On Friday December 4th, my family and I welcomed our newest addition to our family: Baby boy (no, he still does not have a name) was born at home at 11:33am thanks to the amazing help from our birth team of midwives and doula. It has been both a whirlwind and so completely comfortably normal since then. The love in our household has grown exponentially, in ways I never could have imagined. Obviously as our family adjusts to our new reality and we eagerly spend all this time getting to know the amazing little boy that is our son or brother, I will be writing less to close out 2015; however, this experience has led to a few thoughts that I wanted to share because they are not happy thoughts. They are angry thoughts.
You see, when I started Evolutionary Parenting, my daughter was already born – in fact, she was almost a year old. Although I had been thinking about the many topics that would become the basis for so many articles that have been written since, in many cases, the realities of the advice being given to parents still had some distance. With the birth of my son and this happening after years of writing on the science of parenting and infant development and years of reading up on what is passing as mainstream parenting “advice” these days, I have had my eyes opened more than before.
To say I feel angry and frustrated with the system our society has created would be a massive understatement. I am appalled. I am disgusted.
When I experienced the amazing power of skilled and gentle and respectful birth assistants, especially during a rather difficult and painful labour because of pre-existing conditions, I am horrified at how many women are still treated during what should be a supporting and safe experience. I am equally horrified at how midwives are treated in some places. There are too many hospitals that do not allow midwives privileges, despite midwives in hospitals having better outcomes than doctors, based on maternal and infant outcomes. If we want birth to be the experience it should be for most women (some things will happen regardless), we need the myriad birth assistants to work together, not apart. We need skilled midwives available for those who want them, we need family doctors available for those who want them, and we need OB-GYNs available for those who need them. And with this, we definitely need continuity of care for all women pre- and post-birth.
When I experienced the joy of being home after birth and all that it entailed (including hubby making pancakes for everyone and my daughter being able to see her new brother so soon after birth), I am angry that there are people trying to take that choice away from women. Especially when the research we have is very clear that, when set up properly, this option is even safer for low-risk pregnancies than a planned hospital birth.
When I experienced this amazing little boy in my arms – the epitome of perfection – I knew that this was the stage many women would be asked, or even pressured, into circumcision their sons for no good reason. Routine infant circumcision occurs for no medical or even spiritual indication (yes, the discussion of a religious circumcision is equally important, but also vastly different) and this has. to. stop. We have to find a way to realize that our boys don’t need to have the same penis as their dad (heck, even with circumcision they won’t), that the locker room mentality makes no sense to start with but actually makes even less sense as rates of circumcision decline regardless and soon circumcised boys will be the minority, that the purported “benefits” don’t hold much weight at all when looked into critically, and so on. Routine infant circumcision is cosmetic surgery and our boys need our protection as much as our girls.
When I started breastfeeding, I experienced pain, my boy was gassy early (very rare and symptomatic of a problem), he was crying in pain, and nursing all the time. I started out incredibly sleep deprived and in pain, but because of what I write and do, I had the experience and knowledge to immediately know that this was not normal and one look at my boy’s mouth showed a very clear tongue tie. My midwife noticed it too and at 4 days old, it was released (along with a lip tie). However, for far too many moms, they don’t know that this is wrong. They have caregivers who don’t know the first thing about ties or even breastfeeding and they are pushed – overtly or subtly – into giving up a breastfeeding relationship under the belief that it is painful and possibly even hurting their baby. Breastfeeding support is essential for all the mother-infant dyads out there who want this relationship and when I hear suggestions that we have enough of it, I can’t find a wall big enough to bang my head against.
When I experience my night-time wakings with my little boy as he looks around the world or nurses, I am reminded there are doctors and so-called “experts” telling families to leave their newborns and young infants alone to cry with no support under the guise of “teaching” them to sleep. They forget that a baby needs to eat regularly to survive. They forget that a baby is building up his neural pathways via experience and that experience can be one of love and responsiveness or isolation and neglect. Parents, with erroneous expectations about what life should be like, fall prey and believe they are doing the “right” thing. In my mind, these people pushing these methods are criminals. Yet the more people speak out against these methods, the more pushback there is for them and a middle ground that respects parents’ needs and infant’s needs gets swept under the rug for more extreme forms of sleep training.
When I experience the love my daughter has for her new brother – expressed in ways that actually led our doula to tears – I am reminded of how important attachment is for all members of the family. I am reminded that sibling love starts with the attachment between parent and child, not child and child, for as the child feels secure and loved in their relationship with the parent, the new child is not a threat and can be safely loved. However, not all families experience this and new siblings often result in problems with older siblings that parents don’t know how to cope with. In many cases, the problem isn’t that the older child isn’t attached, but rather the child is too young to fully understand this change. Parents need to recognize the importance of how to continue to foster attachment with the older sibling to engender the love towards the younger one when a child is too young to have fully internalized this for him/herself. And to do this, parents and families need support.
When I experienced my husband being at home to help, I realized that far too many families do not have adequate post-partum support. My husband is home temporarily, but I also have wonderful friends around willing to help out when he returns to work. I am home already, but had I worked, I live in a country that has paid maternity and parental leave meaning I would be eligible for 50 weeks paid leave (my husband is eligible for 35 weeks paid). This is not paid for by his employer, but rather we have been paying for it in the form of employment insurance, something everyone pays into here and covers a host of employment-related leaves. Knowing that as I type this with my 5-day-old son sleeping, snuggled in on my chest, there are babies in daycare because their parents are back at work already is nothing short of criminal.
With all this experience, I also realize that the way to change is long and hard and the hardest part is changing minds. In all of these experiences I have seen the resistance to change. Not a single item on this list is one that I have not personally seen vehemently defended by those who feel the status quo is working just fine.
So I will finish out my year with my larger family, enjoying our time together and getting to know this amazing little boy who has entered out lives and expanded our hearts in ways I never imagined possible, but also thinking. A lot. I can’t say I have the answer to change, but I know the first step is changing minds. I know I have written on all of these topics before, but clearly I need a new strategy to try and reach more people or reach them in a different way if real change is to come. So that is my goal for EP in 2016: Finding ways to help people initiate real change in their communities while continuing to support families around the world and providing information for those who are open to it.
How will that look? I have no idea, but there’s no choice left but to find out.