Before I had a baby, I imagined I would be of the School Of Hard Knocks theory of parenting. None of this 'overindulgence.' No baby of mine would scream and bang spoons in a restaurant. No baby of mine would be allowed to cry when he wanted to come out of his carrier and sit on my lap. I would be the parent who would complete my sentences because no child of mine would ever be allowed to interrupt. No purse of mine would be filled with a million little things to be pulled out and handed to the baby every 30 seconds to suit whatever need he came up with at any given moment, meaning no pacifiers, no jingly frogs named cute things like Lahana (cabbage), no cloths to wipe spills and dribbles. If the baby cried at night, well, he could just cry and get over himself and learn to act like a normal person. There would be no special songs. No funny faces. No bland foods. None of this 'on-demand' nursing you hear about when an elderly Wal-Mart patron calls security on a woman who has the gall to feed her child in public. My child would learn early on that there are a lot of other people in the world besides him.
As you might imagine, that's all worked out very well for me, just as planned. Apparently, getting pregnant just causes your heart and brain to go squish, and the best-laid plans for a highly disciplined, well-trained little cadet just go out the window. LE is not an early candidate for West Point. A Doogie Houser educational plan is not in his near future. Miss Manners would not be impressed with him. I recognize the expressions on the faces of that childless couple at the next table because that used to be me, wondering why those people don't take better control of that child and stop him trying to fling the plates.
Much to the amazement of many who know me, I got pregnant on purpose. To say my experience with babies was limited would be a gross exaggeration. I pretty much feared them, with their milk and dribbles and bobbly heads and grabby, sticky little hands. Most babies I'd met had the wisdom to cry whenever I came near them. My one diaper changing experience happened when I was about 13, when my brothers and I were looking after some little kids while our parents were out for dinner. The toddler did a poo, and the 3 of us ended up sticking him in the bath rather than actually try to wipe the poo, but then we were afraid we were molesting him somehow and tried to wash him by splashing rather than touching him, and by the time we got him out of the bath and dried off and were fumbling with the diaper trying to work out which way it went, our parents came home and saved the day.
But, being the annoying over-achiever that I am, I approached pregnancy and childbirth and early parenting the way I did anything else, which was to read a lot. Then I discovered just how much there is to read on these topics, and how pretty much all of it is contradictory in some way or other. 'Do it this way!' says one book, 'And your child will have a lifetime of security and happiness to look forward to!' 'Never do it that way,' chides another website, 'Or your child will surely be torturing small animals by the time he's 10.' Do it 'right,' and your kid will be the one to cure cancer, bring about world peace, and inspire joy in the hearts of all who come near him. One false step will lower your kid's IQ, give him asthma, and send him straight behind the counter of a roadside White Castle.
So I decided to limit my reading to one book on pregnancy that wasn't bad, except for reminding me on every page not to smoke or drink, ever. That was an American book. The British websites said one or two drinks a week is okay. The Australians, as usual, were the friendliest and most easygoing by saying daily drinking is acceptable as long as you don't get tipsy. For baby care, I again got one book, something like a users' manual with lots of pictures of how to do things. I didn't want to get overloaded with often conflicting advice.
Like that's avoidable. The best I could do was find a general way of thinking about birth and babies, and try to stick to it in the face of what people around me were saying. Much to my surprise, I went the Crunchy Route. I went from wanting lots of drugs and an epidural to wanting a home birth. I went from wanting to create an intelligent and independent child by leaving him to his own devices as much as possible to wanting to create such a child by loving him to bits and giving him pretty much everything he wants until he's old enough to understand why he can't have it. This is surprisingly easy, as babies don't want much but a lot of time.
The home birth didn't happen because there was only one properly trained foreign midwife in all of Istanbul, perhaps all of Turkey, and she was working illegally and so not covered by my insurance (this was probably a blessing in disguise, as BE's father forbid a home birth, and BE was ready to obey him, and I was ready to consider that a deal-breaker, allowing his father to decide how I gave birth to my baby). But I went to birth preparation classes with the midwife, and she did some home visits after LE was born, and she was a wonderful and reassuring and invaluable person to have around at that time, because everyone else seemed to be wringing their hands and telling me I was doing everything 'wrong' and the baby would surely get very, very sick and die and it would be all my fault.
I did the on-demand breastfeeding. For about 5 months, I was an on-demand cow. I was a 24 hour open milk bar. I'm still an open milk bar all night, or a human pacifier; I'm usually too sleepy to tell what he's doing. For the first 3 months or so, I was sitting on the sofa surrounded by pillows, watching the same DIY programs on BBC that I'd watched two years before during the Snow Crisis. BE would come home to me looking (literally) drained, saying, 'He's been sucking for 4.straight.hours. Take.him.now.' My book told me babies will demand the breast every two hours or so. That's really cute. LE at nine months is down to about every two hours or so. For the first three months, he was more of an every 40 minutes kind of guy. Meaning every 40 minutes, he'd want to nurse for an hour or three. As his mom, I'm not supposed to know about such things, but when he grows up, my money's on him being a Boobs Man.
But the World Of Crunch is a very competitive place. When you hang out with Crunchy folks, there's always someone who can out-crunch you. You're a vegetarian? Well, I'm a vegan, you animal-abusing monster. You bought your organic hand-sewn hemp shirt locally from Joe down at Saturday Market? Well, I bought mine from Juniper who works out of her house and only employs homeless women at living wages to do her sewing, and unlike that bastard Joe down at the market who uses factory thread, Juniper uses only thread made by her own free-range silkworms, you silkworm-exploiting bastard. It's the same for Crunchy Parenting. There are people who will tell you that if you don't on-demand breastfeed your little one until he's ready to wean himself around the time he goes to college like the native women in the jungles of Ecuador do it, he will grow up to be violent and selfish, with a deep-seeded sadness about him that comes from being ripped from the breast at an early age, and this sadness isn't the kind that will turn him into a poet. There are people who will tell you that if your baby is left to cry for any amount of time, even if it's just while you've nipped off for a pee, the neural pathways that will cause him to become Son of Sam are surely being burned as he's learning that his mother doesn't really love him and there's no one in the world that he can trust in his time of distress.
I will confess here, to the great shock of many who will tell me any great number of risks, that LE sleeps next to me in my bed every night. The Crunchies will applaud me for co-sleeping, as it's called, because this is 'natural.' Wolves don't put their babies in cribs in other caves to sleep, and nor do women in huts in Africa, and nor should we, in our modern, materialistic, selfish, silkworm-abusing world. To this, I say 'Bullshit.' LE doesn't sleep with me because it fulfills some philosophy of parenting. He sleeps with me because I'm lazy. I'm too lazy to wake up 5 times a night to nurse him and soothe him back to sleep. If he's next to me, all I have to do is fumble a nipple into his mouth at the first peep, and we happily go back to sleep. During the day, though, I'm thinking this co-sleeping business has to stop. LE was cute to sleep next to at first. He cuddled up and wiggled and did whatever he did while he was still inside me, except now it was on the outside, and I woke up in the morning to his little face looking up at me. He's still cute, and he still looks at me, but he also kicks and punches and reaches up to see if my lips and nose can twist off. Stopping is not as easy as it sounds, though. LE knows which side his bread is buttered on, and snuggling up to Mommy is the way to go, meaning he won't sleep in his crib anymore once he knows I'm in the room. No amount of nursing or soothing will convince him this is a good idea, and by 3am, after trying unsuccessfully for 4 hours to make him sleep in his own bed, I give up. Now our upstairs neighbor is helping LE's cause by complaining about the crying, and ringing our doorbell in the wee hours to tell us to make him stop, as though we aren't already trying and as though LE is the first baby in the world who cries at night. The neighbor's idea is that the baby should sleep in the living room, and that we should change all our furniture and evening habits to suit this. My idea is that the neighbor should buy some three dollar ear plugs and shut the fuck up, but BE pointed out that the neighbor is bigger than he is. BE's about six foot three, so the neighbor is pretty big. This didn't stop me from calling him a stupid son of bitch last time he stopped by, which means BE is pretty lucky the neighbor doesn't speak English.
Extensive breastfeeding is all the rage these days. The Crunchy Mommies tell us that a baby should be breastfed until he's ready to stop. This is called child-led weaning. If the child wants to nurse until he is four years old, then good mothers let him rather than disrupt his natural physical and psychological processes. Child-led weaning is nice, I suppose, and the only real argument against it is that it's not really socially acceptable to nurse a kid who's big enough to request the breast in clear language or get the breast out himself. I suppose to a Crunchy, social mores are the fabrication of plastic businessmen and the military-industrial complex, and so are best avoided (like soap). Even I have to admit I'm not so selfless as to continue with breastfeeding for several more years. I'd planned to nurse LE at least to 18 months then see how it went, though even that I'm reconsidering now. Why? LE bites. He bites a lot. He started biting before he had teeth, and the biting continues (more painfully) now that he has two bottom teeth, and I shudder to think what the biting will be like when he gets top teeth. My books didn't say anything about biting. Even Dr. Internet seems to think babies will bite once or twice, then stop it. LE hasn't consulted the Internet about this, and has started biting me every time he nurses, day and night, for the last couple of weeks. Nursing is getting loud and dramatic. The neighbor hasn't said anything, but I'm sure he also objects to 'Ow! God dammit!' at 4am. LE doesn't like it either, but it still doesn't discourage him from biting. Nor do pressing his nose into my breast as the crunchies recommend, or quietly unlatching him to return to nursing later, or calmly discussing with him why biting is not conducive to an effective breastfeeding relationship. I'm all torn up on this one, and I suppose I will have to find something between Crunchy and Not Getting Bitten On my Nipple. If a woman's body was made by Nature to nurture a child with teeth, why the hell are nipples so sensitive?
One very sensitive parenting issue is about making babies sleep. Despite my neighbor's belief that my baby should be sleeping quietly for 12 hours a night, the fact is, most babies don't sleep the way we want them to. We put up with it at first, telling ourselves it's a phase that will pass and that they'll sleep someday. After several months of sleeping 5 hours a night in 2 hour blocks, we stop feeling the love. There are so many books and methods and approaches about making babies sleep. Sleep is a Holy Grail of early parenthood, and even if we could remember exactly what sleep is, we still can't find a way to reach it. The villain of the sleep-training world is the Cry It Out approach, abbreviated as CIO in online parenting discussions. Some people swear by it. The Crunchies scream about it. Most people find a way in between. It's not crunchiness that prevents me from leaving LE to cry. It's that my squishy heart can't take it. There's a one-year- old baby downstairs who screams her little head off all.day.long, and even though it's not very loud, it's brought tears to my eyes a few times feeling sorry for the little psychopath, not to mention her poor mother. LE may not be the best sleeper on earth, but he sure hasn't ever screamed himself hoarse. If picking him up doesn't immediately solve his problem, surely nursing him will. Turks tell me Downstairs Baby must have gas, because any baby unpleasantness here must be gas. Fear of gas was a new one for me. It's way worse than fear of cold or fear of dirt or fear of getting sick. Fear of giving the baby gas caused my mother-in-law to rip a bag of hazelnuts from my hand a few hours after LE was born, even though I hadn't eaten in over eight hours and, oh yeah, I had just pushed out a freaking baby. It ties in nicely with the Turkish foot obsession though, as a barefoot baby will surely get gas, and a barefoot mommy will also somehow pass gas to her baby through her milk. But if Downstairs Baby's problem is gas, the must be feeding her uncooked beans and lentils topped with cola and Pop Rocks, because that kid can scream like nothing I've ever heard before. Gas aside, if I ever try crying it out with LE, it will be last resort and it will only be if I'm fairly certain it will work. These days, I don't trust my 4am motivation for wanting to try it, because I think there's a vengeful streak behind it.
Another high Crunch Factor practice I engage in is cloth diapers. Much as I love LE and think everyone else should too, I just couldn't stand the idea of his poo sitting in landfills for the next 200 years. Plastic diapers are weird. There's an odd-smelling green gel in them which holds so much pee that the diapers stretch LE's clothes seams when they're full. The less crunchy reason for using cloth is that they're way cheaper. But, like co-sleeping, my love of nature and crunchiness and that good self-righteous feeling only goes so far, as LE still uses plastic diapers at night (I can't be bothered with cleaning up the leaks) and when we go out, because you will never catch me carrying around dirty cloth diapers.
I'm sure there are Crunchies out there who will condemn me for not wanting to carry poo, sleep in pee, and wash sheets every day. There must be baby lovers who will think me terribly selfish for being too sleep-deprived to properly balance my baby's biological need to snuggle up to me and punch my eyes every night with my biological need to sleep for more than two hours at a time. And I'm sure there are fierce breastfeeders out there who will screech 'Hang in there, sister!' at my Draconian thoughts of early weaning. To them, I say 'He's been immunized too!' because there are too many people in Turkey who haven't any vaccinations for me to feel I have the luxury to forgo dangerous, autism-causing shots. If it makes them feel any better, I'm not giving LE all those vitamin drops my doctor keeps getting mad at me for not using. I do believe vitamins are better gotten naturally from food, and anyway, those iron drops are supposed to be given two hours from any meal, and LE has yet to go two hours without eating something.
Crunchies, for all their peace and ecosystem loving, for all their tofu and soy milk and amaranth cereals, for all their 'Let Nature Take Her Course,' can be a downright judgmental bunch. No one can ever be crunchy enough. For my part, I don't think there are very many people out there purposely making bad decisions to hurt their babies. Most people want to do the best things for their babies, and whether it's from misinformation or just from trying to find a balance that works for both the mother and baby, their decisions are theirs and not mine to look down my nose on. Granted, I will never believe voluntary Cesareans are a good idea, or that formula is as good as breastmilk, or that babies should be left to cry, but to each his or her own. Be as crunchy or as un-crunchy as you like. I need a nap.