Saturday, August 30, 2008

Is Being a Mother Enough?

“Being a mother is not enough. Even an oyster can be a mother.” Charlotte Perkins Gilman

When I heard that quote while listening to the novel Loving Frank, it made me reflect on what is enough for me. I never expected being a mother to be enough. I expected it to be one part of the person I am. I’m actually pretty surprised at how fulfilling it is however, how fun it is to see aspects of yourself and the person you love most reflected in another, how rewarding it is to be able to nurture and love, how it helps one to appreciate the world when able to see it with fresh eyes.

Being a mother is still not enough for me to make me feel entirely fulfilled. I definitely need other aspects to who I am. Motherhood is taking a larger chunk of my life than I intended, yet I’m happy rather than concerned about it. I don’t want to be one of the women who suddenly feel themselves empty after their children are grown and gone because they’ve devoted themselves to nothing but their children. But I do want to enjoy life in the moment. And since being with River brings me joy, I’ll bask in that while it lasts. There will always be time to accomplish other things. But his fingers will only be this tiny, his skin so soft, his eyes so trusting, for so long.

Jalapeno Burn

I had been wondering what to do with the jalapenos I’d picked at my farmshare. I love going to the green leafy plants and looking for the curvy, long and slender green or red growth that will spice up my food. I saw online that peppers can be sliced and seeded, then frozen. So I decided to do that before leaving town yesterday.

I did pause momentarily as I was working, wondering whether the peppers were going to affect me adversely. But I hadn’t heard I needed to do anything special, so I continued on.

A while after I finished, my hands started to tingle, and then certain areas (near my fingernail, my thumbs, my pinkies) began to burn. I did a quick google and read about people rolling around on the floor and going to the emergency room from intense pain. Milk seemed like the most commonly suggested remedy, so I bathed my hands in 2% organic milk. The cold, thick liquid felt good on my hands, but it seemed an unfortunate waste of the expensive milk.

The milk seemed to work until I took a shower. Then the burning began a new, with more intensity than before. I gave my hands another milk bath, and followed it by dripping some lemon juice over the burns, since I’d read lemon juice could also be helpful. No luck.

When we got out to the car and I typed an address into the GPS, it felt like the GPS device was on fire. Mark had wanted me to drive half of the five hours it would take to get to our hotel and I knew I couldn’t do it if it felt like the steering wheel was burning. So he stopped at a pharmacy and bought me some benadryl. That worked fast at relieving the burning sensation.

I learned my lesson – I need to buy some plastic gloves and put them on anytime I’m working with jalapenos.

The Goo Monster

I suppose every parent must have days like this – days in which their child just seems like a manufacturer of goo. When I think about River today I see constant drool, tomato seeds and peels dripping down the chin, food caught in the neck, a shirt wet and stained, chunks of soggy bread on the carpet under his highchair, running snot, booger bubbles emerging from his nostrils, milk dripping down the side of his mouth. As a result, I also walked around with a shirt stained by tomatoes and breastmilk and felt like I was a walking advertisement for messes to come, especially when I walked into a winery.

Of course we love our child, no matter what he looks like or does. However, River distinctly lost some of his cuteness today and I wasn’t the only one who thought so.

“River, you’ve lost the chance to become the Gerber baby,” Mark told him while River cried, had barley soup and sweet potatoes dripping down his chin and snot running from his nose. “We can no longer sell you to Gerber.”

Of course we take some of the blame. Our traveling about prevented him from getting his 3-4 hour power nap that has been normal for him over the past few weeks. He slept a while during a hike, and I continued to walk farther than I’d planned in order to give him the chance to sleep longer.

While he was good for most of the day, the lack of a long nap made him struggle for some parts of the day, and look around dazed for others.

We had our most difficult lunch with him ever. I’m trying to use up the little jarred baby food we have during this trip since he’ll grow out of it soon. I offered him Earth’s Best organic sweet potatoes and chicken and was surprised when he refused it. He loves sweet potatoes and he likes chicken, so I didn’t know what the problem was, other than perhaps a lack of spices. He wanted the restaurant’s beef and barley soup (which probably had way too high levels of sodium), the cottage cheese, the wholegrain bread and the oranges. He cried and I realized that we are now going to have to leave higher tips in order to compensate for the mess and disruption. When we offered him the same sweet potatoes and chicken for dinner, he ate it.

We knew he wouldn’t make it through a dinner in a restaurant, so Mark dropped me off so I could put River down while he got us PA Dutch take-out. As soon as we returned to the quiet, familiar environment of the hotel room, River became his happy self again. He went potty, he played, he breastfed, he took a bottle and he went to sleep – a relief to us all. I was just tired of wetness, noise and goo.

Despite these problems, I have to give River credit. We were out and about all day and without a single poop in his pants. However, as soon as we got home and put him on the potty, out came a big poop. He never poops just before bedtime. Although I held him over adult toilets a couple of times during the day, we think he was hanging on until he was seated on his own, comfortable potty. We’re very proud of him for that. That would have been one more nasty substance to deal with that might have brought us over the edge.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Disgustingus Maximus

I’m sure most new parents expect they will have their share of gross moments. In our first 8.5 months, we’ve been pretty lucky. River has peed outside of a diaper only a handful of times and neither of us have been pooped on. There were several geyser-like spit ups, sudden fountains of white goo, but it’s been so long since that has happened regularly that I can almost forget what it was like to have my clothing wet with the thick liquid.

This morning we had our grossest experience ever and I was really lucky to get out of it. Usually I take care of River in the mornings, when he first gets up, and Mark takes him in the evening. This morning I was exhausted and didn’t feel well. I got up to pump at 6, then went back to bed. When I heard River around eight I asked Mark if he could get him and change his diaper before I fed him.

He wanted to put it off, asking whether there were toys in the crib for him to play with (no), saying we should give him some time.

“He probably has a poop in his pants,” I said, since I’d been seeing one lately first thing in the morning. “He needs someone to help him out.”

Mark finally went to get him and returned appalled.

“His diaper came off and there is poop everywhere,” he said. “This is going to take a while, including a bath.”

One half hour later he brought River to me for his feeding. He told me River was covered in feces from head to toe. It was on his shirt, on his face and his hands. It stained the crib, got on the bumper and clumped on the crib rails.

“I didn’t want you to see it or you might not have wanted to breastfeed him,” he said.

When I asked him if he thought River ate any of it, I crossed my fingers he’d say no.

“Yes, he probably did,” he said. His shirt was stained with it and he was sucking on his shirt.

That is so disgusting, yet I can’t do anything about it. If he ate his poop, there isn’t anything I can do now but to love him like always. Still, I wish there was something I could do to go back and change the circumstances.

It’s not clear whether the Velcro unfastened on the diaper or whether River pulled it off. Mark thinks River definitely played a role because he said the diaper was completely removed. During the summer, we’ve been putting him down just in a diaper. We’ll now be putting on pajamas or a sleepsack to make it harder to reach the diapers. If removing his diaper continues to be a problem, we might have to switch from the BumGeniuses, which have served us so well, to diapers that use snaps (Motherease or Fuzzi Bunz) to make removal a little more difficult.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Good recipe

Yay! I finally made something that used my abundance of produce and turned out well. This borsht recipe is great. It uses in-season tomatoes (I substituted fresh for canned), onions, beets, pepper and carrots, has some meat (which I’ve been lacking lately in the attempt to use my veggies) and a great taste. I’ll be pureeing some of this for baby, who could also use the meat and will hopefully appreciate a different soup on the menu!

What Happened to the Little Smile Machine?

In the past week or so, River has lost his perpetual smile. He used to have very limited emotions – smiling, panting at approaching food and crying. Now he’s expanded his repertoire. He’s become more serious and seems to be trying to analyze how things work – such as staring at the fan going back and forth and back and forth. But what has concerned us is the negative nature of some of his emotions.

The first to appear was the huff, in which he purses his lips and hyperventilates through his nose. This is clearly a sign of frustration. He does it whenever he wants to express disapproval – of a food, an activity or not getting what he wants. This morning, for the first time, he rejected the breakfast choices with clear disdain, then crying – first the minestrone (which I could understand he’d be sick of), then yogurt. He accepted a piece of toasted wholegrain bread to gnaw on.

Mark hates the huff. “It’s as though he’s telling me I’m an inadequate parent,” he says. “We have to do something about this or we’re going to have a difficult, demanding child.”

I’m also concerned because I don’t know at what point to draw the line between meeting a child’s needs and making sure they learn that the entire world isn’t there to give them what they want. I feel like everyone gets angry and frustrated at times, babies probably more so because they aren’t able to communicate. His huffs do indicate what he wants/needs.

I had read that you can’t spoil a baby in the first few months. I had also read that one-on-one attention was good for babies during the first year. So we’ve basically been letting him run the show, have responded to his needs when they arise and have bathed him in individual attention since the day he was born. Luckily, he’s been pretty easy to please and undemanding, as long as he has a consistent supply of food.

Last night I spent a lot of time catching up on my What to Expect in the First Year. I’d left off somewhere around month six. It did say that babies are frustrated by not being able to communicate. It also said this is the time to teach a baby that other people have needs too. It gave advice on how to get a baby used to spending some time alone while you do other things.

I imagine that part of the crankiness is due to teething. River’s first tooth is on the way. It does seem that now might be a good time to bring someone else into the picture – to give him a chance to play with another child and to balance his needs with those of another child. We’re looking into the possibility of sharing our babysitter with a little girl of River’s age.

After a couple of months of feeling we pretty much had the hang of this, a new stage begins to challenge us afresh and send me back to the books. Now that I’m blogging, perhaps readers will also be able to offer advice.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Rise of Parenting

I just finished I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron, which is a pretty funny book, especially if you are over 30 and feel physically different than you did at 25. The chapter Parenting in Three Stages is also pretty funny, especially the first part, where she describes the rise of “parenting.”

Here, she mentions how simple parenting used to be: “You love your children, you hang out with them from time to time, you throw balls, you read stories, you make sure they know which utensil is the salad fork, you teach them to say please and thank you, you see that they have an occasional haircut, and you ask if you did their homework.”

She talks about babies being born with a personality that won’t change. “For a certain period, this child would live with you and your personality, and you would do your best to survive each other.”

Then she talks about the rise of “parenting,” which she describes as “Parenting was a participle, like going and doing and crusading and worrying; it was active, it was energetic, it was unrelenting. Parenting meant playing Mozart CDs while you were pregnant, doing without the epidural and breast-feeding our child until it was old enough to unbutton your blouse.”

This makes me wonder where I stand on the parenting spectrum – between the largely hands-off parenting of yesteryear compared with the involved helicopter parents of today. I’m not sure because I think I have some of both tendencies.

One thing that has always been on my mind since River was born is the Buryat belief that no matter what you do, kids will grow up and be who they are going to be. This is reinforced by my reading of Freakonomics, which basically said that almost nothing you do will be of any use, especially compared with the power of the child’s peer group. Among the factors that most-influenced success in children were not attendance at music classes or large amounts of quality time, but things like the mother being over 30 when the first child is born and having a lot of books in the house (the amount of time spent reading them doesn’t matter). These type of things are givens, not actions that take time and investment.

Yes, I suppose I can say I’ve been freaky about making sure he’s eating fresh and wholesome foods. I want him to have access to a potty (I don’t think a daycare that didn’t allow cloth diapers would be good for us). I’d like him to have as much individual attention as possible in his first year. I want him to feel safe and secure and to experience new things. But that’s about it. I worry very little about other things.

When I think ahead of what’s to come in his life, I want to be involved. People tend to argue that they become very involved in their children’s lives for the benefit of the child. But I recognize that I may not be getting involved for his benefit. He’s happy with anyone who is having a good time with him. The benefit is mine. Because it brings me joy to participate in his life.

The point at which my participation has a negative effect on him is where I need to draw the line and step back. I imagine that is hard to identify though.

One of the editors of Parenting magazine defended her helicopter-parenting in a recent issue, saying that she’s advocating for her children because she wants the best for them, because her parents weren’t able to do so, and because she can. She mentioned advocating for them in school. But from my brief period as a schoolteacher overseas, I saw especially active parents as doing a disservice to their children. The children learned that they didn’t really have to work hard, they didn’t have to achieve, because their parents would lobby the teacher or the administrators to their benefit.

The main benefit I see in very involved parenting is the child feeling the parent’s concern and love. I wonder if that will have the positive effect of strengthening families. As the parents want their children around for longer the usual 18 years, perhaps the children will also want to be around their parents. Perhaps more Americans will value proximity to their families over opportunities available far away. Maybe more children will repay their doting parents by taking active care of their parents as they age instead of relegating them to the care of strangers or institutions.

A New Type of Language

Mark taught River a guttural guffaw, a throaty, mocking laugh. It reminds me of the hacking sound the Chinese make as they clear their throat, except he follows it with a laugh instead of a spit. Mark did it to make River laugh, then got excited when River imitated him. They began to go back and forth, taking turns making this sound.

“You’re going to make him think this means something,” I said.

“He’s communicating with me!” he enthused. “This is the first time we’ve communicated.”

By this morning, as River guffawed all throughout breakfast, eagerly waiting my response, Mark was repentant.

“He thinks it’s language,” I said.

“I know. I shouldn’t have taught him that.”

An early lesson in what babies will pick up by imitation. In the meantime, he’s hacking with a smile all over the house, so proud of himself for picking up an adult skill, looking at us eagerly for a similar response.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Pain of Labor

We’re coming up on River’s nine-month birthday soon. He’s almost been out of the womb longer than he’s been in it. And as time passes, truly, the memories of how intense the pain of labor was fades.

Yes, it was really, really, really painful. In fact, it was traumatically painful. I believe that if anyone had gone through my same experience in any situation other than childbirth, they would be in long-term therapy. I still haven’t looked at the video shot moments after giving birth. It’s scary to me, freaky, surreal.

But the intensity does diminish with time. It also seems more worth it as the baby develops and brings more joy into our life. And as my friends give birth, they don’t post pictures of blood or recordings of screams. They post smiling photos with babies, making it seem easy, blotting out what it took to get there, almost allowing me to think that it must not have been that hard.

Shortly after I gave birth I spoke with a friend who had a baby about two weeks after me.

“No one tells you what it’s really like, do they?” I asked her, hearing the shock and trauma still in her voice.

“No, they don’t at all,” she said.

One reason no one might have told us is that it’s pretty hard to describe. I wonder if that is part of the biological wonder that keeps people reproducing. I expected that to happen, so I tried to take notes, as many as possible. I knew I’d forget and I wanted the confirmation of what had occurred.

I figured it was natural for the memories to fade for me. But I was very surprised the other day when Mark commented, “Wow, that so was so long ago that River was born. Eight months already. It seems like forever.”

I liked this passage in I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron, how she acknowledges that the pain can’t be described, but that doesn’t diminish it’s reality, even over time.

"Speaking of the pain of labor, which I seem to be, I would like to interject a short,
irrelevant note: Why do people always say you forget the pain of labor? I haven't forgotten
the pain of labor. Labor hurt. It hurt a lot. The fact that I am not currently in pain and
cannot simulate the pain of labor doesn’t mean I don't remember it. I am currently not
eating a wonderful piece of grilled chicken I once had in Asolo, Italy, in 1982, but I
remember it well. It was delicious. I can tell you exactly what it tasted like, and except for
the time when I returned to the restaurant six years later and ordered it again (and it
turned out, amazingly, to be exactly as wonderful as I remembered), I have never tasted
chicken that was crisper, tastier, or juicier. The song has ended, but the melody lingers on,
and that goes for the pain of labor--but not in a good way." (pg. 44)

At the same time, some of my friends have reacted so positively after labor that it makes me feel like I must have done something wrong. One, whose father recently passed away, beautifully compared the hospice care to her midwives that assisted with her at-home birth: “We have found many parallels between the care that we have received from the hospice nurses for the past 10 days, and the care that [we] received from the midwives who attended [our daughter’s] birth at home…All of these wonderful caregivers ushered us from one life stage to another, and showed us that both birth and death can happen in a setting of comfort, privacy and quiet peace, in the presence of grace and the absence of fear.”

Even though I can’t imagine having gone through that experience at home, reading that made me wish I could. I wondered whether any situation could have erased my fear. Another friend, who wanted to avoid an epidural, but who used an IV, stadol and electronic fetal monitoring, who had blood spray everywhere when her placenta ruptured, said she felt so powerful and so proud of herself for pushing the baby out. Within weeks she was already ready for another. I feel weak for my reaction of holy crap, and owwwwie.

Given that I felt EVERYTHING as soon as the baby started to descend, I feel like I know what the end part of natural birth is like. I just had a good six or so hours rest beforehand with the epidural. It’s hard for me to imagine getting through it without that rest. And I didn’t feel proud of myself or strong. I thought – holy s**t that was horrible. I felt deceived in thinking that the worst was over once I received the epidural. I lay on the table for over two hours while they sewed me up (I hear that is an incredibly long time, perhaps my doctor was especially slow and inexperienced). I was upset that I had no pain control at all at the worst moment. I thought if I ever did this again, I’d try to arrange a meeting with the anesthesiologist and ask what could be done differently.

It’s only as River grows and develops and makes me smile again and again that I come to think it was worth it. One day of pain was worth the many days of joy and wonder and being able to look at the world again in a fresh light. Nevertheless, I agree with Ephron. I think I will always remember the intensity of the pain, even if I can’t accurately describe it, in the same way I remember some of my best dining experiences.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

New Rules for Doctors

The other day, after stupidly going to for my news (why it is taking me so long to realize that when a news source includes headlines like So and So Is Pregnant or Man Reduces Calories and Loses Weight that it is no longer a quality news source?) I saw a headline New Rules for Doctors.

Cool, I thought, perhaps they are going to put limits on gifts doctors can receive, on the use of samples, on speaking fees. Perhaps they will do something to reduce or break the conflict of interest inherent in the relations between doctors and private healthcare and pharmaceutical companies. Perhaps when doctors revert to the simplest and most effective treatments, overall costs will go down and more people will have access to care.

Nope. What a disappointment to open the article and see instead that rules are being discussed to allow anti-abortion doctors to follow their beliefs – ie. not treat women who have the legal right to care.

“The rule, which applies to institutions receiving government money, would require as
many as 584,000 employers ranging from major hospitals to doctors' offices and nursing
homes to certify in writing that they are complying with several federal laws that protect
the conscience rights of health care workers. Violations could lead to a loss of government
funding and legal action to recoup federal money already paid.”

This is what our taxpayer money is being spent on? I think it violates my conscience to think of paying money for such nonsense. Can I get a refund please?

Please, you must like the minestrone!

So, after preparing 13 large bottles full of minestrone for baby, he makes some seriously offended faces upon being fed. He did eventually eat some, especially when we alternated the soup with a mixture of cantaloupe and grapes. However, we weren’t going to get through 13 bottles easily this way.

When the babysitter tried it, she liked it, so I sent her home with two large containers. And I still had a giant bowl left. When I tried it, it seemed to have a sour taste. I don’t know why my cooking isn’t turning out lately. I go through all the effort to prepare something only to pawn it off on others. It might be a new recipe source that is not reliable. Or maybe it’s a mistake to count a clove of the large, organic garlic I get at the farm as a standard clove (it’s probably more like 2 or 3).

I did realize the soup I’d pureed for River turned out pretty chunky. Maybe, just maybe, the texture, not the taste, bothered him. So I took what was left and pureed it well, filling another 6 bottles. Nineteen bottles now in the fridge. I really, really hope he likes it.

Today my husband gave him lunch. I asked how River ate.

“He really liked the big bottle of orange stuff,” he said.

“The soup?”

“I guess so.”

“Yay!” He likes minestrone after all.

Time to Respect Baby's Schedule

Up till now, River has pretty much adapted his life to our schedule. We make allowances for him, we meet his needs. But I’ve yet to say no, I can’t do something because River needs to take a nap.

Mark and I split the childcare duties on Saturdays. I take the mornings, he takes the afternoons. Both of us get a half a day free. I decided that during my shift I’d take him to the healthclub, where they have childcare available for $1.50/hour. I could get a workout, I’d get a tiny bit of use from the facility I pay $80/month to belong to and almost never use during nice weather, and he could play.

That worked fine and he even made it two hours without a feeding – yay! I changed him, fed him and we went to the car and began to drive around on errands. I thought he’d nap in the car. Nope. We drove around for a few hours, he missed his nap, he was crabby and tired. During the afternoon he was edgy and wouldn’t sleep.

I probably should have gotten us home by 10, when he usually takes his nap. I appreciate that he’s taking naps. So it’s time for me to accommodate his schedule so that he has the opportunity to take them.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Gift of Naps

I love River. Very much. But I love him even more since he started to take naps a few weeks ago.

River’s energy could allow him to get through 10 hours of wakefulness with a 20 minute snooze. This worked great for traveling. But it didn’t allow his caregivers much rest.

With the swing, the fantastic wonderful swing, he got some sleep and we got a break. But it was located in the middle of our living space. If we didn’t want to wake him up, we couldn’t move around much. This also meant that at home, he took good naps. But it was a different story while traveling. No swing or willing lap – no nap.

A few weeks ago he started to get tired at 10 a.m. and slept a good two hours. Then another nap in the afternoon. Heaven.

Last week, as he neared the weight limit on the swing and a new babysitter was about to start, we decided we had to teach him to nap in the crib. I expected the lack of motion would mean short naps. I mourned my lack of quiet time. But to my surprise, he slept two hours, three, even more.

Now life feels easy. After morning time together and a walk, he sleeps, I have time, I can move around. He wakes up, babysitter arrives. In the past, he would always go to sleep just when the babysitter arrived, making us pay someone to watch him sleep and making my mornings with him very long.

The secret is: a couple of toys in the crib and a bottle. I breastfeed him until he is asleep, sleepy, or I’m out of milk. Should I put him down, he wakes up and throws a fit. But I give him a bottle and he drinks enough to knock himself out. We are both happy.

Drowning in Vegetables

I am so drowning in vegetables that I don’t know what to do. I made a giant pot of minestrone. It didn’t turn out as well as I’d like. But it’s chock full of vegetables and nutrients, so would make good baby food. I blended up a bunch last night and filled THIRTEEN 8-ounce bottles with soup to freeze. And I STILL have a bunch in the fridge. I sure hope River likes it because he is going to be eating minestrone very frequently in the coming days and weeks.

Even after the minestrone, I have a bunch of vegetables I need to use quickly and the freezer is beginning to overflow. Ratatouille is next on the menu. Help!!!

A Smash Cake?

Today I saw for the first time the noun “smash cake.” When I googled it, I found people using it very comfortably, such as: See the video of Connor with his smash cake.
I then watched the video and saw a baby diving head first into an entire cake, while the party guests laughed.

I wondered why I hadn’t heard of this term, so I was glad to find this definition:
“Smash Cake is the precious tradition of baking your one-year-old birthday child her very own cake that she can do whatever she likes with…mainly it makes for a great photo that will be treasured for years to come. Often people make two cakes on the first birthday occasion…one to share with friends and family that looks beautiful and may match the party theme and a second one with the birthday child’s name on it that is meant to be destroyed by her.”

This idea did not appeal to me. It reminds me of the “tradition” of the bride and groom smashing cake into each other’s face, a tradition that neither my husband or I think is funny and we quickly agreed to nix that tradition from our wedding. But a poor baby doesn’t even have a say in the matter, he’s just made a fool of and then reminded of it when he grows up.

I don’t have a problem with letting a child dive into a piece of cake. Since they haven’t mastered eating skills yet, of course it will make a mess, like everything else they eat. But I can’t see the sense in buying another cake entirely for this purpose. What’s the problem with cutting a slice of cake for baby and then letting him/her do what they want with it? Or what about serving cupcakes so everyone gets an individual dserving they can manage as they please?

This seems to me to be a concept thought up by somebody who wants to bring extra income to bakers and cake retailers. It also seems to be a waste of food and money since no one is going to want to eat the rest of the “smash cake” after the baby has goobered all over it.

I haven’t decided whether we’ll have a one-year birthday party at all. I’m leaning toward putting the effort and expenses into good parties when he’s old enough to recognize and enjoy them. I’m pretty sure we won’t have cake, since we’re trying to keep him off of refined sugars until he’s at least three. But I know for sure that we won’t have two cakes. I’m pretty sure River will manage a happy life without a smash cake.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Awash in Vegetables

As much as I look forward to going to the farm, I’m almost afraid to go these days. We have little besides vegetables in our refrigerator. Yet they are packed in and allowing for little else to find room in there. I have tomatoes lining the counter and filling bags on the floor. I can’t make things fast enough to keep up with the vegetable supply and I’m starting to run out of room in the freezer.

Perhaps I should give some vegetables away, and I do give some to our babysitter. But these are amazing vegetables – organic and pulled right from the earth just a few miles from our home. I know this bounty is temporary and I know my son’s appetite, voracious now, will only increase. I’d like to make baby food with whatever I can’t use right away, made in large quantities and frozen.

In the meantime though, I feel like I’m racing to make something out of them before they go old. And in the effort to try to turn them into baby food (which is generally simpler and faster than adult fare), I’m not cooking much for myself.

Except, of course, for the gazpacho. I tried making gazpacho for the first time. Thought about it for days, prepared a few more days, and finally got around to it. I pureed a portion for River and froze it and put the rest in the fridge for myself. The instructions said the flavors should blend for at least 24 hours. The first day I thought it was OK. The second day, I had trouble eating it. I realized the flavor of onion was too strong, I’d put in too much.

When the babysitter pulled out a frozen portion of gazpacho for River I told her that if he didn’t like it, not to force it. I didn’t expect him to like it, since I couldn’t even manage to enjoy it.

He did eat it though. And when she passed him to me after the meal for some breastfeeding, he emitted a strong scent of onion and garlic. That’s a new smell to associate with a baby!

The 6 a.m. Morning Wake-Up

I’m writing this at 6:43 a.m. Believe it or not, I’m up at 6:43 a.m. every day, weekends included. But River is not. How did that happen?

For quite a while, River woke up at 6 a.m. on the dot. So I started to get used to it, though I didn’t like it. Then he began to sleep a little later, until 6:30 or so. I realized that if I got up at six, I could get a couple of ounces of milk by pumping, and maybe I could get something done – like prepare myself tea or breakfast.

Recently, River starting doing me the favor of sleeping until 7, 7:30, sometimes even 8. But I’m still up at 6 a.m. on the dot. I argue that it’s because I want to pump. That’s true, I do. I’m able to get a few ounces, which eventually goes into the freezer stockpile, and there is still plenty for River when he awakes.

But what really gets me up now is the Time to Myself. Even when I’m pumping, it’s quiet and peaceful. When I finish, from 6:20 until whenever River awakes is my time. I make myself a cup of tea. I surf the web. I write. I do the little things I’ve been meaning to do but can’t find time for. I plan my day. But I refuse to do household work. This is me time. And I love it.

My husband takes his me time in the evening. From 8 p.m. on, often into the wee hours of the morning, the shared office is his. Once I go to bed, I’m sure he basks in the quiet calm and in the knowledge that no one will bother him.

He gets more time than I do and his might be of a better quality – he knows that his quiet time is unlimited as long as he remains up. My quiet time can end at any moment – as soon as River needs me. But that’s OK. I get the benefit of the early morning sun – something I always wanted to enjoy. I feel like I’m ahead of everyone else by a little bit by being up and interacting with the world before most are even conscious. Most of all, I have glorious me time with no distractions. No one is going to stop by, call, or probably even email at this hour. My mind is free to focus on the things I want to think about. What a treat.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

If I Had to Do it Over Again - Products

If I was going through pregnancy and childbirth again, these are things I would definitely buy, or do without.

During pregnancy:

  • What to Expect When You’re Expecting
  • Two fatherhood books
  • The Snoogle body pillow
  • Baby Bargains book
  • Almond oil – I used this to avoid stretch marks on the recommendation of a Spanish friend. Don’t know if this is what prevented them, but I made it into the 10% or so of women who avoid stretch marks.

    Things I’d do without:
    · Breast pads and lanolin cream. Wait to see if you need them before buying.

Months 0+:

  • Swaddle Mes (we used through 7 months)
  • A good swing – we loved the Fisher Price Papasan
  • Onesies
  • What to Expect the First Year
  • Sleepsacks
  • My Breast Friend (I’d borrow one or buy it used)
  • A baby carrier, but I’d purchase it AFTER the child is born to see which one is comfortable and which one the baby likes
  • Lots of burp cloths
  • For travel, a stroller frame (such as the Graco SnugRide) that accepts a pop-in carseat is the lightest way to go.
  • Fenugreek, alfalfa or other milk-producing herb
  • A breastpump
  • A baby bathtub
  • Household help
  • Car-I-Oke music CD
  • Easy Expressions hands free pumping bra (if breastfeeding and pumping)

    Things I’d do without:
    · A boppy
    · A crib or bassinet or playpen – if you think you need one, it’s still a good idea to wait until after the birth to see what the baby will accept. Many babies only want the closeness of another human for the first weeks or months.
    · Lots of fancy clothes – onesies and sleepsacks are the mainstay
    · A fancy stroller
    · Fancy nursery d├ęcor – the baby isn’t going to take any notice; it’s only worth it if it makes the parents happy.

Months 3+:

  • An Ergo carrier – this is most useful at 6 months+, but it’s the best carrier I’ve come across and good for long-term use. It’s expensive though, so it would be a better deal to find one used.
  • A jumper – if your baby isn’t eager to stand, this could wait, but if s/he is, they will love this. We liked the Fisher Price Rainforest Jumper.
  • The swing remains very useful
  • Some type of bed. If you want to make life easier, probably a crib that you’ll use for the long term would be best.
  • BumGenius all-in-one cloth diapers – so easy even the dad accepts them.

    Things I’d do without:
    · An exersaucer – unless you can pick one up for free, as you often can on freecycle
    · Any type of travel crib or pen. Unless baby can roll over, a bed or carseat works just fine
    · Any but a few basic toys – the whole world is a toy.
    · Toys, accessories for car or stroller. We just didn’t find them necessary.
    · The chairs that help baby sit – those are useful for about two weeks, if you’re lucky.
    · Rice paper liners for cloth diapers – they irritated Soren’s behind and are only useful until the poops become more solid.
    · Any of the breastpump cleaning supplies – microwave sterilizing kit, wipes, etc. Never used them.
    · A fancy bedtime routine. Maybe some kids need it, but others don’t. No need for parents to stress themselves out with thinking that baby needs a bath every day before bed or other rituals if a bottle and a bedtime song are enough.

Months 6+

  • A crib, if you don’t have one already
  • Motherease cloth diapers (for home use – you can tell right away when baby is wet. This is useful if you don’t want baby to get used to sitting in wetness)
  • Baby Bjorn little potty
  • A professional portrait – surprisingly worth it. Sears did a great job
  • Silicone ice cube trays and muffin pans for making baby food
  • A decent food processor or blender
  • An upright seat for the bathtub that keeps baby upright and contained, but allows to interact with water
  • Pedometer and The Step Diet book – time to make sure mom is moving enough and beginning to shed that weight

    Things I’d do without:
    · Foam for the floor while learning to crawl – the usefulness is also very limited and baby will learn to crawl in any case
  • Onesies - once the potty training begins, onesies are a pain to take off and get the baby on the pot. A few would be useful for special occasions. But for home, normal shirts work much better.
    · Shoes – we didn’t see any use for them before he could walk

Monday, August 18, 2008

If I Had to Do it Over Again

If I had it to do over again

If I had the opportunity to go through pregnancy and first childbirth again, knowing what I know now, these are the things I would do differently, and the things I would do the same.

Things I would do over:

  • I would restrain my intake of sweets and other junk food during the third trimester and after the birth. Then again, maybe that indulgence was what got me through the experience emotionally. However, it also left me with some extra fat cells that are feeling at home in my body.
  • Start pumping earlier – I didn’t start until six or seven weeks, when my supply was probably already established at just the level River needed. As a result, I never had excess and I didn’t get much pumping. I imagine it would have been hard to return to work and continue breastfeeding at 12 weeks. But I did enjoy the one-on-one time with baby, without having a machine attached to me as well. Maybe I’d start a bit earlier if I had it to again, but not a lot.
  • Get a hospital grade pump right away – I didn’t research pumps and didn’t even realize there is a difference between hospital grades and those you can purchase in stores. I’d buy one used on ebay (as I ended up doing when River was 8 months old). Lactina Selects are now running about $350 used and seem to maintain their value pretty well.

Things I would definitely do again:

  • Hire a Doula
  • Have a good swing available from day 1
  • Arrange for household help for the first two months – especially, someone to pass the baby off to in the mornings after sleepless nights
  • Use cloth diapers
  • Do prenatal yoga
  • Treat myself to prenatal massages
  • Get out of the house and continue on with life, taking baby along for the ride
  • Have at least five months maternity leave
  • Involve my husband in as many aspects of the experience as possible.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Babies and the Elderly

The other day, while approaching an airline check-in counter, the attendant smiled upon seeing River attached to my back.

“Why is it that when they are babies we think being toothless and hairless and helpless is cute, but we look at those differently when people are old?” she asked, bringing up a subject I’d been thinking about myself.

“I don’t know. Perhaps we need to change our perspective,” I said.

I think one reason people are more accepting of helplessness in babies than in the elderly is that with babies, the situation only gets better. Every day they learn and develop and pick up more and more skills and abilities along the way. There is also a pretty clear timeline. People can more or less expect that by a certain age, most babies will possess certain skills.

Whereas in the elderly, it goes in the opposite direction, with people losing capabilities with time and caregivers not knowing how long the decline will take.

Seeing River’s helplessness has made me remember that life is a continuum, that everyone will move up on the learning curve, stay steady, and then trend downwards. Of course everyone would like to maintain their abilities. But I don’t think we should look upon a lack of teeth, trouble eating, communicating, urinating or defecating among the elderly as gross things. But rather, a chance to provide that person with the care they probably bestowed on others during their lifetime. A chance to respect them for who they are and to help them to move through the last phase of life with dignity rather than embarrassment.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A New Love

I have a new love in my life and it’s an heirloom tomato. I received two pounds of them at my organic farm this week. I heard the farmer’s wife comment to someone that she had a new favorite tomato. She recounted how her husband had brought some home from the field one evening and made a tomato salad that blew her away. So when I picked up my two pound allotment, I reached right for the ones she had been speaking about.

They are fragile, with cracked, greenish-brown tops. But inside, they are a deep, juicy red. I cut one up and put it in a bowl with some cottage cheese. I couldn’t believe the flavor that exploded inside my mouth when I took the first bite – sweet, rich, tangy, wholesome – a sharp contrast to the smooth, bland taste of the cottage cheese.

Barbara Kingsolver wrote about heirlooms and how some people treat the seeds, passed down through the generations, as collectors’ items. She mentioned that they taste better, much better, but I couldn’t really imagine how great the difference is.

I never looked forward to a tomato as a treat – ice cream, chocolate or cookies were more likely candidates. But now, I’m rationing my heirlooms, eating one per day, and enjoying them tremendously.

36 hours without baby - at home!

My husband has taken River to visit family for the weekend. This was planned in advance, to give me two days (or rather 36 hours) to myself, to allow me to get some work done. Yes, I did just have nine days alone in Iowa. But it was different there – busy with activities and pumping that really didn’t leave much time for relaxation.

I have a lot to do this weekend too, between household chores, cooking up the wonderful vegetables from our farm share and trying to get some work done. But it’s much more relaxing being alone at home.

They left just over an hour ago and the house already seems so very quiet. The bells ringing at the church across the street resonate sonorously. I heard the birds chirping outside, my fingers tapping the keys on my computer, a lawnmower in the distance. I have a to-do list, but it’s less urgent than usual. I don’t need to try to do five little tasks in the next ten minutes. I can lie out on the couch without fear of interruptions. While I still need to pump, it’s not so urgent since my milk supply has mostly returned to normal and I’ll be seeing River tomorrow. I can arrange my time as I please and that seems so luxurious.

Instructions on how to Raise a Tennis Player

I recently attended a conference where one of my classmates was a pro tennis coach. Mark and I would like to get River into tennis, though whether or not he wants to go pro will be based on his interest and ability. Here are the recommendations the coach gave me for setting a solid basis for a youngster:

Age 7 -12 months: Buy some ping-pong balls and roll them back and forth with baby. This helps develop tracking skills.

Age 3-4: Buy a racket and let the child hit against the garage or other wall.

Age 5 or 6: Take the child with you when you go play tennis. See if expresses any interest. Wait for him to ask for lessons.

Age 6 and up: When child asks for lessons, provide them. This coach recommended private lessons of only 15 minutes since she says that is only as long as most kids can concentrate. She suggested finding another family/child to share a half-hour or hour lesson with, dividing the time between the two children. She recommended a coach who is firm about expectations and behaviors.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I'm an Antique

In preparation for my visit home last week, my mother took out many of my old toys. I had no idea she’d kept them. There was the telephone that is pulled by a cord and rings as the rotary numbers are dialed. There was a round ball that when rolled rocks the carousel-like horses within and makes music. And there was something that looked like an hourglass, with colored beads that moved from one side to another and a mirror on either end. And there were the building blocks that may or may not have been painted with lead paint.

I didn’t remember the hourglass but all the others brought back memories from long, long ago. My mom, an antique collector, said she held onto the Fisher Price toys because they hold their value. She said she saw one toy she kept, a see-through robotic toy that you wind up by cranking and you can see all the gears move, in an antique store for $300. I remember playing with that. I am now an antique – scary!

We just bought River a Fisher Price toy – a bag shaped like a potato that is filled with a variety of plastic tools that make different sounds. I wouldn’t have thought about keeping that, or really any of his toys, beyond our childbearing years. I wouldn’t have expected a pretty cheap plastic toy to have any value. But I forget that what seems insignificant now may be unique later on. More importantly, I learned that coming back into contact with childhood toys can bring back feelings from an era decades old and almost forgotten. That’s worth more than any antique shop could fetch.

Losing Support for Breastfeeding

They say that success in breastfeeding depends largely on the support for breastfeeding a woman has around her. While I had that support early on, it’s currently eroding.

During a family visit, my mother voiced her opinion that I should not breastfeed any longer than a year. She even seemed uncomfortable that I’d breastfeed on an airplane now, given that River is so big (as if larger 8-month olds should be less worthy of receiving breastmilk than smaller ones just because of their size).

When I got home, my husband also voiced his support for weaning, saying he thinks I should start reducing my feedings to only one per day and that at a year, River should no longer be receiving breastmilk. When I said that I wanted to continue it because I find it helpful with bonding, he said I should find other ways of bonding because the breastfeeding is taking over my life.

I was surprised during a lunchdate with a friend in MN to have her comment “You’re so European,” when I began to breastfeed River at the table. I hadn’t even thought of asking her if she minded. Given that she was a female of my age, I just assumed she’d understand. She told me that none of her friends would breastfeed so openly. I told her all of mine would.

They are the only left who are supportive of breastfeeding – my new-mother friends I met in prenatal yoga.

Given my declining support network, we’ll see what impact that has on my breastfeeding. I’m pretty committed to continuing until at least a year, especially after I picked up a can of formula I inherited and saw the first ingredient listed “corn syrup solids.” I have a job interview tomorrow though. If I’m offered the job and I take it, I think the demands of work and the potential travel involved are most likely to put an early end to breastfeeding.

What Makes a Good Mother?

River and I have spent the past week visiting family. Together with all of the time spent getting to know the little guy and the loving attention poured upon him, has come advice for me. I should breastfeed for two years, I should breastfeed for no longer than a year, I should start weaning now, I should feed him a solid breakfast, he must be teething and in pain and I should buy Orajel, I should feed him French fries and ice cream, I should use disposable diapers, I should be able to breastfeed and take care of all the baby chores, I should buy him a pacifier.

When I called my husband one evening and told him about all the advice I was receiving I said I knew the comments were provided out of love for River, but that the undertone seemed to be that I’m doing things incorrectly. To my surprise, he said he felt the same way when he wants to try something new with River, as though he’s criticizing my ability to mother.

“You aren’t very self-confident in your ability to mother,” he said.

I acknowledged he was correct.

Upon thinking about it though, I do feel confident I’m a good mother now – better than I thought I’d be. River is happy, healthy and strong. He seems intelligent, he smiles all the time, he doesn’t lack for anything, I think he feels secure and loved.

To me, what makes a good mother is someone who loves and supports her child, who does things in his best interest, who gives him opportunities to learn, explore and grow up healthy and who provides a secure and loving environment.

I think I am doing all of the above and I’m happy that I have a close and loving relationship with my baby.

When I tend to feel less confident is when my mothering is being examined and judged publicly. Then I feel I may not be living up to standards. I feel I don’t spend enough on fancy baby accessories, that my stroller (obtained for free on freecycle) is not cool enough, that I’m too dedicated to providing him with homemade food, that I’m silly for teaching him to go potty so early, that I’m crazy to take him with me all over the world, that it’s weird to speak to him in Spanish when I’m not a native speaker, that I should want to spend all day with him, that I should be able to work without feeling guilty, that I shouldn’t separate his vaccines, that I shouldn’t get him vaccinated at all, that I should be more discreet about breastfeeding, especially as he is getting bigger.

Whenever these feelings arise, I tell myself that such issues aren’t important to me, nor are they important to River’s ability to grow up to be a happy child and a contented adult. Sometimes these ideas are stated out loud, other times I just feel them insinuated. I spent some time defending my decisions verbally. But I spend a lot more time defending them to myself whenever I feel that people are questioning them.

This I know is wasted energy. I should take pride in the fact that things have gone well so far and continue on the path I’ve taken until now, ready to change course if something proves ineffective. However, all that defending to myself and to others plants seeds of doubts within me.

Perhaps the decisions I’ve made will really backfire. Perhaps as he gets older, River will resent rather than appreciate the control I’ve exerted over his food choices and his language acquisition. Perhaps he’ll prefer to follow the consumer trends rather than having a mother who is always questioning, evaluating, analyzing. Maybe, what scares me most, is that the decisions I make will somehow transform our close and loving relationship to the conflict and lack of respect that marked my relationship with my mother.

My mother did a good job caring for me as an infant. But she was anxious and high-strung and I imagine I must have felt that negative energy. So far, I’ve usually found myself pretty calm and loving with River. So maybe I’m not going to be the same as her. Maybe my child won’t hate me. I can feel guilty about wanting time to myself, about not wanting to be a full-time mom, about finding breastfeeding very time-consuming and questioning its value when time is taken into account, about not being as anal about safety as some other mothers while also recognizing that overall, I do a pretty good job.

Yes, it takes a community to raise a child and the input of others is valuable. But while they can impact him through their direct interactions with him, I will be a mother to him in the way that feels right for the two of us. And I don’t need to feel guilty about that, no matter who is questioning it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Our Vaccine Compromise

I admit that when River was first born, I didn’t think too much about the vaccines. Despite the controversy, I figured I’d gone through the schedule just fine and I expected we’d follow the recommended guidelines. So we did the Hep B shot at birth. And we did the 2-month-old series.

To my surprise, the day he got the five shots at two months old was the worst day of his life so far. At the time of the shots, his cries mixed with fear, shock and surprise as he was priced not once, but again and again and again, as if to ask, how could you do this to me? That afternoon, he cried inconsolably. Even a pediatric nurse who was helping us out was unable to settle him. He needed infant Tylenol, but lots of love and soothing. At that point, I began to research vaccines.

I found most of the information I found online to be biased somehow. The anti-vaccine people seem to like to scare parents. And the pro-vaccine people like to scare parents the other way.

I found The Vaccine Book, by Dr. Sears, to be a pretty balanced account. I appreciated the great detail it went into on each vaccine. And I appreciated that different schedules were provided based on parent’s concern.

Based on my readings and discussions I had with researchers at the University of North Carolina, I felt that the risk most likely didn’t come from any particular vaccine, but from putting so many vaccines at once into such an immature immune system.

Given that my husband is strongly pro-vaccine, that I travel a lot and therefore have more exposure to various illnesses (and wanted to be able to bring River with me) and that I had concerns about the number of vaccines given, this is the compromise agreement we reached·:

  • We give only vaccine at a time, spaced out in the time before the next round begins. We did them one at a time so I could see which ones bothered him. If time, distance or the co-pays were an issue, I’d do two at a time, with no more than one live virus given at once. But since we live ear the doctors, have the time, and can afford the $15 co-pay, we’ll stay with one at a time as long as it’s practical.
  • We give two doses of infant vitamin C (I originally bought it at Whole Foods, but found it cheaper at on the day before, the day of, and the day after a vaccine.
  • River receives breastmilk prior to and immediately after receiving a vaccine.

Some say that getting so many shots individually increases the amount the baby
cries overall. This hasn’t been true for us. He receives some shots without crying at all. For others he cries a matter of seconds. I think the heavy crying at his two month shots was due not so much to the pain, but to the surprise that we’d allow him to be hurt again and again.

Every family will come up with the plan that works for them. For us, this plan has provided a good balance between protection from disease and minimizing the risks of vaccines.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Nine Days Without Baby - end

I made it home at the end of nine nights and ten days and found that my baby didn’t seem to have been affected at all by my absence. He returned to breastfeeding instantaneously. He warmed up to me instantly. The only odd moment was when he repeated bit (hard) my nipple while breastfeeding, the same way he does a bottle nipple. After removing him from the breast each time he did that, he never did it again.

My milk supply was reduced and I had to give him between 1 and 3 bottles a day for the first week or two after I returned.

I learned that it is possible to go away for that long and to continue breastfeeding, as long as one is willing to spend a lot of time pumping. I learned that babies can be happy as long as they are being well cared for and that I shouldn’t overvalue myself. I learned that while I sometimes disagree with some of my husband’s parenting choices, River was in good shape at the end of the period. And I learned that babies don’t forget boobies, even when they’ve been gone a (relatively) long time.