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Friday, April 20, 2012

The ultimate litmus test: vaginal birth or cesarean?

You can tell Jessica Simpson is getting close to her due date - the "Will she have a cesarean?" question comes up. Apparently there is a story circulating the internet (and has been for months) that says Jessica wants to have an elective cesarean to avoid childbirth pain. Is it really true? Who knows.

The thing is, before we go off on a tangent, we need to realize a few things: first, it's her body, right? It's her choice, whether it's an ill-informed one or not. Secondly, the same thing was said of her sister Ashlee - and we still don't know, after two years or however long it's been, whether she had a vaginal birth or cesarean. It's almost like the tabloids picked up the old story and just switched the names.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter. And yet it does. Beyonce went through the same thing - even drawing criticism over whether she was really pregnant - and we find ourselves back in the same place. The entire birth community came down on her for one reason or another, and then had to backtrack when they realized they had fallen for a story that wasn't even true. Does it even matter? It's not our story, we don't own Beyonce or any other mother, and I hope it didn't steal her joy. Jessica is probably facing the same thing - people who question her decision and judgment, starting another battle that proves the mommy wars are alive and well and says, "Welcome to motherhood!" I won't even say it's the natural birth community that's jumping on her case - it's women in general. It doesn't matter in that it's her decision to make and not ours; it does matter in that it might send a message (as if that hasn't been done for decade upon decade) to women that trivialize cesareans and their risks. It doesn't matter in that, in the end, a baby is born and will take its place among the millions of other babies - and there are plenty of celebrities and influential people who don't want to electively have a c-section. It doesn't matter because, in six months, we'll be focused on something or someone else - the next flavor-of-the-month will get pregnant and we'll be asking the same questions about her, too.

After awhile all the questioning starts to sound like a litmus test to prove your worth as a woman and mother among other women and mothers. What next? Proof that she delivered in a particular way? Do we want to see the scar? The episiotomy? It sounds disgusting, but seriously, that's what it's starting to sound like. If she has a cesarean, I suggest we use this time to reserve judgment and instead gently advocate - instead of turn it into a virtual slugfest between people who think they have the monopoly on childbirth, whether it's "I had three cesareans and turned out fine!" or "I had three totally natural births and turned out fine!"

It's her body, and her choice. Whether we like it or not.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"Booby traps" in the NICU

Photo credit: Benjamin Earwicker.
I've never had a baby in the NICU, but I've run across more painful, heart wrenching stories of women desperate to nurse their babies who were offered little, if any, support. Then others have nothing but glowing reports about how wonderful and supportive their staff was, how caring and understanding the nurses were. It leaves me wondering: why is there such a disparity of care and support for these mothers and babies?

Obviously premature babies have special needs and issues, and often times they are born too young to even have a strong sucking reflex down yet. Not all babies, though, who are in the NICU are premature, and even some that are don't have the same problems other babies do. While obviously the sucking reflex is a common problem among preemies, I can't imagine that it exists with all of them, and I start to wonder, is this a self-fulfilling prophecy? That because it can be a problem, we're just going to go ahead and treat it like it is one?

Popular breastfeeding websites like and the Best for Babes Foundation both posted this article on their Facebook fan pages, and the response from some mothers was nothing short of heartbreaking. Some of the comments included:
"I was flat out told by a nurse that it's nice to try but don't be afraid to give up - formula is just easier."
"They were very pro-milk, but not pro-breastfeeding. I had no support after."
"I am VERY thankful my preemie was my second breastfed child. If he had been my first I am confident that the hospital would have ruined any efforts to breastfeed...they were supportive (somewhat) of providing breast milk to my baby, but not of my baby breastfeeding. I had to push very hard on the doctors and nurses in the hospital to make it happen."
"My son went for 3-4 hours. I literally told the nurse "you can take him but if anybody gives him formula I will kill them." An hour later, the same nurse said, "His blood sugar was low so I gave him a little formula."
This also happened to me with my third child, who was born at term weighing 8 pounds, 7 ounces - nothing huge. The nurse flatly told me, "We gave him formula because his blood sugar was low," and when I shot her a look of surprise, she said, "We don't ask, we just do it." I received no other information whatsoever about my son's condition, nothing - and wondered, What is it about my breast milk that can't solve this problem but formula can? I don't think so.

Much like the schedules and strict feeding routines have been encouraged among term infants, the same exists in the NICU. One mom told how the nurses would only let her put the baby to the breast for short periods, then wanted her to give a bottle so they could see how much he was getting. Like this mother, I remember being almost obsessed about wet and poopy diapers and the length and time of feedings, to the point where it was almost making me crazy. And like her, I had an almost epiphany where I asked myself, What am I doing?! and threw them away, which made the nursing relationship so much easier and more relaxed, for both of us.

In the case of infants who were there but weren't premature, it seems that formula was often still pushed.
"I had some nurses forcing formula if she wasn't finished nursing after ten minutes on each side."
"I'm surprised we didn't have issues establishing a nursing relationship! They constantly 'forgot' to tell me when he was hungry so i could come and breastfeed him (I was recovering from a very traumatic birth) and *sneaked* formula. I was SO MAD."
"My youngest was automatically put in the NICU because he was a vaginal breech delivery. He was born a day short of 41 weeks. He was 9 pounds. They told me they didn't now if they could "allow" me to breastfeed."
Many said the same thing: that the idea of breast milk itself was readily accepted, just not breastfeeding. Why? I have to wonder if it's not so much because of 'cultural norms' but because they don't want to see you - and don't want to run the risk of others being offended because of an inability or lack of desire to breastfeed. I've often thought there were serious psychological and control issues when it came to some nurses and breastfed babies. And while most nurses would happily turn over care to the preemie mom, some, I think, almost develop a complex - because they are so engrained and entrenched in the care of these babies that they get defensive of their territory when someone - even the mother - steps in. Our cultural attitudes about public breastfeeding can also spill over into healthcare professionals - the very people who should know the most about it, and facilitate it the most, can also be the same ones to totally undermine and completely destroy that relationship.

I came across this link to a blog post where a nurse overhears a potential NICU job candidate announce, during the interview, "I don't DO breastfeeding." In her post, she mentioned an article posted on the Breastfeeding Moms Unite! blog, "Do nurses learn about breastfeeding in nursing school?" She confirmed our worst fears - that they don't, or at least didn't when she was in school, learn much about either the physiology or the mechanism behind it. As she put it, "The nurses owned the babies back then..." I argue they still often think they do.

Why would someone make a public declaration of this? Especially a person who is responsible for the care of patients who could benefit the most from breast milk? The nurse who overheard the exchange actually felt that this person would be hired, and I can't imagine why. Unless we're praising formula strictly for the sake of convenience, instead of seeing breastfeeding as a public health issue - especially among those most at risk. Her poor attitude could - and probably will - compromise the care of some - maybe all - babies, and I just don't see how anyone could want that person on their staff.

And if you actually question their authority, take charge of your baby and defy their "orders," you just might run into this problem:
"I think the only reason I established a successful nursing relationship, despite NICU nurses who threw away my "extra" expressed milk and gave her formula because the "refrigerator had no space," who scoffed at the "trendy" idea of kangaroo care, who chastised me when I nursed in the open, busy main room in front of her isolette instead of in the curtained-off "family room" that was almost always in use and locked (the hospital social worker actually reported me to CPS for my "public indecency" in the NICU and my "troubling attitude!"), the doctor who insisted on "plumping up" my expressed milk with preemie formula and sent me home with two massive cases of free liquid samples of the nasty stuff, was that I have a hypersensitive bullshit detector and a hyposensitive reaction to the advice of outsiders."
More reading:
When should I give my baby formula? regarding hypoglycemia and the newborn
NICU nurse in job interview: I Don't DO breastfeeding"- StorkStories
Gettin' your baby fix on, Similac Style
The nurse's role in promoting or undermining breastfeeding
Anti-breastfeeding NICU - post

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Frederick's of Hollywood meets Prom 2012

It's been about twenty years since I attended my first prom. I looked over the (now gaggy) pictures in magazines, drooling over which one I wished I could get. The strapless blue sequined one was my favorite, even though I would probably never dare (even then) to be seen in anything strapless. A pipe dream - considering I looked in several stores and never saw anything close, not that my mom would have bought it anyway. In other words, it just wasn't happening.

AquaNet reigns supreme
This was what my fantasy prom world looked like in 1992. Kind of short, strapless, yes; but I can't really remember any of the girls at any of the proms I went to looking even remotely like this. Maybe their moms wouldn't let them out of the house, either?

Even so, you'll notice that scalloped-edge neckline is going up, not down. No cleavage here, still managing to be fairly tasteful, even by 1992 standards.

I guess we've come a long way. All I can say is, based on these photos I'm glad my daughter is only in kindergarten.
Marketed as prom gowns, I'm sure they'll draw every eye in the
room, all right; for all the wrong reasons. 
The majority of these "designs" come from someone called Sherri Hill, who looks like she has serious issues. Either that, or no one on the design team has teenaged daughters.

We frequently bemoan the overt "hypersexuality" of teen girls and marketing them to look like they work for an escort service. Parents wring their hands and ponder teen pregnancy rates, birth control pills and abortions while watching the train wreck that is 16 and Pregnant and vowing that their daughters "would never do something like that! My child is an absolute paragon of virtue!" Or, they see nothing wrong with the fact that their daughter is showing the same amount of cleavage as someone well beyond her years and cannot logistically sit down wearing a dress that looks like a glorified band-aid.

Slightly reminiscent of my blue sequined prom
dress dream days, I'm wondering what
happened to half the dress here. 
The company makes dresses for all occasions, but I made sure that the ones I included were, indeed, marketed as "prom dresses." They were nothing short of eye-opening, on many levels. One thing that did not go over my head was the fact that many of these would probably get you sent home to fetch something more appropriate. The "girls" featured in many, if not all of these photos, were provocatively posed and looked well beyond the age of anyone attending a prom. 

While still as strapless as the dresses in 1992 were,
something about these seems different. The plunging
necklines, the deliberate attempts to flash
as much cleavage as possible, and a
bodice (the top part) that gets
smaller and smaller.... and smaller.... 
I don't know about anyone else, but I wasn't exactly tiny in high school. The pressure to be thin and look like models has always existed, and takes root in our teenage years. What do you do if you're not a svelte size 2 with DD breasts? Stay home and cry? Show up in sackcloth? Does Sherri have a dress for you?

I'm sure she only *looks* 25 instead of 16...
And speaking of which, yes, how do you sit down in a dress like this? Should you just hang out in the back, standing the entire time in killer heels? I wonder if Sherri has thought of that. On her website, she has many beautiful designs - but I think even she knows she's pushing it, as many models are hiding their excessive cleavage and skin under mounds of long hair, styled just so.

This looks like something from
Mean Girls: "Can you believe
that b!tch showed up in
something not from Sherri Hill's
collection? Oh look at how
pathetic she is! Hahahahaha...."

Again with the ubiquitous hiking up
the dress thing. What's up with that?
"Eww, breastfeeding in public
is so gross! But doesn't this dress
make my boobs look great?!"
If you have trouble sitting down,
your date could always unzip you
a little from the back...
Some of the dresses are decidedly beautiful, but I doubt there's much room for debate that they're a little racy for the younger set. And just because you can wear it doesn't always mean you should. I wonder what prom fashions will look like in ten years when my daughter is old enough to go? Topless? Nudist? 

And while we're at it - why do all the guys' fashions look so clean cut, proper, and fully clothed? Why must women be exposed in order to look attractive, or sexy, or be worthy of attention? I'd like to hear what Sherri has to say about that...

More reading:
Kendall Jenner's Glamourous Prom Night! featuring Sherri Hill's design
A video featuring her children's pageant dress line 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Stay-at-home-moms: Would you send your kid to daycare?

Before we even get started on this one, I'm going to say one thing: If someone says "Don't judge," just remember: we all judge. At one point in time you have judged someone, and if you say you haven't, you're probably not telling the truth. I'm sure we've all judged moms who circumcise their sons, who formula-feed their babies, who fully (or don't) vaccinate, women with large families, those who have epidurals;  the hot-button issues run the gamut and everyone has an opinion. Just keep that in mind.

I couldn't help but notice the new trend among some mothers I know - sending the kids to daycare. That in an of itself isn't revolutionary; one of them is a working mom who just had her second baby. She's a teacher, gets summers and breaks off, and sends her 2 1/2 year old to day care. So what?

The other mom does, too. But she's a stay-at-home-mom. In fact, her three-year-old has been in daycare a few days a week since her youngest was born almost a year ago.

So yeah, I guess I'm judging.

Wouldn't it be nice to drop so and so off so I could actually do something for a change? Yeah. That would be nice.

Then I think back - I put my oldest two in preschool 2 1/2 hours a day, three days a week, but is that the same?

I do think in some ways that preschool and daycare are different: most preschools are only a few hours a week, whereas daycare time tends to be several hours every day or at least several days a week. I felt that sure, all those great things like socialization, blah blah blah were important, and my kids were enrolled in a great program with fantastic teachers. I wanted them to experiences a "rules" setting much like the classroom with similar expectations that they would have in school, and admittedly, it was also good for me, too. So yeah, I can admit that I partly did it because I wanted a break.

But what I found was that much of the time, I admittedly didn't do shit during that break. Sometimes grocery shopping, but certainly not every day. Working out? Yeah, whatever. I don't know about other people; I'm sure some are super-diligent about their time, but I bet more often than not that others fritter away their time much like I did. Now that I have two full time in school, I'm home alone with my youngest, who just turned three. And you know what? I don't want to send him to preschool next year, because we're rather enjoying ourselves at home, doing our thing. And I realized, I can teach him just about as much, maybe more, as he could be learning in preschool.

I don't begrudge any mom who does need to send her kids to daycare because she's single, struggling financially, can't afford not to - but then there are those moms who agree that whatever money spent on daycare sucks up all their income and they have to ask themselves, is it really worth it? Don't get me wrong: I think there are some situations where sending the kids to daycare when you stay at home might be good for a mom's mental health. Someone mentioned taking care of a child with long-term illness, which is probably above and beyond what most of us go through in a typical day. Dealing with depression is another, which might give someone a much-needed break.

But does it become a crutch?

The moms I'm talking about are people I know, and rather intimately. One stays at home during the day and works occasionally in the evenings while her husband watches the kids. She's well-adjusted, watches a lot of Ellen, and sheepishly admits to sending her daughter a few days a week - presumably so she can run errands and make her life easier with the youngest (and watch more Ellen). The other has expressed her interest in keeping up her tenure and seniority at her teaching job, and I think therefore feels that she "must" work. Neither are depressed, and we're all living pretty much within the same economic sphere. (Although with two incomes I know they can well afford the house and two cars they bought this past year.) Judge much? Hell yeah.

Because I know that even as a stay-at-home mom, there were times I spent more time focusing on things that were way less important than my children. And they were even at home with me. And suddenly it hits me like a smack in the face: I can't get that time back. And neither can they. That time that they sent their kids off to daycare so they could keep their fantastic (and totally unnecessary) job, run errands or have coffee with the girls and errands, is totally gone and can never be reclaimed.

I judge because I see her tooling around with her husband while neither of them are working, knowing their kid is in daycare. If I were a working parent, I'd absolutely take a hit on the daycare bill to be with my child, even if I'd already paid up. And since I know they pay by the month, it means there are literally weeks at a time - like Christmas and spring break - where they know they'll be off work. And guess what? She's still often in daycare.

I judge because I see how freaking sick that kid is, every time I see her. She hacks and coughs endlessly and always sounds like she's miserable, to the point where others have noticed and expressed concern. And she's already been hospitalized at least once.

Both used daycare as an option when they had their second children, which must be nice - and yet makes me wonder: how are you ever going to get used to the full workload of two kids when they're not together all the time? How unrealistic. I'd love to send them off to my mom's so I can go into town for 20 freaking minutes, go on a date with my husband, or just whatever. But my mom lives six hours away, all my friends have kids of their own to deal with, and my two most reliable babysitters are moving half a dozen states away this summer. So I guess I'll just have to find another way. Because I signed up for this when I decided to have children. Isn't that what motherhood is ultimately all about?

Years ago, moms stayed home and dads worked full time, often detached from their children and the child-rearing responsibilities. Heavy-handed discipline was often the norm, leaving physical bruises and emotional scars. Now with generations of kids practically raised by someone else in a daycare setting, is it any different? No physical scars, but perhaps an emotional void that should, if possible, be filled by a parent? (Stay-at-home dads are the shiznit!) In cases like this, is it mothers who are now detaching themselves, if not only partially?

I know it's not always possible. And I'm sure I'll come off as a hating, judgmental fill in the blank. That's not really my intent to hurt someone, but ... well, there's not really anywhere else to go with that. If you are probably going to be home anyway, then what is the point? Are we really letting ourselves be told - or telling ourselves, maybe - that motherhood is too much, or that we can't do it? Then why did we assume this role?

All those doddering old people that come up to us in stores and smile at our sweet children, telling us "Enjoy it - it'll go so fast!" have a point. They're freaking right.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Kids' Choice Awards - not for kids anymore?

It's that time of year again: the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards, my absolute favorite show ever! 

I only had to see the aftermath of photos from this event to realize that there is an incredible dearth of appropriate role models for kids these days. The cleavage, the thighs, they're all out in full force for this event that is supposed to be geared for children. What the heck is going on?!

I'm still reeling, apparently, from the Teen Choice Awards of three years ago where Miley Cyrus pole danced. Nice one. This year, Katy Perry and Selena Gomez made headlines because of their midriff-bearing outfits rather than anything they really contributed to the program. That didn't bother me so much as the skimpy tops and skirt? that Katy was wearing - the one that looked like she was either intentionally hiking it up in front to give us a free show (no, never!) or that she had visited the ladies room recently and half of it got stuck in her waistband.

Kids Choice Awards 2005. Come on,
Paula, put your boobs away already.
I have nothing against Katy Perry as far as adult listeners go, but I can't understand why the children's entertainment industry continues to practically tout her as a role model. Virtually everything she's done professionally is inappropriate in some way, shape or form for the younger audience she undoubtedly reaches - and she earns her living talking and acting like none of us would want our children to act. If you love her music, hey, that's great - but I can't stand people justifying her as being "appropriate" for young kids to watch.

Because of the increasing use of technology, especially the ease in accessing it that kids have, it's increasingly difficult to separate what these people do in their professional lives from what they do in venues like this. People can say all they want that a child is "not going to understand" that a former porn star is in their school reading books to them, but our children today are way more aware than we ever were about these realities - I just don't think they always understand how to appropriately process that information and make sense of it.

When I was in grade school, Madonna's career really took off. I specifically remember when the Like A Virgin album came out - I was probably 10 or 11 years old. I remember the album cover and being embarrassed, kind of grossed out, even, over what she was wearing. I also remember the lyrics - only slightly understanding what it meant to be a virgin - or even like one - and connecting the meaning to the album cover.

The grosser and more outrageous she got, the less I liked her music, thank God. But what if it hadn't been that way? And why was my mother letting me listen to this crap?

Anymore it seems that there is nothing embarrassing about dressing that way, or implicating something sexual in the lyrics. We barely register a reaction, then, when we see Katy Perry on TV one moment endorsing a kid's program, and then later on see her half- (three quarters?) naked in a video.

The lyrics of "Teenage Dream" talk about getting drunk and having sex - but as one writer put it when referring to a group of her fans awaiting her arrival in Denver,
a sea of teenagers, mostly young ladies — not quite the hyper-sexual "Teenage Dream" Katy Perry sings about in her hit songs.
Really? Says who? Does this guy have kids, or even know what the current rate of teen pregnancy and abortion are these days? Totally clueless.

He went on to add that her "simplistic lyrics" were fun for the kids, and "adults can relate to her fun sexuality." Yeah, completely clueless. You cannot separate the two: because kids, like most people, can both see and hear at the same time.

When someone complains about these women and their status as role models, others immediately pipe up with one or two very predictable responses: "Have you seen how kids dress these days?" is usually one of them. Judging from the way people dress for the Kids' Choice Awards, is it any wonder why children dress like they do?

That is usually followed up with, "You're just jealous!" Considering I'm about ten years and three kids older than Katy Perry, no, I don't have her figure. That doesn't really bother me - I'd rather my daughter see what a normal body looks like, not something manufactured and unrealistic. What is there to be jealous of? I'm in a normal, stable relationship, I can go out in public without fear of someone recognizing me, and I'm doing pretty well despite that I'm not loaded. Works for me.

As far as Selena Gomez, I really don't know much about her other than what I see on supermarket stands. And honestly, I'm glad my daughter is too young to know who she is, either. I do know that she's Justin Beiber's girlfriend, and recently posed on the cover of Cosmo. And if Beiber's still professing to be a virgin, he won't be for long if Selena decides to follow the advice on the cover:

Interestingly, what appears to be a teen fan site covered the questionable blaring headlines, presumably for their younger audiences:

Commenters on the Huffington Post weighed in on the show and it's questionable guests, with one guy calling it 'kiddie porn, or more like porn for kids.' Several agreed that while Selena's age makes her a legal adult, "she's not really a woman yet," and because 'still looks like she's 15,' it creeped several out to see her dressed so provocatively.

One mom of a 10-year-old said her daughter was confused and sad to see the cover because it had such a grown-up image. I don't begrudge Selena for wanting to have more of a 'grown-up' career and escape her Disney image, but I think posing for Cosmo is probably the wrong way to do it - as the mother said, it's a 'smut magazine' that sends the wrong message to young women about the way they should look and act. And I don't doubt that some girls probably did buy a copy of this magazine because she was on it - and probably got a handful of other 'useful information' at the same time.

More reading:
Study: Low-income kids starting sex on average at 12
Miley Cyrus voted worst role model for young girls (by teenage girls themselves)