help. In fact, they even offered to babysit while my husband and I ‘went out.’ Could they not see that I was hanging on by a thread here, going out was the last thing on my mind! I needed to figure out how to resolve this excruciating pain and oh yea, make sure my new born baby wasn't going to starve to death! On day 18 I showed up for my follow-up with my doctor’s office. The mid-wife that supervised my very long labor saw me and when I showed her my breast (l was getting much better at this and it was becoming a non-issue for me) she kept her calm demeanor when she said “We need to get you to a surgeon today, that is an abscess.” What?! You mean it’s not getting better? I didn’t think I could feel any worse…I was wrong. The events of the rest of the day ended up unraveling as I made probably the worst decision of my life, I kept an appointment with a lactation consultant (LC) instead of seeing the surgeon (of course this was after the LC terrified me about what a surgeon would do to my breast, possibly further interfering with my ability to continue to breastfeed and that together we could ‘take care of it’ with the “least intervention necessary”), I think I’ll save that story for another day. I scheduled the surgeon for day 20 just in case. Day 19 came and I was still dealing with the pain, a cranky, tired baby who wanted to nurse ALL the time. I continued with the regime prescribed by the LC throughout the day (cabbage leaves, ibuprofen, pumping/nursing every 1.5 hours). When my husband got home that evening I needed a break and a shower since I knew I wouldn’t be able to get one in before my surgeon’s appointment in the morning. At this point my breast was in such pain that even the water from the shower felt like fire. When I got out of the shower I noticed a creamy substance dripping from my body, horrified I looked in the mirror and it was coming from the abscess, the water from the shower had broken the delicate skin that had been stretched to its limit (not to mentioned bruised from all the pumping the LC recommended). After much distress and trying to figure out whether it could wait till my appointment in the morning, I went to the ER by myself to spare my baby exposure to the nastiness that lurks in ERs. While there the surgeon on call aspirated the abscess with a large syringe; I am willing to say that being shot or engulfed in fire might be the only things I can think of that could be more painful than this experience, but again, this is just a guess. I dealt with 46 hours of un-medicated labor before needing a c-section less than 3 weeks earlier and I was confidently declaring this to be the most pain I had ever experienced. I was sobbing by the time he was done, so much so that a kind nurse offered me morphine to help with the pain. My husband picked me up and the responsibilities of being a new mom were thrust upon me again. Day 20, I was finally heading to the surgeon’s office, my husband met me there to take care of our daughter who still wasn’t happy unless she was nursing, while I went in for the procedure. The surgeon sliced the abscess open and drained it …again, I am dealing with the most excruciating pain I can describe, a little more than 12 hours after the first time. When she made me look down at the quarter size hole in my breast so I knew what it needed to look like until it healed, instructing me to wash it out daily and if need be pick any tissue out with a q-tip, with tears in my eyes, I was overwhelmed. As I cried again, exclaiming that I just want to be able to breastfeed my baby, she explained that it was possible and that I would just need to continue to try and get her to take the breast to make sure it did not happen again (You mean this could happen again?!!). This would not be the last time I cried about this, the next few days were filled with doubt, tears and wavering (I mean, I was a formula fed baby and I turned out ok). It was during these days of wavering that my husband actually stepped in and said the right things at the right times, when I said “I don’t know if this is working,” he replied, “what do you mean, you’re doing great!” What?! Did he not see the mess that I was? After several more conversations like this he said “Look, we both know that breastfeeding is best for her but we also know that formula won’t kill her and you’ve given it your best, there’s no need to kill yourself over a choice.” I know for a fact he did not know how important those words were, and I can’t even pin point why it made such a difference but with that statement, it was decided, I was doing this. Maybe it was my stubbornness, him giving me permission to quit was what I needed to push me past my wall of insecurity. It could have been both mine and my daughter’s stubbornness combined, since the only thing that seemed to soothe her in those first few months was breastfeeding, but we made it through, together. Sweet Pea is now a week from turning 1 and we are is still breastfeeding, albeit only about 2-3 times a day as I believe she is actually self-weaning herself like the good girl I had hoped, sparing me the emotional turmoil of having to make the decision to cut her off of what seemed like such a source of comfort for her for so long. After several weeks of breastfeeding her with one breast while making a few attempts to get her on the healing breast, we made it through and although the scarred breast is still not her favorite, it did and still does produce, some. I made it past my conservative goal of breastfeeding her to 6 months (which in those early weeks seemed like it would take a miracle) and am actually making it to a year. The scar on my right breast is not big but it also is not attractive nor out of sight, I see it every time I look in the mirror after the shower and it is not even a smooth scar, I can feel it and even see it’s ridge through the fabric in my bra, something I’m sure a common observer wouldn’t see. My husband claims it is not that big nor is it a big deal; we both got more than we bargained for in this whole breastfeeding saga. Although, I do sometimes mourn what I felt were pretty darn good looking breasts pre-pregnancy and breastfeeding, I find myself walking taller, standing up straighter, not afraid to showcase these new breasts that have nourished my child for nearly the entire first year of her life and have taught me a lot about what this body of mine is worth and capable of. So, I will say good-bye to these breastfeeding days with a sense of bitter-sweetness, I will be happy to have my body back and to no longer have to deal with the nuisance of pumping while I'm away from her, but I believe my daughter and I have shared in a special relationship that was worth the tears, pain and turmoil of the early days, that has taught me a lot about what it takes to be a mother and the benefit of perseverance.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Beginning thoughts...

I like to think of myself as radical… I look deeper into things than the average jane (or joe) and although I strive to make people comfortable around me (call it the middle child syndrome or maybe it’s the many years in the human service field…but then we get into the whole what came first the chicken or the egg debate… I digress) I have from time to time felt the growing discomfort I can stir in people. Anyone that knows me, knows that I don’t mean to do it, but I have been known to ask some uncomfortable questions and I guess my hope in doing so is that I at least make you look at the world from a different perspective, considering even for a moment that we may not have it all figured out just yet.

I guess I feel that if we are too comfortable in our daily lives then most likely we are falling into some sort of complacency and nothing scares me more than complacency. If I can challenge even a little of that and get you thinking about something, someone, some circumstance that you never thought of before, at least for a few minutes, then I have done good work. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a judger (well, at least I strive not to be), I like to look at all sides of the subject, even the ones I don’t agree with, but I will say that I have put a lot of thought into most of my opinions/stances (some are just gut reactions) and believe pretty strongly in what I say. With that said I don’t subscribe to the red-faced, spitting rantings of maniacs without a clear thought in their head; I prefer to have thoughtful conversations with intelligent people who realize the importance of an open dialogue.

If I provide entertainment, so be it. If I provide useful insights or resources, great. If I make you angry, I truly am sorry, I mean no harm, I am in fact a pacifist. If by chance I have caused you to think differently or at least accept that there are people that do things/believe things differently than you or your family and you can be okay with that, realizing that neither is right nor wrong, just different, I am getting closer to one of my many goals in life, love and parenthood.