Laurita Dianita

Reflections and art on the topics of public health, social justice, and love

Archive for the ‘babies’ tag

Rio Esteban’s Birth: Crossing an Ocean

without comments

birth120

(All photos by Ash Adams)

 

I’ve been struggling with how to tell my birth story because it contains some personal emotional details that I don’t feel like broadcasting. But I find myself feeling blocked up from not having written it, not having cast it into narrative form, externalized it and made sense of it in writing. So this is my best attempt to tell the emotional truth of it and share it with all of you.

Before labor

Ida had come 3 days early, and my friends and my husband, Oscar, thought I was going to deliver even earlier this time, a prediction which I didn’t totally agree with, but his positon so low on my cervix made seem plausible. I was not expecting Rio to come so late. His due date was Friday, July 22nd, and my labor didn’t begin until the morning of Tuesday, July 26th. Although I had told myself that I would go back to work on Monday the 25th if I were still pregnant, I sensed that I just needed to take some time to myself and he would come, so I spent Monday getting a massage and a pedicure and meeting with my doula to work on pressure points in my foot and talk through things that were weighing on my heart. That seems to have worked.

Early labor

Early on Tuesday morning, after a poor night of sleep, I went to snuggle with my two and a half-year-old, Ida Luna, in her room, and fell asleep on her crib mattress on the floor. I then awoke around 7:00 with my first contraction. They came every 15 minutes after that, so I figured this was early labor, and I was hoping it would continue and advance. Oscar and I got Ida ready and after he left to take her to school, I slept for another hour and a half, waking every 15 minutes with pain in my pelvis and back. I recognized the contractions, but this felt markedly different than last time, mainly in that they were not accelerating and I was not diving into that deep, private, mental space of Laborland as I had in early labor with Ida.

birth100

Later that morning at home, Oscar pushed on my sacrum as I sat in extended child’s pose, and this felt good, as all of the pain was concentrating in my back. My back, afflicted with spondololysis for the majority of my life, had hurt terribly throughout pregnancy, and I was expecting it to hurt during labor. Around 10-something I threw on a sports bra, a dress, and sneakers while Oscar grabbed the birth bag, and we headed out to go on a walk, to which I invited a few sister-friends. Before the walk, my mom (Geneva Woods Birth Center/Geneva Woods Midwifery owner and Certified Nurse Midwife, Barbara Norton) asked if I’d like to get checked, so I came in. I was 3 cm. dilated, 80% effaced, and my cervix was mostly soft but a little bit firm. She suggested that we not walk so far away at Kincaid Park, as we had been planning, but stay closer by the birth center, so we headed to the trails near Alaska Pacific University, texting friends to update them. In retrospect, all this texting and coordinating was not helping my labor at all, but I really wanted some sister-friend presence. Oscar and I walked for close to a mile, with me leaning on his shoulders and moving my hips and him swatting mosquitoes away from my legs during contractions, and then circled back to the car for a snack and water. I found it odd that I could eat during early labor, since last time I was vomiting at this point. When my friend Suki and my friend and birth photographer Ash arrived, we walked a few more loops with them, me laboring through contractions with the support of Suki or Oscar’s shoulders, Ash snapping photos, and some talking and laughing as we made our way over dirt trails through the beautiful birch forest. My contractions were about 3 – 4 minutes apart at this point, and closer on uphills, so, thinking I had progressed, we headed to the birth center. Oscar had turned the seat heaters on high, which felt amazing on my low back. I had a particularly uncomfortable contraction as we arrived at the birth center, which I got through in the parking lot, leaning against the car.

birth101

My mom had mentioned earlier that if my pain is concentrated in my back, it may be that baby is in a funny position, and I needed to lay on my side with my knee close to my chest in order to get him to turn. By the time I arrived at the birth center again, however, the pain radiated from my pelvis out and into my back and hips, so we were less concerned about position. We settled into the birthing room I had chosen – the bright “Hummingbid Room” lit by sunlight from the large windows and my doula Jen Allison arrived. I got my dose of antibiotics (I had tested positive for GBS) and had a few contractions on the bed in extended child’s pose, with Oscar pressing on my back. Then I tried putting on my calming birth mix on my phone, and getting in the shower, but nothing was quite clicking, and my contractions slowed down significantly. I got out and Jen rubbed my feet and pushed on my labor pressure points, and asked me about the morning and the previous night, I believe trying to tease out from me what might be getting in the way of progressing.

birth102

My mom came in with Deb Schneider, who is a certified direct-entry midwife (CDM), as well as a nurse and paramedic, who works in their office as a nurse and birth assistant. Geneva Woods is a CNM-only practice (that is, all births are attended and managed by CNMs), but Deb is able to offer her insight from her own CDM practice, which she maintains outside of her hours at Geneva Woods. For that reason, my mom wanted her help with my birth because she did not want to be the only midwife for her daughter’s labor/grandson’s birth, and the other CNM, Dana, was seeing patients all day. Deb checked me and I was still only 3 cm. dilated, 80% effaced, and a little bit firm. No progress at all. All that walking, all those contractions, some of them increasingly hard, and nothing. This felt defeating. I knew that there was emotional stuff getting in the way. It had been a hard few weeks before the birth, and a hard night, and there was a lot of heavy stuff floating around in my head and heart.

 

Active labor

This was about 2:30 pm. My mom and Deb suggested I could go home, or I could try sleeping here since I had not slept well the night before, and see if that helps. They also said if I like, in a little while they could try breaking my water to speed things up. I didn’t want to be stuck forever, so I considered the idea, but I was hopeful I could get into active labor without it — and it turned out that way.  A change of environment and focus was all I needed. Jen, Ash, my mom, and Deb, all left the room as I lay down with one of Jen’s rice-filled hot pads on my eyes, the rain sound from the white noise app on my phone, pillows between my knees, and Oscar next to me. I may have slept a few minutes before the first contraction hit. They then started to speed up and intensify some as I lay with my eyes covered and just the (artificial) sound of rain. In fact, they intensified so much that I vomited, just as I had at the beginning of active labor with Ida.

 

This certainly felt like progress, but it was also so hard, because I found I could not land on the right coping mechanism, could not decide on visualization or non-focused awareness or concentrating on the parts of my body that did not hurt, or thinking of sweet sleeping Ida that morning, or repeating “open” or thinking of a flower blooming. None of it quite clicked, and I was frustrated. Sadness seemed to be getting in the way of the peaceful, accepting space I wanted to create for me and my son, and sadness made the contractions really hurt. (Obviously, labor hurts, but it hurt more because of the sadness.) In fact, this pain and this sense that I was meandering around trying to cope with it (which was so different than last labor, when my coping strategies had fallen perfectly into place) and the lack of progress at my last check had me think, “Geez, I see why people get epidurals…maybe I should just…no, I know that epidurals increase the risk of c-sections and I do not want to recover from major abdominal surgery, and baby needs my flora. Plus, I know I wouldn’t feel as good and powerful about my birth if I did it that way and what if baby didn’t latch well, and ug, then I’d have to hang out afterwards in the hospital. Plus, I birthed without meds before and I can do it again, just as all of our ancestors have done.” Clearly I won the little argument in my head, but it was there, this little internal struggle.

birth104

After a little while, Jen came in and asked Oscar to go to the store to get Natural Calm to help soothe my back muscles, and candles to light for the grief and pain and sadness that was getting in the way (this was, in part, an idea proposed by a fellow Mount Holyoke College alum and mama, Maya, who suggested I could invite in whatever is hard but set good boundaries with those feelings and relegate them to an appropriate place in the room). After Oscar left, Jen laid with me a while, and provided gentle reassurance and presence the way she always does. She also, upon my request, put “Ra Ma Da Sa” on repeat on her phone, and I let the song’s loving kindness pour over me. Then my mom laid down to talk with me briefly and I asked her to stay, and keep scratching my back as she had begun to do.

 

When I was a child, I was energetic and always wired, so it was hard to get me to fall asleep. My mom would gently trace her fingertips along my back until I fell asleep. This is what she did now, and it brought me such a beautiful calm – because, physiologically, that’s what gentle touches do, but also because it was my mom, and she was so loving and kind and tranquil and calm herself. At this point, my contractions really picked up and intensified. Jen (and sometimes Deb) made sure I had cool rags on my forehead and over my eyes and hot packs pressed against my back. I switched positions from my right to my left side, and got up to pee once, but otherwise just lay on my side with no visual input the entire time. I just let labor happen. I squeezed Jen’s hand during contractions and moaned, her soft voice reminding me to moan low, my mom’s calm voice assuring me through the hardest pains.

 

I have synesthesia, a cognitive condition in which all graphemes (letters and numbers and words) and many sounds and touches have a color – an absolute color assigned to them, not something I consciously decide. I don’t recall what color my pain was, but I do recall the color of the peace that my mom and Jen and the song brought to me – the red and yellow of the song’s words, the light pink and light blue of my mom’s back scratches, the brown and purple of squeezing Jen’s hand, all this bathed with the gentle window light from the overcast day. At every contraction, I concentrated on the peace and love and calm and colors I was being gifted by these women in my life, and that peace helped override the pain. That peace helped Rio know he was welcome in the world outside, helped me know that I could bring him here.

 

Pushing

From the time I had laid down to “sleep,” it had been just over an hour and a half before my contractions got incredibly intense and were more difficult to breathe through. Listening to and reading my labor, my mom asked, “Laura, do you feel like pushing?” I answered, “Uhm, I don’t know” for two more contractions because I wanted to be sure, and on the third, I said, “Yes, I do.” So she said, “Okay, we don’t need to check you; I can tell you’re ready.” And indeed I was. My sister, Claire Norton-Cruz, had been called in as the birth assistant to take over the job of listening to baby heart tones and other vitals, and to prepare things for the midwives. I still had a cold washcloth over my eyes, so I didn’t see her, but I was grateful she was there. Oscar also had come back from his errand and was able to video some of the pushing and birth, which is such a gift.

 

With both births, pushing felt strange and difficult in the beginning because I wasn’t sure if I was making any progress. But this time, after a few contractions, I gave a push and my water broke suddenly and with great force, splashing all over Deb. We all laughed, even me. It felt like a giant water balloon popping! A few more pushes — this time pulling my own leg up during contractions — and it was clear the head was coming down — I could feel it. From that point on, all I could think was, “I love you, baby Rio. I love you so much, baby Rio.” This was what I concentrated on as he crowned, as he pushed through the “ring of fire,” and as he sat there while my mom told me to wait before pushing him out so my perineum could stretch (this was very hard to do but I was very grateful for the instruction, as it kept me from tearing). I thought of how I loved him and how excited I was to meet him as I then pushed out his head and pushed out his shoulders (which were difficult to get out!) and then pushed out his big chest and his long long body. I was expecting his body to just slide right out after his head, so I recall being confused and yelling, “Get him out!” (my one rude behavior of birth, as far as I can recall). In total, pushing took about 15 minutes. He was born at 4:34 pm.

birth105

Baby is born!

My mom said, “Take your baby, Laura,” and she put his slippery body on my chest as he cried loudly. In fact, he started crying before he was fully born. Hearing his cry, knowing his lungs worked and he could breathe, feeling his hefty little body on my chest, seeing his beautiful face, and knowing I was done – done giving birth to him, done giving birth forever — I felt such a rush of both relief and love. My sister and mom and Deb all toweled him off and got a warm blanket to cover him as he laid on my chest. Oscar came over to look at him and cried and cried. I just kissed Rio’s messy little head and asked Oscar over and over, “Isn’t he beautiful?”

birth106

Meanwhile, the hemorrhage prevention plan we had put in place got implemented – Pitocin in the leg before the placenta is delivered, and once I pushed that out (which was easy, thank goodness), IV Pitocin and plenty of bi-manual compression. I am small and very sensitive to blood loss, so after bleeding last birth and feeling very faint afterwards, I wanted to prevent it this time. Plus, there is new evidence supporting this Pitocin-before-placenta approach. It was nice to feel like myself this time, and not weak or faint.

 

Rio latched on quickly and with great positioning, and began to feed vigorously. This came as a great relief, as Ida had dithered at the breast for a long time when I had really hoped for her help getting my uterus to clamp down, and she was not the most vigorous nurser as a newborn, which contributed to low(ish) supply issues. It looked from this first feed like things with Rio would be different, as indeed they have turned out to be – he has remained a voracious eater, and has grown so much since birth.

birth109

Rio and I cuddled and nursed on the bed for a while as I inspected the burst capillaries all over my face and chest (oh well, I still haven’t perfected my pushing technique) and Oscar went to go pick up Ida from my dad’s house. When he carried her into the room, her face lit up so brightly to finally see “baby Zio” on the outside. She cautiously crawled across the bed to see him and touch him, and gently kissed his head. I had prepared her thoroughly to understand pregnancy and birth and babies, but still wasn’t sure how much she would understand that this baby is the same one who was inside, who she kissed and talked to through my belly each day. But she clearly did, and was quite in love.

birth111

Ida was also fiercely protective, such that she cried intensly and was very difficult to comfort when my mom gave Rio his Vitamin K shot. After that, she mistrusted my mom and whimpered on my shoulder as my mom measured Rio’s head and chest and length, and weighed him. Ash had proposed we all wager bets on Rio’s weight, and her bet turned out to be right: 8 lbs., 3 oz. He was 21 in. long, his head measured 13.25 in., and his chest measured 14 in. People joked, “Where do you hide these big babies?” because even at 40 weeks I was measuring something like 35 or 36 cm., and looked small. (I think I hide them on my organs, because I sure felt squished at the end.)  Oscar then dressed baby and Ash went and picked up pho for us, which we ate in the kitchen area before heading home to manage that awkward first night of sleep with a newborn and a toddler.

birth116

Reflection

This story ends well, with a natural birth, healthy mama, and healthy baby.  However, it is a much harder story to tell than that of my first birth. Even though the active labor was so quick (about an hour and forty minutes) and pushing was surprisingly quick (15 minutes), and even though I am proud of having given birth powerfully and naturally, and even though I am so intensely grateful for the support I received, I do still remember this birth as hard.

 

Whereas my memories of Ida’s birth are hazy and suffused with peace and joy, the story of this birth is more one of struggle, of overcoming adversity, of pushing through sadness and grief towards peace and power. I did experience peace and tranquility, and I did give birth with determination and power and a great welling of love for my son and belief in my body. I did it, and as I look back on it with more distance, it will serve as a story of my own resilience that will help me get through hard times; I know that. It will remind me of how I can push through any kind of despair that comes upon me because of the love I have for my family. I will remember being a warrior, and I will keep going. It’s just that those stories that strengthen us in the long run aren’t quite so heart-warming to remember and tell in the period afterwards. In fact, even if they have happy endings, as this one does, we tell these stories with some grief too. We wish we could tell simpler stories.

 

The story of this birth will serve as a reminder that resilience is a quality not just generated by an individual, but is something that is made possible with the support of others. Sure, I was resilient, and, as my doula said, I “crossed an ocean” by myself in the process. But my resilience was the determination to find what was good around me and concentrate on that – and I was surrounded by good. I was surrounded by love and peace and strong, caring women and all I had to do was to visualize that, to focus on it and let it fall over me — and then, with great effort and great joy and loving encouragement, to push my baby out.

 

And although I don’t believe in gender essentialism, and I know that not all people with uteruses who labor and birth or who assist labors and births identify as women, I did feel in this birth the particular comfort of women. I was reminded of why labor and delivery has been, for most of human existence (and even primate existence) supported primarily by other women/females. Whether by design or by socialization, there was a particular ambiance created by these women – all but one of whom had pushed their own babies out in the same way, all of whom had overcome adversities particular to being female in a patriarchal world, an ambiance that I needed to feel at peace.

 

I also knew that I was safe and that baby was safe. I felt absolutely no fear because I had confronted my fears while pregnant with the help of the midwives at Geneva Woods and my friends and Jen and my Blessingway Ceremony, and had let go of them. I felt no fear because I knew from her record of outcomes that my midwife mama, Barbara Norton, was safe and the staff she had helping her were safe and competent (that Deb was a paramedic for decades and that my doula was a nurse were both extra bonus sources of reassurance). It is easier to practice resilience and to find peace amid turmoil when you can be confident in the physical safety of you and your children.

birth121

There is sadness in telling this story, as well as a sense of pride and power, and most of all a sense of gratitude. I am so grateful for the support I had from my birth team and the care I received from Geneva Woods Birth Center. I wish for everyone the kind of preparation for birth that Jen Allison provided for both me and Oscar, and the kind of loving, empowering, and evidence-based care I got from the staff.

 

Rio Esteban – this long, heavy child of ours; our sweet, sleepy, strong son, is waking up from his resting spot on my belly now, so I best change his diaper and engage with him. I am so grateful that this beautiful little soul has joined our family, and so grateful for the experience of labor and birth, however hard it was, that brought him out into the world.

 

birth122

 

 

 

 

Written by admin

August 17th, 2016 at 9:41 am

Posted in health

Tagged with , ,

A Social Justice Booklist for Babies and Toddlers

with 2 comments

papi_reading

Introduction:

Our daughter, Ida Luna, is now two and a half, and our son, Rio Esteban, should be joining us on the outside any day now. Ever since I was pregnant with my daughter in 2013 (or really, ever since I was a third grade teacher in 2004), I have been searching out and attempting to curate a collection of children’s books that are visually beautiful, cognitively appropriate and engaging; that help children to become compassionate, respectful, confident, global in their worldview; and that start them on their journey to make the world a more just and peaceful place.

In the case of our personal home book collection for our daughter, now for our children, I have looked for books to empower them both as allies to those who experience forms of oppression that they do not, and that empower them as proud, bilingual, multi-racial Latinxs — as Alasqueño-Colombianos — to be confident about who they are in all of their complexity of culture and race and gender. Some of these books we will read to them later, when they are more cognitively ready, such as the biography of Ida B. Wells, the African American crusading journalist who is the namesake for our daughter, or “Rad American Women A-Z” or empowering stories like “Drum, Chavi, Drum!” These books and many others I have found from fantastic lists other people have compiled for teaching socio-emotional skills or empowering children of color or combatting gender stereotypes or eliminating prejudice against LGBTQ people, etc. These lists are wonderful resources, but they usually tend to be aimed at older children. In some cases, this is because the messages are more overt in how they deal with injustices, which I have found to be a more high-level cognitive skill than infants and toddlers can grasp.

In the last few years, I have had the chance to buy and borrow books, and go through with my daughter to see which ones resonate with and engage her and which ones don’t.  To some degree, I have been able to observe the effects that the books have had on her language, thinking, and behavior. With a few of these books, I have gotten to read them with the babies and toddlers of my friends and observe the effects on them as well. I am sure that I have many blind spots based on my various positions of privilege as a white, able-bodied, middle class, cis-gendered woman married to a man, but as someone committed to social justice, these are some of the books that I have fallen in love with.

Social justice with babies and toddlers? Aren’t they a little young for that?

As I mentioned above, I have found that explicitly addressing concepts of fairness and unfairness is a bit higher-level (probably something to approach by three or three and a half?). Therefore, most of these books for babies and toddlers aim at building the opposite of implicit bias. That is, these books build implicit, deeply-felt respect and, for children who are from marginalized groups represented positively in these books, they build a sense of positive identity (whichhas been found to be protective against a number of health and social problems throughout life).  These books move a child towards being a socially-just person by building, in conscious minds but primarily in their unconscious minds, a sense that people of color, people from non-dominant cultures in the US or Europe, people with disabilities, children who don’t fit gender stereotypes, and people who are LGBTQ, are just normal people because they simply are the characters in the stories.

This may seem like something that just about any children’s book would do, but sadly, the children’s book publishing industry is still overwhelmingly white, and this is reflected in the types of books most often available in classrooms, libraries, and bookstores. In fact, flipping through most children’s books, I can’t help but notice that the children of color, if they appear at all, are vastly outnumbered by the white children, which is quite unlike most public schools in the US and quite unlike the globe. Likewise, many children’s books reflect gender stereotypes that box children in, and only reflect heterosexual, two-parent families and suburban, middle-class lifestyles. As a result, a literary diet of only those kinds of books can help to create implicit bias in children – particularly when paired with the bias to which children are exposed elsewhere in society. Therefore, in order to do the opposite – in order to prevent or intervene in the implicit bias that shows up in children as early as the toddler years— we must expose children to books and other experiences (photos, oral stories, friendships, cultural events, etc.) that create a foundation of implicit love, respect, and understanding.

Here are some of the books I have found that help do that. It is by no means an exhaustive list, and could most certainly benefit from more bilingual books in other languages. Also, the age categories are just approximations for when to introduce these books based on my (imperfect) memory of my experiences. See what your baby or toddler responds to and go with that. Sometimes their interest in a book will be be sustained, sometimes it will come and go. Sometimes, as with a new food, a new book has to be offered a few times before they become interested.

 

For young infants:

Young infants like contrast, movement, and faces, so these book choices reflect those neurological and developmental preferences. Their brains are wired to connect to people’s faces, and so the faces you show are going to shape who babies consider normal, connection-worthy people. With this in mind, some recommendations:

 

The Global Baby series of books, produced by the non-profit Global Fund for Children:

These are beautiful and engaging board books with photos of babies, pictured both with and without adult caregivers, from around the world. These were among the first books that Ida paid attention to as an infant, smiling and cooing at the other babies on each page. The text is also endearing and positive, but I found it even more engaging to just talk with Ida about each baby featured and what they were doing, how they were feeling, etc. These books are still interesting to her at two and a half, and they can be used to spark many conversations, including geography lessons with a globe (which is a new interest of Ida’s).

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 9.44.15 PM

 

ABC, Look at Me! (and all of Roberta Intrater’s books):

Complex ranges of baby and toddler emotion are captured in simple photographs set before a black background. The babies and toddlers featured are of most major racial groups in the US. Unlike many children’s books, the children of color in Intrater’s books are not thrown in as tokens in an otherwise overwhelmingly white cast; they are evenly distributed, and all of the children in the book are irrepressibly cute and engaging. This book in particular has been able to grow with Ida and her ever-expanding emotional vocabulary. It is a true joy to read.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 9.46.19 PM

 

First 100 words/primeras cien palabras by Roger Priddy/Bright Baby Books:

I am drawn to this and all of the Bright Baby/Bebé Listo books because of the crisp photographs laid over bright simple colors, which appeal not only to babies with developing eyesight but also to artists like me. I am particularly fond of this book, as was Ida, because the range of babies and toddlers photographed is diverse, and all are portrayed in the same way: doing normal baby and toddler things. I know this doesn’t sound revolutionary, but believe me, it is far from the norm for children’s books.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 10.01.43 PM

 

Welcome Song for Baby: A Lullaby for Newborns by Richard Van Camp:

I found this book on a list of children’s books by Native American and Alaska Native authors. I’ve been showing it to my toddler, and will soon be able to share it/sing it for my newborn. I am anticipating that when I do, as I will be coursing with postpartum hormones, it will make me cry my eyes out, because the song (and the gorgeous, diverse photos of infants and their adult caregivers) reflects the sacredness and importance of this period of life.

Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 8.40.59 AM

 

For Older Infants & Young Toddlers:

Peekaboo Morning by Rachel Isadora:

Actually, absolutely everything by Rachel Isadora. She has a remarkably wide range of illustration media and styles, book subjects, and locations of her books. We own this book for babies as well as two more that are more toddler-appropriate, but I want them all. All of her books center, normalize, and celebrate the beauty of children of all racial and ethnic backgrounds and often in other countries. This book, Peekaboo Morning, is an endearing walk through a young toddler’s daily life in her multi-generational home, and is illustrated joyously with delicious, thick pastels. Because of the repetitive use of “Peekaboo!” and because of the simplicity and focus on relationships, Ida could easily identify with the main character, a Black child whose gender is left to the reader to interpret (or not interpret).

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 10.21.05 PM

 

Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara Joosse & Barbara Lavallee:

This book tells the universal story of a child seeking comfort and safety in the unconditional love of a parent. It is a theme any child can relate to. And even if it is a little over the head of an infant, the repetition of the “I love you” provides an opportunity for the adult reading it to connect to the child and teach them these most important of words. The book takes place in Northern/Northwestern Alaska, with Iñupiaq words, objects, experiences, garments, foods, and practices providing the context by which the child asks her mother again and again to explain and assure her of her unconditional love. There are many board books that emphasize a parent’s love for their child, and all are heartwarming. But what I love about this one, in addition to its gorgeous style of illustration and its humor, is that it decenters the center – a universal story takes place not in the white suburbia of most children’s books in the US, but in the far North, among a people who are typically excluded from what most US Americans think of “America,” but who have been here for over 10,000 years, loving and raising their children.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 10.22.24 PM

 

Mommy, Mama, and Me and Daddy, Papa, and Me by Lesléa Newman and Carol Thompson

Fun little accounts of a day’s activities, told from the perspective of a toddler about his or her two parents of the same gender identity. Kids can relate to the fun times and loving care received, so it’s a great way to normalize the concept that families with two daddies or two mommies are perfectly normal. Since my daughter has a mom and dad, she naturally universalizes this to all families, so these books have been helpful for explaining different concepts of family structure. She liked them as an infant, and still likes them as a toddler.

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 12.11.44 PM

 

Joshua’s Night Whispers (and the other board books written by Angela Johnson and illustrated by Rhonda Mitchell):

I will admit I don’t own this book; I actually have a different Angela Johnson and Rhonda Mitchell book called “Rain Feet,” which is a quietly beautiful and affirming board book about an African American boy enjoying the rain. But this one, in the same series, looks even more moving, as it is about a child needing reassurance at night and his papa providing it for him with love. I love stories that show fathers in nurturing roles because, amazingly, this still only occurs in a small minority of children’s books.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 10.36.43 PM

 

A for Activist/ A de Activista by Innosanto Nagara (Spanish version also with Martha Gonzales):

We own this book only in Spanish, but I imagine it would be just as engaging in English. This selection is an exception to all the others, in that it does explicitly address just about every social justice issue you can think of – but it does so with rhymes, the alphabet, alliteration, fun pictures, and a cat on each page. So while the social justice stuff probably goes over their heads for a few years, maybe it seeps in slowly, and in the meanwhile it’s a fun book with a great diversity of people portrayed in its images.

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 11.46.12 AM

 

For older toddlers:

This is the age where my daughter’s intellectual growth and the evolution of which books she relates to are most apparent, so her taste in books changes every few weeks. She has a much longer attention span and can sit through much longer stories at two years and six months than she could at two years and three months. So figure out which books resonate with your kid as you go and then try again a few months later if now is not the time.

 

A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza:

I believe this book is actually intended for infants, but I received it as a baby shower gift for Rio at a time when Ida, at almost two and a half years, is particularly interested in concepts of parental presence and attachment, and really FEELS any story about someone not having a parent or being separated from a parent. So, this book really resonates with her now, but perhaps it would also work with an infant.

It’s a sad, and then ultimately happy story about a funny-looking bird searching for a mother.  Various animals say “no” because they don’t look alike, leading the bird to weep. That is, until a kind Grizzly Bear who looks nothing like him meets his emotional needs and adopts him, and then brings him home to her warm home full of other adopted animals. I suppose one could argue that this happy cross-species adoption story is problematic given that there is not enough effort made in the child welfare system to recruit families of color to foster and adopt children of color, or enough adherence to the Indian Child Welfare Act to make sure Native children stay in Native homes…I don’t know if the author intended any metaphors here. But I guess I choose to look at it for my toddler as a story about how love and family is necessary and can be created from generosity, how caring can occur across difference. I see it as a way to help prepare my toddler to understand that not all of her friends at daycare and school will be able to live with their biological parents, and for her to be able to understand and empathize with their experiences of foster care and/or adoption.

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 8.42.06 PM

 

Happy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin and Lauren Tobia:

This is a fun, easy-to-follow book about all the qualities and characteristics of skin (its color, of course, but also its ability to self-heal and grow and itch, its variety in terms of birth marks and dimples, etc.). And it just so happens that the main characters are a multi-racial lesbian family with three adorable children who live in a joyous and diverse large city – one in which people of all religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, disability statuses, and ages are represented. Like “Mama, Do you Love Me?”, it is a universal story told with people who are not typically represented in children’s literature – and it is one of a handful of books we have that names and celebrates the beautiful diversity of skin color. Ida loves to recite parts of the page where all the different colors of baby skin are named – “Bouquets of babies sweet to hold: Cocoa brown, cinnamon, and honey gold. Ginger-colored babies, peaches and cream, too – splendid skin for me, splendid skin for you.”

Two other books along this theme are All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hamanaka and The Colors of Us by Karen Katz.

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 11.51.46 AM

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 11.51.36 AM

 

 

Hello World: Greetings in 42 Languages Around the Globe by Manya Stojic

This is and has been one of Ida’s favorite books for a long time. The book features the word for “hello,” along with a pronunciation guide using English phonetics, in a handful of languages from each continent, along with cheery little paintings of children in various forms of greetings. Given that we are raising Ida bilingually, I think she already has some grasp of the concept of multiple languages from which to understand this book, but I think with some help, any kid could come to appreciate the idea in this book that kids who look different and come from different places say the same nice thing in different ways. I ask Ida to repeat each word after me while we read, which she does enthusiastically. And sometimes she will just greet me, “Jambo!” or “Dada Namona!” or “I ni bara!” or “Bonjour!” because these words have stuck for her. Given the importance of language for identity, political and cultural sovereignty, and for retaining and respecting the diverse worldviews contained within languages, I think that nurturing an early respect for language diversity is a good way to prepare a child to be a thoughtful human being, and this is a fun book for encouraging that.

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 8.57.02 PM

 

What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth:

We have a collection of books for preparing a toddler for life as an older sibling and helping a child understand pregnancy and birth. This book is special and unique, though, in its easy-to-understand, scientifically-accurate description of reproduction in a way that applies to couples of any sex, gender, and gender identity and any form of conception. That is, it talks about some bodies having sperm and some bodies having eggs, and how the egg and sperm need a place to grow called a uterus, and so on, without limiting this conversation to the “a man and a woman love each other very much…” narrative. I know it sounds abstract, but Ida LOVES it, and while we read it we talk about the fact that she has a uterus and eggs, as do I, and how papi doesn’t, but he has sperm. The extra advantage of this book is that while it was written to be LGBTQ-friendly and inclusive, it also may appeal to people who may not think about LGBTQ couples, but want to explain reproduction without talking about sex – and will end up explaining it in a gender-neutral way!

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 9.07.40 PM

 

Mama Midwife by Christy Tyner

While on the subject of preparing a toddler to have a sibling, here’s another. I was disappointed that there was no simple book about “going to the midwife’s office” like there are about going to see the doctor. My friend Mystie Spargo and I intend to write and illustrate one someday. But for now, I did find this fabulous book about a mouse midwife and her daughter, and Ida sure loves this book. It is narrated by a girl mouse named Miso whose mom is a homebirth midwife for all the other animals nearby. In the course of the story, the mama midwife takes Miso with her to a grizzly bear’s birth.  The book realistically portrays the normal, healthy process of pregnancy and non-medicated, natural birth in a way that is empowering and very moving. Given that access to supportive, compassionate, evidence-based birth care is a crucial part of reproductive justice, that alone would be enough for this to be a recommendation. But I also couldn’t help but notice other cool things about this book that make me recommend it, like how Miso has both male and female friends, all of whom become interested in midwifery. Also, Miso wears blue “boyish” outfits sometimes, and pink other times.

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 10.45.28 PM

 

Who’s in a Family? By Robert Skutch and Laura Nienhaus

This book shares examples of families from many different cultural backgrounds, single mom and single dad households, children with two mamas and children with two papas, children being cared for by their grandma, children with divorced parents and step-parents, and more. It also shares how animals of different species have different kinds of family configurations, I suppose to help reinforce the idea that there is not only one “natural” way to have a family – and because kids like animals, of course. It’s not the #1 most captivating book on our shelves, but it is a toddler-appropriate way of explaining concepts like families, and that not all families are just like one’s own.

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 10.25.47 PM

 

I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien:

When I bought this book about immigrant and refugee children starting school in a new, English-speaking country, I thought it would be way over Ida’s head. I was pleasantly surprised when she fell in love with it and asked for us to read it over and over again. Three children – Spanish-speaking Maria from Central or South America, Jin from Korea, and Fatimah, who wears a hijab and is a refugee from a war-torn country in Africa – all speak firsthand about their fears and the difficulties of adjusting to the new school culture. With support and the kindness of classmates, all find their way slowly in this new home of theirs. This clearly teaches children from the destination countries how to empathize with and support their immigrant and refugee classmates, and also affirms for immigrant and refugee children that they are not alone in their experience. The author offers, in the back of the book, the following website to find more books for and about immigrant and refugee children: www.imyourneighborbooks.org

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 9.19.51 PM

 

How Raven Stole the Sun by Maria Williams and Felix Vigil

There could be many other books in this category of indigenous legends and creation stories from around the world, but as an Alaskan this Tlingit story is a particular favorite of mine – one I have read and told to children since for the past decade and a half, and one that Ida now enjoys. Like many other books on this list, this story centers the lives, images, and worldviews of Tlingit people, and it does so in a fun, magical, colorful, and engaging way. I have a number of books retelling legends from indigenous peoples in México, Hawai’i, and elsewhere, and they are wonderful books, but for now, they seem to be a little too complex for my 2.5-year-old. I will add them to the list for slightly older kids that I’ll make sometime in the future.

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 9.27.48 PM

 

Hug Machine by Scott Campbell:

This is a very simple story about a little white boy who hugs every person, animal, and object he comes across, and who calls himself the “hug machine” for his ability to make others feel good with his hugs. It is rare to see boys portrayed in affectionate, loving, gentle, caretaking roles in books, so this book very simply and subtly challenges gender roles. Plus, it’s funny and easy to understand for young children.

Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 10.26.58 AM

 

The next three books are examples of books that affirm the everyday lives and values and families of Latinxs. I think books like these are incredibly important for: 1.) affirming for Latinx children that their lives and language are valuable (when they are barely visible in television or movies or the majority of children’s literature, and when they are as under attack by politicians as they are right now in the United States) and 2.) helping non-Latinx children relate to and value the lives of their Latinx classmates, friends, and neighbors. This is just as important for Pacific Islander, Asian, Middle Eastern, Alaska Native and American Indian, African, and African American children, but in our family we have more of a collection of Spanish-English books.

 

¡Qué cosas dice mi abuela! Dichos y refranes sobre los buenos modales by Ana Galán and Pablo Pino

I love this book for its celebration of a way in which wisdom is so often manifested and passed on by women in Latin America – through dichos y refranes (sayings and refrains) that often rhyme and that teach important life lessons. The book is narrated by the children who are being raised by their abuela (grandmother) in what seems like suburban United States or Canada. The children appreciate the life lessons their abuela tries to teach them about being polite, studious, well-groomed, kind, honest, respectful, healthy, generous, and compassionate, and they recount all of the (often rhyming) words she uses to instill these life lessons. For example, “A quien mucho miente le huye la gente” (“Whoever lies a lot makes people run away”) or “Quien comparte su comida no pasa sola la vida” (“Whoever shares food will not spend their life alone.”). What a rare gem of a book that honors the wisdom of women and Latin American idioms, and the intelligence and strength of a grandmother lovingly raising her grandchildren.

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 10.00.22 PM

 

We Are Cousins/Somos Primos by Diane Gonzales Bertrand and Christina E. Rodriguez

This is a very simple book with few words on each page, meaning it would likely fit well in the infant section as well. I just find that Ida is more interested in and able to describe family relationships now, so she can now relate the cousins in the book to her two real-life cousins. This book goes through the ordinary life of mestizo Latino kids spending time with their cousins, sharing their abuela and abuelo with one another, and getting together with their tíos and tías. Basic stuff, but toddlers love simple, comprehensible, repetitive stories that they can relate to.

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 9.37.21 PM

 

Sip, Slurp, Soup, Soup/ Caldo, Caldo, Caldo by Diane Gonzales Bertrand and Alex Pardo DeLange

This is a story about a rainy Sunday in which mamá prepares her special caldo (long-boiling bones, grinding garlic in the molcajete, slicing potatoes…) while the children eagerly await it. They then take a trip to the tortillería and slurp up their soup with hot tortillas. I know, it sounds very simple. I think because Ida can understand and relate to it (caldo is a mainstay of the diet of Colombians from altitude like Oscar’s family, and important here in cold Alaska too) and because of its sing-songy use of repetition, she wants to read this book just about every day. This book especially appeals to Oscar because it affirms the everyday lives, health practices, and values of Latinx families like the one he grew up in. Particularly before his family acculturated to the US, he and his siblings ate caldo and eggs for breakfast regularly. To have books that reflect your own family and its practices was not something Oscar had growing up, and I’m grateful that it’s something Ida and Rio can have.

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 10.24.35 PM

I know this is in no way an exhaustive list; indeed, I have many more books I’d love to add to it, but I haven’t borrowed or bought them yet: these can be found at Ida Luna’s Amazon list here:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/giftlist/2XUE54TK1YJ6/ref=topnav_lists_2

 

Which books for ages 0 – 3 would you add to this list?

 

Written by admin

July 24th, 2016 at 9:35 am

Digital Story: Acceptance

without comments

I have been writing a blog post for a very long time that I have not yet completed and posted because, well, it’s hard to finish things like that with a lively 7  1/2-month-old baby and a full-time job. But it is coming. I think.

Recently, however, I was blessed with the time and space and guidance from Margaret David and Stefanie Cromarty to create a digital story about “Healthy Beginnings” (a maternal child health/family health focus) as part of the Alaska Native Center for Digital Storytelling. Here is my digital story — a story about breastfeeding, about how it was much harder that I thought and how scared and ashamed I felt. It’s a story about practicing acceptance in order to move through this fear and shame to get the help I needed. It’s about how acceptance and asking for help allowed me to better know my daughter and love her.

Written by admin

September 9th, 2014 at 7:08 am

Posted in health

Tagged with , , ,

On Breastfeeding

without comments

Oscar (avephoto.com) took this picture our first time eating out at a restaurant

The first few days of breast-feeding, I kept asking myself, “Why is it that the female of the human species has not evolved to have more arms?” The conclusion I came up with is that we haven’t needed them because humans are a cooperative and inventive species. Sarah Stevens, the lactation consultant at Geneva Woods Birth Center, said she thinks it’s because we have traditionally lived in tribes and had aunties and grandmas and sisters to help.

I think often of this help, of what it looks like today and what it may have looked like over our time on this planet. We have survived as a species because women have breastfed. For most of our existence, there was no alternative. And yes, there were wetnurses, but this was not available or affordable to most women. We have survived because women have breastfed successfully.

This fact might not seem remarkable at all, but the more I muddle through and learn in this process and the more I talk with other mamas and with those who work in the field of supporting mamas, the more evident it is that to survive, women have had to teach and support one another a considerable amount. Breastfeeding is not as easy as I thought, and struggling with breast-feeding related challenges is far more emotionally charged than I thought.

Breast is Best

 

I should preface anything else I write about the difficulties by saying that I don’t mean to scare anyone away from breastfeeding. It is absolutely the best choice for babies and mamas and families. It is free, it is convenient, it helps prevent postpartum depression, and it helps mom and baby bond deeply and form secure attachments, which will affect baby’s lifelong mental and physical health. It gives the child mom’s immunity to diseases and provides specific and responsive immunity to germs that baby encounters in the world. It protects against allergies, helps prevent obesity in the future, and populates the child’s gut with healthy microbiota. It also helps the child’s brains develop and contributes to higher IQs. Also, it’s just awesome—we can create the most nutritious food in the world from our bodies in whatever quantity our babies need! What a superpower!

But It’s Not Always Easy…

 

Knowledge & Support

We are meant to do this, but that does not mean that it all just falls into place naturally. There are baby issues, such as tongue-ties and high pallets. There are nipple issues. There are milk supply issues. There are all sorts of difficulties with latching.  Some women experience considerable pain because of some of these issues, and some babies are slow to gain weight until these issues are resolved. The very good thing is that with only some rare exceptions, they can be resolved and successful breast-feeding can be initiated and sustained.  However, this requires skilled lactation support.

When my mom was breast-feeding me and my sister, Claire, in the late 70s and early 80s, she had no real support. There were no nurses or lactation consultants to advise her on proper latch. She and my dad thought that bleeding nipples were just part of the deal. The “medical knowledge” about breast-feeding at the time, which my parents had access to as medical professionals, was often erroneous, such as the guidance to nurse only for eight minutes on each side. Fortunately, her milk supply was fine, and we plumped right up.

How is it that by the mid century in the United States of America, so much of our ancient breast-feeding knowledge was lost? Given that women have breastfed over the history of our species, I assume that there were always women in every community or tribe or family who were particularly skilled and were able to teach the younger women about latch issues, how to get their supply up, etc. In the US, I imagine there were people, probably outside of more urban areas, who retained their traditional knowledge of how to breastfeed even as it was lost in medicine. But boy oh boy the formula industry and medicine’s adoption of it really did some significant damage to our capacities as a whole.

We’ve come along way in medical and mainstream US American culture since I was a baby and my mom was a baby. We now have far more research on the science of breast-feeding. We have International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs), who go through extensive schooling, practice requirements, and examinations. We have personal breast pumps—which are finally covered by most insurance plans, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Also thanks to Obamacare, employers have to offer breast pumping space and reasonable milk expression breaks to employees. Far more people have begun to understand the benefits of breast milk and question the sneaky tactics of the formula industry. WIC now encourages breastfeeding and gives out pumps. And there are more spaces now (especially online) for dialogue about changing the culture to accept public breast-feeding. As a result, far more women breast-feed now and do so for longer. (And yes, we have a long long ways to go yet.)

Fear, Inadequacy, and Shame

I have been involved in discussions of the cultural, medical, and economic issues around breastfeeding for a long time. I entered motherhood prepared to ask the IBCLC at Geneva Woods for help and prepared for the haters who were going to give me a hard time for nursing Ida in public. But I was not prepared for the feelings of fear, inadequacy, and shame I would experience when issues arose—feelings which, I have since learned from friends, are quite common among women who struggle with breastfeeding or whose babies have any kind of weight gain or other issues.

I hesitate to write about our experience because I am afraid of judgment, afraid of that societal chorus that hangs women out to dry for every outcome associated with their children, even afraid of a whole lot of well-intentioned (and often contradictory) advice about what I should have done differently. But I am writing about it anyway because so many of us go through these things and feel isolated and alone in the process.

I did everything I could to get Ida as much colostrum as possible and encourage my milk to come in. I wasn’t too too worried when her weight had dropped a good bit at her first Pediatrician visit, especially when I discovered at the end of the visit that my milk was coming in. She started to gain back her weight as my breasts became heavy and hard with milk. But then, about a week later, she stopped pooping regularly and she started nursing all the time, almost without break. She was acting hungry. (Though, as my mom and a few others said, she didn’t look like a worried, hungry baby and she was still strong and relatively content and alert and peeing a lot, so no one except me was exceedingly worried).

We didn’t have an opportunity to weigh her until she was 13 days old. When I saw the scale and saw that she was still 3 oz. below birth weight (you want babies to be back to birth weight by 2 weeks), I started to cry. I cried off and on through my 2 week visit and the lactation consultation. We had quite a few visits over the next few days and figured out that I needed to get my milk supply up and that Oscar and I needed to keep her awake and eating more actively. (She has this very slow approach to eating and can tend to fall asleep at the breast and just quiver her mouth instead of suck.) We also wanted to reduce anything that might be causing her to burn more calories than needed, so we turned up the heater in the house and took a hiatus from walks and even tummy time for a while until she was able to retain enough calories to poop.

By feeding her every two hours around the clock, trying different sleeping arrangements—including co-sleeping on the floor, which I said I wouldn’t do but baby girl was fussier and I had to feed her all the time so we did this for a few nights—, pumping after almost every daytime feeding, taking herbal tincture, upping my intake of fat, tickling and changing her to get her to stay awake and eat more actively, my milk supply increased significantly. By week 3, she weighed 6 oz. above her birthweight, she started pooping again, and I had (and still have) huge, heavy breasts.

But until we got that reassurance that she was alright, I was so scared. So worried, so embarrassed, so…ashamed. And I know better than to give in to shame! I know that shame is a toxic product of our culture and belief systems. I know that it’s useless. I know the importance of critical thinking, shame resilience, and connection with others. I tried to absorb the empathy offered to me to combat it. But I also didn’t want to be around people other than my mom and Oscar most of the time because I was embarrassed and scared. I didn’t want to talk about it publicly until it was over and resolved… until I could prove that I was a good mom, I think.

I think I experienced something shared by many mamas—we want nothing more than for our babies to gain weight and be healthy and happy. So when they aren’t doing this adequately, and it has something to do with us, we feel like we are failing our children, like our bodies are failing them, like our bodies can’t just do their jobs. I felt this same way about my body when it took us a while to get pregnant and everyone else I knew was getting pregnant all around me, many of them on accident. I am a critical-thinking feminist woman, and yet I had lodged somewhere in my psyche this old biblical, patriarchal (not to mention super gender essentialist) judgment system that came out to taunt me, to tell me I wasn’t a real woman.

Overcoming Shame and Secrecy

 

What the hell? How does this patriarchal stuff survive, even in the minds of feminists? One thing I know is that it survives much better in silence than it does when we share these feelings and experiences with one another. The women who shared their miscarriage stories after we miscarried (and the men who shared the miscarriage stories of their moms and sisters and such), the couples who talked about their efforts to get pregnant, and now, the mamas who have confessed to me similar feelings of inadequacy as they struggled with latch issues or the like—all this weakens the power of these woman-blaming discourses. Y’know, this old axiom:

El pueblo

Unido

Jamás será vencido!

(The people/united/will never be defeated)

I love how Anne Lamott describes both the fear and the triumph of this process when her son, Sam, is just a little older than Ida is now:

Sam is so much bigger every day, so much more alert. It’s mind-boggling that my body knows how to churn out this milk that he is growing on. The thought of what my body would produce if my mind had anything to do with it gives me the chill. It’s just too horrible to think about. It might be something frogs could spawn in, but it wouldn’t be good for anything else. I’ve had the secret fear of all mothers that my milk is not good enough, that it is nothing more than sock water, water that socks have been soaking in, but Sam seems to be thriving even though he’s a pretty skinny little guy.

I’m going to have an awards banquet for my body when all of this is over.

I have been a little hard on my body, and I think I owe it an awards banquet too.

For now, I will celebrate with a little image gallery of iPhone photos I’ve made representing how we spend much of our time—breastfeeding and falling asleep at the breast:


Written by admin

February 22nd, 2014 at 12:49 pm

13 days postpartum

with one comment

I think pregnancy is as long and as challenging as it is to prepare us for birthing our babies. And birthing is as difficult as it is to prepare us for parenting. It’s a good design.

Still, this first week and a half of being mother to little baby Ida has been full of surprises, realizations, and feelings that I had no name for or experience with previously. I am writing these things by dictating my voice to the iPad while nursing or pumping or while Oscar is driving. I am doing so in part because I am so grateful to Anne Lammot for writing her uncensored feelings and experiences of this strange new period of life in her book Operating Instructions: A Journal of my Son’s First Year, and I want to be able to contribute similarly useful. Plus, I think I have to write to keep my sanity.

Some of the surprises of parenthood so far:

The Corporeal

It is strange and exciting to have my body back; that is, to be able to hug Oscar with my arms and chest and stomach against him, to move through spaces without worrying about hitting my belly on things, to have a lower back that amazingly does not hurt, to have soft and non-itchy skin, and to be able to eat runny egg yolks and sushi and a bunch of other delicious things. Of course, there are also the discomforts of having birthed a baby and some residual iron loss that I am now making up for, and an inability to regulate my temperature for the first week or so. But mainly my body feels familiar.

And then there are the new sensations – learning to get a good latch so that breast-feeding doesn’t hurt so much (again, I am so grateful for Geneva Woods for having a lactation consultant to problem solve with and for her offering a class during pregnancy so that we were prepared). How hungry and thirsty I am from breast-feeding. What it feels like to sleep an inadequate amount for some many days in a row. (I never even did this in college, so this is brand-new to me.) What it feels like to have my baby’s skin against my skin as she feeds and how soft her hair is under my fingers and how smooth her little cheeks are when I kiss them and how much this fills me with love.

The most startling thing about my body, however, is the way that I have felt fear for Ida grip my chest and stomach many times, and how on two occasions in the first week, I experienced fear, stress, worry, and anger in my body like an earthquake, like an explosion. It is both a physiological and an emotional reaction that is some combination of mama bear and sleep deprivation and post birth hormones, I suppose. It frightened me.

The Cognitive and Emotional

Shame versus useful self reflection and critical learning

It is hard to write about the things I have been experiencing cognitively and especially emotionally. For some reason, during pregnancy I felt so comfortable being vulnerable and exposing whatever truths for happening in me. But doing this in motherhood feels different, feels like I am opening myself and Oscar up to endless torrents of judgment. This realm of parenthood and especially motherhood feels like a coliseum in which shame and judgment are released onto parents—especially moms—with their teeth and claws bared, while others spectate.  And I am among those judging parenting decisions; as a social worker and epidemiologist who works in child maltreatment, domestic violence, and maternal child health, I do learn and think and try to do a lot about what is best for children in their raising, and that means critiquing and improving. And of course, I hold our decisions up for the same judgment. But how fraught with shame this can be! My goal is to stay out of the realm of shame, to learn about parenting for us and Oscar so we can do the best job we can, to share that journey here in a nonjudgmental way, and to engage in open conversations with other people who raise or care about children. And it is to walk that line between acceptance and self reflection and critique in a healthy way.

But I can’t say that it has all been done in a healthy way so far. I mostly feel better now than I did the first week, especially after getting a few  nights of slightly longer sleep and after experiencing some of the things that scared me and them going just fine. But I am sure that the fear and guilt will resurface in many ways throughout Ida’s life, and it resurfaces every time that I realize we have made some mistake. I feel like such a terrible person for any mistake made at her expense. (I know, this isn’t sustainable. We will do our best and we will make mistakes. I’m working on having more acceptance and levity about this.)

Ida Luna during tummy time on her 11th day of life. Baby girl’s neck muscles are so strong already.

Paralyzing fear versus useful caution

Throughout pregnancy, I remained cautious at every moment, watching where I put my feet on the ice, making sure that I had my spikes on my shoes, being careful not to slip on rugs or things under my feet, making sure my animal-based food was fully cooked, avoiding second-hand smoke and environmental toxins, trying my best to breathe deeply through stressful situations, etc. It took attention but I didn’t experience an inordinate amount of fear.

But oh, safe sleep and the floppiness of newborn necks and suffocation risk and the dangers of falling and the risks of being too hot and the risks of being too cold! This all feels so much scarier than when she was safely contained in the environment of my uterus. I am scared for her but also know that Oscar and I and our friends and family who have visited are careful and caring. And this fact, that we are doing things (mostly) right but still I worry because it takes vigilance, makes me so scared for all the babies out there in worse situations. I have this pain in my chest for the babies who are being born right now to women in abusive relationships, to parents who drink and smoke and use drugs, to parents who because of their own trauma histories lack emotional self-regulation skills, as well as those born to women who are malnourished or otherwise can’t or don’t make adequate milk. I also find myself worrying for women who have very little leave time from work and/or chores, women who do not have supportive partners or family members, and for those many many many families who cannot afford or find quality daycare. As it did during pregnancy, the ill-informed policies and funding priority of the United States and the conditions of poverty and sexism around the world upset me on a political and deeply personal level.

I  also find myself wondering that more babies don’t die. I find myself thinking about Alaska’s infant mortality data: Sudden Unexplained Infant Death (SUID) in unsafe sleep environments is the #1 cause for our higher-than-the-U.S.-average rate of post-neonatal death. Neglect, especially by an impaired caregiver and inadequate follow-up by child protection both play major roles in these deaths. Abusive head trauma is one of the leading causes for post-neonatal deaths as well. We have so much work to do to prevent these deaths.  I also find myself thinking about the neurobiological effects of babies left to cry for long periods without their needs met, of inadequate nutrition, of depressed or angry caregivers, etc. Of course, I work in this field so I think about this stuff all the time anyway, but now it is with the awareness of how I feel about protecting and nurturing Ida’s little growing brain.

I know that all of this stuff is important to think about and work to change. I also know that I need to be happy and not sick with fear for my daughter or other people’s sons and daughters. And given that this has already gotten way easier in the past week, I suspect that this balance is something that I will go developing with time and that many other parents, probably especially breast-feeding moms filled with mama bear hormones, struggle to achieve. Because the simple fact is, when you have a child that is in your care, you do walk around “with your heart outside of your body,” as they say. This means that you can look upon the child and love them and find immense joy and happiness and fulfillment in them. It also means that there is always this sort of terror—whether well-subdued or hyper present–that they could be hurt. This just is. Probably especially so during infancy, childhood, and adolescence, which strike me as the most dangerous times.

They are also—and primarily—all joyous times. Oscar and I experience so much joy playing with Ida, reading to her, singing to her, doing tummy time with her and watching her strong little neck develop its muscles, wearing her on our chests, dancing with her, watching her silly sleep faces. We love her so immensely and she is so fun and beautiful. If I am going to experience worry, I can’t imagine a better reason for it than this.

Oscar took this on Ida’s 3rd day of life. He used foam alphabet letters and a complicated set-up of glass to reflect the letters.

Written by admin

February 6th, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Posted in health

Tagged with , ,

Week 28 – third trimester

with one comment

Oscar took this week's photos at the International Gallery of Contemporary Art, where we went to go see the "Rareified Light" show, in which I have a piece. It's the small square environmental portrait in the upper left corner of the side belly photo.

The things that prepare us for parenthood

I’ve noticed that as the day of baby’s arrival nears and as we learn more about newborns and breastfeeding, the part of this whole process that is about actually having a little baby in our charge is getting way more real. Initially, there was a lot to learn and experience about pregnancy and the birth process was farther from my and Oscar‘s mind. Birth has since come into much sharper focus, and the fact that we will, in just one more trimester, have a tiny little person in our home to care for and lose sleep over has too.

This thought can be a little intimidating. I am not nervous about being a parent in general, but newborns are just so fragile and needy that I have caught myself at times a little scared of the idea that we will soon be responsible for one. Three things have made me feel much more confident and excited about this stage of life and being able to meet those needs. One has been meeting my friends’ newborns and watching them care for their small babies with confidence and joy. Another was watching the DVD of Dr. Harvey Karp’s “The Happiest Baby on the Block,” learning about the different ways to soothe newborns. The other, oddly enough, was a lecture about child trauma at the Alaska Pediatric Symposium this weekend.

Josh Arvidson is the Director of the Alaska Child Trauma Center and an international trainer on the ARC model of trauma-informed care (which is a wonderful model). He gave a talk about what trauma is, how it affects children’s development, and what we can help put in place for children and families to prevent and successfully intervene in trauma. What inspired me was that in order to discuss how abuse and neglect and domestic violence affect children’s development, he told detailed stories about what happens when a child is raised with caregivers who do meet her needs. He told stories about the physiological processes that occur in a three-month-old and her caregiver when her caregiver responds to a hunger cry with an attentive feeding–how this creates circuitry in the brain, how it helps the baby develop positive stress resilience that will serve her when she is three years old and waiting for a sandwich or four years old and struggling to learn her alphabet, how it creates the foundation for learning communication skills and emotional self-regulation.

I am fortunate that in my field of work, I get many chances to learn about early childhood development. Every time I do, especially through such compassionate and neurobiology-informed talks as Josh Arvidson’s, I feel more and more excited to take part in the everyday heroism of so many billions of other caregivers who are building their babies’ brains simply by changing diapers, feeding, and smiling at babies, by responding to their coos, snuggling with them, and putting them to sleep safely. My hope is that when Oscar and I are stressed and sleep-deprived and changing the 15th diaper that day, or when I am spending yet another hour at night feeding baby on my breast, that we will recall with some satisfaction that by meeting baby’s needs and interacting with baby, we are building baby’s brain and affecting the way baby’s physiology and even genes prepare her or him for the world. That we are being the kinds of heroes that every baby needs.

I can’t say I look forward to the sleeplessness, but I so look forward to that glorious opportunity.

I was able to use a beautiful in utero photo by Lenart Nilssen this week, but had to debate--do I start to draw genitalia and alternate female and male, or do I avoid it with the umbilical cord since I have no idea what parts baby has? I went with the latter. This is the one time where I kinda wish we knew baby's sex, just for the sake of artistic and anatomical accuracy.

Written by admin

November 4th, 2013 at 10:20 pm

Posted in health

Tagged with , , , ,