Hot Button

Last week, yet another media outlet tried to re-ignite the M-word Wars. (And grossed out a lot of people in the process.)

Here’s a unique idea, American media: instead of attempting to set women at each other’s throats, how about you get down and dirty with some real issues that challenge families? We parents, for the most part, are more concerned with the economy, jobs, family leave policies, and other options to help us raise our children and pay our bills. How about some provocative stories on that, huh?

I have the urge to go on the record here about what I did with my own children. And, ya know, it’s my space, so I’m going with it. As to why we did it that way: because it was right for our family at the time.

Breast Feeding
I breast fed both girls exclusively the first four or five months, and I pumped. I also supplemented with formula from about five months on. Both girls weaned themselves at 10 months.

Now when I talk about them weaning at 10 months, I am being told (by certain people) that the girls weren’t weaning themselves, they were going on a “nursing strike”. I first heard this term last year. My pediatricians never used this term; my midwives never used this term. So when the girls seemed to find my nipples more amusing (seriously, Kate used to play with them) than appetizing, I buttoned up, gave them formula a couple times a day for a couple of months, and then transitioned them onto soy drink or cow’s milk once they were a year old.

Michael is a different story. I breast fed and pumped for a little over two months. He had a terrible latch — not painful, but lazy. I used to have to squeeze my breast while he was feeding. So after struggling with his latch and pumping several times a day, I made the switch to formula.

Co-sleeping
We slept with Flora in our bed for two months. We slept with Kate in our bed for four months. We slept with Michael in our bed for about five months.

Flora got the shortest time because Flora was a noisy baby. Honestly: she squeaked and chirped and mewed, and kept me up all hours. (I am a notoriously light sleeper.) Our nickname for her was uccellina, Italian for “little bird.” With her in the crib, I actually got consecutive hours of sleep in between bf’ing sessions.

Kate and Michael were both quiet infants, so they got to hang out with us longer. Plus, as M went on formula early, he actually slept the most consecutive hours as an infant. But, ultimately, Dan and I went for marriage bed over family bed.

Although, make no mistake, we “co-slept” again when the girls were about 3 years old. They each went through a phase where they had bad dreams, and came into our room. It was far easier to let them come into bed than get up and escort them back to theirs. At this point, they are both sleeping in their own beds *knock on wood*. I expect that Michael will go through a similar phase when he is 3. Maybe we’ll have a king-size bed by then!

Cry-It-Out (CIO)
CIO, also known as sleep training, is nothing that Dan and I needed to do with our kids. Between 8 and 10 months, I started putting our babies down at night when they were drowsy, but still awake. Flora “protested” the most, with a few minutes of crying. But it wasn’t screaming, sobbing, heart-break crying. It was more of an inquisitive “wah? wah?” And then she fell asleep. Neither Kate nor Michael cried much, if at all.

Same thing when (if) my babies woke up at night. If they escalated their cries, I went into them to see what, if anything, I could do (nursing, medicine, a bottle). Through teething and ear infections, I learned what real distress sounded like as opposed to, “Hey, I’m kind of awake, and I’m not really happy about it, and I’m going to fuss a bit, but if no one comes to get me, I’m going back to sleep”.

I never dealt with screaming, red-faced infants who clung to my hair as I was putting them to sleep on their own. We were really blessed to not *have had* to sleep train, IMO.

Work
I have been a work-at-home mom; I freelanced when Flora was a baby. I have been a stay-at-home mom (for about a year after Kate was born). And I have been a full-time work-outside-the-home mom.

It was easier to be a WOHM when Flora was my only baby, and right before I was pregnant with and had Kate. With three children, it’s really hard. Evenings are killing me slowly. If Dan’s work situation were different, and we were both home in the evenings, I think it would be better. But it’s not, and we’re not.

I don’t like it, but we haven’t figured out a way around it yet. If I were making my own life up, I would work part-time out of the home. Dan and I are working hard to help me do that.

Vaccinations
Dan and I did put our children on a less aggressive schedule of vaccinations when they were infants. Yes, it meant more doctors visits, but it gave my husband peace of mind. At the time Flora was born (and Kate, too) he saw so many autistic and developmentally delayed kids, and at the time, vaccinations were still suspect. We know differently now, and he’s had some looong conversations with our kids’ pediatricians that helped. Ultimately, unless your child has a rare, RARE condition that makes him or her ineligible to receive vaccinations, you should vaccinate. If it helps YOU to put the child on a less aggressive schedule, your pediatrician should work with you. But not vaccinating at all just isn’t right. (Okay, totally judging here. Not sorry. This is a parenting decision that impacts people outside of the family.)

Spanking
I don’t spank; I use timeouts and bribes (let’s face it, “taking away privileges” is just another way of saying “bribing”). Dan spanks — not often, because in general our kids are good, but he does. It’s about the only place we are not on the same page as far as discipline and parenting.

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I think what makes telling others about our parenting choices so difficult is our own insecurity. I fought the urge to justify to you, dear reader, *why* I switched to formula with Michael instead of struggling on. Not because I don’t respect other people’s opinion, but because I won’t tolerate judgement.

I am doing what I need to do for our family. Dan and I are facing the fact that something needs to change about my work situation, but we don’t have a comfortable enough financial situation that I could just up and leave my full-time job. Plus, I *like* working outside the home. The months I was a SAHM with Flora and Kate were not good for me, mentally or emotionally. And if mama ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy.

Short of outright abuse or aggressive neglect, and smoking around one’s children (I will tell you I cannot stand seeing that, e.g. a parent with a baby in a stroller and a lit cigarette), I really think parents are doing their best. Let’s just cut each other some slack, and maybe focus on a different picture, one that will work to benefit everyone (and not just parents!).

Miss Misery, and Down With the Mommy Wars

Bun has been sick since November.

She has had repeated ear infections, two visits to an ENT (a third is upcoming — this time, I’ll be advocating for tubes and/or removal of the adenoids), and I think she has picked up every virus that has come down the pike this winter. She’s had colds galore (hence, the ear infections), the puking version of the flu, constipation, hives, and now another cold or flu virus that has come complete with snot, coughing (no chest congestion, thank goodness), a fever over 100 degrees, and another ear infection.

I stayed home with her yesterday, and we had a difficult day. I don’t know why I do it to myself, but if I end up at home with a sick child, I actually think I will accomplish something: cleaning my room, for example, or doing laundry, or swapping out the girls’ clothes.

Bun would have none of it. Her usual 3-hour nap was only 1 hour and 45 minutes, and I spent the whole of it driving to and from Target to get her prescription filled (and do a little shopping, of course. On a completely unrelated side-note, I just want to say that I only bought the items on my shopping list — a mean feat in Target, as everyone knows — and that I spent under $100! Okay, so it took three coupons and a $10 gift card to come in under $100, but I did it.) When she wasn’t napping, she was sitting on my lap demanding to be read to, or sitting on my lap demanding to watch TV, or demanding food that she had no intention of actually eating, or straining pathetically to produce some poop.

Constipation is the worst in a toddler. She’s been suffering for about two weeks. I thought it was the last antibiotic she was on, but that’s a week behind her now. We have a pretty high-fiber diet (being vegetarians and all), and she’s good at taking in plenty of liquids, but I upped everything anyway, and cut back a bit on stuff like cheese. Now she’s on Augmentin, so her constipation will switch to the other end of the spectrum, and her diaper area will be inflicted in Biblical-plague proportions. My little girl cannot catch a break.

Part of my frustration, of course, is having a sick child, worrying about the continued use of antibiotics, losing time at work, etc., etc. Part of the frustration comes from the fact that I breastfed Bun and Monkey, and it hasn’t done jack to protect either of them from (at the least) ear infections. I have been reading a lot of articles this week about breastfeeding, and they’ve sparked some discussions on forums other than this blog, and I just couldn’t let them go unremarked.

First off, is this wonderful piece from the Atlantic by Hanna Rosin, a woman who also writes for Slate.com. (The title, I think, is misleading. Summary: All the science that “proves” breast is best may be more of a bill of goods than hard data. That said, breastfeeding does have immeasurable benefits.)

Then there’s this article from Slate.com, regarding the brain boost breastfeeding may or may not give to children. (Summary: There is a gene involved, and if your child doesn’t have it, it doesn’t matter how much boob milk he/she gets. That said, most children seem to have it.)

Then there is the lovely, intelligent discussion on Slate’s XX Factor blog regarding both these articles.

And lastly, here’s a viewpoint from someone I briefly tweeted with regarding that first article. This post is not about that article, although it is on the topic of BF’ing (pro, of course).

If you are inclined to read any or all of that — and it’s all good, thought-provoking stuff — then maybe you’ll read further. I’ve been ruminating on this all since Wednesday, so I apologize if I seem to be going on a bit. I hope you’ll stick with me.

Let me say first: I am pro-breastfeeding, and I did (as I said) nurse both of my girls. I also pumped and supplemented with formula. I did it all, baby! And this as a W/SAHM. If I do have another baby (never say never), I would do my best to breastfeed and/or provide him or her with breastmilk, too.

Did I make that choice because all the “science” that promotes BF’ing? Maybe that influenced my decision. I certainly derived a lot of information and support from external sources (from books and magazine articles to my mother and SILs). I feel extremely lucky that BF’ing was not a struggle for me. I put both my girls to my breast within an hour after they were born, and they pretty much took it from there.

Did I love the intangibles about BF’ing? To wit: the skin-on-skin contact. The rush of warmth and pride that I could do this, that I could nourish my baby with my body. The bone-deep feeling that what I was doing was natural. Yes, yes I did.

Was it always comfortable and convenient? Hell, no. Was I a sleep-deprived zombie mommy for six, eight, twelve weeks? Hell, yes. Did I in a desperate bid for sleep or freedom give my babies a couple ounces of formula to get them the heck off my boob already? Hell, yes! Do I feel bad about that? Hell, no.

Would I ever let another woman make me feel bad about that? Again: Hell, no.

And here’s the crux of all this rambling: Would I ever let another woman — mother or not — make me feel bad about any decision I made regarding my child? No. Would I ever, on purpose, make another woman question or feel bad for any decision she made regarding her child? No. Not if the end result was a healthy and thriving baby, and a happy and healthy mother. (Please note: Ain’t nobody happy if Mama ain’t happy.)

I hate Mommy Wars. Passionately. I hate the stay-at-home moms who insist that their decision is the best decision period. I hate work-outside-the-home moms who think SAHMs are a big waste of brains. I hate moms who make decisions for their children based on what their peers will think of them instead of making decisions based on what is best for their children. I hate the whole BF Brigade and the lactivists who insist that “breast is best” in such a way that it makes moms who turned to or chose formula feeding feel like bad moms. I hate mothers who insist that motherhood is the end-all-be-all of womanhood. I hate child-free women and couples who act like kids are such a drag and/or devastating to the environment, and women should be ashamed for even longing to perpetuate the species. I hate people who look cross-eyed at women BF’ing in public and get all offended. I hate lactivists who wave their BF’ing boobs around and say, “It’s natural! Suck it!” (Pun intended.)

All of these are deeply personal choices that women, that mothers have to make. From the private, personal decision to become a mother or not in the first place. What right do I have to stand in another woman’s shoes and tell her that she made the wrong choice? And what nerve!

If a soon-to-be mom asked me about breastfeeding, I would wholly and enthusiastically encourage her. If a new mom was struggling after two weeks, I would encourage her to continue to try. But at some point where mom’s health and mental stability were bumping up against the need of her child to be fed — whether it be five weeks or six months — I think a mom has to be left alone to make her own decision.

If a mom decided from the get-go that she was going to formula feed, I would be surprised, but I certainly wouldn’t presume to judge her. It’s not my decision.

It’s not my decision.

It was my decision to become a mother. It was my decision to breast feed. It was my decision to supplement with formula. It was my decision to go back to work full time. It was my decision to raise my girls as vegetarians. The only other person who gets to weigh in on my decisions regarding my children is my husband, DearDR. And even with his input, it is still, in the end, my decision as the primary caregiver in the family. (Things like joining a soccer team or a dance class and schooling are much more a team effort.)

Opinions are like bellybuttons: everybody has one. (I know the adult version of that, too, but this strives to be a family-friendly site.) If you cannot offer your opinion without insulting anyone, please keep it to yourself. If you cannot express your opinion without making another party feel shame or guilt, it has no place here.

Thanks for your time.

Could someone help me down off this soapbox, please?