Friday, July 30, 2010

Mother-baby inseparability

It didn't occur to me until recently how unusual or counter-cultural my commitment to staying near my baby at all times might be. Even stay-at-home moms normally hire a babysitter at least sometimes. My mother didn't, not at this age. When Joseph was maybe six to nine months, she started leaving him with me (a very familiar and trusted person) for very short periods of time (generally an hour or less). That seemed pretty normal to me. After all, he didn't like being left, even under these relatively pleasant circumstances, so it made sense most of the time for him to go along with mom.

Some of us form our parenting ideas to be the opposite of how we were raised. Not me -- I really like the way I was raised; I think I turned out okay; and when I saw my mom raising my younger siblings, her choices made perfect sense to me. I'm a bit stricter on discipline, generally (though we'll see how I manage with my own kid), and there are a few other minor things I'm doing or plan to do differently, but 90% of my parenting philosophy is just like my mom's. I'm very grateful to her for exposing me to so much baby knowledge when I was growing up.

Anyway. I recently was offered a job, out of the blue, by the school I used to work for. It's just one class a day. But I absolutely refuse to leave my baby with a sitter (supposing I could afford one, which I can't) even for that short amount of time. But the school encouraged me to bring the baby along, and so I decided to accept. (Fingers crossed that he adapts well! I think he will, because it's not his first time in a classroom -- I spent most of my pregnancy with him in one!) Taking baby with me wherever I go, making him a part of whatever I do, is how I raise him and want to continue raising him.

However, some people might object to this method. I was prepared for people to say, "You need time to yourself. You and your husband need to 'get away' sometimes." The answers to that are fairly simple: baby has to sleep sometime. We're lucky in that he sleeps a lot. So I have "me" time during his naps, and we have "us" time after he goes to bed at night. Not to mention that I enjoy my time with him while he is awake, and we both love to play with him together. He comes with us to restaurants, to church, on walks, and almost always behaves well. I don't think a marriage will wither and fall apart if our "date nights" are spent in our own living room or at the dining room table. There's nothing magic about being out of the house with the baby nowhere around. And we're both happy with our current situation.

What I wasn't prepared for was the objection that my baby won't be independent if I never leave him. Partly, I'm just not that concerned about independence. Most people nowadays are too independent rather than not enough -- they know how to get by on their own, but they don't know how to form close relationships with others. But of course there could definitely be a problem if a child never developed any independence at all.

First off, we need to figure out how much independence is even appropriate for any given age. I think it's fair to say that a baby shouldn't be more emotionally independent than he is physically independent. That's a natural part of baby development anyway: at an age where a baby shouldn't be left alone, he is terrified of being left alone. If he can't feed himself, if he can't go to the bathroom by himself, if he can't climb into his crib and take a snooze when he's tired, naturally he doesn't want to be by himself. His instincts are telling him that he isn't safe on his own, he's safe with mom and dad who feed him, change his diaper, and put him to bed.

We know, as grownups, that Stacey the babysitter also knows how to feed, change, and put down the baby. But the baby doesn't know that. Stacey the babysitter could be an axe murderer for all he knows. He might even warm up to her while his parents are still there -- but the second they leave the room, he starts to scream. The people who provide for him are GONE. Instinct tells him to scream in the most heartrending tone he can, because this will bring his parents back and he will be safe again.

Until the second year, a baby does not understand the concept of "object permanence," that a thing or person still exists when not in sight. He can't call up a mental picture of the person. All he knows is that he has been abandoned. He also has no sense of time; in fact, he doesn't develop this until about the age of three. So to him, an hour-long "date night" might as well be forever. Mom and Dad can tell him, till they're blue in the face, "We'll be back in an hour," but they could be saying "We'll be back next year" for all he understands. He might be okay for five minutes or so, but when five minutes has passed, he suddenly realizes, "I've been waiting forever and they're still not back! They are never coming back!" So we ought to look on them with compassion when they do their brokenhearted separation anxiety cry: that's the cry of someone who's lost his parents and will never see them again. When the parents finally come into the room, he clings to them like glue and will not let them out of his sight for the rest of the day. He's afraid they'll sneak off again and do their disappearing act.

One would think that babies eventually would learn that when parents go away, they come back. But they don't figure this out until their brain is ready to learn this. The only thing that might make them okay with being left would be to make them love and trust the babysitter with the same sort of attachment they have to their parents. Sometimes babies replace their mom with a babysitter in their mind, especially when they are in daycare all day, and will cry on leaving the babysitter.

That's just horrible to me. If my baby needs someone he loves and trusts around, well, here I am! Made-to-order! I didn't have a child so that someone else could be my child's mother for me.

But what about when baby is neurologically ready for separation? Will the way I've raised him prevent him from making this step calmly? Here's Dr. Sears on the issue, from The Baby Book:

"In a classic study, called the strange-situations experiment, researchers studied two groups of infants (labeled "securely attached" and "insecurely attached") during an unfamiliar play situation. The most securely attached infants . . . actually showed less anxiety when separated from their mothers to explore toys in the same room. They periodically checked in with the mother for reassurance that it was OK to explore. The mother seemed to add energy to the infant's explorations. Since the infant did not need to waste effort worrying about whether she was there, he could use that energy for exploring.

"When going from oneness to separateness, the securely attached baby establishes a balance between his desire to explore and his continued need for the feeling of security provided by a trusted caregiver. When a novel toy or a stranger upsets the balance, or mother leaves and thus reduces baby's sense of security, baby feels compelled to reestablish the original equilibrium. The consistent availability of a trusted caregiver provides needed reassurance and promotes independence, confidence, and trust, leading to an important milestone by the end of the first year -- the ability to play alone."

So, keeping baby close ("attached" as Sears puts it) actually helps a baby develop independence. And that makes sense, if you understand how a baby's brain works. If he is assured of his own safety, he won't mind moving forward. But if he thinks Mom won't be around when he needs her -- well, it's no wonder he panics.

I didn't do a lot of science to make my own decision, though. I just knew that babies cry when their moms leave, so I won't leave. A baby's cry might seem like an attempt an manipulation, or a misguided notion that something's wrong when we, the grownups, know baby's fine. But in fact, babies cry because of deeply-ingrained instincts which tell them something's not right. The more we study about babies, the more we realize that each time they cry, it is for something that they actually need. If the cavemen had put their babies on a strict schedule and ignored them when they cried, our species would have died out a long time ago.

A note on inseparability and breastfeeding: It used to be easy to explain to people why I wouldn't leave the baby -- because I'm nursing him! No one else can feed him, so I have to be there. But nowadays, that's no longer true. I could, theoretically, use an uncomfortable and expensive pump to get the milk out, and then a plastic bottle to get the milk into the baby. Many do this. However, the less mother and baby are together, the more prolactin (the milk-producing and nurturing hormone) goes down. The nursing relationship goes so much better when mom and baby are together all the time, and touching much of the time. Yet another way that our biological systems expect us to do what is best for us anyway. (Also, Marko won't take a bottle anyway. I never really pushed it in the first place, but at this age he's unlikely to start now. That's fine with me -- it's much better for his teeth if he goes straight to cups when he's older.)

So -- any feedback? I'm curious to hear from parents with kids older than mine. At what age did you leave your baby with a sitter, and how did he take it?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I Have Arrived

Do you remember how I used to post a lot complaining about how hard it was to strike a balance among food I like, food John likes, food that is good for me, and food that I can afford?

A few days ago, John made dinner for me. It was very simple -- boiled potatoes with lots of toppings. One of those topics was chicken from one I roasted last week. John picked the meat off the bones, something I was more than happy to do, because chicken picking is one of my least favorite kitchen jobs. (Second only to pots and pans.)

I went into the kitchen after dinner and saw my casserole dish, the one that had held the chicken carcass and about an inch of delicious drippings, sitting in the sink empty. John had thrown away my chicken carcass. He thought that my delicious basis for a wide variety of soups was garbage.

Well, I did (eventually) (mostly) forgive him. I realize that to some people, a chicken carcass is just a pile of bones, good for nothing. And the drippings in the pan are just waste. But these days I waste nothing.

The anger I initially felt, however, proved to me that I have finally made my food methodology my own. Instead of grudgingly trying to extract some watery stock out of leftover bones, I now prize that carcass like gold and fill my daydreams with soup possibilities. (I had planned carrot soup and broccoli-cheddar soup from this carcass.) I enjoy making dinner, I enjoy eating it, and I am proud of the money I save, to the point of indignation when John suggests just eating a frozen pizza. (Though I still do like going out to eat every once in awhile, or ordering pizza like we did last week. But I would hate to do that all the time.)

The average chicken I buy is about five pounds and costs me about $4.50. I roast it on the first day, and we each have a leg (with rice and a vegetable on the side). For the next two days, I use a breast apiece to make some kind of rice or pasta dish. Recent ones have been pesto pasta, pasta with cream sauce, and a curried rice pilaf. These are my favorite meals, and I tend to please myself with them. I know they're a bit gourmet for John, but he doesn't complain.

The next two days are SOUP, the soup that I did not get to make with this particular chicken. I make it in the crock pot nowadays. I have a huge crock pot for this. I start by putting the carcass and all the drippings into the pot, along with half an onion and a carrot, both roughly chopped. (Over the year I've been doing this, I've found that these two vegetables are indispensable. Celery is a nice addition but not absolutely vital. Without onion, the stock is bland; without carrot, it's rather colorless and unappetizing.) I add two or even three quarts of water, a small splash of cider vinegar and soak that a bit before I set the crock pot on low. It cooks all day and is DELISH by dinner. All I need to do is defat it. (I do this by ladling off the first quart out of the top, and putting that in a jar in the fridge for the next day. What's left in the pot generally has no significant fat left. (A little fat is fine though.))

One carcass used to just make one soup, but now that I do it in the crock pot and know how much water I can add without weakening it, it easily makes two. Favorite soups include chicken and rice, chicken corn chowder, and broccoli-cheddar. I can even do chicken noodle soup now, now that I've realized how vital carrots are. It makes my soup look and taste a lot more like the canned version, only better.

I do something similar with beef. This is a beef week; I'm using a 3-lb. ground beef roll from Aldi. I guess it's around $5, maybe almost $6. Since it comes deep-frozen, I have to defrost and use it within short order. Generally one beef roll can make four of the following: tacos, chili, shepherd's pie, beef stroganoff, spaghetti. Out of all of those, only one (shepherd's pie) I am not really thrilled about, but it's okay and it is also John's favorite, so I make sure to make it every week. (I made it last night -- perhaps I should post my recipe, seeing as I made it up.)

With this system, I rarely make a dinner that costs more than a dollar. And it often yields leftovers for lunches, too! The tacos I made on Monday made two dinners and two lunches for me (though the second lunch was a "taco salad" because we were out of tortillas). The meat, which is the big expense, is eked out with lots of cheaper ingredients like potatoes, beans, and rice. With this savings, we are still only spending $60-70 every two weeks, even though I'm buying more vegetables than I used to.

Sure, our variety isn't stellar. Every two weeks or so, the entrees repeat. But I keep myself entertained with new vegetables and trying to think up new things to do with noodles and a chicken breast for those "creative" meals. And I like everything on the menu. John really likes some of it and is okay with everything else. Soup is always a hit, as is the roast chicken on the first day and the shepherd's pie. Really anything that can be eaten out of a bowl. Even when I make meals with several dishes, he will sometimes load them all into a bowl together and eat them that way. (Blech. Not my style. I don't like my food touching.) Many of the foods of my childhood (stir fry, teriyaki, enchiladas) are never going to fly around here, but some of them (beef stroganoff, green noodles, southwestern chicken casserole) work quite well. Plus, I'm making new things that we both enjoy.

Just as I foresaw, now that I can stay home and have the energy to make good dinners, I'm saving money and eating better. Just in time for Marko to get old enough to start complaining about what I make ... that will come all too soon, I'm sure!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The accidental cabbage

I do almost all of my shopping at Aldi. I really can't stand the store. It doesn't have a wide variety of things, so I have to make a separate trip to another store sometimes to buy a single item. Our local store is always filled with poorly behaved kids who run up and down the aisles smashing into things. And you have to bag your own groceries. I stink at bagging my own groceries. I always overload a bag and have the bottom rip out -- or don't bring enough bags -- or can't figure out how to get the cart back to the stand when I had to put the sleeping baby in his carseat in order to load the groceries into the car. The whole thing is a stressful experience, but I do it because it's cheap and we are very hungry people on a tight budget.

Anyway, I was in the store about two weeks ago. I was feeling very disorganized because I hadn't even brought a list, on the grounds that "I know what I buy, I'm here every two weeks and I always get the same things." Also because I was carrying a baby and trying to maneuver a cart at the same time. For a person who can't walk and chew gum, this is kind of a challenge.

I walked past the produce section and saw a sign that said "Iceberg lettuce" and the price per pound. I thought, "Hey, I think John would want that for sandwiches," so I reached into the box below the sign and grabbed one of the green spheres.

A day or two later, I was pottering around the kitchen and John was browsing in the fridge. "Why did you get a cabbage?" he asked.

"I didn't," I replied. "I got an iceberg lettuce; they look just the same."

"Even down to the label that says 'Cabbage'?"

Yeah, I had bought cabbage. I never buy cabbage. I generally buy carrots, peas, and corn for dinner vegetables, and lettuce, tomato, and green peppers for lunch vegetables. That's it. (I admit that I'm in a bit of a rut, but like I said, Aldi doesn't have a huge selection in the first place.)

"Do you like cabbage?" I asked.

"Um, I don't really know," John replied. "I guess it would depend on how you cooked it."

I looked at the cabbage and pondered a moment. The game was ON. I was going to cook this dang cabbage and John was going to like it, by golly!

I spent a couple of days on research first. I searched online for cabbage recipes that sounded good. I picked two, each requiring half a cabbage, and waited for a day that needed a side dish. The trouble was, I couldn't really picture what either of the dishes would taste like. Cabbage is an odd vegetable; it tastes radically different depending on how you cook it. The only way I was sure I liked it was alongside corned beef, but I was going to try something new.

The first recipe was sweet and sour cabbage. It appealed by its easiness, and had my requirement of not needing any ingredients I didn't have in the house. (I was not going to spend more money when I'd already wasted some buying this unwanted cabbage!) It was very simple: cut the half cabbage into wedges, each wedge having some core. Brown the wedges in a small amount of olive oil. Add a cup of water and a tablespoon each of sugar and apple cider vinegar, and cook till soft.
Before I cut into the cabbage, I peeled off the outmost leaf and tasted it. It was delicious! I'd forgotten that peppery bite that cabbage has. I remembered my mom's story of how she used to come home from school and sit reading The Joy of Cooking and munching on raw cabbage. I felt close to her as I ate my leaf.

The dish was as easy as it sounded, and I really enjoyed it. John, though, gave it an immediate thumbs down. I was so glad I hadn't cooked the whole cabbage that way! John ate his share like a trooper; I savored the rest.

The next dish was a cheesy cabbage casserole. I had to boil the cabbage in salted water (along with an onion, but I didn't have one) and pour a cheese sauce (just a bechamel with Colby cheese, but I used cheddar) over it. Then I put bread crumbs over the top and baked it.

This was more of a success. Anything with cheese is heaven to me, and John liked it too. It would have been better with the onions, though, and garlic would have been good too. I like things stronger!

Moral of the story? An accident at the grocery store might be a good thing after all! An unexpected vegetable might just be a bit of serendipity.

When John went to the store for me this past weekend (double husband points!), I had him pick up a cabbage.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Attachment parenting

I started reading baby blogs awhile before Marko was born. I really enjoyed them as a preview of things to come: adorable baby pictures, stories of babies' recent achievements, explanations of how the moms worked through various problems. Only, as I read several popular baby blogs, I found myself disagreeing intensely with the parenting choices of some of the moms. "I'm out for the first time without baby," one would cheer. "He's two weeks old and I'm SO GLAD to get away!" Or, "Baby's three months old and it still takes a half hour to put him down for the night. So tonight we let him cry it out instead!" Or, "It's been a week and I'm still not enjoying breastfeeding, so bottles it is!"

I have had very strong views on parenting since I was about sixteen years old and participated in the care of my younger brother, so things like this don't just make me shake my head and say "Different strokes for different folks," they make me cringe and have to hold myself back from commenting right away.

Luckily, I've since found more blogs that agree with more of my parenting views. But I think I should explain those views once and for all on this blog. Generally speaking, my style tends toward "attachment parenting." This is the theory, developed mostly by Dr. Sears, of keeping babies close to you and following your instincts in how to care for them. Seems fairly obvious to me, but the previous generation of childcare experts, like Dr. Spock, had insisted on a very detached style of childraising, where the baby is taught "independence" from the very beginning by being placed in a crib in a separate room, being fed a scientifically-determined number of ounces of formula on a strict schedule, and so forth. This way, children would grow up better-adjusted and more independent.

Well, here we are 50 years later and kids don't seem any better-adjusted than they used to be. To be honest, I'm not positive that the details of how you care for a baby are necessarily going to determine whether they end up in therapy 30 years later or not. After all, they won't remember whether they cried themselves to sleep in a crib at a year old or not. However, these things might make a difference, and besides, I just can't see treating a baby as an experimental object or an animal that needs to be trained just because they can't talk and might not remember what I do. Instead, I think of a baby as a human being that just can't communicate what he wants and can't understand how the adult world works. He runs on instinct for the most part, but instinct that tells him what he needs and how to communicate those needs. I don't believe that I know what a baby needs better than his instincts do.

Attachment parenting has seven principles. (Later, others added an eighth, "gentle discipline," but on the one hand, that doesn't apply to babies like the others do, and on the other, it's rather vague and doesn't seem very helpful to me.) Dr. Sears' formulation of the seven principles is the "Seven Baby B's": Birth bonding, Breastfeeding, Babywearing, Bedding close to baby, Belief in the language value of your baby's cry, Beware of baby trainers, Balance. I hope to write a post on each of these principles eventually, but for now I'll give a brief summary of each.

Birth bonding: The norm for the past generation or two, which is slowly changing (at last), is to separate a baby from its mother as soon as it is born. The baby is smacked, suctioned, and taken to the baby nursery for several hours before the mother ever gets a chance to hold it. Birth bonding suggests that mothers hold their babies as soon as possible, for a chance to begin bonding with them. Fathers, too, should get a chance to hold the baby soon. (Unfortunately, I did not get to hold Marko right away, as I had hoped and planned, as you can find from my birth story. But at least he remained in the same room, and I was able to hold him around 30 or 40 minutes later.)

Breastfeeding: It's the healthiest way to feed a baby, of course, but attachment parenting suggests that it has benefits beyond just a healthy meal. Breastfeeding promotes bonding and is very comforting to the baby. You can prop up a baby with a bottle in a bouncer, but you can't prop a baby up with a breast and leave it alone. Breastfeeding pretty much requires lots of snuggling. Attachment parenting eschews strict schedules and suggests cue feeding (also called demand feeding), that is, feeding when the baby is hungry.

Babywearing: This is the practice of carrying baby around in some kind of sling or carrier. It's practiced by most cultures around the world, as any National Geographic will tell you. Now Marko isn't all that keen on his wrap these days; he prefers to be held in my arms. However, he does like to be held. All babies do. This way they're close to mom and it's easy to make their needs known. All a carrier does is make it possible for mom to use her hands at the same time. I've heard lots of complaints from parents that they "just can't put the baby down" and "he wants to be held all the time!" Well, yeah. Babies do like to be held. Luckily I also like holding babies. Marko does spend a good amount of time on the floor or in his bouncy seat, but if he wants to be held, I hold him. Particularly if we're going somewhere, I carry him instead of plopping him in a stroller or lugging around a gigantic carseat. Sometimes this isn't quite as convenient, but he likes it better. I just don't want to leave the care of my baby to a lot of "artificial parents" like swings, strollers, carseats, bouncers, exersaucers, pack 'n' plays, and so forth. He feels right in my arms, so I keep him there.

Bedding close to baby: Cosleeping is encouraged in attachment parenting. Some people think it's unsafe for a baby to sleep in his parents' bed, but new research is beginning to show what people around the world have known for thousands of years -- it's quite a safe way for a baby to sleep, though certain precautions do need to be exercised. For those who don't cosleep in the same bed, there's sleeping in the same room, with the baby in a bassinet or crib nearby. This allows parents to be much more responsive to baby's needs. Besides, sleeping in the same room with mom and dad cuts the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) in half! (Or, to put it another way, making a baby sleep in a separate room doubles his risk of SIDS.)

Belief in the language value of your baby's cry: In other words, when the baby cries, you shouldn't assume, as some do, that the baby is just "exercising his lungs" and actually feels fine. If he's crying, something is wrong. It may or may not be something you can fix -- colic, for instance, can be soothed to some extent, but the baby will still cry -- but it does mean something. Like adults, babies cry when they are unhappy. The sound of a baby crying stresses adults out big time. When I'm driving and the baby cries in the back seat, it's all I can do not to pull over at the side of the road and go help that baby. This is an example of instinct telling us what to do: comfort the baby and see what we can do to help. Maybe he's hungry, wet, or tired. Maybe he's just lonely and wants to be held. In any event, the one thing he isn't doing is trying to manipulate you. He's just trying to tell you something is wrong so you'll help him.

Beware of baby trainers: I think I've mentioned Ferber and Ezzo on this blog before, as examples of people who insist that parents put their babies on a strict schedule. If it's time to eat and baby's sleeping, you wake up the baby and feed him. If it's time to sleep and baby's crying, you are supposed to tune them out. I'm sorry, I just can't and won't ignore a crying baby, and I have a hard time approving those who do. I understand when a parent just can't take it anymore, and they lay the baby down in a crib for fifteen minutes while they step out of the room. But I don't understand a parent who isn't having any trouble establishing one of these schedules just to make things even easier, or from a false belief that this will teach a baby independence. I don't know if you've noticed, but a human infant is one of the most dependent creatures there are. Independence is something developed much later -- in the toddler and preschool years.

Balance: This is a nice reminder that we can't do everything. Of course we would like our babies to be happy all the time, but sometimes you have to accept that they won't be. Of course we would love to jump to our babies' needs all the time, but a mother of twins sometimes has to make one twin wait while she helps the other, or a mother of ten has to decide whose needs are the most urgent at the moment. An exhausted mother might need to call up a babysitter while she grabs a few hours of desperately needed sleep. Attachment parenting isn't about wearing yourself down, but about doing the best you can.

In addition to these seven standards, there's a current running through them all of staying close to your baby. Parents should, as much as possible, be the ones to care for their children, not passing them off to daycare at an early age. I know the current expectation is for six to twelve weeks of maternity leave before mom goes back to work. I also know that it's really hard to buck the trend when dads are paid so little. But I think a baby being with his parents all the time is the ideal. I've left Marko twice, but each time it was with his dad. He has never been apart from both parents since we brought him home from the hospital.

Someone suggested to me the other day that Marko won't be independent if he's never apart from me. Which I'm sure is true, but on the other hand, long before I'm ready he's going to be going off to college and apart from me all the time. When he's a few years older, he'll already start branching out from me a lot. But while he's a baby, he belongs with me. Not only am I the one with the food, but I'm one of the two he knows best and feels safest with.

At three months old, he's too young for much separation anxiety. That starts at about six months old, or around there. Separation anxiety is a normal stage of a baby's development, and it can't be skipped simply by keeping him alone or with strangers all the time. It is completely natural for a baby to want to be with mom. (Check out this comic!) As a nanny & babysitter, I've never seen a baby from six months to two years who happily waved goodbye to mom and didn't mind. I think that ought to tell us something.

So, there it is. I believe in staying close to my baby 24/7, in listening to him when he cries, in giving him all the snuggles he needs, in feeding him whenever he asks (which happens to be, at the moment, every 45 minutes or so. He's so distracted he's not eating a ton at once, but luckily I don't really mind feeding him in little snacks. It's better than never getting enough, right?). And I've been rewarded with a baby who is happy 90% of the time, who isn't generally clingy, who is very responsive and happy, whose face lights up when he sees Daddy and me. I admit I have an easier baby than most, but as I mentioned a few weeks ago, when we were on our trip to Seattle and he didn't get so much attention, he wasn't as happy. So I think the way I care for him has a lot to do with his good temper and "easy" ways.

Stay tuned for more specific parenting-related topics!

Monday, July 19, 2010


I have always had issues with names. I'm not really sure why. Maybe it's because my family was so small when I was growing up -- we didn't need to use names most of the time, just titles and pronouns: Mommy, Daddy, He (meaning my brother David), She (meaning me). Of course we did use names fairly often, and I do believe I was often called by my own name, but for some reason it still seems weird to me.

My issue is that I don't like using people's names, especially people who are close to me. John gets this the most. I almost never call him by his name when I'm talking to him. It just doesn't seem important to use his name when he knows who I'm talking to! And he's generally listening, so I don't need to get his attention. He doesn't often use my name either. I remember him doing it before we were married -- in writing particularly -- and it always caught my attention, but now I think he's got my no-names habit. I speculated once that it's because we're always in the middle of a conversation which just gets paused when we're apart, but continues when we're back together.

That's kind of sweet, but the real reason (I think) is this. I never feel that a name can sum up all that a person is. The better I know a person, the more insufficient their name sounds to me. When I think of someone I know a little, I think of their name. When I think of someone I know well, a whole host of things pops into my mind: their image, their smell, the last conversation we had, a certain expression they have ... and to label this vast variety of things a plain utterance like "John" just seems insufficient. Besides, there are so many "Johns" in the world, and many of them have our last name, too!

Relational names work better for me: Mom, Dad, Grandma. These names aren't trying to express the whole person, but only the connection between me and the other person. That's something a bit more manageable. With people who don't have a "relationship name," I often use endearments or nicknames. A nickname says, "I am not trying to sum up all that you are, but only that part of you that I know and understand." It's something particular to me and that person. Sometimes I don't use the nickname out loud, because I'm not sure if the other person would like it, but I use it mentally when I think of the other person. Sean becomes Seanbo, Matthew becomes Maffew (and half a dozen other things), Olivia becomes Livy, Meredith becomes Meredee.

Which brings me to myself. I talk to myself rather often, generally just in my head. I guess we all do. Well, I had need of a name to call myself, but I have never felt very at home with my name. I like it fine, but so few people actually use it that often, generally people who don't know me that well, so it seems odd for me to use the same name. So I have several nicknames: Sheila-girl, Smudge (a play off my initials), and so forth. As for other people calling me by name, I don't mind it. When John does, it's really neat -- it seems that he's using the word with a much more expansive definition than other people do, because he knows me so much better. My mom mostly calls me "my darling daughter," which I like. Sometimes she calls me Juliana, which is my sister's name. When strangers call me and ask, "Is this Sheila C---?" or worse, "Is this Sheila J--- (my maiden name)?" I feel a bit iffy about saying yes. I mean, sure, technically that is my name, but with the new name, it's so new I feel like I'm just trying it on for size, and with the old name, it's no longer legally mine so I can't claim it! Besides, it's just a name. I am not my name. I don't know, I'm just weird about it.

I have always liked nicknames, and wanted one for myself. It would be such an easy way out of my name issues! Now friends would call me one thing, indicative of their special relationship with me, and strangers wouldn't know it so they'd call me something different. Only, Sheila doesn't lend itself well to nicknames. So almost every nickname made directly out of my given name, I've hated. And as for a nickname based off of something else about me -- well, what would you pick, out of all the things there are about me? Wouldn't that be just as narrowing? Like someone with vanity plates saying "SKI MAN" or "RUNNER." Does that mean you can be summarized as just a guy who skis or someone who runs? Isn't there more to you? So every nickname I've come up with for myself has fallen short, and no one will ever use them anyway. No one else has ever come up with a decent nickname for me either, except perhaps my mother. (Who has called me Sheila-girl, Pumpkin, and Sheerah, Princess of Power, without a word of protest from me.)

This is becoming a real problem now that I have a child. His name is Mark. He was named after my late father-in-law. I agreed to the name, I like it, there isn't any real problem with it. But I just can't call him by it, either to his face or to others. I've tried and it sounds funny every time. He's this chubby little baby, he can't have a name some grown man has had! (It is a very grown-up name, I think.) Not to mention that I know him so well, as he's grown from generic "baby" to very much Himself. Again, there's too much to put into a name. However, it's kind of important that this kid learns his name someday! I mean, he can't be Baby and Li'l Mister and Buddy Boy and Li'l Guy forever. So I've compromised and come up with a nickname for him: Marko. It's more baby-ish and it does seem to suit him, in a way that Marky and Macky and Marnie (my in-laws' name for him) don't quite. Sometimes I call him Mandrew (Mark + Andrew), but not that often. I still call him "baby" or "the baby" at least twice as often as anything resembling his actual name.

However, even though he's complicated things as far as his own name goes, he's solved some other problems. I no longer puzzle about what to call myself. I know exactly the perfect nickname for me that wraps up all that is important to me and how I fit in in relation to the people I'm with. That name is Mamma.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Why my son is intact

I've mentioned before, briefly, that I oppose circumcision, and I received some questions about my opinion. Now that I've done even more research, I think it's time to explain my reasons. I tried to gather the best research I could find, but there is a whole lot more on this topic than I am providing here.

1. There isn't a good reason to do it. I consider the burden of proof to be on those who favor circumcision, because the "default" option is generally inaction. Further down I'll answer the most common "reasons" that people give in favor of circumcision.

2. I am not Jewish. Circumcision was mandated by God as a sign of the covenant -- something that was definitely a sacrifice -- and we are told in the New Testament that it is not necessary. (N.B. Circumcision as practiced before the time of Christ was also much less drastic. Thousands of boys would have died from blood loss and infection if they had been circumcised according to the current method without our current medical care.)

3. The Catholic Church seems to oppose circumcision. For example, from the Council of Florence in 1439: "Therefore it strictly orders all who glory in the name of Christian, not to practise circumcision either before or after baptism, since whether or not they place their hope in it, it cannot possibly be observed without loss of eternal salvation." Besides, the Church teaches the importance of bodily integrity: as long as an organ or body part is functioning properly, it should not be damaged or removed. This is the same as the argument against sterilization. For more, read this article.

4. God does not make mistakes. Every part of the body has a function and a reason for existing. We could all live with one finger cut off, but we don't do it because the finger still has a function. A couple generations ago, children's tonsils were routinely removed because they looked like they might be a problem. Now, we no longer do this, because it's been discovered that tonsils have an immunological role, and it's better to have your tonsils if they are not actually infected. Although people are still puzzling over the role of the appendix (some interesting studies on this have been published, though), we do not proactively remove the appendix. First, it might have some use we don't know about; and second, we do not put people through surgery unless there is a clear benefit to be gained.

5. Circumcision is inhumane. It is normally done on infants without anesthesia. (It is not considered safe to use a general anesthetic, and a local anesthetic is not completely effective and so is not usually used.) The argument against this is, "Well, he won't remember it." I don't think that matters at all. If it did, I wouldn't be so careful with the diaper pins -- because, hey, if I accidentally stab the kid with a pin, it doesn't matter because he won't remember it! Painful experiments on infants are considered unethical. (Sadly, this has not always been the case: extensive experiments have been carried out on infants in the past, to determine whether they could feel pain. The verdict is that they feel pain as intensely or more intensely than adults. But I think it's horrible that they went around poking newborns with pins in order to find this out.)

A few generations ago, "twilight sleep" was a common anesthesia for birth. Women were told that they would sleep through the birth and experience no pain. In fact, they experienced extreme pain and a loss of control -- they just remembered none of it. Women were blindfolded and strapped to beds in order to give birth. Later this, too, began to be considered unethical.

6. I don't believe I have the right to make this decision for my son. As I pondered the question, I realized that I have no idea what he might want when he is older. I know circumcised and intact men who are happy with the choice their parents made for them. But my son might not be. Whichever decision I made for him, he might want me to have made the other one. However, if I had him circumcised, he would not be able to undo it. If I left him as he is, he could have it done later if he wanted. So I picked the option that he would be able to change later. (Circumcision is less painful when done on adults, because they can be anesthetized, and also because the foreskin has retracted and doesn't have to be peeled off.)

7. Circumcision is considered by the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics to be non-therapeutic. Neither association -- in fact, no accepted medical association -- recommends the procedure. Instead, they say it is a matter of personal choice, with no medical reason to recommend it.

8. Circumcision removes around 20,000 nerve endings in a very sensitive place. If my son gets married, he might want those later. The foreskin also has a protective role. It's not a worthless bit of skin, but a complex and useful mucous membrane. (This link has more, but there's one picture which women might want to avoid looking at. Sorry about that.)

9. 89% of women who have experienced both prefer an uncircumcised partner, according to one study.

10. Circumcision of an infant can result in serious injury, infection, or hemorrhage -- which may lead to death. It only takes 2 ounces of blood loss for a newborn to bleed to death -- an amount easily absorbed and hidden by a diaper. There are a lot of blood vessels in this area, and all it takes is for a clamp to slip or an artery to reopen to begin a hemorrhage. Children of both sexes under the age of 10 are more likely to die from male infant circumcision than from choking. I don't give my baby tiny toys he could choke on; I'm certainly not going to risk his life voluntarily. More on the risks of circumcision.

11. Circumcision interferes with breastfeeding. (And you all know how I feel about that!) Frequently an infant who was nursing well before circumcision will come back glassy-eyed and unresponsive. They often fall into a coma-like sleep with no REM (which is not natural or healthy for an infant anyway) and can't be awakened to nurse. When I told the lactation consultant that my baby was not going to be circumcised, she breathed a huge sigh of relief. Apparently she has a very hard time getting breastfeeding established with a circumcised infant.

And a response to the supposed benefits of circumcision:

1. Circumcision was popularized as a way to discourage masturbation. In fact it has the opposite effect, by a large margin.

2. Circumcision is supposed to prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs). In fact, the foreskin has a protective effect against UTIs except in the first year of life. At that time UTIs are slightly more common in intact infant boys, but the difference (1.26%) is not statistically significant. Also, breastfed infants only have 38% of the UTIs of formula-fed infants. So, if you want to protect your son from UTIs, breastfeeding is a much more effective route. Also, girls are at least four times more likely to get a UTI than boys (intact or circumcised). Yet circumcision of girls -- a very similar procedure -- is not commonly done in this country. In fact, it is illegal. UTIs can be easily treated with a course of antibiotics or even a jug of cranberry juice. It is not an infection which requires surgery to cure or prevent.

3. Circumcision does not prevent STDs. One, rather unscientific study in Africa showed male-to-female transmission of HIV was somewhat reduced if the men were circumcised. (Note: a commenter informs me that subsequent studies said the opposite.) However, transmission of gonorrhea and clamydia seems to increase in circumcised populations. Europeans aren't known for being more moral than Americans, just less likely to be circumcised, but their rates of STDs are much lower. In any event, I doubt any sex-ed teacher is ever going to say, "Circumcised boys are protected from STDs, so you can ignore all this and go sleep around without a condom!" No, risky sex is risky sex, and no one should get a false sense of security just because they are circumcised.

4. Intact boys aren't at much risk of getting teased or looking different, because infant circumcision rates in American have now dropped below 50%.

5. Hygiene for an intact boy is quite simple. Before natural retraction (which happens at an average of 10 years old) nothing need be done; afterward the boy can retract his foreskin and rinse with water. That's it. If the parents are embarrassed to explain this to him, they can get him a book on hygiene which will let him know. There are many much easier ways to deal with this issue than cutting off a bodily organ.

6. Some people circumcise their sons "so it won't have to be done later." In fact, 10% of boys circumcised as infants will have to have their circumcision re-done later. 1% of intact boys will be told (rightly or wrongly) that they need to be circumcised later due to a medical condition. So, you have a better chance of avoiding unneeded surgery by never getting it done in the first place. (Source.)

That's all I have to say on the topic. I have avoided graphic descriptions of what is done in a circumcision because I wanted to work your reason rather than your emotions, and the details are frankly horrifying. A video would be more shocking still -- many nurses refuse to participate in circumcisions after having seen one, because they are convinced of its cruelty. If you're considering circumcising your child, I would encourage watching such a video before making up your mind... if you don't have the strength to watch it, how could you force your child to undergo it? But for those who do not plan to circumcise or do not have children, I wouldn't advise watching those videos, because they are rather intense. (I did not watch the videos because the descriptions alone brought me near to tears.)

Feel free to share this post however you like -- I tried to gather the reasons I found the most cogent to save people the trouble of tracking down all the facts themselves, as I did.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Green Noodles

My family calls it "chicken pesto pasta," but a family I nannied for called it "green noodles" and I think that's got a neat ring to it. In any event, I made it for dinner last night. If you buy pesto, it's incredibly easy. With canned chicken and jarred pesto, I made it in five minutes for my nanny family. This time I grew the basil from seed and made the whole thing from scratch, so it took a little longer -- though still not that long!

Amounts are approximate because you all know I hardly ever measure anything. (What can I say? I learned to cook mainly in apartments with no measuring spoons or cups -- sometimes in Europe anyway, where no one uses cups!)

1/2 cup fresh basil, packed down
1/4 cup parmesan or romano cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
1 garlic clove
3 tablespoons pine nuts (I left these out because I didn't have any)

Grind the parmesan, if it isn't already ground (mine was) and the pine nuts. Chop the basil finely (I used my new food processor that I got for my birthday. You could also do it by hand or in a blender, maybe?). Then blend (again with the food processor -- perhaps a whisk would do the trick) all ingredients except for half the oil. Add the rest of the oil in a slow stream.

Other option: open a jar of pesto.

1 shredded cooked chicken breast or thigh (I used a thigh, which I had cooked by simmering)
1/2 box of your favorite pasta -- I used angel hair tonight and it was perfect!
1/2 cup of peas, if desired
Extra pine nuts, if desired

Mix together. Add parmesan cheese to taste. Serves 2, if one of them is me and I'm very hungry.

No picture because I ate it all. I even scraped out the bowl of the food processor. It was that good.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Trip, Part 2

Or, a tiny bit about one of the most amazing people I'll ever know

The main reason I went home was rather obvious. It had been one year, almost exactly, since the last time I had seen my family, so we were definitely due for a visit. I missed my family very, very much, I know they missed me too. And, of course, they'd never seen the baby.

Another reason, though, that this visit absolutely had to happen is that my grandpa is sick. He has cancer. He's been sick for some time, and I've been hearing the updates about him from home. They worried me, but they didn't really hit home that much. Numbers were up; numbers were down; he's started this medication; he's stopped that medication. What does that even mean? All I knew is that I had to see him. I'm pretty close to him and I love him a lot.

I was quite relieved to find that he doesn't look much different. But it was still something of a shock to me. We've seen him through a heart attack before, but I've never seen him taking it easy before. Never seen him need help with anything. I still have never heard him complain, but I knew he wasn't feeling so great either.

I don't want to talk about the sickness. It's not just denial. I simply think that it's better to think of the kind of man my grandpa is, the things he's achieved, the things I love about him.

Grandpa was an Air Force fighter pilot during the Vietnam War. During that time he was shot down twice (rescued quickly both times). He also won the Air Force Cross for commanding a complicated and challenging rescue of two downed pilots. For that mission, he spent 9 hours in the cockpit, a record which I believe is still standing.

He brought his family to England, Germany, Italy, and Iran. Even though he was often gone, my mom remembers him as being a wonderful dad. From standing on the roof to watch his older daughter's dates through binoculars, to winning a bet by getting my mom to think dog food was corned beef hash, I've heard dozens of hilarious stories about him. There was the time he snuck out of the house with my uncle to run a 100K race that my grandma forbade him to run. Or the way he (and all his friends) would allow my grandma to give them placebo injections and bed baths while she was in nursing school. I feel like I was there for so much of this time, the stories are so vivid -- and so characteristic of him.

When you meet him, he seems very phlegmatic, very matter-of-fact. When he talks about his missions in his fighter plane, he sounds like he's describing a boring day at the office. He had carved a number of beautiful birds' heads for my grandma to hang her towels on, and when John complimented them, Grandpa just said, "Well, when I see a bird on the lake, I just carve it." Matter-of-fact -- as if anyone could do exactly the same with little effort. I don't think Grandpa thinks he's particularly special ... but he is.

He likes to work with his hands. Most of the improvements in their cabin were handmade. I say "cabin" but when John saw the place, he said that it is definitely not what you think of as a cabin! Everything is done in gorgeous detail, from the kitchen cabinets (made by him) to the built-in bunks (made by him) to the carved towel holders I mentioned before. Outside there is stonework which I helped him piece together with mortar. (I mixed the mortar -- he did everything else!)

That brings me to the way he lets us kids get involved. When I was little, I spent hours in Grandpa's shop off of the garage. I would sit on the exercise bike and watch him cut out pieces of aluminum and solder them onto an airplane wing. (I forgot to mention that airplane-making is one of his hobbies. I mean real planes, not models.) As he worked, he would show me the pieces, explain what he was doing, let me feel how smooth the edge he'd been filing was. His latest project has been building a treehouse in his yard for the little boys. Because he never does a haphazard job on anything, he built it three stories tall, with glass windows and electricity. Every time the boys go there, he'll take them up to the treehouse, show them how it's going, and let them help out in one way or another.

He also likes to garden. While my grandma, a master gardener, specializes in flowers, Grandpa's garden was always full of things to eat. He would take us around the yard, showing us his latest additions, and give us fresh tomatoes or berries to eat. Every time we went there in the summer, we'd go home with a big box of cherries, onions, tomatoes, and squash.

Another hobby is photography. They have slides of some of his older pictures, which he used to develop himself in black and white. My favorite is a "stealth picture" (he used to swing his camera around his neck and hit the shutter when people weren't looking, to avoid making the Iranians angry) of a Mullah picking his nose. More recently, he's taken quite a few aerial photos of the area.

His absolute favorite thing, though, is flying. Like many fighter pilots, his preference is always to be in the air. He's walked away from so many plane crashes that my dad jokes, "There is no safer place than in a burning airplane with your grandpa!" (My dad should know; he's experienced it.) My grandma doesn't believe it, though; she hates flying with him because so many scary things always happen! I love it myself. My grandpa especially loves soaring and would take me up in his unpowered glider. Once we had some altitude, he would hand over the stick and let -- or rather, make -- me try flying myself. He always tried to get me to do tricks.

Grandpa's only son, my uncle Tiger, followed in his footsteps and became a fighter pilot himself. Sadly he didn't have my grandpa's "charmed life": he died in a plane crash almost twenty years ago.

Nothing could keep my grandpa out of the air. When he lost two of his fingers and part of a third in a carpentry accident, for awhile they wouldn't let him fly. But Grandpa persisted until he was able to prove to the satisfaction of everyone that he could fly just as well with fewer fingers, and soon he was back in the air again. Of everything I saw and heard on my visit home, the saddest was when I heard him tell my cousin that he is never getting his medical clearance back again. I hate that this cancer has managed to do what nothing else ever has, and kept Grampy on the ground.

There is so little I can say to describe this wonderful man, this man who would never think to tell you anything about himself. He's humble, he's kind, he's very physical, he isn't ashamed to cry, he's a man of great faith, he loves children, he's the kind of man that my own father says he "will never be able to live up to." He raised two daughters to be two truly amazing women, and weathered the loss of a son. He always licks his ice cream bowl. He eats off the end of his knife. He grew up in a log cabin and lived on the fish he could catch and the deer he could shoot. He likes to paddle his own canoe.

I don't know the prognosis of his sickness, though no one's said much very hopeful about it. But that doesn't stop me from praying for a complete cure. It has always been my policy to pray for what I actually want. While I was there, I tried not to dwell on the sickness, but just drank in every moment I got to spend with this wonderful man. But when the family gathered together to sing "God Bless the USA" before grace at our Fourth of July potluck, I know I wasn't the only one blinking back tears. It hurts so much to have him be this sick. Even though I didn't hear a single complaint out of him, I know he is really suffering.

The future is terribly uncertain, and we're always waiting for news, good or bad. Meanwhile, I rejoice in having gotten to see him, in my love for him, and in the kind of extraordinary man he is.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Our trip, part 1

Or, what I learned about my baby from hauling him across the country

So, we made it back from a 5-day trip to Seattle. Part of the time we spent with my family in a south-end suburb, part we spent at a lovely lake in the Cascades where my grandparents have a cabin, celebrating our family's annual 4th of July reunion.

I was rather nervous about the trip. Traveling with a three-month-old is a scary proposition! Would he cry on the 5-hour plane trip? What about naps -- how would he nap in a strange place? And what about nighttime -- would the trip mess up his excellent sleep schedule? As I planned the trip, I really wished we were cosleepers ... it sure would have made planning for his nighttimes easier.

So what happened? What did I learn?

Well, I discovered that my "easy baby" is not an easy traveler. The plane ride wasn't a big problem -- he slept a good portion of each trip and spent the rest of the time flirting with other passengers. (My one regret is that I followed the advice of others and chose aisle seats so we could get up easily. Fact was, I got up less often than I usually do on planes. But nursing a baby to sleep is difficult when people come by and bump his head every two minutes! Plus, it is awkward to nurse next to a stranger: either baby's head or his feet are practically in someone else's lap. Lesson learned: window next time.) But by the time he got off the plane, cranky and tired, he was longing for his quiet bassinet, and he didn't get it.

My parents kindly provided a wooden cradle for him, but it took several tries before he'd sleep in it at all. Normally I lay the baby down in his bassinet, he opens his eyes and sees where he is, and he shuts them again and goes to sleep. In the cradle, he would open his eyes and see that he was NOT in a familiar place, and he'd wake right up. Then there was the noise. My house is not a quiet place (at ALL) due to all Marko's young aunts and uncles (ranging from 8 years to 18 months). Normally a baby's grandparents have nothing to do but adapt to the baby's visit -- but that just isn't the way our family is set up, with our big spread of ages. I spent a lot of time nagging at my siblings to be quiet, stay in the family room, don't go upstairs, don't wake the baby. I felt like a real jerk the whole time ... and they STILL forgot and would wake the baby up anyway.

Then there was the jetlag. Usually traveling east to west is not a problem for me -- it's the return trip that kills. But a baby makes that adjustment very difficult for his parents. My usual tactic is to stay up as late as my family does, and then I naturally sleep in as late as they do. But the baby went to sleep at eight (eleven our time) after several false starts, woke up several times at night, and was up for good at five-thirty a.m. I fell into bed completely exhausted at 9:30 (after midnight our time) and every wakeup I felt even more like death. Ugh.

After that, of course the baby was horribly cranky -- no nap, much less sleep (and lower quality sleep) than he was used to, and a strange situation. My family kept saying that he seemed fine to them, that all babies cry, that they didn't mind the sound (um, I don't mind the sound of a baby's cry, I mind the fact that the baby is crying), but I knew he wasn't himself. Much of the time he just zoned out and looked terribly blank ... it broke my heart because he's usually such an interactive baby. He did manage to warm up a little to my parents, enough to give them a few smiles, but I felt they still weren't getting the real Marko, the one who's full of smiles and coos and sunshine all day. And he was absolutely overwhelmed by my siblings, who would gather around him and poke at him.

Nursing turned out to be a huge issue. He'd already been dealing with a bit of an aversion to nursing. I don't understand it. He used to nurse every hour or two, and in the past week he'd been absolutely howling and arching away if I offered more than every three hours. This got way worse on the trip. He even tried to last for longer than three hours sometimes, getting more and more tired, fussy, and hungry, but going into a total meltdown if I tried to nurse him. The issue of "nursing in public" didn't come up, because I had to go into a quiet room alone to have even a chance of nursing him. Normally rocking has been a big comfort, but the rocking chair was downstairs, so it was out. So while my family socialized downstairs, I'd be up in the bedroom with the lights off, swaying back and forth on a wooden chair and trying to distract him into nursing before he remembered how much he hated it. When he wasn't fussy and overstimulated, like first thing in the morning, he would readily nurse away with a smile, but 90% of the time, it was a big problem. I suspect overuse of his pacifier was a contributing factor, as well as having to wait to nurse (because he wouldn't nurse with distractions, and it often took me awhile to find a place without distractions for him).

The reunion itself was the worst. So much noise, so many people! So many relatives who demanded to hold him! I previously assumed he liked strangers, but the reality is that he likes to look at strangers. He doesn't much care to be held by them for more than a minute or so. He liked my mom pretty well, after a few tries, but even cried for my grandpa -- even though I'm pretty sure most babies like my grandpa! So, after an initial pass-around, I kept him with me, putting him the wrap so people wouldn't ask. There are a lot of games at our reunion, but I wouldn't participate unless John could hold the baby. For the water balloon toss, we were partners, so I was hoping my grandma could hold the baby. We gave it a shot, but he wanted me, so we sat out the toss. This was actually a real blessing, because everyone else went outside to play the game, leaving a quiet house for us to nurse in. We spent the rest of the party lying on the bed in the downstairs bedroom, nursing and sleeping.

A few hours after the party, though, he had a total meltdown. I had never seen him so inconsolable. He just screamed and screamed, barely pausing for breath, refusing any comfort. No pacifier, no finger to suck on, and definitely no nursing. I walked him up the hill to the guest room we were staying in, and then back again, before he calmed down at all. I think, though I'm not sure, that he was hungry but too upset to nurse. And I'm quite sure that he was tired and overstimulated. I felt absolutely terrible.

After all, we live in a grown-up world. We expect babies to adjust to our needs: be held when and by whom we want, sleep when and where we want, eat when and how much we want. Airplanes are a prime example. Babies are supposed to sleep on planes. Everyone praises a baby who does. And yet every two minutes someone is making a loud noise that will wake the baby up. Marko would be sleeping peacefully when a loud voice would call over the PA, "We're encountering some unexpected turbulence, so the captain has turned on the fasten seatbelt sign," or a stewardess would push by with her cart and ask if she could bring us something. Yet if he woke up and cried, it's "Ugh, why do we have to have crying babies on the plane with us?" (This was more my fear than my reality: he usually did go back to sleep with a lot of shushing and back pats. But I'm sure a lot of babies that cry on planes do so because of things the other people do, and yet they still get blamed for reacting in their normal baby way.)

However, I did discover several helpful things about my baby. A fellow mother told me a few weeks ago that Marko is so independent not in spite of my attachment parenting, but because of it. Because he is secure that I will pick him up when he needs it, he is quite happy to stay down much of the time. Because he knows I'll rush to him when he wakes up, he doesn't wake up crying, but just coos in his crib till I get there. This seems to be true, because in the scary situation he was in, he demanded much more attachment. He wanted to be held almost constantly, not in the carrier but in my arms. He woke up more often in the night. And -- a delight to me -- he was willing to sleep with me for naps and early in the morning. (Thank goodness I discovered this -- we both needed the rest as well as the unrestricted nursing.)

I also discovered that the baby LOVES his dad. His feelings toward me were kind of ambivalent -- I think he was afraid I would try to nurse him (the horror!). But he had no such worry about Daddy, so he would reach out to John and cling to him if I or anyone else tried to take him away. For most of the sleep he managed to get, it was John who got him down by walking him around and swaying. I am so glad both of us were there, so that he always had someone he was attached to that could help him. (By the way, John is an awesome dad, and I'm at least twice as in love with him as I was before.)

I learned that white noise is wonderful for him. My parents had a noise maker which we kept on "rainstorm," and he slept much better with it. It helped drown out any noise that was going on downstairs, as well as being a familiar sound that helped him sleep in a strange place. If he woke up and didn't know where he was, the sound of rain seemed to comfort him.

Much of his sleep came while riding in his carseat. We had a lot of carseat time as we drove across the mountains and back, and he slept for a large portion of that. When he was awake, he was still generally pretty happy, because he could look out the window. He was able to relax and not be overstimulated for awhile (we traveled separately from my family). Because of this, he arrived at the cabin in a much better mood than he'd been in before. I'm afraid my grandparents got to see more of his sunshine than my parents did!

I learned how important it is to rush to him when he wakes up. A few times I didn't, because I couldn't hear him in the large houses we stayed in, and I would find him sobbing uncontrollably. It broke my heart. It also put him in the habit of going straight from sleep to crying, which isn't normal for him at all. (Luckily he's back to waking calmly and waiting for me, now that I've built his trust back up.)

Normally I do not suffer from "mommy guilt." I always put my baby first, and I am never sorry. I fulfill all of his needs, and if he's fussy and I can't comfort him, I know at least that I've done all I can. But this trip was a HUGE exercise in mommy guilt. I felt horrible that I was putting him through so much discomfort and trauma just so that I could see my family. He doesn't know why he's being put through this or who these people are. My only comfort is that I didn't know it would be like that, so I can't be blamed. (Though, if I did know, that doesn't necessarily mean I wouldn't have gone ... as you'll see in part 2, there were some very important reasons for us to be there.) And then, of course, there was the knowledge that, through all he went through, we were there for him. We held him, rocked him, bounced him, nursed him, whenever he showed signs of wanting these things. He might have been scared or uncomfortable, but he did know he wasn't alone. Maybe this is why he's recovered so quickly.

He has, by the way. We flew back on Tuesday and by Wednesday morning he was all sunshine. Even happier than he used to be, it seems -- full of laughter and smiles. I kept him very close to me, but did put him down in his buzzy chair (boy, did I miss that chair) near me, and he didn't mind. He nursed a ton, and didn't show any signs of nursing aversion until late at night ... I suspect he was really tired but couldn't go to sleep yet because of the jetlag. He stopped crying at diaper changes and is back to smiling and kicking his feet. We took a bath and he enjoyed every minute -- even getting taken out, dried off, and dressed, which he usually hates with a passion.

Thank goodness I have my little angel boy back. I've missed him so.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Nursing in Public: My experience

Welcome to the July 2010 Carnival of Nursing in Public

This post was written for inclusion in the Carnival of Nursing in Public hosted by Dionna and Paige at All week, July 5-9, we will be featuring articles and posts about nursing in public ("NIP"). See the bottom of this post for more information.


When I began nursing Marko, I was unusually lucky. I am the daughter of a mother who nursed six children, four of whom were younger than me, so I saw them nursing as I grew up. Her mother also nursed, though I'm not sure how much. John's mother nursed some of hers as well, so the sight of a mother nursing is not unfamiliar to him at all. In fact, in my case, I have rarely seen an infant bottlefeed, and I have never bottlefed an infant myself. So many mothers go into parenting without ever having seen anyone nurse a baby. Is it any wonder that it seems weird or awkward to them?

For me, it never seemed weird. Harder than I imagined, definitely -- my mom always made it look easy. And I didn't give birth surrounded by helpful female family members, but by distinctly unhelpful lactation consultants who caused more trouble than they solved. But the actual act of breastfeeding was completely normal to me, and I never once felt like I was doing something unnatural, inappropriate, or invasive. I was just feeding my baby, in the normal way that feeding a baby is done.

Although I was raised to be very modest, I have never seen my chest as anything particularly sexual. As far as I can see, it's just a chest with some mammary glands on it, and I don't really see why men are supposed to find them so attractive. I know that they do, so I keep them covered out of respect for those men, but it really doesn't make particular sense to me.

Like I said, I was raised to be very modest, so even my mother hasn't seen much of me since I was ten or eleven. My first visit with the obstetrician was very embarrassing for me. Not, as I said, because anything seemed sexual, but simply because I don't like my body to be seen as a piece of meat -- something to be poked and prodded but not really seen or connected with me. I don't know if this makes sense. I just would like people to get to know me before grabbing at any part of me -- even my hand or my hair. I absolutely cannot stand being touched by strangers.

During my hospital stay to deliver Marko, though, I lost a lot of that sensitivity, purely through necessity. I think I have it back now, for the most part. But I remember sitting with the lactation consultant, nursing Marko, when there was a knock on the door and the (male) pediatrician came in. The lactation consultant deftly threw a blanket over me and the baby, but I felt confused. "What's the big deal?" I wanted to ask. "They're just breasts!" It was as if someone had thrown a blanket over a baby bottle for fear someone should see it. It simply did not compute that this would be considered private. I felt like I imagine those African women do, who go around in nothing but a loincloth. They would give you quite a funny look, I expect, if you suggested they put on a shirt to "cover up"!

Back home, however, I did begin to feel embarrassed. I had my mother-in-law and four sisters-in-law visiting, and I had no idea how they would feel about seeing me nurse. Especially the younger girls -- I was afraid of shocking them, I guess. I never asked how they would feel about it -- I just went and nursed in the bedroom. As I hunched on the edge of my bed, I would get grumpier and grumpier. I did not want to be tucked away in a tiny bedroom while everyone else watched movies out in the living room. Since nursing was really the one thing I had to do -- the rest of the time the others held the baby while I slept, because I was exhausted -- I felt like I had no place in my own home.

If I had to do it again, I would have nursed in front of them and not made such a big deal! They were all women, after all. If they were uncomfortable, they could very well have gone into the kitchen or the bedroom themselves. And, as they told me time and time again, they were there to help, and they didn't want to be treated as "company" or
catered to in any way. Besides, the younger girls hadn't had a chance to see their younger siblings nurse, because they were the youngest. Wouldn't it have been fair for me to give them what I had been given -- the chance to see a baby fed in the normal way, so that they had some idea what it was like?

My first trip out in public was to go to church. Since I was in the choir, I sat in the loft -- an ideal spot for a nursing mom! Especially since I am a soprano and sit surrounded by women. But I was still uncomfortable -- still felt like others would be awkward about it -- so I dragged a chair down into the stairwell and nursed there. One of the other choir women asked if I was nursing the baby, and told me she'd nursed all hers, giving me a ton of helpful information. But still, I was too scared to nurse around them!

My first time nursing in public was at a steakhouse. My friend Joy took me there "so that I could get out" -- not realizing that I really would have just as well stayed home, but I guess it was good for me to rejoin society a little bit. (This was when John was gone, so I was getting very solitary.) In the middle of dinner, the baby started to fuss and root around. "It's okay if you nurse in front of me," Joy said. "You know I nursed my daughter." That reassurance was all I needed, so I draped a receiving blanket around him and nursed him.

Ugh, I wish I had practiced this beforehand! It is so hard to latch a newborn on under a blanket! They can't see what they're doing, and you can't see what you're doing, and neither of you really have the hang of nursing yet. It was so terribly frustrating, and I'm pretty sure I flashed half the restaurant when the blanket kept slipping. Oopsie. I didn't care for my own modesty, but I did feel bad for the other patrons -- though, looking back on it, it's quite likely they never noticed. We were sitting in a booth, and the place wasn't very full. Who knows?

Now, I don't often nurse in public just because I am not often in public. However, I do know how important frequent nursing is to keep up milk supply (as well as keep baby happy and contented), so when I'm in public, I feed him whenever he shows signs of hunger. That means that I nurse him in Mass about 75% of the time, and I have also nursed him in Starbucks and in the library. I do use a blanket to cover up, mostly because my husband seems to expect it and always hands it to me, but I would completely understand if others didn't use one. After all, most babies don't like their heads covered up, and like I said, it's a huge fuss and bother. Often you end up being less modest with a blanket because the dang thing is always falling off. However, I figure people will be more understanding of the occasional flashing when they see that I have a blanket and am trying! I really have no idea, though, because I don't understand people's discomfort with nursing. My general opinion is just that they haven't seen it enough, because if they had, they probably wouldn't even notice someone doing it.

The worst, though, is nursing around my young, single, male, Catholic friends. I know that 90% of adults have seen way more than I'd be showing while nursing, whereas kids don't generally know enough to be scandalized in the first place (they probably wouldn't notice I was nursing unless they already know about nursing), but that small group of Catholic guys -- well, I know that they try to avoid seeing so much. I have no idea if the fact that I am nursing makes it completely unsexual for them, as it does for me. I just can't read their minds, and so I get embarrassed. I totally wouldn't care of these friends saw everything I've got -- I know and trust these people, and so it doesn't bother me -- but I fear that they would care, so I do what I can. Once, while spending a whole day with one guy friend, I tried to avoid nursing the baby so much. That backfired terribly. Baby was fussy, and when I did finally give in and let him nurse, he was too upset to latch on under the blanket. In the end, I gave up and locked myself in the bedroom again, feeling like a leper just because I wanted to give my baby a snack. I really hate being locked away and left out of things. (And for you who say, "Well, being a parent means getting left out of some things," that's quite true. In fact, I am left out of most social things I would otherwise do, because we can't handle long days or late nights. But for someone to come to our home to see us, when there is no real reason why I can't hang out with them, and I'm in the bedroom anyway? Well, it's just frustrating.)

I would be open to input on this problem. It's all very well to nurse under a blanket now and again, but it gets to be a huge problem if I only nurse like that for a long time. He gets distracted and never really nurses long enough to be satisfied. But it is very important to me to protect the sensibilities of my guy friends (yes, even though I could care less about the other patrons of a Starbucks! Call me inconsistent if you like) and I don't want them to feel awkward when they come over. Any opinions? Ibid, Propter Quid, Sean? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Right now I'm trying to figure out ways to nurse modestly without a blanket. My mom always managed, as far as I can remember. It never seemed immodest in the slightest to me -- I would barely notice she was nursing. (Whereas a gigantic blanket says, "Look at me! I'm nursing a baby here!" Everyone notices, and it can make them stare.) I've heard the suggestion of wearing two shirts -- one you can pull up, and the other a camisole that you can pull down. That way almost nothing is exposed, and the baby's head covers what is. (Except for wiggly babies who won't stay on, like mine!) Another thing that works, which I discovered at Mass last Sunday, is to wrap the blanket around the baby without putting it over his head. I left a gap around his face, but pulled the blanket around the gap so that it stood up a bit, so you would have to be breathing down my neck to see anything. (I'm not sure I'm describing this well enough, but I don't have a picture -- sorry.) Also, I'm hoping to sew a couple of nursing tops.

Sometimes I wonder if I am trying too hard. After all, I do not think anyone has a right not to see a baby nursing. The baby has a right to eat, and you have a right not to look if it bothers you. But your sensibilities -- developed by living in a bottlefeeding culture -- are not protected by law or any particular "right." I also don't think children will be harmed by seeing a mother nurse her baby. This is a natural, normal thing, and any harm that's done is done by the adults around who screech, "Don't look! There are nasty, yucky breasts showing!" Whereas kids who grow up around nursing babies don't even notice they're there. And I support wholeheartedly the various mothers who nurse in public, whether covered or not, and I am outraged by anyone who asks them to move to a bathroom or get off an airplane. (Can you imagine being kicked off a plane for nursing? Would they rather have the baby scream for five hours? But, sadly, it happens.)

However, even though I don't think anyone has the right to make me be considerate of their sensibilities, I do try to be considerate anyway. I think they are wrong to think there is anything yucky or inappropriate about nursing a baby, but since they do think that, I will try to make sure they don't see anything that will upset them. I also want to make sure my husband is comfortable with what I do ... I make most of the parenting decisions and he supports them, but I think he has some say in how much of his wife's body is visible in public.

So, my journey with nursing in public is incomplete. I still don't know exactly how I feel about it or what I should do. And I haven't found a system that works for me in all circumstances yet. Probably in a few months, I will find that I have arrived, without knowing quite when it suddenly became easy and comfortable. But there is also the possibility that I will be doing my best, trying not to call attention to myself, and someone will come up to me and ask me to leave. And most likely, instead of giving all my (very good) arguments about nursing in public, I will blush and stammer and slink away. Unfortunately, in Virginia, the only protection nursing mothers have is that we cannot be charged with indecent exposure. (We can also nurse on all state property, and I believe we are excused from jury duty.) Unlike many states, we have no law specifically protecting nursing mothers, so business owners have the right to ask us to leave. In Pennsylvania, I could have said (and planned to say), "The law forbids you from harassing me or asking me to leave. I have the right to nurse my baby anywhere I have the right to be." Here, I have no such legal backing, and, being a person who hates being put on the spot, I will probably just leave. Perhaps I will write a letter of complaint, and perhaps I will end up with a ton of publicity and people will accuse me (as people often do to nursing mothers) of being an exhibitionist, of just wanting my 15 minutes of fame, of using my child to make a statement, and they will offer to come urinate on me because "hey, that's natural too! Har har!"

Until that time comes, though, I'm going to keep muddling through, trying my best to make everyone comfortable, but my baby first.

Art by Erika Hastings at

Welcome to the Carnival of Nursing in Public

Please join us all week, July 5-9, as we celebrate and support breastfeeding mothers. And visit any time to connect with other breastfeeding supporters, learn more about your legal right to nurse in public, and read (and contribute!) articles about breastfeeding and N.I.P.

Do you support breastfeeding in public? Grab this badge for your blog or website to show your support and encourage others to educate themselves about the benefits of breastfeeding and the rights of breastfeeding mothers and children.

This post is just one of many being featured as part of the Carnival of Nursing in Public. Please visit our other writers each day of the Carnival. Click on the links below to see each day’s posts - new articles will be posted on the following days:
July 5 - Making Breastfeeding the Norm: Creating a Culture of Breastfeeding in a Hyper-Sexualized World
July 6 – Supporting Breastfeeding Mothers: the New, the Experienced, and the Mothers of More Than One Nursing Child
July 7 – Creating a Supportive Network: Your Stories and Celebrations of N.I.P.
July 8 – Breastfeeding: International and Religious Perspectives
July 9 – Your Legal Right to Nurse in Public, and How to Respond to Anyone Who Questions It

Back in town

Today we are finally home from our trip to Seattle to visit my family! (The return trip was not easy ... I'm so tired.) I have a great deal to tell you; some baby-related and some non-baby-related, some things that happened and some things I learned. But that will have to wait, because I promised to participate in a "carnival" about nursing in public. It's a topic that has always perplexed me a little, so I wrote a novel about it, pretty much. I'd be glad if you left me a comment to tell me your opinion!
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