A mega blessing and curse of being a parent in the modern world is the over abundance of information freely available. You can research almost anything for days and still be unsure about the decision you ultimately make. There are very few reliable, unbiased, scientific/skeptical, and recent sources for answering some of the most major questions and/or debates. Bay and I recently bought the book The Informed Parent: A science-based resource for your child’s first four years and it is by far the best source we’ve had so far. I’ve decided to document some of my research for anyone who might stumble upon it and just to remind myself when the next baby comes along of the reasoning used to make a certain decision.
my baby girl… 🙂
But I have to stress, for anyone else reading this, I STRONGLY believe in supporting individual parent’s decisions, regardless of what they are. I don’t honestly care if someone else uses cloth, or the Ferber method for sleep, or starts feeding their baby processed foods when they’re 4 months old. Everyone simply needs to do what makes sense to them and their family – but I also think that means that parents should basically keep their mouth shut in front of other mom’s… no passive or aggressive comments to other mothers. I’ve found, so far, that its the mothers that are strict about things (no chemicals! cosleeping! …etc) are also the ones most vocal and passively judgmental about their convictions. I also try and remember that my decisions may come off as a judgement on others, so I stay pretty quiet.
There are some major debates in the parenting community – and cloth diapers verses disposable diapers is one of them. The really difficult thing about this debate is that the cloth arguments make a lot of intuitive sense and when you google about them, the myths of the benefits of cloth diapers are really pervasive. So much so, that when I did research before Nora came along, I was convinced it was the way to go, bought a huge stash of diapers, and was committed to that route. Well, 4 months have passed, and Nora has largely been wearing disposables (except for a week here and there). For the first two months it was because I was living alone with her, and there were barely enough hours in a day to make sure the bottles were all clean so I definitely couldn’t commit to doing laundry frequently enough. Then, people kept gifting disposables to us, so we just kept using them. Today we started using cloth again, and Bay questioned me again if it is really worth the time and cost. So, we started researching.
There are three primary areas that cloth diaper proponents claim cloth wins over disposables: environment, cost, and chemicals. I’ve also included ‘performance’ in this comparison because it’s an important consideration.
1. Environment – the claim is that cloth diapers are better for the environment because there is no waste with them. This argument doesn’t take into consideration the hot water and electricity needed to properly clean diapers (and dry them, in some cases), the detergent (often a highly energy intensive process to make/ship and sometimes soiling otherwise clean water) or the fact that disposable diapers today are nonhazardous and in some cases completely compostable (creating high quality soil). The Informed Parent mentions over 400 hits on PubMed for this issue, stating that the environmental benefits/hazards end up being a tie – no option is better than the other.
2. Cost – at first, the claim that cloth diapers are cheaper makes a lot of sense. You only buy the diapers once. Bay and I searched and finally found a really good tool for figuring out the cost of a year of disposables over a year of cloth diapering. When factoring in the kind of disposables we use, the cost of our water & electricity, and all other factors – a year of cloth diapering is $667 while a year of disposables is $605 – very very close! If the environmental factor was significant, the closeness in cost would push us toward cloths. However, they’re also cheaper! This factor will obviously differ from family to family.
3. Chemicals – the final major claim used in favour of cloth diapers is that they’re free of ‘chemicals’ while disposables are full of chemicals that can harm your baby’s skin. The Informed Parent says that after numerous allergen tests there was no evidence found of skin irritation or sensitization from disposable diapers (and that was in 2005 – they’ve only gotten better). Additionally, the primary chemical that cloth proponents are concerned about is typically dioxin. Dioxin is a toxic chemical, however while a disposable diaper may have trace amounts of dioxin, we (North Americans) get 30 000 – 2 200 000 times more dioxin from our food than through diapers. The tiny amount found in diapers is insignificant. Another chemical complained about is tributyltin – however, after GreenPeace claimed diapers had this toxin in them, numerous scientific studies found this to be untrue. In general… it is important to remember that in today’s society everything is more regulated than ever before.
4. Performance – after a few hours of researching, it turns out that cloth diapers are not more environmentally friendly, they cost more money for us, and the chemicals are not a problem. But, we already had the stash of diapers and we liked the idea of cloth diapers (honestly I mostly like them more because they feel nicer on the baby than disposables), so we did it for a day. We found that we had to change her diaper much more frequently, she developed a small rash very quickly, and the time investment was much higher.
Cloth diapers are part of a larger social trend towards a ‘natural is better’ stance – people are buying more local/homemade/natural goods, organic foods, all natural products for their kids, wooden toys, etc. Some of these things I really support (i.e.: supporting local economies) but I think it’s important to research everything on a case-by-case basis. I support buying local/going to the farmers marker, reducing the amount of processed food in my child’s diet, and spending a great deal more time outdoors but cloth diapering is not for our family.
On March 29th 2016 I gave birth to my daughter – my first child. My pregnancy had its ups and downs, the labour was easy (definitely not painless, but much easier than others have experienced), and my daughter was born healthy. Now, 8 weeks later, I’m finally getting opportunities to reflect on my new life.
1. Breast is Best.
Before being discharged from the hospital, the nurses had to sign off on two monitored successful breastfeeds. We also had to sign a paper that said we had watched the breastfeeding video and were strongly encouraged to attend a lactation group meeting where the lactation consultant held us back afterwards to tell us why pumping was such a bad idea. We were told over and over again that ‘breast is best’ and that formula shouldn’t be an option. Our first night home was a nightmare. Nora cried so hard and we couldn’t console her. I tried to breastfeed but she wouldn’t latch. I secretly gave her formula, and she immediately fell asleep. The following day and night were the same. She screamed, and the only time she had relief is when my husband or I secretly gave her formula, too embarrassed to tell the other what we had done. On the second day we saw another lactation consultant. I told her that Nora was crying all the time, and she responded saying “Oh, so she’s a normal baby”… I felt embarrassed for bringing it up... and assumed that having a baby is simply just a nightmare. By the third morning Nora wasn’t waking up. She was tiny… her neck was so thin and her skin was off colour. We went to the emergency room and she had lost a significant amount of weight and her sodium level was off the chart. She was immediately checked into the ER, and I was told to start pumping every 2 hours and forcing her awake to give her formula. Had the ‘breast is best’ mantra not had been slammed into our heads, it may have been avoided.
Since then, I’ve struggled to find a balance between breastfeeding, pumping, and using formula. I’ve seen 4 different lactation consultants and still meet with a public health nurse every other week to figure it out. I find it difficult to pump as often as I need to to keep up with Nora’s demands because she has colic and its difficult to pump while trying to console a baby. So by the time she is asleep, I need to eat or pick the dog up from daycare, or sometimes the only place she’ll sleep is in a carrier which is not conducive to pumping. I also have very slow let-down, so when I breastfeed Nora I have to feed her for nearly an hour until she’s full/satisfied, the first 20 minutes are really nice for both of us – the next 40 are frustrating and tiring for both of us. I give her formula at night to give us both some relief. Despite my best efforts/struggles/tears ‘people’ (even my own family – the ones that I thought saw and understood my struggle the most) are STILL telling me that ‘breast is best’ and making comments that implicitly and explicitly judge the fact that I desperately want to go to formula full time or even just want to complain about how tedious the whole process is. As if I’m giving up on what is ‘best’ for my daughter…
First of all… don’t the 125 bags of frozen breast milk from over 40 hours of pumping in my freezer, the bruises and blisters on my nipples, the hours and hours spent everyday in a rocking chair trying to keep her latched and the resulting screaming child from hunger/digestion pains indicate that I know breast milk is good for her? All that work, pain, and headache is not because I think breastmilk isn’t worth it – it’s because I’m struggling to do my best for my child. Second of all… is breast really best if it’s causing emotional and mental turmoil from the mother? Does the stress not make its way into the milk? Is it really best if the child is screaming to digest it? I’m not sure how many more hours I can spend clenching my flailing daughter in my arms whispering “it’s okay” through tears of my own wishing I could just make the pain stop for her… I just wish one person in the world would look at me and say “hey – fuck breast” and give me a hug.
2. It’s just you and me, babe.
Motherhood is one of the loneliest experiences of my life. We always have at least one visitor a week – often 2 -3. Some stay for 4 or 5 hours, most leave after 2 hours. I normally what them to simultaneously stay and go – go so I can nap, stay so I can have contact with another human. Unfortunately, when the visitor is there I have often have things to do… I need to take the opportunity to have a shower, get the laundry out of the washing machine that has been sitting in there for three days, change my bedding, catch up on work, etc. I have essentially been a single mom for 8 weeks and it means that all of this waits until I have a few spare hours – and often those hours are provided from visitors. I try to chat with them, but they have to get going or the baby starts to cry. Then it’s just Nora and I.
And it’s just Nora and I for the rest of the night… or possibly the next three days. I might go days without speaking to another adult or person besides Nora. I love Nora, and I don’t mind being with her non-stop for weeks on end. She’s the person I’ve been able to tolerate the longest in my entire life. But there are only so many times I can read Nora a book, rock her to sleep, babble to her in baby talk, read her academic articles, and stare into her beautiful eyes for an hour. I miss having friends to chat with about research and articles, having someone to give me support even when I don’t know I need it, going to endless potlucks… I miss my community. I worked hard to establish a community in my PhD group and it paid off – I’ve made some of the best friends of my life in the last three years. We’ve supported each other through really shitty times and really exciting times. I used to see them everyday and go out on impromptu lunch dates to argue about something we read the day before. I knew when I got pregnant I’d be giving some of this up – but I didn’t consider the fact that I’d be removing myself from my community and entering into a world that has been stripped of community. Instead, the mothering community is full of competition and judgement. Competition for quality of stroller or height of child. Competition for who has done the most research or had the most sleep. Judgement for bottles or soothers or if they have socks on or not.
Is she hot? Was that cough normal? Should she be talking yet? Will she stay cross-eyed? Should she watch TV…ever? What is the best carrier? If I cut my hair will she still know who I am? Can she sleep in my bed? The questions when mothering are endless… and I’ve made the mistake of looking up some of them on Google. Rarely do you get a straight answer, and more often than not you uncover yet another layer of mothering that you didn’t know existed and suddenly there is yet another thing to feel guilty about. Sometimes it is useful – I found a chart online with different colours of baby shit that was interesting and helpful…
I hate googling. I hate wondering/figuring out if she is at the right age to be doing something… if she’s behind or ahead in ‘smiling class’… if she ‘should’ have laughed by now or if she’s showing signs of some kind of disorder or genius or both. I find it detracts from being in the moment with Nora and simply enjoying her development as it happens. I also find that the over anxiousness about safety stifles some of the things that simply just feel right about mothering. But worst of all – it gives you a false sense of control over the baby and situations. She’s going to develop at whatever speed she develops and she’s going to sleep on her stomach sometimes… obsessing over SIDS and hitting development goals just provides this sense that we actually have way more control than we do, and I think this makes us more neurotic as parents. I find if I just let myself relax, do what feels right, let her just do what she wants to do… then I am happier and, as an extension, so is she. We also just get inundated with information which ends up confusing situations and making it so we are never actually confident in the decisions we’ve made (classic ‘risk society’ a-la-Beck issue).
4. Hurricane home.
My house is in a constant state of chaos. One of my biggest pet peeves is looking for my keys or wallet. Now, I am constantly looking for my keys and wallet. Sometimes I find them in places they never should have been in the first place (fridge…sink… bathroom counter…). I try to make systems to keep it cleaner and neater and to stop losing my keys and my wallet. But… I still lose them. Sometimes it bothers me so much that I get up at 3 am just to find them and put them into the designated spot – but it doesn’t matter how many times I’m neurotic about it, the next day I will certainly be searching for my keys and wallet. And how the hell are we supposed to function surrounded by 900 different kinds of baby distraction devices? Play mats… swings… jolly jumper… vibrating chair… it has just cluttered up every single corner of my home and now it never…EVER…looks tidy.
5. What’s most important?
Should I co-sleep with my kid because it’s easy, feels natural and results in higher confidence levels or is it more important to keep my marital bed my marital bed? I want her to be empathic, compassionate, hard-working, easy-going…etc etc etc but she can’t be all of them so which one is the most important? Should she start to eat solids at 4 months because she’s more open to new flavours or is it more important to error on the side of caution? For every decision there is a consideration of what might be a ‘more important’ consideration. In most cases I just do what my instincts tell me to do (cuddle the baby, teach her to love hard and work hard, give her food when she’s interested in it…) but I’ve been conditioned to be neurotic about what is ‘most important’ because society suggests I should be able to figure it all out given the wealth of information at my finger tips. It becomes VERY difficult to be a mother who is confident in the decisions that she has made when a) other mothers have made different decisions and said they did so based on their research…. (oh god, did they do more research than I did!?! Most likely!! …see #3 above) and b) there is so much conflicting advice.
Worst of all we don’t have a village or a community to rely on. I’m not sure about the experience of other women, but the parenting decisions between my sister and I are sometimes drastic (sometimes not drastic at all). Had we been living together in a small community where mother’s shared knowledge and passed down their knowledge form generation to generation, we would likely have the exact same methods and have a great deal of confidence in them. This a classic example of where the modern world has stripped us of knowledge and forms of relationships that made our lives more fulfilling and less neurotic/anxious.
1. It’s just you and me, babe.
Nora is the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing I see at night. Throughout the day I have the opportunity to shower her with 10 million kisses and to study every movement that she makes. I’m watching her grow, learn, and see the world – I am getting to know her more deeply than anyone else in the world will ever know her. There is literally no one else in the world that I have to answer to besides this tiny little ball of love. She demands all of my love and receives it without resistance.
2. A new relationship with everyone.
I’ve never loved my husband more than I love him as a father.
My sister and I have a renewed friendship over our children.
I appreciate and love my mother on an insanely deep level.
I can’t wait to talk about PhD gossip and girly/adult things with Caitlin.
I joined the allusive ‘mom club’ of the department (there is also a dog club).
All of my old friends are moms-in-the-making and it excites me that we’ll get to go through it together.
The people here that were once my research/drinking friends are now an integral part of my life. I literally would not have survived these 8 weeks without their talents and love.
A shared sense of the pure joy and love of parenting with my advisor. From advisor to grandpa.
Babies change the dynamic in every room they enter. They humanize workshops, soften meetings, and bring community to the halls of a workplace.
While Nora has brought me closer to all of these people, she has also taken something away from all of them – they were all knocked down on the totem pole… she is at the top, towering above them all.
3. A new perspective.
When I started my PhD I thought I was going to fight to the death for a tenure track position. As I went on in my PhD, I thought maybe I’d fight for it, but not for my life… more like if it seemed like it would work out. Now, it would be nice, but the importance of my career has dissipated into the ether. Now, I want to ensure that whatever I do is simply the absolute best decision for my daughter. If that means getting a tenure track (it would be great for her!) then I’ll definitely fight for it. But if it means becoming a stay-at-home mom that never steps food into another university again – I am completely prepared to do that, too. Making a decision about what to do in life now makes sense – before it seemed arbitrary… what was the point of a tenure track before? Sure, contributing to knowledge… but you can do that without getting paid. But now, it’s to take care of my daughter and give her as great a future as possible.
But… she simultaneously made everything make so much more sense and so much less sense. Life in general makes so much sense with a baby – everything about my body and my interactions with her tell me that this is what I, as a human, was made to do. But then, my life… is not at all made for a baby. I feel embarrassed when she cries in public, I’m not really supposed to bring her to meetings (but I do anyway), mothering isn’t really prioritized in academia (or most careers, I would think?)… it’s a side note that you have to attend to as you neglect your career, our family structures are no longer set up to prioritize family despite the fact that new babies and marriages are some of the most celebrate moments in our families. However, having her has only made me a better academic because it has put things in perspective and allowed me to view the process from a new, less anxious and more mature, light. My goals have become much more focused and meaningful – it’s a lot easier to write a paper when your motivation is coming from something rooted deeply in love rather than deeply rooted in…. the desire for a good pension.
4. No decisions.
One of my least favorite restaurants is The Works because there are ~30 different kinds of burgers that you can order. My default at restaurants is to order “the first burger” – whatever that might be (if they don’t have burgers, I will order whatever the person at the table that I like the most orders, or John picks for me). When I go to the drug store to buy deodorant and I’m faced with over a dozen different choices, I stand paralyzed… staring… do I go based on price? trustworthiness of packaging? scent? …of course it doesn’t really matter because whatever I choose is both the absolute right and wrong option. This is a well studied phenomena – the amount of choice in our lives leads to depression and loneliness – we never make the right choice and we’re often paralyzed by the options… we no longer benefit from our autonomy. While having a baby comes with a shit load of choice that can make you depressed (baby gear, which diaper cream to use, picking a name…) it also strips you of all of the most integral choices in your life.
I can’t choose when I shower, pee, eat, sleep, shop, call people, do work… my baby chooses when I do these things. She strips my life down to the most human/natural processes. My life is about her food, shit and sleep – everything else is an inconsequential act of life that will happen whenever the baby allows it to happen. There isn’t time to stare at toothbrushes or to give a shit about what movie is on. I grab the first toothbrush within reach at the drug store, I put on the first show that pops up on Netflix because I have 0.02 seconds before she starts to cry and I buy clothes that are easy to pull my boob out of and look like the might hide the color of spit-up the best. I am not making choices anymore, choices are being made for me, and it’s awesome.
5. Boundless, endless, deep, all-encompassing love.
Plus lots of cuddle naps…
This weekend our research group held a workshop, ‘ReMaking the World’ with an exciting and diverse group of academics… from an astrobiologist to a pagan studies scholar. Not surprisingly, the conversations were broad and all encompassing. As a group we wanted to look at the whole terrifying environmental picture in front of us. Our goal was to consider the perspective of the ‘black sheep’ among relationships between economy, religion, science, environment, etc. We did this with a focus on Maker Culture and questioning how to put the means of production into the hands of ordinary people to shift to a less consumer oriented community structure.
On the first day we heard from a range of scholars including Peter Timmerman on environmental ethics, Peter Brown on Economics for the Anthropocene, Jason Hawreliak on the role of play and making, Sheldon Solomon on terror management theory and change, and Lewis Dartnell on making and his book The Knowledge. In the evening, we heard from Morris Berman on Dual Process.
Despite the wide and diverse range of topics, a number of similar themes emerged such as enchantment, de-alienation, hand-brain development, ecological ethics, hyper individualism, and the role of self-esteem and community for environmental change.
On our second day together, the group divided into three sections for discussion: 1) curriculum, 2) governance, and 3) ontology/meaning. The curriculum group discussed the need for intergenerational bonds of reciprocity and learning in a Maker based education system and to create spaces for organic relationships and hands-on learning. This means looking beyond the classroom as the only place for learning to happen. They also emphasized that an education for the future would need to incorporate the philosophy of the long-now.
The governance group asked a series of questions that deserve answering in relation to maker culture:
- – Under what conditions can governance be more flexible than what it is? The state is a very rigid things (tax, control, shape) and the maker culture is quite opposite (creative, flexible) – is there a form of governance that can permit that kind of culture to flourish? Historical work on kinds of flexible states.
- – How does maker culture change the role of the state and what the state is meant to provide?
- – How are governments at various level help/hinder the conditions under which low impact make culture can flourish?
- – Are there different scales appropriate to enable a cultural dynamic of communitas?
The group discussed what a governance for a decentralized P2P society might look like – and suggested looking to the past to see what has worked and what hasn’t worked (mennonites, guilds, etc.).
The group discussing ontology and meaning focused on the difference between traditional societies with assumption of abundance, and modern mentality of scarcity – primary abundance, secondary scarcity created by humans doing something wrong (offending the gods, or the animals). They also discussed how traditional craft practices compared to maker culture and the community aspects of craft – creating audience along with the object created – includes community in creation in sense of craft – hiring someone creates relationship, selling something created with assumption that person will respect it, that it creates a relationship that will carry forward and extend into larger network of connections, in this way there are relationships embedded in societal context prevent exploitation. Most agreed that craft is and should be a manifestation of ontology and that the connection between craft and community is important. With crafts people vs. assembly line one could measure the differences of solitude and loneliness – you can quantify feelings. A craftsperson is in solitude while an assembly line worker is alienated and lonely – there is an important difference in how craft relates to mental states.
When Bay and I were in the planning stages of parenthood, once in a while we would talk about how we wanted to raise our children. Some things we agreed on straight away – we hoped to raise a well-rounded child with many interests, great empathy for others, respect for family, and a curious mind. Other things were a bit more of a fight – Bay didn’t want to “lie” to the kids about things like Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny. I desperately wanted to create elaborate and memorable holidays and events around all of these lies and couldn’t imagine a childhood without them.
Bay has since changed his mind on this issue, maybe he just grew up and gave up on the notion of logic for the sake of logic, or maybe all of my ranting about the need for fantasy, play, and imagination in a child’s life finally sunk in with him. Either way, our basic life lessons and reminders grew from “curiosity, health, and love” to include “magic”.
The first three are very straightforward – ask questions/explore/learn, mental/physical/environmental, and respect/family/empathy. Magic… is a bit fuzzier and difficult to reconcile with ‘curiosity’. (The day they point out this contradiction will be a proud day for Bay.) But, it’s important to have both of these functioning simultaneously through a child’s mind.
When little ones are experiencing the world, they are not looking for data, statistics, or measurable facts when they become mesmerized by a butterfly. They are mesmerized by the magic… they are fascinated with the tiny paintings on the wings… As the child looks on do we say “look at those wings! they have patterns to evade predators and evolutionary advantage!”? Or do we let the magic live on and tell them they are indeed tiny paintings done by the little fairies riding the butterflies to have the most beautiful ride? Or is there an in between – where the rationale of the real world can meet beautifully with the tiny myths we tell our children – that the little fairy paintings help the butterfly blend in with the world so the birds can’t gobble them up.
Simply due to my excessive interest in children’s fairy tales, I accidentally ended up with an undergraduate minor in English (a fact that makes Bay laugh very hard because my “grammar is atrocious). I took every children’s literature, C.S. Lewis, Brother’s Grimm, and Dickens class available to me. In this time, I learned useful ideas about children and their need for these stories (More in: Uses of Enchantment by Bettelheim):
– We design our child’s limits; coddling from scary thoughts like monsters and orcs only gives the monsters and orcs more power – stories of heroes and magic potions that beat these badies helps children to deal with uncomfortable thoughts. Fairy tales dispel a child’s fears… but they do so through forms of cruelty that a lot of modern stories avoid (Hansel and Gretel burning the witch in an oven) despite no evidence that this leads to cruelty in the child.
– Fairy tales are the “truth of our imagination, not that of normal causality” – they symbolize elements of the personality… which helps children to understand and relate their own inner conflicts and emotions to imaginative scenarios. This aids in emotional and intellectual development.
– The stories are “unreal” but they are not “untrue”; they offer comprehensible and intuitive representations of reality in a way that allows the imagination to relate them to reality to help cope with growing up or difficult situations.
– It is more likely that a child is able to relate to the experiences of Hansel and Gretel than to whatever their adult has to offer them. Fairy tales are design to correspond to a child’s inner thought patterns and experiences with the world. When a parent attempts to explain or rationalize with a child, it is actually internalized as belittlement; but fairy tales are able to offer full credence to the earnestness of the child’s problems and life. Children are not quite ready to deal with reality; stories help them to prepare.
By introducing magic into a child’s everyday life you’re strengthening the imagination – a key player in helping a child to process the lessons they may learn from stories, movies, and books.
But it is also more than that…
There is a strong argument to be made (see works by scholars such as Ernest Becker, Morris Berman, Stuart Kauffman and Margot Adler) for re-enchantment to give people meaning beyond what society is currently offering. I make this argument so often in my academic work I can’t be bothered to spell it out here. But really, I mean challenging the scientifically rational dominant thought paradigm to inherently reconstruct views of “nature” and life. To embed nature and society together with myth, magic an enchantment so that we rely on it more inherently for our mental and emotional well-being. My advisor writes about this at length…
As Eliade argued in The Sacred and the Profane, losing access to sacred or mythical time, modern man experiences only the profane: ‘…man feels no responsibility except to himself and to society. For him, the universe does not properly constitute a cosmos – that is, a living and articulated unity; it is simply the sum of the material reserves and physical energies of the planet’ (93-4). Profane existence precludes qualitative judgements. Without cosmic orientation, we find it impossible to experience cosmic responsibility – in relation to the present state of our biosphere, let alone its past and future potential diversity and complexity. In a disenchanted world, the only constraints on human behaviour are instrumental-rational, calculative and, to a much more limited extent, social. It is therefore not surprising that, in modern industrial societies, the pervasive hero/immortality projects are overwhelmingly narcissistic and constructed around individual consumption and material wealth.
So imagine, instead, to normalize and make use of magic, myth, folklore, fairy tales, and rituals as an everyday function in a child’s life. To internalize fairies and witches as part of life. To experience family time as ritual filled with both myth and love. To be trained to always let your imagination run wild – I think that would be an interesting kid… one with more to look forward to than selfies, consumption, anxiety, and stress.
Last week I was supposed to be in England visiting my best friend. As I write this, I should be in Manchester with my colleagues from school and one of my advisors presenting at a major international conference. But I’m not … and I’m not ‘allowed’ to tell anyone why… because I am in early pregnancy and I have been completely terrified of a miscarriage.
I didn’t get travel insurance. But I thought… certainly this sort of thing must happen all the time and the airline will be completely understanding. They’ll allow me to change my flight at no cost or give me a portion of my flight fee back… something… I’m a pregnant woman who has been advised by her doctor not to fly. I wasn’t pregnant when I booked the flight – and now I am. This is certainly a situation in which someone will help me.
Of course… they did nothing for me.
Well, sorry. They said I could change my flight before my flight date to another time within the next year for a fee of $250 and the cost of a new ticket. I scrambled to find new flight dates for any possible date I could conceive of that I might be able to go to England. Except, if you’ll recall, I’m PREGNANT so who knows when I’d be able to go to on an international flight again. And I’d likely be doing it alone as we can’t afford for my husband to tag along. Any date I could think of was over $1000 in difference in cost. So it was either be out $1000 and simply not go or pay an additional $1250 and cross my fingers that those dates actually worked.
I didn’t book a new flight. I just didn’t show up, and I’m $1000 down.
Some will say it’s my own fault for not booking travel insurance but I call bullshit. My advisor and the conference organizers were completely willing to ensure I was gouged as little as possible. They understood that this is a time of great concern, stress, excitement, and joy – so they wanted to limit the stress and keep the joy as much as possible. Same can be said for all the small BnB’s, hostels and AirBnB hosts that I booked in with. Even the AirBnB hosts with strict cancellation policies responded with a delighted “of course! and congratulations!”
The organizations and people with less money than the airline were happy to help. But the multi-million dollar corporation turned it’s back and said “your loss” – knowing full well they would be able to fill my seat regardless of whether or not I showed up.
This was a shitty situation to be in that made me feel more like a number than I ever have in my entire life.
Multi-national corporations need to be more family and real-life friendly. It’s this kind of response to a real human problem that strips us of our humanity and puts a woman with a very low income in a sticky situation. Do I throw away the $1000 and not go? Do I disregard my doctor’s order and risk my pregnancy even further? Do I kick up a storm…head to social media and go nuts? But then – everyone would know I’m pregnant… and no one is allowed to know I’m pregnant.
There is, of course, a second villain at play here – society’s secrecy over miscarriages.
The statistics… the numbers… the uncertainty constantly hang over my head entirely reshaping what I thought would be one of the most joyous times of my life. Before 12 weeks they all say it is too dicey to be excited. Too risky to tell everyone. Too uncertain to begin planning with your boss what you might do for the next year.
Then, if I have a miscarriage – am I supposed to go through that alone? The anticipation of months squashed in a single devastating event and I’m supposed to look back and not regret skipping England and cry alone out of fear of… judgement? of the discomfort of people knowing?
One impulse from a vernal wood May teach you more of man, Of moral evil and of good, Than all the sages can. Sweet is the lore which Nature brings; Our meddling intellect Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:— We murder to dissect. Enough of Science and of Art; Close up those barren leaves; Come forth, and bring with you a heart That watches and receives.
– William Wordsworth
If we shadows have offended, Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here, While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme, No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend: if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck, If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue, We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call; So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends, And Robin shall restore amends.
I have a soft spot for circuses. I think it has something to do with my obsession with elephants. I also love magic. Witches are always my favorite characters and people who can do “magic” (like at parties) completely captivate me. This book, The Night Circus, immediately appealed to me.
The main characters in the book are Celia and Marco. The two have been chosen by their mentors to partake in some kind of long running game that is a bit of a mystery for at least the first half of the book. The game leads them to start making magical and amazing “things” (often tents at the circus) for one another. Eventually, much to the dismay of their mentors, they fall in love… and that becomes a bit of a problem for the lovers and their game.
I got completely lost in this book. I mean lost in the best possible way anyone could ever imagine it to mean. When I read this book I didn’t feel like I was reading. I felt like I was watching some kind of beautiful and shiny movie happening right in front of my eyes. I would get lost in it for hours and then restart the chapter just to see if I had missed any particular detail about the magic and events that happen throughout the story.
Erin describes everything so well you can literally smell the circus around you. I could visualize every single detail of each place that the book was set. But this could be the downfall for some people. You have to love Tolkien-depth-description to love this book. I could read an entire book that just describes fantastic surroundings, and I’d be okay with that. She spends 2 pages describing the most amazing sounding clock.
The two young magicians are pitted against one another to outdo one another’s fantastical displays of magic. You have to be a bit of a romantic to appreciate the feeling that they go for when they make something for one another. If you’re not the kind of person that can think of a cloud as a big puffy pillow…and instead all you can think of is the fact that it’s just a big pile of water all mushed together… then the magic is lost on you. You have to allow your imagination to follow their love, to understand the connections between the people and the places and to just appreciate the power that the two of them hold and create…almost entirely because of the other’s existence and this weird “game”.
The circus setting added an extra flare of wonder… it built on the mystery and enhanced the feeling of deep love and play.
The best thing about shopping with my friend Jennet is that we would walk into all the stores I’ve avoided for the past 7 years due to my weight and I got to look around without feeling judged. I may not be skinny myself, but see! look! I’m shopping with a skinny girl! so don’t kick me out of the store!
But still – I could feel the eyes of the shopping attendants watching me. I could hear their thoughts.
“Why is she in here? It’s not like anything will fit.”
“Does she actually think that would look good on her?”
Two weeks ago I went shopping alone. I darted past all the “normal” size clothes stores peering into the windows longing for a shirt that was that hip and pretty. I didn’t even try to go in. As I walked past I could see them watching. I could hear all those people thinking “She won’t go in there…”
Last week I went shopping alone. I walked more slowly past the “normal” size clothes stores and this time even went into a couple. But as soon as I walked in and that attendant smiled and said “Hi, can I help you with anything today?” I knew what she was actually saying – she was actually saying “Hi, are you lost?” Looking around it seemed like the clothes would fit – but there was no way I was going to face the mirrored dressing rooms and try to squeeze in, only to be defeated and faced with having to walk out past those shopping attendants empty handed.
So… I did what any (obviously sane) plus size girl would do and I went online to my favorite stores. I looked at the same clothes I’ve looked through for the past three months hating each bit of clothing more and more as I clicked through. I found a shirt (that I already own in blue) and decided I could just get it… in pink, nude and black…
But I don’t want just the same stupid shirt in different colors! I want cool new shirts! Fed up with looking at the same clothes online and hating the idea of having to buy them…
Today I went shopping alone. I marched right into the “normal” size clothes stores and I started grabbing everything that I liked. I went into the dressing room and started trying shirts and skirts and dresses and pants on. Some fit great, some were too small and some were too big. A knock on the dressing room door and a voice “How is everything going in there?” (but we all know what she was really saying, right?) startled me. Reluctantly I opened the door to ask for a smaller size in a skirt, scared that she would laugh in disbelief that I didn’t need the biggest size they carried. Before I could say anything she saw me and said “That shirt looks nice with your eyes, but I think you should get a smaller size.” I nodded, handed her the skirt and asked if she’d grab that too.
In a daze I shut the dressing room door and slid down to the floor. Crying I stared at the girl in the mirror. I stared at this girl, who despite having lost 7 sizes, still sees the same body every time she looks at herself. I stared at this girl who has been berated so much by society’s standards that she felt like an impostor going into a public store. I stared at this girl who has traveled the world, has great friends and a good education – but still can’t be proud of herself.
I got mad. Mad at myself for getting sucked into this never ending cycle of self-loathing and body image issues. I stood up, wiped the tears away and decided to stop it. To stop seeing the flaws and to start to see what looked great – and so much does.
I walked out of the dressing room and bought two shirts and a dress that I really loved. For the first time in a long time I tried on a lot of clothes and got to pick the ones that I *loved*… not simply the ones that “fit”. Then – I walked into any store I bloody well wanted to and tried on every piece of clothing that I thought was rad. I got some great clothes and I talked to some great sales associates – who were likely never judging me in the first place. They helped me find some great pieces that make me feel self confident.
I refuse to feel like an impostor because of my weight. Even at the end of the day, when I had the size 12 dress on and it looked smashing – I still didn’t buy it because “there is no way I can fit into a size 12 from this store”… This is weird and screwed up and such a prime example of how our culture fucks with girls’ heads.
But I’m going to get better – because from now on I’m storming into whatever store I want and acting like I own the place.
When people ask me “does your tattoo have meaning?” it makes me smile, because of course it has meaning! It has a lot of meaning. Here is the tattoo:
The first important thing about my tattoo is that I’m not the only person who has it. My best friend, lover, partner and passion, John, has the same tattoo, in the same spot. When we are being cute we always say “I love you times infinity”. There has been an ongoing cuteness between us around this concept. Its linguistic foundations define it as being “endless”. Our love, support and friendship… is endless. (For himself, John has some double meaning here around the idea of the universe, too. And also… it’s math-y )
2. The Pale Blue Dot
Beside the infinity symbol there is a small blue dot. That small blue dot is Earth. When Voyager 1 was about 6 billion kilometers away from Earth NASA, at the request of Carl Sagan, had the camera turn around and snap a picture of Earth. The result was a tiny, 0.12 pixel, dot in the middle of a vast darkness of space. Carl Sagan then wrote a book entitled Pale Blue Dot filled with romantic and inspiring imagery and language about the consequence of seeing Earth in that context. Take this excerpt, for example:
Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
As environmentalists, secular humanists and lovers of romance this speaks very strongly to John and I – hence, the dot. And it is not without purpose that the dot is beside the infinity symbol. The Earth is floating in this sea of infinite darkness… and we’re on it. (For John I think there is also some context here about wanting to explore the infinite
3. Adaptive Cycle
John and I both relate to the tattoo differently. One of my unique connections with the infinity symbol is the theory of an adaptive cycle. The theory and idea of an adaptive cycle comes from systems theory, a theory that encompasses a philosophy that I stand behind very strong. A philosophy of looking at interrelationships, building on knowledge, learning as a form of action … etc. Adaptive management seems people, places, problems and things going through cycles of change. It uses iterative decision-making from multiple perspectives to deal with problems that have high uncertainty or that are going through phase changes into transformations. This is a really interesting and eloquent theory, that if understood and looked at from a certain perspective you can apply to a lot of things. I happen to apply it to my life. I see myself going through phase changes, reaching tipping points, transforming and resettling into a new order… and then going through it all over again. I see everyone going through this. I see the world going through this. I love this idea of constant learning, constant transformation and trying to be aware of what stage I am in to better understand my own feelings and where I should be in life.
And that’s my tattoo!
I’m currently in the process of designing tattoo number 2 which is going to be incredibly beautiful and will encompass my philosophy of and passion in life. It’s one I actually sketched out in high school, but more informed… and prettier.