Thursday, December 31, 2009

The things you forget

Will was born around 4-1/2 months ago. The whole thing took a lot out of me. It made me wonder how on earth our species has persisted for some 6 million years on this planet: why would any woman go through this thing again after knowing all it entailed?

They say that you forget the pain of labor, but it didn't seem possible that I would ever forget it. I did it without any pain medication, all 23 hours of it, and I felt every last thing. It was not the type of transcendent experience I had read about in Ina May's Guide to Childbirth. I never noticed the natural endorphins my yoga teacher had assured us would kick in. In fact, it was flat-out the scariest experience I have ever had. I didn't know it was possible for a human being to scream as loud as I did.

But then when Will was about 3 months old, I realized I couldn't quite describe what a contraction felt like anymore. And gradually, I stopped reliving the whole traumatic thing every minute of every day. While we were out for a walk in the neighborhood one afternoon, I actually said to Rob, "You know, it wasn't that bad. I could probably do it again if I had to." He looked at me like I had lost my mind and said something to the effect of, "Are you freaking kidding me?" I guess the experience wasn't far enough in the past for him to forget.

At my dissertation defense party a few weeks ago, I was talking about Will's birth with SL's wife and some of the other graduate students from my department. I marveled again at how there came to be some 6 billion people on the planet when the process of giving birth is our only means of multiplication. SL's wife, who has had two children herself, replied that there are many reasons why someone would choose to not have any more children after the first one, but that remembering the pain of labor wasn't one of them. Maybe you forget, or maybe it just stops mattering.

For the longest time after Will's birth, I looked back on the whole experience with so much negativity. I felt like I had fallen apart during his birth--what with my stalling at 5 cm for 4 hours and then with all the screaming I did. But finally, enough time has passed that I am beginning to look at the positive aspects instead of just the negative. No matter how ugly it got, I did it, and on my own terms. I'm just on the cusp of starting to see it as pretty amazing.

Thanks for reading.


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Some pertinent background information

A lot of things took place before I started this blog, and I wrote about them elsewhere.

First of all, I got pregnant. I wish I could say that I was a glowing and radiant, but unfortunately I was not. I had severe nausea and vomiting the whole time (and even for a while after). You can read the highlights (if they can so be called?) of this journey here and here.

Then, I gave birth. It was an epic experience, is all I can say. The whole long story is in four parts, but if you just want to cut to the chase, we had a baby. We named him William Miles, and the minute I laid eyes on him, I knew he was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen.

The story didn't end there. The baby wouldn't stop crying, ever. Nursing was terrible. We were seeing a lactation consultant twice a week, but nothing was getting better. Finally, our lactation consultant suggested that Will's crying was because he was hungry, and she began treating me for a low milk supply (hence the impetus for this blog). That part of the story begins here.

Monday, December 28, 2009

About Cloth Mother

Who is Cloth Mother?

Cloth Mother has a PhD in Biological Anthropology. She does research on the weaning process in folivorous primates. She spent a year living in rural Nicaragua doing her dissertation research on two groups of wild mantled howler monkeys. (You can read all about that on Nicablogua). Afterwards, Cloth Mother came back to the US to write her dissertation. (And you can read all about that on Almost PhD).

She also runs marathons and she is a vegan (most of the time). She is married to Ragfield, and they have one child together (William), who was born on August 12, 2009.

Why Cloth Mother?


In the 1950’s and 1960’s, a psychologist named Harry Harlow did some really terrible and unethical studies on social development in primates. Harlow et al. took newborn rhesus macaques away from their mothers and placed them with “wire mothers” (monkey shaped things that were featureless and made out of wire) or “cloth mothers” (monkey-shaped things that had faces and bodies covered with a soft, warm cloth). Results demonstrated that even when the wire mothers were equipped with bottles of milk and the cloth mothers had none, the baby macaques preferred the soft cloth mothers. Especially when subjected to fear, stress, or unfamiliar situations, the poor dears clung to their cloth mothers for comfort.

When Cloth Mother was pregnant, she did everything possible to ensure that the baby would be 100%, exclusively breast-fed. Unfortunately, something went terribly wrong, and she did not produce enough milk. William was always hungry. Cloth Mother did everything imaginable to increase her milk supply, but nothing worked. She spent the first several months of William’s life feeding him, pumping milk, giving him the pumped milk in a bottle, and then feeding him again. With no breaks in between. It was all she did, all day and all night. She refused to give him formula. And she refused to listen to the advice of an idiot pediatrician who told her she had to. She had an excellent lactation consultant that got her through the whole thing. The lactation consultant ended up prescribing her a non-FDA approved drug called Domperidone, and after about 6 to 8 weeks on this medication, she finally had loads of milk for William. This whole experience (which you can read about here and here) damn near killed Cloth Mother. But she would do it all over again if she had to. William never had a drop of formula, not one drop, and it was worth it.


As she began to reflect on all she had been through during her pregnancy (which involved a mild yet horrific case of hyperemesis gravidarum), birth, and the first months of William’s life, she began to see herself as one of those cloth mothers in Harlow’s experiment. Warm and comfortable but, in the early days, without much milk. She decided to blog about it.