Month: February 2014

Leaving Colorado (Part 1)


I left Colorado at four in the morning, when the sky was still starry and dark. I left in a ’93 Civic that I’d loaded with boxes of toys and clothes the night before. I had carefully attached two dog leads to the passenger’s seat. I wanted to be prepared.

Ten weeks earlier, we’d caravanned to Colorado from Washington. The idea was to spend a summer in wilderness, to see if that was where we were Meant To Be, but I still didn’t know. I only knew this: a) wilderness problems were different than city problems and b) in the city I had a job.

And so, I was about to return to that job with both dogs and both sons, while my partner stayed behind, attending to commitments. I dreaded the journey. To be responsible for four living things while driving across four western states struck me as only barely possible. I knew we’d make it home in the same way that, during childbirth, I knew that my sons would make it out of my body alive.

In the morning I loaded the dogs. Also, I loaded my sons who still slept, but who woke at the morning air. I kissed my partner goodbye and drove down the mountain over rocks and bumps and ruts. My sons were awake.

The idea had been that both boys would sleep soundly for hours as I drove. But now the baby was screaming and my older son was already demanding snacks. The dogs refused to settle; they turned in their spots obsessively, unhappy with the space I’d allotted them. We had twenty-one hours to go.

I could not hear my music through the screaming, but I tried. I tried to relax, but I couldn’t see. The night was so dark. Even with my brights on, I leaned forward towards the windshield, trying to see where I was going. Each time I approached a corner, I imagined swerving to avoid a bear.

That baby, he wasn’t going to sleep. My older son quietly placed his hands over his ears.  It was quarter to five and still pitch black when I pulled into the empty parking lot of a grocery store—the one we’d been shopping at all summer long. There were lights on inside, a delivery truck outside, a man emptying palettes of bread. He didn’t seem to see me, though I felt conspicuous, a small car alone in a big lot.  I rearranged some bags so that I could sit next to the screaming baby’s car seat. The dogs rearranged themselves too. I leaned over the baby and pulled out my left breast. He drank. He quieted.  He slept. I put my breast away. After returning to the driver’s seat, I drove on.

From there, the roads widened. The edge of the sky grew light. I listened to music. In the rearview mirror, I watched my older son fall asleep.

A hawk flew alongside me for a spell. Ahead of me were yellow hills and a pinkening sky, but behind me were the mountains I was leaving. The end-of-summer sun rose above them turning the clouds crazy shades of orange. I was heading towards Utah, but Colorado, behind me, knew how to put on a show. I wanted—I needed a photograph. I could not safely take one.

It occurred to me that everything good—my sons, my dogs, my partner, the mountains—everything good was behind me, visible mostly through the slice of view afforded by the rearview window, some of it not visible at all.


In Response to the article “Baby Dies While Sleeping in Car Seat”: Fear, Smoke, & Mirrors

Over the past few days, the following article has appeared several times in my Facebook news feed: Baby Dies while Sleeping in Car Seat. Though the article is dated 2006, it seems to have recently gone viral. Whenever I see this kind of title (which is often),  go through the same process: 1) My heart rate rises. 2) I want to click. 3) I try to convince myself not to click. 4) I click.

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The article begins with a photo of the exact car seat I currently use. It’s a popular car seat. It tells a very sad story of a baby girl who died while napping. Her caretaker had detached the seat from its base and brought her inside so that she could continue to nap undisturbed. I, like most parents of this generation, am familiar with this practice; in fact I’ve probably done it twice this past month.  The article goes on to mention a study, based on nine infant deaths, where researchers found that car seats allow babies to sleep with their heads tilted forward which can then, in worst case scenarios, restrict their airways. The article concludes with this paragraph:

While it’s not safe to let babies sleep for a long time in the car seat out of the car, we want to make it clear: while in a car, it’s a different story. There is no question that infant car seats save lives and researchers say may reduce car accident injuries by as much as 90%.

There’s a kind of ambiguity here that troubles me—an ambiguity that seems to be present in so much of the safety advice I read. What does the author mean by “long periods of time”? Forty minutes? Two hours? And why does the article suggest that napping in the car seat “outside the car” is more dangerous than it is inside the car? Unless I’m missing something, if car seat napping is risky, it’s risky wherever it happens.

In fact, on long drives my baby’s hour-long car seat naps are probably more dangerous than his car-to-house naps. When my baby naps in the house, I check on him every few minutes. (Is he still breathing? What about now? Still breathing?) On long trips in the car though, when he’s quiet, I can entertain these fears but I can’t do much about them.

In any event, it seems that the author of the article and the experts he consulted are performing a risk-benefit analysis on my behalf, and they’ve concluded that the benefit of the car seat while driving outweighs the risk of my baby not breathing. While this is a sound conclusion (yes indeed, I will continue to use my car seat), I resent the smoke and mirrors. In my reading, the article tries to pretend that somehow napping in the car seat—which was so risky in the preceding paragraph—magically becomes safe in the car.

I complain about the smoke and mirrors now because I see it as a trend in parenting literature. Authors and experts prefer to offer hardline advice rather than simply offer me the data, or admit that they don’t know. Case in point: take this video on alcohol consumption during pregnancy, a typical example of the limited data that is typically shared with pregnant women.

March of Dimes is unequivocal in their advice that women should absolutely never consume any alcohol during pregnancy. Compare this advice to this more balanced assessment here: we know for sure that binge drinking leads to birth defects, but there is no conclusive evidence on how moderate drinking affects a fetus.

Personally, I’d like to be trusted to make my own decisions for my body and my children, to perform the risk benefit analysis myself, rather than being insulated from the data.

At the end of the day, there’s no avoiding this truth: babies are fragile and living has risks. I’d like to monitor my one-year-old’s breathing every moment of the day, but the fact is that sometimes I do need to sleep, sometimes I choose to drive somewhere several hours away, and sometimes, as my baby naps in his crib and I finally get a few moments to myself, I choose to believe that he’s all right. I’d like to systematically eliminate every possible risk from our lives, but I’m worried that for each risk I manage there are more sinister risks over which I have no control.

I often think about parents in earlier times when infant mortality was common. Did they listen for their baby’s breath many times in a day? Did they sometimes tiptoe to the cradle, waiting to see any sign of motion? I imagine they did, that the fear of losing something so precious haunted them in the same way it haunts me. But I wonder also if they were less obsessed by the details, the logistics, if they engaged in daily risk-benefit analysis or if instead they lived their lives with their babies on their hip or at their side and simply prayed for the best.

Better than Band-aids: some things that made infertility suck a little less

Last week I wrote about my struggle to get pregnant with my first son. During those two years, I heard all kinds of advice and remarks that were generally unhelpful—unhelpful in the way that I’m sure I am when close friends are going through some kind of personal turmoil that I have no experience with. I may listen and nod, but when it comes time for me to say something, I come up short. I say the equivalent of “Just relax and it will happen,” or, “Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.” But this week I want to point a bright ray of sunlight on the few things that helped me during that time.

1. After about six months of trying to conceive, I sat cross-legged on a friend’s couch, explaining how I had assumed I’d be pregnant on the first or second try. She looked me in the eye and said, “Well, you know, you’re still one of the most fertile people I know.” I carried that sentence around with me for the next year and half like a stone in my pocket. Infertility had made me feel broken, but my friend’s statement helped me see the larger picture, to understand that fertility might mean more than making babies, that my person still had value.

2.  A counselor once told me, at the end of our session: “Seek as much pleasure as you can.” In some ways, this statement might not be so different from the ubiquitous advice, “Relax!”, but I found it far more helpful. To me, “Relax!” was an admonition; it implied that I was doing it all wrong. But “Seek pleasure” was instructive. It didn’t promise a baby, but it reminded me that in the meantime I could enjoy myself. It helped me sleep more, eat better, and listen to the whisper inside of me that told me what I craved.

3. In the spirit of seeking pleasure, I stopped spending a fortune on acupuncture (which I did not enjoy) and instead sought out a massage therapist. During our first session, she asked what I wanted to work on, and I told her I’d been trying to conceive for over a year. She looked at me with empathy and revealed, “It took me three years to get pregnant.” And suddenly, just like that, I felt hopeful again.

4. This last one is impossible, but it would have solved everything. One day, when my first son was two, we were on a walk together and I realized: if I could have a photograph of this moment, and if I could time travel back two years, I would have had so much patience. If I could have seen a single photo of my son, there would have been no dread or urgency to my waiting. They say that faith is knowing without proof, and apparently I’m incapable of that, which is what made those years painful. If the future me could have provided the past me with proof, I’m certain those two years would have felt like twenty-four months instead of an impossible eon.


I Will Probably Stop Breastfeeding Someday

ImageI breastfed my first son until he was nearly three. I had felt ready to quit for about six months before we actually quit, and once he was fully weaned I relished the freedom. I could wear dresses again, and put my son to bed with just a bedtime story and a hug, but most of all I enjoyed being in my body and not having to share it all the time.

When we decided to have a second child, I wasn’t so excited by the prospect of starting all over again—buying the nursing tanks, setting up the pump, drinking all that water, leaking all over my shirts. And, if I’m going to be honest here, what I truly dreaded was the feeling of being sucked on all the time. And so, I made myself a promise: if I wanted to, I could wean the baby at twelve months. I live in a community that supports extended nursing, and I’m a believer in its benefits; but I also believe in paying attention to my own limits, so  I decided that a year was good enough.

However, my son is twelve months now and we still nurse all the time. In spite of the fact that I have my own permission to wean him, we seem to be going strong.  Right now, as he sleeps, I’m taking stock of the various ways I feel about that.

1. Stretchy: Now that my baby is strong and mobile, nursing sometimes has this acrobatic element. In the mornings, he often wakes at five and I nurse him to see if I can get another hour of rest. Sometimes it works and we doze together, but just as often he squirms and pulls. I am both impressed with and horrified by how far he can stretch me.  I’m thirty-seven years old, which means that my self-image depends on maintaining some illusions about my own body. I try not to take stock of myself when I’m in unflattering positions. But when the baby is able to stretch my left breast to the next room, my vanity dies a little bit.

2. Lazy: One of the major reasons I won’t wean this month or next is that nursing is just too convenient. When the baby bonks his head, or just decides to be cranky we can plop down on the couch and check out for a minute or two. Bedtimes are easy. My partner can put the baby to sleep, but it takes actual work for her—twenty minutes of crying and rocking. For me it takes ten minutes of nursing while I sit on bed and scroll through my Facebook feed on my iPhone. And on the rare occasion when it doesn’t work, I have this excuse: since I nurse him, he won’t go to sleep for me any other way. I get to hand him off to my partner for Bedtime Round 2.

3. Tired: It’s true that I might be sleeping better if I night-weaned. Two months ago we moved the baby from our bed into his own crib, and surprisingly he seems to love it there. Still, he wakes up to nurse as soon as I come to bed, and then sometimes wakes me up a second time, reminding me to move him back to his own crib. Often there’s a third time and a fourth time. I’m willing to believe that he would now sleep through the night if he knew there was no milk in store for him. But refer back to #2. I’m too lazy to take this on.

4. Totally Awesome: I have plenty of shortcomings as a parent. There are days when I’m distracted, and days when I let my older son eat gummy bears with breakfast because I don’t feel like putting up a fight. The baby can’t tell me if he’s too hot or too cold, and so I tend to assume he’s just fine when maybe I should worry. But nursing is something I can do, and I like to think that it’s a trade for all of the things I can’t or don’t do. On the days I don’t offer the baby broccoli, at least he got some nutrients from my milk. On the days I don’t make him wear a hat, at least my milk will help him fight the cold we’re about to catch. And on the days I stay at work too late, or get annoyed because he’s whinier than usual, at least I can pull him up against me and together we’ll have one of those long nursing moments where we look at each other, and then off into space, and then at each other again.

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Lessons I Learned During Puke Week

Over the weekend, the baby and I came down with the stomach flu at virtually the same moment. I was sitting cross-legged on the kitchen floor eating my dinner, when the baby came over to snuggle. I thought that was sweet so I put down my plate—then he nuzzled into my neck and threw up all over the front of my shirt. A few minutes later I noticed that I didn’t feel so great myself, but it was hard to tell if I was genuinely sick or just grossed out from being puked on. By midnight I was running to the toilet.

There are advantages to being sick at the same time as your baby. Misery loves company. You can snuggle together, nap fitfully together, and whine in unison. By morning we had both stopped puking, but my joints ached with a vengeance. The baby looked teary-eyed and babbled with a raspy moan. My partner felt his forehead and asked, “Shouldn’t we give him some Motrin?” I had my answer ready. “No. He’s sick, so I want him to feel sick. If he doesn’t feel sick he won’t rest.”

But by noon I took pity on him. Or, to be honest, I think I just wanted him to sleep for longer than twenty minutes. In any event, I gave him the Motrin. A half hour later he was scaling the bathroom stepstool, pulling himself into the bathroom sink, and taking apart the soap dispenser. He was crawling maniacally from one end of the house to the other, looking for stray Legos to stuff in his mouth. He was squeezing himself into the gap between the shelves and the wall to better examine the array of electrical cords there. In short, he wasn’t feeling bad at all.


Meanwhile, all I wanted was to curl up on my bed in the fetal position. I became acutely aware of how much energy it takes to leap out of the chair and extract the baby from the broom closet, or remove his hands from the toilet bowl—stuff I do every day without noticing.

Lesson #1: When the baby is sick, let him feel sick, especially if you are sick too.

Two days later, just as our world was returning to normal, I woke up and noticed that my five-year-old son’s bed had been stripped.  This is never a good sign. Apparently, my son is genetically wired to throw up all over his sheets. He has never—not once in five years—woken at night and successfully vomited into a container, or even aimed away from the bed. When I know he is sick, I implement the following strategy: 1. I cover his bed in towels. 2. I lie in bed next to him all night, barely dozing so that when he starts to stir I can lift his head and aim his mouth at the bucket.

But this time I hadn’t seen it coming. At six am my partner heard him retching and discovered that he had puked in the crack between his bed and his wall. This is even worse than it sounds. My son’s bed is nested in an alcove and the fit is so tight, we had to remove the trim from the baseboards just to wedge it in there. Hence, there is no moving the bed for easy cleanup, there is only crawling underneath it with a flashlight.

Lesson #2: If there’s an upside to getting puked on by a one-year-old it’s this: you can watch your partner crawl under your older child’s bed with a flashlight, a sponge, and a bucket, and feel only a small twinge of guilt.

Some of the Ways I Didn’t get Pregnant

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1. I didn’t get pregnant by intrauterine insemination, the procedure that requires a doctor to insert a catheter into a woman’s cervical os—a tiny and tender hole—and slowly release sperm. The sperm has been washed and frozen, thawed and spun. Meanwhile the recipient lies in a hospital gown, her feet in stirrups. Ten times that recipient was me, lying there trying to will those expensive sperm towards my patient egg. But each time my egg failed me, or the sperm failed me, or my body failed me—it’s hard to say which. I didn’t get pregnant, just a little hurt and broke.

2. I didn’t get pregnant “just by looking at a penis,” even though a number of women informed me that they themselves were so fertile this was all it took. “All I have to do…” they’d say. It became a surprisingly regular conversation. At the time, I thought they were inadvertently rubbing it in my face that they could achieve so easily the very thing that was costing me so much time and expense. But maybe they were trying to be helpful, hinting that maybe there just weren’t enough penises in my life. In fact, it may be true that in the two years it took me to conceive my first son, I did not look at a single penis.

3. I didn’t get pregnant by relaxing, though that was by far the most popular suggestion. With every month that passed, more and more people said it: “Maybe you just need to relax.” I tried, but perhaps my problem was that I thought relaxation was an attitude. I told myself to breathe when I felt nervous or hopeless, or when I worried about my worrying because apparently my fears were like corrosive acid to my reproductive organs. Maybe by “relax” they meant an action, like a month in Hawaii or a weekly massage. Maybe what they meant was: have a drink.

4. I didn’t get pregnant from a turkey baster, although my son did develop a fondness for our turkey baster (used, I swear, for basting turkeys) when he was two. He played with it in the bath, he slept with it for a couple of nights, and then he wanted to bring it to preschool one day. I told him no, offering no good reason, because—you know—the kid with two moms wants to bring a turkey baster to preschool, and I worry what people will think. And so I was relieved that he moved on to other interests before doing something really concerning like naming it “Dad”.

For this and so many other reasons, I’m ready to boycott Woody Allen

I’ve been baffled by Woody Allen for most of my adult life. In 1996, as I watched Everyone Says I Love You, my stomach turned at the sight of Woody Allen getting it on with Julia Roberts.  I was only nineteen at a time, and not especially critical of any film that entertained me, but this didn’t strike me as high art, or even effective comedy. It seemed more like the wet dream of an aging man who had the money and the clout to bring such dreams to life.

Two years later I wasted my money again when I went to see Celebrity. In this film Allen enlists a younger and better-looking doppelganger—in this case played by Kenneth Branagh—to go through the same tired routine, but this is little consolation. And then a year ago, I couldn’t escape the publicity campaign for To Rome with Love. Every preview and interview contained the same clip, where Greta Gerwig’s character attempts to convince Jesse Eisenberg’s character that he will like her old friend from college:

Is there a woman in the world who would reference her friend’s “sexual vibe” as a selling point when talking to her boyfriend? After over half a century of screenwriting is this the best dialogue that Woody Allen can write?

Don’t even get me started on all of the friendly prostitutes who populate Woody Allen’s films.

And yet it seems that no matter how many times Woody Allen has written the same tired story, which is at best clueless and at worst misogynistic, Hollywood actors happily sign on, and critics offer mild praise, shrugging their shoulders and saying “well, it’s not his best.”

And then today I read Dylan Farrow’s open letter which details her sexual abuse, at the age of seven, at the hands of her adoptive father.  As an American, I suppose, I should give Woody Allen the benefit of a doubt. But as a woman and a mother, I’ve seen plenty from this man, and I am ready to say: enough. I don’t need to see his face anymore, or to spend my money or hours of my life on his stories. Even without these allegations, his films on their own have given me enough reasons to boycott his future endeavors.

It strikes me that the world has done plenty for Woody Allen, and to cut him off now—even without a judge and jury—would be no great crime. If we all get fifteen minutes of fame, then Woody Allen has had hours of it. He’s had his chance to leave his mark and then some. While I don’t presume that the amount of fame in the world is finite, I do wonder what other stories might have been told, what other voices might have been heard with the money that’s gone to fund Woody Allen’s filmography in the last three decades.

So when Dylan Farrow describes the panic she’s felt reliving her abuse every time she sees Woody Allen’s face “on a poster, on a t-shirt, on television” I feel like, as a country, can’t we get together and offer her a little solace? Can’t we make him go away, or at the very least let him fade a bit?

Is it Time to Wake Up? a handy checklist for babies


1. Is it light outside?

2. Are your parents awake? If so, are they actually up?

3. Are you in an exceptionally good mood?

4. Can you fix your own breakfast?

5. Can you entertain yourself quietly and safely for an hour?

6. Can you watch TV?

If you answered “no” to most of the above questions, it is NOT time to wake up.