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Archive for the ‘Babies’ Category

I’m sitting here in my office working on bills as if it were any other Saturday even though a seismic shift occurred in my world less than 24 hours ago.  Because life does, in fact, go on.

Twenty-two-and-a-half years ago, give or take, we welcomed our third child.  This was our second baby in just over a year, and we brought him home to a 2.5 bedroom apartment and placed him in the cradle by our bed, which we hadn’t even bothered to put away between babies.

We named this 12 lb. bundle of joy Richard Theodore because I’d always wanted a boy I could call Teddy, and the name suited him well as he grew from big baby to roly-poly toddler who filled out 4T rompers by the time he was a year old.

Teddy and the Teletubbies 2

Teddy was my baby for six years.  I developed extremely toned biceps from toting around my 75 lb. four-year-old.  He was none too pleased about the arrival of his baby brother, but he was in kindergarten by then and already building a reputation as the smart, academic achiever that he would continue to be all the way through college.

Teddy Zorro Birthday 2

You know the rest of the story.  The days are long but the years are short and all that.

Teddy (or to use his preferred name, Theo) graduated from college in May.  Yesterday I dropped him off at the airport.  Now he’s in San Francisco, where he’ll start his first professional job on Monday.

Right now I feel like posting a comment on every baby picture I see on Facebook saying enjoy them while they can they grow so fast but that’s not a thing that anyone really understands or wants to hear when their kids are fretful infants or whining toddlers or stubborn preschoolers.  I’ve read many a thread and post complaining about the meddlesome old ladies who say those kinds of things.  But here’s the deal:  we aren’t trying to be bossy or irritating or to minimalize the work and stress of coping with small children–we just want you to realize what we didn’t; we want you to fully experience the joy of what you have, because we would give anything just to have one more day of it.

Because twenty-two-and-a-half years ago I brought a baby boy home from the hospital.

And just like that, he was gone.

Teddy Leaving for SF

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This summer I read an article in the online version of Elle Magazine, which read in part:

Sometimes, I can see us living in a smaller, older home somewhere, selling this one, and adjusting to accommodate life with a third child in a home that is definitely anything but a dream, but then I overhear our boys having a blast playing in our big, beautiful, safe backyard, or listen to their laughter billowing out of the colorful playroom space we have created and designed just for them, and I know this was always meant to be our forever home. This is the American dream and we are in it, living it, every day, just the four of us.

With that said, the sacrifice has been made. Because we live in this dream home, we can only afford to have two children. It’s our quiet sacrifice but it’s also our beautiful life, well-earned and fully-lived.

I don’t even know where to start with this.  I mean, I understand that not everyone feels like they can handle a big family.  And believe me, I know that there are financial concerns involved in the raising of children.  But when I think of the families I knew growing up, with nine and ten kids in average-sized houses, two and three kids sharing a room, I wonder which of their siblings they might have liked to give up for the privilege of living in some dream house.

When William was born, we were living in a three-bedroom, 1400 square foot home.  We had to pick up his cradle and move it in order to open our dresser drawers.  We didn’t even have a minivan; we had to wedge poor Jake in the middle of the front seat of my Mercury Sable when the whole family went anywhere. We were a one-car family for long stretches of time.  We moved into what seemed like a dream home to me, but was actually a 120-year old money pit.  Everyone had a bedroom, until Lorelei came along.  She slept in our room, we kept her clothes in William’s room, and her toys were in the den, but she didn’t care.

Little kids DO NOT CARE about dream houses.  They don’t need their own rooms and they don’t need a colorful playroom space.  Those things are nice, but my kids liked playing in the woods behind our house and making mud-holes with the hose and swimming in their plastic pool with their siblings.

Something is wrong with a society that equates the American Dream with having All The Things, especially when it means putting those things before people.  When parents have another child, they aren’t taking something away from their existing kids, they are GIVING them something, something much better and longer-lasting than any material possession.

Someday those boys in the article will grow up, and they won’t play in that backyard or laugh in that playroom any longer.  What they will always have is each other, and what they WON’T have is another sister or brother.

Photo Credit: John E. Clark, Sr.

NaBloPoMo November 2015

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I haven’t tackled a topic like this in a while.  But, y’all, I can’t write about pretty graveyards and fall hikes all the time.

Today I read this story  about an Australian woman who traveled to the United States to undergo in vitro fertilization and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to achieve her desired goal:  a baby girl.  “The process involves harvesting a woman’s eggs, injecting each one individually with sperm, then growing the embryo from a single cell to around 130 cells, at which point it’s possible to tell whether the chromosomes are XX or XY. Only embryos of the desired sex are transferred to the uterus.”

Here’s just one example of a facility in our country that provides this service.  From their website: “While the desire to choose whether a baby would be a boy or a girl has been present throughout human existence, it is only recently that the technology to do so has become clinically possible and available. With improvements in gender selection technology, demand for gender selection has also been growing steadily.”

There’s that slippery slope that I’m always being told is a logical fallacy! It goes on to say, “Sometimes gender selection can be “non-medical” or “elective.” In such cases, a child of a specific gender is desired without obvious medical indications. The most frequent indication for such gender selection is “family balancing,” when one gender is already represented in the family unit and the other gender is desired.”

Which makes me say, WHY IS THIS LEGAL AND WHAT ON EARTH IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE?

Y’all, please understand, after three boys in a row I was very much hoping #5 would be a girl.  I also was hoping #4 would be a girl!  Instead we got William, and unlike the lady from Down Under, I did not “[sob] with disappointment to discover I was having a second son … and then a third.”  

Anyway, I understand the DESIRE for a daughter.  But most of us just suck it up and appreciate the children we have.  Maybe we accept that God knows what he is doing and set about parenting the kids we were lucky enough to get.  Maybe we realize we should be grateful for conceiving in the first place and for producing a healthy baby of any gender.  Remember when our mothers were having kids, and there was no way to know in advance what they were having, what they said when people asked if they wanted a boy or a girl? “I don’t care what it is as long as it’s healthy.”  I haven’t heard that in a long time; have you?

Five Kids

I know that, to a childless woman struggling with infertility, I might seem ungrateful because I already have three healthy sons. But unless you’ve experienced “gender disappointment”, you can’t understand how crippling it can be. My desire for a daughter caused me to spiral into depression and left me virtually housebound. Every time I went out, toddlers in pink seemed to taunt me.”  

If “gender disappointment” was so “crippling” to her, what she needed was not a daughter, it was therapy and lots of it.  She doesn’t just SEEM ungrateful, she IS ungrateful.  One can only imagine what her sons will think of all this when they come across this article online in the future–if they don’t already sense her feelings toward them now.

And what about that little girl, who has a lot of expectations heaped upon her already?  My Facebook post on this topic has generated some indignant comments.  One person said, “I hope the little girl likes karate instead of ballet!”  Well, you know, since ALL KIDS tend to do the unexpected, and since they are, you know, INDIVIDUALS, that’s just as likely as not.  There’s no one kind of “girl” and no one kind of “boy,” which is why I always find these stories about “gender balance” so ridiculous, and why I always think it’s funny when people think one boy and one girl is the ideal complete family.  My three boys are NOTHING alike.  My girls are not much alike either, and their gender is only one part of what makes them unique and special.

There is so much about this story that is disgusting.  The fact that she paid $50,000 for this procedure.  That could have been used to send one of her boys to college.  Or to fund the adoption of a daughter. The fact that this is a for-profit venture in the first place. From an article in Slate:

“Just over a decade ago, some doctors saw the potential profits that could be made. . . They coined the phrase “family balancing” to make sex selection more palatable. They marketed their clinics by giving away free promotional DVDs and setting up slick websites.  These fertility doctors have turned a procedure originally designed to prevent genetic diseases into a luxury purchase akin to plastic surgery. Gender selection now rakes in revenues of at least $100 million every year. The average cost of a gender selection procedure at high-profile clinics is about $18,000, and an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 procedures are performed every year. Fertility doctors foresee an explosion in sex-selection procedures on the horizon, as couples become accustomed to the idea that they can pay to beget children of the gender they prefer.”

Then there is the immorality of the procedure itself.  What happened to all those little boy embryos, after all?  They were discarded.  Her own children, and she threw them away BECAUSE THEY WERE BOYS.  And where is all this headed?  Do you really believe that selecting for other desired qualities won’t be a thing in the future?  From the Slate article: “In 2009, [Dr.]Steinberg came under a worldwide media firestorm when he announced on his website that couples could also choose their baby’s eye and hair color, in addition to gender. He revoked the offer after receiving a letter from the Vatican.” Thank God for the Vatican, is all I can say.

Says the happy mother/satisfied client:  “It’s not about playing God, it’s about giving women reproductive freedom.”  Um, no.  It IS about playing God. And it’s wrong, wrong, wrong.

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I’m a day late, but hopefully not a dollar short, to Five Favorites, hosted by Mama Knows, Honeychild.

five favorites

Let’s talk books today.  I don’t know how I would go about making a list of my five favorite books ever, so instead I will call this Five Favorite Books that have changed my life.  And if that sounds like an exaggeration, it’s really not.

1.  Humanae Vitae

If you are Catholic, this book should need no explanation.  It SHOULD.  But sadly it probably does.

This is the papal encyclical issued by Pope Paul VI which confirmed the Church’s condemnation of artificial birth control.  But it doesn’t just condemn; it also explains, and does so beautifully.

Of course I grew up knowing that the Church was against contraception.  But in spite of 12 years of Catholic school, no one ever once explained WHY.  I went into college thinking that this was just some sort of old-fashioned and unimportant idea that I should feel free to ignore.

Then I took a Christian marriage class at Georgetown and read this book, and my life was changed.  And the change went deeper than just my understanding of this one issue; it also affected my relationship to the Church.  Because it was in reading this that I realized that Church teachings have explanations, that they aren’t just pronouncements from on high.  I decided right then that before ever disagreeing with the Church, even in matters of conscience, we must first read and reflect on its teachings.

2.  Let’s Have Healthy Children

When I found out I was pregnant with Emily, the first thing I did was go to the library and look for books to check out.  This was in the first batch, but I soon bought my own copy and annotated it heavily.  Adelle Davis’s findings remain a topic for debate today, but I remain convinced that the regimen of vitamins that I took while pregnant and breastfeeding are responsible for my children’s vibrant good health.

When my kids were babies I introduced foods to them the way Davis suggested too.  I have continued to believe that nutrition is the key to good health even when I didn’t always follow Davis’s guidelines.  The effect of the dietary changes I have recently made on my health confirms this belief!

3.  Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing

Besides the practical advice Kippley provides on breastfeeding, her stance on mother/baby togetherness formed the way I parented my children.  I didn’t know then what attachment parenting was, but Kippley told me that babies should be fed on demand, that nursing wasn’t just about food, that extended nursing was normal, and that mothers and babies shouldn’t be separated.

Before I read this book I thought of breastfeeding as something you did to give a baby a good start before weaning to the bottle at six months or so.  I would never have imagined myself nursing children until three or four years of age, and I wouldn’t have understood the parenting aspects of breastfeeding that go far beyond nutrition and shaped my mothering as well as my children.

This book also changed my life because it turned me into a breastfeeding advocate, which led me to develop online friendships with like-minded people that endure to this day, after our breastfeeding days are done.

4.  Childbirth without Fear

I never did have the all-natural childbirth I dreamed of when I first read this book, although I got closer each time.  Still, this book changed my life by influencing the way I viewed childbirth, by encouraging me to be skeptical of all interventions into this natural process, by leading me to read further (Painless Childbirth; Thank You, Dr. Lamaze; The Experience of Childbirth; Open Season), to take Bradley and Lamaze classes, and to become an advocate for myself in this area.  This book set me along the road that led to two successful VBACs after three C-sections.  It led me to connect with others who felt the same way who were a support for me and taught me so much.  And it contributed to my attitude toward medical intervention in general, because it became clear to me that doctors can be life-savers but that we have a responsibility to learn about our own health and advocate for ourselves, not just blindly follow medical advice “because doctor said so.”

5.  Kids Are Worth It!

If you’ve read this book, and you know me, you’re probably thinking, “What’s she talking about?  She doesn’t parent her kids anything like what this book says!”  And you’d be correct.  But we all need something to aspire to, right?  I know that this is the best parenting book I’ve ever read because I keep coming back to it and quoting from it.  I don’t disagree with one word in it and I only wish I’d read it before I had so many kids and was already overwhelmed and making every possible mistake!

Still, even when I don’t follow the principles of this book, I can see where I’ve gone wrong and why, and that’s something, isn’t it?  There’s always hope.  And especially as my kids have gotten older I take comfort and advice from this: “Is it life-threatening? Is it morally threatening? Is it unhealthy?”  That’s helped me pick my battles.  Now that William is 13 I probably should re-read the teenage section of this book and see how I can improve this time around. 🙂

That’s it for this week.  If there are any books that have changed YOUR life, I wish you’d tell me about them in the comments!

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I’m late to the party, but thought I should do my bit to promote NFP Awareness Week.

If you aren’t Catholic (and in a sad commentary on . . . lots of things, maybe even if you are) you may have no idea what NFP even is.  The doctor I went to see right after I was married didn’t.  Of course, that’s been a while back, so maybe the situation has improved.

NFP stands for Natural Family Planning, and it’s not your parents’ Rhythm Method, which didn’t work.  Learned properly and followed exactly, it’s just about as effective as the Pill.  Only it’s permitted by the Church and non-abortifacient, and if you don’t care about that stuff, maybe being able to avoid pregnancy AND possible blood clots and other unsavory consequences of bombarding your body with unnatural hormones for extended periods of time might pique your interest.

I remember my first exposure to NFP.  I was a Senior at Knoxville Catholic High School, in a co-ed class taught by a priest, and he showed us some goofy movie.  We heard the words “cervical mucus,” became disgusted and/or embarrassed, and quickly tuned out.  Now, I give him props for at least trying, but I can think of better ways to introduce the topic.  And because no groundwork had been laid beforehand (at least, not that I remember) to explain exactly WHY artificial contraceptives were wrong, other than “because the Church said so,” none of us understood the importance of what he was trying to teach us.

I was engaged to be married before I heard about NFP again, not in a marriage preparation class, but rather in a Christian Marriage class at Georgetown, which I took voluntarily as one of the classes I needed to get a minor in Theology.  This priest had us read Certain Declarations Concerning Sexual Ethics, Familiaris Consortio, and Humanae Vitae before we read The Art of Natural Family Planning.  These books changed my attitude and shaped my future life (and John’s, which he didn’t much appreciate since he was not a Catholic at the time!).

I’m not going to go into the details and the science because if you are truly interested and want to know you can Google the links as well as I can.  I can only share with you the freedom of knowing that you  are 1) following the law of the Church; 2) not polluting your body with chemicals; 3) not interfering with intimacy by the use of unpleasant and inconvenient devices.  Given today’s value for doing things naturally, I’m surprised that more people don’t embrace NFP for purely ecological reasons.

Well, you say, but it doesn’t work.  You have five children and everyone I know who writes about NFP has at least that many if not more.  I don’t want five children.

I didn’t want five children either.  I wanted ten.  See how I don’t have ten?  John didn’t want ten.  That’s called compromise.  I’ve been married for not quite 25 years.  If NFP doesn’t work, why do I only have five children?  Do you think that six-year space between Teddy and William was just luck?

Teddy's Graduation

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rescuing julia

I am so happy that Tina Traster offered me the chance to read and review this important story of her daughter’s adoption from Russia (Siberia, to be precise) and the family’s struggle with Reactive Attachment Disorder.

Let me start by explaining why this subject resonates with me, and why I was excited to read this book.

I have long been an advocate of “Attachment Parenting,” which sometimes receives a bad rap in the popular press by people who misunderstand it as a rigid set of rules. Really it’s more about rejecting rigid rules, trusting yourself, and following your baby’s (and later your child’s) cues. It was already something I was doing at least in part when I learned what it was called from my sister (who founded the Knoxville Chapter of Attachment Parenting International), and I’m now friends with someone who actually wrote the book (or at least one of them!) on it. So I know how important secure attachment is for children, and how we as parents should be fostering that from the moment of birth.

But what happens when children don’t get that kind of parenting, or indeed much parenting at all? As Melissa Fay Greene asks in her foreword to Ms. Traster’s book: “[W]hat of babies who . . . are unable to attract permanent devoted caregivers and cannot seem to locate an adult to adore? . . . What happens to such a baby if she is not rescued before the light in her eyes has gone out? . . . When a baby or young child has learned that no one is coming, that no one thinks he or she is the cutest little baby on earth; that he or she must weather hunger, cold, and sickness in solitary, those are hard lessons to unlearn.”

Doesn’t your heart just break, reading that? I know mine does. And it’s something I often think of and worry about because of the work I do.

As many of you know, my husband is an attorney, and we do a lot of work in the juvenile court system. We see babies who are removed from their parents as infants, and allowed to see them for only 4.3 hours per month. Sometimes months and years go by before these children are reunited with their parents. Many times they are moved from one foster home to another. No one seems to discuss the effect this has on their ability to form attachments not just to their parents but to anyone. Conversely, I routinely read Petitions to Terminate the Parental Rights of some of our clients which claim that no bond exists with the birth parents (with whom the child may have lived for many years) and that a bond has formed with the foster parents (with whom the child has lived for a few months). We always question these non-evidence-based assumptions when we answer these petitions, and demand to see the science that would back them up, but of course there is no such science.

So we worry. We worry about these kids, and their futures, because we know secure attachment is so important. And that’s why this book is so important, not only for those who have adopted from foreign countries or are considering doing so, but for anyone who is interested in helping the troubled children in our social services system, or in doing something to reform that broken system.

When Tina Traster and her husband, Ricky Tannenbaum, set out to adopt a baby from Siberia, they did not even consider the idea that their child might have trouble bonding with them. On the contrary, Tina was more concerned about her own “queasy ambivalence.” She hasn’t read any parenting books. She is shocked, and not in a happy way, to learn that Julia’s adoption will take place much sooner than they had been told. She doesn’t even know how to change a diaper.

Tina’s honesty in disclosing her fears and her mixed feelings about adopting a baby strikes me as a bold move. It would be easy to blame Julia’s lack of bonding on a mother who has her own issues with attachment–one who is in fact in the middle of long-standing conflict with and estrangement from her own mother. But this tactic works because of Ricky, who is not ambivalent, who is deft and efficient in caring for the baby from the start, who is loving and nurturing and who seems to his wife to have it all together. We are accompanying Tina on her journey as she worries when she sees other babies and the way their mothers interact with them, and becomes certain something is different about Julia at the same time that she questions her own ability to mother. When Tina writes: “For the first two years after we brought Julia home, I thought I was the only one in the world who experienced difficulties with her, that I’d made a mistake, that motherhood and I weren’t meant to be . . . only in the last year have I seen Ricky become aggravated with her behavior. She’s just as unresponsive to him as she is to me,”  her concerns are validated, and any misgivings the reader may have had as to the origins of Julia’s inability to bond are swept away as well.

It takes a while for Julia’s parents to accept the diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder, and some time after that for them to decide to attack the problem head on, which they do not with the help of professionals but via copious research and then applying what they have learned on their own.  They don’t advocate this approach for everyone, noting especially that some children with RAD can hurt themselves or others and would require professional intervention. But it works for Julia.  While Tina is quick to make sure we understand that RAD is not something that goes away, that it will always be a part of Julia and will require constant vigilance by her parents, she has become “solidly attached.”

Rescuing Julia Twice is a gripping story, and Ms. Traster is a good writer (an award-winning journalist–this is no ghost-written memoir).  It weaves together seamlessly the linear events of Julia’s adoption and what follows with scientific information (accessibly presented) on RAD as well as flashbacks to Tina’s past and the conflict with her mother.  So this book is a lot of things put together, and that’s a strength.  You will not be bored by it, and you will also learn from it.  My only criticism is that I would have liked more story about Julia’s transition to firm attachment, and further information on the techniques her parents used.  This is primarily the story of the road toward Tina and Ricky’s definitive realization that Julia has RAD, and I feel that the ending comes a little abruptly.  However, to be fair, this may just be the story that Ms. Traster wants to tell, and she tells it very well.

Rescuing Julia Twice is available on Amazon both in hardback and Kindle versions.  You can read more about Julia here, and more about Ms. Traster’s other writing here.  Additionally, there are many resources on RAD listed in the Resources section at the end of the book.

As always, this review represents my own opinion.  My only compensation was the review copy I received.

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A few months ago, I was honored to be chosen as an “Off the Shelf” reviewer for Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City.  Y’all may have noticed by now that I love books.  So why wouldn’t I be thrilled to have the opportunity to read quality books (for free!) and talk about them here?  My first review follows.  My only compensation was the book itself, and the opinion is my own.

book cover

A Story Unfinished:  99 Days with Eliot is the story of every parent’s worse nightmare–the death of a child.  And even more tragically,  about knowing that death is inevitable before in the eyes of the world that child’s life has even begun.  It sounds sad, and of course it is.  But reading it will lift you up, not drag you down.

At a 30-week prenatal appointment, Matt and Ginny Mooney learned that their unborn child had a genetic condition–Trisomy 18–that would result in his death within hours or days of birth, if not before.  But baby Eliot defied the doctors’ expectations and lived for 99 precious days.  His parents chronicled his brief life in their blog, and those entries make up a portion of the book.

Knowing only that their time with their son would be brief, the Mooneys took full advantage of it, cherishing every moment.  The shortness of Eliot’s life seems like a tragedy, but having feared he would die in the womb, each of those 99 days felt like a gift to the Mooneys and was treated as such.

This isn’t your typical biography.  For one thing, you know in advance how the story ends–or at least how THIS part of the story ends.  You know going in that Eliot dies in 99 days.   And the story isn’t told in a linear fashion.  Matt mixes the story of Eliot’s life with flashbacks and previews, and adds his insights.  This was a little disconcerting to me at first because I didn’t expect it, but I think it works well for what he is hoping to accomplish with this book.

Because it’s ultimately not just the story of a baby’s life; it’s about what his parents took away from the experience, and what we all can learn from it.  Yet I don’t want to make it sound preachy, because it isn’t.  Matt believes in the goodness of God and the redemptive value of suffering, but he doesn’t sugarcoat the pain:  “We do not get to pick the ways in which God chooses to reveal himself.  Please understand what I am not saying.  The loss of Eliot is bad, big-bucket Bad, and I make no attempt to tie a bow on our own experience nor the immense pain I come across in the lives of others.  I miss him every day.”

People debate whether God causes bad things to happen, or ask why He doesn’t prevent them, or say that is He doesn’t prevent them, it’s just as bad as if He causes them.  Some people believe that every death and every tragedy is part of God’s plan, and directly willed by Him with a purpose that we cannot hope to understand.  Certainly all of us know that sometimes good things come out of bad things.  Matt writes about this toward the end of the book, in talking about his journey to pick up his adopted daughter, abandoned in a Ukrainian orphanage because she was disabled.  This was for me the most profound moment in a book that is overflowing with profound moments: “But for losing my son, I would not be in this car.  I would not be in Ukraine. . . . If Eliot were here, I would not be here.  The absolute worst thing in each of our lives was the thing that brought us together.  Without walking a road of pain and misery, our paths would never have crossed.  But they did.  Lena is my daughter.”

Off The Shelf-V3

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