Monday, February 19, 2007

The Free-Range Baby

I bought one of those Pack N Plays last summer. $7 at a yard sale. It was the closest we’ve come to reining in the baby. I think I used it twice. I envisioned how handy it would be, now that the baby was outgrowing her bouncy chair. For when I wanted to do things, like clean or take a shower or even lie around doing nothing for five minutes. I had every intention of using it. Unlike my husband, “We’ll never use it.” He said. As usual, he was right. You can’t take a sling-raised, kangaroo-cared, nurse on demand baby and stick her in a pen. She rebelled. She yelled. If she could have gotten her little hands on a screw driver I’m sure she would have dismantled it.

It can be hard living up to my ideals. I kept thinking that a REAL attachment parent would never even consider caging their child. But, you know, she sleeps with us, she nurses on demand, and God forbid I get five minutes in the bathroom with the door closed. Fortunately my husband is a man with infinite baby patience and strong arms. He’ll carry that child everywhere. Then, when she fights to get down, he’ll follow her and patiently redirect her when she tries to juggle the glassware. He’s a good man.

So between us, my husband, Mr. Man-with-a-plan and my “make-it-up-as-I-go-along self,” have been raising the free-range baby. We try and baby proof the house as best we can. Anything remotely poisonous is downstairs in the basement. Breakables are out of reach and electrical outlets are covered. Everything else is pretty much fair game. Since we’re trying to keep the toys down to a manageable amount, there’s a lot of “real stuff” to explore. Take plastic containers out of bottom cabinet. Check. Overturn cat bowl. Check. Climb into now empty cabinet. Double check. We spend a fair amount of time putting back things that she’s taken out. Emptying the book shelf is a current favorite.

So what’s the big deal? Well, Mr. Higgins has been spending a considerable amount of time on The Internets looking up child development. According to the experts, a child’s first word is likely to be “No”. Or even “NO!” So far, our little pooter says dada, kitty, dog, fishes, and mummum. She certainly lets us know when she doesn’t want or like something, but so far, no “no.” She does, however, convey “yes” in a unique way. When she likes something, she pats it-the way you’d pat a dog’s head. The cats, the water in the swimming pool, my chest when she’s hungry, all get the same happy pats. When she really likes something, say Curious George is on, she holds both hands over her head and squeals. It may be nonverbal, but its meaning is clear, “yes, Yes, YES!”

I have always had disdain for those baby carriers, the ones that turn into car seats and so your baby can go from home to car to wherever without ever being touched. Babies were meant to be held. Now I have another reason-I think it’s so much better to have baby involved in what you’re doing and seeing. Just like a play pen, it’s another way to keep baby out of the way and marginalize what they get to experience. No wonder so many kids say “no” first. The first couple of years their minds are like sponges, soaking up everything they come into contact with. Do you really want that to be a time of “don’t do that, don’t touch that, and don’t go there”? I don’t. I want her first years to be a time of YES!

The Family Bed

Most of the things I do as an attachment parent I thought long and hard about-cloth diapers, breast feeding, using a sling, extended breast feeding. Not vaccinating. Even the fact that we don’t use a play pen was something that my husband and talked about (it’s true, our children are free-range). But one thing we do just sort of happened, organically. Co-sleeping. I had never envisioned myself sleeping with my baby. I thought it was dangerous and irresponsible. When my now-teenager was wee, I’d occasionally be so tired that I’d fall asleep nursing her and every time I’d wake in a panic to see if I had smothered her. Once, I put her back in her crib and in my fog forgot that I had done it. The next morning I woke and literally tore the bed apart thinking I had lost her.

The night she was born Salome stayed by my side all night in the basinet and didn’t sleep much. I was exhausted from labor, but didn’t want her going to the hospital nursery and Husband had gone home with our other daughter. She nursed every hour and by morning we were both wiped out. The next night, I held her in the crook of my arm the whole night and napped while she nursed. We both were sound asleep when the morning nurse came in and freaked out on me. (“She can’t sleep through the whole night, she’ll be dehydrated!” “But she’s tired from the move”) Remind me again why I didn’t have this baby at home?

When we got home I kept her in the basinet at the side of the bed for one night. Again, every two hours it was wake up, move the baby to my bed to nurse, doze, wake up again and put baby back and try to get back to sleep. In the mean time, I was reading every thing I could on the internet and had come across the idea of co-sleeping and how to do it safely. The second night home from the hospital, Salome slept next to me and has every night since.

I’d recommend to anyone thinking about this to read everything you can about it. Dr. Sears has a lot of good things to say about the subject-either on the web site or his books, The Baby Book or The Baby Sleep Book. The biggest safety points are these: Sleep with baby only on a firm surface-NO waterbeds, pillow top mattresses or couches. Be careful of head boards or side rails that could trap baby if she rolls. NEVER sleep with your baby if you or your partner is intoxicated, obese or extremely tired. One note on that last one. Cosleeping with Sally made me better rested and so when I slept with her I was in a normal sleep pattern, not so exhausted that I couldn’t sense her in the bed, like with my older daughter. Our sleep became of cycle of her skootching over to me and nursing and both of us falling asleep and staying asleep while she nursed on and off during the night. In fact, I was amazed that as a new mom I could get a good night’s sleep and feel rested in the morning, better able to care for my newborn. And, don’t forget, put baby on their back to sleep.

The positives of sleeping with your baby show up in multiple ways and reinforce the daytime parenting you’ll do. Baby is more secure, better rested and chances are more likely to breast feed for a longer time because “Mom’s Diner” is close by all night. The fact is that families since time began and in most parts of the world today still sleep in the family bed. Dr. James McKenna, at The University of Notre Dame Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab, is doing compelling research that cosleeping actually prevents SIDS. About every year, 65 babies in the US die from non-SIDS related, accidental deaths, usually related to suffocation. Most of these are due to cosleeping non-safely, as described above, on waterbeds or with parents under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Compare that to the number of babies who die from SIDS; over 4200 babies every year, most of whom are sleeping in a crib, in another room. Furthermore, Dr. McKenna’s research shows that the way mother and baby respond to each other in sleep actually prevents SIDS. The baby will naturally roll towards the mother and nestle under her arm. Mom will naturally incline her head down towards the baby. Without going into a lot of physiology in this short article, Mom’s exhaled CO2 actually acts as a pacemaker for baby’s breathing (CO2 stimulates the breathing response in humans).

Our own experiences offer proof of this. Salome would fall asleep next to me and eventually wriggle herself into my armpit, her face turned up towards mine. I could hear her uneven, newborn breaths: rapid, then a pause. As I fell asleep next to her, I could hear her breath even out. Nursing was a breeze in this position. When she got hungry in the middle of the night, she’d start nuzzling my side. I’d roll towards her slightly and help her find the nipple. After a few minutes, we’d both drift back to sleep.

Now that’s she over a year and much bigger, I don’t worry so much about smothering her, although we do exercise common sense. What a joy it is to see her in the very first moments as she wakes up every morning, rolls over and smiles at me. Then she turns toward her dad and starts hitting him on the head to wake up. Better than an alarm clock, every time.

**If you’re thinking about co-sleeping, there are lots of options and information out there. Companies now sell side-sleepers, that attach to your bed and keep baby in arm’s reach. For the very little, there are co-sleeping devices for the bed that keep a firm wall around the infant so they won’t roll or someone won’t roll onto them, but I found that Salome (at 8lbs, 14oz) was too big for them almost from the beginning. If you want more information about this or any other subject, please visit

What I want for Solstice

What I want for Solstice:

My family

Beck-the new one
Sting-the new one
Hiromi(Japanese Jazz Pianist)-Brain

Tix to a Chorus Line on B’way

Ayun Halliday’s –Mamalamadingdong

Book on CD-anything by Wayne Dyer but especially The Power of Intention

This started out as a wish list. A new baby sling. The latest in organic, ecologically-sound, pesticide free woolen baby jammies made by indigenous orphans. That sort of thing. I start to berate myself. “Sure, Susan,” I say, “you can wrap it up in an alternative package, but you’re still selling consumerism for the holidays.” That’s no way to celebrate. Especially when I really love this time of year. I like when it starts to get cold and you have to bundle under the covers again. I like Solstice. Having depression, the longest night of the year is very symbolic for me and I like to do a little Solstice magick. I even like Christmas Eve, lapsed Catholic that I am, because when I was little, Christmas Eve seemed like the one night when anything was possible. Improbably, that feeling has managed to stay with me.

The old man and I discuss (read: argue) what, if any Christmas traditions we’ll follow and whether or not we’ll perpetuate the Santa myth. It gets heated at times. Meanwhile, the little one is agog at the displays that are going up. Late last night we made an emergency cranberry sauce and eggnog run. As I was busy rushing around the aisles and trying to avoid the other frantic shoppers, I noticed her looking up. On top of every aisle they had those enormous, lawn displays. You know, the big obnoxious ones that require a generator and a team of elves to set up. The whole horror show. She was delighted. I tried looking at them from her perspective. Bright, garish, full of movement and noise. She doesn’t know a reindeer from a rooftop, but she knows fun when she sees it. Suddenly, to me, this tacky display turned into yet another amazing thing this world has to offer. We walked around for awhile with our heads up in the air, taking in the sights and forgetting the cranberry sauce altogether. She made the other shoppers laugh and then I’d catch their eye and we’d smile at each other. A miracle of the season-holiday shoppers being nice to, instead of trampling, each other. All brought to you by a little child. Maybe those wise men were on to something.

So whatever you’re celebrating-have a happy Kwanzaa, a joyous Diwali, a bright Hanukah, a meaningful Eid-al-Adha, a merry Christmas, a jammin’ Junkanoo, a beautiful Bodhi day, a shining Solstice and most of all peace, love and happiness in the New Year.

The Organic Baby Bum

I guess the first thing that made me an Alterna-Mom was my decision to use cloth diapers. Sixteen years ago(yes, sixteen), when I was pregnant, I knew I didn’t want to swaddle my baby’s rear in plastic. I credit my mom. Of course, when I was born, she didn’t really have a choice. Disposable diapers were around in 1968, but they gave my sensitive baby butt a tremendous rash. So I got the same cloth diapers that my older brother and sister used. My mom would talk about washing the diapers and hanging them on the line (remember clothes lines?) in winter and having to defrost the frozen rectangles before she could use them. How much easier, I thought, it would be for me with a dryer and modern conveniences like diaper shells and Velcro closures.

In the end, though, since I used a laundromat, I wound up using a diaper service. For the same price as disposables, I left out a big bag of dirty nappies every week and got a big bag of clean, cotton ones in return. With baby number two, I wanted to do the same thing, natch. I looked in the phone directory for National Diaper in Milltown. Out of Business. Somehow I thought that cloth diapers would be even more popular now, but the heady post-hippie era of the 90’s was replaced by something even more grim than Reaganomics. I speak, of course, of the Wal-Mart culture. Why use disposables when God has given us the Diaper Genie? (more on that later.) Finally, I found a diaper guy in North Jersey who agreed to deliver to my Old Bridge home. It was as good as I remembered-no diaper rash, no smelly disposables and all I had to do was remember to leave the bag out once a week.

Now, some people disagree with a diaper service. The trucks use gas, or diesel, the machines use more electricity, and bleach, too much water is used, etc. I used to buy into this, too. Then I read, in Mothering magazine, that the whole “clothe diapers are just as harmful as disposables, just in different ways” myth is just that-a big, fat myth. It seems, in 1990s, that Proctor & Gamble commissioned a study that found that cloth was actually more wasteful than “one-use diapers”. This was in response to a growing trend in the 80’s to actually outlaw disposables because they were found to cause more frequent and severe diaper rash (Pediatrics, September, 1979) and that “preexisting skin or breathing disorders may become aggravated through prolonged exposure” to SAP’s, or super absorbent polymers, which are used in disposables. (OSHA material safety data sheet on SAP’s). If you remember, these are the same ingredients that cause Toxic Shock Syndrom. Despite the fact that P&G’s study was flawed, they used it to start a publicity campaign to say that disposables are biodegradable and earth friendly. They even touted them as a “soil-enhacer”. Bosh. In the 40 years that disposables have been around, they now account for 2% of all solid waste in our landfills(EPA study) and some sources say that these disposables will take 500 years to decompose. The reality of cloth diapers is that they use no more water per diaper than flushing the toilet and they decompose in 6 months after being used many, many times.

All this brings me to the Diaper Genie. This may be the most environmentally evil product ever invented. For $30, you get a big plastic pail filled with a long plastic tube. Every dirty disposable is stuffed into the tube and given a twist. In the end, you have a long string of individually wrapped plastic diapers. Finally, a product that combines the worst qualities of disposable diapers with the worst of, say, sausages. 10,000 years from now, archaeologists will look through our landfills and see these diaper sausages. Unable to believe that any society could be so wasteful, they’ll invent fanciful reasons for them, like maybe we recycled our children’s waste into floatation devices or used them to contain oil slicks. Sigh.

Cotton diapers, whether you wash them yourself or use a service, are easy. I still diaper my baby old-school style: pins and waterproof pants or a woolen cover. There are multiple mail-order companies that provide all sorts of diapers and diaper covers: Mother-ease, Cottontail Babies, Happy Heiny’s and, of course, Fuzzi Bunz. Any web search on cloth diapers will bring up a variety of commercial sources. There are also many sites on making your own cotton diapers and diaper covers on the cheap. Karen’s Diaper Page ( is a great resource to get you started. It also has great links. I knit and sew and have made my own wool soakers for very little money. Or go to my website, for more info on cotton diapers and other attachment parenting links. Happy Heiny’s!

Birth Bonding

Birth Bonding

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail and facts about birth and bonding-we have the very capable midwife Virginia for that. I did want to talk about two very different, and far from perfect, birth experiences. If I can ask for your indulgence, I’d like to talk about the birth experience of my two daughters. Telling the story is also part of the birth, so any significant others, family or friends of new mommies should be patient when they’re telling you about every contraction they had in real time. Even for adoptive parents, the details of how they adopted, when they found out they would be parents and what their first days were like is important in the telling. With repetition the tale becomes mythic. Eventually it will be told to the child until they too can tell it and it becomes part of the family legend.

With darling daughter #1, I was a very young 22 year-old who had never kept a house plant alive, let alone a real, live baby. Even when I had played with dolls, they were the fashion forward Barbies, not the feed me-burp me-change me baby dolls. I had no idea what I was in for, which in retrospect was good, for I didn’t anticipate pain. I took a Lamaze class and thought that was it. After 8 hours of natural labor, just when I was ready to say, “Ok, I changed my mind, I’m going home now,” I gave birth to a little pink bump of a baby. She was instantly whisked away and measured, poked and prodded, and pronounced safe and sound. When she was finally put in my arms she seemed groggy and confused. I tried putting her to my breast, which was not easy in the hospital gown. The nurse tried to dissuade me, saying she didn’t need to eat yet (the same nurse who told me to stop making so much noise and push, maybe?). Finally I got my boobs free and offered one to the baby, who looked at me like, “What am I supposed to do with this?” I was confused. Don’t little babies know how to nurse? I thought it was instinctual. I got my twenty minutes to “bond” with her and then they scooped her away to the nursery. For more prodding, I suppose. I was encouraged to leave her in the nursery at night, so I could get my rest. (“You’ll have plenty of time with her when you get home.”) They also said it was okay if she had some sugar water. No formula, cause I was breastfeeding, just a little something so she wouldn’t go hungry if I was sleeping.

Fast forward 14 years. I was now 36 and having darling daughter #2. My dreams of a home birth were tempered by my age. I wanted to have her at home, but I wanted to play it safe, too. I even had a male OB. But Hubby and I wrote out a birth plan and told him about it. No drugs, no episiotomy. We wanted the baby immediately on my tummy while hubby cut the cord. No Vitamin K, no eye drops. We had a plan. My husband kept bugging me to go to Lamaze again (he hadn’t been) but I told him, “I know all that stuff, I know how to breathe, I’ll be fine.” And for the first 4 hours of labor I was. I took a hot shower; I put a hot back on my lower back when the contractions came. I sniffed some lavender and made sure everything was packed. Then the contractions started coming in waves, stronger and stronger and I panicked. The experienced nurse and CHAMPION of natural child birth panicked. Hubby tried to reason with me, it’s too soon to go to the hospital, you’ll be alright etc. but I was in some serious pain and KNEW it would only get worse, right?

An aside. I really missed the boat by not taking us to Lamaze or another style of birth class. Of course I knew how to breathe, but when I started to lose my nerve, my partner didn’t know how to back me up. He was supportive, but by missing out on the class, he didn’t know how to be a coach. Anyway, I was now screaming at him to get in the car or I’d drive myself. Once in the hospital I was literally getting of the elevator and asking for an epidural. Eons later I got one and all the “stuff” that goes along with it. My pain went away and then my blood pressure dropped, so I got fluid. Then I got a catheter to pee through. Then I wasn’t progressing so I got the pitocin. Then more pitocin.

Fortunately, the baby remained well through all this or I would have bought myself a C-section. But no, finally I was told to push and twenty minutes later I had a BIG, squalling bump on my belly. I couldn’t believe it. She looked very purple, but nobody seemed worried. They dried her off with me helping. Daddy cut the cord. I had a gown with snaps, so she was able to nurse right away. Finally when I had my fill of her (she was pink by then) I said it was okay for them to weigh and measure her. But no pokes and no nasty eye drops. When she was all bundled up they gave her to me. Then everybody congratulated me, told me I did a good job and had a beautiful baby AND LEFT. It was just the four of us-my hubby, my oldest daughter, my new daughter and me. Salome was wide awake, calmly alert, like she had been waiting 9 months for this, just as we had. She made eye contact with all of us, like she was sizing us up. It was such a powerful moment. We stayed like that for how long? An hour or two, maybe, just getting to know each other.

When the baby went for her nursery check-up, Daddy went with her. When I got to my room, the baby came to me and stayed with me the whole time. No bottles, no sugar water. The second night I made a little nest for her in the bed and she slept with me all night, getting up once to nurse and go right back to sleep. The morning nurse scolded me for not waking her to feed (“she’ll dehydrate!”) and for not putting her back in the bassinet. I just put on my best oh-sorry-nurse-I-didn’t-know face and ignored her. After all, my baby and I had a lot of catching up to do. Nine months worth.