Tuesday, July 31, 2007
You wonder what I'm talking about? Wait-- here's another one: "Meet Peter, my breast friend." Now you wonder what I'm smoking.
Okay, folks, here's the deal: Breastfeeding Awareness Week (Aug 1-7) begins tomorrow. I've been thinking of ideas to celebrate on the old blog, but most of my ideas just don't feel right. Record facts and statistics? Bo-ring. Provide helpful hints? I've been preachy enough lately as it is. More borderline-inappropriate puns? I'll spare you.
I think that what I'd really like to do is tell a story. Mine. Peter's. The story of our nursing relationship-- and a story which, I hope, is sufficiently universal with regard to maternal feelings that mothers of all feeding persuasions (i.e., breast or bottle) might in some small way relate.
Monday, July 30, 2007
And if you pretend that it didn't happen, will it eventually clean itself up? Apparently not. Even if you wait two months, at which point it goes from being just gooey to being rock solid on top and gooey on the bottom. I wonder how long I might have let this go on, if I hadn't brought home milk with a crack in the jug?
The only thing funner than cleaning spilled syrup is adding spilled milk and a toddler who is pulling everything out of the refrigerator door as you work.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
I had left Peter in the church nursery, as usual, and stood in the hallway waiting for my pager to go off, as usual, signifying that my son's earsplitting screams had finally convinced the most determined of nursery workers that, alas, this kid just needs his mama. When fifteen minutes passed, I wondered what on earth was going on, so Tom went to check. "He's doing fine. He's eating a snack." No way! Thirty minutes later, he was still fine. A fluke, surely. What would happen the next week?
Trucks, push toys, new friends and coloring-- but no tears. Actually, they said he did start to cry at one point, but that he quickly got over it. What! My son soothe himself?
Today was our fourth successful Sunday. Things didn't look good at first. Suffering from a baby hangover (i.e., mama and daddy kept him out way too late last night), Peter walked into the nursery and began a tantrum which probably made a small jump in the Richter scale. I passed him to a worker, waited in the hallway, and peeked back five minutes later to see him grinning in the face of younger baby.
Meanwhile, father and son are enjoying their first extended spells together. I actually went to a studio to work on some of my freelance projects and spent five hours away from home. Five hours. Do you know what a woman can accomplish in five hours, without her conjoined son?
What I didn't realize, though, was that while my son may outgrow separation anxiety, I never will. I'm not ready for five-hour breaks from him. But three hours... Heck, yeah!
Saturday, July 28, 2007
... my husband.
... my baby.
You fill in the blank. Maybe it really, really didn't work and will never work under any conditions. Can I make a couple suggestions, though?
1) Get a white noise machine. This will keep light sleepers from waking at every little sound. We use one.
2) Get a bigger bed. Co-sleeping isn't fun when there's no room to roll over.
3) Give it time. Funny how we will expect a baby to adapt to solitary sleep, even if it takes two weeks, yet we ourselves often don't want to adapt our sleeping habits to include a baby. The first few nights of co-sleeping might feel really strange. You're not used to a baby being there. You might not sleep as well. Even a few nights into it, you might not sleep as well. Or perhaps it'll be your spouse wanting to throw in the towel. Give it a few weeks though, and then see how you feel.
Am I trying to convince you to co-sleep? Not if your baby is older than six months and what you're already doing works! I want to share this, though, as one of the few ways that a mother can get a good night's sleep while tending to the needs of her baby.
After all, when your baby wakes in her crib, she cries until you come and pick her up and tend to her then put her down-- and both of you have lost some sleep. When your baby wakes in your bed, she whimpers and you roll over and offer a breast as the two of you drift back into sleep without ever fully waking up. I still nurse my son in the night, but I can never tell in the morning when or how often or anything. I'm just vaguely aware that it occurred.
Thus, the issue of my child "sleeping through the night" is the least of my concerns. We have spells when it happens, but that's neither here nor there for me. When someone asks if he sleeps through the night, I say "yes." I don't think he's much aware of those night feeds any more than I am, with the both of us dozing through them!
Though the first time I answered another mother that "Yes, Peter sleeps through the night", I felt like a pile of slop when she said, "Oh, you are so lucky! My son is six months, and he still wakes up several times." At which point I stammered that Peter doesn't really sleep through the night, that he still nurses, he just doesn't fully wake up...
Thursday, July 26, 2007
1) I have a firm mattress.
2) I have a flat bedspread, and I'm willing to keep it at waist level.
3) I have a guardrail for my side of the bed.
4) I have read this article, written by a pediatrician, on safe co-sleeping.
If so, here's your permission slip to co-sleep. You won't find this permission in the mainstream press, as long as the JPMA is the cash cow for SIDS studies, but you'll be in step with most of the past and present mothers in the world.
I'm not saying that crib sleeping is wrong. Some babies adapt quite easily to it. Though, along with the AAP, I would urge you to at least keep that baby in the same room with you for the first six months when, like it or not, wakings are a good thing, lessening the risk of SIDS.
For many babies, though, crib sleeping creates more problems than it's worth. It can lead mothers to push long-duration sleeping on their infants at a time when they are most at risk for SIDS. It can lead them to push cereal on their baby before those intestines are ready, in hopes that their baby will sleep longer. It can even lead to some of the sleep training methods I tried myself, escalating in our case to borderline cruelty. Even for those mothers who don't do sleep training, who wants to get out of bed to tend to a baby at 3:00 a.m.? No wonder Babywise and similar books have such mass appeal!
What if mothers knew it's okay to eschew the crib and keep their babies close, as biologically designed? What if they knew that co-sleeping is not going to destroy their marriage? What if they knew it might resolve most of their child's sleep "problems"?
If crib-sleeping worked best for most babies and toddlers, you wouldn't see a "Your Child's Sleep Problem Solved!" title on the cover of every mainstream parenting magazine in the US. You wouldn't see book after book after book on children's sleep issues lining the shelves at Barnes and Noble.
Mothers from most parts of the globe would be perplexed by the sleep questions we ask.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
1) If you're going to feed your baby in bed, ever (even for a daytime nap), get rid of your fluffy comforter. You wouldn't have one in the crib, would you?
2) If you're going to feed your baby in bed, ever, don't let anyone else sleep next to the baby. One stray hand from your husband or another child is all it takes to block an infant's airway. As Dr. Sears points out in Nighttime Parenting, there is no evidence of mothers suffocating their infants (unless they're under chemical influence), but other people don't have that sharp maternal instinct.
3) Do not let a baby in your bed if you have been drinking alcohol or taking drugs. "Well, duh," you say, "I wouldn't take drugs, anyway." But how about cold medicine? That's a no-no-no-no-no if you ever feed your baby in bed.
4) Unless your bed is just a mattress on the floor (which is a great idea, by the way), get a guardrail for your side of the bed. Pull it up any time your baby comes into bed. Yes, even if your baby is a crib sleeper, if you ever feed the baby in bed, get this! Isn't $20 worth some piece of mind?
5) Don't bring the baby into a bed that's not firm. Are waterbeds still around? I don't know, but the new rage is pillow-top mattresses. Not a good idea, folks.
6) Don't share covers with the baby. It's too easy for these to slip over his head. Keep your baby swaddled or in a sleep sac on top of your own covers. And keep those covers around your waist! (Not fun in the winter months. I had to sleep in long sleeves.)
Am I being overly cautious? You'll see these tips in other places. All of them are based on really horrific things that have happened to many babies whose mothers had good intentions.
I wish that I had known these rules before my son was born. I didn't read up on safe co-sleeping, since I planned for my kid to sleep on his own. All I ever heard was that the safest place for the baby was a crib, based on studies which I have sinced learned were funded by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (the JPMA, the group to which 95% of crib makers in the US belong).
Under the right conditions, sleeping with your baby can be safer than having him sleep in a crib. I plan to do it with my future children. But, again, under the right conditions. Learn them. Follow them.
Scene 1, sometime around Peter's 3rd month:
My eyes pop open. It's 3 a.m., and I've fallen asleep nursing. So has Peter, who is nestled between Tom and me. Well, this isn't what I want. What I want is a baby sleeping safely in his "crib"-- which would be the infant bucket sitting in a cradle next to my bed. So in the darkened room, I pick up Peter under his arms and place him in the car seat.
But he's not laying right. Still holding him under the arms, I try again. And again. Why won't he lay right? Frustrated, I try to hold him a different way, at which point I realize I have been trying to put him in his carseat face down.
Scene 2, sometime around Peter's 4th month:
I've fallen asleep nursing again. How do I awaken this time? To Peter's cries, because he has just rolled off my side of the bed. Dreadful, dreadful.
Why I am telling on myself?
Well, for starters, if you're going to co-sleep, learn how to do it safely. I broke so many rules in the above stories, we're fortunate that nothing worse happened. I'll talk more about that tomorrow. But the other thing is this, even if you're never going to co-sleep-- but you think you might occasionally bring the baby to bed for a feeding-- learn how to do it safely. Because nursing can knock you out. Again, see my tips tomorrow.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Boy, that issue really dogged me when I was pregnant. The very thought of getting out of bed to feed a baby in the middle of the night, perhaps even pacing the floor with him screaming, had me fatigued. I decided, though, that since Weissbluth (Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child) says some babies still need night feedings up until 9 months old, I wouldn't force any sleep training before then. Still, I hoped that my child might start sleeping through the night on his own by, I don't know, three months? Oh, how I hoped!
What has happened since then? Sister, you don't even want to know! I'll share our sleep story some other time. But I'll tell you one thing I learned, as I read book after book after book on sleep: When a baby younger than six months sleeps through the night, it's not necessarily a good thing. Oh, we might think that a baby who sleeps for a long time is "sleeping better"-- but at this age, you have to question what "better" is. In some cases, prolonged sleep can actually be detrimental. Here's how:
1) SIDS. Babies younger than six months are at the greatest risk for SIDS. This risk peaks between 2-4 months, the period in which infants sleep the deepest. The longer a baby sleeps, the deeper he sleeps, and the more difficult it is for him to rouse himself if he encounters a breathing problem. This is why the AAP recommends co-sleeping for a baby's first six months. Babies sleep less deeply when mom is in the room and that, my friends, is sleeping better. Crazy, I know.
2) Let-Down. For a breastfeeding mother, her let-down is strongest at night. If God designed it that way, then I figure we ought to roll with it rather than wishing it away. This night nursing keeps up a mother's milk supply (crucial, since the AAP now recommends exclusive breastfeeding for a minimum of six months) while ensuring adequate weight gain for the child.
3) Child Spacing. A baby who wakes in the night is good for birth control. Because this leaves you too fatigued to, uh, procreate? No. Because the frequency of a baby's suckling is one of the single greatest factors as to when your fertility returns. Many women I know experienced their first postpartum menses as soon as their baby began sleeping through the night.
Of course, if I had read all this two years ago, I would have said, "But a mother needs her sleep! How can she take care of a baby when she's been up all night feeding her?" Well, yes, a mother needs her sleep. No question about that. I've since learned, though, how easily she can feed a baby without losing a Z. More on that this week.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Why? It will mean giving up jon-jons. These one-piece, button-crotch outfits are immensely practical for a diapered baby, but I have to face facts: one day my little man is going to need some real pants. Even the thought of weaning him doesn't bring tears to my eyes as much as the thought of seeing Peter in big boy clothes.
They say boys train later, so I'm hoping he'll be closer to three. If he shows signs of readiness before then, I may have to just close my eyes. "What's that? You want to pee pee in the potty? Why would you want to do that? Silly monkey!"
Monday, July 16, 2007
Step 1: Learn why the Roman Church banned it in the first place
Step 2: Learn why the Protestant Church eventually accepted it
Step 3: Answer these questions by Josh McDowell, sent to me by Sarah:
1) Will it violate my conscience, or my understanding of the Lordship of Christ?
2) Will it help others by its example?
3) Will it be spiritually profitable?
4) Does it have the potential to dominate/control me?
5) Am I exercising this freedom to cover my sin?
6) Would Jesus do this?
7) Will it have evangelistic purposes?
This is going to take some time, so I'm going to publically drop this struggle while I deal with it in private.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
1) Since I'm not ecologically breastfeeding, I should protect my body from more pregnancies than it was meant to handle in a short amount of time. God designed our bodies to do one thing, but most of us veer from this design for cultural reasons.
2) My baby is still a baby. Many pediatricians and psychologists recommend a 3-year spacing between children as the ideal for having the closest possible sibling relationship with the least amount of sibling rivalry. My mother will attest to this: one of my brothers was three when I was born, and he was overjoyed to welcome me home. My other brother was sixteen months, and my arrival was traumatic for him.
Yet is the formula that simple? If the average baby is ready for a sibling by age three, that means some babies fall below or above that average. When a mother is ecologically breastfeeding, the frequency of her child's suckling tells her body how intense her child's need for her is. Her body responds accordingly, with her fertility hormones either rising or continuing to be suppressed.
Since I am not ecologically breastfeeding, shouldn't I err on the side of caution?
3) I'm not convinced that birth control is sinful. I'd like to research more about the church's position on this over the years-- how it originated, how it's changed-- but until then, do I want to play baby roulette (ugh-- what a crass term I just used)? Shouldn't I put more prayer and study into this before I make such a major decision?
Friday, July 13, 2007
1) The longer I'm a mother, the more I appreciate God's design for my body. I've realized that every time I interfere with this design, I'm taking a risk. "Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial."
Let's take breastfeeding as an example. In countries where women not only have more children, but also breastfeed them for longer than we typically do, their breast cancer rate is less than half of that in the US.
Or how about endometriosis? This afflicts one in ten women in the US, thousands of whom will have a hysterectomy because of it. Yet pregnancy and breastfeeding keep it in remission. If, as in times past, women had babies sooner rather than later and then spent the bulk of their fertile years nursing and birthing more children, would this disease be as common as it is?
God didn't design a woman to have 450 periods in her lifetime. Each period she has increases her risks for breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers. This argument, incidentally, has become popular among makers of the Pill. But of course, hormonal birth control has risks of its own.
2) I've become wary of attitudes which consider children a burden rather than a blessing. In Scripture, procreation is celebrated, lauded-- treated with reverence and joy! The Hebrews hung out in ancient Egypt, but they didn't bring back their birth control practices. You don't see Boaz saying, "Let me get that raise, Ruth, and then we can add a nursery to the house." Blek. No, you hear, "Behold, children are a gift of the LORD; The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one's youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them" (Psalm 127).
Even Protestants eschewed birth control until the early twentieth century. Whereas I used to wonder why the Catholic Church was so opposed, I've now decided that the greater question is not why birth control should be prohibited-- but, rather, why it would be permitted.
3) My eggs have seen better days. Forty may be the new thirty, but no one's told my ovaries. If I were to put off conception through artificial means only to be unable to conceive when it's more convenient, I'd regret it.
So those three reasons are one side of the coin, but what about the other? What's stopping me from just going the Duggar way? This weekend, I'll explain.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
"So you want to make a baby?" he kept asking.
"No, actually," I said several times. "I very strongly don't want to make another baby right now."
"Then let's keep with the plan to start trying when Peter is two. February."
"That's when I'd like to get pregnant, but I'm wondering if we should be more open to letting nature take it's course. I don't really even think I'm fertile anyway."
"Yeah, but if you did get pregnant right now," Tom would say, "we'd be moving a year from now with a two-year-old and an infant. Peter is enough to keep up with as it is. Can you imagine trying to sell the condo, buy a new house, and make the move if you're in the middle of having a baby?"
I'd reply, "I know. I don't want to do that. That's why I wouldn't want to get pregnant until February."
"Okay, so let's stick with February."
"But I'm not sure that's the right thing," I'd say. "In fact, if you gave me the choice between having a baby sooner than planned or later than planned, I'd pick sooner every time."
"So you want to make a baby?" he'd ask, and we'd go through this same circular conversation again. I think we recited this dialogue four or five times.
I don't blame Tom for his confusion. How do you carry on a conversation with someone who keeps changing her position? What I didn't do was explain to him why I'm questioning birth control (of any sort) in the first place.
I'm not even sure myself.
I'm certainly not well-read on the issue. Oh, I know there's controversy over how the Pill works, but I haven't pursued it since I never found a type that didn't make me fat, moody, or nauseas. Plus, I've grown wary of messing with my body through artificial means. So that's out. Why not just use a barrier method? Or natural family planning? Possibly.
But how did my questioning even begin? I'll save that for tomorrow.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Much as I admire my grandmother, her devotion to childrearing, and her willingness to sacrifice materially for what she believed, I don't believe that a woman's body was designed to have as many pregnancies and full-term births as she had in a relatively short period of time. Her kids were primarily bottlefed, and her fertility quickly returned between children.
Had she been "ecologically breastfeeding," she'd have had five or six kids, not nine. That's a pretty big difference.
This is the heart of my dilemma. While I appreciate the quiverfull philosophy which reminds us that children are a blessing from God, not a burden, and that the abundance of children is a particular blessing, I also believe that God did not design women to have a baby every year, or even every other year.* A 2-4 year spacing between children is optimal for both mother and child. This allows a woman's body to heal and restore itself between births. It allows each baby to receive as much of the mother's physical nurturing as he needs, from frequent breastfeeding to help getting to sleep, for as long as he needs it.
Quiverfull appeals to me, but as the mother of a high needs toddler, I sympathize with parents who feel overwhelmed at the thought of another child. And as someone who is almost, but not quite, ecologically breastfeeding, I sympathize with those parents who aren't eager to change their parenting practices. (If I were taking that afternoon nap with my son, I wouldn't be typing this right now.)
*I should note that most quiverfull proponents stress breastfeeding, but I know few who completely practice all seven tenets of ecological breastfeeding.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Had they limited their number of kids, they would have lived a comfortable, middle class life. Actually, I happen to believe that they did live a comfortable, middle class life-- just not by today's standards. The kids usually received one big Christmas present. As in, one present for all of the kids, not one per child. They shared bedrooms. They passed down clothes. They were expected to help with dinner and share the care of the little ones.
They also had food enough for all, a roof over their heads, and all nine children attended college.
My husband thinks I romanticize all of this. (Maybe I do, a little bit. Especially when I picture big, loud, messy dinners with a slew of children from teenage to toddler!) Really, though, I bring up my dad's story to contrast it with the sense of entitlement so common in childrearing today:
- My child is entitled to his own bedroom by a certain age.
- My child is entitled to music lessons.
- My child is entitled to attend camp.
- My child is entitled to ride in a car manufactured in the last six years.
- My child is entitled to a pair of heelys.
- My child is entitled to a dinner that she did not help prepare.
- My child is entitled to help buying his first car.
- My child is entitled to a college education paid by me.
What does this entitlement have to do with birth control? Well, most folks I know openly admit to planning their family according to what they "can afford." Yet, ironically, the greater the income, the lower the birth rate.
Some people would say that this is because the wealthier you are, the better educated you are, and therefore you have more knowledge regarding birth control and more concern for "overpopulation" (a theory, by the way, not a fact-- but I'll save that debate for another day). I don't buy it, though. I think the lower birth rate has more to do with ensuring Sally's riding lessons.
When I think about birth control in this light, I'll take my grandmother's conviction over today's materialism hands down.
But there's more to this story...
Monday, July 9, 2007
What these women practice is called ecological breastfeeding, the seven tenets of which are the following:
1) exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months
2) allow baby to suckle for comfort as well as nourishment
3) no bottles or pacifiers
4) sleep with baby for night feedings
5) take a nap with baby
6) nurse frequently and avoid feeding schedules
7) avoid any practice that separates mom and baby
When women follow all of the tenets, not just the ones they happen to like, they hold ovulation at bay. Two to four years pass between the births of their children. Oh, there’s the odd exception. (As my friend Kristen says, “We live in a fallen world, and our fertility is fallen too. There are women who want babies who can’t have them, and women who can’t stop having babies no matter what they do.”) But, the vast majority of the time, if you follow all seven of the rules, you won’t be having a baby every year.
Here in the US, most women’s fertility returns within six months postpartum. Even among breastfeeding mothers, fertility has usually returned by the end of a baby’s first year. Why? Sometimes because we schedule our nursing sessions, or fill our kids with solids, or expect our kids to sleep in their own beds, or nudge our babies to independence from the moment we lay them in the hospital isolette or pop in that pacifier.
Am I saying that these things are necessarily wrong? That breaking any of the seven tenets of ecological breastfeeding makes one a bad mother? If so, I’m guilty. In his early months, my son liked a pacifier now and then. I don’t regret giving it. And lately Peter’s decided that the church nursery is tolerable. I’m enjoying it. As for my taking an afternoon nap with him, you can forget it. I like having that mid-day “break” to get stuff done.
But I will say this: when ecological breastfeeding is not practiced in all its fullness, I can’t expect lactational amenorrhea. This leaves me three choices:
1) Practice some sort of birth control (from the barrier methods to hormonal ones to fertility awareness).
2) Change my mothering practices so that I do fulfill the seven tenets.
3) Accept the possibility of children close in age, letting nature take its course.
What's it gonna be?
Sunday, July 8, 2007
So I’m going to make myself process my conflicting thoughts on ye ole’ blog this week, even if I find myself disagreeing on Wednesday with what I said on Monday.
Friday, July 6, 2007
As we stood on the side of the highway in the heat of an Alabama drought with a crying toddler, my husband said, "So we'll look at cars this weekend." And I said, "Yeah."
With an old cell phone no longer in service, but charged up for such an emergency as this, we called 911 for assistance. Fortunately we were still in town, and Peter and I got a ride home with the sheriff while Daddy got to wait on a tow truck.
Since then, my car has been repaired. It wasn't expensive, but we're not looking back. The only question left is how to replace it.
I'm not 100% at peace with the idea of borrowing money. It's abhorrent to me. Yet I'm done with my car. Done. And I'm not willing to wipe out not only our savings but also our emergency fund. While I won't sleep well on a car loan, I won't sleep well on the other options either.
So financing we shall do. My only comfort is Tom's moonlighting. I'm hopeful, quite hopeful, that with the right discipline we can make this loan history by Christmas.
As for "Georgia," my college graduation present with whom I have spent my twenties, the car which saw me through dating, divinity school, my first job, marriage, my first house, and my first baby... May she rest in peace.