The gift of today

As time passes, it is clearer and clearer to me that the most important work we have to do upon this earth is in loving, and showing love to, and caring for the people around us, starting from the people closest to us.

I am very privileged in this sense, at this season of my life. I have many people to love. I have little children at home, who need me many hours out of each day, and therefore I have no lack of opportunity to give love and care in a thousand practical ways. I also get to stay home and do all those things myself. My children never had a diaper changed by anybody else but me and their dad, except perhaps occasionally a grandma.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not some kind of perfect person. I have low tolerance for whining. I snap if a child shows open disobedience. I have all these hobbies and projects and things I like to do on my own, and like every mother of young children, I sometimes desperately wish for a good long restful stretch of quiet time.

But then I look back at the time when Shira was a baby and motherhood was new and overwhelming and I cried because I felt as though I’d never sleep again. Now she’s a 9-year-old who reads, writes, learns, works on her own projects, has her own friends and folds her own socks. She can do the dishes, wash the floor, and fry eggs. I have no idea how this happened, but facts are staring me in the face. It’s bittersweet, really. Seasons chase seasons, and as much as I’d want to stop time, even for a day, I can’t.

All I can do is enjoy. Enjoy the little downy head that is resting on my chest. Enjoy the playdough art and creative spelling. Enjoy the child who is small enough to sit on my lap, because someday soon he won’t be. Enjoy the full house, because one day these little birds will fly out to make their own nest.

Live, love and enjoy the gift. The gift of today.

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Nursing on demand and parental authority

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There is a lady who writes in an Israeli magazine, whose articles on parenting I always look forward to. She speaks a lot about parental authority, delegating responsibilities to children, resisting worldly influences and other subjects I find instructive. Her most recent article was no exception. She lamented the fact that so many parents are encouraged to choose the so-called “child-centered” lifestyle, becoming slaves to the child’s choice of friends, clothes, toys, extra-curricular activities, and… nursing on demand.

Nursing a newborn on demand? Why, yes. “In the past,” she writes, “new mothers were told to breastfeed according to a schedule. Now it is recommended that you do it whenever the baby feels like it.”

I felt compelled to send this lady a personal email, in which I pointed out that all the examples she used in her article were good ones, except nursing on demand, which in no way “spoils” the baby or harms the mother’s authority. Quite simply, the fact that the recommendations in hospitals changed is due to finding out that nursing on demand (or rather, on cue) is actually the easiest and most intuitive way to establish successful breastfeeding – which is important not only for the baby, but for the mother’s health as well; try skipping a feeding for the sake of a schedule and you may end up with painful engorgement, complete with a plugged duct and high fever.

She wrote back. Her response was polite but self-assured. “Our mothers breastfed on schedule,” she said, “and we turned out a lot better brought up than the current generation of children.” True? Perhaps. Cause and effect? Not in the least.

I responded and said that, indeed, our mothers were told to breastfeed on schedule – and not coincidentally, it was a generation of formula-feeders. My mother-in-law, for example, was told to breastfeed her newborns every 4 hours. No more, no less. Baby is crying? Let him cry until the set hour. Baby is sleeping and you are thinking of taking a nap yourself? No way – wake him up to nurse. Unsurprisingly, her milk “just ran out” after 1 month, after which she had to give her children’s cow’s milk (as formula wasn’t readily available), and  many years later told me how she “was one of those women who just couldn’t produce enough”.

I also heartily recommended this lady to discuss the matter with a lactation consultant, and to consider all the facts. After all, it is a pity if a new mother who threw feeding schedules out of the window reads her article and thinks, “what if I’m spoiling the baby? What about my ‘authority’ as a parent?”

Imagine the following situation. It’s nearly evening, and I’m busy making dinner. A five-year-old is hanging around and says, “Mom, I’m hungry.” “Dinner will be ready in an hour,” I say. “But I’m still hungry,” she insists. “Alright, then,” I say, “if you feel you really need to eat something right now, you can get yourself an apple.” She proceeds to do so, and settles down with her little snack while I continue making dinner in peace.

Does the exchange above make my household “child-centered”? No. Does it make me less of an authority figure as a parent? No. Would it be better if I barked at my little child, “wait for dinner!”? Again, no. By the way, those who have been reading this blog for a while know I’m very much in favor of regular family meals. But if I get myself an unscheduled snack, sometimes before dinner or right before bedtime, and find it acceptable, why should I refuse when it comes to my children? I’m not speaking about things like sweets and cakes, of course, but about an apple before dinner or a slice of cheese before bedtime.

So what is the difference when we’re talking about a baby? A baby is completely dependent. She cannot get up and get her own snack. She cannot communicate her needs in words or negotiate. All she can do is signal to me that she needs to be picked up and fed – which, if the baby is exclusively breastfed, can only be done by me. So there is no getting around the fact that I must, indeed, nurse when the baby needs it, not when it is most convenient for me. This has nothing to do with authority, and everything with meeting the most basic need of a tiny human being.

Think of a novel concept: scheduled diaper-changing. After all, why must we be slaves to the baby’s whimsical schedule of bowel movements or wet diapers? Why must we hurry with a new diaper in hand every time? As parents, we are the leaders, and thus the baby must follow. She must learn that she is part of a family, and adapt to the family schedule. Thus, from now on, diapers will be changed – regardless of how wet or dirty they are – five times a day, at set intervals, and once at night. Try this for a few days, and you will see how your baby soon stops crying because of a messy diaper!

Sounds ridiculous? Of course. But in my eyes, this concept really is no different from feeding on cue vs. feeding on schedule. Some day, your baby will be able to go to the bathroom without your help. Some day, she will open the fridge and make herself a sandwich. But babies need their parents to provide those primary needs, and it is the parents’ job to do so.

Hadassah

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Just a little update on how we are doing…

After lots of thinking, and staring at the baby’s precious face, asking, “how shall we name you, little one?” we’ve chosen the name Hadassah. She is one of the calmest, most peaceful babies I have ever seen. She can be just quietly settled in my arms for a long time, looking at me, and all around, with a beautiful and intelligent stare.

Life around here is settling into what I call the happy newborn mess stage. Everything is going in many directions, and days and nights are almost equally chaotic, but this is a happy time.

I look forward to writing more here (and elsewhere) soon.

My Little One (the last few days before birth)

For those of you who may be wondering – yes, I’m still hanging in there! There’s about a week and a half to go until my due date, and I’m hovering between frustrated thoughts (“I just want this to be over!”) and panic flutters (“Thanks goodness it wasn’t The Real Thing yet…”). Either way, the only way is forward!

I’m trying to take advantage of these last days to refresh my relaxation techniques and do, see and think of calming and beautiful things – and also to enjoy this final stage of us as a family of five, before our status quo changes; while we can all still fit into our little car, rather than juggle traveling in batches; while I can still ‘baby’ my son, Israel, who will soon be a big brother.

I wanted to share the following poem, which I wrote to Israel when he was just under 18 months old. I have so enjoyed, and am enjoying, every moment with him, from changing those first little diapers to now teaching him his first letters (at his request!), drawing with him, and roaming outside (as much as my watermelon-like belly will allow):

***

Rest next to me, my little one.
There will be time to get up and go on;
But for now, just sleep next to me,
My little one.
Play with me, my little one.
There will be time for serious things,
But for now, let’s play together,
My little one.
Walk with me, my little one.
A time will come and you will run far,
But for now, just walk with me,
My little one.
Let’s tell a story, my little one.
There will be time to face the world.
But for now, let it all be magic,
My little one.
Give me your hand, my little one.
A time will come when you’ll have to let go,
But for now, let’s hold hands,
My little one.
***
Painting: Picking Daisies by Hermann Seeger, 1905

Birth choices and their price

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I’m now entering my last month of pregnancy, and while I’ve done this three times already, about the only things I can be pretty sure of are – labor is going to hurt, and I’ll have a baby in the end. Otherwise, it’s still plunging deep into the vast ocean of the unknown, every single time. You have no way to predict how it’s going to go.

I’m terrified of giving birth. It’s physically rigorous, it’s traumatic, and it reduces me to a semi-conscious, barely articulate being that has very little in common with my usual rational self. Also, no matter how many times I do it, I will never be able to comprehend how on earth a baby can be squeezed out of there. When I think that I’ve done it and was up and about a mere couple of hours later, it’s  a miracle.

I won’t lie, I’ve been considering an epidural – or even an elective C-section – to help with pain and the extreme anxiety I experience each time, and to avoid finding myself in that unpredictable out-of-control place. But my fear of needles and surgical procedures is even greater than of giving birth, and it doesn’t seem this fear is so very irrational.

What makes me even more suspicious is that the medical staff always, without fail, portrays epidurals as something 99.9999% safe and effective, with only a minuscule portion of side effects. The anecdotal evidence of countless birth stories (because, remember, I live in a society where everyone has a lot of babies all the time) paints a different picture. It’s true that serious complications from epidurals are rare, but I have heard a fair share of stories of inadequate pain relief (with limited capability to move and deal with the pain in different ways), headaches and backaches that have lasted any time from a few days to a few weeks, prolonged and ill-controlled pushing, and prolonged recovery. A friend actually told me how she opted for an epidural, and there wasn’t time to get one – they had just inserted the needle, but didn’t even give her the drip yet when the baby was born – and the placement of the needle itself had hurt the nerves of the spinal cord, leading to back pains that have lasted for 10 years (!).

Fact: the placement of the epidural is a delicate procedure performed by humans. Humans are not infallible. Things can go wrong, and it’s silly to ignore this.

Did these women go to their health care provider and complain of the ill effects? Many did, certainly. The overwhelming majority of them received the same response: “You can’t really prove this was because of the epidural.”

You know what this sounds like? Like sweeping evidence under the rug.

The truth, I believe, is that the medical establishment does not really want to look at how widespread the side effects are, because it would necessitate gearing the whole system anew. Epidurals are extremely staff-friendly. Once a laboring mother gets one, and is hooked to monitors, etc, she can basically be left alone for hours in a quiet, undemanding state, because she is relatively pain-free and comfortable. A system that provides alternative means of pain relief on a more widespread basis would have to be more active, caring, and focused on the mother. It would mean more attention from midwives, more listening to the patient’s wishes, and more accommodations in the way of turning each L&D ward into a mini-natural birth center.

Fact: while a controlled hospital environment, intermittent fetal monitoring, the presence of doctors nearby, and the availability of NICU potentially increase the safety of childbirth for mother and baby, epidurals do not. Not even doctors claim that epidurals make a birth safer, or provide better outcomes. It’s 100% about pain management and comfort.

Plus, while in Israel women don’t pay for epidurals or C-sections, it doesn’t mean that this stuff comes free. Someone funds it, and that someone is the government (which, of course, is in its turn funded by our taxes). I’ve birthed, so far, with nobody present but a midwife to catch the baby, and no fancier equipment than a birthing ball and a shower with a jet of hot water. Midwives, showers and birthing balls are a lot less expensive than anaesthesiologists, surgeons and I.V. drips, and every hospital receives a fat check for each medicated and/or surgical birth. Less women who opt for epidurals means less money for hospitals and less employment for anaesthesiologists.

Don’t get me wrong, I think epidurals should be available to every woman who requests them, without question. Labor is a hugely individual thing, and what is manageable for some is impossible agony for others. If a woman is actually going through hell, or has gone through hell in a past birth, she might well decide that the risk of longer recovery or a few weeks of migraines are worth it. Some women would probably never have more than one child if it weren’t for the possibility of medical pain relief. I think it’s despicable and unethical that in some countries, natural birth is viewed not as the mother’s choice, but as a way to save money for the government.

I’d say that if the birthing mother wants something – an epidural, a massage, whale music, candles, a doula, her mom, a yoga instructor – everyone around her should do everything to support her choice and give her what she needs, or even thinks she needs, because the psychological factor plays a huge role. It has to be the woman’s choice. But it must be an informed choice.

Counting the weeks

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Weeks are slipping by, and before I could see this coming, I’m already past the halfway of my pregnancy – around 22 weeks along. I’m due at the end of March which might not tell you much if you’re not Jewish, but this year it roughly coincides with the Pesach holiday – the most frantic time of the year in Jewish households all over the world.

I’m sure it’s going to be challenging. One of the names of Pesach is “the liberty holiday”, and I can fully identify with it as each year, I lift my arms up in prayer and thank G-d for finally bringing this day about and delivering me from the frantic incessant cleaning of cupboards, kitchen appliances, and any nook and cranny you can imagine.

Doing it while 9 months pregnant? I haven’t tried this yet, but it sure might help labor kick in. Oh, and I won’t be able to stock my freezer with ready meals either, because anything cooked in non-Pesach utensils would be of course tossed out before the holiday. And where am I going to spend the holiday itself? In L&D, in the maternity ward, at home with a newborn? Who’s going to cook? In short, I look forward to going through this and living to tell the tale.

In the meantime, here’s a little flashback to some three years ago, when I was expecting Israel to arrive any day:

***
“Being just a few days before my due date, I’m of course busy with things like washing tiny clothes and packing my hospital bag, but if you ask what I’ve been doing most of all in the past month and a half, the answer would be, fretting and worrying about the upcoming birth.

All sorts of crazy thoughts are swirling in my brain:

How on earth do babies come out of there? It doesn’t make any sense! (Never mind that I’ve had two babies come out just that way, with no complications, very straightforward. I think I can have ten babies and never fully grasp the sheer miracle of it.)

Whatever made me think I can do this? I’m sure I can’t. It will kill me. My body will fall apart. (Again, never mind I’ve already done this and was up and about the next day).

I don’t want to be there. It’s not the pain I’m afraid of, it’s the enormity of the act itself, it’s just freaking scary. I don’t want to be aware of what is happening to me. Someone please put me under general anesthesia and wake me up when the baby has arrived. 
 

I’ve been suffering from insomnia. I haven’t been able to really focus on anything productive. I’ve been having heart palpitations and shortness of breath and panicky thoughts that can amount roughly to, SOMEONE STOP THIS TRAIN NOW, I WANT OFF!

My husband reminded me that I’ve had the same fears before, and that when I actually got into the last few days before labor, I experienced a feeling of calm, relaxation, faith and confidence. He’s right – I guess it’s part of the hormonal alchemy that indicates my readiness to go into labor.

Last night, I came across the most beautiful, amazing, encouraging and peaceful birth story I’ve ever read. It was just incredible how something clicked into place once I’ve read it. For the first time in many weeks, I was able to go to sleep at night peacefully, without sitting up in bed for a long time, gasping for air and moaning, “I can’t do this! I can’t! Perhaps it’s not too late to schedule a C-section?”

 
I invite you, too, to read and be inspired.”

Not all on our own

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Image: exhausted mom
Reading this excellent post made me think about many things. In essence I agree; Me Time is often over-emphasized, over-rated and, worst of all, over-indulged, as in the notion that you are allowed to do almost anything that will make you “happy” or more comfortable.

However, it is true that motherhood can be draining. It is a joy, it is the greatest project of my life, but it is also hard, hard work 24/7. I will even venture to say that so far, things haven’t even really become easier as the children grow. The challenges are simply different. Sure, I get more sleep now than I did when I had newborns, and my day is more orderly, but frankly, breastfeeding and changing diapers was more… straightforward than handling some of the behavioral problems and educational choices we are facing now.

Before we reminisce about how our great-grandmothers did it all on their own and didn’t ask for any help or time off, I would like to step in and say I don’t believe it was the case at all. Childcare wasn’t the exclusive task of the mother. Our great-grandmothers lived in a much more supportive community, and often close to family who could offer some help. A woman of that time could, perhaps, see her mother on a daily basis; or perhaps she lived near her sister, who had children of the same age, and each of them could take a turn watching the little ones. Or if there was no family nearby, neighbors would often step into its place. I’m not saying it always happened, but it was common.

When my two eldest children were toddlers, I had basically two choices: either I stay home with them all day, every day, no breaks (my husband worked long hours) – or I put them in daycare and I’m away from them all day, every day. But I didn’t want or need to be away from my children all day; I only needed an occasional break to refresh me and provide some variety. So I always had them at home with me, for better or worse.

In the past, it was common to let young children play outside and explore on their own – such young children that today it would be considered criminal neglect. The outdoors were safer, and there was almost always some responsible adult outside at every hour of the day.

My great-grandmother used to have a maid. Not a live-in maid, but someone who came on a regular basis and helped around the house. You will say, “it may be so, but she didn’t have a washing machine.” That is true – however, according to my Grandma, the children wore the same clothes all week and only got clean ones for Shabbat. You can imagine how those clothes looked at the end of the week (there were five boys in that family!). Can you imagine not giving your child fresh clothes to wear every day, perhaps more than once a day? If my daughters get a little stain or spill on their clothes – and it happens often, as you can imagine – they start to wail and beg for a change, and sometimes I have to put my foot down, especially if it happens an hour before bath-time.

So what is my point? Feeling tired and drained is bad enough. Feeling guilty because you are tired and drained and you don’t think you are supposed to feel this way is far, far worse. It is perfectly normal to want to feel refreshed and rejuvenated by doing something different. This doesn’t always have to involve spending time away from your family – I have learned to say yes to my husband’s offers of little escapades in the middle of the week, even if there are dishes piled up in the sink.

I have learned to put my feet up in the middle of the day for a short while, and to lock the bedroom door and say, “Mommy is resting”. Usually this means only a few minutes of lying down, with or without a book, but sometimes I manage to steal a cat nap.

I have also learned to enjoy my children more, and to participate in their fun activities rather than frantically say, “oh, good, they are occupied. Now let’s proceed to the next thing on the to-do list.”

I know there are moms out there who are struggling; who live far away from any family, and in places where it is uncommon to rely on friends or neighbors. Who spend all day, every day with their children and are so exhausted that a day in the office may seem like heaven sometimes. What I would like to say that it is normal to feel tired. It is normal to want help. And if you live in the way many live these days – a relatively isolated nuclear family – your best and only source of help will probably be your husband.

Before you feel guilty (“he has been working all day!”), remember that a break can mean not only putting your feet up, but also simply doing something different from what you did all day. I used to be all of a “no, no, let me, I’ll do everything” person. But then I realized that after my husband comes home, or on weekends – after he has had time to eat and rest, and do some of his own stuff, of course – he is perfectly happy to take charge of some childcare and household tasks, and doesn’t see that as a burden. There is a novelty in that to him, because it’s a change from what he has been doing all day and all week.

Would you go into the kitchen late in the evening and start cooking? I wouldn’t, because by late evening I have seen enough of the kitchen for the day. But my husband is often inspired to cook or bake after he has come home from work, or on Fridays. For him, it’s recreation, not a chore. Also, often I’ll have tired, squabbling kids in the evening, but the moment there’s a knock on the door, they run swift as the wind to open and are so good and happy when they are around their father. Why? Because we all benefit from a change. The children, too.

I realize there are also single mothers (and often not by choice) out there. My heart truly goes out to them and I hope they, too, find the right healing balance for themselves and their children.