Archive for the ‘musings’ Category

got milk?

Posted on: 24 August 2012

I’ll never understand why so many heads explode over the breastfeeding vs. formula debate, and why mothers on BOTH sides are so defensive about what is, at the end of the day, a personal decision.

I breastfeed for all the same reasons every other breastfeeding mother breastfeeds. There’s no controversy in the scientific community over the benefits of breastfeeding, especially to an infant’s brain development, although scientific information generally does a poor job of filtering to the public without suffering distortion.

I breastfeed because I can, and I’m thankful that I can, because I know not everyone is able to say so.

It was a smooth enough ride for Ashelyn and me, not that the first several days of latchings weren’t kind of brutal. At the time I called it a “sting,” because apparently denial is one of my best defenses against pain. Ashelyn’s suck was so strong that our very first nursing session left me with a blister. Yeah, on the nipple. (You owe me, girl.)

My biggest thorn in the flesh wasn’t anything to do with the actual act of breastfeeding, though. The truth is, I quite enjoy breastfeeding. It’s my eye of the storm, a moment of stillness in the inexorable 24/7 nature of babycare. Rather, my biggest thorn in the flesh was pressure from older-generation Asian mothers to use formula!

Did you see that one coming? I didn’t.

Invariably the first question they asked was, “Do you have enough milk?” And then some variant of surprise or skepticism when I answered in the affirmative. My mother-in-law (graciously) cooked us food that would “boost milk supply” and bade me avoid food that would “dry it up.” My mom worried that Ashelyn fed too long and too frequently, and hinted at supplementing with formula. And everywhere I turned, the question: “You have enough milk?”

Why, yes. And I know because:

  1. Plenty of dirty diapers.
  2. Ashelyn was gaining weight like the Hulk, skyrocketing from the twentieth percentile to the ninetieth.
  3. Hello, fountains of milk leaking and spouting everywhere.

Just to clarify, I don’t hold anything against these women, all of whom genuinely care about me. (Of all the unsolicited advice I’ve received to date, only one person didn’t mean well and was just being obnoxious, and that was a complete stranger.)

Isn’t it odd, though, that insufficient supply is assumed by default? According to my midwife, a more common problem is actually oversupply. I know of other young mothers who use formula because they “didn’t have enough milk.” Did they really not have enough milk, I wonder, or do they think they didn’t because that’s what everyone told them?


Ashelyn was a rockstar during her four-month immunizations, crying even less than the first time and foregoing any anticipatory crying. She was already over it before our doctor finished administering the rotovirus oral vaccine.

Plus she weighed in at over 16 pounds, chasing the edges of the upper percentiles after having been born in the lower.

This post isn’t about that, though.

Shortly after Ashelyn’s two-month immunizations, a friend sent some anti-vaccination resources our way.

Apparently there’s a lot of anti-vaccination info out there. The internet is rife with it. Some of it even sounds kind of credible.

Now, I have an undergraduate degree in biology. I’m no researcher or medical professional, but I’ve taken upper-level courses in virology and microbi and I’ve studied how vaccines work at the mechanical and cellular level. So, yes, I’m skeptical from the outset. I’m also better equipped to see through bad science than, say, my husband, who has no background in this stuff.

Suffice to say that not a single anti-vaccine claim stands up to scrutiny. That’s a blanket statement, but it’s been thoroughly unpacked elsewhere, such as on this excellent site.

Anti-vaxers seem to fall into two camps, however: (1) those (primarily mothers) who are concerned about the risks of immunization, and (2) conspiracy theorists.

Engaging the second group is usually an exercise in futility, because conspiracy theorists don’t trust credible sources. “Have an open mind,” they urge.

But open-mindedness is not a willingness to believe anything, the most bizarre thing, whatever. It’s an openness to the possibility of being wrong. In that sense, I find that conspiracy theorists are actually some of the most narrow and close-minded people out there.

Where I live, immunizations are highly recommended but by no means forced. If I wanted to avoid them, all I’d have to do is not book Ashelyn’s appointments. It’s interesting that the government and healthcare professionals are accused of fearmongering when anti-vaccinationists tout story after story of vaccines causing seizures, autism, death. THAT’s fearmongering, and I don’t appreciate it. Mothers question themselves enough as it is.

I don’t care if you had a natural birth, or breastfeed, or cloth diaper, or EC, or co-sleep. The choices you make for your children are your business. Except with vaccinations, it’s different. Not vaccinating your child contributes to the breakdown of herd immunity, which affects my child.

The more people stop vaccinating their children, the more important it is for me to vaccinate mine.

Sometimes I’m so eager for munchkin to be here. I want to know whether we’ll be parents to a son or a daughter. I wonder what s/he will look like. I wonder about personality, temperament. I wonder how motherhood will change my life and my worldview.

At other times I feel like dragging my feet. Pregnancy is easy. Parenthood seems difficult. I fear it will wage war with my natural inclinations toward selfishness and laziness.

Also, Kevin and I have been married for nearly four years, and we’re comfortable. I enjoy the life and the relationship dynamic that we have. It’s laid-back and affectionate and fun. Time and again I hear new mothers say that they can no longer imagine life without their child, that it’s as if their little one has always been there … but on this side of giving birth, I don’t know what that means. Not that I don’t believe it. I just have no frame of reference, and a small part of me is afraid of messing with an already good thing.

But then munchkin starts rolling around trying to bust out, and I’m back to wondering what s/he looks like. I hope s/he has Kevin’s nose. S/he’ll probably be born with a lot of hair – really dark, really thick, really curly.

(I know my hair is straight in most pictures. Flat iron.)

January is the beginning of my last semester of a two-year Associate of Arts in music. At the end of the month, I miss two of four live sound intensives because Kevin’s friend and fellow financial guru invited us on an eastern Caribbean cruise.

On the docks in St. Maarten.

In February we’re back on the sunny, but cold, West Coast. I miss the tropical islands. I miss ordering two appetizers, two entrées, and three desserts at dinner. I miss the Celebrity Equinox staff. But life goes on.

Studio time in March! I love this place to pieces. Studios and libraries – the best indoor places on earth.

Hello, my lovelies.

April is graduation month. Final papers and projects, exams, recital. I resolve to stop collecting degrees. Then a trip to snowy Manning Park at the end of it all.

Near the end of May, Kevin and I fly to Beijing with my family, then my hometown Changsha, then Lijiang. We spend our third wedding anniversary in Shangri-La, not wholly unaffected by mountain sickness.

My parents, brother, and our singing tour guide.

We’re in Asia for most of June, parting ways with my parents after Hong Kong. They fly home while David joins Kevin and me for two weeks in Taiwan. We stay in hostels, roam night markets, and fraternize with Kevin’s relatives and childhood friends.

Once back in Canada, Kevin and I start house hunting. We’ve lived in a suburban townhouse with his parents and sister for three years, and it’s beyond time for our own place. We move into a cozy little ground level suite in July. Oh, we also stop using condoms (the only form of birth control we’ve ever used).

My period doesn’t come for 45 days, but my cycle is so long that I’ve gone 49 days before. Kevin thinks I’m definitely pregnant. I tell him people don’t always get pregnant on the first try. I eat sashimi and undercooked meat. I swim in a freezing lake. When we finally arrange a doctor’s appointment in August, it turns out that Kevin is right.

August is sprinkled with weddings and a camping trip. I feel, for the most part, fine.

On the dock at Cultus Lake.

Another wedding – Kevin’s sister! – in September. I hear about midwifery and transfer away from the doctor we only saw twice. Midwives are awesome. They don’t scoff at your questions.

I’m teaching piano again in October. I see Priscilla Ahn in concert at the Media Club. I continue growing our mini-Hu.

Munchkin refuses to show us his/her sex at my ultrasound in November. Unexpectedly, we move again, this time to a big old house on the west side. It’s a temporary arrangement; we expect to be here for roughly a year.

December is a flurry of activity, with lots of meet-ups and Christmas events and dinners. Yesterday Kevin and I finally had dinner at home, just the two of us, for the first time in two weeks.

My under-ten piano students are great fun, but there’s always pressure from their parents to “make them fear me.” As if there won’t be satisfactory progress unless I somehow scare them into practicing.

Seriously. They could fire me for not being mean enough.

Is it a Chinese thing to confuse fear and respect? I’ll admit that it’s taken me some time to settle into a reasonable level of expectation for my students and tutees. (My default tendency in general is to expect too much from myself and too little from others.)

It’s my role to show my piano students what and how to practice. I’m not sure forcing them to practice is my business. Of course the understanding is that they will. If they do, they’ll progress quickly. If they don’t, they’ll progress slowly or not at all.

And if the desire to practice is entirely absent, maybe they shouldn’t be coerced into piano lessons in the first place? Obviously I’m thinking as a parent now, not a teacher. I guess what I’m wondering is, when do I push my child, and when do I lay off? Is there a difference between directing my children’s interests and allowing their interests to emerge naturally? How do I navigate that space?

I don’t want to be that kind of mother.

You know, the kind who takes herself too seriously.

The best parenting advice I’ve ever come across to date goes something like, “treat your child as if s/he were the seventh of ten children.” That’s what I want, I think – perspective.

The stories of the 99% are heartbreaking.

Yet 99% seems arbitrarily high. 80% maybe, which is still nothing to scoff at and comes across as less propaganda-ish.

Kevin’s great dream – one of them – is financial freedom. We’re not financially free, not yet. But we’re happy, and blessed. Here MSP covers a midwife (or doctor) and basic maternity care, which is all I need. I’ve never taken out a student loan. Scholarships and advanced credit helped significantly; my parents had a small education savings plan for me that covered roughly half of remaining tuition; and I worked seasonally to pay the rest.

(I realize now that I should’ve applied for a student loan anyway, and invested it, or at the very least let it collect interest in a bank. But I’ve since learned a great deal from my financial advisor husband … who wasn’t a financial advisor when we first met. Back then I knew next to nothing.)

There’s a certain anti-rich sentiment that the lower and middle classes are fond of nursing. I say this because I grew up “lower-middle class” and I’ve been there. But in the last three-plus years I’ve met millionaires and billionaires, people at the top of the financial industry … and they are the most down-to-earth, generous people I’ve ever known. The kind who tip well. Is it naive of me to believe that the wealthy have worked hard AND SMART for what they have?

That there’s something fundamentally wrong with our financial system isn’t too difficult to believe. But there have always been people who’ve found ways to make a broken system work for them. There are ways to pay less tax. There are ways to spend less. There are ways to protect and grow savings, even while the stock market plunges. There have always been options, if only people would seek them out.

And there’s always hope.