Category Archives: opinion

“On Not Being a Mom or a Dad” at The Toast

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The Toast has an excellent article up that you should read immediately. It’s called “On Not Being a Mom or a Dad” by B.A. Beasley:

You see, there’s no such thing as a parent. We only have mothers and fathers.

Here’s what I don’t mean: I don’t mean that women and men are hardwired to parent differently. I don’t even mean that the social construction of gender is so overpowering that overcoming motherhood or fatherhood is difficult for individual parents. I mean the social category of parent just doesn’t seem to exist.

Read it here: http://the-toast.net/2016/06/15/genderqueer-parenting/

Doulas should be covered by health insurance.

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Yet another research study has come out showing that having a doula improves women’s birth experiences and reduces their risk of complications during birth. This is the first study, though, to show that health insurance companies are likely to save money overall by covering doula care. The original study was published by Birth, and you can access it here.

NPR has an excellent write-up on the study and some of its implications here.

We had doula support for each of my births, and I will always strongly recommend a birth doula (and a postpartum doula, if at all possible), for all parents, especially first-timers. Our daughter’s birth doula barely made her birth because it happened so quickly, but she was still a hugely important presence in the pre-birth planning, and talking with her about some of my anxieties and getting her feedback made my daughter’s birth easier both mentally and physically. I’m confident that the doula who supported us during my son’s birth was instrumental in helping us avoid an unnecessary Cesarean, and she provided empathetic and careful counseling when I had trouble breastfeeding him after we were discharged from the hospital.

Doulas are worth it, insurance should cover their services, end of story.

Prenatal intensive mothering can be a problem.

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Over at Sociological Images, Sangyoub Park has a very interesting and slightly scary post on tae-gyo, a form of prenatal intensive mothering practice in South Korea, which has mothers believing that their childrens’ entire lives hinge on what they do, learn, and even see during their pregnancy. Because mothers don’t have enough people judging their every move already.

Koreans believe that a mother’s state of mind and ongoing education during pregnancy determines a baby’s prospects. Their educational and occupational future, even their personality, is dependent on what their mothers do while they’re pregnant. A reporter, below, quotes a South Korean figure who claims that “nine months of prenatal education is more valuable than nine years of post-natal learning.”

This example of a Korean mothering practice is an interesting one, but of course we in the US have similarly bizarre expectations of what expectant mothers should and should not do. As a vegetarian, I was chastised routinely during my first pregnancy for not being able to eat 80-100 grams of protein a day, even thought people in the US eat more protein than almost the entire rest of the world, even when we’re not pregnant. My diet is generally healthy and my protein intake is more than enough by the standards of most of the world, but for many months I drove myself mad trying to eat more protein, because what if my baby became somehow ill because of my diet?

This is ridiculous, because a healthy person with a healthy diet who is consuming enough calories is doing all she needs to do, and babies are independent people who rely on their mothers to grow, but are not under the control of their mothers, physically or mentally. I was made to feel guilty over how my baby was growing at the expense of my own happiness and well-being. I can’t believe that stressing pregnant people out over how much they are reading, or how much peanut butter they can consume, can be healthy for a fetus either, and in fact, pregnant friends have commonly mentioned how often well-meaning acquaintances tell them to stay calm for the sake of the baby. Because pregnant people aren’t allowed to feel anything but calm and joyous and blessed, all the time.

All of this is just another way for society to police pregnant bodies. Mothers, women, need to be allowed to be handle their pregnancies in whatever ways make sense to them without being constantly reminded of all of the 1 in 100,000 ways we might do it “wrong.”

Read Tae-gyo: Prenatal intensive mothering in South Korea at Sociological Images

“Adopting A Buddhist Ritual To Mourn Miscarriage, Abortion” at NPR

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I’ve talked before about how common miscarriage really is compared to how often it’s talked about in American society. Something like 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and with today’s early pregnancy tests, more people who would have just thought they were having a late period are dealing with the emotional fallout of miscarriage, too. Since we as a society don’t talk openly about miscarriage and pregnancy loss, many people feel confused about how to handle their (sometimes complex) feelings around a lost pregnancy.

Last month, I saw this article over at NPR about a traditional Japanese Buddhist ceremony specifically for families dealing with a pregnancy loss. The fact that rituals around this life event exist in other countries, but not here in the U.S., just points more directly to the idea that we need to acknowledge this issue more openly. The article addresses the fact that many Americans are adopting this Buddhist ceremony to help them process their losses, and I am relieved that some people have found this option as a resource toward healing.

What I would really love, though, would be to live in a United States so open about these difficult issues that we had developed uniquely American rituals and processes for supporting grieving families through miscarriages and stillbirths. The first step toward that future is talking about this stuff!

Read the article: “Adopting A Buddhist Ritual To Mourn Miscarriage, Abortion” at NPR

Further thoughts on the 4 month regression.

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As predicted, I fell off the face of the internet for a little while, but my daughter seems to have figured out how to sleep with her fancy new brain with remarkably little intervention from me. The 4 month sleep regression is unpredictable, and this might be the eye of the storm rather than the end of it, but she has slept from 8PM-5AM for two nights in a row, and has been putting herself to sleep for bedtime and naps with no or very little fussing. I am ridiculously proud of her, and also relieved. Even if this is just a respite, my back and shoulders deserve the rest – rocking a 15lb baby to sleep 5-6 times a day is a lot of work!

This is also completely different from our experience of our son’s 4 month sleep regression, which lasted for months, and our son required significant intervention from us to learn to handle his new sleep patterns. I have vivid memories of rocking in a dark room for what seemed like hours, counting to myself to determine when it might be safe to try to put him down in his crib. As a second-time mother, I wonder how much of the trouble was really his different personality and temperament, and how much of it was just me getting in the way of him teaching himself sooner, but I really do think he was just a very different kind of baby from his sister.

Anyway, in my efforts to get through this regression with my sanity intact, I have been reading a lot about this age, and there are two articles I found in particular that I want to recommend strongly for any parents going through this period.

First, Ask Moxie has a great, lucid post explaining what the heck is going on during the 4 and 9 month sleep regressions, and reminds us all that it’s normal for these regressions to leave you feeling defeated and frustrated, even though they’re normal developmentally for your baby. The comments are good reading to help you feel like you’re not alone! A reminder about sleep regressions

(I do feel like I want to mention that, though she’s right that lots of babies seem to only take 20-40 minute naps as newborns, my daughter was the unicorn baby that would take 3 hour naps and always needed to be woken up to eat. So, these babies do exist, and are just as normal as the 20-40 minute nappers!)

Second, I love this article from KellyMom: Wakeful 4 month-olds

It addresses the supremely problematic advice a lot of parents get from their pediatricians, families, and an unfortunately large percentage of books on parenting and sleep, to resort to cry-it-out when their 4 month-old suddenly stops sleeping at night.

“Has NO ONE stopped to consider the developmental stage of the breastfeeding baby that begins at about four months and can go on to 6 or 7 months? Think about your four month old breastfeeding — what are they doing? This baby is on and off the breast — so interested in the world around him he can hardly stand it. “Oh look! There’s the dog! Hi, Mommy, I love you SOOOO much! The phone?! A car went by. The TV is on. Big sister comes into the room….hey, there’s just too much going on for me to concentrate on eating. I think I’m full now. I’ll see you later…..” – Jan Barger, RN, MA, IBCLC

Of course, of course, of course a baby distracted from breastfeeding during the day is going to be more hungry at night! I am moderately conservative when it comes to sleep training – I think there are a lot of gentle, limited-cry methods that are a great help in teaching babies how to sleep independently, but I don’t think cry-it-out is the Devil when used appropriately. The problem is that, in my experience, cry-it-out is almost never used appropriately. You do not wean a baby by leaving them to cry in the dark by themselves. You alter their daytime schedule to make sure they’re eating enough, you feed them in a quiet place so they can concentrate on eating, and then, only if needed, you work on night weaning in a gentle, supportive way. A lot of babies will drop night feedings on their own once parents ensure that they’re getting full feedings during the day, so why not try that before leaving them to cry at night?

I hope these two articles will be helpful to other parents going through this regression, especially if you’re going through it for the first time.

On bonding

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One of the many surprises I’ve encountered upon having my second child has been how different my experience of bonding with her has been, compared to my experience with my son. I feel like I know my daughter so well after only three short months, despite the reality that she is growing and developing at lightning speed, a little different every day. I put this down more to my general comfort as a mom and my better knowledge about how to take care of a baby this time ’round than to anything particularly unique about my daughter, as lovely as she is. Becoming a first-time parent was such a shock that it took me a long time to relax enough to really get to know my son.

Becoming a new parent is one of the fastest, most dramatic transitions most of us go through in our lives. One minute, you are alone, and the very next, there is an entirely new, helpless person who needs you to be on top of it and have it together. It’s a cliché, but it’s  a true one, and modern life in America being what it is, a lot of us are going through this alone but for our partners. We don’t have our mothers or sisters or the friends we grew up with around to help. We just have to do it, and figure it all out as we go.

Before my son was born, I had held a grand total of one newborn before in my adult life. I had a decent amount of real world experience with toddlers and preschoolers, and being an academic, I’d done my research on how to care for a baby, but it was all theoretical. The moment the midwife and my partner first plopped my son on my chest after he was born was exhilarating, but also terrifying. What if I broke him? What if he didn’t like me? What if I didn’t like him?

All of this makes being a new mom super scary, and for me, fear got in the way of feeling close to my baby. I was committed to doing well by him, and I kept him fed and clean and close to me because I knew I was supposed to, but I was scared of him. We had trouble nursing for his first month, and I had a lot of anxiety about his growth and health, compounded by the crazy hormonal swings of the postpartum period. I was convinced I was going to fall down the stairs while holding him. I couldn’t sleep because what if the room was too cold, or too hot? What if he stopped breathing?

I overanalyzed everything after he was born. We did lots of skin-to-skin contact because there’s good research that skin-to-skin promotes bonding, better weight gain, and general better health for babies, but outside of these designated times, I had a genuine fear of cuddling or kissing him too often. I’m an introvert myself and I wanted to respect his baby autonomy, which to me meant giving him some space. All of this  got in the way of getting to know my baby comfortably, and of bonding with him on our own terms. There was such a learning curve: I had a new role as a mother, a new body, new schedules and routines.

I genuinely think I was (and am) a good mom despite all this. I think this fear is a really common experience among new parents, and maybe one that needs to be talked about more out in the open. I am so happy to say that becoming a second-time parent has been a lot less terrifying than it was the first time. I have confidence in myself and in my babies. know that my daughter is going to like me, and I’m going to like her. This bonding experience has been infinitely more joyful than the last, now that I’ve been able to relax into my role and just be here with my kids.

Book review: What to Expect the First Year by Heidi Murkoff

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Now that I have a few book reviews under my belt, it’s time to talk about a big one! Yes, I mean What to Expect the First Year by Heidi Murkoff et al. I got this book at the Good Will while I was pregnant with my first baby and read it slowly as he went through his first year. As you might expect considering What to Expect’s fame, it has a lot of good information about when babies hit milestones on average, ideas for games and toys that are appropriate by age, and it discusses some of the major concerns that parents run into in the first year. That said, I think there are a lot of better books out there for first-time parents, and I would not particularly recommend this one.

murkoff-expect-first-yearFirst of all, some of the health-related information is out of date even in the most recent edition, and doesn’t conform to the standards set by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Here, I am particularly thinking of their section on introducing solid foods. The current research and recommendation by the AAP is that it is not only safe to introduce highly-allergenic foods before age 1 to children whose parents have no history of food allergies, but that introducing these foods early may actually help prevent common food allergies.* I hope this kind of stuff will be updated in the next edition, but as of this moment, the book is out of date, as are a lot of the materials on the corresponding website.

Second, this book didn’t support breastfeeding to the extent that I was hoping. Murkoff repeats over and over that it’s best to breastfeed until at least age 1, but there’s also a lot of material about weaning to the bottle or formula. That’s fine, as it’s information many families will certainly want or need, but as a new mom who did have some difficulties with breastfeeding, I felt like I was constantly being told about how hard breastfeeding is without being offered any support structures to help. The book didn’t provide information for new mothers about continuing to breastfeed after the first year, and certainly didn’t touch at all on the health benefits (for mother and child) of doing so. Breastfeeding is hard and it’s important to acknowledge that, but I feel like its benefits are well-known enough that a book like this should really be supporting the breastfeeding relationship for as long as possible.

Obviously, some people will not be interested in breastfeeding or will not be able to breastfeed, and that’s okay, but there’s a way to support those decisions without constantly pressuring those of us who are breastfeeding to stop at age 1. Additionally, there is some outright wrong information about breastfeeding repeated over and over in the text, especially as concerns what’s normal/average in terms of weaning. Murkoff’s expectations for infant sleep also don’t line up with the books I’ve read on infant sleep that were grounded in scientific research.

Finally, I feel that this book spent too much time on a lot of very rare and uncommon illnesses. It’s great to have rare concerns listed briefly, and to provide resources for more information, but reading over and over about all the ways your baby could get sick is probably not a good idea for a new parent. It’s stressful enough to handle a healthy baby; spending your energy processing information that you’ll never need isn’t worth it, especially since that kind of worrying can create emotional issues you really don’t need. There is definitely such a thing as being too informed when it comes to certain topics. I say, give me information about the common cold, why vaccinations are important, what to do in a choking emergency or during a febrile seizure, and skip the several hundred pages on all the 1/10,000 ways my kid could get sick.

I feel like with What to Expect’s history as the “go to” pregnancy and child-rearing book series, it needs to be held to a high standard. People all over the world trust them to get it right and to provide information that is correct and reliable, and unfortunately, What to Expect the First Year just doesn’t deliver on those fronts.

*See http://aapnewsde.aap.org/aapnews-open/201302_o?pg=13#pg13 for one example.

Got a book you’d like me to review? Leave a comment with your suggestions or email me.