Friday, March 18, 2005

Mammary Madness*

*Originally published at MetroDad

Remember how I warned all ya'll that so much of the advice we're given for parenthood runs counter to CFS (aka Common Fucking Sense)? Nowhere is this more apparent than in the furor around breastfeeding.

This is far, far, far from a new topic - in fact, Metrodad already touched on this in a previous entry but it seemed as if he and BossLady had a far easier time adjusting to the reality of breastfeeding than what Sam and I have gone through (ok, really Sam since technically, my breasts don't lactate). More to the point, the pressures that exist for newborn mothers around breastfeeding are a classic example of how good intentions destroys CFS and creates neurotic wrecks in the process.

Call 'em the La Leche Legion, the Boobie Brigade, Titty Tyrants or just plain Breast Feeding Fascists (BFF - yes, I like acronyms) but the pro-breastfeeding lobby in America is not to be fucked with. In all the books we got prior to L's birth, breastfeeding is talked up with such passion that new moms who dare to consider bottle-feeding formula come off seeming like their feeding their kids broken glass.

The irony here is that part of why BFFs are so insistent on breastfeeding is precisely because the pro-formula lobby, up until the last 10-15 years or so, had ruled the day in what seems to me to be a classic example of a loss of CFS as well.After all, why in the world would anyone encourage moms NOT to breastfeed and use formula instead if the human female body has a whole goddamn biological sub-system specifically built for the task?

What, you think evolution created mammary glands just to give straight men something to stare at? Like breasts are optional equipment on your body that you can choose to disregard just because science thinks it's improved on the product? If your body went through all the trouble to create breasts that actually lactate (a rather remarkable thing, in and of itself), you'd think this was Nature's way of telling you to use what you got rather than cracking open another Similac can.

I want to be careful here not to diss formula since, as MD points out, most people in our generation of now 30-year olds were probably formula-fed and we didn't turn out bad because of it (well, except for that weird rash I still have...oh, never mind). However, I can appreciate that BFFs are trying to counter the last few generations of pro-formula attitudes and get baby's back on the breast because it's better for them. I'm not mad at that.

The problem is that as a necessary condition of being breast-friendly, there's a subtle demonization for formula and bottle-feeding that goes with it. It's not in-your-face, but it's easy enough to read between the lines in all the new parenting books that are out there, as well as the attitude of lactation consultants who will come visit you the first few days post-partum. No one will say, "don't give your baby a bottle of formula" but for PIPs (remember: paranoid, inexperienced parents), we excel at building mountains from molehills so we blow everything out of proportion.

For Sam and I, we had a terrible experience with this. She was able to breastfeed right after L was born and for the first day or so, everything seemed fine. Sam was producing colostrum, that early breastmilk that's apparently the best-thing-ever for newborns and L seemed happy enough with it. But by day 3, L seemed to be getting really fussy and nothing we could do - feeding her, swaddling her, rocking her - seemed to do much good for more than a few minutes. It was really wearing Sam and I down, especially as new parents who hadn't been sleeping at all the previous three days. Most of all, we just couldn't figure out what the fuck was going on. Babies, in theory, are supposed to sleep 90% of the time when they're first born but L was fussing what felt like half the day.

At the time, my mom was visiting and she basically spent 5 minutes with L and declared, "she's hungry" like it's the most obvious thing in the world. Now - I have some serious Mom issues and therefore, I have gotten into the habit of disbelieving any advice that comes out of her mouth so in this case, I just tuned her out.

But the truth was - L was hungry because Sam's milk hadn't come in yet. This isn't unusual at all - it's not like all women give birth and then start churning out more milk than a dairy farm. It can take days for production to match demand, let alone for mom/baby to master the art of latching. However, Sam was so insistent that we only breastfeed that everytime anyone (including myself) quietly suggested that we might want to consider using some of the formula we brought home with us, she became quickly defensive and despondant, as if those little Similac bottles were mocking her deficiencies as a mom.Clearly, this was partially Sam's neuroses as a PIP at work but it was also heavily influenced by the success that BFFs have wrought on new moms everywhere. The bottle is treated with a quiet disdain and it absolutely influenced Sam and my behavior the first month of parenthood.

What we ended up doing that entire day was starving L unnecessarily. She was nursing at the breast but wasn't actually getting anything out of it and it's no wonder she was so fussy that whole day. By the time we met with a lactation consultant the next day, she assured us that it was fine to formula-feed L as a supplement and for us to not stress about it. Upon which, fully fed, L actually, you know, SLEPT and Sam and I felt a great weight lifted from upon our shoulders. I cannot adequately describe this but I had never felt so relieved in my life.

It also could have been worse. When I started mentioning this episode to other friends, I realized how incredibly common it was. Clearly, Sam and I weren't the only stupid morons out there, caught up in BFF. One friend told me that his cousin had done the same thing, only that their baby had to be taken to the hospital for dehydration. Whoa! Luckily, L was spared a trip to the ER but for days after, Sam and I were convinced we had indelibly scarred her for life by starving her for the day. No doubt, this will emerge as a subconscious trauma for L when she starts going to therapy in 2027.

What's particularly crazy about all this is that all we really needed to hear was for a book or person to just tell us, "breastfeeding is hard and you'll be confronted with challenges with it. Don't feel bad using formula to help get you by." I wonder if BFFs are so worried that parents might abandon breastfeeding altogether if they're not militant about it, but very few of them are ever real with you about the reality that, for some women, milk production can be a challenge and there's nothing you can do about it, despite better intentions.

Ironically, when I suggested Sam attend a breastfeeding support group at our delivery hospital, this ended up making things worse since Sam felt like she was in a room filled with mothers lactating like friggin' cattle - pumping out six ounces as if were no big deal - while she was having trouble even eeking out a third of that.

What's telling in all this is that the one authority figure around you who's fine with formula is usually your pediatrician. The baby's health and well-being, after all, is their first priority and I think it's telling that doctors don't seem, at all, bothered with the idea that a baby might be both breast and formula-fed so long as the operative word here is "fed." Makes you wonder how the BFFs ever became as powerful as they are.

By the way, if you really want to see people get downright nasty with one another about this whole debate, try reading the Craigslist forums on parenting. People who say the Bay Area is filled with congenial, laid back folk are clearly not appreciating that we have assholes here too.

As a postscript, now that we're about six weeks into parenthood, breastfeeding has become much easier than it initially was. Sam's still not producing enough breastmilk for us to start making brie from the excess or anything but she is making enough to keep L satiated plus a few ounces every day to store in the fridge for the late-night feedings I usually take care of.

Just remember though - if your baby is hungry and you're not producing enough milk, use CFS: give 'em the bottle to help fill in the gaps. It's absolutely nothing to feel guilty about, especially once your baby decides to stop screaming on you for starving him/her.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Sex and Salad*

*Originally published at MetroDad

I can't really speak for Sam (but I will anyways) about what pregnancy must be like, but based on what I observed, there seemed to be some distinct phases to her experience.

  • Initial Discovery aka "Holy shit, we're pregnant."

    Typical comments: "How the hell did this happen?" "Oh wait, maybe this has to do with me going off the pill last month." "Did I forget to tell you that?" "Oops."

  • First Trimester aka "I still can't believe we're pregnant."

    Typical comments: "This is so crazy." "Are we really ready to do this?" "What do you mean I can't eat soft cheese/sushi/raw shellfish or drink wine?"

  • Second Trimester (early) aka Starting to Show

    Typical comments: "Wow, I have a baby inside of me." "I hope people don't think I'm getting fat." "By the way, your mom called, she wants to know when we're getting married."

  • Second Trimester (late) aka Golden Days

    Typical comments: "This is really amazing." "She's kicking so hard - she's doing her little fan dance today." "By the way, your dad called, he wants to know when we're getting married."

  • Third Trimester aka Ok, Show's Over

    Typical Comments: "I hate wearing jeans with an elastic band - I'm not ready to wear 'mom' jeans!" "This was fun while it lasted but it better be over soon."

    ...and then comes the dreaded...

  • Post-mester aka Past Delivery Date

    Typical Comments: "How come she won't come out?" "Am I going to be pregnant forever?" "I'm giving her one more day than I'm yanking her out myself."

  • Sam was actually quite well-mannered through most of the pregnancy - until the 36th week. Then, she started to be convinced that L was no longer merely kicking, but had apparently smuggled a small shank into the womb and was now stabbing Sam in the cervix with it.

    We went to our midwife but he seemed convinced that L would be out any day now and that there was no reason to induce contractions through artificial means. Then he gave us the advice I knew was likely to come: "have you two tried sex?"

    For those who didn't know (or who never watched the penultimate season of Friends(1), there's some kind of hormone inside semen that can help initiate contractions. However, like getting pregnant itself, it helps to be able as much of the hormone as possible, which, in our case, meant trying to have sex three times a day.

    Don't get me wrong. I love sex with Sam (that's what got us into this situation to begin with). Moreover, I found Sam to be incredibly beautiful throughout the pregnancy, even when she had body issues with her transforming figure. However, sex during the last trimester introduced certain - shall we say - challenges that conflicted with my normal enjoyment of lovemaking.

    I won't get into all the details but part of it was that sex was now more physically awkward for obvious reasons. Certain positions just didn't work at all and more to the point, Sam was more sensitive (in a bad way) and the fear of potential pain doesn't do much to spice up the mood.

    There's also the issue of the baby and the fact that I'm hyper-aware of the fact that L is basically, you know, RIGHT DOWN THERE. It didn't help that prior to suggesting we rut like rabbit, our midwife also told us, "your baby has already dropped into the pelvic region. In fact, if you stick a finger inside, you can feel her head." What I translated that to mean was: "When making love to Sam, I'll practically be poking our daughter in her head with my penis."

    It just seemed so...disrespectful. However, Sam couldn't have been happier since she had been craving sex for weeks. The fact that sex could now be tasked with getting labor going only made it even more desirable. She was practically demanding "injections" as much as possible. most men, I've had my bouts of performance anxiety in the sack but suddenly, sex on demand, three times a day, with a 9-month old pregnant woman, was like psychological anti-Viagra for me. I was anxious, frustrated, and resentful, none of which are particularly helpful in encouraging climax. It got to the point where it was easier for me to "self-negotiate" and only insert to "complete." Believe me, this did not rank among my fonder masturbatory moments but much to my surprise, Sam was very appreciative of my willingness to make the effort, regardless of what it took.

    The problem was - all this effort was seemingly for naught. Labor still seemed like a far away fantasy despite our best efforts otherwise. That's when the salad came in.

    Sam's sister had heard of this "labor-inducing salad" sold at Caioti Pizza Cafe in Los Angeles. It's not so much the salad that is purported to work the magic but rather, the salad dressing, a basil vinaigrette. As urban lore goes, women who eat a salad with this dressing will go into labor within a couple of days. Sam's sis sent us a bottle of this stuff. Did it work?

    Let's put this way: on the sixth day after our original delivery date, we saw our midwife again. This time, he decided to help the process along by detaching a slight patch of the birth sac from the uterus. That tear also encourages the production of prostaglandin, the same hormone found in sperm to help induce contractions.

    Then we went home and I provided my own prostaglandin donation (taking one for the team) and then Sam ate the labor salad. Within six hours, she went into early labor and by the next day, L was here.

    Was it the sex? The salad? The midwife? Just L's time to arrive? Ah, the unanswerable mysteries of life.

    (1) I never liked Friends much but I would watch it on occasion, including the episode where Rachel, pregnant with Ross' love child, is tired of carrying the baby around and tries to seduce Ross into sleeping with her as a way to induce labor. I cannot express the shock I felt when the OB gave us similar advice since it now meant I actually had something in my actual life that related to an episode of Friends. Oh, the horror. The horror.

    --Poppa Large

    Wednesday, March 16, 2005

    The Lessons*

    *This and the next few postings originally were published through MetroDad, when I was asked to guest-blog in mid-March '05. I never intended to daddy-blog fulltime myself but with enough encouragement and the realization that it might help with my adjustment to becoming a Stay At Home Dad (SAHD), I decided to jump in and see how the water felt. Thanks again to MetroDad for helping me get my start.

    My vitals: 30-something, Chinese American. My partner "Samantha" is also Asian, though not Chinese, thereby making our newborn daughter "L" a mixed-intra-Asian baby (now six weeks old), and therefore, of the cutest genetic stock possible. At least we think so.

    My perspective: Unlike MetroDad's bright and smiling perspective on fatherhood, Poppa Large is more of the "parenthood is kicking our goddamn ass" variety.

    I'll be upfront - I'm bitter at all my friends with kids who didn't adequately warn me or Sam about how hard parenthood would be. We always got the, "oh yeah, it's hard but you'll love it" line, which is usually said with the air of casualness one might apply to say, French cooking. We soon learned however - raising a newborn was not quite like making coq a vin, though in both cases, copious amounts of wine can help make the process go better.

    It's my theory that newborns give off a slow-acting phermone that corrodes the part of the brain that normally stores traumatic memories such as labor and/or new parenthood. As a result, people quickly forget the difficulty of it all and are pre-programmed to tell other prospective parents that, "oh yeah, it's hard but you'll love it." It's designed to ensure the future of the species because frankly, if the truth came out, the rate of human reproduction could plummet to extinction-level event status.

    In dwelling with my innumerable thoughts about parenthood, especially for first timers like Sam and I, it quickly dawned on me that there are at least three important lessons all prospective and new parents should learn. They are:

    LESSON ONE: Every parent thinks they're an expert on parenting.

    It doesn't matter if they have a two day old newborn or enough progeny to field a baseball team - parents think they know everyting about parenting simply because they've gone through it.

    On one hand, I can appreciate where this logic originates from. Having a kid is a pretty big friggin' deal and like living through war, a serious illness or a visit from the in-laws, once you've survived the experience, it's impossible not to feel like you've gained some Important Insight. However, just beacuse you know how to change the oil in your car and replace a flat tire doesn't make you a mechanic. Flying on a plane doesn't make you a capable pilot.

    Yet, ask any parent about "the best [fill in baby-related item]" and suddenly, people turn into Consumer Reports. Ask them their philosophy on parenting and they speak with the authority of Dr. Sears/Spock/Dre, et. al. In other words, parenthood turns formerly humble and unassuming people and instantly transforms them into mildly pretentious know-it-alls. (Like me).

    LESSON TWO: Avoid all advice other parents give you. Including mine.*

    *most of it anyways

    LESSON THREE: If you're desparate enough to take any of the advice thrown at you (and believe me, you'll be desparate enough), whatever you do, DO NOT disregard CFS.

    CFS = Common Fucking Sense.

    Most of us in America didn't grow up in social environments where child-rearing was a communal project. If you're lucky, maybe you had much younger siblings that you remembered helping to take care of, but for many others, parenthood is terra incognito. This is why the baby advice industry is a multi-billion dollar industry: it's all designed to play on the anxieties of Paranoid, Inexperienced Parents (PIPs) who are convinced that unless they buy the right videos, books, toys, clothes, and sippy cups, their children are doomed to end up as teenage hustlers with a heroin habit or even worse: Republican.

    Most new parents really only need a modicrum of basic parenting lessons, i.e. changing a soiled diaper = good. Asbestos teddy bears = bad.) The rest you can figure out with a healthy dose of CFS. However, most new PIPs are so anxious about doing something wrong, they turn off their CFS and instead, try to follow through on well-intentioned advice that leads them down the short road to hell.

    Case in point: when Samantha and I gave birth to L, one of the nurses we saw in the first two days told us, "oh, make sure you burp her for at least 15-20 minutes to get all the gas out."

    Think about that: do burping a baby for TWENTY MINUTES after each feeding make CFS?

    No. Hell. No.

    Burping is designed to get any gas bubbles out of the baby's system right after feeding and especially for newborns, burping helps them go to sleep since they're more comfortable once they've cleared an offending belch/fart out of their system. However, I don't know about you, but I wouldn't feel very drowsy if I had someone 20x my size whacking me on the back for TWENTY MINUTES.

    But sure enough, as a pair of PIPs, we trotted home with L and after every feeding, we'd start playing Whack-a-Mole on her back as if we had a roll of quarters to burn. Sam would actually get angry with me if I only burped L for, say, five minutes. She'd say, "you need to do it for at least another ten minutes!" with a tone of such disapproval, you'd think I had been teaching L how to freebase cocaine.

    Thank god another health professional told us, a few days later, that the initial advice we were given was ridiculous. Now, we burp for, at most, a few minutes and L seems none the worse for it.

    Believe me, the opportunities to throw CFS out the window are vast and numerous, especially when you've read the umpteenth book on parenting (that, of course, your friends and family all bought you) or spoken to yet another nurse or doctor giving you contradictory advice. It's a wonder that PIPs aren't all on Paxil during the first month.

    Just remember: parenthood - like pimpin' - ain't easy. If you're a PIP try to keep your wits about you as much as possible and never lose sight of CFS. And stop taking advice from other parents.

    Including me.

    --Poppa Large