Category Archives: Parenting

“Science” vs. AP?!

A beautiful sky; makes me happy, like parenting.

Entering into a new phase of my parenting journey (back in the throws of babyhood), I quietly wondered whether Attachment Parenting (or, AP, for short) has relevance for me anymore. I started this blog as a space for writing about Attachment Parenting & pursuing a career. Would I want to get back to writing about working & AP’ing as a blogger? (Well… here I am, blogging about it…) Would I be practicing AP with the new wee one?

The answer to that last question is complicated.

My short answer is yes. But it’s not because it has “worked” so well with my first child. And it’s not because I believe that AP is the only or best way to parent.

Here’s the longer answer (sorry… long post alert!)…

Before T was born, MFA Dad & I had no clue what we were doing or how we were going to approach our new roles as parents. We were living away from our closest friends & family, some of whom were starting to have kids, so we really didn’t have any models close by. Our fuzzy (or non-existent) memories of our own early childhoods were not much help. Our parents had selective amnesia & seemed to suggest things were a lot easier than they ended up being for us.

And honestly, we hadn’t thought about parenting at all before I got pregnant. And even then, it took a while for our brains to catch up with all that my body was preparing for. (A law school classmate of mine who had previously been a doula, once warned me in the hallway about books that would scare or scar me… That’s when I realized that “Oh, people take this parenting shtick seriously & actually think about how they want to parent…”)

So it was with some relief that we happened across Dr. William Sears’s The Baby Book while shopping at my least favorite store in the world (Babies R Us). A lot of what Dr. Sears-the-Elder had to say just clicked with both MFA Dad & I. (Also, some of it didn’t click.) We didn’t think that our son would be messed up if we didn’t follow all of his “Baby B’s” (Dr. Sears’s short list of AP “do’s”) but in the book we had found a bunch of baby minding tactics that seemed to mesh well with our lifestyle & world views. (For example, the basic idea that wearing your baby is an easy way to integrate a child into your daily life while keeping them physically close seemed practical to us.)

In short, it was simply nice to find an approach to this overwhelming endeavor that suited us as a couple & new family.

While we are not, perhaps, the AP “poster” family, I am grateful for what I have learned because of AP. It gave me the tools & confidence to parent in a way that felt right when I was a new & inexperienced mom. Even while I was making many first-time mom mistakes.

But here’s the bottom line. I don’t think, nor have I ever thought, really, that AP is the sole owner of “good” parenting. There are also many valid criticisms of AP, as it is represented by Dr. Sears & others.

I don’t know that any of my friends or family who are parents would identify as AP. But I’d babysit their kids or have them over for a sleepover any day. Like us, they all developed their own parenting styles. They’re all great parents & their kids seem to be normal & healthy & secure (most certainly securely attached). They are all delightful kids. And we all also have our challenges with our children.

Still, it is with some wonder (& frankly, confusion) that I observe certain types of blanket criticisms of AP. For example, take the “Science vs” Attachment Parenting podcast, wherein the host challenges the unscientifically-founded scourge of attachment parenting. The host of the podcast managed to find an overzealous follower of AP’s “rules” who takes the role of “motherly sacrifice” to an extreme & then uses the poor woman as a diving board into an equally overzealous critique of AP. (I knew the critique was off base when it started with the premise that the sample mom’s home was “child-centered,” which is opposed to my own interpretation of AP… My own take being that AP is family-based in a way that posits the child is not the center of the family’s existence & if you walk into my home it may take a few seconds to realize there are children living there too.)

Look, I get it… As the podcast’s host explained, there are books & websites & blogs (ahem…) laying out what may seem like “rules” at a quick glance. Dr. Sears & others use their authority as medical professionals and/or references to “science” to convince unwitting parents that AP is unquestionably better for babies & children. The idea of “rules” or getting things “wrong” (& possibly messing up your child as a result) makes AP simultaneously attractive & overwhelming to many parents.

Let’s get this out of the way: It’s never a good idea to blindly follow anyone’s set of rules when it comes to raising your children.

Discussions around different approaches to parenting typically present stark choices with severe consequences. The choices is almost never so stark (unless one of those choices involves neglect or harm—be it physical or psychological—of the child). But if you’re a parent, you are most likely an adult who should have learned the lesson that you don’t jump just because someone (even someone in a doctor’s or lab coat) yells “jump.”

AP’s “rules” are only rules if you let them be rules. Dr. Sears doesn’t care what you do or don’t do with your child. There is no test. You don’t have to prove yourself as parent of the century.

So, while I disagree with the “Science vs.” characterization of AP, I don’t disagree with the bottom line that using “science” to prove that AP is the only way to raise a healthy child is misleading & you won’t necessarily damage your child if you don’t follow the “rules” of AP.

But here’s the thing… There simply aren’t any such rules. Many AP families use strollers. 🙋 Many AP families have cribs (though we don’t always use them…). 🙋 Dr. Sears himself has advice on bottle-feeding. Sometimes, AP parents let their children cry because they’d like some privacy in the bathroom, it’s the nightly witching hour, or they literally just can’t handle nighttime parenting at the moment.

And I’d bet (if I were the betting type) that most of us don’t “do” AP because of science. AP empowers parents (or it has the potential to, in any case) to parent intuitively. That means I don’t need someone with an MD or PhD to tell me what to do when my baby cries, when she wakes in the middle of the night, or when my older child misbehaves. Nope, I got this! I know my children better than anyone & am not concerned with “outcomes” that have been tracked by researchers or artificially created in a lab.

This premise (that there are strict “rules”) pretty much guarantees “Science vs.” will get AP wrong out of the gate. I’ve already pointed out that AP isn’t necessarily a child-centered parenting philosophy, but it also isn’t parent-centered. The podcast’s host seems to corner the poor sample mom into stating that she doesn’t let her child cry because she can’t handle it. Then she leaves it at that, which is a totally inaccurate characterization of AP. I don’t like my baby’s cries either, but that’s not why most AP parents don’t purposely let their babies cry without responding.

So, let’s look at the topics the “Science vs.” attempts to cover: crying, attachment theory, and sleep.

Babies cry. It’s how they communicate. I wouldn’t ignore my older child if he came to my bedside & whispered “Mommy, my tummy hurts.” I wouldn’t ignore my bleary-eyed husband if he asked me to pour him a cup of coffee as I pour my own. So why would I ignore my baby simply because she can’t yet use words? I want to investigate, at least. I can usually figure out what she’s asking for in her prehistoric way.

But maybe I can’t figure it out. Maybe she’s crying for a long time. Maybe I’m so sleep deprived I can’t take any more crying. Well, then, perhaps walking away is the best thing I can do for her & for me. That’s certainly better than losing my temper or harming baby in some way. But that’s not where I start.

I start from the premise that this little person is completely dependent on me & it’s my job to respond. She’s trying to tell me something important. No matter what time of day or night. No matter if I’m tired. No matter if I don’t want to (though that’s usually not the case). No matter what.

That’s why I respond when my baby cries.

Now, back to those pesky “rules.” Quite simply, there are none.

The “rules” aren’t rules. The podcast unfairly characterizes common AP practices as “rules” when they are guidelines at best. Most literature on AP that I’ve read presents these ideas as “best practices” of sorts, but by no means have I seen any proponent of AP suggest that bottle-feeding, for instance will ruin one’s attachment with one’s child. That’s preposterous & untenable. AP folks tend to be hardliners on the issue of sleep training, but other than that issue, I don’t think most advocates of AP would suggest with a straight face that there’s only one way to do this whole AP thing.

Of course, some will take things to an extreme. But I try to avoid extremes in my daily life & parenting is no different. I have criticized those AP proponents who suggest extreme views of parenting, especially when those views are aimed at women in particular & have the potential to restrict rather than liberate. If someone tells you you must do something as a parent (be it baby wearing, bed sharing, breastfeeding, etc.) pause, reflect on their motivations, and then consider your own reality.

Interestingly, while the podcast correctly separates attachment parenting from attachment theory, it doesn’t quite get that right either. To be clear, attachment parenting as described by Dr. Sears et al., has a tenuous relationship at best with attachment theory. That said, the New York Times recently reported on new discoveries in the world of attachment theory, in an article entitled “Yes, It’s Your Parents’ Fault,” no less.

Of course, it’s not all our parents’ faults. As the “Science vs.” podcast points out, our pesky genes do influence our dispositions & the ways we interact with the world & each other. But, according to the new research reported in the NY Times, it does seem that parenting matters for our future relationships & …

Luckily, as I’ve pointed out previously, “good enough” parenting will usually do the trick. But to suggest that it doesn’t matter at all (as the podcast host does) is flippant & inaccurate.

Which leads us to sleep. Ah, sleep… so elusive with young children in the house! Yet it’s the one area where most AP’ers will agree on an honest to goodness rule: Do not leave your child to cry in order to “sleep train.” Many of us would say you should consider not sleep training at all.

Unfortunately for us adults, babies’ sleep habits are different from ours. In fact, they’re rather inconvenient. They interrupt our nights and our days. Annoying.

At least, we’re culturally conditioned to think that our babies’ sleep habits are annoying or, at best, less than ideal. I’m not going to argue that adult sleep is unimportant—Parents need sleep to function… to support their children & to be living, breathing members of society, even if barely sometimes. And I’m not going to tell you how you feel. Or what degree of exhaustion you should be able to tolerate. Or that your baby’s sleep is normal. Or that you should sleep next to your baby. Or that you shouldn’t.

You’re the parent. You get to make that call. Not some random blogger. Not someone hosting a podcast.

All I’ll say here is that there are a number of sleep configurations that AP families adopt. I’ve done a little of everything, even sleep training (short of intentionally leaving a child alone to cry). (I do have lots of opinions about sleep & I’m working on a sleep-focused post.)

The “Science vs.” podcast presents an extremely simplistic overview of the issue of safe sleep & a singular vision of what healthy sleep might look like.

I understand that folks might have legitimate disagreements over safe sleep. Parents need to talk to & consult sources they trust to decides whether or not a given sleep arrangement is safe enough for them. (I say safe enough because there is no 100% guarantee no matter your sleep arrangement, unfortunately.) “Science vs.” provides some talking points, but only scratches the surface. And it presents the safe sleep question as clear-cut, when I don’t think that it’s at all simple.

For instance, the podcast appears to entirely dismiss the research of Dr. James McKenna (without explicitly naming him) because he’s not an MD. But he happens to be the only researcher to study bed sharing & infant sleep in a lab. His work appears in peer-reviewed journals (some are medical journals). And his approach to bed sharing & safe infant sleep reads to me as being very nuanced. I don’t think he should necessarily be your sole source of information, but I also don’t think his work is so easily dismissed.

As for the sleep training bit, I have to admit that I just don’t understand why critics of AP much care that we don’t sleep train at all or in the conventional ways. I found sleep training to be more trouble than it’s worth. My older son has “slept through the night” (that silly but all-important “milestone”) since around 2 1/2, more or less. He’s 8 & just had his first sleepover with friends away from home, so he can sleep independently. I share these details only to stress that sleep happens. With or without parental fussing.

My 11-month-old does not sleep through the night. She still nurses a couple-few times every night. I’m tired most mornings when I have to wake up for work. Meh. … This, too, shall pass… So for now, I try to enjoy smelling the top of her head or the touch of her soft cheek during those nighttime feedings. For me, the stress of sleep training is not worth it.

I will sleep again. You will sleep again. Soon.

Perhaps critics of AP just want to make sure parents are getting enough sleep. Maybe. But I have a suspicion that the motivations are less generous. There’s a cottage industry built on selling us bleary-eyed parents on various sleep training techniques. And because some of these techniques don’t feel right, there’s a cadre of parents who have had to convince themselves that whatever sleep training they’ve engaged in is at best innocuous. Maybe, just maybe, critics of AP resent the non-mainstream, but more palatable, approach that AP’ers take to sleep. Maybe.

My point is not to make you feel guilty if you personally have tried sleep training. My point is that there’s a strong cultural current moving in one direction & I think AP’s approach to sleep is the focus of so much criticism (as seen in the “Science vs.” podcast) precisely because it resists that current. It’s really no one’s business how you or I, individually, approach sleep.

We deserve to be able to make informed decisions without folks badgering one particular method, particularly when there is absolutely zero evidence that choosing to forgo sleep training (or choosing gentle sleep training techniques) will harm children or babies. And yet, parents are pressured constantly to “do something” about their babies’ sleep. The “Science vs.” podcast host practically begs parents to sleep train for their own sanity with no discussion of normal infant sleep patterns.

It’s just weird. I mean, it’s worth exploring whether your child’s truly deplorable sleep has an underlying medical cause, but beyond that I truly do not understand the cultural pressure to sleep train.

And I say this not as the parent of a unicorn child who slept or sleeps well. Nope. I’ve been to the depths of exhaustion & back. I’m there again. Sometimes I still touch upon that irrational anger that is the special gift of sleep deprivation. I have fitful sleep. Weird dreams.

In other words, I can sympathize with parents of “bad” sleepers. And if your baby is an normal bad sleeper, I have been there. I’ll be there again tonight.

AP is an easy target for parent trash talk, but it doesn’t have to be a caricature. For most thoughtful families who have picked up a technique or two or three from AP, it’s not a silly, old-fashioned, anti-feminist endeavor. It’s not a cult or even a club. It’s just another set of tools in the parenting toolbox.

Just because the science has not definitively shown that AP is the best way to parent doesn’t make it any less or somehow worse than other ways of parenting. It is not necessary to prove that it’s somehow awful. It’s not. Engage in in-depth critique with an open mind, but don’t dismiss out of hand for no good reason.

It is telling that almost none of the critiques that I’ve come across recently have posited another parenting philosophy as a replacement as the proven winner in the (unfortunately) endless competition between parenting styles. Because, let’s be clear, “science” hasn’t proven that other approaches to parenting are “the best” either. We may turn to science for a lot, but on parenting, the science is lacking.

I’ve recently finished reading Our Babies, Ourselves by Meredith Small. She also uses science to provide an analysis of parenting styles from biological and cultural perspectives. You can find a lot to support practices typical of AP families in the book (e.g. bed-sharing, breastfeeding, responsive parenting, etc.) but the interesting thing is that it is clear from the book that these practices are not owned by AP or any particular parenting philosophy. And Small, though she has a clear preference for these AP-type practices, accepts that every culture will place its imprint on parenting practices. She also insists that babies are adaptable little beings & that science has not determined that any one parenting style is likely to result in better adapted or happier adults. (Not that results should be a goal of parenting…)

Now that I’m doing this baby thing for the second time, I can say that I love AP because it makes life easier &, more importantly, it makes being a parent more enjoyable. And even more importantly, I do it because the little person in my care is weird & has prehistoric needs built into her DNA & she doesn’t talk & AP is the best way for me to learn her language. I don’t do it because science or even pseudoscience tells me it’s better. I don’t do it because some “professional” says it’s better.

My journey on this earth as a human has made me appreciate that we are living every day we get to be here (wherever that happens to be). That is, our hours here are not (solely) in service of some yet-to-be-attained goal. My journey as a parent has taught me to enjoy the simple things in life & to connect fiercely with my family, among others. The two together have taught me to enjoy parenting. Sure, not every moment. But, most moments. Even the moments that don’t seem enjoyable at first blush.

AP is just one tool that helps me work toward that connection & enjoyment. It’s not perfect. I’m not perfect. That’s ok. What’s not ok is the hell-bent determination with which some approach AP, on either side of the fence. We are more than our parenting philosophies.

If you’ve read this long post: Thank you! And let m know what you think. What did I get wrong? Right? What helps you enjoy being a parent?

Leave a comment

Filed under Attachment Parenting, Breastfeeding, Gentle Discipline, Living, Mothering, Parenting, Read, Simplicity

My life post-Facebook 

My empty social media folder…


About three months ago, I quit Facebook. Indefinitely. Possibly forever.

After the election of November 2016, I had used social media as a serious crutch. Holy cow, that election was something. I don’t really want to recall how I felt in the run-up & during the aftermath. 

But I found a welcome outlet on Facebook. I’d never posted much, but I started sharing articles & posts, engaging in (sorta-friendly) political arguments with a variety of folks. I wallowed in liberal anguish with my “friends.” 

Then came the inauguration. The Women’s March. Anti-immigrant, anti-refugee Executive Orders & more local activism. On short notice, I rounded up the family, set off the alarm on Facebook & headed to the airport. Angry. (Though always thoughtful & friendly to the police officers protecting the various marches I attended.) Facebook was more than an on-line outlet for fake rage… it was IRL activism, y’all! Real & in-the-flesh organizing. 

But mostly I read. 

Doomsday articles. Articles that got me upset & scared. Debates on how some of us were doing activism wrong. Which made me anxious & upset for different reasons.

All of it made me feel overwhelmed.

Overwhelm was my default state.

I’d get the baby to sleep in the rocking chair & then I’d stay up late catching up on politics via social media. 

I was exhausted already & we were barely into this new presidency. How would I sustain my renewed activism over the next four (or less… or more) years? I was younger & childless & pre-Facebook when I was last involved in any activism. 

My partner suggested deleting the Facebook app from my devices. Yeah, right! I laughed maniacally. 

How else could I keep up? Stay involved in all the excellent local groups that had formed? How would I know about the next protest?

I was on Facebook on the train on the way to work. On the way home from work. Sometimes at lunch. At night after the kids were asleep.

Exhausting.

Overwhelming.

And, most importantly, unhealthy

So I finally heeded my parner’s advice & (publicly, of course!) said goodbye to Facebook. I deleted the app (though I didn’t kill my account). I thought for sure that my social media hiatus would be temporary. That I’d sort out my Facebook demons & hop back on in a more disciplined manner. 

Then the weeks started to pass by … and I just didn’t…

Maybe I’d get back on Twitter. Instagram. (Folks told me that Instagram was somewhat apolitical & happy, still.) 

Nope. 

Not interested. 

Because I started to notice something… I was deliberately more present with my family. Giving my son more attention. Relishing in the sweetness of my youngest’s babyhood. Conversing with my partner & even sneaking in a couple dates. 

It’s not that I had disappeared from family life previously, but it’s amazing how the brief snippets of social media distraction can cut into the time & headspace that should be focused on the actual living & breathing people in your immediate presence. 

And I started to think about my priorities. Talked (like, on the phone… not via Messenger…) to a dear mentor. My partner & I started some projects around the house. Started planning a vacation. Some camping trips. Sometimes we have dance parties in the evenings. Sometimes my partner pulls out his guitar & we stay up too late singing. 

It’s like a fog has lifted. 

And I’ve gotten over my social media FOMO. I know I’m missing some interesting & smart shit out there, but I can’t do it all. And for now quitting Facebook is an easy, clean way to make my life a bit more manageable, meaningful, & enjoyable. 

But saying goodbye to Facebook was not going to be a political cop-out. I saved my representatives’ contacts to my phone. I get an email each week about calls I might make. I’ve made calls. Sent emails. 

I keep up on the news on my own, with subscriptions to a small handful of real (not fake) news sources. A “curated newsfeed,” you might call it. 

But I still wanted to do more. And without the immediacy of Facebook, I could really step back to analyze my situation. 

I had never really been a protest-activist. Bless ’em, because it takes all types & all voices. 

No, in my post-Facebook meditation, I realized that I am much more into voice amplification. In college, I had a radio show, so I turned it into a platform for discussing issues affecting Latino students. As a law student, I organized events highlighting issues I cared about. As a small-time publisher, I’ve given space to a variety of voices.

So, now I’m spending some of the time I was spending on Facebook & protesting in a way that utilizes my skills and amplifies my impact: pro bono work. 

I’ve only just begun, but the prospect of helping to create access to justice for folks in my community (folks likely marginalized in the current political climate) is pretty darn exciting.  

I’m still in for a good protest, but I’m being a little more discerning. It’s gonna be a long ride. 

(Also, I started blogging more regularly again. Turns out, writing about parenting—& sometimes, politics—makes me happy.)

How are you managing (or mismanaging) your social media “life”? Do you have rules you abide by? Have you quit cold turkey? Never started?

Leave a comment

Filed under Feminism, Lawyering, Living, Mothering, Parenting, Simplicity, Working

Focusing on the best

“Loving”—A reminder of my son

A mere 4 1/2 years ago (oh, where does the time go?!), I shared the parenting motivation that helps to keep me on my game. That motivation comes from Scott Noelle at The Daily Groove. Noelle’s format has changed a bit since then, but he still sends out nuggets of gold a couple-few times a week. Sometimes, I’m too lazy or busy to read the emails, but thankfully my partner (MFA Dad) will forward to me the ones that are resonating with our current parenting challenges. 

This morning he sent me one called “The Power of Attraction.” In it, Noelle suggested writing a reminder on your hand of one characteristic of your child that you “really, really adore and appreciate.” I chose “loving” because my son’s big heart is so endearing. At least, it is when I stop to allow him to fully express his loving nature, including both his capacity & need for love. 

The idea of Noelle’s experiment is to think about this particular attribute often throughout the day & observe how it affects your interactions. Noelle writes:

“Psychologically, attraction means you can focus on certain things, and your mind will ‘pull’ matching thoughts and conditions into your awareness and experience. …

“Can you see how, through your intentional focus, you created (attracted) that experience?”

I enjoyed thinking about T’s loving nature throughout the day, especially as we were apart for most of it. These days I have to admit that I am often rushed with him, as the baby’s needs are so urgent & ever-present. This experiment has forced me to (re-)create some space for him, which he deserves. 

And guess what? It worked! We had a delightful & playful evening. 

I find myself wanting to do this for MFA Dad, too! And even baby M. 

Try it!

Leave a comment

Filed under Attachment Parenting, Gentle Discipline, Living, Mothering, Parenting, Partnership, Read, Simplicity, Working

Life after loss & the “rainbow” baby

What might have been…


I had a dream the other night about losing a small infant. It was not a sad or scary dream, though it was bizarre & jarring. 

I feel certain this dream was about “Twin A,” who we lost over a year ago during my pregnancy with M (who is thriving!). Both of my kids were in my dream, so the loss was of someone else entirely. 

And suddenly, I find myself emotional about that loss again. It’s a grief I haven’t let myself feel since we found out what had happened. But now, over a year later, a beautiful rainbow baby in my life, I am again sad that my twin pregnancy ended up as a singleton pregnancy. 

I often tell people (when it comes up…) that I had 3 miscarriages. Truth is, it was really 4. It’s just that the last one was, thankfully, hidden in an otherwise healthy pregnancy. It’s weird that I’m just now realizing that or, at least, doing the math.

And perhaps because of the successful singleton pregnancy, I didn’t get the closure I’d had with my other miscarriages. There was no physical sign. Nothing to bury in the small memorial garden. I was, for good reason, preoccupied with the health of “Twin B,” aka M. 

But now it’s as if my soul (or my subconscious, at least) is crying out. It’s telling me with this dream that I am in a safe place now & I can grieve what might have been. 

The truth is that for me, the twin loss was in some way more difficult than the others. Whereas with the singleton losses I hadn’t done any mental planning beyond the vague dreaming of early pregnancy, it took a lot of mental effort to just wrap my brain around the fact that I was pregnant with twins at the beginning. 

I thought about birth. I thought about three car seats in a Toyota Corolla. I thought about sleeping arrangements. Breastfeeding. School expenses. 

I thought, happily, how we’d be thrust into life as a family of five. I’ve secretly wanted three children for a long time & this was my way to achieve that without having to get my partner’s consent. I was secretly overjoyed. 

Now, I’m certain that ship has sailed. And perhaps as a mental safety mechanism, I didn’t really allow myself to think about that until now. I had to remain focused on growing & then caring for the one healthy baby who would become my sweet M. 

So, no more babies. No more miscarriages. 

I have to say, while I find myself occupying a space of unexpected sadness & disappointment right now, I am relieved that we will not walk in that heartache again. At least, not in the present. I still feel scarred & that is quite enough. My whole family would agree, I’m sure. MFA Dad is still touched in his quiet way. T knew about one miscarriage & is still emotional about it at unexpected times. 

The truth is, even though I might idealize a third child, another full-term pregnancy, another birth-day, getting there might include the sort of life-shattering heartache that we experienced in getting to baby #2. I don’t think I’m willing to walk that road again, as joyful as all the rest is. There is something to be said for being happy with what one has. And I am. 

So, I will allow myself to grieve. To get teary-eyed at unexpected moments. To be an enigma to my partner while I talk about Twin A again after a year’s silence. 

And then, when I am ready, I will find a way to commemorate that loss—all of my losses—& compartmentalize that phase of my life. I will “move on.” (I’ll also probably write about it!)

I don’t know what “moving on” looks like beyond not dwelling. Perhaps “moving on” is not the right term because moving on is literally impossible. I am a changed, deeper, better person. All I can do is pick up from a new starting point… allow the pain of loss & miscarriage to fade softly. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Living, Miscarriage, Mothering, Parenting, Simplicity, Snapshots

Mother-Anniversary #8

Sorta-still-life with a seven year old & an infant


I try to contemplate my journey as a mother every year around the time of my son’s birthday. I had a two-week wait between his guess date & the day he actually arrived. I spent those two weeks in quiet contemplation. A lot of solo (& very slow) walks. I thought about birth & I thought about impending motherhood. I like to think of those two weeks as my slow transformation to motherhood before the wild awakening. 

This is the first year I get to write this annual post as a mother of two. 

I’m letting that sink in (for myself), as I wasn’t so sure a year ago or two years ago that I’d ever get to say that. And three years ago, I was pregnant for just the second time, though that pregnancy would end in a missed miscarriage. 

But here I am. Here we are. Eight years after I crossed over in that so-sudden way from not-mother to mother. And the not-mother in me is starting to fade from my memory & my identity. I still have my own independent identity, but as my son grows & ventures more & more into the world, it seems that I identify more strongly as his mother, not less. 

Of course, he’s less physically attached to me (though I relish the brief moments he slows down enough to cuddle with me) but he is still very much attached emotionally, in a way that requires me to be ever more keen to his needs. 

And so, the mother-me keeps growing & changing & trying to adapt. I still fail often. But I am confident in this little family that we have all worked so hard to build. There are moments where I glimpse its vulnerabilities. And I realize how much work there is still to do. 

My own independent actions & words seem to carry even more weight these days. Children are sponges from infancy, but now my eldest consciously understands so much more. 

The baby has made a big difference in my parenting. I enjoy parenting her almost every moment. I’m not as nervous as I was when T was a baby & I was new to it all. And, so, I know I can enjoy parenting my older son almost always. The baby reminds me of that. 

His challenges are opportunities for me to reflect on what it means to be a child. We are now firmly in the age of my own memories. I know what it was like being 7 going on 8. I remember the joys & the difficulties & the weirdness & the excitement.

We are together. Now.

He deserves to be happy being who he is today. My daughter, too. Me, too. 

We’re not always happy. Sometimes I lose my shit. After our latest confrontation, I was sulking (angry-guilty) & my son excitedly told me what he does after he’s upset. He just forgets about it, he said. He throws it out of his mind & moves on. It’s true—He does this often & it’s remarkable. He takes the bad thoughts out of his mind like Dumbledore & his penseive. 

I tried it & it works. 

Of course it does. Children have this whole “being alive today” thing figured out. So, what have I learned in these eight years of mothering? Sometimes I need to shut up & listen to my kids. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Attachment Parenting, Gentle Discipline, Living, Miscarriage, Mothering, Parenting, Simplicity

Loving my job(s)

(NB: I don’t usually get political on this blog & I don’t intend to go on any lengthy political rants that don’t relate to parenting or maternity leave, but I have to say… I wrote this post 2 weeks ago & since the inauguration, the current administration has made my day-to-day job very challenging & frustrating. What a difference a day makes! Still, the sentiment in this post is generally still true, so I’ve decided to publish it as is. Maybe I’ll do a follow-up…)

I’ve returned to work. But with the winter holidays, I’ve actually only had a couple of full weeks back on the job. 

There’s no doubt about it, it’s hard to be away for these long days. Commuting + a full day’s work… The hours add up. But…

I’m glad to be back to my work as an attorney. 

There. I said it. 

I am an attachment parenting mom & I don’t feel guilty about leaving my baby to pursue my career. 

Oh, sure, I have worries, but those are limited to the day to day sort. Will I pump enough milk? (Yes, Baby M is taking a bottle!) Will MFA Dad overbundle her in her car seat? Will the babysitter drop her? (There I have to be honest… She’s fallen once from a low chair & that was on my watch.) Will Grandma give her too much milk?

I don’t worry about the long term… Will she somehow be damaged because I left her for the office? Will we not be attached? 

No, those worries are silly. Not only is there no use in worrying about those things (my return to work was inevitable for a number of reasons, not least of which is because I love it), they are simply unfounded. But the main reason I think worrying too much is uncalled for is this:

Babies are remarkably adaptable. 

If they are safe & surrounded by at least one loving adult, they can thrive. If this weren’t the case, adoption would always be a failure. All children with working moms would be damaged because their mothers work. This simply isn’t the case. 

I read the lovely book Our Babies, Ourselves while I was on leave & one of the interesting findings that Meredith Small discusses is that while for many mammals immediate attachment to the mother is necessary for the infant’s survival, that is apparently not the case for human infants. Sure, there’s oxytocin, the famed “love hormone,” that can help facilitate a connection between mother & child, but babies have wily ways of convincing just about any adult to form an on-going attachment with him or her. Because survival. Maybe because historically childbirth was dangerous enough that our species planned for maternal death in infancy. 

Whatever the reason, the point is that babies are adaptable. 

We should be gentle with them. Easy with transitions. Meet their (prehistoric but very real) needs. But they are adaptable & forgiving. 

Women subject themselves to far too much hand-wringing on account of the working mom “dilemma.” It should not be a dilemma. Work if you need to or want to. Stay home if you want to & can. No matter what, make sure your child is attached to his or her caregiver, even if that’s not you at the moment. 

Now, there are many things to get in our way & that’s where the focus should be. 

Affordable, quality childcare is hard to come by. Many families do not have access to quality care outside of the family. 

Maternity leave is non-existent for most women, forcing new mothers to return to work before they’ve physically recovered, let alone bonded fully with baby. 

I was lucky by American standards. 

Eeking out a 5-month maternity leave as an attorney in the USA was no small feat & I appreciated every moment I spent with my new daughter. Forgoing vacation for 3 years to squirrel away every possible hour (in itself a luxury & lucky choice) & tightening the budget so I could supplement with unpaid leave was worth it for me. It shouldn’t be this way, but, America. I didn’t have to go back to work at 3 weeks postpartum (which should literally be a crime).

I’m not trying to be Polyanna-ish about working with an infant at home. There are challenges. My brain is fried by the end of a work day. I have zero time to take care of myself during the week. (Some would say showering is relaxing, but let’s be honest… I only take micro showers these days so my clients & coworkers won’t fear being near me!) When I have to be in the office, I barely get to see Baby M: I leave as she’s waking & come home just in time for bed, more or less. And that doesn’t feel good. 

But overall, it’s good to be back. And I’m ok with having two jobs again!

Leave a comment

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

“Imitation Mother” & Sour Milk


Baby M is 3 months old & we are starting to plan for my eventual return to work. For me, this has meant building up a stash of frozen breast milk & convincing Baby to take milk from a bottle. 

With T, there was nothing I hated more than pumping. In the beginning, I couldn’t pump more than a half ounce or so at home with my crappy little pump. Things were slightly better when I went back to clinic & school because my law school had just purchased a hospital-grade pump for us lactating cows moms. It was far more efficient, but the process was still painful & stressful for me. The pump was efficient & I had a clean private space, but I was simultaneously trying to relax, conjure up images of my sweet baby, & study Constitutioal Law. I never had a proper back-up stash of milk & could barely meet T’s daytime demands. 

This time around, when I was leaking milk everywhere during Baby M’s earliest days, I decided to take advantage of the apparent abundance & pump away. The technology had changed over the past 7 years & my small, affordable pump was more efficient & comfortable than even the hospital-grade one I had used for T. I dutifully pumped (stress free!) between feedings or when Baby M took a surprise long nap. I packaged the milk away & froze it. I watched with amazement as my frozen milk started taking over two shelves in the freezer. Woo-hoo!

Unfortunately, two problems have now popped up…

#1. Baby M will not drink from a bottle. 

After some fussing, MFA Dad got her to take a bottle when she was about 6 or 8 weeks old. Then I got a little lazy with the pumping as my milk supply settled down a bit & we didn’t make a habit of giving her a bottle. (When T was a baby, the bottle was never a problem—He loved both bottle & breast & never had a problem switching from one to the other.) Fast forward a month & my mother-in-law is upstairs right now with Baby M, unsuccessfully (from the sounds of it) attempting to convince Baby M to take an ounce of mama milk. MFA Dad has been similarly unsuccessful in recent days as well.

Naturally, I’ve turned to Google for help on convincing Baby M that the bottle isn’t so bad. Of course, there are advertisements for bottles & silicone nipples, each promising to be closer to the breast than the others. And there are myriad blog posts with advice like “try the bottle while walking” or “give baby the bottle while she sleeps” or stories about quitting jobs or babies crying ad infunitum.

On one breastfeeding advocacy website, one father described his daughter’s rejection of the bottle as a refusal “to settle for an imitation mother.”

Y’all know how I dislike language that fuels guilt & this is one I can’t let slide by. I don’t think that this dad (who was obviously working super hard to meet his daughter’s needs) meant to make his wife or other working mothers feel guilty. He simply shared his experience & struggles & problem-solving strategy. But this is the type of language that sometimes appears in breastfeeding advocacy literature that alienates working moms & bottle-feeding moms. 

To be clear, a bottle is not an “imitation mother.” It’s an imitation boob. Babies are little primates who need to eat & their physiology requires any feeding device be designed around babies’ sucking capabilities. Mothers who breastfeed are fulfilling this biological requirement in one particular way & it happens to be the way that requires the least amount of equipment. Breastfeeding also has known benefits for mother & baby, but really, it’s simply an mammalian process & just one aspect of mothering. Human “mothering” (or, just parenting) is so much more than feeding, even if some of that mothering takes place while breastfeeding. 

A mother cradling her son in one hand & feeding him with a bottle of formula in the other hand is also mothering. She is certainly not “imitation mothering.” That dad who couldn’t get his daughter to take the bottle was “mothering” when he was caring for his daughter & when he ultimately found he was able to feed her with a sippy cup.  The babysitter or nanny giving baby a bottle of pumped breast milk is also “mothering.”

And mothering by many is okay

As long as your child & your family is happy with whatever baby raising configuration you have, your baby will be happy, attached & well adjusted!

Not that it’s easy… Currently, I need to keep repeating that Baby M will be okay when I go back to work to convince myself that we will all adjust. But I have experience on my side this time around… My awesome seven-year-old has thrived despite the fact that I was studying or working from his early days. No imitation mother needed, thank you very much! Just lots of love & lots of bottles & lots of nursing. 

As for imitation boobs… I’m on the search for the perfect one that will trick my wee one to drink while I’m away from her. And I’m finding there’s a fine line in terms of advertising for silicone nipples that might fit the bill. In my online searching, I find breastfeeding advocates who criticize bottle makers who make claims that their bottle nipples are close to the real deal. I can understand these criticisms, the idea being that by advertising a bottle as a replacement for the breast, these companies are undermining breastfeeding. I will say, I still see a lot more bottle feeding than breastfeeding out in the everyday world. So, there may be something to this criticism.

But to make breastfeeding work long-term, many of us need to find that breast-like silicone nipple. So on another level, I appreciate the fact that bottle manufacturers have been making bottles & nipples that are more likely to trick my reluctant bottle drinker. 

If M falls for the bottle, what she’ll be drinking from it is less certain, though, because…

#2. Most of that milk I froze tastes like crap.

So here I’m going to do a 360.

I recently defrosted some breast milk from my abundant freezer stash to make up a practice bottle. I dropped a bit of the milk onto my hand to test for temperature & taste…

Yuck! 

It was a bit sour & I suddenly remembered that my milk tasted a bit off after freezing when T was an infant. Not that he cared. So I didn’t care. At the time, I learned that there is an enzyme called lipase in breast milk that can cause it to taste soapy or off, even if it’s been stored properly. The milk itself is perfectly fine.

But here it was again! Lipase appears to be affecting the taste of my milk & now Baby M does seem to care!

So I googled the sh@! out of that too… And I started to worry. Did I have too much lipase in my milk? Why? It’s been associated with nutritional deficiencies… 

I could neutralize the enzyme by scalding my milk before freezing it, but lipase seems to be important for baby in terms of digesting the milk. And what other nutrients would be lost? And can you imagine a more maddening task than pumping and then scalding a couple ounces of milk at a time?!

The truth is (and here’s the 360 degree turn from what I said above), breast milk was not designed to be expressed & then stored for long periods of time. It’s supposed to go from mom’s nipple to baby’s mouth, directly & in short order. 

You’d think this might make me feel guilty, but it actually makes me feel better. There is nothing wrong with me or my milk! Baby is thriving on it, so it’s purely a storage issue. I’ve stopped googling nutritional deficiencies as it’s likely not a problem with me. 

While modern technology is amazing (and the pumps available today are truly technological miracles!), I find myself stymied by basic biology (or is it physiology?). I am a modern mother, with a family & a career & a freezer full of lipase-happy sour milk. But baby & my body are still engaged in a process that has not evolved much during the past 3 million years or so. 

So I have to work with those biological limits. Of course, I’ll try to keep up with a supply of fresh milk by pumping every day at work. Maybe she’ll go for the lipase-full milk if I mix it with fresh milk or formula. It’s a modern world after all, and I thankfully have options that are perfectly healthy, even if less perfect than fresh breast milk. 

As long as we can find a solution that respects baby M’s needs & doesn’t involve copious amounts of tears or stress, we’ll all be okay. Just because I respect human biology (especially when it comes to babies) doesn’t mean I have to feel guilty about living a modern life. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Attachment Parenting, Breastfeeding, Feminism, Mothering, Parenting, Partnership, Working