Sunday, October 25, 2009

natural birth: si, se puede!

Does it hurt to give birth? Yes! Can we handle the pain? Yes!!!

Last weekend, I went to my birthing class reunion. We had all met in June for two full days of class (mainly learning breathing techniques for pain management and about the birthing experience itself) when we were very, very pregnant.

Before the class ended, we had gone around the room and each shared with the group what our plans and hopes were for the births we were about to experience. Most everyone there said that they were hoping to have a natural birth, without drugs. Some said that they were “open to” pain medication, though, if they “needed” it (I’ve actually never known anyone who has said this and still ended up doing it naturally). Others, like myself, were not considering an epidural or any other drugs. Many of us were planning to use the natural birthing center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital. You have to be pre-authorized by your doctor to use it and, once there, you do not have the option of an epidural because they don’t have that sort of intervention in the rooms.

At the reunion, there were five couples there with their babies. We went around the room and told our birth stories. Of four women who had planned to use the birthing center (including myself), none of us were able to in the end (two of us due to being labeled “high risk” during a complicated labor, one because her baby was two weeks past his due date, and one because her baby was crowning in the car ride over and she gave birth within 15 minutes of being taken via wheelchair into the hospital!). I had been so crushed when they didn’t let me use the birthing center and my birth plan was turned on its head…I wish I had known then how common it was to be turned away, so I didn’t feel like such a failure in the moment. At the same time, I have to wonder: who the heck does get to use that beautiful facility? If I had realized how difficult it would be to get in and that I was going to have to have a hospital birth in the end anyway, I probably would have chosen a hospital a lot closer to home!

But the big surprise of the reunion for me was this: three of the five moms there ended up having epidurals--even two of them who had been planning to use the natural birthing center. The woman who was crowning in the car and gave birth witin minutes of arrival, clearly, had her baby naturally. I also gave birth without pain medication. What I heard from the other four mothers were things like: ”I tried to do it without drugs, but it was necessary to get the epidural in the end” and “I just couldn’t do it.”

I am not trying to belittle their pain or say that it is bad that they went with an epidural. It is, of course, a personal choice. I just left the reunion being really sad, though, because these were women who had wanted a natural birth experience and didn’t trust their bodies enough to let them have it. Clearly, we--as women--were made to give birth and, of course, to be able to handle the pain. It’s part of what separates us from men and I think it is a great gift to be able to test and stretch the boundaries of our strength in this way. It was hands down the most empowering thing I have ever experienced.

Ever since I have given birth to my daughter--after 36 hours of labor (much of it back labor because Ruby was trying to come out the wrong way) and getting her manually turned inside my belly (yow!)--I have felt a renewed sense of energy and conviction that I am, in fact, a strong and capable woman. If my back hurts from carrying her around all day in a sling, or my feet hurt from trekking around the city, I find myself constantly thinking: “Suck it up, girl. If you could go through all that without drugs, then you sure as hell can do this.” And it works. I used to go out of my way to figure out routes in the city that invovled less walking. Now I walk constantly. I used to feel tired walking to the park and back. Now I can strap a baby to my chest and go the whole day without pooping out.

Was labor the most painful thing I have ever experienced? Yes! I’m not going to lie: it hurts. It really, really hurts. You’ll never really understand the term “ring of fire” until you feel it for yourself. Jude asked me what it felt like when Ruby came out and this is what I said: “Imagine a hole on your body that is full of nerve endings and is very sensitive getting stretched out to 10 times its regular size, then sliced with a million tiny papercuts treated with gasoline that is then subsequently lit on fire.” It’s called labor for a reason and that’s because it’s a lot of hard work! It may be beautiful, but it's sure not pretty!

But the second my beautiful baby was placed on my belly, none of it mattered. It didn’t matter that I had been keeled over in the lobby of the hospital throwing up into an overflowing garbage can with my dad holding my hair back from my face. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t slept in over 48 hours or eaten in 36. It didn’t matter how much I had hurt, or how much I still hurt. Because Ruby was bright-eyed and alert and latched on for milk within minutes of facing this world. I was fully present in that moment, my senses on overdrive. I felt so much love for my husband and my baby girl that I thought my heart would break. And I felt every stitch that the doctor pulled as she sewed me back up!

There are so many benefits to natural birth, not least of which is that it helps you to understand the changing parameters of pain (a 10 on the pain scale will never be the same in my eyes again!) and your perception of your own strength.

My hope for Ruby is that she will learn to believe in her own strength…to be fearless…to push through the lowest lows in order to revel in the highest highs…and to live a life full of vibrancy and color. I feel compelled with a maternal urgency to try to be this kind of person for her. A person Ruby can be proud of.

Millions of women have done this before me. Millions of women will do this after me.

I am woman. Hear me roar. RAARrrr.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

solving baby sock chaos

Ruby has a lot of socks. I actually didn’t purchase a single pair of socks for her…but, inevitably, people buy babies socks for presents. I think it’s because they are adorable (people are suckers for anything that is the miniature version of what adults wear–like a suit and tie for a little boy) and they come in sets with cute packaging that make them irresistable to a gift-giver.

In any case, what I ended up with was a bin full of baby socks of all different colors, patterns, sizes, etc. It was immediately out of control and it drove me crazy for the first two months of Ruby’s life–I would put on Ruby’s outfit and then pull out the bin to find some socks to match and would dig and dig for the right color and then the match for the sock I chose.

If you live in a small apartment like me, you probably don’t have the luxury of a whole drawer dedicated to baby socks that would make for easy searches. Instead, they’re all stuffed into a tiny space.

My solution: take plastic sandwich baggies, quart-sized, and divide all of the socks up by color, style, etc. and then line them up in a small storage container. Label the baggies in permanent marker. My categories are: pink-whites, light pinks, medium pinks, dark pinks, yellows, greens, blues, others (red, purple, etc.), and shoe-socks (ones made to look like ballet slippers, mary janes, tennies, etc.). I keep leg warmers and tights loose outside the baggies.

My new system is working out beautifully…It take me a fraction of the time it used to to dress her cute little feet.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

staring at letters is the new reading

I started "reading" books to Ruby when she was only a week or two old. She is now almost four months and will often sit quietly--totally entranced--through 4 or 5 board books before turning her attention elsewhere. She is mesmerized by both pictures and, surprisingly, written words. She will just stare and stare at the sentences on the pages. I hope this translates to a love for the written word when she is older, too!

Here are some of her favorites (i.e. that produce the most smiles!):

1. Global Babies by The Global Fund for Children
Ruby can't get enough of these babies. She stares at each of them and gives smiles freely to them. She reaches out and touches them these days, too! Babies LOVE babies!

2. Happy Baby: Colors by Roger Priddy

The bright colors in this book made it an early favorite--especially the last few pages that show multi-colored things (like beach balls and macaws) and the black-and-white page!

3. In My Nest by Sara Gillingham

There is a whole series of these books with little finger puppets sticking through the hold in the middle of the book. Ruby grabs at it all the time as I make it move around!
4. Jamberry by Bruce Degen

Ruby loves the pictures in this book and loves the rhythm of the words as I make silly voices to read it aloud.
5. Duck Ellington Swings Through the Zoo: Baby Loves Jazz by Andy Blackman Hurwitz and Andrew Cunningham

This actually comes with a CD inside the book that plays selections of "Duck Ellington" playing jazz in the styles of some of the greats--Monk, Coltrane, etc. Ruby loves the colorful pictures and the music on the CD is very calming. I suggest stocking up on good music for baby that doesn't annoy you to death!
6. Goodnight, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann

This is an adorable classic with pictures that are easy to tell a story to. Sometimes it's hard to come up with things to "say" to your baby after a while, but this one is easy to babble about!
7. Olivia's Opposites by Ian Falconer

This is great because it's all black, white, and red--which, since babies first see only contrast, are the easiest and most exciting colors for them to look at early on!
8. Yummy Yucky by Leslie Patricelli

This is a cute book with cute pictures!
9. B is for Bear by Roger Priddy

Another Roger Priddy favorite. This is a touch-and-feel book with bright, clear
10. There's a Wocket in my Pocket! by Dr. Suess

This is one of the master's classics. I remember this one so vividly from my own childhood that I get crazy dejavu as I look at the pictures. I have a feeling Ruby will remember them vividly as well, the way she squints her eyes and stares at the creatures on the pages! My favorite is the Nooth Grush on the toothbrush!
I hope your baby's like these, too! Feel free to comment and suggest others!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

dressing up the twins

Nothing about my beautiful baby depressed me after her birth. One thing that did make me sad, however, was the realization that I was going straight from maternity clothes to nursing clothes for at least another year. I needed to invest--yet again-- in some new shirts that actually fit me (pre-pregnancy too small, maternity too big) and that have easy access for my little guzzler. People tell you that when your milk comes in that you can expect to gain another 1-2 cup sizes...which is terrifying if your prenancy has already swelled you to a 36E-F!

I knew I was in trouble when I realized that it's close to impossible to find nursing bras in my size, much less anything cute! *sigh*

When you are this well-endowed, it's really hard to find shirts that allow for easy feeding access (many of the slits in nursing shirts are too small for me) and that are stylish at all (so many are just out-and-out dumpy). So far, the best two brands that I've found are Aimee Gowns for dressing up and Momzelle for dressing down.

Aimee Gowns only has one style of nursing shirt in both a short-sleeved and a long-sleeved version. It is incredibly comfortable and the fabric has a beautiful sheen to it that makes it stand out as a dressy top. The short-sleeved version is a little bit more flattering because of it's cute fluttery cap sleeves. It comes in black or a deep ocean blue. The long-sleeved version comes in black or a deep garnet, perfect for the holidays. What I like most about this shirt is that you can choose between a hidden opening below the boobs to lift up for feeding/pumping, or the v-neckline can be easily pushed aside. The fabric stretches, but bounces right back and doesn't get stretched out. I usually wear a scarf or a shawl around my neck at work, though, because the neckline is pretty low.

Above photo by Emily Rumsey @ Mamabella Photography

Aimee Gowns also carries ultra-comfy nursing nightgowns and pajamas that I love. However, to call them "bra-less" (they do) is an absurdity if you have the size problem or any leaking issues.

Momzelle is a Canadian company that makes comfy, cute, and simple nursing tops. They make public breastfeeding so much easier, as the openings have enough fabric that you can really hide everything that the baby's mouth isn't covering. The only downside is that they are a little pricey ($45 for a basic t-shirt), but, in my opinion, they are worth it. My first order from them took a while to ship (from Canada), but the customer service was super friendly and they said they'd had some trouble with the U.S. mail but were working it out. My second order arrived in three days, so apparently they did, in fact, work it out.

Nothin' is hangin' out while Ruby is feasting!

The only nursing bra that I have found that fits properly, is comfortable enough to wear to sleep, and doesn't get stretched out from feedings is the Bella Materna Anytime Nursing Bralet. It is by far the most expensive bra I have ever owned, but considering that I had burned through three cheaper ones in a month after Ruby's birth because they got so stretched out, this one was worth the splurge. The material pops right back into place after each feeding!

The best part about these tops and bras is that they are cute and simple enough wardrobe staples that they aren't just going to get packed away in a box (like my maternity duds) after breastfeeding is over.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

diaper drama

Jude and I had naturally assumed we were going to use cloth diapers. We were both diapered in cloth as babies ourselves. My mom washed her four children’s cloth diapers at home. Jude’s parents used a diaper service. For my first two trimesters, when people asked if we had figured out what we were doing for diapers, our automatic response was always “cloth.” The image of bags upon bags full of disposable diaper waste was unfathomable…Cue drama.

We knew from the start that laundering our own cloth diapers was out of the question. We live in a one bedroom apartment in a brownstone (if you aren’t familiar with Brooklyn, think of the Huxtables on The Cosby Show) with no washer or dryer to speak of in the building. I couldn’t picture us (okay, not ”us”–I’m not going to lie; Jude does the laundry) dragging a big bag of poopy diapers to the laundromat every few days in addition to our regular laundry, not to mention our baby’s. Nope. We knew we were going to be using a diaper service.

The day finally came when I was about five months pregnant that I decided to figure out which diaper service to use. Jude was at work and I sat down at the computer to do some research. First hiccup was that there are a lot of diaper services that cater to Manhattan parents, but not a lot that do Brooklyn. Okay, fine, so I wouldn’t have a lot of choices. I’m over it. I got pretty excited reading about how it works. You just put all your dirty diapers out and get a fresh new load of clean, folded cloth each week. Brilliant. And they are very particular about not using any yucky chemicals in the washing of said diapers. Wonderful.

Anyway, as I was pricing them out, I decided to read some online reviews…this is when I came across a BIG problem: if you don’t have a doorman (apparently, these companies assume that if you’re paying for service, then you’re going to live in a doorman building), you have to be home when the truck comes to exchange your diapers or they will leave and not come back for another week! During this time, you’ll have to scramble to run out and pick up some of the dreaded disposable diapers to last you the week until the truck comes back again which, of course, defeats the purpose of the service you’re paying for (even on a week when you missed your diaper load) in the first place. I was upset for a minute, but then thought to myself: “Okay, fine, I can live with committing to being home during the window they give me for coming…” But no. They don’t give you a window. They give you a day! They may show up at 9 a.m. or they may show up at 5 p.m. You have to be home all day! Not out in the park enjoying the outdoors with your sweet little munchkin, but cooped up in the apartment waiting for diapers! How lame.

Poor Jude got a ridiculous phone call from his hysterical, hormone-crazed pregnant wife crying about diapers. This is how I became the not-so-proud consumer of disposable diapers.

So at this point I have broken down and come to terms with my diaper destiny. Now, which diapers? Since I am feeling bad enough that I am doing disposables at all, I am only considering the “greener” alternatives–Seventh Generation, Nature Babycare, G-Diapers, etc. I had heard horror stories about G-Diapers clogging toilets and ruining plumbing that made me not excited to try them, so I originally went with Nature Babycare for our first case of diapers (well, after the three weeks worth of Swaddlers that Jude swiped from our hospital room).

Honestly, going from the user-friendly Pampers Swaddlers with their dummy-proof yellow stripe that turns blue when the diaper has pee in it to these crunchy (literally), oddly-shaped diapers was a shock to our exhausted new-parent systems. The Nature Babycare diapers have very little contouring, no stretch, and it was a struggle each time I diapered Ruby to get these stiff rectangular diapers comfortably hugging her cute little bottom. I was tempted to throw them out and try a new brand immediately, but couldn’t bring myself to cause even more unnecessary waste, so I waited the two weeks or so that it took to finish the four packs (one case) of diapers. We did get used to them, of course, and they weren’t so bad to put on after a while, but they sure weren’t getting any softer!

The Pampers Swaddlers fit well (left).

The Nature Babycare were stiff and difficult (right).

Finally we started Seventh Generation diapers and found a match for our needs. Softness? Check. No dyes or bleach? Check. Stretchy leg holes and tabs? Check. Ease of putting on? Check. Competitive price? Check. We have been using these for the past few months now and they’ve been working out great. Sure, we’ve had some blow-outs, but I am pretty sure it’s more to do with her super-charged thunder-down-under than the diapers themselves. She was able to blow out the Swaddlers and the Nature Babycares, too!

Seventh Generation got it right!
The diapers themselves are chlorine-free, which is gentler on baby’s soft skin. I have yet (knock on wood) seen the slightest hint of rash or redness on Ruby’s bottom with these diapers. The fact that they aren’t bleached-out with chemicals makes them a more natural, earthy color.

We also use Seventh Generation's wipes. While it is annoying that they recently switched from 80-count refills to 70-count refills with the same pricetag, these wipes have been working out fine for us. Also, for some reason, the new 70-count refill packs smell better (or are more truly unscented) than the old ones, which I often found to smell a little sour.

I have made peace with the disposable diapers…though we are moving in a month’s time, at which point I’m going to reassess the diaper service situation!

For now, this: From one mother to another, M. Nature. I’m so sorry that your baby, Earth, has to suffer for my baby, Ruby, but I have a lot of factors going on here.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

did I do that? (learning cause-and-effect)

My new favorite learning activity that is cheap and easy: teaching Ruby cause-and-effect by (loosely) tying a helium balloon to her ankle and letting her figure out what makes it move. I picked one up in the gift shop of the hospital after a pediatrician appointment and it cost me $2.80 for the balloon and the helium fill. We just tied a loop into the tail so that we can slip in on and off whenever we want to play. Ruby loves it. The first time we did this, she was about 10 weeks old. After the first few times, you could tell that she was “getting” it and knew which limb to move to move the balloon. So fun to watch the wheels turning in her little brain!

* Safety notes: never leave the baby unattended with the balloon tied to them (the string could be a hazard). Also, never leave the balloon floating on the ceiling above where baby is left unattended (ie. crib, play gym, swing, etc.) because if the helium dies and the balloon sinks down, it could land on baby and be a suffocation hazard. Best to tie it to something when not in use.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

milk dreams

Ruby falls asleep on the boob with a giant smirk on her face all the time. She has been smiling and giggling in her sleep since day one. She wakes up each morning with a big toothless grin, as if she spent the whole night dreaming of something wonderful. I can only imagine she is dreaming of milk. My milk. That makes me smile. What a gift to produce something that makes my child so happy.

the three Ls

Urban parenting may have its own unique challenges and opportunities, but children are children. Their basic needs are the same in the city, the suburbs, or the country. My philosophy on parenting is simple: laughter, love, and logic.

Laughter because you cannot take yourself too seriously in life, but especially in parenting. You’re going to make mistakes, so just laugh about them, learn from them, and move on. Laughter is good for the heart and soul. It’s quite brilliant really.

Love because that’s what babies need. When Ruby was two days old and I asked the pediatrician what she needed, he said:

“Listen to The Beatles. ‘All You Need is Love.’ Seriously, all she needs right now is lots of kisses, cuddling, and for you to tell her how much you love her. And, of course, for me to check her out.”
Logic because we need to trust our instincts. We were made to make babies and we (most of us, anyway) know more than we give ourselves credit for. Do what feels right.

urban milk

My mother is from a dairy farm in Minnesota. I went to high school in La Crosse, Wisconsin. I have family and close friends who are mothers and fathers across the rural and suburban Midwest. I have seen enough to know that urban parenting is different…not necessarily easier or harder, but different.

Urban parenting is more public. It is oftentimes faster-paced. Space–indoors and out–comes at a premium. It can be a logistical nightmare, but it can also be filled with excitement and a wealth of opportunities. It can open up new doors, but it can also close them and be the direct cause that sends new parents packing for the 'burbs.

I believe that urban parenting is exciting and a great way to raise little citizens of the world. There is so much for our babies to see, learn, and do. They will meet new people each day. They will experience different cultures, hear different languages, and be exposed to so much color, life, and vibrancy in the world.

I challenge you to find me a Big Apple kid who throws a public tamtrum in New York City…I have lived here over three years in a neighborhood teeming with new families, but I have yet to see one! These urban munchkins know that–although their parents’ worlds may revolve around them–there is so much more out there than their own happy little lives and that the rest of the world does not revolve around them.

So don’t flee the city with your wee little loves! Stay and play! I can’t promise it’ll be easy, but let’s figure it out together.