Monthly Archives: December 2010

Guest post: Binary Underwear

While I am hard at work this week finalizing my side of the preparations for the blog redesign — unveiling January 1st! assuming kids and computers stay virus-free! and please do pardon the dust whilst I knock about the categories — I’ll be having guest bloggers make sure your end-of-year is as content filled as the previous 12 months have been. (Which is to say, sporadically.) Today I am honored to have a guest post from Laura Schuerwegen of Authentic Parenting.

Binary Underwear

I went shopping yesterday. That doesn’t happen too often. I live in Africa and shops aren’t actually at every street corner. Well, there aren’t too many streets either, so… But I am deviating.

Now we are in Belgium, we do get to shop. Generally that means we have this huge list to fulfill and we run around like hamsters in a maze. I actually set out to find winter pajamas (living close to the equator, I don’t need any over there), and underwear. I am a breastfeeding mother and my hips have gotten bigger with my daughter’s birth. I like being comfortable without looking too frumpy. So I guess I am quite demanding when it comes to shopping.

So I went from shop to shop like Christmas Carolers go from door to door and with the trillionth shop I visited, I started noticing a pattern: in nightwear and underwear, women have only two choices. Either we’re reduced to mere objects of pleasure, there and ready whenever it would please our male counterpart, because indeed — and every woman’s magazine will agree on this — the key to feeling confident is wearing sexy lingerie. Because what could better boost a woman’s self esteem than her sexuality? Her openness toward sexual encounters? Her eagerness to be taken by any predatory man at large? The other option is to be completely infantilized, teddy bears on the breast and buttocks and all. There is nothing in between. Unless you go to a discount shop and buy white cotton grannywear (which I have nothing against if that’s what tickles your fancy, but it doesn’t apply to all the criteria I am looking for in my underwear).

Now donʼt get me wrong, I donʼt mind women wearing sexy clothes or sexy lingerie; I’ve worn my share of both. And if you like wearing teddy bears, cartoon figures and the like, you are completely free to do so. However, I feel that we — women — should have a choice when it comes to our underwear and nightgowns, and that choice should not be limited to two options.

It is completely possible to design underwear and nightwear that is comfortable and looks good, and isn’t inspired by childhood themes. Just as it is possible to design underwear that isn’t good for the wardrobe of ‘Burlesque’. Seriously! I do not want to run around with Hello Kitty on my ass. And as much as I can appreciate silks and lace and ruffles and ribbons, they are hardly practical when you’re running after a two and a half year old.

So to underwear designers all over, if you read this:
1. women don’t only wear underwear to please the opposite sex.
2. sometimes burlesque doesn’t even light the spark with our significant other
3. women like options and two options isn’t much of a choice
4. underwear should first and foremost be comfortable
5. and seriously? What’s with the bears and pussycats and cartoon figures. We’re adult women for freezing snowflakes’ sake!

So – for the time being – no new underwear for me, and I guess Iʼll have to continue wearing my lounge pants and husbandʼs T-shirt to bed.

Laura Schuerwegen aka Mamapoekie is a Belgian expat mother and wife. She is currently in between African countries of residence and blogs at Authentic Parenting.

“What if…?” On prenatal precautions and superstitions, and the burden of blame

Lying in bed the other night, drifting off to sleep thinking of holidays and cookie traditions and solstice eclipses, I jerked alert with a sudden, horrible realization: I have not been taking B vitamins. And without B vitamins — folate/folic acid in particular –, babies get neural tube defects. It’s Science. Everyone knows this. And once one knows one is pregnant, it’s really too late, because it’s most critical in those very first weeks, when the neural tube is first being formed. And for whatever reason, I, though trying to conceive, had completely forgotten about this Most Vital Fact and have neglected to take any form of prenatal combination vitamin or folic acid substitute and so I have doomed1 my child to cleft palate, or spina bifida, or, my nightmare when I was on a drug with a significant increase in NTDs, anencephaly.

Except that’s not true.

The truth is that a maternal diet low in folate (found primarily in leafy greens) is associated with an increase of neural tube defects noticeable on a population scale, enough so that in the USA we enrich nearly all grain products with folic acid2. The truth is that even without supplementation, the risk of NTDs are still really quite low. There’s also decent evidence that we piss away most of the content of artificial, pressed-together single-dose multivitamins. So for most people, especially those with halfway decent diets who do not regularly suffer from starvation or malnutrition, skipping vitamin supplementation is a pretty safe choice.

Except that’s not true, either. Hear me out.

The risk for choosing to avoid supplementation — or any other prenatal practice dictated as standard by society — isn’t, primarily, physical or nutritional: it’s social and emotional. The risk isn’t that one will have a child with a neural tube defect (which, even with food- or supplement-based folate intake far exceeding the ridiculously low minimums set by the FDA, is entirely possible) or other “imperfection”, the risk is that one will have a child with an atypicality and be blamed for not doing everything possible to prevent it.

The risk is that one will spend an entire pregnancy obsessing and worrying over what one “ought” to have done better, taken more of, eaten less of. The risk is that one will blame oneself for the rest of one’s life should it happen. The risk is that one will live with a constant refrain of “What if?” running in the back of their brains, never ceasing, never slowing, never backing down in the face of reason or rationality or science or practical assessment of odds because what if. What if something’s wrong because I didn’t take vitamins, did drink a beer, ate too much tuna? What if I could have prevented this condition/disease/disability/death if I had only done this differently, better, not at all? What if, what if, what if?

When we have taken all precautions — based in science and fact, or superstition and “everyone knows”3, or some muddled combination thereof — that are deemed appropriate by our society, well then, things just happen sometimes, and though still at risk for the whispers (or outright statements) that we must have done something wrong, we also often get sympathy (or pity) and are assured of our inculpability. But if we didn’t? Ah, then, we are at fault, inescapably, unforgivably. Then it — our baby born brainless, our newborn unable to nurse, our child needing yet another surgery — obviously wouldn’t have happened if only we had done better/more/what we were supposed to.

And so we take our vitamins, get the tests, avoid soft cheeses4 and deli meats, and pray nothing goes wrong and we will not be victim to the unbearable blame.


Appendix, or Apologia: Of course there are good reasons for some of our prenatal precautions, and there is almost always at least some seed of reality behind each of them (except the all-soft-cheeses here in the USA — that one I’m fully willing to mock). I’m hardly arguing against ignoring all precautions, or saying that people only follow them out of preemptive defense. We each take the information we have and perform absolutely brilliant feats of risk-benefit calculations on it, and make the best decisions out of the choices available to us given the resources we have. My point is not that pregnant people are sheep, or prenatal precautions are entirely pointless, for there are Prenatal Do Nots that I indeed do not do5, and some proscriptions I proverbially thumb my nose at6, and some precautions — the folate — that I wish I had done. My point7 rather is that fears, not so much of the risk but of the social repercussions of bypassing expected precautions, are absolutely included in our calculations. And sometimes, when we deviate, they keep us up at night.

  1. Because having any form of physical variation such as spina bifida is of course automatically DOOOOOOOM. For the unfamiliar, this footnote is sarcasm.
  2. Why we don’t instead, say, make leafy greens — and vegetables generally — more accessible to everyone who wants them is a rather different rant.
  3. And oh, how often one masquerades as the other!
  4. Despite all USian cheeses being required to be pasteurized or aged sufficiently that risks of listeria are considered nonexistent; some soft cheeses somewhere in the world aren’t, and so have an astronomically small risk of carrying pathogens, and so best to avoid all soft cheeses everywhere, obviously.
  5. Such as deep abdominal work — when not a part of Maya Abdominal Massage — which is really a bummer because my psoas needed some lovin’ this week and didn’t get it.
  6. Oh holiday homemade eggnog with raw eggs and a dash of rum, how I adore thee!
  7. In this post, because oh will there ever be more posts on pregnancy and kyriarchy and social pressures and the arbitrary nature of Western pregnancy and birth, should this currently-seed-size collection of cells stick around for the entire ride.


Positive pregnancy test

Blurry, faint, but definitely positive

It is not a fake. It is not a joke. It is a positive pregnancy test, it is recent, and it is mine. I could not be more excited, and whilst I think I could be more terrified, I know I wouldn’t want to be.

About 20 times a day for the past three days, I’ve had it hit me again. Fifteen times I grin like a fool; the other five I start to panic, and freak out about Everything That Could Go Wrong or Why This Is a Really Really Bad, Imprudent Idea.

The fear is outweighed by the giddy glee and heart-bursting joy three-to-one, so when I sit down to write about it, why is it so much easier to write about the fear? (For it is, oh it is: I could write a twenty point list of ETCGW/WTIaRRBII without pausing for breath — and I probably will! — yet have been struggling to express why we’re going for it anyway.) But… how to describe the completely irrational yearning for a new life, a baby (a being revered and reviled but rarely respected all for itself, so often seen as a Symbol — of Oppression or Hope, depending on your perspective — not as a person complete)? How to describe the soul-searing joy in ways not saccharine or clichéd? When all I want to do is grin, and bounce, and squee, how to give that words? How to choose discrete cerebral symbols for a chaotic embodied sensation? Then, how to describe the simultaneity of both, the way mundanity plods along interrupted only momentarily by spikes of emotion too overwhelming to maintain for long? And how to do it in a way that hasn’t been done (or attempted) hundreds or thousands of times before?

Enough — assuming all goes well (ohpleaseohpleaseohplease), I have somewhere around eight months to figure it out.

(And in case all that was too heady and not effusive enough to get my point across, let me leave Proper English behind for a moment and say: OMGSQUEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!)

In case you were wondering

We are on Day 7 of Project: Switch the Boychick’s Sleep Schedule1 here in Casa RMB, which has required that I go to bed at the same time as The Man and the Boychick2, and, now that it’s working, get up ridiculously (for me) early in the morning.3,4 Combined with a sick and OMGSUPERCRANK kiddo, this means I haven’t been having any real time to write. Or ability, when — miracle! — I do have the time.5

So, as incentive for you to stick around6 (blog redesign! more on the tagline! declarations of gender! guest posts perhaps involving lacy underwear! and so much more!), have a Cute Kid PicTM, featuring The Man, the Boychick, our teeny tiny super scraggly Charlie Brown solstice tree7,8, and Random Boot9:

Solstice tree family pic

It's the boot that really makes the pic

A joyous Yule or beautiful Midsummer to you all.

  1. And don’t think that couldn’t be an entire post all on its own.
  2. Else he’d just get up and come find me when The Man inevitably fell asleep before him.
  3. 8:30am! 7:30am when he has preschool! Weep for me!
  4. I think I may bleed to death from all the daggers just glared at me from those with offspring who awake pre-dawn.
  5. Blame Twitter.
  6. Yes, this is one of those everyone-warns-you-not-to-write Why I Haven’t Been Blogging posts. I scoff in the face of pro blogging advice, public consensus, and good sense. Scoff, I say!
  7. The Boychick picked it out; he Did Not Approve of the idea to move furniture to the garage to accommodate a bigger tree. Highly particular and opinionated? My child? Noooooo!
  8. Reason to love Portland number eighty kajillion: hundreds of local tree farms + city-wide tree composting = live tree + little guilt.
  9. Really, at this point I’m just trying to see how many footnotes I can reasonably cram into one short post. I think I’m now at n+1.

5 would-have-been-useless “must-have” baby items I avoided buying thanks to infertility and poverty

Not having the fertility you expect nor the money you require for little things like buying groceries and avoiding debt that will take decades to dig yourself out of sucks donkey dong, no question. But it’s not all bad. Oh no: some good things can come out of that curiously cruel combination — or rather, some not-so-great things, though much desired at one time, might be avoided. Ah, the virtue of “simplicity” through forced inability to purchase anything!

Without further snark (who am I kidding: with much further snark), here are five “must have” baby things I did not waste money on, not having the funds to do so before figuring out I wouldn’t need it thanks to countless hours spent researching online because computers at least did what I told them as opposed to ovaries which persistently and cruelly ignored my pleas to work properly.


5 Would-Have-Been-Useless Things I Avoided Buying Thanks to Infertility and Poverty

1. A crib. Bed sharing? Not only far safer than many “public safety” organizations (often crib-lobby-backed) would have you believe, but also actually the biological default for humanity. Sure, it doesn’t work for every baby nor every family, but me? I’d slept with my partner every night for half a decade, I’d shared my bed with a long line of cats and dogs, I curled up every night around a baby-sized stuffed bear nearly as old and rather rattier than I, I was used to the obnoxious nighttime noises of my kidney-damaged geriatric poodle: I could cosleep. That quarter-circle-shaped utterly impractical if frankly gorgeous $2000 crib? We could pass.

2. A stroller. Living in the Pacific Northwest meant there was no weather reason to need a stroller even in the worst of summer, as some of my Texan friends did. Being more or less sound of body meant the 8lb/3.6kg (or, as it turned out, nearly 10.5lb/4.7kg) weight of a properly worn newborn would be no strain at all, and if at some point down the line the kid or our bodies decided we needed a conveyance on wheels, well, we’d get something then. And in the meantime, practicing carries with my long-suffering stuffed bear served to sate slightly my inner baby-obsessing-beast.

3. Crotch-dangling carriers and over-padded closed-tail slings. In the way-back olden days of five years ago, the over-engineered be-buckled devices known none-too-affectionately as crotch-danglers were The Must Have strapping-baby-to-body device, and the alternative was a sling available in a wide range of pastel-with-ducks color schemes and an unfortunate name reminiscent of slang for a brassier. (Nowadays the significantly better if still imperfect and overpriced ERGObaby carrier is nudging the crotch-danglers out of the Must Have lists — if not yet the lion’s share of the market outside Hippiedom Central otherwise known as Portland — and there are a number of lovely, sophisticated, dare-I-say-sexy slings in national distribution.)

I, however, when faced with those two options, dug deeper and found the frankly-a-little-frightening world of babywearing, and learned how to safely and securely make a carrier better than anything available on the mass market for less than $10, or in a pinch wear an infant in a large beach towel, a pair of sweatpants, or — I am not making this up — a pillowcase and a length of duck-tape. But that didn’t stop me for asking my mom for a $130 organic wrap.

4. Baby monitors. I know we’re the only parents in a 500 mile radius who don’t use them (even Her Crunchy Highness Hathor the Cowgoddess has a set), but when one’s plan includes cosleeping at night and babywearing the rest of the time, and one doesn’t really have house enough or older children enough for the noise of a gritchy baby to get lost in, what’s the point? Other than to pick up arguments and intrigue and hot sex noises from others’ monitors, and that’s what we have bad TV shows for.

5. Moses basket. There was a time, and no I could not tell you why, that the thought of a hooded basket with handles in which a serenely sleeping baby could be carried around the house and set next to wherever one was, it was understood, sewing or spinning or plucking a died-of-joyful-self-sacrifice goose sent me in to sepia-colored swoons for hours at a time. I am sure there are situations in which they’re a godsend1, but if I’d had the money to indulge at the time of my obsession, I would now be the less-than-proud owner of a sweet and sentimental hooded and handled laundry basket. Or cat carrier.

That’s my list of the big-ticket items we successfully dodged due to utterly-depressing (if thankfully incomplete) infertility and soul-crushing (if thankfully temporary) poverty. If we were to start over now, we’d still avoid each of those (though we might succumb to a few more triple-digit-dollar baby carriers), but if I’d have the budget and the lack of research time pre-permission-to-buy-baby-things-by-virtue-of-gestating-assiduously, each one would have found their way into our home.

I won’t say I’m glad for sub-par fertility or a long period of poverty, but though it sucked donkey dong at the time, at least I’m not stuck with a herd of hay-chewing fertilizer-producers from buying every pony my heart fleetingly desired.

Your turn: what “must-haves” did you do fine without? What money wasters are gathering dust in your spare room? Or, what big-ticket purchase were you surprised to find useful? What unaffordable object would you have given, or would still give, at least a small piece of your soul for?

  1. Geddit? Moses basket? Godsend? Yes, that’s the quality of material you can find around casa RMB 24/7.