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When I was 5 months pregnant with my first, I set out to create a baby registry. I opened my computer, logged into Amazon, and...found myself completely overwhelmed with the decisions ahead. Somehow, I imagined it would be comparable to creating a wedding registry, which I also did through Amazon (more on that another time). Not so.
Minus a few agonizing decisions (green towels, or white??), and a good laugh over a dysfunctional teakettle with high ratings despite the many reviews warning about melted kettle puddles on the stove, making a wedding registry was a cinch. I was living at home at the time, so I simply went down into the kitchen and registered for whatever we used on a daily basis. Having spent a lot of time baking and cooking, I knew what I wanted in my own kitchen when I got married.
The baby registry experience was completely different. Sure, I have younger siblings, and loads of nieces and nephews, so I had experience with a wide range of baby products. But there's something about creating a baby registry that I found...I don't know the word I'm looking for. Personal? Foundational? Metaphysical? Here's the picture: white towels, green towels, it doesn't really matter what kind of towel I use to dry my hair, so long as it works. But when it comes to what kind of fabric is going to swaddle my darling baby's ever-so-soft and precious newborn skin? On that, everything hinges! Or at least, many mom blogs and baby forums lead you to believe so.
So much stuff in the parenting world is so dogmatic.
Actually, I'm even afraid to admit some of my parenting practices because they are so against the norm. Isn't that insane? I mean, I'm a loving and attentive mom. I wouldn't do anything purposeful to hurt or damage my child, and I strive to eliminate possibilities where accidental harm could be done as well. How could our baby-rearing culture be so toxic and dogmatic that we can't have open discussions about parenting methods and decisions?
But then again, I guess you can't fault the thousands of moms today who are completely lost at sea, because we've been cut off from our heritage. Moms have been raising babies for thousands of years; shouldn't there be a wealth of knowledge and experience being passed on to us? But for the most part, new moms are completely in the dark when they set out on this brave adventure. We find out we are pregnant, and then desperately turn to baby books, websites, forums, and any resource that will help us navigate the foreign territory. And once that baby arrives, and you are discharged from the hospital, you are really in the thick of it. You are exhausted, and tired and sore, and yet you are expected to make millions of tiny decisions upon which the developmental, psychological, emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing of your child seems to hinge.
Should I use a swaddle? If so, which one? Swaddle X gets great reviews because its a veritable straitjacket--babies can't escape! But then I read on a mom's forum that babies should swaddle with one arm out, otherwise they'll never develop the ability to self-soothe. That's why someone developed Swaddle Y, which is uniquely patterned so your baby sleeps with one arm up and one arm down. But Dr. Z recommends no swaddling, because babies should be free to move about. That's how they become independent. But what if they take a pacifier, and they keep knocking it out at night? It'd be much better to swaddle and sleep, than not to swaddle and wake up continuously at night. Ah, but Book A says if your baby uses a pacifier, they will need braces and have speech impediments. Although I heard someone mention some study that pacifiers reduce the risk of SIDs. But some other study said pacifiers increase the risk of ear infection. Or was it the reverse?
Bleary-eyed and desperate, new moms find themselves constantly researching every single decision, then second guessing themselves, and deciding to do the reverse. It's complete insanity. And once we are thrown into it, we find something that works, and desperately latch on to it. There are so many shifting factors, so many daily struggles parents face in our current culture, that we are desperate to find something fixed and secure. Which, it seems to me, goes a long way in explaining the dogmatism that overrides our parenting culture.
I could mention so many examples of the insanity going on here, and some of them are truly sad, but I want to keep it light. So I'm going to send you to this link where you can read all about the NYC Tula Culture as a small example of what I'm getting at. But just so you know, linking to this article in no way means that I am anti-Tula. I don't have any problem with Tulas! In fact, I have no opinion on them; I've never used them. I think they look really neat and would totally be willing to give them a try. I just happened to register for an Ergo Baby 360 Carrier, and I have been very happy with it. More importantly, it is completely functional.
you DON'T always need the absolute best for your baby
Does that sound heretical to you? When I type it, it looks heretical to me, but somehow I believe it. I know it is true, and I'm going to attempt to explain it.
When you get pregnant and go in to the doctor for your first visit, they will give you a list of 1,000 things that you can't do, or eat, or drink, or say (kidding on that last one, but seriously, maybe not for long). Here is one of the parenting practices that I'm hesitant to admit: I don't listen to those rules. I drink wine when I am pregnant, I eat goat cheese, and even occasionally indulge in sushi. Am I a bad parent?
Doubtless someone reading this will think yes, I'm completely and unnecessarily reckless. But can we just have an open discussion on these subjects? Consider this: In 2015, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement saying "no amount of alcohol should be considered safe during pregnancy." Not one drop. On the grounds that there isn't enough evidence to say conclusively otherwise. Ok, I get it, they have to make some sort of recommendation and it has to be on the extreme safe side, because we can't trust our citizens to be reasonable and to exercise moderation. But no amount? I am 99% sure that having one drop of alcohol every day would have zero negative affects on the health of your pregnancy. And even though I believe this very moderate claim, I hesitate to share it in such a public fashion. That's how dogmatic our parenting culture is.
But you might reply: why even risk it? When the health of your baby is at stake, why would you take any chances? And I'm partially won over by that argument. Until I think about how my baby has some absurdly exponentially higher likelihood of falling down stairs, or getting in a car accident, or catching the flu than they do from being harmed from one drop of alcohol consumed while they were in utero. I'm not saying that you should drink while pregnant, or that you shouldn't drink while pregnant. I just wanted to raise awareness about how dogmatic this issue can be. I'm suggesting that it's possible for a reasonable person to come to the conclusion that a safe amount of alcohol consumption during pregnancy lies somewhere between zero and binge-drinking.
Likewise, when it comes to baby registries. You can look at a product, and you can read reviews, and you can agonize for hours over whether or not you are choosing the right pacifier, or the right crib, or the right baby carrier, or the right high chair, or the right stop it all ready! I literally spent twenty minutes of my life trying to decide whether to order Catherine this hooded baby towel, or this one. Wake up call: it literally does not matter! That was 20 minutes I could have spent getting sleep, or reading a good book, or making muffins for breakfast in the morning.
yes, we should strive for the best, but sometimes it might not be possible, or practical. In which case, maybe it's not the "best" after all.
We all want to do what's best for our baby, but it's important not to lose sight of reality. It's a bit of a tragedy that we are so disconnected from the wisdom of our foremothers. That we've largely lost communities of women passing down collective knowledge about all of these things so we wouldn't have to make millions of decisions on our own. It would be nice to take a break once in a while and trust in someone else's wisdom and experience.
Here's a little bit of good news: you can! If you seek out and turn to other women you know and ask for their guidance, you can begin to rebuild that community. You don't have to adopt everything they say, but it helps to begin somewhere. I originally intended to write this post about how I conquered my paralysis in making a baby registry by asking for recommendations from the women in my family, and I wanted to share these recommendations...but I guess I got a little side-tracked. That's for another time. But here's the idea: ask the women you know for advice! Call your grandma and see what she did -- even if it's dated, it will be good to get perspective on how parenting norms change with the times. What is recommended today may be scoffed at twenty years from now. Heck! Last year it was NO NUTS before 1 year, and now my pediatrician is saying to feed my 8 month old peanut butter. So, keep it real. Don't sweat so much over all these tiny little decisions. Most of them don't matter. Focus on the important things: a happy home filled with love.
Right now, they're saying "breast is best," but sometimes breast isn't possible. If that's the case, you shouldn't feel bad about it. Both Sophie and I were formula-fed because our mom was dying from breast cancer. We turned out just fine. Maybe our brains aren't as highly developed as they could have been. But, as parents, are we aiming at creating superbabies, or are we throwing ourselves into this crazy awesome vocation because we want to raise children who are totally loved, and who will, in turn, be able to give and share in love?