Thursday, April 12, 2012

Beyond the Sling and Other Child Rearing Mishaps

I wrote about some experiences that came up while reading Beyond the Sling by Mayim Bialik, PhD yesterday and both times, since I was working on a laptop, everything disappeared. It is hard enough to write humor without having to do it twice and failing to be funny or even the slightest bit interesting. I'm going to give it another try with a real keyboard instead of the laptop keyboard and see where that takes me. Let's give it a go. At least there is no touchpad to keep fouling up the works and I might get a whole post down.

First, let me say that I enjoyed reading about someone's experiences who mirrored my own, especially when it came to following my intuition and having to deal with all the people, most of whom had raised children, who knew how it was supposed to be done and done right. My mother was the most vocal of the group and I tended to defer to her judgment in everything with my first born child that now I wish I had ignored politely and done my own way. It all started when she arrived shortly before my due date and dug in to wait for her first grandchild. I was completely beside the point. I was just the one delivering the blessed grandchild, an after thought according to my mother.

She and Hoity-Toity moved into our little apartment across the street from the base in Denver where my husband was going to tech school. It was crowded, especially since I was as big as a house (pregnant) and a bit uncomfortable, what with the swollen feet, changed center of balance due to my frontal girth, and being stuck together in a 3 room apartment, one of which was the kitchen, with my mother and sister while being miserably, hugely pregnant.

During one of our outings I fell so hard my son (or sons since the doctor told me I was having twins and possibly triplets, thus explaining my house-sized girth and being unable to sit any way but sideways in a booth at restaurants) was knocked out of the birth canal where he had been making himself comfortable before making his long awaited (and long overdue -- 5 days overdue) appearance. Time was getting short (and my temper shorter) and Mom decided to move things along. Enter orange juice (my favorite juice) and castor oil. These 2 liquids, and I use the term liquid loosely in the case of castor oil which is not so liquid but more viscous, do not mix. When the first dose did not work, my mother insisted on a second dose. She had a life to get back to and was determined to be at her grandchild's birth.

Mayim Bialik, she of Blossom and The Big Bang Theory fame, also was talked into (forced) to drinking castor oil to move things along. My experience was exactly like hers and the smell of castor oil produces the same smell that root beer does -- violent retching -- because root beer smells exactly like Fletcher's Castoria, a potion my mother dosed me with repeatedly and nearly nightly to help move things along. I couldn't drink orange juice for years because the smell reminded me of castor oil. Not a pretty sight in restaurants especially when the other patrons begin retching in sympathy. I could clear a restaurant faster than someone dropping dead in their omelet due to food poisoning.
At any rate, things moved along and the cramping and discomfort I had been feeling for 2 days became full out labor -- for 36 hours. Well, there was that short period when my labor slowed and stopped and it felt like days but was only about 90 minutes before getting a good running start before turning my insides outside of everything but the baby, who was hanging back and hanging on.

As soon as the baby was delivered and Mom and Hoity-Toity had a good look, they were gone and I was alone with nurse Cratchet, she of the spatulate fingers and no sense of boundaries who made it her job to humiliate me in every possible way. There was the first day when she walked blithely into the bathroom, wrenched the wand with which I was sluicing my torn and stitched nether regions and proceeded to pry my knees apart and lay me open to comment and scorn with the bathroom door still open and people milling in and out looking at my roommate's child and glancing in through the doorway while Nurse Cratchet continued to sluice my stitches. At least she shut the hallway door and pulled the curtain when she once again pried my tightly locked knees apart and spread my hooha wide open to position the sunlamp just so to dry out my episiotomy stitches, but it was too little too late.

I had decided to breast feed my son and was sitting in the rocking chair, baby cradled in my arms, and trying to get him to latch on to my nonexistent nipples. Unlike most woman, my nipples do not stick out like thick erasers. My nipples are more like suggestions than actual nipples even when responding to cold, arousal, or rough fabric. They are still mere suggestions. At least they aren't inverted.

Nurse Cratchet flung the door open as if entering an old western saloon for a bar brawl and grabbed my generous areola and began stuffing it into my son's mouth, her thick spatulate fingers treaeting me as if I were no more ground pork stuffed into a tight casing for sausage. I was completely extraneous and obviously had no sense of feeling or feelings. She lectured me about giving my baby enough to latch onto while she grabbed more of my breast and continued stuffing, grabbing and stuffing as my son continued to suck as though tucking in the ends and until it seemed as though half my very generous breasts were in his little rosebud mouth, which looked as though the jaw unhinged as he latched on and on and on.

It hurt. A lot. But he was nursing so I gritted my teeth and stayed out of Nurse Cratchet's way while she oversaw the process, repeating it a few minutes later when I transferred him to the other side and she began stuffing my breast into my son's mouth. I could wait to get out of there. Sooner would be better, but I had lost a lot of blood during delivery -- and after -- and the hospital refused to let me go until my blood counts were closer to normal. And presumably until after Nurse Cratchet had finished humiliating and stuffing and manhandling me sufficiently.

When I did get home, nursing was difficult. My nipples cracked and bled and I wish now I had read Beyond the Sling and knew that my milk would heal my almost nipples and soothe the ache and raw pain of nursing.

Two weeks after my son was born, my husband graduated from tech school and we packed the car and made our way across the frozen flat space of Kansas while listening to the OSU-Michigan game on the radio and me nursing our son with a cloth diaper draped across my shoulder and over his face so truckers wouldn't be treated to the sight of my child attached to my naked and very sore breasts.
As soon as we reached Ohio and my husband unpacked my son and I from the car, my son was snatched from my arms and began to cry. My mother decided he was hungry and I needed to nurse him, all the while undressing me in front of all of my relatives, and my grandfather and Dad, and urging me to just ignore everyone and take care of my son. It wasn't long before she decided he wasn't getting enough nourishment and needed food, real food. How could he get any nourishment when me breastfeeding him was such a circus and my milk seemed to clot in my breasts no matter how much I massaged and yanked them about the way Nurse Cratchet told me I should when she manhandled me to free the milk ducts. Personally, I think she just enjoyed playing with my ample breasts.

I caved. My son began eating rice cereal mixed with cow's milk in his 3rd week of life. I didn't know that my breast milk was sufficient for him until he was a year old and that he didn't need baby food until then. What did I know? I was a new mother who, utterly exhausted from my son's every 2 hour feeds (the books said he should be fed every 4 hours and no one mentioned 2 hours), broke down and slept with him rather than have to get up from the bed and go across the room to the bassinet to pick him up, settle him before baring my breast and feeding him yet again. I was utterly fagged and often fell asleep sitting up while he was still nursing. Sleeping with him just seemed the natural thing to do.

According to Mayim Bialik, it is the natural thing to do -- sleep with your newborn child. There's nothing lazy or wrong about it and my son was calmer and less fussy when he was asleep in my arms or when I curled around him while he slept. He was perfectly safe and it was convenient when he woke up in the middle of the night -- every 2 hours -- to nurse.

I wish I had had the sense to dig in my heels and find people who knew more about children and nursing instead of caving. What is a new mother, worn to the merest nub and exhausted beyond words or the ability to make a fist, to do? My mother knew more than I did; she had given birth to 3 children and nursed and raised them. I knew nothing and my instincts were not reliable.

I eventually gave up nursing 3 months in and didn't nurse either of my other 2 boys, suffering through mastitis and sterilizing bottles instead. I wish I had stuck it out and had someone to tell me that my instincts were right.

Except that they were. Okay, they weren't reliable when I called my father in a panic to ask him what to do when the plastic bell fell off the head of my son's penis and his penis looked like a swollen, pussy, and grave worm white thing instead of the head of a normal penis. I had no experience in boys, except for my husband, and I didn't often examine his penis even during the most intimate moments. But my other instincts were right.

While Mayim Bialik's fondness for elimination communication (EC), or the belief that babies already are potty trained but their parents aren't, is a little out there, it does have some merit and I did something similar when my boys had diaper rash. I let them run around naked (when it was warm since diaper rash and summer had something evil in common) while it healed, catching them when they had "that look" and were about to soil the floor (or the bed, the couch, and whatever surface was handiest when they got "that look"), and holding them over the toilet. I've decided to send my review copy to my oldest son. The twins are 2 years old and are bottle fed, but some of the other issues they are facing and have yet to face will be addressed and they might get something useful from Beyond the Sling that I no longer can since my childbearing days are behind me -- far behind me. At least they won't have to listen to horror stories about the mistakes I made and the the way Nurse Cratchet manhandled my anatomically inadequate breasts. Information is a good thing -- especially when it's not intrusive and demanding and belittling. I'll provide the book and they can provide the belief or disbelief and do it their own way.

That's what raising children is all about -- the freedom to ruin your children in your own way without any help from Mom. I made my mistakes; it's time for me to step back and let them make their own mistakes while I provide chocolate and grandmotherly spoiling.

I do suggest you get Beyond the Sling and forget that although Mayim Bialik has made her career in television and doesn't allow her children to watch television, just one of her quirks. The rest of the information is good and she has some experience garnered from raising her two boys. Take what you want from the book and ignore what doesn't work for you or that you take issue with. It is in essence another way of doing things from a mother who has been there and done that and still stuck to her guns. That in itself is worth the price of admission -- having someone your own age in your corner.

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