Sunday, September 22, 2013

Goat's Milk, Baking and Sinking Ships...

Writing provides me with an outlet. When I sit, staring at that tiny, blinking cursor, a valve opens up to release all the pressure and emotion that resides inside of me. Using the mighty written word, I can share my innermost frustrations, my hidden vulnerabilities, and my deepest fears. All this can be done without the glaring, staring eyes of another human being. After all, I tried therapy once, but that was one time too many. As I am writing, there are no outside judgments. There are no interruptions. It is just my keyboard, that blinking cursor and my thoughts. I can hide. I can share. I can delete. I can add. It is all up to me. I have learned more about myself from writing than from anything else.  In the words of Hemingway, “The writer must write what he has to say, not speak it.”

However, I do not consider myself a writer. I write, but I am not a writer.  A therapist would love that comment. But, please don’t get me started on that. I write with the small glimmer of hope that the few words that I do share have some small, minimal impact on someone, somewhere, somehow. For those who I find willing to read the words I share, I am grateful. In my times of vulnerability, when I share my words, I just hope that someone finds something of merit in the words that have escaped me. If, on a rare instance, my floundering words make you crack a smile, shed a tear, or ponder just a little longer then I have achieved something. Hell, even if I make you crazy, drive you mad or piss you the hell off, then I have succeeded. In those rare opportunities when a genuine response is released, I am happy.

I share much of what I write, however, I have been holding one piece hostage for about a year. I have contemplated and wrestled with myself on whether to post it or leave it alone. It is a piece that is special to me. It is a piece that shares a lot of emotion of the past year. It is on a topic that is always in debate. It is on topic that I see every day on Facebook and since I am not a woman, I keep to myself when it comes up. But, it rattles me. It offends me. It pisses me off, so someone out there is achieving something.

This past week, and probably long before I noticed, there has been a blog post making the rounds on Facebook. It is a post that I greatly enjoyed and I have written similar ones myself on numerous occasions. But, like this post, the others always stayed in “Draft” status. But, after reading and re-reading Jeanne Sager’s “10 Things Never to Say to a Formula-Feeding Mom”, I finally decided to pull the trigger. Will this make me popular with some people? The answer is emphatically “NO!” But, like I said before, if I piss you, I achieved something.
And, in reality, if I piss you off with my words here, I would suggest a little self-reflection because nothing that I write here should offend you unless you are guilty of it. Much like Mrs. Sager’s article, I am just speaking from experience.

When did parenting become a competition? When did parenting become a toot your own horn and judge others affair? When did moms start feeling the need to make sure every other mom knows the right way to parent? Maybe it was the introduction of the internet and Facebook that caused the thin red line to be drawn.  I am not sure. I am not na├»ve enough to think that moms didn’t judge and compare themselves to others since the beginning of the human race, but it wasn’t as public. The internet has provided all of us, not just moms, with the ability to share our thoughts while hiding behind our computer screens. I’ll be the first to admit it. I have said things on Facebook or in my blog that I probably wouldn’t have shared in a face to face conversation. It happens. The invention of the internet has given us the ability to share our innermost feelings without fear of true retribution. Retaliation, if any, will show up in the form of comments that could easily be ignored.

Maybe, my generation has taken this competition to a whole new level. Things like Parenting Magazine, Teen Mom, and online blogs have created a vortex of information where every mom (or dad) can share her (or his) two cents regarding anything and everything. Those thoughts can be shared on Facebook and Twitter connecting a world and causing resentment and conflict.

One may ask where, why, when and how these questions, emotions and thoughts came into my mind. In order to answer those questions, a few stories have to be told first.

It started on the most glorious day of my adult life. It was an early Tuesday morning in June, and as I drove my beautiful, bloating (or glowing) wife to the hospital, tears were already filling my eyes. As we arrived, checked in and prepped for the C-Section, my beautiful wife was visibly nervous. She was in that state of excivous. Yes, I made that up. It is a mix between excited and nervous. Still, she was much less visibly shaken than me. I was a nervous wreck. I paced back and forth, sighed, felt dizzy and squeezed the luck penny in my pocket.

Ahhhhhh, the lucky penny! What a relief. Throughout my life, I have lost countless things; just ask my wife, my mother, my father, my brother, my sister. The list goes on and on. However, I prefer the term misplaced as opposed to lost. I have misplaced numerous house keys, a few wallets, an ID or two, my wedding ring and countless other items. But, even through all the turmoil, all the chaos, and all the miscues, I have never lost the lucky penny. Have I misplaced it? Yes, of course. I have misplaced it, sometimes for months at a time, but it always turns up. It has found a home taped to a page of my journey,  next to dog tags that hung close to my heart, on a piece of twine that was placed on my wrist, and on my key ring.

It is tarnished. It is dirty. It is beaten and battered. Much like the condition of my heart on that fateful evening that the penny was bestowed to me, it has been brighter, shinier and seen better days. Still, it is a beautiful penny. It is a vessel for memories, hopes, and dreams. That soiled penny traveled limitless miles and exchanged countless hands before it ended up in mine. Eighteen years ago, when that little penny was pressed with Lincoln’s head, I would have never thought it would become so important to me. That flawed, imperfect piece of copper from 1987, which must have been a pretty stellar year, still finds its way into my pocket every day. A hole resides where Lincoln’s head once did, the product of a young man, a boy really, who was smitten with a beautiful young lady. With all his might, he squeezed and shook until the cooper recessed, bended and eventual fractured leaving a perfectly round hole inside. That penny is a reminder of what it is to be alive. It is a reminder of love.

I was shook from my thoughts by a young nurse asking us if we were ready. I laughed, maybe not out loud, but I laughed. Can you ever truly be ready for the journey of parenthood? I didn’t think so. It is more of a jump in head first, hope you can swim and survive type of journey. As we began to roll down the hall to the OR, I thought about the countless times we had been asked about a C-Section. Since the time we found out it was twins, we had gotten the obligatory remarks that a C-Section was unnecessary. Remarks were shared that we should give birth at home or naturally, free of drugs and without a doctor telling us what should be done. Judgments were passed when we chose a C-Section as necessary for my wife and my babies. In reality, my wife and Boston would have been in serious danger had we not decided on a C-Section. With all the unknowns in this world, we elected what we thought was the safest route for our children to be born. Still, that didn’t stop the unnecessary comments and articles from being posted by friends.

If it would have stopped there, maybe I wouldn’t have ended up so irritated, but that was only the beginning. The first 48 hours in the hospital were a struggle. Our children were healthy. We were extremely blessed. My amazing wife had carried our twins for 38 weeks, which was full term especially for multiples. They were beautiful, incredible bundles of joy. But, when the second night came and they screamed uncontrollably, unable to latch, unable to receive the nourishment they desperately needed, I became concerned. Nurses at St. Rose, Nipple Nazis as a friend of my wife would say, push a breast feeding agenda. And, I do not use the term “push” lightly. It was not until I lost my mind, demanding formula that it was given to us. Unfortunately, try as my wife did, her milk was not ready. My boys needed comfort. My boys needed nourishment. And, at that point in time, mommy with a bottle was able to provide the comfort they needed. For the next eight weeks, my wife would cry herself to sleep as post partum depression wrapped her in its tight grasp. She would breast feed when her body would allow it, but on occasion, we would supplement with formula. She struggled. She hurt. She attempted to feed our child, but in the end, it was not working. The physical and emotional drain on her body was too much. She fought like hell, but in the end, it was in the best interest of our family to embrace formula.

I had to look my beautiful wife in her eyes and tell her it was okay to stop. The mounting pressure and expectations were slowly killing her. As I looked into her soul, I told her she was an amazing mother and that our babies would be perfectly fine. Life would go on. I held her as she sobbed, reassured her as she shook and listened as she shared her innermost fears. The fears that revolved around judgment were truly heart breaking. In the coming weeks, I would see the comments posted by friends on Facebook that made me feel disheartened.

When we moved to formula, one would have thought that we tarred and feathered our children in town square. Apparently, the use of formula was child abuse. We had plenty of “friends” and acquaintances that made sure to let us know of their disapproval. Some did it directly and others indirectly. Regardless, the judgment hurt. My wife was already struggling with the fact that breast feeding wasn’t in the cards for her and the comments from people added insult to the injuries.

It didn’t stop there. Whether it is squeeze pouches, organic milk, television or whatever else, people judge. People have their own opinions, and I am grateful for that, but judgment can cause a great deal of hurt.

Back to the original questions, when did parenting become a competition? When did parenting become a toot your own horn and judge others affair? When did moms (or dads) start feeling the need to make sure every other mom knows the right way to parent?

The journey of parenting is an amazingly intimate experience. As we embark on the journey that forever changes each of our lives, support and friendship is a must. Mothers (fathers too) can become a sorority of unwavering support and understanding.  Rather than turning parenting into a judgmental competition filled with a desire to prove superiority, each mother can become a beacon, an example of love.

If you choose to breastfeed, I support you. If you choose to bottle feed with formula, I support you. If you choose to supplement, I support you. If you choose a natural home birth, I support you. If you choose a natural birth in the hospital, I support you. If you choose a birth in the hospital, epidural included, I support you. If you choose a C-Section, I support you.  I support organic milk. I support cow’s milk. Hell, I support goats too. As a fellow parent, I support those of you just trying to do your best with the beautiful boys and girls that you brought into this world. I support you in a hope that you are raising a happy child full of love that will make this world a better place.

In the end, isn’t that what we all want for our children? We want them to live in a world free of hate and judgment. We want them to live in a world where they can be what they want to be. We want them to be accepted for who they are. We want them to be loved. We want a world free of hatred where they can be straight, gay, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, mixed, tall, short, fat, skinny, Goth, jock, nerd or any combination of things.

The future adults of this world, the ones we are raising now, will shape this world as we shape them. If we teach them judgment now, they will judge in the future. If we teach them love, they will love in the future. If we teach them acceptance now, they will accept in the future. We are the whisk, they are the mix, and while I don’t suggest baking them, we help mold them into who they will be.

Parent in the way you see fit. Let others parent they way they see fit. It is their journey, one that they should enjoy without worry of judgment. Support them as they support you whether you breastfeed in the park or share a bottle with your baby in church. Support them as they support you whether they give birth in a plastic pool at home or on the operating table at the hospital.  In the end, we are all in the same boat…one that we hope doesn’t sink. We work hard to keep our heads above water, struggling day by day to raise our kids as best we can. The journey, as hard as it is, can be smoothed over by love and understanding. In the end, life is short. Our parenting journey will end quicker than we could have imagined, and we should be able to look back on it with a smile.

“Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those
who are traveling the dark journey with us. Oh be swift to love, make haste to be kind.”
-          Henri Frederic Amiel

Justin Barrow aka The Bad Idea Dad

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