A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

Our four year old, Eudora, was a fairly hands-on big sister while I was pregnant with our most recent addition. She practiced for her sister’s arrival by singing Happy Birthday Tummy and You Are My Sunshine to my bulging abdomen on a daily basis. I was the recipient of numerous belly rubs, belly pats, belly raspberries, and even some elaborate belly painting. Eudora excitedly participated in our visits with the midwife. We prepared her for our homebirth by reading books on the subject, showing her age-appropriate videos and photos of births and newborn babies, and having frank discussions about her concerns for my well-being. I allowed her to relax in the birthing pool with me at night before bed. We also did our best to prepare her for our Fifteen Day Babymoon— baby and I planned to remain in the room where I had given birth for 15 days in order to ease her transition into the world and to facilitate my recovery. What we hadn’t prepared for was Eudora’s reaction to the shift in priorities once our new baby was here.

Eudora helped her Daddy cut the cord after Mathilda was born, and she said a few memorable and clever things as she gave the new baby a once over. She seemed to be doing well with the whole thing. Over the next few days, she enthusiastically ran up and down stairs to provide me with fresh nappies, with clean blankets, or with refills on my ice water. She snuggled up with me and read books to the baby after pre-school each day. My husband and I patted ourselves on the back for having done such a terrific job preparing her and making time for her.

However, when Mathilda was a week old, Eudora came home from Montessori with this drawing:

That’s me in the orange. I’m the one with the all-the-better-to-eat-you-with-eyes, and the Where the Wild Things Are monster hands. Her Daddy and Big Brother are the tall ones in the background with tiny (powerless?) hands and weak smiles. Notice how she took the time to make sure it was obvious that I was in front of her Dad and Brother. Her Big Sister—who is a very important person in her daily life—isn’t even in the picture. A happy (and naked) Baby Mathilda is nearest to her Daddy. The sad little girl without a face is Eudora. She is nearest to me with her hand reaching out in my direction. But it is clear that she feels like I don’t see her and won’t connect with her.

The pregnancy, the appointments with the midwives, the homebirth, the babymoon were really all about me, no matter how much we tried to include her, Eudora had seen it as it really was. Instead of spending time doing things on her terms, we were insisting that she conveniently fit into our new agenda–sharing story time with baby, getting things for the baby, helping us take care of the baby. The family had re-prioritized and no one took the time to send Eudora the memo. We had made one of our most vulnerable members feel out of balance and unwelcome. This picture broke my heart and made me resolve to put our family back in balance.

We started by committing to re-establish her bedtime routines, even if we were bone weary. We enlisted the help of family and friends to do special things with Eudora. My husband made sure he took some extra time with her doing “big kids” stuff that babies weren’t able to do yet, like going on nature hikes. And most importantly, by the third week postpartum, I made a heroic effort to get myself dressed and ready despite having a new baby (and an uncooperative post-baby body). After our family breakfast, I was able to drive her to school and spend special time—just the two of us—in the car where we could sing silly songs together at the top of our lungs, and have poignant four-year-old discussions about volcanos, bugs, space travel and super-hero kittens. The best part of these mommy-daughter rides was all the time I got to spend stealing glances at her bright little face in the rear view mirror.

This is the picture that Eudora brought home just the other day:

She is wearing her baby sister in a sling. I am by her side and we both are holding flowers freshly picked from our yard. Our cat, Marjorie, sits at Eudora’s feet wearing a flower tucked behind her ear. At first this picture concerned me because we were robots. I was worried that she felt emotionless or indifferent. But Eudora explained that we were friendly robots like when she dressed up as “Robota” for Halloween. She also explained that she was holding my leg, instead of my hand since my hand had a flower in it. However, we are holding the flowers out and away from our bodies. This could be because we are generously giving them to someone we love or because we are holding them at arms distance to keep them–like Eudora’s emotions– from getting hurt again.

It’s only been six weeks, so we don’t expect her to be the world’s most well adjusted big sister quite yet, but at least we know that she appreciates our efforts to include her in ways that matter to her, not just ways that are helpful to us.

We just broke the news to her that one of her favorite people—her former nanny—is having a baby in December. We are already planning activities for the two of them to do together so that Eudora won’t feel abandoned or left out. I’m so grateful that I feel tuned in enough to listen to Eudora—even when her words are too complicated for her to express. Her pictures tell me everything I need to hear.

State-of-the-Heart Parenting

During the last weeks of my pregnancy we decided to have our infant car seat installed by certified professionals at the local sheriff’s office. We got our car on Autozin a fantastic car dealership. I was way too pregnant at that point to maneuver around in the cramped backseat of our little Honda, so the allure of not having to do it myself (or beg my husband to) was convincing. Did I mention that the service was also free? Seemed like a no-brainer.

The expert suggested ditching the base of the seat and simply installing the part that the baby needed to be strapped into since the backseat wouldn’t really accommodate the rear-facing seat and base. Meanwhile, a gun-toting officer (did he really need his gun at the car-seat safety check?) came over to comment and observe. He pointed out that this plan was going to be a hassle for us since we would need to re-install the seat every time we removed the baby from the car. We must have looked confused because he went on to the praise the virtues of using the car seat as a convenient baby carrier in addition to safety seat for motor vehicle use. Understanding his point now, I tried to diplomatically dismiss his concerns by explaining that we would simply use our arms or a sling to carry our new baby to and from the vehicle and would have no need to use the seat as a carrier.

Both the officer and the car seat installer stared and blinked at us for a full five seconds before the officer incredulously asked my husband and I if we were sure – really, really sure – that we wouldn’t like to move our child in one smooth motion from car to shopping cart and back again. What kind of reason could there possibly be for not wanting to streamline our busy lives as new parents? In his voice was the unmistakable air of cop suspicion, as if he were speaking to the last two people in the path of a hurricane who stalwartly refuse to evacuate. We managed to stammer out some random stuff about “parenting philosophy” and “brain development.”

The officer seemed to think we must have misunderstood him since our answer didn’t seem to have been particularly coherent, or even related to car seats as far as he could tell. He repeated, more slowly this time so that we would be sure to understand, how easy it was to remove the car seat from the base and place it into a shopping cart, so that we would never have to disturb the baby. This is usually the part where I attempt to share information about the benefits of attachment parenting and how wonderful it has been for our family. It was obvious by this point, however, that we were just coming from two very different places. Plus, the gun was a little intimidating so I decided to simply smile and nod for the remainder of the installation.

But this incident started me thinking about baby carriers, strollers, and swings vs. babywearing—was babywearing really the best choice for us? Maybe we had been making things much harder on ourselves all of this time by refusing to use all of the state-of-the-art gizmo’s and gadgets which were so popular nowadays. Had we become too rigid and idealistic about our parenting choices? With our fourth baby on the way, it was time to reevaluate what our family’s needs really were and whether or not we were parenting consciously and purposefully, or simply going through the AP motions. Perhaps it was time to revisit some of the literature that got me started with AP to see if it still moved me to parent the same way now that our family was adding a new member.

I decided to get reacquainted with the reasons we had chosen to limit our use of baby carrying devices in favor of keeping our babies close to us most of the time. Sharon Heller, PhD states in her book The Vital Touch:

Carry our babies to the car in a container, out of the car in a container, through the mall in a container, into the restaurant in a container, back to the car in a container, and home to a container, so that objects define our baby’s existence more so than our body, is not just a step away from tradition. It is a cataclysmic change far out of step with the rhythmic pas de deux to which our babies’ minds and bodies were choreographed… No species in a hundred years or so can turn the time-tested mother-baby relationship on its head without consequences. In the short term, diminished contact makes babies fussier than they need be and mothers more conflicted than they need be.

On the website, ConnectionParenting.com, Pam Leo, a founding board member of the Alliance for Transforming the Lives of Children, says:

Many of the infant and child behaviors that are challenging parents in our culture are unheard of in cultures that practice high-touch nurturing. While our culture has changed dramatically to keep up with our technology, our biology has not. Babies are biologically programmed to expect the same high-touch nurturing that evolved millions of years ago. Just because we no longer need to keep our babies in close physical contact so tigers won’t eat them, doesn’t mean we no longer need to carry them. Research shows that carrying and keeping babies in close physical contact does far more than keep them safe from predators; it is critical to their optimal development.

Does this mean that I can never let my baby sit in a bouncy chair or cruise along in a stroller without hampering her brain development? Or that every minute of her day must be spent in a set of arms? Would falling asleep in a swing mean years of future therapy? I don’t think so. With six people in our family, two of which are adults, and two of which are teenagers, there will rarely be a time when someone isn’t available to hold, snuggle, or play with our new baby, so having a lot of stuff seemed excessive to us.

However, we decided that we should not limit our parenting choices by being dogmatic about following a philosophy to the letter of the law. We needed a parenting style that worked for our unique family. The only rule we came up with for our own personal AP style was: are we treating our children with love, human dignity, and respect for them as real people? When parenting does get hectic and stressful, we often remind each other to check on the state of our heart and to approach the situation with love. With the arrival of our new baby, we have realized that our family is our convenient baby carrier, deluxe swing, and super-duper baby entertainment-center. For us, Attachment Parenting is about our state-of-the-heart family rather than the convenience of state-of-the-art stuff.

And let’s talk about convenient! We have used our wraps and slings, not just as carriers that fit easily into our diaper bag, but as changing pads, nursing covers, blankets, nap mats, sunshades, seat belts for grocery carts & high chairs, toddler harnesses, and even pet carriers! And we sure could have used it to demonstrate what the heck we were talking about when we had the car-seat installed– they are probably still scratching their heads. It’s a lot easier to explain babywearing when you are actually wearing the baby; add teaching tool to the list of convenient uses for slings and wraps!

Justine

Planning for a home birth

Originally posted on July 27, 2006 – Four months before my son Julian was born at home.

By now you may have gathered that instead of choosing to have an OB-attended hospital birth this time around, we are planning to have a midwife-attended home birth. There are a number of varied factors that have led me down such a different path with this baby and I’d like to share some of them.

home birthFirst of all, I believe that, in the majority of cases, birth is a normal, natural and healthy process. I believe in a woman’s (and my own) ability to give birth naturally, normally and without intervention, as women have been doing for thousands of years.

I am drawn to the midwifery model of care because it feels normal and natural. I like that a typical midwife prenatal visit lasts 60 minutes (as opposed to the typical 6 minute OB prenatal visit) and does not feel rushed. I like that I am getting to know the woman who will be there for my labor and birth and that she will gain my trust so that I feel comfortable with her while laboring and birthing. I like that my midwife is interested in my nutrition and in suggesting preventative measures (such as acupuncture) to help ensure that I have a healthy pregnancy and birth.

My midwife in particular has a 15-year background as an EMT (emergency medical technician). I feel her experience in that capacity has helped her develop critical thinking skills and the ability to think quickly on her feet. After all, how can you be an EMT without that ability? I feel very comfortable that if a situation should arise that is beyond her comfort level, she will know what steps to take (i.e. a hospital transfer). Because of my history of complications with my daughter Ava, this was very important for us. My husband Jody and I both feel very confident in her experience and abilities.

I love the idea of birthing at my own home, where I am comfortable and able to relax without worrying about who’s going to be walking in the door next (nurse shift changes, etc.), where Ava can play or sleep or do whatever she needs to (in a safe environment) and still be in close proximity to me and Jody. My sister will be her primary caregiver while I am in labor. And when the baby is born, Ava can chose whether or not she wants to be present. Yes, we will be preparing her with regard to what to expect when mommy is in labor, etc. We actually watched a birth video – “Giving Birth: Challenges and Choices” by Suzanne Arms – together this week and will be reading Welcome with Love with her, a wonderful children’s book about a family having a home birth. I’d like her to be there, but I’m not going to force her. If she is meant to be there, she will be. After seeing her interest in watching the birth video though, I am pretty certain she’ll want to see baby brother join us.

I also love the idea of being able to sleep in my own bed after the birth. That was one of the hardest things for me in the hospital, not being able to sleep. I eventually had to ask for sleeping pills because it’d been something like three days since I’d slept for more than a few minutes at a time, and trust me when I say having hallucinations while trying to care for a newborn is no fun. Being in my own bed will be heavenly. And I’m sure Jody would agree as well after sleeping on a flimsy mattress on the cold, hard hospital floor for five days after Ava’s birth.

Another compelling reason for me to have a home birth is I’d like to labor and possibly birth in water and my midwife has a birthing pool that we can set up right in our house. There are no hospitals around here that I’m aware of that allow water births.

Because of all of this and more, I feel planning for a home birth makes perfect sense for us and I look forward to the experience.
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The following information was taken from The Homebirth Choice by Jill Cohen and Marti Dorsey and further illustrates why I’ve decided a homebirth is the right choice for me and my family. I cut and pasted some things that are particularly important to me.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF MIDWIFERY:
“Midwife means “with woman.” Traditionally, women have attended and assisted other women during labor and birth. As modern medicine emerged in the West, birth fell into the realm of the medical. Since women were barred from attending medical schools, men became the birth practitioners. Having never had a baby themselves, they were unable to approach women and childbirth with the inner knowledge and experience of a woman. Childbirth became viewed as pathological rather than natural; unnecessary, and often dangerous or unproven, medical techniques and interventions became commonplace.

During the 1960s and 1970s, along with the women’s movement and renewed interest in home birth, the midwifery movement rekindled. It has been growing steadily ever since. Midwives are becoming more and more involved with birthing families and have been instrumental in redefining birth as a natural event in women’s lives.

Midwifery empowers women and their families with the experience of birth.”

PRENATAL CARE:

“Prenatal visits may take place at the midwife’s home or clinic or at the family’s home. Prenatal visits are a time for the midwife to get to know the family and friends, neighbors, or other children who plan to be present at the birth.

Prenatal care for the pregnant woman includes discussion of nutrition, exercise and overall physical and emotional well-being, as well as overseeing the healthy development of the fetus.

Midwives include the family during prenatal care, inviting them to ask questions and to listen to the baby’s heartbeat. Intimate involvement of the family throughout the pregnancy allows for early bonding of the newly emerging family unit.

The midwife and family will often discuss the mechanics of birth. The more people know what’s going to happen, the more comfortable they may be while awaiting the birth.”

LABOR:
“In the safety and security of her own home, the mom is likely to be less inhibited about trying different labor positions and locations. She can sit on the toilet or go for a walk outside. She can eat or drink whatever she wants. She writes her own script. When it’s time to deliver, she can often try whatever position she wants: on her side, squatting, sitting or kneeling.”

BIRTH:
“Home birth allows for full participation of family members. Under the guidance and assistance of the midwife, the opportunity is available for husbands or partners to “catch” their child as it is born. These moments can be very powerful and transformational in the lives of the new parents.

At home births, babies are usually immediately placed on the mom’s stomach or breast, providing security, warmth and immediate bonding between mom and baby. This contact provides security for both mom and baby.

In the rare case when the baby has difficulty breathing on its own, midwives are fully trained in infant CPR. Usually, putting the baby right to the breast and having mom talk to her baby will encourage it to take those first breaths.

Putting the baby immediately to the breast helps reduce any bleeding the mom may have. The sucking action stimulates the uterus and causes it to contract. This closes off blood vessels and reduces bleeding.

Some members of the medical community have recently acknowledged that having a home birth decreases the mother’s and baby’s chances of contracting an infection. The mother is used to the bacteria in her own environment and has built up immunities to it. This is passed on to the baby through the colostrum. Even when women are segregated in maternity wards, infections are much more commonplace after hospital births than home births.”

— Amy @ Crunchy Domestic Goddess

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