Monday, April 26, 2010

Nipple Nazi? Really?

I've just finished an intensive Lactation Educator training, that took up a huge chunk of my last week (hence the lack of writing) and gave my brain an overload of information. It was a great thing to see nearly 70 other women and one lone male from at least 4 different counties there to get current education to help moms and babies get off to a good start (although there were a few who clearly were forced into the training by their employers, but that attitude was uncommon by far.)

The training was full of new information, some things I never would have thought of, and some things I already knew in my heart, but now I have the science to back up. Some of the medical aspects such as diseases and abnormal conditions were rather scary. Although, if the idea of breasts being referred to as "pendulous" was shocking to me, I imagine it disturbed the token male even more so.

The component on working together as professionals brought out a few things that never cease to surprise me. For example, there seem to be people who choose to go into the field of caring for birthing women and their babies, who don't really seem to like birth (which can be loud, messy and unruly) or babies (who tend to be needy and cry a lot.) Perhaps they go into it for the money, but I am equally surprised and saddened when some of these people seem to resent other people in adjacent jobs who actually do like helping the moms and babies. They have a whole list of derogatory names for breastfeeding advocates. I know we've been called "the boob ladies" by random men at community events, but when healthcare professionals call names, it kind of puts a different spin on it.

A nurse at a hospital (that is more known for it's NICU than it's baby friendly practices) said she was very shocked when she made her first referral to the Lactation Consultant for a patient who was having a hard time getting her baby to latch on. Some of the other nurses began to groan "Oh no, not the Nipple Nazi." Seriously? Helping a woman prevent sore nipples, and a baby get nutrition is similar to mass murder? Really?

Apparently, they felt that the woman who was specifically trained to help in this situation was a Nazi because she was "always trying to get people to breastfeed when it really wasn't a big deal to just supplement." The fact that the "Nazi" had thousands of hours of training specifically in this area of expertise, that the supplement in many cases creates additional problems, and that their own job protocol included helping breastfeeding mothers actually succeed did not seem to be a part of the equation. I know it can be hard to learn to do things differently than we have in the past, but it is after all a part of life, and in this case, being current in the field of medicine is their job. I could understand the bad rap if the consultant was gruff or rude or aggressive with the mothers, but that doesn't appear to be the case. I don't think it was the consultants' demeanor, just the fact that she was messing with the good old way of doing things.

Now I've met a quite a few people in the lactation business, and most have them have been pretty loving and kind people- the kind of people I'd want supporting me if I had a new baby and was having a hard time. I've never met one who was rigid, or mean, or in any way trying to make mothers feel guilty if they chose to give up. They usually seem like people who actually just want to help.

That's not to say that the mothers who give up don't feel guilty- they often do, but not because the lactation consultant made them. Mother guilt is pretty strong in our culture, and we all feel bad when we are unable or unwilling to accomplish something that we know would have been good for our babies.

I realize that working at a breastfeeding support center, some people automatically consider my coworkers and I members of the Breastfeeding Police. I don't know whether to laugh or cry about that. I am a woman with a less than quiet manner, and an expressive personality in most of my life, so I have to tone down my natural self in my work. I do try to be professional, but more importantly, I hope I am able to be kind to my clients more than anything. Having a baby is not always easy, and the mamas deserve some TLC. My co-workers happen to be some of the sweetest women around though. Someone once described my supervisor who had helped her try to breastfeed her baby with Down Syndrome by saying "I wish I could take that woman home with me and have her be my children's grandma." I'm thinking that doesn't sound like Nazi material...

Working with the general public, most of us realize it takes all kinds of people to make up the world. We try to support people wherever they are at, knowing that most people are genuinely trying to do the best they can for their babies. I've met some women who try so hard, doing all the right things, and it just never seems to work. My heart breaks for them, and I always make sure they know what awesome mamas they are. I've also met women who give up on the first sign of trouble or inconvenience, and a few who just don't seem to care. Sometimes it's not easy when someone tells you they prefer formula because their baby rarely poops when they drink it, but I still don't try to make them feel bad for constipating a baby on purpose. I try to give them info on bonding while bottle feeding because in the end, I'm not there to judge anyone, but I am there to be an advocate for the baby.

Discussions were had over fear of making mothers feel guilty. Although no one would feel bad telling a pregnant woman that smoking could harm her baby, and encouraging her to quit, for some reason telling a mother the truth about formula and breast milk, and trying to help her breastfeed is off limits for some. I'd think in both cases the approach would be what mattered.

Everyone knows that we're supposed to eat lots of fruits and vegetables and exercise regularly, but most of us don't do that either. I don't think we have the overwhelming guilt about it though. Why? Maybe because there is something so personal about our babies, and our mothering. We love these little people, usually more than we love ourselves, and we so want to do a good job, that it's really hard to hear messages about things we didn't do. Even when the bearer of the message is kind, they still represent something, and in some cases, I think it is regret.

Most people are not going to respond well to a guilt trip, but that doesn't mean they don't deserve factual information to make an educated choice for their family and professional support when they need it. I wonder how many moms have received bad information that led to problems or made them worse, and grieve over the fact that they feel ripped off? I've met a lot, and that makes me angry, not at the moms, but at the fact that the bad advice is so prevalent, at the culture that makes it hard, and at the formula companies for their sneaky and deceptive marketing.

I've been vocal in my criticism of formula marketing in the same way that I'm critical of tobacco marketing. That doesn't mean I'm judging all smokers or formula feeders- I have friends and family who have been smokers, and I know wonderful mothers who have formula fed.

Perhaps the name callers have met some overly enthusiastic breastfeeding advocates? I guess I have trouble picturing a military policing attitude being the norm in the field, but I'm sure there are exceptions.

In any case, I think it's a reminder for everyone who deals with now moms to make sure we treat every one of them with respect, no matter her choices. I am thankful to be able to say that I think the ladies I work do. They are about the farthest thing from Nazi's I can imagine. I agree with the woman who wanted to take home my supervisor- these are the women that I would be glad to have be the aunties and grandmas to my own kids.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The $5 Haircut

Here's a life lesson of the day to take note of: You might want to be wary of $5 student haircuts. Now, this may seem obvious to some people, but I am a woman of thrifty nature, and with the economy such as it is, and all the financial gloom and doom in the media, I've been on the lookout for ways to be thriftier than usual. One of my ideas of places to save was on haircuts. I've never been comfortable cutting my sons hair as I have a deep fear of accidentally creating a bowl cut or a mullet. My daughter's hair used to be easy to cut in the past when it was all one length, but recently, she decided that she wants stylish layers. I was feeling the urge to add a few layers to give some life to my own hair as well, and not about to attempt that on my own. But, between the three of us, I'd be looking at spending $50 to $100 at least.

Then, we remembered seeing an ad for the beauty school featuring trained students under professional supervision who could cut our hair for only $5 each. We decided to give it a try- I mean, the girls giving haircuts at the mall for $20 each with no professional supervision were probably just in that beauty school a few months earlier. At least the ones still in school have a teacher overseeing the whole thing. Yes, this seemed perfectly logical at the time. When we called and found out they could schedule all three of us that very afternoon, we jumped.

On arriving at the front desk of the beauty school, we began having second thoughts. Two happy, very nice, young ladies hurried up to offer their hair cutting services. One had rainbow colored hair in a sort of biggish style. The colors were all very pretty, but perhaps one or two at a time rather than five colors at once, or at least spacing the orange and purple so they were not right next to each other might have been more my taste. The other gal had a very short boy style with a thin, long braided tail that I am guessing was another students project in hair extensions. At first glance, neither was what we would have imagined the person holding scissors to our heads and deciding the fate of our hairdos to look like, but I always encourage my kids to have an open mind. So, I sent my kids to go with them, and I waited for the next stylist. When she walked up a minute later, I was relieved that she had a cute hairstyle- one that I might choose for myself. I was very happy to see that, but it didn't occur to me at  the time that someone else had cut her hair. Just because a person has a cute hair cut does not necessarily mean they can give you one.

So, we were seated, and the cutting began. My kids looked nervous at first, and I tried to give them reassuring smiles. During the entire time of our haircuts, another student sat in an empty chair in front of the mirror next to us looking bored and creating on her own head what may be one of the tallest hairstyles I have ever seen. Rat, spray, tease, spray- her creation kept growing. I'm not sure if she would be able to sit up straight in a car without her hair having to bend, but she didn't look concerned. She followed it up with Cleopatra eyeliner, and Geisha lipstick. I had to give my kids the big eye "don't stare!" look, because they were slack jawed in amazement at the use of such quantities of hairspray. Actually, my son had to ask what it was that she kept spraying on her head, as the poor child is being raised by a grooming slacker who rarely bothers with products.

Anyway, the rainbow haired girl working on my daughter was confident, and began snipping away. In no time she was standing next to me with a cute new style. In fact, she got the best haircut of any of us by far.

The shorter haired girl with my son was more hesitant. He had longish hair, that would have looked great on a surfer with gorgeous natural highlights that people would pay lots for. She didn't seem to want to cut it- in fact she kept asking him "Are you sure you want more cut off?" with a pained look on her face. I thought he was only going to get a trim, but he ended up getting all his lovely highlights chopped, by his own choice though. It was a tad more than slightly crooked, and I kept finding stray hairs that were missed, but he was very happy with his new look. In fact, he was all smiles, and seemed to have loved the attention from the girl, so I certainly didn't want to burst his bubble by mentioning the flaws.

My stylist was by far the most nervous. I got the feeling that I was one of her first non-mannequin haircuts. She was sweet as pie, and was actually doing OK. I tried to keep a nice mellow conversation going- nothing too distracting to the work at hand, but hoping that if she was calm, her hands wouldn't be shaking. The trouble was, she was really slow, and afraid to make any mistakes (which I appreciated.) But, she kept calling the scissor happy instructor over for reassurance (which I didn't so much appreciate.)

The teacher was a highly made up gal- hair, nails, make up, clicky heels- the whole bit. She was extremely confident in her skills- so confident that she seemed to not hear the fact that I didn't really want to lose any length, or really much of anything I said. She was too busy impressing her student with her amazing knowledge of styling. I had been wanting to grow my hair out (after donating about 10" last summer) and I only wanted a few layers, but Miss Snippity Snips kept coming by and just taking a little here, a little there while showing my student how to use all of the fancy different scissors. Every time she did something on one side, we obviously had to do the other. Every time she would walk by, or the student would ask her for advice, I would cringe. I sensed that she felt herself a master artist who was sure she knew better than her silly commissioners, and therefore couldn't be bothered to listen to them. Only it wasn't a clump of clay- it was my hair, and I was already in too deep to walk out.

An hour and a half later, and about three inches shorter,  I told my nice stylist I thought it was just great. It was even on both sides, and it was a cute style in the end, although not at all what I had asked for when I went in. She seemed to sense that I wasn't 100% satisfied, and offered to keep going. I politely declined the offer, and tried to reassure her that she was doing a fine job.

I'm aware that it could have been much worse, and that I'm lucky we got out of there in the condition we did. I'm also aware now of just how risky $5 haircuts can be.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I know that some homeschooling families might consider an afternoon at the creek a "break from school work," but for our family, time spent enjoying nature is what our homeschooling lifestyle is all about. Armed with a bag that usually contains at least a book or two to read aloud or alone, sketch books and pencils, maybe the camera or magnifying glass, some kind of hand crafts, and of course some snacks and water, the kids, dogs, goats and I head down the hill for an afternoon of creekschooling.

I have no doubt that the learning that has taken place along the banks of our creek is just as productive and worthwhile as any that would have come in a classroom or at a desk. In fact, it might be more so, because the kids are actually interested and having fun. I never hear them complain "awwww, do we have to go to the creek now?" or try to get out of going. They enjoy seeing the changes and so do I. We always start with a little exploration, finding out what's new in this familiar place. Each season has it's own uniqueness. Over the course of the year, the creek swells and dries up. Green grass turns yellow, then goes to seed and dies off, and then a soft new carpet of green grass pops up again. Wildflowers turn into stickers that poke into our socks and dogs feet. Sprouts grow into seedlings and then little trees, unless of course the goats get them first. Egg sacks become tadpoles, and then croaking frogs.
We explore a little, and then find a spot that has the right mix of sunshine and shade, and some place to sit and hang out for a while. I'll read aloud, and the kids will draw or sew or in some way have their hands busy. Sometimes one kid will want to read on their own, and I'll work on a math concept or writing project or whatever the other kid has going with them.

Of course, creekside bookwork does have it's distractions- namely mischievous goats who try to sneak up and nibble the pages of paper. Several of our own books have bite marks in the corners, but the library does not appreciate this, at all, and it can be quite costly. It's also sad when a drawing someone was working hard on  loses a chunk to the jaws of a pesky goat. Dogs also run through the creek and shake off all over whatever we have out. We can't bring certain things like large board games etc down there, and we can't spread out too far either, since we sometimes have to pack up in a hurry and chase a wayward animal who decides the grass is greener somewhere else.

Still, the benefits are worth it. What kid wouldn't rather spend their day at a creek than in a desk? We are not the schooliest type of homeschoolers, but sometimes we come across a workbook or some other piece of curriculum that is a good match for one of my kids at the moment, and we usually bring it along to the creek with us to work on. Besides the obvious nature observation and journaling, my kids have done math, calligraphy, and recently written messages in Egyptian Hieroglyphics at the creek. They've learned new drawing techniques, written poems and stories, and studied people and places from around the world down there. Environment really does make a difference, and the sound of water trickling over rocks tends to relax the body and mind for whatever lies ahead. That's why stores sell those pretty little indoor desk waterfalls to relax stressed out people, but whenever possible, I'll take the real thing, and so will my kids.
It comes with bugs, mud and annoyances, but CreekSchooling is one of the things I think my kids will remember from their childhood. I know I will.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Amoebas, Pinworms, and Other Parasites I Don't Recommend Studying

There's nothing like a wonder filled conversation about parasites to freak out an entire family. I have a tendency toward freaking about certain things anyway, and things that suck the life out of people, like bacteria, viruses, and most certainly parasites, are high on my list of freak worthy things.

So, when a friend told me that she didn't let her family swim in lake waters of Texas because there were brain eating amoebas, I was a little disturbed to say the least. I had never heard of such a thing, and to tell the truth, it sounds a little a bad sci-fiction movie. On the other hand, you never know...and my family swims in lake waters all the time, not in Texas, but still, what if the amoebas migrated in someone's dirty swim trunks, and ended up in a lake near us?
To make it worse, my kids heard the conversation, and when we got home, they began asking questions. They were a little concerned as well about the prospect of little critters that crawl up your nose to feast on your brain tissue, so I thought I could comfort them with the truth. Like any good homeschooling family, we got busy with research, starting of course with the internet.

Well, let me tell you, there are a lot of different parasites out there, and there is a whole lot of information on them as well- including numerous magnified pictures of the nasty little things! I thought about including some, but decided that I didn't want to do that to other people, as images of parasites are truly mind scarring, and could result in the need for some sort of therapy to remove. For those of you who are curious and want to go investigate for yourselves, I am providing a disclaimer right here- it may be frightening and disgusting, and you may never be the same. I don't recommend it, and I can't be held responsible if you just have to check it out.

As for the parasites themselves, according to many sites (who happen to sell herbal anti-parasitic medications) the little wigglers are prevalent in humans worldwide, even in developed countries like the United States. Beyond amoebas, there are worms and flukes. Some are more common than others, but they all are incredibly freaky.

I tried to focus on research based information from professional medical organizations, to weed out the sales pitches, but even that didn't calm the sense of dread. Thankfully, we have one thing in our favor- we wash our hands a lot. Yet in the face of the reality that these horrid little species have been finding ways to suck the life out of other creatures since the beginning of time, and that they mutate to find new ways to survive, are good hand washing skills enough? We could still be parasite candidates on a number of levels. We have not only dogs and cats, but also goats and chickens, and we interact with them, up close and personal, on a very regular basis. We pet them, clean up after them, and come into contact with their messes more often than I like! We walk barefoot at the creek! We travel, including to foreign countries, and we swim in lakes! We play in the dirt and garden with our bare hands! We drink well water! Good grief, the list goes on and on...

We could be infected and not even know it, too! Side effects can include insomnia, (I'm sleepless) moodiness, (yep) and upset stomach (mine hurts just thinking about this.) My kids have inherited my hypochondriac ability to read things into every symptom- we're like a bunch of medical students convinced we have every bizarre new ailment we read about. They became paranoid too, linking everything to the possibility of parasites. The confirmation of parasites however, involves procedures none of us wanted to consider. The kids did learn that there are many careers in the medical field that they do not wish to pursue though. I suppose it's a good thing that someone decided to go to college in order to identify these unpleasant things so they can be treated, but none of us feels drawn to helping mankind in that particular way.

The kids wondered if we should stop swimming in the lake, even though having lakes nearby is one of the things that makes living in a blazing hot summer climate bearable. So, we talked statistics, and did some estimating of our own. It's always good to be cautious, but the probability of amoeba infection is probably slim. Public pools and water parks have their own gross dangers. We swim lots of places too, and in fact could also get attacked by a shark or an alligator, or even a killer jellyfish. Knowing these dangers exist as well isn't exactly reassuring- actually, it just gives us more to worry about. But the reality is that none of these things is very likely to happen- sure they could, but they probably won't. If we knew a body of water was infected, whether it be full of sharks or amoebas, we'd skip it, but I don't want to skip having fun and enjoying exploring the rest of the world because of it. There are a lot of random what ifs, and possible dangers in the world, but there are also a lot of wonderful experiences to be had. I guess we just have to decide what the risks are to things, and whether the benefits are worth it. We'll still swim in our lakes, but I think my kids will be keeping the water out of their mouths now that they've seen what might might be in it.

For now, I've decided to just halt our little unit study on parasites. There are some things we just don't need to know any more about, and overall, the more we learned, the more it freaked us all out. I think we'll be happier if we're learning and enjoying the world (in a safe way) rather than feeding our fearfulness. We might be washing our hands a little more often though.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Fun Family Hike or Sneaky Attempt to Cause Extreme Spousal Suffering?

So, my husband completely surprised me last weekend by taking the kids and I on a family hike- and the whole thing was his idea. I thought he must have absorbed some of our adventurous plans to explore the world (starting nearby) and decided to be a good sport and plan a little something for us. He wanted to show us a trail that he has run a number of times. Of course I don't run, unless something scary like an angry pit bull is chasing me, but the trail is used by hikers, some mountain bikers and an occasional horse / person combo, so we went for a hike. In hindsight, I am wondering if family fun time was truly his motive, or...was it something darker? Was it a sly and sneaky attempt to cause me grief?

You see, this trail he chose is quite possibly the most poison oak infested trail in North America. (I have no scientific or research based foundation for saying that, but, there was an insane amount of poison oak all over the place) Husband barely gets poison oak- he can trudge through it cutting firewood and get a small, slightly red rash the size of a quarter on one arm that might last a couple of days. I can look at someone who has been in poison oak, and spontaneously burst out with an inflamed rash that covers my huge sections of my body. It burns, and itches; it oozes, and then it crusts over. It's not only painful, but quite disgusting to look at. I have had it on my face creating something that resembled crusty lip augmentation, on my hands making me look like a leper, and on so many other places- it's just painful to think about.

I would think that husband would know this, as we've been married a long time, but somehow, he still doesn't seem to think about little things like head to toe rashes resulting in an angry wife. Fortunately, I have developed an eagle eye for spotting poison oak. I know what it looks like with leaves, and without. I know that it comes in many shades of red and green and many lovely combinations of the two. And I go to great lengths (which occasionally include shouting) to encourage those around me to avoid contact with the plant, lest they spread it's toxic oil to someone susceptible (like me.) Well, we brought our dogs on this little hike, and of course, I thought it would be wise to keep them on their leashes. Husband was somehow surprised at this notion, thinking it was too limiting to the freedom of the day try to control the dogs the whole time, and  saying "It's not like you can keep them 100% poison oak free."

Well, that was true, since the evil plant reached it's arms across the trail trying to get me in several places. But, a little brush against poison oak is not the same as a full roll in or romp through it, which is exactly what they would have done off if they were off leash. So, I argued that I could at least keep them 95.9% poison oak free, which would drastically reduce my chances of getting it since we were riding home in my car, and I highly doubt he would be bathing the dogs anytime soon. Besides the poison oak, we did pass a few mountain bikers, and some jack rabbits, which my dogs undoubtedly would have chased causing further stress had I not listened to my inner wisdom, which said quite clearly "Of course you need to have the dogs on their leashes! DUUUHHH!"
It was a good chance for the kids to see in an up close and personal way, the variations in the same nasty plant. It actually is incredible that something that can look so lovely can have such sinister qualities.

Husband chose not to argue that I was spoiling the freedom of the day, and I chose to believe that he was not really plotting to cause me pain and suffering, but simply looked at the world in a different way, so he might not think of things like natural consequences, and horribly itchy rashes for other people. I packed up some good snacks, including dark chocolate and brie cheese, which certainly helps improve my outlook on any occasion. We came across a lovely lakeside spot where the humans enjoyed food, and the dogs enjoyed a leash free swim.

Husband had thought ahead to plan on including some geocaching on the adventure. I waited on the trail with the dogs, and  yelled "Watch out for that poison oak there!!!!" about 4,782 times while my family scoured through the brush looking for hidden treasures. The kids found two geocaches, and the dogs found plenty of ticks, 3 of which I noticed crawling on the small dog while driving home. (At which time, I freaked out, screamed "eeeeeewwww" and threw them out the window- the ticks, not the dogs- while managing not to drive off the road.)

At one point, a little over midway through the hike, husband and boy child were traipsing through dubious looking brush staring at GPS coordinates rather than what they were walking in, while girl child and I were sitting on rocks eating dark chocolate, and I noticed this sign along the trail my husband had chosen for us. Ah, of course, we'll be taking the "Most Difficult" route. Was this another part of his plan to torture his wife? Why not a "Moderate", or how about "Easy" route? Nah, let's take the "Most Difficult" one. That'll be more fun! As if upon cue, it started to rain on us.
We looked up at the brush where the boys had just been, and couldn't see them. We yelled as loud as possibly that we would be ditching them at that point, and would meet them at the car.

The trail wasn't as difficult as I had anticipated, but there were definitely rocky hills, steep cliffs and sharp switchbacks. Luckily, the rain stopped, and there were also lots of blooming wildflowers, and plenty of scenic vistas to enjoy. The iron rich, red soil was beautiful, as were the incredible rock formations. The entire area had been burned by a wildfire a few years ago, and it was interesting to see the patterns nature took in her comeback.

By the time we got home, my feet were sore, my body was tired, and after seeing the ticks on the dog, I had the creepy crawly feeling that they were hiding on all of us too, just waiting to latch on with their foul, disease filled mouths. I was also pretty sure that the geocaching members of the party had managed to get in the poison oak, despite my warnings, and would unthinkingly rub it all over my entire house. I made everyone throw their clothes directly in the washing machine, and head right to the showers, while the dogs were banished to the porch.
Adventures in nature will always have their naturally unpleasant aspects, but I still think they are worth it. And adventures with my husband, well, rather than think he just finds adding grief to my life amusing, I am trying to go with the thought that he does mean well, and just doesn't take notice of the difficult details. (Even if they are clearly printed on a sign.)