Saturday, September 29, 2007

Nobody's Hero

Okay my blog heading may reference "our heroine" but that's just my nod to classic tales of adventure and discovery and growth, like Tom Jones. Because I'm a nerd, that's why.

But I had a funny experience at the hair salon last week... oh holy monkeys my kid knows when I'm trying to write, this or my novel, because she invariably awakes just when I get going... oh, okay, she nodded back off to sleep... phew! Anyway my mom was holding Tiny Face for me while I had my first hair cut since before that five month old was born! So everyone sees The Cutest Baby of All Time and Perhaps Even Longer and of course we're chatting about her as I get my shampoo and cut... and I don't offer the information but the question is asked and I answer honestly: I had a natural birth. No, not just not a cesarean section ("natural" is not a euphemism for vaginal!), no drugs. That's right, no epidural. Nope.

And it starts.

"Wow, NONE? You're hardcore! You're a hero!"

Hmm. This is a whole topic of debate, I know: What is a Hero? It came up after 9-11 of course, and we debate it and read arguments and the like in my ninth grade English class and even with my AP seniors when we read Beowulf (Oh yes, I teach English when I'm not on mommy leave; please don't judge me, because ) . Joseph Campbell and all that, and then firefighters and "my mom" or "Rosa Parks," and all that.

But when I consider my birth choices (and they were carefully researched and thought out choices, not simply going along with what I've seen on TV or what my first rather horrendous OB told me), being a hero didn't factor into it at all.

Okay now she is awake and I'll be back to explain what the heck I mean!

((((Okay, sorry! Tiny Face has had a bad cold and is just over it! Okay, where was I?...)))

Ah, yes! What DID factor into it was this: selfishness. Yup, I'm selfish. I read that epidurals affect the baby and can stay in her system for weeks, and can affect breastfeeding and more. I read that epidurals can slow down birthing and even stall it, leading to a C-section, and I read that the infant mortality rate triples with a C-section. I read that epidurals can cause a low fever and then you and the baby have to get IV antibiotics because it might be an infection, and again this could cause folks to start watching the clock and to push to towards a C-section. I read that epidurals have a surprisingly high rate of failing to work completely, and that you only get it when the anesthesiologist is available, and after several centimeters anyway, and they let it wear off for pushing, so you better have coping strategies ready anyway. I read that they also have a surprisingly high rate of causing complications for the mother, such as back pain, headaches, and so forth.

I read good things, too. I read that when birth is allowed to unfold naturally, without interventions that research show do not improve outcomes for mom or baby, and without watching of the clock and pressure to "make progress," and without doctors changing on you and nurses asking about pain and being tied to a bed and beeping machines... it tends not to stall. I read that if you remove the idea that birth is scary and painful in a damaging way that your body will remain relaxed and it will hurt less and move faster. I read that moving around into the positions that intuitively feel good will move things along, and help prevent tearing. I read that having a doula tends to reduce complications. I read that birth is not a medical event like being sick or injured, but something we women are beautifully designed to perform.

Well, I'm selfish. I don't want lasting complications from birth, or tearing. Ick. And I don't want my baby starting life pumped full of drugs. I don't want my baby placed in any more risk than comes with just entering and living life. $And, baby, I am SOLD on the idea of less pain!

So yeah, it wasn't heroics that led me to my natural birth. It was just reading the statistics on difference choices (and discovering, hey, they ARE choices, not mandates) and seeing which was less likely to hurt my baby and myself. It was a purely pragmatic issue.

Now, I can go all into how the actual experience ended up being revelatory and empowering and a major life event that I believe is essential to my being a woman... but while the salon is kind of hippie-slanted, the stylists there that day definitely were not, so I just stuck to the facts. And the facts are very straightforward here. Don't get me started on the USA's woeful infant mortality and mother mortality rates, or how no one seems to care that mothers are treated so shabbily... at my birth I was treated like a woman, not a patient or a womb/vagina/incubator, or as secondary to all the fancy machines at our disposal in this wonderful day and age, or to the potential lawsuits that also feature so importantly in doctors' decisions this day and age! But sticking just to the bald facts, my choice was clear. I'm all for women making the choice they feel is best for them (and I'm grateful we have medical resources available for true emergencies--but most births aren't and using them then can create complications rather than forestall them), but I feel that the information just can't be making it to all of them. And I'm an educator, so spreading information is sort of important to me. I know I was very grateful for the women who turned me on to the books and other resources that shared the facts with me.

Including my mom, because she's my hero!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Riding the Wave's Crest

Niggling in the back of my head is the oft-repeated phrase of parents, "This too shall pass." We sing it to each other like a prayer or lullaby when our children are going through some maddening phase, like refusing to be put down even within your sight while you put on your pants, or waking all night long ready to party for hours. We remember that it's all going to change again next week.
So I'm trying to be humbly grateful for what I admit will likely be a crest in the many waves of parenting, enjoying the high while it lasts, before we take another tour of the low.

My daughter let me rock her to sleep. In the comfy recliner we got off craigslist for our nursery. Cozied up against my tummy. She didn't jab her legs into my thigh or grunt or cry (Sophie-speak for "Giddy up, Mama! You must walk me for twenty to ninety minutes for me to go to sleep!"). I loved cuddling, and my back loved sitting. And... she's let me do this several times now. Plus, she's dropped into dreamland like pearls slipping off a string, a few moans as she likes to emit before sleeping, and she's out, while we've been downstairs bouncing for mere minutes or sitting in the patio or out in the park.

I think maybe she's just getting the hang of going to sleep, but I also have to give myself credit for being in tune with her rhythm of waking and sleeping. It's a dance and we're each learning as we go.

Then there's the whole part where she's totally fun and endearing. Seriously, your cuddliest cartoon bunnies don't stand a chance next to my kid. Her cuteness quotient is just through the roof. It's all about the giggles and smiles and attempts to eat my face with her these days (the latter being part of what we've dubbed the "Sophie-Monster" game). My funny noises and singing and flying her through the air are earning rave reviews from her. She still freaks out with groups in enclosed spaces like the mom's group I attend or restaurants, but far and away this kid is just so darn easy to hang out with. She loves to ride along with me through periods of chores, too. When she needs a break and more attention, it's normally good for me to stop and take a break by then anyway.

Egad, what terrifying two year old tantrums or maddening teenage surliness will surely come calling in karmic reimbursement for this golden-child near-five-month-old?

Whatever. I am thankful for this day, and my daughter's happiness. I'm riding the wave.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Playing Cocoon

How do people with babies survive without babywearing? While pregnant I aspired to be a slinging mama, wearing my baby all day. Visions of strapping my baby on my back while I worked in the fields (what fields are these?) got confused in there somehow as well. But after the birth, I admit I was content to just hold my baby. After a few days we tried out the ring sling, which worked fairly well after we went down to the shop on the 101, Nature's Mother (, and the kindly owner Sara showed us just exactly how we were doing it wrong.

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Since Sophie only ever wanted to be on me or my husband, I got excited about babywearing. I started attending the local group that had just started meeting at Ama Mama, and searched for a two-shoulder carrier, because the ring sling didn't seem all that comfy to me. I still was using one hand to secure Sophie at all times. Yeah, I was probably still doing it wrong, but apparently I needed more than one lesson to learn that. I excitedly ordered a Babyhawk (, nearly giving myself an anyurism trying to choose the two patterns of fabric for my reversible dream carrier (and the company adding lovely fabrics as I browsed was not helping!). I finally chose blue taffy and bohemian green--the latter of which is incredibly pretty and perfect for me.

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To my dismay, Sophie hated riding in the Babyhawk unless she was asleep. She was still so small she had to ride with her legs "froggy style" which is a natural pose for newborns, but someone forgot to tell my daughter that in the briefing babies get as they prepare for the great parachute jump out f the womb. So I was reduced to popping Sophie out whever she awoke and struggling to carry her and the fabric with its long straps before and after naps, and teetering Sophie on chairs as I tied it on as she was nodding off. Right now she tolerates the adjustable Mei Tai Baby ( that I picked up secondhand off because her legs can hang out. Soon she'll be big enough to hug her legs around me and enjoy the Babyhawk.

But our deliverance came in the form of a stretchy wrap. A Gypsy Mama Bali Baby Stretch ( in Aphrodite and Fortuna. (Of course I got two. They're like tee shirts, in terms of softness and sturdiness of the fabric as well as in how they can pick up my nursing-mama stink, which is only combated these days by a Crystal Stick, which is kind of like Iraq.) Anyway, I tried one out at a NINO (Nine In Nine Out; it's since changed to Babywearers International) and my daughter amazingly was content in it. She faced in but could look all about, the perfect balance of needing to see and explore the world and be able to retreat into Mama's bosom for sensory relief or look into my face to see what I thought, that everything was okay. She could have her legs free. It was uber-comfy for me. The ends of the wrap were tapered so there wasn't a ton of excess fabric on me. And I could wrap at home and pop Sophie in an out all I wanted while at the store. That was essential for us, because she nurses all the time and poops nearly as frequently.

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When I started looking into babywearing, I was thinking slings. I looked at hotsling pouches online. I conceded that a mei tai might work out okay, but I thought the woman I saw wearing her baby in one, at a Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds concert, was pretty daring. I rejected the idea of wrapping because it seemed like too much fabric, too much of a learning curve, and too out there. Of course, my baby ended up being a wrap baby. I forgot it wasn't my decision at all! Once again, she's showing me the wisdom of trying things her way.

Now big chunks of the day, I'm wearing Sophie, whenever I need to get something done but include her too. I cleaned my whole house today wearing her. Dishes, laundry, vacuuming (she loves this, nods right off), tidying up... we can do it all. I have her right there with me, and she's happy to ride along, drinking it all in. She's easier to get down for a nap after a stretch of babywearing, and gets less stressed out than when I tried to put her down for everything. We go for long walks and she laughs as she gazes over the sunrise and spins her head up and dangles it back to see the tops of lampposts and trees. I feel so capable and free with this simple yet amazing tool, something women have used for centuries, and yet something that still gets comments about how "they didn't have that in my day." I get stares, and compliments. I haven't had to buy a stroller yet. I get my baby with me, and I get stuff done!

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Why does the house smell like pickles?

That's the question I'm worried my husband will ask when he gets home. I ponder teasing him with threats of being pregnant again, but before I can enjoy visualizing the apoplexy's effect on his facial expression, the smell of the vinegar fades.

This week was the great green cleaning experiment. Motivated by a desire to get the house cleaned while wearing my daughter Sophie in my wrap, I finally got my shit together and mixed a little white distilled vinegar in a bunch of water in a spray bottle from Costco. The bottle came in a four pack and I dutifully checked off which type of cleaner I was brewing up. with a black Sharpie, and gleefully crossed out "hazardous" and labeled the ingredients. The bottle was also professional grade and when the light squirts I aimed at the bathroom mirror and then even the cloth cleaning towel resulted in a explosive mist bouncing back at my four month old and me, I was especially glad that all it contained was vinegar and "H2O."

Oh, yes, I also got cloth microfiber towels. How environmental am I? And I scored a deal by buying a pack in the automotive section of the store rather than shelling out $3-5 each in the cleaning section. I mean, they're just for wiping on dirty stuff, right? But I hope they get more absorbant after a wash. That back-spray was harsh. I don't want to pickle my baby.

Pictures of my gleaming bathroom and sliding glass main entryway coming soon! I could hardly believe how well this simple solution (as on concoction, although it solved the problem of keeping toxic chemicals away from Sophie as well) worked. No smudges or streaks, and it's multisurface! And after it all dried and I washed my hands, there was no smell at all.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Creative Chaos

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So writing is blog is a good test of how much writing time I can work into my days with my daughter... and it's not going well! I'll be participating in NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) in November and it requires an average of 1,667 words per day to finish 50K in the month. I've succeeded the past two years, and I'm planning on writing the sequel to last year's novel... but I hope I have enough time to write it all. And to prepare, reading the first novel, devoting the time needed for brainstorming and planning and plot outlining. I did an enormous amount of prewriting last year and it paid off in my best fiction yet, so I'm torn between Sophie-time and novel-time. Hopefully it can become more organic as we both figure it out.

For instance, I'm now typing with one hand as I hold her and a book in another. Watch the quality of writing plummet!

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But Sophie shows me all these crazy, spontaneous, invigorating actions and reactions that I thank her for; they help me appreciate life, and they remind me of the energy and creativity on which writing thrives. For instance, she'll try to do two things at once, like cry and smile, or nurse and chew on her hand. And on one hand she can't figure it out, but on another, why choose just one? Can't our life encompass it all? There's this gleeful, unconscious acceptance of all of life there. And then I'll be kissing her face, nibbling on her cheeks, and she'll open her mouth to do the same to me. And soon it's a dance as we swish our faces back and forth, accompanying ourselves with squeals and giggles. And just a few minutes ago she tried to "kiss" me this way, and promptly burped into my cheek. "Thank you," I said.

And I was grateful. Especially because about fifteen seconds later she decided to look around, away from my face, before spitting up.

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