Sunday, September 14, 2008

Breastfeeding education

Welcome to the September Carnival of Breastfeeding: Learning About Breastfeeding

This month we're bringing you posts on the topic of breastfeeding education. Be sure to check out the links at the end for other great perspectives.


I read countless books and websites when preparing to breastfeed. I didn't have the luxury of seeing more than a couple breastfeeding mothers firsthand, so I watched videos and pored over line drawings with arrows and notations. I used to visualize what it would be like and imagine holding my theoretical baby in place against my chest. I'd pantomime thrusting the head into position for the latch, and I would nudge my husband and show him what I'd learned. I'd go through all the steps with him, as if preparing him to nurse, but really just to reinforce what I had read and in hopes he could remind me if I did something wrong.

My midwives had a little brown doll in their office that they treated with the same reverence they would accord a real baby, wrapping it carefully up again in its blanket after a demonstration. They showed me how to hold the doll with its tummy to mine, not in the bottle-feeding position of tummy-to-sky. I held the little plastic body against my chest to show that I understood. I felt a little silly, but not when I saw them swaddling the doll so lovingly. They believed in the importance of rehearsing this, and so did I.

When I was eight years old, my mother became unexpectedly pregnant with my younger brother, and of course I was curious about all things unspoken and usually covered. It was time for my parents to break out the books on "your changing body" and where babies come from that had once been my older brother's. My family is big on learning things from books, but I didn't mind avoiding the embarrassment of speaking aloud on these subjects. I felt somewhat naughty reading these books with their pictures of naked people, right there in the living room in full view of my parents -- but, hey, they had given them to me! When my brother was born, my father, red-faced, felt the need to awkwardly explain circumcision while I gazed at my newborn sibling in the incubator after his surgery -- as if I had asked! I hadn't been looking there. (As an aside, my son's intact, but that wasn't a decision I reached after that one fumbling conversation.)

With all these new things to learn and explore, I found my mother's breastfeeding fascinating and a little ... well, I can't think of an appropriate word. Shameful? Titillating? (Does that smack of a terrible pun?) I wanted to stare but felt that this was private, that I really shouldn't look. I started feeding my own dolls up under my shirt, but only in private, so that no one would think I was gross.

How do we learn breastfeeding? How are mothers educated? Most by classes and books, helpful professionals like lactation consultants, midwives and nurses, and then by the trial-by-fire of being tossed into feeding their own babies. All of a sudden, all the preparation is finished and there's a hungry newborn waiting to be fed, again and again -- and we do learn, but it starts out so foreign. The first time I was expected to bring my baby to my breast, I actually worried that the nurses hovering over this helpless baby might think I was some kind of pervert.

I think that back when breastfeeding was the only way to feed babies that little kids and then parents must have learned to breastfeed the way people learn to wash themselves or eat solid food or put on clothes -- there is no overt education. The events just happen, so often and so naturally, that no one can help but see, and eventually do. It would have been natural and seamless and not a big deal in the least.

And, so, I find my place in breastfeeding education, although I am not professionally trained or aggressively proselytizing or trying to do anything really other than feed my baby.

It's just that every time I unhook my nursing bra and latch my baby on in a restaurant, in a house, on the bus, in the park, at a concert, on a boat, I feel like: I am breastfeeding education. I am showing a new generation how it's done.


Please read our other carnival participants:

Breastfeeding Mums writes about her Perfect Breastfeeding Teacher, her baby daughter
Breastfeeding 1-2-3 envisions an increase in breastfeeding education, starting with the very young
The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog offers a podcast on getting into paid or volunteer positions for breastfeeding support
The Beautiful Letdown describes learning to breastfeed with the help of family and online support
Momopoly presents a Q&A with her lactation-consultant mom-in-law
Babyfingers wants to reeducate our society about the naturalness of breastfeeding toddlers
Stop, Drop and Blog gets by with a little help from her friends
Nurturing Notes talks about the potential for breastfeeding support from registered dietitians
Poked & Prodded advises mothers to prepare for breastfeeding before giving birth

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Reshaping faith

It's been awhile since I wrote about my faith journey. I've been thinking things through, worrying, musing, blocking out, trying to ignore, becoming frustrated and angry and depressed, and just in general wishing I had it easy like in the old days, when faith was as natural to me as breathing and I could be one of the mindless drones I see in church. That is, if I were going to church. This whole summer Mikko's been sleeping through all the service times, and we've left it at that.

stained glass windowI've been reading atheist blogs and Christian rationalist blogs, trying to find someone else in my predicament. But the dividing line between believers and anti-believers seems drawn too sharply, and there are very few souls out there wavering and wishing to believe but not feeling able to. Well, if you are out there, speak to me.

I was telling Sam that I feel like my faith has been slowly eroded ever since college. I grew up with fundamentalist evangelical doctrines that I defended and didn't question. College, even though it was a Christian college, changed all that by forcing me to take a hard look at some of the superfluities I had blindly accepted. I reconsidered my stances on theological mainstays as well as hot topics like abortion, homosexuality, creationism vs. evolution, and the place of women in church and society. I became ever so slightly more liberal, a trend that continued as I felt more and more aligned with politically democratic ideals as a radically loving Christian who believed that Jesus' message of freedom for the oppressed and care for the downtrodden jibed with that party's general outlook. I maintained more conservative positions on "morality" issues like abortion and homosexuality, but even there I found myself becoming more ambivalent and "who knows" about the whole thing, and more accepting of people who held differing opinions.

And then I became a parent. And my focus shifted from being faith-focused to being parenting-focused. Maybe it's not as easy as all that, but I really do think it affected me. It coincided with a growing dissatisfaction on the part of both Sam and me with our local church -- we felt less and less connected there, but it had taken us two years to find it as a church home in the first place. We had been drawn to it by its stance on social justice and compassion while at the same time having what we considered a biblically sound theology. And, besides all that, it was just cool, and the people were welcoming. It met in a candle-lit coffeehouse/community center in the dark of a Seattle evening at an unconventional time, and at the first strum of the guitars in the worship band, we felt God's presence.

It's changed a lot. Change can be good or bad or neither, but its nature is that it's always different. We liked what we had before and felt we had a place there. As the church grew, it grew more conventional. A lot of people now, but not as much per-capita involvement or leadership. A move into a traditional church building with stained-glass windows, and a pull on families with an expanded childcare ministry. We now felt stranded in a sea of pew-sitting strangers. Maybe that's not fair. Maybe it is.

So, back to being a parent -- I have found that reading books as a parent is challenging. I rarely have two hands, I rarely have good lighting, I rarely have quiet. The best I can manage is a few sentences while I'm on the toilet, and only then if Mikko doesn't scootch in and start pulling toilet paper off the tube and yanking on my pants.

So I've had to concentrate my efforts. I've tried reading other types of books when I needed a break and managed a few here and there, but then it's usually back to the long list of parenting books I've been recommended. The kind of parenting I want to do doesn't seem supported by my faith tradition. Maybe it is and I just haven't found the books to prove it -- I know, for instance, that Dr. Sears is in line with most of what I believe both parenting- and faith-wise, but some of the more progressive parenting books and sites I've read have been on a spectrum from non-Christian to anti-Christian. They're atheist, or spiritual but in a murkier way. Some authors are former Christians, which is even more salient.

It's had an effect on my already fragile faith. To take one doctrine as an example, it's hard for me to believe in original sin when as a parent I can't live that way. I can't expect Mikko to be bad or to have a core of evil intent. I need to expect good from him so I can put the best interpretation possible on his actions. Otherwise, I would become unreasonable, angry, and capricious.

I told Sam yesterday that I feel like my faith was a coherent whole before leaving for college, and every new thing that challenged it poked a hole in it. I started patching it up as best I could. Women do have inherent worth? Well, then, Paul must have been speaking to a specific situation, not to women through all time. There! Solved that puzzle. Or, Science says the earth is billions of years old and wasn't created in six days? Well, the creation story is poetic and tells who created the earth, not how. Ok, safe. But now I have these huuuuge questions: "Does God exist?" "Who is he?" "Do our lives have meaning?" "Is God knowable?" "Did we just make all this s*** up?" and no Band-Aid is going to cover those holes.

Sam said something to me that was comforting and a call for action. He said that he's had the same experience but not the same perception. He sees the truth of God as a shining core covered over with crappy, tacky trappings. Layers and layers of schlock and irrelevancies and prejudices and misconceptions. And every time a doubt comes up, it chips away one more inaccurate human addition to the truth, so that we get ever closer to that glowing nugget at the center.

He proposed that I'm succumbing to peer pressure, trying to be like the cool atheist kids I've been hanging out with. So he recommended a few authors to explore: Brian McLaren, Frederick Buechner, Henri Nouwen, Kathleen Norris, Macrina Wiederkehr, Anne Lamott, Gary Wills, L. Wlliam Countryman, Rich Mullins, Sundar Singh, J. Philip Newell, Thomas Cahill Richard Rohr, Shane Claiborne N.T. Wright -- all the writers he's been engaged with these past several years as I've secretly worried that he's slipping from orthodoxy into heresy. But, at this point, I'm ready for a little heresy.

We'll see if I can reconstruct a faith system out of the dust of my old beliefs. I'm finally willing to try.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Boys will be boys if we make them

I've been thinking about gender differences after this article came out the New York Times: "Math Scores Show No Gap for Girls, Study Finds".

"Although boys in high school performed better than girls in math 20 years ago, the researchers found that is no longer the case. [...]

"'Now that enrollment in advanced math courses is equalized, we don’t see gender differences in test performance,” said Marcia C. Linn of the University of California, Berkeley, a co-author of the study. “But people are surprised by these findings, which suggests to me that the stereotypes are still there.'


"The researchers looked at the average of the test scores of all students, the performance of the most gifted children and the ability to solve complex math problems. They found, in every category, that girls did as well as boys. [...]

"Janet Hyde, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who led the study, said the persistent stereotypes about girls and math had taken a toll.

"'The stereotype that boys do better at math is still held widely by teachers and parents,” Dr. Hyde said. “And teachers and parents guide girls, giving them advice about what courses to take, what careers to pursue. I still hear anecdotes about guidance counselors steering girls away from engineering, telling them they won’t be able to do the math.'"

It brought back to me that old debate about nature vs. nurture when it comes to gender roles, and I looked at how I treat Mikko in terms of his boyness.

male femaleI found that the toys we've bought for him and that others have bought for him are gender neutral or considered by our culture to be masculine. Examples of the former are stuffed animals (allowed for young boys), puzzles, and word games. Examples of the latter are vehicles of every kind, Mega Bloks, and a pirate sword.

I started imagining what I would be playing with if we'd had a girl and realized that what's missing is any sort of human stuffed animal, i.e., a doll, and anything that could be remotely construed as girly: tea sets, play kitchens, all things pink.

Did my son pick out the toys he has and reject the others? Absolutely not. It's all on our heads.

In fact, he much prefers real objects to toys anyway. He has endless fun exploring "girly" items like whisks and measuring cups as he watches his father cook for the family, and he goes crazy for the broom when I'm sweeping and loves to help water the plants with his own watering can. We tried getting him his own mini-broom, but he prefers the one that's twice as tall as he is as he scootches around with it. I have to finish sweeping once he's asleep, because he won't give it back!

So, clearly, he wasn't born with a gender bias, and I can see how it easily could develop. That's not to say there aren't biological differences in the sexes. Some are quite obvious, such as, oh, genitalia. But I can tell how easily a child can be guided into the direction of behaving "appropriately" for his or her gender. I considered myself open-minded, a feminist, and here I am making vroom-vroom noises before he's the least bit interested in cars or trucks, showing him how to work a fake tool set, and cringing from the thought of playing babydoll with him.

I'm not even sure exactly how I feel about all this, because my child will need to grow up to fit into his society. Is it bad that a lot of gender behavior is culturally influenced? And, anyway, it's not possible to raise a child in a cultural vacuum where no direction into gender roles is given at all. And how much of gender-specific behavior is due just to personality, ingrained genetically at birth? So how accepting of it should I be, and how much should I challenge myself to stand back and let him follow his own path?

I realize that these aspects of gender inculcation occurred to me so late only because I had a boy -- I think, as a feminist, with a girl I would have been more aware of the dynamics earlier, worrying that I was unconsciously teaching her to be quiet and submissive and pleasing, whereas I don't often worry that I'm teaching Mikko to be loud and dominant and assertive.

I had heard a lot of parents say that they tried to supply only gender-neutral toys, but then their boys started turning bananas into guns and their girls started carrying around footballs like babies. But left out of this resignation to gender differences was how these preschool or older kids had been treated their whole lives -- is it really possible to treat a baby as gender-neutral? As I've just shown in my treatment of Mikko, even before he's showing any gender preferences, we're providing him with the supplies and encouragement to become more masculine than feminine.

I think Sam & I are each an interesting mix of feminine and masculine characteristics, neither of us fitting neatly into our gender's mold. And, yet, we certainly have our share of typical traits and don't stand out as radically other to our society. I wouldn't mind if Mikko grew up like us, minus some of the discomfort that our other-gender characteristics have caused us culturally.

I'm using a lot of "I think"s and hedging, supposing talk, so clearly I don't have the answers to any of my questions yet. I will be more aware of it, though -- and I'll have to look for a babydoll somewhere. It's never to early to learn how to babywear, right?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Yea for BabyLegs!

If you hurry out to Alki Beach within the next 20 minutes, you might be able to snag yourself a free pair of BabyLegs. :)

BabyLegsI was at the Alki Avenue Car-Free Day festival, where the Seattle-based company BabyLegs had a booth set up as part of the Cones for Kids fundraiser for Children's Hospital. Instead of donating to that fine institution where my baby had his testicular surgery this summer, I went ahead and took advantage of BabyLegs' largesse and scored a sweet pair of stripey green leg warmers for my little chubster's limbs.

As repayment, I hereto write this blog post extolling BabyLegs and admonishing everyone else to pay actual money.

Ok, in the past, I have purchased BabyLegs, which is why I knew they were awesome. They're great for elimination communication, because your baby can go pants-less but keep warm, and in the same vein they're perfect for diaper changes because a t-shirt, wool diaper cover and BabyLegs make for a rockin' look. They're ideal for crawlers, because they protect knees but keep feet bare for traction. If you later go out and your little one's tootsies are getting chilly, just pull the BabyLegs down over the heel like the chicest ballerinas do. If you have pants but no sleeves, just transfer the warmers to the arms instead of using a bulky sweater for moderate days.

Go forth and BabyLeg your baby!

(Psst...if you're poor, maybe I'll write later about how you can acquire or make some cheaper versions if you weren't so lucky to acquire a free pair. But for now, just use a coupon if you need one.)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Swatting students

Gentle Parent - art by Erika Hastings at I wrote my latest blog post on inhuman conditions in the public schools, I returned to The Principal's Office program to see...paddling! Is this 1920?

If you'd like to view it yourself, feel free.


Students receiving Saturday detention in this Arkansas school can choose to give up the morning half for three smacks on the clothed rear with a paddle the preceding Friday. In all cases, this was the only choice presented to students -- there was no defending themselves against the accusations, as I guess we can expect.

Die Unartigen Kinder

Here's an interesting article from the APA titled "Is Corporal Punishment an Effective Means of Discipline?" The conclusion: It's good for one thing -- short-term compliance with authoritarian demands.

"While conducting the meta-analysis, which included 62 years of collected data, Gershoff looked for associations between parental use of corporal punishment and 11 child behaviors and experiences, including several in childhood (immediate compliance, moral internalization, quality of relationship with parent, and physical abuse from that parent), three in both childhood and adulthood (mental health, aggression, and criminal or antisocial behavior) and one in adulthood alone (abuse of own children or spouse).

"Gershoff found 'strong associations' between corporal punishment and all eleven child behaviors and experiences.
Ten of the associations were negative such as with increased child aggression and antisocial behavior. The single desirable association was between corporal punishment and increased immediate compliance on the part of the child."
[emphasis mine]

Here's a recent article from CNN about the topic: "More than 200,000 kids spanked at school." According to the article, corporal punishment is legal in 21 states. It's most common in the South and it's disproportionately applied to racial minorities and special-education students.

After the girl in the episode receives her three licks, her reaction is telling. She shrugs and says it didn't hurt as bad as she expected and that it was totally worth it to be able to goof off for the next morning.

What was missing from her reaction was any sense of penitence or remorse, any mention of the infraction that brought her the punishment, any resolve not to commit that offense in the future, any appreciation for the principal who corrected her so righteously on the path to becoming a moral person...

And does it not seem yucky to anyone else that a man is closeted in his office with a female student, smacking her on the behind?

Like I said, bizarre.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Respecting short people

I'm in the middle of a shaming and coercion fest here -- Sam's out at a movie with his sister, so I'm taking the opportunity to veg out in front of the TV while Mikko starts his nighttime sleep, periodically racing back to soothe the screaming child when he awakens. (Seriously, he sounds like his legs are being ripped off if we wakes up without a boob in his mouth or has to pee. He's got more than a touch of the dramatic about him.)

I tuned in to Nanny 911 because I had seen Supernanny with Jo Frost before but not this alternate version. I used to enjoy watching Supernanny with my mom while visiting until I read a bit more about discipline and why being rude and capricious with your children just because you have all the power is not necessarily the beautiful thing these nanny shows make it out to be. (See my post on Unconditional ParentingUnconditional Parenting for Alfie Kohn's insight into the good type of discipline.)

The nannies sent to convert the children from hellions into controlled little angels make a big deal in one episode about forcing a 2-year-old to sleep in his own bed at night alone, and in another about making another 2-year-old give up bottles. I couldn't help but think that these were babies, and no one suggested taking this frightened infant into the parents' bed or to the mother's breast for comfort. The nannies just shake their heads at the parents' lack of fortitude in listening to their young ones scream, and I wanted to yell encouragement at the parents to give in to their instincts that ignoring their children's needs cannot be a good thing.

Of course, time outs, rule books, and chore charts are a big factor in these nanny shows, because naturally the point of parenting is to coerce children into being convenient for you. At one point, the nanny gets into a duel with a 3-year-old and takes all his toys away since he won't sit on his time-out mat. I couldn't help wonder who was being more childish, and I also felt bad for these kids being made to feel like subpar people (yes, people-- albeit miniature ones -- with feelings and frustrations, a point often lost in our national cult of authoritarianism) on national TV.

When the Nanny 911 rerun gave way to The 700 Club hawking John McCain, I switched over to The Principal's Office, a new reality (It's not reality. It's actuality.) show on TruTV, offering, as can be inferred, a day in the life of a principal's office. I got to muse on our intentions to unschool/homeschool Mikko (!) and how I'm so glad he doesn't need to be exposed to the kind of disrespectful, students-are-always-wrong attitude of modern U.S. public schools. I was a "good" kid at school, and I still ran into that attitude, which seemed so limiting to me in high school after having transferred from a junior high school in Berlin that granted us freedom and trust. We had to ask permission for the slightest privileges at my high schools (I went to two for two years each), such as using the restroom (I know that doesn't seem shocking to anyone who's been through the school system, but shouldn't it?), and the time in between classes was cut from 4 minutes to 3 minutes to deter loitering. Three minutes! As a new student, I barely had enough time to race from one class to another as I tried to decipher the map on the back of the guidebook the school had issued each student, a helpful tome complete with dress codes and behavioral limits.

I once needed to use the payphone to ask my mother for a ride home, since I would be staying late for an extracurricular activity (something wholesome and educational, not detention or to deal pot, as the authority figures seemed to assume), and I went up to the vice principal, who was the monitor for our 20-minute lunch period that hardly gave us enough time to stand in line, then wolf down our questionable meal. I said, "Could I use the payphone to call my mother?" Vice principal: Big sigh, and a pause. Then, "I am your father at this school. What would you say to your father?" Hmmm...Dad, can I have a ride home? And could I have 20 dollars? Where are we going with this? I guess my blank stare convinced him I needed more edumacating, because he filled me in that I needed to include the magic word. Because "could I use the payphone," said in a polite and respectful tone of voice, without the word "please" shoehorned in, was apparently akin to saying, "Yo, pops, lend me a dime. Gotta call my old lady." My dad was never so close-minded and pedantic. I know my father, and you, sir, are not my father.

Anyway, when watching other students get reamed and reminiscing about my high-school injustices got tiresome, I moved on to Tabatha's Salon Takeover on Bravo. What with my wailing offspring, I didn't get to see enough of an episode to draw conclusions, but at first glance all the shirking, bad-mouthing salon workers seemed to deserve Tabatha's hard-nosed correction. But maybe that's because these people have been raised in the Nanny 911 to The Principal's Office school of life. When you're taught to be disrespectful, you grow up to be -- gasp -- disrespectful.