Monday, April 20, 2009

Baby-Wearing: AP Aerobics

Baby-Wearing is one of my favorite AP philosophies. By using the pouch sling, wrap, or ring sling, I was able to stay connected with Gianna while getting things accomplished.

People who criticize attachment parenting philosophies often say that there is no time for anything else if you are constantly nursing or parenting to sleep or holding or interacting with a baby.

This is why slinging was used so many years ago. Let's hearken back to Cave Clara. There she is, pictured wearing her baby while she invents agriculture!

Ancient peoples from every part of the world wore their babies, when the oldsters of the tribe weren't babysitting. This was beneficial for many reasons- Cave Gianna (or Ancient Middle Eastern Gianna, or Mayan Gianna) wasn't on the ground, playing with snakes and scorpions. Also, wearing babies allowed for mothers to continue to contribute to their families and tribes while allowing babies to have access to their food (Mama milk, of course) and curbed the crying that could alert predators to a vulnerable situation.

Babies who are worn statistically cry less, have less reflux, and help tune parents in to who your child really is. The poor baby on the right, for example, is equally fascinated by the camera flash, and disgusted by her mommy's lack of proper mirror cleaning techniques. Wearing Gianna allowed her, from birth until recently, to be up where the action is. She was able to see things from a vantage point that allowed her to see beyond the ordinary low stroller view of legs and rear-ends. Not that I'm knocking strollers! But wearing ones baby even occasionally allows for a much broader educational experience, which relates to a higher comfort level with their surroundings.

Can you be an attached parent and NOT baby-wear? Gasp. Good heavens. Can you? Yes. Absolutely. Like everything else (and you'll see this pattern repeat when I discuss Co-Sleeping), as long as you are responding to your child in a caring manner, and adjusting the circumstances as necessary, you are still an attached parent if you don't baby-wear. When I had Gianna, the Cesarean incision made it difficult to wear her for several weeks. Currently, until I acquire a Mei Tei or other Asian-style carrier (better for carrying toddlers on ones back), Gianna doesn't fit too well in any of our current carriers. This didn't stop me last week when I plunked her in a ring sling and took her to "tea" in Lansing! (Wait a sec; this isn't a political blog...)

The basics: If you are in pain, you are either wearing that particular sling or wrap incorrectly, or it is the wrong baby carrier for you, or you have some health issues that mean that you will have to find another way to transport your baby. The first two issues are easily solved by finding a local chapter of NINO- Nine In, Nine Out, an organization dedicated to helping families find the best way to wear their baby. Another place to look would be local midwives or birth centers. Now, thanks to Etsy and Hyena Cart and lots of little self-organized sites by crafty moms, there is no limit to the types and styles of slings and wraps one can buy. Please, please, PLEASE do yourself a favor and test different styles out beforehand, if you can. My favorites for the tiny baby stage are the Hotsling pouch and Moby wrap. As Gianna got older, I liked the Hotsling as a hip pouch (the brown and blue striped sling in the photos) and the ring sling, where she cruised through life on my hip. I even got some use out of a Guatamalan rebozo (a loosely, but strongly, woven length of cotton) in a hip carry.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Mah-Milk! Breastfeeding and Attachment Parenting

Breastfeeding is the second principle of Attachment Parenting. This is something that I believe instinctively nourishes a true, attached relationship, if done instinctively, and guided by both baby and maternal instincts.

Can one formula-feed and be an attached parent? Yes. Can one breastfeed and be a detached parent? Yes. Let me explain.

My first example of intuitive, attachment parenting was my mother, and the way she parented me and my siblings, but particularly my youngest brother. However, my first non-family example of attachment parenting was a very good friend I made while living in Chicagoland. At the time, she was a mother to two little boys. I was amazed at how calmly and naturally and instinctively she parented- she remained constant, consistent, very "in-tune" and receptive, no matter where we were or what we were doing. She may not have had any idea of the fact that her parenting style had a name, as it never came up when we talked. Her style was so intriguing, she helped to bolster my conviction that mothers truly do know what their baby needs, and that if we can quiet the baby-trainer noise and well-intended (yet, detached) advice surrounding us, that we can create and nurture a wonderful* relationship with our children. Yet, she did not breastfeed.

She was one of many mothers who have had poor advice and shoddy lactation advice tossed their way upon giving birth. While many are very caring and try to be supportive of the mothers in their care, maternity nurses learn only the very rudimentary basics of lactation during nursing school. They are also stretched very thin, time-wise, when it comes to what they do while at work. If three nurses are on a shift in a ward where nearly a dozen mothers and their babies are resting after various forms of labor, there is very little time to focus on a time-consuming task like supporting a proper latch (of a baby who likely has been as drugged as his mother was at birth). Plus, let's be realistic- the pen that the charge nurse uses to jot her reports (as well as the Post-It notes used to leave little reminders around their desks, as well as the clock ticking away on the wall) all have the name of various formula companies across their front.

I have said it before, and will say it again- going to a medical establishment, where extremely rich formula and pharmaceutical companies peddle their wares and leave their swag, and expecting anything other than a very commercially-laden, medical experience is like going into a Chinese restaurant and ordering a burger. You are not going to like what arrives on your plate.

My friend tried her darnedest, without the knowledge or support of someone skilled in trouble-shooting latch or supply issues. She tried hard with her second son, too. With both, she did end up formula feeding, as much as she did not want to. Persistence, and a good copy of So That's What They're For: Breastfeeding Basics by Janet Tamaro, paid off for my friend. Her third son was breastfed by a very happy and proud mama!

Let me make no bones about it- and this is not a judgement call, but a reiteration of what formula companies say themselves, if you care to read the fine print: Formula is a very poor substitute for breastmilk. It was originally intended as a way to help war orphans survive until they could eat solid food, and was never meant to be peddled as a "caring choice" for mothers. In the United States today, formula is offered as a wonderful idea for mothers who just simply decided that they were not going to breastfeed. Just because an option is offered, does not make it equal. There are actually a lot of fantastic articles and blogs on this very subject, and I could probably create a whole blog just about this subject and write in it every day. My point is- as poor of a food choice formula may be for babies, if a baby is fed while being held and spoken to, and responded to when cues for hunger are given, this is still attached.

So how can a breastfeeding mother be a detached parent? By following the ultra-anal, super operant conditioning ways of many of the self-professed "parenting experts" who write books aimed at selling "definites" to over-tired parents who already have sky-high expectations of themselves. Breastmilk is designed to zoom through babies rather quickly, so to expect a small infant to wait exactly two (or three or four) hours for another feed is both harmful to infants and harmful to mothers. The parents who fall for these peddlers of cookie-cutter robot kids who eat and sleep and poop to the tick of an arbitrary clock are not poor parents, either. Nor are they stupid. They are, however, very sucked into the idea that to be independent, and to function as a self-reliant adult someday, that babies need to be trained right now to do these things. The baby trainers in question (namely Gary Ezzo, but there are many others) offer some smooth-talking and glib pseudo-science (and even in Ezzo's case, very faulty and non-scriptural based theology) to try to back up what they are saying.

I always knew I would breastfeed. I didn't always know how difficult it would be at the beginning. The first two weeks were very miserable- while in the hospital, I had an IV in my left arm right where my elbow joint bends, thanks to the nervous teenage EMT who loaded me with toys on the transfer. Holding Gianna on top of a needle and tube in my arm was very painful. The after pains, coupled with recovering from abdominal surgery was excruciating, and nursing only made it more so, as the hormones involved in breastfeeding cause the uterus to contract down and return to normal. Most of my time nursing Gianna once my milk supply came in was spent with clenched teeth, and my feet constantly uncontrollably kicking.

I was DETERMINED to do this, though. I knew that there was an "after," which some women aren't really told. I knew that if I could just get over the initial hill, the rest would be better, and it truly was. At about two weeks, I battled a slight case of mastitis, but kept nursing Gianna right through it. At three weeks, when she hit her first true neonatal growth spurt and wanted to eat every 2.5 seconds, I settled right in and nursed her whenever she wanted to eat. I didn't crack or lose my mind, and she didn't turn into a spoiled, demanding brat- she simply grew, and then settled into a different pattern of feeding. Which changed a few weeks later, and then again another few weeks later, and so on. By nursing her "on demand," I was able to relate to her that I could cover her needs, and she didn't have to wonder about her livelihood- this in turn meant that she didn't need to panic when she became hungry. Win-win. Not to mention, I learned a very important parenting lesson- challenges do not last, and a baby's needs and demands change so often, that a very good mantra to have for both wonderful and not-so-wonderful times is: "This too shall pass."

* When I refer to "wonderful," let it be known that even in a "wonderful" parenting relationship, things like tantrums, crazy mommy days, screaming, crying, and sibling rivalry still happen. Why? Well, because we are all human, and these are the things that help us to learn and grow. Will our wonderfully attached children still sometimes do goofball things like flush watches down a toilet, attempt to mail a younger sibling to Abu Dhabi, loudly bray family secrets to all who care to listen in a post office, and perhaps wildly drive the family automobile smack into a fire hydrant? You bet. The goal is to make the "after" of these events something that all parties are proud of, in terms of how everyone handles themselves and one another.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

I Want You To Want Me- Birth Bonding

What did I say in the last post about NOT running to a trusty, well-thumbed-through tome of parenting wisdom? To write these blogs, I actually DO need to go grab my copy of The Attachment Parenting Book by William Sears, MD and Martha Sears, RN. Trust me that it is not necessarily that we "follow" this book, or even agree with all of Dr. Sears' advice (we do not), but in order to wander through the principles of "AP" (Attachment Parenting), I need to see what they are! The last time I read this book was during one of those late third trimester sleepless nights- where I was so tired I couldn't sleep, and my bladder was so compressed that I practically lived in the bathroom. Needless to say, I have none of these principles memorized, but do have an understanding that I nodded through the book saying, "Yup, yup, uh-huh...okay...sure..." Then, Gianna was born, and this book was shoved into a corner where spiders built their webs, and dust bunnies multiplied profusely.

Let's start at the very beginning.


Dr. Sears heavily encourages the first few hours after a birth to be undisturbed, as these hours are sacred to the bonding experience of the new family. Some people, driven to hysterical bouts of the "Always-and-Nevers," think that this means that if, for any reason, the baby and mother are separated in the first hour, then all hope is lost and the bonding ship has sailed. Let's all stop and remind ourselves that we human beings outlasted the wild beasts and moved on to bigger and better things. McMansions and Youtube, especially. We can still allow our hormones and our babies' natural instincts to glue us together.

Babies know their mamas, who know their babies. Ideally, everyone would have an undisturbed birth- that is, no unnecessary pokings and proddings, no injections of narcotics or 'caine derivatives, and no artificial hormones. Lights would be low, and voices calm (with the exception of the birthing mother, who can make any sound she pleases, thanks very much) and immediately after birthing their baby or babies, the new little family can immediately enjoy each others company without immediate scrubbing of vernix, and all of the pediatric (dare I type it) bullshit that ends up poking a minutes-old infant with holes and gooping up its eyes.

Wishes, as a local lawyer likes to say on his local commercials, do not do dishes. Even when the above birth was the original plan, plans sometimes change. Even when those plans change, and a birthing mother suddenly needs medical attention, the bonding can still take place. It does take a little thought beforehand, and some finessing of the "system."

Here's what we did: Our story begins about 35 hours into labor. My water had broken about 17.5 hours prior, I had pushed for about four hours, Gianna had been crowned and visible for about two of those hours, and we (the midwives, Mr. Clarateaches and my own hallucinating self) had just decided to call an ambulance to take us to the hospital. Instantly, my mind raced- I had no idea what the outcome was going to be, but doula experience told me that surgeons ten miles away were already lovingly caressing their scalpels in anticipation of my arrival. I understood Michigan birth laws- the only single solitary thing legally required was the metabolic "5 Screen" blood test- all else (Vitamin K, erythromyacin, vaccinations, circumcision, tire rotation, oil, lube and filter) was at the parent's consent.

As I've written in the past, I arrived at the hospital to an outstanding team of all female surgeons, nurses, and techs. All I remember of them were their expressions as I hoarsely screamed my list of "Do NOT Consents-" I did NOT consent to ANY of the above optional accoutrements. The only thing they did not acquiesce to, to my heartache, was putting the baby onto my chest after being surgically removed. For twenty-five long, agonizing minutes, while I was having all of my guts randomly assigned new placement in my body ("Bladder, you take Left Lung's place. Lungs, you get in the back. Lower Intestines, this is a snug fit, so I want all of you to squeeze in..."), Gianna was being examined and wrapped up about six feet from my head. Fortunately for our little triad of crazy, Mr. Clarateaches could (and did) stand by while the only male of the night, the pediatrician, gave a cursory exam of the "full-term neonate, female" and declared her A-OK before scurrying back to his natural lair. And then, she was back with me, where she would stay for our remaining time in that prison of a hospital. We bonded immediately- we were completely and totally immersed in each other, and the twenty-five minutes apart didn't come close to mattering. Was it ideal? Was it "undisturbed?" Nope. But we made it work because I had to have it work. I needed to bond to my baby to be able to function. I gave myself no other option.

In the beginning, there we were.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

What ARE We Doing?

I feel rather blessed. I rarely have people question our parenting style in a malicious fashion. I have fielded questions about why I baby-wear, why I breastfeed for so long, and why we don't make Gianna sleep in her own bed. Those are usually curiosity, and as I don't make general proclamations about many of our tricks, there are probably a lot of things that are unknown, and therefore not inquired upon.

Every family has to find its own rhythm and flow. It's said so many times, but bears repeating- what works for one family is unique to that family, and dependent on its current conditions. Add a child, or remove a job, or sprinkle in any other life-changing event, and methods and manners of operation need to be reassessed.

We don't technically follow a leader. We're not people who instantly run to some well-thumbed through book at the onset of a new developmental twitch to try to figure out what to do. I like to think that we parent instinctively- that is, that we view what Gianna is doing in the light of her environment and her developmental stage. How we generally operate does seem to look somewhat like Dr. Sears' Attachment Parenting. So far, it seems to be creating a joyful and intelligent little girl, with parents who are sometimes frustrated, sometimes overwhelmed, but always laughing. And, always amazed.

In an effort to prod myself to post a little more, I'm going to try to take some of the principles of Attachment Parenting, and explain how we've used them, or possibly how we've had to tweak them. I know like I know like I KNOW that if we would have done things differently, say, followed a "baby trainer," or sleep-trained, we would not have the child we do today.

I want to make a preemptive distinction before I begin: there is a huge difference between saying that "X method" or "Baby Trainer Y" is faulty for whatever reason, and saying that someone is a poor parent for using these methods. Parenting is a hard row to hoe, and many baby trainers are very convincing (I would be too, if I wanted to sell my books!) With the next few blogs, I do not intend to tear down another mother. If you get something from what I write, beautiful. If you get nothing, well, no skin off my back. There is truly something to be said for separating the wheat from the chaff in terms of what will work for you. I do urge you to be honest with yourself about what is "working:" if you have an eerily quiet baby who is not very active, and doesn't really explore, but follows a precise schedule made by a best-selling parenting book and gives you a fairly easy life, who is benefiting? Is this truly "working?"

When I was pregnant with Gianna, I met a woman with a daughter who was 6 months old. I never saw this baby out of its car seat, even for a feed- the mom simply stuck a bottle into the baby's mouth with one hand, and functioned without looking at the baby with the rest of her body. She gave me the advice of- "Make sure you get time for you as much as possible- I just stick M----- in front of Baby Einstein- it's very educational, you know- and I get so much done. I barely have to do anything!" I never saw the baby cry, or move at all, really. Its placid gaze gave me heartburn and I vowed to never do whatever it was that made this woman's child such a mannequin. I didn't. Stay tuned for what did work, and continues to work today.


Today, Gianna and I went to JC Penney to try to use a gift card. I say "try," only because the last time I was in there, it looked like they were trying to "flash up" the place.

Fashion this season is virtually unwearable, unless you are preparing to march in Brazil during Carnaval. Bright colors and large prints abound, and most of the shirts I looked at had extra ruffles and even just extra triangles and rectangles of fabric sewn in fluttery disarray. For a brief moment, I glanced through the Junior section, where I last visited during the crazy clubbing days of college.

Then, I felt really old and had to race to the shoe section and beat myself senseless with a pair of Clark's that came really close to the "perfect pair," that Lola ate while I was pregnant. That little brown pair of slides was too beautiful for earth- an angst-ridden dog became convinced that I would never EVER return from the grocery store, and demolished them.

I examined the pair a little closer- Clark's used to be made in England. Now? Where else- China. I reluctantly put it back.

I did manage to find some basic tops and jeans that fit, thanks to St. John's Bay. I feel like I may as well just have "Little Old Lady" custom embroidered onto them, but they were the closest thing I could find to real clothing.

Gianna, in the meantime, did NOT want to be held. This was a first. She wanted, instead, to hold my hand and lead me around to the store. "Train, train," she chanted. Then- the jewelry department. "Neck-a-lace! Neck-a-lace!" she screeched. Rather than pry this season's wacky blobs of enamel out of her very strong and determined hands, I grabbed her and made a dash to the cashier.

Ahead of us in line was a woman and a small, elfin-looking girl. "Oh what a cute baby- say, 'Oh what a cute baby!'" the woman yelled to the little girl in an Eastern European accent. The little girl ducked her head and repeated the affirmation.

I thanked her, and then the woman prodded the girl, "Ask her, 'What is her name?'" The girl dutifully complied, and I told her, "Gianna. What's yours?" The little girl said her name, which I wish I remember- it was truly wonderful. Un-prompted, the girl then said, "I'm four!" Gianna stared at her with her fingers in her mouth. Then, she started picking her upper lip- a move that seems to happen when she's nervous. Or plotting revenge.

"Oh, look at her pick her lip! You're older than her, you better tell her to stop," boomed the woman. The four year old squirmed, and seemed instantly to realize that this was a social faux-pas, even though her mother (?) did not. To help the little girl save face, I looked at Gianna, who was picking a good sized flap of skin from her lip, and said, "Ouch! That's going to hurt pretty soon."

Gianna solemnly considered this, and then pulled the bit of skin from her lip and shoved it into my lips. The crowd went wild. "Ahhhh! Oh my goodness, did you see that? Did you see that?" the woman shrieked at the four year old. I removed the little skin bit from my mouth and mentally thought of all of the other disgusting things I've managed to get into my mouth since becoming a mother.

Fortune smiled upon us and a voice called out, "Next in line, please!"