Having a Baby The Easy Way (Part 1)

It seems so complicated and messy and painful and expensive, doesn’t it?  The night wakings, the poop, the tons of crap to buy… Why does anyone even do this?

IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY!  There are saner, cheaper, easier, proven alternatives.

1.  Night wakings – probably the most dreaded of all the sacrifices that are assumed to come with having a baby.

THE STUPID WAY: You will be sleeping in your bed in the middle of the night when suddenly a loud alarm will go off, startling you awake.  You will stumble to your feet, gather your nightrobe and slippers, and bump your way out of your bedroom, down the hall, and into the nursery, where you will ascertain that yes, the baby is crying.  Probably needs food.  You’ll either go to the kitchen to somehow put a bottle of formula together as the siren continues, or you’ll pull out a boob.  Then you’ll take baby out of crib, sit in a rocking chair or something, and feed baby, trying not to drop her as you struggle with exhaustion.  Forty-five minutes later, with baby sleeping peacefully, you’ll slooooowly, carefully attempt to put baby back in crib and get back to your bed.  But it takes another 45 minutes before you actually lie down because every time you try to put her down she wakes up and cries.  Repeat 1.5 hours later.

THE SMART WAY: You will sleep in your bed and your baby will sleep right next to you, or perhaps on your chest when he’s still super-small.  When baby, still asleep, starts getting hungry and makes tiny noises or movements, you are gently pulled out of your state of deep sleep and become aware that it’s time to feed baby.  You shift a little in your bed, perhaps moving baby from the center of your chest to one side.  You will help baby (who hasn’t even fully woken up, let alone cried) latch on and then you will lean back in bed, close your eyes, and go back to sleep.  When baby is done, you’ll know if you need to shift back to another position. Been told co-sleeping is unsafe?  That’s the crib manufacturers’ propaganda!  Check out: http://www.phdinparenting.com/blog/2009/1/11/co-sleeping-safety.html and http://www.askdrsears.com/news/latest-news/dr-sears-addresses-recent-co-sleeping-concerns

2.  Poopy Diapers

THE OLD WAY: You clean up your kids’ shit for years.  Stinky, gross, etc.

THE COOL WAY: You practice Elimination Communication (EC), aka infant potty-training with your child.  Now I won’t say you NEVER have to wipe poop off a butt, but I personally only cleaned about a dozen poopy butts before my LO was potty-trained.  The idea is very simple: instead of letting baby poop in his diaper, you hold him over the toilet and voila!  The poop is where it belongs.  Rinse bottom with a bit of water at the sink and you’re done.  Obviously it takes some practice and it means really paying attention to your baby’s body language, etc.  Which only serves to increase the bond between caregiver and baby.  Plus it’s pleasanter, and a really good party trick.  Relatives will line up to see your infant deposit poop in a toilet seemingly on order.

Check out: http://www.diaperfreebaby.org/ and http://godiaperfree.com/elimination-communication/

THE CONSUMERIST WAY: You buy all that baby gear you see everywhere because it all looks so necessary and plus it’s so cuuuute!  What’s not so cute is your credit card bill.

THE CHEAP-O WAY: Here is the list of items you ACTUALLY need to have ready when baby pops out:

- a high-quality wrap

- some tiny little soft clothes

- some cloth diapers

- a car seat

And this one probably isn’t necessary but it sure made my life easier: a yoga ball, to bounce on while holding baby.

ALL the rest is unnecessary.  Junk that will make your house a mess and may even be straight up bad for baby.  For example: swing chair.  You don’t need it.  Put baby in a soft woven wrap like the Moby (especially good for small infants) or on your back in a Mei Tai like this one.

Basically, think of it this way: all those products are either trying to imitate something that you can provide better and for free (swing, bouncy seat, crib, etc.) or just try to appeal by their cuteness (decorations, baby blankets, etc.)  Newsflash: babies couldn’t care less about the color of the walls, or whether it’s Winnie the Pooh or baby elephants on the lampshade.  You.  Just.  Don’t.  Need.  That.  Stuff.

If you’re wealthy and have lots of time and actually like redecorating in pastel shades, sure why not… But there are much better ways to make good use of the time left before baby gets here.  Instead of all the shopping and reorganizing and repainting and redecorating, do this: READ.  RESEARCH.  PREPARE MENTALLY.

We’re #1!

The U.S. is a pretty great place to live.  Freedom, bounty, all that.  We Americans tend to think we’re the TOP country: the strongest, the richest, the homest of the freeest and the bravest; just the best in general.  It’s true that we rank at the top of the list when it comes to stuff like military spending, average number of cars per person, number of hours of daily TV watching, and other important indicators of clear superiority.

homer__usa_number_one_by_leeroberts-d3ddadu-1

We’re also #1 in the Western world in maternal mortality.  In other words, of all the wealthy countries in the world we are the WORST when it comes to taking care of pregnant women.  And it’s not just wealthy countries that are better than us at keeping moms alive: If you are a pregnant woman, you are more likely to die if you live in the U.S. than if you live in Lithuania.  Or Bahrain.  Or Bulgaria.  The U.S. number of maternal deaths per 100,000 women is the same as in Iran and Hungary.  If you are a pregnant woman, you are twice as likely to die if you live in the U.S. than if you live in Macedonia or Cyprus.  Three times more likely than if you’re from Qatar or Israel.  Seven times more likely than if you’re in Greece or Singapore.  If you are pregnant, you have a better chance of surviving your pregnancy if you are in one of 48 other countries in the world.  Ok, I’ll stop, you get the point.

What are you, the pregnant lady, supposed to do about it?  Just this: demand better care.  There is NO reason a country in which people have more access to calories and movies than any other country can’t also have access to high-quality healthcare.  There is no reason for American women to be dying from childbirth at rates only marginally better than those in Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.

BurqaBln_Desert_so36b

(I know, I know, I said I’d stop with the comparisons… it’s just so counterintuitive – in so many ways we are one of the most medically advanced countries…)

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Back to what you can actually do about it: question, question, question.  Question everything your OB-GYN tells you you need to do.  Even if she sounds very confident about it.  And if she doesn’t appreciate the questions, if she gets offended when she sees you really want to understand your medical treatment and know about all your options, tell her the U.S. has a really high maternal mortality rate, that you strongly believe in taking an active role in your own health and medical care, and that you’d prefer not to die, thank you very much, so could you please answer the question or get back to me when you have an answer.  Ask for data.  Ask for the research.  Ask for proof.  Ask for alternatives.  Ask what the risks are.  Ask what would happen if you chose another course of action.

Then: don’t take their word for it.  Do your own research.  Many doctors will not like this, not one bit.  And I get it.  They’re the ones who went to med school, studied, see patients every day, blah blah blah.

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Well, that’s the same medical training and practices that are putting us at the glorious ranking of 49th in the world in maternal mortality.  So honestly I don’t think they have a very strong argument when they cite their credentials and experience.  Nothing but real, hard facts, studies, and research should convince you to accept medical advice.

I visited an OB-GYN exactly once during my pregnancy.  I asked her what the C-section rate was in her practice – in other words, what’s the percentage of women under her care who end up delivering by Caesarian rather than vaginally.  She tried to maintain a pleasant expression as she answered: “Oh, that’s a case-by-case basis.”  And then quickly changed the topic.  HUH?  I ask for a RATE, an AVERAGE, and she tells me it’s case by case?  She either didn’t know how often her practice resulted in women giving birth by C-section, or she didn’t want me to know (I found out on my own that it was near 50%, waaaay higher than the 10% recommended by the WHO).  Either way, pretty pathetic, and very unprofessional.  I didn’t go back after that first appointment.  I was lucky enough to find a midwife-run birth center that had a patient-centered philosophy (and whose C-section rate was much closer to the WHO’s recommendation).

patient-engagement

Just remember: the doctor works for you.  You hire, and you can fire.  They perform a service.  If you don’t like the way they treat you, you owe it to yourself to find another person to perform the service.  A lot of us feel a little shy around our doctors; a little in awe of their status.  We don’t want to displease them or appear rude.  But we need to learn to be assertive and to reclaim our place right at the top of the list of people who make decisions about our bodies and our health.  People are probably pickier with choosing who cleans their toilets than with who gets to stick things in their hooo-ha and helps them bring their child into the world.

So just remember: this is not paranoia, it’s not rejecting science and modern medicine, and it’s not saying all doctors and nurses are evil people (most of them are doing what they have been told is the right thing – even if that means totally violating their patients’ rights…).  It’s looking at the facts and acting on them.  It’s realizing that things are not as they should be, that the system we take for granted as good and functioning has serious issues that result in real women and babies dying needlessly; it’s refusing to go along with the crowd,

Shaun-The-Sheep-6-1024x819it’s taking a small step to change the status quo.  It’s deciding that your health and your baby’s health are worth stepping outside of your comfort zone, worth making waves and ruffling some feathers.  You and your baby deserve the highest-quality, most supportive, and safest health care system in the world.

pregnant-woman-painting

Stuff You Need to Know But May Wish You Didn’t

I would like to share a concept that I had no clue of before I got pregnant and started paying attention to the what it means to be pregnant in this culture and time.  It’s very different from what I thought it was.  I had imagined a model where everyone is doing their best to take care of you, medical experts are there to help you have the best experience possible… I thought that it was infinitely better to be in a modern country with access to hospitals and doctors for pregnancy care and childbirth… I thought that living in a wealthy Western nation like the U.S. was as good as it gets in terms of the experience of being pregnant and giving birth.  I thought giving birth itself was a pretty terrible ordeal and the only thing that made it bearable was that it could be done in a professional setting, under the direction of professionals, with the help of professionally administered drugs.  I thought pregnancy was a risky, dangerous state to be in and that there were all kinds of rules you had to follow, and indeed that the pregnant woman had to be followed and monitored by a medical professional to stay safe.  Basically, I thought: thank God for doctors and modern medicine when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. They save so many women and babies from having terrible experiences and deadly outcomes!

Friendly Doctor2

I’ve done a 180.

Trust Doctor

I learned about birth rape.

It’s a controversial term; some prefer to call it medical assault; but personally I feel it is sexual in nature, as it involves the sexual organs and is directly linked with sex – the birth part of sexuality, not the conception part.  This article in the Huffington Post puts it well:

“Rape is really to do with having your body disrespected, contorted against your wishes, without your consent. The way the medical establishment sees it is, when you’re on the hospital bed, you have already given consent. Some men say the same thing about the marital bed, or any bed that you get into with them.”

But by any name, it’s horrible and traumatic and so, so unnecessary.  Worst of all, it’s common.  Don’t know how many times a friend or relative has told me her birth story and it involved the doctors or nurses doing something that was MEDICALLY UNNECESSARY to her body without her knowledge and/or against her explicit wishes.  Of course we’re not talking about taking action in emergency situations without waiting for the patient to sign a form allowing the action.  We’re talking medical practitioners routinely breaking women’s waters, “checking” progress (this means inserting their entire hand up the vagina), and more.

In this article, a midwife describes how she unknowingly participated in birth rape.  The sad thing is that so few medical practitioners ever come to recognize their role: “You don’t have to look very far to find stories of women who were yelled at, sneered at, made to feel bad somehow (even stupid), forced to lie in bed, physically moved from a comfortable position into an uncomfortable one simply for doctor convenience, given unnecessary vaginal exams, given rough vaginal exams, cut unnecessarily, sutured unnecessarily, not given anesthesia for the suturing, etc. And this can happen even with “nice” midwives and “nice” nurses and “nice” doctors, which is the most troubling fact.”

The thing is, it’s not even that shocking that assault by medical professionals happens during childbirth, when you start to really look at our medical system.  It’s not just during labor that women’s bodies are violated: pelvic exams are routinely performed on women under anesthesia, without their consent, and for the sole purpose of giving med students some practice.  This article is by a doctor who tells how he, as a medical student, was ordered to (and did) stick his fingers inside a woman’s vagina while she was unconscious.  And how it was deemed totally normal for him to do so, despite the fact that he had never met the woman, was not her doctor, and certainly did not have her permission to use her body to gain medical experience.

Top Birthrape

The point is: Do not maintain the illusion that the way medicine is practiced in this country has any concern for a woman’s rights over her own body.  Do not assume that your bodily integrity will be respected, do not assume that your consent will be asked for.  Do not assume that medical practitioners always have your and your baby’s best interests in mind.  Even if they do, they may be working off outdated and incorrect knowledge of normal pregnancy and childbirth.  Or they may be tired, or impatient, or blase, or in a bad mood.  They do this birthing stuff day in and day out – they are NOT emotionally invested in the individual woman’s experience.  They can’t be, or they’d burn out in a matter of weeks.

I hate to be negative and fear-mongering but the situation merits serious attention.  I believe the system is broken.  Any woman who takes an active role in her own health and who wants to ensure the best possible birth experience for herself and her baby (and partner too, for that matter) must become aware of the huge failings of the traditional medical paradigm when it comes to birth.  Inform yourself; don’t kid yourself that it’ll all be fine if you just leave it to the experts; be your own agent and be prepared to fight for your rights.

This is not how it should be, and it is never a woman’s fault if she didn’t know to become informed and prepared – we should not have to fight to retain control over what happens to our own bodies!  But we have to deal with the situation as it is, not as we’d like it to be.  All the while, we’ll be working towards a system that respects everyone’s rights to be the ones who make decisions about their own bodies.

Birth Without Fear

 

WHAT ARE YOU EATING?

I wrote this “diet plan” a while ago for a non-preggo friend.  About as non-preggo as you can get actually: a guy.  But there’s no reason a pregnant woman can’t do it.  Really.  Don’t consult your doctor, etc.  It’s common-sense and not at all extreme.  Just some habits to drop, some to pick up, some adjustments to make.

I think it’s a pretty doable way of eating, and definitely healthy.  Tell me what you think!

PLAN TO HEALTHY EATING HABITS:

The short and sweet:  Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.  Much of them raw.  Go organic (here’s why (preggos, take a good look at #2 and #5), and especially if you’re pregnant).  Go non-GMO; here’s why (especially if you have had infertility issues.)

By “food” I mean stuff that doesn’t come in a box or can.  Stuff that is kept in the “walls” of the grocery store, not in the inner aisles.  Skip the aisles altogether.  If it can be stored outside of the refrigerator longer than a few days, avoid it.

By “not too much” I simply mean eat when hungry and not when you’re tired, bored, depressed, etc. (which is what many people do).

By “mostly plants” I mean cut out much of your dairy, meat, and grain consumption.  Most of your plate should be fresh vegetables and fruit.

The other terms are self-explanatory.

What I would recommend to someone on the Standard American Diet (SAD) is to progressively, taking as long as you need to:

1)      Work on becoming aware of, and thankful for, every meal and snack no matter what it is or how healthy/unhealthy.  Food, plentiful food, is such a gift and a pleasure.  Maintain attitude of gratitude and joy throughout each subsequent step, and through challenges and setbacks and “cheats.”

2)      Cut out all soft drinks, whether diet or not.  Replace with fizzy water + fruit juice or lemon, or, even better, with Kombucha (available at Whole Foods, etc.) or Kefir Water (homemade).

3)      Add as many fresh vegetables and fruits to your day as possible.  Also add nuts, especially raw nuts.

4)      Cut out all wheat.  That means most breads, pastas, couscous, cakes, brownies, donuts, many breakfast cereals… You can replace some favorite items with wheat-free/gluten-free versions (e.g. wheat-free pancakes or brownies once in a while) but don’t go replacing every item with the gluten-free version.  Replace the wheat items with veggies instead.  E.g. spaghetti squash instead of spaghetti, sliced zucchini instead of lasagna, extra fruit and nuts in the morning instead of toast, a square of dark chocolate instead of a brownie.

5)      Banish high-fructose corn syrup.  If it’s listed on a label, don’t eat/drink the product.

6)      Add wild-caught, sustainably harvested fish to your diet.  Ideal is 2-3 times a week.

7)      Switch to organic meats, dairy and eggs while reducing overall consumption of these items.  (The average American consumes way too much protein.)  About 2 eggs a day plus meat or chicken 2-3 times a week is plenty.  Best dairy is plain, organic, full-fat yoghurt (to which you can add honey or fruit jam), plus cheese (no Kraft singles please, that’s not cheese!)  Start the “Meatless Monday” tradition.

8)      Switch to organic vegetables and fruits while rediscovering your local farmers’ markets.

9)     Cut down consumption of sugar as much as possible.  When you do need a sweetener, use raw honey.  Some prefer agave but I think raw honey has benefits agave doesn’t.

10)      Instead of white rice, eat brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, and other “unusual” grains like amaranth.

11)    Cut out corn and corn products (there are a lot) except for the occasional fresh corn.

12)    Make it a habit to eat raw veggies.

13)    Discover the joys of making your own fermented products, especially sauerkraut, yoghurt, Kombucha, and Kefir.  It’s kind of like having a chemestry set, kind of like cooking, and kind of like gardening.

14)    Move to a cave and live off lichen and insects.

Just kidding.  14) is only for when the zombies arrive.

I don’t do all these things all of the time but I try to keep them in mind when making food choices.  This is not a particular named diet that I know of.  It’s neither completely vegetarian nor completely Paleo.  I think it’s doable and moderate.  The most important item is #1.  If sticking to a particular diet becomes a  source of great stress, I think the negatives start to outweigh the benefits.

Of Perfumes and Penises

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According to the American Pregnancy Association it is perfectly safe to use perfumes and fragrances as much as you want while you’re pregnant.

Perfume

HOWEVER (and you knew there’d be a however), some studies indicate that there is a risk, and that risk is higher for the future baby boys.  More specifically, for their penises.  :(

From above website:

“Hypospadias is one of the most common genital deformities affecting baby boys. About 1 out of 300 infants in the US are born with the condition in which the opening of the urethra occurs on the underside of the penis rather than the tip. Surgery can correct the problem.”

Don’t know about you but penis surgery is not high on my list of sensorially enriching experiences I want my infant to partake in.

Now there’s no concrete link between a mom wearing perfume or hairspray (or any potentially-toxic-chemical-laden personal care products) and her son having a deformed penis.  [Googles images of hypospadia and decides NOT to include a link for fear of losing all of my two readers.  Finds this instead:]

Sad Mushroom

HOWEVER (again), and this is the scary part, the incidence of hypospadia has been increasing steadily in the U.S.  Today, 1 in 125 boys is born with it.  Those are certainly not odds I’d scoff at.  And the thing is, no one knows what the cause is.

Besides the deformed penis consideration, there are other potential negative effects of endocrine-disruptors on fetuses, including behavioral problems three years later.  [Note: the behavior of 3-year-olds WITHOUT behavioral problems is, shall we say, enough of a challenge for most parents.]

So basically, we have the official position: Perfumes and products containing phtalates are PERFECTLY SAFE, go ahead, spray ‘em on, shower in them, breathe them in!

Next official position: Hypospadias?  Increasing, yes…  Nope, no clue why! 

Meanwhile, less official sources (you know, those that have “natural” in their titles and such) abound with research showing that exposure to phtalates while in utero directly causes little monster penises to grow.

So what is a reasonable person to make of this conflicting information?

As in the case of ultrasounds, I say weigh the pros and cons.  Pros of wearing chemical-laden personal care products: you keep using the same products you’ve been using to achieve your desired scent and look.  Cons: you might be screwing with your son’s package.

To me, it’s a no-brainer: throw the crap out.  Switch to products that definitely don’t contain harmful chemicals.  You’re not sacrificing your cool up-do or your sweet rosy parfum.  You’re just getting them from Whole Foods instead of CVS.  (Gross generalization, but you get my point.)

This article  from The Bump explains how to avoid the bad stuff in personal care products, and more.  Now, a word of warning: reading about all the dangerous crap all over the place can be kind of stressful and lead to a sense of powerlessness.  It is true that we can’t possibly avoid all toxins, unless we move to, umm… some other planet?  No place on Earth is totally “clean” anymore.  So some may conclude that since it’s impossible to avoid poisons entering our bodies, we shouldn’t worry about it.  I agree with not worrying, but that doesn’t mean we should actively put more crap in our bodies when there are safe alternatives.  I mean to me there’s a big difference between continuing to breathe air that may be contaminated in some way by household paints, and slathering phtalates and parabens directly into your skin and hair, rubbing the stuff into your pores.  You can’t stop breathing.  You can stop Channel #5-ing.

Best thing is that it doesn’t have to cost you much at all.  Here are my favorite products.  Cheap, safe, effective.

- Extra Virgin Organic Coconut oil.  Use all over, for pretty much ANYTHING from Athlete’s Foot to lubricant (you don’t have to advertise either of these two particular uses, BTW).  This website describes the amazing properties of EVCO and lists 160 (!!) uses.  I use it every day as a moisturizer and makeup remover, at the very least. (Surprisingly, it doesn’t make facial skin oily – actually helps skin regulate its oil production!)

- Baking Soda: you can wash your hair with it quite effectively.  This practice is, weirdly, known as No-Poo.  I also use baking soda mixed with coconut oil as a very pleasant and gentle facial scrub.  Other uses include oral care and general household cleaning.

- Organic Apple Cider Vinegar with “the Mother”.  WTF is “the Mother”?  It took me over a year to figure that out.  I read about ACV with “the Mother” on crunchy websites and thought it must be some advertising gimmick – a picture of maternal-looking chick on the bottle of vinegar or something.  As it turns out, “the Mother” is actually something in the vinegar.  It’s the culture – yeast or bacteria, probbly - that grows in vinegar that has not been pasteurized.  And that’s a good thing – refer to my post about our bacteria buddies.  Anyways.  ACV can be used as a hair rinse – restores Ph levels to your hair after washing; or as an astringent; or for a great many other things such as to clean your dentures and get rid of your partner’s dandruff, for example.  When I was in my third trimester, I drank it, diluted in a glass of water, to help with heartburn on a daily basis.

Those are the big three.  With them you can pretty much take care of your skin, your hair, your house, your sex life, and more.  Add in a few essential oils like Tea Tree Oil or a flower essence, and you’re golden.

Happy Mushroom

Ultra-Sounds: Ultra Safe?

Surely you’ve seen the pics on Facebook of your friends’ adorable fetuses.  Ok, not really adorable, let’s be honest here, they look weird crosses between the non-Arnold Terminator and the alien from Alien. But, to their parents at least, those first pictures of Junior couldn’t be more precious.

It seems so routine: of course you’ll have an ultrasound, everyone does, why the hell wouldn’t you?  Well, no one talks about why you wouldn’t, so I am going to do just that.  You don’t need to hear the pro’s; you may want to ponder the con’s a bit.

The main con: we just don’t know that much about the risks and possible negative effects of ultrasounds.  After all, they’re pretty new in the grand scheme of things, and fetuses aren’t that communicative – how would they tell us if something hurt or bothered them?  Squirm is about the only thing they could do (which, actually, seems to happen a lot during ultrasounds).

The official, mainstream line is that ultrasounds carry zero risks.  However there is good reason to doubt this.

This article very thoroughly describes the evidence that repeat ultrasounds may very well be a cause of permanent, long-term harm to the fetus.  Basically, studies showing that ultrasounds are safe took place with equipment made before 1992, which had much lower output levels (six to eight times lower that today’s).  These days, we use new equipment, and no large studies have been conducted with this new equipment.  That’s reason enough for pause, if you ask me.  The article describes a few small studies the results of which suggest ultrasounds carry serious risks to the fetus: “Single or small studies on humans exposed to ultrasound have shown that possible adverse effects include premature ovulation, preterm labor or miscarriage, low birth weight, poorer condition at birth, perinatal death, dyslexia, delayed speech development, and less right-handedness.”  Many other studies, however, have indicated that there are no risks.  Bottom line: we need new studies.  Until we have them, we can’t be sure ultrasounds are safe.

In this article from Midwifery Today – a great resource, BTW – a possible link between the increase in prenatal ultrasound and autism is suggested.  Of note: “The research, funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, also implicated ultrasound in neurodevelopmental problems in children, such as dyslexia, epilepsy, mental retardation and schizophrenia, and showed that damage to brain cells increased with longer exposures.”

Let me be clear: there is no proven link between ultrasounds and any illness, disease, or defect.  But there is no proof that ultrasounds are safe, either.  Given that there is no medical benefit to repeat ultrasounds in the vast majority of cases, why have them, once you are informed of the facts (or lack thereof)?  Just so you can visually confirm that, yep, the little Alien is still there?  It just doesn’t make sense.

My two cents is that if you really want to know gender (though there are lots of reasons NOT to… topic of a future post), then get the one ultrasound.  After that, don’t get any more unless medically indicated.  If offered the ultrasound at a routine exam, simply say you’d rather not.  If someone has a problem with that, they’d better have a good reason — one that doesn’t include paying for the ultrasound equipment and the technician’s salary.

Long-Term Planning: Maternity Leave

BLUF: Decide NOW if you’re going to be a selfish, careerist mother who never sees her children, OR a lame, doormat, stay-at-home mother who doesn’t contribute to society other than wiping butts.

It is never too early to start thinking about what will change in your life once baby gets here.  I started thinking about it about fifteen years before I got pregnant.  Most women do: we live in a society where we are often forced to make an unnecessary and unnatural choice between having a career and being the kind of parent we want to be.

Why unnecessary and unnatural?  Let’s tackle “natural” first: only in the last few hundred years has the idea of separating mothers from infants so that mom could go back to work reared its ugly head.  Think about our ancestors (no, not your Great-Aunt Verna, a lot farther back).  Those who hunted and gathered.  What did mom do after she recovered from birth?  She put baby on her back or hip and went about her business of hunting and gathering, alongside other women and children.  Even later, after we (and by we, I mean women) invented agriculture, women continued to bring baby to work, with baby tied to her back or in a cute little wicker basket at arms’ reach.   To repeat: it’s a very recent notion that having a baby at her side somehow impedes a woman’s ability to be a productive member of society.  And when you think about it, it’s also really dumb.

Why unnecessary?  Because even though we are no longer hunters and gatherers, we could still keep moms and babies together without hurting moms’ careers.  We could. If we wanted to.  Some companies do want to, and encourage new moms to bring their babies to work.  And, oh, there’s all those other countries out there that somehow find a way to allow parents (yes, dads too!) to get to know their progeny a bit before passing them off to another person.

                Baby at Work        

We could offer part-time and telecommuting options to all moms.  We could have childcare centers located in every office building, at the very least.  We could, as a society, recognize that it’s in everyone’s interest to allow mother/infant bonding take place for longer than like two weeks.  And hopefully, that day will come…. But in the meantime, we gotta deal with what we have.  Which, often, is, a workplace policy that boils down to: “Come back to work as soon as you can control the bleeding from your vagina, and just pretend like it’s totally OK for someone else to be caring for the person who now means more to you than life itself…”

The sad thing is we get the message that it’s normal for moms and newborns to be separated, to the point that we convince ourselves that sadness at separation is just part of the package, that we just need to toughen up and repeat cheerfully: “Baby will be FINE!!!”  Well, yes, baby will survive.  But let’s not kid ourselves: separation from mom is stressful for baby.  Babies know and recognize their mothers’ voices and smell at birth.  When they are physically separated from their mothers for even a few minutes, their heart-rates go up, their cortisol levels go up, and they start craving a Malboro Light or fantasizing about shopping sprees.  Basically, instead of the usual “Where the hell have I landed?“ attitude of normal newborns, they have a “Where the hell have I landed and why am I missing the one thing that makes me feel ok?” attitude.

So it’s good for baby to be with mom.  It’s also good for mom to be with baby.  Bonding, recovering from childbirth, resting, getting to know baby, all of these are really good things, and very rare in the course of one’s lifetime, unless you plan on breeding like a Catholic or something.

Ok, back to long-term planning: the question you would do well to think about NOW is: how long do I want to be able to care for my baby full-time?  What can I do to ensure that I have the most possible time after birth before having to be physically separated from baby?  What’s my workplace maternity leave policy?  What about vacation days?  Sick days?  Unpaid leave?  Going to part-time?  Will I need to remortgage the house?  Sell pictures of my nude pregnant body to freaks on the internet?  Basically, what are my options?

And here my advice would be to go all-out.  If money is the issue (and isn’t it always), don’t start the college savings plan.  Don’t take that cruise.  Don’t upgrade your house or your car.  Shit, move in with family if that’s what it takes.

Pre-mommyhood, I had a work colleague who had recently had a baby and returned to the office.  I found her crying in the bathroom and asked what was the matter, and she told me that she just missed her baby so much it felt like her heart was breaking to be away from her all day.  That she had had no idea what it would be like, before baby was born, that this was like the most extreme kind of infatuation, where all you can think about is the baby, all you want to do is be around him, touch  him, smell him, look at him, be with him.   Poor lady cried almost every day for weeks.  Eventually, she got used to it, I suppose, and that’s what society tells us we’re supposed to do –  harden our hearts rather than give in to the profound need to care for our newborns.  But it ain’t right.  It ain’t natural.  After all, if we didn’t have this instinctive desire to care for our babies, we wouldn’t have made it as a species, would we?  We are hard-wired to NEED to be around our babies for quite a while, and to go against that is to mess with our psyches as well as our babies’.

But here’s the rub: we aren’t meant to stay at home alone with our babies either.  Human adults need daily interaction with other adults, and we need to feel like we contribute in valuable ways to our community.  So staying at home alone with your baby for months and months and months (even with the occasional trip to the grocery store) is likely to lead to almost as much craziness and heartache as leaving baby in another’s care.  And I think that’s why we find plenty of moms who are relieved to be going back to work, even though they often feel guilty about leaving their babies and regret that they won’t care for them themselves.  For many women, it’s a really shitty choice: go to work and miss your baby, or stay at home with baby and go crazy from lack of stimulation (getting barfed and pooped on notwithstanding) and adult companionship.

So my advice is: have a plan that allows as much of both as possible.  Frankly though, for the first 3 months, you won’t need a whole lot of other adults around.  One adult, ideally in the form of a mate, plus all those visits by people who want to hold your baby and cough on them, etc., will most likely provide all the adult companionship you need.  After that, the ideal would be to return gradually to work while remaining physically close to baby as much as possible.

Key point: don’t underestimate how deeply you’ll fall in love with the little stinker, how long you’ll want to be his sole caregiver, and how backed up by science and research those mommy instincts are.

ETA: If you want to do something about the lack of paid maternity leave in the US, sign this petition and support MomsRising’s work!  http://action.momsrising.org/sign/THE_FAMILY_ACT/

Quick, Start Now!

So you’re preggo.  Yay!  It’s not too early to start the “trying-not-to-mess-up-too-badly” process that will define the rest of your activities henceforth (but no pressure).

Here is something you can start doing right now and which may pay great dividends down the road: fix your gut biota.

WTF is gut biota?

Bacteria

It’s the miiiiiilllllioooons of bacteria that live inside your digestive system and which play a huge, and mostly unrecognized and unappreciated role in your health.  The “unrecognized” part is beginning to change: just this morning NPR did a report on the role of gut bacteria in mental health (click the link just to see the very cute drawing of gut bacteria – might look nice in a nursery.  Oh and there’s an even cuter cartoon!).  The short of it is: the number and especially nature of the bacteria in your gut are REALLY REALLY important.  They affect not just your digestive system but many other parts of your body, including  your brain.  This TED talk gives a cool overview of what bacteria in your body are, and goes into how they communicate and other kind of unbelievable stuff… Just watch the first 5 minutes, at least.

Why is this important to pregnant chicks?  Because, get this: we inherit our gut bacteria from our moms.  Brace yourself, because this is a little gross.  In utero, fetuses supposedly have a “virgin gut” meaning it is free of all bacteria (and actually this is being disputed as there is evidence that even fetuses have bacteria, despite placenta, etc.).  Traditionally, the first bacteria that babies get, and which subsequently begin to colonize their tiny cute little baby intestines, gets there before they are even born.  Actually during birth itself: as baby squirms through the vaginal canal, she’s rubbing her face in the bacteria-rich surface, and some gets in her mouth, is swallowed, and voila, a colony is established.

Now here’s the thing: if mom has unhealthy bacteria, she will pass unhealthy bacteria to baby.  So we’ll have evil colonizers taking over baby’s gut and doing bad things there.  Kind of like Belgians in the Congo.  This is no small matter: unhealthy gut flora is being linked to more and more health problems, including obesity, arthritis, dementiaautism, and much more.  Remember this is a brand-new area of medical research.  It hasn’t gotten much attention because there’s not a whole lot of financial incentive for drug companies, at least not yet.

How do you know if you have unhealthy gut biota?  Answer the following questions:

1) Have  you ever been on antibiotics?

2) Were you breastfed?

3) Was your mother breastfed?

4) Were you born via C-section?

5) Do you eat processed foods?

6) Do you eat lots of grains and carbs?

7) Are foods containing live cultures part of your daily diet?

If you answered: No, Yes, Yes, No, No, No, Yes, then congratulations, your gut flora vie with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in beauty, abundance and balance.  If you didn’t answer in that exact sequence, chances are you have less-than-optimal gut bacteria, and you are about to pass them down to your innocent babe.

Let me clarify one point, lest you think the best choice at this point might be to avoid the whole baby’s-mouth-in-vagina thing by opting for the C-section route: it’s worse for baby not to get any of mom’s vaginal flora than for her to get sub-optimal flora.  In any case, even if you do have a Caesarian, your bacteria will be passed down through breastmilk to your baby.  (And of course you plan on breastfeeding, what are you, a FREAKING COMMUNIST?)

So what is to be done?  The one easiest thing to do is simply to add fermented products to your diet, starting TODAY.  Examples of products with live cultures (bacteria) are:

- Kimchee

- Homemade sauerkraut

- Homemade yoghurt

- Kombucha

- Unpasteurized cheeses (which are basically illegal in the US, so plan on moving to France)

Other stuff, too.  But beware: not all foods that claim to have live cultures actually do.  E.g. yoghurt.  Studies have found that even those yoghurt brands that claim to be full of pre and pro biotics actually… aren’t.  Maybe they are in the factory, but by the time they reach the consumer, the little buggers are gone.  Your best shot when it comes to yoghurt is plain, unsweetened organic yoghurt.

Absolute easiest thing to do?  Buy kimchee, eat a spoonful every morning with your fried eggs.  Buy unflavored, unsweetened yoghurt and add a bit of raw honey, eat some every day.  If available, choose Kombucha over juice or softdrink.  Just doing those three things should start improving the lives of the oppressed, downtrodden, victimized, good bacteria and diminishing the numbers of the evil Belgian overlord bacteria.

Second thing to do is reduce the proportion of carbohydrates in your diet.  This is good to do anyway because you don’t get much nutrition from carbs anyhow, just empty calories.  But more importantly, carbs are what the bad bacteria love: when you feed yourself carbs, you’re feeding the bad guys.  Feed yourself meats, healthy fats, veggies, nuts, and fruit, and the good guys flourish.

BTW, if this sounds a lot like the Paleo Diet, that’s cause it is.  Except that most people forget that Fred and Wilma didn’t own a fridge or freezer, so a lot of what they ate was… ah… shall we say “fermented.”  And though some kinds of fermentation (rot) are gross, others are not only tasty, but necessary to our health.

So start fixing your gut!  Down with the Evil Belgian Colonizers!!!

Belgian Colonizers

Update: if you like science, and stuff, definitely read this: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/08/23/trimester-pregnancy-affects-baby-health.aspx