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22 July 2012

Geeking Out on Mothering

Grad students in social work, law, public health, public policy: do I have the thesis topic for YOU!?

Comparison shopping - who gets more value for their tax dollar in each of a few nations, specifically, in the US, Pakistan, South Africa, Mexico, Spain, France, Venezuela, and - just for variety - Norway?

In the US, most of us get just two "benefits" when having a child: 1) the Feds guarantee that we will have a job to go back to if we are out of work for no more than 12 weeks. 2) Short-term "disability pay" will give you a weekly lump sum for 6 to 8 weeks of the time you're home recovering from giving birth or having a Cesarian section birth. Let's look at that again - this is not pay to stay home with your child, caring for an infant. This is time to be home repairing your body before you are well enough to get back to the grindstone.

If you're like me, you were even required to have your saved sick days paid out to you during those first 6 to 8 weeks and if you were like me, for that time, YOU didn't collect the disability pay; your employer did. (P.S. That meant I returned to work with NO sick days for the next 7 months though I had an infant, now at daycare, who proceeded to get sick twice a month, minimum, though he received a diet of nothing but breast milk until 7 months old.) What about saved vacation days? Yep, I elected to use those too (really, what choice did I have?), and who collected my disability pay then? Mmmm hmmm, my employer. After the vacation pay ran out, and only then, did I start to get my measly disability pay (NY state; $170/ week). I started an ING account to save money from the day I knew I was pregnant knowing I wanted well more than 12 weeks at home. I made my way up to 18 weeks. Whooo hooo!

If we lived in Venezuela that 18 weeks would have been guaranteed by my nation, and fully paid.

Not as vacation pay or sick pay - as maternity pay. As the social support for caring for a newborn infant who is completely dependent on myself and my husband for survival - and yes, moreso me: I've got the milk.

I have to ask: Just what value do we place on our children if our society neglects to support mothers and fathers with giving their children the best start in life? I think almost any society can be judged by how it treats its elders and its youth. We routinely corral them into centers at the edges of society paying their caretakers barely a living wage (average is somewhere between $7 and $14 per hour). I truly wonder how many of our problems in America come from a collective unconscious acceptance of devaluing anyone we deem vulnerable or weak: anyone who doesn't contribute to the GDP. And I think this attitude pervades various spheres.

Were we more available to raise our children, more available as whole families, more natural in how we spent our time together (because time didn't come at such a premium) would our children learn a more empathetic respect for life, for other people, for living things? Would they be less likely to torment bus monitors, kids with autism, or the only Mexican kid on the playground? Would we treat each other more as members of a community - a larger family, a village? and less like competitors? Would we create a society less likely to bet against our nation's homeowners? Less likely to disallow some citizens from marrying or adopting children? Less likely to frack our water into poison?

So, which comes first - the embryo or the mother? I don't know. But, I do know that when I smile, it makes me feel happier, when I hold my sister's hand even though I'm mad at her I feel more compassion for her, when I turn on happy music it gets me out of a funk. If we take any first step in moving toward a more empathetic, caring society, won't others follow? And if you're going to start somewhere, name a better place to start than at home with our newborns. If our mind's can't lead us there, let us follow our bodies. They may know more.

If you want to support the American movement to change the treatment of families on issues like maternity leave take a look at A Better Balance.

15 July 2012

The Mother's Nature

So, how is this a "nature-inspired" blog? Let's talk mother's nature.

I'm sure you've all seen the recently published articles stating that the longer your unborn child remains in the womb the smarter your peanut is likely to be upon exiting her shell. I'm so sorry, but, "unh huh, yeah, thanks for confirming what intuition and a few millennia of common sense has known all along." (True confessions, I love it when science reinforces what our guts have been telling us since we were pre-verbal.)

Seriously, this is a perfect example of mother nature's insistence that we follow her system - for the simple reason that it works - and yes, for reasons we cannot fathom. We all know that the theory of evolution purports that good form along with good function allows some species, and some individuals, to survive where others cannot. And it is that system that has allowed some very worth while 'best practices' to emerge. Among them - allowing the symbiotic relationship of mother and child to direct the time and process of a birth. Now, I was pregnant two years ago, so new things may have come to light, but at that time science couldn't even tell us what in either body stimulated birth - was it the woman's placenta releasing hormones? the baby's litmus gland? the baby's brain? the baby's lungs? a silent conversation between mother and child? When we don't even know what mother nature's process is - but we know it has worked well enough for the last few thousand years to make us the most prominent species on the planet - we may do well to generally (when possible) follow that process. Form follows function.

So, what are the consequences of giving birth before your child is ready (quick disclaimer, there are many situations in which it is necessary to give birth or undergo a Cesarian foregoing natural birth and I'm the first person to fully support anyone who has experienced this; we live in the 21st century, and thank God for that because leeching the sick isn't likely to make them well.)
  • Well, baby may lose a few good days or weeks of brain development in the womb.
  • Baby may not have fully functioning lungs or experience the hormonal burst that tells the baby's lungs to begin functioning outside the womb.
  • New theories about the alarming increase in Type II Diabetes rates among children are connected to Cesarians.
  • And some research shows that children born by Cesarian are likely to lack stomach bacteria they can only receive from the mother's birth canal causing them to be more vulnerable to obesity.
The punch line is this: you can chose to act against nature's better advice, but there will be consequences.

Why am I highlighting the Cesarian epidemic? Because it seems to be the "health" system in America that pushes it on mothers. Some OB/Gyns will only deliver breech children by Cesarian, while some will only be there for you M - F, and yes, birth rates are statistically disproportionately higher Monday through Friday during working hours, than during weekends and evening hours. Holding aside emergencies, and medically necessary "pre-births" like a diagnosis of preeclampsia, etc., this is apparently a highly risky course of action, and let's thank Columbia (full transparency: I work there) for adding to the growing research that just confirms Mother Nature's system, one we don't fully understand, but for which we are coming to see some real advantages.

The litany of positives I could list for following the body's signals toward healthy birth would surely cause you to shut me down tout suite, so let me just jump to an observation I had when my son was right around 17 weeks old:
If every kind of doctor and every group of doctors from the pediatricians to the oncologists insist that the best food our babies can receive from birth to six months is mother's milk, and it is roundly agreed that baby should have nothing but mother's milk for six months, and further, that we should continue to breastfeed our children until they are at least 12 months old, why are we so dismally supported in staying home with our children for at least one year?

Our society does almost nothing, except holding our jobs for a measly three months, and handing us a paltry $170/ week for 6 weeks (natural birth, versus 8 weeks pay for Cesarian) of disability pay, to allow mother to remain with child, who, at that age cannot even sit up, or often, hold a bottle for himself.

The message is clear: Mother Nature insists that mother and baby not be separated for at least 12 months. (Let me punctuate this by adding that I [and every mother I know who was forced to return to work before 12 months] experienced an alarming drop in milk supply.) I was a lucky woman who was basically gushing from the day I gave birth until that time - I should really have been selling the stuff on eBay - and yet, I ended up taking brewers yeast and fenugreek three times a day, sipping water til my bladder was essentially doing all the cardio I needed to get into the office wardrobe, pumping twice a day at work for at least 25 minutes, and then twice more at home before crashing into my bed. I was nothing short of a human cow. All my son's father did was hang out while I pumped all night and make me dinner because I had to eat like I would never see food again every time I saw food at all. This experience only made more concrete for me the notion that there are earnest reasons not to separate mother from child for the first year, and mother's milk is likely just the first ingredient in a recipe we don't know, for bringing our children into this world in a way that is best for them and for humanity.

I'm allowing myself to break the cardinal rule in writing for Blog Post II [brevity, in all things brevity!] because I want to make a point: just as we didn't know what we would f*&% up when we started pushing Cesarians and Pitocin on every poor woman who was infinitesimally inconvenient to the "health" system in some aspect of her pregnancy, we barely know the first thing about what we're f*&%ing up right now by providing virtually no support framework for mothers to stay home with their infants for the first 12 months, if they chose. But Mother Nature's laws are like the Ten Commandments: you don't have to follow them, but if you act against their better advice, you're likely to face serious consequences. I'll wager that we are facing those consequences.

More to come...

07 July 2012

Love Was at Its Center

I knew what I wanted from a very early age, and love was at its center.

By the time I was pregnant, though, I wasn't sure whether I was the kind of woman who could be home with a child every day all day, day after day. Then my son was born, and for the first few weeks I didn't know what to do with myself... turn on the TV? Read a book? Do laundry or get on facebook, while this little pumpkin took his three hour naps? And then, suddenly, I just started finding stuff to do. I just wasn't a woman to sit still. I created little goals and went for them. By the halfway point in my maternity leave, I was trying to find any way not to go back to work - but it wasn't the little goals - it was my son.

I thought about taking another baby into my house to make money, working from home like those wacky e-mails say you can [and make a quarter of a million dollars a month!]. But, frankly, I didn't want to give any of the attention I had for my son to another child - or to the worldwide web. When I did start back, I cried every day for a week. The next week was easier. The third week was worse than the first - because I suddenly realized, this is how it would be. This wasn't a trial period, it was for real. Even through that time my husband and I thought I could go down to part-time or maybe he would even make enough for me to quit at some point.

Well, my little pumpkin has broken free of his vines and is a walking-talking 19 month old wildling, and I'm still working. Full time with an hour commute both ways. And in this amount of time, between pumping (4 x a day - we'll get to that), schlepping my son through the NYC MTA six times a week, making his food myself, hand washing every poopy sleep sack, attempting to sleep myself, and lose the baby-weight (you gotta get back into those office pants, right) not to mention maintain a single relationship outside of my mothering one, I've gotten pretty philosophical about this life, about my life, about my son's life, about work, about America. About how America treats mothers, and families, and, for Pete's sake, infants!

It's not just about maternity leave - though that's the motherlode, isn't it - it's also about paternity leave, and it's about teaching children to read when they're 3, and raising them on Gameboys, and working 55 hours a week, yes, some of that at home after you've put your children to bed, and you should probably be putting yourself to bed. There's a system at work, and we're allowing it to systematize everything in our lives. And I don't think the human being is at the center of that system because it's an inhumane system.
I don't think love is at the center of the system running our lives.

This is what I'd like to talk about with you: making a love that cares for living things the center of our lives and using it to change the system.