Friday, May 31, 2013

Take What You Deserve

After talking with an older lady I am once again reminded that perhaps the most crippling aspect of punitive/shameful parenting is the way it traps the people. They are forever stuck, unable to forgive, unable to acknowledge, unable to grow and move on to better things.

Yes, the sting on the bum, the burn of harsh words, those are hurtful and unethical in their own way. But it is the tight grasp of inferiority and self-hate that forever binds someone up in, "I'm FINE and I REFUSE to look any deeper!"

For the experience of having self-will and autonomy broken by loved ones leads them inevitably to more hurt in a cycle of abuse. And eventually, what they have done is submitted themselves to shackles, to forever carrying the guilt, shame and loathing on their backs.

With that, the only option to continue functioning is denial. See, mental illness doesn't exist, because it couldn't exist for them. Compassion doesn't exist, because they never had any and did just fine. Taking a break, having friends, developing personal interests, calling out abusers, none of it was theirs so none of it can be yours.

If you were to denounce abuse, it would in turn shine light on all of their experiences. And instead of bringing acknowledgment and healing it only angers and scares them because they have internalized the abuse and taken it on as an identity.

This might all sound extreme and rare, but if you back up a little, you'll notice it's actually pervasive in our culture, occurring over everything and everywhere for many people. The thing about oppressing a person is that it spreads. Like the common phrase, "Misery loves company" the reality is that the oppressed person wants all of her friends enslaved so as not to notice the rub of her own chains. 

Punitive parenting's true legacy is creating a person who says, "I was hurt and I deserved it." From that standpoint, self-worth is so deteriorated and violation so protected that no one can learn, grow, heal, forgive or otherwise reach full actualization in life and relationships and are instead hanging by a chain.

Think back to the women who harass other women, telling them to cover up while breastfeeding. Think about it. Almost exclusively, those doing the harassing are women. And what I see are not people who think breastfeeding is gross, but people who were oppressed and must oppress others. It had nothing to do with breastfeeding but rather the power struggles in their own relationships. To see a breastfeeding woman standing out in public with her own level of power reminded them of their powerlessness. They feel chafing of the ropes binding them.

And the big thing in this society...c'mon fellow abuse survivors of all know what it is: our society hates the label of victimhood. It's better to claim you caused someone to rape you than to admit that someone violated you. It's better to claim you needed that c-section than to admit maybe someone didn't have your best interests at heart. It's better to claim that breastfeeding is immodest than to admit that you don't feel equal in your relationships.

Incidentally, that storyline is the same one for the circumcised males. And it's perhaps even harder for them in this culture that despises anything effeminate, and by that they actually mean anything expressive, emotional or human in nature. "I'm fine! FINE FINE FINE!" They shout it. Scream it. Pound it into the table. "I'm fine. Because if I wasn't, I'd have to go back to every moment in my life where someone hurt me and I'd have to acknowledge it and I'd have to forgive them and I'd have to heal and I'd have to admit that others hurt me." I'm FINE.

Victims of punitive parenting changed reality so as not to be a victim anymore. They would deny anything, rather than acknowledge that maybe they've been hurt, and maybe they have healing and forgiving to do so that they can truly awaken to life.

Because it all comes back to internalizing the shame and hurt they felt at the hands of the person they loved or trusted the most, when in one split second, probably without conscious realization, they erased the cognitive dissonance by deciding that the authority loved them and so they deserved it.

So when people tell me things such as, "I was spanked and I'm fine," or "I was circumcised and I'm fine," I do acknowledge that, yes, they are fortunate to be the ones who evaded obvious physical or emotional conditions. They weren't beaten to death, nor did they bleed to death from their violations.

But surviving something doesn't lend credence to its purported ethical or loving traits. People can go on for years after suffering a traumatic event, violation or attack. They really can function quite "well" in terms of not freaking out or melting down.

That doesn't mean they are experiencing a fulfilled, nourishing lifestyle with deep and loving relationships. And the unique thing about being hurt by loved ones is that the wound doesn't scar over or fade away. It's right there 10, 20, 40 years down the road, these shackles hanging on chains that people pretend don't exist.

How to Switch to Healthier Products

I did this comparison for someone and thought I would share. The products selected are based on the mama's individual needs. I do not endorse or get paid for anything or crap like that.

Let's compare the Bio Salud drink available at Walmart to the Lifeway Probug drink that's a little harder to find but becoming available at places such as Target.

The Bio Salud drink: "Filtered Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Cultured Grade A Pasteurized Nonfat Milk, Sugar, Dextrose, Natural & Artificial Flavors, Potassium Sorbate (to Maintain Freshness), Aspartame*, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D3, Contains Viable Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, Streptococcus Thermophilus, Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Lactobacillus Casei And Bifidus Yogurt Cultures. *Phenylketonurics: Contains Phenylalanine. Contains: Milk."

Remember that the ingredients are listed by most to least in a product. You get water, HFCS, processed milk, more sugar, more sugar, flavoring (chemicals), preservative, fake sugar (neurotoxic), fake vitamin A, vitamin D3, and 5 strains.

Now let's look at the pro bug drink. I randomly chose the Sublime Slime flavor:

"Organic Grade A Pasteurized Cultured Milk, Organic Cane Juice, Organic Lemon/Lime Juice Concentrate with 12 probiotic strains."

Now, admittedly, the Bio Salud drinks are pretty cheap. I think they run $1 for a 4pack over here. Meanwhile, the Probug drink runs $1 a pouch. (Squeezy pouches for kids.) That being said, Lifeway Kefir has other products not marketed directly to children but still pretty tasty and cheaper. A 32 oz bottle of Lifeway Kefir is $3-4 for example. So the price difference is there but not prohibitively so for such a difference in quality.

Also important to note: a product like this is more likely to be consumed daily by children and it's dairy. So those are two big factors for ensuring you buy higher quality. When you're making changes to your diet and you're on a budget, choose the switches that will make the biggest difference. Go for high quality animal products and switch out the items you use the most. Don't be fooled by packaging that advertises health benefits; go straight to the ingredients. 

Have an Imperfect Birth

What is this perfect birth women talk about? Have you ever stopped to question the sentiment that perfect women can plan a perfect birth?

You don't have to be perfect to experience a physiologically normal pregnancy and birth. You don't have to be perfectly fit, at the prime of your life, with a perfect partner and rolling in money. You don't have to know everything, you don't have to be super educated, you don't have to be special in any way.

I've seen the "perfect birth campaign" in the natural community and it's the same as the "breast is best campaign." It's judgmental and misleading. Please don't lump me into it. It seems people hear about some of my birth experiences and right away have a tendency to think that everything went perfectly and worked out just right so I was able to "attain" the "perfect" birth.

Well, I have news for you. Pregnancy and birth will always have curveballs, for every woman. But you can still find ways to support the body and the process. Pregnancy and birth will never go exactly how you plan and you can't control them no matter how many resources you have at your hands. It's not all luck and it's not only for the select or elite.

Regardless of the unpredictability of life, satisfying birth is in your grasp. Let me remind you of some of the nitty details that seem to get lost when people hear about my birth my severe pelvic injuries from gymnastics. Or my compound homozygous genetic DEFECT. Or dealing with gluten sensitivity and casein allergy while still securing a nourishing diet.

What about my babies growing large and positioning themselves in interesting ways? How about some actual complications, too. I've had major hemorrhages after each birth. I've retained my placentas and needed to coax them out as they don't spontaneously release. They are all anterior, w/ battledore insertions and they show clotting on the maternal side. Or how about my scarred perineum from a sports injury, that I tear pretty badly after each birth?

C'mon! If I can do it then I know you can do it! I'm an eccentric, short little woman who hates exercise. I have joint pain and I grow huge babies and most likely if I had an OB and hospital birth I'd have scheduled c-sections each time. I'm not an exception in a good way. I'm not special or amazing. I've merely evaded the well-trodden road. I wouldn't be some kind of goddess in a hospital, firmly declining interventions and miraculously birthing a baby on my back in the 8.3 hours allotted. Everything about me and my babies screams for c-sections.

Don't throw away your commitment to an unhindered birth under the guise of not being good enough or perfect enough. No matter what life is throwing your wary, you are absolutely deserving of an evidence-based birth with supportive birth attendants (or none as you desire). Birth is messy, unpredictable and as safe as life gets. Things might happen that you don't want to happen, but you can still maintain autonomy and still feel satisfied afterwards. Birth isn't about perfection; it's about living life large and experiencing the full spectrum of human relationships. Go for it!

The longest and most painful 5 hours of my life...still cherish it!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Every Baby Deserves Milk

Over and over again I hear something in the milk sharing community that might come from a well-intended place but only makes it harder to normalize milk sharing and wet nursing. It's a declaration that a mama and her baby have to be qualified to receive milk. The motivation of the mama and the situation of her baby are scrutinized, judged on a basis of severity as to whether or not she deserves to receive milk to feed her baby.

I'm so fired up right now, I feel that after this baby arrives, I'm going to pump like crazy and donate milk for all those judged scenarios. You're too tired out to pump? Here! Have some milk. You're going on an unexpected business trip? Here! Milk for your baby. You don't want to or can't take drugs to get your supply up? Milk!

You have an unexpected pregnancy? I'll give YOU double milk for that. I'm tired of hearing people discuss unexpected pregnancy as if the condom never fails or the birth control always works. What a great flag of support to tell a mama working hard to provide for her child that she has to deprive one or both. Aren't we just a cheery card of well wishes during a hard time!

You don't want to share your private reason? Perhaps it's related to sexual abuse in your past that makes breastfeeding difficult or impossible? Perhaps you've had cancer-related surgery and keep it private? Have some milk, Mama. You look able bodied and normal, but suffer from a laundry list of conditions that people judge and misunderstand such as IGT, fibromyalgia, EDS, PCOS and more? There's milk for your baby, Mama.

Who a mama chooses to donate to and why is her business. Milk is not a precious resource for others to judge which baby is worthy or which baby is undeserving. The cattiness I am hearing in the milksharing world is detrimental to the movement and harmful to mamas and babies out there.

As long as people continue to act as if milksharing is an elite, privileged and rare resource judged only for the most worthy scenarios, we will never normalize milksharing. Milksharing is as normal and good for the severe preemie as it is for the mama who is feeling sick and could use a backup for a nursing session.

We need to make milksharing so normalized that it's akin to running next door to ask for an egg so you can finish your recipe. You aren't forced to wait until you're starving to be approved for your special "handout." It's normal, basic and carefree...and that's how breastfeeding in general should feel, too.

Where is our tribe? Where is our community spirit? I have heard of mamas having severe reactions to galactagogues, prescribed and herbal. I also know mamas who have a diagnosed condition and just don't have the mental/emotional strength to "try everything" when they already know of their impairment and just need to feed their baby.

How about after birth? Post-partum is a whirlwind of a time, not even including things such as healing from unexpected injuries, having to go back to work, missing a support team to help, depression/anxiety and more.

I fail to see why milk should be held over a mama's head until she "adequately performs" to be awarded. If I'm willing to bring over a meal, why not bring over milk? What is the difference? I don't see people saying things like, "Oh, Susie had a great homebirth so she can cook. She doesn't need meals." or "I only give meals to mamas after c-sections because they deserve it."

Stop the madness! Every child deserves milk and every mama could use a little community now and then. When we start to believe this, the milk will start to flow freely.

It was very telling that when I shared a cute photo of my nephew
having some milk, many people were anxious and assumed something
was wrong with my sister and/or her baby. Nope, I was just comforting him while
she and my brother in law celebrated their anniversary with a romantic dinner.

Babies Need to Eat During a War

Born out of a war,
Survival calling,
Substitutes that can't compare.

Plants and animal milks, lots of sugar,
Cans watered down to meet a budget,
When a man is at war and a woman works to keep him there.

No one really cares, no one looks hard, within science that doesn't yet exist.
The consequences, toxins, failings, they all get a free pass-
Whatever works and makes money is good enough during war.

Many years pass by and science continues.
Yet everyone is content to pay the price for a product unquestioned.
It was good enough back then, why change it?

Some people sound the alarm, something is wrong,
Our greatest treasures, our children are living on ages past.
Storm the gates, demand the science, change the future.

But alas, the few are outnumbered by the many.
Attacked and scorned, called judgmental,
Quieted to the delight of the companies.

And the people continue to pay,
For a substance yet proven, a quality never given-
It figures, as we never left the war.

Formula History

Are You Strong, Brave and Smart?

It's really frustrating when mamas tell me they could never have a normal birth and could never be brave enough because they've had a c-section, been induced, had assisted delivery, or any other intervention.

It keels me over. Don't you get it? Women who birth without intervention aren't amazing, elite creatures. If everything went well, or they had good support or a strong cultural base that shielded them from pressure or fears, that's not being brave. That's not being awesome and a rockstar, or courageous and amazing. 

No, you mamas who have felt the pitocin contractions, who have been pressured to consent to interventions, who have gone in for surgery, who have taken drugs and experienced forceps and cutting...YOU are much braver and much stronger than you realize. You have already experienced MORE than the general pains of laboring. 

You've had to make tough decisions, perhaps without any support or charitable bedside manner. You've experienced other injuries and pains to the body in addition to laboring and having a newborn. You've done MORE and felt MORE.

If you can experience THAT MUCH, then realize you CAN birth without intervention. You can definitely face labor pains made by your own brain if you've faced labor pains made by a machine. You can definitely face the commitment to laboring vaginally if you've committed to a c-section. You can definitely face the pressures and fears in your heart if you've faced the pressure and fears of professionals around you. 

You're already ahead of the game. Take courage from that advantage!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Letter I Never Mailed to Mom and Dad

© 2013 Cora, last name withheld upon request. Continuing our May series on discipline, Cora shares her experience with us of being gently/non-violently parented during childhood and how that's influenced her, both as a child and now as an adult mothering her own children.

"Dear Mom & Dad,

Most people write letters to their parents to air grievances. They never send them, the letter ending up stashed away in a drawer or perhaps torn into tiny pieces or burned. I'll never get to send this letter because we're in two different worlds now, separated by a veil that can't be pulled back physically. My anger is at missing the chance to tell you this, my sadness that I'll have to wait until my own journey to that next world.

I sometimes close my eyes to go back to that time when life was about exploration, whimsy and sheer trust. I see you, Mom, leaning against the counter top in the kitchen, your shoulders relaxed as you slice carrots. I remember being fascinated with the speed and accuracy displayed in your fingers. Chop! Chop! Chop! Try as I might to quietly sit there, I always wanted to join you.

Looking back as a mother myself now, I must have caused quite a fright those times I got too close or grabbed at the knife but then you would smile warmly at me and hand me a spoon to stir the chopped ones in a bowl. Rejection wasn't a part of my childhood and it won't be a part of my child's. Every time I'm rushing around in the kitchen, tired or stressed out, wanting to tell my son to go away, I think back to our times together and it strengthens me, guides me on how to include him. Thank you for that.

Dad, I recall when I disrespected you in public, with my 8 year old voice, full of sass, ringing out in stark clarity. The silence around me was pounding in my ears. I didn't expect my voice to sound that loud. Where was the clamor and noise of everyone else at that time? I felt my ears burning and my heart dropped. It might have been the first time I experienced throwing angry words at a loved one and instantly wishing I could drag them back and break the arrow that took flight too easily into your heart.

Oh, you two were gentle parents but I sure did have plenty of punitive examples around me as a child going to public school and playing with kids in the neighborhood. I had seen the smacks, the way a parent would reach out and slam his fists against a child's head. I had heard my friends step into their houses during the hot days of summer, windows wide open, listening to the shaming and the cutting as it poured out of an angry mom's mouth, slicing her child down. I knew what my friends meant when they tried to bravely laugh about whippings and lashings but seemed a little too terse and quiet about it.

So there I stood as a deer in the headlights, frozen in fear and remorse, staring at you, all too aware of my friends standing around and expecting a good show. You looked at me, your eyes dark. Even at 8 I knew I had not only embarrassed you but hurt you. And now as a parent, I also know of the pressure you felt in public.

As you walked towards me, arms reaching out, fingers opening, I almost stepped back. Then the crushing hug, the smell of your cologne as you buried my face in your chest, brought tears to my eyes. You perfected that dad-power of complete silence being the best and most effective lecture a parent can give. Without a word, our relationship was healed and the world was set right. You chose to assume that I wasn't bad and that I wanted to say sorry and that choice has changed my life forever. Such trust in me is a feeling I still bring up during hard times to motivate me through life.

As I sit here writing this, the memories start to all flood back, yelling for attention and for a chance to make their rest in this letter. I see myself standing next to a neighbor friend as she squirmed and crossed her legs. Her father was off work for the weekend and she had been told to go outside and play. To me, that sounded normal.

In my young age I didn't realize she had essentially been banned from the home. She was terrified to sneak back into her house to go to the bathroom. Terrified of being caught in a fight, of being lashed out at, or of being told to do some mindless labor as punishment to ensure she missed the rest of the beautiful day. My young self had no awareness of this. I laughed at her hopping, gasping with half delight and half surprise as she hid behind our air conditioner and squatted down to pee. I sure did miss out on a lot of experiences due to you two.

I think now to later years, of going through that awkward, somewhat unpleasant period of time called adolescence. I remember becoming more aware of my peers at this time but still being completely confused by their behavior and their inner thoughts. Why were all my friends so insecure? Why were they so unable to speak honestly and openly? Why all the gossip, whispering and hiding in relationships romantic and platonic? I didn't fully understand what a childhood of shaming and punishing had done to these people and how they had been crippled and impaired by it. I was light years ahead of them simply by being unscarred.

I'd listen to them whisper gleefully about stealing from stores. Not like a huge theft ring, but a petty dare. It seemed to me that since they were on such a tight leash with their parents, and since they were unable to speak out, to share their own opinions, to voice their own identity, they had to go about it in delinquent ways.

Sex, alcohol, body alteration, petty theft, sneaking out for parties, it's all considered normal behavior for teens. Normal behavior that never appealed to me. And why would it, when I already knew who I was and felt accepted and treasured for me? I knew if I disagreed with you two, we'd discuss it together and make a plan that included my needs and wants. And I knew if I made a mistake, you two would be there to help me understand it and reaffirm our relationship.

As the next mountain of life rolled up next to me, I started to see more connections and to feel more gratitude for how you parented me. Compared to a little pot at a party or cliques in high school, the real world brought big choices, big situations that can make or break a person. Time and time again I found myself missing major traps because of the guiding light in my heart from my childhood. Choosing a stable partner who wasn't abusive or dishonest was one of them.

For a long time I believed what my friends and coworkers told me: Boy was I lucky! I just so happened to chance upon the one man out there who doesn't cheat or emotionally or physically abuse me, who had the same values as me and who worked hard to build our family. What sheer luck! It took many years to realize that I wasn't being arrogant in acknowledging the foundation of skills and minimum expectations in my life that led to our relationship and the hard work we both share to keep a respectful connection. It wasn't luck but rather the diligent use of the skills you had given me and the skills he had chosen to work on, healing from his own past.

But the final step in piecing together your parenting and my life didn't arrive until my son arrived, barreling into this world, screaming the moment he flew out of me. Because here was yet another mountain in life, and a big one. Here was parenthood. All my friends were having babies, too. Based on how my peers and I have been disconnected my entire life, I shouldn't have been surprised that we'd diverge on this path as well. The shock was still hard, like a blow to the gut. I didn't know one friend who thought birth was important. It was nasty. A life of feeling their bodies were gross, broken and nasty brought about women who thought birth was gross, broken and nasty.

In a peer group of about 30 women having children in upper state New York, I was the only one who had a vaginal birth. And only two other women breastfed with me past the 3 month mark. As I watched my friends start to slap their crawling tots, chasing after them, I suddenly had flashbacks to my childhood and of listening by the window standing around the corner in their houses. I saw them lashing out the same way their parents lashed out. I heard the same phrases fall out of their mouths, senseless statements that had nothing to do with shaping a child.

Playdates felt heavy to me, making my heart beat with anxiety. Smacking, hitting, pinching, boxing their ears, even pulling their hair or dragging them on the ground was all around me as I sat, holding my child and wondering how to get away. Suddenly I felt a new human emotion: the desire to protect my child at all costs. I began to drift away from these people, intent on protecting my son from watching and hearing the violence. And I started to think back to you, Mom and Dad.

How I wish I could have gone home after one particularly crazy day at the park. How I wish I could have fled into the safety of our home, tossed down the diaper bag, distracted my toddler with toys and run for the lifeline of a phone. I'd frantically tap out the numbers, then breathe a sigh of relief when Mom answered the phone. Help me, reaffirm me, remind me that love and joy exist. Let me come over to my childhood home so my son can be around others who open their arms and show him peace and respect. In that moment, it wasn't the loss of friends and coworkers that hurt. It was the loss of my parents. I was alone.

I broke down sobbing, hiding around the kitchen corner so my son wouldn't see me or be alarmed. I had finally realized how much you had done for me and you were gone and I couldn't tell you or thank you or hug you tight enough to show you. I was completely alone in that moment, surrounded by people who wanted to hurt, hurt, hurt. I felt as if the whole world was crushing down on me.

Don't worry, though, Mom and Dad. The hope you gave me as a child couldn't be extinguished even in that difficult time. I knew there had to be a way and I was determined to do it. If you two could do it, so could I. Were you lonely, Mom? Did you ever feel alone as a parent? Was Dad ever the butt end of callous jokes at work? Did people stare at you in public or make rude comments about your parenting? I see so much now of what you sacrificed and what you carried on your shoulders for me and I'm going to do the same for my son.

I've reached out, tentatively and looked deeply for others. It's different these days, Mom. There are new ways to form community and a new level of acceptance for respectful parenting. I found a group online and slowly made new friends. I found other people who had respectful parents or people who realized how they were hurt and are healing now. We're not alone. My son isn't alone. He's going to grow up with people who value children and value peace in the family. Mom and Dad, you two have done good. I hope you know that, wherever you are.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

You're Fine and You Hate it

I'm fine. You're fine. We're all fine. You hear it all the time in the parenting debates. Well, my daddy whipped me good and I'm fine! Well, my mommy slapped my mouth when I was rude and I'm fine! The examples abound and certainly aren't limited to any individual imagination. Anything a parent did is deemed above reproach, above analysis let alone judgment, as long as the victim decides she was fine.

I'm fine. I'm fine, fine fine. It's actually a mantra if you think about it. One doth protest too much. If we're all so fine, why do we scream it out, type it out in all caps, following the debate as if swimming desperately after a fish we can't catch, determined to prove something, maybe to ourselves more than to anyone else. Maybe if we say it enough, we'll believe it. Maybe if we type it out enough times, we'll rewrite our childhoods, replacing each incident of fear and pain with rosy memories of hugs and a scratchy beard from our fathers. 

Made by The Vegan Momma

I'm fine, you tell me. What is fine, really? What does it mean? You're alive? You working. You're a student.  A mother. Maybe a wife. A friend to someone. Is that what fine means, that you exist? That you're not running through the town setting off bombs or setting fire to buildings? As long as you're not going postal, you're fine.

Or maybe I'm fine means I'm not in prison. Maybe it means I'm not homeless, living in a drugged up half-aware state of being. What a low expectation for life, to be fine. To be fine must mean ignoring not only a deep part of ourselves but anything that could make life better, that could change our lives from surviving to thriving. As long as I can walk, talk, eat and exist, my parents are above reproach. Can anyone see, we've built prisons in our minds and we're content to live in them. The expectations we have for being fine are 3 square meals and an hour in the electric-fence courtyard at our prisons. With a certain death penalty at the end of each life.

I'm fine rings out with a certain sensation of accusation, albeit without judge and jury. This is where most people don't see the irony. If the way someone treated us was so good, so wholesome, so ethical and right, then the inherent assumption is that you're great. I'm fine whispers more. I'm fine says, "I survived." It's says, "I was hurt deeply but I'm still here." Those who scream out I'm fine are in actuality conceding to the very points in all those anti-spanking debates. 

I'm fine we all say. Then we stand by silently as someone cuts us off on the road or in person. We turn down promotions, praise, projects and other things that would deeply satisfy us but scare us, that remind us of our fineness. I'm fine, we say as we lightly laugh at the idea of a pop, a pinch, a yell or smack somehow crippling us. Ha! Crippling us, can you imagine it? Then we go about tidying our prison, snapping out hateful words in a fight, unable to hold back a barrage of irrational statements at a loved one, bewildered as to where such energy came from or how it escaped. 

I'm fine! We shout it out, some kind of testimony intended to block out the list of violations, big and small, that continues to grow in our life because the will to stand up is gone. Your mind flashes to the time a college friend hit you and you turned away instead of fighting back. You recall the time a lady cut in line and you smiled but felt sick inside. Or how about that one time the waiter brought you the wrong dish at a restaurant and you shoved it into your mouth, not even tasting it, chewing methodically, determined to accept what was given to you. It's fine, fine, all fine.

You're fine, you think, as you turn down praise. You're fine, even though you startle when someone larger than you walks by, too close for comfort. You're fine you whisper to yourself, as you watch your child's eyes widen with surprise, no, betrayal, then darken with fear at your behavior. You're fine and your child will be fine, too.

Because that's the final step to declaring your fineness in this world. If you're fine, you don't have to think about what others did to you, analyze their behavior, learn new ways, acknowledge deep scars and work on healing. If you're fine, then you're free to treat others that way, specifically your children. If someone smacked you and you're fine, then you've got a green light to smack your children. 

And that makes you feel good on some level, even if you refuse to consciously accept it. It makes you feel good to finally not be on the receiving end. It feels good to be the big guy, who can dole out the hurt instead of taking it. You don't just struggle with the discomfort of looking inwardly. You struggle with the giddy desire to hurt someone the way you were hurt.

But then that makes you feel bad inside. It makes you feel slimy. So you get onto Facebook. You come on over to a parenting debate. You quickly type a comment, breath catching, fingers cold but flying over the keys, "That's stupid! A little smack isn't bad! I was spanked and I'm fine!" 

If only you could make yourself believe that you're fine, then you won't have to forgive your parents. And you won't have to forgive yourself. You won't have to lie down in bed at night and replay the look on your child's face or hear the hurt in your child's voice. You won't have to think back to those times when someone hurt you and it hurt in a way that wouldn't fade. You won't have to worry about apologies, murmurs of reassurance, of trying harder and failing again. 

You're fine. And you hate it. How to Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor with Physical Therapy

Guest post by Linda Grayling. How to Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor with Physical Therapy

Month in and month out, women’s magazines preach the importance of Kegel exercises. Turns out, in addition to benefiting your sex life, Kegel exercises are one of the best do-it-yourself exercise for strengthening your pelvic floor. To locate your pelvic floor muscles, engage the muscles you use when you are holding the urge to go to the bathroom. Work on lifting these muscles internally and upward.
Your pelvic floor supports your pelvic organs, including the bladder, rectum, uterus and vagina. Having a strong pelvic floor is important since these are the muscles that support the weight of the baby during pregnancy. These same muscles can shorten labor and make delivery easier—and doesn’t everyone want that?
Problems You Don’t Want
Pelvic floor disorders happen when there is weakness in the pelvic floor, typically caused by pregnancy and childbirth. Being overweight or obese, chronic cough, heavy lifting, and high-impact activities can also increase your risk of these disorders.
Stress urinary incontinence, or SUI, happens when the pelvic floor muscles are no longer strong enough to hold back the flow of urine when the bladder is under pressure. Do you pee a little bit when you laugh, cough, sneeze or exercise? That’s the result of a weakened pelvic floor, and is something that 25 percent of women will experience at some point in their lives. A weakened pelvic floor can also cause back pain, constipation and sexual problems like dulled sensitivity or pain during intercourse.
Roughly 50 percent of all women who have given birth will experience another pelvic floor disorder known as pelvic organ prolapse. The pelvic floor muscles are not strong enough to support the pelvic organs—instead, these organs fall out of the proper position, usually falling against vaginal walls or into the vaginal canal.
In extreme cases, organs can even protrude via the vagina. Many times surgery is performed to correct moderate to severe cases of prolapse, and transvaginal mesh may be used. Transvaginal mesh is known to cause serious problems in some women, including mesh erosion, organ perforation, mesh shrinkage and infection.
Physical Therapy Can Help
Physical therapists who specialize in pelvic health can offer personalized treatment for prolapse. During physical therapy, targeted pelvic floor exercise, or pelvic floor muscle training, is used to strengthen the pelvic floor. Your physical therapist will guide you in customized exercises and positions to build and maintain pelvic muscle strength.
Personalized treatments vary, but can include resistance exercises using specialized weights and biofeedback to observe muscle function. If nerve damage is an issue, electrical muscle stimulation is sometimes used to increase pelvic muscle strength and control.
Your physical therapist may also incorporate pelvic massage or Pilates. Certain types of massage have been used effectively to realign pelvic organs, increase healing rates after childbirth, and restore pelvic floor strength.
Pilates is focused on core strength, which includes pelvic strength. In Pilates, pelvic strength is a focus not just in specific exercises but during the entire practice.
Because pregnancy and childbirth are the biggest risk factors for pelvic floor disorders, strengthening the pelvic floor during pregnancy as well as after giving birth is especially important. However, it is never too late for women to start strengthening their pelvic floor—it can even reverse symptoms of pelvic floor disorders.

Linda Grayling writes for Linda has a number of professional interests, including keeping up with the latest developments in the medical field. Join the Drugwatch community on our Facebook page to find out more.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Helpless Princess and the Knight in Shining Aluminum

I was just thinking about how, if you try to speak up on a topic with more information, or even more importantly, if you try to affirm a mama, you're shouted down as intolerant, judgmental, mean, crazy, whatever the buzzword is these days. See, I was thinking about this one mama who is making many choices right now, some of them without awareness of their consequences.

And I know from seeing it over and over and over for years how the end will be...short of her somehow beating the odds or pulling out suddenly with a change in her life. (Which is always possible. You know what I say: women get up off those tables in the hospital and leave. It's harder the farther you go but it does happen here and there.)

Anyways, so she went through this pattern with birth and now she is onto the next choice about breastfeeding. And the way things are going, here's what will happen. Her baby will lose weight due to the changes she's recently made. She takes her daughter into WBV (Well Baby Visits) so this will be duly noted and the doctor will tell her she's failing at breastfeeding and needs to supplement with formula.

The doctor won't tell her that her body does work or suggest that she needs to rethink her decisions. The doctor will just confirm her worldview: that's she's inferior, a failure, broken and that the doctor knows better and is going to save her baby from her. Since she's already internalized those thoughts in this cycle, she won't feel anger. She won't feel doubt about the doctor's recommendations. She won't think about how the doctor doesn't know diddly shit about breastfeeding. She won't consider that she is empowered and makes her own decisions and that her choices might be playing a part in the situation.

She'll agree that she's a failure and go out to buy some formula. Her baby, who has been EBF (Exclusively Breastfed) to this point, will have a more drastic reaction than someone going onto it routinely/earlier. She'll suck up too much of it, and it'll be like swelling puffs in her gut, making her feel sickly, lethargic and overly full. She'll start drinking less of the breast milk, maybe even refusing it.

The mama won't think that this is due to the baby being harmed by formula or confused over bottles. She will interpret it within her worldview and decide that this is a sign her milk is truly inferior, that she isn't making a enough, that the formula is better and the daughter prefers formula. She'll add more and more formula, and less and less milk for roughly 4-6 weeks. Then at the end of the 4-6 weeks, she will cry some tears, and decide that her 6 month old is fully weaned.

She'll go around telling everyone platitudes such as:

"My baby self-weaned."
"My milk just wasn't enough for her." 
"I tried my best but I wasn't making enough." 
"She refused my milk; I guess it didn't taste right." 
"The doctor saved my baby's life by recommending formula." 
"Formula saved my baby's life." 

Now, the interesting contradiction in this situation is that despite freely participating in this cycle without hesitation or question, she still retains extreme sensitivity, since the cycle is based on a negative self-image, an inherent belief that she is inferior and a failure. So even if she is fully willing to go along with the advertisements from the formula companies and the advice from her doctor, she remains in a constant state of anger, defense, grief and regret. Everything she sees or hears has to be interpreted to fit into this cycle.

If I go to her at any time in this process and mention to her that actually she is capable, that she is able to be better educated than the doctor, that she is able to make different decisions, that her body is competent, that her milk is good, that her baby needs HER milk and not formula, that she isn't broken or inferior.... I'll just be informed that I'm a judgmental asshole who is putting her down and making her feel bad and lying to her for my own agenda.

I'll be told to back off, that I don't know what I'm saying, that I don't know what's happening, that I'm just uneducated on the topic and being pushy and trying to manipulate and pressure her. She'll shout at me, telling me I'm being judgmental, calling her a bad mama, attacking her when she only did something necessary for her baby. Even if I don't say anything directly to her or about her, and instead publicly discuss some related topic such as contaminants in formula or GMO formula, she will still interpret that as a personal attack and a judgment upon her.

Now, wait, did you catch that? Everything the doctor (and the surrounding culture, media, formula companies, etc) did to her is what the mama accuses the one person who isn't participating as doing. The one person who affirms her power, who stands by her, who offers concrete information or who trusts her and her body is the one person she kicks to the side. The person offering freely, offering without gain, without profit, is the one accused of ulterior motives and agendas.

When we talk about a negative self-image, or about how people internalize abuse, or the results of a broken will, or the influence of our rape culture...are we seeing the consequences in parenthood? It doesn't only effect the person's childhood, or teen years or status as a single adult. It comes with her into her parenting journey, changing everything from birth to breastfeeding, bonding to discipline.

In fact, discipline appears to be central to this ongoing cycle of abuse through generations. Laugh all you want but punitive parenting with a goal to force obedience will continue to play a part in your child's life for her entire life. And your grandchild's life. And your great grandchild's life and so on. Is involuntary obedience really worth developing a child intent on believing she is broken?

This chart talks about domestic abuse. But hold on a second.
Have you thought about using this chart to
review the relationships with your OB and pediatrician? 

Is it really worth it, this culture we've made where right is wrong and wrong is right? Where standing up for someone is judgmental but profiting off her is helpful? Where affirming her inner strength is seen as making her feel bad but kicking her on the ground is noble? Where demanding that professionals provide better service and companies provide better products is considered attacking but abusive service or harmful products are life saving?

And if you right now relate to the mama in this story, I ask you: does it benefit you or your children at all to remain in this cycle? Do you truly find happiness and love in a game where others denounce your worth and save your baby from you?

Is it really that comfortable to your mind and heart to stay with a negative self-image as opposed to breaking out into new territory where you find out just how wonderful, strong and beautiful you are and how far you can go for your children?

Feeling devalued, patronized, even taken advantage of by others might feel right to you, or make you feel more comfortable because it's what you know, but it doesn't feel as good as demanding respect, humane treatment and equality. If all you know in life so far is how inferior you are, how badly you fail, how lowly you feel about yourself, you might trick yourself into thinking that it's good enough to continue feeling that way but it's not. You're worth more than those feelings and so now are your children. If you can't bring yourself to believe this then take the first step by focusing on your children and deciding to change for them. One step at a time can break this cycle. You're not broken goods, you're not worthless and it's time to step out from underneath the pile of profiting industries who rely on you thinking such things.

Related articles:

Is your care provider a professional assistant or an abusive boyfriend?

Breaking the cycle of abuse in circumcision:

Confessions of a Punitive Parent:

Monday, May 20, 2013

May Your Birth be the Sound of Your Feet on the Ground

Name withheld upon request.

"I feel the need to write to put my thoughts and feelings out there to the community. I feel so guilty! I feel guilty because I deprived my son of a natural birth. I know you must probably think I'm pure evil but I actually chose to have a c-section even though there was no medical reason. I chose to have one because I was scared! I was scared of mother nature's way, scared to end up having an emergency c-section with general anaesthetic and I possibly wouldn't get to see my child until hours later. I was scared I'd maybe rip or be given an episiotomy; instead I chose to have a scar on my abdomen.

But now, two years later, it turns out it's not just the visible scar. C-sections are great - if they're medically necessary but otherwise I wouldn't do it again. If I had known then what I know now I probably would have birthed at home! Those fears seem irrational and stupid to me now but they were very real at the time and I know this is no excuse but I had no guidance, I was pretty much left alone by friends and family. I had no proper information like for example from your page! My husband supported me, but he would have also supported me had I taken a different decision.

I really wanted to breastfeed but, for now obvious reasons, it didn't work out the way I had envisioned it. I was given oxytocin to kickstart my milk-production and it was a wonderful feeling to feed him but this most beautiful experience didn't last long. As a first time mother and knowing nobody who breastfed successfully I was very insecure about the whole thing. It stressed me to be perfectly honest because I made tons of mistakes and it hurt a lot.

I felt as if he wasn't getting enough food and the nurses in the hospital "suggested" giving him formula as well after having breastfed him for 10 minutes. On the third day I was in great pain because of sore nipples and I had to pump. I felt like a complete failure! Nevertheless I continued breastfeeding him but never produced enough milk, my biggest achievement was 50ml (total!) on one single occasion. That amount is ridiculous but I didn't want to give up, I wanted to give him every single drop I had so I kept on doing this for about 5 months until my son decided for good he was tired of it and stopped sucking. 

But at least I can say I didn't do everything wrong. I feed him only home-cooked organic food, I carried him until he was 15 months old, he is not circumcised, not vaccinated, sleeps in our bed to this day and I hope that one day when my son is old enough and I explain all this to him he will be able to forgive me."

A mama friend messaged this to me and I struggled over publishing it, since I feel it's very easy for people on any side of any debate to immediately interpret this for their advantage. But in the end I decided to publish it because it's a piece courageously written and shared to give others insight. It lets us into the complex cascade of emotions and the struggle mamas have when they are processing their previous decisions, which might not have even been true decisions, while still acknowledging their inner power and dedication to their children.

This mama is saying she feels guilty. She feels personally responsible for her child's birth experiences. She felt so scared of birthing that she chose medical intervention. Those are hard words to read. They made me sad when I read them not only because it's hard to know that others are suffering. But because it's an inherent contradiction. 

Remember the ole college days, when you read the basic psychology textbook and learned about internal versus external locus control that leads to interpreting events differently? Even in that class, you learned that American females are more likely to process negative situations as an internal attribute while males assumed an external attribute. Meaning, if a female received a poor grade on her test, she would feel personally responsible, blaming herself for not studying enough, for not trying hard enough, for perhaps not being smart enough. Whereas the male was more likely to blame others, deciding that the test was too vague, the professor incompetent or the weather distracting. 

Nowhere else do I see this more clearly than in the parenting world. Mamas are, well, vicious. They are vicious and I'm not talking about the mommy wars. I mean they are vicious to themselves. They rip themselves to pieces. They blame themselves, absolutely guilty, without trial, without extenuating circumstances. The mama above didn't say our culture, with all its fear mongering and negative birth imagery deprived her child. She didn't say the doctors who agreed and fully participated in the unnecessary intervention deprived her child. She didn't say her partner, who went along no matter what deprived her child. Only her. All the weight is on her shoulders and she is fully to blame without any claim to the circumstances and exceptions that had shaped her viewpoint at that time in her life. 

And this is why I published it, and what I hope people take away from it. Whether you birthed in a hospital or at home, whether with surgery or IVs or nothing. Whether with a healthy outcome or a damaging outcome, whether with a positive or negative outcome....whatever has happened in your parenting journey to your child and also to you because you have been changed, too, be gentle to yourself, Mama.

Be gentle to yourself. 

It's okay, healthy and perfectly your right to process all emotions including negative ones. This isn't a call to repress your experiences. 

But be gentle to yourself. Keep an eye on your internal dialogue. Are you guilty? Or is is that you are grieving? When you feel a negative emotion, acknowledge it and process it without being compelled to attribute it to some fault or inferiority in yourself. If you feel unhappy about a previous decision, go ahead, feel it, process it, work through it. But don't think that you have charge yourself in your own trial. 

And if others are intent on forcing you to attribute guilt, to attribute regret, failure, inferiority, error...then walk away from them. It's one thing to address a situation; it's another thing entirely to tear down a person. They are no more equipped to sentence you than a dog wearing a judge's robe. 

A wise man once told me that the key to life is realizing you are here to become a better you. Your goal isn't to be better than someone else. It's not to look over to others to see where they are in comparison to you. You can always find someone who is better or worse than you. You can always find someone who is willing to judge you and where you are in life against her own backdrop. 

No, your goal is to look back at you, and to trace those hard-earned steps in the ground where you kept going to become a better you, not for anyone else or to be measured next to anyone else but for your own empowerment and improvement. In this context, it's not about guilt. Where you were and the decisions you made at that time fit you and your situation. Where you are now is a testament to how hard you have worked and how much you have grown. So keep processing, healing, improving and learning. Most of all, keep forgiving you so that you can walk forward on your path.

Though I've never been through hell like that 
I've closed enough windows 
To know you can never look back 

If you're lost and alone 
Or you're sinking like a stone 
Carry on 
May your past be the sound 
Of your feet upon the ground 
Carry on 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Confessions of a Mama who Waited for her Husband (May Discipline Series)

Published with permission, name withheld upon request. Copyright 2013.

This mama is right. One of the most frequent concerns I hear from parents who comment or contact me is that their partners disagree with gentle parenting methods, or even force the issue or override the mamas' discipline actions. But her story has much more to offer. Do you have a parenting story to share? During the month of May, we are sharing readers' submissions on parenting, discipline methods and inner growth. Email or PM your story to be included!

"One thing I hear a lot of is that the father doesn't agree with gentle parenting. He wants to hit or yell at his children to get them to obey. I saw a photo in your discipline album on Facebook that I really agree with. [Editor note: photo published below.] And it reminded me of what happened to my husband. I wanted to send this in to let other parents know that with time and perseverance, he can come around.

My husband has opposed gentle parenting since my first son was born 5 years ago. It's led to bitter fights between us and a lack of support that I very much need seeing as how I'm the one who disciplines them the majority of time.

Our second son was born last year and I watched a scene unfold with horror in my heart and then happiness. My son, barely a year old, wouldn't listen to my husband. Not exactly surprising for his age. But my husband became increasingly irate and finally turned and smacked him, hard. It broke my heart to see the man I loved and admired so much hitting a defenseless, tiny child over a minor issue.

But what happened next has changed our marriage and parenting forever. My son's face broke, literally crumpled. He dropped down to the ground and starting smacking himself over and over again like my husband had smacked him. And he said his first word, that beautiful "first" we had been waiting on. He said, "Bad. Bad. Bad." Over and over.

My husband, the one who has yelled at me for years, who has stomped his feet over the duty to punish, who has rolled his eyes at my attempts to parent gently, started crying and has vowed never to hurt our children again. He is even reading some of the articles I email him.

So please stick with it, stay the course. Don't give in or let the other parent hurt the children. Don't just live with it because one day I have faith the other person will realize what he or she has been doing to your children. Hitting leaves scars, not just on our children but on us and our relationships. Don't stand for it and be ready to forgive and to love when they finally see it. You can publish this any way you see fit on your page or blog but please don't identify me."

Confessions of a Mama Alone but Strong (May Discipline Series)

Published with permission. Copyright Rebekah Shearer 2013.

This week's gentle parenting journey shows us that despite a myriad of obstacles, a lack of support and much stress, we can still reach within us to find that patience and love necessary for our children.

"Here's my story that I'd like to share...

For years I tried to conceive, being told it would be difficult, if not improbable for my husband and I with my severe PCOS. This was something my husband cruelly used against me in his reason for cheating on me, the reason for our divorce six months after I left everything to move to Texas from Pennsylvania with him. After the divorce and being together for a short time, I found myself at 35, pregnant with a man I loved more than I had loved anyone.

I was shocked to say the least. I decided right away when we found out it was a boy: breastfeeding and no circumcision. I was adamant. Eight months went by. My partner went to every appointment, every sonogram, sang to my belly, got maternity photos done, ran around the baby stores with the ”gun” picking out endless things for our baby boy.

On September 11, 2011, my whole world changed. It was a Sunday, three weeks before my due date, I came home from work to find my partner, the love of my life, the father of my son moving out of our home. I was alone. I was 1500 miles away from my family. Because of the stress, I ended up with a c-section. I developed, in those three short weeks, mild gestational diabetes and my son's belly was bigger than his head and I had extra fluid.

My son's father was present, but other than that, I was alone. Depression and fear were setting in. I had no one to support me or my decisions I was so adamant about. My son had a long foreskin. Like a lot. The doctor was telling me that it was beneficial, blah blah blah. I honestly believe that he took advantage of my situation. This doctor also told me I'd have to find a new pediatrician because I didn't adhere with Texas state guidelines and schedule for vaccines (why did my two day old need a Hep B vaccine?) I agreed, helplessly, to allow a man that knew me for ten minutes to convince me to cut my perfect little boy. I cry about this all the time.

Because he did have such a long foreskin and he had the ”bell procedure,” he still has some tissue left. He gets adhesions where that skin sticks to the scar tissue ... still, at almost 19 months old. So now, riddled with guilt, this is still a story of success at gentle parenting.

I have to forgive myself for that decision I made while I was in really bad shape. I survived being alone. I survived PPD. We dealt with weekly doctor visits because he wasn't gaining weight and I had low milk supply, taking care of a newborn after a c-section in a third floor apartment with a rottweiler and no car and no family. What did I learn? I learned strength. I learned patience. I learned to not give up on breastfeeding. (Yes, we are STILL nursing).

We do organic foods, we do time outs and explanations, we show love not hitting. We do cuddles and attachment. I researched vaccines. We did some ... very delayed and skipped others. I learned to do my research, to stand my ground, to be an advocate for MY son.

At six weeks old, my son and I moved back to Pennsylvania to be with my parents. I slowly am recovering from PPD. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and currently have a broken foot. I do get frustrated, I do have non-mother-of-the-year moments, and it's difficult at times being both a mother and a father. My parents were very non-attachment parents. I have educated them and they are very gentle and patient with my son. Never too late to learn.  I do still get grief from them about bedsharing or extended nursing, but I explain that he is MY son and I will raise him as I see fit.

 I wanted to share this to help other moms who need to forgive themselves, to know it's never to late for gentle parenting. To never give up, despite the obstacles. Much love to groups and sites like yours that gave me support and education to make me a better mom. Although we went though all of those things, I wouldn't change it. My son is amazing. I am a better mom and by far a better human being because of it. I now also teach gentle parenting to families I work with (I'm a behaviorist and work with troubled children and children with autism). I am truly blessed and have not given up on a ”happily ever after.” Sorry so long. Just wanted to maybe help some moms that may be struggling with any of these things.

With much love,
Rebekah Shearer"