seriously, we love The Kid Should See This (watch these videos!)

A year and a half ago, I posted about loving The Kid Should See This, a blog composed entirely of freely-available “Kid-friendly not-made-for-kids videos for everyone.” I just wanted to mention again that IT’S SO GREAT–for homeschooling families, for people who want to drink their morning coffee in relative peace, for adults who love learning, for everybody.

Here’s a handful of videos we’ve especially enjoyed, just to get you started:

Noah’s and my breastfeeding story

I’ve been wanting to write this story for a long time. I wanted to write it down while I still remember it, and yet I kept putting it off because breastfeeding my firstborn was long enough ago now that I knew I’d have to think, ponder, and consult the archives (aka my journal). I also put it off because breastfeeding is such a touchy subject.

So first, allow me to frame our tale:

  • In many circles, people only hear breastfeeding horror stories. Whether or not those people are ever going to be parents, breastfeed, and/or support partners who are breastfeeding, I think that’s a bad thing. Like sex, pregnancy, menstruation, eating, and just about every other bodily activity/process, breastfeeding is sometimes awesome, sometimes okay, sometimes neutral, sometimes unpleasant, sometimes unbearable (or impossible). I know I’m lucky that it’s been both easy and pleasurable for me, and I also know lots of other people who’ve had the same experience … which makes it weird that it was such a surprise to me at the time. (I hadn’t heard happy breastfeeding stories before I had my baby, you see.)
  • In other circles, people *only* hear that breastfeeding works and you must breastfeed. Fuck that noise. For cultural, social, workplace/economic, physical, medical/pharmaceutical, and mental health reasons, breastfeeding doesn’t always work, and anyway you don’t have to do anything with your breasts you don’t want to do, full stop.
  • This is just what happened for us. But it’s what happened for us, a data point and also a deeply meaningful personal story. It was wonderful. I cherish it, as I do all the other particularities of Noah’s early years.
  • It’s so hard to write this story without constantly comparing our experiences with Simon’s and mine! But I tried to focus on our reality back then. My breastfeeding life with Simon has been equally wonderful and also, in some ways, very different. Perhaps I’ll write that story too, someday, if he ever actually weans.

Once upon a time, there lived a twenty-something grad student who suddenly wanted to have a baby. Um, that was me. So I got pregnant, marveled at how quickly one’s breasts can balloon in size and become distressingly sensitive (hello sleep bra!), and planned and dreamed up a storm.

I wasn’t scared of giving birth, and I wasn’t worried about being a good enough parent. I was, however, anxious about three things:

  1. Miscarriage.
  2. The possibility of having a c-section. (I’m not especially concerned about pain or effort, but being cut makes me deeply uneasy. I’m weirded out by blood draws and shots, for heaven’s sake. So yeah.)
  3. Breastfeeding.

I was not worried that I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed, or that it would hurt, or about managing it within my work life (I had a really flexible schedule and considerable work-from-home time during that stage of my life). No: I was grossed out by the idea of it, which worried me because I also wanted to give it a go.

Before I got pregnant, if I saw a photo of a baby breastfeeding, I didn’t think much of it one way or another. Once I got pregnant and breastfeeding was going to be a real actual thing in my life, if I saw the same photo, my stomach would turn a bit in anxiety and discomfort.

I’d pretty much only ever seen or heard about breasts in sexual/sexualized contexts. I’d literally never been around someone I knew personally who was breastfeeding. Photos of breastfeeding in books/pamphlets are often framed in ways that seem dehumanizing or just flat-out involve bras I’d never wear. And I’m pretty darned weird about bodily fluids in general (spit! so gross! why do they have to show tooth-brushing and spitting in movies so much?!?). These factors conspired against me, I guess.

My body was all about breastfeeding, though. My breasts were  leaking significantly by the time I was 25 weeks pregnant, which (because of an oddly-positioned placenta) was only a couple weeks after I felt fetal movement for the first time. My breasts itched with a feeling I described as “like they need to be expressed.” “I’ve started actually looking forward to breastfeeding,” I wrote in my journal, “partly because I’m looking forward to having the baby for real but mostly because my breasts are so clearly ready for that task.” My body just felt like breastfeeding would feel good, would be a sort of relief. Suddenly my stomach wasn’t turning any more. I noticed all the breastfeeding people at our co-op and otherwise out and about in my world.

I got more pregnant. I bought a breast pump, which I would always loathe: I would never cry over breastfeeding, but pumping would bring me to tears more than once. I freaked out about my inability to find breast pads that didn’t show under clothes. I learned about nursing bras. (I didn’t know at the time that, despite many hours of research and lots of money spent, I wouldn’t find a nursing bra I actually liked until six years later. Alas. I would find great wool breast pads in time to start teaching when Noah was just five weeks old, though, so yay for that!) My belly grew to unbelievable proportions.

I gave birth.

The baby nursed soon after he was born. Later, still in the newborn magic fog, I wrote about that time:

One thing I wish we could do forever, although I imagine that like with the wedding and pregnancy I’ll be good and ready to be done when we’re done, is breastfeeding. I’ve been wanting to write about it a little because I hadn’t imagined it would be like this, and I’d like to remember it as much as possible. I’m trying to keep good records of our experiences now because sleep deprivation isn’t really conducive to clear memory … I asked Eric to help me take off my sleep bra while I was holding Noah, and [a nurse] watched me try to latch him on, but he wasn’t interested enough right then. But within minutes, just after [the midwife and nurse] left the three of us alone together, he looked hungry (I didn’t know I’d recognize that, but he just sort of did), and I latched him on to my right breast with his little belly up against mine, like I’d been doing it my whole life, and he ate for quite a while. It didn’t hurt at all, or feel uncomfortable or even strange; it was just nice, and warm with him up against me.

A few minutes later, he latched on uncomfortably on the other side; I broke the latch with my finger so we could try again.

“It was just all so easy,” I marveled. “I’m glad we had the breastfeeding class because we got a lot of information from it and because I could be having lots of problems that I happen not to have had, and I’m glad the midwives and nurses are all so supportive about it, and that we have a book about it—and we’ve definitely consulted that stuff more during the painful engorgement phase of days four through six—but I think it made me expect nursing to be a sort of skill-oriented activity that I needed to learn, with techniques and stuff. ” For us, it was simpler and nicer than that.

Noah turned out to be a slow, leisurely eater–and he still is, to this day. He can eat a bowl of cereal for an hour, for real. He nursed for 45 minutes at a time, sometimes an hour or an hour and a half. At first, he ate somewhat more briefly but pretty much nonstop:

He can be a very sleepy eater, maybe because he finds nursing so comforting that he often just passes out before he’s full, so a twenty minute feeding can actually take well over half an hour of waking, coaxing, burping, rearranging, undressing, etc. The constant nursing does make it tough to do a lot of other things, but it’s priceless to look down at Noah looking up at me with his big, intent blue-grey eyes, or to see him half-asleep but still working his jaw, or watching him try to latch on to Eric’s arm or chest or my chin when he’s decided he needs milk now.

He only nursed for very brief periods when it was about comfort rather than food: he’d had an upsetting diaper change or, later, had a fall. He nursed to sleep and then lay sprawled across the Boppy nursing pillow on my lap for hours while I frantically typed away at my dissertation and lesson plans. He patted me and held my hand. He made funny faces. He was sweet, and I wanted to eat him up.

By the time Noah was a week old, I’d nursed him “in public” twice. It felt awkward the first time and fine the second. I discovered that he declined to be covered with a scarf or anything else, thank you very much. When he was a month old, we figured out how to nurse while walking, with him in a carrier, and I loved how free that made me in various situations (who wants to be stuck on a bench nursing for 45 minutes at the aquarium or waiting to shop at the grocery store?). We nursed all over the place, and no one ever said anything nasty about it. Sometimes people said nice things. He charmed the socks off everyone, naturally.

When Noah was about a month and a half old, we tried having Eric give him a bottle at night in an attempt to get me some much-needed sleep. But Noah ended up hating bottles forever. I have to admit that I wasn’t too terribly broken up about the bottle thing not working out. I wrote at the time:

I’m emotionally incredibly resistant to it. I feel dehumanized by the pumping. … I am terrified that I’ll lose breastfeeding somehow, that this is really the first step in weaning, which I guess in a long-term way it is—but I know in my head it doesn’t mean I’ll stop having that part of my relationship with this child. I’m surprised at how important breastfeeding is to me … that I really love being physically so close with him during his most peaceful, content, quiet times. I briefly saw him with the bottle in his mouth, and it was awful. I know it’s a bizarre and irrational thing to feel, and I’m sure I’ll chill out about it, but there it was.

Noah’s resistance to bottle-feeding occasionally led to some screaming baby time for Eric near the end of my classes, during the minutes before they picked me up from campus or I walked in the door. Mostly it was fine because of how our schedules were at the time.

He tried his first non-breastmilk food the day after his six-month birthday and was adorable experimenting with it, though it would be quite a long time before much of his diet was composed of solid foods.

He started trying to sign “milk” at around 8 and a half months; he was smiling and opening his mouth in response to the sign earlier than that. We called breastfeeding “milkies” with him, and we don’t remember why.

As we got closer to a year, I balked. Eric and I had always talked about breastfeeding to a year if it worked out, in keeping with the magic “you should breastfeed for a year” line. But I had no desire to stop, and neither did Noah: would Eric be on board? When I hesitantly raised this question, Eric chuckled affectionately: essentially, he said, no kidding you’re going to breastfeed past a year, oh I’m so shocked, of course it’s great. Silly you.

When he was nearly 16 months old, I had the first pain I’d ever experienced with breastfeeding, perhaps related to Noah’s canines breaking through? I had some bruise-like soreness for a couple days, and then it went away. Dramatic, I know. (Oh, and one time he bit me.)

The next month, I wrote:

Noah seems to have decided he just wants to breastfeed once a day, when he wakes up. It’s interesting and nice to watch him make these transitions on his own, for reasons mysterious to us, and less gradually than one might expect—he was eating twice a day, and then he just sort of stopped with the second feeding, which he used to request either between his two naps or right after the second one.

Just before he turned a year and a half, we weaned:

On Thursday we officially decided to do what we had figured for a couple days we were going to do, which is to say that Eric and I agreed to encourage Noah to wean by distracting him with cow’s milk (which he charmingly calls ‘moo,’ a term we introduced to distinguish it from ‘milkies’ and which he pronounces in this really cute enthusiastic cow sort of way) and other foods. For a week or so before that Noah breastfed about once every other day until it feels really uncomfortable—not exactly painful but unpleasant—and then repeated with the other breast, and usually ended up crying or fussing. So no one was getting much out of it, and I’m finally ready to stop without feeling sad. Noah actually hasn’t breastfed since Tuesday when he woke up in the morning. On Wednesday he signed for milkies and said his version of it (‘deets,’ maybe) and was initially pissed off at the offer of moo instead, but I avoided sitting down and just kept going through the rest of the morning routine, and he downed his cereal and decided his Nalgene was okay after all. It was a little weird to deflect his request like that, but then the next day Eric was home, so it wasn’t really an issue because Noah’s less likely to bother about nursing if Eric’s primarily taking care of him while I cook, etc. And this morning when I was holding him, still in his sleepsack, in my lap and we were talking about what we could see out the window, he totally just pointed at his Nalgene and said “moo”; he was happy while I carried him into the kitchen and filled it up with him in my arms, and he drank it and ate his cereal and didn’t ask to nurse. He asked once when he woke up from his second nap today, but when Eric asked if he wanted apricots instead, he was instantly all “apple! apple!” (or rather “bapo! bapo!”) and went for a pear, which he considers as falling under the umbrella term ‘apple.’ I wonder whether I’ll ever breastfeed him again, but I doubt it; he seems just fine with eating other stuff and cuddling instead. I’m so, so glad I have been able to breastfeed on our terms, have this wonderful and long experience with my baby, and not feel pressure to wean when my breasts still became engorged or when I felt anxious and miserable considering the idea.

And then we didn’t breastfeed any more, and my breasts got way smaller than they’d ever been in my adult life and I needed all new bras, the end.

Somehow that baby turned eight this summer. It blows my mind.

links for thought: a smattering of worth-checking-out online writing

from Sarah Kendzior at Chronicle Vitae, “Should You Have a Baby in Graduate School?

In academia, pregnancy is often presented as a series of cautionary tales (dropout mom, jobless mom, adjunct mom); subterfuge (concealed bellies and furtive pumping); and questionable heroics (returning to teach immediately upon the baby’s arrival). Placating the prevailing structure—and emphasizing the sad fate of those who did not (or could not) do so—is part of doctoral indoctrination.

You may be a mom, but you are expected to behave like an obedient child.

from Sarah S. Richardson & others at Nature, “Don’t Blame the Mothers

Caveats span four areas. First, avoid extrapolating from animal studies to humans without qualification. The short lifespans and large litter sizes favoured for lab studies often make animal models poor proxies for human reproduction. Second, emphasize the role of both paternal and maternal effects. This can counterbalance the tendency to pin poor outcomes on maternal behaviour. Third, convey complexity. Intrauterine exposures can raise or lower disease risk, but so too can a plethora of other intertwined genetic, lifestyle, socio-economic and environmental factors that are poorly understood. Fourth, recognize the role of society. Many of the intrauterine stressors that DOHaD [developmental origins of health and disease] identifies as having adverse intergenerational effects correlate with social gradients of class, race and gender. This points to the need for societal changes rather than individual solutions.

Although remembering past excesses of ‘mother-blame’ might dampen excitement about epigenetic research in DOHaD, it will help the field to improve health without constraining women’s freedom.

from Ilonka Michelle O’Neil at Brain, Child, “The Day of the Condom

book review: Parenting beyond Pink and Blue: How to Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes

Looking for a good, short, easy-to-read introduction to gender stereotyping in children’s lives–how common it is, how it works, why it matters, what to do about it? You should check out Christia Spears Brown‘s new (2014) book Parenting beyond Pink and Blue.

This book covers some of the same material as books like Cordelia Fine’s awesome Delusions of Gender, but in a more practical-minded, action-in-parenting way. Brown engages scholarly research in an utterly nonthreatening, accessible, and personal way. Readers who wouldn’t enjoy geeking out over the neuroscience gossip (or who just want a tighter parents-oriented focus) might be well-served by Brown’s briefer treatment.

(If, on the other hand, you just can’t get enough of this stuff, start with Fine and then go back for a very different approach with Emily Kane’s book The Gender Trap. Then let’s get coffee and geek out over gender research together.)

Parents who have read and/or thought a ton about resisting sexism probably already follow most … or all … of this book’s practical tips. It includes the strategies you might expect:

  • providing toys and experiences without reference to a child’s gender
  • using less gender-emphasizing language (no “good morning, boys and girls!” or “you’re such a pretty girl!” or even “look at that man”)
  • talking with both boys and girls about both mathematical concepts and emotions
  • examining your own knee-jerk stereotypes
  • and so on

But as a primer, it could work beautifully.

For any audience, I especially appreciate Brown’s very clear and engaging accounts of academic concepts like effect size (key to interpreting the meaningfulness of differences between vs. within groups) and stereotype threat. These sorts of ideas are so important but can feel like abstract jargon to lots of parents/people.

I’ll end with one caveat:

This book takes the position that gender is, like height, “biological, obviously, and unchangeable” (207). The sidebar on “When Children Want to Be the Other Gender” (153) is affirming in encouraging parents to take depression seriously and offer support and help, to accept children as they are without reference to gender and gender stereotypes, and to make sure their children know “they can dress how they want, play with what they want, and be friends with whomever they want.” At the same time, the whole thing seems to take a hope-they-grow-out-of-it approach that makes me really uncomfortable and excludes trans* folks and everybody who doesn’t live within the gender binary.

On a broader note (or to put it another way), the book largely accepts that there are two boxes (boy/girl, man/woman) and … although it does awesome work insisting that the categories are far from opposites, that they overlap immensely and have huge within-group diversity, that their nature is culturally constructed and variable, etc. … it doesn’t question the two-box system itself.

Disney’s Frozen: wtf?

Oh, is it kind of late in the game to write about the “new” Disney Princess movie? The one whose theatrical release was in, oh, let me see, nine months ago?

Eric and I have been in the running for Last Parents in The United States to See the Movie Frozen. Since our library copy arrived on the hold shelf last week, we have now joined the rest of our young-child-having kind. (We did not, however, watch the movie with any children: we watched it over popcorn and cocktails after their bedtime.)

So I get that I’m a little behind the times here, but I still just need to say: what the fuck was that?!? After the film ended, I looked over at Eric and said, well, that sort of sucked. I don’t know where I got this idea, but I kind of expected it to have more good points: to be, like, basically coherent or something. It had fun moments, for sure, but:

  • Wow the terrible music. Most of the songs are just … bad.
  • IT DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE! How is a regency not established between the death of the parents and the coming-of-age and coronation of the new monarch? Who the fuck has been running the kingdom in the meantime? Just, like, no one? If so, why does Prince Hans need to be left “in charge” when Anna splits? If not, why isn’t the person who’s been ruling trying to maintain power rather than turning it over to some random foreign dude? How do the sisters know anything? Where is their governess or tutor? If they never go outside, which the visuals certainly imply, how does Anna know how to ride a horse? Etc. Why does Anna care about her sister at all? If they last spoke to each other, like, when Anna was an age of which she would have few memories … and then Elsa has been cold and awful to her for her entire life … where is this deep spiritual love connection from? How is Anna able to wander around the city alone, and then with the random foreign dude? Really, she has no governess or lady-in-waiting or anybody paying attention to where she is? In what universe would everybody just accept, without question, as a new monarch, this foreign guy who stepped foot in the kingdom for the first time less than twenty-four hours ago and who claims to have just conveniently married the monarch’s little sister, without witnesses? I mean really. Oh, okay, you’re the king! Long live you! And many many more plot holes and strange leaps of faith.
  • The “fixer-upper” song? Just no. No no no. The weird ass-covering in the middle about how you can’t really change someone … oh but true love can … just makes matters worse. Because they knew and they went there anyway.
  • What is any character’s motivation? Are these, like, people? And what’s with the sisters’ parents? Was Disney too weeny to make them outright abusive (which seems, given the apparent utter lack of external cultural knowledge/experience in the girls’ lives, the only reasonable explanation for Elsa’s extreme self-loathing and need for control)? Why does Anna believe/assume that “eternal winter” is what’s happening after like twenty minutes of snow? What the fuck is going on?

Okay, but do you know what’s AWESOME about Frozen? Olaf the snowman is awesome. (Actually, the “do you wanna build a snowman?” song is pretty good, too.)

And do you know why Olaf is awesome?

Because it makes sense for him not to understand anything or make any sense. In a movie that borders on the surreal but doesn’t seem to know that, Olaf just is surreal and silly. He’s not meant to have cultural context or depth: he literally was born yesterday. As he points out charmingly, he doesn’t even have a skull. He’s the best.

I finally understand why all the advertising for Frozen made it look more like a comedy about this minor nonhuman character who doesn’t even show up until way far into the movie, rather than a drama about an ice queen and a pretender to the throne and True Love and stuff.

book review: Motherhood and Feminism

In her book Motherhood and Feminism (2010), Amber E. Kinser offers an excellent, broad, and amazingly concise overview of how feminism has interacted with motherhood, mothering, and related experiences/concepts/issues/roles.

Kinser takes a feminist and historical approach to this material. She leads readers chronologically from the 1800s through the present day of the book’s 2010 publication. Her attention to issues of race and class–and to diverse actors on the overlapping stages of feminism, women’s movements, mothers’ movements, motherhood, and caregiving–proved very helpful to me as I put together a draft of my own book manuscript’s introduction. She asks good questions from a curious and engaged perspective.

A side note: It’s funny (and kind of sad) how may of the big websites she discusses no longer exist four years later! Writing about online sources is a tricky thing.

A Feminist Parenting, Pregnancy/Birth, & Books Blog