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?

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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.

ARE YOU INSANE????? AND LOSE ALL THE PURITY I’VE BEEN WORKING SO HARD FOR ALL THESE MONTHS???? NFW!!!!

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????

I have this friend who works full time and loves the idea of cloth diapers but does not love the reality of making them work when her children are going to be spending more time out of the house than in it during the workweek. My post about cloth diapers inspired her to do some serious research comparing prices of chlorine-free diapers to the regular kind, and seeing if she could figure out some deals that would make her feel like buying the more ‘spensive non-chlorine brands was easy enough on the budget to commit to it–since it’s a much earth-friendlier choice than all-chlorine all the time.

She came up with this nifty spreadsheet for starters that breaks down pricing at various stores on a per diaper cost if you use the best standard deals available (bulk, etc.). We plan to keep updating it as we poke around for more information. It’s a work in progress, but what we did notice immediately is that the price difference is not THAT great–if you are somewhat committed to the environment and making a few small sacrifices where you can to do what little you can. I think we expected it to be an “OMG it’s TWICE as much! That’s insane!” kind of thing. But it’s just not. Or at least, it doesn’t have to be if you order wisely!

Update: At some point we will expand on all this to include discussions of the other earth-friendly options, like bio-degradable diapers and “diaper-free” living (which from hereon will be referred to as: “Never-ever-leave-your-house-or-wear-clothes-that-can’t-get-peed-on” living).

Update 2: Until then, this article nearly does it for us!

Fun with Cloth Diapers!

September 13, 2009

Before the arrival of the li’l one, we talked with some friends who were living the dream–all cloth diapers all the time. We expressed an interest in doing the same, so they referred us to this website: www.greenmountaindiapers.com–which has more helpful information than I ever really needed to know even existed about cloth diapers and the options available.

After WAY too much research about the different types/approaches (warning: for me this step was NOT simple–but perhaps that is my own personal problem with the paradox of choice, which is why I try to AVOID situations that present too many options in the first place!), I settled on a “plan.”

It involved the purchase of the following items:

2 dozen small yellow pre-folds: $48
10 infant fitted diapers: $80
5 small hemp doublers: $15
4 small super-snap covers: $44
1 dozen two-sided wipes: $13

And let’s not forget, a bottle of Charlie’s Soap for cleaning all of this stuff: $20

That’s a grand total of $220. Ouch.

But as I placed the order I told myself that I would be saving money in the long run because I would be using far fewer disposable diapers. On top of that, I would not be adding the li’l one’s toxic human waste to landfills…so there’s that eco-feel-good factor, too, of course, which is worth a small financial sacrifice on our part.

Now, to parse out the “savings” if there are any, in more detail. This becomes a fairly difficult task because it depends on many factors that vary person-to-person. For instance, do I calculate the savings based on the very cheapest diapers available (on-sale with a coupon!), or on the more expensive chlorine-free option (that of course never go on sale) that I try to buy when I can? Also, every person’s child grows at a different rate–in our case we have gotten a lot more use out of these “small” sizes without having to pay for an upgrade yet because the babe has doggedly remained in the 5th percentile all this time. Many other kids would have grown out of these in a matter of months, however, thus requiring another $100 investment in fresh supplies. Also, clearly the savings are greater if you exclusively use the cloth, which we have not done due to the kiddo starting daycare part-time at 3 mos. The only thing I hate more than inconveniencing myself is inconveniencing others, so I was not about to demand that her sitter go cloth for us.

So, understanding that any calculation is subject to quite a lot of variance depending on your situation, I will do my best ballparking here.

Let’s assume that each disposable diaper you use costs twenty cents. (That number comes from buying a carton of 200 Luvs brand diapers at Target for $40.) Let’s assume that you use an average of 7 disposables per day. That brings you to about $10/week in diaper costs. At that rate, it would take 22 weeks for you to come out even on your initial investment if you were using all-cloth-all-the-time. And that’s not considering the cost of washing/drying all those diapers, which is a whole ‘nother can of worms. If I estimate that each load of wash costs $.75 and I wash the diapers 2x/week, that’s another $6/month in cloth costs. Which means it will take until week 26 for the costs to actually meet up. By then the average person would definitely have already had to buy more diapers in the next size up to accommodate their growing child.

Of course, you could also consider the fact that you will be able to use these supplies again for subsequent children–so maybe I have not saved myself anything this time around, but by next time I will not need to spend ANY money on the cloth. So there’s that at least, as long as you’re planning on having more than one kid!

But what of the environmental value? In the past six months, you just threw 1,176 fewer diapers full of human waste into a landfill! (Holy crap, that’s a lot of diapers!) Then again, you also just did a lot of extra laundry, using up resources like water and electricity. Then again, the carbon footprint of CREATING all those disposable diapers is heavy, too.

In the end, I found this article to be fairly thorough in its weighing of the comparative and controversial costs of each–and for myself concluded that cloth probably eeks out disposable in terms of environmentally-conscious choices, if not necessarily in terms of your budget. Fortunately, the article also very kindly reminded me that HAVING A BABY in the first place was the selfish, environmentally destructive variable that truly matters most in the whole equation.

DAMNIT!!!

So baby had been home with mom almost a week, and all was going well except one thing…the breastfeeding. Now, luckily, I was totally prepared for this to be crazy-difficult, due to all my friends having gone ahead and had babies before I did. Their stories left me with no illusions of putting baby to boob and immediately having a magical, painless latch. I was not prepared, however, for the fact that if there IS a problem with the latch or the suck or what-have-you, it can get VERY dire VERY fast, as baby needs to be fed every time you turn around. So if it’s painful or stressful or traumatizing or all-of-the-above, it’s all of those things on a near-constant basis. And let’s not forget that you’re still completely physically and emotionally drained and exhausted from the birth anyway. Sweet.

When I realized that there was a problem with the process (despite my BEST efforts to match the latch in the books and videos, my kid was clicking when she sucked and leaving me with an unevenly smashed, “lipstick” nipple), I immediately called the lactation lady at the birth center where I gave birth. She recommended that I come to her breastfeeding support group, where she could check my latch and get me on track. GREAT, I thought. This is gonna be resolved in no time!

At this point, I was envisioning a calm, almost meditative-type atmosphere, much like my birth-experience, where a kind, angelic woman floats from mom to mom, gently guiding and coaxing each newborn to an effortlessly perfect, painless latch.

What I got was the floor of a dingy, fluorescent-lit conference room surrounded by no fewer than 14 other moms, most of whom brought their 3 month olds and began happily nursing away as soon as they arrived. Um, wait a minute, what are a bunch of women who already know the ropes doing at a breastfeeding support group? But I tried to keep an open mind, thinking that the more proficient moms in attendance, the more time could be spent getting the help I needed!

When the leader finally arrived and plopped herself down at the front of the room, she began going around the room clockwise, encouraging each individual mother to take the floor to “talk” about “what’s going on.” And apparently what was “going on” with all these moms is that they had been stuck at home with infants, bored out of their minds for the past two weeks, and were desperate for other adults to listen to them talk. Non-stop. About anything. Without any discernable regard for the other people in the room. Many of the topics were tangentially related to breastfeeding, but NOT ONE of the other women brought up anything having to do with the mechanics of a proper latch.

So there I was, exhausted, hunched on the floor, my 6-day post-partum butt killing me, and my poor tiny child sucking on my finger for dear life because she was starving and I was determined to wait to feed her until the consultant could come and watch my latch. Meanwhile, I’m not kidding you, the leader never left her comfy spot at the head of the room and each woman’s “sharing” time was a full ten minutes of shooting the breeze about anything that popped into her head. (“What kind of toys are developmentally appropriate for this age?” At that point, I really, REALLY just wanted to scream “WHATEVER THE HELL ENTERTAINS THE KID AND WON’T CHOKE HIM, YOU MORON!”) And even though when my turn came I said I needed help with my latch and very considerately took up only 30 seconds of the group’s time, all she could offer me was a patronizing demonstration of a proper latch using her hands, telling me to make sure the baby was getting the entire areola in her mouth. OH REALLY?! I HAD NO IDEA.

I grew more and more upset as I realized that despite her promise on the phone, she had completely forsaken me (or just plain forgotten about me amidst the exciting debate about the merits of various diaper cream brands) and the only way I would get any individual help would be to interrupt someone’s story of personal growth as a consequence of her child’s morning gassiness and demand she come over and watch my latch, which I just couldn’t do because then I would have 14 women all turning their attention to me, the inept mother who hadn’t learned how to breastfeed yet, while she was doing this.

But it gets better! The whole thing was so distressing and disappointing, AND I was still so hormonal that of course I had to go and make it all worse by starting to cry silently as I thought about what a waste of time it had been and how I wanted nothing more than to get up and leave but I was all the way across the room from the door which had about 12 strollers and two mommy/baby pairs blocking it completely. So I just had to endure the last 20 minutes or so by not looking around at anyone and not-so-subtly wiping away tears and snot from my face with my daughter’s blanket.

I’m sure every mom in that joint thought I was a crazy postpartum depression case and would be heading straight home to drown my baby in the bathtub. Which makes it even better that not one person stopped her yammering about the benefits of Baby Einstein videos (HA! I guess you didn’t read about how those things actually make your child stupider. HA HA!) to like, check on me or something. God. One woman ACTUALLY asked the leader if her baby’s polyester pj’s were less breathable than his cotton pj’s, because it seemed like they were. Even amidst my uncontrollable blubbering, I had to physically restrain a smirk.

The Lesson: Immediately upon arriving home with your first little bundle of joy, schedule a personal home visit with a lactation consultant (your insurance will most likely reimburse you). If it turns out you have no troubles, you can always call and cancel, but you definitely don’t want to have to wait even a day for personal, one-on-one, RELEVANT help with the process in case there is a glitch, which there so often is.

Epilogue: It turns out my latch was fine. My baby and I were suffering from a toxic combination of a small mouth and an abnormally fast milk let-down which caused her to pull her tongue back to try to stop the deluge, which in turn caused the painful nipple smashing. I think the official diagnosis was a “disorganized suck.” Luckily, and with the help of a GREAT lactation consultant, we have been working our way diligently towards organization ever since.

Keep it simple, stupid!

March 21, 2009

I am a simple lady. Although in recent years I have given in and started paying more than $10 for my haircuts, and I have tried to invest more time in accessorizing according to the Friday night admonishments I receive from Stacy and Clinton (my kicky Kate Spade purse has pink lining, people!), I still can be found without makeup many days of the week and I can’t ever seem to keep more than one pair of jeans in the house that I actually feel comfortable wearing in public.

I tell you this so that you have some context when I try to explain how woefully unprepared I was three years ago when I passed from the uncomplicated, carefree bliss of single womanhood into the mystical, surprisingly intractable social construct that is WEDDING PLANNING. When I had bothered to envision this momentous step of my life at all, I assumed it would go like most things in my world. My husband-to-be and I would keep it simple, map out some general plans, make a few phone calls, and make it happen. Little did I know that weddings are this living, breathing entity with a mind of their own, and that if you are ill-prepared or not paying attention (or are an overwhelmed and exhausted inner-city teacher), your low-key celebration can turn into a recipe for bridezilla mania!

This is not to say that I don’t now appreciate having a Kitchen-Aid handy and all, it’s just that if I could have a do-over, I would have invested more time and vigilance into ensuring that the festivities bucked more of the typical “wedding” stereotypes and reflected more clearly a few of my own core values. But you can’t have a do-over (well, not if you’re really into your current husband, which I am). What I realized I DID have, however, was another chance with the next BIG event in the average woman’s life—the arrival of the first baby.

This time I would be prepared! I would take charge and preemptively simplify at every step possible. I started by trading my high-stress 60-hour-per-week teaching job for some low-stress part-time desk-work (like, is this even WORK?). Then I decided the next step would be avoiding at all costs having a baby shower that would drown me and my growing belly in the tell-tale piles of boxes, bows and ribbons that to me scream, “AMERICAN BABIES MUST HAVE ONE OF EVERYTHING IN THE BABIES-R-US STORE IF THEY ARE TO SURVIVE IN A WORLD OF UNCERTAINTY! WE WILL SHIELD THEM FROM THE CHAOS BY MAKING SURE THEY ARE SURROUNDED BY AS MANY TOP-OF-THE-LINE PLASTIC PRODUCTS AS POSSIBLE!”

Thus it was that when I became pregnant, I began announcing EARLY and OFTEN to anyone who was listening or just had the unfortunate luck to be within earshot that I would only be accepting reused and recycled items as baby gifts. To ensure that my wishes were actually followed and that my friends and family didn’t think I was just making idle threats, I made a website explaining as much that could also double as a bootleg “registry” for said used items.

Nearly ten months later, and with everything ready for the new baby, I can proudly say the sum total of “brand new” supplies in my house would probably fit inside two grocery bags. Absolutely everything else has been handed-down, re-gifted, bought at a thrift or consignment store, or lent to us by friends who jumped at the chance to free up storage in their house until their next newborn comes along.

But gathering supplies was just the beginning! Now I’ve got a living, breathing, pooping-machine whose sole purpose on this earth right now seems to be generating dirty clothes and diapers faster than I can even get them off her little body. (Question: how can something so tiny emit so many fluids simultaneously out of so many orifices?!)

So, welcome to my blog, a chronicle of a first-time mom’s part-time pursuit to find cheap, simple ways to lighten her adorable offspring’s imprint on the world.