Wednesday, March 30, 2011


On Sunday, we had a bunch of families over, several of whom were in our birth classes. We've been getting together regularly, and various smaller groups of us also meet up for walks or going to the park, etc. This is, hands down, one the most important pieces of advice I have to give to new moms. Don't isolate yourself.

A friend just sent me a newspaper article yesterday about having a baby and finding yourself suddenly in the barren, lonely landscape of the 1950s middle class, white gender divide. It is truly a shocker for current day women to suddenly find their universe shrunk to the size that this tiny, dependent, not terribly interesting little baby occupies - everything else seems to vanish. And, the woman writing the article explains, compared to other advances women in Western countries have made, domestic tasks, especially those surrounding child rearing, are still startlingly unequal. This reminded me of a book I read a number of years ago, Wifework, which was great in the sense that is was fascinating...and horrible in the sense that it was pretty depressing look at what marriage and motherhood really mean for women...

On a societal level, this problem is complicated...and overwhelming. That doesn't mean, of course, that we should ignore it, but, I have to think - some of the time - on a more individual level. Like how am I, this person, right here, right now, living in a country with no mandated paid maternity/paternity leave, without adequately funded childcare options, going to negotiate motherhood in a way that is, overall, positive? Well, creating a community is crucial to this. I know I'm not the first to say this, but the nuclear family sucks. Maybe it takes a village to raise a child partially because the parents go crazy on their own? So, I say to all considering motherhood - think of it as an opportunity to grow your community and connect with others. It's still hard but so much better. I love so many, many mothers I have met this year. They have, undoubtedly, helped me continue to feel connected, positive and human.

On Sunday, I captured a little video of Ila with two girls who were born on the same day as her last year. A couple from our birth group had their daughter at the birth center the same night...and it's something very sweet to share. Though, at 4 AM when I could hear new little baby Charlotte crying, I felt quite jealous that it wasn't my baby that had finally come...and that I had more labor to get through. The other couple, who we know through the university, was giving birth at the hospital I had to transfer to because my placenta didn't deliver. Small world. Anyway, here the girls are...sort of sharing the little interactive table...

I am also lucky to have my mother around - lucky also to like having my mother around! Anyway, she is a bit crazy about Ila. I'm not sure how she would put it, in her more guarded way, but she totally loves playing with Ila and enjoying her new talents, like dancing and clapping.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Judgy Judge Judge Crawly Crawl Crawl

Recently, I was getting to be a bit smug about the whole sleeping thing. Ila was still waking up a couple times a night, but she was back asleep so quickly. And, she's in bed with me, so it's not that big a deal. Roll over, nurse, go back to sleep. Okay, I was beyond smug. I was really starting to become very retroactively judgmental about my early days with Ila. The sleep issue was the worst between 3 and 6 months for us...and I started looking back and thinking maybe it was me; maybe she has always been a fairly decent sleeper - you know, I was all uptight, tightly wound, not accepting this new world of sleep and failing to move through the whole experience without resistance. It was me.

Then last week happened: No; the earlier struggles with sleep were not because of me. It was Ila. She was going through a crappy sleeping phase. Moreover, I haven't grown and become all zen and accepting. Nope. Things just got better. I know this because last week she woke and stayed awake for an hour and cried and woke and stayed awake for two hours and nursed five times in a night and cried and stayed awake. And guess what? I was not all accepting and mature. I was pretty damn grumpy about the whole thing.

What I want to know is why I feel the need to look back and edit or judge or make sense of what happened in the past in some way that is totally dependent on my current experience. Change is just so hard to wrap my head around. It is, I suppose, not unique to me. It is a deeply human impulse to try and create a narrative that is stable. Even constructing a narrative is ultimately sort of questionable vis-a-vis reality...which is not really a narrative at all.

Similarly, the idea of "progress" for babies is totally problematic. I mean, Ila does a lot of experimenting in movement, vocalizing, eating, sleeping...that don't necessarily lead to anything. I guess in general she is progressing in development overall, but it's not a clear step-by-step process. It's full of weird behaviors that she does for a day or three...and then drops. Also, she's just suddenly do things without any prior "practice." I think this is why a lot of folks get so irritated by the milestones.

For example, ;last week, she was crossing her first two fingers on each hand constantly. Now she is done with that. Instead, this week, she claps her hands and throws her hands up over her head like a gymnast triumphantly completing her routine. She loves it if you do it as well. Then, she'll do the whole thing over again. Actually, this week, she's generally into mimicry. This was supposed to start a long time ago according to the milestones, but, as noted earlier, that pretty much means nothing. She will mimic syllables (especially "ma ma ma ma," which I particularly like to encourage), clapping, and her Victory Arms gesture. But who knows? She may stop all this tomorrow and never do it again. Looking for a real clear progression is totally absurd (...which is probably a life lesson from all this that I should try to apply to the rest of my experiences, but we'll see how far that goes).

In regards to the fallacy of "progress," Ila can crawl...but she doesn't really want to. She scoots on her butt a little or tries to stand up and climb on things rather than hang out on her hands and knees. Now, she could just never really crawl as a means of getting around or all this scrabbling and clambering around could lead to crawling. It's very fascinating how unpredictable and individual all this development is.

I had been thinking this was all proto-crawling and that she couldn't actually crawl yet. Eventually, this little crawling-like movements would lead - Ta Da! - to "real" crawling. Well, then I happened to leave her pacifier on one end of the bed and set her down on the other. Suddenly, she was crawling. She can do a lot when properly motivated, apparently. Still she has no interest in crawling out in the world. She may never really like to crawl. Who can say?

At any rate, this is a really exciting period. She loves to pick up toys, figure them out, toss 'em down, scoot around, stand up, do her bouncy little dance to songs she likes, babble and screech, play hide and seek or "chase the mama," get thrown up in the air dangerously close to the ceiling, read, eat books, eat paper in general, eat in general. She's pretty fabulous.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Eat, Poop, Read

Ila has become a book aficionado in the last several weeks. Okay, admittedly, she's loved books for a while but mostly as a chew toys. Now she's actually into the stories and pictures and turning the pages and hearing the animal sounds and petting the furry patches on the "Touch & Feel" books... In other words, books have gone from a digestive delight to a more cerebral one. Okay, she'll still nibble a corner if you let her. Paper products of all kinds are a favorite snack of hers, after all. It was amazing to watch this transformation. One day, she was still a squiggly little bundle with absolutely no interest in what you were doing while you tried to read her night time stories...then, all of a sudden, she was laughing and screeching and cooing at the pictures. It's sort of alarming how completely babies can change, seemingly overnight.

Another bizarrely fast adaptation our little one made recently is pooping and peeing on a potty. We've been just putting her on the toilet with a cute "toilet seat reducer" four or five times a day - and, surprisingly, she often goes to the bathroom there. I know a number of parents who are really into the whole "elimination communication"/diaper free baby business. I was intrigued by it but had about as much motivation to try it with Ila as I had to, say, jump out of airplane when she was a newborn. Some folks do it that young, apparently with success. I was too exhausted and totally bewildered to add anything like that to the mix. Still, I thought about trying it as she got older, but I really hadn't gotten around to it. Then, at the end of January, our diaper service went out of business and, to be perfectly honest, the thought of dealing with lots of poopy cloth diapers and a gray water system provided the needed motivation. She pooped on the potty the second time I set her on it. Crazy. She still pees and poops occasionally in her diaper, but she goes a lot on the toilet. And she just started did it - bam! I find it a little strange that she would get it so instantly, but I guess babies are more cued into these things than I give them credit for...

Along these follow-the-lead-of-the-baby ridiculous hippie-style parenting lines, we've been doing this "baby-led weaning" strategy for introducing solid foods. Contrary to what the name of this method would lead you to believe, this approach has little to do with weaning. Right at the start, the authors of the book (called Baby Led Weaning) explain that if you take this route, your child really should be able to breast feed on demand for as long as they need to, probably well into their second year of life, at least. I understand why they chose this name - you introduce solids and get your baby off the breast all in their time - baby-led! But I think the choice to put "weaning" in the title of a method that has no real weaning goal is odd. Okay, I guess there's a weaning method, but it's not really an objective in any concrete way.

Maybe the name puts me off because, at this point, I don't really care about weaning. Really, I sometimes think I could do the whole crazy breast feed until the baby is like five. If you are lucky enough to not have to pump and you're past the first month of nipple torture, breast feeding is pretty darn awesome. Even in the middle of the night I sort of love it. I roll over and she latches on. It's awesome choreography. Or, we're like the mother-ship and the little satellite ship coming to dock. Really, that's what I think about at 2 AM. Almost every night. Why? Maybe I watched Star Wars or The Next Generation too much as a young person.

Anyway, the main idea of baby-led weaning, however stupidly named, is that you introduce solids that your baby can hold onto, manipulate, and feed to themselves, instead of spoon-feeding them only purees. We do still feed soft and gooey foods to her with a spoon, but she loves to be in charge of her own food. It's fairly interesting and has gone pretty well. She gags occasionally, and I have fleeting fears of her choking. This often happens when she's eating a totally mushy, non-choke-causing food like yams. Though nerve-wracking, I guess that's all pretty normal for the beginning of eating. Whenever anything more than a pea-sized amount of food - say hummus - gets into her mouth, she'll often gag. I guess this is a reflex to keep babies from choking, but it also makes for a lovely meal time sound track.

Despite the gagging, she was totally fascinated by food from the beginning, but, in the last two weeks, she seems to actually want to eat, not just taste and play with food. Like with the books, it's like a switch has been flipped. Before, food was interesting; now it appetizing. Her little pincer grip - the ability to grab with index and thumb - has markedly improved recently, too. This makes the whole eating thing a little more engaging and workable for her as well! She's still wildly clumsy with food - and sometimes when she's worked so hard to get the bit of food in her little fingers and then drops it right as she's trying to put it in her moth, I feel so sorry for her. Really, I almost start crying a little. Needless to say, she doesn't care at all. In fact, it seems kind of fun for her as she works on her hand coordination. All I can think of, though, is serious accident victims learning to feed themselves again in some grueling physical therapy situation.

Other than our more routine daily adventures, we did have a real life International Traveling Adventure. Actually, there wasn't too much adventure in our venture...just long traveling days to Belize for our dear friends' lovely wedding. Ila's interest in books was a blessing on our flights. Although Kiyomi and I got a little tired of reading Where Does Maisy Live? after the hundredth time. Still, Ila was, all in all, a real traveling champ during her first international trip. She loved the water, the sand - especially eating the sand - all the new people, pineapple and riding on Kiyomi's back on a bike. Yeah, this was the dare-devilry of our trip. There wasn't a baby bike helmet to be had on the island, apparently. We felt a bit guilty, but it was so fun to be able to ride with her. I rationalized it by telling myself there aren't any cars on the island and not even any pavement - just packed sand. Plus, everybody else was doing it!

Well, it all worked out without incident, fortunately. It was so lovely just to hang out - the three of us - without any work to do. Just eating, riding around the island, going to the beach, seeing our friends, putting Ila on the potty now and then, reading Maisy books over and over. I'm not quite sure why I'm not always on vacation.