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Today is my son’s 5 month birthday. I can definitely say that I’ve fallen in love with the little guy in the last couple months. I guess all the attachment parenting tactics have been working for me – breastfeeding, baby-wearing, co-sleeping. I know you’re not “supposed to” co-sleep, and I actually prefer not to but I just can’t keep getting out of bed every time he wakes up in the middle of the night. So he sleeps in his crib part-time and in our bed part-time. I never planned to co-sleep with my daughter either, but it also became a necessity…and it’s only since Paul’s been born that she’s been willing to sleep by herself. Anyway…

I feel almost back to my normal self. Definitely not thriving like I was during my pregnancy, but it seems like my hormones have stabilized enough that I’m no longer feeling as moody. I feel exhausted but mostly okay lately. The one problem is that I’ve been so sleep deprived that now I’m having a hard time sleeping even when everyone else is asleep. The little ones are both asleep now, so I should quickly wrap up this post and try to get to bed.

I’m looking forward to preschool starting again soon. Of course I love my 3-year-old, but I know we’ll both be happier once she’s back in school. She needs kids to play with, and I need some time to do the dishes without being interrupted by “Mom you pretend to be the Evil Queen and I’ll be Snow White, okay?”

In other good news, I got an email from an editor today saying that my travel articles were good, and that he wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true, because he’s worked with a lot of “terrible” writers lately. So that made me feel good. I’m glad that I’m staying connected with my career even though I don’t get the opportunity to work very much right now.

My sweet baby boy is almost crawling already. That puts him about a month ahead of his sister, which was already super early. He also has a delightful laugh. Just thinking about his laugh makes my heart melt.

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It’s the big literary news this week – Atticus is a racist.

In Go Set a Watchman, the sequel to the beloved 20th-century classic To Kill a Mockingbird that was just released this Tuesday, Atticus Finch is revealed as a bigot. Really? Atticus, who so honorably defended the black Tom Robinson in a rape trial? Who in fact endangered his family by being willing to stand up for an innocent black man in small-town Alabama? Who has become as much of a cultural icon as a literary character ever could be?

This is rocking the world of many an English teacher.

Atticus was on my list of top 5 boy names for my son, born in March. It’s grown in popularity in recent years, and as a writer/editor/Mockingbird fan I couldn’t resist considering it. In Mockingbird, Atticus is a great father, a great lawyer, an all-around great guy.

So why has Harper Lee (and her publisher) decided to shatter our perceptions of him now after so many years?

Yes, perhaps the 89-year-old author is not making the best decisions. Maybe she just needed the money.

I haven’t read it yet, or even obtained a copy. But maybe it works. Mockingbird is told from the point-of-view of a 6-year-old girl who hero-worships her father. Watchman takes place some 20 years later, and is told by a third-person narrator.

A 6-year-old girl is not a very reliable narrator.

But we bought into it. We wanted to, needed to believe in Atticus the hero. We wanted him as our father. And now he, like so many other heroes before him, has turned out to be deeply flawed.

It’s fiction, but the thing about great fiction is that it teaches us something important about life.

And what about my son? We didn’t name Atticus. My husband, who is not a book nerd and couldn’t care less about this whole conversation, nixed it immediately. Instead we named him Paul, after the grandfather I never met and the apostle who wrote a good portion of the New Testament.

Paul the humble. Paul who was a real hero and not a fictional character, and who was always honest about being deeply flawed, referring to himself as “less than the least of all God’s people” (Eph. 3:8).

Maybe we could learn something from him.

The day he was born.

The day my son was born.

I didn’t babysit much as a teenager, but once I babysat two sisters for an entire weekend. They were super easy and sweet elementary age kids, but still I thought a whole weekend seemed a bit relentless. You know what’s really relentless? Being a stay-at-home parent.

Today was hard. It was raining and I was without transportation, so I was stuck in my 2-bedroom apartment all day with my newborn baby and my sassy, firecracker 3-year-old who refuses to potty train or take naps. I questioned my sanity frequently throughout the day. Thank goodness for streaming Netflix. I was able to stay fairly patient with my sassy girl, and only told her she was being annoying once or twice.

If we lived in France where they have free government-subsidized daycare, I would probably not be a stay-at-home mom. I would wear professional clothes and work in an office and spend my day talking to adults. But we don’t live in France, and in spite of my master’s degree, I’ve never been able to get a job that pays a living wage. So, here I am – doing the most meaningful and important and underappreciated and relentless job there is.

Yes, it’s a blessing to be a mother of two, and to get to stay at home with them – but it’s also really really hard. I’m reminding myself that the first few years with my daughter were very difficult, and then I felt really happy after she started going to preschool last fall. It gave me just enough space in my life to feel like I could do the things I needed to do to take care of myself. I know that in 2 years and 3 months, she’ll be in full day kindergarten and my baby will most likely start preschool. I imagine that somewhere during that time she’ll agree to use the potty. Life should start to be easier again then. That’s a long time, but in some ways, it’s a short time.

It’s the longest shortest time.

 

I decided that Friday during the week of spring break was a good day to have a baby, and apparently my son agreed. On Thursday night I went to my prenatal swim/water yoga class and when I mentioned I was 39 weeks along, our instructor said, “Maybe you’ll have your baby tonight.” I said I’d prefer to get some sleep first and then welcome the baby into the world the next morning.

And so, I woke up around 3 am with contractions and couldn’t go back to sleep. I’d been having Braxton-Hicks contractions off and on for the past month or so, so I waited awhile to make sure the contractions were consistent before disturbing my husband. I woke Spencer up at 4:30, and we called our doula at 5, because I just felt like it was rude to call someone before 5 am unless absolutely necessary. My contractions were a little uncomfortable, but doing hip circles and figure eights helped relieve the pressure. Our doula came over around 5:45 and I called my mom at 6 so that she could come watch our almost-3-year-old.

We called our CNM, and she thought I was still in early labor and that it would be a few more hours before we would need to head to the hospital, since I seemed very calm. So my husband decided he would take a nap. About 15 minutes later I told him, I’m ready to go to the hospital now. I wasn’t convinced that I wanted to have a second unmedicated birth, since the first time ended up being a bit, um, traumatic. I just wasn’t in the mood, you know, like how you’re probably not in the mood to go run 20 miles right now. I wanted to make sure we got there in time for an epidural. We arrived in the triage room around 8 am. And when the midwife arrived and checked my cervix, I was dilated to 7 cm. Everyone was surprised because I was handling it so well.

When we got moved into the delivery room about 15 minutes later, I mumbled something about getting an intrathecal. “There might not be time,” said the nurse.

“I either need pain meds or I need to get in the bath tub now.” The midwife checked my cervix again and this time I was at 9 cm!

“What do you want to do?” she asked me. “We can try to get you an intrathecal if that’s what you want.”

I knew that would take awhile and there wasn’t really time. I needed pain relief immediately so I got in the tub. The warm water helped me make it through the rest of transition, although the contractions were still very intense and left my whole body shaking.

“Ok, you’re pushing. You have to get out of the tub now,” said the midwife. “There’s no room to deliver in here.”

I didn’t want to move and lose the only pain relief I had. With my daughter’s birth, pushing lasted about 45 minutes and was excruciating. I reluctantly got out and moved to the bed. “I’m scared,” I said. Like, I would almost rather die right now than repeat what I went through before.

I got on hands and knees on the hospital bed. Last time I’d been on my back and I knew I didn’t want to do that again. I knew this would be over soon-ish. There was some screaming and tears involved, but the midwife kept calmly reassuring me that my baby was helping me with this birth, and I think he was.

Just a few (intense and difficult) pushes, and 11 minutes later – less than 2 hours after we arrived at the hospital – my son was born! I held him in my arms and said, “Welcome to our world.”

The women are crowded into the dressing room, peeling wet swimsuits from their rounded bellies. An unusual cross-section of women – a technology specialist for the school district, a yoga teacher recently moved back home from life in the tropics, a couple of my high school classmates. One woman, 36 weeks pregnant with her second child, is in the middle of a divorce from her addict husband. “It’s better this way,” we assure her. She is stoic, accepting the way things are.

A set of pregnant sisters has come to swim class tonight. “Are you excited that your sister is pregnant too?” one woman quietly asks the older of the two.

“No,” she shakes her head. “But I’m coming to accept it. I’ve been planning my pregnancy for years – hers wasn’t planned. She always gets all the attention, being the younger sister.”

While pulling on clothes over still damp skin, a woman says her husband’s afraid she’ll turn in Regan from The Exorcist during labor. “Hmm,” I say, from the vantage of my second pregnancy. “Are you planning for a natural birth?”

She says she is, though she’s decided on birthing in the hospital rather than the associated birth center. “I need a big room for all my friends,” she says. “They’re weird so I don’t want them hanging out in the waiting room. Some of them have been to one too many Rainbow Gatherings.” She laughs. “Plus, where would they smoke in the birth center?”

“Hmmm,” I say again. I want to say that her friends certainly won’t be smoking in the hospital’s maternity ward, but I just smile and nod.

My first night in class there was just a small group, 5 of us, and one of us expectant mamas cried as she talked about the C-section that was scheduled a few days away for her breech baby.

“I just don’t want to be cut open,” she said.

But aren’t we all about to be cut open, our hearts exposed, in the process of bringing a new life into the world?

We think we are preparing for the marathon of labor, when really, it’s the parenting that we should be saving all our strength for. It’s parenting, more than giving birth, that’s the test of a lifetime.

Me at 36 weeks pregnant.

Me at 36 weeks pregnant with my second child.

Baby brother's coming soon!

Baby brother’s coming soon!

At 39 weeks pregnant, we’re expecting the arrival of Baby Brother any day now. My freezer is full of dinners I’ve thoughtfully prepared for our family in advance. We’ve spent the last several months cleaning and organizing our apartment. I filed our taxes, and made plans for celebrating my daughter’s April birthday in May.

I’ve been doing prenatal yoga, belly dancing, and water “aerobics” (okay it’s more of a relaxation class) for months. I have midwives and an experienced birth doula, and a free postpartum doula service lined up. I’ve reconfirmed my views on alternative vaccine schedules, decided it’s okay to skip the newborn eye antibiotics since I don’t have gonorrhea, and learned about the benefits of delaying baby’s first bath.

In other words – true to my personality – I’ve carefully controlled the parts of this baby equation that I can control. Ah, control, what an addictive and sweet illusion!

Hahaha.

So I mean, I guess we’re ready.

Are doctors the best advocates for our wellbeing?

Are doctors always the best advocates for our wellbeing?

I’ve found that doctors generally don’t like to be questioned. And it would be easier if I could just unquestioningly follow their advice, but over the years I’ve discovered that I am the best advocate for my health and my child’s health. For example, a doctor once tried to prescribe me an anti-malaria medication that included psychosis as a potential side effect — and then belittled me when I asked him to instead prescribe me a different medication that had only minor side effects. Or, when I told my ob/gyn that I didn’t want to be induced (unless absolutely necessary) because Pitocin is known to cause more painful contractions — he blatantly lied to me and said that wasn’t true.

That being said, I would have gone ahead and vaccinated my daughter on the regular schedule, but my husband and I took a newborn care class where some parents were raising questions about vaccinations. For example, why is the Hep B vaccine given to all newborns? Babies need it if mom is Hep B positive, and it’s a good idea if any other close family is Hep B positive, but it’s a fairly rare, bloodborne disease. Our newborn care teacher recommended The Vaccine Book by Dr. Sears for more information on vaccines.

I ended up following Dr. Sears suggested alternative vaccine schedule, with a few variations. I felt more comfortable with this than the recommended schedule because it spaces out the vaccines, so my daughter didn’t have to get as many shots at once. I was concerned that giving her so many shots at one time might be hard on her immune system. The official CDC schedule gives a 2-month-old 6 vaccines in one visit.

Here are the first few months of the Dr. Sears Alternative Schedule:

2 months (well-child visit)  DTaP, Rotavirus
3 months (shot-only visit)  Pc, HIB
4 months (well-child)  DTaP, Rotavirus
5 months (shot-only) Pc, HIB
6 months (well) DTaP, Rotavirus
7 months (shot) Pc, HIB

Some challenges I found with the alternative vaccination schedule are that:

It’s confusing. You will have to tell the pediatrician which shots you want at each visit. You have to know the schedule you are following and advocate for it. If you’re not paying close attention, your child may end up missing some vaccines for longer than you’d planned.

It’s time-consuming. Breaking the vaccine schedule up means more visits to the doctor. I took my daughter to the pediatrician once a month for shots for her first 7 months.

Some doctors really don’t like it. I chose a pediatrician who was comfortable with an alternative schedule, and he even suggested delaying MMR further until my daughter’s immune system was more mature. However some pediatricians are unwilling to deter from the official vaccine schedule.

So, will I follow an alternative vaccine schedule with our next child? Probably. Here’s why:

It feels safer to me.* I do realize that most children follow the official schedule without ramifications. I also think that if I were a doctor or public health official I would advocate for people to follow the official schedule. It’s in the best interest of public health for vaccination rates to be as high as possible — and the easiest way for that to happen is for people to follow the official vaccine schedule. But I don’t want to take risks with my child. So for me that means making sure she gets all the required vaccines, yet spacing them out. One of my reasons for being extra cautious is that I have a lot of allergies, some of them life-threatening, which means my daughter has a higher chance of developing allergies. She might be at a higher risk of having an allergic reaction to a vaccine, or perhaps too many vaccines at once might mess with her immune system and increase her risk of allergies. Who knows? I think the immune system is pretty complicated and we don’t understand it very well.

I also know that the vaccine-autism link is basically considered an urban legend by many. But after reading the Dr. Sears book, he says there have been court cases where families received settlements after evidence was found that a vaccination did trigger autism in their child. The catch? They were not allowed to use the word “autism.” I also have a close friend whose brother has autism — and the family has always been convinced that it was triggered by a vaccine.

If you want more information on alternative vaccine schedules, I recommend reading The Vaccine Book and talking with your child’s pediatrician. We did make some changes to Dr. Sears Alternative Schedule, such as delaying MMR further and giving Hep A much sooner.

*Please don’t sue me, this is just my opinion. The CDC and most pediatricians will tell you that the official vaccine schedule is perfectly safe.

Have you followed an alternative vaccine schedule with your child? Would you do the same again?

Photo credit: x-ray delta one via photopin cc