Friday, February 29, 2008

Would my grandfather drink my milk?

I happened upon Tanya's post at the Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog about how breast milk is appreciated as a strengthening treatment for cancer patients.

It started me wondering if my dying grandfather wouldn't benefit from some donor milk. He's still making it through each day, but he's barely keeping anything down, and everything tastes terrible to him. He hates drinking Ensure and comparable meal replacements, but he needs something in his system to keep his strength up.

Wouldn't some immune-boosting and protein-rich breast milk bursting with antibodies be just the thing?

But I'm doubting that most people in his situation, him included, would ever consider drinking it. Maybe my mom could sneak a little into his Ensure?

It seems weird, too, to be related to your donor, even though the person who's primarily drinking my milk is of a matter of course highly related to me. Maybe it goes back to the whole breast-sexualization-taboo thing.

Well, it's food for thought, anyway. (But the answer is no.)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The great egg debacle of 1985

Yesterday Mikko showed his first signs of really being ready for and interested in solid foods. He's 8.75 months old, and he's had almost all the signs of readiness since 5-6 months old -- except for that tricky swallowing bit. He tends to enjoy the feel and taste of foods in his mouth, and then gag and push them all out, often puking in the process. Delightful.

But, I figure he won't go off to college still breastfeeding (not exclusively, at any rate!), so I haven't been worried, just watching to see what he'll do.

Last night while Sam cooked our evening meal of sweet-potato goodness, I dug out Mikko's portable booster seat/high chair and rounded up an array of baby-pleasing treats, including grape bits that I partially chewed for him. Yes, just like a mama bird. What he doesn't understand is gross won't hurt him.

He was particularly taken with the grape bits, and kept dragging my hand down to his mouth to get more, which amused me. I'd never seen him so eager for food (beyond nummies) before. We gave him sundry other snacks to pick up, mush, and fool around with, which I won't list in detail here under fear of being deemed A Bad Mother, because pretty much everything I gave him wasn't on the list our naturopathic ped gave us for his age range. Her list included things like blended sprouts in water, so Sam and I gave ourselves permission to diverge.

It was fun to see Mikko squish the squishy bits into his tray, pick up small pieces between his thumb and pointer (his very favoritest new trick), gnaw on small-hand-friendly spears, and use his 6 sharp teeth to do some serious damage to his prey. I manually expressed a little breastmilk into a sippy cup (the kind that drips and doesn't have a valve), and we tried that with and without the lid. Either way, Mikko's favorite thing to do with the cup is whack it onto the floor. Good thing there's plenty more where that came from!

I really like this site for some great guidelines for baby-led solid food introduction:
It looks like it might be in Dutch, but it's mostly not.
As well as this one for some great pictures and parent experiences:

But, as to the title of the post, here's an example for how I do not want to treat food consumption.

At some point in my elementary-school days (I picked 1985 for a close-enough estimate), when a friend was over and my parents were serving breakfast-for-dinner, I asked to be made a fried egg. My parents responded, reasonably: "But you don't like eggs." And I said: "But I want one." And they told me I could have one if I ate it all. "Yeah, yeah, sure, give me my egg."

Well, perhaps you can see where this is going. I had a lot of fun poking it and swirling the yolk around, and then I was done. Because, frankly, I don't like eggs. I have now learned to stomach them, but I still don't enjoy them. Back in this timeframe, it was all I could do to gag a bite or two down.

My parents said I had to stay at the table until I'd finished the whole egg. It was a fight to see who would be more stubborn. Since I'm not still at the table, I'll admit right now that they eventually won. My friend was over, I was crying, it was horrible -- all over one stupid fried egg. I thought it might be better with some maple syrup on it. It wasn't. It was still gross, and now it had maple syrup all over it, which was incongruous. The longer I sat there, and it must have been at least a couple hours, the colder and more rubbery that stupid egg got. And the more determined my parents became that I would shovel the thing down my throat.

It's not like one egg costs that much money. We didn't raise chickens, so it wasn't like it was our favorite hen's only egg that day. My unusual request for an egg didn't mean someone else went hungry.

And, really, what a way to enforce a healthy outlook on food. Way to encourage trying again healthful foods that didn't appeal to you earlier. Way to reinforce the idea that food is an enjoyable source of energy but not something to have a complex over.

I'm trying to let the egg tantrum remind me to let Mikko do his own thing with food. With breastfeeding, he's been an absolute champ at portion control, gaining and maintaining an appropriate weight, and not being a fussy eater. I'm sure any coaching I could give him on the subject of food and eating wouldn't do him any better than just letting him loose.

Oh, but I'm sure there'll be at least one good my-annoying-parents story for him to moan about as an adult.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A tiny dissenting voice in the parenting culture

In case I sounded cranky in my post on mainstream parents, I just want to defend myself here.

There's a lot of complaining among the formula-feeding set of breastfeeding nazis and self-righteous cloth-diaper users and so forth, but keep in mind we're the minority. if you're in the mainstream, you can choose whether or not to be offended, because you will be surrounded by people doing exactly the same thing as you and supporting all your choices. I very rarely meet parents like me in person.

It reminds me of this video clip going around about a pastor advocating that men pee standing up, because the Bible commands it (hint: it doesn't really, but he thinks it does). My response when I saw it is that the pastor in question is just mad because white men in America have to settle for only 90% of the power now instead of the 100% they used to enjoy.

I'm trying to brainstorm ways to meet other like-minded parents so we can feel less out of place in at least some situations:

1. Sam remembered that our midwives have a get-together every year. Maybe we could network with some other home-birthers.

2. I can always find people online who think like me, because apparently we're pretty loud-mouthed and like to shoot our opinions out on the web. There are places like that let you "find your tribe."

3. I'm trying this one already: Educate my so-far childless friends so that they'll join our movement once they procreate.

Any other ideas?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Cracked comment on coworkers breastfeeding

Today's another Carnival of Breastfeeding, but I'm not participating in this one because I was so out of it until recently that I didn't check the due dates. But I'll still link to it here, and I encourage you to read all the participants' posts.

The theme this month is humor in breastfeeding, so here's my own little post for the day. Just be aware that this is not a carnival-authorized post! :)

Sam enjoys the humor website and often directs me to hilarious posts. Today he found one that would be pertinent to my blog (actually, both my blogs):

9 Islamic Fatwas We Can Get Behind

Scroll down to the bottom and read "#1. THOU SHALT be breastfed by your female coworker, and call her Mommy." Keep in mind that Cracked is a humor site, so we can go to the source they cite and read the cleric's reasoning:

"In Islamic tradition, breast-feeding establishes a degree of maternal relation, even if a woman nurses a child who is not biologically hers. It means the child could not marry the nursing woman's biological children. Attiya ... argued that if a man nursed from a co-worker, it would establish a family bond between them and allow the two to work side-by-side without raising suspicion of an illicit sexual relation."

Well, there you go.

Now, the cleric is facing discplinary hearings, so don't take this as Islam's final word on the subject. It does parallel other cultures' take on wet nursing, however, that children of a wet nurse are generally considered "milk siblings" of her own children, and it would be incestuous and forbidden for them to marry.

Anyway, my favorite quote from the Cracked article:

"America's paradoxical fascination with--and aversion to--the breast has a long and sordid history. We don't care to relate that story here, but suffice it to say Janet Jackson, Pamela Anderson and Howard 'Man-boobs' Taft figure prominently. What better way to get over our North American prudishness and breast-obsession with one fell swoop, than state-mandated suckling at the teats of our coworkers?"

Well put.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Unintended consequences of child "safety"

Others have written about this issue before, so I'll just recap -- if children, particularly in rear-facing car seats, are placed in the front seat of a car, the air bags in a crash can kill them. So laws were passed in the mid-1990s to require children to ride in back seats, away from the dangers of air bags.

As a consequence, now more and more children are dying of being forgotten and overheating in the back seats, particularly young children in car seats. Sometimes they fall asleep, and often it's because of a change in routine -- say, the father is supposed to drop the baby off at daycare that day because the mother is busy, and he forgets and goes to work as usual instead.

From 1990-1992, 11 children died of hyperthermia in vehicles. Now the average is 36 each year. You can find these statistics in various places: here's one.

And this increase in hyperthermia deaths is due to protection from airbag deaths -- so how many children are being saved? From 1998, there have been 113 confirmed air bag deaths (and granted that there could certainly be deaths that were due to air bags but not correctly attributed) -- of these, 66 were children, and only 15 were infants in rear-facing carseats.

So more children are dying with the new laws than were dying before; they're just dying in a different way, and with the blame on a different source (car/air-bag manufacturers vs. parents/caregivers).

This is not to say that children should not be placed in rear seats, because certainly they're safer in a car accident, and there should be installed some sort of warning system for children left in car seats, but it's an interesting (horrifying) unintended consequence of a safety campaign.

It makes me think of the recent crusades against cosleeping, trying to get parents to put their children in their own cribs, such as the Back to Sleep campaign from the National Institute of Health.

Even if we accept the argument that crib sleeping is safer than co-sleeping (and I don't), what are the unintended consequences of recommending that babies be placed away from parents?

I think there are several benefits of cosleeping and several negative consequences of sleeping apart, some of which are perhaps less measurable than others, such as trust in parents' care and thereby confidence and positive mental health later in life.

But I want to look at just one: breastfeeding. Especially considering that AAP guidelines recommend pacifier use in addition to crib sleeping to prevent SIDS, what are the short- and long-term effects of this "safety" campaign on children's health and development?

Speaking as a nursing mother who feeds her baby several times a night, I can't imagine how sleep-deprived I would be if I hadn't learned how to feed Mikko lying down. What are the rates of breastfeeding with cosleeping vs. with baby in the same room but a different bed vs. with baby in a different room? I would imagine that the farther the baby gets from the mother, the less convenient breastfeeding is. The less convenient, the more likely that night nursing decreases. This in turn can decrease the milk supply, and all of these factors together could lead to early weaning. (Research from Dr. McKenna bears this out: cosleeping babies breastfeed twice as long as noncosleepers.)

So, this begs the questions: Which is more dangerous, cosleeping (assuming it is dangerous) or failure to breast feed? Which causes more deaths and ill health, cosleeping or failure to breast feed? How many children are we purportedly saving from SIDS and suffocation only to lose to asthma, allergies, developmental problems, diabetes, cancer, infections, meningitis, obesity, respiratory illnesses, digestive problems, mental health issues, and other ill effects of inadequate feeding -- including...SIDS? (See: Health Risks of Not Breastfeeding and Formula Feeding Doubles Infant Deaths in America -- and bottle feeding is even more dangerous worldwide.)

Obviously, an apparent suffocation or SIDS death in an adult bed is more immediate and horrifying than an early-adult death years later from cancer, and it seems easier in a cosleeping death to place the blame than a baby who dies from an illness that possibly could have been prevented by breastfeeding. Some deaths are just considered worse than others, and when a baby dies because a parent left him or her in a car to overheat, or when a baby dies because an inebriated parent rolls on top of him or her on a couch, it's easy to point the finger. When a baby dies of an infection, it's the disease that gets the blame, not the parent.

The CPSC blames sleeping in adult beds for 64 infant deaths a year in the U.S., and this statistic doesn't consider whether the parents were safely cosleeping (many were absolutely not) or whether in fact some of the "suffocation" deaths were due to other factors, such as SIDS, which would surely have been fingered if these deaths had occurred in cribs. suggests that over 1,000-9,000 infant deaths in the U.S. could be prevented each year with universal breastfeeding.

Any infant death is a tragedy, and if you're one of the statistics it doesn't matter whether your baby's chances of death were great or slim. I'm certainly not suggesting that we should start blaming more parents or encourage dangerous practices since everything carries some degree of danger. But let's please start promoting practices that help parents give their babies the safest and best care. Just because babies die in rear-facing seats due to parental forgetfulness, we don't suggest that the babies not be placed in those carseats -- we simply need to come up with better ways to keep them as safe as possible. Since cosleeping leads to breastfeeding, and breastfeeding is what babies need, then we should be doing all we can to encourage safe cosleeping, not discourage the practice. It's strange that we as a society seek to avoid one type of death and thereby allow many more others.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Be careful what you wish for

So we braved church again this week, because our other options fell through. Doesn't that sound like a good reason to go? And I had been thinking that we might enjoy our time more if anyone else shared the cry room with us.

But I was wrong.

Because there were two other couples with young babies, and they just made me mad.

I really wish I didn't get annoyed so easily, and that I could make friends more readily by generously ignoring or excusing the differences in others that clash with my own values.

I guess I should stop wishing and start doing.

But I'll go ahead and let you know what was bugging me, because I'm not mature yet.

One of the babies started talking, and the mother said, "Quick, give me the pacifier" and then tried to keep it in the baby's mouth the rest of the service. For talking? In the CRY ROOM? And then they kept apologizing to us for the noise their baby was making, when ours wasn't exactly sound-free. I mean, the cry room is specifically for babies to make noise. It's like feeling guilty for being sick in a hospital.

And then both families kept giving their babies a bottle, and they discussed with each other during the greeting time how many ounces their babies drink. I wanted them to ask me how many mine drinks, so I could say, "I don't know -- my boobs don't have a gauge on the side." But they didn't anticipate my witty rejoinder and give me an opening. (Or mabye they did anticipate it...)

I don't realize that I'm different until I'm around people who are all the same. I keep thinking my parenting choices are reasonable and natural and just the no-duh option, but then every time I'm around other parents, they're doing what's considered mainstream. Bottles and strollers and pacifiers and disposables and just everything. Why does it bother me so much?

I really don't think it's because I feel out of place -- it's more that I'm befuddled that they're not making different choices. I did the research; I read the books and articles; I thought long and hard and decided that what I've chosen is the best for my baby, and by extension, all babies. It sounds prideful and naive to say it out loud, but it's a visceral feeling when I meet these other parents and see them choosing far different options. My big problem with them is, I think, not that they use bottles and pacifiers and such, but that I question whether they ever even considered not doing so.

Did they research and read and ponder, or did they just fall into line with what everyone's "always" done?

I suspect the latter, and it burns me up. I feel bad for their babies, and these aren't monster parents or anything -- just conventional. It's even more obnoxious that they're young and hip and live in Seattle -- shouldn't they be embracing the unusual?

I think what I need to do is talk more with other parents, despite my reservations. Obviously, it can't be during church (since the cry room's a sacred no-noise zone, apparently), but maybe in more relaxed situations, we could get into a discussion of why they chose the way they did, and I could at least plant a seed that other options might be available, in a gracious, nonjudgmental, non-angry way.

I tried to breastfeed in front of them, but they wouldn't look at me. Sigh.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


I've never told my family I write this blog, not because I'm ashamed of what I'm writing -- I'm actually often quite pleased and wouldn't mind having them see it. It's just that I felt I could write more freely if I didn't feel I needed to censor my thoughts.

The funny thing is, though, that if I did tell them about it, I'm almost sure they'd never read it anyway. They know where my writing and personal websites are, and I still have to direct them to them whenever I post something new. I don't think the subjects on here would interest them, even coming from a daughter/sister/in-law/whatever.

I was thinking today of the time when I crossed from being a child in my mother's eyes to being an adult. And, yet, it's not like I became a peer, or at least not in all ways.

(Caveat: I hate to pick on my mother, because she's a wise and wonderful person, but the mother-daughter relationship is so loaded, and it really makes for the best examples.)

It was in college that she began telling me things she'd have hidden from me before. I don't know if there was a specific day she woke up and decided I was an adult, or if it was a process, but to me it was sudden and surprising that she started letting me in on the scandals in the family and, on a more mundane level, filling our phone conversations with all the details of her week, such as what was going on at work and church. It doesn't sound like much, but as a child, anything in the adult world "didn't concern" me, to use her phrase. (Often I was quite concerned, but she was the one who got to decide.)

What was missing from these newly minted adult-to-adult conversations was...conversation.

My relationship with my mother had changed from a parent-child monologue where the child gets to blab and everything's about the child -- What did you do in school today? What do you want for dinner? How was playing with your friend? -- and conversation about anything interesting is reserved for other adults. It is now a parent-adult child monologue where the parent gets all the lines and my mother no longer has to feign interest in all the details of my boring life and can instead unload hers. She never asks any questions about my life -- no, seriously -- and if I try to say what's going on with me, there's silence and then an "Unh-huh, well, that's all the news here, and we're going to bed. Bye!" She could never be so dismissive with an adult peer, but I guess with a daughter it's allowed.

As a related story, Sam wrote many insightful articles on spiritual matters that were published online. He transferred all of the links to his own website, in case looking them up individually would be too difficult. He directed his parents to the list, and they never read one, saying they preferred not to read things online. So Sam printed them all out, each and every one, and bound them in a folder and presented the collection as a Christmas gift. It was promptly lost. Sometimes Sam worries that his parents won't be happy with some idea or another he's written, but then he's consoled (sorta kinda) with the knowledge that they've never read a word.

See, this is why I don't want family to know I blog!

Again, though, not trashing anyone, just musing -- why the lack of interest in our life as adults? Is it one of those things where I've halted at some particular phase of development in my parents' eyes (10 years old? 14? 20?) and now my life, for their purposes, is over, and anything I do or say or believe that doesn't fit that perception is too bewildering to contemplate?

Because I run into that myself with my much younger brother. I was thinking how his girlfriend, who's younger than he is, couldn't really have been young enough to be a child when a particular children's song was popular (because that means I'm old, dang it) -- when I know full well that it was a popular song when my little brother was a baby. But, see, to me he's still a little kid (9 instead of 22), whereas to me she's always been an adult.

I wonder how this will play out with Mikko. Will I allow him to keep growing and changing and acknowledge those changes? Will I see him as he really is by moment and year, or will I see him as I want to perceive him? Is it an unavoidable consequence of caring for a young one, or is it possible to be intentional and ever create a new relationship with that evolving person?

Can you guess I don't have the answers yet?

Sometimes I worry that my parents will stumble across this blog anyway, but then I have to laugh. As if they'd ever be curious enough to search!

If you find this, family & old friends, here's the code phrase to let me know you read this far: Walrus Monkeys.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The historical inconvenience of breastfeeding

I've read in a few books lately the factoid that mothers in 19th century Paris were just as breastfeeding averse as American women today, perhaps more so. Here's a book excerpt that mentions the statistic that out of 21,000 children born in 1780 Paris, fewer than 1,000 were fed by their own mothers -- most were sent out to the country to a wet nurse.

We often think that women have been able to avoid nursing their young only in the past 50 years or so with the creation of more effective formulas. But women have been trying to fob off their duty as mammals in multiple cultures and throughout the ages. Books like Our Babies, Ourselves mention the ways that mothers have used containers like bottles, spoons, and cups and substitutes like artificial milk and supplemental or replacement foods almost as long as there has been breastfeeding.

And the wet-nursing industry used to be a booming one. It once was the de facto way middle-class and upper-class mothers had their babies raised. Women would bear their young and then send them off for their first couple years, getting them back weaned and potty trained. Convenient, no? This biography of Jane Austen mentions this practice in regards to Jane's mother:

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Arbitrary discipline

Arbitrary discipline == Hobo Mama

I can't stop thinking of a webpage I was reading last night. The more I think about it, the more it disturbs me.

I won't link to it, because I don't want it to become some sort of flame war. I'm sure the site owner is a lovely woman and beloved mother, but I strongly disagree with her take on child discipline.

I was looking for like-minded church-nursery avoiders, just to see if anyone else online had had bad experiences with leaving their children. I came across a website run by a mother with 10 children, and at first I admired her take on nurseries -- that you can't expect the volunteer staff to be the mother, that that's your job, and it's such a short span in the baby's life that it's all right to miss a service now and again. I was with her at that point.

But then she wrote advice to a woman who wanted her toddler to sit still during church, and the mother suggested a discipline technique that she then proceeded to demonstrate while writing, giving little updates on how it was going as she wrote the column.

She started giving her 18-month-old son arbitrary instructions, to stop playing and sit on her lap, to face forward, not to touch the computer, to play with something and then not to play with that same item after she took it away, and she reinforced each command with a sharp voice, direct eye contact, and twice a swat on his thigh.

How amazing, she's thinking and for a minute I'm thinking, that her 18-month-old is so well behaved, that he'll sit on her lap and let her write this long column, instead of her having to fit it in during naptime as I'm doing.

But what must her son think!

Arbitrary discipline

baby on bench — Six Flags California road trip travel alrik a1yo a13mo

Gentle Parent - art by Erika Hastings at can't stop thinking of a webpage I was reading last night. The more I think about it, the more it disturbs me.

I won't link to it, because I don't want it to become some sort of flame war. I'm sure the site owner is a lovely woman and beloved mother, but I strongly disagree with her take on child discipline.

I was looking for like-minded church-nursery avoiders, just to see if anyone else online had had bad experiences with leaving their children. I came across a website run by a mother with 10 children, and at first I admired her take on nurseries -- that you can't expect the volunteer staff to be the mother, that that's your job, and it's such a short span in the baby's life that it's all right to miss a service now and again. I was with her at that point.

But then she wrote advice to a woman who wanted her toddler to sit still during church, and the mother suggested a discipline technique that she then proceeded to demonstrate while writing, giving little updates on how it was going as she wrote the column.

She started giving her 18-month-old son arbitrary instructions, to stop playing and sit on her lap, to face forward, not to touch the computer, to play with something and then not to play with that same item after she took it away, and she reinforced each command with a sharp voice, direct eye contact, and twice a swat on his thigh.

How amazing, she's thinking and for a minute I'm thinking, that her 18-month-old is so well behaved, that he'll sit on her lap and let her write this long column, instead of her having to fit it in during naptime as I'm doing.

But what must her son think!

What kills me in this example is that she didn't even really want or need her son to sit on her lap just then -- she was just demonstrating how it's done. It seemed like power for the sake of power. She said that if you, basically, put the fear of God (or parent) into them on a consistent, daily basis, then when you need them to do something specific, such as sit quietly in church, they'll already be primed to obey.

I guess at heart I have a problem with obedience itself. I'm not raising a child -- I'm raising an adult-in-process. What I want most for Mikko is not a broken spirit, a cowed attitude toward authority, an inability to question caprice and cruelty. What I want is for him to be curious, to stand up for himself, to reach out and be fearless.

I guess obedience is out of the question then.

Sam & I just rewatched Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on DVD, because that was our first and last great attempt to take Mikko to a movie in an actual theater. Disaster -- if only I'd begun disciplining him as a newborn! Ha ha. We decided it would be lovely to hear the dialogue this time through, and be able to pause when the screaming began instead of having to pace the lobby.

In the movie and the book, there's an unfair authority figure, Dolores Umbridge, who makes capricious rules and inflicts barbaric punishments, all with a smile. And while I was watching (even though I knew what would happen), I kept rooting for Harry and friends to stand up to her, to simply refuse to obey. Because what she was demanding was wrong, so she was not a proper authority.

But here's the thing -- as a child, I never would have thought along those lines. I would have thought, if I were a Hogwarts student, that there was no choice but to go along and suffer under her power as best I could. You know why?

Because I was a very obedient child.

I want better for my son.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Family-friendly travel?

Family-friendly travel? == Hobo MamaMy parents have been considering a cruise to Alaska, combined with an inland journey, for their 40th anniversary next year. We're invited along provided we pay our way, so I was researching prices today to see if we can or should try to save up enough for the excursion.

Whether we can afford it is still under debate, but prices aside, I was dismayed by some of the restrictions regarding families, infants, and small children that subtly or sometimes overtly suggest that a cruise is not a place for those with little ones.

The first thing that caught my eye maybe sounds the least crucial -- no children in diapers are allowed in the pools. And no children at all (I think the specific age depends on the line) are allowed in the hot tubs. Here I was thinking Mikko would enjoy his time aboard if only for all the dunking possibilities. Now I realize that at the moment we would be surrounded by tempting water with nary a drop to swim in.

Family-friendly travel?

My parents have been considering a cruise to Alaska, combined with an inland journey, for their 40th anniversary next year. We're invited along provided we pay our way, so I was researching prices today to see if we can or should try to save up enough for the excursion.

Whether we can afford it is still under debate, but prices aside, I was dismayed by some of the restrictions regarding families, infants, and small children that subtly or sometimes overtly suggest that a cruise is not a place for those with little ones.

The first thing that caught my eye maybe sounds the least crucial -- no children in diapers are allowed in the pools. And no children at all (I think the specific age depends on the line) are allowed in the hot tubs. Here I was thinking Mikko would enjoy his time aboard if only for all the dunking possibilities. Now I realize that at the moment we would be surrounded by tempting water with nary a drop to swim in.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Sisters in my village

Well, I had another opportunity to try out village life this week.

My best friend growing up became a nun, and she and her sister superior came to stay with us for a night on their way back home from a mission. While my friend and I and another local friend of both of ours gabbed, and Sam cooked for all of us, the fellow sister kept patiently and persistently offering to keep Mikko happy.

I don't like to impose, and I wanted to be a good host, but Sister made it at least seem like she really would rather be playing with Mikko than anything else. She held him and sang to him and showed him his toys one by one, picking up any that fell (and even cleaning all of them up at the end of the day!).

The songs she sang were rhythmic and repetitive and entirely captivating, and I need to learn more like that. Mikko's favorite song we sing, despite my prenatal resolve to be sophisticated with him musically, is "Old MacDonald." These songs were similar -- a simple tune with uncomplicated lyrics that had a slight change for each verse, and endless possibilities for making up your own verses should the need arise (and it often does).

I was able to enjoy my time with my friend, eat a meal with two hands (at nearly the same time as Sam!), and still be present with my baby. I could take him back for a feed or change or cuddle, but he was really quite content with this lovely Sister, who reportedly has many a niece and nephew to have honed her skills on.

I think parenting would be a whole heck of a lot easier if there were always gentle hands around to hold a baby, or older kids to play with and lots of people to supervise, so that it's not up to one or two people (usually the mother, in my case both parents) to put their life on hold to raise a single child alone, to be all things to that child.

I think I could be more fully focused on Mikko if I knew it didn't have to be constant. As it is, I'm continually distracted, trying to do "useful" things (like type) while I spend time with him, tossing off a few sentences to him here and there and becoming exasperated when his frustration keeps me entirely from the task I'm trying to complete. It would be nice to know you would have several breaks a day, not including nap times, and that you wouldn't have to feel guilty about continuing to go about your adult life.

The universe is infinite, as Scott Noelle likes to put it, and part of that abundance is the 6.6 billion people on the planet. I just wish I had more of them around me while I'm doing this parenting thing. It feels really nice when I do.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

To donate or toss formula samples?

I have two canisters of baby formula sent to me for signing up on some mailing list or another during my two pregnancies. The first came right after my miscarriage, which was nice timing.

I don't know why I didn't do something with them right away, but I went ahead and packed them with the other baby things and even took the trouble to move them to our new apartment. They felt like my dirty little secret, and I feared that if I could see them at all that they might sabotage my resolve to breastfeed, so when I was putting away baby things in anticipation of Mikko's birth, I secreted them in a box in the closet and made sure to tell Sam where they were -- "in case I die," I said they were for.

Well, so far I'm not dead, and I'm contemplating what to do with them. If I procrastinate long enough, they'll expire and I'll have to get rid of them, but I was thinking I should decide before then.

Here are the options:

1. Throw them in the Dumpster to stick it to the formula companies for inundating pregnant and new mothers with samples and literature designed to promote formula feeding and downplay breastfeeding, against their own stated resolve.

2. Give them away since I won't be using them (barring my untimely demise in the next four months, at which point Mikko can start drinking other milk if I kick the bucket, poor little creature).

So, my problems with choice #1 are that it's wasteful (I'm a very thrifty soul) and possibly ungenerous. It's free and I don't need it, and here I am hoarding it for myself while other mothers who do buy it for whatever reason could be using it.

The problems with choice #2 are manifold, mostly philosophical and suppositional. Will seeing this free formula at a food bank convince a mother who otherwise would breastfeed to give formula a try? Even if this theoretical poverty-stricken mother had already decided on formula feeding, will the absence of my formula make her reconsider breastmilk since formula is so expensive? But if she doesn't get my free formula and goes ahead with formula anyway, will her purchase of that mean giving up something else important for her baby, like paying the heat for that month? What if it's a mother who was trying to decide between pumping and formula for when she goes back to work, and my free formula tips her over to the formula side?

Maybe the best question is, why am I so worried about my two stupid cans?

Ok, but it's an issue not just for me but for all breastfeeding mamas who get these free samples, from a hospital or through the mail or, shockingly, from a doctor. Where, ideally, should all these unsolicited sample cans go?

Now that I'm considering it, I'm thinking maybe the best recipient of the formula would be someone you know who's already using it and has no intention or capability of starting or returning to breastfeeding, or of procuring (enough) breastmilk elsewhere. I'm thinking of the mama of an adopted baby that I pump milk for, who collects as much as she can from donors but has to supplement with formula.

But, then, she's well-to-do and can afford the formula -- should it instead go to someone in a similar situation who's very poor? I don't know anyone offhand, and I'm not sure there would be enough of such ideal recipients around for that to be a solution for everybody's free samples.

Choice #3 is, indeed, to mull over this long enough that the formula expires. But if you have any good ideas, be sure to let me know.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Faith as a gift

I know this is primarily a parenting blog, but I feel like I have to write what's on my mind, and what's on my mind right now is faith.

At the church we used to attend in Chicago, before we moved to Seattle, we were given a test in our membership class to suss out our spiritual gifts, which for the uninitiated in Christianese are gifts of character and ability that the Holy Spirit has bestowed on believers. I wasn't sure even then what I thought of this concept of determining spiritual gifts -- filling in the exhaustive multiple-choice quiz felt a little self-indulgent (for instance, here's a newfangled online one that proclaims that it takes an hour to complete), more like the personality profile of eHarmony than a spiritual discernment process. (Well, I'm imagining the eHarmony thing -- no, that's not how I met Sam.) Here are a couple other examples, in case you're curious to take your own evaluation. The gifts themselves are listed various places in the New Testament letters, and include such qualities as wisdom, prophecy, speaking in tongues, healing, teaching, administration, etc. Well, I'm imagining you've stopped reading unless you're already interested in these types of things, so I'll stop explaining it and just move on.

So, anyhow, my top three gifts came back as faith, giving, and (a made up one of) creative communication. That last one is not listed anywhere in the Bible, but it seemed appropriate to the quiz makers, and I can certainly see it as a gift from God for the purpose of strengthening the church, since it mostly means I like to sing, write, and generally be all artsy for God. Ok, so I agreed with the giving (meaning that once upon a time I was generous, a subject for another post) and the creative communication dealio.

But I felt totally gypped that one my spaces for gifts, and my top one at that, was taken up by the completely useless gift faith. (Hey, is "gypped" an offensive term? Maybe I should stop using it in case. Well, here, I'll make up an ethnic slur against my very white people: The supermarket clerk totally finned me the other day. I don't know what it means, but it sounds bad, right?)

I had been hoping one of my gifts would be prophecy, so I could tell people I was a prophetess. (It sounded cool.) But here one of my spots was taken up with this dead wood. What kind of a gift was faith? Didn't all of us taking this quiz have faith, or we wouldn't be in a church membership class to begin with? I checked with Sam, and sure enough, his first gift was faith as well. I began to think the test was rigged.

But then we met with the other students of our membership class and found that faith was an uncommon result. I still felt like it should be a no-brainer quality of a Christian, but I decided to be grateful to have it so easily and accept that this was my gift. For life, I thought.

It turns out gifts can be taken back, even by the Spirit. (And I know "Indian giver" is offensive, so I won't even go there. What's up with that term, anyway? And, while I'm on the subject, is there a different term for "Indian summer," a phenomenon I really do appreciate, global warming concerns notwithstanding? Oh, thank you, Wikipedia, I'm now calling it "Saint Martin's Summer." Just to extend this detour further, I love that the caption for the top picture is "An Indian summer day." I guess we'll have to take your word for it, caption writer, since pictures can't really show us what temperature it is.)

And, we're back.

I don't know where the ease of believing went to, but now doubt is far simpler for me than trusting. Questions I once would have answered "Always" to such as "I hold fast to my personal belief in the truth even in the presence of ridicule, apparent failure, or pain" or "I am totally convinced God will fulfill his word even if He is not doing so yet" I now have difficulty even considering. I mean that literally -- it's painful for me even to contemplate my lack of faith, since it's been my identity my whole life long.

I feel like I've become too rational, too skeptical and scientific, too "prove it" about everything. But the rational, scientific part of me says how can I be too skeptical? And, anyway, how can I turn my mind off and become someone less thinking, less analytical?

I loved the first time I read Augustine's words: "Wherever we taste the truth, God is there." But the five thousandth time tasting truth, I begin to wonder if it is indeed God flavoring it.

I want to believe. But I don't want to be mired in immaturity like the 7-year-old me who decided to revert to believing in Santa Claus for just one more year because it just felt so good, and because all my friends were doing it. There's faith for the wrong reasons in a nutshell.

Come on, Holy Spirit, give it back. Give it to me so I can go back to being unwavering and certain, so I can have that comforting "well, duh," attitude about my religion.

If I can't have my faith in Christianity, I can't even rest on some flowery "spirituality" thing like some people enjoy. The people who say that we're all one and the divine is in all of us, blah, blah. Because if the core of what I believe isn't true, then none of it is, and faith is a nonsense word. Then we're just molecules stuck together at random, controlled by evolution and existing until, one by one, and eventually planet by planet, we just don't anymore, except that our molecules separate out and mix with something else. And that's just too depressing and narrow to live with.

Pursuing faith is hard work. I liked when it was something I could take for granted, even though the definition of that is that I never appreciated it when I had it so good.

P.S. For my Washington state readers (yes, just you, Sam), go to your caucus at 1 p.m. today! Be all democratic and such. (I can have faith in some things.)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The simple cure for acne

I don't know why, but I feel like writing about acne today, so off I go.

I've had moderate to severe acne for 13+ years; I get angry when I read pamphlets and online articles that glibly reassure adolescents that they'll outgrow pimples as soon as they leave their teens, since I'm 31 and clearly not yet past that stage. Acne for women is often hormonally based, which is why birth control pills are often prescribed to help combat it, and it can last as long as the hormones do ... yes, until menopause. Eek.

When I started trying to get pregnant, I decided to do my fetus a favor and forgo all acne treatments -- no oral or topical antibiotics, no potentially harmful creams or ointments. I would go cold turkey. I hoped that maybe by some miracle my acne had cured itself while I wasn't looking. My resolve lasted about a month, until I ended up back in my dermatologist's office inconsolable. I couldn't do it -- there had to be something I could keep using that wouldn't hurt my baby but would let me keep my dignity.

People who've had a few zits here and there don't understand what having a face full of acne is like. There's a very real physical discomfort, since often the larger pimples reach down into the nerves. And then there's the emotional and psychological component, because, obviously, our faces are the things people most focus on and, like it or not, judge us by.

In the course of my quest to pop the pimples, I had tried everything out there: several families of antibiotics, many topical gels and mixtures, different facial cleansers, and birth control pills, which I was now off, of necessity. My dermatologist actually OKed quite a bit for pregnant and nursing mothers, but I was still wanting to minimize the chemicals my child might be exposed to, so I wanted to stick with something topical and among the least risky.

Fortunately, I came across my savior,

I have no affiliation with this site or Dan, who runs it. It would be fun to get kickbacks and all, but it's not happening. But I will still shout its praises to the skies. Awesome, awesome site.

And the regimen Dan came up with is so simple that I kicked myself when it worked.


Benzoyl peroxide.

That's it. Yeah, duh, I'd used that before umpteen times, in umpteen preparations, from over-the-counter Oxy 10, to facial pads, to prescription cleansers that bleached my dark-blue towels, to refrigerated mixtures with topical antibiotics. When I looked back at my treatment history, though, I realized that the common factor for the times my skin looked its best was the presence of benzoyl peroxide in my routine. When it slipped back into horribleness, my dermatologist or I had cut the bp out.

So it all made sense, and I gave Dan's regimen a go. There was a very small part of me that hoped it wouldn't work and prove that all my years (over 10 at that point) of paying for office visits and copays and expensive prescriptions had been a wash. That my trial of the very strong Accutane and its attack on my liver was completely uncalled for.

But, mostly fortunately, the benzoyl peroxide regimen did work, just as Dan said it would, and I'm still using it now. My dermatologist and both midwives gave it a green light for pregnancy and breastfeeding; you can do your own research of its safety -- as with all drugs, there are very few studies of its effects on the unborn or nurslings, but the general consensus is that it's never been proven harmful, and I've been reassured by my research. It's topical, so it mostly doesn't absorb into the bloodstream, and the chemical conversion into oxygen wouldn't be harmful to a fetus or in breastmilk (or, at least, that's my understanding). Thomas Hale and kellymom agree with me.

So, you can go to and see videos and more in-depth instructions, as well as advice, forums, user galleries, others' stories, and product reviews, not to mention the opportunity to buy Dan's products he's developed specifically for the regimen. He donates some of his proceeds to a cool charity that counsels teens on skin care, and his products are made in the US and aren't tested on animals. I've only ever used his bp gel (more below), but I'd welcome others' comments on the cleanser or moisturizer.

For now, though, I'll go ahead and give the basics here, as I practice them:

1. Wash your face with a mild cleanser like Cetaphil or Purpose (my fave, but Cetaphil is available at Costco for ├╝ber-cheap). Let dry. [ETA: now has its own cleanser.] acne treatment starter kit2. Slather on benzoyl peroxide anywhere you ever get acne. Really use a LOT, much more than the "thin layer" most products recommend. You can scale back on the amount after you get a feel for how much your skin needs, but at first -- more is more. Let soak in until your face feels dry again.

3. Moisturize. I prefer a combination of AHA lotion (like Alpha Hydrox with 10% Glycolic Acid) to prevent flakiness (a great idea when using benzoyl peroxide, which definitely can bring on the flakies) and then a gentle moisturizer with SPF like Neutrogena Moisture. [ now also has its own AHA lotion and moisturizer, too, plus a nice organic jojoba oil.]

4. Repeat every 12 hours (twice a day).

That's it.

If you're just trying this, it might take a few weeks to see an effect, but I can almost guarantee you will.

I'm sure there's somebody out there whose skin is resistant to benzoyl peroxide, but I think most cases of acne would benefit from this regimen, particularly if other avenues are out for you due to pregnancy or breastfeeding, or simply personal preference or convictions. For instance, I had already sworn off my dermatologists' (I have been to at least half a dozen) strong preference for chronic oral antibiotics after a yearlong bout of yeast infections and a permanent resistance to a whole family of antibiotics had set in -- yikes! I think Accutane can be a wonderful drug for people who are prepared to risk the potential rare but serious side effects, but it's out out out for any woman in the midst of childbearing. And hormonal methods like birth control pills are, logically, contraindicated when you're not trying to control birth, and when breastfeeding they can have a negative effect on milk production. So I like that benzoyl peroxide is a nice, relatively safe option for gestating and nursing women.

And did I mention cheap? No office visits, no prescription costs -- I can't believe how much less money I spend now on my face! You can try out the regimen with any drugstore bp you come across (or Proactiv or whatever), but if you decide it's right for you, I recommend Dan's own bp gel sold through (or, ETA, on Amazon). No, seriously, I'm not affiliated with him -- I just really like his 2.5% clear gel. It goes on without any white pastiness, dries pretty quickly, and is less drying than the 10% stuff, which is about all you can find at drugstores. You can sometimes find 5%, but usually the 2.5% is the most expensive, or requires a prescription. His bp gel is much cheaper per ounce than anything you'll find at the drugstore or by prescription, which is a big plus in my book.

One more benefit of benzoyl peroxide vs. other options (antibiotics, etc.) is that you can't become resistant to it because it's a physical reaction of exposing the bacteria to oxygen. It will work every time. I hated having treatments that once worked gradually fail on me.

One negative of bp and a piece of advice if you go the benzoyl peroxide route: Use white face towels and pillowcases, and let your skin dry before getting dressed. It WILL bleach fabric. Seriously, I invested in all white sheets because I was tired of having my side of the bed look all faded and gross. You can use bp for chest and back acne as well, but really let it dry before getting dressed and just suck it up that you're going to end up bleaching your shirts at some point. Be prepared to go for the all-white look or replace your clothes more frequently. Or you could try some sort of undershirt idea.

Here's my own experience for how the benzoyl peroxide regimen works: If I don't follow the regimen to the letter, even getting off by a few hours instead of doing it as close to every 12 hours as I possibly can, it shows by having pimples pop up again, so I know it's the bp keeping everything under control. When I don't use benzoyl peroxide (such as when I went cold turkey when I was TTC), I get small pimples completely covering my forehead and at least a dozen large ooze-filled ones all over my chin, along with isolated beauties on my cheeks and nose. When I do use bp, and allowing for slip-ups of fudging the schedule once or twice a week, I often have a completely clear face, with occasional chin blemishes, one or two at a time. It is SO much better that I now feel confident to run out to the store without makeup if I so choose, something I would never have done before my bp days. I titled my post "the cure" for acne, because I like to be dramatic, but of course it's not really a cure -- but as long as you keep doing it, it's the next best thing!

All right, that was my acne testimony! I hope I can convince even one fellow sufferer out there that THERE IS HOPE! It's not something you ate (probably), it's not your dirty face-washing habits, it's not resting your chin in your hands (probably), it's not your greasy hair (probably) -- it's just your hormones, and you can do something about it. It doesn't have to cost a fortune or compromise your insides or those little ones you care for. Love yourself, and zap those zits.

[ETA: I've added in some links to the products on Amazon, though you can also buy them through the site. I'm not clear if I receive any money if you buy the products through my links since it's an external seller; it's just for your assistance in finding them.]

Friday, February 1, 2008

The collaboration of creation

The collaboration of creation == Hobo Mama
With my grandfather's failing health, I wrote him a letter. I won't term it a "get well" letter, certainly -- it was more a (possibly last) chance to say what I wanted to say.

Due to the vagaries of air transit and USPS delivery from one coast to another, I happened to be visiting when he received the letter. He let my mother read it, and as he is a soft-spoken gentleman, she ended up saying much more about it than he did.

I overheard her describe the contents to my father and to other relatives who were visiting, much as one would overhear her mother tell her friends what grades her daughter had received on her report card.

But, brownie points for writing her father aside, it was interesting to hear her misrepresent what was in my letter -- to, in fact, rewrite it.