Friday, November 22, 2013


Ay me. It's been awhile. Understandably, I guess. There is a lot less time, these days, than there used to be. Peregrine is still as intense and active as ever, and Sylvia is past the blissful newborn sleeping-all-the-time phase. Still, I want to blog more. For my own benefit as much as anyone else's. I want to remember these days. I try hard to suck the sweetness out of them. But there's a lot going on. I fear forgetting. I fear it all just becoming one big blur.

Having two is hard. It just is. There's no way around it. Having two and trying to do anything else is virtually impossible. I try to fold laundry, and Peregrine unfolds it in my wake. I try to get out the door, and suddenly, everyone's hungry and poopy and Peregrine picks that moment to make a stupid power struggle out of something extremely trivial. (Ask me about the time he decided to throw a screaming tantrum because I told him his right foot was in fact his right foot, not his left. Yeah.) I told Andrew the other day it's like trying to roll marbles uphill. A lot of them. As soon as you make substantial progress, one comes loose, and then everything else comes loose when you try to scoop up the one again. Herding cats is not a sufficient metaphor. Too little futility is implied.

Peregrine is potty training, which is actually going remarkably well. There are accidents and cleanups, but honestly, not that many of them. It's been easier than I dared to hope. But it's still something else to do. Something else urgent that has to get done.

He's a wonderful toddler, overall, really. For as intense a baby as he was, he hasn't been a terror of a two-year-old. He has his moments, to be sure, and he has an insane amount of energy. But it's very purposeful energy, overall. He doesn't just roam the house looking for new and creative ways to put his life in danger. But he needs something to focus on. Otherwise, he just jumps. Incessantly. His new favorite phrase is "I need to get out of my house!"

And two is such a discipline-heavy age. Not in a negative sense. Just constant training, teaching, learning. It's so crucial, and necessary, and constant. Maybe that stays. But I feel like at two, everything has to be addressed all the time. You're learning manners. Respect. Interactions with friends. Obedience. Gentleness. And you can't leave things for later. Object lessons are always present, but they're forgotten if not taken advantage of. Older children know a lot more. Two-year-olds know practically nothing.

And Sylvia? The little Owl is getting older, more interactive. She's a delightful little ball of calm alertness, most of the time. Sometimes I worry she gets the short end of the stick because she's just so undemanding (unlike, say, her brother). But she's decided lately that sleep is for the weak. Or at least, for those who don't want to spend time with their parents. And what self-respecting baby doesn't want to spend time with her parents? Seriously. So that has been stressful. I'm trying to start sleep training earlier this time. But still, all training is a process.

All everything is a process, these days.

If this sounds a bit down and depressing, it really isn't a reflection of my general mood. I have my moments where I really feel the futility of it all. Like when I fold the same load of laundry three times in one afternoon and that's pretty much all I do all day. Like when the house is a mess, an absolute disaster, and the children are crying simultaneously, and it's four o'clock and I haven't yet sat down except to nurse and I truly have no idea what I did with the day, despite the fact that I didn't even get a spare breath to eat my own lunch. But really, overall, life is good. Busy. Hectic. But good.

When I first had Sylvia, I made it my mantra that my only occupation these first few months would be to figure out how to live peacefully as a family of four. I've hammered that mantra pretty thoroughly into my head. That's my only job. Figuring this out. Coexisting peacefully. Living well. Or as well as I can, given the loads of things I have to juggle, all at once. But truly living. Not trying to get through. Not just wishing it were over. And I think I'm doing well at that. Having a relatively easy toddler, and a relatively easy baby, make that possible. Sleeping better at night helps, too. So does taking Vitamin D. But so, I think, does being intentional about it.

I grew up going to a church of questionable theological beliefs about women and motherhood and housekeeping. I've had to unlearn a lot of things I was taught. But of one thing I'm certain, and I think my strange-and-twisted-conservative church culture knew it well: motherhood is holy. It's sacred. It's harder work than most occupations, and it's work sanctioned by God. It's hard to put into words why I've felt that so strongly, lately. That no matter how much I haven't gotten done by the end of the day, I'm doing work that is eminently good. That really, in motherhood, no goals is okay. Souls are souls, no matter how small, and I have the keeping of them. And for every tiny piece of those souls I shape, I'm doing something good. Hugs, and kisses, and listening ears, and bedtime routines, and new songs learned, and dishwashers unloaded together, and even timeouts and tantrums and potty accidents--those all belong to God. It's his children I have the care of.

And that, my friends, makes it beautiful. And makes rolling marbles uphill absolutely and undeniably worth it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The rest of the day

8:45 I change poopy diaper #1 (Peregrine). He demands to go potty. Never mind that he already pooped. I have nothing better to do anyway, as preschool has been cancelled. Peregrine poops. Celebrations all around.

8:55 I change poopy diaper #2 (Peregrine).

9:00 Peregrine flips out because the cereal he requested contains flakes and cheerios. Apparently he had envisioned only cheerios. After his demands that I take out every single offensive flake have been denied, he proceeds to remove each flake by hand...and eat it. Toddlers are weird.

9:30 Peregrine sees the pile of laundry from last night and exclaims in delight, "My crud is cleeeeeeaaaan!" He launches himself into it, and I stop him just in time. He's a bit disappointed in me that I didn't do it in the middle of last night. He informs me sadly, "There some crud on my foot."

10:00 I change poopy diaper #3 (Peregrine). He demands to go potty again. He misses the potty...barely. He informs me happily that there's poop on the potty, but that it's okay, Mommy will clean it up. He reminds me many, many times within the next two minutes that I need to clean it up.

11:15 The morning has actually progressed relatively smoothly, aside from a few irrational whiny meltdowns, understandable due to everyone's 5 AM wakeup. But lack of preschool is taking its toll. I think up things to buy at Walgreens and we head out. Sylvia, who has heretofore been a model of baby patience, loses it entirely. She screams when she realizes her dreams of a carseat-free morning are not, in fact, coming true. She is very, very offended by my trivializing her problems with a pacifier and gentle rocking motion.

11:20 Sylvia loses it still more violently while waiting for Peregrine to crawl down the stairs at the rate of 2 miles per year, stopping every now and then to contemplate which method of stair descent he wants to use, or to space out entirely (5 AM wakeup, remember?). He then decides that the boodey he insisted on bringing (or else!) is far too heavy. As I am carrying a purse, a loaded diaper bag, and a carseat full of screaming baby, he decides I look like a capable candidate. I disagree, but this slows his rate even further. You can almost see that 6-oz water bottle dragging him along and draining his energy at an alarming rate. Leaving it at home is entirely out of the question. At this point, narrating this day in my head is the only thing keeping me going.

11:30 Walgreens reached. Sylvia is absolutely inconsolable. This is quite unusual for her, actually. She doesn't even calm down when I put her carseat in the stroller. Usually she loves the stroller. We do some hardcore outside strolling while Peregrine admires an armored truck.

11:45 Into Walgreens, with stroller and Peregrine, loose. After a pep talk about staying by Mommy and not pulling things off the shelves, we brave the store. He tries admirably, and everything goes all right, all things considered. Only a few items get messed with, mainly menstrual pads and weird energy drinks. There is a remote-controlled tarantula on the shelves, and it gives me the shivers.

11:50 Out of Walgreens. I only got a few looks of concern. Primarily because I announced too early that we were ready to check out, and Peregrine, who has an impeccable sense of direction, sprinted to the checkout counter while I was still on the opposite side of the store. Kid has a map in his head. He didn't get that from me.

12:00 Home. Much screaming en route.

12:15 I change poopy diaper #4 (Peregrine). No, he doesn't have diarrhea. No, he wasn't stopped up. It's just that kind of day. Fortunately, my cloth diapers are all dirty, and I don't have to wash anything in the toilet.

12:30 Lunch. Peregrine spills his drinks and eats minimal food. Teething commences for the afternoon.

1:00 Naptime. Peregrine refuses to sleep. Sylvia decides she will never leave the comfort of my chest, never ever ever again, and falls asleep. If I threaten to move her, she threatens to wake up. I surrender. Because, she is sleeping. That makes one of the three of us.

2:00 Peregrine is still refusing to sleep.

3:00 Peregrine finally gives in. Sylvia and I savor the silence and stillness (alliteration much?)

4:00 Weekly skype date with Auntie Sarah. Some day, they will invent a skype where you can just hand the baby through the screen. On second thought, that would be really creepy. Peregrine wakes up, and proceeds to cry over various small things. He actually takes me up on my offer to snuggle with me and calm down. A sure sign he is in fact not feeling very well.

5:30 Dinner prep commences. Macaroni and cheese it is. With no vegetables. My only goal for dinnertime is not having to fight anything. At all. Goal accomplished. Peregrine downs almost an entire box of mac n cheese, and then I give him cookies. Carbs for the win tonight. I eat while bouncing, a questionable practice, but Sylvia will have it no other way. Not fighting anything, remember?

6:00 Happiness ensues as Peregrine helps me with the laundry. It's the small things.

6:15 I change poopy diaper #5 (Peregrine).

6:30 I promise Peregrine a video if he will pick up all his cars and legos. I snag the sudden free space to clean the kitchen. With a bit of coaching, the cars are cleaned up (amazing what a little motivation will do) and video watching begins. Usually, I ask him what he wants to watch and just use that as the search word on Youtube. You know, fire truck, owl, that sort of thing. Tonight his requests are "boys taking a bath" (surprisingly, that one turned out mainly G-rated hits of people's toddlers being cute in the bathtub, often with pets involved), and "girls taking a bath with no shirt on" (horrors! that one I had to weed through to find the one cute clip, and I didn't even include that last qualifier in my search). He then screams for a long time when I tell him video watching is over. Then he interprets my "if you scream when we stop watching videos we can't watch videos anymore" to mean "if you stop screaming we will keep watching videos." Then he screams again when he realizes he was wrong.

7:30 Kid in bed. Finally. It took some baby-wrangling, but she was surprisingly compliant, and let me give her brother lots of attention.

8:00 Sylvia diapered and pajamaed. (That's a word, oddly enough, according to spell check). Time for a date with ice cream (from the carton) and Netflix. Unfortunately, neither of my children want to sleep.

9:00 The last hour has consisted of at least 15 trips into Peregrine's bedroom to try to get him to stop calling me for trivial things. Normally, I would probably have given up. But, he is sick. Tonight, I'm willing to risk reinforcing bad habits over the risk of missing something he actually needs. Unfortunately, most of his "needs" tonight are along the lines of "help drinking my bottle" and "more dees." When I'm not trying to get P back to sleep, I'm bouncing Sylvia, who has decided that she'd like to bounce forever. At least if I want her to think about sleeping ever again. Needless to say, this puts a damper on my ice-cream-and-Netflix experience.

10:00 To bed, armed with loaded Kindle in case Sylvia refuses to sleep. Surprisingly, she nurses, and conks right out as soon as I put her in bed. Possibly, this is because a.) the room is dark, and b.) I'm not reading out loud to Andrew.

The kids actually slept well. Sylvia woke twice (!) to nurse, which is enough that I never wake up wondering if she's alive, but I still get sizable chunks of sleep. Peregrine woke up once, which is far better than I expected, given the start of the night. When I asked him what he needed, he sobbed out that he wanted a snack first. He kept repeating this, and when I tentatively suggested that we don't have snacks at night and did he want a dee instead, he started screaming and said no. Kid never turns down a dee, so I knew something was up. By the time I had actually located a dee to give him, whatever horrible nightmare about his lack of snack had faded, and he accepted the dee and went peacefully back to sleep.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Three hours in...

Three hours into my first overnighter (3-overnighter, actually) with both kids. This will happen frequently, as Andrew often has overnight fieldwork; so it's good to start learning the rhythm of things, right?

This is my morning thus far:

(First, some background: Peregrine had a high fever yesterday, so despite the fact that he's feeling fine today, we still can't go to preschool. So I'm stuck in the house with a slightly-sick Peregrine. All of the energy, none of the patience!! Okay, on to the timeline.)

Sometime before 5 AM: Sylvia wakes up to nurse, goes back to sleep peacefully. All well and good and according to schedule thus far. I have a slightly harder time going back to sleep, which is annoying,   but I have a couple hours left in the night, so I don't stress it.

Sometime slightly closer to 5 AM: Peregrine wakes up, crying for Daddy. Daddy troubleshoots, but Peregrine really just wants to stall going back to bed. A drink of water resets him, and he goes back to sleep (or does he?).

5:00 Andrew leaves for the wilds of Canada and three days in the field, flying in helicopters and taking pictures.

5:15 Peregrine cries again. I go into him and try my best to explain that Mommy needs to sleep because Mommy's the only one taking care of Peregrine and Sylvia because Daddy's on his trip and Peregrine gets all excited because Daddy gets to go in a helicopter and I seize the moment to sneak back into bed.

5:20 I hear a gag, the sound of liquid splashing, and my heart sinks. Peregrine starts screaming in terror (that night when he threw up seven times in six hours is still far too fresh in his memory). On cue, Sylvia starts screaming too. I run into P's room and ask him if he threw up. He sniffs and sobs out, "There's crud on my pillow! There's crud on my bottle! There's crud on my dees!" And then, the final insult: "And there's crud on my ear!" I assure him I'll clean it up, and spend the next five minutes telling him I will come back, but I really need my glasses.

5:30 Vomit cleanup commences, complete with pillow change, bundle change, diaper change, sponge bath, and clothing change. All narrated by Peregrine, who orders me around quite happily and makes sure I don't miss a single spot of "crud." This is all interrupted by frequent trips to Sylvia's bed to replace her pacifier. She has stopped screaming and has gone all wide-eyed and owly on me, thrilled that the light is on and it's morning time.

6:00 P in bed, Sylvia starting to sleep again. P proceeds to use the next hour and a half to call me back into his room, crying, making me jump up in fear that he's vomiting again. When I ask him what he needs, he usually names something easily within his reach or starts happily babbling to me about police cars and owls. Despite my (ever more desperate) pleas to sleep, and explanations that if Mommy can't sleep, Mommy can't do a good job taking care of him, he continues to call me back. I am losing patience fast and realizing I likely won't sleep this morning at all.

7:30 P finally settles down. On cue, Sylvia starts fighting the mucus in her nose, which has stayed away all night until now. She is happy to be settled back down with a pacifier, but she loses it on average every two minutes.

7:45 Sylvia settles down. Peregrine wakes up. As it is now morning, I can no longer point out the obvious lack of light and tell him to sleep. I give up. So does Sylvia, who decides to wake up, too.

8:00 I throw both kids in the bathtub to try to solve Peregrine's smelliness problem and Sylvia's fussiness problem. All goes well and fine until Peregrine ignores my repeated instructions on how to treat his sister and throws a cupful of water at her face. She screams. A lot. And won't be calmed until she's out of the bathtub. Peregrine is very scared by her reaction. Secretly, I'm pleased. I love it when natural consequences do their job.

I'd say we're off to a good start, eh? Here's my theory: get all the drama out in the first three hours and then spend the remaining three days living in peaceful harmony with each other and sleeping through the night (except for short nursing sessions that remind me my daughter is alive and in good health). 'Kay?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

My body, eight weeks after giving birth

Yesterday, I was on my weekly Fred Meyer run, browsing tabloid headlines while waiting in the checkout line. The one that caught my eye featured a picture of a very-pregnant Kim Kardashian, wearing a  hideous tent of a dress, captioned "Kim at her heaviest!!!!" Next to this was a picture of a several-months-postpartum Kim Kardashian, wearing underwear and showing off flat abs and a not-so-flat bosom. The headline promised a satisfying story about how Kim, after hating her excessive pregnancy weight gain, is now finally getting her body back.

I've read numerous variations on that story thousands of times. How some celebrity or other, her body ruined by pregnancy and childbirth, is now (with the help of some trainer or diet or other miracle cure)  getting her body back. Women throw it around all the time. I've started working out again. Here's to getting my body back. Probably, I've said it myself. It bothers me though, so much. What does it even mean? Getting what body back, precisely? Did my body disappear somewhere when I was pregnant?

Don't get me wrong. I'm really struggling to love and accept my body right now. I gained a fair bit of weight with this pregnancy, and I'm hanging on to it. I know it's normal with a second pregnancy, and I know I need to keep a fair bit of fat around in order to have a healthy milk supply, but it's hard. I'm popping out of my "fat" clothes, and I'm nowhere near my "skinny" ones. My abs are completely stretched out, and the rest of my muscles are not near as strong as I'm used to. I still can't wear my wedding ring. So do I want to change some things about my body, eventually? Yes.

But this is my body. Extra pounds and stretched-out muscles and lactating breasts included. Wholeheartedly included. This is the body with which I feed my baby, play with and snuggle my toddler, make love to my husband. This is the body that grew two people, brought them into the world, and then sustained them, by itself, for months. This is the body that I feed, the body I exercise, the body that carries me around and supports my life. Regardless of whether I like it or not (and I do, I really do, and when I don't, I try hard to anyway), it's still my body. The only body I've ever had and ever will have. It was my body when I was two, and seven, and fourteen, and twenty-three, and the body I will have when I'm thirty, and forty-five, and sixty, and eighty.

I guess the whole "get your body back" thing somehow implies to me that it was only my body when I was at my fittest, my most attractive, my most unscarred by carrying babies and growing older (basically, when I was eighteen). But if that's the way I think of it, I will never get my body back. And I will constantly be frustrated, and will hate my body, my real body, forever.

My body will always be older than it was yesterday. It will always be a bit more tired, a bit more stretched by life, than it was last year. Every pregnancy, every birth, every nursing relationship, comes out of my body, and wears it down. It will show, like wear always does. But it's still my body. It always has been. It always will be.

I'll try to keep it healthy and strong. That will mean different things at different times. Sometimes it will mean eating more, eating less, eating differently. Sometimes it will mean exercising intentionally, or building muscle, or losing fat. But I'll never be eighteen again. I could chase after that body all I wanted, and I imagine, if I tried hard, I could get somewhere close. But I'd still be older. And I'd be getting older, and further away from an eighteen-year-old body, every day.

So here's to my body, in the now. Not to "getting it back," because it never left. It's right here, it's working, and I'm going to do my very best to own and care for every inch of it, and to use it well. If it shows the use, well then, let that be.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

"I don't know where my father is!"

Peregrine has been saying this for months now. (Actually, it's "I no know my father is!" but it translates into the above.)

We have no idea what it means.

I have racked my brains to figure out what book or song or video he's quoting. I haven't figured it out.

The first couple of times he said it were out of the blue. Now he says it because he knows I (and everyone else) think it's funny.

But I've started answering him, because usually, there's a pretty straightforward answer. Like, you know, across the room or something like that.

We've even told him outright that Daddy is his father. It goes in one ear and out the other.

And while he says it now to be funny, his response to my answers is still completely spontaneous, hilarious, and mystifying. Like this one:

P: "I no know my father is!"
Me: "He's at work."
P, lighting up: "Oh! He with Daddy!"

He was so happy, too. Daddy and his father, buddying it up together at work.

Today, upon hearing the word father in some other context, Peregrine threw it out there again.

"I no know my father is!"

I told him his father was at work. To which he responded, in a tone that can only be described as theatrical exasperation:

"Daddy have him! Daddy give him back to Peregrine!"

I'm so confused.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Balancing. That's pretty much all I'm doing these days. All I'm learning how to do. They are so different sometimes, the two of them. It's tricky business, balancing.

His need for go go go do something go somewhere be stimulated be thrilled have a mission get out of the house!!! with her need for snuggle me stay at home stare out the window snuggle me again peace quiet calm introspect let's sit in this chair and just be one with the trees.

His 9:30 AM expiration date (!!!) with her unfortunate tendency to think the night lasts until about noon--or later.

His need for rough wrestle tumble drive cars with her need for gentle calm quiet stare into my eyes.

His need to "check on Sylvia" constantly (especially when she's asleep) with her need to just sleep, unmolested. For some odd reason, she doesn't exactly think my brother loves me when he's driving a car on her face. Baffling, I know.

His need for routine structure safety stability discipline predictability with her utter lack of knowledge that such things even exist.

Her need for just never put me down never ever snuggle me forever especially during Peregrine's naptime routine with his need for snuggle me sometimes I'm still your baby I don't need it always but I'd like to still be hugged especially during my naptime routine.

His need to still be a baby with the fact that she is undeniably a baby.

His need to talk do things spend time with Mommy with her need to constantly feed off Mommy.

Her very primal, basic, all-consuming needs with his complex, growing-person, emotional, intellectual needs. So different, but still so important.

His need to not be ignored, even if he is older and more capable. Her neediness, period.

The need to meet both their needs. And the reality that it's about more than just meeting their needs. The need to live in community, together. Where needs are met, but needs are also compromised, blended together.

Yep. That's my life these days. Thank God (not flippantly, but truly, truly, God be praised) for babywearing, YouTube, preschool and a Starbucks near said preschool, and a wonderful husband who is figuring out this balancing thing with me.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Playing Cars (I found this in my drafts, written pre-Sylvia!)

It's Peregrine's all-consuming obsession. He plays with other toys...occasionally. But usually, I hear "play cars!" all day long. It's the first thing he wants to do in the morning, and it's the thing he's so very sad to quit doing when he goes to bed at night.

Mostly he just drives them around on the few non-carpeted surfaces in our house, happily occupied in what seems to me a pretty boring operation. It never fails to amaze me that my incredibly short-attention-spanned, you-must-hold-me-all-the-time-so-I-can-see-new-things baby will just sit and drive cars around for half an hour without stopping. But, hey, whatever works. I do a lot less Peregrine entertaining now that the cars are in our lives.

Lately, though, he's taken to being more imaginative, and I find myself fascinated by watching him. The cars have purpose, they go places (usually Fred Meyer, where else?), and they experience life on the road as Peregrine sees it. He narrates their adventures, as he narrates everything.

"Cars go airport. Pick up somebody else."

"They waiting light turn green."

"They waiting ambulance go wee-ooo, wee-ooo!"

"They going back their home."

"Silver race car going super-fast airport!"

All this, of course, is garnered from his close observations during the car trips he insists on taking daily (and yes, I space out all my errands, and frequently invent trips, so we can "go car!" every single day). This is my baby who could scream for a solid forty-five minutes at a time from the agony of being in the car, the baby who hated the car so very terribly for the first eight or nine months of his life. Hard to believe, for sure.

First days

It's been awhile. A very long while, actually.

But I have a pretty good excuse.

This little person--Sylvia Gabrielle Nelson herself--arrived two and a half weeks ago, at 12:33 AM on Sunday, August 25th. Her labor was fast--so very, very fast--and her story will follow sometime soon. But I need to do it justice, and that requires writing it in detail first. I'm working on it, but it will be the official record, the one and I read and re-read just to make sure I never forget it. It's worth taking my time.

She is a lovely little person. So different from Peregrine, so very, very calm. I didn't expect that, honestly. She moved constantly inside me. Her position changed by the day, by the hour. She explored every nook and cranny of my womb and contorted herself into positions I couldn't figure out (some, my midwives couldn't figure out). I was expecting a little tornado. But she's not. She's a beautifully peaceful little thing, generally happy to just watch the world go by, to soak it in with her enormous eyes and round mouth, both of which have earned her the nickname "Owl Face."

She's not without her challenges (the main one being her decided disgust with the night for being dark and having nothing to look at). She's requiring some re-working of my baby paradigms (unlike her brother, she's easily overstimulated and overtired, and all my bouncing/rocking/swaying/sucking/distracting tricks tend to just irritate her). But she's really very easy overall. She's so calm. She lets me put her down (sometimes). She lets me gently rock her (in a rocking chair! sitting down!) when she's tired. She eats calmly and without gulping frantically. She loves being in carriers and actually scrunches up and bends her legs.

She's making me really glad I had Peregrine first.

Peregrine wasn't a difficult baby, per se, but he wasn't an easy one, either. He wanted so much out of life so early on. More rocking! More swinging! More things to see! And woe betide me if I ever stopped walking, sat down, or relinquished him to a bouncy seat or something. Mealtime was always a frantic and hurried affair, and involved swallowing a lot of air and crying when it took me five seconds to unbutton my shirt. And his little body was so tense. Seriously, I think it took the kid six months to learn to bend his legs.

If I'd had Sylvia first, Peregrine would have come as a shock. And I would have thought something was wrong with him. I would have been unnerved by his tension, his neediness, his anxiety, his zest for life. As it was, I took it in stride. I accepted it as part of him. I tempered his fierce with my calm, instead of adding my anxiety to his. I think he'd be a very different person if I'd treated his infancy as though something was wrong with him. A lot less happy, a lot less adaptable. I'm glad he was the baby I learned on.

Not that there's no learning with Sylvia. There's a lot of it. But there's a lot more with the first.

And speaking of Peregrine, he has taken her in stride. More than that, he's adopted her fully. He loves her, as much as a 2-year-old can. He laughs at her faces and constantly monitors her whereabouts. He's memorized the contents of her closet. He worries when she cries or spits up. He talks to her for me. She'll fuss and Peregrine will say, "It okay, baby, it okay, little sister, I nurse you again soon!" It melts my heart.

But it will be hard, parenting them together. Mostly because Peregrine's needs haven't really changed. He still wants more more more out of life. Go places, do things, have a routine, talk constantly. Boredom does him in. (It makes him destroy things, too). And yet, I'm so tired. It takes so much energy (and so, so much time!) to get both of them in the car. I can't carry them both at the same time. And Sylvia's needs are so primal. She needs to eat (a lot). She needs to be held. She needs to sleep, and needs help to get there. She's so little. Yes, she has to wait for him sometimes, but she can't really just scream for five minutes. Mostly because she has no concept of five minutes. She's so very, very new.

Peregrine's taking this like a champ. But I feel for him, still. I've been there. I've been the older one, the one shunted to the side because a baby is newer, and needier, and has no concept of five minutes. It has to happen. But it's hard, nonetheless.

We'll find our rhythm, though. I think I have to see the next season of my life--the next four, five, six months--as set aside for doing simply that. For learning what it means to be a family of four. If I think of that as my job, my mission, for this time in my life, that makes it seem easier, seem doable (and not just scrape-by-able, but really, truly doable). It will be messy, and I will be late to preschool, and some days the dishes won't get done, and some days I won't get to sit down. But that's the end goal--finding our rhythm and learning to be family. Someday, that will come.

Monday, July 15, 2013

It's Okay (or, More Wisdom From Midwives)

Okay, can I just throw it out there? I love midwives. Maybe I've had exceptionally good ones, but they are just such incredibly wise people. Wise and calm. And good at listening, and thinking, and then saying something that makes sense and isn't stupid or panicky or cliche.

Maybe it comes from having seen a lot of mothers and babies, and knowing they turn out okay. But then, so do pediatricians. And while I love pediatricians too, for being able to do things like diagnose illnesses and tell you your kid is growing just fine (or not!), I feel like still, midwives have some kind of upper hand on baby-parenting wisdom.

Anyhow. This is another one that changed, that clarified, that made sense of my parenting. That left me feeling more settled and more capable.

It was my six-week postpartum appointment with Peregrine, and I was meeting with Catriona, the midwife who hadn't actually delivered Peregrine, but who had seen me a fair bit during my postpartum period. It was a long visit--pap smear and stitches review, breastfeeding evaluation, baby-growth measuring, long goodbyes, all those sorts of things. And, as part of her spiel, she asked how Peregrine was sleeping, and how we were all sleeping as a result.

I said fine, he was doing longer stretches at night, and when he woke up, he typically was hungry, and that problem was easily solved. I said I was tired, but what parent of a newborn isn't, and the tiredness wasn't something I couldn't cope with.

She said that was good, it sounded like things were going well, and she hoped they continued down that going-well path.

And then she said:

"I just want you to know, it's okay to sleep-train if you need to. It sounds like everything is working for you, and that's great, but if it isn't, call me. Do what works for you, but if you are losing your sanity over lack of sleep, know that sleep training is okay, and can be done well."

My lightbulb moment didn't happen then, really. I just tucked that piece of information away, and flagged it as important, because I'd never heard a natural-birth, hippie-skirt-wearing, still-nursing-my-toddler sort of person ever say that before. And I trusted Catriona, I trusted her a lot. I didn't think I'd ever need that piece of advice (or reassurance, or warning, or whatever it was), but I valued it all the same.

Back then I had no idea what sleep training was. Basically, I thought it was Babywise, and while I have absolutely nothing morally against Babywise, I also know it wouldn't work for me. I am a diehard Myers-Briggs P, and I could not live on the clock to the extent that Babywise advocates. So, in the completely untrue dichotomy I thought existed between scheduling babies and, well, not scheduling them, naturally, I fell on the not-scheduling side of things.

But, months after that six-week visit, Peregrine's sleep got more complicated. He was fussy--very, very fussy--in the few hours before we all went to bed. He woke up much more frequently at night (sometimes not just from hunger), and eventually started fighting bed altogether and utterly refusing to sleep, for fear he might miss something. He might (might) crash in a car seat or carrier, but only after hours of frantic, forced alertness (hours! a six-month-old! how did he do it? I have no idea!). And sometime, when Peregrine was between four and six months old, I realized it wasn't working anymore. So I read up on things, and found things that worked, and that included sleep training (which, I learned,  encompasses a lot more than scheduling, which isn't mandatory).

I never called Catriona. Mainly because I didn't need to, I quickly found things that worked (and worked amazingly well). I've never mentioned it again, beyond seeing her briefly and commenting on Peregrine's fast metabolism that still had him up every two hours to eat (but that was hunger, I could deal with hunger, especially with my speed nurser). But she was the rock I leaned on when I started researching sleep training. She was the reason I really felt absolutely no guilt choosing to go down that road. She was the reason I didn't feel like I was somehow crossing some line between natural-good-everything-I-want-to-be parent and strict-baby-scheduler when I decided to start actively shaping Peregrine's sleep habits. She was the reason I stopped believing that line existed.

And all she did, really, was tell me it's okay. It's okay to change what you're doing. It's okay to do something you didn't think you would. It's okay to shift and flex and adapt to your baby's needs and your own. It's okay to do something people argue about. It's okay to stop listening to the arguing and do what you need to do. It's okay to find your rhythm.

Would I have sleep trained Peregrine without Catriona's permission? Likely, I would have. It made us all so very much happier and better rested. But I probably would have felt guilty. I probably would have second-guessed myself. I probably would have been a lot less confident. I probably would have believed I had to go all-or-nothing, Babywise or Dr. Sears. Who knows.

All I know is that hearing it's okay was all I needed to hear. And it's a message I try to pass on, when I can. About sleep training, sure. But about a whole host of other things as well. There are a lot of things that are okay in parenting.

The latest from Peregrine...

He's mixing up his pronouns, just like I did at his age. But, his twist on it: he is "you," and only I am "me." Everybody else has names, and possessive pronouns for their names (i.e. "Daddy's shirt," etc). But I get all the first-person pronouns. And, as Peregrine is oddly possessive over a lot of my personal belongings, it's pretty funny. He talks about my things like they're beloved pets or something.

"Oh! Wearing my purple tank top!"

"Need get my purse!"

"Want my black sandals with owls!"

But, all the time, he's talking for me and about me. And with him, it's always "you."

"Need your fire truck pajamas!"

"Want your alligator water!" (Yes, tragically, he has stopped saying boodey, despite my efforts to keep it alive. Whatever. I still say it.)

This is my personal favorite, his latest request for seconds on anything (he still says "no" instead of "more"):

"You like some little no?"

He's completely taken with owls, and always has been, possibly because it's one of the first animal sounds he could imitate. We took him and his cousins to the zoo the other day, and, while he certainly enjoyed everything there, the highlight of the trip for him was the raptor show we attended on the spur of the moment. Ask him what he saw at the zoo, and "owl flying!" will be the enthusiastic response.

And yes, I was incredibly proud of my tiny, petite, not-even-two year old yelling out "Barn Owl!" with perfect enunciation during the show.

Speaking of owls, we stopped in at the ranger station while camping last weekend, and there was a little basket of stuffed animals in the gift shop. Peregrine was enthralled with the squirrels and bears and whatever other little woodland creatures were featured, but when he saw the owls, he couldn't contain his excitement. He picked up one, started cooing like you would to a baby, and exclaimed, "Little owl! Love eat you!" I stopped him in time from putting the whole thing in his mouth.

To be fair, it was a really cute owl. And also, to be fair, Peregrine's cuteness has made me want to eat him in times past. Not so much anymore. He's kind of bony and dirty these days.

But sometimes it's creepy. Like this conversation:

Peregrine, seeing a couple of dogs: "Doggies love you!"

Me (quick translation): "You love doggies?"

Peregrine, smiling: "You love eat doggies!"

Um. Yeah.

He reminds me of Gollum sometimes.

"Pick salmonberry! Eat big one! Eat juicy one!"

At least he was talking about something properly edible. As opposed to, you know, doggies.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Past and future (or, wisdom from my midwife).

I've gotten a fair bit of parenting advice over the last few years. Some of it has been good, some of it has been horrendous, some of it has been frustrating, and a fair bit of it has made me laugh. But some of it is exceptional. Some of it changes me.

Perhaps change is the wrong word. Maybe clarify is better. Because when those lightbulb moments happen, I think, not so much, I should be doing this differently, but, oh that's the way to look at it, that makes perfect sense. It's the same way with marriage advice, or life advice in general. I have a whole arsenal of good ideas and garnered wisdom. And then I have the things that stick out, that define the way I see the world, and the way I choose to live my life.

Anyway, all this is to say, one of those came last week, at my latest prenatal appointment. I left Peregrine with my sister-in-law and went in alone because I wanted to have a long, uninterrupted conversation about breastfeeding.

Peregrine and I had an interesting breastfeeding relationship, primarily because Peregrine was a somewhat odd nurser. He had a fast metabolism, little patience, and an extremely hard suck; and, as a result of these things, he was very quick and efficient at getting what he needed. I called him the speed nurser, because he could clean me out in (very few) minutes, and, past a few weeks old, he never fell asleep nursing or really relaxed while nursing at all. It was mealtime, it was business (pretty frantic business), and he was there on a life-or-death mission. Because of this, perhaps, or because of my own anatomy and hormones, I was never overflowing with milk. I had enough, Peregrine gained weight and wet diapers like he was supposed to, but I never had too much. I never had extra. Growth spurts were painfully unpleasant and I ended up supplementing a fair bit with donated milk from my sister-in-law.

And, without going into too many details, let me just say my extended family disagreed with a lot of choices I made surrounding breastfeeding, most notably, my choice to try to space out Peregrine's feedings instead of nursing him whenever he seemed unhappy. It was pretty hard on me (okay, really hard on me), and something I have a fair bit of anxiety about as I anticipate starting another nursing relationship.

Which is why I wanted to lay the whole thing out to my midwife, and hear the opinion of a third party who didn't know anyone in question, and who could honestly tell me whether or not I had supply issues, whether there was anything I could have done to make my nursing experience better, and whether or not I can make decisions now that will make this whole thing easier with Sylvia.

So I did. In the blissful absence of a restless toddler, I kind of vomited the whole story out in painful detail, both the Peregrine-and-me side of things, and the family tensions. I included all the things that I was sure would lose me attachment-parent points: having to schedule feedings when Peregrine was tiny because he wouldn't eat enough, introducing pacifiers early on because he would eat until he threw up, spacing feedings because he seemed happier that way, not just feeding him extra bottles because he would take them (in short, everything I'd been criticized for). I told her how I had watched my sister-in-law nurse her babies completely on demand (comfort-demand, not hunger-demand), and how easy it was for her, and how little her babies cried, and how much milk she had, how that had been my only model for breastfeeding, but also how much it would frustrate me to feel like a baby was perpetually attached to my breast when it didn't necessarily need to be. And I asked her, did I do it wrong, what could I have changed?

She listened, calmly, interjecting here and there, assuring me that I probably couldn't have changed anything, that my child had the personality (and eating habits) he had, for better or for worse, and there isn't anything you can do to change your child's personality. She said it sounded like I had formed a breastfeeding paradigm based on my sister-in-law's experience, which was all well and good until it didn't work with my body and my baby. And she assured me there's nothing wrong with having to shift our paradigms and work with the bodies and babies we have, and that I sounded like a responsive parent who gave my child exactly what he needed. (I knew all this, deep inside, but it was good to hear it). She thanked me for sharing my story, and said she would tell it to all the midwives in the practice, so they will know my history when they start walking me through my next breastfeeding adventure.

And when I got to the end of it, and asked her what she thought, and where I could go from there, she just sat there, for a long time.

And then she said this:

"Well, here's what I have to say. Your past history will always be with you. It just will be. And when you begin a new experience, it will heavily influence your mindset and the choices you make. And who knows? Your next baby could be tit-for-tat exactly like your first. In which case, you'll have done it before, and you'll be more experienced at dealing with that kind of baby. Or, she could be completely different. In which case, your past history will start mattering less and less as time goes on, and you'll adapt to the baby you have."

And there was clarity.

Because she didn't try to negate anything. She didn't tell me not to worry. She didn't even say, it's irrelevant, this is a different baby. It will be there. The worry about growth spurts. The tension in my family relationships. The every-drop-of-milk-is-precious mentality. But I'd never had it laid out so clearly before. Your past matters, and will matter. And either you will be wiser for it, or it will become less relevant as you have different experiences. Just like that.

I feel so much more settled now. So much more at peace. And not just about nursing. About parenting in general. About life. Because there it is. Your past matters. You can't escape it. You can learn from it, and maybe it will be relevant, maybe it won't. It's so easy as a parent, I think, to hash and re-hash the past, to recall every detail, to wonder could I have done it better? and how will I do it the next time around? Important questions, to be sure. It's good to learn from our mistakes (or to figure out whether they were mistakes at all!). It's good to be able to say, I'll do this differently if I have to do it again.

But then there's also a temptation to just move on. To sweep it all under the rug and say, I won't worry about it this time. I'll forget it all, start over. Whatever it was, I may not have to deal with it again, so I won't even think about it. I'll just take things as they come.

But neither is entirely healthy, and neither is realistic. You can't take things as they come when they've come a certain way before. For better or for worse, your past affects you. And yet it may not matter. Things may turn out differently. So, the wisdom you gained will either matter a lot--or it won't.

Maybe it's a small thing, and maybe it's something most people know instinctively already. But I'd never had it said before; and now, since I have, it's going to become a piece of me, and a piece of the way I parent. And ultimately, I think it's going to make me more confident, and more okay with things being what they are.

Which is good. It's very good.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Natural birth...and why I chose it

So, I didn't actually intend to write that last post. I intended to write this one. But then my introduction stretched into a whole post, and after writing and proof-reading that one, my first thought, from the perspective of someone else reading it, is why the heck do you even choose natural birth if the pain occupies your mind that much?

I do ask myself that question. And the fact that I've chosen it so readily, both times around, baffles me, because I really dislike pain.

I really, really dislike pain.

(Confession: at one of Peregrine's vaccine appointments, the nurse mentioned I should get my DTAP booster. She said she could just do it after Peregrine's shots. Peregrine got his shots, and she forgot. I didn't remind her. Because I didn't want the shot! I'm kind of mortified about this, and I will be getting my DTAP within the next few weeks, as I'm in my third trimester and all that.)

But natural birth, for me, isn't really about the pain, or lack thereof. There's a lot more that goes into it than just pain, or not. It's about--well, about the whole perspective on how birth is done.

Let me explain that a bit, because I don't want to come across as judgmental, or even as having some sort of cause surrounding natural birth. I don't. I just love it for myself. And I like talking about it.


I kind of hate the label natural birth. Firstly, because it's vague (there are whole internet feuds devoted to its actual meaning), and also, because it implies that anything else (whatever its actual meaning is) is somehow unnatural. And that's somehow bad.

There are a lot of choices that go into a birth. There isn't just natural (whatever your definition is) or not. There are a lot of unknowns and uncontrollables that go into a birth, too. And I'm willing to bet that most women today, at least in the Western world, have at least something "unnatural" about their birth experiences. Even getting into a car to go somewhere to have a baby (or having a midwife get in a car and come to you!) is breaking company with nature, if only a little.

So, without further splitting of hairs over the meaning of "natural," here's what my general giving-birth plan was (and is): out of a hospital setting (unless medical complications arise), attended by a midwife, with as few interventions (induction, pain medication, etc) as possible/safe. And when I say "natural birth," for the duration of this post, that's what I mean.

Tangent over.)

So why did I choose natural birth, and why am I choosing it again? First off, these were NOT my reasons:

I am not in any way opposed to hospital/medicated birth, nor do I think home/natural birth is an inherently better decision. I have plenty of friends who have chosen, for a vast variety of reasons, to give birth in the hospital, to use pain medications, or even to have elective C-sections. I fully support and celebrate their birth choices. I love hearing their birth stories and I truly, truly do not think my birth choices superior. (Most) doctors are incredibly gifted, capable, and caring people who I would fully trust to deliver my babies. (Most) hospitals are extremely safe places held to incredibly high standards of excellence. (Most) birth interventions are proven safe and effective, with millions of happy, healthy women to prove it. (I say most, because there are some horror stories. But then, there are plenty of horror home/natural birth stories, too.) If for any reason my first-choice birth plans became impractical or dangerous, I would quickly trust my life, my baby's life, and our mutual birth experience to my local OBs and hospital. Gladly, because I am so incredibly grateful they exist. I am so grateful that dying is not among my main concerns when thinking about childbirth.

I am not opposed to the use of interventions. When medically necessary, I am all for interventions. Though some of the side effects sketch me out, the vast majority of them are perfectly safe, and are used well millions of times a day across the country. If I needed interventions (even if I felt I needed them), I would ask for them. And I might choose an epidural and five hours of sleep over an additional ten hours of labor. Even if I could have maybe done the ten hours. I fully support anyone's (informed, and doctor-supported), decision to use them.

I do not think hospital/medicated birth is necessary violent or violating, or that babies born in less "natural" situations are necessarily traumatized or wounded. I have spent a lot of hours reading up about natural birth, and, whether subtle or not, this implication frequently comes up. I have read all sorts of things about "gentle" birth being the gateway to "gentle" parenting (another loaded word, gentle), and that a woman must stay mindful and engaged and fully alert (i.e. not on any medications) in order to bond with her baby as it is working its way out of her womb. I do believe strongly in the birth experience being one in which the mother feels honored and cared for and in which the baby can begin normal life as a baby (i.e. snuggling, nursing, being warm, etc) as soon and as, well,  gently as possible. But I really, really don't believe that a few birth choices reflect on your love for, or your closeness to, your baby. There are days, and years, and months, in which to love a baby well, in which to bond with him or her, in which to be the gentlest, and the fiercest, parent you could possibly imagine. There is no reason to put guilt on a laboring woman for any decision she makes during labor. Birth is a vastly diverse experience (and hey, if you want to get technical about it, I'm willing to bet my friend's labor, in which she chose an epidural early on and spent the hours of her labor talking with her baby and praying for her future, was a lot more "gentle" than my fast-and-furious labor, in which I mostly focused on getting through it, not bonding with Peregrine). And? Sometimes trauma in birth happens, and has to happen. Sometimes a C-section, or forceps, or a terrifying rush to the NICU or OR, are necessary to save a mother or baby's life. Sometimes mother and baby can't bond right away. Sometimes birth is anything but peaceful and blissful; it's horrifying and frightening and very traumatizing. That's very much not ideal for either mother or baby. But ideal doesn't always happen. And there is again no reason to make any woman feel guilty about it.

I do not have a desire to prove my own tolerance for pain. Actually, I don't think anyone chooses natural birth for this reason. But people seem to think they do. Or like the measure of your gutsiness is somehow dependent on when/if you asked for an epidural. For the record, it isn't.

So why did I choose it? And why on earth am I choosing it again?

My mom had home births with my youngest two sisters. I was there, and witnessed parts of both of them. I'm certainly not just doing it because my mom did. But I do think, because I saw birth done this way at such a young age (and because that's the only type of birth I saw, outside of a few TV births here and there), it just was the default norm for me. And I think I was de-sensitized to some of the fears and concerns about home birth that some people have. I saw them, they were normal and undramatic, it's never really occurred to me to worry about a (low-risk, uncomplicated) home birth being safe.

I have a lot of trust in the Midwives Association of Washington State. Honestly, I can't say I'd choose out-of-hospital birth any and everywhere. I want my births to be safe far more than I want them to be natural. I want to know that if my midwives ever feel unsure about their ability to provide excellent care for me, they would quickly transfer me into the care of someone they trusted. I would hope they would trust the OBs in town, and refer me to them, without hesitation, if necessary. And, in Washington, I know they would. Washington holds midwives to an incredibly high medical standard, both for their specialty (low-risk, normal pregnancies and births), and their limitations (high-risk, abnormal pregnancies and births).

I am kind of a hippie. It's not my only reason (and I'd be worried if it was!), but it's there.

I am wary of unnecessary interventions. I tend to be fairly hands-off and natural when it comes to my health (and most of my life in general). Not natural as in herbal, natural as in--well, nothing, unless necessary. I don't tend to go to the doctor, or take medications, unless I really think I need them. I just like to let things run their natural course and wait them out unless they don't seem to be resolving themselves naturally. And, as midwives are pretty good at letting things resolve themselves naturally, we make a good match as care provider and client. It's not that I'm morally opposed to interventions. I just don't tend to choose them. And it's easier not to choose them when your care provider's default is not using them. It's easier not to choose them when you're in a calm environment where the rules are flexible and you're generally allowed to do things your way.

Which brings me to--

My absolute, number one reason for choosing natural/out-of-hospital birth:

When I have something difficult to do, I absolutely hate doing it in an environment that is remotely stressful. And I hate being told how to do it. In order to succeed, I have to do things in my own way, in my own time, and in a very calm and peaceful environment. Really, this is what it boils down to for me. And when I ask myself, why did I really choose natural birth, this is what I always come back to. Birth is immensely difficult, and really, the only person who can give birth to my babies is me. Assuming I have a normal labor, where I'm conscious and healthy and so is the baby, the work is all mine. And nothing would stress me out quicker than being constantly monitored, being told what to do and how to do it. There's a lot of monitoring in hospitals, because it's the way the system works. Some people love it, and some people don't mind it. I would hate it. I would hate the lights being on, and nurses coming in and out, and people asking me how I'm feeling and how much pain I'm in. I would hate being told when and how to push. And yes, I'd do it all in a heartbeat if it was necessary for my or my baby's life or health. But, if it isn't, I'd rather be alone, or at least with a select few people I knew and trusted. I'd rather be in the dark, and sit (or stand, or lie, or walk) wherever I want. I'd rather have everyone quiet. I'd rather be the one in charge and let my body take over. I'd rather say I'm not ready for this, or I don't want that, or actually, scratch my whole plan, I feel like doing it this way. And I'd rather be in the care of someone whose basic birth philosophy is that a laboring woman should do just that. I'd use the hospital system if I needed it. But as long as I don't need it, I'd rather not feel like I had to fight it. I don't want to fight anything while giving birth. I want to just be. And I want to be able to tell a whole room to turn off the lights, or go away, or not use remotely loud voices, or take the pillow away because it smells bad, and have them rush to do just that. Because then I can concentrate on getting the baby out.

I know there are a lot of hospital horror stories circulating around the natural birth community, and I know they don't represent every hospital, doctor, or nurse. I do trust that most doctors and nurses are kind and caring and want the best possible birth experience for their patients (one of my dear friends, in fact, spent years as a labor and delivery nurse; I can't imagine a better birth attendant). And if I went in to a hospital needing to deliver there, I wouldn't go in assuming everyone was out to get me and ruin my autonomy over my birth. But I know hospitals are systems, and need to be systems. When you have lots of women laboring in a place--a big place--things are necessarily run a certain way. Out-of-hospital birth is just a lot more flexible. Midwives, on the whole, believe in the laboring women being basically in charge, and generally going with her desires for the whole birthing environment. And midwives, on the whole, believe in a basic atmosphere of very calm.

Which is how I do things. Not just birth, but anything. Driving. Math. Rock climbing. Learning new skills. I hate pressure. I hate unnecessary noise. I want to be trusted to do things my way, my time, unless I'm clearly floundering or there are real dangers present.

Birth is an intensely personal choice and an intensely personal experience. And so, by necessity, different things will have different weight with each of us. And the things that matter to me happen to align with the midwife model of care and out-of-hospital birth. That's pretty much the long and short of it, in the end.

Thursday, June 27, 2013's coming up soon

I'm 32 weeks tomorrow and less than two months away from Sylvia's due date. Which means, in two months or so (hopefully not much sooner!) I'll be giving birth again.

In the months leading up to Peregrine's birth, I think I felt every possible emotion on the fear-to-excitement spectrum. Some days I couldn't wait to give birth. Some days I was terrified, absolutely terrified. And most days, I fell somewhere in between.

I remember telling Andrew that anticipating giving birth felt like anticipating death. You know you have to do it, and there's no avoiding it. You know in the end, it will be okay, and beautiful, and good. But you don't know what it feels like to go through it. It's just this dark thing in the middle of your path that you have to cross through, and people have told you the other side is worth it. Pain is a hard thing to envision. When people tell you it's the worst pain you've ever experienced, what exactly does that mean? How do you prepare for something you can't really put your finger on?

I think Andrew thought I was being melodramatic when I told him that. But even now, it's the best metaphor I've found.

I think it's easier, this re-anticipation. I've already been through it, there's not that vast unknown. I know it's the worst pain I've ever experienced. And that's sometimes why I think it's a bit harder, the second time around. I have something real to fear.

I know, I'm part hippie, I'm immersed in the natural birth community, you don't have to remind me that fear creates panic, panic creates pain, birth is just powerful and intense, not scary. I know relaxing is important.

But birth is scary. It hurts like nothing else. And what's almost scarier is that I really can't remember just how much it hurt. I just remember what I thought at the time, which was, why does anyone in their right mind ever have a second child? As Peregrine's head came tearing and burning through me, I thought, consciously and clearly, that despite my lifelong dreams of having a houseful of kids, this pain was enough to make me reconsider it and possibly completely back down. That's a pretty intense thought, for me. How bad was that pain that I allowed myself to think that?

Sometimes I feel like the magic has been taken away from birth, having been through it. That the whole birth-is-awesome-and-mystical-and-powerful mentality I thrust myself into when I was pregnant with Peregrine was dashed by the actual thing. I never really felt awesome and mystical and powerful. It was sweaty and intense and painful. I felt--I don't know--earthy--and not in the beautiful-hippie-mama sense. Just, raw. Dirty and concentrated and primal and body. Nothing metaphysical. No time or space, for that matter, for anything metaphysical.

Until afterward. And I don't mean the moment I held my baby, because honestly, when Peregrine finally emerged, I was just in shock from all the pain and tiredness. But days later. Quiet moments, when I remembered the darkness, and the sweat and blood and tears, and the fact that my body, my incredible amazing female body, had given birth to a child. Then it was awesome. Then it was powerful and sacred and wonderful. Then the mystery, the holy-freaking-awesomeness of it, was so very much more intensified than I had ever envisioned before I had been through it.

And that's probably how it will be again. I'll spend the next 8 weeks (give or take, and please not too much give or take--on either end), waffling between remembering Peregrine's birth for the excruciating painful bloody mess it was, and the awesome powerful incredible miracle it was too. Then birth will come, and it will just be there--concentration and sweat and the very most non-metaphysical sort of humanity. And then, I'll have another story to tell. Another story of beauty and power and wonder. Another life that my incredible body gave birth to.

And quite honestly, it isn't labor that scares me so much. Labor hurt, but I never felt like it completely overpowered me. It was hard, so very, very hard, but I did it, and I'm pretty confident I can do it again.

It's the head that scares me. That's the moment that completely took me over. That's the moment that was bigger than me, and not in a good way. I seriously dread crowning like nothing else.

Sorry, natural peaceful birthing community. That's probably why it hurt in the first place, according to half of what I read. I'll try to relax and think positive, I really will. But mostly, I'm hoping Peregrine stretched me out enough that Gigantic Head #2 won't hurt quite as terribly.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Concerning Crying

During my first few months of parenting, one of the odder compliments I received from various doctors and friends was how well I was able to tolerate hearing my baby cry. I've never quite been sure how to take that. I think calmness in general is one of my strengths as a parent, but I don't really want to be seen as someone who is callous or tough. And I feel like there's a lot of guilt circling around the world of parenting when it comes to baby crying. I think it's often assumed that a really good mom, with really good mom instincts, is so very in touch with her child, and so very connected, that she cannot tolerate any of her little one's distress. It's subtle, I think, but I see it everywhere.

Empathy is terribly important, of course. And any mother hates to see her baby in pain. But while complete apathy toward a baby's cries is certainly a problem, I think it's equally unhealthy to feel extreme panic or anxiety when a baby cries, and feel like you must respond immediately right now lest you lose your baby's trust or hesitate in meeting an important need. The truth is, babies cry, and they cry a lot, and they cry for a lot of different reasons. A lot of parents say they are more relaxed about baby cries the second time around. Not because they care less, but because they've learned how to gauge each cry's importance.

There is a lot of parenting-book space (including on the internet!) devoted to crying babies, and plenty of people promise that if you use their technique, your baby will cry less. I've read everything from African babies never cry because they're carried and nursed all the time to strictly scheduled babies never cry because their needs are met before they have to cry for them. And sure, no one wants a constantly-crying baby, and any technique you can use to help your baby be calmer and more content is probably worth it, for everyone's peace of mind. But I think it's easy to tie crying (or lack thereof) to parenting ability (or lack thereof), and that's simply not true. Some babies cry more than others, for any number of reasons. But all babies cry. Including the babies of very, very good parents.

There are a couple of things that are very helpful for me to keep in mind when dealing with a crying baby. (And it's important to note that I am talking here about pre-verbal infants; toddler crying is a whole 'nother ballgame that I may or may not take on sometime). And in questioning why (other than experience as an older sister and as a teacher) I tend to tolerate baby crying without (too much) panicking, I think these two things play a huge part in my ability to keep things in perspective.

The first is that crying indicates communication, but not necessarily distress. If you think about it, crying is the only vocabulary babies have. They have plenty of non-verbal signals, but when they want to say something to you, they cry. And sure, you should respond, because they're talking to you, and you should listen when your children talk. But it doesn't necessarily mean they're terribly upset. If your preschooler told you she was hungry, you would feed her (or assure her dinner was coming up soon). You wouldn't panic, or feel terrible that you hadn't fed her yet. You'd just listen to what she was saying and respond. A baby who cries from hunger might be very hungry, sure. But he's not necessarily so hungry he had to cry, in the older-child sense. He's just so hungry that he had to tell you.

A lot of resources will tell you that every cry (especially in a younger baby) indicates a need. And while this is certainly true, I think it's easy to take this and assume that every cry indicates an urgent need that must be met right away. And that isn't true. Sometimes babies cry from raw, primal need (hunger, clean diaper, tiredness, etc). But sometimes crying simply expresses a feeling (fear, for instance, or boredom). And sometimes it's a reaction to a new experience (wind, or cold, or a big dog). There is a need there, of course, a need for your presence and reassurance. But it's not necessarily an emergency of distress. Sometimes it's just a touch-base to make sure you're there.

And I think it's okay to say no, or later, or wait, even to a very young baby. Obviously, primal needs should be met, and the younger a baby is, the more immediately they should be met. But it's okay to finish feeding an older child before starting to feed a younger. Sometimes, it's okay to assure a bored, frustrated baby that you will help him out as soon as you get off the toilet or off the phone.

My beautiful grandmother is one of the gentlest people I know when it comes to handling babies. Nothing, absolutely nothing, ruffles her, and I have never seen a baby who doesn't love her immediately. And nothing makes her hurry. She never rushes to anything, she never panics, and when a baby fusses, she will call across the room, quietly and calmly, in her Southern accent, "I hear ya, I hear ya." Then she will carefully finish hanging her dishrag, or whatever she was doing, and when she is done, she will attend to the fussing baby. This isn't breaking a baby's trust, and it isn't ignoring his needs. Sometimes, it's important just to let your baby know you hear him, and will be available soon.

And sometimes, you will fail at meeting your baby's needs, simply because his cries didn't make sense and you mis-read them. That's okay. In any relationship, miscommunication occurs. Sometimes you'll guess and guess and guess, and you'll be wrong, and your baby will keep on crying, and you just won't know what's wrong. This doesn't mean you're not in tune with your baby. It doesn't mean your baby will stop trusting you. It simply means you and your baby are trying to work out a relationship, and you don't speak the same language. It's tough, sometimes. Spouses miscommunicate. Friends miscommunicate. Co-workers miscommunicate. Parents and children miscommunicate, too.

This is not to say that real distress doesn't occur. It does. And almost every baby has a cry that means I need you right away!!! You'll hear that cry, and you'll know it. And when your baby is in pain, or terrified, you probably will panic a bit, or be a bit heartbroken. That's okay. No one wants to see their tiny one suffer.

But it's also important to remember that it is not your job as a parent to keep your child's life free of discomfort and pain; it's only your job to help them through the discomfort and pain they will experience.

It's a terrible part of living in the world we live in. Your child will suffer. There will be pain, and sadness, and frustration, and disappointment. There will be sickness, and fever, and colic, and teething. There will be shots and exams and medicine. There will be toys that don't work and baby latches on all the fun cabinets. There will be older siblings who need attention, too. There will be times you, as a parent, make a decision the baby protests: seat belts, medicine, sleep training. And there will be tears, lots of them even, because of the pain and frustration these things cause.

But it's not your job to keep these things from happening, or even to make them go away. Often you couldn't, even if you tried. Often you shouldn't, because sometimes, hurt has to happen in order for something better to happen, too.

There's a lot of material out there exhorting parents to avoid giving their baby trauma. It's a scary word, trauma. It conjures up images of irreversible injury, brain patterns being created by bad things happening. But trauma is a spectrum, and no matter how carefully you try to avoid it, your child will experience it, to some degree. And it's easy to get wrapped up in guilt for the trauma we could have maybe prevented. The maybe-necessary medical test. The slightly-too-long car ride. The sleep training that may not have been the only option.

Friends, it's not our job to prevent bad things from happening. It's not our job to stress about the bad things we might have been able to prevent. Because bad things will happen. Our children will have to experience them. It's not an excuse for selfishness, to be sure. But it is a fact of life. And isn't it better to show our children that we love them through the bad things and help them learn how to weather them, than that we try too hard to keep the bad things away?

And finally, it is worth noting that sometimes crying does indicate a bigger problem. Sometimes babies cry too much. And in cases like that, there are pediatricians and specialists and older, experienced mothers and grandmas who can help us figure out what the problem is, or if there is a problem at all. Sometimes it's worth getting some perspective. Not from Doctor Google, or from strangers on the internet, but from someone who's seen a lot of babies.

But the crying days usually don't last too long. And then you get a toddler, and, as mentioned before, toddler crying is a whole 'nother ballgame.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Peregrine miscellany

So, I've nicknamed Peregrine "Peregrino" since he was a tiny baby. My sister-in-law, who takes care of him, does it, too, and he just recently started picking it up. He called himself just "Grino" for awhile, and now it's "Puma-grino." And apparently he's decided it's a term of affection, because he uses it on all of us.



Even Monkey-grino.

It's adorable. I'm especially fond of Monkey-grino. And for everyone who thought I was giving my child a name he would never be able to pronounce, rest assured that he can say Puma-grino just fine.

Also, he's been completely obsessed with birthdays lately. Partly because of Andrew's, but it started before that. He can sit and watch Youtube videos of birthday celebrations over and over, completely fascinated when everyone sings. The candles, the cake, the singing--it's magical to him.

He's totally happy to celebrate anyone's birthday, but he's started to really want his own. He asks me quite frequently now when it will be time for "Puma's happy cookie."

That's pretty much the best rendition of "birthday cake" ever.

He was babbling away today, and just started listing things: "Puma's heaven, Puma's happy cookie, Puma's boy!" Such pride in ownership. I suppose your gender, your birthday, and heaven aren't a bad set of things to hold dear.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


I've written and re-written this post, and somehow it keeps evolving and becoming something different. Because there's so much swirling around in my mind on this topic, and it seems important to say clearly.

So let me say this clearly first: I am in no way against attachment parenting, even as an organization. Some of the best parents I know are attachment parents hook, line, and sinker. And I'm all tangled up in attachment parenting myself. But I'm tangled up in a lot of other things too. And I absolutely do not believe attachment parenting is the only way, or the best way, to have a healthy, loved, thriving child.

Attachment Parenting, as a philosophy, organization, and community, has given the parenting world many good things. It's built on attachment theory, which reminds us that babies--and children, and people--have much more complex needs than merely physical ones. A baby (or child, or person) can be well-fed, well-clothed, well-slept, and still very far from well-loved. People need other people, and babies need big people--mothers, fathers, grandmothers, aunties--they can trust completely to respond to all their needs. Babies need to know they are important, they are loved, and that their calls for help and comfort will be listened and responded to. Attachment Parenting reminds us that we won't somehow spoil our babies (whatever that means) by loving them. And it reminds us that not only are we not hurting or crippling our babies by living in closeness with them (by co-sleeping, breastfeeding, babywearing, or any number of other things), but we're doing them good. We're fulfilling basic human needs that will continue to be fulfilled in healthy ways as our babies grow out of Moby wraps and family beds.

Attachment Parenting also reminds us that babies' needs, while perhaps more complex than just food and clothing, are still pretty simple, and still pretty easy to meet. Babies don't need all the paraphernalia that often seems to accompany them. They don't need schedules, enrichment classes, fancy toys, name brand baby furniture. They just need us, and our love, and our willingness to include them in our lives and get tangled up in theirs.

So, go Attachment Parenting with a capital AP. You've done lots of good. You're not the only good thing, or the highest of good things, but you've done good.

And now let's talk about needs. Attachment parenting literature (in its more academic forms, and in its more Facebook forms) uses the concept of needs liberally. Which makes sense, given attachment theory and all that. Responding to your baby's needs comes up everywhere, and seems to be the end-all for every argument. Which is great, right? We all want this, and we all should. But there's a trend I've seen in attachment parenting literature (academic and Facebook alike) that seems to imply that only some of us actually want this. The other some-of-us mainly want to control our children.

It's what turns me off most about Dr. Sears' books, honestly. The implication that go-with-the-flow, nurse-on-demand, sleep-whenever-and-wherever parents are responsive, kind, and loving, and care about seeing and responding to needs; and the "other" parents (you know, the scheduling, crib-sleeping type) want to control their babies from the top-down so that they (the parents) will never be inconvenienced.

And so, when I read the comment I referenced in my previous post about attachment parenting being as simple as just responding to a baby's needs, I couldn't help but think, it isn't that simple. We all want to respond to our babies' needs. But every baby is different, and every baby has different needs. Every family has different needs, every mother has different needs, and every parent (or pair of parents) has its own (loving, unselfish) perception of what a baby needs most, which needs to prioritize. And it's highly likely those perceptions are influenced by what we need most, what we tend to feel most strongly in ourselves.

I was at a lunch with some friends several months ago, and one friend had told her young daughter that she had to eat a certain number of bites of vegetables before she could have dessert. The little girl wasn't happy about it, but clearly, mom wasn't budging. Another mom present started encouraging her, loudly. I mean clapping and cheerleading loud. Everyone noticed, and everyone was well aware of how far towards dessert the little girl had progressed. And I was embarrassed, on the girl's behalf. I kept thinking, Just leave her alone. She knows what she has to do, just let her do it. She's already put out by having her dessert postponed, just let her save face and eat in silence without the whole entire table knowing she's having to eat her vegetables. And I was sure, in that moment, that, was it my child (you know, the preschooler I don't have yet), that my way would have worked. No fuss, no embarrassment, you do it or you don't, no one has to witness it.

But I know this other mom (the cheerleader) often felt ignored as a child, when she spent her life just quietly doing what people asked. I know that others' praise meant (and means) a lot to her. I know some of her most treasured childhood memories are of being noticed (in public! loudly!) for her not-so-grand accomplishments. She wasn't trying to embarrass the little girl; she was trying to notice her. Because it's what she would have wanted, what she would have thrived on, herself. Just like I would have wanted to be left alone and allowed to save face in peace and silence and blessed anonymity.

I could accuse her of being overbearing; she could accuse me of being emotionally distant; we could both accuse each other of not wanting to respond to the little girls' needs. But none of those accusations would be true. Just like accusations of that kind typically aren't.

When I was little, if I got too tired, I was prone to complete sobbing meltdowns triggered by very, very small things. Fortunately, my parents learned early on that the only thing to do was console me briefly and then put me to bed. No reasoning, no emotion coaching or whatever, no reflecting my feelings, just okay, looks like the day is over, bedtime, coming right up. And that's what I wanted, because that's what I knew I needed. I knew I wasn't upset about the beans being mixed with the rice, or whatever stupid thing had set me off, and it was an incredible relief to be told I was tired and bedtime would be soon. Now, as a parent (and an aunt, and a friend, and a teacher) that's my first instinct for dealing with a sobbing puddle of melted-down child. Yet I've seen people torn to pieces (in both academic and Facebook literature) for using similar strategies with their children. How dare any parent be so neglectful of her daughter's emotional needs. I should have been listened to, my emotions should have been named, my feelings about the beans and rice should have been validated. I don't mean to belittle or make fun of the importance of valuing our children's feelings. And yes, some children need that, truly, regardless of whatever other needs are present. But I needed to go to bed. We have different needs. Our children have different needs. We see needs in different ways, through the lens of our own needs. Call it selfishness, or call it empathy. Perhaps it's both.

The most rigidly scheduling parents I know are people who thrive on (who need) strict schedules themselves. They're not trying to control their children, they're trying to respond to their children's (genuine) needs for safety, predictability, and security. Just like spontaneous parents aren't simply ignoring their children while they continue to live as though they were child-free; they're trying to respond to their children's (genuine) needs for responsiveness, adventure, and flexibility. Parents who let their babies cry it out aren't cruel or unresponsive or selfish. On the contrary, they are trying to respond to their babies' (genuine) needs for sleep. Just like co-sleeping parents aren't co-dependent and clingy and careless about safety; they are trying to respond to their babies' (genuine) needs for security and comfort (and, in a lot of cases, sleep!). There will always be extremes in every category of course. There will always be misguided parents and there will always be selfish ones, in any parenting style. But there are a lot of good ones, too, in every parenting style.

So if attachment parenting is about the desire to respond to our babies' needs, then we are all attachment parents (or at least the majority of us). And in the best, purest sense of the word (as in, parents whose babies have a secure attachment to them), I think this is true. But Attachment Parenting (with a capital AP), takes some pretty strong stances on many of the things some parents do to respond to their own babies' needs. And in the end, like every mother and father and grandma and organization and community out there, it sees babies' needs through its own lens. Which doesn't belittle Attachment Parenting at all. But it doesn't belittle anyone else, either.

Friday, May 3, 2013

One of the best blog posts I've encountered in a while...

This article is amazing. Amazing because it's so true, and so lighthearted about it.

First of all, go read it, and laugh at it:

I think I love it not only because it's funny and doesn't take anything too seriously, but because this is how I feel when researching/stumbling across anything parenting-related. There is so very much out there, and it all contradicts each other. And it's so horrifyingly detailed. There are so many methods that promise you success/a good sleeper/a well-adjusted child if you just cross every single t and dot every single i, and beware if you don't, because then you'll create bad habits/scar your child for life/never sleep again/any number of terrible fates.

There are a lot of pieces of advice this article references. And for every one, the following things are going to be true:

For some babies, it worked like a charm, and magically turned a terrible sleeper into a good one.

For some babies, it prevented a lot of problems later on.

For some families, it was the obvious right choice to make.

For some families, it didn't feel right at all.

For some babies, it was terrible and failed miserably.

For some babies, it created bad habits that backfired, leaving some mothers desperately wishing they hadn't followed so-and-so's advice.

White noise. Crying it out. Co-sleeping. Nursing to sleep. Strict schedule. Whatever it is, it worked beautifully for some, and was a terrible experience for others.

And you know what? Each of these methods, no matter how different they are from each other, has produced healthy, thriving children. Because babies are different, families are different, and children thrive best when they are in healthy families.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Attachment, and why we all have it: part 1

I live in an area of the country where attachment parenting is highly popular, and, dare I say it, almost mainstream. It's not unusual to run across mothers carrying babies and toddlers in slings, or breastfeeding in public. Home birth is pretty normal, and no one thinks it's dangerous. You're far more likely to find Dr. Sears than Ezzo in a used bookstore. Co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, baby-led weaning--we do it all here in the Pacific Northwest. It isn't counter-culture. It just is.

And, given that I have some seriously hippie tendencies, I find myself surrounded by attachment parenting philosophy everywhere I turn. I like flowing skirts and flowing baby slings and making my own kale-based baby food and saving landfill waste with cloth diapers. I like alternative schooling ideas and playing in the mud and letting my son play with baby dolls. I am sensitive and spontaneous and like my rules and my routines to be flexible and easily changeable. Apparently, I share values with a lot of attachment parents and we tend to run in the same circles on the internet.

And yet? I've sleep trained Peregrine, I have zero regrets, and I will do it again with Sylvia if needed. I frequently told Peregrine "no" or "later" when he wanted to nurse. I've used the word "no" in plenty of other contexts, too, and I thoroughly believe in teaching obedience, even at a very young age. I work outside the home and I love it, and I frequently leave Peregrine with babysitters or in the church nursery. I've kept Peregrine waiting when he cries, and not only in emergencies. I think pacifiers were a wonderful invention and can't imagine always nursing in place of using them. 

Note the toddler-wearing. And the bottle of formula.

Pretty recently, I read a blog post by a woman who was officially leaving the attachment parenting community because of all the hurt it had caused her. She felt constant judgment, not only for her own less-approved parenting choices, but for the parenting choices of the women around her that didn't pass attachment-parent muster. She was fed up, she said, with feeling like she had to measure up, in so many countless ways.

Her article spawned a bunch of other articles on this topic, and I found it very interesting, because I hadn't seen it so publicly talked about before. These articles were all over the map--some commiserating with the author, some disagreeing with her, some defending the perceived judgment and others apologizing for it. And I resonated with all (okay, most) of them, and with the issue at hand.

Because there is hurt, and there is judgment. They're real; they've affected me. The crunchier-than-thou attitude. The implication that I am wounding my baby's spirit and destroying his innocent trust simply by straying away from a specific path. The blanket judgments. The language used. They're as real as and as hurtful as anything I've ever dealt with in church.

It's not these things that frustrate me most, though. There will always be judgment, and the internet will always be a hostile place. Women, unfortunately, will always fight over things. But here's the thing--I understand both worlds. I belong to both worlds. And you know what? They're not all that different from each other. They really, truly aren't. Whatever the ends of the spectrum are--attachment parenting and what? detachment parenting?--they're not that different. In the end, we're all mothers. We all love our children. We all want, desperately, to do right by their bodies and their souls. 

This is a post I've been wanting to write for awhile, and I've written and re-written it, in my head and on paper, not quite knowing how to frame it. I don't want to sound bitter, us vs. them. Because I'm us and them. Because, in a way, we all are. I honestly could not tell you whether I'm an attachment parent or not. I really don't know. I could write so much both for and against the movement (not being attached to your child, but the whole industry in general). 

And then I read a comment, somewhere in one of these articles, that I've read many times before. Attachment parenting, it said, is all about being responsive and meeting your children's needs. The tools are secondary; if you're responding to needs, then you're an attachment parent. 

That comment gave me my framework, because, friends, it's so much more complicated than that. So here's what I have, as of now. Here's what we all share, no matter where on that very gray spectrum we lie. Here's the mess that parenting is, and why we can't boil it down to anything too simple. Here's why we have to make peace with each other. Here are the things we have in common. And personally? I think they're far weightier than the things we differ on.

(Okay, addendum: I wrote out the list, it's going to make this post ridiculously long. And I'm not finished with it, and I have clothes to fold and dinner to make and a diaper to change and a kid who's going to get very tired of me sitting here. So, the list is to come.)