Thursday, December 30, 2010

Late Night Freakonomics!

My daughter has her days and nights confused. This has resulted in a lot of late night feedings. My husband stays up with her to let me sleep when he can, but she wants to eat, and there's not much he can do to help there, so I end up awake quite a bit during the night. Since I don't want to wake my husband up (the poor guy has to work, after all), I don't want to turn the TV on, so I've been reading. The latest thing I read was  Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. (I know I'm late to the game; I read a lot of paperbacks.)

This book is an interesting hodge podge of analyzed data sets. It is also apparently a movie I hadn't heard anything about.
Chapter 5 is entitled "What Makes a Perfect Parent?" and comes to the conclusion that parenting "isn't so much a matter of what you do as a parent; it's who you are." The authors analyze a large set of data that correlates elementary test scores with a wide range of variables. They find out that there is a correlation, for instance, between having highly educated parents and scoring well, but not between scores and moving to a better neighborhood. Children with books in the home tend to score better, but it doesn't matter if those books are read every day, and it doesn't matter how much television the child watches.

The overall message seems to be that the ovebearing parents of the world believe in correlations for success that don't exist. It doesn't matter if they spend weekends shuttling their children to cultural events, evenings reading age-appropriate books, and days structuring the child's activity to avoid mindless downtime. A child's ability to succeed (at least on standardized tests) is determined by factors that are already in place before the child is born (or even conceived). A child born to well-educated, English-speaking, thirty-year-old plus parents of high socioeconomic status performs better. Period.

It's a little disheartening to look at this data at first. It makes it seem like all those hours spent trying to be a good parent don't matter. (And I know I've only had four weeks with my daughter, so I know there are a lot more hours to come). I did, I'll admit, feel a little relieved to see that there is no correlation between whether a child has a stay-at-home mother and test scores. Daycare isn't proven to stunt her ability.

But what of that ability? Do I really care if my child can perform well on standardized tests? Especially at the elementary level?

I'm not very keen on testing. I work with a lot of students, and I've known many that just don't test well. They are smart, creative, engaged, and headed for great things, but they don't test well. I also have known plenty of students who test great but have been lazy and uninterested in their education. Furthermore, I think that our societal focus on test scores is a large part of the problem with our current education system. (In another chapter in Freakonomics, the authors analyze standardized test scores from the Chicago school district and find that many teachers were cheating, skewing the answers so that they would get promotions.) All of this focus on tests, especially in the early years of education, seems to leave little time for experimental educational programs and creativity.

Creativity. The authors admit that this data doesn't measure things like creativity or ingenuity. It measures ability to take a standardized test, which is a dream for data analysis, but not always such a practical skill in real life. What if reading all of those books helps a child become more creative with language? This probably wouldn't show up on the test, but it's certainly something I want my daughter to be able to do. What if all of those museum trips (which do nothing to help with test scores, apparently) help a child interact with other cultures better? How would we analyze that correlation?

I find the data interesting (and the book as a whole very fascinating), but I'm not convinced that standardized tests really tell us much about who someone is as a person. Therefore, I'm not ready to take a correlation with them and use it to make decisions about parenting. Plus, isn't reading books and going to the museum fun?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

IV Fluids and Weight Loss

I agreed to have IV fluids during labor when I started throwing up and was afraid I'd get dehydrated.
Today, I saw this study suggesting that getting IV fluids during labor might make the baby's weight read higher than it really is. In turn, this can cause the baby to seem like he/she has lost too much weight and, for breastfeeding mothers, can cause doctors to suggest supplementation when it's not really needed.

I don't know enough about the subject to have much of an informed opinion, but it sounds reasonable. I was so worried when my baby hadn't gained weight, but I was also confused because she'd been eating really well. It'll be interesting to see what comes of this finding.

Some Thoughts on Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is a curious thing. It's unlike anything I've ever done before, and it has brought up a lot of complicated considerations.

The Good
- I love knowing that I'm providing my little girl with the nutrients she needs to grow and thrive. She's already changed so much in three short weeks, and knowing that my body is producing the stuff that's growing her into the amazing little person she is makes me feel pretty good.

- Even when I've gotten no sleep and she's crying for what seems like the hundredth time in a single night, as soon as I pick her up and she tilts her head back to look at me with those big eyes, I can't help but smile.

- She smells so good! I love cuddling up with her in the bed. 

- I have a new appreciation for my body and what I put into it. Suddenly everything I eat and drink has become so apparent to me. I think about ways to eat more nutritious food. I force myself to drink water after every feeding whether I am thirsty or not. I appreciate my body's ability to create food for my daughter, and it's made me much more aware of my responsibility to give it the tools to do so.

The Not-so-good
- Sometimes I feel like a milk machine. I know a lot of women say they feel like this when they're pumping, but I don't really mind pumping; I don't have to pay much attention to the process. I just read or watch TV until I'm done. But when I'm feeding the baby, I am tuned in. This can be nice, but sometimes her dad will be holding her and she'll be completely content, and then she'll get hungry and fussy, hear my voice, and try to wiggle over to me, but I know it's not me she's coming after, but the milk.

- I am not a good sleeper. This is a long standing problem. I've suffered from on-again, off-again insomnia since middle school. The main problem is I can't fall asleep fast. It takes me at least 20 minutes. When I have a child who insists on nursing every hour, this basically means I get no sleep. She's recently spaced out the feedings at night (though not during the day--yesterday she clusterfed for four straight hours), and I've become much more human-like by getting 4-5 hours of sleep in hour-long bouts. Before that I started to zombify.

- It's a lot of pressure! At her two-week checkup she hadn't gained back her birth weight. She was close (8lbs 12oz, she started at 9lbs), but the doctor said I might have to supplement with formula. I felt so guilty. Was she starving? I was feeding her every time that she acted hungry. Was I doing it wrong? Was I not eating enough? Was I not drinking enough? The doctor gave me the weekend to see if her weight would go up on its own; it did.

- I feel a little trapped. My husband and I agreed to equally shared parenting, but that's not really possible when I'm the only one who can feed her. I know that it will get better as she gets older, and he's been doing everything possible to help out. But none of that changes the fact that she spends the bulk of her day eating, and I'm the source. I feel like I can't leave the house because her feedings aren't really regular yet. Sometimes she'll go two or three hours in between, but sometimes she wants to eat every forty-five minutes.
I bought a bottle of Disaronno that's been sitting unopened on my kitchen counter. I haven't had a drink in a year because I stopped drinking when I started trying to conceive. I just want one drink! But I'm scared to have it because I'm afraid that'll be one of the times she won't wait two hours.

I'm going to offer her a bottle of expressed milk sometime in the next week so that I can make sure she takes it before I go back to work in three weeks. I'm hoping that will help take some of the pressure off. Overall, though, it's a pretty amazing thing.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bilirubin Blues

I did not shed a tear during labor (I also only cursed about three times, which is a major feat since I cursed no less than six times today while watching CSPAN). I did, however, bawl my eyes out in the children's hospital ER when my daughter was three days old.

See, I wanted very badly to get out of the hospital, and I told them that I'd like to be released as soon as possible. They decided to let me go about 30 hours after the birth under the condition that I make an appointment with my pediatrician for the next day. Baby had slightly elevated bilirubin levels, which they assured me was normal because I was exclusively breastfeeding and my milk wasn't in yet.

My milk came in Friday night. Though my daughter still didn't have as many dirty diapers as they wanted her to have, I felt sure that things would be fine in no time now that she was getting more than a few drops of colostrum to eat. They had to stick her heel at the pedi appointment and told me the labs would be back in the next morning (Saturday).

Saturday afternoon I get a call saying that I need to go to the children's hospital ER for another blood draw because her levels were going up. I asked how worried I should be, and the doc told me that it was probably fine. When we got there, here levels were even higher, and they told me they'd have to keep her for a day or two on the UV lights to break down the bilirubin and get rid of the jaundice. I recognize now that we're home and safe and healthy that this wasn't that big of a deal. I had a clear view of the helicopter landing pad from our hospital room and thanked my lucky stars and God each time I watched them land. I knew it could be so much worse.

But at the moment, when they took my tiny daughter out of my arms and held her down to jam an IV in her little bitty arm, I lost it. I was trying not to cry in front of the nurses, but I wasn't very successful. As soon as they left the room, I sobbed uncontrollably, managing between heaving sobs to tell my husband that I felt like a complete failure. It was my job, I sobbed, to give her the food she needed, to make sure she was healthy, and I hadn't done it.

She was only on the lights for about ten hours, and her levels were dropping right away. My husband and I slept on a fold-out cot and remembered how we had shared a twin dorm bed for months our first two years of college. I watched my daughter sleep and squirm beneath the eerie blue lights and fed her throughout the night.

Though I know that I overreacted (probably a combination of stress, sleep deprivation, and hormones was largely at play), I also recognized something about how different my life now is. The responsibility I feel for this little girl is insane. The pressure to keep her happy and healthy is tangible. It's mostly a pleasant pressure. As I feed her, I love knowing that I'm helping her grow and thrive. When I hold her and she leans back to look at my face, I love thinking about all of the things we'll talk about. As I curse politicians on CSPAN while nursing, I love thinking about introducing her to the world. But it won't always be positive. Sometimes, things will go wrong. It's not like I didn't know this before we went into that ER, but I didn't know how much it would hurt me to watch them happen. When the power and control was taken away and all I could do was watch and hope that things would get better, I felt completely worthless. She's rearranged the focus of my priorities in only a few short days.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

She's here!

I heard many, many versions of the same comment as I reported my early labor frustrations to various people: “You’ll know when they’re real.” Of course, this is only true in retrospect. It’s like walking up to someone who has never heard of apples and peaches. You tell him, “I’m going to hand you some fruit. Some of them are going to be apples, and some are going to be peaches.” You hand him a Red Delicious apple, and he asks which it is. You tell him it’s an apple. Immediately after, you hand him a Golden Delicious. He thinks to himself, this is shaped differently, it’s a different color--it must be a peach. “Nope. Apple,” you tell him. Then you hand him a Granny Smith. This tastes completely different, and is yet another color; surely this is a peach, he believes. “Nope. Another apple.” Then you hand him a peach, and he has a clear understanding of the difference, but that doesn’t keep him from making accurate observations about the other apples.

I was handed a peach Tuesday morning: the morning of my due date. I had scheduled a doctor’s appointment that I was so sure I wouldn’t need to keep, and yet there I was. When I went in, they checked me and told me I was 4cm and 75% effaced. Progress. I had walked 7 miles that last weekend and had been having regular contractions for a week. When I left the non-stress test at the doctor’s office (routine since she was measuring big (10lbs 4 oz!!) on the ultrasound and was about to be past due), I was having contractions that felt clearly different. They hurt more, they moved differently, and I was sure it was the start of something.

It was. I called my cousin and mom--the two people who were to join my husband as labor coaches. They decided to come down and hang out even if it wasn’t the real thing. They got to my house and sat with me as I helped some students with online papers and moved through contractions. At 5:15, my water broke while I bounced on the birthing ball. I called the hospital and they said to come in right away. After our 10 minute drive turned into 50 due to an accident (good thing I didn’t wait longer like I had wanted to!), we made it, got evaluated and admitted.

This is where things took a frustrating turn. I have been working towards natural child birth through most of this pregnancy, and I had a birth plan I had worked out with my doctor. It included intermittent monitoring, using the shower to control pain, moving around as much as possible, using a heplock instead of running fluids, and having my birth team in the room with me. The hospital had sounded very on board with these things during the tour, but things weren’t quite what they seemed.

They insisted on continuous monitoring. They told me I needed fluids immediately. Since my water was ruptured, I couldn’t get in the shower. Not only that, I couldn’t even stand up out of the bed for risk of the cord sweeping into the birth canal. I started to panic; there was no way I could handle those contractions on my back. I knew I’d never make it without pain medicine.

I tried to find a balance between being my own advocate and not being a pain in the ass. I said that I was happy to have continuous monitoring if I could still move around--I wouldn’t get in the shower. I was not willing to stay in the bed, and since the head was engaged, I felt the benefits of pain management outweighed the risks. I asked to delay fluids as long as I could continue to drink and feel fine on my own. My husband pulled aside the attending doctor and explained that I really wanted all three of my coaches there with me the whole time; the doctor said okay.

I labored in several positions: sitting on the edge of the bed and standing to lean on my husband during contractions, kneeling on the floor and leaning over the birthing ball, kneeling on the bed and leaning over the raised head. I hated being checked. The pain on my back was miserable. I felt like a crab scrambling to get away from it, unable to get any control over it as it surged through my body.

I was admitted around 7pm and progressed pretty nicely from that point forward. I really felt like some of the doctors and nurses didn’t take me seriously at first. One doctor even said, “you want to go natural. Yeah, we’ll see how that goes.” They only offered me medication--Stadol--once, and I promptly refused. By about 7cm, I felt like they were taking me more seriously. They also left us alone, for the most part. My birth team was AMAZING. My husband constantly told me how great I was doing as he worked through each contraction with me, my cousin rubbed my hips, my mom brought me every single thing I asked for. I couldn’t have done it without them.

I started pushing around 5 or 5:30, and though I was sort of out of it from all of the focus the labor was taking, I distinctly remember pushing being a HUGE relief. It didn’t even hurt. I wanted to do it constantly, but--of course--contractions spaced out, so I had to wait between them. There were a ton of people in the room, but I hardly noticed who they were or why they were there--though I do remember several of them introducing themselves at some point. It’s a teaching hospital and it was right at shift change; I think a lot of people from the night shift wanted to stay to see the end. I had about three doctors encouragingly telling me “This is it. This is the push!” for what felt like fifty pushes. I was getting really dejected and kept asking/panting “Are you sure I’m doing something? It doesn’t feel like anything is happening!”

At 7:21 this morning, the day after her due date, my 9lb0oz, 22inch baby girl was born with beautiful clear skin and a head full of black curly hair. I got to hold her immediately for half an hour. Then they took her and cleaned her up and brought her back to breastfeed. It was an amazing experience. We’re both in the hospital now, but everything is looking great, and I think we’ll get to go home tomorrow.

As for my natural birth goals, I wavered a little bit. I didn’t get an epi or any narcotics. I did decide to get the fluids when I started to get really exhausted around 2 am. I think it was a good decision. I also chose to get Lidocaine injected while I was pushing I knew that I was likely to need stitches because the baby was predicted to be 10lbs, and I knew the drug wouldn’t have time to get to the baby. I don’t regret that decision, either. Other than that, I labored without any kind of medical pain management, and I truly would do it again. As long as I could move with my body and trust it to work, I was on top of the pain.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Some (Pre) Reflections on Pain

I've been thinking about pain lately. This is mostly because I have been in the ambiguous land of "early labor" since Sunday night and have been analyzing every twinge, twang, stretch, pull, jab, and squeeze for some signs of progress. It's a little maddening. I know that everyone says I will "know" when the real thing gets going, but since I can't "know" if I'm knowing or not, I'll just have to keep wondering until then.

Most of what I've felt so far has not been very painful, but that realization had me thinking about the language of pain. It's really hard to talk about. Pain is only known in metaphor and simile. I can't tell you what pain really feels like; I can only tell you that it feels like something else. I can say, for instance, that the current tightening in my belly feels like a plastic bag having all of the air sucked out of it or I can figuratively call the cramping I feel tiny clinched fists pulling at the sides. But you can't ever make someone else understand what you feel. Even if it really is the exact same feeling, it's so subjective that the experience can't be duplicated.

Some of the more post-modern approaches to understanding reality might suggest that a thing does not exist if we don't have an adequate langauge for it. Of course, any one in severe pain would likely tell those post-modernists where to stick it. Still, thinking about the connection between the way that we share experience and how that modifies the reality of the experience is interesting to me.

I've been thinking about the pain medication commonly used for labor and delivery. Does it make the pain go away? Let's say you have a successful epidural that completely numbs you from feeling any pain. In this case, your body is still going through the exact same trauma that the body of a non-medicated woman is going through (accounting for individual differences in delivery, of course), but does one woman have pain and the other not? Or do both women have pain, but one does not experience it? Is pain only an experience or does it necessarily include the physical element of trauma?

I wanted to write down what I was thinking about pain now, before active labor. I'm very curious as to how I'll perceive this post after the birth, especially if I get the med-free birth I'm hoping for. I'm also curious as to how memory will play a role in this, as I've had so many people tell me that I'll forget all about it the minute I hold my baby.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Leave of Absence

Yesterday, I turned in all my paperwork to officially take a semester off from coursework. I know that it's the best idea since I will be on maternity leave working half-time for the first six weeks of the semester and teaching two classes next semester, but part of me couldn't help but feel sad. I have been in at least one class every fall and spring semester continuously since, well, I guess since kindergarten. So, basically, this will be the first time in 20 years that January will roll around and I won't be enrolled in a class.

I plan to make up for this void in my life by reading from the list for my comprehensive PhD exams. I'm setting a tentative goal of reading one book from the list every two weeks. And now that I've written it down you get to hold me to it!

"I could turn my little boys into girls"

That's a quote from an article on boys competing in girls' beauty pageants, "Pageant Boys."

I heard about this story from the morning radio show on my way to work. The DJs were discussing the habit of entering young boys into beauty pageants with disdain and mockery. At the heart of the story is six-year-old Zander who has been competing since infancy. Zander says that he loves competing in the pageants.  He likes the attention and the prizes.

Zander's mother insists that his participation is about freedom from gender roles and that she is allowing him to choose his own path.

But Zander isn't the anomaly he used to be in. In fact, the number of boys participating in the pageants has risen to 10% (up from 5% in 2005). Some of these other mothers (there aren't any fathers speaking in the article) admit that they are trying to fill the void of not having the daughter they wanted; thus, they see their child and think "I could turn my little boys into girls."

This article and the radio conversation bothered me in a way that I couldn't immediately figure out. See, I like the idea of challenging gender roles, so I can't say that I necessarily disagree with Zander's mother. At the same time, I don't think that an infant (and there are boys "competing" in these pageants at the ripe age of 2 weeks) is very cognizant of choosing any particular path. On top of that, I find the idea of competing on the grounds of "beauty" problematic for any child.

It also made me think of this blog post from Nerdy Apple Bottom, which was posted on a message board I read.

In this post, Nerdy Apple Bottom recounts the criticism she got from other mothers at her son's preschool when she allowed him to dress up as his chosen Halloween character: Daphne from Scooby Doo. She has a picture of him decked out (and pretty adorable) in the orange wig, knee-high pink boots, and sparkly purple tights. Among the issues she addresses are the ways that the parents reacted v. the way the children did (parents cared a lot more than the other kids), the assumption that experimentation in gender roles would "make" her son gay, and her own role as a mother in shaping her son's gender identity.

Nerdy Apple Bottom let her son choose his costume, she ordered it for him, and then she made him follow through with his decision to wear it to school when he started to get nervous about how people would react. All in all, I think she acted exactly the way that I would have in the given situation.

So why am I still bothered by the little boys competing in the beauty pageant? And why did the radio show bother me so much?

Also in the radio show, the DJs began lambasting parents who try to turn their little girls into boys by dressing them in "boy clothes" and forcing them to play little league ("not softball, but little league" the DJs incredulously commented).

I was such a tomboy growing up that my teachers would ocassionaly check out the bruising and scabs on my knees and ask if I was okay at home. I climbed trees, caught frogs, spent hours wandering through the woods in my back yard, and generally avoided anything pink, frilly, or heart-shaped. I wouldn't be caught dead in a dress. I begged my dad to play catch with me, took my BB gun to hunt rabbits with him (a task at which I was thankfully unskilled--poor bunnies!), and much preferred a day digging in dirt to one dressing up.

I truly don't think my parents had much to do with this decision. I think that my inclinations came out very clearly on their own. While they certainly could have discouraged them once they began, I don't think that they did much to encourage them at the start. Their decision to let me dress and play how I wanted gave me a lot of skills that I still use today, and I even ocassionally put on a dress now!

Clearly, little girls can bend these gender roles with more ease than little boys can (as Nerdy Apple Bottom points out, no one would have made a fuss if she'd had a daughter that dressed up like batman). But I still think that we have to allow room for this kind of exploration and play for all children. At the same time, I think we need to recognize that there comes a time in a child's development when he/she is old enough to make these decisions, and a two-week old entered into a beauty contest has probably not met that milestone, male or female.

Friday, November 5, 2010


So, it's getting close.

So close, in fact, that this weird thing has started happening where I'm beginning to view the world through this countdown perspective. For instance, I went to get my haircut a few days ago, and since I only get a haircut every 5-6weeks, it occurred to me that this would be the last haircut I'd get before the baby is born. We have monthly staff meetings at work; today was the last one I will attend before the baby is born.

Then I started noticing the expiration dates on some of my food (and not things that last forever, like bottled water and canned goods, but real, fresh food) were later than my due date.

This is both exciting and terrifying. Soon, I will buy the last gallon of milk before the baby is born. Then I will take my last shower before the baby is born. At some point I will lock my door for the last time before the baby is born. Exhilarating. Scary.

I'm also measuring 3 weeks ahead . . . again. I have another ultrasound scheduled for the Wednesday after next to see how she's growing. My doc told me that there isn't anything that can be done if she's "too big," but I suppose it's nice to know . . . or something. I think she's just in a weird position. She measured fine at the last ultrasound and I haven't gained that much weight.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Knocked Up: A Hollywood Perception on Natural Birth?

E! apparently only has about six different programs to play on their channel, as the film Knocked Up can be watched there at just about any time of day. Seriously, I don't even watch much TV and it has been on or coming on within the next hour or so every other time I flip through the guide.

I saw this movie when it first came out, and I thought it was funny and successfully done. I like Seth Rogen a lot, and I enjoyed the acting and often sarcastic humor. I wasn't even thinking about getting pregnant at the time, and I certainly hadn't considered any aspects of a natural birth. I remember thinking that Katherine Heigl's character seemed a little silly and naive when it came to the birth. I was wondering what she was doing calmly sitting in a bathtub with candles when it seemed to me that she should be rushing to the hospital. I didn't understand why she had to interview so many OBs; weren't they all qualified doctors? Even though I knew that Kim Jeong's OB character was being bossy and pushy with her when she came in insisting she didn't want any drugs to speed up the labor, I still viewed her as trying to hold on to a fantasy that didn't connect with medical reality.

And then I saw it again.

I recognize now that, especially for a Hollywood portrayal of birth, there are some pretty nuanced views of natural birth and the process of deciding on one.

1) Katherine Heigl's character does a lot of research. She's shown reading several books about pregnancy. She is also shown asking lots and lots of questions of several OBs, choosing one only after she feels completely comfortable that she's found somebody who will respect her birth plan and do everything possible to help her have a positive experience.

2) Seth Rogen's character is an involved participant in the birth. As the father of the baby, he is an advocate for Heigl's wishes and confronts the attending OB about his attitude and forced interventions. Most fathers in movie birth scenes are present as bumbling fools that can't handle it or that get in the way. Rogen's character is involved, informed, and present.

3) Heigl's character is bullied into interventions she doesn't want when her plans fall through; perhaps this is a critique on our medical system. Her doctor isn't available (though he promised he would be) and the doctor that comes into the room immediately wants to give her interventions to speed up labor. After getting very upset, Heigl's character becomes discouraged and resigned.

4) She ends up giving birth (with a pretty graphic (for movie standards) vaginal shot of the head crowning) without any pain medication. Though this birth is put into the Hollywood trope of "there's no time for medication. We have to deliver this baby now"-panic, it is an unusual portrayal.

So, I know that the typical pop culture portrayal of birth is problematic. I also know that natural birth was a pretty foreign concept to me before I started researching on my own, and I think that a different view of birth in mass media would help women know more about their options. However, the first time I saw Knocked Up, I didn't view it in this way. I only noticed the positive (and complicated) messages about natural birth after I was already informed about the process. I still feel it's probably a step in the right direction, but I wonder about its effectiveness. What do you think?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Of Bob Dylan and Swollen Ankles

I went to a Bob Dylan concert last night. It was amazing (though he looks and sounds quite a bit different from the above video).

I had floor seats, so I stood for over two hours. I also wanted to avoid event parking, so I parked in a lot that I use for work and walked a good 15 minutes to the venue. These all seemed like good ideas in theory, but I forgot to account for what being 35 weeks pregnant is doing to my body. My ankles are not pleased with me.

It was worth it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Halloween Costumes: My Poor Kid

First off, isn't this commercial awful:

I absolutely love the homemade costume, and I think the Target version is not only unoriginal, but also probably misleading. Store-bought costumes don't ever look as cool as you think they do.

I've been trying to figure out what I'm going to be for Halloween since I am going with my husband to a party at his office. I've decided I will be a bowling ball hitting a bowling pin. This costume will be homemade and probably pretty simple since I'm huge and exhausted and (ahem) running out of time (oh, hello, October 21--didn't see you there!)

In the past, I have been a mixed drink (created out of a clear shower curtain and some hula hoops; I was repeatedly mistaken for a shower, but seriously, who dresses up as a shower?), a blue crayola (with some help from my mom, made out of blue fabric, lots of fluffy stuffing, a witch's hat, and some blue construction paper), and many other homemade concoctions.

You see, I'm a very creative person--as long as all I have to use is my mind. My visions never quite materialize as I imagined them when I have to get my hands involved, but that doesn't take the fun out of it.

At any rate, I can totally see my child's Halloween going something like this:

I'll have the best intentions, I promise.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Oh the Dichotomies!

With my due date ticking ever closer, I've been thinking a lot about labor and delivery. As I mentioned in previous posts, my ultimate goal is to go med-free. I've spent a lot of time thinking about this, and I've been trying to prepare myself the best that I can.

This preparation has included talking with other women (on messages boards, I don't know any real-life women) who had med-free births, reading (Ina May's Guide to Childbirth and Sarah McMoyler's The Best Birth, among others), watching videos of natural births, watching The Business of Being Born, and talking with my husband about our plans.

I feel mostly prepared, but I also feel somewhat helpless. There is so much that's beyond my control. What if I don't go into labor "on time" and the doctor wants to induce? What if my blood pressure sky rockets? What if the baby is breech? What if I can't handle the pain? I know these are questions that every mother faces, but they make it hard for me to be as confident in my  birth plan as I feel I need to be. I can't go around saying "I will do it this way" when I don't know for sure how things are going to go.

I can say, however, that I plan to give birth naturally. And while doing that planning, I've been running into both sides of a very thickly drawn dichotomy.

The two sides go more or less like this:

Side 1: Doctors are evil. They are only concerned with making money and they are just puppets of the big business that makes up our health care system. They force you to do things that you don't want to do out of sheer convenience and so they can bill your insurance company (which is also evil) for more money. They don't care about mothers or babies, and most of the time they don't even know anything about natural births. In fact, doctors are bored by natural births because there's nothing for them to do, so they try to intervene. They also want you in and out of the hospital as quickly as possible to clear up the beds. Plus, they want you to have a c-section because it makes them more money.

Side 2: Those crazy natural-birthers have no idea what they're talking about. They are a bunch of granola-eating hippies who are willing to put their bodies and their babies at risk. Not to mention, those women are obviously trying to impress us all with their holier-than-thou attitudes, and it's ridiculous to think that a woman should have to endure that kind of pain to be a mother. I'm no one's hero, and all that matters is a healthy baby. These women are crazy.

Surely, there is some middle ground here.

I like the idea of giving birth in a hospital where I can get help if something goes wrong. During my delivery, my mother labored for 36 hours without progress. I was born via emergency c-section. They later discovered that a previous (non-pregnancy-related) surgery had left her unable to push in the right direction. If she hadn't been in a hospital, I might not be here. I had some complications early on in this pregnancy that left me with a 50/50 chance of losing my baby in the first trimester. It was terrifying, and I was comforted by the medical advances that let me see my baby's heart beating well before I could feel her move. I trusted my doctors to give me the best advice and took all of their restrictions to heart, working as hard as I could to make sure my baby would be okay.

That said, I know where the ideas about doctors and the medical system being money-driven and corrupt come from. We have a messed up medical system. I think most of us realize that. That doesn't mean that each individual doctor, nurse, etc. is caught up in that corruption. I'm an educator, and I would hate for people to look at me as a representative of the American education system. I'm a good person who does my job for the right reasons, and I know there are plenty of doctors and other medical staff that are the same.

Most of the books I've been reading say that women are "forced" into interventions they don't want, and they may be. But after interacting with other pregnant women in my local area, I realize that most of them aren't going to have to be forced into anything. They look forward to induction dates and have a epidural waiting for them when they get to the hospital. They are making choices (probably some informed, some not).

That brings me to the other side: in my experience, other pregnant women are pretty harsh about natural birthers. A group of women at a breastfeeding class (who didn't know I was planning on going natural) spent a good chunk of time bashing another (absent) woman from their birthing class for planning to go med-free. They made fun of her and talked about how she was "out there" and "trying to be a hero." They then used this as a platform to reinforce each other that their decision to use medication is the right one.

Then, I looked at the Amazon reviews on the McMoyler book, which supports medically-assisted births as well as natural ones and purports to give women the tools to have the birth they want (with flexibility for the unexpected) at a hospital. It has several good reviews, but it also has several one-star reviews. Almost all of these bad reviews focus on the fact that McMoyler doesn't mention support for doulas (instead, the book is a huge proponent for a highly involved father at the delivery). I have nothing against doulas, but not everyone has access or resources for one. And not everyone is comfortable delivering in a birthing center. Shouldn't there be resources available for these people?

Look, informed decisions based on individual needs and realistic scenarios are the right ones. We don't have to battle over this. My (hopefully) med-free birth isn't an attack on your epidural. My choice to go to a hospital isn't trying to dismantle the home birth.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Endangered Man

I'm almost certain this is not a new thing, but it certainly seems to be coming to some sort of crux, at least in the media. The September 27th issue of Newsweek's cover story was "Men's Lib," a call to "reimagine masculinity at home and at work." The cover proclaimed "the traditional male is an endangered species."

Then, on Monday, Slate's partner site Double X ran "Real Men Cry and Do Laundry: An anthropology of the new male self-improvement mags."

Together, these two articles and the studies and concepts they reference piece together a rhetorical trope that's picking up steam: men need to change their idea of masculinity or risk getting steamrolled into oblivion.

"Men's Lib" focuses primarily on the fact that the jobs of the future are the ones currently dominated by women. There is growth projected for teachers, nurses, home health aides, and customer-service reps, but decline for machinists and manual laborers. This prompts the authors to conclude "the next generation of Homer Simpsons will have to stop searching for outsourced manufacturing jobs and start working toward teaching, nursing, or social-service positions instead."

Though the underlying message of this piece rings true to me (that is, the landscape of American professions is changing and people are going to have to change with it), the doomsday scenario for masculinity does not. I find myself in agreement with Rachel Sklar's critique of this piece when she says:
 "I challenge the framing of the issue: That men are in crisis, on the decline, and “going off the rails.” In fact, the framing of the male-female ratio as being more ‘dangerous’ to men as it equalizes or, in some (very limited) situations, inverts, is not only wildly skewed but also completely fails to appreciate, consider and include the full context – i.e. how gender parity might actually be better for all concerned."

She then precedes to do a close analysis of individual flaws and holes in the piece, most focusing around the fact that it's not as complete of a picture as it presents itself.

The Double X piece has a lighter, more positive tone, positioning that this juncture "leaves an opening for newer, younger voices who face the twilight of the patriarchy head on—and yet also provide a formula to restore men's cultural potency."

It also talks about new websites and magazines tackling these issues, particularly the website The Art of Manliness, which--in addition to articles about what to bring on a first date, how to buy a used car, and how to swing from trees like Tarzan--includes articles like "Three Moments Every Father Dreads (And How to Cope)."

Though I certainly can't analyze everything that's going on here in a single blog post, I am interested at looking at how we are conceiving of "masculinity." Obviously, it's a loaded term and like "feminist" (which was the topic of another recent, and contentious, Slate piece). Terms like these are frequently defined by those who self-identify as a member of the group but are often steeped in negative definitions: they define who belongs by disqualifying those who don't. (For example, Gloria Steinem says that you can't be a feminist if you don't support legal abortion.)

This sort of exclusionary language ends up with people drawing smaller and smaller boxes around themselves until (at the extreme) the definition only fits the speaker. This certainly doesn't open up discourse about the concepts and it makes them more or less meaningless.

Furthermore, any time that we are going to categorize someone as different (be that on the level of class, race, gender, in-group status, lack of in-group status--basically anytime we can place someone on the "them" side of the us/them dichotomy), we have to use some sort of culturally constructed cues and markers.

The authors of the Newsweek piece mention some of these markers for masculinity when they mention a "rapper's saggy jeans, a hunter's concealed weapon, a suburbanite's man cave, a hipster's obsession with Don Draper: all might be seen as variations of the same coping mechanism. The impulse transcends race and class." They go on to recognize (though not with much depth) the problematic aspects of these markers: "Conceiving of masculinity as something to be"--a part to play--"Turns manliness into [something] ornamental, and about as 'masculine' as fake eyelashes are inherently 'feminine.'"

I guess my problem with this is that fake eyelashes are as capable of being "inherently" feminine as they are of being "inherently" anything else. What I mean by this is that I don't think we have to knock down the cultural markers of masculinity in order to transcend the current boundaries. This is the same impulse that makes me cringe every time someone suggests a woman wearing lingerie cannot be a feminist. Ultimately, the Newsweek article arrives at a conclusion I can get agree with: "If today's men want to be hunters, or metrosexuals, or metrosexuals dressed in hunting clothes, they should feel free. But they need to be more than that, too." But doesn't that seem a little obvious. If today's women want to be bakers, or dress seductively, or bakers who dress seductively, they should feel free. But they need to be more than that, too. In fact, we all need to be more than the external markers that allow us to be pegged into certain groups. It's called being human, and learning to accept that stepping outside of those boundaries doesn't have to threaten our entire identities will make a world of difference in the way we talk about these issues. Men don't have to be endangered.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Waiting for Superman

I went to see Waiting for Superman last night in a packed, standing-room only theater. I cried at least twice. It was a great movie, and though some critics suggest (rightly, I'm sure) that it glosses over some of the more complicated realities of fixing our troubled school systems, I believe that it had a great mix of heartbreaking drama, tentative optimism, and immediate enthusiasm. They praise charter schools, and while it's true that not all charter schools are as good as the ones portrayed in this school, it's also true that we've figured out how to tell who's getting it right. That's got to be a step in the right direction, right?

I am deeply dedicated to causes of education. My job at the university is working with students who are from underprivileged backgrounds. I am very committed to this work, but I often feel like I'm not doing enough. I work with undergraduates (and sometimes high schoolers). I'm seeing the students who have persevered through great odds to get where they are. I don't have to see the ones that didn't.

I am also deeply disturbed by education as a future parent. I live in the city limits of a school district that hasn't had accreditation in years. Schools have been closed, teachers have been laid off, and parents have been outraged. But nothing has changed. I've volunteered to do workshops in the city schools and seen first-hand that the problems run deep: too few resources, not enough dedicated teachers, students who have long sense stopped trying.

I went to the only public school in my rural hometown, and though I now--after meeting lots of people who got private educations--realize that there could have been more opportunities for me (foreign languages, more advanced classes, better extra curricular activities, etc.), I truly believe that I had dedicated teachers who helped me succeed. I thank them for getting me where I am today.

I cannot, however, in good conscience send my daughter to any of the public schools in our district. And neither can most of the other people around here. My city has seen a dramatic incline in population, and this is largely because very few people stay once they have children. It's a great place to live, but an awful place to go to school. I don't know yet what we'll do when my daughter is school age, but I know we have to start planning it soon because it will definitely be expensive (private school), life-changing (a move to the county that I really don't want to make), or nerve-wracking (crossing our fingers for charter school entry like the parents in the movie).

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Follow Up: Mythos Maintenance in Prada

As I was thinking about my last post, I remembered a scene from the (very disappointing) Sex and the City 2. The scene where Charlotte and Miranda find the bravery to discuss their struggles with motherhood over cocktails. Here's a clip and discussion from The View.

Yeah. Both of these fictional women have full-time (even live-in) childcare. Their view of motherhood is bleak, focusing solely on the difficulties. This is pretty much the view of motherhood for the whole movie.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mythos* Maintenance: Another Job for Mothers?

(*Please note that I'm using the term "mythos" in a literary sense, that is as a narrative culturally constructed and socially maintained. It is in no way a comment on it as fictional or untrue.)

After what felt like a particularly long week at work, I spent a lazy Friday evening lounging on my couch, cursing Direct TV for providing nothing worth watching. Then I saw that Bill Burr's new-ish stand-up show was coming on Comedy Central. I enjoyed it.

One of his bits was about motherhood. Here's a clip:

I'm not easily offended by comedy, and I can see how some people could take offense at this piece (and a lot of other stuff Bill Burr does too, but you're usually not a very good comic if you're not pushing the edges). Over at Good Enough Mother, she analyzes this little bit of comedy by admitting that there are harder jobs: astronauts and coal-miners in particular.

But she has a poignant response involving the amount of pressure that mothers feel, both from themselves (you know, not wanting to permanently damage their kids) and from society. Specifically, she says:

This is the part that really chaps my backside. It’s the completely unrealistic expectation placed on us by society. Like the (false) idea that once we have kids it’s all about them and they should be the center of our lives. Or that motherhood is always a fulfilling experience that we will enjoy 24 and 7. Or that we should stop pursuing things that we are interested in because all of these other people take priority. No, no and no.
I see this as directly related to Bill Burr's comment that mothers are "constantly patting themselves on the back." And I see that directly related to a phenomenon I've started seeing everywhere: the pressure to help maintain the mythos of motherhood.

For example, I attended a breastfeeding class at the hospital yesterday. (As a side note, the class provided me with nothing I hadn't already read, which was a little disappointing). The instructor was running late, so all of us pregnant ladies were standing around with our husbands/partners in tow, chatting. As one could expect, the conversation was quick to revolve around the thing we all had in common: our progressing pregnancies.
At one point, it went something like this:

Pregnant Lady 1: And I had to take the three-hour glucose test.
PL 2: Oh my gosh, you poor thing. I couldn't even imagine having to drink that thing again.
PL 3: Oh, I know. It was so awful. I got about half way through and was begging for some water. The nurse wouldn't let me have any.
PL 1: I had fruit punch the first time and orange the second time. They were so terrible. And mine wasn't even cold. They didn't have it chilled or anything.
PL 3: What? That's terrible! Mine was cold.
and so on and so forth.

Now, I took the glucose test. I don't think I'll be ordering any bottles of it to keep on hand, but it wasn't that bad. I just chugged it down and waited an hour for a quick blood draw.

Do I really think that I'm somehow tougher than these other women? That I'm the champion of glucose tests and that these women need to suck it up? Of course not. I think that these women were participating in--and being encouraged to participate in by the surrounding pregnant ladies--the important job of maintaining a cultural mythos.

In this case, that mythos is that motherhood is difficult, and that women deserve praise for their ability to go through it, even from the very earliest stages.

All of this rambling is to say that I feel left out. I don't feel particularly good at participating in this ritual. I found myself saying something like, "I just chugged it. Wasn't so bad" and feeling like I had failed somehow. The same goes for most of my pregnancy symptoms. I've been sick to my stomach several times, but I've only really experienced morning sickness sporadically. When people ask about it, it seems like they want me to bemoan how difficult it's been and seem somewhat disappointed when I say "Oh, I've been sick a few times, but nothing major."

And part of my problem is I just don't want to focus on negative things. Yes, my feet swell, my clothes don't fit, my back hurts, and I have mood swings that challenge my adolescence to a duel. But I've had worse things happen to me.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

New Kitchenmates

Just so you don't read that last post and think my hometown is filled with people who peddle antique racist propaganda, I'd like to show you these:

I bought these at a booth at the same festival. It was filled with such creatures: an ostrich made out of a lamp, a dragon made out of mufflers, etc. Now, these live in my kitchen. 

Book 3: Nurtureshock--Where did Po Bronson find a non-racist world? Can I go, too?

Nurtureshock, written by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman,  is another one I haven't read all of yet, but I am particularly struck by chapter 3, "Why White Parents Don't Talk About Race."

There's a pretty thorough recap of this chapter over at Salon, but the bottom line is that studies suggest white parents are uncomfortable talking about race, so much so that they avoid it all together in many cases. This, contrary to their belief that they are raising "colorblind" children, actually works counter to a productive, equalizing message.

I think there's a lot of good work going on in this chapter. I am particularly in agreement with the need to open up dialogue about race and perceived differences at an early age. (The cited studies suggest that there is a narrow window of time to do this, one which potentially closes by third-grade). I whole-heartedly agree with sentiments like this one:

"It's the worst kind of embarrassment when a child blurts out, 'Only brown people can have breakfast at school,' or 'You can't play basketball, you're white, so you have to play baseball.' But shushing them only sends the message that this topic is unspeakable, which makes race more loaded, more intimidating"
However, I feel that this analysis lacks some nuance, particularly when it comes to the recounting of the author's observations about his own child's race-based preference of a white basketball player. Up to this point, the author had taken the approach that not mentioning anyone's skin color would provide his child with the colorblind perspective best suited for viewing all people as equal. When he realized this method wasn't working, he remarked:
"I'd always thought racism was taught. If a child grows up in a non-racist world, why was he spontaneously showing race-based preferences?"
Excuse me, but what non-racist world did he think this child was in? Certainly not the one I live in. I do think that racism is taught, but that doesn't mean it has to be beaten over kids' heads through overtly racist messages. We "teach" racism everyday. Unless this child was a complete recluse (and he wasn't because the author notes that he "never once mentioned the color of anyone's skin--not at school or while watching television"), then he was getting race-driven and subtly racist messages, even when parents are doing their best to keep their child from exposure to these messages.

This is why, I think, (as the title of this chapter suggests) that white parents are afraid to talk about race. Many of them don't know how to handle the subverted racism that plagues our society today. Overt messages of racism are easy to dismantle. Of course the signs that used to hang over "Whites Only" water fountains were wrong. And this is not only from a historical point of view; we (myself included, as you can see from this blog post) are quick to rip apart the school that was segragating it's student body elections by race. These are clear violations of the message of equality.

But what about the magazine covers that lighten the skin of black actresses? What about racial disparity in the way schools suspend students? What about caricatures of racial stereotypes masquerading as cartoon characters?

Or, what about this story? I went back to my hometown this past weekend to go to a very rural festival that involves threshing wheat and giant, decades-old tractors. I was there with my mom, a woman who has lived in one of two neighboring rural Midwest counties her entire life. Her exposure to diversity has been narrow, but she is a good person who believes in the message of equality and accepts my interracial marriage completely. At this festival, many people gather to sell random things flea-market style. At one of these tables, I came across these:

My mom did not understand why I was upset.

"What's wrong with Aunt Jemima?" she asked me, with all sincerity.

In response I gawked and gestured with frustration at the blackface salt and pepper shakers. Her confusion deepened. "Those are just antiques!"

I explained to her that I saw in these "just antiques" vestiges of a narrative all too common. These pieces were turning an entire race of people into exaggerated physical attributes and sending messages of servitude. She said, "I guess I see what you're saying." I hope she did.

So, all that to say that when Bronson and Merryman suggest that their research concludes that raising a child in a "non-racist world" is not enough to combat racial self-segregation and race-based judgments, I'm perplexed. Surely this theory cannot be put to the test anytime soon. When we find (or make!) a non-racist world, then we can reconvene.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Book 2: Halving It All

So, the second book on my list that has prompted me to write is Halving it All: How Equally Shared Parenting Works by Francine Deutsch.
This book takes a look at equally shared parenting, the splitting of all facets of raising children 50/50 between both parents. Deutsch explains that this can mean each partner takes turns doing each thing or that the two devise some way to split up the different tasks between them. But, in the end, both must agree that the overall workload is split 50/50.

I'm only about one-third of the way through this book, so I can't comment on it as a whole just yet. What I did want to comment on was something that Deutsch talks about in Chapter 5: "Friends and Foes."

"Equal sharers seek out social circles that support their nontraditional lifestyles and avoid those that don't."
"Equal sharers do not simply find themselves in egalitarian social circles that now shape their everyday family life. Instead, they actively work to create this alternative world. For example, when considering to whom to compare themselves, they intentionally choose their more progressive peers."

Basically, Deutsch points out that equal sharers like to surround themselves by other equal sharers. There are discussions in the book as to why this is true, and most of them boil down to people being able to better justify their lifestyle choices when they are surrounded by other people who agree with them.

This, of course, makes sense, but it also seems problematic to me on a larger level.

I am, in my studies, very interested in the dichotomy of individuality/community, especially the role that it plays in shaping American identity. I firmly believe that Americans (and probably people in general, but all of my work has dealt with American examples), are forced into a paradox of having to stand alone and belong. American media and myths are filled with messages of self-reliance, individuality, and finding one's self. At the same time, our ethic is largely based on group identity as Americans (in the melting pot or the patchwork quilt) and our willingness to help others in need.

Before looking at the discussion of these self-created communities in Deutsch's study, I also want to consider what surrounding ourselves with like-minded people means on a rhetorical level. It's very easy to fully subscribe to an idea when everyone else around you confirms it. It is also really easy to fall into groupthink. I think that we see this happening a lot on our social and political fields at the moment. Everything is very polarized, and some argue that this is because people now have more control over what kind of information they take in. We can choose from a wide variety of news sources, television channels, YouTube videos, etc. Rather than making us more informed, however, sometimes this ability to choose creates a very insular worldview: we consciously choose media that reaffirms what we already believe, making it unnecessary to confrot opposing viewpoints with any level of scrutiny or analysis.

Okay, so, thinking about the community/individuality divide and the fact that we are rhetorically strongest when we are able to articulate and understand ideas counter to ours, what does it mean for equally shared parents who seek to surround themselves only with other equally sharing parents?

I, for one, am not going to have this option without cutting out a vast majority of my close friends, something I am not willing to do.

I also do not feel that my equal sharing is a "correct" moral choice. I think that it is the right choice for me and my family. In fact, I have never thought of doing it any other way. Neither has my husband. We've both known from the moment we entered our relationship that we both wanted careers. We've both participated in the day-to-day running of the household since the minute we started sharing one. Granted, we don't share every single task, but we do split all the tasks up evenly. Does that mean it always works perfectly? Of course not, but we always get back to the norm with a discussion and some tweaking.

I have encountered some people who seem to take my plan to equally share as an attack on their plan (or already enacted model). It's not. I find these personal choices just that, personal. There is no way for someone else looking in from the outside to understand the complexity with which a home is managed. There is no way that one method could work for all of the different types of people even in one community, let alone a whole country (or the whole world). I understand that having a sympathetic community who experiences similar challenges and rewards is important for everyone, but I don't think that isolation is an answer to anything.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Wishing for a Shower-free Shower

My mom and close friends are throwing me a shower on Saturday, and I'm really excited about it. We're having a co-ed BBQ in a local park. Unfortunately, the weather forecast is a little grim. The last time I checked, the thunder storms were supposed to be over by Saturday, but I'm still a little nervous. Here's hoping for no showers at the shower. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


So, I read Pushed, I'd already been thinking about trying a natural birth, and now I'm feeling more committed to it than before. I also read "Why would anyone want to have an unmedicated birth?" over at First the Egg as suggested in the comments on the Pushed entry.

This is the part that struck me:
"A woman may simply not fear pain, or she may fear pain a lot less than the other forms of suffering. . . If she is less worried about pain than about loss of control over her body or her experience. . .being stuck in one place or connected to machines (a sense of being trapped or tied down), or another issue, she may choose to avoid any interventions that might bring it into her birth experience. I think it’s important to remember that pain is not the worst possible thing for most people, even if our medical system often implies that it is."
This helped me articulate why I want an unmedicated birth. It's not because I think that women are making a selfish choice by choosing pain relief. It's not even that I'm terrified of the possible complications (though those are concerns that have weighed in my choice). If I'm being completely honest, it's because I am terrified of being immobile for hours on end.

I know that once I say yes to an epidural, my motion is limited. I've been told that once I get to that point in the labor, I won't care, but I can't really imagine a time in my life when I won't care about immobility.

I also am scared of the side effects of the medication, especially feeling groggy and out of touch with reality in the first moments of my child's life. I stopped taking my pain meds following a bad car accident after one dose. I much prefered the pain to the feeling the pills gave me.

My problem now is that I feel myself hedging. I say things like, "Well, I'll go in and try for as long as I can" and "I won't beat myself up if I end up asking for the epidural."

I know why I'm saying these things (I don't want to put so much pressure on having the "perfect" birth, because I know that's unrealistic and probably not possible), but I also know that words have power. I know that I am going to have to sound a lot more confident about it if I'm going to feel more confident.

I am also going to continue reading and studying so that I can get more prepared. Preparation and positive rhetoric sound like important steps to me right now.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Book 1: Pushed

So, as a follow-up to my post about the books I've added to my to do list, I've decided that I ought to include some sort of summary or discussion about each one. Today's is for Pushed: The Painful Truth about Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care by Jennifer Block.

The premise of this book is at once simple, terrifying, and profound:
"Women are even beginning to deny normal birth to themselves: If 'normal' means being induced, immobilized by wires and tubes, sped up with drugs, all the while knowing that there's a good chance of surgery, well, might as well just cut to the chase, so to speak. 'Just give me a cesarean,' some are saying. And who can blame them?"

Block's goal is to get women to be their own advocates and to be informed about how labor should progress. She blames the medical industry's penchant for turning medical advancements aimed at "treatment of abnormality" into "speeding up an ordering an unpredictable, at times tedious, process" for women being pushed into too-soon deliveries. She says that women are too often offered inductions, Pitocin to speed up in-progress labor, artificial rupture of the membranes, and even c-sections for convenience. She sees these practices as directly related to more tearing during delivery, a higher rate of c-sections (whether the patient wants one or not), and overall rushed, unhealthy deliveries.

Clearly, Block is a natural birth advocate. She goes so far as to frequently cite sources who believe no "normal" (complication-free) pregnancy should end in a hospital. She also has a large section of the book devoted to cataloging the daily activities of midwives, some of whom practice underground because the states they are in have made their careers illegal.

I enjoyed the read and agree (at least intellectually) with a lot of the conclusions and evidence.

As for what I took from it to personally apply to my pregnancy and intended birth, I'm less clear.

I like the idea of a natural birth, but I like a lot of ideas. I was in the room with my sister as her labor progressed (naturally, without any medication to speed it up), and she looked positively worn out before she asked for the epidural. (I left shortly after that, but I was there long enough to see her become much calmer). Even though the epidural provided her a much-needed relief, it also made her very--for lack of a better word--dopey. She also tore pretty badly during delivery, though I have no idea if that's connected to epidural use or not.

At first, I thought for sure I'd get the epidural. Then, I did research and decided that I would try to do it without one. The thing that made me change my mind was reading about how delivering flat on one's back is about the least logical way to do it. This made a lot of sense to me. I grew up in the country and watched a lot of animals give birth; I've never seen one do it with their legs straight up in the air. As I read about walking around to help with labor pains, different positions to push, birthing balls, and water therapy, it sounded good. Plus, I really, really don't want to feel drugged out.

But then I remembered my sister's face before the epidural, and she was only dialated to a 4 at the time.

So, I'm still on the fence.

As for Block's other concerns, I feel somewhat (perhaps naively) confident that I can be my own advocate in preventing early intervention. My doctor and the hospital I am using both strongly advocate natural birth. They provide birthing balls and two-person showers for laboring mothers. The hospital itself provided me a birth plan to fill out that included options about how much movement and control I wanted during the process. This could all, of course, be smoke and mirrors, but I feel comfortable there. In addition, my doctor's office is a combined practice, and the doctors share weekend and late night shifts. This means that I might not have my individual doctor present at delivery, but I feel like it also means that I'm less likely to be pressured to speed up a delivery to accommodate her schedule.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Latest Weight Loss Craze: Breastfeeding Your Way to a Slimmer You!

Over at Work It, Mom!, there's a link to this ad from the NYC WIC program:

This woman, in the standard, annoying, ultra-upbeat weight loss voice, discusses how she became "40 pounds thinner!" She holds up a pair of (obviously) maternity pants and tells us, "Yep. These were my pants." (So maybe squeezing a child out had something to do with that 40-pound loss. . .) But this woman didn't starve herself or use a fad diet. No. This woman lost her weight simply by breastfeeding her baby!

I know that the speedy loss of pregnancy weight is one of the benefits of breastfeeding, but I've always thought of it as an afterthough benefit. Certainly not as a primary motivation.

I'm curious about the motivation behind this ad, and I'm even more curious about its effectiveness. Maybe I'm idealizing, but breastfeeding seems like it should be a very giving act, one that is not mired in the overtones of vanity and selfishness that this ad promotes.

Now, don't get me wrong, wanting to be healthy isn't inherently vain or selfish, but this ad doesn't seem to focus on breastfeeding as a way for the mother to get healthy. It's a way for her to get beautiful, to get--above all--thin.

In the promotional voice over, the narrator even says "So while it's good for your baby, it's also great for your body!" So, providing life-sustaining sustenance and nutrious growth for your baby is merely "good." Getting thin, however, is "great."

Sunday, September 12, 2010


So, for several weeks I've been promising myself that I will clean the nursery. For several weeks, I didn't do it. The nursery is a room that joins to our bedroom, and since we moved in a year ago, it's been a collector of random things: ironing boards, boxes of clothes to donate, random cords for computer equipment we no longer have, etc. It was also a room that my cats claimed as their own, and they had made this clear by leaving copius amounts of their fur on every physical surface. So, this last week, we finally got to work.

After the room was clean, it got a little exciting to think about decorating. So we did. My husband painted. My mom and sister came over and helped me assemble the crib and put up decals. The result looks like this:

Now I just have to find some bedding that matches. I found a few sets, but they're overwhelmingly pink. I'll keep looking.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Advice from the Princesses

My wonderful friend, who I miss very much because she is across the pond blowing people's minds with her amazing art history skills, sent me these videos after reading my Disney princesses posts:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Reading List

Two things happened pretty much simultaneously today.

After I made my last post, I started reading the "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" article in prepartion for the class I'm teaching tomorrow.

Around the same time, reader Ioana commented on the post about the role of fatherhood to suggest that I read the book Halving it All: How Equally Shared Parenting Works.

Now, in the Google article, I came across this statement:

My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.
 The author, Nicholas Carr, suspects that he's experiencing this struggle because the way he is consuming media (primarily online) is literally changing the way his mind works. I've read enough Ong and McLuhan to buy the argument, but I still feel the urge to personally resist the phenomenon. I love books. I love prose. I want to be lost in it.

So, right after reading this article, I read Ioana's comment suggesting a book for me to read. How convenient. I realize that a lot of the intellectual work I've been doing in prepartion for parenting has been through short works: blog posts, articles, conversations, etc. No books yet.

You should know that I tend to overdo the reading thing. I hardly ever have one book at a time (on top of the fact that I'm also reading for the one PhD English class I'm taking this semester, which is about 20th century black culture).

So, I went to the library and got the suggested book as well as one about parenting biracial children. I then ordered a few more through inter-library loan. I probably won't read all of these books cover-to-cover, but I like the physicality of a book much more than an online review, so I will at least give them all a thorough look-through to determine which ones I want to read in their entirety.

The list:
Halving it All: How Equally Shared Parenting Works by Francine Deutsch
Partnership Parenting : How Men and Women Parent Differently--Why it Helps Your Kids and Can Strengthen Your Marriage by Kyle Pruett, Marsha Kline Pruett
NurtureShock : New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman
Is That Your Child? : Mothers Talk About Rearing Biracial Children by Marion Kilson and Florence Ladd
I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla : Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-conscious World by Marguerite A. Wright 

The Role of Fatherhood?

In a lesson on how the spheres of my life continue to overlap, I found this article, "Are Fathers Necessary?", over at The Atlantic while searching for completely unrelated material for the class I'm teaching (namely, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?")

For the record, I feel much more professionally trained to answer the Google question than the father question, but that didn't stop me from reacting pretty strongly to the questioning the necessity of fathers.

The author, Pamela Paul, takes issue with the way that information has been gathered about father's roles in parenting, particularly the fact that:
Most of the data fail to distinguish between a father and the income a father provides, or between the presence of a father and the presence of a second parent, regardless of gender.
She goes on to cite another study, one that suggests that two women do a "better" job of parenting than a man and a woman:
According to Stacey and Biblarz, “Two women who chose to become parents together seemed to provide a double dose of a middle-class ‘feminine’ approach to parenting.” And, they conclude, “based strictly on the published science, one could argue that two women parent better on average than a woman and a man, or at least than a woman and man with a traditional division of family labor.”
That "traditional division of family labor" part is what caught my eye. I envision this "traditional" breakdown to be something like the complete black-and-white division that takes place in the Mad Men-era.

This division is of course magnified in retrospect (and art), but it also makes a lot of assumptions about the situation of the family. In order for the man to participate in the "traditional" roles, he must be finacially successful, since the majority of his role revolves around providing income. He must also conform to other masculine stereotypes, namely a cool detachment from the personal side of parenting. Don Draper is little concerned with a scraped knee or a lost stuffed animal.

I suppose if you're using this model as your yardstick, it would be pretty reasonable to assume that two parents who are paying attention to their kids as people and who are both involved in the day-to-day management of a household would be more effective than one parent doing all of this. In this model, of course, the money has to come from somewhere, so that's either a shared responsibility, a non-issue, or something that one of the parents provides in addition to the caregiving.

Furthermore, Paul provides this quote in her article:
“'Even women who want their husbands to help more with the kids don’t want to give up their traditional authority,' says Stephanie Coontz, director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families."
It's at this point where I begin to lose the thread. Paul's ultimate conclusion (which rings true but not particulary satisfactory or earth-shattering) is that "we still live in a culture with a deeply embedded notion of what a father is."

But my interest is in who is working so hard to maintain that embedded notion. Coontz's claim that women don't want to give up their "authority" suggests that it is those same women who are trying to maintain the traditional gender roles. If so, I would argue that the attempts to maintain authority over the household and caregiving are pitting women into dualistic identities: they must adopt a defensive, perhaps even aggressive, (masculine?) role in order to maintain a more passive, nurturing (feminine?) one. And what motivation do women have for doing this? Are they afraid that the "power" lost from this role will not be balanced out in other ways? I guess what I took from this article is a deep-seated hypocrisy: women who are crying out that they want a more equal partnership while also working to make sure they are really in control of all of their "traditional" aspects of that partnership.