Category Archives: Food

So, how do we support mothers?


Just in time for Mother’s Day last month, the Washington Post published a flame-y opinion piece by Amy Tuteur. Perhaps this is why I was a bit cynical in my own reflections on Mother’s Day this year (aside from my son reminding me that I had ruined his day, twice). 

As a mother who has given birth & is preparing to give birth again soon (not to mention those miscarriages that were like mini-births in their own way), I had to chuckle when I saw that the title called out the natural birth movement as an “industry.”

To call the relatively minor support system that has grown around the (relatively) recent awareness & desire for natural birth an “industry” (when the presumed “opposite”—the medical system—is literally an industry, and a very lucrative & powerful one) is a gross exaggeration, to say the least. And coming from a former obstetrician, the motives of the author are a bit suspect. 

Tuteur complains that midwives make an average of $75,000-$99,000 dollars. Funny, since most midwives are highly trained nurses working in a hospital setting. And those working outside the hospital setting, assuming they are equally highly trained nurses, deserve that & more, considering they have to fight insurance for coverage of the basic costs of attending births. 

But I digress, because what I really want to talk about are moms. How do we support moms? Birth is just the beginning, but it is a signpost for how we treat moms & families generally. It matters how we talk to moms about birth.

Tuteur is right about many things. For instance, we ought not to forget that “natural” is not always better. As she aptly points out, women have been birthing “naturally” for eons & for most of that time birth was dangerous for both mother & child. 

But on how we should treat birth today in the United States, now that healthy outcomes are the norm, I think Tuteur’s inflammatory, “us vs. them” approach is absolutely wrong. 

As is her style, Tuteur treats birthing women as black & white pawns, women who are either for or against natural birth or medicalized birth. In Tuteur’s world, it seems you must either be catching your own baby under a tree in a remote forest or scheduling your c-section so that you can squeeze in your pedicure appointment.

Let’s be honest, most women realize that birth & motherhood is a much more complicated affair. 

My first birth was natural-ish. I was hooked up to an IV. Using Hypnobirthing techniques to manage discomfort. Attended to by midwives. In a hospital. My son was administered antibiotics (with my consent) shortly after birth. I required interventions of a personal nature that I’d rather not talk about on the Internet. My son took some hospital-provided (definitely-not-organic) formula while I recovered. A lactation consultant taught me the key nursing positions.

I felt empowered by my birthing experience. I regret none of the interventions I required (even if I do wish we could have avoided those pesky antibiotics…). 

I realize that I was lucky. I had great insurance as a law student at a fancy school. I had choices! I lived in an area with a good hospital & an even better group of midwives (along with back-up OBs) whom I trusted completely.  

My birthing experience was not natural or medicalized. It was a little of both. It was messy & complicated because that’s what birth is. We cannot control the birthing process, only our reactions to the experience. And even that emotional control sometimes only comes after the fact. Sometimes, I can imagine, it never comes at all, leaving women to feel their birth experience was both physically & emotionally out of their hands.

We cannot necessarily control the circumstances of our birthings. When women can’t choose their care providers. When they aren’t empowered to choose a basic starting point or offered options that align with their values & priorities. Which is why some women legitimately feel hurt or traumatized by their birthing experiences. 

We shouldn’t discount these women’s voices or insist that all that matters is taking home a healthy baby. 

Which is why I get so ruffled by Tuteur & her polarizing writing. 

I don’t think it helps mothers to demonize one group or approach to birthing in an attempt to help some mothers feel better about their own birthing experiences.

Don’t get me wrong, Tuteur’s ultimate point—that making mothers feel guilty or bad about interventions in their own births is a terrible thing—is right on. Shame on any person (another mother, healthcare provider, natural birth advocate, etc.) who makes a woman feel guilty for choices or necessary interventions made during her birth. But does a basic respect for all women in birth (& the myriad choices those women might make given the modern miracles of today) require shutting down & belittling advocacy for natural birth?

It’s a mistake to simply flip the board over & upturn the players. When we mistake advocacy for an ultimatum, we create boogie men (or women, as the case may be) that haunt our parenting decisions. We see those who chose differently than we did as judges & bullies, especially when those others embody the choices that we might have made under more ideal circumstances. 

But in truth, advocacy serves a purpose & the overwhelming majority of advocates aren’t judging or finger wagging. Where would c-section rates climb to without natural birth advocates? What would the state of homebirth midwifery be without advocates who caution against homebirth or who promote safe homebirthing options?

The ugly truth is not that you are doing it wrong. The ugly truth is that all of these issues are terribly messy & navigating the myriad of birthing & parenting choices (to the extent that we have choices) is taxing, emotionally & otherwise. Which perhaps helps to explain why it’s so easy to feel under attack. 

The better question for women who feel hurt by their birthing experiences is simply, “Why?” And then we should listen. 

If it’s another mother on the playground or on an Internet message board, well, we can help those mothers better understand each other. It’s an interpersonal & a basic manners issue. If it’s a natural birth advocate or one of those pesky natural birth instructors or programs that Tuteur picks on in her article, it’s a little bigger than mom-to-mom conflict, but it’s still essentially an interpersonal issue, or even a training issue. 

If it’s an OB or a hospital, well, then we’re moving into institutional & systematic issues that raise serious questions about power & patient rights. It’s a bigger problem & something we should take seriously if we care about birth. If it’s an incompetent or militant midwife, that’s also a very serious issue that gets into legal & systemic problems that are complicated & sometimes seem to be intractable. 

Tuteur’s mistake is to focus on the interpersonal issues to the exclusion of the systemic problems, at least in this article. (She deals with homebirth issues extensively on her website & other fora, though she perhaps is not entirely fair in her approach to the issue & tends to simply demonize all midwives.) Mothers may be legitimately hurt by any of these interpersonal or systemic actors & I agree that we should be cautious about idealizing a “perfect” birth. We should carefully listen to any mother who feels bad about her birthing experience. I try to listen as a way to curb my own enthusiasm for natural birth. I do my part by trying hard not to be an asshole. 

But I have to say that my limited observation tells me that those women who have been most traumatized feel that it was a systemic issue that hurt them. What can we do for them? It’s a harder issue. Tuteur’s solution—take down the natural birthing “industry”—is entirely inadequate. 

There is nothing inherently wrong with education focused on natural birthing techniques. That women who are passionate about birth can sometimes make a living or a bit of money by supporting like-minded mothers does not make natural birth advocacy an evil empire, intent on setting women up for “failure.” 

Could some of these folks do a better job preparing women for Plan B (e.g. medical interventions)? Probably. Could some of them be a bit more focused on the reality of messy birth & less on how many candles you’ll have in your bedroom? Probably. 

I wholeheartedly agree that natural childbirth education needs to embrace the contingencies of birthing. But many already do that. In my Hypnobirthing class (which I took when I was pregnant with T), the instructor showed us many videos of quiet, peaceful births. Then we also saw a c-sections delivery & got the low-down on induction & forceps. All delivered practically & without judgment. In the Hypnobabies course I’m taking, visualization exercises remind me to be prepared for any direction my birthing might take. The company also offers a course for mothers planning a c-section. It’s not all gloom & doom, as Tuteur’s article makes it seem. There’s a lot of sympathy & understanding for a myriad of birthing experiences in the natural birth advocacy world.

We have to give ourselves grace for our mistakes and misfortunes alike.  And we have to extend that grace to others, as well. 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Attachment Parenting, Breastfeeding, Feminism, Food, Living, Mothering, Parenting, Working

Birthday perfection

  

T’s seventh birthday just happened & the celebrations included a small party for his cousins & friends. 

The party was on a Saturday afternoon & the Friday before (while still at the office), I found myself wondering… Why do working parents plan Saturday parties… Stupid, stupid, stupid… (Palm meeting forehead.)

But on the train ride after work (going to meet MFA Dad & T at the grocery store for party supplies) I tried to give myself some grace…

“Perfection is not the goal here.”

I repeated my new, impromptu (& very necessary) mantra to myself while making the grocery list & listening to Beach House. Zone out time. 

We picked up frozen pizzas, I found a flour mix to make nut- & gluten-free guests happy (& safe), some healthy-ish snack for the goodie bag & voila, shopping was done & we all headed home. Already exhausted! 

T helped me make the cupcakes & we tidied the house. 

“Perfection is not the goal here.” 

That meant cleaning only one bathroom & not sweeping. It meant minimal decorations, including last year’s slightly torn plastic Star Wars table “cloth.” (Also, technically, there are two Star Wars stickers on the front door from last year’s party that we haven’t bothered to remove…) It meant trying to just get to bed instead of staying up all night readying the house & food. 

After all, this was a small party. Kind of impromptu & definitely planned a bit more last minute than I had intended. I didn’t once look to Pinterest for inspiration. 

Because fuck Pinterest. 

I mean, is there any worse place on the Internet for a working mom? If you can’t get enough of crafting & you truly enjoy planning children’s parties, more power to you! Rock on! But for us mere mortals, really, Pinterest is the worst. 

I’ve been there… I just want to find a few simple ideas. Guess what? There are no simple ideas on Pinterest. Two years ago I found myself drawing mini-fig faces on bright yellow paper cups as guests started arriving for a Lego-themed party. Even that taxed my crafting capabilities! Yeah, I learned my lesson. As a working lawyer, I’d have to start crafting next year’s party now to be done in time.

Even with these concessions, I still imagined piping the frosting onto the cupcakes. But that dream was short-lived… As the clock creeped toward party time, the thought of taking out my unopened, untouched cake decorating kit made my stomach turn a little. That I had made the frosting at all was a miracle. It was delicious (seriously! … every kid licked off all the frosting, even if they didn’t all finish their cupcakes) & that’s what mattered. (FYI, awesome frosting recipe is here & it uses honey instead of powdered sugar… Yes, sugar is sugar, but I prefer the less processed kind when I can & there was plenty of the granulated kind in the cupcakes themselves anyway… I am not a purist.)

Ok, so I slathered on the frosting & called it a day! Phew! (See Exhibit A above: sloppy but yummy cupcakes. Plus my “sample.”)

In truth, I love simple birthday parties at home. Even though they’re chaotic & kind of tortuous. But really, why do children need anything more? 

“Perfection is not the goal here” … A bit of fun & celebration, that’s the goal. And a kid’s birthday party is such a whirlwind anyways, that no one will notice the tear in the recycled table cloth or the messy cupcakes or the used Star Wars figures in the goodie bags. 

Our birthday boy felt honored & celebrated & that’s all he needed for his special day. I, on the other hand, need another weekend to recover from even this simple birthday party!

Leave a comment

Filed under Food, Living, Mothering, Parenting, Simplicity, Working

Goodbye Halloween, goodbye candy

20131101-053700.jpg

Is it possible to care about food & let your child enjoy a “normal” Halloween? (And by normal, I mean filled with candy…)

I haven’t figured it out yet & I suspect that each year (as T grows) will be a puzzle to be solved in the moment.

Last year, the Switch Witch came to collect most of T’s candy. T kept a small bowl of candy, which lasted a week or so. He received a small gift in exchange for “sharing” the rest with the Switch Witch. (We threw away the rest… after selecting a few pieces for ourselves.) Last year, T hardly knew what candy was, let alone did he have a “favorite.” Last year, he was content to trick-or-treat on just our block & pass by the really scary houses.

This year is different.

He loves M&Ms (as a rare treat). He planned to trick-or-treat with friends. He was afraid of nothing… the scarier, the better (including our own “scary” jack-o-lantern pictured above). He’s already started planning costumes for next year.

So this year we’ve changed it up. All the candy he could eat. On Halloween.

The rest we are sending to troops abroad. Right now it’s living on an upper shelf of the pantry.

That’s it. Done.

He went a bit crazy last night. (Though I was proud that the last “candy” he chose was a box of raisins & he acted as if he had been saving the best for last.) In the end, he complained that his tummy hurt him & he didn’t appreciate the fact that I subjected him to a thorough flossing before bed.

I think this is all compatible with a healthy food philosophy. It’s not ideal, perhaps. But the world isn’t an ideal place & learning to navigate it (& its pitfalls) is part of the game.

Goodbye, Halloween. And good riddance!

Leave a comment

Filed under Food, Mothering, Parenting, Simplicity

A Friday night in my house

Sometimes Fridays can be exciting, but on my most recent Friday (after my first full week on the new job!) I made the following:

  • Snack bars, this recipe.
  • Gelatin with fruit juice.
  • Beans that I had soaked while I was at work (I also chopped veggies for the chili that would cook the next day in the crock pot while we celebrated my grandmother’s 80th birthday!)

None of it was too complicated (beans simmered for 2 hours while I did other stuff), which is why I was able to get it all done.

And luckily there was some really lively, beautiful music on the radio to keep me going.

But I was ready to collapse afterward. And I did.

I write this not to brag (or #humblebrag) about being a whiz in the kitchen or having the energy of a four-year-old, but because I’ve previously promised to be open about the work it takes to eat & provide real, nutritious food. Especially, how to do it while working full-time outside the home.

Sometimes it means spending your Friday night in the kitchen rather than on the couch watching another episode of Battlestar Galactica. Ok, ok… Something more glamorous? … Substitute couch for going out to the movies or hitting the latest & greatest pub….

But I realize cooking on a Friday night is actually just my cup of tea. My new job is mentally & socially exhausting (how many meetings & conference calls today?!). Being an introvert, I have barely any words or thoughts left to share once I get home. So, an evening spent mostly alone in the kitchen (after T has gone to bed) is a good way to decompress, quietly & meditatively. It was a good way to close out the week & I’m already thinking if there are any kitchen projects I can tackle tonight…

But are snack bars & jello really “real & nutritious food”? Are they worth sacrificing a perfectly good Friday evening? As I also said previously (in the same post linked above), I am trying really hard to not be dogmatic about food.

So while these snacks are certainly homemade, yes, I can’t say that they’re as good as an apple or avocado. As far as snack foods, I think they’re pretty darn alright. And it’s all part of my plan to be prepared … for when T gets hungry on the road this weekend, for my late-night sugar cravings, for my mid-afternoon energy dip at work, for whatever. I’d rather fetch one of my homemade snack bars or gelatin cups than buy something less nutritious on the fly.

One Friday night = snacks for 2 weeks!

And it’s all way cheaper than a Lara bar from Whole Foods.

Speaking of, if you’ve ever been to Whole Foods, read Kelly MacLean’s hilarious take on “surviving” a trip there.

I shop at Whole Foods way too often & realize it’s just not a sustainable choice for my family. (Thankfully, my neighborhood will soon host a member-owned coop, which will be awesome & something I can totally get behind!) If I didn’t have T’s school tuition & law school loans & big city rent… well, then, maybe I could shop at Whole Foods with consumerist abandon.

But MacLean’s piece, while funny, makes this important point:

I skip [the gluten-free] aisle because I’m not rich enough to have dietary restrictions. Ever notice that you don’t meet poor people with special diet needs? A gluten intolerant house cleaner? A cab driver with Candida? Candida is what I call a rich, white person problem. You know you’ve really made it in this world when you get Candida.

Of course, it’s not entirely true. I know some decidedly-not-rich folks with celiac. But the point is well-taken. Some self-imposed restrictions are mere luxury.

And consider this thoughtful piece from chicken tender, which raises the issue of socioeconomics & real food in a touching & real way.

For example, she points out that while many of us uphold an ideal of food production & procurement, we simply can’t always attain that ideal for economic & logistical reasons. Of course, even Chandelle at chicken tender is luckier than most by virtue of the fact that she has ready access to local food producers. For those of us in urban areas, access is not so easy & it’s even more costly.

I’m still working out this balance of ideals & realities for my own family. As we work through this budget thing, I’m sure I’ll have plenty of thoughts, frustrations & ideas to bounce off of you all.

In the mean time, what’s your favorite Friday night activity (or chore) & how to you think about your food budget?

Leave a comment

Filed under Food, Living, Mothering, Parenting

A new (school) day

20130906-104800.jpg

Things have been quiet around here the past two weeks… I’m in between jobs (yay!) & trying to hibernate a bit & build up my anxieties energy for my first day at my new job (today… yikes!).

Which really just means that I’ve been doing a bunch of batch cooking (freezing lots of yummy stuff for the busy weeks ahead!) & playing Legos with T (mostly flipping pages of the instruction booklets & searching for tiny pieces among the piles…).

Oh, and of course trying to get my entire life in order while I have the chance… Clean the closet, go through piles of paperwork, etc…. Yeah, that didn’t happen (though I did manage to make an even bigger mess by starting to clean out the closet & pantry simultaneously & without finishing either…

Mostly, I’ve been thinking about food, as usual (see my prior post about my mild obsession).

Not just my food, but T’s food.

T will begin going to school full-day today & I’ve been agonizing over lunch. There’s hot lunch, but is it good enough for my child who has been eating low-grain, no gluten with us this summer?

We are lucky.

T goes to a small private school & for a reasonable price he can receive the hot lunch, which is organic & doesn’t have nasty preservatives, flavorings, or additives.

But letting go of that control is hard for me. Other people (including T, himself) are making choices about what goes into his little body!

I’m terrified.

But this is just the first of many letting go’s that I will have to suffer as T grows up. In fact, this is far from the first. There was the first time I left him as an infant to go to work & school. There were those first steps he took away from me & MFA Dad. T’s first interests, his first “no,” his first nanny, his first day of school, weaning (which just happened & about which I hope to write something soon).

I’m not sentimental. I didn’t cry at any of these momentous events.

But I cringed at the loss of control.

Then I took a deep breath & moved along.

I’m trying to do the same this morning as T & I both embark on new adventures. Not easy, but I’m trying.

Because I need that mental space to concentrate on learning my new job, making a strong first impression, & saving a little bit of myself for home.

I’m not sure how my new job will impact my home life (hoping for less stress & more time at home), my blogging life (maybe less anonymity in the future?), me (really… I could use less stress!).

Talk about the ultimate loss of control! I’m about to turn myself over to strangers. I’m OK with it. I now have tools to navigate just about any workplace dynamic & I’m confident I’ll make it work.

Now, I have just enough time on the train to close my eyes & breath.

Happy Monday, all!

2 Comments

Filed under Blogging, Feminism, Food, Lawyering, Living, Mothering, Parenting, Partnership, Simplicity, Working

Morning catch

20130903-091545.jpg

Leave a comment

September 3, 2013 · 9:16 AM

The dangers of blogging about food

20130823-163528.jpg

I learned a new word yesterday.

Orthorexia.

An ironically unhealthy obsession with healthy or “clean” foods.

When I was a vegetarian, I was a fastidious vegetarian. For over 20 years. It’s how I learned to be an astute reader of labels. It was my first (& failed) attempt at healthy eating.

But looking back, my vegetarianism was also an attempt to exert control in any situation involving food. I was dramatic. I was dogmatic. I was, in a word, annoying & likely insufferable. (My only redeeming quality was a lack of preachiness.)

Orthorexia.

That word hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew what it meant before reading the definition.

Sometimes I think I would have discovered healthy eating years, if not decades, sooner, had the Internet been around when I was still a teenager, eating no meat but not quite sure what to eat in its stead.

But today, I simply think I know too much. Too many diets, philosophies & factions. Too many sources, recipes, opinions & anecdotes. Too much. Yet not enough.

Thankfully, I don’t think I have orthorexia, just orthorexic tendencies. Even toward the end of my vegetarianism, I was less dogmatic as I began to listen more to my body. I ate fish when I felt I needed to. I let myself enjoy it. When I quit vegetarianism, I vowed to leave the dogma behind for good.

… But then I read about “Traditional Food” & “WAPF” & “Paleo” & “GAPS” & “SCD” & etc.

I mentally globbed on to one & then the next & then the next. Luckily, I haven’t had the time, money, or energy to commit to any of these in reality.

I say “luckily” because yesterday I was introduced to the blog Chicken Tender & I read a lovely post there about moderation:

Eating sausage that is not from a local, pasture-based farm, hoping to do better next month: moderate.

Eating sausage three times a day with no intention of diversifying my diet: immoderate.

Not eating sausage, or much of anything else, because I can’t find the perfect source for it: extreme.

I’ve taken a hard look at my own motivations & thoughts about food since I read that piece. I am suddenly grateful to not believe in gurus & to not feel aligned (in life & on this blog) with a single diet or “food belief system.” Passionate about certain aspects of food? You betcha. But “unaffiliated” with any single way of eating.

But those tendencies are there & they’re strong. (Particularly when you’re doctor has recently put you on an elimination diet & food is all you can think about… dreaming of a day when you might actually figure out what to put & what not to put into this body…)

And herein lies the danger (for me, at least) of food blogs. They make it seem so simple. So easy. So straight forward. So right.

If so-&-so writes a Traditional Foods/WAPF blog, then that’s it. If so-&-so writes a Paleo/Primal blog, then that’s it. These are presented as complete systems of eating &, gee, they do it so well, &, oh my gosh, every damned meal at so-&-so’s house must be awesome & follow rules X, Y, & Z!

But figuring out what or how to eat in today’s world is anything but straight forward. And it’s a shame that more of these blogs don’t engage in a more active engagement in the gray areas. (Is that much butter really good for me? … Won’t eating that much meat kill me, my family & the planet? … Isn’t it a good idea to cook at least some of my food?… Will I drop dead if I eat raw nuts or if my butter isn’t from pastured cows or if my chicken previously ate some corn?!)

Plus, many food bloggers are doing the blogging (& cooking & image management thing) full time or for profit. This doesn’t cancel out good intentions. But it should make the rest of us stop & question a blogger’s motivations & sincerity & credibility. Any blog written by a full-time blogger should feature a prominent warning: Check your reality at the “about” page because you will never accomplish this, at least not on a daily basis!

And yet I care about food. I’m learning that putting some things into my body feels better than other things. Blogs written by folks who dedicate they’re days to food can be great resources. But the sheen of perfection & “rightness” (& sometimes righteousness) is unmistakable.

So I’m trying really hard not to measure myself against so-&-so’s perfect food blog. And I’m trying not to get hung up on “pure” or “clean” foods. And I’m trying to accept that the human body can adapt or cope with a few (or maybe even a lot) of indiscretions.

Which isn’t to say that I won’t still seek out direct-from-the-farmer meats & eggs. Or that I won’t buy certain things organic (Dirty Dozen list) or only in season (tomatoes). But if I want an apple out of season, I’ll buy one. If I don’t feel like operating the salad spinner, I’ll buy packaged greens. If we’re out of eggs, I’ll buy them from the grocery store.

And I won’t feel bad… I think.

And, I vow as a sometimes-blogger, sometimes blogging about food that I will do my due diligence to not make it seem easy (it’s usually not) or “right” (because who can really know).

Real food is a topic near & dear to my heart. I’m committed to cooking wholesome & whole foods. I’m committed to local foods. Blah, blah, blah. But perfection & dogma are hereby banished.

2 Comments

Filed under Blogging, Food, Living, Working