Monday, August 30, 2010

Single motherhood by choice

Quite a while back, I blogged about the subject of older single Orthodox Jewish women being permitted to have children out of wedlock, by a ruling of a rabbi who is, apparently, particularly aware of their plight. Today, I'm bringing this up again, inspired by a post written by A Mom in Israel.

Last time I discussed this subject here, I received quite a few comments telling me that as someone who got married at 22 and had her first child at 23, I have no idea what it's like for a woman to be in her late 30's with no perspective of marriage in sight. That is so. I know, however, what it's like to grow up having no idea who your father was.

The detachment between fathers and children, essentially fatherlessness, is one of the greatest tragedies of our generation. Sexual promiscuity and rampant divorce have caused a dramatic rise in the number of children who were either born to mothers who accidentally got pregnant out of wedlock, or to couples who split up before or after marriage. I don't care what wishy-washy PC surveys have to say – a child, doesn't matter if it's a boy or girl, needs the balancing presence of a mother and father. That's how God intended it and that's how things have been in the vast majority of cases throughout history.

How we were raised leaves a lingering impact on our lives, and often, the older we are the more prominent it is. I feel it stronger than ever now that I'm a wife and mother myself and facing the challenge of raising my child (and any day now, God willing, a second baby).

Many of my friends and schoolmates were raised by single mothers, but it's comforting to know they all at least knew who their father was, and most of them visited and kept in touch, too. They had a name, a face, memories, heritage, family on their father's side. It isn't ideal but they didn't have to grow up wondering who they actually were. Even in the tragic circumstance of a father dying before his child is born, there are pictures to look at and stories to tell. I, on the other hand, felt and still and will always feel, as though part of me is missing.

One must also consider the attitude of mothers who choose to become pregnant out of wedlock by artificial insemination or IVF (which supposedly makes it more "kosher" than having a child through unmarried sex). Widows and widowers obviously become single parents through no fault of their own. People who divorce after they have children, however tragic it is, still probably started at some point with the intention of being married for a lifetime. Even those "accidentally" pregnant mothers are putting up with consequences rather than making choices which, put together, comprise a disastrous social phenomenon. But those who say, "I want a child of my own and I will have it, whatever it takes, married or not," are acting out of selfishness. They devalue marriage and family and will pass on a similar message to their children. These children won't just grow up without a father; it's very likely they will receive a "we don't really need men" or "marriage isn't necessary" message.  

A rabbi who endorses this view through finding a technical loophole in the Halacha and cynically pointing others to it, doesn't fully realize how he distorts Jewish values and the concept of the Jewish family. I wonder how many children he knows who were born to "single by choice" mothers, and how he dares to brush aside their well-being by saying "the benefit of the child who doesn't exist yet, doesn't hold water." What will he tell in 10, 15, 20 years to children who were born as a result of his ruling, and grew up with a distorted view of family and marriage?

I realize I can only imagine the desperate ticking of a biological clock belonging to a 37-year-old single. But I think what these older single women should realize is that our children aren't really our own. They belong to the Almighty, and we are only stewards of their precious souls. A child is not a trophy, not something you put on your list of achievements. Once we approach the matter through a position of selflessness, the argument of "but I want" is largely eliminated.

And what of adoption? I think that if the matter is being alone and yearning to give, rabbis should rally together to make it easier and more acceptable for older Jewish singles to adopt. There are many children who struggle for years without finding a family; for them, even a single parent would be infinitely better than no family at all. True, it would not allow a woman to have the joyful experience of carrying and nursing her own baby, but it would bring two lonely hearts together, it would give her a chance to open her arms and lavish truly selfless love upon a needy child. That, in my opinion, would be a true win-win situation for all.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Overdue" and thoughts about nutrition

I'm now some 10 days past my "official" due date, but a week or two ago I knew, I could just feel that I'm not really at my "due date" and not ready to go into labor yet. There are a few physical and psychological signs I felt towards the end of my last pregnancy, and that I feel now, the most prominent of which is restlessness and emotional readiness to go into labor, as opposed to anxiety about what's to come and wishing it didn't have to happen just yet.

I stopped going to my prenatal visits because I know that at this point, all I'll get is pressure to artificially induce labor and perhaps a few invasive and useless cervical examinations. I've been saying for a long time I have a feeling the baby will probably be born around end of August and not mid-August as was suggested. Every stage in this pregnancy simply felt "delayed" as compared to the previous one, from the onset of morning sickness to feeling my baby move for the first time, and many other symptoms – but most health care providers are interested in fixed dates and numbers, not in complicated stuff like the intuition of pregnant women and the alchemy of hormones that will decide, if left unhindered, when you will go into labor.

In the meantime I've been reading up and building a post-partum nutritional plan for myself. I am ashamed to say that last time around, I didn't watch my nutrition very carefully. I am naturally thin and have had to struggle to keep my weight on while nursing. I know some of you might say you'd love to trade with me, but being extremely thin is not healthy for a nursing mother or indeed for any woman during the reproductive period (obviously thinness is a relative term, but you'd better keep an eye on your constitution to ensure healthy weight). The result was that I began my second pregnancy weighing about as much as I did in ninth grade. Now eating well is much easier to keep up with because I have a toddler who has fixed meal times and eats grown-up food so we usually eat together.  

For many years, I hadn't touched meat or fish, though my diet contained liberal amounts of animal protein in the form of eggs and dairy products. After reading Nourishing Traditions, I realized that what helped me avoid various deficiencies (even though I never took any supplements before pregnancy) was probably also the presence of animal fats in my diet. The dairy products I consumed were never low-fat, in fact, I grew up in a home where sour cream is liberally added to soups (a practice that is unfamiliar for most Israelis). I was a healthy vegetarian. 

Anyway I, a person who could not bring herself to eat fish for 12 years, found myself munching on fish during my first pregnancy, following an irresistible craving. I especially wanted salmon. Again, reading Nourishing Traditions and learning how highly valued fish and other seafoods (and fish – not all kinds of fish, mind you - are just about the only kosher seafood) were for women in the reproductive stage, helped me put things in perspective a bit. I've been eating fish ever since but I still find myself unable to eat meat and I do not believe it's strictly necessary if I eat liberal amounts of protein and fat from animal sources anyway.

I think it's very important to listen to your body and your cravings during pregnancy, using discernment of course. Obviously if you crave a bag of Doritos, it doesn't mean your body needs Doritos. But if you find yourself wanting real food, even if it's something you don't normally like or consume at all, perhaps it's worthwhile to give it a try (unless you know you're allergic to it of course).

However all conventional diets for pregnant and nursing mothers are PC, meaning that they are relatively low-fat, and especially low in animal fats. I find this illogical, for example, how first people are told omega-3 is good for them, and then they are encouraged to eat lean fish. Obviously, omega-3 will be found in fish oil – the fatty fraction of fish. I read recommendations to new mothers "not to consume less than 1,500 calories daily" – considering how nursing alone will burn about one third of that amount, I find this recommendation dangerously low. I'm also appalled to find nutrition experts write out menus where a "recommended" night time snack is ice-cream or some chocolate. Obviously most people indulge in ice-cream or chocolate from time to time, but including it in a daily menu makes it seem as though this is ideal, which it isn't. 

This time around, I plan to be much more responsible about my nutrition. Nourishing, high-value foods for a nursing mother aren't indulgence, they are a must!      

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

In the hospital: questioning routine interventions for your newborn

If you give birth in a hospital, your newborn baby will be subject to various interventions and medical procedures, many of which are viewed by new parents with awe, as though they were instilled by an infallible authority and therefore are unquestionable. That's how the hospital staff will try to present it, too, since they are officially representing the health care system and are supposed to promote its guidelines. However, after doing a bit of research, you will often be surprised to find what stands behind the routine practices of hospitals.

Let's take as an example the Hep B vaccine, which is routinely performed in all hospitals around here. Hepatitis B is a disease transmitted through blood or bodily fluids, and therefore can be passed from mother to child during birth. Many mothers are unaware carriers of the Hep B virus, which is why all newborn babies are vaccinated. Now, what interests me is why they don't check during pregnancy whether the mother is a carrier or not. Perhaps it's cheaper to just vaccinate, or perhaps the vaccine makers do all they can to perpetuate the recommendation for all-vaccination policy? I don't know.

There are many claims of adverse effects associated with the Hep B vaccine, most of which are shrugged off as mere coincidences not meriting serious research. It isn't in my power to check whether there is truth to said claims, but I don't believe it is healthful to bombard a new immune system with vaccination immediately following birth. It also happens that I was vaccinated against Hep B a few months before my first pregnancy, which was why we decided that in our case vaccinating our newborn would be largely pointless, and opted against it.

Please note I'm not making a blanket statement against all vaccinations/routine hospital practices. I simply believe parents would be wise to make informed choices, and deserve the opportunity to do so without pressure from the hospital staff. I also believe that when dealing with any anti-physiological interventions, our first question should be "Why?" as opposed to "Why not?"

Another common practice is giving a Vitamin K shot (which contains a mega dose of the vitamin) to all newborns, in order to prevent a rare and unpredictable condition that leads to problems with blood clotting and may cause permanent brain injury in babies. We didn't think much about the Vitamin K shot before Shira was born and allowed it to be administered, but now we are inclined to refuse that as well, because we learned that there are gentler, more physiological ways to reinforce a baby with Vitamin K, such as a Vitamin K-rich nutrition for the nursing mother, or a supplement taken by the mother or drops given to baby orally. Again, the risks associated with the shot are questionable, but there is another way – though no doubt, it's more hassle for the health care system to pursue reinforcing the nutrition of nursing mothers than to just give a shot and be done with it.

Around here, Hep B vaccination and Vitamin K shot are routine practices which will be performed without your knowledge or consent unless you explicitly state – and insist - that you are against them. To do that, it's important to make a decision before birth, and have at least one parent present at all neonatal check-ups. In our case it was my husband who accompanied our daughter to her initial check-ups after we all spent some time together in the delivery room.

I think it's very important, if at all possible, that your child is within sight of at least one parent at all times. Remember, the baby is your child, not hospital property. Hospital protocols are a very powerful thing; the whole business functions like a machine, and even if they aren't opposed to respecting your wishes, this notion might simply get lost in the process. Your best bet is to hover in the background and remind them which procedures you are interested or not interested in. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

In-laws, criticism, and how to deal with it

Today, I received an email from a mother of three young children who is struggling with a flow of criticism coming from family and acquaintances, specifically her mother-in-law (with whom she and her husband currently live), regarding the choice she and her husband have made of her being a full-time mother. She also mentioned they are planning to move to an area with cheaper housing costs, an endeavor that meets strong opposition from her mother-in-law who doesn't wish to be separated from her grandchildren. She asked for my take on the matter, which I've posted below. The experience of readers who have dealt with similar situations will be much appreciated.

I feel for you; even though I haven't been exactly in your situation, I know what it's like to have your choices criticized and looked down upon - especially when criticism comes from relatives, and even more so when it touches what's nearest and dearest to your heart - caring for your precious family.

The most important thing to remember is that currently, the earthly authority in your life is your husband - not your parents and not your in-laws. While we are required to respect and honor our parents and parents-in-law, we aren't supposed to let them take authority over our lives once we are married. You were created to be your husband's help mate, to work towards a common vision the two of you share - even if it means you are misunderstood and under-appreciated by the rest of your or your husband's family. 

However, from your email, I didn't exactly pick up your husband's take on this, except that he approves of you focusing on your homemaking/mothering duties (which is obviously the most important factor in this equation.) Have you ever talked to him about your frustrations regarding criticism from his mother, and how offended this makes you feel? Have you discussed, together, what course of action should be taken? Without your husband's backup, things would be of course infinitely more difficult. 

Of course, personally, it's easy for me to understand how discouraging such comments can be, especially as they are completely unjust. If people think raising three young children is a leisurely pursuit, they should check again. And certainly the generation of our mothers missed out on a lot, including your mother-in-law. Some realize this, some don't. She didn't "do it all" as successfully as she thinks - otherwise, your husband wouldn't be still feeling resentful for taking second place after her career. I'm not sure whether she is aware of it. 

The solution of moving to a place where costs of living are cheaper sounds like a good one to me, speaking from our experience. I know if we didn't live in a less expensive (and admittedly, more remote) area, we would never be able to buy a house debt-free. Housing costs are a huge money-guzzler and if you can make the adjustment it's great. Another reason why it would be good to move away is that you could be on your turf, just your family, without interfering in-laws in between. It doesn't sound as though living with your mother-in-law is healthy for your marriage or family life, and I can imagine you are anxious to move. However this, again, is something that obviously cannot happen without your husband's support. You said your mother-in-law "threw a tantrum" when you attempted to move away. Does your husband agree that this is a form of manipulation, and what is he willing to do about it, if at all? 

In making the counter-cultural choice of being homemakers, we subject ourselves to criticism and sometimes there's no choice but to smile graciously and move on. At times it's possible to have an intelligent conversation about why you choose to live the way you do, but sometimes people are so negative it's better to just let it go and resign yourself to the fact that you can't please everyone. Let your statement be a quiet one, of a simple, modest, humble, content life for your family. Again, the most important, vital thing is that you and your husband are on the same page regarding this. As long as you are strong in your convictions and have your husband's support, other people can wrinkle their noses at it all they want. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Just a little update from the hills...

So... after a few days of blog silence, I decided to go ahead and post a little update, even though it feels like my brain has turned to mush.

First off, for those of you who might be biting their nails in anticipation (*smile and wink*), I'm still pregnant. I think it might still take some days until baby makes its big appearance, however, I do feel that the clock is ticking nearer - I'm getting very restless and it's difficult to sleep or concentrate on anything. I remember feeling the same way at the end of my last pregnancy.

In the meantime I'm trying to keep our home reasonably clean, the freezer well stocked and the laundry from piling up. I mean, any day now we might leave and come back with a new baby, so it's better not to let things go because I know I won't have time for anything after the baby is born.

The photo above (from our archives) is of a male sunbird on our grape vine. Last year and the year before that, we were pestered by huge deadly-looking wasps which were attracted to our grapes in such swarms it was next to impossible to go out. This year I hardly saw any. I regarded this as a miracle until I found out one of the neighbors found and destroyed their nest. So it felt much safer this year, and we did enjoy some supreme quality honey-sweet organic grapes... not a lot, unfortunately, because the birds ate away most of them while they were still too sour for us (though apparently not for them!).

Soon, I hope to post about our Big Baby Update. We're mighty excited around here!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My hope and wish list for this delivery

This post contains some physiological details, so I expect the gentleman or two reading this blog might wish to skip it.

I'm very excited (though a bit nervous, I have to admit) to think that the baby may be arriving any day now (or not for another couple of weeks – we just aren't sure). I'm already past my "official" due date but I don't think much of it because we knew from the start we're "late". Anyway… first and foremost I'm praying for safety and health in labor and delivery, which is of course what matters most. However there are also other things I'm wishing and hoping for, such as…

A shorter labor, or otherwise more rest during labor. Last time, labor lasted through a night, a day, and another night until I had the baby in the morning – unsurprisingly, we got very little sleep in between. Labor started very intensively (contractions five minutes apart), but stalled when we arrived at the hospital and I began to be constantly poked and prodded. I can't even count the number of cervical examinations they very matter-of-factly put me through, in the few hours I remained there (thank goodness my waters weren't broken at that point, otherwise risk of infection would exponentially increase!). I was feeling very uncomfortable and unsafe, and I do not believe it's a coincidence I simply stopped progressing at that point. Thinking back I know we came too early, but I thank God for allowing us to go to that hospital early enough to still have time to leave, get some rest, and find another hospital, and not at a point when we'd be stuck there for better or worse.

Anyway, this time I hope to stay home, where I'm most comfortable, until things truly kick in. I believe this time I know my body better and will (hopefully!) be able to discern when it is truly time to go. I do know second-time labors tend to be shorter so it's something to keep in mind. Anyway I hope to be not as exhausted as I was after my first birth, so that I can…

Insist on the right to remain with my baby. I know all you home-birthers out there  will say this is one of the reasons you choose to have your babies at home. What a relief it is when you don't have to face someone trying to whisk your baby away shortly after delivery for "urgent" check-ups and clean-ups, and when you don't have to make a "special" request to be "allowed" to keep your baby with you through the night! Last time I was so exhausted that everything seemed as though in a haze, and I permitted my baby to be taken away from me when it was night. What a grave mistake it was. I was promised I would be waken up to nurse, and that was a big dirty lie. My baby and I were cheated of our right to exclusively nurse. She had her cues ignored in that blindingly bright nursery full of screaming babies, and eventually had a bottle of formula shoved down her tiny mouth.

Over a year and a half has passed, my baby since has successfully nursed for 15 months, weaned, and is now a healthy and energetic toddler, yet the blatant lying and ignorance of our explicit wishes by the nursery staff, the precious first night when it was so, so very important my baby would remain by my side and in close reach of a warm breast, and that one ounce of formula my child had in her life, still gnaw at my heart and make me feel I will have to fight against the system for such a simple and natural thing as holding my baby close. It seems like the most irrational thing in the world.

With a hospital, there is no such thing as an "ideal" experience. The nursery was awful but that problem was resolved as soon as I got up in the morning and insisted that from now on I will have my baby by my side at all times. The labor and delivery staff, however, was fantastic, both during the time I delivered my baby and when I went in for my check-ups not long ago – which is the thing that matters most. I hope I won't be disappointed. After I have the baby in my arms, I feel as though I can handle anything – including rude nurses and the unfamiliar hospital atmosphere, especially as I'm hoping for…

An early discharge. Last time, I spent three nights in the hospital, and the third night was definitely an overdo. I was more than ready to go home after the second night, only it so happened it was Shabbat. And remember, it was after an exhausting labor.  The Shabbat atmosphere was wonderful, the food was delicious, and it was fun to talk to other Moms in Mommy Boot Camp, but I still longed to go home. This time, provided baby and I are well, I hope and pray to be home again sooner, especially as now I will have a little girl waiting for her Mommy to be back.      

Monday, August 16, 2010

A very special adoption story

I have been inspired to share with you a beautiful and special adoption story, which was published last weekend in the Israeli newspaper "Besheva". I know most of my readers aren't from Israel and don't speak Hebrew, and thus haven't read it.

Matanya (not a real name) was born with Treacher Collins syndrome, a rare genetic disorder which caused him to have severe facial deformities and feeding problems. His parents, who didn't feel capable of raising such a child, made the decision to leave him in the hospital. It must be noted that despite multiple ultrasound scans during the pregnancy, his condition was somehow missed – praise the Lord for this miracle, for otherwise he would probably have been aborted. 

Batsheva, who worked in aforementioned hospital as a midwife, was moved by the fate of the little baby who spent week after week in the hospital nursery. Despite the many efforts of the staff to make him as comfortable as possible, he seemed detached, didn't make eye contact and didn't smile. Batsheva started visiting the baby and felt terrible every time she went home, leaving him behind. She realized that for a child like this, the only chance to ever have a normal life is to be raised in a supportive and loving family.

Eventually, Batsheva and her husband Shlomo decided to adopt the baby. They had eight children at the time, ranging in ages from 15 to 3, and the older children were involved in the decision. They took Matanya (now 6 years old) into their home and gave him a family.

"We got eight wonderful gifts from the Lord, healthy and whole" says Batsheva (translation mine). "It was precisely out of that feeling of fulfillment and thankfulness that we felt the need to give back to our Creator by taking care of a soul that was not ours. We felt we can give this child a place in our family. And B"H, the Almighty guided us hand in hand throughout the way."

"I will never forget how I slowly picked him up and held him for a long time, and he, a tiny four-month-old baby, put his head on my shoulder and fell asleep. It was like he said, 'I finally found Mommy.' We all cried from emotion."

I cried from emotion too, as I read this article. Praise God for such kind and generous souls who gave hope and comfort when it seemed there was none to be had. Truly He sets the solitary in families.  

"Just a few hours of being in a warm home made our Matanya smile and look us straight in the eye. It's amazing how he immediately felt he belongs with us."

Matanya since went through multiple surgeries which have improved his condition, and will have to go through more as he gets older. He will never look "normal" but otherwise his prospects are good and he is a happy and intelligent child.

Batsheva keeps in touch with Matanya's biological parents, and tries to be as merciful as possible when relating to their decision of leaving him in the hospital. Matanya was told that he was adopted. "I told him how we walked into he nursery and immediately fell in love with him and chose him of all babies. I said to him he is belongs with us for good."  

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I am waiting with open arms

Writing this was inspired by reading this post by Mrs. P. It challenged me to face some issues which I sometimes wish I could just let go. 

 Being open to life and welcoming a baby were easy enough, emotionally, the first time around. I wanted a baby and prayed for a baby, and patted myself on the back for having such godly desires.

However, once I had a baby, things changed. New motherhood is always a challenge. Even though I knew what was right, even though I always believed Jewish couples should be open to children unless there are very serious circumstances that rule against it, I couldn't make my heart yield to it once more.

I know I risk sounding like a wimp, or someone of little faith, but I was terrified of becoming pregnant again after having my first baby. I was terrified even before my period returned – and it returned pretty soon, when Shira was only four months old, even though we gave her no bottles or pacifiers. Perhaps it had to do with early night weaning. But at any rate, after that happened, I realized I'm in "danger" of becoming pregnant again, and fretted anytime I wasn't actually having my period (which only happened two or three times before I became pregnant again, so you can imagine I fretted a lot).

"I need more time," I pleaded with God. "I need more time to recover, to be with my baby, to get used to being a Mom, to invest in the relationship with my husband." Yet in the meantime, fear was ruining both my marriage and my joy of motherhood. And like poisonous mushrooms, other, vain thoughts were springing in my mind: I need more time to do my thing. I don't want to endure the discomforts of another pregnancy (even though I'm blessed to have relatively easy pregnancies). I want to have the "perfectly" spaced children, so that I won't have to face "what people will say."  

Judaism does not forbid birth control. Yet there must be good reasons to use it. And to my shame, even as I bargained with God, I knew my "reasons" were not good enough to seek rabbinical counsel and ask for authorization to use birth control. I felt ashamed when I faced the thought of a wise old man seeing right through my vanity and worldliness. "I, uh, would really like to wait until my abdominal muscles look just the same as they had when I was a young bride."

And so I went on. Outwardly, I did the "right thing" – trusted God and never used artificial birth control. But my heart was hardened towards the possibility of another pregnancy. "I'm just not ready," I told Him. "Surely you won't give me another child until I'm ready? At least not until she is a year old. Yes, a year, I think I could cope with that." Every month that passed with me still not being pregnant, was like a little victory. 

When Shira was a year old, I still felt I'm not ready – and discovered I'm pregnant.

I wish I could say my entire attitude changed from that moment, but my heart was unyielding. At first, I refused to believe, and then I was unloving and bitter towards the new life that was being so carefully knitted together in my womb. I blamed God  for "getting in the way" of whatever personal comforts I might have to forgo, for morning sickness, and for repeated changes in the youthful figure I was so glad to have back. I did not acknowledge the blessing that was so generously bestowed upon me. More than that, as ridiculous as it sounds, I was angry with God for taking my prayers so literally. Yes, I asked for a year, but surely He could have been generous enough to give me a bit more time?  

But when I went in for my first ultrasound, a huge smile plastered itself on my face, and later I excitedly called my husband and told him our baby has a heartbeat. And a tad later, I started wondering how much damage I had done with my initial lack of love and acceptance.

As months passed I became fearful of punishment. I was anxious about my baby being taken away from me for being such an awfully ungrateful person. In the dark, I would cradle my belly and whisper, "I'm so sorry. I love you. I just want you to be born healthy and to hold you in my arms and be the mother you deserve."

When I was told my baby isn't growing as fast as it was expected, I shared this with some people I expected to support me, but instead I was chided for "spacing my pregnancies too closely". Someone else told me it's because I nursed Shira during my pregnancy, thus heaping even more guilt upon my shoulders. It was very hurtful to hear (especially as such opinions are completely unfounded), but it was even more hurtful to think that something may be wrong because of my wickedness which sent such negativity towards my tiny babe, right from the beginning.

I'm nearing the end of this pregnancy now, and I must admit, I'm more restless and anxious than last time around. I won't rest until the baby is safely born, healthy, and in my arms. All my petty thoughts and ridiculous calculations ("24 months apart is OK, 20 is too little") have shrunk away, and all I want right now is to hold my baby.

I took so much for granted. Each child is a blessing. Just because I was blessed with two pregnancies so soon, does not mean I will continue having baby after baby. There are many cases of couples who experienced unexpected fertility problems – explainable or not - after easily having one, two, three or more babies. We never know whether we'll have a dozen children, or a small family – because we never know God's plans for us, though surely they are good and right.   

I look at my older daughter's precious beautiful face, and wonder how I could ever not want another dear little one like her. I spend my days singing to her as I work, telling stories, kissing boo-boos, tying little pigtails, giving warm baths – and I feel there is nothing I'd rather do than the same with another little one. I miss nursing and dearly hope to get back to it soon. I miss the feeling of a sweet soft little babe in the crook of my arm. "Forgive me," I plead with God, "and bless us in the ways You see fit. Your judgment is, and ever was, so much better than mine."      

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Expecting expenses

A couple of days ago, I was contacted by a young stay-at-home wife expecting her first baby, who felt a bit overwhelmed after going through lists of "necessary" baby equipment and hearing about everything she would "need". She asked me how we kept baby costs at minimum throughout the first year of our daughter's life. Here is my (slightly abridged) reply. 

Congratulations on the wonderful news of your pregnancy! I would encourage you not to worry about the financial side of this too much - I mean, I read some articles on "necessities" in the baby's first year, and the sums were so astronomical that at first I wondered how this could possibly be - until, of course, I continued reading and saw what was defined as "necessities" (daycare, formula, and a big bunch of brand new stuff). 

It's wonderful that you are staying home even though you don't have children yet, especially now that you are pregnant. I had lots of advice during my first pregnancy "to go out and make some cash while you can" - I'm so glad I didn't follow it. Being home now means you are getting used to living on one income, practicing your domestic skills, and perhaps working on various projects you won't be able to attend after baby arrives. Not to mention it's so much better for your health and sanity - you can rest when you need and make it to your prenatal appointments without worrying about taking time off work. 

The two big money-guzzlers that make people say it is so "expensive" to have babies are the costs of daycare and formula. If you stay home and breastfeed, those two are automatically eliminated - and you can considerably cut down on the "necessary equipment" list, too.

Personally, I can tell you we spent just a fraction of the "estimated average" baby costs for the first year - and we still have more than what I would consider true necessities. I would not say I'm the queen of frugality (ha! I wish I was), but we still made it through unscathed, so to speak. I wrote this post about baby expenses a couple of months ago, have you seen it? It doesn't really provide a list of what is "needed", but it gives a few pointers. 

I would strongly encourage you, before you buy anything new, to look at baby stuff people are willing to pass on, or sell after a brief use at the fraction of  its cost. Most baby things only get a very short and gentle use anyway, if we're talking about a small family. We got a lot of things from family, friends, and off online swap lists/second hand shops. 

If you know people are planning to give you gifts for the birth of your baby, make a list of what you need and pass it around, or simply tell them what you need - otherwise you might be stuck, for example, with a myriad of toys your baby won't look at for another year or so, but without things you'd find truly helpful to have. 

Here are a few specifics that weren't covered in the post I linked to earlier:

Car seat - if you have a car, of course. That's something I wouldn't get used, because of safety reasons, unless you're absolutely sure it wasn't involved in anything that could cause it damage. We got our car seat new but we chose something very simple, straightforward, and inexpensive. It did its job just fine. 

Someplace for the baby to sleep - we got a used baby bed (if you do that, make sure it's safe - no nails sticking out or something like that). It came with a mattress in very good condition, with a washable cover. We paid a fraction of what we would pay if we bought it new. But that baby bed wasn't even used for several months, because Shira slept in her pram in our room (we got the pram passed on to us. A smaller crib would do fine, but the bed we bought just wouldn't fit next to my bed and I really wanted to be close to her because she needed to nurse several times at night). Oh and we got some bedding for it of course, most of it gifts. Some families choose to co-sleep and forgo the cost of a baby bed :o). And if it's warm and your baby doesn't roll over yet, he/she can nap on a mattress on the floor. 

Baby bath tub - I know some parents wash their babies in the sink and/or shower with their babies, but I personally have found the bath tub to be tremendously helpful. I still use it now because (for obvious reasons :o)) it's difficult for me to bend and bathe Shira in the grown-up tub. 

Entertainment - Very small babies don't really need much in the way of entertainment. Mobiles, in my opinions, are hugely overrated - Shira always preferred to be placed wherever she can observe Mommy and other people doing real stuff. Even later on, you won't need that many toys. Better keep a few and rotate them. A large number of toys is an insane waste of storage space, since little ones get bored with them so quickly. 

Prams/strollers - Not strictly necessary but I've found it to be tremendously helpful. When Shira was tiny, I'd roll her in her pram to whatever part of the house I happened to be in, so she could see me and I could keep an eye on her. It's a considerable expense but, at least around here, many people offer to sell gently used strollers in very good condition. 

Slings/carriers - Some people say they can't do without their slings or baby carriers, some say it's a waste of money and space. It's very difficult to know in advance what will work for you, so it would be ideal if you could borrow a sling/carrier you consider purchasing, and try it to see if your baby likes it. Again, this can be bought used, and you could make your own baby wrap from simply a very long, wide and stretchy piece of fabric (you don't need to sew for it, just hem). We have a baby wrap (which we got from my sister-in-law - she bought it and never used it) and a snugli-type carrier (the latter currently being used by one of our baby nieces). The wrap was convenient when Shira was very tiny, and the snugli when she could hold up her head. Both types of carriers were good for short outings, and I preferred the stroller for longer outings. 

The point is, even if someone tells you something is "necessary", it doesn't mean you must have it. It's amazing how many things women have done without when they needed to. My in-laws raised their five children in a 2.5 room apartment. My mother-in-law never had any strollers or slings - she carried her children in her arms until they could walk. She never had a high chair - she sat her children in her lap until they were old enough to sit in an adult chair. She didn't have a baby bath, she washed her babies in a big pail she placed in the tub. She used simple flatfold cloth diapers which would always leak onto the few baby clothes she had, and she was always washing by hand because if she had waited for a full load the baby would have nothing to wear - and she was much too frugal to run the washing machine when it wasn't full! I'm not saying I'd want to live quite like that, I'm just giving her example as an illustration how many conveniences it is possible to do without. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Israeli health care system provides misguided breastfeeding advice

Last time we took Shira for her check-ups and a vaccination at the nurse's office, we were also handed a bunch of leaflets on the care of babies throughout the first year of life (as it was clear that we are expecting another one). I didn't bother to look at them, but yesterday my husband opened the leaflet dedicated to the care of newborns, and what we read there left me deeply disturbed.

For breastfed newborn babies, they recommend "between 6 and 8 (!) feedings in 24 hours, as baby requests". The implication here is that newborns eat, on average, about every 4 hours, or 3 hours at most, and that it isn't recommended to nurse a baby more often. In reality, it's usually closer to every 2-3 hours, and often even more frequently – and some extra nursing surely won't do harm, as it's very difficult to "overfeed" a nursing baby, compared to the dangerous practice of restricting feedings, which can cause a lot of pain, breast congestion, frustration for the new mother and eventually reduction in milk supply and poor weight gain for the baby.

They recommend the same number of feedings (6-8 in 24 hours) for breastfed and formula-fed babies, which is a clear evidence of their blatant ignorance about breastfeeding. Breast milk is far more easily digested and often consumed in smaller amounts than formula (because baby simply stops nursing when he/she is satisfied, instead of being urged to finish the bottle), and therefore breastfed babies usually have to eat much more often. But our health "experts" make no distinction between breast milk and formula, except the vague notion that breast milk is "better".

This potentially detrimental, dangerous, misinformed advice, which is passed out as the official word of the Israeli health care system, has undoubtedly already undermined breastfeeding for many new mothers.

The truth is, there are no rules regarding how often a baby wants to nurse, and the last thing the parents of a newborn should worry about is whether their baby conforms to any sort of "feeding schedule". It depends on so many factors, and nursing is so much more than just food. A mother's breast is nearly the whole world for a newborn, it's warmth, stability and comfort and love.

There are women who claim they couldn't successfully breastfeed because their baby "wanted to nurse all the time." When you look at their body frame, it becomes obvious that their milk storage capacity is probably small (meaning that they have small breasts that begin leaking after about an hour between feedings), thus the need for more frequent feedings – but they didn't "fail", they were just made believe they were somehow unsuccessful, by a system that in some twisted way thinks that breastfeeding must work like bottle-feeding.

There were relatives who literally tried to make me feel ashamed, or worried, or guilty, about nursing often. I would head off and nurse the baby, then after an hour and a half she'd be hungry again, and as I would gather her in my arms to go and nurse her once more, I'd hear remarks such as "but wait, three hours haven't passed yet, aren't you watching the clock?", or "there's no way she'd be hungry that often if you had enough milk" (no, I'm not watching the clock, and yes, perhaps she isn't really hungry yet but she wants to nurse and no harm will be done if I let her). Such comments are forgivable when they come from older women who were given bad advice themselves 30 years ago, but it's infuriating to hear or read such misinformation still being passed on to women today.  

Monday, August 9, 2010

Shabby Apple giveaway winner

I'm posting this to let you know that the Shabby Apple giveaway is now closed, and the winner was randomly chosen a minute ago.

And the winner is...

... drum roll...


Congratulations, Amanda, on winning the lovely dress! Please email me at with your info (mailing address and size) so I can forward it to Shabby Apple.

Thanks to everyone for participating!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

So much to do, so much to learn, so little time

I'm around 37 or 38 weeks along now, and it's mind-boggling to think how soon we are due to meet our newest arrival. On the one hand, I can't wait - on the other hand, sometimes I can't help but wish we had just a bit more time... a bit more time to learn, to prepare, to research. Either way, of course, the baby will be coming at the perfect timing.

Today, when we took Shira for a few check-ups, I picked up a magazine while waiting in line. It was an old one, back from 2001, but it featured some very interesting stories. A tragic one spoke of a woman who delivered a healthy baby but died soon after because of an uterine rupture caused by pitocin administration. The uterine rupture went undetected for a period of time which could have been crucial to intervening, because the effects of her epidural didn't wear off yet.

Pitocin and epidurals, probably the two most common birth interventions, which are supposed to be completely "safe" but obviously are not - and in the case mentioned above, their combination caused death. When a deadly complication does occur, the hospital speaks out saying that "complications are extremely rare and could not be predicted". Of course no one can predict who is going to be the victim of such a tragic outcome. But you know what? If something carries risk, however slight, you do not use it unless there is an obvious and unequivocal need. Isn't this plain common sense?

In most cases when pitocin is applied, it is not because there is an obvious and unequivocal need to use it. It's usually because a woman went past her due date (which, let's face it, can be a pretty random number) or because her labor slowed down once she arrived in the hospital (no wonder, with all the poking and prodding it can get extremely stressful - a hugely important factor in determining ease and efficiency of birth. Any veterinarian can tell you that, but when we're dealing with humans we forget it for some reason). And epidural? There is never a real "need" for one (in a normal, unmedicated, naturally progressing labor). It does nothing for the actual well-being of Mom and baby or for advancing the labor - on the contrary. But it's very convenient for the staff and we've been convinced into thinking we can't ever do without it.

Even if the risk is "minimal", why take it when it's possible to go risk-free?

Here's a link to a blog I discovered today, called Midwifery Ramblings. Read the lovely home birth post and the post on the dangers of pitocin.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What is "normal" for little boys?

I read this article on, and it really broke my heart. Admittedly, it does not deal with matters of life and death, but it talks of an unanswered plea for understanding of so many children and parents who have to deal with the school system. 

 It tells about the anguish of a mother who was told by her son's school that her five-year-old needs to be "evaluated" for suspected behavioral problems. Now, I'm still a very new mother and have not yet been blessed with having a boy. Also, it's impossible to assess the situation from reading a brief article and without seeing the child, but from what this mother tells, it sounds to me as though her son is a perfectly normal little boy, with the traits of being exceedingly active, curious and outgoing.

It is no secret that little boys are more active and boisterous than little girls. It is also no secret that little boys are diagnosed with behavioral problems such as hyperactivity and put on medications to "control" them, such as Ritalin, far more often than little girls. Those little boys with "ants in their pants" who are unable to sit straight for a whole lesson are the ones who later become our great adventurers, explorers, discoverers and inventors.

So what happens when such a boy's natural, active desire to explore and touch everything doesn't get an appropriate outlet and he's scolded for "misbehaving"? I see two possible outcomes: either his curiosity is eventually dulled and he loses interest in learning, or his constantly stifled "ants in the pants" really get out of control and he acquires a genuine behavioral problem.

The school system is aimed at the average child, and it would be unreasonable to expect something else when there are 35-40 (as is typical in Israel), or you know what, even 25 students in a class. Many fall through the cracks: the very active, the dreamers, the slow, the fast… and anyone that might be labeled as "weird".

When I first started school, I arrived at 1-st grade mid-year. We were newcomers in Israel, and in Ukraine, my country of birth, I still attended kindergarten because school starts at 7 years old there, and not 6 years old like in Israel. On top of the cultural shock, I was not used to school. I didn't speak Hebrew, though I was constantly soaking it up, and since there was only one other Russian-speaking child in class, I didn't really talk much. I used to sit at the back of the class and draw, completely withdrawn from my surroundings, as it appeared. The teacher, without much pondering, decided I must be either mentally deficient or have a severe form of ADD, and suggested the option of "special education".

My mother took me to a psychologist to be evaluated, and was told to say to my teacher that she's dealing with a perfectly normal and intelligent child who is simply taking some time to adjust. To everybody's surprise, by the time I started second grade my Hebrew was already very good – turns out that "silent" period was not such a "waste of time in class" after all.

So evaluation is not necessarily a bad thing; however there is a risk that a child will be unjustly labeled as someone who has a behavioral problem. But even if that doesn't happen, a child who doesn't fit in might easily fall through the cracks of a system that is not exactly friendly, especially to little boys.

The mother in the article goes on to say,

Crazy thoughts race through my head. I will protect my child from being labeled. I will home-school. I will give up my career, a career that is more calling than work.

If I may voice my opinion, I don't think the thought of homeschooling is at all crazy. I'm not saying everyone should homeschool; I'm not saying everyone who starts homeschooling a kindergartener must stick to this path until the child is finished with highschool program. However, in the case of a little child who seems too creative for organized schooling, it might just do to pull him out of school for a year or two. It's a long period of time for a child, and after that, his behavior may well naturally change to what is considered more "normal" in school, with no outside pressure. Some of the "antsiness" may be outgrown. Children start formal education when they are still so very young these days. Sometimes, one more year at home is all that is needed.  

Monday, August 2, 2010

Shabby Apple maternity dress giveaway

Recently I was contacted by Shabby Apple, a (new to me) online clothing store, with the offer to choose any item from their catalogue and host a giveaway on my blog. After I browsed through their website, I kind of wished it was some other blog hosting the giveaway, so that I could enter myself. ;o)

Shabby Apple offers many lovely, feminine outfits. I must say pretty much all of them are something I would only wear paired with a modest top and/or a long skirt underneath. However, this can be said about most stores where I shop these days – yes, even those aimed at religious Jews. I almost always end up wearing layers so as not to compromise standards of modesty.

After I browsed the maternity wear category, I decided to dedicate this giveaway to all fellow mamas-to-be that read this blog, and chose this lovely maternity dress as my giveaway item.

It's a very pretty full-length dress I personally would love to have for the maternity/postpartum period.

I will keep the giveaway open for a week, after which I will randomly choose a winner. To enter, simply leave a comment – and of course, those of you who have a blog or a Facebook/twitter account are welcome to spread the word! 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A word about gestational diabetes

This is the second time around I've refused to do the standard glucose screening test that is recommended in Israel for all pregnant women. It involves swallowing 50 gr  of glucose in one gulp after a night's fast; many women are found "suspicious" of gestational diabetes and sent forward to do another test, this time with 100 gr of glucose.

Why did I refuse this test, which is done for free here and is considered to be perfectly safe?

1. I don't believe it's necessary for me. Last time I was pregnant and this time too, I've had doctors tell me a lot about the horrors of undiagnosed gestational diabetes. I agree that if you have gestational diabetes it's very important to know. However, they try to present it as though each pregnant woman has equal odds of getting gestational diabetes, which is simply not true. Like for pretty much every medical condition, there are risk factors.

If, like me, you are young, not overweight (and have not gained excessively during pregnancy), do not have any family history of Type 2 diabetes, do not have high blood pressure, have not previously delivered large babies, your fasting blood glucose is normal and you have not had glucose detected in your urine, you are in the low-risk group and the chances of you getting gestational diabetes are slim. I'm not saying this means you won't get gestational diabetes. But your chances are far, far lower than of someone who is overweight and has family history of Type 2 diabetes. My doctor had tried to make it sound as though it doesn't matter – which was, of course, a lie made to frighten me into doing the test.

For most women, gestational diabetes is kept under control with a healthy, balanced diet and exercise. Only some need insulin shots. However a healthy diet and exercise should be the practice for every pregnant woman anyway. I have the advantage of a degree in nutrition, which helps me not only to keep a balanced diet, but to also be well aware of potential signs of gestational diabetes.

2. I suspect it's not completely risk-free. 50 gr of glucose equals, to my estimate, to about 10 teaspoons of sugar. I do not eat a lot of simple sugars and do not touch soft and fizzy drinks. As far as I remember I have never swallowed 10 teaspoons of sugar in one go, certainly not after a night's fast; taking in so much sugar in one go isn't natural for our bodies and I wouldn't say it's healthy for a pregnant woman. Yes, I have heard the arguments that our bodies are sturdier than that, that it's just one time, that the test shouldn't be associated with any damage. It is admitted there is a risk your blood glucose may drop drastically low after it skyrockets when you take the glucose, but doctors usually brush this off. However if your blood glucose drops very low you may faint. During pregnancy, our bodies are far more sensitive. Has someone really researched the long-term risks? I realize I'm just speculating here, but I find it extremely off-putting to load my body with a large quantity of glucose in one go.