Friday, September 5, 2008

Busy! Busy! Busy!

As you can see, the design has changed and I have added two new features to make this a more appealing place to read. First, I added a subscription widget so that you can receive updates on your homepage (news feed) when a new blog is posted. This will make readership a little more steady and with readers, I have much more incentive write about what you would like to read about. Second, I added a poll widget that I will update weekly. The polls serve as my way of finding out more about you and your interests, opinions, experiences, etc. These will ultimately lead to blogs, so please participate!

This week's poll asks what you, the reader, would like the next blog to be about. The subject with the most votes will get the next blog space, but be assured that if you vote on a subject I will write about it in the near future. I am just trying to gauge what my readers would like to know more about. Also, please always feel free to comment on my blogs. If you would like an informational blog on something or you feel that there is a subject I haven't touched on that you would like covered, just let me know!

Thank you for reading! And welcome to Deconstructing Motherhood... where you don't have to be a mother to want to know more about it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Ring sling vs. Hotslings pouches

When I was pregnant I heard plenty about Maya Wraps, a ring sling that is reminiscent of traditional baby-wearing... or so I thought. After my daughter was born I bought a Maya Wrap and used it maybe half a dozen times in the 9 months or so that I've owned it. It isn't a difficult contraption to figure out, but the rings are uncomfortable on my small frame and I couldn't seem to ever get the layers of material positioned in the correct proportions. Eventually I just gave up. Then a couple weeks ago I was at my local Target and came across a Hotslings pouch. It is much simpler than the ring sling and incredibly easy to use. I brought it with me for a family trip to San Francisco where we did a lot of walking and didn't want to always use the umbrella stroller. My partner brought the Baby Bjourn, his favorite carrier, and we both ended up with miserable back pain carrying our 22 pound baby around in it. So, with a little hesitation, I decided to try out my new pouch carrier. Within an half hour my daughter was asleep on my chest. I could walk around hands free while holding my daughter safetly to my chest, adjusting the material for comfort with one hand. It was so comfortable and easy to use that I even use it around the house when Madilyn just wants to be held and I want to try getting other things done too. Because it is a very simple piece of material, it is easy to fold up and throw in your purse or diaper bag and takes up about as much room as a folded receicing blanket.

So bottom line, I'm adding a Hotsling pouch to the "Must Have" list for new mothers in the twenty-first century.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Nursing While Vaccinating

Vaccinating your child is a big decision that every parent should seriously consider before their child is born. There are risks involved when you vaccinate or medicate your child, therefore it is dire that as a parent you are well informed of the risks and side-effects before making your choice to go ahead with either. Not only is it important to understand the risks, but to also take into account your lifestyle and intended future for your child. One of the main reasons we were inclined toward vaccinating our daughter was due to our interest in enrolling her in a private school. There are some schools that will accept an unvaccinated child, but there are many that will not. There is also the risk of disease that comes with placing your child in an environment with a large number of relative strangers. The only way we could rationalize NOT vaccinating our daughter was if we could provide her with home schooling, but as we cannot it did not seem like the right choice for our family.

After deciding that vaccinating would be appropriate, it was time to research the individual vaccines and decide which ones were needed and which were not. Just because you decide to vaccinate does not mean you have to take every vaccine the doctor recommends. This is where you must research specific vaccines and look into what they are for and why they are still being used, how effective they are, the prevalence of the disease that they prevent, etc. Educate yourself and you will be much more confident in your decision. Confidence is very important, especially in this case, because you will have to walk into your pediatrician's office and tell him or her what you have decided and if it is to not vaccinate you are likely to be met with some resistance. If you are confident in your decision and have done enough research to back up your choice, your doctor's reaction should not intimidate you.

Let's skip to the well-check appointment. After the pediatrician has "examined" your child and given you the usual run-down of what to expect at this stage of development and what to look forward to, he or she will leave and a nurse will return with up to four different shots for your child. The first time this happened my parental instinct kicked in and all I could think was "I need to nurse my daughter to ease her pain from the shots." I had read about women doing so, but I didn't think twice about it until put in the situation. So, I asked the nurse if I could breastfeed my daughter while she administered the vaccines. She gave me a dirty look and said "no, she would choke when she starts to cry." Aside from the fact that I wanted to punch the woman for her rude tone and expression, I was really annoyed with how uneducated she was with breastfeeding. While it is very possible for an infant to choke on formula coming out of a bottle, it is very unlikely that your infant will ever have any kind of choking problem at the breast. The difference between the two is that when your infant is not suckling, the breast will not give them milk, but if they have a bottle in their mouth it will continue to leak (even if only a tiny amount) until you remove the bottle. Not only that, but your child has a natural instinct to breathe when it needs to, just like any adult. If she starts to cry because she is in pain over something, my daughter would naturally unlatch from the nipple and breathe. I wanted to attack the nurse with all of this information, like a lioness protecting her cubs, but instead I sat mute and angry while my daughter squirmed and screamed after receiving her first batch of vaccines.

I learned something very valuable that day. I gave the nurse's assumption more credence than my own well-educated knowledge of my child and I was very wrong to do so. As soon as the nurse finished with the shots I attached Madilyn to the nipple and let our closeness soothe her. The nurse became visibly uncomfortable with the situation (even though I was well covered) and hurried away. It became terribly apparent that not only was the woman uneducated about breastfeeding, but she was also uncomfortable with the idea of it occurring in front of her. I don't care if she was "just a nurse" and not the doctor, any professional who works with infants and young children should be educated on breastfeeding. Why is it that the most natural and beneficial way to supply nutrition to an infant (breastfeeding) is something so foreign to a pediatric nurse?

After that I insisted that I nurse my daughter while she received her vaccinations, especially when her father could not accompany us to the well-check visit. It wasn't necessary after about 6 months old, at which point she was more soothed when her father held her and we both tried distracting her. But the point is that every parent needs to trust their intuition and do what they believe (or know) is best for their child. Don't be intimidated by doctors or nurses. They have a degree or degrees in medicine and health, but their education is to serve masses of people, not to specialize in your individual child. A parent knows their child best, so trust yourself.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Items to Own for the Modern Mom

Here is a list of items I recommend and why:

1. Boppy Nursing Pillow-- wonderful for breastfeeding moms and dads will love them too!

2. BabyLegs-- keep your infant's legs warm while wearing a onesie. They have so many uses and styles that you are sure to use them for a long long time, check out their website for more details.

3. Receiving blankets--(about 25 per child) The great thing about receiving blankets is that you can use them for just about anything. We put a folded receiving blanket on top of a medium sheet saver for our daughter to sleep on in our bed so that if she leaks through we don't have to change the sheets for the bed.

4. Sheet Saver-- There are different sizes for different things. If you are using a crib then use the crib size sheet savers, they will save the trouble of washing sheets every time your infant soaks an overnight diaper. If you are co-sleeping, use a cradle size sheet saver with a receiving blanket folded over it for added softness.

5. BumGenius 2.0-- These are cloth diapers made simple! They are one-size pocket diapers which means they grow with your child. You will save tons of money on disposable diapers and your child will be less likely to get diaper rash. These are not only economical, but they are environmentally friendly. With each infant contributing approximately 2 tons of waste in diapers alone (over the duration of time in which they are in diapers)but you can cut that down to your cotton, biodegradable stash of cloth diapers to about 26 diapers total.

6. Pail Liners-- Cloth pail liners are for the cloth diapering mama only, but if you do decide to cloth diaper you will want to large ones for your dirty diaper pail and two small wet bags to carry with you for dirty diapers on the go. The design and size are really up to you, but I strongly suggest two of each!

7. Hooded Towels-- They are so much easier to use than regular towels and they keep baby all cuddly warm for the trip from the bathroom to the changing table.

8. Dresser/Changing Table Combo-- DO NOT BUY A SEPARATE CHANGING TABLE!!! Buying a dresser with an area to attach a changing pad is not only just as good, it's better because when your child outgrows the need for a changing table you will still have a dresser that they can use until they move out (or you decide to buy them new furniture).

9. Hotslings Pouch-- Each parent must find a baby carrier that feels comfortable to them. Mine is the Hotslings pouch. The cloth is soft and stretchy, there is only one piece, no extra anything. There is not hard plastic fastners or buttons or even metal rings. It is comfortable and easy to use, but my favorite thing about the Hotsling is that it keeps my baby close to me while allowing me two free hands! A must buy for the mom who wants to full engage in attachment parenting, but still needs to run errands and take care of business.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Boppy Nursing Pillows

Every breastfeeding mom knows that cradling your infant in your arms as you breastfeed can be exhausting at best. If you have a large baby, your arms get tired before they are even halfway finished eating. Having a nursing pillow makes breastfeeding easier and frees up your hands to do something else while your little one suckles to sleep. I've tried a couple nursing pillows but my favorite is the Boppy nursing pillow. It is a basic horseshoe shape and fits nicely around my body so that my daughter is at the right level to nurse. I can read or work on my laptop while I nurse (when she's sleeping) which makes me feel much less confined while breastfeeding. My partner bought me a Boppy for Christmas while I was pregnant, it was the first baby-related gift I had received and I was more than excited to get to use it once my daughter was born. We quickly learned that my partner had his own uses for the Boppy too. The shape of the Boppy contours the neck nicely, making it a wonderful pillow to sleep with (for adult use only).

We now have two Boppy pillows, one for the house and one for the car. Breastfeeding in public discreetly is a tricky matter so most of the time I just put up the sun screens in the front window and breastfeed in the backseat. The Boppy has made it much easier to get my daughter comfortable while allowing me to control just how much of myself gets exposed to peepers.

My partner loves Boppy, so we ended up getting the Boppy brand changing pad covers, the Boppy playmat, and Boppy slipcovers. When I get pregnant with our second child, I don't think it will be hard to convince him to buy the Boppy body pillow. It is a wonderful company that I feel comfortable supporting with products that we have found to be incredibly useful. As our daughter gets bigger we find that a lot of the "must-have" items we bought because all the gift registries tell you to get them ended up only being used for a couple months and then sitting useless in a corner of a room. Not so with the Boppy nursing pillow. I am so glad we made this investment! Moms beware--there are lots of items out there that you think you need, but when it comes down to it you aren't going to use everything.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Nursing vs Formula Feeding

Of all the newfangled inventions to help the new mother, formula is perhaps the least exciting. Formula feeding has become so second nature that many women do not even consider breastfeeding as a real option anymore. When we are little girls playing with baby dolls we have little plastic bottles to "feed" them with. If you are looking for baby shower decorations or party favors, you are sure to see bottles as part of the standard cliche items. If you walk down a baby items aisle you will encounter anywhere from 6 to 20 different kinds of formula for the many different needs of babies. Each of these canisters of formula ranges from $15 to $30, depending on brand and type, but what they don't tell you before you become a mom is that your baby will go through ONE of these canisters every four to five days. Add to that the price of bottles and other formula feeding paraphernalia and it gets costly. If for no other reason than to save money, breastfeeding becomes an option to consider. I don't know what it was that initially attracted me to breastfeeding, but I have managed to put together quite a list of reasons why breastfeeding is not only cheaper, but easier and healthier for both baby and mama.

Why Choose Breastfeeding?

1. Cheaper... because it's FREE!

2. No bottles to clean and sanitize. I do enough dishes at home, I can't imagine having to keep track of bottles too.

3. Breast milk has the right amount of fat, sugar, water, and protein necessary for your infant's growth and development, plus the taste is tailored for your specific baby which means you will save time and money on trying to find the "perfect formula."

4. Breast milk is easier to digest for most babies, reducing colic and other digestion related problems. My daughter never had colic and has to date never had any digestion problems.

5. Breastfed babies tend to gain less unnecessary weight and to be leaner, resulting in being less overweight later in life. (Consider European countries and under-developed countries in which the majority of women breastfeed... they are generally much leaner than Americans.) I also want to add that it is important to note "unnecessary weight." My daughter has been in the nineties percentile for her weight since birth, but she is solid rather than fat. To put it into perspective, most babies in the US that are in her percentile are slower to develop. Babies on average should be sitting up unassisted between six and nine months (seven and a half being the average for most babies). My daughter was sitting up unassisted at FOUR months old. Our pediatrician didn't believe me when I told her, so I showed her. She was shocked. I just smiled.

6. Premature babies do better when breastfed compared to premature babies who are fed formula in both physical and cognitive development.

7. Breastfed babies score slightly higher on IQ tests, which could actually be a result of the way in which formula negatively effects cognitive development.

8. Breastfed babied get antibodies in the breast milk that help protect them from bacteria and viruses. Studies show that babies who are not exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life are more likely to develop a wide range of infectious diseases including ear infections, diarrhea, respiratory illnesses and have more hospitalizations. I will attest to this study! I have been exclusively breastfeeding my daughter for over 8 months now and she has not gotten sick once. Which is amazing considering that both my partner and I have been sick multiple times since her birth. The books and even our pediatrician said that we should expect her to get sick somewhere around 6 times throughout the first year, but she is nothing but healthy and I truly believe it is because she is a breastfed baby.

9. Infants who are not breastfed have a 21% higher post neonatal infant mortality rate in the US, including higher susceptibility to SIDS, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, lymphoma, leukemia, Hodgkin's disease, overweight and obesity, high cholesterol, and asthma. (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2005).

10. Breastfeeding lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancers in the breastfeeding mother, and possibly lowers the risk of hip fractures and osteoporosis after menopause.

11. Nursing uses up extra calories, making it easier to lose the pregnancy weight after giving birth. It also releases a hormone into the body that helps the uterus contract back down to its original size which lessens the duration of bleeding after giving birth. This is one of the biggest draws for pregnant women who are worried about losing the baby weight. I don't know how many times people commented on how good I looked for having just had a baby a few months prior. I was back down to my average, pre-pregnancy weight by the time my daughter was 4 months old and I did NOT exercise at all. It's all about eating healthy and breastfeeding!

12. Breastfeeding exclusively (no supplementing with formula) delays the return of normal ovulation and menstrual cycles. You should still take birth control that is breastfeeding friendly "just in case," but after the initial giving birth bleeding had subsided, I did not have a period and still have not had a period and my daughter is eight an a half months old.

13. A mother can give her baby immediate satisfaction by providing her breast milk when her baby is hungry rather than trying to make a bottle. This also makes middle of the night feedings SO much easier! Instead of getting up to go into the kitchen and make a bottle while your baby is crying and inconsolable, you just attach them to the breast and your baby is not only happy, they will drift back to sleep almost immediately. Save even more time and energy by co-sleeping!

14. Breastfeeding requires a mother to take some quiet, relaxed time for herself and her baby. This is where breastfeeding becomes something that could possibly change your life. Americans are all about careers and making money and going going going. That's why we have fast food and microwaves and all sorts of modern conveniences that save us time. Breastfeeding will save you time, but it will also teach you how to use your time more wisely. Children do not stay infants forever. Breastfeeding makes you slow down and enjoy your infant while you can. It also gives you time to relax and take a little nap. Most infants will sleep while you nurse, which means you can sleep too.

15. Breastfeeding helps a mother bond with her baby. Physical contact is important to newborns and can help them feel more secure, warm and comforted. It also helps combat postpartum depression by creating a natural, secure attachment. I had a history of depression prior to getting pregnant, which meant postpartum depression was a major concern. While I have had my "blue" moments, breastfeeding and other attachment parenting techniques have helped me avoid feeling too overwhelmed.

There are lots and lots of benefits to breastfeeding and there isn't a day that goes by that I am not happy about making the choice to breastfeed. I work part-time to full-time and have to pump in order to keep my daughter fed and my milk supply up, but it is still SO worth it. I had planned on breastfeeding until Madilyn's first birthday, but now I'm thinking I will just breastfeed until it feels like it's time to stop. She eats solid foods now too, so I'm not always breastfeeding, but at night, when we are all trying to wind down and relax, it really helps to just lay her across a Boppy and breastfeed her to sleep.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Midwife vs Doctor

My first prenatal appointment with my new OB/GYN went fairly well. She was personable, gave time for answering questions, and talked with me about what kind of schedule I was looking at for tests, etc. I asked about birthing options and she basically broke it down to drugs or no drugs. Induction and/or a c-section was possible, but wholly dependent upon the circumstances of my labor (or lack there of) near term. I didn't really know what else to ask about, so I took my prescriptions for prenatal vitamins and progesterone (I had a history of miscarriages), made an appointment for the next month, and went on my way.

I was really interested in having a water birth, but quickly learned no hospital in Phoenix allowed for water births. However, there was a free-standing birth center that would. Bethany Birth Center (now Bethany Women's Wellness Center) was comprised of two buildings, an office for Women's health care and a birth center where women can give birth in a calm, home-like environment without the aid of drugs or fear of surgery. Better yet, water birth was not only an option but highly encouraged. BBC had four midwives and two OB/GYNs, but the OBs would only deliver in hospital. If I wanted to give birth at the birth center, I would have to become familiar with what exactly a midwife is and does. After about 3 months with my doctor everything seemed to be going well for my pregnancy, so I contacted BBC for my first appointment, all the while reading as much literature as I could about midwives, water birth, and natural birth. I still scheduled my next prenatal appointment with my doctor, just in case I found myself uncomfortable with the birth center.

My first appointment with the midwife was similar to seeing the doctor, and yet different. Instead of urinating into a cup and then sticking into a little alcove for the nurse to take and test, I was given a cup and a test strip, then told to follow the directions posted on the bathroom wall. I tested my own urine for protein and glucose, which meant I knew my status without having to ask later (the doctor, incidentally, had not told me what the urine samples were for). I was weighed and had my blood pressure checked, just as had been done at the doctor, except the nurse encouraged me to write these stats down and keep them logged. I was given a little purple log that would hold the stats for the length of my pregnancy. When I finally got to the exam room it was carpeted instead of tiled and much warmer than the doctor's office. The nurse practitioner saw me and talked to me about what they do at the birth center and the different classes that were offered and required. My doctor did not have birthing classes that ran out of her practice, instead she had referred me to the hospital in which she contracted with. The birth center provided the classes as well as support groups and a 24-hour number in case I had questions or concerns. I had been instructed by my doctor to go to the hospital or call 24-hour nurse line (not associated with her practice) if I had concerns or problems that occurred outside of normal office hours. The difference between the birth center and the doctor came down to a feeling more than anything else. I felt like I was in control of my pregnancy at the birth center and that my voice was important. At my doctor, I felt like just another number with a voice that needed to be silenced when heard. Thus began my prenatal care with nurses and midwives.

When you are pregnant time seems to slow down. Because you are counting every day of every week, you wonder if you will ever make it full term. Birth classes help with the waiting. I attended 5 different classes at the birth center on various things. "Body Works" was a class about what changes happen during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. "Baby Works" taught pregnant moms and soon-to-be-dads about basic baby care for the first three months of life. "Labor Day" included an introduction to all the options available at the birth center, as well as what to expect when you came in during labor. My partner and I also attending a breastfeeding class and a relaxation class. I spent hours putting together a six page birth plan that covered everything from episiotomies to having myself or my partner with our newborn at all times after birth. I read up on everything I could think of related to being pregnant, giving birth, nursing and newborns. When I ran out of new information, I dragged my partner to the hospital tour of the hospital that contracted with the birth center in case of emergency (or patient choice). My partner painted the nursery, my sister threw me a baby shower, and we had just about everything we could possible need to take care of a baby. And yet, after all of this preparing I still felt unprepared.

I was nervous about all the possibilities of labor and birth. I was nervous that I wouldn't be able to nurse for whatever reason, that I wouldn't naturally find myself attached once my daughter was born. Emotionally I was ripping myself to shreds with worry and doubt. At 34 weeks everyone around me was anxious for me to give birth, including my partner. People would ask me if I was ready for to give birth and for pregnancy to just be over already, but I would shake my head and tell them I was enjoying pregnancy and hoped it lasted full-term. I gave excuses like "Never before have I been so healthy and happy" or "She has everything she needs in the womb, why would I want that to end for her?" But really, I was just terrified of becoming a mother, of the new vulnerability that my baby would have once she was naked in this world. Instead of sharing my feelings, I just kept smiling and telling everyone I was in love with being pregnant.

From listening to other pregnant women and mothers, I gathered that on average OB doctors don't ask you about how you feel about being pregnant, and when they ask you how you are they are generally looking for a positive, blanket answer that will not involve them personally. This is not only accepted by most women as normal, but is expected since your OB specializes in female parts and delivering babies, not feelings. But as a pregnant woman I expected a whole lot more from everyone around me, including my prenatal care provider. This is why when the midwife asked me how I was feeling at 36 weeks pregnant, I said I was nervous. If she had been a doctor I imagine she would have told me some stock line like "there is nothing to be nervous about, you are healthy, your baby is healthy, and if anything happens then my staff and I are here to make everything go as smoothly as possible." This answer would have made me even more nervous and uncomfortable, because it wouldn't have addressed why I was nervous in the first place. But I was talking to a midwife, not a doctor, and her reply was a question "why are you nervous?" Suddenly the tears started falling and I realized that I had no idea what all the built up tension was from. So we worked through it. "Are you worried that something will happen to you or the baby?" "No." "Are you worried about being a mother?" "Yes." "Why?" "Because I don't have my mother and I don't really know what mother's do anymore, it's been so long..." BINGO!

We talked for maybe 20 to 30 minutes about my fears and worries, leafing through thoughts that had troubled me in the middle of sleepless nights but had been buried without bothering to talk to anyone about them. The midwife hugged me a few times and gave me an assignment, to express my thoughts and worries through art and bring it in to talk about the next week. I did end up writing, but I never brought it in to show the midwife. Instead we talked each time until I felt better about giving birth and becoming a mom. By my due date, I was anxious to meet our new daughter and ready to begin motherhood.

I started laboring at home the night of my due date, moving into all kinds of positions to deal with the pressure and pain of labor. I labored for three hours before heading to the birth center to meet the midwife. Once at the birth center I labored for another 30 minutes, standing and moving around, until I felt the urge to push. My partner had prepared the bath tub soon after arriving and after reluctantly letting the midwife check to make sure I was fully dilated, I told her I was heading for the tub, striped off the last layer of clothing I had on, and got into the tub to labor another 30 minutes of pushing. My daughter Madilyn was born in the water at 3:33am. My partner Ishmael caught her and lifted her out of the water, then promptly placed her across my chest for warmth. He cut the umbilical cord and I stayed in the water holding Madilyn while I gave birth to the placenta. The only people in the bathroom while I was giving birth were Ishmael and the midwife. There were no monitors beeping or nursing rushing about. In fact the only person touching me was Ishmael, who had his arm around me. Occasionally the midwife checked the baby's progress and told me what she could see and feel. When the baby's head was crowning, she let me know so that I could reach down and feel it for myself. The feeling helped me concentrate and focus on pushing. Throughout the labor and delivery I felt in control. After all, I was the one doing all the work, I should be the one in control of what is happening.

I so enjoyed the birth of my daughter Madilyn that immediately after giving birth I wanted to do it again. During my pregnancy I had told many different people, friends and strangers alike, that this would be my only child, mostly because I was so afraid of labor and delivery. After giving birth I was no longer afraid. If anything, I was motivated. I was home and in my own bed 6 hours after giving birth, resting. For lunch we went to Olive Garden, so I could satisfy my craving for bread sticks, minestrone soup, and endless salad. I cannot imagine giving birth any other way.

Over and over again I have heard horror stories from women who have given birth in a hospital and never again want to give birth. I hear about pushy nurses who are nasty with laboring moms. I hear about doctors who are barely there during labor, some who order cesarean sections after a few hours of labor because they are tired of waiting for the laboring woman to progress far enough to push and some who induce on particular days so that their patient's labor and delivery won't interfere with their golf game or out-of-town vacation. What is common to all of the stories I hear is the feeling of helplessness that the woman felt, of being completely at the mercy of the doctors and nurses. They were told what they could and could not do, and believing that it was out of concern for their health they listened, only to find out it had much more to do with insurance and the "baby assembly line."

The "baby assembly line" is what I call hospital tailored births, because in a hospital birth it is all about protocol. Rather than consider the individual needs and wishes of a woman in labor, they look at her physical stats and proceed from there. Women are not allowed to eat or drink while in labor, no matter how long they have been in labor, just in case the doctor decides to admit the patient for a c-section. Reread that last clause. "In case the doctor decides to admit the patient." An IV is hooked up to every woman in labor to keep her hydrated. She is allowed to have ice chips, but nothing more. In some hospitals she is allowed to walk around while in labor, but once she is dilated past a certain point she is no longer allowed to leave the labor bed. While the midwife was checking my cervix I had to lay down on the bed in the birth center through one contraction, it was the most painful contraction of my entire labor and I was thankful that it was the only one. Many women have to spend their entire labor laying in bed dealing with that kind of pain... which is why many women ask for epidurals. When I consider all of the conditions that a hospital environment dictates to a pregnant woman, it is not surprising to me that so many women are afraid of giving birth, are unhappy with their experiences, and request so much medical intervention to combat what is already being forced upon them.

I am a woman who trusts her body, who listens to the needs of my body, and refuses to deny those needs to satisfy a doctor, or anyone else for that matter. When my body is healthy and functioning in a natural, healthy way, I refuse to relinquish control of my body to anyone. In this way, I take responsibility for my experiences and my happiness. I am more satisfied than most because of it. Pregnancy is a natural process for the female body and should be treated as such until extenuating circumstances change how well the body is prepared for such a complex process. All of the medical inventions that surround birth and labor came about in order to make child birth safer for those women who have extenuating circumstances, NOT to standardize birth so that every woman must endure the same medicalizations for the sake of time and money.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Vegetarian and Pregnant

Becoming a vegetarian was much more about my health than protecting the lives of harmless animals. A friend of mine was vegan and challenged my defense that he needed to eat some form of meat for nutritional value alone. He sent me countless links to various vegan and vegetarian websites, some filled with images of badly mistreated animals and others full of text about what animal farming does to the environment. Call me cold, but I was still not moved to quit eating meat. The world seemed much to big and my efforts much to small to make any kind of real difference. Who really cares if I eat a hamburger instead of a salad? As a last ditch effort he sent me one last site, a science article about hormones in beef. The article explains that cattle are often given testosterone surrogates in order to increase muscle mass, while many cows are given progestins to suppress their reproductive cycles in order to free up resources for muscle building. These hormones not only pass into the meat we consume, but also into the environment through animal feces. Among the consequences are links to cancer and reproductive abnormalities. Young girls are beginning puberty younger, more and more women are experiencing trouble conceiving and multiple miscarriages. The outbreak in breast cancer and prostate cancer can also be linked to the mass quantities of hormones that are taken in through not only beef, but chicken as well. As I kept reading, I stopped eating my chicken nuggets.

It took less than a month to go from eating anything that tasted good, to a vegetarian diet. I continued to eat eggs and drink milk, but even those were in smaller quantities. The following few months I dropped 40 pounds, going from the heaviest I had ever been, to the skinniest. A year later my weight had balanced out at the lower end of what is considered average for my height. As I gained energy, I also began feeling better about my body and made other choices toward Eco-friendly living. While my initial reason to become vegetarian was out of personal health, I began seeing how small changes can have big effects and began caring more about Mother Earth. I became more conscious about recycling and using biodegradable products. I tried to wear 100% cotton clothing and, when I could afford it, buy only naturally dyed clothing. After years of being a vegetarian, I still have a horrible time backing away from leather items, but hey, we can't all be perfect.

Then I became pregnant. My doctor was aware of my vegetarian diet and had supported it for over four years, but when I became pregnant it was a whole new ball game. Not only were my prenatal vitamins of utmost importance, taking in enough protein and calcium were vital to my baby's development and a vegetarian diet just wasn't going to support us both. Angry and frustrated, I did what I do best--I began researching. I not only found wonderful vegetarian recipes specific to pregnancy, but also found research that supported that a vegetarian diet might in fact be optimal to a growing fetus. Dark greens, beans (especially soy), yogurt, and nuts became much more important to my daily intake, but there really weren't many other changes. Being a vegetarian already gave me a fairly healthy lifestyle.

In the easy marriage of vegetarian and pregnant, I realized how my view of feminism had been far too narrow for too long. I had come to feel that being vegetarian was very much a part of my feminism because it encouraged a respect for Nature that I felt was innately feminine. What is more natural to the female body than pregnancy? Nature, much like woman, is cyclical and ever changing. Spring is all about birth and rebirth from the long winters. Pregnancy and birth are therefore what links us at our core to Mother Nature. Barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen no longer became such an awful phrase, instead it rang with beauty and comfort. Modern feminism is, or at least should be, about the ability to make choices. Being barefoot is the only way to go when you are pregnant, in fact I enjoyed my naked body much more while I was pregnant because I no longer felt trapped by media images of what femininity should look like. As for being in the kitchen, when you are pregnant food is your best friend, and because of heightened senses you have to really choose the food you eat to match how you feel. The negative connotation comes from the expectation that a woman is barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen because she is a slave to her husband--having his children while cooking his meals, shoes unnecessary because she won't leave the house--but as a feminist I believe in exercising free will and that includes the will to cook (or bake) naked while pregnant if a woman so desires.

Finding renewed confidence in my Nature-friendly decisions and my body lead me to make another big change: saying goodbye to my doctor and hello to a midwife.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Deconstructing Motherhood: Becoming a Modern Mom

At twenty-two years old I had big ideas about the reality of being a woman in a patriarchal society. I was minoring in Women's Studies, hoping to find my niche in the world by learning about the women who had already found their place in a phalocentric world. We were the daughters of the ultimate wave in feminism, our inhertance was anything we could dream of. We talked of moving off to big cities far from the Phoenix metropolitain area, having high powered jobs that would afford us the luxury of being financially secure without the aid of a man, or anyone for that matter. Having children and getting married were for those women who didn't go to college, or those who did and were only interested in earning their MRS. degree from a fellow student with higher ambitions then their own. To protect ourselves we became pro-contraception, pro-choice, and anti-marriage. Not only were we ambitious in our careers, but we would enjoy the same carefree relationships that our male couterparts often enjoyed without bothering to make a commitment. We, as women, had been oppressed for too long and now it was our time to shine, making sexual freedom, money, and power our reward for all our efforts.

They are great ideas, but not all they are cracked up to be when applied to the real world. It didn't take me long to realize that my power hungry female friends were not so different than my power hungry male friends, and I really didn't appreciate either. It was easy for me to buy into the no-commitments, no-children way of life because I had lost my parents at ten years old and was terrified of trying to learn how to love anyone after being isolated for so long. But that didn't really work out either. I was constantly looking for someone to share my life with, but my reservations about commitment kept me from ever truly trusting anyone, keeping myself closed off and lonely. I had big dreams about moving to New York, having my own flat, being an editor for a publishing house, and spending my life travelling and having as little responsbility as life would allow. Except I didn't want to do it alone. I was lost in ambivalence about what I believed I should be doing as a woman of the twenty-first century and what it was that I truly wanted to do.

The August after I turned twenty-two changed all of that. I was pregnant. The father of my unborn child was my parnter of six months, but I knew without a shadow of doubt he would be a wonderful father... more than that, I loved him and realized I didn't want to imagine my life without him in it. We did our share of talking and fighting and going back and forth about what bringing a child into the world would do to our relationship, our careers, and our personal lives, but in the end we both still very much wanted this little miracle growing in my uterus. So it began. Unmarried, still in school, and without much of a plan, I travelled blindly into the next stage of my life: Motherhood.

There are many "normal" thoughts that cross a woman's mind while she is pregnant, such as Will I be a good mother? and How will I afford a child? But I was unprepared for the bigger questions like How does this redefine my concept of Woman and Feminine? and Is becoming a mother giving into patriarchal expectations? For a feminist and a scholar, these are life changing reflections that not only alter one's perspective, but also reconstruct reality. I had been taught with such gusto that children and husbands cage a woman into domestic life, as if having a family were more like a prison sentence then a chosen pursuit of happiness. I didn't want to be the caged bird, but I realized, quite abruptly, that I did very much want to be a mother. (Deciding I wanted to become my partner's wife came a little later, but came all the same.) With my impending doom less than 9 months away, I set out to deconstruct what motherhood really means and how it is possible to be both a feminist and a mom.