Author Archives: Elana

Hypothesis

Man, I never update this blog. I keep meaning to record the glorious things my kid says, and then I don’t, and then updating this blog becomes a MOUNTAIN I don’t want to climb, and so here are a couple of things about the bear, in no order.

He has started to watch the PBS Kids show DINOSAUR TRAIN on Netflix. The format of the show is that a bunch of young dinosaurs take the titular Dinosaur Train from era to era, meeting various other types of dinosaurs and having very mild adventures.

Dinosaur Train is a new addition to the tiny roster of Allowable Shows. In general, we are pretty concerned about letting him watch TV – not especially, I am ashamed to admit, because we are doing some kind of TV-free thing, but more because of how we are worried about people trying to sell him fruit snacks with characters he recognizes on the packaging. (And not even because of high-mindedness, but because I have seen people fight with their kids about Dora The Explorer fruit snacks, and I AM A COWARD.)

And also because most kid TV is super loud and horrible and kind of makes me want to die. Shows he has seen so far are pretty limited, and include Shawn the Sheep and its spin-off series Timmy Time (dialog-free Claymation from the people who make Wallace and Gromit), some Sesame Street (which he doesn’t like very much) and The Busytown Mysteries, a weird Canadian series based on the Richard Scarry books, wherein Huckle Cat and his friends solve extremely – EXTREMELY – mild mysteries. (Most of them are like “The mystery of someone who put his hat in an only slightly unusual location.”)

Anyway, Dinosaur Train. The bear really only likes one particular episode, wherein the dinosaur kids find a feather, and solve THE MYSTERY (“mystery”) of the feather’s origin. Spoiler: it’s from a velociraptor.

One of the things I find kind of charming about the show is that it’s attempting to cram science down the tiny throats of its viewers. For instance, the kids keep saying “I have a hypothesis!” about the minor dinosaur-related mystery at hand, and then another kid will say “You mean an idea you can test?” and then they try to test it, etc.

I thought that was pretty clever. And when a couple of days ago, walking back inside from the car, the bear told me that he had a hypothesis, I was like YES! MY CHILD IS A GENIUS! And so I said “You mean an idea you can test?”

And he looked at me like I was a moron and said “No.” and so I said “What is a hypothesis, exactly?”

And he said “A hypothesis is an animal that people have. It’s about this big.” (holding his hand three feet off the ground.)

Other good things he has said recently:

While describing his plan for the rest of the day: “First we will go to the book store. Then we will come home and have lunch. Then we will go to the library. (Which he, to my delight, pronounces “Lie-blelly.” “We have to ask the lie-blellian.”) Then we will take a nap. Then when I wake up, it will be almost time for Daddy to come home! And then I will go live on a farm.”

While in the bath, thoughtfully:

“Do boobies have chemicals in them?”

“What are chemicals?”

“Chemicals are special things that are good for people to eat.”

During a diaper change: “Are penises tubes?” And when I agreed that they were: “Are boobies tubes for milk?”

(He still nurses, so a lot of his better/stranger comments have to do with his many, many thoughts about nursing.)

Toddlersaurus

Our kid is 20 months old (I guess he’s about 18 months, adjusted for his gestational age). He is both pretty cool – sweet and funny and learning words at a rapid pace – and INCREDIBLY HARD TO COPE WITH.

Pick me up! Put me down! Let me operate that power saw!

For instance, he is easily able to remove our current outlet covers (we have impossible-to-remove ones on order), and the other day Seth sprang from his seat and started shouting NO. NO. SERIOUSLY. NO. and I looked over to see that Henry had somehow found my keys, removed the covers on the outlet near the door, and was just about to insert the keys into the interesting slots. Totally ignoring our terrified outburst, he turned to us and grinned proudly and said “Keys?”

Everything is like that. Yesterday we were hanging out with some of Seth’s new law buddies, and there was another mom there with a similarly-aged kid. And I started to feel… like I was a hovering, overprotective parent. Because the other toddler roamed freely and didn’t really get into trouble of any kind! And we have now moved to student family housing, which is mostly set up to be kid friendly, and is entirely fenced. So as I sat with the other mom and chatted, I tried to suppress my instinct to chase Henry around. But when he disappeared around a building, with the other lady’s kid right behind him, it was TOO MUCH and I ran after him. Only to discover that he had stretched onto his tiptoes and figured out how to open the gate to the street and was about to lead the other toddler to FREEDOM! and ADVENTURE!!! (He was out of my line of sight for three or four seconds.)

When Seth starts law school, our bear is going to start going to daycare so I can still work. At first I was really ambivalent about this – he has only ever been home with a parent, and he’s still so little, and blah blah blah blah blah blah. Now I literally cannot wait. I’m going to throw him at the lovely couple who run the daycare and run away, cackling. GOOD LUCK SUCKAS!!!

I just this morning spotted this It Gets Better: Toddler Edition post on Ask Moxie and whispered OH THANK GOD as I scrolled through it.

(sign) language explosion

We took our bear to the L.A. zoo this weekend to gawk at animals.

Boring: alligators, flamingos, lions.

Interesting: goats, giraffes, gorillas.

He got to pet the goats, which was fun. I am periodically a tiny bit sad that we don’t have any animals for him to hang out with (or poke and prod and boss around.)

Being at the zoo gave H. an opportunity to practice his language skills, since most of the labels he knows are for animals. We’ve seen a real explosion of his interest in words (of the sign language variety) over the past month: he’s gone from a small handful to knowing the signs for:

*cat
*dog
*pig
*fish
*bird
*flower
*baby
*hat
*drink
*eat
*more
*all done

(I may be missing a few here. And as of yesterday, he’s working hard on acquiring “horse”.)

He’s also interested in snapping his fingers, signing “rain” (guess what kind of weather we’ve been having) and some kind of self-invented sign where he slaps his forearm. I think it may be his word for “dance”: he’s a big dance fan right now. If any kind of music plays, he’ll bounce rhythmically and tap his toddler feet.

He will also find for you, on both his own body and yours:

*ear
*nose
*hair
*foot
*belly

It’s all very sweet. Toddlers are a lot of fun.

Also – the sign language acquisition has pretty much alleviated my mild concern about WHY ISN’T THIS KID TALKING YET? It seems to this ignorant layperson that the ability to acquire language is the key thing, not so much the “what type” or “how fast” or even “Whyyyyy does he refuse to say “mama”, WHYYYYY, where is my reward?!?” parts.

Finally, I am sad to report that our bear has a fever right now – he woke up fine, went down for his nap fine, but woke up with a raging fever and a bad case of staring-into-the-middle-distance. The nurse at his pediatrician’s office responded with polite, patient dismissiveness.

“I hear you. But that’s what happens to little ones. They get mystery fevers.”

He felt better, after some ibuprofen, at least well enough to sit still and eat dinner and then watch a bit of a documentary about the circus. (He looked at the horses seriously, and tentatively signed “Dog?”)

She have to learn.

So here’s a little story about our first attempt at finding childcare. A HORROR STORY.

We belong to the local YMCA. We used to belong to the Y before we had a baby, and I guess we had sort of deluded fantasies about how belonging to the Y with a baby would be almost exactly the same: we would go frequently for an hour at a time, we would sweat and feel righteous. It would be great!

But I think we somehow forgot to factor in the part about how we DO have a baby (toddler, now) and because we’ve had a parent at home with him all his life (often TWO parents, we’re just that committed… and semi-employed.) we have minimal experience with

LEAVING HIM WITH OTHER PEOPLE.

For my birthday a few months ago, Seth arranged for our dear friend Naomi to meet us near the restaurant and hang out with H. for an hour. This was simultaneously the best gift ever – the ability to eat without someone snatching at your fork! Nobody was spitting crumbs into my water glass! Nobody demanding to nurse in the middle of the main course! – and really, really weird. We spent the entire time saying things like “So. Hey, this is kind of… what do you think he’s doing right now? He’s okay, right?” and kind of on edge. I don’t think we’re super fussy people, either. It’s just that the only time I’m away from my kid is when he’s with Seth, and vice-versa. So I think that being together without our kid made our lizard brains go “!!!!!!!! DANGER ALLIGATORS WHERE ARE BABBY???”

Anyway – of course he was totally fine. As an experience, it was a little strange for a few minutes, but no big deal.

And that’s what we thought leaving our baby with the childcare professionals at the Y would be like. …but it wasn’t.

So, Y childcare. It’s called “Childwatch”. Before we tried leaving him there, we went there with him a handful of times, and just hung out. The Childwatch area is just a medium-sized room with colorful carpet and a bunch of toys. It’s usually staffed by two women: often one of them will be about 50 (this is the person in charge), and the other one will be younger, a college student. Occasionally it will be staffed by two college students.

The first time we went, I was in there with him while Seth worked out. A little girl of about three was playing with the play kitchen by herself. She was very involved in her work, pretending to cook and wash dishes. She was perfectly happy doing all of this by herself. It was sweet. It was age-appropriate. She was having a good time.

And out of nowhere, for no reason, the older Childwatch woman came up to her and said, in a snide, reprimanding tone, “You have to put the food in the refrigerator.”

You know – like, OH MY GOD, WHERE’S YOUR FOOD SAFETY?!? WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE OF E-COLI.

And then she took an empty plastic container of completely imaginary food and put it in the completely pretend refrigerator. And the little girl stopped her play and looked up at the woman uncertainly. Had she done something wrong? What was going on????

There was also the thing later in that same visit where one kid was drawing a cupcake and another kid heard the word “cupcake” and, unsurprisingly, was like “Hey, what’s up with all this talk of “cupcakes”?” and then the Childwatch woman reprimanded him for that, “Pay attention to your own drawing! Don’t eavesdrop!!!! YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CUPCAKES!”

Sheesh.

Man, I don’t like the thing you see people get into sometimes where they treat kids like they’re dumb and doing it wrong or are just generally disrespectful to them in a way they probably wouldn’t be to an adult. For no real reason. Just because the kid is short and will put up with it. I didn’t like it when I was a kid, I didn’t like it when I was a childless adult, and I don’t like it now that I’m somebody’s mother. (I’m guessing that makes me a flagrant hippie. So be it.)

Even though this kind of weirded me out, I went with H. to Childwatch a few more times. Once or twice I went when only the two young girls were there. They’re fine. They play with the kids a little bit (as opposed to the older women in charge, who don’t really want to interact with the kids – I totally get this, kids are exhausting. And after all, it is called ChildWATCH, not ChildINTERACT or anything fancy like that.) and I tried to work up some hope about the whole thing. Maybe this could work out! Maybe I’d get to go to the gym, man!

But then I went back and witnessed the saddest and worst thing ever.

A little girl of about four was wandering around and went over to play with a little boy of maybe a year younger. He had found some noisy plastic toy and was having an okay (although, per his expression, pretty dull) time with it. The little girl politely sat down and started to watch him play with it. The little boy looked up, noted her presence, and continued to play. That’s it. That’s all that was happening.

The cranky older woman in charge of Childwatch at that time looked up, saw this, and snapped at the little girl. “Leave him alone!”

The little girl tried to explain that she wasn’t bothering him (she wasn’t) she was just watching him play (she was) – but the Childwatch woman refused to listen. “Get away from him! Stop bothering him!”

So she basically fires this girl out of that completely innocent interaction, and the little girl hopelessly goes and stands in the middle of the room, and sits down, and starts silently crying. She just had these waves of humiliation and frustration coming off of her. IT WAS AWFUL.

And here I should say – I am not proud of this, but I was so startled by this interaction that I didn’t say anything. This particular Childwatch lady already kind of gave me the stinkeye for being in there with my baby, and said accusing things like “Are you a member here?” (No, man. I’m just here so my kid can play with your slightly broken toys. I’m totally gaming the system, I get dressed up in my workout gear and come over. FOOLED YOU, HA HA.) and made me feel kind of weird. But I still should have said something, if only to that little girl. I was just frozen and I didn’t know what to do.

So. That poor little girl is sitting there crying silently. And the other Childwatch worker – one of the younger girls – comes back in, and sees the little girl, and starts hugging her. And she says “What happened?” and the little girl tries to explain – she had been sitting quietly, watching that little boy play, and then the other woman told her to beat it. And the older woman interrupts, loudly and harshly:

“She have to learn! She have to learn.”

LEARN WHAT? SHAME AND HUMILIATION AND DISTRUST OF AUTHORITY FIGURES? Awesome.

One of my main goals for my baby is that he grow up not giving too much credence to What Other People Think, because that stuff is a trap, and also it leads to you spending lots of money on therapy and booze and self-help books. Also, I think that dealing with little kids is hard, and it doesn’t pay very well, and not everyone in the field is really that suited to it, so the people who are most likely to teach your child that he’s basically pretty cool are not necessarily the people most likely to take those jobs.

And the whole thing just seems so scary and hard to navigate that we’ve just shut down and will never leave H. with anyone, we’ll be coming with him to college.

(Just kidding! IN THE FUTURE, NOBODY WILL BE ABLE TO AFFORD COLLEGE. He’ll live at home forever.)

We did make one final attempt, and we actually left H. there for 3 minutes before the girl came to get me because my baby was sobbing piteously.

(This made me feel GREAT, by the way.)

I went and got him, and we wandered out to watch a bunch of women taking a Zumba class, and I held him until he calmed down. It was hard and strange to see him so sad. I don’t think he was scarred for life or anything, but still I felt pretty lousy about the whole thing.

So – I know that some of the 2.6 people reading this post may conclude that Seth and I are fussy helicopter parents who think that kids have no resilience. I don’t know. We’re pretty laid-back about physical stuff and let him lick the sidewalk and interact with dangerous strange dogs 24/7. But even if I am fussy…

Look. I know that the mean Childwatch lady or someone like her will eventually make him feel bad about himself. I’m just trying to put off the inevitable until maybe he’s developed a good sense of sarcasm, or at least some basic comebacks. (Like “YOUR FACE!!!!”, maybe?)

Things our bear can do

I am trying to BLOG MOAR this year. There is so much I can barely remember about the high-stress days of early infancy, and that was only a year ago! While we were visiting Seth’s family for Thanksgiving, his mom told us to write things down, because we would forget. Even though we’d think we wouldn’t. AND OF COURSE I thought “Surely I’ll remember this!” and since then I’ve had dozens of moments where I can’t remember anything that happened more than four minutes ago… comeuppance!

So! Here are some relatively new skills acquired by our bear:

*He has been signing “nurse” for a while. (The sign for nurse is opening and closing your hand. You know, like you’re milking a cow. Yep.) It’s his all-purpose “GIVE IT TO ME NOW” sign that certainly is used for nursing (the other night I came in to the bedroom to find that he had woken up and was sadly signing “nurse nurse nurse nurse nurse”.) but is also used for “I want that thing!”

He signed “nurse” to the checkout dude at the supermarket a few weeks ago. Excellent.

*He also points. He started doing this over Christmas, while we were staying with my aunt and uncle and their son and daughter in a house they’d rented out in the desert. Over the past few weeks, his point has become the traditional straight-at-the-thing type, the way you and I point. But when he first started, he did this awesome… sidelong point, with his finger half-crooked. It made him look very casual and kind of like an Italian gangster in a Scorcese movie.

*He has started to clap. He likes to walk around the living room clapping (for added difficulty, I guess.)

*He can also sign “more”. The sign for “more” involves tapping your fingertips together, but that’s pretty involved for a little guy, so it looks a lot like clapping. But it occurs only in the presence of food. And you have to prompt him. If you say “Do you want MORE?” he will make the sign to humor you. Otherwise he basically gets by with pointing and signing “nurse”/”give it to me, slave!”

*He is a champion walker. I think we basically saw the last of the crawling a week or two ago, right after coming back from Christmas. So that’s about two months from really starting to walk, at one year exactly (before that he’d taken steps, but you didn’t get the sense that he was really walking as a means of locomotion) to being pretty much an expert. It’s sort of amazing how fast he mastered it, to me. Walking seems very complicated, you know? You have to get everything pointed in the same direction, there are balance issues, you have to know where you’re going… But he’s got it.

He doesn’t really like to hold your hand while he’s walking. He never did the thing where he walked with adult assistance. He was very “GUYS. I’ve got it. Thanks.” and brushing us off from the beginning. Yesterday we were at a nearby park that has a steep sloping lawn, and he begrudgingly accepted a hand to get down the hill, but then immediately shook me off.

*He really likes dogs and cats. There’s a cat who lives nearby and who hangs out in the vacant lot next door. Whenever he sees her he makes a delighted sound (something like “DOHHHHH!!!!” – but I don’t think it’s a word, just an expression of amazement) and reaches over to see. (The cat, who is deceptively friendly, has clawed the shit out of my ankles, so I don’t actually let them interact.)

He does something similar for dogs. There were several dogs at yesterday’s park outing, and he would freeze, mid-walk, and look at them in amazement. If you were holding him when he spotted one, you’d get another “DOHHH!!!!” and some pointing.

*He’s gotten much better at drinking from both a sippy cup and a regular cup. (That is, the actually drinking was pretty much fine from the start, but there was a lot of spilling associated with it. Not so now.)

*At about 11 months, he dropped from two naps a day to one. It was a sad day in our household when that became permanent.

*He has passive knowledge of an array of words now. This evening we were playing a game where I would say “Bear, bring me your sock!” and he would. He also knew the word “fork”, but was stumped by “hat” (which he doesn’t wear very often.)

However, whenever we try to get him to look at or point at one of his parents, he still gives us the polite but bored look. I interpret this as “Guys. This is so embarrassing. If you don’t know where your spouse is… c’mon, that’s not my problem. DON’T DRAG ME INTO YOUR DRAMA!”

So there you go. Baby update!

2010: The Year We Make Contact

(I always start posts and then neglect to finish them, so this top part is weeks and weeks old, from when we were visiting my parents.)

I have a baby milestone to report, and I am totally excited about it, but I’m having trouble explaining WHY IT IS SO AWESOME. But here goes:

Henry and I had our first moment of bonafide communication last night.

PEANUT GALLERY
Oh, he said his first word?

ELANA
Um, no.

PEANUT GALLERY
He recognized one of the signs you guys use?!?

ELANA
…no.

PEANUT GALLERY
…he pointed at a cat? He pointed at a cat, right?

ELANA
HE BANGED ON THE TABLE, GET OFF MY CASE.

It was like making contact with alien species! Instead of all of us just making sounds at each other and then intuiting what the other person wanted, we had a moment of formal communication. About banging on the table.

…hush.

He slaps the table! You slap the table! He squeals with delight – FINALLY THE TALLPEOPLE UNDERSTAND THAT HE’S TRYING TO COMMUNICATE! – and slaps the table again!

Good times.

Also, there is much in the way of upheaval in the Fighting Commies family:

We have returned to LA. And found an apartment. And are moving in. And I am starting Dream Job* in a week. Also, Seth is in Hawaii for Army.

“I’m in Hawaii for Army stuff” sounds like a joke, right? That’s totally what I thought, but then I sternly told myself: “Elana, Seth is going off to protect YOUR FREEDOM …or keep you safe from pineapple bandits, something like that. Anyway, I bet the chairs they sit on there are uncomfortable and he probably has to do a lot of situps.”

But after a few days, he called and said that he had to head out to go snorkeling. To which I said: “Fuck you, sir.” and then the next day he called and I said “what are you up to today?” and he said “…I don’t want to tell you OKAY OKAY I AM GOING TO COMMUNE WITH SEA TURTLES.” and then just last night he emailed from a barbecue on the beach. To which I responded “I HOPE YOU GET SAND IN YOUR BURGER.” because I am very mature.

I am mostly kidding – I don’t actually begrudge him awesome Army good times (…much) but the previous times I have played temporarily single parent, there were other adults around. It is totally amazing to me that there are people who are single parents all the time. There’s no way I could handle that. My hat is off to you, moms and dads.

Baby development: Henry is trying to learn to crawl. He keeps getting up on his hands and knees and looking thoughtful. And rocking back and forth. But his actual movement is still army-crawling, often backwards. He gets stuck in corners a lot.

Also, at night, he often has a hard time settling into sleep. He clearly wants to sleep, but he has Restless Baby Syndrome, and twirls and scoots around the bed. And I wake up in the middle of the night with his butt in my face. And sometimes he shrieks angrily for no reason without waking up! It’s pretty funny.

(Ugh, does this whole post make me sound like a huge jerk?)

*I am going to be a writer-in-residence at Studio X. This is super exciting. I feel like I won the lottery. Seth is going to be the stay-at-home parent for a while, which I’m sure is going to be both cool and post-modern and also sometimes kind of tough. I am, of course, really happy to get this job (boy howdy) but I must admit that it’s weird to be leaving my kid.

Even though these past two weeks of faux single-parenting have been… just unrelenting. Still. I will miss our bear.

However, being able to afford to do frivolous things like “fund retirement accounts” and “buy a couch” will probably ease the sting a tad.

Human dairy

THIS IS A POST ABOUT BOOBS.

(Also, while I am doling out warnings: it is pretty disjointed. I pretty much just wanted to write a post that was like HERE’S EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT BREASTFEEDING, but I don’t have a central argument or anything, so if you’re looking for that kind of thing I suggest you move along.)

______BOOOOOOOOOOOBS______

In the Target store at home, the aisle where you find bottles and things like breast pumps has two helpful signs on it.

In the bottle section, it reads “BOTTLE FEEDING”.

In the section for nursing mothers, it reads “NATURAL FEEDING”.

I’m never sure if the Target people are just trying desperately to avoid putting the word BREAST up in large type, or if they’re a bunch of hippies making a statement. But these signs highlight the basic problem with breastfeeding, and talking about breastfeeding: IT INVOLVES BREASTS.

That makes people uncomfortable. It taps into this whole web of brain activity where breasts=WHOO! (see: Hooters). Of course, people who are not total morons get that breasts, when involved in feeding a baby, are somehow suddenly NOT supposed to make your brain go WHOO, but they can’t help it, in literally every other circumstance, boobs=whoo!, so then there’s this terrifying vortex of panic and paranoia and BABY+BOOB=OH SHIT DON’T LOOK THAT LADY IS JUST FEEDING HER KID BUT OH MY GOD THAT’S A BREAST – AHHHHHHH or something, and, unfortunately, it turns a certain number of people into raging assholes. The kinds of people who tell nursing women to cover up, or say ridiculous things like “This is a family restaurant!”, just as though the baby isn’t trying to eat dinner, too. I wasn’t totally sure these people actually existed (because… really, this is your pet peeve? There are oil spills and Wall Street corruption, but THIS is the target of your rage. ???) but they do. You periodically read about them on parenting blogs. Like some poor family will get kicked out of a terrible buffet in the middle of the country, a buffet that called the cops on the mom. Or a security guard in a mall will tell a mom “You can’t do that here.” or whatever. Or I read a hilarious one recently where a woman had gone into a bathroom to feed her baby* and another woman was all “ACK I CAN SEE YOUR BOOB!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SOMETHING ABOUT THE CONSTITUTION!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

…However, mostly I figure that people know they can’t be jerks about it – even when it makes them uncomfortable.

Like when H. and I were flying, and he needed to eat, so I found the farthest corner of the already-empty airport cafe, and sat with my back to the rest of the room, and H. settled in for a snack, and then a businessman came over and sat down at the adjacent table with his laptop, facing us. And then he clearly went “OH SHIT!!!” but also couldn’t really move, because that would make it clear that he had noticed my boob and was uncomfortable, so instead we both looked down and pretended not to notice each other.

That guy wasn’t a jerk. And he can’t help that he’s uncomfortable. Of course he’s uncomfortable! How could you possibly live in a culture that is obsessed with boobs and then suddenly be able to turn off that part of the brain loop once there’s a baby? I imagine you can’t – or at least it’s very difficult. So I do feel some sympathy for people.

And I also periodically feel awkward when I need to feed H. in public: I am a modest person**, and in the beginning I would get the “OMG YOUR BOOB IS SLIGHTLY VISIBLE FROM CERTAIN ANGLES IF YOU ARE REALLY LOOKING FOR IT!!!” thing, but on the other hand, if seeing a flash of boob for two seconds until the baby latches on is really going to traumatize you, you may be a good candidate for Having A Drink. Like once Seth and I were in a terrible restaurant at the end of a terrible day, with a tired baby, and it was a very awkward situation – I couldn’t really turn away from people or anything – and I kept saying “Is this… awful? Am I flashing everyone?” and Seth looked incredulous and said something like “No, but what if you were? They can just deal with it. Also, this is terrible steak!” (Only with more swearing…)

Anyway.

TL;DR: It’s kind of a shame that breastfeeding involves, you know, boobs. I bet more people would nurse their babies if we had special milk-secreting glands on our elbows or something.

______WHAT IF FORMULA ISN’T NORMULA______

I’ve read some interesting things recently about the language people use to talk about breastfeeding. You’ve heard it a million times: “Breast is best.”

But breast isn’t “best”. Human milk doesn’t give your baby super powers. It doesn’t make your baby smarter or healthier or more symmetrical or whatever. It’s just normal. It’s what human babies are evolved to eat. It’s the standard.

The way formula companies talk about this makes it sound as though formula will net you 100%, and breast will net you 105%. But that’s not true – breast isn’t “best”, it’s just ordinary – and also, I don’t want to be paranoid, but formula companies are trying to sell you something.

When we brought H. home from the hospital we were supposed to give him a bottle a day of breast milk fortified with formula, for extra calories. We rapidly knocked this off because we are super-lazy, and pumping the milk was a drag, and also the formula smelled disgusting. Human milk smells sweet-neutral. It tastes like very sweet, creamy milk.

(Yes. I have tasted my own milk. If that freaks you out, I should point out that I have WALKED AROUND WITH BABY VOMIT IN MY HAIR. I HAVE HAD MY BABY DROOL DIRECTLY INTO MY MOUTH. I HAVE RINSED POOP OUT OF MY BABY’S DIAPERS BY HAND.)

Anyway. Formula! It seems to me that commercial infant formula and C-sections are life-saving advances of modern technology that are pretty overused.

Some number of mothers and babies need C-sections to make it through the birth alive, and it is a miracle of modern technology that lets these moms and babies live on. This is awesome, and we should be thankful. But the number of people who need C-sections may not be 30% and rising.

Similarly, commercial infant formula is a great leap forward for those babies whose mothers are unable to feed them human milk. It’s not a perfect facsimile, but it’s much, much better than feeding your newborn cow milk. A real cause for celebration for those who can’t breastfeed. But the number of people who feed their babies formula should maybe not be so very high.

On the one hand, talking to women about breastfeeding or formula can feel eerily close to horning in on issues of personal choice, but honestly I think the discussion of this stuff is pretty muddied by the fact that there’s a lot of money at play here. Formula is expensive, whereas breast milk, as Seth says, costs just “pennies a day for some extra cheese for the mom”. And there are actual health costs associated with formula use. People say things like “breast milk has a protective effect against ear infections”, but bearing in mind the “best/normal” thing – you should maybe think of that instead as “Formula leads to increased rates of ear infections.”

And of course you can’t say that, because nobody wants to make a mom who chose formula for her baby feel crappy and guilty. But it can’t be good for individual mothers or society at large to let formula companies steer the conversation. I kind of feel like the “best/normal” issue makes breastfeeding seem aspirational – “The baby-feeding habits of the stars!” – just another Perfect Parent Thing you can’t cope with, like putting your kid in 300-dollar car seats or reading all the right parenting books and knowing exactly how to handle public tantrums – instead of “Boob: it’s what’s for dinner.”

______MY SOAPBOX, LET ME SHOW YOU IT______

I had a lot of support for breastfeeding. I was raised by and around hippies, so I’d seen many women breastfeeding. It was not a mysterious thing to me. And: my mom breastfed her babies, my mother in law breastfed hers. My dad emailed me while I was in the hospital to say that I should get “some kind of La Leche League medal for pumping in the ICU.” (WHERE DO I SIGN UP. “Is that… a Purple Heart?” “It’s the Order of the Slightly Chafed Nipple, actually.”)

Also, I had my baby at a Baby Friendly-Certified hospital, which is a hospital where all the nurses are all “Breastfeeding is so awesome! Let me hold your boob for you.” all the time and about half of them are lactation consultants and call you after you go home to find out how you’re doing, etc.

Also, I did not have to go back to work after just six weeks.

So. Lots of support. I was very lucky. I think, barring the rough beginning with the eclampsia and the NICU, I pretty much had the ideal situation for someone to succeed with breastfeeding.

And I still had this total breakdown about a week after H. came home, because BOOBS ARE NOT TRANSLUCENT, and you can’t see how much milk the baby is getting, and neither of us really understood what we were doing yet***. And I can totally see how if you didn’t have two grandmothers standing by to tell you that you were doing fine, or a husband to tell you that you were doing fine, or the hospital lactation consultant to tell you you were doing fine – you know, I can see how people might go AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH and switch to Enfamil.

And I think that’s a shame. I don’t think the way to more breastfeeding moms and longer duration of breastfeeding (just 12% of American babies are exclusively breastfed for 6 months) is to yell at women. I think it’s probably the same as it is with everything else: you try to figure out what is causing this problem, and you notice that it’s hospitals and nursing staffs and women having increasingly medicalized births that make it mentally and physically tough to breastfeed right away, and American women getting crazily short maternity leave, and of course a culture where Target can’t put the word BREAST on a sign.

But breastfeeding has so many benefits that I really think it’s worth it to try to tackle this problem in a productive way.

(Hmmm… that’s a pretty mild soapbox, now that I see it written out. Man! I was hoping for more fist-shaking and “I AM A SOVEREIGN PERSON!!!!” at the end.)

*People seem to frequently suggest “the bathroom” as an appropriate place to breastfeed a baby. I fed H. in a bathroom once. We were in a really busy restaurant waiting for a table, and there were no seats in the waiting area, and my brain kind of locked up and I couldn’t come up with any other ideas. So I went into the bathroom and into a stall and fed him, and I immediately realized the huge problem with this plan: other people would like to use that bathroom stall to pee. So maybe feeding your kid in the toilet appeases the jerks, but it also punishes innocent bystanders. Sigh, such is life.

**Other women should feed their babies however they please. If I have figured out anything from becoming a mom, it’s that I don’t know anything, and other people should do whatever works for them.

***If you are a person who found this through a Google search, something like “HOW LONG UNTIL BREASTFEEDING GETS EASIER”, the answer is “six weeks”. You just have to hang in there. Your baby is NOT starving. If he’s eating all the time it’s because he’s going through a growth spurt and is trying to get your supply up. Boobs have a mystical process of supply and demand happening. If you let your baby eat or comfort-nurse whenever he wants to, you will make the right amount of milk.

You are doing a good thing for your baby. Any amount of breast milk you can give your baby is great. Don’t give up. If you’re having a hard time, there is help. Try:

Kellymom – “evidence-based” info on breastfeeding. You won’t find any claims that breastfeeding will turn your child into a magical unicorn. Just solid, helpful, non-judgmental information.

La Leche League – tons of info on their various websites, as well as contact info for your local meeting.

Dr. Jack Newman – this guy is some kind of breastfeeding guru. I know, I know, yuk it up! But I found his videos really useful. If you’ve wondered if your baby is actually getting any milk, the videos will help.

Ask Moxie – Moxie is “just a mom” who writes advice columns on parenting. She is super sensible and not crazy and just very common-sense. I find her extremely soothing. Try the breastfeeding category for answers to moms with problems Just Like Yours.

Finally, I am not an expert, but I figured out how to breastfeed my baby. My advice is probably of questionable value, but if you need support, leave me a comment and I’ll do my best.

But seriously. Six weeks. If you can stick it out for the first six weeks, things (not just the breastfeeding) magically improve. Good luck!