Wednesday, January 30, 2008


At our house, just we we think we've got Molly's sleeping habits sorted, the scooby-tube dog we rescued decides he needs some 3 a.m. attention. Molly slept great throughout the whole thing, so at least someone in the house got at least 8 hours. John and I, however, on running on fumes. Maybe EVERYONE in the house will have all of their needs met between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. tonight.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Feminism and Motherhood

Examining Feminist Notions of Equality Through the Lens of Motherhood

As a student of gender studies in college, the idea of gender equality seemed very obvious in terms of theory. Men and women are equal in all things. In practice, I considered this statement as one that would easily govern why men and women should have equal pay, equal right, and equal opportunity under the law.

In the dictionary, the word equal is defined as: " as great as; the same as." This basic definition of what makes two things equal is at the core of how many of us understand gender equality.
I accepted this idea readily until I became a mother.

Unavoidably, we all understand that men and women are different biologically. But I believed that this biological difference would not prevent women from being equal to men. I also had some vague idea about how parenting could be equally shared between two partners despite the basic physical differences that could be present when one parent gives birth or is breastfeeding. I didn't have much idea of the specific details of how the workload of parenting would be "equally" distributed, but I was fairly certain that it was possible with two willing parents.

As a Women's Studies major in college, I recall discussing ways in which social structures have historically reinforced gender inequality. I do not recall ever discussing how our belief in the universal sameness of equality is betrayed by the inexorable certainty of our biology.

Because I was the person who was pregnant and is able to breastfeed, the differences between my husband and are in terms of our parenting workload are immediately different. This difference does not resemble the parenting equality I theoretically envisioned. I am not angry about this, but I was surprised by it. My husband did as much as a man could in those early days after we brought Molly home, but since I was breastfeeding I was the one who HAD to get up and feed her every 2 1/2 hours. My husband might have felt like I spent more quality time with Molly as a result, but in those early days I was so tired I didn't feel like I had any quality time anywhere.

If I was more committed to making sure everything was more equal formula feeding would have afforded more of an equal division of parenting labor. But breastfeeding is best, and all parents want to do what is best for their child. But take note that this decision will affect women more than their husbands. I'm not sure how parenting equality plays out in same sex couples, where this innate biological difference is not present.

Ideologically my understanding of gender equality before being a mother is overly simplistic. How can we redefine equality in terms of gender? Do we need too? Men and women are different, sometimes to the extent that our journey through life will not always be able to be the same. The problem seems to me to be that we continue to emphasize that within the gender differences, everyone accepts that to be a man is the superior experience. Are we aspiring to have gender equality that is rooted in the idea that we have the right to have experiences that are the same as a man's? How can we erase the hierarchy without trying to erase the reality of gender difference?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Crying it Out

Molly slept through the night from the time she was 8 weeks old until she was four months old. I'd nurse her to sleep, gently put her in the crib around 9pm and she would sleep until 630 a.m. After the first 8 weeks of no sleep, we had it all figured out.

Once she was four months old things changed. I had anticipated this to a certain extent based on this excellent article on about wakeful 4 month olds. First she started wanting to go to bed at 7:30 p.m. That was great, and was accompanied by a 3 a.m. wake up. I knew she was probably hungry so I had no problem getting up to feed her and put her back to bed until 6:30 a.m.

Then she started waking up at 12:00 a.m too. I figured she was having a growth spurt so I fed her twice in the night without worry.

Then the next she started waking up a third time only 2 hours after she last ate AND not wanting to go back to sleep. On top of that, she stopped wanted to go to bed at all, even with a nice long nursing session. Now we had a problem. The less sleep she got, the fussier she was. The less sleep I got, the less I functioned in all areas of my life. We had not let Molly cry for very long for the first 4 months of life because we felt that developmentally she needed to learn to trust that we would meet her needs and that if we left her we would always come back. I think part of her waking up more at night to play indicated that she had learned that we would come when she called, especially since she was demonstrating her understanding of cause and effect during play. I did not want to let her "cry it out", which is basically a technique of encouraging a child to learn to go to sleep on their own designed by Richard Ferber.

On the other hand, all the "no cry" techniques I tried would induce sleepiness but result in screaming once I laid her in her crib. We even tried putting her in the bed with us one night, which we vowed before she was born we would never do. Molly enjoyed this immensely and grabbed by mouth, rolled around, and stared at me intently, but she did not ever sleep. I was terrified that if we let her cry in her crib for a while that we would damage her, especially if you read what proponents of attachment parenting say. I wanted Molly to start to learn that she was OK when I was not with her at night, and that we would come back as we always did. I read another book that advocated a Cry It Out Method that did not involve going in the room periodically to reassure her. This book had a great deal of research about all the bad things that happen to children who do not get enough sleep. This book was also pretty alarmist, but did point out that my job as a parent was to make decisions that will help her grow and develop and that will sometimes make her unhappy in the short run. Establishing bedtime and naptime routines in an overtired child like mine, will almost always produce crying.

Molly is learning so much about the world and trying so hard to get control of her body so she can do the things she wants to do. When I put her on her tummy, she desperately wants to crawl or manipulate a toy. She also loves that she can do things that we react to. So when it comes time for sleep, even though she is tired, she doesn't want to stop all this learning. As her parents, we have to set limits on that and make sure she gets enough rest. This produces crying, but in the end, she doesn't know what is best for her. That is our job.

So I talked to as many mothers as i could and I asked them when and how they helped their child get enough sleep. I was amazed to learn that they all had done some version of "crying it out". One mother I talked to had 5 children and she said she had done it both ways, but that the child she had not set this firm limit with about sleep, did not ever sleep at night until he was 2 years old when he finally had to do a cry it out sleep training with him. She also told me that it was the hardest thing she had ever done and acknowledged how hard it is to let your baby cry, but that at this point it is the only way for Molly to start to learn that she is OK. My own parents pointed out that since Molly cannot crawl or walk, she may need to cry for a while to expend her extra energy so she CAN sleep. It is recommended that sleep training not be initiated until your baby is at least 4 months old and has doubled their birth weight. I probably would not have considered it at all if I did not see that Molly understood the idea of cause and effect. Babies all develop at different rates, so some babies would not start to show this sign until they are a little older.

So we committed to it for a week. We chose to do more of the check and console method than to leave her in the room without going in until she sleeps. So now I feed her then sing to her a little and put her down. The first night she cried immediately. We let her cry for 15 minutes and then went in and patted her, talked to her and left. This went on for 90 minutes. I got in the shower where I couldn't hear her and let my husband do the consoling. She finally went to sleep and woke up at 5 am for a feeding and went back to sleep until 7 a.m.

The second night she didn't cry for the first 10 minutes, then cried for 50 minutes before falling asleep. We checked on her regularly consoling her a little each time. She slept for 30 minutes then woke up and cried again for 20 minutes before going to sleep until her 4 a.m. feeding. She easily went back to sleep. We noticed her crying was much less intense. It was still so hard for me and I had to et in the shower again.

The third night, she was actually happy when I put her in her crib as she sung to herself for 20 minutes before she started crying. This time she did not solidly cry she would cry on and off more lightly for 45 minutes before she fell asleep. She did wake up once and cry for 5 minutes, but she went back to sleep until 5:45 a.m. when I fed her. She then went right back to sleep until 7: 30 a.m. she is napping better during the day now and is not as fussy and I am better able to get my work done during the day too.

We'll keep at it, but I do think it is working. I think that it is sad that there is so much alarmist talk about different methods of parenting. Each side says the other side is damaging. My mother doesn't recall getting messages like this about parenting. It is really paralyzing when there is some "expert" saying that every other choice is harmful. In the end permissiveness is not parenting, and we all need to be educated about how to assess and respond to the unique developmental needs of our own children. My fears about how to respond to this developmental stage were peaked by everything I read, but the idea that different things work for different children is missing from mainstream parenting literature. What helped me the most was to talk to as many other mothers as I could as long as they were not fanatical about their devotion to a particular parenting dogma. The fanatical books are producing fanatical parents and we need a voice of reason to lead us through the muddle of parenting.

If I Can Cloth Diaper, Anyone Can

Why I Might Have Been Cloth Diaper Challenged

I am a notoriously challenged in the area of home organization and cleanliness. I can be very organized about almost anything else from school work to the way I organize myself at work, but when it comes to putting laundry away and keeping my house free of clutter I suffer from a near complete lack of talent. We manage well enough, and I am obsessed with keeping the kitchen clean. The kitchen is the only room of the house that I consistently scrub and clean. My husband has more talent in this area, but he also works full time. So we have a housekeeper who comes once a month and cleans in ways I never even imagined. We could probably use her every two weeks, but it is expensive enough that I do my best without her.

Since Molly arrived, her laundry gets priority. I am better about putting her stuff away since it is a lot smaller in size. My husband and I both have allergies of many kinds and as a kid, I often broke out in hives for unknown reasons. So when we combined our genetic material to create another human, we fully expected her to be an allergic type and thought cloth diapers might be better for her skin. After she was born we stuck to disposable diapers because she was pretty small. Plus, baby chaos descended on the house, so we decided not to add any other new chores. But at three months, Molly seemed to be getting an allergy to the disposables. It wasn't diaper rash and it would get worse if she was doing activities that increased the way the diaper rubbed her skin. So we decided to give cloth a try.

The Nuts and Bolts of Cloth Diapers Today

Cloth diapers today are much better than what our parents used. There are cloth diapers that are pretty much like disposables that you wash (All-In-Ones), waterproof diapers that you stuff with absorbent pads (Pockets), and the more traditional fitteds or prefolds that need a separate waterproof cover over them. You'd think there wouldn't be that many choices but if you go to any online cloth diaper store and your head will swim because there are so many different makers of diapers. The advice I got was to try several different kinds and see what works for your baby. In the same way that your favorite jeans look terrible on someone with a different build, so it goes with your baby and his or her cloth diapers.

Given that I was born without a housekeeping gene, I decided to only try the cloth diapers that seemed easiest to use which meant All-In-Ones and Pockets. I bought 5 different kinds, one All-in-One, and four Pockets.

All of the cloth diapers I have share the same basic parts:
  1. Outer layer of fabric that is waterproof. Unlike the plastic pants our parents used, this fabric is very soft and not stiff or crinkly. This layer is not that different from diaper to diaper. It does come in colors and prints and can even be embroidered.
  2. Middle layer of fabrics that soak up liquids. In an All-in-One diaper this layer is sown in and you never really see it. In a Pocket diaper this is called the insert. With a pocket you have the ability to add inserts to increase the absorbency of the diaper. Regardless of whether it is a Pocket or an All-In-One diaper, the soaker layers can be made of hemp, microterry, or some combination.
  3. Inner layer of Fabric next to the baby's skin that pulls moisture away from baby so skin stays dry. This can be made from microfleece, suedecloth, or velour.
Before I got my diapers, I really didn't realize that the materials used in the inner and middle layers can really make a difference. How well the diaper works in terms of absorbing pee and not leaking is most related to the inserts in the middle layer. Of course if you diapers fit poorly or your waterproof layer is not working well you could have a leak, but the middle layer is about sequestering the pee and the outer layer is about containment. The inner layer seems to matter most in terms of preventing rashes and keeping baby comfortable. The first time I used one of my diapers I was amazed to find that this layer was DRY. The insert was soaked, I mean I could have wrung it out it was so wet. After one day of using my new diapers, Molly's skin looked better.

The Truth About Laundering the Cloth Diapers

The laundry part is not that bad. I have a waterproof diaper pail that I put dirty diapers in. I have been rinsing poopy diapers with cold water right when I take them off of her to keep stains from setting. If Molly were eating solids, I would have to knock them out into the toilet or use a liner in the diaper that can be lifted out and flushed along with the poo. I could see where this step would be nasty, but most parents are somewhat accustomed to handing their baby's poop. If it is a pocket diaper, I take the insert out and put everything in the diaper pail. Then I take everything down to the washer and run a soaking cycle with cold water and a little baking soda. Then I do a hot wash with a detergent that will not leave a residue on the diapers. Then I do one extra cold rinse cycle and put everything in the dryer. Once it is warmer outside, I will probably line dry. So far, I have not dreaded washing the diapers.

The most work is when you first get all the new diapers because you do have to wash them before you use them. Some kinds of inserts have to be washed and dried several times to reach their full absorbency. Hemp inserts need to be washed separately from other inserts when you first get them or the oils from the hemp will get on the other inserts and make them less absorbent. I have stuck with microterry inserts to avoid the whole hemp issue and I only washed them once before using. It really is not that big of a deal. If I can say that, some of the more organized types out there would be able to get a fantastic system going.

Cloth Diaper Leaks

There are definitely diapers that I like better than others, but there has been no leaking at all. Molly has had some pretty impressively sized poops that were contained completely. I have left a diaper on her for several hours without pee leaks. That is something I cannot say about disposables since we have had times where Molly leaked out of disposables at least once a day. I will post reviews of each of the types of diapers I have used with respect to fit, ease of use, and how well they hold up. I think you have to understand that all diapers can leak whether you use disposable or not, but cloth diapers are just as good as disposables, if not better.

Economics of Cloth Diapering

One thing that is tough is getting your head around the idea that cloth is less expensive. There are many websites out there that have analyzed cost of cloth versus disposables that show cloth diapering to be less expensive. If you notice most of these folks are selling cloth diapers. I am still on the fence about this. We spend about 56 dollars a month on disposables. To get 8 cloth diapers and all the accessories I needed (diaper pail, special detergent, inserts) I spent about $200. For me to get enough diapers for full time cloth diapering, I will need about 8 more for about $150. Cloth diapers come in sizes or there are some one size diapers. I have some one size diapers which will fit Molly until she is potty trained, but if I prefer diapers sized for her, I will have to buy more diapers as she grows. I could save money by buying used diapers, which I will consider. But given how much I would spend up front to full time cloth diaper if I did not buy one size diapers, I calculate cloth diapers would cost me about $50 a month since she will only fit in smalls for about 6 more months. At that time I will have to buy more mediums which will probably fit her until she is potty trained. If you have a bigger child, you might have to buy mediums. In this sense, buying one size diapers is more cost effective since they should last until you are done with diapers and cost about the same amount of money up front. If I bought one size diapers, assuming I will diaper for a total of 30 months (making Molly 2 1/2 at the age of potty training, the cost would be $10 a month. That would be a huge savings. The main downside to one size diapers is that there is less selection and they are bulkier in my opinion.

Doing some combination of one size fits all diapers and sized diapers would also save money over only disposables. That said, using prefold diapers and covers is fairly inexpensive, though you will spend more time putting the diaper on the child. I have not tried this option since it is generally considered to have a steeper learning curve.

Another way to save money is to buy used diapers from Remember that everyone has to try several diapers before they find their best fit so they end up selling diapers they have used minimally at reduced prices. You also have the option of selling your diapers if your child grows out of them on Diaperswappers to cut down on your costs.

Energy Usage and Cloth Diapers

I am probably using more water than I did, but since energy is used to produce diapers I am going to assume that the use of energy difference between disposables and cloth is a wash. With cloth you definitely produce less waste, which is clear when you stop filling up a large kitchen trash bag every other day.

It probably is less expensive to use cloth if you put some thought into what you spend initially. That said, spending $200 up front to get started can make you feel like cloth diapering is not less expensive. You will meet cloth diaperers that buy designer cloth diapers at $30 a diaper. Yes, I'm serious. If you want to cloth diaper for reasons of economy do not buy any of those diapers.

Buyer Beware

There are many wonderful people out there selling cloth diapers online. They will answer all your questions and tell you about their experiences with diapers. If you would like some suggestions about which online retailer to use, post your comment here and I will respond. Another way to learn about diaper retailers is to read reviews of retailers on also has reviews of most of the cloth diapers on the market and is a fantastic resource for understanding which diapers are worth trying and which diapers do not have solid reputations.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What Kind of Mom am I?

There are so many labels out there that people use to describe who they are as a parent. Having just had Molly 4 months ago, I am just beginning to get an idea of what it all means. After getting a bit isolated at home, I started trying to get out more to meet other mothers. I go to graduate school part-time, but there are no mothers in my program. My own mother is my hero and I learn a lot from her, but I ventured out in my area to try to meet some people in my peer group.

There was the La Leche League Meeting option, the babywearing option, various religious mothering groups, people that are into Attachment Parenting , people that think attachment parenting is problematic like this blogger.

Look on some of the parenting forums and see how people describe themselves:
"I'm a crunchy, cloth diapering, breastfeeding, babywearing, cosleeping, SAHM."


"I'm a jesus-praising, pro-life, proud christian, SAHM."

They even have little pictures next to their signatures of crosses or babywearing or whatever.

Confused yet? Never knew that these are the choices you have to describe yourself as a mother/person? Notice nobody ever calls themself a proud atheist, pro-choice, baby sleeps in crib, un-crunchy, plastic diapering, formula feeding, busy CEO of a fortune 500 company mom. At least I have not seen this description as yet.

Is that because all those mothers are too busy to get out and meet other mothers? Or is it because for some reason, the labels people use are the only ones we are supposed to be proud of?
Also notice how some ideas always seem to go together as if doing one means you do all the others. For example, if you talk to someone from La Leche League, you will get a wealth of information about breastfeeding, but the Attachment parenting philosophy with cosleeping is often emphasized.

For me this is really tough because I find that I fit in with No ONE. Where are all the other moms who haven't picked a philosophy and rigidly adhered to it as the ONLY way. I am breastfeeding , trying out cloth diapers, and I have really liked putting my child in a sling for trips to the store, but am not at all interested in cosleeping or going totally green in my home. Last night I let my baby Cry It Out.

Where does that leave me? That depends on whether or not the moms with labels can accept people like me who are parents that pick and choose ideas based on what they think their child needs. I breastfeed because it is generally considered best for baby but I think people that choose to formula feed are making the best choice for them. I am trying cloth diapering because my child seemed allergic to something in disposables and I like the idea of recycling diapers. But I can see why people use disposables. I choose to put my baby in the crib because she sleeps better, we sleep better, and I believe that in my family there needs to be a kid free zone for the adults. This is not to say that we have to equate all choices as equal but we should try not to box ourselves in so much in how we describe ourselves. People like me are excluded sometimes and sit quietly wondering where the other moms without a philosophy are.