Thursday, January 23, 2014

Mommy Wars, Cliques, and Judgement, Oh My!

A friend of mine recently shared a few articles/blog posts with me about the "Mommy Wars." It's a subject I've been meaning to write about for a while. The internet abounds with articles and blogs criticising the judgement between parents making different choices and yet Facebook groups, online forums, and "mommy clubs" still flourish, advocating particular choices and, often, harshly criticising those who disagree.
Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with these kinds of groups.
On the one hand, a lot of my parenting choices aren't popular in the groups of people I'm able to interact with, especially in person. For example, most of the women at work were very skeptical about my choice to go to a midwife and not to give birth in a hospital. It was really nice to find communities of like-minded parents online. That camaraderie is comforting for obvious reasons; it's natural to want friends who share our own interests. It's also nice to have a support network of people who will understand my struggles and not suggest the problem lies in my parenting choices. I always knew I wanted to breastfeed but I was so nervous in the beginning that joining "lactivism" groups on Facebook helped me find the confidence and support I needed to stick to my commitment by normalizing something that had once been so foreign to me and providing answers to my questions when I might not have had others to turn to.
Sure most parenting struggles are universal, but I've found that if I bring something up to a friend who's made a different choice than I have they are more likely to point out and call the difference into question than to simply offer support. For example, I'm pretty sure diaper rash is a universal issue, but when I pointed out a rash on our daughter to my husband within earshot of a friend who is using disposables our friend immediately called our decision to use cloth diapers into question. Maybe this happens because those people are confused by or curious about our parenting choices and they only feel comfortable asking about them when I bring them up, oblivious that their timing might be disconcerting.
I lost my initial delight with online parenting groups when I found myself getting caught up in the "mommy war" aspect of that culture. I eventually unfollowed a facebook group when their moderators' judgement/superiority went too far, insulting and even blocking their own followers for being too moderate in their opinions, but before that it was surprisingly easy to be taken-in by the idea that "certain choices make some people better parents and better people". Many parenting groups on Facebook try to push their ideas on others, or as they would put it, "educate." As I said before, sometimes this support is comforting, but other times their fervor becomes cult-like and cult-like I followed suit: sharing memes and articles, silently judging others who made "the wrong" choice.
I still struggle because I have strong feelings about a lot of my parenting choices. I do a lot of research when making decisions because that's the kind of person I am, so I get pretty defensive when someone criticises or makes an uninformed judgement about a choice I've made. I know that in most cases my friends and family also want the best for my daughter and what I'm doing might seem weird so it's easy to let things slide or to explain my choices. I struggle, however, when the conversation is with another parent who is making choices I specifically disagree with. If s/he is openly judging or questioning my parenting does that give me the right to explain myself and why I think my decision was better? If I've done research and feel confident and strongly about something, does that give me the right to tell others? Or, an even scarier idea to me, but one that many bloggers and group moderators seem to hold, am I obligated to share my knowledge?
I got a wake-up call one day when a friend commented on a pro-breastfeeding article I'd shared, saying that her sister had tried desperately with breastfeed with no success and that articles like the one I'd shared, which asserted that true inability to breastfeed is far more rare than American doctors would have women believe, were hurtful to women like her sister who tried so hard and "failed". I hate to even use the word "failed." Did I still agree with the article? Yes. I think our culture and medical system do a disservice to mothers when it comes to breastfeeding. But I don't blame the mothers and certainly don't want to add to the pain of women who struggled and still weren't able to follow through with parenting choices they made. And really, how can I look down on any parent who is feeding their baby, how ever they choose to do so? (Okay, I reserve the right to judge if you're giving your newborn Coca-cola!) So how do I advocate the changes in culture and policy I think are necessary without hurting the people I hope to help?
My husband and I often talk about other parents and how their parenting differs from our own. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about it and I say so, but then we both agree that it's important for us as a couple and parents to talk about different ways of doing things and decide together what the best decision is for us. The point is, though, that I have no problem after-the-fact to say to my husband, "I can't believe so-and-so did that!" or "Did you hear what they said?!" but no matter how I might cringe, I can't bring myself to actually express these opinions to the parents in question unless I'm answering a direct question, "I'm not sure exactly how long I'll breastfeed but the World Health Organization encourages mothers to breastfeed for two years or more." "Actually, babies in cloth diapers are less likely to get diaper rash, I think this has more to do with the fact that we recently switched brands of wipes." Even in the face of direct questioning, I sometimes hesitate to give an honest answer I know might make the questioner uncomfortable, especially if it conflicts with their own beliefs. In these situations I wonder, am I doing the right thing by avoiding conflict to preserve our friendship? I can't help but admire people who are more willing to publicise their opinions, especially when (after further research of course) I find out they are right or I at least agree with them.
I'm still a new mom. Maybe I'm making all the wrong choices. Maybe I'll change my mind later on. Maybe some decisions aren't as important as I think they are. I try to pick my battles. I try to keep my mind open. I try to do what I think is best for my family (my husband, my daughter, and me). At the end of the day I think that's all I can do and that's what I think all parents try to do.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Chicken Pox

Lucky us, my baby girl has caught the Chicken Pox at the tender age of 7 months, long before we even had a chance to decided whether or not to vaccinate for it since that shot doesn't come up until 12-18 months. I'm trying my best to find the positive here:

  • She's our first so there's no one else she can pass this on to, we only have to worry about one sick kiddo now, and later when other kids get sick she'll be immune.
  • Yes, she was sick on her first Halloween but she's too young to be missing out yet. And I already took pictures in her costume before she got all spotty.
  • Two less shots to worry about later.
See, I'm trying, and I know there are things that could be much worse but at the end of the day, I've got a sick baby who doesn't understand why I just won't let her rub her itchy little eyeballs out.
Yesterday, Day 2, she was mostly happy to snuggle and take a few baths with Aveeno Creamy Relief baby wash. Last night. however, was miserable for all of us. She only slept fitfully, lots of crying and she didn't want anymore baths. Today the doctor and pharmacist told us she's too young for Benedryl or medicated skin creams so I was a little stuck when thinking of how to comfort her. One thing the doctor did suggest was a cool compress (he said hot water could be irritating) so I thought we'd try a kind of cool oatmeal sponge bath. So far she seems to like this so I'll share what I've done with the sincere hope that no one else will need it!

Soothing Oatmeal Lavender Sponge Bath
1. Pulse 1 cup of oats in a blender, food processor or coffee grinder until ground into a powder
2. In a bowl combine 1 cup boiling water, ~1-2 tsp oatmeal powder (enough to make the water cloudy and tangibly starchy) and 1-3 drops of lavender essential oil. 
3. Fill a second bowl with lukewarm water and add a few drops of lavender oil.
4. ONCE THE OATMEAL WATER HAS COOLED use a clean wash cloth to gently dab, not rub, baby's skin with the oatmeal water working in sections.
5. After dabbing with the oatmeal water for a few minutes in one section of the body, use a second clean wash cloth to dab baby's skin clean with the lavender water. This is mostly so baby isn't covered in chunks of oatmeal and super slimy but you don't have to worry about completely removing the oatmeal water because it will help moisturize and protect the skin. Make sure baby is a comfortable temperature by keeping other body parts covered in a light blanket or towel if needed.

  • Doctor recommends cool compresses and avoiding hot baths
  • Oats are great for skin. They sooth irritation, moisturize, and help the skin heal.
  • Lavender oil has a calming scent but it's also good for the skin. It helps relieve itching and it has antimicrobial effects meaning it can help prevent sores from getting infected and scarring. 
  • This is (mostly) edible unlike the medicated topical creams for itching. Lavender is toxic in higher quantities but in this diluted amount, if baby licks the rag or sucks her hand you won't have to worry the way you would if her arms were slathered in anti-histamines and other yucky chemicals. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Everything you need to know about cloth diapering

1. It's not hard!
2. It's not (that) gross

I think some of my family and friends thought I was a little nuts when I said we were going to use cloth diapers but 5 months going strong, I don't regret it! I can't imagine how many disposable diapers we would have gone through by now. Sure I know friends who received lots of diapers at their baby showers but unlike the cloth diapers I got those disposables won't last forever. The one package of newborn diapers we did use was gone after just 2 days! What I'm trying to get at here is that cloth diapering is a big money saver.

There are a  lot of guides online to cloth diapering, I'll share some of my favorites later on, but some of them are so long that I think they make the process seem intimidating. My goal is to give you a quick and dirty guide to how I have diapered my daughter and show you how easy it is.

My supplies:

Pocket diapers: our overnight diaper
  • 1 package of newborn disposable diapers
  • assorted wipes (whatever we got at my baby shower)
  • about 30 pre-folded cloth diapers assorted brands
  • 6 one size pocket diapers assorted brands with 7 inserts
  • 4 one size Flip diaper covers
  • 4 newborn/small size diaper covers with umbilical stump snap
  • 1 wet bag
  • All Free and Clear detergent
  • 1 diaper bucket with lid

Monday, April 29, 2013

Adventures in Babywearing: Bowling Edition

My daughter loves to cuddle. There are days when it's all she wants to do, She will drift happily off to sleep at my chest or in my lap but no sooner than I lay her down in  her swing or bassinet, she is awake and crying once more. Other days she is perfectly content to nap on her own but on those cuddly days we are a solid pair.
Oh, this old thing? yeah, I made it! ;)
Some days this serves as a nice excuse/reminder to sit down and take it easy for awhile. Other days, I have things to do but I don't want to compromise precious moments while my little girl is still a baby who wants nothing more than to snuggle her mommy. That's when my baby carriers have come in handy. I wear Genevieve in my Balboa adjustable sling all the time. It took a little getting used to but it's been great for carrying her while doing things around the house, shopping, and walking the dog.
Yesterday I wanted to go bowling with a friend and her kids and Genevieve would of course be joining us. Much as I've loved my Balboa I wasn't sure about bowling in it. It's hard to lift the shoulder the sling sits on without moving the strap up into my neck and I usually use my opposite hand to support her head while moving around, especially when bending like I would be for bowling.
While I was pregnant I made a mei tai using this tutorial from Jan Andrea. It was super easy and I even made another as I gift for a friend. I thought I'd give this carrier a try for bowling. I'd never used it before but it looked like it would provide the security I wanted for her and the freedom of movement I needed. So off we went to the bowling alley armed with both carriers and her car seat/carrier available in the car if all else failed.

Bowling in style
 Well bowling was great.  I bowled a whole game and ate a pizza all while wearing Genevieve in my homemade mei tai. And, I happen to think we look pretty darn cute in it! I'm very proud of myself if you can't tell haha!
I intended to play part of the second game with her in the Balboa just to try it out but she woke up between games and we spent the rest of the afternoon taking turns holding, dancing and playing with her. 

Even though we didn't get around to bowling in the Balboa this time here are some of my thoughts on the two styles of carriers in general for other parents who want to try babywearing:

Balboa "Dr. Sears" Adjustable Sling
Pros: easy on/off, fairly easy baby in/out, multiple carry styles, adjustable size (my husband can wear it too), carries large range of baby sizes.
Cons: weight unevenly distributed mostly on upper back and the shoulder with the strap, limits range of motion on arm with strap or strap slips up uncomfortably into neck, need to support young baby's head with your hand when bending or moving in a way which jostles her, expensive, limited styles

Mei Tai/Asian style wrap
Pros: baby's head has more support when moving (still needs a little help when you bend over), freedom of movement for both arms, even distribution of weight across shoulders back and waist, easy to make and customize, cheap depending on the fabric you use, also available to purchase commercially or though Etsy
Cons: more involved process to put on/take off, may need different sizes depending on adult wearer, can get hot since baby and carrier cover your whole front or back, straps can dig uncomfortably if they get twisted.

Happy babywearing mama and snuggly baby!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Perfect Girl

Years ago I met a pretty awesome woman. Granted, I was twelve years old and she was my summer camp counselor so maybe she had an unfair advantage in my "coolness" perception, but twelve years later she's proven my original judgement spot on. Early this month she premiered a video I'd love to share with you about the fashion industry and beauty ideals for girls and women. This topic is of great importance to me, as a woman, a childcare worker, a role model, and most importantly as a new mother.
Perfect Girl

When I was pregnant, my husband and I made the decision not to find out the sex of our baby. Beyond the practicality of building a neutral collection of baby supplies as first time parents, and the fun of letting everyone guess, this decision had a lot to do with the values I hope to raise my children with. From the moment we learn the sex of a person, most people, consciously or otherwise, make a million assumptions. Culture says that a baby dressed in blue is a boy; he will grow up to play sports, maybe hunt; he'll be dirty, he'll be tough. Pink is reserved strictly for baby girls who will grow up to enjoy playing with dolls, wearing make-up and pretty clothes. For the rest of her life, people will make assumptions about my daughter, unfortunately that's just the way the world is; I didn't want those assumptions to begin before she was even born.
Because how do I know who she will be and what she will like, or even if she will always be a "she?" It's far more important to me that she has respect for herself and others. That she grow up feeling accepted and loved. That she feels confident about being herself and safe enough to explore and try new things.
I hate how vastly different gendered baby clothes are and the fact that if I dress my daughter in "boy's" clothes everyone assumes she is a boy. The gender difference seems so much more polarized for infants and young children. Boy's clothes are covered in monsters, sport equipment, trucks and slogans advertising baby's toughness. I'm sorry, but regardless of sex, babies are snugly, delicate, beautiful gas and poop factories, not tough. It's  perfectly acceptable for adult women to wear pants and sports jerseys, so why not baby girls? On the other hand, some of the options for baby girls range from admittedly cute to outright outrageous. I was seriously put-off when we spotted lacy, leopard print baby dresses emblazoned with phrases proclaiming that baby is a "diva." "Diva," really? I get that for some people, "diva" is a symbol of pride and empowerment, but it also has negative connotations and in contrast to the surrounding "boy" clothes with puppies and baseballs, this bedazzled confection struck me as far too grown up and sexy for an infant.
Yes, my daughter wears dresses and bows on her head because for now I'm dressing her and I think those things are cute and because that is what people have gifted her and I'm in no position to turn down clothing in perfectly good condition. But she also wears jeans and a baseball shirt which reads "Team Daddy" and I draw the line at clothes I deem inappropriate for an infant regardless of sex. When she is older, I hope gender will have little influence over the toys she plays with, the activities she enjoys and the clothes she chooses to wear. As she grows up I hope she'll see both her father and mother as role models. That she'll learn confidence from the way Daddy tells Mommy she's beautiful even though she never wears more make-up than the occasional swipe of lip gloss or mascara even though her face is scarred from blemishes. That she'll watch Daddy wash the dishes and cook dinners while Mommy drives the tractor through the garden plot and wonder what people mean when they make jokes about women in the kitchen.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Rookie (nursing) Mom's Survival Guide

When I was making my baby registry and shopping to prep for the arrival of my little girl it was kind of hard to know what I would need. Here's some items and tips I'd consider important after my first few weeks as a rookie, breastfeeding mom.  I've learned that you'll probably be bombarded with more clothes and blankets (new and hand-me-downs) than you will probably need. Consider adding a few of these items to your registry or stocking up on them yourself. Even though this list is mostly geared towards breastfeeding mom's, some items still apply to other mommies too.

Top Four Items (no one told you) to Have on Hand before Baby Arrives
  1. Breast pump accessories: Here's a PSA for you: You should be able to get a breast pump for free or at least fairly cheap. Under the Healthcare Reform Act, breast pumps are now covered by insurance. What that means might vary, some companies provide you with a free pump (I got my choice of two double electric pumps for free), some might charge a co-pay, and some might reimburse you. The point is, if you're insured: call your company and find out what they offer. If you aren't insured, WIC also provides things like breast pumps. All this brings me back to item #1 of stuff you probably didn't think about getting but you'll want on hand in the early days: breast pump accessories. With the big ticket expense of the pump itself taken care of, you'll want to invest in necessary accessories that aren't included. Go ahead and get flanges in a variety of sizes (that's the funnel part that goes on your boob). Having a good flange fit is really important and you won't know what size you'll need until you try them. Don't worry about wasting money on non-returnable parts that don't fit. Your nipples will change in size, up and down, so odds are you will need a variety of sizes over the months or years of use you get from your pump. *Make sure these are the same brand as your pump.* Other items to stock up on: freezer safe milk storage bags or other storage containers, and breast pads (disposable or washable) Why you want these before baby arrives: ENGORGEMENT! It sucks. Your boobs will be uncomfortably full and probably a little painful in the first few days when your milk comes in. Pumping can help relieve the pressure and help establish a good milk supply. You might also experience some leakage. Even though you're probably just bumming around the hospital or your home in these early days, it's no fun to have to change a soaking wet shirt every time baby eats or cries. 
  2. Non-perishable snacks: Being a new mommy is a 24/7 job and especially early on it's hard to juggle all the new demands of baby and taking care of yourself too and that means eating regularly, especially if you are breastfeeding. Snacks are important and it's a huge lifesaver to have something readily available in the middle of the night. Think granola, nuts, dried fruit... bonus points for fiber because the first days also bring constipation. Keep a stash near your bed or wherever you care for baby at night. During the day it's easier to get fresh or complex snacks like fruits, veggies, chips & dip etc. so save this grab n' go stash for midnight snacking and your diaper bag. 
  3. Tumbler with a straw or a water bottle: This is yours and should go with you everywhere. Especially if you're breastfeeding. Keep it filled! It's always important to stay hydrated but even more so when pregnant and breastfeeding. Start using it now before baby arrives. Having a container with a straw is especially nice because it's easier to drink from while nursing. It takes a little practice to get your hands free to do other things while nursing so it's really nice for your Mr or whoever to be able to just hold a straw to your mouth to give you a sip of water. Bonus points for something pretty: just cause and to make it more noticeable so a) you don't forget it and leave it laying around when you move to a different room and b) it catches other people's attention so they ask, "hey, need a refill?" 
  4. Maxi-pads and Depends: Not fun to think about but here it is... you're going to be a bit of a wreak in your lady parts. Bleeding, soreness, temporary lack of bladder control... it's not pretty. Now, I went home the day my daughter was born so if you're delivering in a hospital with a longer postpartum stay they might provide these items for you and you may not need some of this at home. In my experience though, I wore Depends and frozen maxi pads (more on that in a minute) for the first few days. The Depends took care of the mess of heavy bleeding, the melting pads, and occasional leaky bladder. Before baby arrived I poured a small amount of water over some maxi pads, wrapped them in plastic wrap and froze them in a bowl to give them a curve. These are great for soothing the soreness down there after delivery. While it's hit-or-miss if you'll need the other two items ( I think it's worthwhile to have them just in case) you'll definitely need maxi-pads until your bleeding subsides.
Other things to think about
  • Nursing cover: If  you're modest like me, you'll want to be able to practice with your nursing cover in the privacy of home before trying it out in public or when guests finally break through the barricade and start arriving to visit your precious bundle. 
  • Extra slipcover for your breastfeeding support pillow if you're using one: I didn't think of all the ways this could get gross:leaking breast milk, spit-up, drool, diaper blow-outs.... I'm glad I had more than one slipcover so I could switch out while one was in the wash. Look for a water resistant cover to go under your decorative covers too. 
  • Nursing bras and camis: self-explanatory. These make nursing much easier and the sleep style nursing bras are super comfy. My favorite are Gillgan & O' Malley from Target;comfortable and cute. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Can you see my boobies?

Breastfeeding in public! Kinda scary right? but what's a new mom to do when she's got errands to run, her breast pump has yet to arrive and baby is wailing in the Walmart parking lot? There's only one thing she can do: whip out that boob and pray no one sees her in all her leaky engorged G-cup glory.
This was my first experience with breastfeeding in public. Ginny had slept peacefully in her sling the whole time we were in Walmart but as soon as we got back to the car, she turned on the sirens: get me OUT of this stupid uncomfortable car seat and FEED ME!!!!! Fortunately I had just bought a cover. No problem right?
Wrong! I struggled to squeeze myself into the backseat beside her car seat, struggled some more to cover her and myself with my new polka dotted cover. Okay, we're covered, done? Nope! how am I supposed to get her on my boob? I can't see! Ginny screamed, I wanted to cry, my mom asked a dozen questions I couldn't hear in my frantic attempts to get my wailing baby to latch on to ease the ache in her belly and my boobs. Five minutes later, we gave up. Ginny was getting angrier with me by the second and my stress level was sky rocketing. I needed to get this baby home now. More like 30 minutes ago before Ginny had ever dreamed of being hungry. My mom took over driving and I did my best to comfort my baby. Clearly we were going to need more practice at this!
Take two: back at Walmart (something about that place makes Ginny hungry!) Ginny started squirming in the sling and sucking on my husband's shirt. Time to go! Stephen handed her off to me and we made it to the car before she got too fussy. I wasn't quite ready to nurse in the middle of Walmart haha! Once in the car, I reclined the passenger seat, I pulled out my polka dot apron, kicked my feet up on the dashboard and nursed my baby girl. It was hot and I didn't feel exactly fashionable but you can't argue with success!
Blogging, nursing mama on the porch!
When we got home I decided to try nursing using an infinity scarf as a cover on my front porch. 1st try: after a momentary slip, Ginny nursed happily and we were both comfortable under the soft light weight scarf. We tried again a while later with a little more success.This time my nursing  top pulled dangerously low over the unused breast I had left exposed. On the third try, Ginny was more awake and fussy. She was not having any silly scarf over her head! Try as I might to cover myself and guide her to latch, her arms flailed, pushing away scarf and boob. Fine, enough experimenting for now.
We did it!
It's not a perfect system yet but I think I'm on to something with this infinity scarf: a fraction of the cost of traditional nursing covers, light weight and soft, much cuter, and can be worn as part of a normal outfit, no fumbling through the diaper bag while baby who could care less about mommy's modesty cries louder and louder. All selling points for me! I'll keep you posted on my experiments.
My advice for other new mamas: whatever type of nursing cover you decide to try, give yourself plenty of practice at home before attempting to nurse in public for the first time. You'll save yourself and baby a lot of stress which is no good for either of you and probably spare yourself a little embarrassment if your first tries are as clumsy as mine have been.