Friday, October 30, 2009

AP Principle #7: Hold On to Your Kids with spontaneous connection

This post is a continuation of Hobo Mama's celebration of Attachment Parenting Month, October 2009. This article focuses on the seventh principle of attachment parenting: Practice Positive Discipline.

Do you have a list of parenting books you've been

Meaning To Read?

The ones that show up on everyone's favorites lists, and that you maybe buy or borrow or check out of the library again and again, but you never seem to actually finish? The ones you think you might actually really agree with if you could just, I don't know, make it past the introduction? The ones that feel kind of like a school assignment, and you've always hated that feeling of "This is good for you; you must read it"?

No? Just me?

Ah, well.

At any rate, high on my list is Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté.

It's a book that gets passed around and adulated on attachment- and continuum-friendly parenting forums, and I even stuck it in my aStore as a parenting book suggestion, because even if I haven't read it through, I pretty much trust all those other voices telling me it's the real deal.

So why haven't I been able to finish the dang thing?

I think it has something to do with the writing style, something to do with the subject matter, and a lot to do with me. As to the first, I find the writing to be rather dull. There, I said it. It's full of all these anecdotes that, to me, cloud the point of the book; I keep wanting to get down to brass tacks and find myself floating through another maybe-pertinent story about the authors' children. As to the second, the book aims at parents of older children, particularly teenagers, at the ages when children begin to pull away and attach to peers rather than adults, and I have a two-year-old who nurses 'round the clock and doesn't know what to make of the other short, monkey-like mammals who sometimes invade his space. Therefore, reading this book takes a little imagination on my part, remembering my own adolescence and extrapolating Mikko's. As to the third, maybe I'm just immature or easily distracted or something. Ooo — look — something shiny!

No, no, focus...all right, I'm back.

I got pretty far this last go-round from the library, before it was due back, again. I convinced myself that, since I seem to get bored and lost and feel detached from the text, that I would allow myself to skip around and ferret out, from the table of contents, what chapters might give me practical steps of how indeed to "hold onto my kid," rather than the endless anecdotes that kept tripping me up and giving me more questions than answers.

The funny thing is that, as I skipped to all the sections that I thought might be relevant, I realized I actually had read them all before. I guess I'd had that strategy in mind the last time, and then forgot. That's how bored I get when I'm reading this book.

Oh, no, I just realized Gordon Neufeld will probably send his spies out after me now and haunt my comments section, like the agents for The M Coat. (I knew I should never have made fun of anything attachment-y! It's like kicking a puppy.)

No, please, Dr. Gordon, look, I'll say nice things. I promise.

In fact, I copied down a whole section of your lovely book that I particularly enjoyed, and here it is. Serendipitously, it corresponds with today's attachment parenting principle (#7) and the only one without a corresponding Baby B:

Practice Positive Discipline

Hold On to Your Kids, in general and at heart, is a book about positive discipline. There are different names and particulars that attachment parents use when talking about discipline. You'll hear the phrase "gentle discipline," as well, and of course not everyone agrees on exactly what such discipline encompasses. But there are some basic principles most attachment-type folk agree on. Attachment Parenting Interntional talks about a whole-life sort of discipline (which from its root means to disciple, or teach) that starts with firm attachments at birth, that understands and accounts for age-appropriate behavior, that models appropriate actions, that seeks continual communication with the child, and that uses positive and redirective means of correction. I think a really good, philosophy-setting book along these lines (and I recommend this one a lot, because I actually did read it all the way through — yea, me!) is Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason, by Alfie Kohn.

But back to HOTYK, which, yes, is so popular in certain online parenting circles that it has its own accepted abbreviation. (Seriously, what is wrong with me that I can't read this book through? Is everyone else just pretending to be orgasmic over it?)

Here's the part I wanted to share with you. I think it works with very young children on up through teens, and even with adults, so it's relevant to any life stage. It comes up in the chapter I skipped to, the one giving concrete ideas for what the authors call "collecting" your children — that is, bringing them back into attachment with you, so that they will form their closest bonds with the people who love them and want the best for them rather than with their peers, who by contrast are in need of a compass themselves and are not fit to be other children's leaders and behavioral models. The idea is that coercive punishment and bribery are not needed if children and parents are sufficiently attached and communicating — and it is up to the parent to cultivate and preserve that attachment.

Here's how Hold On to Your Kids says to do just that:

"The ultimate gift is to make a child feel invited to exist in our presence exactly as he is, to express our delight in his very being. ... The child must know that she is wanted, special, significant, valued, appreciated, missed, and enjoyed. For children to fully receive this invitation — to believe it and to be able to hold on to it even when we are not with them physically — it needs to be genuine and unconditional. ... Our challenge as parents is to provide an invitation that is too desirable and too important for a child to turn down, a loving acceptance that no peer can provide. In holding on to our gift of unconditional love, the child will be holding on to us emotionally — just as the infant held with closed fist the parent's finger." [p. 184-5]

A very wise mama on an email list I'm a part of has talked about her scheme for continually connecting with her children. I don't have her express permission to share it or her name with you, but I'll just say that her words have been a source of gentle exhortation to me to pursue connections, hour by hour throughout the day, with Mikko. This mama I have in mind has several children, but she tries to be present with each of them throughout the day — a ruffling of hair here, a hug there, a comment on an artwork in progress or an invitation to participate in a chore — and she tailors the frequency of her connections to the child's age: Young children need connection more frequently, on average, than older children, who might be able to go longer without feeling their mother's absence. Since Mikko's still quite young, according to her schema, I (or another beloved adult or, potentially though not in my case, an older sibling) need to connect with him, in at least these little ways, every 10 minutes at most when he's awake.

But Hold On to Your Kids cautions that these connections (a) must not seem to the children to be some sort of calculated task on our part, and (b), even more importantly, the children should not have to ask for these connections:

"We cannot cultivate connection by indulging a child's demands, whether for attention, for affection, for recognition, or for significance. Although we can damage the relationship by withholding from a child when he is expressing a genuine need, meeting needs on demand must not be mistaken for enriching the relationship. In collecting a child, the element of initiative and surprise is vital. Providing something to hold on to is most effective when least expected. If what we have to offer can be earned or is seen to be some sort of reward, it will not serve as nurturing contact. Our offerings of connection must flow from the fundamental invitation we are extending to the child. This step in the dance is not a response to the child. It is the act of conceiving a relationship, many times over. It is an invitation to dance the mother of all dances — the dance of attachment. Again, it's a matter of conveying spontaneous delight in the child's very being — not when he is asking for anything, but when he is not. We show our pleasure in his existence by gestures, smiles, tone of voice, a hug, a playful smile, by the suggestion of a joint activity, or simply by a twinkle in our eyes." [p. 185]

As difficult as it can be to hear sometimes, when children seem to have an inexhaustible need for connection, and when as parents, we sometimes just want to step back and detach for awhile, HOTYK addresses the fact that the more demanding a child is, usually the more insecure and actually the more in need of spontaneous and enthusiastic connection he or she is:

"It is true that a highly insecure child can be exhaustingly demanding of time and attention. The parent may long for respite, not more engagement. The conundrum is that attention given at the request of the child is never satisfactory: it leaves an uncertainty that the parent is only responding to demands, not voluntarily giving of himself to the child. The demands only escalate, without the emotional need underlying them ever being filled. The solution is to seize the moment, to invite contact exactly when the child is not demanding it. Or, if responding to the child's request, the parent can take the initiative, expressing more interest and enthusiasm than the child anticipates: 'Oh, that's a great idea. I was wondering how we could spend some time together! I'm so glad you thought of it.' We take the child by surprise, making him feel that he is the one receiving the invitation." [p. 186]

I liked the suggested response to a child who is requesting connection — a heartfelt and excited "yes, please!" I want to remember to respond that way the next time Mikko holds out his arms to me or asks to nurse — and the time after that, and the time after that.

It can be hard to seek connection so enthusiastically, particularly if we have our own hang-ups from childhood disconnection, as I do. We (I) may see our young ones' natural baby neediness as some sort of disgusting clinginess that will only grow if we feed it.

Neufeld and Maté agree that this is a common fear in Western culture:

"We have no problem inviting the dependence of infants, but past that phase, independence becomes our primary agenda. Whether it is for our children to dress themselves, feed themselves, settle themselves, entertain themselves, think for themselves, solve their own problems, the story is the same: we champion independence — or what we believe is independence. We fear that to invite dependence is to invite regression instead of development, that if we give dependence an inch, it will take a mile. What we are really encouraging with this attitude is not true independence, only independence from us. Dependence is transferred to the peer group." [p. 187]

The authors point out that when we love fellow adults, we willingly help them out in ways they could help themselves. We don't disdain to get them a drink when we go to the kitchen, saying, "You're old enough — you do it." If we really do love them, we gladly perform tasks that could in some ways be seen as inviting dependence on us. This is because we don't fear other adults' dependence — we welcome our loved ones' need for us, and we don't feel responsible for their independence; we figure they can manage that on their own.

With our children, however, we do feel responsible for their independence. Neufeld and Maté show how laughable this mindset is by giving the analogy of plants growing. We give plants the conditions to grow strong roots, but we trust in the natural process for them to mature; we don't have any illusions that we control when and how each leaf unfolds. With children, we should have the same trust that they will grow in the appropriate time and in the appropriate ways, if we provide the grounding and nurturing they need. It's actually quite a load off my mind to think that I am not responsible for Mikko's independence, nor for his growing up or maturing. That will happen all on its own, and is his own mystery.

I really liked this summary of that idea:

"There is no shortcut to true independence. The only way to become independent is through being dependent. Resting in the confidence that getting children to be viable as separate beings is not entirely up to us — it is nature's task — we will be free to get on with our part of the job, which is to invite their dependence." [p. 188-189]

So, in the end and despite my extreme attentional issues when reading it, I really liked this book — or at least the parts that I got to. Yes, I'll check it out again and give it another go. Maybe I'll even find a new chapter to read!

Till then, I appreciate the encouragement to connect, connect, connect with Mikko (or to collect him, to use the phrasing in the book), and not worry that my invitation to lean on me and to trust me will foster anything but interdependence. And that is the start to positive discipline: a gentle process where we're both the teachers, and we're both being taught.

Healthy Birth Blog Carnival is up! Walk, move around, and change positions throughout labor

A quick head's up:

I wrote the article "AP Principle #1: Move and groove during labor and birth" as part of Science & Sensibility's Healthy Birth Blog Carnival, and Amy has now posted all the carnival links here:

                         "Healthy Birth Blog Carnival:
     Walk, move around, and change positions throughout labor"

Go take a look and click through to all the wonderful articles about the beneficial role of movement during labor and birthing!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

AP Principle #6: Book review of Smart Mom's Baby-sitting Co-op Handbook

This post is a continuation of Hobo Mama's celebration of Attachment Parenting Month, October 2009. This article focuses on the sixth principle of attachment parenting: Provide Consistent and Loving Care (Beware of Baby Trainers).

I thought I'd do a standalone review of a book I mentioned in my post "Reaching out and saying 'yes': Creating intentional community through accepting offers of friendship and starting a babysitting co-op" (no, seriously, that's the title — Blogger either has no character limit for titles or I somehow haven't managed to reach it):

Smart Mom's Baby-Sitting Co-Op Handbook by Gary MyersSmart Mom's Baby-Sitting Co-Op Handbook: How We Solved the Baby-Sitter Puzzle, by Gary Myers

Now, today's attachment parenting principle and Baby B (#6) —

Provide Consistent and Loving Care (Beware of Baby Trainers)

— is a little murky sounding to me, but it has to do with who takes care of your children on a regular or occasional basis. The AP ideal is for parents to do most of the parenting, and to make sure alternate caregivers are bonded with the kids and provide the same type of respectful care you would choose for them to receive if you could be the one providing it.

Well, I started thinking of this topic and it turned into a mushy mess in my head, all sorts of guilts and mommy wars and pressures and SAHMs and WOHMs and feminism and religion and everything, all at once, duking it out in my tired brain. And it is a tired brain, because it had hoped the state auditor had forgotten us, but no such luck, and it is facing down NaNoWriMo set to begin in a couple days, and it's feeling exhausted from trying to write a post or more a day, because apparently it is fairly lazy.

And after all that, my brain just let out a great big sigh and refused to work anymore.

Therefore, I bring you an expanded book review. It's not cheating, because it's actually what I'd intended to write in the first place, when I planned out my week and a half of AP posts. It's just that I later decided maybe I should add some incisive commentary on why some parents think they must be the only caregivers, and why some parents think it's no big deal to hand off care of their children, and why I'm stuck somewhere in the middle, thinking that it's good and natural to have the resource of loving alternate caregivers, because children can and should bond with other carers, and parents but especially mothers should not feel they have to do it all alone, but meanwhile I also want to be primary, but sometimes I get overwhelmed and bored, and there's breastfeeding and...oh, no, my brain just shut down again.

Nope, never mind. Book review, and that's a wrap.

To start from the basics, a babysitting (is it really necessary to hyphenate that? Blogger spell check says yes; I say no. I win.) co-op (I'll give in with the hyphens here, so it doesn't look like a home for chickens) is a group of parents who decide to share babysitting duties. I suppose it could look different for different groups, but generally babysitting means for an occasional, few hours out, not all-out child care such as would be needed for full-time work hours. It is a co-op, short for cooperative, because the members involved are all invested in the group, giving and taking in turn.

The co-op operates on a point system. Parents earn points by sitting for other kids; they spend points by taking advantage of sitting.

The advantages of a babysitting co-op are some nice big doozies:

     • You don't have to pay for babysitting.
     • Usually, the co-op members doing the babysitting for you are familiar to you, or even friends.
     • However, unlike with friends or family, there's no guilt involved and no uneasy exchanging of favors. The point system keeps things fair.
     • As a member, you can sit or be sat for as much or as little as you want. There's no obligation when a particular opportunity to sit comes your way.
     • You can do things you might not otherwise if you had to find and pay for a sitter: Go out for a date night to an over-21 comedy club (we did that once, and even enjoyed a drink!), run some errands during the day, meet a friend for a leisurely lunch and uninterrupted conversation, go to a personal or professional appointment, spend some special time with just one of your kids, etc.

Since our only sitter is Sam's sister, and she's not always available, we tend to keep our outings Mikko-friendly, but that can be limiting when your 2-year-old wants to stand up in the booth and shout to other patrons rather than allow you to have a conversation with your friends, or when he would like to stab his knife into your food, pick all the sesame seeds off your hamburger bun, and fish ice cubes out of your water glass with his crumby fist, and you would rather, say, eat in peace. Not saying this has happened to us, I'm just saying.

All right, it happened to us tonight.

So, sometimes, we want some Mikko-free time, but for one reason or another Sam's sister is unavailable, and then we're stuck with the unappealing options of scouring Craigslist for someone who's preferably not a mass murderer, or tearing off a tag of a flyer a 13-year-old girl tacked onto a bulletin board at the dance school and hoping she's not as flighty and uninterested in actually caring for her charges as one young babysitter I had the horror to witness in person.

If we had a co-op, though...ah, well then. The babysitters would be either known to us or vetted by other members of the group. They would all be adults with kids of their own, and their children would often be available to play with ours, creating an ongoing tribe-like community of children enjoying the company of other children, and parents learning more about the other parents in their neighborhood. (Or, that's the prettiness in my head, at least.)

So, when I got this idea that it would be good to start a co-op, I did what I always do whenever I have a harebrained idea: check the library for any books that can fuel my cravings. As it turns out, there aren't books plural about co-ops. There is book. There is Smart Mom's Baby-Sitting Co-Op Handbook. So I recommend it, but I recommend it with the caveat that I might be more discriminating if there were several options to discriminate among.

Now you must think it's a horrible book, and it's really quite helpful, but I'll go ahead and get the bad stuff out of the way first:

1. It's written by a man, but it's titled for a "Smart Mom," the subtitle says "how we solved...," and the photographs on the back show smiling middle-class white mommies. Nothing wrong with them, since, you know, I am one and all. I just didn't know what to make of the disconnect there. Then you open it up, and the emphasis is on moms, for sures. Not just any moms, but the stay-at-home variety. Again, that's not a problem, per se, but I have a broader dream for my co-op, that fathers and mothers are both welcome, and sometimes the mothers might work outside of the home. I'm cool with that. The book is implicitly not. In some cases, it's even explicitly, as when it says that no one but the mother is a member of the co-op. I have a desire for Sam to be part of the co-op, and for other fathers to be included as well if they wish, and in my circle, that doesn't seem to be as much of an issue as in the book's milieu. The book also makes it clear that the co-op is for parents (mothers) of preschoolers only. I'm not sure why this is. I really like the idea of a continuum-like tribe of mixed ages of kids, with friendships continuing into school years and beyond. It makes me wonder why the book limits the babysitting to preschoolers — is it that older kids are harder to sit for, or that they don't need sitters as much? Is it that parents of younger kids couldn't presumably handle sitting for someone's older kids? Is it an assumption that older and younger kids wouldn't be able to get along in a group? I don't know why the book imposes that restriction, but those obstacles don't seem insurmountable to me.

2. As the one negative reviewer on Amazon pointed out, the font is a little goofy. Just in general, the book smacks of being a home-grown project. It's not organized in ideally the way I would have wanted, and the writing is a bit "here's what worked for us!" But I'm OK with that. It's a group of people who had this work out for them, and they want to share it. Some of the tips, and some of the chapters even, might not be helpful or are too nitty-gritty (the negative review mentions the book advising how to make a poster), but I appreciate that they're trying to be detailed and show specifically how these techniques worked for their group.

3. Now, that same group is also trying to capitalize on their monopoly of the babysitting co-op handbook market and get you to sign up for their group and pay them yearly dues. That can get a little creepifying if you don't like being pitched to, and if you don't see the benefit in having a mother organization overseeing your local co-op. Our group personally doesn't like the idea, but I can't fault the Smart Mom's group for trying to make a few more bucks off their ideas. They do give a lot away for free on their website, and for cheap or free through their book (depending on if you buy it used or check it out from the library!).

4. There are aspects to the book that I didn't agree with or that didn't seem necessary to me. This doesn't bother me unduly, and it may turn out that I'm wrong in dismissing their ideas, considering that they've been successfully managing a co-op for years, and I haven't started mine yet. Examples of things that didn't resonate with me: Charging the members dues for things like sending birthday cards to members (eh...whatever, was my thought) or for door prizes at the meetings (sounds kind of convention-y and artificial). Doing a pre-joining inspection of every potential member's house for safety hazards; I can see where this would be a good idea, but I'm not sure that we'll actually swing it. Having an established and rotating hierarchy of leadership, with a president and secretary, and passing along a physical three-ring binder from one secretary to the next; we have the idea to go with a website and do scheduling all online and have the government be more autonomous. That last one may prove to be disastrous — see what I mean? But I like that the book gave us an idea and yet we were able to formulate our own opinions and plans using the book as a springboard, not a blueprint.

And that's a good segue into what I really like about the book.

It is very thorough and hands-on as to how to start a babysitting co-op. It tells you, in detailed fashion, how they in particular arrange all the aspects of their co-op: recruiting members, ideal size of the group, organizing the leadership, calculating points, vetting potential members, dealing with canceled sits or delayed sitters, the differences between nighttime (bedtime) and daytime sits, how to cancel out points when members leave, awarding bonus points, not letting parents pick favorite sitters, agendas for meetings, and so on.

One of the most helpful elements was the points chart. Basically, for each hour of a sit, you earn or spend points based on how many children are being watched. So if you have four children, you'll spend more points going out for dinner than someone who has only two children. The chart does all the math for you. You can just run your finger down the column that shows how many hours you need sitting and match that with the column for how many children you have. I'm not saying you couldn't do this simple math yourself — I'm just saying that I was glad that the book had figured out the points system, in general, so that I didn't have to. They've used this point system and think it's fair, and it seemed reasonable to me.

The points system included tips on how to award bonus points to people who did something extra for the group (such as hosted a co-op meeting), and how to subtract points when people screw up and don't show for a sit. It even suggested fun ways to get people spending or earning points, such as to offer incentive points as unexpected prizes. The book maybe went a little overboard in obsessing over how the points of the group as a whole absolutely always have to balance out to zero: If someone moves out of the group and leaves points behind, the book's suggestion is to distribute the (negative or positive) points to everyone else; my suggestion is to just let the points lapse into oblivion, but maybe I'm missing something there.

I did like how the book deals reasonably with the idea of positive and negative points. They set a maximum that you personally can be either above or below zero before you have to take a step toward equilibrium again. For instance, if you've just had a new baby, you might spend points by getting sits done for you for several months before you feel up to sitting again. According to the book's system, that's just fine, and I liked that freedom. But then I also liked that there was a limit that forced you, at that point, to try to balance out the scales. For instance, if someone had been sitting up a storm, the maximum would make sure she also took advantage of some time off and spent some points to go do something fun.

The book also mentioned a lot of nitpicky details I might not have considered but am glad I have now, like having on file a medical consent form for each family that includes information on medications or allergies. Another detail was that nighttime sits are worth more points than daytime sits, and usually the sitter will perform the sit at the other family's home. The book, in its SAHM mindset, says that the babysitting mom will go to the other family's home and put the kids to bed there, leaving the dad behind at their house to have some special (rare?) time caring for his own kids. I don't know if that's exactly how things will pan out in our cooperative, but it was interesting to hear how they deal with evening sits that overlap with competing families' bedtimes, since it was something I was wondering about.

In the end, what I took away from the book was a very rigid, detailed system for managing a large babysitting co-op. What I changed it to in my mind, and in my talking with the friends who are interested in starting the co-op with me, is a smaller, more flexible babysitting cooperative, with a wider inclusion of co-parents and ages of kids, and with an emphasis on online technology. The idea of using a website and email lists was pretty much missing in the book — even though, as I mentioned, they do have a website, and it includes a paid option for tracking points online, though there are still paper records to keep. In our group, one of the members has volunteered to set up a simple website that will allow us to track points, and we'll use group emails to send out and answer sitting requests. We're hoping that will work to keep the group manageable without having a specific leadership structure, or a secretary to manage calling a list of members each day to arrange sits.

We're looking forward to having meetings together of the co-op members, as well, even though we won't have door prizes (!), because it will give us a chance to get to know each other a little better, and for our children to interact, outside of the babysitting itself.

So that's my take on the book Smart Mom's Baby-Sitting Co-Op Handbook. Now we just have to actually start the co-op and let you know how the book's advice, and our own tailoring of that advice, pans out.

Till then! My brain is going fully to sleep now...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

AP Principle #5: How to have sex when you're cosleeping

This post is a continuation of Hobo Mama's celebration of Attachment Parenting Month, October 2009. This article focuses on the fifth principle of attachment parenting: Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally (Bedding Close to Baby).

Today's attachment parenting principle (#5, if you're counting) and Baby B has to do with cosleeping and the family bed:

Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally (Bedding Close to Baby)

I didn't want to do a general article on why sleeping with or very near your baby is a good thing, because you probably got that idea from my article on principle #3: "Crying it out vs. the responsiveness of attachment parenting." To respond quickly and sensitively to your baby's needs, day and night, the family bed or bedding down nearby is a great answer.

I thought it would be better to do an article on something specific related to cosleeping, so I was thinking of what questions come up the most when parents raise the issue of cosleeping. Here were the two that sprang to mind:

     "But what if I roll over onto the baby?"

followed at some point, often with a blush but sometimes with a snicker:

     "But how do the parents have sex?"

The first one is an interesting topic, don't get me wrong, but I felt adventurous enough to tackle the second one today. It'll insert a little more titillation into your Hump Day. (All right, the problem with sex articles is automatically everything starts sounding like a sex pun. Let the giggles commence.)

I will offer fair warning right here that if you're squeamish when the topic of sex comes up, now is the time to abandon ship, and I'll see you next when I staidly offer a book review about babysitting.

All right, if you're still with me (I'm not judging either way...), here goes.

Now, I just want to get that first question, about potential harm to your baby by cosleeping, out of the way first, because I don't want it hanging out there spinning through people's minds unanswered. But I will do a quick and dirty job of it (see what I mean about the sex puns?). Short answer: You're highly unlikely to roll over onto your baby. For a longer answer, see an article by the foremost researcher into cosleeping, Dr. James McKenna: "Cosleeping and Overlaying/Suffocation: Is there a chance I'll roll over and crush my child?", as well as my philosophical musings on the subject in general: "Unintended consequences of child 'safety.'" And do be sure always to follow safe cosleeping guidelines.

OK, then, back to the sex talk.

There probably needs to be more talk about sex and parenting in general. I've tried a couple times. I talked in an article titled "I Touch You Once, I Touch You Twice," which, let me tell you, gets lots of Google hits from disappointed fans searching for love-song lyrics, about how mind-trippy it is to go from touching and being touched as a mother all day (and night) to touching and being touched by a lover. Whole different ball game. And I jotted down a quote from Our Babies, Ourselves about the cultural disconnect in the modern United States mindset between sharing a bed with an adult sexual partner and sharing a bed with any other person:

"Adults may sleep together because their relationship is sexual, and intimate, and bed is the place for sexuality and intimacy in America. Moreover, interdependence between a couple is seen as the contemporary ideal. But children are not part of that intimacy or sexuality, nor are they considered part of that interdependence." [p. 124]

So, there's where the prudishness comes into the conversation about cosleeping, and the concern for marital integrity. Marriage in modern American culture has become intimate and relational and about only two people. I can't tell you how different that perspective is from the historical and global view of marriage. I can't outline here all the different ways, anthropologically speaking, humans have understood the concept of marriage, but I just do want to point out that just because we've decided on a current viewpoint doesn't mean that ours is the best or makes the most sense. And one way that our modern viewpoint of marriage doesn't make sense is that it doesn't allow much room for children.

Babies were meant to sleep near their mothers. It's just how it is. Mammals drink milk, and typically and historically and biologically, only mothers provide that milk. Depending on what type of mammal they are, babies need milk day and night when they're at their most vulnerable age. Therefore, they need to be near their mothers day and night. Simple, right?

But when cultural conditioning enters the room, simplicity gets thrown out the window. The marriage bed is sacrosanct, and the parent-to-parent relationship is seen as at once more important and more fragile than the parent-to-baby relationship. I like to think (and I do think) that my marriage is strong and resilient enough to stand up to a few years of playing second fiddle to a baby who needs mothering and fathering more than Sam and I need coddling ourselves. Your mileage may vary if your partnership is not that resilient, and that's not really the point of my argument here. I'm just trying to say that culturally we've been brainwashed into thinking that babies don't belong in their parents' bed, because their parents' bed is sexual, and because their parents' bed is off-limits to anybody but the parents.

Can I say hogwash twice in the same week?

Sometimes I try to fight the culture, as when I write blog posts about how babies biologically and historically belong in a family bed, and sometimes I just ignore it and get on with my own life, bucking the system.

In that second capacity, Sam and I have had to be creative and intentional about how, where, and when we have sex.

It might have sounded like I was being snide when I said that the question of where to have sex was one of the most frequently and soonest asked questions anyone has about cosleeping – but I will raise my hand and wave it wildly to demonstrate that I, too, searched out the same topic on supportive online forums to get some suggestions. And when I first broached the idea of having one big cozy family bed to Sam, it was one of his first queries back at me. So it is indeed a familiar topic, and no one should feel bad about considering the issue when deciding whether cosleeping would be a good fit.

The answer is very mundane, of course. You have sex wherever and whenever works for you.

So, here's some straight talk about our experience, and about the topic in general, in the form of a fictional question-and-answer session.

Why a fictional question-and-answer session? Why not?

Can you have sex in the bed while your baby is sleeping? When Mikko was a newborn, we found that we could have sex on the same great big king-size mattress if he was sleeping to one side and we were quiet on the other side. We stopped this practice when one day he woke up during the act, peered over at us...and cracked up laughing. We, of course, started laughing too, and that killed the mood pretty effectively. We'd never before had anyone find our performance so amusing.

If you don't have sex in bed, where else can you go? Wherever you have. In the same spirit of adventurousness as our newlywed years, we try out different locations in the home. Personally, we tend to favor the living room, which has a comfy couch that's also a pull-out bed, as well as some nice soft chairs and cushions. I won't go into details, but you get the idea. Hopefully you have or can create somewhere cozy for you, or if you like being more inventive, here's your chance to try out all the random places in your house (or outside it — gasp!). Some people have a guest room with an empty bed, which I must admit does sound mighty convenient. Sam and I are always stoked when, for one reason or another, we get to have sex in bed. It used to be the normal thing to do; now it's kind of spicy and unique. Sometimes we take the opportunity to stretch out on our mattress when Mikko's out being cared for by someone else, such as at his preschool. We've also fit in quickies when he's just out on a walk with his aunt (don't tell her), and once when he was watching a DVD (bad parent much? Hey, it worked!). We haven't yet had the temerity to hire a babysitter for the sole purpose of getting it on, though I wouldn't rule that out.

But how do you ever have normal, snuggling-induced nighttime sessions? If it's important to you to fall asleep (or more) with just your partner in bed with you, but you want your kids to have the option to sleep with you later, then there are various ways for that to work. When Mikko was little, we sometimes put him down to sleep in an Amby baby hammock, for naps or at night, and then moved him into bed when he woke up. Some parents have a crib or co-sleeper in the room with them; the baby can start off sleeping there and then move to the bed for the next feeding. Depending on the age of the baby, you can just be on the quieter side and it should work. As kids get older, the parents often offer a separate mattress on the floor or in another room, with a free invitation for the kids to join them in the family bed if they wake up during the night. Another option is for the parents to start off the night in their bed, in their room, with the kids in a different bed in a different room, and then one of the parents (often the nursing mama) moves to the kids' room and bed for the rest of the night. There are many different arrangements possible, and they can always change as the kids grow older and have different needs and routines. As I mentioned, we no longer have sex with Mikko in bed with us, but Sam and I have had the chance for some snuggle time. We put Mikko down a few hours before our bedtime, and by the time we get to bed, Mikko has often drifted to one side of the mattress or the other. Sam and I snuggle down on the other side and enjoy the closeness (and someone to warm my feet again — score!) until Mikko wakes up to nurse.

Be brutally honest here. Is fitting in sex with cosleeping as convenient as having sex before you had kids? No. Sex before kids in general is a lot easier and more convenient. I would like to write more about sex and how it relates to parenting another time. For instance, there's so much involved hormonally and time-wise in the sex lives of lactating women that I think it's generally best to step back and be tolerant of whatever is possible sexually. By setting a 6-week mark as the minimum for when women should be ready to get back into the saddle following a vaginal birth, it inadvertently sets up a false expectation (in my experience) that everything will indeed be back to normal at that time, and sex will proceed as before children. And to that I say: At 6 weeks? Seriously? And I scoff. Loudly. Some women might be ready to bounce back, and some might not. And that's OK, either way.

All right, but to stay on topic for now, how does sex with cosleeping compare with sex when you're not cosleeping? Wouldn't it be more convenient to have kids be in their own bedrooms with doors to close between you? I would guess it would probably be more convenient to have sex at a whim, in a comfy bed, if you were not cosleeping — although, speaking as a person who grew up in a cry-it-out household, I still managed to walk in on my parents at intimate moments. I still say that the difference is greater between pre-kids sex and post-kids sex vs. cosleeping sex and separate-bedrooms sex.

But what's your best guess: Would you have more sex if you had kids but were not cosleeping? Hard to say. I imagine there might be slightly more frequent sex if we weren't cosleeping, but that's not taking in factors like having to get out of bed to feed Mikko and so forth. My life in general would be so different in that case (would Mikko still be nursing?) that I can't really predict what my sex life would be like.

So, is cosleeping worth it, when you're possibly having less sex and definitely having less convenient sex? Absolutely. Sam and I are clear that our priorities at this time in our lives are to our young child. We enjoyed many years of convenient sex before we started having children, and we will have plenty of years ahead of us. For us personally, sex is not the sum of our relationship. It's a very good thing, and we try to carve out time for it, but we both believe that the benefits of cosleeping, to Mikko and to us, outweigh the temporary inconvenience to our sex lives.

Does that mean everyone should come to the same conclusion as you? No. Everyone has different sexual appetites and requirements, and it will vary with age and temperament and length of marriage and backgrounds and whatever, and I can't be the one to say, "Here's the only perspective that's right, and if you don't think the way I do, something's wrong." I can't say definitively that cosleeping is best for everyone else, except to say that, barring any dire consequences to the parents' partnership, it's worth it for the kids.

What if one parent doesn't want to cosleep and the other does, and the non-cosleeping parent is worried about ruining the sex life? That is a toughie. I don't have that experience first-hand, but my theory would be for the cosleeping advocate to be as thoughtful as possible in creating a situation that would work for everyone. Look back at some of the potential arrangements up there and see if one would work, such as starting off the night in an adults-only bed, but then the cosleeping parent moves and finishes the night in the baby's room. It might mean buying bigger beds for everyone, but it could definitely work. Also, gently, sensitively, teach your partner about the benefits of cosleeping and ask for a little leeway to get things all figured out. Even if you're not cosleeping, your sex lives are going to be different, so don't let cosleeping take all the fall for that.

Do you look forward to not cosleeping? I do and I don't. I loved sleeping with just Sam, and I love the chances we've rediscovered to snuggle at the beginning of the night. I enjoy the convenience and comfort of regular-old-bed sex and will likely appreciate that more once it's returned to me. That said, I can see how perfect and natural it is for Mikko to be sleeping with us, and I really do love having him there — so much that I don't want to think about it ending. So I won't. (Fingers in ears, la la la.)

So there you have it.

If you have more specific sex-and-cosleeping questions, feel free to post them in the comments and it will be a real Q & A instead of a fake one. And if you have suggestions or better answers to the above, feel free to post those as well, because that would be helpful to anyone else asking the questions.

And I have a whole 'nother post's worth of sex talk in me, about how our sex lives change from pre-parenting to post-, but we're probably all satisfied for now. (What? I'm not allowed to use double meanings intentionally?)

To sum up: If you want to cosleep and you want to have sex, you will figure out a way to do them both. Don't worry.

Wordless Wednesday: Mother and baby sleeping

Young family -- tired mother and baby sleeping

In honor of today's topic of attachment parenting principle #5: Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally (Bedding Close to Baby), a painting from Post Scriptorum on flickr (cc).

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

AP Principle #4: Giveaway of a mei tai baby carrier for babywearing!

THE GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED. The winner is Betsy! Go there to find an updated pattern to make your own mei tai!

This post is a continuation of Hobo Mama's celebration of Attachment Parenting Month, October 2009. This article focuses on the fourth principle of attachment parenting: Use Nurturing Touch (Babywearing)

I'm so super excited about this post, because it's my very first giveaway, and it's a giveaway of one of my favorite things!

I just realized I've been blogging for two years, so it's about time, right?!

Ta-da! I'm giving away a mei tai, or Asian-style baby carrier!

This fits in with today's attachment parenting topic:

Use Nurturing Touch (Babywearing)

Since I'm skimping on the expository today, check out my attachment parenting primer for some more information about babywearing in general and a couple helpful links.

Because I want to get back to the giveaway!

In "Babywearing the heavy baby: mei tai," I raved about how comfortable and simple our homemade fleece mei tai (pronounced MAY TIE) was for carrying our tremendously large baby.

The pattern we used can be found on — well, at least, it used to be there before they changed URLs and presumably will be up again someday. In the meantime, you can check my post for the template image.

I was making a new one for a friend who'd just had a baby and was wanting to have her hands free to get more done around the house. I adapted the WearYourBaby pattern a bit, based on our experience wearing it for over a year: widening the straps to make them a little more comfortable and lengthening the apron to make it come up a little higher on the back. I've continued to tweak, as I've just been making a couple new ones for still more baby gifts. I've decided this should be my thing: giving away a baby carrier to each friend or relative who reproduces. I had this idea that I could be a sort of ambassador of attachment parenting, but I'll talk more about that in a later post.

So, here's your chance to win your very own, Hobo Mama-made, fleece mei tai baby carrier.

You can wear your baby in it or give it away as a baby gift. I don't even mind if you fib and pretend you made it yourself.

Now, granted, make it yourself you surely could. All it takes is 2 yards of fleece (50% off at JoAnn's!), sharp scissors, and the ability to use a tape measure.

But...I know that when you're a mama, even the simple tasks can slip away from you. So if you can't find your scissors or make a run to the fabric store, let me come to the rescue with a free one that's already made for you!

The winner will receive:

     a. One mei tai carrier in her or his choice of stripey delight or polkadot wonder. (I just made up those names myself — can you tell?) These fabrics are cheery but not goofy and are gender neutral, so even men can babywear in them. This is true. Do not question me.

     b. One downloadable babywearing instruction sheet, showing how to put on the mei tai in a front carry, and including bonus safety and breastfeeding tips, complete with pictures and captions. I put this together myself in Word, which means it is definitely all that.

Why this carrier rocks:

     • Like all baby carriers, it keeps your hands free while you get on with your exciting life. Baby is snuggled in close to you and can see the world from a safe vantage point.

     • The construction of the mei tai spreads the weight of the baby ergonomically across your shoulders and back. It ensures good positioning for the baby, too, keeping their bums well supported and their legs in a natural position.

     • There are several different carries you can do with a mei tai: front facing in, front facing out, back, hip. See my post on the mei tai for more information and helpful links.

     • You can breastfeed discreetly on the go in the front or hip carry position.

     • This style of carrier is popular with men and women alike, and it works for all ages of baby, from newborn up through toddler, so it will get a lot of use.

     • The polyester fleece fabric is sturdy and won't unravel. You will want to hug your baby for the softness. It's snuggly on cold days, but the simple construction means it's not too hot for warm days. It folds up nice and tight to fit in a diaper bag.

     • The fabric can be used as a blanket or burp cloth in a pinch. Speaking of which, it's machine washable (and I did do a pre-wash in advance, fyi, using fragrance-free detergent and vinegar as a fabric softener). Fleece dries really quickly, too.

Intrigued? Want one?

Of course you do!


I think I'm pretty much willing to ship it anywhere around the world. It's pretty light, and if it gets lost, at least it didn't cost much. So go ahead and enter, all my global friends!

Hobo Mama, Crackerdog Sam, and Mikko Lint Picker are prohibited from entering. Everyone else is fair game, whether or not you have a hobo name.

You can certainly use the baby carrier for your own precious baby. But you absolutely do not have to use the carrier yourself. It makes a splendiferous baby present if you would like to give a tool for attachment parenting.

Giveaway will close Nov. 20. Is that a good day? I picked it scientifically, by randomly thinking of a date. That should give you plenty of time to mail it out for a Christmas present, if you so desire.

I will then use a random number generator to pick a winner from the comments, so make sure you leave a separate comment for each entry. Shortly thereafter, I will announce the lucky winner and ship out your prize. I'm a little slow, though, so don't get too antsy.

Make it easy for me to contact you if you win. Either include your email address in your comment, or have it easily accessible on the front page of your blog or linked in your profile. If I can't reach the winner or don't hear back within a couple days, I'll move on to someone else.

Caveats (because I'm like that):

This is 2 yards of fleece cut out in the form of a baby carrier. It is not as fancy-schmancy as one of them store-bought carriers.

Be cautious with any fabric carrier. Check for tears or weaknesses in the fabric before each use. is not endorsing this contest, because they don't know I exist. I just dig their pattern. They were kind enough to offer this pattern free of charge, for anyone's non-commercial use. I'm not selling these carriers, just giving them as gifts — first locally, and now internationally.

If you don't win, you can still totally make your own, and I will even email you my handy-dandy mei tai instruction sheet if you'd like.

Sorry my pictures of the mei tais stink. We lost our good camera's battery charger in the move (which box are you in??), and our old camera's viewscreen is all fuzzy and pink, so it was a challenge to see what I was shooting. I classed them up for you by adding the "vignette" effect in iPhoto. Snazzy!

Ways to enter:

Leave a separate comment below for each entry.

     1. Leave a comment here telling me who will use this carrier if you win. (I'm just interested in hearing the variety!)

     2. Blog about this giveaway, and comment with the link to your blog post. (If you're in Blogger, an easy way is to click on "Create a link" at the bottom of the post.)

     3. Follow me on Twitter and tweet this giveaway. You can enter a separate Twitter entry once per day during the contest. Make sure to include @Hobo_Mama and post the link here. You can use this text if you'd like: Wear your baby! Win a fleece mei tai baby carrier @Hobo_Mama #babywearing Enter by 11/20.

     4. Leave a new comment on another post of mine, and let me know where to find it. I'm a comment whore, so why not use this as an opportunity?

     5. Subscribe to Hobo Mama's RSS feed or click Follow Me on my sidebar at right. (See above for why I'm begging.) If you already subscribe or follow, just leave a comment saying so.

     6. If you understand how StumbleUpon, Digg, Technorati, or so on works, more power to you. I seriously have no idea. Well, Digg makes sense, but the rest confuse me. Anyway...feel free to recommend or fave an article or my blog at one or more of those sites, and leave a comment for each one. There's a little "Share" button underneath each post and on the sidebar to help you out. Bonus entry if you can explain to me how these sites work!

     7. Come on, that was plenty of entry possibilities. Don't get greedy.

But do go and win, win, win!

And babywear! Yea!

Babywearing photos courtesy aslans_child on flickr (cc)

Monday, October 26, 2009

AP Principle #3: Crying it out vs. the responsiveness of attachment parenting

This post is a continuation of Hobo Mama's celebration of Attachment Parenting Month, October 2009. This article focuses on the third principle of attachment parenting: Respond with Sensitivity (Belief in the Language Value of Your Baby's Cry)

Attachment parents are responsive parents. I think that might actually be the one characteristic that sums up the whole of attachment parenting. When a baby is hungry, an attachment parent offers the breast (breastfeeding). When a baby is tired, an attachment parent offers a warm body to snuggle against (cosleeping). When a baby is curious but timid, an attachment parent offers a safe vantage point to view the world (babywearing). And when a baby cries, an attachment parent believes that those cries have value.

This is principle/Baby B #3:

Respond with Sensitivity (Belief in the Language Value of Your Baby's Cry)

If anything divides attachment parents from mainstream parents, it's how to treat a crying baby. For several generations now, parents have been told that responding too quickly and too often to a crying baby will "spoil" the baby, that it will teach the child (from newborns on!) that she can manipulate you, that babies must be taught to self-soothe, and, at all costs and heaven forbid this not happen, babies must learn independence.

Attachment parenting listens to all this and calls it what it is: hogwash.

More than that, attachment parenting looks at the evidence of what babies mean when they cry (they have a need), and at the evidence of what happens when nobody responds to a baby's cry (they experience detrimental levels of stress), and at what other cultures and other times have instinctively practiced (instant response to a baby's cry), and attachment parenting says that not responding to the baby, toddler, or child in your care, annoyingly piercing and shrill or not, is a form of child abuse.

I don't use that term to be inflammatory or to skewer parents who have used cry-it-out (CIO) methods. I don't use it lightly, either, because I have no intention of diminishing more egregious forms of abuse. I point the finger back at myself when I say it, because I have been guilty at times of getting so overwhelmed by Mikko and his needs that I have stormed off to leave him to cry alone, or with only his father, who was not the comfort he wanted at the time. But I do see that as guilt, and I am sorry for each time I've failed him in that way.

What I'm saying is that babies are biologically wired to use their cries as communication. When we purposely ignore our babies, under the guise of "teaching" them something, what we're teaching them is...

...that they can't trust us to be there for them.

...that they're in this unfamiliar world alone.

...that they will have to meet their own needs.

...that we don't love them enough to respond when we can.

I've heard an analogy, and it was an eye-opening one for me. I wish I could remember where I heard it first, to give proper credit.

Imagine that a time has come when you've had to make the difficult decision to place your beloved mother into a nursing home, due to her failing health. She can't take care of herself now. You go to check on her, and she's wet herself and has been lying in it for who knows how long. She's thirsty but couldn't reach her cup on the bedside table. She's lonely because no one's been checking on her. You find the nearest nurse and demand to know why your mother hasn't been taken care of and had her needs met. The nurse tells you: "If you respond every time they cry, they start thinking you're always going to. If you give them an inch, they'll take a mile. She just needs to learn independence. Besides, it's working — she's been quiet for the last few hours." You wouldn't be happy that your mother had given up and "self-soothed" herself into apparent contentment (but really resignation). You'd be infuriated at the insensitivity of the people who were supposed to care for her, and you'd be alarmed at what effect this loveless treatment must have had on your mother's spirit.

Crying is supposed to give us a signal that something is wrong. It's supposed to trigger those feelings of discomfort that make us want to do something to stop the crying. When it takes a shelf-load or more of books to train parents on how to ignore their baby's crying for progressively longer times, that shows how unnatural and forced it is: Not to respond is actually harder than responding.

So give in. Believe your baby has something of value to say to you. And then carry that belief through to when that baby gains words and an ability to communicate more directly. If your partner was crying, you would respond immediately with concern and a hug. If your friend was excited, you would jump up and down, too. We're honored to treat our children with the same empathy and respect.

I want to point you to a few more links on the subject.

     • I found this article at Rachel's Ramblings"Crying It Out Once" — to be incredibly poignant. The first time she tried crying it out was when her son was 2 years old, and at that age he was able to use words to break her heart and bring her back. "That is why I am glad that I never left him to cry alone when he was an infant and without words I could understand," she writes. When I first read her post, I had just had such an experience of exasperation myself, so it was wrenching to read the reminder of what we do to our children when we separate ourselves from them when they need us.

     • PhD in Parenting has written several articles on the science and morality of crying it out. A favorite is "Cry it out (CIO): 10 reasons why it is not for us," which goes through the biology behind excessive infant crying and how it causes stress reactions, developmental problems, emotional issues, insecurity, detachment, and trauma — results that persist into later life and adult relationships. At the end, she gives several links to her research on the subject, so check those out for more footnotes than I'm providing here. (I'm lazy. What can I say.) For what to do instead of CIO, check out her wise article "Gentle Baby and Toddler Sleep Tips," which will help you find alternatives to crying it out that will still net you and yours a healthy night's sleep (sometimes, maybe, no promises, but ultimately yes).

     • To move the conversation along to respecting all ages of children, think over Arwyn's post at Raising My Boychick: "Dancing between the tables: on the personhood of children," on how we as a society deny children the right to behave and communicate like children. It starts with ignoring a baby's cries, and it continues to discriminating against any sort of behavior that's not exactly in line with what's convenient to adults (read: quiet and unnoticeable, which is a higher and much more unreasonable standard than that to which we hold other adults!).

     • And also read Ruth's (p)response on the topic at Look Left of the Pleiades: "People who dance between tables." Brilliant quotes: "Children do have age-specific support requirements. ... Having a need for age-specific support should not make anyone any less human. It should not make you any less listened to, should not make you any less important; should not make your pain any less real; should not mean you have less agency; should not make people assume the choices you make are less valid or even laughable; it should not make you the butt of jokes; it should not make your life into nothing more than a plotline for people who do not have the same support requirements; should not mean that if something frightening happens to you because your support requirements have not been met that this is somehow hilarious; should not mean that you are not allowed into public areas because of your need for support; should not mean that if you display your need for support vocally that you or your carer are disparaged." And, simply: "Children are humans. People."

     • And here are a few more articles I've written on the subject of responding to and respecting children: "Respecting short people" talks about how TV nannies really just show who's being childish in giving time-outs and refusing to play until some arbitrary rule is followed, and how the way our schools treat high school students is dehumanizing and degrading. "Why do we push our babies out of the nest?" muses about the cultural conditioning of independence as elucidated in Our Babies, Ourselves and wonders what we hope to gain by creating entirely independent children. "A distaste for dependence" is where I acknowledge my own limitations and stumbling blocks in being as responsive as I want to be, and Arwyn in the comments gives me a better word choice of "interdependent" as my (our) ultimate goal in attachment parenting. Finally (for now), "Tantrums and the terrible twos" describes how my particular son, with all his drama and innocence, keeps reminding me of the need to respond fairly, sensitively, and with great joy and honor at being needed and communicated with.

Photo courtesy kukacz on flickr (cc)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

AP Principle #2: What I wish I'd known when I started breastfeeding

Welcome to the October Carnival of Breastfeeding: What I wish I'd known then. This post is also a continuation of Hobo Mama's celebration of Attachment Parenting Month, October 2009. This article focuses on the second principle of attachment parenting: Feed with Love and Respect (Breastfeeding).

This month in the breastfeeding carnival we're discussing what we wish we'd known when we began nursing. Be sure to check out the links at the end for the other participants' amazing posts!


This month's carnival is on "What I wish I'd known then," and I struggled to think of a nifty, finite piece of breastfeeding advice to pass along, like "Your milk letting down will feel a little like electricity, but don't be scared," or "Cloth nursing pads work better than disposables," or, "Breastfeeding lying down is a life-saver," or "Always nurse from the left side if it's a full moon." (All right, that last one isn't true, but the first three are!)

But instead my mind kept going back to nursing my newborn and what I most wish I'd known then, and it's one, big, scary, hairy, emotional bundle. I've been trying to distill down what I'd say to the me I was then, and I think in its purest essence my message from the future to my past self is: Trust yourself.

I'd done so much research on breastfeeding before giving birth. I'd gone to the sites, I'd checked out books, I'd talked with my midwives, I'd surreptitiously peeked at other nursing mothers. I knew that, in the hospital, a lot of women intending to breastfeed end up going home with formula samples and having supplements pushed on their baby by well-meaning but ill-informed nurses. But that wouldn't be me, I reasoned, because I was having a home birth.

Only, we transferred to the hospital after 39 hours of seemingly unproductive labor (there's another post for another day, with the same general conclusion), and I ended up at what was purportedly a breastfeeding-friendly hospital, in that there's no routine policy of giving new mothers formula, and all the nurses did seem to have a thing or thirteen to say about breastfeeding. Boy, did they! All the information was overwhelming, and my sense of wanting to please those in authority kicked into overdrive, despite my attempts to remind myself that I was a thirty-one-year-old woman and my child's mother. No one could boss me around...but I let them.

I got contradictory breastfeeding advice; I was told things I knew flat-out were untrue old wives' tales (e.g., no spicy food while breastfeeding); no matter how I was breastfeeding, whenever a nurse came in, she would invariably wrench my breast some other way and reposition the baby and tell me I was doing it wrong — then the next nurse would jerk me back the way I'd been to begin with.

But the worst was that one nurse convinced me that Mikko needed formula supplementation, just "to be sure he could eat." Huh? I don't even understand it now, but with my hormone-flooded, sleep-deprived, new-mama brain then, and despite my reservations and, really, a sense of horror to see a bottle of formula approaching my child's sweet newborn mouth, I figured the nurse must know what she was talking about. I've moaned about the results before, but basically it led to a week of breastfeeding obnoxiousness, where Sam & I had to supplement and pump, just to keep Mikko happy.

My midwife, the voice of reason, came to visit us at home the day after we were released and set us straight. It was fine. Everything was fine. My milk had come in (oh, that's why my breasts are so tremendously hard and tremendously tremendous!), Mikko was learning to latch on, and we could wean him off the supplemental feeding to concentrate on just.plain.breastfeeding. It still took several more days, but we did. I just wish we'd never started down that road in the first place.

If I could go back in time, I would be the advocate for my tired, timid self and tell the pushy nurses to back off. I would remind them that my breasts are part of my body and to treat them, and my baby, with respect. Since the me in the past was sore and bleeding and unsure and not wanting to leave the hospital bed to get into a fight, I would do the walking and defending for me by gently removing the formula from the pushiest nurse's hands and oh-so-sweetly dropping it into the wastebasket, and then asking her to leave and stop undermining my breastfeeding progress. I would remind everyone around me, including myself, that, no, that beautiful, sweet, yellow colostrum is not a raging fountain, but that's OK. It's supposed to be a trickle. Let it be. I would remind everyone that it's entirely normal for babies to lose a little weight in their first week or so, and just to chill unless there was clearly a medical problem. I would remind everyone that sometimes babies cry, even if they're well fed, and particularly if they've just emerged from a tight, warm, wet cocoon into the harsh, bright world of a hospital room, and that it doesn't mean that something's nutritionally wrong.

I might have been a first-time mother who had never held that young a baby before, who had never breastfed in her life before, but I knew the right things, and I knew whom to ask if I needed help. What I didn't know was how to hold firm when all the authorities around me were eroding my faith in my own judgment and sense.

All I can do is hope that next time will be better for me, and that maybe by saying it enough times here, the first time or the next time will be better for you, too.

Trust yourself. You're the mother. Trust yourself.


Please read the excellent posts from our other carnival participants:

Massachusetts Friends of Midwives: "What I Wish I'd Known Back Then About Breastfeeding"
Lucy & Ethel Have a Baby: "If I'd Known Then..."
The Starr Family Blog: "I wish I would've known!"
Momma's Angel: "What I Wish I'd Known Then — My List for Next Time"
Breastfeeding Moms Unite!: "You Don’t Have to Grin and Bear It"
Birth Activist: "What I Wish I Would Have Known About Breastfeeding"
Three Girl Pile-Up: "4 things I wish I’d known about breastfeeding"
Happy Bambino: "I wish I had known then…that it wasn’t up to me alone"
My World Edenwild: "What I Wish I'd Known Then: A Poem"
The Milk Mama: "When breastfeeding begins badly, and what I should have done about it"
Fancy Pancakes: "Breastfeeding: Wish I'd Heard More Good Things!"
Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog: "Swine flu ate my carnival post." :( Go wish Tanya a quick recovery.
Breastfeeding Mums: "15 Breastfeeding Facts I Wish I'd Known as a First Time Breastfeeding Mum"
Fighting Off Frumpy: "When Breastfeeding Feels Wrong"
Cave Mother: "Nursing Wisdom"
Breastfeeding 1-2-3: "Trust Yourself and Your Body"
Blacktating: "Breastfeeding is life changing"
Mum Unplugged: "Breastfeeding: What I wish I’d known then"

Photo courtesy manueb on flickr (cc)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

AP Principle #1: Move and groove during labor and birth

This post is a continuation of Hobo Mama's celebration of Attachment Parenting Month, October 2009. This article focuses on the first principle of attachment parenting: Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting (Birth Bonding)

[UPDATE: Here's the carnival post: "Healthy Birth Blog Carnival: Walk, move around, and change positions throughout labor" so you can read everyone's entries.]

I'm getting some help today. The title comes from one of Mikko's favorite Signing Time DVDs (what? They go through my head), the birthing photos come from Christy Scherrer, and the topic comes from Science & Sensibility, a Lamaze International blog that's hosting a series of birth carnivals on Lamaze's principles. (You can join, too! Post by tomorrow, Oct. 25.) This time around, the topic is Lamaze’s second Healthy Birth Practice: Walk, move around, and change positions throughout labor.

This in turn relates to the first principle of attachment parenting:

Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting (Birth Bonding)

As I mentioned in my attachment parenting primer, the original, narrower focus was to bond with your baby immediately after birth, the better to attach emotionally and initiate breastfeeding.

But doing so means taking a step back and figuring out what path will lead to bonding immediately after birth. Unfortunately, the typical medical model can undermine that bonding process in a number of ways. Mothers and babies are often under the influence of powerful synthetic hormones and numbing medications. Overeager inductions increase the risk of preterm birth, which in turn increases the need for medical attention to the baby or mother immediately following birth. C-sections necessarily separate mother and baby, visually and physically, as both are cared for separately until they can be reunited. Hospital routines and policies can mean that even a baby born after a normal, natural birth is carried off to be wiped down, warmed up, and suctioned out, and have blood tests and needle pricks, before a mother gets to hold her newborn.

Preventing true medical emergency isn't in our power, but doing what we can as birthing women to keep unnecessary interventions in the birthing process to a minimum will give our babies the best chance of an uncomplicated, serene entry into the world.

There are a lot of methods that work toward that end, but today we'll focus on movement.

Lying flat on your back during birthing doesn't make much sense if you consider the physics of it. The baby's coming out below, so you might as well sit up, stand up, dance, and walk, and let gravity help you out.

Keeping a more upright position allows the baby to continue placing even pressure on your cervix, which stimulates the natural ripening and contracting processes.

I'll give you a little story of how I used movement in birthing, because there was a lot of variety. Feel free to comment with other ideas for women who are anticipating their birthing time to take away.

For the reasons I mentioned above, I intended to have a home birth with licensed midwives in attendance. I ended up transferring to a hospital after 39 hours of labor, but I was able to have a natural birth in the hospital with a certified nurse-midwife in attendance and my original midwives acting as doulas. Sam was with me the entire labor, acting as birth partner. The secret, as it turned out, was that Mikko was going to come out weighing a hefty almost 12 pounds; that's probably why the labor was so (apparently) slow — he just needed time to make a way for himself.

Not knowing what was on the inside or how long he would take to emerge, the midwives coached me into a variety of movements and positions to encourage good positioning and a healthy labor, and others I chose for myself instinctually or because of ideas I had read about.

     • The first and most important preparation I made was doing the Hypnobabies self-study course for hypnosis during childbirth (no, they're not giving me any kickbacks...). My Hypnobabies training kept me calm and focused during the 42 hours of my birthing time. I chose Hypnobabies in particular out of the childbirth hypnosis options because it's the method that promotes "eyes-open childbirth hypnosis" — unlike other hypnosis or deep relaxation methods that take place only lying down with eyes closed, the eyes-open hypnosis technique means you can be moving around, talking and aware and still be in a deeply focused and relaxed state. I knew I wanted to use hypnosis, and I knew I wanted to move around during labor, so this was the perfect fit for me!

     • When Sam and I were alone for the beginning hours of labor, we sat together in a birthing tub (a kiddie pool, in fact). I leaned forward against the inflatable wall of the tub during contractions, and Sam applied counter-pressure on my back since all the intensity was there. (He did this through nearly every contraction for 42 hours. Good man. As a bonus tip for ya, to save his hand strength he switched to using a little wooden massager we had — only ours wasn't shaped like a dolphin with legs; you can usually find something similar in drugstores for some reason.)

     • When the midwives arrived, they didn't want me to sit if possible, so I switched to taking showers instead of sitting in the tub, with the hot water srpay substituting for counterpressure on my back. Thank goodness for the capacious water heater tanks of my apartment building at the time! I put one foot up on the bathtub rim and lunged forward and back during contractions, visualizing the baby turning and facing the right way to slide on out. I also sang songs to him while I stood in the shower — that's not technically much of a movement, but it helped me feel connected and hopeful and motherly. I recommend it!

     • The midwives encouraged lots of walking, so Sam and I went on several slow walks along the beach outside our apartment. It was a chilly and cloudy day, so there weren't many onlookers. The one woman who could tell I was in labor said something like "Don't worry — they all come out eventually!" as she passed me, which made me smile. The cool temperatures didn't bother me, because I was running a fever (a thankful-anyway thing?), but I must have looked a fright. I was mostly naked at home (all those showers!), so I would throw on a stretchy maternity shirt and a cami, an unbuttoned coat over that, socks to keep my feet warm, and then the sandals that still fit. Apparently labor wasn't a time to be fashion-conscious. During contractions, I stopped and swayed against Sam, holding onto his shoulders in a slow-dance-like pose, or bracing myself against a nearby object so he could apply counterpressure. We also rested on benches and logs along our path. (Shhh...don't tell the midwives.) At the stairs leading down to the beach, I put one foot on a higher step than the other and lunged back and forth during contractions as I'd done in the shower, switching feet for the next contraction. The idea was to get the baby to spin to the optimal position, in case that was what was slowing labor. (He definitely was a little bit tipped, and there was some suggestion that he was face up instead of back. I think most of the positioning issues just had to do with my body getting me slowly ready to fit his tremendous self on through; eventually it all came together.)

     • Back at home, I enjoyed bouncing up and down on a birth ball as a respite from walking and standing.

     • For the times when even sitting was too exhausting, I curled up on my bed so I could catch little naps in between contractions. When a new wave would come on, I would get Sam's help to pull myself into a kneeling position, leaning forward on a pillow with my butt in the air. This also was to give the baby plenty of room to turn and to encourage pressure on my cervix.

     • I spent time on the toilet, as well as kneeling in front of it. (I had fully intended to eat and drink through labor, but my stomach made other plans!)

     • For several reasons that I won't second-guess here and now (though perhaps in a later post), we decided to transfer to the hospital. I won't talk about the horrific car ride because I don't have much advice on how to be comfortable in transition in a car except to say "good luck," and just to hang on and survive it. Once we got to the hospital, I ripped off my clothes again (it had become a habit by that point) and knelt on the bed. Once all the bleeping (in various forms of the word) monitors were attached and questions answered, I finally could get down to pushing. For pushing, I used a squatting bar during some contractions, always resting back into a sitting position in between so I didn't wear myself out. The squatting position was really intense, so I switched to more of a sitting position, with the bed's back in a fairly upright position and my legs pressed up toward my chest. (I'm sure you've seen it on A Baby Story...) That felt more manageable and allowed me to push more intentionally and in a controlled manner.

The result of all of these movements during labor?

A healthy, 11 pound, 13 ounce baby boy, born vaginally and without pain medication, who was able to lie skin-to-skin on my chest immediately after the birth and begin his first breastfeeding attempts within several minutes.

Just as a final note: I appreciate that the hospital we went to has a healthy respect for natural birth and allows certified nurse-midwives to practice there. I also appreciated aspects that maybe would not have been common in just any hospital: the availability of a squatting bar, the welcome and respect my licensed midwives received, and that there weren't any goody bags of formula samples. However, in just my few short hours of labor there, I got the impression that no way would I have been able to move as much there as I had been able to at home. The hospital wanted a stretchy monitoring belt around my midsection the whole time, and the nurse in charge of it kept fiddling with it and wanting me to hold still so it could take its readings. In contrast, the midwives at my home used a handheld doppler to check the baby's heartbeat at timed intervals, even allowing me to remain in the shower (with the water turned off) while they used it, and then letting me get back to my laboring. Everything about the midwives' monitoring was as unobtrusive as possible while still being conservatively safe in checking on the health of the baby and me, and their suggestions for movement (walking, lunges, showers) were based on their years of experience studying the birthing process and attending births. All this is to say: Either birth at home or a birthing center, or be prepared to do some serious finagling in the hospital to be allowed the movement you need in labor. In that case, consider hiring a doula, particularly if you and your birth partner (like Sam and I both are) are rather shy and not prone to speak up to protest against authority telling you what you can and cannot do. And in any case, if medically prudent, stay at home for as long as you can during the labor, to allow yourself free movement for as long as possible. Yes, it means being strapped in for a crappy car ride, but it's worth it to avoid being strapped down for the bulk of your labor.

So, those are my movement stories from birthing Mikko, the movements that helped propel me toward a natural and uncomplicated birth. What sorts of movements did or didn't work for you? Do you wish you'd moved more?

"Healthy Birth Blog Carnival: Walk, move around, and change positions throughout labor" — visit the carnival link to visit the other excellent entries!

Special thanks to Christy Scherrer for offering up so many
beautiful birth photos under a cc license on flickr.
When I went searching for pictures of movement in labor
to accompany this article, I couldn't resist
making it a gallery of her emotion-rich images.