Month eleven — Henry

Dear Henry,

Yesterday you turned 11 months old. The only thing you want at the moment is to grasp my fingers for balance and explore the world on your own two feet. You ignore the toys that I thrust at you. You ignore the toys that others thrust at you. You will not be sidetracked by these shenanigans. You are going to be an Olympic-caliber walker. Someday. If you can ever bring yourself to let go of my fingers, which so far, you cannot do.

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I am often struck by the differences in parenting your sister and you. A few weeks ago, we took you to the zoo. Your sister was nearly the same age on her first trip to the zoo, and I remember us holding her high to see the animals and talking to her as if she were in veterinary school. And you, well, you sat in the stroller until the last 10 minutes of the trip when I pointed out that you probably hadn’t even been able to see the animals. Sorry, kid.

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You’re doing your best to get our attention. The second we turn our backs, you’re climbing the stairs. Dad let you climb part way a few weeks ago, and now that is all you want to do. When I come over to grab you, you climb faster. You also love to dig in the sediment at the bottom of our gas fireplace and get sooty smudges all over yourself. Yes, our baby-proofing is lacking.

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Your sister loves you lately. Looooves you. She picks you up beneath your arms and carries you around until your face turns red. She wrestles with you on the floor until your face turns red. She seems to be suffocating you most of the time, but you’re so happy to have her attention that you don’t say a word. Sometimes you even laugh, usually when I’m reprimanding her for being too rough. Can I get a little help here, please, Henry?

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For so long, it was just Eleanor, your dad, and I. Long after you were born, I thought of myself as Eleanor’s mom. Then I would remember: Oh yeah, and I have this baby, too. I can feel this starting to shift. You are growing into a kid, a little person who wants to play with me and interact with other children. I will be very sad to leave the baby stage behind, but that sadness is tempered by my excitement to see who you become. Go climb mountains, Henry.

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Love,
Mom

One day for remembering

Today is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. This one day seems so small in the face of what it is recognizing, but it is something, at least.

Greg and I went on a date a few days ago, and we were having a discussion about finding purpose in life, and a minute later I was crying over my pumpkin ravioli. I will spend every single day missing my daughter. And even though I’ve lived with that for more than three years, I still have moments where I’m not sure how to keep living with it.

Most of my hours are filled with chaos, joy, messes, reprimands. My life looks, and feels, mostly normal. But when we gather with all of the families in our neighborhood, and I see that gaggle of 3- and 4-year-olds (We are literally the only family without a preschooler.), I wonder who Genevieve would be chasing. Am I the only one remembering?

If you remember, light a candle tonight. And thank you.

Naked in a closet (or, the trouble with breast-feeding)

A few weeks ago, MIT held a hackathon to improve the breast pump. I am sure that I am not the only woman cheering about this as there is near-universal agreement that breast pumps are awful. Loud, uncomfortable, bulky. I always think of cows when I use mine.

I have breast-fed both of my kids, and I have loved it, with the exception of using the breast pump, of course. At my previous job, we had a space for pumping. Our office was family friendly and forward-thinking, and it was assumed that new moms would be pumping. I had it good.

The space that we had for pumping was a combination shower/toilet/changing area. The space was meant for people who exercised either before or after work, and it often smelled like the locker room for a football team. You didn’t want to touch anything in there, especially the occasional damp towel or T-shirt thrown on the floor. Still, it had a sink where we could wash our pump parts, and the room was usually unoccupied when I needed to use it. The door locked with a dead-bolt. I lived in constant fear that I would forget to lock it and be found by a football player/wrestler/weight-lifter. Not that anyone in our office participated in those activities. Regardless, the mortification would force me to resign.

Still, I believe that I had it good. My office wasn’t required at the time to provide a space for pumping or to give me time to do so.

While I’m grateful that the breast pump will be improved for future moms, I think that we’re circumventing the real issue.

There has been a huge push for women to breast-feed. A main component of this campaign has been educating women about the benefits of breast-feeding, particularly how breast milk provides the best nutrition for a baby. The assumption is that every woman would breast-feed if only she knew how good it was for her baby. The assumption is that women are ignorant.

Here is why women quit breast-feeding or don’t even start: Our country makes it incredibly difficult to breast-feed. Yes, in some cases, a woman physically can’t breast-feed. Most of the time, the problem is logistics. Pumping takes time, which means a woman has to either arrive early at work or stay late. Then she has to deal with the cleaning and sterilizing of pump parts and bottles every night. It is hugely time-consuming. And small businesses aren’t even required to provide time and space for pumping.

If our country considered the health of babies and new mothers important, we would have paid maternity leave. We don’t. We’re right on par with Lesotho, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea. Leaders, all of us!

Wow! I got pretty fired up on my soap box there, huh? Anyway, this is all to say that I’m a big advocate of breast-feeding, which means I’m a big advocate of paid leave. Babies love boobs. Breast pumps really don’t. I guarantee that breast-feeding rates would leap if we had six months of paid leave. Let’s stop shaming women for our regressive health policies.