Highlight of my day: Visiting with my precious nephew Leo.
He’s a little blurry, because he is always in motion, but isn’t he darling?
Highlight of my day: Visiting with my precious nephew Leo.
He’s a little blurry, because he is always in motion, but isn’t he darling?
It’s a measure of just how crazy things are around here that poor William turned 11 on March 5 and had to wait until tonight to have his party. And just a family party at that (which translates to probably 16 of us).
So today, in honor of my baby boy, I will post TEN INTERESTING THINGS ABOUT WILLIAM.
1. William weighed 13 pounds and 5 ounces at birth and was 24 inches long. He was my first vaginal delivery after three C-sections. All three local news stations interviewed us, and the story was picked up nationally. I got emails from all over the country. Later one of the clips somehow ended up in an episode of Animal Planet entitled “Extreme Births.”
2. William is an extremely picky eater. I guarantee you that he is pickier than your picky eater. His favorite food is “the rolls at the Great American Steak and Buffet.”
3. William loves animals. “I love all God’s creatures,” he once opined as a small child. I think he has become a bot more discriminating since–he hates hippos and pigs, he told me today. But by far, his favorite animal is the cat.
4. William is obsessed with Aliens, or as they are apparently correctly called, xenomorphs. All he wanted for Christmas was Kenner alien toys from the 1990s.
5. William hates everything to do with school, even homeschooling.
6. William loves to play on the computer. He loves Roblox, and he creates awesome stick figure movies. He also spends a lot of time watching YouTube reviews of toys he hopes to get.
7. William is VERY stubborn. If he doesn’t want to do something, he pretty much won’t.
9. William and Lorelei play very well together. She is happy to follow his lead about the kind of games they play.
10. William hates shoes. We just went shoe shopping to replace the battered Crocs he had been wearing for months, and it was agonizing.
William (age 10) hit me with a couple of difficult topics right in a row the other night. This post is part one.
Many parents struggle with how to talk to their children about where babies come from. When I was growing up, I had many friends whose parents completely ignored this essential topic, leaving them to be instructed God only knows by who, how, or when. Lucky for them they got to go to Girl Scout camp with me. No joke, I drew a diagram and labelled female body parts–they had never even been taught the proper names.
I was raised to call things by their right names. And when I was four, and my little sister was on the way, my mother showed me pictures of birth, which fascinated me. I remember getting in trouble for telling a friend how babies got out of stomachs. Her mother had told her they were all cut out (much less rare nowadays, sadly, but not in the early seventies) and she was upset with me for telling her the truth. I remember being puzzled as to why this mother, who was by profession a nurse, would lie about this.
When I was seven, my mother took the occasion of my aunt expecting to read me a book entitled Where Do Babies Come From? It was a simple book with artistic illustrations in soft colors (I hate the cartoony sex ed books that are popular these days). I remember being extremely skeptical and asking her to show me exactly where it really said the part about how babies are made!
I admired my mother’s approach and saw no reason to deviate from it in the raising of my own kids. I wanted them to be informed, and I also wanted them to be comfortable asking us anything. So when Emily was little, I picked up my very own copy of the previously mentioned book at the used bookstore. Then I waited. I had always heard that you shouldn’t give kids more information than they were ready for, and to follow their cues. With two brothers arriving in quick succession, Emily knew plenty about pregnancy at a young age. Finally, when she was seven, she asked me what the daddy had to do with it. Voila, I pulled out the book and read it to her. Then I let her read it again herself.
The hysterical sequel to this was when her Daddy came home, and she was so excited that the first thing she did was to share this information with him, and then demanded that he read her the book as well. He was horrified but hid it well. Then she asked us. “Did YOU do that?”
I don’t have as clear a memory of talking to Jake and Teddy–Jake says that Emily actually told him surreptitiously at some point–but I know I read them that same book, and taught them the right words, and answered all their questions. I recall Jake saying something like, “Well, you must have done it three times, since you have three children.”
This approach was a success with my three big kids. True, occasionally someone would holler, “Penis!” while standing in line at the grocery store. And I have been amazed at some of the questions they asked me, without any embarrassment. But today, they are not shy about saying anything in front of me, which can be disconcerting but is better than the alternative.
So now we come to William. He’s ten–will be eleven in March–so you would think we would have had this talk by now, right? I kept waiting for him to ask me the questions that would start us down the path to the conversation. But here’s the thing about William–besides being extremely innocent for his age (he’s homeschooled and doesn’t have close contact with any other little boys except his cousin) he also doesn’t pick things up unless they concern the topics he is vitally interested in–at the moment, xenomorphs, transformers, Godzilla, and animals. He knows just about everything there is to know about those subjects. I have frequently heard him refer to animals mating, and I wondered what he thought that entailed. I assumed he probably knew a lot–how could he not, in a houseful of teenagers with their computers and movies and uncensored conversations–even though we had never had an official talk.
Because William is so oblivious we often carry on discussions right in front of him and assume he is not paying attention. So the other night John and I were working and I asked a question that involved the very young mother of a client, who was married to a boy who was not the father of our client. William wasn’t even in the office but he heard me and started asking questions. “How could her husband not be her baby’s father?” he asked me. I said, “Well, she was married, but she had a boyfriend at the same time.” He mulled this over for a moment and then said, “People don’t mate like animals, do they? I mean, you just have a baby with someone if you spend a lot of time with them, right?”
I could just feel John cringing at his desk and knew I wasn’t going to have any help in this conversation! I said, “Actually, people do mate.” “How?” said William. Buying time, I asked him, “How do you think animals mate?” “I don’t really know,” he responded. “I know they have to be near each other, and bugs have to actually be touching each other.”
So here’s where I should have been able to reach for my trusty book, right? Oh wait.
Right. The book was in the house. The house that BURNED DOWN. Damn it.
Flying solo, I started with the part about each parent having a seed that will make the baby and that the seeds have to get together. “How?” was the natural next question. So trying to sound completely at ease, I briefly described the process. “Really?” he said. “That sounds disgusting.”
“It sounds strange,” I said. “I didn’t believe it myself when I first heard it. But it’s really not disgusting, it’s nice. It’s something people want to do when they love each other.”
“I still think it sounds disgusting,” he said. Then he turned to John to continue his discussion of the Cloverfield monster.
. . . right about now, actually, I was welcoming my first child into the world.
We knew that Emily’s birth would require a C-section because she was breech. Although my obstetrician was one of the last left in town who would assist at a vaginal breech delivery, he required that one have a “proven pelvis,” and mine, alas, had not yet been tested. (I think we can all now agree that I can win all pelvis competitions.) We wanted her to choose her own birthday, though, and I wanted to experience labor–I had so looked forward to a natural birth!
I woke to signs of labor that morning–it was a Monday. John called in to work. We were so excited! I was scheduled for my regular weekly OB appointment that afternoon, and the doctor agreed that I was in early labor and that he would be happy to schedule the surgery that evening. We didn’t go straight to the hospital, though–I had something I wanted to do first.
After we completed our errand we reported to St. Mary’s Women’s Pavilion, which is probably the best hospital ever. And so, it appears from the pictures, did about half of Knoxville. Emily’s arrival was anticipated with much excitement. Of our friends, we were the first to have a baby. She was the first grandchild on both sides as well. She had four living great-grandmothers and she was the first great-grandchild for three of them. Looking back at the pictures this evening, I believe I counted twelve people who were in the waiting room while we were in the operating room.
I remember in the operating room asking when they were going to begin and John saying they had already started. I am not one of these people that cares to watch myself being disemboweled on the operating table. The screen was up. A little tugging was all I felt, but I did suffer some sort of anxiety reaction at some point and had to be restrained as I was attempting to get off the table. I recall John saying, “She’s so small! She’s so tiny! She’s a girl!” He who had hoped for a boy the entire time was instantly smitten. And she wasn’t tiny–at 8 lbs. 14 oz. she was pretty big, although the smallest of our five.
The trip down the hallway to the recovery room was surreal with all the people running out of the waiting room hoping for a glimpse. My father even had my sister Betsy (who was away at college) on the phone giving her a play by play. We had 45 minutes alone to get ourselves together and prepare for the onslaught of admirers. John spent the time calling his family and out of town friends on the phone, and changing Emily’s first diaper (he had said he wasn’t going to change diapers but he could not stand to see her uncomfortable).
I love this next series of pictures because you can really sense the party atmosphere. This first one shows John shaking hands with my father, with my Uncle Charlie looking on.
Mima is in the background just coming into the room.
From left to right are my cousin Jeffrey, my Aunt Mary Leslie, and my friends Katrice, Kim, and Rico. Granny’s hair is visible behind them! My sister Anne and my cousin Sarah were there too, as was my mother, who must have been taking all the pictures.
Doesn’t it look like a party? That’s because it was! The errand we ran before coming to the hospital was picking up a birthday cake. It was John’s 25th birthday, and right after this picture we cut the cake, while he admired the best birthday present he ever received.
The following was one of my last columns for the East Tennessee Catholic. I did a quick check before reprinting it here to make sure that it still accurately reflects the Church’s position on this issue.
Most of the mail attorneys receive is dry and uninteresting, as you might expect. But the brochure I pulled out of my husband’s PO Box one morning last Spring was different—it was eye-catching, all pink and spring green and adorned with butterflies and an adorable baby peeking out from under a blanket.
It was an invitation to a conference in Washington, D.C.: “Emerging Issues in Embryo Donation and Adoption.” Sponsors included the National Embryo Donation Center, Bethany Christian Services, and UT’s Graduate School of Medicine. The sessions looked fascinating, and I was particularly intrigued by one of the speakers, Father Peter F. Ryan, a Jesuit priest with an impressive array of academic credentials, who planned on “Making the Ethical Case for Embryo Donation and Adoption.”
To me it seemed like a perfect solution to the tragedy of the thousands of embryos abandoned to cryopreservation tanks after their parents “completed their families” through assisted reproductive technologies. We Catholics believe embryos are morally equivalent to born children, right? And it’s a moral good to adopt unwanted children, surely? Says the 1987 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith instruction Donum Vitae: “The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life.”
Our evangelical brethren have embraced embryo adoption. One prominent Christian adoption site has a program trademarked “Snowflakes,” a clever moniker referencing both the current condition of the embryos and their uniqueness. However, reading stories of some non-Catholic couples who have chosen embryo adoption highlights some of our theological differences since evangelicals do not object to IVF.
What is the Catholic Church’s official position?
Donum Vitae was silent on the issue. A 2005 article in the Washington Post, written by Alan Cooperman, said: “[T]he debate over embryo adoptions is just beginning to take shape. ‘There are very few moral issues on which the Catholic Church has not yet taken a position. This is one,’ said Cathy Cleaver Ruse, chief spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.” The article went on to say, “One of the leading voices in the church in favor of embryo adoptions is the Rev. Thomas D. Williams, Dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University in Rome. ‘It’s reaching out to another human being, albeit in an embryonic state, in the only way that that little being can be helped.’”
Responding to the many new bioethical issues that have arisen since 1987, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published Instruction Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical Questions in September 2008. It addresses the problem of frozen embryos at length: “With regard to the large number of frozen embryos already in existence the question becomes: what to do with them? . . . a grave injustice has been perpetrated . . . The proposal that these embryos could be put at the disposal of infertile couples as a treatment for infertility is not ethically acceptable for the same reasons which make artificial heterologous procreation illicit as well as any form of surrogate motherhood; this practice would also lead to other problems of a medical, psychological and legal nature. It has also been proposed, solely in order to allow human beings to be born who are otherwise condemned to destruction, that there could be a form of ‘prenatal adoption’. This proposal, praiseworthy with regard to the intention of respecting and defending human life, presents however various problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above.”
The USCCB’s December press release does not characterize this statement as an absolute ban on embryo adoption by faithful Catholics: “The document does not reject the practice outright but warns of medical, psychological and legal problems associated with it and underscores the moral wrong of producing and freezing embryos in the first place.” The National Catholic Bioethics Center, in an article written by Director of Education Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D, concurs: “There is ongoing debate among reputable Catholic theologians about this matter, and technically it remains an open question. . . . Dignitas Personae expressed serious moral reservations . . . without, however, explicitly condemning it as immoral.”
This is yet another debate that no one saw coming back when the birth of the first test-tube baby was celebrated. The problem of the orphaned embryos underscores the intrinsic immorality of IVF. As Dignitas Personae concludes: “All things considered, it needs to be recognized that the thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved.”
The column turned out to be eerily topical as only a few months later an unmarried teacher at the Catholic high school my children attend (as did I and my mother) decided to adopt an embryo. She wrote the parents of her students a lengthy explanation of her research into the issue, which included consultation with the Bishop and the Principal of the school. A minor firestorm erupted when one family expressed their disagreement by sending an email to every parent in the school and then withdrawing their children.
Except surely by now you know the benefits of breastfeeding, right? If you don’t, click here. (And we lactivists, by the way, prefer to talk about the deficits of formula feeding, since we believe breastfeeding should be normative.)
So I think I’ll do something a little more personal and share with you some of my own adventures in breastfeeding. And I have had a lot of them!
What do I think about breastfeeding in public?
If a woman has a right to be there, she has a right to feed her baby there. Period. Would I whip out a bare breast to make a point? No. Do I think babies need blankets or nursing aprons over their heads? Absolutely not. A nursing bra and a shirt that pulls up from the bottom will do just fine. If anyone sees a nipple during the latch on process, they were staring.
Did I always feel that way?
No, it was a process. I covered my first baby with a blanket, often left the room to nurse her, and stopped nursing her in public at six months. Baby number five was nursed whenever, wherever, for at least two years.
How long should babies be breastfed?
Exclusively, for six months, or until you can no longer stop them grabbing food off your plate, whichever comes first! After that, as long as both parties feel comfortable. All my babies self-weaned, some with more encouragement than others, depending on my mood/needs at the time. I nursed Emily for 26 months, Jake for 38, Teddy for 26, William for about 44 months, and Lorelei for about 50 months. I have breastfed for over 13 years of my life–very well spent years!
Where should breastfed babies sleep?
In bed with their mothers.
Did I always do this?
Somewhat. Emily had a cradle next to my bed. I started nursing her in my bed, in my sleep. I had never heard of co-sleeping, couldn’t believe this great secret I had discovered. I was never tired! It was wonderful. With my first three babies I was always trying to get them to sleep through the night, so at some point I would be sitting up on the sofa in their bedrooms nursing in the middle of the night and falling asleep sitting up as often as not. I gave all that up with four and five. Lorelei never had a cradle or crib. She has always slept with me and still usually does.
What are my favorite books on breastfeeding?
Nursing Your Baby by Karen Pryor. I don’t mean the updated version, which I have never read. I mean the original 1970s version, which is charmingly dated and yet full of good advice. Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing by Sheila Kippley. If you aren’t interested in child spacing you can ignore that part and concentrate on the theme of mother-baby togetherness.
What about schedules?
No. When the nurse asks how often your baby is eating, make something up. Don’t even look at a clock. If your baby wants to eat every thirty minutes, so what? This time will not last forever. Maybe he isn’t hungry. Maybe he just wants to be comforted. That’s okay; breastfeeding is about more than just food. And no, I did not always know this, and baby #1 ate every two hours like clockwork, and slept with a pacifier.
What about pumping and bottlefeeding?
I worked part-time when Emily was a baby, starting when she was four months old. She flatly refused bottles, and learned to wait till I came home. Jake got a few bottles (twelve ounces worth) ONCE when I went to the symphony when he was three weeks old and his godparents kept him. I never pumped any more after that. I don’t think Teddy ever had a bottle. I never left him until he was about nine months old. William never had a bottle. Lorelei is a separate case–see breastfeeding challenges below. I HATE pumping. I am terrible at it. I can’t get any more than four ounces out EVER, even with a double electric milking machine pump. I am in awe of women who cannot breastfeed for whatever reason who then pump and feed breastmilk exclusively for a year.
What were my biggest breastfeeding challenges?
I can think of three big ones. #1 A few days after William was born I was rehospitalized due to chest pains, shortness of breath, and a terrible headache. Turns out I just lost a lot of blood giving birth to him (he weighed 13 lbs. 5 oz. and was my first vaginal delivery). But while they were figuring this out, I was subjected to a radioactive test and told I could not nurse my newborn baby for some undetermined amount of time. My lactating sister (her baby was 17 months old), her baby, and my mother spent the night at the hospital so that she could nurse the baby for me. My step-sister also donated pumped milk which my mother and I took turns feeding William by syringe. The nurses thought I was crazy, but he never had a drop of formula. #2 When William was about seven months old, and pretty much exclusively breastfed, I suffered through a terrible attack of thrush which lasted for weeks. The pain was excruciating. I tried every ointment available, stopped eating almost everything that can promote the growth of yeast (sugar, milk, bread), and finally had to pay $60 for one Diflucan pill. #3 Lorelei did not gain any weight from two months to four months. Although she was taking in enough milk to stay hydrated, she was not getting enough calories to grow. I took every galactacgogue that existed–even got an online friend to mail me some domperidone. We visited a lactation consultant regularly. We had her medicated for reflux. We rented ($100) a double electric breastpump so that I could build supply and feed her the extra via SNS (a royal PITA!). Finally we had her hospitalized and tested for a variety of problems, eventually reaching the conclusion that a recessed chin was preventing her from effectively milking the breast. Formula was prescribed by the doctor, and from four to eight months she had about 15 ounces each day. I was fortunate to have a doctor who was 100% committed to breastfeeding and worked with me in every possible way until we were both convinced that this was a rare case in which a bottle was needed. We kept nursing as well and the nursing continued long after the formula was discontinued!
Where is the strangest place I have ever breastfed?
When Lorelei was about nine months old, my Aunt Wilma died. I had her with me at the funeral home, of couse, and I was getting ready to nurse her there in the chapel when my mother got all weird about it and wanted me to go find a private place (which annoyed me but it was hardly the time to have an argument about it). So I asked the funeral director if he could direct me to a private room. At which point he showed me into a vacant parlor, saying, “There’s no one in here but Mr. Smith. And he won’t mind.” Yes, I nursed my baby in a room with a STRANGER’S CORPSE.
How’s that for an adventure?