Friday, December 30, 2016

Kid Control

One of the benefits of having kids is that it becomes totally legit to act like a kid. You can go down the slippery dips (otherwise termed “slides”), get on the swings, indulge in children’s books, build whole cities with Lego (and suffer at night when you inevitably step on a piece that attempted to elope), nap in the afternoons, animate stuffed toys with all manner of characteristics, watch cartoons, play ball and sing silly songs at daunting decibels- to name just a few of our indulgences. With two boys under two and with an ardent fascination for making toys talk and playing silly games, hubby and I are indulging in this phase. I’m so used to being on kid control that I’ve been unable to switch it off sans les enfants. I’m the woman in the grocery aisle, picking tomatoes while singing Wheels on the Bus which song has pierced my sentiment as if it were a song indoctrinating me to interpellate the word in the service of some supreme dictator (in this instance public transport, not a bad beast to raise a banner for). Understandably this has been received by the general public at best with bemusement at worst with avid concern for what must be viewed as the shatter of my sanity. This dichotomy of reception usually follows the parental divide. People with kids (or rather people around kids, running on the same kid control) don’t even tilt an eyebrow in response as I continue to sway my hips during a conversation without a baby in my arms as if I am incessantly training for a hula hoop competition or rock a stroller whose occupant has long departed as if I adopted an orphaned ghost. For those that do not spend much time with toddlers and babes and don’t have the Alphabet Song reigning 24-7 in their head and hips and arms locked into the automatic movements of rocking a baby to sleep, it must seem as if the parent is one step away from compulsory commitment. To some extent, particularly when we account for the continual lack of sleep and the tightrope of walking the “work/life balance”, they are probably right... but what a beautiful madness it is. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

The First Seven

Last night our two year old said his first seven word sentence (that we know of). "Blue fish sleep with (L - he refers to himself in the third person) in bed." This lexical locomotive was received with what hubby and I hope was contained surprise, albeit the reflection of his own amplified smile at our stupefied reception seems to evince the contrary. We were soon guilty of trying to extract more linguistic gems but we dropped the circus training when we realized that the last thing our tired kid needed right before bed was to fire his neurons (though admittedly his eyes dropped even more when he attempted more sentences).

The development of language is nothing short of miraculous. I have been talking to my son from before his was born and only in the past few month but we have been conversing only in the past few months. The early wins were words. Now the wins are whole sentences. I continue to be amazed at how the human brain can concomitantly manipulate languages. My son knows to tell me something in Serbian and quickly change to English or Greek depending on the family member receiving his command. He also understands why he must switch. He understands the concept of multiple languages and grammar they use. We count to twenty in English and then I instruct him we will do it in Serbian and off we go. He is picking up the seven Serbian cases expertly.

It's immensely satisfying to see your instruction gratified. It took a bit for my son to understand the various nominal shapes - circle, square, oval, triangle, rectangle. Then I added pentagon and hexagon. He picked the latter up more quickly, understanding the concept of shapes. Now we're working on 3D shapes, which he continues to comprehend in their 2D components. A pyramid is triangle, a sphere a circle. Soon that will click too. Nothing has taught me more patience that teaching my son. We repeat daily something he may not seem to ever get and then one day - jackpot. I'm teaching him how to use the swing on his own. The choreography continues to be demanding for him, but soon he will pick it up and flow.

What may be even more satisfying is when your child picks up a concept or a word that you haven't taught them. Yesterday my son pointed to a skateboard and proclaimed its verbal conquest to the world - where could he have got that from? My husband excitedly related to me the other night that our son pointed to his NASA shirt and said "rocket" even though the NASA symbol for all its stars, does not contain one. It does however have a shape reminiscent of a rocket and our son knows what rockets are and that they fly to the stars up in the sky.

Repetition is royal. I've now instituted the same routine with our younger son. Every day there is physical and mental exercise, for if we don't nurture this, who will? And what would we have lost? I worry that our younger son receives less attention and less nurture than our first for we are constantly dividing our time between the two. To some extent having an older sibling and noting his ways may aid him and propel him to excel earlier but on the flip side, there are activities that can only be conducted on on one. For instance, I noted that when reading a book to my 5 month old alone, he attempts to turn the pages and to flip up the pop-ups. He has achieved the intellectual milestone, but not the physical - he is unable to manipulate his hands in order to achieve what he wants to his utter and most vocal frustration (my husband and I joke that his grunts and expressions are sometimes reminiscent of a frustrated old man - I suppose it all comes full circle). Yet the intellectual achievement propels his dexterity for he keeps attempting what he has yet to achieve - to reveal the bear in the peekaboo book. This cannot be achieved when he is on one leg and his brother, who likes to read along with me, on the other.

My guilt in not providing my younger son with as much attention (albeit I have consciously decreased my work load to ensure that we have on one one time each day) has resulted in other compensating behaviours. He didn't like the crib, so I took him into bed. With my first son this resulted in constant nursing and thinned my sanity to a skeletal state until he was moved into another room. My second son sleeps soundly and nurses less as if my heartbeat is enough for him to enter into a longer, deeper sleep. My husband believes this is not a wise policy and he may be right, for there is sound argument for providing each child their own room (albeit one difficult to achieve when living in SF as we do, for instance), but if I sleep more and our son sleeps more, I don't see any other theoretical factor that could outweigh that...

There is nothing more rewarding nor difficult than parenthood and it teaches you invaluable lessons. For me, the biggest lessons have been in patience and flexibility. I'm still guilty of being impatient and obstinate at times, even obstreperous, but less so. I know that any plan may fail but if it does I don't  crumble into a foetal position and wail my woes away (at least not as much), but rather view it as a testament to the fact that it was shoddy planning on my part in the first place.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Playground Politics

The playground is a microcosm of society on display, clearly evincing that the reptilian part of our brain reigns undisturbed. The word "mine" echoes its angst across swings, see-saws and slippery dips. It's the rule of the land in the sandpit, a place where I spend good chunk of my time (innumerable times my friends have replied with concerned questions as to my mental health when I have made this statement, understanding a metaphorical meaning, which such ready acceptance of a somewhat disastrous description of my life has made me somewhat question my life choices).

When my elder son first started trampling all over the playground, I saw him as an extension of myself and would be embarrassed every time I felt his antics displayed a keen lack of manners. If he ran up to a kid and stole his truck, I would charge myself with larceny, take the truck from my screaming toddler and return it to its proper owner, mumbling apologies and lecturing my son on sharing. Later I realized that he had to negotiate the jungle of the playground alone. I would observe passively unless a crisis ensued. If he took a toy from the sandpit that belonged to someone else (denoted usually by a black marker in all caps as an indubitable result of previous kidnappings) I allowed him to play until he got bored or the owner returned. However, I drew the line at him taking the toys from someone's hands. If he did this, we would return it immediately, my son crying his name in the possessive form to no avail while I remained conflicted, distressed that sharing was something not yet learnt while satisfied at the proper use of the possessive case (my son continues to refer to himself by name, shying away from pronouns). Sharing is a tough discipline for a two year old.

Over time, my more passive turn seems to have worked. My son now spots a toy of interest and immediately looks over at me for direction (as customary, the toy of interest is usually of interest to a third party and loses all appeal as soon as such third party is attracted to another object). Slowly but surely we are make inroads into a proper etiquette...

We've also had the issue of bringing our toys to the pit and having other kids sweep them away leading to a distressed deluge. Dealing with other people's kids requires a certain diplomacy. Usually I wait, knowing the flustered parent would return the toy with the usual apology and admonish their kid (this is standard sandpit etiquette). Sometimes the parent, for whatever reason, fails to bring the toy back. My son looks to me for direction through streaming tears and I know I have to address this somehow because if I let other kids trod all over him, how is he to better his behaviour? So I troller over and nonchalantly ask the kid where they got the truck from in a delicate diplomatic maneuvere to wry the toy from them without unleashing screams in protest. I must admit that when leaving the playground and rounding up the defectors, I've had to be less diplomatic in my efforts and have been the cause of many a toddler tear to my wringing embarrassment.

Other parents in the playground adopt similar diplomatic fronts. When our kids play or even argue, we silently observe, sometimes admittedly checking our phones (and in my case streaming over the subject lines and refusing to read wok emails), akin to dog owners that make intermittent stops while their dog inspects the derrière of another, expertly avoiding eye contact during the entire encounter.

Then there are the swings. We are usually in the playground during peak time and must wait to use the swings. The concept of waiting is nearly as difficult for a toddler to grasp as the concept of sharing. As I mollify my son through various efforts at distraction, I also venture to a safe border from which I can vulture onto the next open swing (a decade living in NYC has made me quite efficient in swooping up space as soon as it opens as well as aiding its freedom by ever so subtly - or so I like to believe -protruding my presence onto their possessed parcel to nudge them on their way). Ending swing time when observing high demand must be accompanied by the promise of more fun activity such as the slippery dip, playing with a ball or a return to the sandpit (where indubitably there will be toy construction equipment which I would venture to describe and incorrigibly mistake and be corrected by an exasperated three year old to the amusement of my son).

Playground antics now continue with a baby strapped to my chest....

Monday, December 12, 2016

Rhino Dino!

My new favourite term. The kids are into dinos and what do you call a horned dino? Why a rhino dino of course! I suppose triceratops is a little difficult for a toddler's tongue to negotiate. My son picked up the term from his best mate who got into dinos before him (meanwhile my son in turn got his bud into robots). Now they both run around in circles laughing and shouting about robots and dinos and trucks. And ninjas. My obsession with ninjas had to flow into parenthood of course and 'Hello Ninja' is a nightly staple. I always ask my toddler, "so who is mama's ninja?" and he beamingly responds with his name. Now he just runs around the house screaming "ninja!" while I sit back and digest the results of good parenting. This angle of screaming words out has the potential to be quite compromising though. If you want to catch the pirate, cage the parrot and start typing. My son also loves to run around and shout "coffee" and "wine" in Serbian, which he understands are adult drinks. As soon as my son and his best buddy hear the sound of the grinder, they immediately and for some reason that still escapes me, excitedly, herald the coming of a new makeshift latte. Well, they are growing up in San Francisco, a city covered by one cappucco.

My husband and I know that nothing escapes our little tyrant - the panopticon is a real presence with a seismic scream and an overly loved bunny in his arms. Sometimes we forget to apply our own sage advice, such as the other day when I insouciantly called out to my husband to hide the rice we made from our elder son and only show him the veggies first, which consequence resulted in our son bounding into the kitchen from his room demanding rice and foiling my grand plan. I may be fond of ninjas, but one I am not.

My nearly five month old son has developed an interesting way to communicate. He gesticulates wildly and starts shrieking in a manner befitting the last wails of an expiring dinosaur. His little lungs sure have power. He seems utterly frustrated that he cannot communicate his will to us and in an effort to aid our communication with an admittedly equal desire to stop the wailing, I've started to use sign language. This worked well with our first and certainly didn't retard any lexical development. Stay tuned...

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Singer and the Thinker

For two years, I've woken up to cries, sometimes intermixed with groans and shouts for "mama". This morning I woke up to the beautiful sounds of my two year old son singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I stayed in bed content, listening to him trying to remember the words, one ear out for the gurgling cries of our little one. Then I realized that the more I waited, the more prone he was to wet the bed and rushed out (two weeks ago this resulted in a break - my fate seems to be, one child, one broken foot- thankfully I'm a biped). I was overwhelmingly pleased to discover a dry bed and we had a successful potty mission (I've learnt that as much as all I want to do is crawl into bed and cuddle with my son when he entreats me to do so, I must yank him out and drag him to the potty to prevent a disastrous deluge). Next came debating breakfast. He insisted on cereal and milk, but since he's had that the past few days, I wanted to revert to oatmeal (we like to mix it up) and he next shifted to banana and milk to which I met him in the middle with oatmeal, banana and milk. As the water was percolating and my son was playing with his trucks (his avowed second favourite toys, this bookworm's heart melted when I heard the other day that his favourite toy were books!), the Little Tyrant demanded a morning welcome.

The Little Tyrant is now four and a half months and is communicating his needs very well. My husband noticed that when he goes out to rock to skip a feeding at night, he sometimes points to his mouth and refuses to sleep and sure enough, a hungry hippo is brought to me. He also recognizes his name now. His favourite toy is an activity elephant with bright colours and lots of threads and balls for him to tangle and grip. He is also quite enchanted with the jungle mobile and when he spots it, he looks to us and squeaks out a command that we have come to understand as putting the jungle musical into action. Then he spends about ten minutes (as he is doing right now) giggling as he watches the animals twirl, wringing his hands with a pensive, almost imperious gaze which if it usually did not end in a cascade of excrement (from either side), I would wager were the beginnings of putsch (certainly he has puissance in this household).

And there it is... the grumblings and bicycle kicks of a job well done and mobile time is over... time for books!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Sleep Training the Boys

Sleep training proves the veracity of the old adage that at times you have to be cruel to be kind. With our first, we waited way too long and we collectively suffered. I was nursing my oldest son a few times a night up to 11 months. We were also still cuddling him to sleep, each going in turn, the latter one usually falling asleep with him. We decided to sleep train one weary day when we were clutching at the last shards of our sanity and while it proved to be difficult, for our child was howling as if he were being flayed, we stuck with it and it proved our best move. For after successive nights of listening and watching our child as he howled for us, we noticed that every night the howling was shorter and less intense until it whittled down to a little creak of protest which was soon followed by utter nonchalance at our departure.

We've had hiccups since, when our son was sick and our resolve was whittled to a wisp and we cuddled him all night. We knew these hiccups were at the cusps of hurricanes and quickly returned to our old regimen.

Last week we kicked the last crutch in our kid's sleep routine -the bottle. We kept this after I stopped nursing him at night not so long ago. Every night right after his bath he would ask for milk and we knew it would be a hard habit to kick. Particularly because he was now armed with greater manipulation weaponry, being able to say he loved us and expressing he wanted to cuddle - "mama love you, mama cuddle!". It took numerous dreadful nights before his routine was reset and the bottle kicked the bucket. A few times however, he surprised us by silently watching me leave and then skulking to his bookshelf to retrieve a book to read in bed (yes, we stalk our kid, it's prime time viewing for us in the lounge). This proved rather interesting considering that the only word he knows how to read is his own name and his name is not "Wild" or "Max" or mentioned at all in Where the Wild Things are.

Possibly because of a masochistic lean, we decided to sleep train both boys concomitantly. That's right, the little one gets away with nada. While we didn't have the heart to sleep train our oldest till 11 months, we were ready at 3 and a half months to put our second baby on a regimen. I had no strength to wake up and nurse every two hours at night, particularly when I realised he was mostly comfort nursing. I would nurse at 8 pm, 11 pm, then 1.30 am, 3.30 am, 5.30 am and 7 am and it was torturous. Some nights I couldn't sleep between the feedings in the early morning so I would simply get up for the day at 3.30 am. Other nights, I tried getting to sleep caught in an insomniac gauntlet. When you're waking up all the time, your sleep is light and laced with dreams that drip dramatic.

We decided to cut the 1.30 am feeding. Hubby went out and rocked him back to sleep. The plan was that if went to bed hungry, his metabolism would shift. The plan worked a charm. He may still wake up at 1.30 am, but hubby goes out and changes his diaper. Without constant feedings, he is peeing less and sleeping longer. So now the feedings are 8 pm, 11 pm, 2.30 am, 5.30 am and 7 am - amazing! Of course, some years ago, if anyone told me I would be ecstatic about only being woken thrice each night I would have raised an incredulous eyebrow. How we change...

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Lessons in Lactation: Think Milk

Here were are three months and change in and it's easy street. I'm still severely sleep deprived and live through some days in a hypnogogic state, but this experience has overall been incomparably better than with my first son. The first time round, everything that could go wrong went wrong, with two bouts of mastitis in the first five weeks because we were unaware that our son was unable to suckle properly and needed a snip. The situation was so stygian that I had two lactation consultants tell me they had never seen a more distressing situation and even encouraged me to quit. Some may think that when lactation consultants tell you to quit, that you would take that path, but it made me even more determined. I was nursing, bottle feeding and then pumping every two and half hours - and that's from the start of a feeding, so for two months my motto was simply "think milk". It crushed me that I was producing only 3 oz, sometimes even less (now I pump 9-10 oz). It certainly didn't make me feel better that the reason was the fact that my son had tongue-tie which we failed to fix until it was too late. We were also too ready to supplement with formula for we were cautioned our son's kidneys may not be working well and didn't want to risk not having him well hydrated (thankfully, his kidneys were and are fine but we didn't know this until we performed a renal scan around 11 weeks - itself a stressful process for the whole family). While I nursed my first son for 16 months and only stopped because I was well into my second trimester with my second, I still regret that I made so many mistakes in the beginning and ruined my supply so that I had to supplement. At times I feel guilty that I can provide my second son what I couldn't provide my first. For this time, it's a milk bonanza. The freezer is stocked and I produce way more than I need to for my son - now I well understand how a woman can become a wet nurse. It just keeps on coming! I'm usually uncomfortable between feedings because he doesn't take enough, albeit he is growing monstrously.

I remain incredulous at how much milk I'm producing and how fast my let down is. My son now does only single sided feedings and they are very quick - he's a real slurper. He fusses because I'm feeding him too much, which invariably leads to what a friend of mine termed "spilly" - a euphemism I've whole heartedly adopted. Sometimes I panic when he fusses that my supply has decreased but when I squeeze, I spurt his face. The poor lad. I've done this too many times. My husband rolls his eyes. Stop cramming food into that porker! The fear from my previous experience still lingers and sometimes bursts forth, so....we have spilly.

I think my ruin came as a slap from the universe. I had always thought that women that didn't nurse did so after nursing came down the line in their triage. As has occurred numerous times in life, when I've passed judgement on others, I've been smacked right into the same situation to show me how myopic I was. Some women can't nurse  effectively - it's not simply about wanting a good night's sleep and not having your breasts hurt. It's not even about convenience - for it's far more convenient at times to nurse, particularly if like mine, your child can take a bottle of your pumped milk when you are not there and if you don't mind nursing in public (it's your and your baby's right!)- with formula feeding, even those that partly rely on it, you simply can't be without formula. At least you always have milk at hand when your own body produces it. I learnt the hard way and on my own skin that it takes two to tango - for no matter how much milk you have, if your baby doesn't take it and your body doesn't get the signal to make it, you will lose it. While it's still a sore point for me, I am grateful for the difficulty, for it developed me as a person. I understood not only how hard it could be and how naive my prior judgement was, but my brutal experience in trying to nurse exclusively gave me an inkling into what a woman could feel when she couldn't nurse at all or when she couldn't conceive. It made me more empathetic - for it's one thing to imagine something and another to live through it.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Great Negotiator

I would like to think that I'm a good negotiator. After all, that is my job, as an attorney, I advocate and negotiate on behalf of my clients. And yet, my two year old, with his arsenal of manipulation, stands victorious more than I am here willing to admit. He has learnt to say "love you mama" which brings me the greatest joy but also laces me with liquid fear, for when he looks at me with his alluring aspect, his azure eyes with their emerald glitter, I am putty in his waiting hands and he is ready to rattle out a range of requests in rapid succession, while I am still imprisoned in the glint of his glare. I well understand that I need to be stronger, but it is proving a difficult task, particularly with his latest ammunition. For instance, when I have to change his clothes and bedding when he wets the bed, I know I should leave, but then his mellifluous voice ensnares me as he says "mama, love you! mama, cuddle! mama, cuddle!" and the next thing I know, I'm cuddling next to him and rubbing his hair as he smiles victoriously.

It easier when he simply resorts to asserting his contention and I can refuse, albeit he is very insistent and my general tactic has been diversion which works a charm and if not, I resort to bargaining. Yes, I bargain with my two year old and he is now well adapt at holding out and negotiating back so that we reach a modicum of consensus in which neither of us is upset nor well satisfied, the mark of a good compromise, I suppose. It is far easier to negotiate with my fellow counsels rather than my children. They know my weaknesses. When I was away the other day and my toddler was asking for me, my father told him that he had me on the phone and told L to speak to me and he said "mama, M is crying, home, home" knowing that when his little brother cries, I jump to action. Indeed, my 3 month old's arsenal is limited to crying, but it's a truly powerful weapon. His crying hits that pitch that lances me to his aid.

I find myself caught between their competing cries - each wanting my sole attention which I must somehow accommodate by dividing it. My two year old cannot stand when I nurse my baby, he cries "M, all done! M, all done! M, down! M, down! Mama! L hungry! L hungry!" and it crushes me that he is so distressed when I cannot stop nursing his brother. I don't have siblings, which may be problematic in being the mother of siblings and having to employ strategies that appease their want for sole attention without neglecting the other sibling. The aim is to foster closeness rather than incite jealousy and competition, but I am not sure how yet to tackle this. I trust it will be easier when M can crawl and I don't have to hold him all the time, for as soon as I hold him, L wants to be held too and invariably I end up holding both with L pushing M to one side and M crying in protest.

On another topic, I have to get Halloween costumes for the boys. Last year I dressed L as a ninja (I am particular to ninjas). For my outfit, I wanted something very simple so that I could with a simple prop wear black leggings, boots and shirt and get away with being in costume. I discarded Cat Woman as too boring (plus the last thing I wanted post-baby was to draw attention to my figure) and decided to go with Big Oil, which is legitimately frightening and which involved placing black strips around my back and arms. I was pretty stoked with what I considered my genius. As with the plight of most geniuses, nobody understood me with most people asking why I hadn't dressed up rather than even inquiring what I was, despite the fact that I had black paper streaming around me, which made me second guess my fashion sense. My husband was not amused either. He rolled his eyes and asked why I had to put a political bent on everything, to which I responded that there was nothing scarier than climate change... well, maybe that should be my outfit this year... hmm...I suppose we are sure to see many Trumps around....

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Potty Papers

We started tepidly potty training around 14 months or so. We had a potty before then which my over ambitious mother bought when he was just around 5 months with high claims that she had potty trained me by the time I was 10 months. My parents are very proud of this achievement (notably understood as their achievement). My husband remains skeptical of the proclaimed time-frame and in fact my parents do admit at times that I had accidents after I was trained, which some may speculate may mean that at 10 months they just got sick of washing cotton diapers and decided I would venture free, learning on the run. However, there may be some truth to their claim because my first memories were being on my hot pink potty, watching my grandmother repeatedly pour a half glass of water between two cups in an effort to encourage a urinary response. 

For the firs few months, we simply tried to have our son sit on the potty, but he had an aversion to it and would scream so virulently against his placement on it that we had a not too insubstantial fear that child services would come knock on our door to inspect us. Thus the potty remained untouched except for my son's occasional propensity to slam his toys in it or decide to wear it as a headdress, a fashion I have not yet seen picked up around town.

At about 14 months we kicked into gear and started taking our son with us into the bathroom and bought a kiddie insert for the toilet, entreating him to sit on it and pee with the environmentally destructive prize of getting to throw toilet paper into the bowl and flush. In just a few weeks, we had a routine in which he would pee before his bath. This was our way of acclimatizing him, both believing that this would eventually lead to a 3-day potty boot camp by the end of which we would kiss diapers and our carpets goodbye. 

However, this has never happened. Our son is pretty much potty trained, only wearing diapers at night and we never had to send in the military. We have to admit that we utilized our son's adoration of Elmo to our advantage and showed him Elmo on the potty, which worked wonders to have him rekindle a relationship with the potty such that he was comfortable sitting down on it. He was also by this time (around 18 months) telling us when his diaper was wet and/or soiled. If we pushed him to go to the potty when he didn't want to, he resisted so we realized that for his character, we progressed better if we didn't push. At first we put him into undies - which he loves wearing - after his daily poop until bedtime and tried to have him pee first thing in the morning. Now he wears undies even going outside, where we take him to the potty often (which involves one of us taking him into a cubicle and having him stand on the seat to pee) and we've only had one accident. He now resists wearing a diaper, albeit we still put him into diapers at night because he invariably still wets the bed, albeit he can now pee first thing in the morning also. 

We've read many books and articles that warn against us our tepid approach and using diapers at night (including the advice of our mothers) but our step by step approach seems to be doing the trick so we're sticking with it. We were also told that he might revert by seeing his little brother (now 3 months!) in diapers, but I believe telling him that his little brother is a baby and that only babies (unlike him and unlike us) go in diapers has rather propelled him forward in what appears an earnest effort to distinguish himself.

Soon we'll have to make the leap to no diapers at all and since we're halfway through our latest package, we're hoping to do this right before we finish it, just in time for his 2nd birthday. After all, he wets the bed every night anyway and we change his sheets daily, so there's nothing much stopping us from making the leap...

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Toddler Talk : Liquid Language

My toddler's tongue is exponentially expanding and now he is structuring simple two to three word sentences with a rare four word sentence that stuns us into silence. Recently he understood that he speaks two different languages. When he speaks to me, he now uses the Serbian word and if he uses the English word, I ask him for the Serbian and he complies. At times, one can visibly see the wires get mired as he looks at an object which he knows in both languages but can't recover either word and resorts to onomatopoeia so that dog is not "doggy" nor "pas" but solely "woof" at times (albeit the onomatopoeia is not always the same, I always ensure to use one onomatopoeic term). I have not seen any other retardation of his lingual development, albeit we had expected this as we had read various literature which instructed that bilingual and multilingual children initially develop lingual ability at a slower pace. However, all children are different and instruction is always based on median differentiation so you never know what you will get.

I find his association most interesting. Language is all about slicing definition (as an attorney I know this more than most) and initially, in order to express himself, my toddler rather amplifies definitions so that they encompass as many objections as possible (this might be telling for all of us and the progression of language in general). For instance, one of his first words was "dog" so that when he saw a cat, he excitedly denoted the domesticated quadruped meowing at him as a canine. When he understood "cat" his term for lions, leopards, tigers and other big cats were all encompassed under "cat." As he etches out each specific species, "cat" becomes less flexible. "Mouse" continues to be a capacious definition encompassing all rodents. He still views crocodiles as dinosaurs and today, to my surprise, related the silhouette of a plesiosaur as a giraffe and refused to submit to my correction, continuing to point to its long neck as dispositive of his assessment (I wonder now that we know that "giraffe" refers to 4 distinct species whether our term for each will change - and which will, if any, continue to be denoted as "giraffe"). Moon was most recently encompassed under the definition of "sun" and now he can differentiate both a crescent moon and a full moon which I take for him understanding not the celestial object itself, but that when presented with day, there is a bright yellow circle in the sky which we call the "sun" and when presented with night, he understands the glowing shape to be the "moon". If I ask him what it is and he says "moon"and I ask for the Serbian, he immediately says "mesec" (which is the same word for month). All babies were recently encompassed under his brother's name until he learnt he word "baby".

Judging from his development, language seems to grow exponentially and we seem to be able to be shrewder in our differentiation of objects through knowing their name - as if once we have a name of something, we find it easier to recollect and understand...albeit this seems a bit of a paradoxical proposition since to name an object or a concept, we would need to have some understanding of it in order to capture it under a name...possibly the naming of something after an initial intellectual understanding allows us to leap into a deeper understanding, a finessing of the idea...

Monday, September 26, 2016

Calling All Lactavists!

I was having lunch with a friend of mine the other day who became nervous when her fifteen week old son wanted to nurse, not knowing whether the restaurant we were patroning would take kindly to her nursing since her son would invariably battle her nursing cover and lead to certain public exposition of her milk ducts. She was nervous despite knowing full well that the law protected her right to do so. Unfortunately, while the law protects women breastfeeding in public, not all women know this and even the women that do (like my friend) feel uncomfortable because there is a culture of seclusion.

Many places that cater to young mothers provide "breastfeeding areas" which while respectful of an infant's need to feed in a serene area, may also be unwittingly contributing to (or more insidiously the result of) this unspoken custom of accepting breastfeeding but expecting it be done away from public view. This is further fortified by the fact that it is expected that women use a nursing cover when feeding as if providing sustenance to their babies is somehow indecent, somehow shameful. We cannot on the one hand glorify the benefits of nursing and on the other provide no support to women that nurse their babies and seclude them away as if their nursing is an act of bodily secretion slightly above dispensing with your dinner in the usual biological way.

The law in California protects a mother's right to nurse her baby IN ANY LOCATION, PUBLIC OR PRIVATE, notwithstanding any other law, with the limited exception of someone's private residence (private here referring more to restaurants, shops and office buildings etc), unless the mother is not authorized to be there in the first place (California Civil Code 43.3).  This right is NOT conditioned upon the mother covering up and essentially noosing her baby while he or she feeds.

Some babies do not want to nurse under a cover- part of the reason babies do not want to cover up (apart from the obvious discomfort) is that babies' temperature may increase during nursing (it does with my sons) and also I wonder whether since they are already limiting the scope of their breathing whether limiting the air around them is quite stifling. That babies do not prefer to nurse under a nursing chador and that some babies refuse to, should not be a surprise to anyone for I would wager that hardly anyone would find favour in being told they had to eat their lunch under the cover of a blanket.

Nursing is a miracle and should be treated as such. I can't believe that my teeny tiny 6lb 10 oz baby is  2 moths in, now nearly 14 lbs and all from my miracle milk!

The nursing chador is akin to laws that target pedophilia by unwittingly sexualising the bodies of children. For instance, some schools prevent parents from taking photos of their children during swimming competitions, lest they capture photos of other people's children so scantily clad. My first cultural clash when I migrated to Australia from Yugoslavia - an engram etched into my memory - was this difference of covering up. My parents had recently started buying me bottoms for the beach and pool when I previously would run around naked (they also weren't as afraid of the sun as the antipodeans with their ozone amiss) but at seven and a half, I still lacked a top. After all, what would any top cover? My chest was indistinguishable from a boy's and may I repeat, I but was seven years old. Yet I noticed that girls either had a swimming costume that covered their entire torso or tops and bottoms while only boys had bottoms so in my stunted staccato English I gesticulated to the teacher that I only had a bottom and wondered at her response - which was that I was not to swim since I had forgotten part of my swimmers, not a thought in her mind that it would be suitable to expose my seven year old chest to my classmates. There seems to be a little of the Victorian lingering in the Anglo world which translates to the nursing chador that ensures no mis-latchings would lead to the sensational exposure of a nipple.

We should not sexualize nursing and impose a nursing chador over women and babies. It is
extremely inconvenient, sometimes even impossible to have these babies nurse- so are we on the one hand meant to praise the benefits of human milk and on the other deny a famished baby its food because it does not want to eat under cover?  Are we on the one hand meant to praise women that nurse and on the other ensure that they do so covered up under a nursing chador?

While I have noticed some discomfort, I have experienced only one instant in which I was told to stop nursing (thankfully the Bay Area is not gripped by the fear of the nipple, but I fear for my sisters in other parts of the world). I believe the exact terminology used was that I had "picked the wrong place" to start nursing my son, being the Home Depot in Oakland, as if nursing were somehow anathema to buying home supplies and construction tools. I politely replied that I did not pick when my son was hungry or thirsty and that I was going to finish nursing (albeit my husband does not remember me being so diplomatic, but I wager that it is his memory that is faltering and not mine).  They recalcitrantly "allowed" me to finish nursing (which, apart from the attention resulting from the staffer's commotion with me, otherwise seemed to not attract any interest, good or ill and I doubt had any effect upon their sales that day). It might be a good idea for managers to instruct their staff on a women's legal right to nurse - without cover- so that women do not have to bother with justifying their legal right while they are concomitantly feeding their babies.

I would of course recommend that lactivists carry around a nursing chador, if only to throw it over a person that may be uncomfortable so that they can be happily protected from bearing witness to such a miracle.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Merry-Go-Round: 2 Boys, 2 Vaccines

Yesterday I took in both boys to get their vaccines. Well that was fun. I strapped M in my Ergo and L into his red car, munching away on an apple, and took them to the doctor (which seemed to disprove the verity of one famous aphorism). L, traumatised from previous stygian experiences at the doctor, started crying despite his red apple and red car (the theme of the day was the colour "red") as soon as we entered. He ran between my legs and held tight, crying "no, mama, no" which woke his little brother up. Then there were two crying and this continued until a thoughtful nurse gave L some stickers with cars to divert his attention. L was then blythe as M continued to protest and show off his lungs to the doctor and nurses.

I had explained the importance of vaccines to my boys but neither understood(I understand that these days it's a controversial topic, but while I do worry what is in the vaccines apart from the cultures, we're a family of the opinion that the benefit of vaccines for yourself and for the general populus is a no brainer). It was a good time to describe to L the etymology of the word, coming from vache, or cow in French as Edward Jenner developed the first vaccine for smallpox (eradicated in 1979 worldwide due to the prevalence of the vaccine) by noticing how people infected with cowpox were immune to smallpox. L was already quite late in his getting his vaccines as I kept delaying them because he kept being sick every time he was meant to receive one and as I also wanted to spread them out to be easier on his system so despite knowing it would prove difficult to have both boys go and get them concomitantly, I was determined to do it.

The shots were a delicate operation. I thought we would do L first because if L saw M getting pricked, he was not going to wait until his turn. The nurses thought it were better to have M go first and divert L, because they feared that M, who would otherwise at 2 months have no idea what was coming, would protest when he saw his brother's reaction. I agreed. So L was taken to a different room to play with toys while M got his shots after which I calmed him down with a speed nursing session. Then L waltzed in happy to show me his new booty - a toy dump truck and camera. His happy mood was truncated to say the least. As soon as we were done, I tried to calm L down by hugging and kissing him but that show trick was getting me nowhere. Then I realized I had a prop to aid me. I told L that he had a camera in his hands and pretended I was taking photos of him directing him to smile ("Smile for Daddy! Smile for Baba! Bigger! Smile bigger! Smile for Yia Yia!). Appealing to his vanity did wonders. I couldn't claim victory yet because while I had one happy toddler, I now had one screaming baby whom the nurse carried back to me. I'm pretty much a one show pony when it comes to my infant because nursing is a panacea - so I let L play with his toys while I did another speed nursing session to calm his brother down. I continued to let L play with his toys while I strapped him into his car and strapped my now sleeping infant back into the baby carrier- now there was one happy toddler and one sleeping baby... but I had to give the toys back.... and went back to one sleeping baby and one screaming toddler.

My main weapon with my toddler is diversion. As we walked home, I continued to ask him to point things out to me (Do you see a tree? Do you see a bus? What else do you see?) which slowly calmed him down as he forgot about this truck and camera. By the time we were back at the house, I had one happy toddler and one sleeping baby.... then came the four flights of stairs... my toddler protested and his dancing decibels woke up his sleeping that by the time we came back home, I was back to one screaming toddler and one screaming baby...If only there were inoculations against kids crying...

Monday, September 12, 2016

If Only I Had More Arms...

The other day I decided to stay up after a 5 am feeding, figuring that I had a few hours before either boy was up and could get some extra work in. I skulked into the kitchen as if I were in the commission of a criminal act, careful not to wake up the sleeping Little Giant and the Little Tyrant, whom I had just laid down and chose the most silent breakfast, conscripting a protein bar for my purposes (unveiling the conscript in the bathroom due for good measure). I fashioned a nice setting on the couch so I wouldn't wake my husband in our bedroom and set to work. Less than 5 minutes later, when I was still getting into a groove, I heard the Little Giant wail. I gave him a minute and looked at my camera, figuring that maybe he were having a nightmare. When his wails didn't subside, I knew I had to go on a diaper reconnaissance mission but on finding out that the diaper was dry and that the wails were indeed due to a nightmare, I was ensnared in a cuddle conundrum (to work? to cuddle? the latter always wins). After cuddling my son and stroking his hair to get him to sleep (bonus cuddle score! My favourite part of the day), I left and resumed work. Less than 5 minutes later, the Little Tyrant woke up and wanted to feed again and before I had finished nursing him, my husband woke up for the day and the Little Giant raged awake. So much for an early morning breakthrough.

I'm still negotiating how to deal with both boys, sometimes I get too frazzled and feel completely helpless and useless as they are both crying and demanding my sole attention. I've never wanted superpowers more than now. If only I could be in two places at once!

When I get it down pat (in those rare circumstances), I feel like a super mum! The other day, we were all curled up on the couch, content. I was sitting crosslegged, the  Little Tyrant copacetic, feeding with gusto, the Little Giant on my other side, curled up next to me, holding my left arm across his chest, his head resting on my side, enthusiastically playing with a toy dinosaur (which in his lingua is termed "achoo" after we read a book in which a dino sneezed). Our concordia didn't last very long, but I take what I can get.

While my husband and I had our routine down pat with the Little Giant, we are still finding kinks negotiating both. The other day as I was nursing the Little Tyrant and hubby ran the bath and went to prepare his PJs (usually my job but I was diverted by the deluge of the ravenous Little Tyrant), when I heard some suspect splashes from the bathroom. Calling my husband to investigate, I was surprised to hear him laugh raucously. The Little Giant had thought it fit to crawl into his bath, clothes and all.... 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

To Watch or Not to Watch

I've read numerous articles that state that television holds no positive for a developing toddler's brain and may retard development. One of the reasons is that toddlers are not meant to process what they are seeing before the age of 2. However, my toddler is not yet 2 and he has been processing what he sees on screens for a while. He excitedly points to a cow or a sheep or fox or a bus or whatever he recognizes. If he doesn't recognize what is on screen or doesn't understand what is happening he looks at me and asks for an explanation - "this?" and I explain. He then remembers the new objects he has seen (I find the best way to remember something learnt yesterday is to repeat it the next day before we learn anything new).

The main reason that television is not suitable for toddlers, so the argument goes, is that it's a passive activity and leave no room for the imagination. I would certainly agree that it's normally a passive activity and that reading for instance, is much more interactive because you have to visualize what you are reading. However, at this young age, we are reading picture books, so there is no visualization inherent in either activity. Further, I find television to actually be very good for my kid's development. Firstly, not at all screen time is equal. Neither my husband nor I are big television fans and we're certainly not going to allow our toddler to sit in front of a glaring screen to regurgitate its cultural carcass onto our innocent toddler. However, there are plenty of shows and films that are very educational that we see our toddler learning from  (Sesame Street being pride of place) . The number and letter of the day have been a great hit. Dare I admit in public that it was during an episode of Sesame Street that my son first ebulliently  exclaimed  "C!" when it popped on the screen before the puppets had time to pander their daily ware....I guess, I do...Admittedly at times we use television (ie Sesame Street, thus far the only show officially sanctioned by our household) for its passivity. Mostly, however, we enjoy watching with our toddler and walking (well, talking) him through the episodes. Look, a bear! A bear! A mammal, a quadruped - can you say "bear?" You can make television as interactive as picture books. Thank you pause button. My toddler gets agitated, but I like to pause and explain what is going on. At times, we've put on films - he's watched Finding Nemo, Cars, Zootopia and I like to channel his enthusiasm for the characters to learn new things (Zootopia gave us "bunny", "fox" and "sheep" for instance). He's watched a few Bugs Bunny cartoons. I'm not sure of these yet. My concern is the violence. If he sees a violent scene in a cartoon he won't know that this is not correct behaviour. That throwing a rock at someone's head does actually hurt them and can severely injure them. I explain this, but how much is he understanding? The best method is to leave this until he's a little older and fast forward.

Well curated, television can be as educational and as interactive as picture books. Of course, this depends on your's child's development and ability to discern the pictures on screen, with the agreed cut off point being 2. As with all cut off points, to an extent they're arbitrary. You have to draw the line somewhere, and you draw the line for the majority of the population. Take voting for instance. Some 17 year olds may be more politically sophisticated and active than some 54 year olds, but you have to draw the line for the majority. The young voter is not going to be any more sophisticated on the day they turn 18 than they were the day before, but if an election were held the day before their 18th birthday, they would have to miss it. This is the inherent arbitrariness of cut off points, a regrettable necessity. My kid was about 18 months when he started watching shows and he immediately registered what was going on.

I find the biggest problem may be purely physical. Whether it's the TV or an iPad, our eyes perceive screens differently than books. Are we hurting our child's sight? Will he have to wear glasses? For this primary reason, until we leave picture books for more substantive literature, we strictly limit screen time. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Little Giant and the Little Tyrant

Looking at my two sons together evidences that it's all about perspective. My toddler, who we used to see as so little looks like a giant compared to the newest addition to our clan. We thus designated him as the Little Giant. Our newest member is also the most demanding. He may be small, frail and completely dependent on us for survival, but there is no question who is in charge (nature knew to make a newborn's cry so cutting that it heels everyone to prostrate themselves in service to its cause). We tiptoe around when he is asleep, we wipe his butt and we bow down to the diktat of the Little Tyrant. He is merciless. He demands to be rocked and if we should think it fit to put him down, he bellows out as if signalling any army to attack (from which we cower and comply). We are still unsure whether we have been continually urinated on due to misfortunate timing or as a form of punishment. 

This is not to say that our Little Giant is not demanding. He also has a tyrannical streak (I wonder what this says about us..). Instead of crying out like the Little Tyrant, he is however more prone to burst out one word commands to have us do his bidding and failing this, stomps about in a huff, which seems fitting for a giant. Innumerable times a day he simply says "bus" and by this command expects us to immediately start singing "Wheels on the Bus"- which command I have fulfilled to the point of developing a nervous tick every time I see a bus go by. Another song he is partial to which he announces as "ouch"  is Ten in the Bed. I thought fit to act out this song by having an assortment of nine toys fall through his miniature basketball hoop to their "ouch" doom and the Little Giant was so enamoured with his newfound power that soon he sanctioned all his toys to fall through the hoop (despite their vociferous protest using yours truly as a conduit) to their ouchdom. By the time the last toy was pleading not to fall, his smile had colonized his entire face, a gluttonous glint in his eye, searching for ever more victims. If the laws of physics were to allow it, he would have commanded I be ouched through the hoop.

Gone are the days when we had freedom. When we could just take a walk, or go to dinner or a play on a whim. Visiting a gallery? Ha. I sneak that in when I go on business trips back to NYC (when there's a will, there's a way). And yet, it's all worth it. When the Little Giant looked at us the other day and said "happy", I melted away. The other day was our 4th wedding anniversary. There we sat, wine in hand, one covered in pee (collateral damage from potty training the Little Giant), the other covered in spit up (collateral damage from nursing the Little Tyrant), enjoying the quiet (a rare treasure). It may be a less than glamorous scene, but we were overjoyed regardless, for two beings that didn't exist before, albeit they put us to service and stretch our sanity, never cease to amaze us...

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Fourth Trimester

That's right - you have an extra one to go. Sorry to break the news, but it's better than finding out from your screaming baby, emigrated sleep, elapsed memory, disobedient bladder, scalding breasts and hormones in mutiny. Oh, and that beautiful belly that housed your bounty is now just ballooned skin that houses extra fat laced together with stretch marks. As much as the third trimeter may be uncomfortable and tiring, the fourth trimester is really the kicker. Motherhood is baptized through fire. And then things get easier and ease into a new normal...

This week I had my six week postnatal appointment and was instructed to fill out their Global Distress Index survey to assess whether I was clinically depressed. Unfortunately some women suffer from clinical depression due to a rapid change in their hormones after pregnancy. However, some of the questions were ridiculous.
Have you had trouble sleeping?
Have you and your partner been fighting?
Have you had trouble concentrating?
Are you in pain?
Do you feel down sometimes?
Do you have mood swings?
I wanted to circle a bunch and express my sentiment with CAPS and possibly exclamation points, but I stuck to the rules and merely circled their numbers  - I felt low sometimes, I had trouble sleeping all the time etc.

The second time is easier. The body recovers better and quicker. Yet, the first couple of weeks, I would joke with my husband that he was the only resident not in diapers. And what's a marriage without losing bladder control at least a few times in front of your husband or being milked? My greatest distress is that I am still in continuous pain as my son's mouth is simply not big enough to suck without clamping down on me. With my first, I had to wait 3 months and I cannot wait to get to that mark. Oh to be without pain. Lack of sleep is one thing, combine it with constant pain and you have an altogether different type of stress. However, it is at least much easier than the initial round. For one thing, my husband didn't have to prick my milk ducts with a needle to unplug them. That's been a huge plus. I'm also not locked up in the bathroom after feedings, watching sitcoms under instruction from my lactation consultant pumping away in an effort to increase milk production but rather eating my husband's deliciously baked cookies. Bonanza!

Maybe nature makes it easier physically easier because you have another child to tend to and it would be almost near impossible to do it if it took you nearly three walks to walk. This time, I walked home from the hospital. Then again, I only had a minor tear this time and didn't have to spend a whole month following a strict dousing ritual and gritting my teeth from the pain of burning pee. Ah, the beauty of motherhood.

This time, I'm all about the corset (really a band). I laughed at this before, but my cousin insisted that it worked and considering that I failed to lose the mummy tummy last time and that I am vain (yes, I am vain, vain, vain and I love my clothes and want to be repatriated with my pre-pregnancy items) and want my pre-pregnancy flat stomach back (oh, the good old days before any tenants arrived! I don't know how they managed to get their expansion plans through the heritage department), I asked around and bought one from a local SF provider designed by a physiotherapist. It's definitely helping, albeit I would advise to not wear it 24 hours a day as I did in the beginning until I had excruciating pain in my back. Correction - vain and stupid.

Oh vanity saith the preacher, vanity...

I'm a bit more accepting of the added baggage this time. For one thing, it's been a long time since I've had that flat pre-pregnancy stomach thanks to number 1. Second, I know it goes down incrementally and didn't expect to walk out of the hospital room in my pre-pregnancy jeans, as I had the first time. I now understand that my mother's memory post-labour of walking out of the hospital in her pre-pregnancy jeans was either medically or hormonally induced or the result of fashion sense fitting a circus clown. I also know that maternity clothes, although they feel great are the absolute least flattering thing you can wear postpartum. After all, they are meant to show off your bump not hide it. Loose fitting non-maternity or a short term change of religion is probably the wisest fashion choice. In the meantime my pre-first--pregnancy clothes are in the intermittent camp of the back of my closet, awaiting asylum, ever fearing that they will be denied and end up in goodwill.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Battling for Balance: Maternal Guilt

The other day I caught up with one of my best friends, in truth more of a sister to me, since we have been best buddies from the time when we were still counting our years in single digits. The background to our conversation was a rhythmic "mama" yelled by my twenty one month old son who was desperately trying to get my attention. After having watched an Olympics basketball game, he was successfully shooting hoops in front of me (apart from his tent, one of his favourite toys), running in and out of his tent, running up to me with paper and crayons to draw for him, binging me books to read to him and magnetic letters from the fridge to proclaim his newfound mastery of them, all the while I tried to appease his need for my attention while I attempted to remain focused on my conversation. After the call, I regretted my appeasement and admittedly dismissal of my son - after all, how wonderful was it that my son was trying to get my attention and share his new interests with me? Unfortunately, while I explained this to him, he didn't seem to understand, albeit he didn't hold a grudge either (children are so forgiving! we unfortunately seem to lose this ability later in life). Earlier in the year when I was blessed to have a few of my close friends come to SF all at once for one week that I hadn't seen for a while and marry one of my best friends to his longtime partner, my primary objective was to spend time with my friends. While I took my son on our group adventures and he had a blast basking in the attention everyone was pouring onto him, my primary objective was to keep him amused and happy so that I could enjoy my limited time with my friends. My policy was again one of appeasement and distraction. After the week was over, I was embroiled in guilt (which lasted more than a week) because albeit my son had fun, I had spent the whole week primarily focused on myself and my friends.

Ah, the woes of maternal guilt.

This piles right on top of my continual guilt that I spend most of the day working. As I mostly work from home, I see my son periodically during the day (for instance, in the hallway, when I am going to the kitchen to get tea etc) but these brief encounters, which at first rejuvenate me from the miasma of work, twist smiles into launching daggers as my excited son realizes that I am returning to work and proclaims his protest. Rather than be lanced in his lacrimation, I scurry back into my oubliette, defend myself with headphones (now blasting the new Avalanches album - after so long!) and attempt to submerge my advancing guilt by torpedoing back into the armada of work. It may be easier to go to an office an work - certainly dad doesn't get the cloak of guilt thrown at him, my son understanding that in the morning daddy leaves and he comes home for dinner. I am physically more available and thus an easier target for his attacks. Whenever I do work away from home, however, I arrive home later and thus spend less time with my son. Most days my nanny and I work covertly to avoid such meetings with at times elaborate choreography  - she will entice him into his room by announcing "tent time" and when I receive the text that the coast is clear, I scurry across the trenches through no-man's territory to get to the kitchen to make a sandwich as quietly and quickly as possible as if I were in the commission of a criminal act.

Some women are professional mothers - they devote their whole days to their children and do not have guilt that they are abandoning their children (albeit I wonder whether a few that have made this choice are later enveloped in guilt that they rather abandoned their own aspirations?). However this "choice" may in practice be illusive. A large portion of us don't get to make a choice. Some women would rather continue with their career but find that childcare costs may be equivalent or more than what they earn and therefore "choose" to not to return to work. From a public policy standpoint, this is appalling - we should support women in their decision and provide quality and affordable childcare. Women that are forced to give up their careers may end up resentful, depressed or at the least unfulfilled- and this would not contribute to a healthy caregiving environment for their children. On the other hand, many women want to be the primary caregiver to their children and do not want to go back to work, at least until the children are school age. Again, our society fails to support this decision adequately as women are penalized in their careers for taking several years off (I am however not sure how this gap in experience should be accounted for however). Lengthening and equalizing parental leave - both legally and culturally - is one way to combat this gap. Sweden - a country that instituted paternal leave in the 70s - later instituted policies that penalized fathers for not taking leave which led to more fathers taking leave and a smaller gap between women and men in the workforce.  I am only mentioning this tangentially, the need for greater parental leave is such that it must have its own post....back to maternal guilt.

As much as I love my sons, I continue to have others interests and pursuits and part of me feels guilty about this - it is one thing to take time out for work, it is another to take time out to finish your novel... but on the other hand, how am I to encourage my son's own pursuits later in life when the example I would leave is leaving my own? Children seem to rarely adhere to the adage "listen to what I say, not what I do" - it's what we do that counts and is impressed upon them. Talk is cheap ( well for most of us that aren't paid a significant sum for speaking engagements...).

Maybe I'm a lesser parent, but I don't believe in exiling our interests per se in order to prove devotion to our children. It's the quality of time, not the quantity that counts and the more fulfilled we are, the more we can devote to our children. From infancy they mirror our moods - happy parents produce happy children. Quality and quantity are not however unrelated. Quality time requires a certain quantity. In attempting to reach your own personal goals, spend time with your partner, continue your familial and personal relationships and devote time to nurturing your children (and having fun with them!), you put yourself invariably last on the list. If you're pregnant with your first, I am sure many people have warned you that time with your partner will be decimated when you have a child - that it will change both quantitively and qualitatively and that you should spend as much time with your partner as possible. This is true. You have to calendar in time, organize a babysitter... romance has a certain rigidity. People may not tell you - at least they didn't tell me - that before number 1 comes, enjoy the time you have to yourself, let the hamster off the wheel. Enjoy the silence. For taking time out  - from everything -is the most illusive...

We want to be the best mamas out there, but in order to do so, we have to take care of ourselves (remember the aeroplane safety guides - first you take oxygen yourself in order to help others). Speaking of which, I should take some time out right now... and as if he heard me, my munchkin just woke up-

Friday, August 12, 2016

Musical Beds

The past several nights have been a lottery of a lacrimation which has lanced in us a loop of insomnia and musical beds. We fall asleep in our bed, never knowing at what time and from where the next cry will come from. Our hungry three week old? Our teething toddler? From the bassinet or bedroom? I nurse and rock our infant while my husband crawls into bed with our toddler (or vice versa after a feeding). Then 4 am comes round and there's 4 of us in bed after the boys' blaring duet which indubitably is well appreciated by our neighbours. To add insult to injury, not only was our bed conquered by our kids, but my husband's pillow, recently nostalgically covered by his childhood Snoopy sheets, was taken over by our toddler, who after wailing as if undergoing a particularly imaginative torture, fell into a sound slumber in which even the roar of his own snores failed to wake him. It was one of those moments when all you could do is laugh or cry and invariably do both before you pass out and wake up with a sheer fear that you may have fallen asleep holding your infant and dropped him...Now we understand why everyone we know with more than one child has a king bed. Our son sleeps on a queen (long story) and yet he'd rather be curled up with us in our queen bed with his little brother, as if remaining in his bedroom was somehow self-imposed exile. We figured he would change his tune when his little brother exercised his lungs every few hours, but our toddler simply snored throughout the feedings, happy that he was pride of place in the middle of our bed, his brother's bassinet relegated to the floor.

If only I were a sound sleeper. As all three boys snored away, no doubt dreaming of how to conquer and defend the Snoopy pillow, my mind, in mutiny, started weaving plans for the next day...

To sleep, perchance to dream...

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Avalanche of Language : Toddler Talk

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my son's advancing language and predicted that the onset of a sentence would be a while as he was bilingual. Less than a week later, as if insulted by my post and eager to prove me naive, my son uttered his first sentence, which fittingly for a tyrannical toddler was a command. "Elmo, sit" he directed. We were stunned and wondered whether we heard correctly. The next day he commanded, "daddy, come" as he patted the bed next to him, a book ready in hand to be devoured. I was not surprised that his first construction was in English, which is the dominant language around him and has a much simpler sentence structure than Serbian. As if wanting to dispel all my preconceived notions (which in part were influenced by the various books on child development and learning that I have read, which presumably based their theories on theoretical fiction of the average child and standard deviation - for instance, that there is a jump from two to four to more words in a sentence) he used a three word sentence in less than a fortnight. When my mum was out with my son and called my husband, putting him on speaker phone, my son, hearing his father and taking the phone, fumbling for his image as he is used to Face Time, showed his frustration by tapping the phone and noting to his grandmother, "I hear daddy"(thus imparting the salient fact that the process was not functioning properly through its absence  - as the family was astonished by his progression to a three word sentence, I wondered whether this was the harnessing of the jewel of diplomacy).

Another surge in his lexical development has been the grasping and utilization of the concept of "this" - he can point to what he wants if he doesn't understand the word and he can point to what he wants us to explain to him. A few days ago, when he was frustrated at the limits of my somnambulant existence, bringing him something he didn't want to eat, he shook his head and said "no, this is?" and I stood flummoxed as I digested this new progression. Language development seems to develop exponentially.

I find it interesting to see how he connects various objects under one umbrella until he has learnt the applicable word, learning in that instant both the proper word and the differentiation of the new object. For instance in his toddler talk now, "car" is a car as well as a truck and "bus" is a bus as well as all trucks. "Meow", which is his term for cat, is also applicable to the big cat family well as foxes (until most recently when he learnt the word, which he proudly pronounces as "fock" that will likely necessitate some explaining in the near future to aggrieved  parents in the playground) and rodents, particularly when drawn by his mother who admittedly does not follow the strictures of sizing (when viewing the proper dimensions, he rather uses "bunny"). "Horse" is applied to zebras and "sun" is applied to moon. He understands what a horse looks like and to him, a zebra is a white horse with black stripes.

We have to communicate with what we've got. If you've ever struggled in a foreign tongue, you would understand the inelegance and imprecision of communicating a concept or an object for which you have no words for (and let's pretend in this instance, to propel my point that you cannot merely point to the object nor even gesticulate its contours and must allow for words alone to express it). For instance, if I didn't know the word "door" in  a language, I may say off the cuff, "the window that you walk through" or the "opening in the wall between rooms that you walk through and can open and shut" etc Toddlers, with their limited lexical ability may simply say, "window" for "door" and vice versa. As my son learns new words, he learns our categorization of objects, which is somewhat different in different languages (for instance, my husband was proud to proclaim the other day that Greek had a word for "the day after tomorrow" as if this were unique to Greek - Serbian has the same - but why does English lack such a useful word?) and I am keen to see his reactions, even from a purely epistemological stance.

This burst of language, as welcome as it has been, has resulted in a bilingual dilemma. I have been reading English books in Serbian to my son which I thought would not cause a problem until much later on, considering he just turned 21 months and would not be (according to my naive thinking) focusing on the letters in order to be confused. However, my son has taken to learning the alphabet and is now the proud owner (for we own concepts and lexical tools) of several letters which he enjoys to point out as we read. He has beat me to the alphabet. I had been acclimatizing him to the Cyrillic alphabet and had thought fit to start steady learning in the coming months, due to the fact that Serbian is phonetic and would lead to quicker reading and writing. Now I'm in the predicament that if I focus on the Cyrillic alphabet, I will retard his learning because I will confuse him due to the fact that both alphabets share physically identical symbols for different letters- "p" is "r", "B" is "v" and "x" is "h" etc. I despaired at having to teach reading and writing with etymological spelling (on the other hand this allows for a great introduction to etymology). Then my husband had an idea. Why not teach him reading in Serbian with the "latin" alphabet? The Serbian "latin" alphabet is not the same as the English (in fact it is the same alphabet as the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet, only employing latinized letters)  - there is no "x" and no "w" in Serbian and there are additional letters that we don't have, for instance "sh", "nj", "lj" etc but at least the latin alphabet is not contradictory, "p" is "p" and "h" is "h". Now all I need are books in the latin alphabet. I don't posses any, because my aesthetic pretensions led me to decline buying any books in the latin alphabet in Belgrade last year albeit it severely amputated my choices, as publishers are unfortunately not keen to publish in Cyrillic anymore, considering that they would have a greater market for books printed in latinica which could be sold and marketed across all the ex-Yugo members as opposed to Serbia alone. So now the hunt begins...

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Moo Diaries: Lessons in Lactation Part I

After labour comes nursing and sometimes it can be more difficult than the labour itself. In the first few weeks your nipples are sore, bleeding and clamped down on as if your toothless tiny baby snaps around you and stabs you with an army of ready daggers. It's no wonder you can be afraid of your newborn as they zoom in on your nipple and voraciously approach with their ready jaws. Unfortunately the baby senses your trepidation (or outright panic) and this leads to further latching problems.

Then there's the sleep deprivation. Additionally, and particularly for first time parents, the stress of whether baby is getting enough to eat. The good news is that nursing gets easier as you go on. If you are crying in pain and stressed that you are not producing enough and enviously wondering how mothers nurse their toddler and satiate him or her for a few minutes as they nonchalantly talk to you, it's because they are not dealing with the latching issues and pain that you are. Toddlers may have teeth, but they know how to nurse. Newborns have no idea what they are doing - they stab in the dark and our nipples bear the consequence. Unfortunately no amount of coconut oil or your own milk (which do however help heal the scabs) will cure the bruising, which is internal.

This time round for me has fortunately been much better than the first. With my first son, I didn't understand that the pain I was feeling was due to his inability to suck properly from a tongue tie until I sought the advice of a lactation consultant in week 6. In the meantime, I suffered through bleeding nipples, bruise areolas, plugged milk ducts, vasospasm, two bouts of mastitis and consequent yeast infections. In short, I had everything that could go wrong and was told by two different and respected lactation consultants that maybe in my case, my pain was not worth it. However, I preserved (to some extent I was more determined to continue because the universe was making it so difficult for me). Unfortunately, this had a lasting consequence on my milk supply (which is set during the first two months) and while I nursed for 15 months and change (stopping due to being in the second trimester with my second son and deciding I didn't want to wean right before his birth), I had to supplement with formula.

This time round, we saw a lactation consultant immediately who noticed a tongue tie and we had him clipped in the second week. I was also provided with a hospital grade pump right from the hospital, herbal supplements and a "nipple safety" regime (no more than 10 minutes each side and then expulsion) with weekly lactation consultant visits. The knowledge we garnered from our first experience and the support we received from our health insurance company/staff (Kaiser) and possibly the fact that I was lactating only a few months ago resulted in a good shop. I haven't had to supplement a drop and am over producing. I did however have intolerable pain which has eased with my son realizing the aptitude of his new tongue mobility, securing a better latch and stronger suckle.

Lactation is not easy - particularly the beautiful brutal of the first few weeks, and it takes two to tango. In the first few weeks, it's a special dance involving the whole family. My husband had to help me latch in the beginning - I couldn't hold my son and his flailing hands which were invariably in front of his mouth preventing a latch. So the three of us would sit and nurse as a family affair. Due to his tongue tie, he wasn't suckling properly, so after nursing, my husband, with a spoon and ready syringe as if about to fabricate a Class A substance, expelled while I tried to meditate to increase the let down. Later, between nursing sessions, I would pump while my husband fed our baby a previously pumped supplement through a nursing system involving a string rather than the bottle so that our son would receive the milk in no faster manner than nursing, lest he get ideas and become recalcitrant to go on the breast. Now, he is more efficient at the breast and fusses with the supplemental nursing system.

Lactation takes energy and patience. You are on the clock, every 2 to 3 hours you will nurse - and that's from the start of a nursing session, which can last about half an hour. I also pump to supplement and ensure I'm expelling enough for fear of mastitis and to keep an ongoing supply in the fridge, but it's not necessary.You need to ensure you are getting sufficient vitamins and minerals in your diet because your milk is only as good as your diet (or rather, if your diet is lacking, the body will take what it needs from you and your bones will suffer the consequence). I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I look at all the supplements I'm taking - my prenatals, DHA, calcium, magnesium, goat's rue and a lactation supplement with fenugreek, blessed thistle, nettle and fennel. I'm also drinking a lactation tea that tastes like grass which is fitting to my new bovine lifestyle. The only way I can drink it is to let it cool and then down it. The good news is that I get to eat cookies and feel good about it. My husband, an avid baker and brewer, bakes me the most delicious lactation cookies, full of galactagogues - brewer's yeast, rolled oats, nuts and dark chocolate. Now we're talking!

As it is with almost any topic, the more you read and the more advice you seek, the more you are pummeled with contradictions. Some say do both breasts equally as after 10-15 minutes the baby goes from nutritive suckling to merely comfort suckling, some say do only one to get the "hind" milk (the full fat milk that's been stored longer) and offer the second only if the baby asks. I have observed that after 15 mins or so, the suckles taper out as if he is moving to a more comforting suck, so I move him to the next breast. However, he usually spends more time on the first, so I switch it up every session, starting from the side I did second in the previous session. With so many alternate theories as to what to do, it's difficult to assess whether you are getting it right and you may worry that while you are applying one advice you thought was sage to practice, whether you should have done the opposite. Then you may worry you are worrying too much because worry and stress reduce milk supply, something that everyone seems to agree with. Well, as long as your baby is satiated and you don't feel engorged, you should be on the right track. The question is whether your baby is satiated or is just exhausted from struggling or sedated from the oxytocin - a sure way to know is to check your baby's weight rather than guessing. If in doubt of the scales, dimples never lie!

I don't have all the answers, I may not even have any. I'm surprised that this time around, I seem to have abundant milk supply, but then again, the first time round, we unwittingly did everything wrong in the crucial first month that establishes supply. All I know, and I know this viscerally, comparing my first son's and second son's experiences (albeit they say you need three to see a pattern) is that when baby is suckling properly you are connected on a primitive wireless that is always working, even in hilly San Francisco (ironically, the tech mecca where connection is wanting to say the least). I always wake up a few minutes before my son, knowing he needs to nurse on some inexplicable visceral level. If I'm out, I feel a tingling and know that it's time to return because my baby needs to nurse. It's a beautiful experience and worth the brutal beginning.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Delivery Take 2: Ninja Birthing

Well, my son did listen to me, even better than I listened to myself. I had obviously had enough on July 14, 2016. While I was still working, admittedly my volition to get anything done had wilted so much that it looked like an etiolated flower at the brink of winter that had previously been decimated by a voracious beetles. Possibly as a window to his personality, my son preferred the old fashioned "drop in" method rather than scheduling an appropriate time for a visit. And he sure dropped in. In fact, the whole hospital here in SF knew of him. I had nurses come up to me and say "so you're the stop and drop!", apparently the locally used medical term for precipitous labour (or labour lasting less than 3 hours from the start of regular contractions through delivery). Unfortunately, one of the reasons his birth galvanized such gossip was that precipitous births and natural births in general are a rare occurrence. The nurses who helped deliver my son thanked me for showing them what a "real birth" looked like, as they had never seen one before. 

My husband and I certainly didn't expect that I would feel off around 9 pm and and that by 11:23 pm (or 23:23- seems like repetition follows me, my previous son was born at 11:11 am) we would have a new son in our hands. Now I understand how people give birth in public places and in cars en route to hospital. You don't know it's coming and you can't stop it. The urge to push is irresistible. In fact, your body does it for you. 

According to a quick search online which you shouldn't trust the merit of, precipitous labour occurs if (i) you have it in the family (ii) had quick previous births (my mother did give birth to me in six hours and I did deliver my first in 11 hours, which according to a midwife  was a pretty strong indication that my second would be quick, albeit she failed to mention that it would be so quick I was minutes away from making a Lyft driver on his first night out seriously rethink his vocational choices), (iii) if the baby is in a perfect position to go through the birth canal (makes sense and we already knew he was primed to go) (iv) when the mother's pelvis is ready and (v) when the baby is of a smaller size (my son was born at 6lbs 10 oz or 3.005 kg) - ie if everything is aligned and in place for the big moment. My father, who seems to have read on every topic, or possibly prepares for every conversation with a prior search of the subject to be discussed, read that swimming releases hormones that lead to quick labour and I swam regularly during my pregnancy. My husband wonders whether it's the HypnoBirthing tactics I was practicing the months before birth  and which I used during the actual labour. Whatever it was, it was a mad surprise and while still bloody painful was an exhilarating experience. 

 Albeit the onslaught of labour caught me by surprise, I should have known that it was approaching as I felt increasingly spent and had stopped caring about ticking things off my list before the baby arrived. I told my husband that I was taking the next day off work as my energy and motivation were in a slump and would spend it with my mother and son. My mother, on the other hand, had decided my labour was near and went into a mad laundry fit, stampeding to the laundromat nearby so she could get multiple washings done concomitantly. I scoffed at her absurdity and went with my son to buy ingredients for dinner. As we passed the laundromat by en route home, my son was fascinated by the spinning machines so we stayed and I put him in a cart and "beeped" him round the laundromat (thankfully there was only one other person there who was lanced to their phone the entire time and didn't seem to mind nor even notice our antics).

 I felt quite tired while I was making dinner later and as we ate I told my husband I had to lie down and he was on his own in putting our first son to bed. For several weeks, I have been relaxing at night with a HypnoBirthing tape, which as skeptical as I first was, worked wonders, but that night, I could not fall into the same relaxed, almost somnambulant state. As I lay there, my back pain was increasingly worse. At 9:30 pm, my husband came in and I told him that I thought I was experiencing a bad case of Braxton-Hicks (which occurred nightly for a fortnight before the birth of my first son) and he came to rub my back and thought it pertinent to time my contractions. Since my first labour was induced and was an eruption with no breaks in contractions, I was surprised to experience the relief in the space between contractions. I had read so much on labour and yet never understood what they meant about contractions lasting and passing because my first labour was one extremely long convulsion - now I knew that a contraction was stinging back pain which wrapped its clawed grip around my body and only to release me into thankful relief. We thought this was good practice for labour, so we used the breathing and visualisation techniques from our Hypno book, until my husband, avidly clocking my contractions, realized my contractions were 5 mins apart at regular intervals. He wondered whether I was going into labour. I immediately replied I was not, it was too early, NO WAY, I am not prepared, I will keep it in and all manner of futile pleadings as I viscerally realized that my time was up and a new chapter was beginning. 

As most people I suppose in this age of almost instant gratification of our curiosity, whether it be a geographic, scientific or historical fact for the gratification of our esoteric desires, or it be the ready indulgence of our hypochondriac tendencies, in which a minor bruise can lead to all manner of dire and even fatal hypothesis, or as in our case, an urgent need to assess a perplexing situation, as I breathed and howled through another surge, my husband asked Google whether his wife was going into labour. I am not sure what site he found first, but his answer was a reproduction of questions which he referred back to me. Are your contractions regular? Have they been occurring for over an hour? Do they start from your back and surge outward? Yes, yes, yes I cried and then accepted my fate. I then had a sudden urge to go to the bathroom (the OB that delivered my son advised me that the deluge of pee I thought I expelled at that time was really part of my amniotic fluid rupturing, the rest, to her distress, ruptured in her face as I pushed my son out) with my husband running after me and advising me that since I reeked of chlorine from the pool it might be a good idea to have a shower, so that our son's first smell would not be a pool and lead to an almost indecent lifelong attraction to swimming and cleaning products. The warm water of the shower on my back really aided my pain and we caught the water for a bath, as I wanted to try labouring in the bath, having read that this was apparently the way to go for some relief. Possibly birthing tubs are different, but your regular bath is quite possibly the most uncomfortable place to labour. I stayed in there maybe 10 seconds before I stumbled back to bed in a fashion not befitting any biped. I was afraid my howling would rouse our first son and tried to deepen my breathing away from my screams as I experienced contractions in the foetal position. We thought we would have hours to endure and I found that despite all my yoga instruction, despite the advise for a birthing ball and squatting, as adrenalin shook my body, all that aided me was to retreat inside, to curl up like my son inside me and accept what was happening without any action on my part. While lying flat on your side is meant to be the exact opposite of what to do in labour as it is meant to delay it while all manner of acrobatic positions are taught instead to quicken the process, the foetal position did not delay any arrival. Instead, my back bore teeth and clamped its jaws around me until I felt an irresistible urge to push. Knowing there was nothing left to expel except my baby and remembering the feeling of pushing from my first birth, I sprang up, holding my sides and got dressed, telling my husband that the baby was coming NOW.  

While I had a dalliance with home birth, when the prospect of delivering at home was eminent, and the proposition was concrete rather than merely theoretical, I knew I wanted to go to hospital. I wanted a natural childbirth, true, but one in a sterile environment with medical personnel at the ready lest anything went wrong. If my son needed oxygen, we would have seconds to act and I didn't want to take that risk. I grabbed the first pair of jeans, the first shirt, the first bra and pants I could grasp and slowly, with my mother holding my hand, limped down our four flights of stairs as my husband, who was incredulous that this could be happening so quickly, scrambled to get his wallet, his phone and call a car. I had no ID, no keys, no phone. 

Out on the street, with an ever increasing uncontrollable need to push, I couldn't stand up and leant against an unusually carious vehicular creature for our green city, as my husband raced to find the Lyft driver that was not where he should have been and not picking up his phone. I heard him yelling and racing back and then I saw a young man with an avidly good heart, jump out of his car and stop traffic on the thoroughfare of Pine Street. The Lyft driver crossed the street and looked terrified as I entered his car, as we assured him the hospital was only a few blocks away, it was evident from his facial twitches that he was calculating the probability of my delivery in his car and the monetary consequence of the succeeding clean up. Fortunately, for him the hospital was only 5 minutes away and he dropped us off at 11:10 pm. 

As I stumbled into emergency, hunched over, crossing my legs as best I could as I walked, I yelled at reception without any elegance or utility of grammar, "second baby, urge to push!" in such a recursive howling manner that two nurses came to take me to maternity as the baffled receptionist called out to us "I just need to know your name!" as they wheeled me to the maternity ward. Later we were told that two previous times that evening they had rushed down when the receptionist had called a delivery downstairs, they only discovered to their chagrin, that people had been ordering Thai food. 

 I kept screaming I needed to push so they took me straight to a room and called the OB. I didn't wait, I took my jeans and pants off - I knew it was near. I heard through the din a nurse wondering why we waited so long to come to hospital and my husband, baffled replying that everything started less than 2 hours ago. The OB came in and gently asked if she could see how far along I was, her face expressing such a serene expression of incredulity that the howling woman in front of her was about to deliver. Her mignons prepared the usual hospital tools that accompany labour expecting her declaration that I was to labour for another few hours. Instead, her eyes widening, she said I was ready to push, a medical certification of the exact information that I had told her. I tried to sit up and she held me down, "you have to lie down" she warned. I argued against this, I did not want labour against gravity I began seething through clenched teeth, until I realized both my husband and the OB were saying that my baby's head was coming out and that if I sat up, I would sit on it. I was next told to hold my legs, but I didn't understand what anyone was saying. My husband said I had a look of shock, that I appeared to on another plane, completely unaware of what was happening, gripped in the clench of instinct. He later explained the doctor was afraid I was going to knock her out with my legs and that I was told to hunch over to increase the strength of my push with my legs in a frog position. I have but a dim, suspect memory of this. 

I do remember my pushes. It took three pushes to bring my son into this world, into the light of this life. I do remember, unlike my previous labor, which ended to my dismay after numerous hours of non-stop contractions in a capitulation to pain relief, that the pushing stung, albeit not enough to merit its colloquial description as a "ring of fire" and I distinctly remember feeling the contours of his body as he came out. 

As my son was brought into this world, my husband told me to take my bra and shirt off - I had forgotten I was wearing them, so that my son could be placed on my chest. I felt exhilarated. I couldn't believe that he had been born. I couldn't believe my labour was so short and that he came out so quickly or that I only had a minor tear. The doctor asked if I wanted a shot of pitocin. I asked what for and she replied to stop me from hemorrhaging. I asked if I were hemorrhaging and when she replied in the negative, I decided to refuse. 

In the end, in a most surprising way, I got what I wanted - a completely natural birth. No pain medication, no IV, no hospital gown - no admittance even to hospital. I am recovering much quicker. Even after ten minutes, I was able to walk and wanted to, albeit the nurse was very hesitant to allow me to do this. I walked home from the hospital. If I weren't bruised and battered from breastfeeding right now, I'd probably feel great. Last time I couldn't walk for nearly two weeks. You never know how it will play out, but if you can have a natural birth, it seems you recover better from it. Of course, maybe I'm recovering faster because this is my second birth. In any case, I'm glad I didn't spend $8,000 for three pushes at the birth center or pay a midwife $5,000 to manage my thirteen minutes of labour in the hospital. You can have a completely natural labour in hospital - in fact, where you give birth doesn't really matter as long as you can create and fortify your own internal environment in a manner that secures and relaxes you. There's no need to give birth in an arabesque or on top of a mountain at sunset overlooking the sea. Birth has its own will and will come in its own way - the best thing to do, as Bruce Lee said, was to "be like water" and let it flow. 

I'm not quite sure whether my son would like to own the shirt I gave birth to him one day. It started its life as a dress which I bought at the SoHO young designer's market when I first moved to NYC in 2005. It's a blue dress with a girl samurai on it that means business. I had no inkling then that it would be a favourite maternity shirt of mine throughout both pregnancies and that I would give birth to my second son in it. Looking back now, I can't think of a more fitting dress to have given birth to my son in.