You know how you sometimes wake up and there is some thought in the back of your mind. So, I woke up this morning with the song-rhyme in my head: “Make new friends and keep the old, one is silver and the other is gold.” I am not sure if this is an inherently American rhyme, but I have only sung it here. Then the Latvian saying came to mind, which also uses the metaphor of the gold and silver. That is – “runāšana – sudrabs, klusēšana – zelts” (talking is silver, being silent is gold). It pretty much sums up the cultural differences between Latvians and Americans, in my opinion. Not that one is better than other. I actually prefer silver to gold, for example.
Evolution is on my mind. I guess it is because of that book by Meredith Small that I just finished (and reviewed here). If I really were designed to roam the plains in search of food together with a close-knit group, then how unnatural is my life and that of most other mothers in the industrialized world? Trying to raise our (two to three) children by ourselves within our four walls, sneaking off to our computers to check for an email or a twitter message, sitting there for hours after the kids go to bed, driving everywhere, and increasingly more of the childcare assistance that we get is from trained professionals not family members. And doulas too, at least here in the US, are the professionalized substitute for the kin women.
I attended the post-partum doula meeting on Tuesday, which was as great and inspiring as ever. The topic of conversation was night doula’s work. It turns out that a lot of parents (especially if they have twins and if they can afford it) like to hire night doulas or night nannies (which are two completely different professionals), some disappear the minute the doula comes by and lets her take care of the kids for the whole night (which is more like a night nanny, even though she is paid like a doula), some spend time talking and get their babies brought in to them when necessary for feeding. Then the talk was about sleep and how a lot of parents expect sleep training from their night doulas (which most of them don’t do, but they do promote the babies natural capacity to sleep and call it “sleep teaching” as opposed to “sleep training”, which is from the book called “Babywise” which the doula community and the American association of Pediatricians do not recommend). That reminded me once again about the book by M. Small. In her cross-cultural comparison she mentions the differences between Italian and American mothers, the latter of which are mostly concerned about their infants’ sleep, while the former are concerned about what their babies eat. Never have I been asked so often if my baby sleeps through the night as in the US, even though in Latvia people also inquire after the sleep pattern of the newborn. What I thought was interesting, was how much part of the culture the doulas themselves seemed to be by suggesting things like quiet time at night, dimming lights for night feedings and not bringing the baby out of the sleeping environment after 6 pm, which as I have often observed is close to the bed time that many American children have (7 pm or 7:30 pm). I have noticed that the 10 pm bedtime of our kids seems normal only to other foreigners. So, I started wondering if I ever could become a doula in the USA, considering my much relaxed attitude about sleep (and other cultural differences), but then again I remembered what our trainer at the DONA training said: “There is the right fit for everyone. It is not only them, who are interviewing you, it is also you who is seeing if the family is right for you.” So, please, the families that are right for me and for whom I am the right doula – do come my way.
The full title of the book is “Our Babies, Ourselves. How Biology and Culture shape the way we parent” by Meredith F. Small, Anchor Books, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, Auckland, 1998
I have to return this book to the public library today, which explains why I am braving a second book review in less than two days. That this book is available from the publick library here in the US, points to the fact that it is a kind of “science” (both social and biological) book written for popular audiences. And it has been quite well received too.
Written by a biological anthropologist Meredith Small who teaches at Cornell University and is interested in the way biology intersect with culture, “Our Babies, Ourselves” is about the way evolution has shaped human infant and parent relationship, but also about the part culture plays in it. Dr. Small introduces in her book the new field of Ethnopediatrics, which aims to understand child rearing as a cross-cultural and constantly evolving practice.
Essentially, the premise of the book is that human infants developed the skills necessary for survival because their large brains that got their present shape about 50 thousand years ago were too big to fit into the pelvises squeezed when human ancestors developed bipedalism 4 million years ago, so they had to finish developing outside the womb, rendering the new-born fairly helpless in comparison with other animals. Dr. Small then goes into the different cultural responses to this phenomena, starting with cultures that still practice hunter-gatherer life-style such as !Kung San of Botswana, Africa and Ache of Paraguay, South America to different “industrialized” societies such as Japan and the USA.
Dr. Small shows that every culture has its ideal of a “smart, well-functioning” child, that grows from historic, social and political roots. Moreover, she provides great examples of how these ideas are among the least questioned in the particular society, accepted by those with children and without. She also goes on to argue that some of the aspects of the “Western” parenting style (such as separate bedrooms for newborns and being left for a long time in car-seats, baby bouncers or similar places, that are not in a close proximity to the adult, and even sleeping through the night) are contrary to the way infants were designed by evolution.
Overall, I highly recommend this book to parents and non-parents alike, but I most certainly recommend it to the medical professionals, who work with children and their parents.
The full title of the book is Breast Cancer? Breast Health. The Wise Woman Way by Susun S. Weed, Ash Tree Publishing, Woodstock, New York, 1996
Susun S. Weed (and I still not sure if this just happens to be her real name or it is a pseudonym, I am leaning towards the latter) is a herbalist who uses the image of the wise woman, the healer in all of us (well, us women, but men can heal themselves too, I have no doubt). Since using herbs in my experience can alleviate a lot of women’s health issues, especially during pregnancy, her books have been of great help. I used her Wise Woman’s Childbearing Year when I was expecting and I have sent this particular book on breast health to a friend who was dancing with breast cancer as Susun Weed would call it a few years back and she found it helpful. The premise of the book is that there is a lot that a woman can do if she has cancer in her breasts, that she is not entirely powerless. The theme that strikes a cord with me regarding any health issue. There are herbs that can be used and there are healthy ways of living (including, she stresses, letting your breast roam freely (without the bra), doing your own breast check-ups in a pleasurable way (as opposed to the half a minute a doctor spends on them, that is usually far from pleasurable), avoidance of hormonal contraception, breastfeeding and not using chlorinated water and a thoughful diet). It is not the most evidence-based book around, that some more scientifically minded might find annoying. And the author is against scheduled mammograms, that might turn some off too. But for me health is the topic where intuition and spirituality are as important as evidence based (which Ms. Weed does present as well) information, so to the women like myself I strongly recommend this book on breast health and breast cancer. The book is divided into three parts: the first is for all women to understand your breasts better, the second is for women who are dancing with cancer and includes the discussions of different treatment methods, and the third is a section on herbal allies and assessing your breast cancer risk. And as I am sending off the book to a friend of mine who is experiencing breast cancer at the moment, I will be glad if you send a happy thought into her direction, even though you don’t know her, happy thoughts know their direction.
A fellow post-partum doula (or as I still think to myself – a real doula) told me on first meeting me in October right after I moved to the Bay area, that she felt like I needed a hug and a lot of support just like a post-partum mom because I had just moved. And this is how I have been feeling. This is partly why I have not felt like I have it in me to support anybody but my immediate family and even that is challenging, hence the doula work has not really been a priority. One really needs to take care of oneself before taking care of others or helping anybody. So I went to yoga yesterday. A very nice studio not far from home (which is extra-ordinary, as Outer Richmond definitely does not sport a wealth of local businesses) called Purusha Studio, that had surprisingly raving reviews on yelp. I enjoyed my class too. So my New Year’s Resolution on this blog will be to work more on my post-partum doula career and on this website, to update the permanent part of it and to post at least once a week. Happy New Year!!!!
As of October 2011, we had moved ten times in the previous three years. Some were smaller moves (like from Manhattan to Park Slope Brooklyn in the beginning of 2009, or just a floor up in our Brooklyn flat in the summer of 2009, then from our summer cottage on the sea, where Aleksandra was born in the summer of 2010 to a rented flat in the suburbs of Riga, the capital of Latvia, or to the center of Riga later on or to the smaller flat that we own in Riga right before moving to San Francisco in October 2011), some where bigger like moving from Latvia to the US (with the greencard for me) in 2008, from NYC to Latvia in 2010 (but that was supposed to be only for the summer and Aleksandra’s birth). But all summed up … they have left me … so incredibly tired of moving.
I don’t ever want to move again, to get used to a new routine, a new place, a new house, don’t ever want to wonder if that great cork-screw is in this house or somewhere else entirely (worst of it – it might be in storage, that we are done with, nothing is anymore in storage). Affraid to grow a plant, in case I will have to leave again and leave it behind (what means to die often, as unless you find the right person to care for it, they do tend to wither away quite easily). And moving with children … one must admit, has its singularities (such as – never leave anything unpacked that is on their level, or else they will unpack it for you and not necessarily they way you wanted).
I think I might be shelled shocked from all this moving, be experiencing something of a post-traumatic moving stress disorder, as I don’t even want to settle down where I am. That is – I do, but I keep thinking – what if this is not permanent as well. What is in this global world we have moving around so much? And to be honest, I don’t even want it to be entirely permanent. My home is still in Latvia as well. (I recently spoke to a German woman, who emigrated to the US with her family when she was 18 over fifty years ago, and she told me she still called Germany “home”).
And in the midst of living through this latest move, I cannot help thinking how similar it is to the post-partum period. The change of routines, the new stuff and knowledge that one needs to navigate the new life. And all we can do – is to remember to inhale and exhale, and then once again. And maybe – once in a while.. to find a moment for yourself… late at night… writing a blog entry….