Top 10 Things That Have Helped Me Become a Natural Parent

Become a Natural Parent

Welcome to the Carnival of Natural Parenting: Natural Parenting Top 10 Lists

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared Top 10 lists on a wide variety of aspects of attachment parenting and natural living. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

The Accidental Natural Mama’s Top 10 List
1. Breastfeeding support group: Prior to giving birth, I had never been around breast-feeders and was not breastfed myself. I didn’t really know how the whole thing was supposed to go—the only images that I had in my mind of nourishing babies involved bottles and cans of formula. When I was knocked upside the breast (left breast, to be exact) with mastitis two weeks post-partum, I made my way to a local breastfeeding group at the hospital where I had delivered my daughter. It turned out to be one of the best choices I ever made. Not only did I find the support I needed to continue nursing, but I also made some wonderful friends who have become an integral part of my life as a natural mama.

2. Alfie Kohn: Let’s face it—ever natural mama needs some Alfie in her life. Kohn’s book Unconditional Parenting: Moving From Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason was a game-changer. I’m serious—this book changed my life. I read it; I loved it, and now I live it.

3. Moby Wrap: For the first six months or so of my daughter’s life, the Moby was our best friend. Not only did it keep her snugly, close, and safe, but I was also able to write the first three chapters of my dissertation while she snoozed cozied up against me. I was also able to do some more basic care things, like eat and move around the house. I visited New York City with my daughter wrapped in the Moby! Heck, I even scrubbed baseboards once. Don’t worry, though, that one didn’t become a habit!

4. Playgroup: Remember those friends I made in the breastfeeding group? Well, we formed a playgroup. Finding like-minded mamas has been so meaningful for both me and my daughter. We share ideas, books, support, food—what more could you ask for? I realize how isolated many women are—parenting can be such a lonely act. Having a consistent group to call my own has been invaluable.

5. Google: Let me just put it this way—thanks to Google, I now know what a Lotus Birth is. See—you are going to Google it, aren’t you?

6. Facebook: Oh, Facebook—how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…In all seriousness, I am continually amazed by the amount of natural parenting content on Facebook. All I have to do is “Like” a page or add a friend, and I am immediately linked into seemingly limitless information. Not too long ago, I was using Facebook to keep track of old pals’ weekend shenanigans. Now, I use Facebook to keep up with the latest in the natural parenting world. Okay, okay, I still may do some light cyber stalking.

7. La Leche League: The LLL Toddler Meeting has been really helpful in particular. I think it is really helpful to hear about a range of experiences that are situated within a parenting framework that is similar to my own. I know that when I bring up a topic at LLL, I am going to hear feedback from people who are coming from the same general space that I am. Even if there are some differences in parenting, the underlying philosophies tend to be the same.

8. A Child-Friendly City: I live in Athens, Georgia, which is known for a great music scene, a large university, and lots of bars (not necessarily in that order). What I didn’t realize before having a child was that Athens was also great for raising a family. I feel like I have a wealth of resources—a great kids’ program at the library, a fabulous conscious parenting network, several parenting centers that cater to the natural set, an active breastfeeding community, a vibrant homeschooling culture, a farmer’s market, and more. If you know where to go, natural parents can find lots of folks to chat with about cloth diapers, nursing, doulas, and more. I know I am really lucky to live in such a place, and I have truly enjoyed getting to know a different side of the town!

9. A Supportive Co-Parent: My co-parent happens to be my husband, Luke. He is so supportive and has really been willing to join me on the journey towards natural parenting. Nothing melts the heart more than watching your burly husband enthusiastically use Baby Signs in the middle of a crowded restaurant or defend my nursing in public or boast about the merits of co-sleeping. Alexandra is really lucky to have him as a Daddy, and I am proud to have him as a husband. Okay, mushy stuff over.

10. A Great Family: My daughter and husband are fantastic, but I am also referring to my extended family. Okay, so my mom isn’t crazy about the nursing in public thing (yet) and my mother-in-law might not totally be convinced about the “try to avoid the word ‘no’” bit, but I think that we are slowly yet surely revealing the magic of natural parenting. I would like to believe that our families see that even though we are doing things a little differently, we aim for every action and utterance to be filled with love, empathy, and peace.

Uterus v. Brain?

brain vs uetrus

“I have a brain and a uterus, and I use both.”
~Patricia Schroeder

I am an adjunct English instructor at a local community college. I truly enjoy what I do, and I especially like the fact that I am only away from my daughter about 15 hours a week. Yesterday, I interviewed for an additional position at the same college, just in a different department. The new position would not change my overall time commitment, it would just mean that I would split work across two programs.

To make a long story short, I was interviewed by a panel of three people. I was asked four or five questions about my experience and background, and the final question was “Do you have kids?” According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), it is illegal to ask interviewees about marital, family, or pregnancy status during an interview. It is also illegal to ask questions about age, race, gender or sex, country of national origin or birth place, religion, disability.

I knew this question was illegal, but I answered it anyway. “Yes. I have a 14 month old.” I could immediately see the interviewers mentally check out of the interview. “14 month old” seemed to translate into “I am going to miss a lot of work because of illnesses and babysitter scheduling problems,” or “I am only going to be around until I get pregnant again,” or any of the other misconceptions people have about working mothers. Let’s just say that the interview ended very quickly after this question.

(My thoughts exactly…)

This was the first time that I had ever felt a tug between my personal and work lives. I refuse to hide the most important part of my life (my child) for a job, but I am also annoyed that I was asked an inappropriate question and received, in my opinion, an inappropriate response. As I spiraled into a fit of irritation, I asked myself if all of the interviewees for the position were asked the same question, or if that question was hand-picked for me because I happen to have an awesome set of child-bearing hips and appear to be of reproductive age?

The thing is, I am proud to be both a parent and a member of the workforce/academic community. So far, I have been able to effectively utlizie both my brain and my uterus, and I don’t intend on stopping that amazing (insert sarcasm here) multi-tasking now.

The ending to this story is relatively anti-climatic. I left the interview and came home to my daughter where she did not ask me any uncomfortable questions and accepted me just the way I am…as her mama.

Welcome to the Mama-hood

Welcome to the Mama hood

You will learn more about me, Alexandra, and my husband, Luke through this blog. For now, what you really need to know is that I was going to be a very different type of mother than I turned out to be. Let me try to explain.

Before Alexandra was born, I had a plan. That plan included, among other things, returning to work and school full-time 8 weeks post-partum, putting my baby in a nursery where she would cry-it-out so that we could adhere to a stringent schedule laid out in a glossy-covered book (you know the ones), breastfeeding for about 6 months or until I lost the baby weight (whichever one came first), and in general resuming my life as I had lived it for 27 years before my child was born.

Now fast forward. My life is nothing like I lived it for the 27 years before my child was born, and it is better than any version of my life that I ever have lived or could have dreamed of living. It is 9:30 on a Saturday night. Alexandra, now almost 14 months old, is sleeping beside me because we co-sleep. She nursed herself to sleep tonight and will wake up a few times during the night for more comfort nursing. Tomorrow she will nurse throughout the day on demand. There are a lot of other things that make me different from the mother I thought I would be, like babywearing, gentle discipline, and following attachment parenting disciplines in general. In short, my life with my daughter (and, of course, my dear husband) is beautiful, amazing, and wonderful. All I had to do to in order to reach this place of bliss was throw the baby book out with the window and follow my gut…and my heart.

Although I could spend hours walking you through the various changes I made in the early weeks of motherhood that led me from “Mother” to “Mama,” I think our decision to become die-hard co-sleepers provides a good case-in-point and highlights and the important role that instinct played in that transition. When we brought Alexandra home from the hospital, we planned to let her sleep in a bassinet. I tried. I really did. I caused myself undue stress about getting the baby out of the bed and into her bassinet and, eventually, the nursery down the hall. But at the end of the day, Alexandra didn’t want to be in the dang bassinet. Turns out in the end, we didn’t want her there either. We (well, I) just had to let go of my notions of what was “supposed to” happen. (Interestingly, Luke gave himself wholly and willingly to co-sleeping from the first night in the hospital when he slept with Alexandra swaddled on his chest. Is it possible that men are oblivious to societal messages that plague women about what they “should” be doing?) It makes me sad that I wasted a few of those early weeks feeling (of all things!) guilty about letting my child sleep nestled under my chin. Once I embraced co-sleeping and did some research, I understood that having my child near me at night was not the product of weakness on my part. It is the result of years of evolution and biological drives that make mamas want their little ones close by.

If you look at children’s books, many times animals are featured snuggled with their mothers at nighttime. In these same books that have so beautifully depicted animals sharing sleep spaces, there will be an image of a child alone in a bed or a mother “tucking in” her child. The reason I felt compelled to co-sleep is because it was the natural way to do things once I tuned out all of the static–all of the advice, books, warnings about “spoiling.”

Today, our sleep looks like this: I nurse Alexandra to sleep, which can take anywhere from 2.5 minutes to 45 minutes. I stroke her hair and tell her I love her. I can tell she is asleep because her breathing turns to little “pfts, pfts, pfts.” Most nights, she nurses several times throughout the night, often while she is essentially still sleeping. Sure, I wouldn’t mind a full night’s sleep, but I also know that she won’t night-nurse forever. She will be 7 years old someday and then 15 (oy!), and I will look back on these nights with warmth and joy that I was able to have her so close for so long and give of myself so freely to her. In the morning, when she wakes up, she will rustle, sit up and smile the most beautiful smile you ever saw. Just as I now know that it is most natural to sleep with her, that smile each morning reminds me that it is also most natural for her to sleep with me!

I know co-sleeping isn’t for everyone. In fact, probably a lot of the things that I will talk about on this blog are not for everyone. My “go-to” line has become “it works for us.” I am thankful that I have a flexible job (more on that another time) and a supportive co-parent. I am most thankful, however, that I have been able to tune into what feels right and start parenting from the place within my heart that tells me that when my daughter is cuddled beside me during the long winter’s nights that I am doing everything just the way I am supposed to be.