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November 26, 2009

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Sometimes an issue arises that just perfectly encapsulates what is SO UTTERLY MESSED UP about American culture. This apparently controversial doll from Spain (Bebe Gloton–the doll who breastfeeds) is just that issue. See Fox “News” coverage here, where, not surprisingly, they had a quote or two about how breastfeeding is good and healthy, but then made sure to bring it home in that old “family values” way by quoting this gem of a paragraph comparing teaching girls about breastfeeding to teaching them about alcoholism, erectile dysfunction, and going to jail:

“What’s next?” wrote Eric Ruhalter, a parenting columnist for New Jersey’s Star Ledger. “Bebe Sot — the doll who has a problem with a different kind of bottle, and loses his family, job and feelings of self-worth? Bebe Limp — the male doll who experiences erectile dysfunction? Bebe Cell Mate — a weak, unimposing doll that experiences all the indignation and humiliation of life in prison?

Really, there are just no words. Although apparently this guy describes himself as an off-the-cuff parenting blogger, NOT a parenting columnist as Fox would have it, and he did post an apology not long after that article. And really, it’s not his fault that aside from the relatively small and vocal breastfeeding activist community, probably a large chunk of America feels the way he does (or did, until he was firmly reprimanded by some of those ladies at La Leche-DO NOT MESS WITH THEM!) about this toy. The following are all actual quotes I heard around my otherwise forward-thinking workplace when the issue first started buzzing about: “Ew!” “That’s disgusting!” “That’s so inappropriate.” “That toy should be banned.”

Why do so many people have such a visceral, negative reaction to this toy? Let’s take a step back for just a minute and UNPACK this issue, shall we?

The main arguments I’ve heard against this doll so far are that it’s developmentally inappropriate because of the “sexual” nature of breastfeeding, and that encouraging girls to play with this doll will give them too-early maternal urges and turn them into unwed teenage mothers. (I know, the latter seems laughable, but I’ll address it as if it’s serious in a minute.)

To the first argument: Sometimes I think other people have a really weird and incongruent sense of what is appropriate/inappropriate. For instance, it is likely that many of the same people who told me that the doll was disgusting would think these bikini-cut undies for 5 year olds are “SO CUTE” and that this video is “ADORABLE”. (For the record, I also think the video is adorable, just really, really disturbing at the same time.) To me there is such a disconnect here–it’s okay to “sexualize” girls at a very young age in the “I’m so cute and sexy” sense, but it’s disgusting and sick to “sexualize” them in the “Here’s the biology behind how you will someday feed your child” sense?

To the second argument: If you really, honestly believe that THIS doll will encourage girls to have babies too soon, then you must also be in favor of not letting them play with ANY dolls, since little girls (and boys–omg, can you IMAGINE what Fox would do if they got their hands on a picture of a little boy playing with the breastfeeding doll?!) are already spending large quantities of time playing house, changing diapers, and otherwise caring for imaginary children–even, dare I say it–PRETENDING TO BREASTFEED THEM. I fail to see what the developmental difference is between a baby doll marketed to “drink” from a bottle by moving her mouth and a baby doll marketed to “drink” from a flower-petal breast. In fact, the only real difference is that one of those dolls sends a message to our girls that there is an ideal and completely UNshameful way to nourish a baby that we hope they choose if circumstances allow someday.

What are ignored in any of the discussions I’ve seen so far are the consequences of our misogynistic over-sexualizing of boobies in the “men want to grab them” sense and our prudish under-sexualizing of boobies in the “babies should be allowed to suck them” sense. When it was finally time for me to try my hand at the breastfeeding thing, I was struck by the fact that I was thirty years old and fairly well educated, yet one of the most complicated but necessary bodily functions women have was a complete mystery to me. Because breastfeeding is a hidden, taboo topic, individual women are left to figure it out on their own, for the first time ever, IN THE MOMENT while they are completely exhausted/overwhelmed by the new little creatures that have suddenly popped into and forever changed their lives–new little creature who are chomping their nipples to bloody bits on an hourly basis. Unless they have the wherewithal to reach out to somewhat intimidating strangers for help, many of them are going it ALONE (or worse, going it with an older female relative saying, “You’re not still trying to do THAT, are you?”). No wonder more women than we’d like give up or are too scared to try at all!

Imagine instead a society where young girls routinely watched their mothers and relatives and friends breastfeed as they grew up. Where they discussed the ins and outs of what could go wrong. Where they saw women openly supporting and encouraging each other through the process. Where they *gasp* had seen lots of different kinds of boobies and lots of different kinds of babies drinking from them. Where they already had a meaningful vocabulary of technical terms that they had heard used and seen applied in their daily lives. Where they understood a breast’s primary purpose to be what it actually is–an everyday tool for nourishing their children, rather than what we’ve allowed it to become–a “naughty” toy for fulfilling men’s sexual desires.

When it came time to breastfeed their own children, it would be like second nature. No big whoop. How is that a bad thing?

stuffy-nosed haiku

October 8, 2009

man-made medicine
so sucks in comparison
eucalyptus rules

There is no worse feeling than standing in the baby aisle of your local urban-gentrified Whole Foods, holding a canister of formula in your sweaty, shaking palms and feeling the eyes of all the earthy, wholesome, would-never-contaminate-their-child-with-processed-soy-proteins moms who just came out of mama-baby yoga down the street and are now not only freshly bonded with their children, but they also clearly love them more than you do because they aren’t standing here holding a canister of formula thinking very, very seriously about not just buying it, but also feeding it to their children.

But something had to give. And this, I knew, was it. I was pushed to my limit and I knew that a tiny bit–a tiny bit!!–of formula was going to be my savior. I mean, as far as formula goes, Earth’s Best was at least a feel-good choice, right? They use a soothing “chalkboard” font, people! And at least theirs isn’t packed with sugar like the major brands. How bad can they be? Although, AWESOME, I just was doing some last-minute poking about on the interwebs to make sure they weren’t actually TOO bad–do you love how I checked before posting about it but not before feeding it to the babe?–and stumbled across the DHA explosive diarrhea controversy. Sweet.

But I digress. Where was I? Ah, yes, standing in the Whole Foods aisle, pitifully reassuring myself that I could, in fact, take this canister of baby-poison to the register and check out without first putting a paper bag over my head. So right, caving in and cheating with just a wee bit of formula when your baby is 4.5 months old is not the worst a working mom on the brink of late-onset postpartum depression could do, right?

And it turns out, 3 months later and healthy, happy baby in hand, I don’t think it was. She drank it without batting an eyelash, and I saw no change whatsoever in general happiness or poop-consistency/force of emission (thank god!). And just that tiny amount of relieved stress/anxiety on Mom’s part (and pumping-relief for the over-taxed boobs!) really did make life around here a lot more simple, balanced and healthy for everyone–tot included.

I guess the moral of my story is just that, sometimes we can let ourselves get SO worked up/pressured about what the “good” moms do that even though we know something might be the best choice for our family, it’s hard to let go and make that choice.

And also, if you’re wondering how to get your bundle of love over that last hurdle of sleeping 11-12 hours/night instead of 8-9, try giving her a few extra ounces of formula after her last breastfeed of the evening. I’m not saying…I’m just saying…

About a year ago, I was one of THOSE moms-to-be. You know who I’m talking about. The one who received the Similac and Enfamil samples in the mail with complete disgust and revulsion (“OMG! These companies are so insidious and evil!!”). The one who thought that obviously, it would be NO PROBLEM to pump/store daily milk by the gallon-full for her daughter and make a whole bunch of extras for the freezer so that nothing, NOTHING “unnatural” would have to pass through the babe’s innocent lips before she was ready. The one who thought that once the girl was ready for solids, she would make it all from scratch using only the organic, seasonal, locally-grown veggies from her farm share (HA! And more on that delusion another time).

Fast-forward to June of this year when the little lady hit the four month mark and Mom (that’s me) was a) sick and tired of having to pump not once, but TWO times every day at work–such a brutal and inefficient grind!, b) in a battle of wills with the pediatrician over whether or not the kiddo was gaining enough weight, c) slowly losing her mind as she faced a ridiculously travel-packed and exhausting summer (in preparation for which she was utterly failing at freezing anywhere close to enough milk), and d) growing more vocally bitter by the day about her new role in life as a two-legged dairy cow who now couldn’t even READ A MAGAZINE while her daughter nursed because it was too “distracting” for her highness.

Enter sweet husband who said, “Maybe we could start giving her a little bit of formula.”

Excuse me for a second.


After calming down and talking it over, however, I came to see it in a different light. Switching to a system where she drank even just ONE bottle of formula per day at the sitter’s could be an answer to all of the above problems at once. I could drop down to one pumping session at work. I could stop falsely inflating my milk supply in an effort to get extra frozen milk which I’m pretty sure was causing my daughter to get too much foremilk and not enough hindmilk and thus likely inhibiting her growth (oops!). I could stop fretting over whether or not we’d be able to make it to our best friends’ wedding because I might not have enough milk saved up for a weekend away from the boobs. AND I could make the hubby take on a feeding responsibility here and there without having to turn around and waste the saved time with yet another irritating pumping session–omg, I could READ my MAGAZINE.

On second thought, sweet husband, WHY THE FRICK DIDN’T YOU SUGGEST THIS EARLIER????

So for all my whining in an earlier post about my wedding not reflecting my core values blah blah blah (if you haven’t noticed yet I tend towards hyperbole), it was actually not a complete wash. There were still many simple components strewn amidst the non-simple (read: pricey) parts. One was that I did manage to do my wedding registry through this great site started by some college acquaintances of mine. Their premise was hey, there are VAST, UNKNOWABLE quantities of cash being thrown around at these events–maybe we can find a way to painlessly capture a bit of it for some good, lasting causes rather than having it all sunk into a cake that doesn’t even taste that good in the end (and anyway by the time it gets cut everyone is way too drunk to remember to eat it, or to remember eating it).

If you register for your wedding gifts through the I Do Foundation’s partner stores (and they have many of the biggies like Macy’s, Target, etc.), a certain percentage of the purchases go to a charity of your choice. They already have a lot of the most common/popular causes in their system, but you can also get any smaller organization you’d like approved, as long as it’s a 501(c)(3) non-profit. (For example, I raised money for the school I was working for at the time.)

You can decide if you want just the sales percentages to be donated or if you also want to “register” to allow people to give donations as gifts straight to the charity. We offered that option, too, and were thrilled that some people took that route. You can also donate yourself in lieu of favors (which I realize many people do anyway without the website, but I like the way that using I Do Foundation tied it all together for guests as one cohesive start-to-finish approach).

In the end I think we raised about $1800 for our “cause”–a completely respectable chunk of change that would otherwise have just sort of “vanished” into big box stores and shopping malls. Woot!

Why the urban life…

September 26, 2009

I figured it’s about time that I go into a bit of detail about why the urban life goes hand in hand with my “simple” and “green” themes. I will preface this by saying that I KNOW that not everyone will see the benefits I list in the same light I do and also that I AM NOT deliberately trying to cast aspersions on suburban living (though it may seem like it since the point of this post is to point out the advantages of the city–next I’ll do a post of the disadvantages, k?). There are many great things about both, and a person can be simple and green and happy in either place. I grew up in the suburbs and would say I pretty much had the perfect childhood. I just happen to love the city now–and love it so much that I have to share why!

1. I have nearly no outdoor maintenance. This is simple because, obviously, my husband and I just have to sweep a 10×8 ft. patio from time to time and try to remember to water the flower boxes out front. This is green because we do not have to use any water to keep a big lawn alive!

2. It costs almost nothing to heat/air condition our house. We live in a row home–which means the two long sides of our house are attached to the homes next to us–which means only the front, back, and flat roof are true outside walls. We get away with turning our heat and air on much later in the seasons than you’d expect, and even once they’re on, the bills just don’t skyrocket.

3. We only have one car. I was so happy the day we downsized to one! No more second insurance payment, no more buying gas, and no more taking it to the shop. Now I walk or take the bus/subway/train everywhere. Is it a little annoying from time to time that I can’t always get to a place as fast as I want or escape the elements when they catch me unawares? Yes, but I think the trade-off is worth it in saved money, saved carbon, and a whole lot of automatically built-in exercise for me to boot.

4. On the car note, I love the fact that I am forced to do virtually no baby-schlepping in and out of hot cars to run errands. I pop her in the stroller or Ergo and away we go by foot–no trying to keep her happy behind me while we’re sitting at endless stoplights, no finding parking and loading her in/out/in/out of different carts and strollers and carriers. And again, bonus that we’re not dumping lots of extra pollution in the air being in the car all afternoon. (And maybe a bonus to our general safety that we are in a car so infrequently–if you follow the news AT ALL it’s hard not to be convinced that you’re about to be mowed down at every moment by a crazed text-addicted 20-something! You doubt me?–See this vid at minute 2:15!)

5. The people-watching is amazing. This has nothing to do with the environment (unless you want to make an argument that too much homogeneity crushes the soul), but man, can you “simply” entertain a baby by parking her stroller at a good vantage point in a city square and just letting her watch the ridiculous variety of people passing by. The perfect “zone out” activity for that 6-7 pm hour before bed! (Which does remind me of another related advantage–that you can take about 10 quick walks per day in the city and have them all be to completely different genres of destinations even though you’re staying in the same 5 square block radius–really helps when you’re at that “I’m completely bored with my infant who can’t really do stuff yet but I don’t want to admit it to anyone lest they judge me” phase.) Of course, you can’t choose which types of people walk by, which can really be a burn sometimes.

All right, I know there are more, but that’s a good start for one night. And I will post a rant at some point about all the things that piss me off about the city. Because there are plenty of those, too. But actually I think I already covered the biggest one a minute ago.