Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why do I...

...keep my babies with me all the time? As in, why don't I leave them with babysitters, or drop them off at daycare or at least a mother's morning out, take trips without them, or even leave them with my husband when I want to go out shopping for a few hours?

The short answer: I'd miss them too much. That and the whole feeding issue.

The long answer:

Biologically, mothers and babies belong together, as one unit. The mother remains the primary habitat for the baby beyond the months of pregnancy. Her body continues to completely nourish the baby for at least the first six months, and then should continue to be the main source of nutriton for at least the next ix months. The baby forms its primary attachment to the mother by being in close constant contact with her.

One of La Leche League's ten belief statements is as follows: "In the early years, the baby has an intense need to be with his mother which is as basic as his need for food." So it is not just about nutrition. Nutrition may be what helps begin the bonding of mother and baby: baby must eat frequently, and mother keeps him close. they experience skin-to-skin contact through nursing, and they begin to form a bond. The baby is learning about love and life from his mother - who he thinks he is actually a part of - through the physical closeness. He is learning to trust, and that consistent person being there all the time for him brings him security. This is what "attachment" is all about.

A baby first becomes attached to his mother, and she to him, in these early months. But the LLL statement above said the early years. This means that baby is not suddenly ready to spend a lot less time with his mother once he hits the end of his first year. The statement is vague on the exact number of years since that will vary from child to child. Independence from the mother is not something that can be forced on a child - it is a gradual process.

Personally, it seems to me that a child any less than about 18-24 months old is not going to understand about long separations from his mother. Some mothers have to work eight hours a day - yes, this is a reality for some. But it is not ideal, in my opinion. As unpopular as it may be for me to say this, I think babies and young children should be at home with their mothers. This is the person they were designed to be with for the vast majority of the time in their early years, and it has been shown to be optimal for their well-being.

Some people say that a mother who will not release her baby or toddler into the care of others is being "overprotective." They try to make it about the mother's needs more than the child's needs. So many mothers are brushed off, saying, "Oh, he doesn't need you - it sounds like you're the one who is needy!" True, a mother does feel a need to be with her nursing baby, because of the need to feed him, and also because of the bond that is there. But most mothers - myself included - are genuinely concerned for their baby's well-being in wanting to keep him close. This is not to say that other people are incompetent and can't care for a baby properly (like great Aunt Ethel who's been after you to keep the baby for a couple days while you go out of town)... just that the mother believes that it is in the baby's best interest to remain with his mother.

This reaction is somewhat understandable in our culture. We are basically taught through our experiences that toddlers, even infants, who cry for their mothers are spoiled and trying to manipulate them. That mothers are replaceable by any child care provider, at any age, and for any length of time. That toddlers who don't fall asleep alone are going to have horrible sleep problems in the future. So, I don't fault people who say, "You need to get a break from that baby!" They usually don't mean any harm - it is just ingrained in our culture, the same way any old lady who sees you with your baby in a store will ask you, "Is he a good baby?"

Babies lack object permanence. When a baby's mother leaves, he does not understand that she will be back. His brain isn't developed to the point of knowing that once she is out of sight, she still exists. It as if she has ceased to exist. The longer the separation, the harder it is on the baby. The baby can even begin to mourn for his mother as if she were dead (I wish I remember where I had read that so I could quote it directly). Even as babies gain object permanence - realizing that things still exist even when not in sight - they still think they are a part of the mother. They don't begin to really view themselves as separate for a while still.

The brain grows at a tremendous rate in the first three years - faster than at any other time. This is especially so in the first two years. So many connections are being made (or not) at this time. The combination of breastmilk and nurturing have been shown to be very important in brain development.

I want to share some quotes on this topic now... the first set of quotes come from Kippley's writings on the First Three Years:

Hugh Riordan, Specialist in Human Communications and Director of The Olive W. Garvey Center of Human Functioning, says, "There are six reactions of children to separation when the mother is not around her child. The pattern may be 1) depression, 2) agitation or distress, 3) rejection, 4) apathy, 5) regression or 6) clinging. Why would a mother do that to her child?. . . When can a child withstand separation from the mother? Up to two years of age is a high anxiety time; from two to three years of age is a lesser anxiety time. This varies with the individual."

Sheila Kippley, in her booklet The Crucial First Three Years, writes, "William Gairdner in his book, The War Against the Family,22 pointed out that three separate research studies conducted at three different major universities all clearly showed that what babies and young children need is l) mother’s availability, 2) mother’s responsiveness to her child’s need for comfort and protection, and 3) mother’s sensitivity to her child’s signals. In other words, the mother has to be there, she has to read the signals of her baby, and she has to respond to her baby in a sensitive manner. Gairdner claims that there is unanimity on this important point: “poorly attached children are sociopaths in the making.” To avoid poorly attached children, one key is good mothering. According to Gairdner, the keys to good mothering, then, are these: availability, responsiveness, and sensitivity. Gairdner also states that “young children need an uninterrupted, intimate, and continuous connection with their mothers, especially in the very early months and years.” With prolonged breastfeeding, the mother has an uninterrupted and continuous relationship with her baby and it’s an intimate relationship as well."

Robert Lee Hotz, in his article “Study: Babies May Need Hugs to Develop Brain,” wrote, “Scientists have known for decades that maternal deprivation can mark children for life with serious behavioral problems, leaving them withdrawn, apathetic, slow to learn, and prone to chronic illness. . . Moreover, new animal research reveals that without the attention of a loving caregiver early in life, some of an infant’s brain cells simply commit suicide.” Mark Smith, a psychologist at the DuPont Merck Research Labs commented, “These cells are committing suicide. Let this be a warning to us humans. The effects of maternal deprivation may be much more profound than we had imagined.”

Harold Voth, M.D., said in the Medical Times in November 1980 (so this is not new stuff!), “A baby must have a mother, a mother who is mature enough to attend to its needs and provide so-called object constancy for a minimum of three years... The mothering function is one of the most important of all human events but, unfortunately, one of the least appreciated or regarded by society.” So true that stay-at-home moms are undervalued in our culture...

This one is from Maria Montessori in The Absorbent Mind: “Mother and child are inseparable… For the mother has to feed her child, and therefore she cannot leave him at home when she goes out. To this need for food is added their mutual fondness and love. In this way, the child’s need for nutrition, and the love that unites these two beings, both combine in solving the problem of the child’s adaptation to the world, and this happens in the most natural way possible. Mother and child are one. Except where civilization has broken down this custom, no mother ever entrusts her child to someone else… Another point is the custom of prolonging the period of maternal feeding. Sometimes this lasts for a year and a half; sometimes for two, or even three years. This has nothing to do with the child’s nutritional needs, because for some time he has been able to assimilate other kinds of food; but prolonged lactation requires the mother to remain with her child, and this satisfies her unconscious need to give her offspring the help of a full social life on which to construct his mind.”

There are lots more great quotes at the link above... I won't post them all here. If you are interested, go read more!

The chapter in the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding titled "Making a Choice" is a good read regarding mother-baby togetherness and the importance of that early relationship between the two. Among other things, it discusses how a young child shows classic signs of grief when separated from his mother. Humberto Nagera, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Montana, is quoted as saying, "When the child is confronted with his mother's absence his automatic response is an anxiety state that on many occasions reaches overwhelming proportions. Repeated traumas of this type in suceptible children will not fail to have serious consequences for their later development... No other animal species will subject their infants to experiences that they are not endowed to cope with, except the human animal."

I believe it was in a Dr. Sears book where I read that he thought it was best if children didn't spend the night away from their parents until they were at least three. That resonated with me way back when I read it, because it immediately brought to mind my own childhood. I am the oldest of four. I don't ever remember my parents leaving us overnight when we were very young (obviously I might not remember this myself, but I would remember for my brothers since they are younger). My mom has told me about the first time I stayed overnight with somebody else - her parents. I have very vague memories of going camping with them. This happened the week before I turned three. Then, the next time my parents went somewhere and had us stay at a friend's house for a few nights was when Tim, my youngest brother, was about three or four years old. I think all four of us stayed with the Tramontes for those few days (they had five kids, so it probably didn't make much of a difference to them to have all of us there too!). Anyway, I just want to say thanks, Mom and Dad!

Of final note: it could be argued that children under the age of three probably won't remember any of it in the future, so it doesn't matter if they aren't with their mother. But the science shows otherwise. The child may not remember, but the imprint of his early years follows him.

I hope this post is coherent - I wrote it in several sittings and want to go to bed now since it is after 11, so I am not proofreading it tonight. Hope it all makes sense!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Kids Say the Darndest Things...

Tonight, we had this bottle of salad dressing on the dining room table. As I brought the last things to the table and was about to put Cecilia into her seat, she pointed at Paul Newman on the salad dressing bottle and said,


I guess it's something about the hat...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

August Marian Feast Days

A week ago on August 15, the Church celebrated Mary's Assumption. It is one of the few days of obligation (meaning attending Mass is not optional) in the United States (one of seven, I believe). However, it fell on a Saturday this year and was therefore rolled into Sunday. I usually don't care for this being done, but it ended up working well for us this year since we were leaving the beach that Saturday. Seminarian Uncle Tim (as I like to refer to him here!) got up and went to 9:00 Mass at the nearby Catholic church, while Chris, my parents, and I packed up to leave and made sure we weren't forgetting anything. We also made sure the girls got some run-around time before being confined to the car for the long ride home.

So, we didn't really do anything to celebrate the Assumption that day... but a little later in the week, Caroline and I made the above Marian triptych. Making during the week in between the Feast of the Assumption and the Queenship of Mary turned out to be very appropriate, as it depicts both.

The first panel is a painting of Mary as the Immaculate Conception. I had also thought of finding a painting of St. Anne, since Mary was conceived in the womb of St. Anne... this painting we used is titled "The Immaculate Conception," even though it appears that Mary has long been conceived and born and grown up! I think the reason for the title is just that The Immaculate Conception is a formal title of Mary - it is what she is. Anyway, I could see either one being appropriate in the first panel.

The middle, largest panel shows the Assumption of Mary - when Mary was taken to heaven, body and soul. Of interest regarding this: I was reading about it, and wondering if Mary actually died before the Assumption or not. It appears that nobody knows, and so the Church just teaches that she came to the end of her earthly life. I read some of this interesting article at Catholic Culture... it is really long though!

The final panel depicts Mary being crowned Queen of Heaven. Caroline was speculating that the angels must have crowned her, but this painting shows God and Jesus crowning her. Caroline said, "How can they both be crowning her - they are both the same thing!" The Trinity is such a mystery, and even more so to children, I imagine! I just said that this is the way a person chose to paint the picture, to show that God is both the Father and the Son.

Anyway, what we did is this: I cut a shoebox to make the triptych. The middle panel is the bottom of the box, and the smaller panels are the sides. We painted it gold together and then cut and glued the pictures on (printed from online), and Caroline painted around the edges of the pictures. We could have also embellished it with some kind of doodads, like craft jewels, but we didn't have anything like that at the moment... but I like how it turned out, simple yet elegant. We have displayed it on our dining table all week. And here's where I found the idea - which Jessica posted a link to at Shower of Roses.

While visiting the Our Lady of La Leche shrine, we found this coloring book in the gift shop, and I couldn't pass it up at only $1.50. It contains at least one page for each letter of the alphabet, and Q happens to be for queen. So Caroline set to work coloring it when she found I'd left it out on the table for her on Friday. This coloring book is going to be lots of fun to use once we begin Kindergarten and First Grade work!

Here is her finished work - she switched to the aqua colored pencil when the regular blue needed to be sharpened... and then switched back after I'd sharpened it!

So, I wonder if it is a problem that my one year old likes to eat raw grains? Flour and oats in particular.

We made sugar cookies on Friday in preparation for making our crown cake for the Queenship of Mary the next day. The original recipe suggests buying pre-made sugar cookie dough and adding flour to make it stiff enough to roll out, but I found a roll-out sugar cookie recipe online, and I had an extra bag of white flour (since Kroger had their organic unbleached white flour on closeout last week!)... so, we used this recipe which turned out very yummy and not too sweet - almost shortbread-ish instead of sugar cookie-ish.

Caroline loves to roll out the dough with her own little wooden rolling pin. This toy has been a very worthwhile one for us!

While I cut out the cookies for the crown cake using this template, Caroline worked on some with regular cookie cutters (I doubt she'd be adept at cutting around a piece of paper using a knife - that was a challenge for me!). My mother-in-law sent me these alphabet cookie cutters for my birthday, which I had been wanting! We got to try them out today. Caroline cut out Q's for queen and M's for Mary. I figured we'd have extra cookie dough after I cut out the eleven cookies for the crown cake, so why not make the rest of the dough into relevant cookies?

These are some of Caroline's cookies.

The morning of the Queenship of Mary (Saturday), we decorated the cookies for the crown cake. The night before, I had baked a vanilla cake - from a mix. It was an organic cake mix. I know, I am such a food snob. I find so many fun food ideas for kids, but I often shy away because it would be too difficult to make them from scratch or make changes to make them into whole food recipes. So, I gave in partway on this one. I made the cookies from scratch, but not the cake, but I still bought an organic cake mix so that it wouldn't have weird ingredients in it. We made the frosting, too - just a regular powdered sugar/butter recipe. And the candies to decorate the cookies were all-natural jelly beans - no artificial colors. Yes, I really am a food snob. I promise, Caroline *has* eaten artificial colors and flavorings before, but it is not a habit I want to start in our home, so I try to stay away from it as much as possible while still having fun with baking. So, there's my confessions of a food snob!

Notice Cecilia appears in many of these photos - she just has to help us out and join Caroline in her coloring and cooking! She pushes the little chair over to the counter herself and climbs up. I wish she'd occupy herself with something else sometimes (like when she is trying to eat dough with raw eggs in it), but I am glad she likes to be involved, too! And when it is something that might be dangerous or extremely messy, I put her in a high chair in the kitchen with some play-doh [okay, homemade salt dough, back to my food-snobness again... but she will eat the stuff (she eats raw grains and sand too, remember?), and I'd rather she not eat colored play-doh!].

After decorating the cookies, we placed them around the sides of the frosted cake. How fun!! The original recipe said to mound the frosting up in the middle of the cake to make it appear like the fabric part of a royal crown, but I didn't have enough frosting and also didn't want to eat a two-inch mound of it on my slice of cake. The idea still comes across with skimpy frosting!

Here's a close-up of the finished product.

and an aerial view

We had quite a festive centerpiece collection for the Queenship of Mary: the triptych, the crown cake, a couple of Marian holy cards, and our Mary statue with a little crown which Caroline decorated. She wrote "Mary" on it - she asked me how to spell it after she'd written the M, and although I usually don't spell things for her (she has begun "writing all on her own, and it is interesting to see her invented spellings!), I spelled out "a-r-y" for her. She asked me how to make a Y, and I told her to just make it the way she wanted to. After trying to make a Y, she said, "I'll just write an E instead." Smart kid.

I loved that the cookies made it easy to cut cake slices! Caroline loved it! Notice that she is wearing blue today.. totally her choice, so she could "look like Mary."

For those who are not Catholic who read this blog, I realize that Mary as Queen might sound a little foreign. So here is a link to give a some background info. Also, at the time of Jesus, the Queen was not the wife to the King, but the mother of the King. So since Mary is the Mother of Jesus, and Jesus is the King... then Mary is given the title of Queen. If anyone has any questions though, feel free to leave them in the comments and I will try to respond - or maybe one of my Catholic blog readers will!

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Pray for us!

A Bit More on Ecological Breastfeeding...

After re-reading my post on Mothering through Breastfeeding, I realized that I had gone into eco-breastfeeding more than I had intended to do in that post and then didn't go as in-depth as I would like to do with the subject... hence, another post.

I do believe that God made out bodies to work this way - to nurture our babies and toddlers through breastfeeding. I also believe that it contributes to spacing babies in many cases, but that is not the main reason to do it. Even for women who tend to have an earlier than expected return to fertility, this type of mothering is clearly valuable to mothers and babies alike for numerous other physical and emotional reasons. I have read comments on some other sites where women said they felt like "failures" because they had an earlier than normal return of fertility, even though they had read the book and followed the seven standards completely - no pacifiers, never leaving baby, sleeping with baby, naps with baby, etc. From the study that was done, it is shown that 93% of mothers who follow this style of nursing will not experience a return to fertility in the first six months postpartum. The average in this study is something like 12-14 months. For myself, I suppose I could be one of those who had a somewhat earlier than normal return to fertility - it was at about 7-7.5 months that menstruation resumed with my first child, and about 10.5 months with my second child. The difference between the two is that I stopped taking a daily nap with my first around six months of age. I continued to at least lay down (didn't always nap since I wanted to be able to hear that my three year old was okay) with my second until she was over a year old. So, the daily nap seems to have really made a difference for me.

However, there are other mothers I know who have said that they followed all the standards and still had a return of fertility prior to six months... more than 7% of the women I have talked to have stated this. Why is this? I noticed that Sheila Kippley has commented on my other post on this topic and I am hoping she can shed some light on this.

Here are some of my guesses:
* The daily nap is important. Even at a year postpartum, the mother's body still benefits from this time of rest. A time of rest for all small children and their mothers is wonderful, but not always feasible. I have known many mothers who said they just couldn't do the nap because of their older children - ones who no longer nap and would be distracting to the older baby if they were in the same room as the mother. This is understandable - my older child would have "quiet time" throughout the first year of the new baby's life, and she would sometimes still need the ap herself and fall asleep during her quiet time. She takes quiet toys and books into her room for about an hour and listens to a CD of classical music (when the CD ends, she knows that rest time is over). But - not all children will cooperate with this, and even when they do, there are the interruptions of the older child needing to use the bathroom and needing assistance, or hearing thunder and being scared, or being afraid of a bug in her room (all personal examples here!). These interruptions didn't bother the baby a bit when she was younger, but after about the 6 month mark, it would wake her up if her big sister came in and talked to me or climbed into the bed with us.

* I wonder how much environmental factors contribute to the return of fertility. What is in our water, what is in our food, what else could be affecting this in women? Past history of drug use (not talking illegal drugs here!)? Stress levels? The studies done in more primitive tribal areas may not reflect some of the factors we face here in the Western world. Tribal communities often have much more help from extended family and friends who live with or very near to the mother - so she has more help, she has more opportunity to rest, her older children are occupied playing with their cousins and friends while mom rests with the baby.

* Could diet play a role? We tend to eat more processed foods, meats treated with various hormones and such, and foods that are generally not in their closest to natural state - and even when we do, often times these foods have be treated with pesticides. Could this have an affect on earlier than normal return of fertility? Could it also be the amount we eat - that we eat a lot more calories than many tribal cultures, especially carbs? If our bodies are getting so much nourishment from our food, might menstuation return earlier? We do know that women who eat very little (too little in some cases) and are underweight can actually cease menstruation... could the same happen in cultures where the nursing mother is not consuming as many calories as we do in our culture? We are told that we should eat 300-500 more calories daily when nursing. If eating more contributes to an earlier return of fertility, then where is the balance: eating enough to remain healthy and not becoming undernourished while not eating too much, either?

* Could it be God's will at times? God never gives us more than we can handle - perhaps he blesses those who He knows possess the patience for more children with babies spaced more closely together. Perhaps He sees the woman at age 39 who has just had her first baby and blesses her with three or four more babies spaced only a year apart, because the first baby would not have the gift of siblings otherwise, as his mother's natural fertility was nearing its end as she entered her 40s.

* Could it be medical-related? Women have a higher rate lately of things like PCOS, infertility, extremely heavy bleeding and pain with monthly menstruation, and other reproductive issues... and maybe this is caused by environmental factors, diet, lack of exercise, etc. We know there is an alarming amount of synthetic hormones being dumped into our water daily - from the birth control pill. To put it bluntly, women who take the pill put these synthetic estrogens and other hormones into the water when they urinate. High levels have been found when samples of water have been tested, and the fish in some areas have actually mutated (the male fish essentially became female) due to these hormones (and WHY do environmentalists refuse to acknowledge this human-caused chemical impact on the environment?? Being anti-birth control pill must not fit with their agenda, it would seem). What effect could these hormones be having on our young daughters and their reproductive systems as they are exposed to this throughout their development? We also know girls are getting their periods earlier than they did in years past... could this be a factor?

Just some things that I wonder. I get disappointed to see people being turned off to ecological breastfeeding because it "didn't work." Just because it didn't work as in not producing 13 months of natural infertility, it *did* work in teaching a mother about mothering through breastfeeding, a wonderful gift to her child. I think that is the most important part of ecological breastfeeding. But I can understand it would be frustrating to somebody who always gets her fertility back at four months postpartum while her friend never has a return of fertility until at least 20 months postpartum... especially when they are both mothering through breastfeeding in the same exact way.

It is clearly beneficial to the female body to have extended times of natural infertility... less mentruation (as occurring naturally, not like the four periods per year pill) has been shown to be related to many health benefits - lower risks of certain cancers, for instance. Pregnancy obviously creates these naturally infertile times. It appears that breastfeeding was meant to do the same. It seems like God had a clear plan in designing our bodies this way - so why does it not always work this well for us in our culture? I really do wonder how much birth control might have an impact (as I love to blame the birth control pill for so many of our culture's ills, of which it can be linked to many!).

Clearly, mothering through breastfeeding has some impact on our fertility. I saw it myself, even if it was on the lower end of the average for me. Learning about the seven standards is clearly beneficial to mothers and their children, even if they do not experience more than a few months of natural infertility. A formula-feeding mother would experience no period of extended infertility - just the few weeks postpartum.

Could it be that Couple to Couple League decided to not teach ecological breastfeeding as explicitly because they were afraid of offending those people who have an early return of fertility? Would it not have been a better idea if they instead continued to teach it (as it does space babies for many using a natural, God-given method) while also reassuring women that for some, their fertility will return sooner, and it does not mean that these mothers are "failures" - and that they can then apply the other parts of their NFP understanding if they discern that they should postpone their next pregnancy?

The standards should be presented clearly, though - so no mother can say, "Oh, breastfeeding doesn't space babies. It didn't for me," when that same mother was also using a pacifier and not napping with the baby. But for the mothers who were taught the standards clearly by CCL and incorporated them into their lives, and then still experienced a return of fertility prior to six months postpartum... CCL could still emphasize that the mother was still mothering in a beneficial, God-given way, and that we do not always understand His plan for our fertility, nor do we understand the other environmental/situational factors that may affect fertility. I would love to see more studies into other things that may influence our fertility. God has blessed us with the ability to get get to know how our bodies work and to understand them, and science can be our friend on this as well.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Oldest Parish in America!

We visited the cathedral in downtown St. Augustine after the Our lady of La Leche shrine. It is beautiful!! It is also amazing to be inside and realize that this is the first Catholic church built in the United States - wow!

This is the altar at the front of the church - very pretty, very high ceilings...

We stopped by the tabernacle, where I reminded Cecilia to genuflect... and she did, for an extended period of time! I knelt beside her and said a quick prayer, and she remained kneeling there, hands folded, still! Wow, she's so reverent, I thought... until I realized a few minutes later that she was actually just pooping in her diaper.

The red candle hanging above the area in which the tabernacle is located

The artwork above the tabernacle is gorgeous - it is a mosaic-type picture of the Last Supper. Very detailed and beautiful!

Raising these two precious souls in the Catholic faith is an experience that becomes more profound for me each day. What a blessing it is to be able to share with them all the aspects of our faith and to get to visit places such as this, where Jesus is present!

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

The following photos show some of the signs that were displayed in the condo where we stayed while at the beach. I am not going to comment any further except to say that this is why I could never rent out a home in which I also lived on occasion - I'd probably have five times the signs displayed!

(you can click on this photo to read the signs - they label where to put the sheets in the closet)

(oddly, there was even a sign for full size bed sheets - even though there was no full size bed in the entire condo...)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Our Lady of La Leche - A Patron for Motherhood (aka Why Do I Mother through Breastfeeding?)

I think I will turn this post into one in the "Why Do I" series that I promised to write. We visited the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine on the Friday afternoon the day before we left the beach. It was a rainy afternoon, and so hitting the pool or beach one last time was out. So we braved the rain to come here. Above is the statue in the tiny chapel there, showing Mary nursing the infant Jesus.

Of note before I move into the Why Do I part... Caroline was so excited in the gift shop here. She kept saying things like, "Look, a statue of St. Anne!" and "It's a painting of the Last Supper!" Not stuff she typically sees in a store! We couldn't resist buying a few books and medals.

So, as we were finishing up in the gift shop, Cecilia began to ask for "nuh-nuhs." I told her we'd nurse once we got to the chapel, which was through the rain about a hundred yards or so from the gift shop. What a perfect place to nurse!!

So, why do I mother my children through breastfeeding?

The short answer: Because I don't know how else I would do it! That, and I am lazy. ;P

As presented in the statue of Our Lady of La Leche, breastfeeding is so much more than a mechanical act of putting food into a baby. It is about bonding between a mother and her child. It is this first relationship where the child learns about love, unconditional love. It is a source of food, yes, but also a source of warmth, a source of comfort. The baby is provided with skin-to-skin contact with his mother while nursing, which has many benefits which I will not go into here.

So, what do I mean when I say "mothering through breastfeeding"?

This phrase means that I view breastfeeding as so much more than just feeding. Nursing a baby naturally provides him with more than food. It is a God-given means of caring for an infant. Hungry baby? Nurse him. Crying baby? Nurse him. Sleepy baby? Nurse him (and he'll probably fall asleep). To me, it is about believing that my body was made to fully care for this little one.

Babies are born pretty helpless when compared to most other mammals. They can't even walk for about a year after they are born... think about horses and cows, whose offspring walk soon after birth. Human babies are designed to be in-arms, which also happens to be close to the breast.

Contrast this type of breastfeeding (on-demand, for comfort, for bonding) with "cultural breastfeeding" - as merely a source of food. The infant is left with an unsatisfied sucking urge (he recieves comfort from sucking). In cultural breastfeeding, the non-nutritive sucking need is often filled with a pacifier, perhaps along with other measures in attempts to provide comfort, such as a swing or bouncy seat. Not that these items are inherently bad, but they can be overused (especially for complacent babies who don't protest being in them for long periods) in place of the mother and her breasts. Babies don't want or need all these gadgets - they want to be in their mothers' arms and at her breast, because that is how they were naturally created to be.

When thinking of the Virgin Mary nursing the infant Jesus, one does not picture a baby with a pacifier. One does not picture a baby being carried in a "baby bucket" carseat. Instead, one sees a portrait of natural mothering in Mary's perfect nurturing of baby Jesus, who, as the times dictated, was probably nursed until he was about three years old. Another aspect of maothering through breastfeeding - there is no set weaning date, no rush to get the child weaned from the breast, because to do so would be to give up a very powerful mothering tool! Breastfeeding can soothe a hurt or upset child, provide comfort during teething, give stability during times of stress in the child's life, calm a tantrum, and put a cranky and tired toddler to sleep... and it is portable and always ready! That's what I mean when I made the "lazy" comment above - tongue-in-cheek, of course. It is not about being lazy - it is about doing what is natural and God-given, but it also happens to be simplistic overall... no need to overthink every situation because nursing can so often be the solution.

But, you may ask, won't this spoil the child?

This seems to be the major objection that our culture has to mothering through breastfeeding - that it will create a spoiled and clingy child. Interestingly, this is not a concern at all in cultures where breastfeeding on-demand and for comfort is the norm. The early years are a time for the child to learn about love and trust. He learns that his mother is there for him, as a comforter as well as a nutrient-provider. It is based upon this first relationship, the biologically-intended relationship with his mother, that a child learns about unconditional love and receives a strong foundation from which he can gradually learn to become independent. He knows he can depend on the security of his mother's love and thus learns to form other loving relationships as he grows and matures. It may take longer than what our society deems as the "appropriate" age for a child to become "independent" from his mother, but it will happen. It is this natural mothering that enables the child to confidently go out on his own, when he reaches that point.

A term that was coined by Sheila Kippley, founder of the Couple to Couple League along with her husband John, is ecological breastfeeding. This term refers to the type of natural mothering through breastfeeding and how it affects the return of a mother's fertility. God designed us to have natural periods of infertility, and the time following the birth of a child is one of these times, so that we would not be having a baby every year. Makes sense - built-in times so that the woman's body can recover, so the baby gets to be the baby for more than just ten or so months. But - this natural infertile time happens with on-demand, mothering-through-breastfeeding types of nursing and not so much with cultural breastfeeding. Although each woman's body can vary and there are probably other environmental factors affecting each person's fertility as well, for the most part, following the norms of ecological breastfeeding are what keep a woman's body in that infertile post-partum stage for longer than it would if she was not breastfeeding or was breastfeeding on more of a schedule.

The standards or "rules" (I prefer not to think of them that way) of ecological breastfeeding are:
* nursing on-demand around the clock
* all sucking needs met at breast (no pacifiers or bottles)
* no supplemental formula, water, juice, or early solid foods ("early" means before about 6 months of age)
* pacifying the baby at the breast
* sleeping with the baby for night-feedings
* mother-baby togetherness (mother does not leave baby)

It is ecological breastfeeding that first got me interested in mothering through breastfeeding, in natural childbirth, in La Leche League... everything. So, it began with reading this book which was recommended through the Natural Family Planning home study course we were using in an effort to avoid artificial birth control and follow the teachings of the Catholic Church. Natural Family Planning really did change my life... to the point that it showed me this wonderful way of mothering my small children!

whispering a prayer of thanksgiving for my children and asking for the grace to be a patient, loving mother who is able to raise them to know God

I have found this way of mothering my babies and toddlers to be very satisfying overall. Of course there are difficulties, there were times of self-doubt... but the confidence that I have built over time helps me through when I know that I am parenting in a way that is very different or "weird" compared to most people in Western society. Mothering through breastfeeding helped me to feel more competant as a first-time mom (and even if I didn't know what I was doing, I could look like I did since I was doing something that made my baby stop crying! ;). Of course, there are times when mothering through breastfeeding isn't the perfect cure-all: just today, in fact, the offer to nurse didn't stop Cecilia from throwing herself to the ground because Caroline was on the rocking horse that she wanted to ride... but after a couple minutes of tantrum, she did nurse and get over it. Sometimes minimizing the issue is the best one can hope for!

click the photo to be able to read the words

I hope this gives some insight on why I choose to use breastfeeding as my number one mothering tool in the first few years. Seeing it tie in so clearly with my faith is very comforting as well... I know that Our Lady mothered Jesus in a similar fashion. A feeling of peace and belonging swept over me as I visited the Our Lady of La Leche shine and nursed my 18 month old there.

A few links related to mothering through breastfeeding, including one I just discovered today:

Breastfeeding in the land of Genghis Khan
Mom describes ecological breastfeeding/link to Sheila Kippley's books
Standards of Eco-Breastfeeding

Our Lady of La Leche, pray for us!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine

We made an unplanned visit to the fort in St. Augustine - otherwise known as Castillo de San Marcos. We attended Sunday morning Mass at San Sebastien Catholic Church in St. Augustine and met my best friend from high school (and Caroline's godmother!) and her husband Jason. They had just moved to the Jacksonville area about a month ago from the New England area - so it was really neat that we could visit them!! After Mass, we went out to lunch in historic downtown St. Augustine at a restaurant called Harry's and had very good food along with very slow service from our waiter, who looked like Rick Astley (it is my goal to work in a reference to him in every post about this vacation! ;P).

We parked about 2,000 miles away from the restaurant. Okay, so it wasn't quite that far, although we did circle the city for about 15 minutes looking for a parking place. It was 11:30 on a Sunday morning - weird time for the town to be packed, but maybe everyone else had decided to go out to lunch after church? The nice thing about it is that parking is free on Sundays. The above photo was taken by the water next to where we parked. Cecilia is being held by Jason - her new buddy. She likes men for some reason. She still talks about Jason over a week later and thinks she sees him at times when we pass somebody in a store...

We had ample time to make use of the little girls' room as well as thoroughly coloring on the children's menus before our food came.

Cecilia insists on being able to use crayons just like Big Sister.

Cecilia with her buddy again after lunch... and since she'd taken an unexpected little nap during Mass, there was no need to rush back to the condo for her to get a nap - so it was on to the fort!

We'd planned to come back into town one day to visit the fort, but since we were already there and had already obtained a parking space, we decided to just do it then. It costs $6 for adults to get in - kids are free up until 15 or so years old. But, you can come back all week long after paying your $6, although I am not sure why one would want to come back repeatedly... not that it wasn't impressive, but once in a week is probably enough unless you are really short on time one day and want to return a few days later.

I don't think this photo even needs a caption. We did learn later that we are not supposed to touch the cannons or even the walls... oops.

Caroline points o her name on a sign inside the fort. I am not sure what the significance of Fort Caroline is... but she thought it was neat to see her name!

Cecilia, Daddy, and Caroline, still dressed in their Sunday best in the 90something degree heat, look over the edge of the fort towards to ocean.

We got to hear them fire the cannon (with a blank, of course) and learned that this cannon could fire a cannonball all the way to the lighthouse - a distance of over one and a half miles! Cecilia was impressed with the "boom" and talked about it a lot afterwards... even upon seeing these photos of the cannon after we'd returned home!

Jason sacrificed himself by covering Cecilia's ears for her, as was recommended to everyone watching since it was quite loud. Caroline was impressed by the soldiers, all dressed in historical clothing. But we were all glad to get back into the air conditioned van afterwards!

Monday, August 17, 2009

More Beach Photos

So here's another long post full of beach pictures. I can't help myself - I love the beach and all the sentimental feelings that go along with it for me. I have always loved beach vacations with my family, starting with the first one on my third birthday. I have a bit of the post-beach letdown now... which has been normal for me since I was a pre-teen. I always get sad and sentimental about having to leave the beach. I've been coping by just getting back to normal at home and listening to my Florida Songs (originally recorded off the radio when I was that aforementioned pre-teen, and now all burned onto CDs - back when Napster was still free and legal, that is).

So, to take you through the photos here are some more sentimental 80s "Florida songs" (okay, so that Rick Astley song was really from 1991... and it is still stuck in my head, by the way, and I'm not annoyed by that fact yet, either). Unfortunately, the version I had to use of the first song is not able to be embedded here... but I *have* to use that version; it's the one with the seagulls and ocean sounds. So, you can open the link in another tab and let it play in the background while you come back to this page and look at the photos... if you'd like to, that is. But I dare you to listen to it while looking at photos (or not looking at them) and not cry. Or maybe you can and I am just a sentimental sap. This song has always made me tear up with sentimentality about the beach. I even composed my own music video for it with footage and photos (which mostly exist in my mind, as does the music video itself, ha ha) from my childhood beach vacations. Okay, so the video is actually written down on a piece of paper from when I was 12 and it is in a folder in a closet somewhere...

And after that, here's another sappy song about sentimentality and the beach (at least, it is for me):

The girls show off their seals - I bought them each a seal at the Dollar Spot in Target as a treat for this trip. The seals enjoyed swimming in the ocean and pool very much!

This was not a good day for beach balls... too windy! The people who owned the townhouse/condo/whatever you want to call it had a bunch of beach stuff available, including this beach ball - a very nice perk. We used their beach chairs, water toys, towels, boogie boards, and the cart to haul it all down to the beach and back!

The girls work on a sand castle we built the day before - just above the high tide mark, apparently.

Cecilia slides down a pile of sand and into the water of the "seal pool" that we built.

The girls play in their seal pool. We dug it a little above where the tide was coming up to, and then by the time we were about to head in from the shore, the tide was coming up to the pool and filling it up (and washing it away, much to Caroline's dismay). At one point, Caroline was asking me if I'd fill up a bucket with water and add it to the seal pool, and at that very moment, the tide reached the pool and filled it up. God heard you, Caroline!

No, Caroline's face is not visible in many of these pics, but the hat kept her face well protected from the sun! She's young enough that she doesn't care if she looks geeky - and the white-faced sunscreen look didn't help with that, but I thought the little ghosty children were cute, myself.

A break from the sun... I was so glad that my grandparents could come stay with us for a day! Cecilia enjoyed having Great-Grandaddy read her a book.

Spinning around and around...

Caroline and Daddy fly her kite on a windy morning at the beach. Tim had fun flying it, too.

And Cecilia had fun watching the kite.

Uncle Tim digs out another seal pool while Cecilia wanders toward me.

Caroline running somewhere... can't remember why.

The seal pool shortly before it washed away.

I love chubby baby feet on the sand!!

I have photos of Caroline holding this same beach bag at about the same age on her first trip to the beach.

Cecilia doing her favorite activity - swimming! "Seemeeng! Pooo! Kick kick!"

Look Ma, no hands! No adult hands on the baby, that is. Of course one of us was standing just out of the frame.

Caroline playing in the pool, still looking rather ghostly in the face.

Cecilia gets ready to jump

Such a happy look as she hits the water!

One... two...


This was Cecilia's most favorite thing to do. She even flopped in by herself without holding my hands a few times! She can't yet jump with both feet coming off the ground together, so she couldn't actually jump in, but she wasn't afraid to just lean and fall toward me! Other things she loved were swimming around in the wings and doing "Motorboat" with me and Gramma.

Cecilia snuggling with Leila... this was right after she woke from a nap and had ventured outside, only to find new visitors. So she was being shy...

The morning that we had to leave... we went out on the sand for some family photos.

And that brings out beach trip to a close, sadly. I still have photos from the fort and the cathedral and Our Lady of La Leche shrine to post (they are all uploaded but I need to type the text). But "this is it" (as Huey Lewis and the News say in their 80s song!) for the actual beach and pool photos.

We were so blessed to be able to go to the beach for the second year in a row! My parents took us both times - thanks, Mom and Dad! Now I just need to convince the whole family to make a trip back to Angler's Cove, my childhood beach destination!

It was great being at the beach with all of my brothers at one time, even if it was only for two days that all of us were there at the same time. I can't wait to make beach trips in the future with extended family... cousins playing together in the sand, making their own sentimental memories! I hope they are as good for my children as my own memories are for me!