Saturday, September 10, 2005

Confessions of a Half-Stepper

So yeah. I have a reputation for being somewhat, ah, strident—not to mention generous—with my opinions. And naturally, as with everything else from my previous life that I clung to, motherhood has found a way to kick my refusal to give in and my general unwaveringness in the butt. I mentioned in my ideology post that where the two big parenting theories are concerned, I am a closeted bi. I’m a little of this and a little of that, and I was careful to try and avoid any rash statements in this area even before Davis came along. In other areas, however, I was happy to proclaim my ideologies: No, my child will not wear disposable diapers. He will never be offered even one ounce of formula. I will carry/wear my child in a sling/baby carrier, not a stroller. Now, before you explain why you just had to do disposable diapers or use formula, let me say in my defense that I didn’t care if anyone else adhered to these ideologies, they were just these statements I made for myself and had every intention of adhering to.

And I was promptly slapped by reality. This is not to say that within 2 weeks I was contributing to the sharp increase in profits reaped by Huggies and Good Start, but I did have to inch back from my more militant missives.

First, I discovered how much less laundry one has to do when using disposable diapers. And the lure of less laundry, especially of the stinky, labor-intensive kind, sang its siren song. But I resisted…except for vacations, outings and Davis’s brief stays in our church nursery. Like I said: I’m a half-stepper. Then my child decided that every diaper change was an Olympic decathlon—complete with high hurdles, the long jump and upper-body twisting that could only be likened to discus-throwing—and trying to put a flat diaper AND a waterproof cover on him became an event on the Amazing Race. Again, those damn mini-enviro-disasters began to whisper to me: “Come on. You recycle everything else! You re-use water bottles until you’re mostly drinking plastic fumes! Your husband composts! Think of all the water you’ll save with us! You don’t even save any money using cloth diapers!” So far I have been able to resist and continue in my role as half-stepper extraordinaire, but it hasn’t been easy.  

And the sling? Well, when he was a newborn, my child hated, as I’ve said elsewhere, all things slinglike—nothing snug around the head, thanks. So we used the Baby Bjorn, whose praises I have sung. But when Davis was 6 months old, we had to stop using the Bjorn—at 20+ lbs., the indentations from the straps started to look oddly permanent and I started to sound like someone’s grandmother, complaining of “the sciatica.” So we’ve tried the sling again. It has its days. Davis certainly prefers it to the stroller most of the time. Problem is, he usually squirms or attempts to excavate my nose whenever he’s in it, which, you will not be surprised to discover, is a little distracting while one is grocery shopping. Attemping to find out the amount of fiber in the store brand wheat bread is a task not made easier by a pair of tiny hands attempting to rip off one’s ears or delicate, very tender neck skin. And if I can get him to chill out and enjoy the non-Mommy scenery, it seems to never fail that during the endless adjustments I have to make to the sling, my clothing decides to ride up, sag down or become generally disarranged. I was attempting to wear him at a party yesterday and so much of my belly and cleavage were hanging out that I might as well have been wearing pasties for all the coverage my t-shirt was able to offer. So again, I half-step: a few minutes in the stroller, a few minutes in the sling. One outing with no stroller, one outing where the sling has a time-out in the car. And so it goes.

And then, there was formula. Exclusive breastfeeding was kind of my last holdout: I bought a jar of formula just to psych myself up: when I was too tired to pump, I’d take a look at that green jar, just mocking me, and I’d grind it out, like Rocky running the steps, tireless in my efforts to keep The Jar at bay.

Then I apparently contracted some nasty snot-producing thing and didn’t sleep for about a week, and while my milk didn’t exactly quit, it did decide to really reduce its working hours, citing something like stopping to smell the roses, avoiding burnout, etc. So we went through all supplies of frozen breastmilk in a matter of days and then had another several days of having to nurse every two hours—which of course led to no sleeping and seemed to exacerbate the supply problem. I called my mom, my friends, the lactation consultant, drank enough fluids to water the Sahara, tried taking fenugreek, and nothing seemed to help. So I had to crack the jar, give up the final front, and accept that one or two formula feedings are just going to have to happen. It seems unfair, since I really don’t want to use formula and there are plenty of other people who are OK with using it, but hey, at least it makes it easier to say that the one thing I am not a half-stepper on is ….the fact that I’m a half-stepper!!

But here’s the thing: motherhood is sadly lacking in black-or-white situations, at least for me. Like, there wasn’t a time when I said, “shoo, I’m sick of night wakings; let daddy get up and give Heavy D some formula.” My acquiescence on the formula front was seeing him sleep for 6-8 hours straight because he finally got enough to eat and didn’t have to wake every 2 hours to get the calories he needed. Likewise, not using the sling or cloth diapers is rarely a simple effect of my own sheer selfishness: it’s a constellation of different and competing needs. I guess that’s what life as a mother is like: learning to be flexible but strong at the same time. (Kind of like yoga but with more flab.) Perhaps I can become a militant half-stepper?