22 May 2012

My Queer Conversation With a Ninety-Year-Old

A conversation I had today reminded me yet again that age is not necessarily a good predictor of open-mindedness and compassion.

First, a bit of background. I met Luanne, a ninety-year-old woman, through a friend. This summer I am planting and maintaining Luanne's large vegetable garden and flower beds along with another friend of mine, Ana.

Today it was just me and my little boy, Jacob, weeding at the garden. Luanne opened her back door to say hello. I chatted with her for a few minutes and we both enjoyed watching Jacob crawling on the lawn. And then came the question: "Who is the baby's mother? Is it Ana?"

purple flowers
"No, he's my baby. Ana is my friend."

'"But who is his mother?"

"Ummm, well, my partner... well, we're a gay couple." I blurted it out and then looked at her, waiting.



"You mean, your wife is a man?"

"Yessss..." Close enough.

"So where did you get the baby from?"

I'd really been hoping she'd stop at gay. I couldn't bring myself to lie to her either though. "That's a bit complicated." I hesitated.

"Oh, I hope you don't mind my asking. It's not too personal, is it?"

"I hope you don't mind hearing the answer." I paused and looked at her. She looked back inquisitively. Ok, fine. "I'm transgender. I was born female but I transitioned to male. Have you heard of that before Luanne?"

"Well, on TV, yes, I suppose so."

"Ok, so, I took testosterone to transition, and had a chest surgery. But when my partner and I got together we decided we'd really like to have a family. We thought about adopting, but realized it might take a very long time. So, I talked to my doctors about it and asked if it would be safe for me to carry a child [I always emphasize the doctor/safety part of the story, especially around potential skeptics], and they said to stop taking the testosterone and it should be fine. I got pregnant, and had the baby. He's our biological child."

"Oh, wow, I've never heard of such a thing."

"It's a bit unusual, isn't it?"

"Well, as long as you have a baby, that's what's important."

I left the breastfeeding and milk sharing discussion for another time... And then we went back to talking about the geraniums. She didn't want white ones after all because they apparently turn brown when they get rained on. Too bad Ana probably already bought them this morning, following yesterday's instructions.

If Luanne, at ninety, born in 1922, can get all this, and simply be happy that we have a baby (and that we've pulled out an awful lot of grass and dandelions the last few days), what is anybody else's excuse?

17 May 2012

More American Dogs Get to Co-sleep Than Babies

One of the basic principles of attachment parenting is "safe sleep," meaning that a loving parent attends to his or her child's emotional and physical needs at night as well as during the day. Many attachment-minded families find that sleeping together with their baby is the best way to accomplish this. However, the vast majority of American parents choose to put their children in cribs in separate rooms at night. A surprising number of dog owners, on the other hand, allow their dogs to sleep with them and report that they, and their dogs, enjoy it. It's a dog's life – just not for babies.

I believe the very first time I considered co-sleeping of any kind, I was thinking of dogs. I was eight years old, and our family dog was obviously ill, whining in pain. My parents chained him up outside so that he couldn't run away. Before bed, I went out to visit him and was frightened to see and hear him suffering, but I wanted to be with him. My parents made me go to bed, and the dog was dead by morning. I still hate knowing that he was in pain and all alone during that awful night.

When I was ten, we brought home a new puppy. Mom locked her downstairs in the mudroom and put down newspaper in case she peed. We went to our beds (separate ones) that night to the sound of ceaseless crying and yelping. Mom explained that the puppy was used to sleeping with her litter mates and that she was lonely. This was the first of many times that I begged to be allowed to have our dog sleep with me in my room. I was told the puppy would get used to her new surroundings eventually, and that we had to leave her on her own. This was a normal part of growing up for every dog.

As an adult, I learned that dog trainers seem to agree that sleeping together (at least in the same room) is important for bonding with one's animal, and the practice is far from rare. As Cesar Milan, the "Dog Whisperer," notes, "It is perfectly natural for a dog to sleep with other pack members, and it is also a powerful way to bond with your dog." A 2007 survey by the American Pet Products Association of over 2500 American pet owners found that a whopping 43% of dogs sleep in bed with their owners. When I adopted my current dog, she wanted to sleep with me and I obliged. This was the first time in my life that I slept with another living creature. I loved it.

After I read about safe infant-parent bed-sharing, it seemed natural to me to sleep with our baby, too. What else would we do? Let our dog cuddle with us in bed while our infant cried in the other room? If sleeping together is so beneficial for bonding with a pet, why wouldn't it be great for bonding with baby, too? However, a 2006 study in Kentucky found that only 15% of infants and toddlers aged two weeks to two years sleep with their parents. Is it possible that Americans are better in tune emotionally with their pets than their babies?

I wanted to do anything and everything that could be helpful to the breastfeeding relationship, including bed-sharing. What we discovered, however, is that co-sleeping is just as important for Ian's relationship with Jacob as it is for mine. I am fortunate to spend hours and hours nursing and wearing our baby during the day since I am the one who gets to stay home from work. Someone once asked Ian if he is jealous of our breastfeeding relationship, and he responded with an emphatic "No! I get to co-sleep!" Every night, all three of us cuddle together. Especially when he was younger and easier to move aroud in his sleep, I'd nurse Jacob down and then slide him over to Ian who would tuck his arm around him without even waking up. This way Ian got his fair share of skin-to-skin time and felt well-connected to our baby.

Nowadays our dog frequently snoozes by herself on the couch (maybe because the baby wakes up so much at night!) and then joins us for snuggling in the morning. But if there's a thunder storm, she always ends up in our bed, and from time to time, she chooses to be with us from the start of the night. I have no doubt that Jacob's nighttime preferences will change, too, as he grows and develops. One thing is for certain though: our bed will always be open to whoever needs it.

5 May 2012

Night Weaning, and Why We're Not Ready for it

A friend asked me the other day if I have night-weaned Jacob yet. Barely even thinking, I responded with an emphatic, "No! That's definitely not a good thing for him right now."

Pillows on a bed
This Mom went on to describe her reasons for night-weaning her youngest child and how difficult it had been. She had to go back to work and was simply exhausted from being woken up frequently to nurse at night. Sounds familiar to many of us, I'm sure. "The first night he cried for five hours. My husband had me wear head phones so that I could get through it. The next night he only cried for about three hours. Pretty soon we got down to ten minutes."

Since embarking on this mysterious and beautiful parenting journey, I have come to understand why sleep deprivation can be used as a torture technique. It genuinely feels horrid. I have been known to say when I'm getting to an extreme of exhaustion, "I want to die I'm so tired!!"

But I also cannot picture night-weaning anytime soon, so I guess it's all the more fortunate that I do not yet have to go back to work. Jacob just turned one, and he is going through an extraordinary developmental stage that is demanding for everyone involved. Frankly, he thinks he is too busy to nurse much during the day, and I believe him! He is learning to walk, to climb stairs (though not to go back down them), to eat solid foods, to share toys, and to cope with strong emotions. And he will soon surpass his dads in his confident use of electronics. During the daytime he is rushing to grow up, which leaves only the nights for being a baby with an intense need for both human milk and touch.

I understand why people night-wean their kids, and I don't blame them for wanting to do it. But I think about my poor little guy trying so very hard to explore and establish his independence in his waking hours, and I know that now is definitely not the time for us. If it is painful for me as an adult to lose sleep, I am sure it would be even more so for him to go without the comfort of nursing while he attempts to process the huge adventures of his days. It is hard work to be a baby.

As my many attachment-minded friends love to remind me, we will get through it, and this too shall pass.