Archive for May, 2010

School Daze

May 28, 2010

Yesterday I picked up my high school and college transcripts and went to do fun things at my new school. I did an exceptionally good job wasting my own time by taking the Accuplacer test for reading and writing, which I didn’t realize I could have skipped entirely because of my SAT scores from high school until it was already done. I also forgot to mention to my academic advisor that I shouldn’t have to take English 101 because of my Advanced Placement score from high school (okay, to be entirely honest, I’d completely forgotten that I’d ever taken AP English until later). I would like to sign up for the African American Lit class for the summer session (which starts in the second week of June), but I need that stupid English credit first.

I also was reminded strongly of how very very young I look. Most of the people I interacted with did not speak to me like a woman who works full time, is married and raising a child, and is approaching thirty; they spoke to me like a doe-eyed college freshman. Only a couple of people were downright rude (both of them were the Accuplacer proctors), but even the ones who weren’t rude grated on me. I’d forgotten what it was like to be treated that way, and it made me feel very insecure despite the fact that I am generally not an insecure person.

I did a bit of poking around, exploring textbook prices, and what I found pretty much made me want to curl up into a ball and die. I’d known that it was bad, but what I remembered from my year in college was having to spend at the most $150-200 on books for a single class. Some of my nursing classes require $500 of textbooks, and those classes are also 8 credits which makes them super expensive to begin with!

I’m also very nervous about the classes themselves and how well I can do. It’s just been so long since I’ve had to take notes or write papers, and I’m feeling pretty rusty. I feel pressured to get as close to a 4.0 as I possibly can because that will guarantee my acceptance into the nursing program. I just don’t know if I can do it.

I woke up at 3 this morning because the baby was coughing. I started thinking about school and just couldn’t get back to sleep again. I just have so much on my mind. Marcus and I have been talking and in order for me to see this through, we have to make some very huge changes in next two years.

And we won’t be having another baby any time soon, and that’s what’s been weighing the heaviest on my mind. I really wanted to give Eve a sibling no further than 3 years apart. My brother and I are 2 and a half years apart and we’re very close to each other; Marcus and his sister are almost 5 years apart and they barely even talk to each other. I know intellectually that there is no magic number to guarantee a close relationship between siblings, but I still feel like there’s a window in which to give her the opportunity to grow up with another child and that by choosing to pursue a degree right now, I am choosing to miss that window. She’s going to be an only child for a while, which was never in The Plan, and I can’t help but be sad about it.

At least she has her cousin, who is only a month younger than she is; and hopefully she will have more cousins closer to her in age when my friends start having children. It’s still not the same though, and I feel like I’m letting her down, as silly as that may sound.

Recipe of the Week: Smothered Turkey Wings

May 27, 2010

This week I combined my unholy love for turkey with my unholy love for gravy and searched the web for a suitable itis-inducing recipe. I found one for smothered turkey wings on recipezaar.com that seemed promising and while the sauce required quite a bit of extra work, it was well worth the trouble.

I made a few changes, as usual. I don’t have a high tolerance for too much salt, so I minimized it by: sprinkling only 1/2 of a teaspoon of salt on the wings rather than one tablespoon; using unsalted butter; and rather than dissolving six bouillon cubes in six cups of water (to make the broth that the recipe calls for), I only dissolved four cubes in six cups of water. 

I also only added 1/4 teaspon of garlic powder rather than the full teaspoon, and instead of chopped celery I coarsely chopped up about 5 large cloves of fresh garlic. And we were low on cow’s milk so I used two cups of breastmilk instead.

While I was apprehensive about how it would turn out (there just seemed to be waaaay too much sauce and it was very thin), it turned out pretty yummy! I pulled the meat off of the bones, tossed the bones in the freezer for making stock later, and added rice and some of the sauce to the meat. It was warm, filling, and pretty much the epitome of comfort food.

This is the Start of Something Beautiful

May 26, 2010

Yesterday I mailed in an application to a local community college.

I’ve been doing some reading, some thinking, and some more reading about school. I’ve been saying for years that I want to be a nurse, and that I want to work with mothers and babies. But I could never figure out in what capacity. I wasn’t really interested in Labor & Delivery, nor the NICU, nor Obstetrics. I saw myself doing any one of those things, but not forever, not as an endpoint, not as a goal. I’m a person that does not act without motivation. If I don’t have sufficient motivation to do something, I just will not do it.

So I never went to school for nursing, because I’ve been an unmotivated student before (twice, actually) and it never worked out. I’ve been a psychology major (fascinated by psych but I didn’t want to do clinical and was lukewarm on R&D and teaching), an English major (I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it, I’ve just always loved literature), and a business major (I had NO interest whatsoever in business, it was just the major I picked that I knew my job would pay for). I got As in every class but one (I got a B in Statistics; it was an 8am class that I skipped a little too frequently) regardless of my major.

But I didn’t follow through on any of my attempts at higher education because I just didn’t care enough to follow through. I had no specific goals and no motivation. So even though I figured out three years ago that I wanted a nursing degree and that I wanted to work with mothers and babies, I still didn’t make a move even though I hate my job and I want out. It was too vague a goal, and I didn’t like the options in front of me, and I knew I’d do poorly or even just quit if I got started. I know myself pretty well.

But lately I’ve been thinking, and reading, and thinking some more about lactation consultation. I want to be an IBCLC – an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. It’s not an easy certification to achieve, and the bar just keeps getting raised every year. You don’t have to be an RN to be an IBCLC, but that is one path that you can take. I don’t just want to be an IBCLC, I want to be the BEST damn IBCLC that I can possibly be, and I believe that for me, going the nursing route will help me achieve that.

The carrot on my stick is not nursing, which is more of a means to my ends, or even to be an IBCLC working for a hospital, but to provide services for those who are most in need of help to establish and maintain healthy nursing relationships with their children. I would like to someday start a nonprofit that will provide breastfeeding resources and guidance targeted towards teens, families living in poverty, minorities, folks with disabilities, queer families, and trans people. These are the populations that have the least support financially and/or socially to nurse their children, many of whom stand to gain even more from breastfeeding than their privileged peers would, and I want to help fill the gap.

And I’m not just talking about counseling or support groups (though I intend to provide that as well), but providing pumping equipment at reduced or no cost to those who need them, advocating for laws that protect and encourage the nursing relationship, building awareness and acceptance of breastfeeding amongst at-risk and general populations both, and negotiating mentorships for other aspiring IBCLCs. I just want to do so much, and it will probably take me twenty years to get there, but I feel that it’s a goal well worth the time and effort.

The first step is school. I hope to have my associates degree before I’m 31, and I hope to be an IBCLC before I’m 35. I hope to found my nonprofit before I’m 45. Tall order, I know, but it feels damned good to finally have something to work towards.

Risk

May 25, 2010

Since the year 2000, there have been at least 32 (and possibly up to 46) infant deaths due to the use of drop-side cribs. The manufacture of those cribs are to be effectively banned in the United States.

According to the CDC, about 100 children choke to death on food every year. The American Academy of Pediatrics is now suggesting that the shape of food, hot dogs in particular, be changed to prevent some of these deaths.

About 115 neonatal boys (those less than 28 days old) die from SIDS every year. Every parent is aware of the constant barrage of “SIDS awareness” information from day one of your child’s birth.

117 neonates die from complications from circumcision every year. Yet elective circumcision, which is a form of nonconsensual genital modification, is not seen as a threat to the health, lives, and bodily integrity of children. Amazingly enough, the AAP has recently decided to support changing the law to allow pediatricians to offer a minor incision to the clitorises of babies. It’s not enough that we cut baby penises for shits and giggles, even if it sometimes ends in death – we have to start cutting baby clitorises as well.

I don’t understand America’s love affair with circumcision, even when supporting it completely contradicts common sense. Drop-side cribs are deemed too risky but genital cutting is not, even though circumcision is responsible for 2-3 times the amount of deaths annually than those cribs have caused in the past decade.

Say no to hot dogs! But keep cutting up babies.

Yeah, okay.

Saving Lives the Hard Way

May 24, 2010

Today I’m thinking about Catholic hospitals.

Eve was born in one such hospital. For the most part, it was a very positive experience. All of the staff were friendly and the granola from the cafeteria was amazing (except for the raisins, which I picked out). My birth plan was respected without question and the only time that anyone mentioned pain meds during my labor was when I first arrived and they verified with me that they would not offer me any meds. (After she was born was a different story, but it was no big deal at that point.)

In fact, my worst complaint had nothing to do with the birthing ward but with pediatrics, where Eve was transferred at 3 days old for her jaundice; they had a policy of only allowing one parent to stay overnight with their children – even newborns – which meant that Marcus had to go home and I was left to care for the baby by myself at 3 days postpartum and with no energy, food, or rest. It was hell, especially since I still was learning how to deal with latching correctly and soothing my newly engorged breasts. But I couldn’t blame the staff for that.

After Eve was born, I decided that my new form of birth control would be Paragard, a hormone-free IUD. I knew that I could get one placed by my midwives at 3 months postpartum. Unfortunately, by the time I made the call for my appointment, I was told that the hospital that Eve was born in had decided that my midwives’ office – which operates outside of the hospital but is partnered with them – could no longer purchase and offer IUDs per Catholic doctrine. So they were no longer buying the devices. Fortunately for me, they had one more in stock that they had already paid for, which they were willing to give to me.

That worked out for me now, but what about after the next child? I’m going to have to go to Planned Parenthood to get any future IUDs placed. It’s not that I dislike PP – to the contrary, they’ve always been very good to me and I am more than happy to give them the support – but one of the reasons I continue to see my midwife practice after the birth rather than seeing a gynecologist is because I like to receive all of my reproductive health care in one place, by the same people. I want the women who know what my body does while it’s gestating to be the same women who give me my yearly PAP, who help me manage my birth control, who examine my breasts, who advise me on managing my chronic anemia. I hate that I’m going to have to partition my care between two practices and two groups of people.

It was at that point that I realized – or remembered – that even though I am not a Catholic or a Christian or even a theist, I am subject to the whim of Catholic doctrine whenever I seek care from a Catholic establishment. My care can and will be determined partially by the Catholic belief system. I attended Catholic school from kindergarten through the end of high school, so I am pretty familiar with the sect, and I am definitely not one of its biggest fans.

Eve’s birth went wonderfully – but what if what happened to this patient had happened to me? And what if I had no compassionate and realistic woman like Margaret McBride in a place of power to save my life? Would the hospital that I chose for Eve’s birth intervene as I lay dying if it meant violating church doctrine? As this article asks, are Catholic hospitals safe for pregnant women?

I just can’t imagine being 11 weeks pregnant and dying, and being told that I cannot be moved to another hospital or I will die, and that I cannot carry this pregnancy or I will die. And then being told that they will force me to carry this pregnancy and let me die.

Abortion saves lives. Not all of the time, not most of the time, but sometimes. A hospital with a policy that does not recognize that women’s lives are worth saving is not one that I can risk giving birth in. I’ll be calling the hospital soon to talk to them about their policies and what they would do if I needed an abortion to live while in their care, after which I’ll have to do some thinking on whether or not I want to continue birthing my babies there.

Recipe of the Week: Marshmallow

May 21, 2010

Last night I finally took the time to make marshmallow, which I have been planning for about two months. I put it off over and over because of all the new cooking techniques that it required; I was nervous that any attempt would just result in one giant mess and that my marshmallow would turn out like ugly rock-hard tiny white bricks.       

But! I succeeded! For the very first time I had to separate egg whites from their yolks (so easy to do by hand, no need to waste my money and kitchen space with a dedicated tool!), use gelatin, and boil sugar syrup to an exact temperature using a candy thermometer. I wasn’t nervous about the gelatin (hey, you just sprinkle it over cold water, it’s not exactly rocket surgery) but I wasn’t sure about the other two, especially since my candy thermometer was one that I snagged for cheap from my local Shoppers and not one of the fancy ones.       

I also used my wonderful Sunbeam stand mixer for the first time. I paid $30 for that mixer (have I mentioned that I love Goodwill?) and it’s probably older than I am. It’s loud and ugly, but it certainly did the job, especially since it took about ten minutes for the sugar syrup to fluff up.       

Mixing the sugar syrup and gelatin with my trusty Sunbeam

 

Looks like it's time to add the egg whites!

 

Pouring the marshmallow into the powdered pan

 

The finished product! Light, springy, and yummy!

 

[The images above show various stages of marshmallow creation, starting with mixing the sugar syrup using a stand mixer, to pouring the mixture into a pan, and ending with a container full of light blue marshmallow squares.]       

Check out the recipe and much prettier marshmallow pictures! I mostly followed it exactly as written, but instead of coating them in powdered sugar by hand, I found it much more efficient to just stick a dozen or so squares in a container with some powdered sugar, put a lid on it, and shake to coat. I don’t know what brand of gelatin the author of the recipe used (I used Knox), but I used far less than 3 and a half envelopes, so I suggest actually measuring out the 2 tablespoons and 2.5 teaspoons. Also, these turned out really sweet, so in the future I’m probably going to coat them with a combination of cornstarch and confectioner’s sugar to keep from overdoing it.       

Oh, and they don’t turn blue on their own. That’s food coloring.      

Art!

May 20, 2010

Today, inspired by an object in my best friend’s Etsy shop Mootopia (go look! go buy!), I decided to try my hand at my own embroidery hoop wall art. I just used some scraps of fabric that were left over from the diapers I sewed for Eve several months ago (aaaargh I really have to make more in the next size up but I’m just soooo lazy aaaargh!).

Anyway, here are the finished products, which will be hanging in Eve’s room as soon as it doesn’t look like the aftermath of some apocalyptic doom.

[The images above show embroidery hoops in a variety of shapes and sizes with fabrics of varying designs stretched in them.]

Raising a Woman of Color, Part II: Hair

May 19, 2010

Like many Black American women, I have had quite the love-hate relationship with my hair. I have “good hair,” a term that I hate because of its implication that there is such a thing as “bad” black hair. My hair is soft, loosely curled, grows quickly, and is easily “tamed” by a perm*. By contrast, “bad hair” is kinky, highly textured, tightly curled, and doesn’t take too well to straightening.

For as long as I can remember, my hair has been a hot topic among the black folks in my life. I wore my hair long for my entire youth, and it was fawned over by many, from my aunts and cousins to complete and utter strangers in the street. I was complimented time and again for having good hair, and was also frequently admonished (even by total strangers!) not to even think about cutting my hair. Among family, I was so proud of my hair. And now, even though the long straight tresses of my youth have been gone for nearly a decade, I STILL have women lamenting the loss of my good hair. Every time my mother looks at my high school senior photo, in which my smiling face is framed by long black hair, she sighs as if I’ve taken something from her.

This policing of hair doesn’t just happen among women. Black men have been just as quick to pass judgement on me for not wearing my hair long, especially if they’d seen pictures of me as a child. On one occasion my mother’s neighbor, a pastor, told me right to my face, “You could be beautiful like your mom if you would just let your hair grow.”

At my predominantly white school, it was a different story. The hair that I took such pride in at home never seemed good enough when I was surrounded by white kids. I was very jealous of the white girls and their hair. I couldn’t understand for the life of me why I couldn’t get my hair to do the things that my schoolmates’ hair did naturally. The other girls had ponytails and all I could ever manage were ponypuffs. I remember slathering tons of moisturizer and blow-drying my hair to death every morning because I wanted it to look like theirs and it just. Wouldn’t. Work.

Every time that my mom permed my hair (which was a painful and time-consuming process, but I always looked forward to it anyway), I thought that my hair would move ever closer to that perfect and beautiful ideal…and of course, it never did. I was doomed to have black hair for all of my life, though I took comfort in the fact that I didn’t have the really “bad” kind of black hair. Never mind the fact that my “good hair” was dry, breaking off, and coming out in tufts due to all the harsh treatment. Never mind the fact that every time I got a perm, I spent a week or two picking the scabs off of my scalp where I had been burned.

When I finally decided to go natural, it was just because I wanted to try something different. The day my hair was cut, even though I was nervous, I wasn’t thinking about all of the social implications of the action. I knew that there were plenty of people who didn’t WANT me to do it, but for God’s sake, I had no idea that they would still be buggin over it a decade later!

Shortly after the Big Chop, I made a new acquaintance: my own hair, in exactly the form that it grew out of my head. Black women are pretty much the only demographic who frequently spend their entire lives not having any idea what their hair really looks or feels like, so this was a big deal and a huge discovery for me. I had no more problems with breakage and the dryness was a lot less of an issue. I decided pretty quickly that I would not be relaxing my hair ever again.

Let it be known that I have no problem with women who choose to straighten their hair. I do, however, have a BIG problem with the characterization of straight or easily-straightened hair as “good” and nappy or natural black hair as “bad” (or unprofessional, or wild, or what have you). For many people it’s internalized racism at its very finest, and the policing of black hair is something that, while I bought into for a long while, now leaves me with a very bad taste in my mouth.

Eve’s hair was the very first part of her body that I ever touched. She hadn’t even been born yet; she was crowning, and in between contractions I took a moment to put my hand between my legs and gently touch the top of her head. I felt her hair first, before I ever saw her eyes or heard her cry or kissed her mouth. First I felt her hair.

I love that hair. It’s grown significantly in the past month, and while it’s difficult to tell what its texture is going to be like later, right now it looks like she’s going to take mostly after me. It’s soft and gently curled, like mine. It’s good hair, but not because of its texture or behavior; it’s good hair because it’s her hair.

I won’t be perming my daughter’s hair, ever. I want her to grow up with the hair she was born with, with the hair that my fingers gently brushed in those moments before her birth. I want her to learn how to respect that hair as well as how to style it. If she ever chooses to get it relaxed (which I won’t allow until she is at least sixteen), she will make that decision with years of experience caring for her natural hair. My mother is already pushing back; she rolls her eyes and laments at how much of a burden I’m going to be saddling Eve with, as if natural black hair were something to dread or suffer.

It’s going to be an uphill struggle, battling white folks and black folks alike about what is appropriate or attractive for black hair (hint: many of them think that natural black hair is, by its very nature, neither) and how that relates to Eve. But I am determined in this. She will know that black hair is good hair. Period.

*Some black women refer to straighteners strictly as relaxers rather than perms. I grew up with perm and relaxer being interchangeable terms, which so far as I can tell is mostly a regional thing.

Recipe of the Week: Chocolate-Covered Bacon

May 18, 2010

This week’s recipe was going to be chocolate-covered marshmallows, but I scrapped it when a coworker mentioned chocolate-covered bacon, which is something that I have actually eaten and enjoyed once before. I’m not usually a fan of either bacon or sweet/salty combinations, but this one actually works for me. The downside (besides the obvious health concerns – Cookie Monster says that chocolate-covered bacon is a “sometimes food“) of buying this treat is that is it unreasonably expensive; a single bar can cost anywhere from $5-10. For less than that I can make 6-8 of my own bacon bars at home!

I followed this recipe, which suggested baking the bacon rather than frying it. I was actually super dissatisfied with how chewy the bacon was and, let me tell you, it was no treat to bite into chocolate that had nothing but a gob of fat within it. In the future (yes, I plan on making it again sometime) I’ll be frying the bacon to crispy awesome yummyness.

The best part about the whole adventure was that I learned how to melt chocolate by constructing my own double boiler. The purpose of doing a weekly recipe is as much about forcing myself to learn new techniques as it is about trying new foods, and this recipe definitely served the former rather well.

Nine Months

May 17, 2010

We took Eve to the doctor this morning for her nine month checkup. As much as I do love our pediatrician Dr. B, and as satisfied as I’ve been with her before, today’s experience was a bit of a disappointment.

Eve’s weight gain has slowed down. She’s still well within normal ranges, she just hasn’t gained as quickly as she had before. This actually isn’t unusual for breastfed babies, who tend to be much heavier in the beginning than their formula-fed cohorts, fall behind formula-fed babies for a while, and then even out with formula-fed children around 18 months of age. The problem is that the growth charts that many pediatricians use are in fact calculated using the means and averages of mostly formula-fed babies; the CDC has tried to correct this by adding more breastfed babies to their averages, but it’s still significantly skewed.

Dr. B wants us to bulk Eve up some because of her slowed weight gain. Now, anyone who has ever met our child almost always comments on how CHUNKY she is. You don’t look at my baby and think, “Whoa, get that baby some food.” She is THICK as well as tall (95th percentile for height, in fact). She’s talkative, active, playful, energetic, bright-eyed, has a healthy glow to her skin, pees and poops frequently, and has met all of her developmental milestones WELL ahead of schedule. She is the absolute picture of health, yet Dr. B wants us to quickly increase her solids (including adding chicken broth to all of her vegetables) for the purpose of fattening her up. She wants us to replace some of her milk intake with other foods, and friends, let me tell you…that ain’t happenin. For the first year of her life Eve is to get the majority of her caloric intake from my milk, and the solids that she’s eating are a supplement to her milk intake, not a replacement. After twelve months we can talk about [gradually] decreasing her nursing, but at nine months? No way.

Dr. B also wants us to start giving her a bottle of water overnight instead of letting her nurse. That doesn’t make any sense to me; if she wants us to give her MORE calories, why would we replace the few ounces of breastmilk she gets in the night with water, which has no nutritional value and no calories? In any case, my breasts get painfully full after 5 hours; if I didn’t nurse the baby at least once in the middle of the night, I’d have to pump, which would interrupt my sleep significantly more than just nursing does (I’d have to clean the equipment, go into another room to use the pump, label and put the milk away, THEN come back to bed), and also wouldn’t maintain my supply nearly as well. Replacing her night feedings with water as well as cutting back on her day feedings to give her more solids would pretty much guarantee an early weaning, which is not happening as long as I can help it.

I do love Dr. B, but today’s visit left me feeling pretty blah. I realize that many, many pediatricians are misinformed when it comes to the growth patterns of breastfed babies (since so few babies at Eve’s age are still nursing), but somehow I had hoped that Dr. B would be different. Marcus and I talked and we feel very confident that Eve is doing just fine as she is. There’s no need to fatten her up and we’re gonna keep doing things as we have.

As far as I’m concerned, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. And Eve is mostly certainly not broke.

This whole situation has me thinking about all of the women who wanted to breastfeed for at least a year, but found that their milk supply just couldn’t be maintained. They think that there is something wrong with their bodies, that their breasts just couldn’t do it. I work with one such woman, whose milk supply is steadily dwindling even though her daughter is only 8 months old. The fact is, a woman’s breasts WILL successfully feed a child for a year and longer, but that nursing relationship is threatened when she doesn’t have the knowledge, the resources, or the support to utilize practices that will maintain that relationship.

The instructions that Eve’s doctor gave to us today would be a threat to the nursing relationship that I share with my daughter, and I am fortunate enough to have access to the resources that allowed me to recognize that threat; otherwise I could be in the same situation as my coworker, wondering why my breasts “don’t work”, all the while encouraging an early weaning without even knowing it because that’s what the doc said to do (not that I’m saying that doctors don’t WANT women to continue nursing; only that, like many of their patients, they just sadly don’t know any better and aren’t familiar with all of the consequences of some of their recommendations).

Ugh. The whole thing just has me so bummed.