Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I went to a friend's birthday party the other day, and we got to talking about what turning 32 meant. It so happens that he and I are both turning that age this year, and Sam hit that milestone slightly before us. Sam had already given me this take on the matter -- that 30 was "Well, I'm just this side of my 20s," and 31 was "Yeah, but I just really entered my 30s," but 32 is "Screw it, I'm in my 30s." The slightly better interpretation that Sam put on it, though, was that 32 is young 30s. And the spin my friend put on it was that at 32 there's really no significant age to look toward until 40, so we have time to relax.

I have mixed feelings about this whole aging thing. As a female friend of like age put it, anything 20-something sounds better than anything 30-something. It's a cultural construct, I realize, and perhaps it hits women harder than men (witness my friend's and my husband's insouciance but my ambivalence). I find myself perusing the faces of actors and actresses -- "Don't you think she looks the same age as I do?" I'll ask Sam. "She's actually three years younger." I've become a troll of and wikipedia as I search automatically for the birth years of anyone I see on screen. I'll cringe when someone I think looks old turns out to be my age, and I'll cheer when someone I think looks gorgeous and flawless turns out to be a few years down the road. I'll analyze why someone might have crow's feet at my age -- "Well, she tanned a lot," or "He was a smoker." I'll wonder and wish I knew the secrets when someone seems preternaturally youthful (Courtney Cox, anyone?).

So all this is why a particular passage from The Continuum Concept: In Search Of Happiness Lost really hit me with longing to live more comfortably in my own (aging) skin:

"If we had the opportunity to live the sort of life for which we are evolved, a great many of our present motives would be affected. For one thing, we would not imagine that children must be happier than adults, nor that the young adults must be happier than the old. As we have seen, we hold this view largely because we are in constant pursuit of some goal that we hope will restore our lost sense of rightness about our lives. As we attain the goals and find ourselves still missing that nameless something kept from us since infancy, we lose by degrees our belief that the next set of hopes will relieve our persistent longings. We also teach ourselves to accept 'reality' to ease the pain of repeated disappointment as best we can. At a certain point in mid-life we begin to tell ourselves that we have missed, for one reason or another, the chance to enjoy complete well-being and must live with the consequences in a state of permanent compromise. This state of affairs is hardly conducive to joy.

"Living as one is evolved to do, one's history is very different. Babyhood desires give way to those of the successive phases of childhood and each fulfilled set of desires gives way to the next. The desire to play games fades away, the desire to work becomes increasingly strong as one becomes an adult, desire to find and share life with an attractive member of the opposite sex, fulfilled, gives rise to a desire to work for the mate and to have children together. Maternal and paternal motive develop toward the children. The need to socialize with one's similars is fulfilled from childhood to death. As the needs of adults in their prime to initiate and carry through their projects becomes fulfilled and age begins to reduce physical powers, desires are for seeing one's loved ones succeed, for peace, for less variety in experiences, to feel that things are moving through the cycle of life with less help from oneself, and ultimately, with no help, as the last of life's succession of desires is fulfilled and is replaced by none but the wish to rest, to know no more, to cease.

"In every phase, founded firmly upon the completion of the preceding ones, the stimulus of desire receives its full response. There is, therefore, no genuine advantage in being young over being old. Each time has its particular joys, and after one has relinquished each set of desires as it runs its course, there can be no cause to envy the young, nor to wish for any age other than one's own and the pleasures it brings with it, up to and including death."
(p. 148 in my copy)

Sam & I went to a documentary a few years ago called The Same River Twice. If nudity offends you, don't bother even clicking on that link, and certainly don't watch the film in that case. It's a movie about a group of young hippies in the 1970s who spent the summers naked and free whitewater rafting on a river. (They did usually wear lifejackets, but that's about all.) The filmmaker, who was one of the group, then tracked down his old comrades as middle-aged adults now to see what they're up to -- how they've changed and how they've remained the same. (One difference: clothing.)

One of my favorite parts of the movie comes when the filmmaker asks a man if he envies today's youth and misses his own past. "No," he said, and I'm paraphrasing like crazy here, "I got to be 28 once, and now it's their turn." I thought it was so confident and contented, much like the continuum peoples Jean Liedloff describes above: If you're happy with each phase of your life as you experience it fully, then you'll be happy to graduate to the next phase without looking back, not resenting those who are now getting their chance at an earlier phase and not looking ahead jealously to those guarding the next.

Sam & I had a long talk about this last night, since I was musing on writing this post, and he talked about how unformed we look in photographs taken of us at 20, 23, 25. It's not till around 28 that we got it together and look, in his words, competent. And it's that competence that has given us the ability to be confident and more attractive -- not in appearance but in the sense of attracting relationships with and admiration from others. Certainly I would not have been the same mother I am today if I had had my baby at 25, and I appreciate taking the time I needed to get to this place. He suggested that we get a few more years, then, to continue maturing, since maybe it took us longer than others. It seems that it has been experiences that made us grow up rather than just birthdays.

I like that idea of a grace period, and of age not being a straight line from past to future but a fluidity that embraces what and how you're learning from one year to the next. This year maybe I'll grow up quite a lot, or I could choose to let myself rest.

I've noticed, too, that this first year with Mikko has slowed down time to how it used to be when I was in school. After graduating, years flew with no discernible breaks for semesters and vacations, and five could go past without blinking. I want to learn to enjoy my own age for what it is so I can enjoy Mikko's for his, and so I can look forward to continuing to get older. Because, after all, what's the alternative?

(Answer: Drinking the blood of unicorns like Courtney Cox. You heard it here first, folks.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Finger feeding and baby hickeys: the challenges of breastfeeding

Welcome to the April Carnival of Breastfeeding: "Thrush and mastitis and blebs, oh my!"

This month we're bringing you posts on the topic of breastfeeding problems and helpful solutions. Be sure to check out the links at the end for great stories overcoming thrush, blebs, plugged ducts, oversupply, and other breastfeeding challenges.


I feel a little shy offering any advice on breastfeeding challenges. For the most part, my baby and I have had a very easy time of it, but every once in awhile I remember that first week -- boy, howdy. I made sure my husband took no pictures of us feeding him that first week, because I wanted to forget it.

We felt like we had to be an octopus, holding feeding tubes and bottles of expressed milk and wrestling with the flailing, grabbing fists of our little one, and somehow trying to get it all to coordinate so that our baby ended up fed. And as soon as we finished...another feed came along.

So, here I will offer my story of a week of terrible feedings and how we came through victorious. One week doesn't seem like very long to have breastfeeding trouble, but I will say that it seems like a loooong time when you're so anxious to nurse your newborn and you have no idea where the light is at the end of the tunnel!

First of all, Mikko was born in the hospital after an extended try at a home birth. He was a very big guy, almost 12 pounds, so the nurses were all concerned about blood sugar levels. He was fine, but that didn't stop them from fussing over potential health problems. One nurse in particular noted that he screamed off and on all that first night, and she attributed it not to being fresh out of the womb or being in a hospital or just general screaminess (we have since discovered Mikko is just an intense sort of baby) but to his not getting enough to eat from my breasts. Sadness. I know, it's such an old story; I don't doubt that some new mother somewhere this very minute is being told she's letting her baby go hungry when...oh, there's such a nice big bottle of formula right here that could make him feel all better. I felt terrible that Mikko was apparently so unsatisfied by me, and I let the nurse feed him a bottle of formula, just to check that he could eat, she said.

And so our week of breastfeeding misery was off and running.

After the bottle, Mikko really thought the breast was pathetic. That slow drip of colostrum -- bah. Give me fast and full and give it to me now. It took only a day for my milk to come in, but Mikko already had his preferences down.

By this time, though, Sam & I were out of the hospital with our little charge and feeling more like parents than patients. We determined (1) to get him off the formula immediately, and (2) to get him breastfeeding naturally as soon as possible.

Point #1 was taken care of with an electric double pump we rented from the hospital. It was about $18 a week, unfortunately not covered by our insurance, but it was certainly affordable for the couple weeks we estimated we would need it. Since my milk had come in and was plenty for my big little guy, we were off formula within a day, and I was so happy. I know formula has its uses, but besides being inferior to breastmilk nutritionally, yikes -- it tastes terrible. We had to taste it frequently because of our responses to point #2:

We decided not to give him any more bottles, despite being sent home with several. The nurse, who was at least helpful in gathering useful supplies for our ordeal, had given us various tubes and syringes along with the nipples and formula. So we quickly figured out what in the bag would make the best feeders.

I found this page to be very helpful in illustrating and giving some guidelines on all the methods I'll speak about in the order we used them, on our road to total breastfeeding:
Alternative Feeding Methods for Breastfed Babies (This is the page that the images illustrating this post come from, since we purposely took no pictures.)

And here's an overview of the variety of non-bottle supplemental feeding options:
Alternatives to Bottles

We tried these options in this order: syringe feeding, finger feeding, supplemental syringe at the breast, and supplemental tube at the breast. For us, that was basically easy to hard, in terms of coordinating a squirmy, screaming baby with whatever method we were trying. Even as we progressed, if we just needed to get some food in him fast, we would start him off or top him up with an easier method.

With syringe feeding, we would fill a small syringe (without a needle, natch) with formula or expressed breastmilk and basically just squirt it slowly into his mouth as he swallowed. This was certainly the easiest and least messy of the alternative feeding methods we tried, but I was concerned that he wasn't getting his sucking needs met by this style. It was more like he was a baby bird we were pushing nutrition into, without really treating him like a human baby.

Finger Feeding with a TubeSo we tried out finger feeding next, where you thread a very thin tube alongside one finger and let the baby suck on both your upturned finger and the tube; the tube is either attached to a syringe or dipped into an open bottle of breastmilk or formula. Dr. Jack Newman describes it in this link: Finger Feeding. It's a good method in that it lets babies suck, and as Newman mentions, trains them in the technique they'll need at the breast. It does take some coordination, though, and parents can tape the tube securely all the way up their finger and hand if they want less to fidget with. We tried to time pushing the syringe with his sucking motions, and later we just let him suck the milk out of the tube like a straw, but we always had to get it started for him by sucking it to the very tip of the tube. That's where we got to taste the difference between formula (seriously gross) and breastmilk (surprisingly -- or not! -- delicious).

But, as Dr. Jack Newman says: "Babies learn to breastfeed by breastfeeding." This was very important for us to realize as we moved toward total breastfeeding -- it wouldn't happen without practice!

So, we were on to trying Mikko at the breast.

Newman promotes at-breast supplementation this way: "Babies learn to breastfeed by breastfeeding. Mothers learn to breastfeed by breastfeeding. The baby continues to get your milk. The baby won't reject the breast. There is more to breastfeeding than the breastmilk."

Syringe Feeding at the BreastI would try to latch Mikko on, and Sam would stand by with a syringe that he would dip into the corner of Mikko's mouth and push so that Mikko was rewarded with any sucking by a whole mouth full of milk. Eventually, though, we wanted to make Mikko suck the milk under his own power, just as with the finger feeding, so we moved to a homemade lactation aid.

Here's Newman's handout for using one, which is where the above quote is from: Using a Lactation Aid.

Tube Feeding at the BreastWith this method, I would latch Mikko on to the breast and then Sam would slip the tube into the side of his mouth. Again, we usually had to prime the tube to get the milk flowing fast enough for Mikko not to scream bloody murder and refuse to latch at all. (Did I mention he's an intense baby?) But, very soon, Mikko got the equation of suck on this nice warm breast = mouth full of nummies.

And, it was a miraculous dawning, at just about a week after his birth, when we realized that he would continue to feed when the tube ran dry and was removed. We also had increasingly tried him at the breast without the tube, to start off or finish a supplement session. One day we realized -- our baby was breastfeeding!

Again, I feel a little sheepish that that was the only difficulty we had with feeding him. Since then, he's gained (and gained and gained) weight -- one of the concerns of the discharge nurse was that he had lost about 10 ounces during his stay in the hospital, but our midwife reassured us at our first postpartum visit that (1) he had plenty to lose, (2) that the amount he'd lost was not a dangerous percentage, and (3) that his birth weight was probably inflated by several ounces from the IV fluids they'd given me to reduce my fever. Hindsight suggests that we could probably have skipped this whole discouraging week in favor of straight breastfeeding if we had gotten off to the right start and were prepared for a little screaming (his and ours).

I would certainly recommend breastfeeding over supplemental feeding when it's possible, because our circuitous journey was exhausting and cumbersome. Mikko would wiggle and throw his head around, popping off the breast, grabbing at the tube with his little grabby fists, screaming that the milk wasn’t flowing fast enough. Meanwhile, milk would spill out of the sides of his mouth and the end of the tube as he whipped his head around, all that precious liquid I worked so hard to pump and that he needed every minute portion of an ounce of. Added to this, the air passages in his nose were very narrow, and his nose was stuffy, so every feeding felt and sounded like we were suffocating him, which was part of the problem for getting him to stay latched onto the breast properly. All day and night I was either feeding him or pumping, or pumping in the middle of feeding him so that he could continue to eat enough. Plus, there was all the washing of supplies in between each feed. I couldn’t imagine the joy of just being able to pop him on the breast and let him feed. I equally couldn't imagine ever being able to leave the house again, since Sam & I had barely enough hands between us to manage all the equipment required at once to feed this baby.

It was a long week.

But I can definitely see the value in supplemental feeding as described above, when there really is a latch or supply problem, such as with a premature baby or an adopted one. It's a lot of work, but if these methods can push you through until the latch or supply problems are worked out, then it's so worth it. It can help you avoid or limit formula feeding and nipple preference, and it puts you on the road to breastfeeding without supplementation. And, I would imagine, if supplementing remains necessary, that it gets easier as time goes on! It's still so wonderful to give a baby the comfort and release that feeding at the breast gives, even if all the milk isn't coming from the mother alone.

My post title comes from the one hilarious, if painful, spot in the week. I had gotten Mikko latched, and he was sucking away. There was plenty of milk in the bottle, and it was being sucked up through the tube perfectly. For the first time, I felt some pain as Mikko sucked at the breast, but I chalked it up to nipple soreness and figured I'd put some lanolin on later. I really, really didn't want to unlatch him and check, because he was so intent in eating and would be so upset by being interrupted. The pain was getting worse and worse, but I gritted my teeth and let him continue. When he finally came off, I looked down and saw a big welt on my breast -- and it was nowhere near my nipple. His latch had slipped to a different section, and he had Hoovered up the tissue into a big, swollen bruise. My first hickey, and it came from my baby!

But, despite all the trials of that first week, I was highly motivated to breastfeed, and I knew it was what my baby needed and truly wanted. Sam was committed to helping us and encouraging me to continue, even when it meant that he could no longer share in the feeding of our newborn son, as he could when we were finger feeding. It was wonderful to have my commonsense midwife, who's also a lactation consultant, supporting breastfeeding by expecting that we would get the hang of it, giving me accurate information, and helping me achieve a proper latch.

Mostly, it was essential to expect that we would succeed. Babies are born to breastfeed, and mothers are made to breastfeed them. I wouldn't have bothered pushing through that horrible week if I hadn't internalized that truth. I had this vision in mind, that I would eventually be like one of those beautiful breastfeeding mamas, who could confidently and easily feed their babies anywhere and at any time.

At one month old, I was feeding Mikko on a fast-moving sailboat ride, while I braced myself on the highly-angled deck for dear life. I was terrified we'd fall into the briny deep, but Mikko was calm and happy as long as he was nursing away. That was when I knew for sure that we had gotten the hang of this breastfeeding thing!


Please read our other carnival participants:

Mama's Magic writes about challenges and triumphs with each of her children, including a lactation-aid setup like mine -- but with a c-section (see, I shouldn't complain)
Half Pint Pixie conquers oversupply, flat nipples, a bleb, blocked ducts, and mastitis
Speech Act remembers contortionist nursing with plugged ducts and blebs
Tales of Life with a Girl on the Go confronts reduced milk supply after going on the mini-pill
Nurturing Notes discusses a long battle with thrush
Breastfeeding Mums goes through her list of issues, from embarrassment to sore nipples to engorgement, that prompted her to start a site just for the breastfeeding mother
The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog shares a mother's story of a tongue tie
Blessed Nest Perch overcomes painful mastitis, cracked nipples, and low supply
Breastfeeding 1-2-3 recommends gentian violet and grapefruit seed extract

Wow -- it sounds kind of scary put all together like that! The good news is that they all figured out how to work through their problems and breastfeed happily. A key was finding the proper information, so enjoy their stories!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A distaste for dependence

Sometimes I find the justification of attachment parenting contradictory. In an effort to appeal to Americans or the general Western mindset, I always sense a desperateness as proponents assure parents that babies who are breastfed and allowed to cosleep will become even more independent than other babies. But, in the same breath, they say not to worry -- they'll also be very attached to you (hence the term).

I think that's because the point of attachment parenting is to raise attached children, but Americans would too often equate attachment with dependence, and neediness is so unattractive to a Western mindset. I further think that it's not really a contradiction to say attached and independent, because independence in the attachment-parenting sense means something like confident, capable, and able to attach to others. (For an example of this AP discussion point, see #4 here.)

But it brings up the same contradictions that exist inside me. I want my children to need and want me, while at the same time I fear that they'll need and want me too much. It's perhaps an irrational fear that they'll never be self-sufficient, and that they'll end up shaming me with their incompetence and clinginess.

I was raised to be independent. I remember my mother pushing the virtues of self-reliance whenever one of us fell sick. She'd suggest that staying home short of pneumonia smacked of self-indulgence. "Do you think your father or I get to stay home from work for a cold?" she'd ask rhetorically. Now, in hindsight, I can see that staying home when contagious, even if not incapacitated, would actually be a good thing. But I've yet to get over guilt for not pushing through minor illnesses and continuing with life as usual, never asking to be babied. Once, when I was 5, I had a sore throat, and my mother turned to me and asked, "Did you want to stay home from school today?" And I said, "No, I can go." Even at 5, I knew what was expected of me. I'll tell you, I kicked myself for years afterward that I didn't jump at the chance to stay home (granted, from kindergarten). My mother actually offered me the out, and I turned it down! One time in junior high I agreed to cat sit for friends of my parents, checking in on the cat once daily for food and attention while the couple were on vacation. I caught some horrible bug and was throwing up, had a fever, felt run over, the works. I hinted to my mom that maybe she could fill in for me for a day. "You took on the responsibility...," she said. Off I dragged myself.

Sam, in contrast, was raised to be dependent. Being sick meant being coddled. His stay-at-home mother routinely helped with schoolwork and typed his and his siblings' papers for them through high school, as well as college applications. Sam had an epiphany when his parents were out of town and he was forced to complete a school project on his own -- and got a middling grade. Suddenly, he realized that his academic excellence was not his to boast about, and he resolved right then, in seventh grade, to stand on his own two feet. Sam's sister, on the other hand, ate up the attention and has continued to rely on others to do things for her and baby her into adulthood.

What I'm looking for in my parenting is a happy -- and healthy -- medium between the two styles. What I find myself tempted toward, perhaps understandably, is the example I had set for me: to push my baby out of the nest rather than nurturing him. I find myself disgusted with Sam's sister's ineffectiveness and lack of self-sufficiency. I have a horror of having children who will never grow up and leave me alone. (Sam's older brother still lives in his parents' basement, fyi.)

But the thing is, I know it's completely unreasonable to fault a 10-month-old for being clingy, or preferring the company of his mother. But every time Mikko wails because I've left the room (while he's in his father's arms, no less) or wrenches his body toward me to pick him up when there isn't anything in particular he wants from me (read: he's not hungry), I have to steel myself against feeling annoyed.

Is it hopeless? Can I raise an attached baby and child when I feel like I missed out on some attachment myself? When Sam coddles me now, I eat it up, as if I expect it to be short-lived. And then I turn on my own child (and my cat, too, come to think of it, whenever she's whiny) for requesting my attention and care.

This is one of those posts where I just have the questions, not the answers. It's something I still need to think about. Sometimes I hate taking a hard look at myself.

I'm unclear about the copyrights involved here, so to illustrate this article with some humor, just click this link: Cling Film and this one: Clingy

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The voice of authority

business taxesI finished our family's very complicated taxes a day before they were due. As I do every year, I debated the wisdom of handling them myself with vs. hiring an accountant.

As I do with every important question, I hash it out with Sam and scour the internet for the voice of the people. And, as with every important question, Sam agreed with me and the voice of the people was divided.

I can't see where hiring an accountant would make my job any more than a few hours easier. Inputting the numbers into the tax forms isn't the hard part -- it's all the collecting, sorting, and researching that goes on throughout the year. If I hired a full-time accountant, then maybe my life would indeed be easier -- I'd just have him/her tag along and hand over receipts as we gathered them. But since that's entirely out of my price range, I've decided to stick with managing tax time all by my lonesome.

I could change my tune, I suppose, if (or when -- I tend to be pessimistic when it comes to the IRS) an audit rolls around and I need an advocate. That was the gist of the online arguments for hiring an accountant every year -- it would take responsibility off the taxpayer and give it over to someone else, an expert in the subject.

Here's an example of an internet war on the topic: Battle of the human accountant versus Scroll down to the comments section after reading the article's take to see the reader opinions. They're not so divergent as you might expect. On one side are the "better safe than sorry" crowd who say that easy taxes (W2s and some interest) could be handled on one's own, but that hard taxes (home businesses, employment in multiple states, investment complications, rental income) should be given over to a pro. Then there's the side I fall on, which is that if you need an accountant, then you should probably use one -- but if you're intelligent, can read for comprehension, and aren't frightened by math, then nearly every tax situation can be handled, given the proper research, a working calculator, and the time to put in the effort. Some countered that time doing taxes was better spent elsewhere, but again I surmise that I would spend just as much time preparing my taxes for someone else as I do filing them myself. And, frankly, it's the filing part that's kinda fun.

One of the recurring mocking metaphorical arguments against doing taxes solo goes like this: "You don't do your own dentistry, do you?"

I don't think that's a fair analogy. It's very hard to do one's own dentistry, due to the angles and the vision difficulties. But I do brush and floss my own teeth. That to me suggests a better comparison -- just because there are experts that do some tasks professionally doesn't mean that amateurs who have studied and are talented at that task are worse off performing it alone. If I'm good at doing something, I might in fact be better at doing it for myself than someone else without such a personal knowledge of my situation or such a vested interest in my well-being.

I personally don't do any repairs on my own car, because I can't be bothered to learn how and don't feel that I have a natural aptitude for mechanics. Someone else would scoff that I could save money by doing minor maintenance on it myself, and they'd be right. That's why I agree with anyone who wants to use an accountant that they probably should -- if you can't be bothered to do your taxes right, then go ahead and pay someone else to do them for you. But you'll be missing out on learning things that might help you, and you can't always trust the expert to be infallible. Just as I'm never sure if I'm being ripped off when I take in my car, that's the price you pay for not being willing to get your own hands dirty (in some cases, metaphorically speaking).

I've become much less trusting of experts over the years as I've realized that they're just people like me. I remember what a shock it was to meet a friend as an adult who was a schoolteacher and to realize -- oh, gosh, teachers are just people. And not always necessarily the brainiest people. (No offense to teachers, I'm just saying.)

I wanted a really nice haircut once, so I went to a ritzy salon. The first time went really well, but when I went back for a touchup, the stylist was so rude to me that I felt ashamed (and I still tipped well!). The next time I wanted a cut, I had Sam cut my hair -- and it was the best haircut I've ever had.

I used to seek out doctors for anything I thought was medically wrong with me, and now I rarely darken their doors. I got tired of being told inaccurate and incomplete information just because they couldn't take the time to listen to what I was saying or learn my history. I figured out that a lot of what I had sought expert advice for I could learn on my own just as easily, as my experience with acne showed me.

Nowhere has this tendency to go it alone crystallized more than as I've entered into parenting.

Beginning with the pregnancy and birth, I started researching what I had always been told and assumed and came to vastly different conclusions about what was optimal for me and my baby.

Once we began parenting, I had to question what I had seen my parents and other parents do and disregard the advice of pediatricians and traditional books.

I think part of the freedom from expert or traditional advice stems from the prevalence of information available now. With books and online articles to dispense information, with message boards and email to garner feedback in a virtual community, there's no need to rely on only one or even a second opinion -- they're now almost unlimited. Could I have done my very complicated taxes myself twenty years ago, when I would have had to order paper copies of every IRS publication I needed, or call for advice on every question? Now I can go to and instantly access any form or instructions I need.

Even with my haircut from the Salon d'Sam, we first scoured photos of potential cuts online and deconstructed the relative lengths of each section, and I had checked out haircutting books from the library.

With any medical issues, I do what my son's current pediatrician does while we're there in the office (no joke) -- type the symptoms into Google. Granted, if I needed open heart surgery, I wouldn't self-operate, but I have performed a couple skin-tag-ectomies. It hurts, but it's fast and cheap!

I think the trust-the-experts advice would have been the only and best option in the past, but now to me it seems like a cop out. I'm willing to admit to it when it comes to car repairs, and I don't have a problem with other people choosing it for issues they don't feel competent at, such as taxes. But it makes me sad when I see parents abdicating their responsibility to research and make their own decisions in raising another human being.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Crying is good for the lungs

If you need a laugh today, enjoy this Opinion article from The Onion:

I Can't Imagine Why Anybody Would Want to Stop Crying

This is a two-month-old's essay on the joys of screaming one's head off:

"Don't get me wrong—I like squirming, drooling, and sporadically attempting to focus on colors and shapes as much as the next guy. But of all the various activities one can choose to pursue in life, crying is tops as far as I'm concerned. ... What you want, I've found, is to pitch your voice at about the decibel level of your standard jet engine and then hold it as long as possible before taking in air. That's the sweet spot right there. That's the ideal volume for a good cry—the kind of crying that isn't so much melancholy or sorrowful as it is a full-throttle roar of earsplitting shrillness. It's so easy. Getting started can be as simple as being startled by your own hand. ...

"Take my parents, for example. If it wasn't for my tireless efforts, they'd sleep through the night! Can you believe it? ... Yet they hardly ever cry, and when they do, it's usually softly, in the middle of the night, and exhausted-sounding. What happened to their lust for life? Don't they realize that every moment they waste sleeping, fiddling with the car seat, or holding picture books in front of my face is precious time they could be screaming their heads off? ... They must've been young once. Surely they can still remember the good times they had, splitting the very air with sonic knives of nigh-unendurable intensity. I would hate to think that someday I might be so jaded and cynical as to turn my back on wriggling and panting for breath, using every ounce of my being to emit a general, undifferentiated distress signal to all within earshot."

Some days you just need some sarcastic baby humor, and I think Tax Day is one of them.

You might also enjoy:

Woman Overjoyed by Giant Uterine Parasite:

"'I'm so happy!' Crowley said of the golf ball–sized, nutrient-sapping organism embedded deep in the wall of her uterus. ... Symptoms of potential uterine blight are wide-ranging and can include nausea, vomiting, constipation, irritability, emotional instability, swollen or tender breasts, massive weight gain, severe loss of bone density, fatigue, insomnia, excessive flatulence, hemorrhoids, vaginal tearing, and involuntary defecation. ... 'We're thinking of naming [the parasite] either Robert or Lisa,' Crowley said. 'I just couldn't be more excited!'"

In good tax-related news, we found out that having Mikko made us poor, what with the not working as much this past year due to time off for his birth, time off for relatives visiting, time off for visiting relatives, and just general inability to focus and be effective -- so poor, in fact, that we're getting a huuuge refund! And it's all thanks to our little tax deduction, because our dependent-related exemptions and credits pushed us over the edge. We're actually getting more back from the IRS than we've spent on him. Snap!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Things I wish I had known about: white noise & backrubs

I keep finding out about wonderful baby calming techniques -- and since we've now spent 10 long months with a spaz baby, I often kick myself that I didn't discover them earlier.

So, here's your chance to learn earlier what I learned nearly too late!

We were in the cry room at church several months ago and there was a woman there with a newborn. The little girl was crying fitfully the whole time, and the mother kept bicycling the baby's legs for her, murmuring to me about how much gas her baby had. I doubted her but couldn't figure out a nice way to tell the mother that she was full of hot air herself and should really try out...The Happiest Baby on the Block techniques! We put this book on hold at the library when Mikko was a month or two old, but it's so popular that we got it when he was almost four months old. It's a book that's most helpful in the first three months -- oops.

I really, really wanted to pick up this woman's baby and try out the five Ss on her:

1. Swaddle. This was the only S that never worked for us, because by 3-plus months, Mikko was too big and strong for even our largest swaddle blanket. Right after he was born, the nurses would come in and burrito-roll him, and within minutes he would have escaped like a newborn Houdini. Even now, he gets very upset if you put any sort of blanket on his legs as he's trying to fall asleep -- he's just gotta be free, I guess! But I do see how whipping his hands and legs around is not conducive to falling asleep (more on our most recent find below).
2. Put the baby on her side.
3. Bounce (or, to match the S theme, swing) her.
4. Make a calming but, to some adults, intimidating-sounding loud shushing sound in her ear.
5. The last S is suck, which can be a finger or pacifier, or nursing if you're flexible (and the mother, not some crazy baby-hijacking lady at church).

Anyway, I didn't steal this woman's baby, or even suggest these techniques. Because what I do is blog about what I should have said instead of going through all the trouble of actually doing something in real time. But, we were talking with some friends who are not yet parents the other day, and I was able to show them, on our tremendously large 10-month-old, how to apply the 5 Ss, in the hopes that they'll remember when it comes time for them to cope with those first foggy newborn months.

Incidentally, Mikko thought being tipped on his side, bounced, and having me Ssshhhhh... in his ear was hilarious, showing that even at 10 months old, this technique can make him literally the happiest baby on the block!

In addition to reading the book, I recommend the DVD (link above on the left) for seeing the techniques and some FAQ-type clips in action, and the CD (link to the right) -- oh, my, the CD!

The Happiest Baby on the Block Super Soothing Sounds has white noise sounds on it, which is so basic but so helpful, still at 10 months. Our library carried all three components, and there are other options for the CD if you don't want to shell out for a five-track white-noise favorites album. Sometimes libraries have other sound-effects CDs that feature white-noise sounds. You could make your own mix tape! You could also record your own -- engine noises, vacuum, hair dryer -- whatever soothes your particular baby.

We were fortunate that, while traveling, our sister-in-law gifted us with a HoMedics (does that sound hilariously dirty to anyone else?) white-noise machine her own daughter had finally outgrown. (It looks more old-school but is the same brand as the picture on the left there, and the description sounds like the same basic setup.) "Ocean waves" is our favorite setting, and Sam & I have grown just as fond of it as Mikko for sleeping to. You might be able to find a cheap one in a thrift shop (which was where my sister-in-law's was originally bound for), or you can buy your favorite new. I recommend compact, able to stay on all night (some are exclusively on a timer and turn off after 30 or 45 minutes, which I wouldn't find useful for keeping Mikko asleep, or soothing him back to sleep during the night, although the one we have does have a timer option), and able to plug into an outlet so you don't speed through your battery stash.

Besides the Happiest Baby S techniques and the white noise, we've recently found a way to calm our baby's flailing muscles down when he's tired but just can't settle: infant massage.

Infant massage sounds like you'd need some fancy techniques, and I sort of thought you did. We have a VHS tape on the subject that's been sitting in our living room since just after Mikko's birth and is still in its shrinkwrapping, and my other sister-in-law, who's a nanny, was asking me questions about which direction to rub the tummy to aid digestion, and different nmemonic techniques to help remember such things -- she had seen the tape and inaccurately thought I knew something. All this scared me into thinking that there were right and wrong ways to give your baby a backrub (or leg rub, tummy rub, face rub, etc.). The other day, I just started giving Mikko a backrub the same way I would give Sam one, only more gently, and it was like someone had flipped a switch. Mikko stopped, bent his head down, and just...enjoyed. For some of the longest, quietest moments we've experienced outside of sleep for the past 10 months.

Since then, I found a website that has a good rundown of a good rubdown:

It says what I found out just by trying: Do what would feel good to you or another adult, only maybe a little more gently. Now, this site recommends pushing only as hard as would be comfortable on your eyelid, but I find I can press harder than that to access the muscles under his skin, and Mikko seems fine with it. I would guess you'd just have to test and see what works for your baby.

Speaking of which, whenever I preach a particular sure-fire technique for calming babies, my nanny sister-in-law always says, "Yes, that's something that works for certain babies..." or some such "simmer down now" phrase. I take this to mean, your mileage may vary. What works for my baby might not work for yours. But I will say that these techniques have worked -- and in many cases, are still working -- like gangbusters for my boy, and they're not difficult or expensive to try. So, if you've tried breastfeeding, tried walking, tried singing lullabies, whatever, and your little one's exhausted with the effort not to sleep -- give these a shot! I know I'm rereading my recommendations once we have another newborn (if we ever decide that would be a good idea...).

Just a note about the Amazon affiliate links -- they're just examples and added color and a way to give you good research links for product info and reviews. You don't have to buy them through my site or anything! You can, because I would theoretically get a (minuscule) percentage (it's never, ever happened), but I didn't want you to think I'm writing the post just to generate affiliate links. Like I've said, personally I always check books and discs out of the library and scrounge other freebies off my rich relations...

I feel like adding one more caveat -- I think our culture idolizes sleep to an unhealthy level, and perhaps attachment parents idolize not crying. By this I mean, the mainstream culture thinks that a baby who won't sleep a certain amount or length is "bad," and the attachment culture thinks that a baby who's crying is in distress. Combined, this can put a lot of pressure on parents to have "the happiest baby on the block," and that might not always be realistic. If you can be zen about the whole thing and let your baby sleep or cry or whatever when it's truly needed, that might be just fine for you and your family. I would love to write more on this in the future, but I'll keep it at that for now. I offer these tips only for when you do think your baby needs or wants to calm down to sleep and is having trouble switching off. Happy peace to you all, whether it's external or internal!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Happy National Poetry Month!

So, the topic of writing is sort of off-topic, but I'm participating in the Poem a Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer's blog, Poetic Asides, for the month of April, and I'm finding that my poems so far are informed by and related to my parenting.

You can read my take on the poem-a-day challenge at my writing blog here.

I thought I'd be brave and share my response to the prompt for Day 2:

"Put yourself in someone (or something) else's skin and write a poem about the experience. Who (or what) ever you become, please make that the title of the poem."

I've been feeling a mix of attacked and judgmental lately about my parenting style when I come into contact with other parents. If I have a change to talk with them in depth, I gain a sense of their story and their hearts and stop being angry at them, but I can (and do) still disagree with many of the parenting choices I see around me, and more so in that I sense that these choices were not so much chosen as fallen into without thought. I realize that it's really the ones that (in my eyes) harm the baby that bother me most, such as not trying to breastfeed or not picking up a crying baby. I never know how to approach these topics with other parents, though, so I just...don't. If I'm asked point blank "Do you use cloth diapers, and why?" then, of course, I offer my take on the issue, but if I'm told, "We're not using cloth -- icky!" then I feel loath to bring up my counterarguments, as I suspect they're not welcome, would be ignored, and might offend.

In talking about this with some good friends lately (non-parents, whom I have scared off from remaining friends with me if and when they reproduce), I realized that maybe my being calm and confident in my parenting is part of the answer. Maybe I don't have to be a talking advertisement for attachment parenting if I'm a walking one. I would think my being open and uncriticizing is better than being verbally judgmental, anyway, and it's quite possible that even my attitude is coming across as judgmental, without my saying a word, and turning people off to new ideas as a matter of course.

Then my friends brought up an entirely new line of thought for me -- maybe some of them really are admiring me. Maybe they wish they could handle cloth diapers or tying their baby on in a sling but feel too bound by convention and their parents and their pediatricians. And maybe my example will inspire them to be brave.

So, all these thoughts roiling through my head, I wrote the following. Let me emphasize that the point of this monthlong challenge is to write first drafts, so give me my time to revise in May and enjoy the fun of this attempt. It made me laugh, anyway! Remember that the title is the perspective that I'm taking in the poem, with them looking at me.

Other Parents

I see you sitting,
smug and mature,
with your breast bared in your infant’s mouth,
huge 5-year-old-size boy
who’s months older than mine
and with too much hair,
too many teeth,
too much fat to be eating so much.
I see you with your crunchy books,
your eco-breastfeeding warrior handouts,
your La Leche League bag,
your dogeared Mothering magazine,
your cloth diapers and wool covers
and homemade baby sling.
You think I don’t see you,
but I see you.
And, d***, I wish I was
cool like you.

Hey, a mama can dream!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

On the bookshelf

I've just finished one good book and am in the middle of another. Unconditional Parenting, by Alfie Kohn, was just as inspiring as I figured it would be from reading his articles online. The Continuum Concept, by Jean Liedloff, is due in 2 days and has a zillion holds on it so I can't renew it, so we'll see if I can finish it in time or not -- I'm about halfway through but pretty determined. I feel like kind of a faker with The Continuum Concept, because I consider myself a parent of continuum principles, but I hadn't yet read the book. One of the many potential downfalls of having an actual baby, I guess!

I'm enjoying TCC, and belong to the listserv email list as well (why oh why isn't there just a normal message board? is this 1993?), but as with some of the lyrical participants on the listserv, I find that sometimes it's a little more poetic and less practical than I am. I agree with many of the premises, so I don't want to get bogged down in attacking details, but I do wonder if some of the conclusions are painted with too broad a brush -- for instance, I found interesting the theory that we seek as adults what our experience as a baby prepared us for. This would be an evolutionary mechanism, which till now has served humans well. Back in the day, we would have been raised in tribes, close to our mothers, eating on cue, and we would grown up to live in a tribe, close to our relatives and interacting well socially, and eating in a way that is healthful (physically and emotionally), etc. Well, now your typical Western babies are not held close and not raised in a tribe, so they grow up seeking solitude and detachment from humans. She gives examples of children who were injured by their upbringing such that they're happy as adults only when similarly disabled, because they seek the equilibrium with their infancy experience. It rings sorta true for me, and I can off the bat think of some people like this. But then I get stuck trying to categorize some other people -- myself, for instance -- and I think that maybe it's not so simple as spend-your-first-six-months-one-way = spend-your-life-that-way. Also, I fully agree that I was raised to be relatively lonely; I was not reared in a tribe or even with siblings close to me in age. But is that as simple as my mother's fault for screwing up my very early months? Or is it a complex combination of my own temperament, the broader American culture, experiences throughout my whole childhood and then adulthood, and so forth? I'd have to guess the latter.

And the fact remains that Mikko is not going to be raised to be a tribal baby. I've posted before that I like the idea of a tribe in theory, but my own predilections -- be they from infancy or from an amalgam of life experiences -- preclude my living in commmunity at this point. So he's necessarily going to be raised to be in a smaller grouping, and will probably end up in a similar situation as an adult. But is that a problem? Yes, no, both, sometimes, I don't know?

I feel these types of thoughts swirling through me as I read The Continuum Concept. I exult -- yes, yes, yes! That's so right! And then I cringe -- well, that's a little heavy-handed, isn't it? And then I feel guilty, like there's no redeeming all the harm I've already done in Mikko's 9 and a half months with me, and then in the next paragraph I'm feeling superior that I have done so much so well in that span. Oh, well -- it's a book, not my conscience. I guess I'll have to take what I can live with and try not to beat myself up with the rest, as indeed Liedloff herself advises.

But here's the part that keeps sticking out to me for making me feel like A. Bad. Mother. -- right in the introduction, no less:

"It is understandable that Western babies are not welcome in offices, shops, workrooms, or even dinner parties. They usually shriek and kick, wave their arms and stiffen their bodies, so that one needs two hands, and a lot of attention, to keep them under control. It seems that they are keyed up with undischarged energy from spending so much time ot of contact with an active person's naturally discharging energy field. When they are picked up they are still rigid with tension, and try to rid themselves of the discomfort by flexing their limbs or signaling the person holding them to bounce them on a knee or toss them in the air. Millicent [a GOOD mother] was surprised at the differences between [GOOD baby] Seth's body tone and that of other babies. His was soft, she said. The others all felt like pokers."

Well, crap, my baby's a poker. He's totally the shrieking, rigid, spasmodic type. And we carry him all the dang time! So what are we doing wrong? In some ways, I know what we're doing wrong -- it's that we're not active enough. I fully agree with that. When we take Mikko out all day, to the zoo or walking in the park, or even to the store, he becomes much more manageable and quiescent. But the thing is, I'm not a tribeswoman, carrying water and gathering roots. I work from home, mostly on my computer, sitting on my fat butt. And this kid is hea-vy. He hit 20 pounds at 9 weeks, and my back and arms can take only so much, and I've tried all the carriers out there. I'm not saying they don't work -- I couldn't carry him for any length of time without them; it's just that even with them, there are limits for me, lame-o sedentary Westerner that I am. And Mikko refuses to be in a carrier if I'm sitting down, so most of the day he's just on our laps and then occasionally carried in arms as we perform simple tasks that don't require much time or energy expended, since that's all our arm holding him can take. So, yeah, Mikko's learning from Sam and me how to be a lazy, fat American, because -- hey, that's what he's called to be! That's what he was born to be!

Anyway...I'm torn. This book both makes me want to be better...and makes me want to scream that I'm doing the best I can.

In my defense, Mikko was a spaz pre-birth. He was always kicking and flipping and flexing in the womb. The whole birthing time was feeling him spin around in preparation for descent. When the afterbirth came out, there was a footprint-shaped dead spot on the wall of the placenta right where he kicked the most repeatedly, up near my right rib cage. So I'm sure a lot of it is just who he is, and not that I've failed to make him into some idealized Yequana baby.

To that end, I'm also reading Raising Your Spirited Child, by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. :)

I said I wouldn't just pick apart points I disagree with or have problems with, so I really will try harder next time I write more thoughts, as I hope to do about any and all of these books. Because, honestly, I think they're all helpful. I'm really loving the beauty of the core philosophy of The Continuum Concept, and Unconditional Parenting made me take a hard look at the (usually) unchallenged beliefs in our culture's views on discipline. A big one to get my head around was that punishment (i.e., doing something unpleasant to someone weaker) is not a moral necessity when a child misbehaves (i.e., does something that annoys you or goes against the often arbitrary rules you've created). I realize Mikko's not old enough to need "discipline" yet, but that's why I'm trying to get a head start. Firstly, because I can always use reminders to patience and seeing his perspective. Even now, it's hard not to retaliate when he frustrates me, such as by biting me when nursing -- it seems like a moral imperative (no, really, it's hard to get past this for me!) to make him also feel bad about it, by withholding nursing, turning away, saying something sharp to him. I like Alfie Kohn's admonitions to turn around that age-old "Because I'm the parent, that's why" stupidity with the crystal knowledge that yes, I am the parent, and that's why I can be mature and unconditionally loving.

Secondly, I need to bone up on what I might encounter as Mikko moves into his toddler years and beyond so I don't feel as guilt-stricken reading Kohn's book after screwing up Mikko's life for good as I do reading The Continuum Concept as his deficient in-arms phase is nearing its end. Ha ha ha!

So, questions I have for anybody who has a perspective on these books:

(1) How bad a mother am I? No, just joking.

(2) Can anyone point me to a blog or article of someone applying Kohn's principles to their children? I like Kohn's examples with his own kids, but I'm hoping someone else out in blogland has other concrete and day-to-day experiences to offer as I try to imagine raising a maturing little guy.

And I'll throw in (3), in the spirit of (1): Can some of the deficiences of a sedentary in-arms phase be redeemed when a child becomes mobile? I'm sort of hoping that once Mikko learns to crawl and then walk, run, jump, and so on, that I can just get out of his way and leave him to expend all the energy he needs to in that way. I'm really not that active a person; I don't fidget; I don't get antsy very easily; I continually look for ways to get around manual labor. But I don't have a problem with Mikko being entirely different from me, and I won't stand in his way. I wonder if the Western children's "poker" qualities are bad (as in, harmful to them) or just their safe and acceptable way of blowing off that energy. Is it necessarily better that continuum babies are (or might be, as I don't have firsthand experience with this) so floppy and toneless because of expending their energy through the bodies carrying them rather than on their own? I guess Liedloff's point is that everything that's in continuum with our expected evolution, which would include being carried actively, is indeed better. But how does that play out in this case? Does a Western spaz baby end up being worse off as an older child or adult, at least within his own particular culture?

Hmm. Questions, questions. Feel free to ignore (3), too. I really would love an answer to (2).