Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thank you, readers

Well well well. We have a winner! It's...ME!

Actually, the winner is Niah (courtesy of randomizer.org). Congratulations! You will soon be bouncing your way to happiness!

But I feel like the winner, because of the many kind people who take time to read this blog. I don't want to wax philosophical or sappy, but I am seriously grateful to all of you. I enjoy writing this blog, and I try to keep my expectations low in terms of other people finding it worthwhile. It's always a pleasure and a huge relief to find out that anybody actually enjoys it.

I love the great discussions that have gone on in some of the comments. I think my favorite set of comments so far is on this entry about food stamps. Reading those experiences made me feel really connected to those women--and that's the goal, right? To use this crazy ole internet to continue knowing people who have meant something to you.

Oh rats, I ended up waxing philosophical after all. To make up for it, here's some middle school girl style gratitude:

OMG U GUYZ ARE TEH bEsT!!!!!!!!!!!!! I TOTES LUV U 4EVA!!!!!! BFF!!!!!!!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Please, pink

I have told people that sometimes I think if I have to put one more pink outfit on Renée I will vomit everywhere.

It was not like this with Luke. I didn't feel like, "Oh my gosh, everything is just BLUE!!! AAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!" I didn't feel like he was being frozen in false masculinity like Han Solo encased in carbonite. But as a mother of a daughter, I feel like every anemic pink toy, onesie, romper, headband, blanket, towel, teething ring or what have you that I expose her to is a brick in a Rapunzel-like tower. Because when you buy things for a child, the boy color can be blue, red, gray, brown, orange, black, green, or any color under the sun (except pink) and the girl version can only be pink. It's not just enough to dress your little girl in pink, pulling pink fabric over her eyes day in and day out. Her entire world must be pink. Her bathtub, her crib sheets, her stroller, her car seat, her swing. Even her burp cloths have to be pink.

It may seem like a trivial thing, but it really does bother me. I feel like it sends a message about possibilities. Like for boys, almost anything can be in the possible realm of masculinity. But for girls, you are tarnishing your femininity if you stray beyond the pink borders the world has set up.

Avoiding pink is a struggle. When you shop, there is a suffocating majority of pink in girl clothing. I've been lucky enough to receive lots of gifts and hand-me-down baby items and baby clothes.  I don't blame anyone for wanting to buy a cute pink swing or a cute pink bouncy seat, and of course I am so grateful for these things, because baby items are nothing if not expensive. And yes, on occasion I think my little girl looks adorable in a fluffy pink dress (but she would also look adorable in a fluffy green dress). It just happens that in the conglomerate of things I've received, pink swallows up any other color.

Why are we expected to color code our children based on gender anyway? Did it begin when birth moved to hospitals instead of homes? Is it a conspiracy to make more money for baby item manufacturers? Is it an American thing? Because I certainly found gobs of stylish baby girl clothes in rich greens, blues, yellows, and purples at H&M. Is it for the convenience of strangers, so the random old lady at the grocery store can make gendered statements like "Your son looks so strong!" or "Your girl is so sweet"?

Oh, I know why. The color coding is to help us keep children's qualities clearly separate, since a small overlap on silliness is the only characteristic boys and girls share:
Circo® Newborn Girls' Long-Sleeve Bodysuit - White Circo® Newborn Boys' Long-Sleeve Bodysuit - White
(These are shirts made by Circo and sold at Target. I saw them for sale side-by-side a couple weeks ago.)

I do everything I can to dress Renée in cool, feminine clothes in a variety of colors. And because she is so often not wearing pink, people always say things like "What a cute little brother."  Renée has the most gorgeous deep blue eyes, and I would love to put her in a pastel blue outfit to bring out the color even more. That's one of my shopping goals--find something pretty in light blue. Who cares what strangers assume?

I struggle, because I don't outright reject femininity as a part of womanhood. I'm not promoting Star Trek style unisex clothing for everyone. Women wear dresses, and it's sooo cute to see little baby girls in tiny dresses, just as it's cute to see little baby boys in tiny suits. And on a deeper level, I do believe in gifts that women inherently possess, thanks to both biology and divinity. There's a difference between strong femininity and weak femininity; it's the difference between Katniss and Bella.

But I do reject femininity as a cage around womanhood. I reject equating femininity with sex-appeal. I reject weaving a pink web around girls when they're little and then acting surprised when they have body-image issues, and confidence issues, and leaving all the hands-on aspects of science experiments to boys issues, and "I'm not good at math" issues, and "My body is broken and a doctor/formula company has to save me" issues, and "I didn't want to seem rude so I let someone walk all over me" issues when they grow up!

I reject the misogyny that is woven so thoroughly into our cultural identity that female professors join with male professors in judging women as less qualified for positions in science, technology, engineering and math fields (when exposed to identical resumes that have either a man's name or a woman's name on the top).

I reject the idea that a woman can't be funny unless she's ugly.

I reject that not even a quarter of state legislators nationwide are women.

Is pink to blame for all of these problems? No, I suppose not. Do I think it's wrong to ever dress my little girl in pink? No--in moderation, it's a cute and fun color. But a child is making impressions about the world long before they ever learn to speak. I don't want Renée to believe that pink is the only color in her rainbow of possibility.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Thank you, good doctors

I have a lot of friends in medical school. Nick and I joke that we're only friends with future doctors, not future lawyers (though that is a little different now that we're actually at law school, haha). I sometimes alarm or offend my doctor friends with the things I write in this blog.

That always leaves me scrambling to explain myself. I do not hate doctors--truly I don't. But because I believe health care is so important, I do expect a lot of doctors. It makes me really angry when care providers are manipulative or ignorant or liability-minded or selfish and their patients pay for it. Sadly, within my family and friends, there have been a lot of bad experiences with doctors. That is part of why I sometimes shoot fire arrows at the medical forest--sometimes I just want to burn it all down and hope better seeds take root in the ashes.

But, the great thing is, there are good doctors in the world. I want to talk about a couple of them.

First, Dr. Aaron Robinson. He was our first pediatrician for Luke. I have alluded to his awesomeness before, but I don't think I've ever told the full story. Many of you already know that I had a rough time starting out with breastfeeding. At Luke's two week appointment, everything seemed great. He was back up over his birth weight, and was healthy and alert. I wasn't scheduled to come back until 8 weeks. But in the intervening time, it really didn't seem like Luke was gaining weight. I expressed this to Nick several times, and he tried to reassure me, but I knew something was up. Since we did Medicaid, this health department nurse wanted to do a follow-up appointment at our house. I agreed, because I wanted to know if Luke was gaining. She came when he was around 5 weeks old. And lo and behold, he hadn't really gained since his first appointment.

I had some ideas about what I might do differently with nursing. I told her my ideas, and she agreed to come back in a week and see if there was any change. Luke had only gained a couple ounces. I tried some more ideas. Not really any change. The third time she came, she said, "Well, some women just don't make enough milk. You should probably supplement" (not the last time I would hear these words). I was trying so hard, and I knew that using any formula at all would be completely counterproductive to my breastfeeding efforts. Plus, as I've said before, paying for formula was not an option. I had to make breastfeeding work. I did not allow her into my home again after she said that.

By this time, I had to take Luke to an appointment with WIC. The day before the appointment, some things finally clicked together in my mind and I knew that block nursing (nursing on one side several times in a row or for a certain number of hours before switching) could really be my answer. I told my whole story to one WIC counselor, who was very kind, and suggested I talk with a lactation consultant there just in case. This lactation consultant came to talk to me in the lobby. She said, "So your baby's not gaining weight." She told me I should come in for a weigh-feed-weigh (which I am incredibly opposed to). I started to decline, and she proceeded to tell me how if I didn't accept her help, I would be "compromising my baby's brain development." I immediately interrupted her and said, "I'm sorry, but that's really unkind of you to say, I am really stressed out and I don't need you to tell me that I'm going to make my baby stupid." She started to say that she was concerned about my baby, and if I really cared about my baby, then...I don't know what else she wanted to say, because at this point Nick interrupted and said that for today, we were going home, but that if we wanted to do a weigh-feed-weigh, we would contact her.

It was a heated exchange, and it happened in front of lots of people. I was livid, and I definitely called her supervisor. But the joke was on me, since when I showed up to Luke's 8 week appointment the next week (after block nursing for five days) the lactation consultant had called Dr. Robinson and threatened to call social services.

Some pediatricians would have automatically been on the side of the lactation consultant. Some peds would have told me to supplement with formula right away. But not Dr. Robinson. Not only did he recognize that the lactation consultant was out of line, he talked to Nick and I with trust and respect. He listened attentively to everything that I had been doing with breastfeeding, and asked lots of qualitative questions about Luke's wellbeing. Since I started block nursing, Luke had gained an ounce a day, which is a great rate. Dr. Robinson asked us to come back a week and a half later, and said that if Luke was a certain weight by then, then we'd assume that all was well and he'd see us at the 4 month appointment. (Note: if you would like to know what factored into my decision to block nurse, feel free to contact me.)

Dr. Robinson's kindness and confidence in my ability to trouble-shoot with breastfeeding meant so much to me. So many pediatricians automatically shatter a woman's belief that she can breastfeed. So many strong-arm a mother into doing a weigh-feed-weigh, or to measure how much she can pump out. So many throw up their hands and sympathetically say, "You just aren't making enough milk," tell moms it's nothing to be ashamed of, and that they should just go ahead and do formula. So many neglect to ask about a mom's nursing habits, or to make any real suggestions about how to problem-solve with breastfeeding. So many just don't know enough about breastfeeding, and so they frankly aren't informed enough to give nursing counsel. So many just aren't invested enough in changing the breastfeeding numbers in this country, which are truly low. If your pediatrician says or does anything to undermine your breastfeeding relationship, GET A NEW PEDIATRICIAN. Good pediatricians will do everything they can to help you breastfeed, not tell you that you suck at making milk.

Luke was always a slim baby, but he started to gain weight quite steadily with block nursing. We had a great nursing relationship which gradually slowed up until Renée was born, when he stopped asking. Dr. Robinson was a key part of my breastfeeding success--just as many lesser peds are a key part of women's end to breastfeeding.

Dr. Robinson treated Nick and I like intelligent, responsible parents. There was absolutely no condescension in his manner. He was always present at our appointments--as in, he didn't rush in, give a distracted summary of Luke's percentiles, and rush out. He took time to talk with us. He helped us work out a flexible, modified vaccine schedule for Luke. I recommend Dr. Robinson to everyone in his area.

When we moved out to law school, I put off taking Luke to a pediatrician for a long time, because I was so afraid of ending up with a bad one. But thanks to a recommendation from another naturally minded mama, I ended up with Dr. Greg Gelburd. For many years in a row, he's been voted the best pediatrician in the area in the local news magazine.

Dr. Gelburd shares many characteristics with Dr. Robinson, but as Dr. Gelburd is probably old enough to be Dr. Robinson's father, those qualities are even more prominent. Dr. Gelburd is even more focused on qualitative medicine, on caring for Luke and Renée as complete individuals. He doesn't treat my children like some sort of robots playing out a program of prescribed milestones and percentiles. In fact, as I've mentioned, he has never told me the weight or height percentiles for either of my children. We spend appointment time having real, functional conversations about my children's health and development. It is so enjoyable, refreshing, and validating to go to appointments; Nick and I both love it.

It's naive to think that with so much money at stake in medicine that all the people involved--pharm companies, vaccine makers, physicians, government regulators--are just super altruistic and only have patients' best interests in mind. People have to be informed about their own health and have to make their own decisions. When you have access to a respectful doctor who takes the time to get to know you, then your ability to make good health decisions is greatly enhanced.

On the Diane Rehm show this week, there was an excellent conversation about the primary care crisis in America. High-quality primary care could make a difference for so many people--it has certainly made a difference for my little family. I hope some of my dear med school friends will swell the ranks of awesome primary care doctors.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Thank you, yoga ball

Yoga ball, exercise ball, birth ball, pilates ball, balance ball, fitness orb. They're used by such lovable comic characters as...



Personally, I refer to my green sphere of joy as a yoga ball. As of last month, I have had my Gaiam brand yoga ball for five years. I have used it virtually every day of those five years. I'm sitting on it right now, balanced on top in a tailor sit while I type at my desk.

I fell in love with these gems at the office of Friends of the National Zoo. I walked in on the first day of my internship in 2007 to see every employee sitting on a yoga ball instead of a traditional desk chair. It certainly gave the office a fun atmosphere, but I didn't really get it--until I'd spent several weeks using one for 5-6 hours every day. The ball was ridiculously more comfortable than a desk chair. It was easier to sit up correctly, my bum didn't get tired, my back didn't ache, and I didn't feel drowsy from being sedentary. When you're sitting on a yoga ball while working, you constantly move, whether you notice it or not. It energizes you while you stare at a screen. And, as Dwight points out, it strengthens your core.

I'll be honest--I'm obsessed with my yoga ball. I love it so much that I made Nick get one too, early in our marriage. Here are some more reasons we love our yoga balls:

1. Babies! Both of our babies have been magically soothed by being held and bouncing on the yoga ball. Bouncing unties any knot of fussiness. For the baby, I think is very close to the motion of walking, which they of course love after their 9-month sojourn in the womb. For the parent, it is much easier to sustain bouncing long enough to calm a child than it is to sustain walking, swaying, or anything else that keeps you on your feet. We have a rocking chair, and we do like it, but both of our babies have vastly preferred the ball over the chair. A common saying in our house is, "I'll bounce her down," as in, bouncing baby girl down to sleep.

2. Portability! This has two aspects--in home and travelling. In home, it is so nice to be able to use the yoga ball wherever we need it. For instance, you can't pull a rocking chair up to the table during a meal, but you CAN hold your cranky baby, bounce on a yoga ball, and eat a hummus wrap for lunch all at the same time! It wouldn't be easy to use a rocking chair at a desk, but you CAN put your baby in a Moby wrap, bounce on a yoga ball, and type a blog entry all at the same time! I am quite accustomed to doing this. Nick doesn't use the Moby wrap, but he has his own baby-ball-desk style. Luke gave his dad the stylish hat, of course:

Photo: This is what working at home entails for my sweet husband. Strainer hat courtesy of Luke.'

So in home, they are easy to move around (without using your hands!) from room to room. But when you're a young student family, you often go home to visit parents--parents who may or may not have gear for helping to put a baby to sleep. How easy is it to deflate the yoga ball and slip it into a suitcase with a pump? SO EASY. So easy, in fact, I even brought my yoga ball with me when I lived in Belgium for four months. That's how much I love my yoga ball. 

3.  Exercise! I didn't have babies or a husband when I brought my yoga ball to Belgium--it came along as a desk chair and exercise tool. Gaiam yoga balls come with a workout DVD, and we all know how much I love those. I didn't want to go running in Belgium or do some noisy, vigorous workout when I was renting a room in a house. My yoga ball offered a challenging, unobtrusive workout. Plus, as I already mentioned, simply using the yoga ball day in, day out gives you secret exercise. Oooooo. 

4. LABOR! Many laboring mamas love to use yoga balls--and I am among them. I didn't use one during my labor with Luke, (because they wiped it down with this cleaner and the smell of it made me vomit...) but with Renée, you bet I did! It's so easy to achieve a comforting counter-rhythm during contractions when you're draped over the ball. Sitting and bouncing is a great way to pass the time during a long, slow labor as well. A yoga ball is just another great trick to have up your natural birth sleeve. 

Now, because I'm obsessed with my yoga ball, and to celebrate *100* entries in this lil blog of mine, I am doing my first ever giveaway! HOORAY! 

I am giving away a Gaiam Balance Ball (sized to the winner). I hope I've made it amply clear how valuable these things are. If I haven't then...Oh yes, I forgot to mention that all yoga balls also make you rich and famous. 

To enter, leave a comment on this entry. You will get extra entries if:
--You follow the blog
--You share the giveaway on Facebook, Twitter, or anywhere else (tell me in your comment if you've done this). 

I will leave the giveaway open till next Monday, October 22. I will announce the winner in my 100th blog entry next week!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Thank you, perspective

I've often remarked that I have never prayed so much in my life as I did in the first few months postpartum with Luke. Motherhood has a steep learning curve, and I had standards I wanted to keep for myself. I still do have standards, and when I don't live up to them, it feels terrible.

People have been asking me a lot lately how things are going with two kids. I just keep saying every day is different. Some days I feel really on top of it, and other days I do not.

Today has been one of the "not" days. If I am not careful to keep my serene, grassy field of motherhood well-watered with the word of God, then the smallest spark results in a wave of wildfire. Suddenly my patience and gentleness go up in the flames and I am left feeling scorched, angry, and rough.

This is not what I want for myself or my children, and it's not what I accept. When I lose my cool, it leaves me feeling exhausted and full of anguish. I always apologize to Luke, and I always think of Jean A. Stevens' words about children--they are always the first to love, and the first to forgive.

I still offer a multiplicity of mama prayers, but to be honest, in the heat of a flash fire, they don't always calm me down. But I know that there is a God in heaven when I get on Facebook right after a 45 minute naptime showdown and the first notification is an invite from a couple I know that is trying to draw attention to their adoption profile. I know these good people from college. They've probably been married for 6 or 7 years now. I had no idea that they were struggling to have kids.

As I read their adoption Facebook page, all of the anger drained out of me. All of the petty irritation, all of the immaturity and impatience. In its place was a crippling sense of humility. This gal and guy held prominent leadership positions in my freshman ward at BYU. I know how incredibly sweet and righteous they are. They are yearning for children, and here I am, feeling put upon because my toddler took a while to wind down.

I want to do better. I will.