Wednesday, September 30, 2009

she's a DRAGON, lady. get over it.

At Michaels yesterday:
Checkout lady to Lucy: So what are you going to be for Halloween?
Lucy: Um--ah, a DRAGON!
Lady: Oh! I thought you were going to say a fairy. Because you're SO SMALL.
Lucy: ??
Lady: You know you can't be a big dragon, though, right? Because you're SO SMALL?
Lucy: ??
Lady: So are you going to be a baby dragon?
Lucy: I--I a big, SCARY DRAGON!
Lady: Oh.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Lucy is in a big name-invention phase.

There are the names she gives to inanimate objects: Bouvis, her rocking horse, not to be confused with Bouvey, her monkey.

There are the names she gives to new "tricks" or "games" she's invented: "IwannagetitIwannagetit" is the straightforward name of the game where you throw something and then run towards it and yell, "I wanna get it! I wanna get it!" Then there are the less decipherable names, kind of like when Fletch invents his pseudonyms on the spot: "This game called...Saolobphonaca." Then, two minutes later, the same game is called "Saolononinanpie"

There are the names of her alter egos. This morning it was Poppy (better than Volva, which she was one afternoon). Poppy's main characteristic was that she SPOKE IN A REALLY LOUD VOICE. As in, "My name POPPY! I USE LOUD VOICE!"

And then there are the names she gives me. Lately they've been recognizable names, such as Mavis.

It's awesome when I can't figure out exactly how to pronounce Lucy's names. Then it's like we're in the "Art Dealers" sketches from Saturday Night Live. Here's a sample:
L: "You named Nuni."
H: "Nooney?"
L: "No. Nuni."
H: "Newney?"
L: "No. Nuni."
H: "You mean, Nuney?"
L: Exasperated. "Nuni."

Next she'll be asking me to use the glass-enclosed bathroom or to hire a European butler of indeterminate gender.

don't do it

If you have passable-but-not-great drawing skills, and you ever have an inclination to draw an elephant looking up, with its trunk pointing upwards, don't.
Trust me: it won't look like an elephant.

who's on first?

Riding home in the car with Lucy and her friend G:
G: Something something something (The radio was on+car noise+I'm not as clued into her pronunciation as my daughter's)
L: "G, what you say?"
L: "G, what you say?"
G: "What you say?"
L: "What you say?"
G: "What I say?"
L: "Momma, what G say?"
H: "I'm not sure. G, can you say it over again?"
G: "What I say?"
H: "What are we saying?"

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

at loose ends

I bought a book a while ago, called "The Toddler Busy Book" that I've been enjoying immensely.
It's a whole bunch of simple ideas for toddler activities. None of them require any fancy materials; I'm pretty craft-supply challenged, and even I usually have the stuff they call for. Many of them are great learning activities without being hung up on the learning part. And most (not all) require just a little bit of energy, setup, and many, the toddler can help do the setup that's required. Which is often more exciting than the activity.
However, even a great idea book does not fill every gap in our afternoons.
Yesterday, I had a hard time coming up with things for us to do.
I just felt short and irritable all day, despite the fact that I'd gotten enough sleep, and enough to eat. And despite the fact that there were some activities during the day that broke up our time at home.
Still, though, when I opened the Busy Book for some ideas, nothing appealed to me, mostly because despite not being sleepy, I was just too tired for water play! or paint! or anything requiring glue! or exclamation points!
I hate those afternoons.

Today, well, today I was still tired. But Lucy entertained herself nearly the whole second half of the morning, which, in hindsight, was a marked changed from yesterday.
Finally, it clicked: it is a lot easier to come up with interesting ideas to do when you only have to do it once or twice in an afternoon, and not every five minutes. And, when the toddler is a little less cranky and demanding.

Today, in the grocery store, though, I was tired, and she was tired, in that new, very three-year-old way she gets tired, where she is unable to follow directions or listen or control her body very well. It's not defiance, exactly, just that she kind of gets a little bit drunk or like Rain Man. Lack of control, not willfullness. And I was able to get her through the store with only one meltdown (short) and with nearly everything we came for, and without losing my patience (barely).

When we got back to our car, I sat for a minute and prayed. Because I know, if I'm tired now, that a time is fast approaching where I will be much, much more tired. And where Lucy will likely be that much more three/drunk/RainMan.
And I would dearly like to continue to have my patience and grace with her. One of the things I most worried about with mommyhood was how to control the anger that sometimes bubbles over in myself. I so appreciated "The No-Cry Discipline Solution" because it talks all about how to control your anger as a parent, which I struggle with even when I'm not sleep-deprived and dealing with a preschooler. Apparently "discipline" begins internally: if you can't control yourself, you haven't a prayer of controlling a tiny bundle of willfullness.
I'm so thankful that those techniques, and the temperament of my child, and a lot of prayer, has kept me, most days, from losing it. That most days, I keep well away from that loss of control with her. Truly, no one is more surprised by this than me.

I'd like to keep that true when the next one comes. Because frankly, it's what my daughter deserves. She doesn't deserve to have me melt down just because she's a typical three-year-old. Or because my choice to have a second child means I have less of myself to give. I want to be gentle with myself--I know that maybe I'll have less time or energy to play with glue! water! fingerpaints! and I hope to be okay with that. But I would like to continue to be gentle and kind, and I know how hard that is, from experience.
I'm thankful to be practicing now, when I'm tired, and often chock-out of clever ideas to entertain us. Hopefully, the habit of gentleness will be so engrained that it will take more than a little sleep deprivation to dislodge it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


People keep asking if I'm ready to have the baby.
Today, I am a little bit more ready.

For anyone who hasn't heard about my fabulous husband and bro-in-law* and our awesome family business, today is a Banner Day.
We released version 2.0 of our software, Dragon Stop Motion.
You should buy a copy! So what if you don't even know what stop motion animation is! It's just kick-ass software that you should be able to find a use for! It has a pencil/line/eraser tool that is great for entertaining toddlers for about 10 minutes, so it's well worth the cost.
Okay, don't buy it. But do go look at the website. It's so pretty! And professional!
And go read the manual I wrote for it! Because you know you love reading manuals for software you're never going to use!

Anyway, you're wondering what releasing version 2.0 has to do with me having a baby.
Let's just say I'm glad that the software is released and for sale several weeks before a whole other boatload of work begins. And I actually finished writing and proofing the manual before my brain disappeared for several months.

This is very good news. If the baby waits until her entirely fictitious due date, we might even have some time to relax and enjoy ourselves before her arrival.

Like I said, it's a banner day.

*Special props go out to Jamie for his well-deserved Emmy award for the title sequence to United States of Tara. You can see it here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I'm the one with the problem

I am a little weird about due dates.
As in baby due dates.
I'm not telling people what it is.

I mean, I told Dyami. And my parents. And about eight other people.
But when the security guard in the pool parking lot asks me when the "blessed event" is, I do not give him a calendar date.
When the nice mom of a friend of mine asks how much longer I have, I say "Less than a month" or "a few weeks."
And then they press for more detail (as in "But when, exactly?") I don't give any more information.

See, with Lucy, I happily gave out a date through my whole pregnancy. "August 16th," I'd say to all comers.
Only, when it got to be August 10th, I realized something.
I had said August 16th so often that the date had come to mean something to me. And being me, a planner, that likes things just so, I had a hard time not hyperventilating when I realized just how flexible that "due" date was. And that we were getting awfully close to that fictitious deadline.
Thus my reticence when people ask now.

I think the whole concept of a "due date" is not that helpful. Why?
1. Did you know that some German doctor in the late 1800s decreed that women's pregnancies lasted 40 weeks? No, he had no scientific basis for this decision. He just thought it would be neat and tidy to have it last ten moon months. How very Germanic of him. (Does it surprise you that I have German blood running through my veins?) Women's pregnancies last, on average, longer than 40 weeks. And even longer for your first.
2. That ultrasound that you may have used to establish your due date? It has a fairly wide margin of error. In your first trimester, it's plus or minus (if I remember correctly) 5 days. So if your due date is the "15th", anywhere from the 10th to the 20th is fair game. In my case, we didn't get an ultrasound till the second trimester, in which case the margin of error is 8 days or so. That gives us a two week window for an "on-time" baby. If you were paying attention to conception dates, or have a really good idea about your body cycles and biorhythms, and all that jazz, you could probably have more idea what to expect. But if you're like me, and don't notice you're pregnant for two months, and only after your husband has been insisting for weeks that you're pregnant, (just like the first pregnancy), then perhaps depending on being that in touch with your body is a tad bit unrealistic.
3. The baby might be late. Or early. Just to further throw off that two-week window. So, really, there's about a month, conservatively, where the baby might pop out, where it would be totally nothing to worry about.

Again, I'm a planning sort of girl. So this fuzzy logic is hard for my brain to wrap itself around. And I've found that not saying the due date over and over helps remind me, every time people ask, that I really do not know when this girl is coming. I do not have any control over it.

So sorry if I seem a little rude or secretive or whatever. Dyami thinks I'm a little irrational over this point. It just seems part of our culture's weird fixation with exactitude in this area that does not lend itself to exactitude.

And, if you're wondering, the baby should be here by Halloween. I think.

Friday, September 18, 2009

the world according to Lucy

Every day, Lucy says things that make me stop and reflect on just how awesome and hilarious the learning of language is. I keep thinking I need to post them, if only to preserve them for when someone is giving toasts at her wedding. So, a few Lucy-isms.

  • Bathing suit is baby suit. Even I get to wear a baby suit.
  • Dried banana is dried manna. In case you need to take a snack on a long walk through the desert. Oh, wait.
  • Also in the biblical vein: Zaccheus, that short tax-collector, is Zucchius. But not Zucchini, as Dyami tried to tell her.
  • A vacuum cleaner is a vapping cleaner. Also: her vapping cleaner is a walking toy: a purple elephant on wheels. Top that, Dyson.
  • A few alternative lyrics: "I've been working on the weird-road" and "Little Miss Muffet, sat on a puffet, eating her turds on the way."
  • When we get in the car, her favorite reading material is the Thomas Guide map, about which, when it's placed in her lap, she says, "Look! The Bi-ble!" Then she asks us who the Bible is about, and answers for herself: "Jesus and God."
    Some might say the map/Bible connection is fitting. I'll leave that to you decide.
  • After a performance (tap-dancing on the hearth, an improvised song on her guitar), Lucy says, "Thank yoooou, thank youuu." At first, she needed a cup of water to gesture with during the thank-you, as if she were giving a toast. I'm not sure what lounge lizard taught her this.
  • Also after a performance, she bows, which means closing her eyes tight and (barely) tipping her head forwards.
So there you go: a short album of Lucy's awesomeness.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

since I'm already feeling all political...

Regarding the health care debate:

For those of you out there who advocate keeping the status quo, you're certainly entitled to your opinion. But: I challenge you to consider dropping your current health coverage* for a period of one year. Just a year! Preferrably do so when you're experiencing a major life change, like moving, or losing a job, or having a child. You probably won't get into a car accident during that year. Odds are against it. Probably none of your other family members will, either. You'll even have more freedom to choose your provider for routine exams and such.

Not willing to do try my experiment? Then how comfortable are you, really, with our current health care system? Because you are just one job loss away from that scenario. And with no guarantee that you will only be without coverage for a year.

*I know several people without health insurance who do not advocate a public health insurance option. Frankly, I respect their opinions more than those I know who do have health insurance and oppose reform, because, well, at least they put their money where their mouth is. Still agreeing to disagree, though.

Monday, September 14, 2009

a letter to the Today show

Dear Today Show,
I'm writing today in response to your segment titled "The perils of Midwifery" (later changed to "Home Birth". I was extremely disappointed by the biased, incomplete, and exploitative reporting done in this segment.

I'm due to deliver my second baby at home in a few weeks. I chose this option because of my desire for the safest birth possible. Period. To represent my choice as "trendy", or foolhardy, is to insult my intelligence, and insult the hundreds of thousands of women around the globe who choose to be midwives, support homebirth, or give birth at home themselves.

While I sympathize with the couple who tragically lost their child, and can't comment on Cara Muhlhahn's competence, I do know that your report left out a multitude of facts:

1. Caesarian section increases the rate of maternal and infant death. Even in the best-case scenario, it combines major surgery with caring for a newborn and (for first-time mothers) learning to breast-feed. Avoiding an unneccessary caesarian is a completely rational, safe choice. It's not about pursuing a "hedonistic" spa treatment, or about imitating celebrities.

2. The WHO recommends that caesarian rates be at about 10% for all birth. Currently, the national average is 30% and rising. At some hospitals, it exceeds 50%. This means babies and mothers are _dying_ unnecessarily in the US. Perhaps this would be a good topic for a Today show expose.

3. Women have been giving birth without medication, at home, since the beginning of time. While I thank God for the advances in obstetrical care that save those mothers whose births are high-risk, and am happy for those mothers who chose pain medications without experiencing some of their possible side-effects, characterizing home birth as "extreme" is like saying sex in your bedroom at home is "extreme". In fact, this is the way we've done it for millennium.

4. Let's say, just for the sake of argument, that Ms. Muhlhahn's care was incompetent. That says nothing about the safety and efficacy of home birth. You might as well say that one bad obstetrician makes it unsafe to give birth in any hospital. If you did say this, I'm guessing the ACOG might sue for libel. Do you pick on midwives because they don't have the political clout and the $$ to keep you honest?

5. Just this year, two high-quality studies have come out, comparing home birth outcomes to low-risk hospital births. You can find the results summarized here: From the summary: "Consistent with many other studies comparing planned home with planned hospital birth, the results showed comparable perinatal mortality rates, less serious morbidity for both women and infants, and lower use of obstetric technology in planned home births."

6. Nowhere in your segment did you mention the ACOG's possible conflict of interest in speaking about home birth. By definition, a birth attended by a midwife is not attended by an ACOG member. Perhaps the organization's leadership might be biased?

7. In many other countries (the Netherlands and the UK, to name just two), midwifery care is the gold standard for birth. These countries have lower rates of infant mortality than we do. Even if that correlation isn't attributable to the midwifery model of care (which would surprise me), having midwives attend births sure isn't hurting anything.

Finally, and less factually, it irked me that the two journalists presenting and introducing the segment (Matt Lauer and the journalist himself) were both men. At least have someone actually qualified to speak about labor and delivery report about it.

For too long, women have been forced to shut up and submit passively to a system that does not value their voices, their intelligence, and their ability to choose wisely for themselves and their children. Your report just demonstrates how little headway our country has made.

Frankly, I am disgusted that you would exploit this couple's tragedy to present such a biased, incomplete report. You've used the loss of their child to sensationalize and twist a powerful, humane, and life-affirming experience. It shocks me that Today, which I've been watching since grade school, would have such low standards for their journalists. I urge you to apologize to the midwives and mothers throughout America that you have insulted and, frankly, libeled.

Heather Caliri

Saturday, September 12, 2009

the perils of misrepresentation

I'm sorry, I can't hold back from a rant. Just a wee little rant.

Yesterday, there was a segment on the Today show about homebirth. It's title? "The Perils of Midwifery."
Sounds nice and balanced, doesn't it?
Apparently, a couple hired a very well-known midwife (Cara Muhlhahn, who appeared in Business of Being Born) in Manhattan to attend their home birth. Their daughter had no heartbeat when she was born after four days of labor. These poor people are understandably grieving and looking for answers. They blame their midwife.
Now, let me be clear. I don't know the case, and I don't know if Muhlhahn is at fault. It's certainly possible. What I do know is this: one negative outcome with one midwife says nothing about whether home births in general are safe. And: I've read about Muhlhahn: in 18 years of practicing midwifery, she's lost only one other baby. I don't know what her infant mortality rate is--what percentage of births this is. But it is fear-mongering to say that if a practitioner has one bad outcome, they are a bad practitioner. Or, that if there's one bad practitioner out there, that every practitioner is bad.

Of course, this wasn't mentioned in the Today show segment.

What they also don't mention: midwives monitor heart rates during the course of labor. (Yes, they bring along actual medical equpment!) They are happy to transfer if something seems out of the ordinary. During my first labor, my midwife was a little concerned that Lucy's heart rate was slowing. She mentioned that we might need to transfer if Lucy wasn't born quickly (which thankfully, didn't happen) Lucy (just like the baby mentioned on Today) had the cord wrapped around her neck--three times.
Also not mentioned in the Today segment: about 25% of babies have their cords wrapped around their neck. This is cause for caution, but not panic.

What Today did mention? Home births are apparently popular among celebrities. So home birth is now like a "spa treatment", and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) strongly objects to women choosing their birth locales based on what's trendy.

Yes, this is why I chose a homebirth for my first (and second) child. Because Demi Moore did.

Today made some attempt to show the other side of the story; an interview with a different, satisfied Cara Muhlhahn client, and one sentence from Marsdon Wagner, who is a perinatologist and perinatal epidemiologist. He was director of Women's and Children's Health in the World Health Organization for 15 years. He mentioned that in a hospital, you have a one-in-three chance of a caesarian.

That's all they gave him a chance to say. Then, they cut to the poor grieving mother: "A caesarian wouldn't have been the worst thing. Losing our daughter was."

Not mentioned: There is a significantly increased risk of maternal and infant death with a caesarian. Besides the risk of death, babies born by caesarian section have lower apgar scores, and mothers have negatively impacted fertility after the surgery, and all subsequent labors become more dangerous for mother and child. That does not even touch on the "less serious" side effects, like how caesarians make it harder to care for a newborn, negatively impact breastfeeding, cost a lot of money, and leave some women feeling like they (or their bodies) failed.
In fact, the WHO recommends that caesarians account for no more than 10% of births. Because they are not safe unless there is a real reason for them. Here in the US, they are at 30% and rising.
We are not just talking about avoiding a scar around your bikini line.

A few other things not mentioned about the "perils" of midwifery: lots of other countries have midwives attend births far more often than OB/Gyns. In some countries, you have to pay extra for birthing in a hospital if you're low-risk. They have lower infant mortality rates than we do.
For low-risk births, home-birth stacks up really well against low-risk hospital birth. There are no double-blind randomized trials to prove this, which is why the ACOG can still claim that it's not safe. But tell me: if you're pregnant, do you want to be randomly assigned to a birth location? No? Then don't expect a randomized trial to be published any time soon.

Anytime I tell someone about birthing at home, they say, "Wow, you're so brave." or, "That's commendable."
What I don't say? I'm about the least brave person I know when it comes to taking physical risks. Don't like heights, horror movies, putting my face in water, surfing, roller coasters, bees, going downhill too fast on a bike. When I got an ear infection a few years ago, I went to the emergency room, convinced my brain was about to explode. They laughed at me, then told me to go home and take an aspirin.
Personally, I chose home birth because I don't want to fight a system in a hospital that is not safe for my baby or for me. I don't want a doctor inducing me with a non FDA-approved drug that radically increases the risk of uterine rupture and infant death (Cytotec). I don't want to be induced and have much more painful contractions. I don't want to be bullied into giving birth before my baby is ready to be born. I don't want to be strapped to a machine instead of being able to move around to ease my pain. And I don't want drugs that increase my likelihood of caesarian many times over. Most of all, I want to be someplace where I feel safe, comfortable, and in charge.
Believe me, "bravery" has nothing to do with my decision to birth at home.

Listening to our country debate healthcare, and then hearing a segment like this on Today, I'm starting lose hope that our country can ever have a rational system of medicine. Because if anything would help our country save money on health care, it would be increasing the role that midwives have in delivering babies. Birth is the most common reason people go into the hospital. And caesarian is the most (or one of the most) common surgeries. I can understand that home birth isn't for everyone. When it's needed, obstetrical care is lifesaving. Caesarians are lifesaving. Hospitals are lifesaving. And giving birth can be a scary prospect for women. I completely understand that a lot of my friends think I'm a little cuckoo for choosing to birth at home. I understand that epidurals help a lot of women avoid pain in labor--and I'm always happy to hear when that happens well, when the drugs don't cause other complications. I don't think "natural" birth is something to be commended for--it's just a choice, and one that a lot of women aren't prepared ot make.
But it makes me angry that our culture does not empower women to see that choice for what it is: a safe alternative. It makes me angry that friends whose births did not go as they were hoping call me, saddened, after their birth. I don't think my friends are at fault; I think the system they entered into does almost everything possible to prevent them from feeling empowered, safe, and calm.
And honestly, I'm angry that in all this debate about healthcare, I've heard nothing coming from official channels that midwifery might be used as a cost-saving measure. Because what a way to save money--provide women with better care (someone that stays with you during labor! Someone that empowers you to believe you can do this incredibly difficult thing! Someone who won't cut you or cut you open unnecessarily!) while not spending money on unnecessary procedures.

But when a show like Today represents this choice as vanity, as trendy--no, as foolhardy and dangerous, I'm afraid that there's no way that our culture will ever change enough to truly empower women to make real choices about where to give birth.

For anyone wanting to learn more about birth, and the medical studies that support (or, really don't support) current obstetrical practices, I invite you to read "The Thinking Women's Guide to a Better Birth" by Henci Goer. Or, check out some sample chapters here. This woman (no not an MD, but as she says, "I can read.") has read the medical literature to find out what the experts really say about the efficacy and safety of our current birthing system. She talks about the statistics and conclusions behind different medical studies, and helps interpret the results in laymans terms. Unlike the Today show, she even talks about her biases and includes information even if it doesn't buttress her point. The book isn't just a negative rant (like this post); it would also be a great resource for learning what you can do to have a safe, less-painful, more successful labor.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Nesting has started. There is about a month to a baby. So. I'm packing up some non-essentials on our bookcases in our bedroom to make room for things like diapers and wipes and clothing. All important stuff.
But the first stuff I chose to put in boxes was my collection of lit mags I've been published in. Plus my MFA thesis (a manuscript of short stories) from SDSU.
I'm a pretty pragmatic person, stuff-wise. Sometimes to a fault. But though I do not need this stuff to be out on a daily basis, it feels a little too symbolic to pack it all into a box, seal it with tape and put it onto a top shelf in our garage.
I will get this stuff out again, right? Or at least use it, somehow, even though the physical realness of it is literally in cold storage?
To make the symbolism complete, I am packing my literary accomplishments in an old Pampers box. Sigh.

I am glad that I started work on a promising essay a few days ago, and that a good friend suggested a market for another essay recently. Otherwise, the cold storage would feel like an especially ominous omen.