Yesterday I breastfed my ten-month-old at a subway stop in Brooklyn, on the Q train in Manhattan and on the W train from Manhattan to Astoria.
I have always been nervous about feeding on the subway. I've done a lot of pumping and bottle-toting to avoid it. But the trek from Brooklyn to Queens was just too long. I found a seat at the end of the car, asked my husband to stand guard and let Alfred stretch out on my lap... within minutes he was drifting off, all that screeching train noise lulling him to sleep.
I remember when my baby was born I was so frightened that I would never be able to “get out” that I insisted on dragging my wounded postpartum animal self to the nearest subway—tiny, days-old, crusty-bellybuttoned baby in arms—so that we could enjoy a summer afternoon at the Frick. What could be more civilized? Well, turns out they wouldn’t let us in with the stroller, so we spent the afternoon in Central Park. The sun was very healing. Alfred and I, both squinty-eyed, vulnerable and pale, fell in and out of sleep under a tree. I was sore and scared, but the trip made me feel that “getting out" was still possible. That Alfred could be my buddy in life rather than an obstacle to my life. Feeding Alfred on the subway yesterday gave me a similar boost. In fact, getting over the feeding-on-subway hurdle has made me feel more confident to try it again. Maybe soon I can try it without the husband?
So we've been debating all week about whether we really are "all for" the AAP recommendations after all. The big news is that we are all encouraged to breast feed for at least one year and for the first six months exclusively (that means no additional formula, or food).Of course, it is the American Academy of Pediatrics, so their agenda is Best for Babies. And breast milk is clearly better in almost all cases, as their heavily footnoted studies on the superiority of breastmilk to formula prove. But beyond the biology it gets a whole lot murkier.
On the one hand, if we don't make it clear that breastfeeding is important, people won't do it. But on the other, there's the fact that breastfeeding is something many women find really, really difficult...both because it sometimes just is, and because there's still not much in the way of supoprt for it. Policy is one problem, but the lack of support goes way deeper: professional, medical, emotional, cultural. It’s hard to pump all day long, it’s hard to breastfeed in public, it’s hard to lasso the energy it takes to be your baby’s sole food provider for six months, it’s hard to breastfeed when neither your OB nor your pediatrician can talk you through the problems… And yet so many of us feel that if we don’t breastfeed we have failed in some way. So what does this new mandate mean for moms? More pressure, and more guilt for those who are unable to undertake this "natural" process turned cultural shitstorm. Moms who give up breastfeeding for perfectly valid reasons feel huge guilt. Moms who can't breastfeed feel desperate to conjure up some magical milk elixir, even if it's from an uncertified source. It's good, but is it good enough to justify the damage?
If not breastfeeding feels like failure, we need to make it easier to succeed.
We're all for the AAP's new gung-ho stance on breastfeeding. But now it's time for the rest of the country to put their money where the kid's mouth is. If breastfeeding is so crucial to the baby's well being, let's make it a little more possible for women to breastfeed. How do we reconcile the AAP's call for 6 months of exclusive breast milk with maternity leaves that max out at 3 months? Considering the high percentage of women who work and the low percentage of women who are able to find a private, clean, convenient place to pump (every two to three hours, as recommended) in their workplace, we say:
If this country is serious about upping breastfeeding rates, we need to back up the pressure with some policy.
Ted Greiner, PhD (breast feeding scholar, advocate, researcher….), delivered this paper at a UNICEF workshop in 1990, but we haven't made nearly enough progress in maternity leave policy since then.
In striving to find the optimal maternity leave policy the following aspects should be considered:
1) Maximum flexibility, or choice should be allowed to the woman so that the only leave taken before delivery is that which is really needed. (Most health professionals support women's common preference to work up to nearly the date of delivery, except in certain states of ill health.) This allows the bulk of leaves to be taken after delivery.
2) At least four but preferably six months leave should be provided at nearly full pay, to enable women to practice exclusive breastfeeding during this period. Employers should not be asked to pay for this, or if they do, should be given tax credits for it.
3) A small sum of money could be provided to women who wanted to take a longer leave than this, at least for a few months, with no risk of losing their job or their seniority.
4) Flexible and/or shorter working hours for another period of time, should be provided for those women who want it, especially if the total length of the maternity leave is less than four months.
5) Paternity leaves should be encouraged for men to be present at the time of delivery and to assist at home during the time of mother's recovery. In several countries parental leave is offered after the maternity leave and the father is ncouraged to spend time at home later in his infant's life. Besides the obvious benefit for mother, father and child, parental leaves would help reduce the bias against hiring women.
See the whole paper here:
Sometimes natural birth advocates spend so much time fighting against the "over-medicalization" of birth, they end up making women feel like failures if the birth doesn't turn out to be a swimmingly perfect, all "natural", intervention-free, awe-inspiring experience. The fact is that the way a birth unfolds is not always, or even often, within our control.
Here's one new mom's story:
"Pregnant women out there, please, just keep an open mind. YOU DON'T FAIL if natural birth eludes you.... I was desperate for a natural birth. After reading the books I decided that I'd rather die than ask for an epidural...."
"When I found out about my pregnancy, after the initial joy I couldn't help but dread (even though it seemed so far away) giving birth eight months later. I heard enough horror stories of the excruciating, "out of body experience" pain and I already pictured myself lying in a cold hospital bed with my legs in stirrups screaming my head off. I was quite ignorant back then and I didn't really know that stirrups are not used anymore and the active birth is rather encouraged in the hospitals (private or public) in Australia. I decided to stay fit during my pregnancy and to enroll in a yoga class as soon as possible.
At twelve weeks I started my class and met the most positive, optimistic, inspiring woman in Jacque, our teacher. She managed to change my mind from "being shit scared" of giving birth to actually looking forward to it. She was describing to us her three quick, beautiful, spiritual labors in a way that we all wanted to give birth badly "tomorrow".
She got me hooked on the topic. I started avidly reading all the books about natural, active birth I could put my hands on. Sheila Kitzinger, Janet Balaskas, Michel Odent became "my best friends" and it seemed the only subject I could talk about to anyone (literally anyone...) I came across was: the only way to go, the natural birth. Refuse the drugs, refuse any medical intervention, greet the contractions, keep active, squat, go on all fours, walk and in a few hours your baby will slip into your arms and he will be happily sucking your boobs. Then, you bond.
It started with my water breaking at 4.30 am on a Friday.
"Don't rush to the hospital as the chance of infection is greater than at home", Sheila's words were voicing in my ears. "Handle the contractions at home until they regular and close apart." I did. I was handling the mild/strong contractions with controlled breathing until about 6pm when they became almost unbearable. By then I was in such a terrible pain, that I couldn't make the five minute trip to the hospital sitting in the front of the car. I was on all fours in the back.
When they examined me, I was only two centimeters dilated. After 35(!!) hours of walking, squatting, having several hot baths, showers, but most of the time being on all fours leaning on a beanbag while my husband incessantly massaged my lower back until he rubbed off my skin (no kidding), going through about six midwives, I was still suffering without my "fruit". I wasn't dilating and my baby's head wasn't in the right position. I was fit and prepared physically and mentally and so hyped up to give birth naturally, that I barely noticed the time going! Apart from doing yoga during my pregnancy, I walked an hour every day with my dogs, I went swimming, I ate healthy, I never smoked or drank, I stopped working at 14 weeks hence no stress, no fights with my hubby and I wasn't moving house or renovating as, for some reason, so many women tend to do during their pregnancy.When I wasn't exercising I was sitting in my semi dark room surrounded with candles reading books about Buddhism (besides the ones of my gurus of course). I had the calmest, most relaxed, probably THE ideal pregnancy. I was desperate for a natural birth. After reading the books I decided, that I'd rather die, than ask for an epidural!I won't let myself induced no matter what and the Caesarian will be just out of question. I want THE spiritual birth, with my baby slipping into my arms and all that.
However after 35 hours suffering and not progressing (despite having a pain threshold as high as the Himalayas...) I broke down and I started crying uncontrollably. All this effort for nothing! I just didn't progress. I ended up demanding a Caesarean!!! The doctor suggested putting me on the drips to get the contractions stronger, hopefully I would dilate (you could call him optimistic I guess..) At that stage I gave up completely. They could have done anything to me. I could not handle one more second of pain anymore.The epidural followed…
I could not believe the effect of it! The vicious needle saved my life!!!! After all this agony, I could have just fallen asleep, but I was busy joking and flirting with the anesthetist and the doctor. Unsurprisingly, four hours later I still didn't dilate, so I had to have a Caesar.
My 10lbs 4oz (4.65kg) baby was taken out of my tummy perfect and pink. He wasn't distressed, he wasn't squashed or blue, he wasn't lacking oxygen, which would have been most likely the case if I gave birth vaginally. His heartbeat was perfect all the way. He was alert straight away and he is an extremely relaxed and happy baby. According to Sheila and Janet, what he went through he should be fretful and unsettled. I can't say we bonded in the theater though. But frankly I doubt we'd have bonded if I gave birth naturally either. Bonding takes time, it happens gradually. You give birth naturally, but the babysitter takes over a few weeks later what happens with the bonding?
Six weeks later, I'm almost back to my old self. I fit into my old clothes, my scar is healed and I walk an hour a day again. My intention with my story is not to promote the Caesarean. I would try to give birth naturally again (probably). However I do feel betrayed by those books. They made me feel, 'not being able to give birth naturally would be the end of the world.' It is not. They made me feel, 'if I do everything right I'll manage to pull it through.' I feel stupid and brainwashed. I had a very traumatic birth experience, which I won't forget for a while. Having an elective Caesarean is probably one extreme, I was the other.
Pregnant women out there please, just keep an open mind. YOU DON'T FAIL if natural birth eludes you. "
My one-and-two-thirds year old just picked up a safety pin and said "ear, ear".
I'm as happy as anyone about the new crop of baby stuff that looks like it came from Kartell. But it's not just the seamless integration of kid items into the well-designed home that I'm after, it's stuff that looks good and that kids like (almost) as much as the rococo plastic monstrosities. In some ways, this streamlining of the kid's environment feels like a futile attempt to shoe-horn a child into a parents' universe. I'm still waiting for my kid to play with the design-award winners that are cluttering our shelves, along with all the plastic. I mean, these things look fabulous and all, but they don't exactly inspire play.
What I really wish is that there were some glimmer of good design in the mainstream American toy world...some balance to counter the seven-layer-cake wrought by the dueling mandates for branding and enrichment. Has anyone studied the effects of "educational" slot machines on 6 month olds? Why does it seem like all the other countries in the world maintain reverence for the good old days of hand-hewn wooden playthings? Perhaps they just don't export their embarrassments? Or are all toy boxes in Scandinavia really neatly stacked with this stuff instead of overflowing with this stuff?
This morning Catherine Walsh writes in the Sydney Morning Herald about moms trying too hard to please their kids. It's another agood article about the need for a new "phase of parenting."
" ... Motherhood has probably never been more difficult. We do it in isolation, without preparation, without support. We do it in a world that values the economy over care. The expert advice keeps changing and we're constantly being told that we're wrong. No wonder mothers are crying.
But the present phase of parenting is taking a lot from mothers, without any benefit. We need a new parenting phase which empowers mothers. We give up enough to become mothers; to some extent our bodies, our sleep, earnings, friendships, hobbies. We don't need to sacrifice our self-respect..."
Whew. Just read PERFECT MADNESS: MOTHERHOOD IN THE AGE OF ANXIETY by Judith Warner. Ate it up. And now, as a card-carrying member of the bulimic generation, I feel the need to purge. How convenient that Rebecca and I just started a newmom blog. Here goes.
Warner describes a history of American ideas about mothering that is straight-up riveting (I read the book in about two days -- and felt pretty good about tossing my nine-month-old baby the remote control as I read, since Warner is sall about taking the edge off perfect parenting). Here’s the breakdown: Motherhood was meant to be an all-encompassing, total immersion style gig for women in 19th century (Saintly “good”) and in the first half of 20th century (promoted by experts to be scientifically “good”). Then, soon after those Beaver days of Spock and Valium, women started to make real progress. By the 70s moms were chilling out, feeling good about work, about motherhood, no drama, gleefully imperfect. It would have been considered fairly insane, for example, if a 70s mom had devoted all her time to researching brain-power activities or if her kid showed up with some insanely crafty Halloween costume. No, in those days moms were proud of their laid-back mothering and felt guilt-free in the work place. However, the 80s turned this hopeful working mom reality into a kind of power mom "you can have it all" movement. And the increasing “winner-takes-it all” reality of our economy was starting to make a decent life very hard to achieve. Meanwhile, all of us young moms-to-be were still in college learning that we had “it all” in addition to a kind of watered down feminism (politics of victimization, deconstructing Madonna). We started to wonder why we felt so crappy even though we had won the "choice" to do with our bodies what we wanted to do. So, we all started micromanaging our angst with a whole array of eating disorders. We learned that “control” was everything. Which has lead to some serious “control freakishness” in our grown-up mom lives. Perfection! I can do it all! If I get organized…
PART TWO: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Motherhood
According to Warner, we’re so busy wigging about whether we SUCK that we never stop to ask, why oh why isn't there any god damn support for us!? Is Warner blaming us (and our neurotic “dressing-on-the-side” narcissistic search for perfection) for dropping the ball on women’s rights? Not really. (You can tell she gets annoyed when yet another perky upper middle class friend of hers shows up for a dinner party with lactose intolerance, but…) In fact, in many wonderful ways this book is a call to arms. She points to how we have been systematically shafted. And paints a damn good picture of our lives and the big myth of all of our "choices."
Her point, in short, is that we DO NOT HAVE CHOICES. She argues rightly, for example, that women are basically meant to work (have sense of agency, and ability to provide) AND raise children. (She even uses one primate study to help with this claim.) She argues that we need to stop blaming ourselves and start demanding things like more support for daycare, less slanted studies about how important maternal bonding is, a better work reality (ie: not a 90 hour work week, etc). We need to banish this “Mommy War” idea. It is a lose-lose situation: We either live a somewhat mind-numbing Baby Einstein sing-a-long life all day, or we grind our asses in the workplace and feel like crap for missing our baby's first steps (not to mention wonder if our career is really *that* important when our whole salary is going to the nanny or daycare).
Despite all this drama and horror, this book made me feel great. It made me feel secure in my decision to send my infant to daycare and confident to back off from that feeling that mommy is "the only one" who can do this or that (the control freakishness). It made me feel like my desire to work was not in competition with my desire to nurture my baby. My feelings about the standards of public education and healthcare remained unshaken: As Warner explains, these are our real enemies.
What sucks about the book, however, is that for all her on-the-money descriptions (sometimes I felt like she had been spying on me for about 25 years), she keeps quoting women who say they want to be "PERFECT” moms. Who are these women? To give us credit, us bulimic daughters of the Reagan era are also the slacker, “grunge” generation of women who spent a fair amount of time rejecting notions of perfection (even as we spent good money "perfecting" our Courtney-Love-circa-Malibu hair-cuts in the late “boom" nineties). Maybe we do have a weakness for turning on ourselves when it gets rough (it's all *MY* fault things are not working out) but we are also a demanding new generation of moms, and I have some faith that we can start to turn the dial back to a more accommodating 70s-style momming (pass the Indian skirt and Molson Golden). Reading this book can help us see the light.
I just wish Warner could have peppered those quotes from high-achieving, super-perked NW Washington, DC moms with a few down-home quotes from some of the sisters I know who, when asked "How do you do it all?" say, with a smile, "That's easy, I suck at my job and I'm a lousy mom!"
It took me thirty seconds to find this definition of incompetent cervix on google.
Why, then, were the writers of the Gorgeous/Gruesome TV show Nip/Tuck (which I currently love but entirely expect to hate soon) Unable/Unwilling to make the thirty second effort to determine whether their story line was feasible?
If you haven't seen the first season and are spoiler-sensitive, do not read on.
I know that as titles of medical conditions go, "incompetent cervix" is about as Gorgeous/Gruesome as they come. And I know they needed some kind of "preventable" miscarriage scenario, but COME ON. The woman was eight weeks pregnant, and announced during her examination that she had never even heard of the condition, much less experienced it previously, which would make that diagnosis pretty much impossible.
Could they not have figured this out? Fact-checking? Vetting? Something? I realize that my standards for versimilitude are probably unrealistic, but it purports to be a show about medicine, after all. Mostly boob jobs, but medicine, nonetheless.