Monthly Archives: December 2011

Random Stuffs

I’ve been discussing theology with some cyberfriends, and someone brought up an idea I’ve seen before – because there’s uncertainty about these questions that can never be definitively resolved, both Christians and atheists have faith.  I think that misses the mark.  I would say this instead.  Faced with uncertainty, Christians have faith, while atheists have tolerance for the answer “We don’t know (yet).”

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As I read further in Babywise, I’m attempting to run down some of his “citations” (I use the term loosely.)  In my Googling, I’ve come upon the excellent blog Unbecoming Baby Lies, which maybe has already done my job for me, but what the hell.  Read her, and read me – there’s plenty of Ezzo debunking to go around!  An excellent place to start is her hilarious conversion of Babywise infant management to  a system of husband management: Growing Husbands God’s Way.

* * *

A public service announcement: if you have little girls, think twice before giving them bubble baths.  Poor Claire suffered terribly over the past 4 days after taking a bubble bath, and grabbing the bottle and dumping the entire contents into the tub.  Withholding pee because it hurt led to withholding everything, which led to a delightful initiation into manual disimpaction for me on Thursday night.  Claire’s evocative metaphor as she looked back on the experience with painful pee was, “It was dark black and it had fire in it, that was the problem.”

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Quiverfull Families

No time for a full-on, researched post today, as my 3yo has a horrific UTI and dealing with that is a full-time job.

But as I drove to the pediatrician today, I was listening to Godless Bitches interviewing Vyckie of No Longer Quivering.  She mentioned how she had felt she was “turning over her reproductive life to God.”

How come it’s always the reproductive life, and really, only the woman’s reproductive life that gets turned over to God?  As far as the man’s reproductive life, I’m pretty sure the quiverfull husbands don’t sit passively and wait for Yahweh to levitate semen out of them and into their wives.  They get to decide if they’re feeling frisky or if they’re just too tired after work, without being guilty of thwarting God’s will.  It’s only the incubators women who have to turn all decision-making over to the Almighty.

One wonders why it’s just reproduction too.  Wouldn’t any of these statements be just as valid?

I’m turning my nutritional life over to God.  If He wants me to be hungry, how can I disobey Him by eating?

I’m turning my dental life over to God.  It’s in His power to kill the plaque on my teeth, and if He doesn’t, it would be usurping His power to go to the dentist and get a cleaning.

I’m turning my economic life over to God.  If He wills me to have food and shelter, He will make it so.  I dare not contravene His will by making my own decisions to get a job and earn money.  (This one is particularly appealing, seeing as Jesus actually instructed his followers to live like this!)

All this leaves aside the question why Yahweh needs a man to reverse his vasectomy or even sleep with his wife in order to allow for Yahweh’s desired impregnation to occur, given that He’s omnipotent and has a proven track record of knocking up chicks with minimal spousal contribution.

Unassisted Childbirth

Believe it or not, some people do this on purpose.  They give birth at home, with no trained professionals helping them.  I think this trend is largely a reaction to our prevailing culture surrounding birth, where women go to the doctor, do what s/he says, give birth in a hospital, and probably have at least one medical intervention along the way.  This setup leaves a lot to be desired, and there is a counter-movement that celebrates birth as a normal function, and emphasizes respect for the mother.  This school of thought argues that birth has been over-medicalized, doctors treat pregnancy and childbirth as a disease, technology and intervention are revered (even when research shows that they cause more harm than good), and women are treated as dangerous baby-vessels from whom the fetus must be rescued, often resulting in contemptuous treatment of laboring mothers, sometimes even going so far as performing medical procedures without informed consent.

To a very large extent, I agree with this backlash against hospital birth.  I’m a big believer in free-standing birth centers, where practitioners tend to be more aware of evidence-based practice and more respectful of women.  I also think states should have straightforward processes for licensing and regulating midwives who attend home births.  For low risk pregnancies, particularly for women who have already given birth at least once, home birth is just as safe as hospital birth, and is preferable for many families.

My sense is that unassisted childbirth may often be prompted by a mother’s reluctance to subject herself to the standard practices at a hospital, combined with a lack of other options.  I suspect a good portion of mothers who chose UC would be happy to birth at home with a midwife, if that option were available.

But it also seems that some people have just reacted so strongly against the medicalized version of birth that they’ve landed in La-la Land, where birth is a breathlessly venerated spiritual experience, labor and delivery can be risk-free if only you eat right and exercise during pregnancy, and the presence of any person who wasn’t there when the baby was made is unacceptably interventionist, invasive, and disruptive to the natural process.  This is where it gets dangerous.  Birth may be a normal function, but especially in humans, it is a time of crisis, when things can and do go wrong.  Humans are unique in that our pelvic openings are only barely big enough to allow our babies through.  Pregnancy isn’t a disease, but it is a burden on the mother’s body.  Labor doesn’t have to be an emergency, but it does present health challenges to mother and baby that can become emergencies.

There isn’t a lot of research on unassisted childbirth, because it’s so fringe that there aren’t populations to study.  There’s some data on a religious sect that practiced UC, and of course there’s information from developing countries where women simply don’t have access to healthcare.  In both cases, lack of medical care during pregnancy and childbirth are associated with much higher levels of maternal and infant mortality.  UC proponents argue that these situations aren’t analogous because  good nutrition and healthy practices during pregnancy make UC safe.  However, at least one review of historical data shows that poverty and nutrition had almost no effect on maternal mortality rates in childbirth, and the WHO urges better access to medical care as the best way to save the lives of women and babies in underdeveloped areas.

Some UC supporters say, “birth is safe and normal, otherwise our species wouldn’t be here!”  But they’re profoundly misunderstanding evolution, which only requires a process to be good enough to pass along genes.  Natural selection has resulted in a system where women can get pregnant very frequently, so that despite the peril that an upright stance and a big brain causes, enough babies survive to carry on the species.  I don’t know about you, but “a lot of babies die, but enough survive” isn’t an ambitious enough goal for me.

Some supporters of unassisted childbirth claim that it’s unnatural to have birth attendants.  Aside from engaging in the naturalistic fallacy, this argument fails because it’s just not true.  As far as we’ve been able to determine, mothers have sought help from others during birth for as long as we’ve been a distinct species.  For humans, having birth attendants is what’s natural, while closing oneself up in a separate dwelling and giving birth in the presence of only one’s husband is profoundly unnatural – a behavior emerging only in our modern culture.

Now, I consider UC to be overly risky and poorly rationalized, but I still think women have the right to do it.  Just as I’m pro-choice regarding abortion, I believe that a woman has a right to decide what kind of medical care she will receive, and to reject medical interventions, even if others would find her decision foolish.  I do have an issue with parents UCing and then failing to have the newborn checked out by a medical professional, though.  In some jurisdictions this might even fall under child neglect laws, and regardless I don’t feel comfortable with parents simply looking at a newborn and saying, “Gee, she looks like she’s doing OK.”  Again, birth is a tough process that can introduce a lot of life-threatening conditions, some of which will not be apparent to a layperson.  I remember when a friend had her baby a little early, we were all remarking how chubby and healthy she looked – we were sure she was just fine – only to find out that she had some kidney problems that required immediate intervention.

In the end, that is the biggest problem with UC – hubris.  People look at the few areas where doctors have embraced stupid birth practices that aren’t supported by the evidence, and take away the message that parents are just as capable of coping with the crisis of birth as any hospital.  Often their gamble turns out OK – the birth will be a normal, complication-free event, and no particular knowledge or expertise in medicine will be required.  But the problem is that no one can predict with certainty which births will become problematic, and if you have no one present who has training in recognizing and dealing with such situations, you’re headed for disaster.

Quickies for Christmas

No Virginia, There Is No Santa Claus, by Greta Christina

‘Twas the Night Before Reason, via The Friendly Atheist

“What an odd question . . . I adore Christmas. The fact that I know that Christianity’s origins lie more in Paul of Tarsus’s mental illness and [Emperor] Constantine’s political savvy than in the existence of the divine has no bearing on my ability to embrace this age-old festival of giving, family and feasting.” – Tim Minchin

And since we’re talking about Tim, here’s his Christmas song, White Wine in the Sun:

Merry Christmas!

Skeptical icons who look like Santa

I noticed the irony that Tom Flynn really looks quite a bit like Santa when he’s in his Anti-Claus getup.  Then I happened to read a tribute to Christopher Hitchens by Daniel Dennett, and the picture of Dennett made me investigate a bit further.  Now, I give you a surprising number of famous atheist “Santas.”  Mouseover for names.

I may not be posting new stuff until the 26th, as we’ll be busy partying with family.  Joyous Chrismahannukwanzaakah, Happy Yule, Merry Solstice, Felicitous Humanlight, and so on and so forth.  Whatever you’re doing during this season, I hope you have fun.  Tom, I hope you enjoy the easy drive to work and the peace and quiet once you get there!

“Serious atheists” shouldn’t celebrate Christmas?

Tom Flynn is infamous for being anti-Christmas.  It’s not just that he doesn’t believe in the supernatural bits.  It’s not just that he has decided not to celebrate any flavor of winter festival himself.  He doesn’t want me to, either.  And he’s kind of insulting about it.  In his recent interview on Point of Inquiry, he literally said, “if you’re a serious atheist and you know, you no longer worship the babe, sooner or later you let go of the bathwater, and that’s what I did.”

He argues that we’re propping up Christianity because grade school kids from Hindu and Buddhist backgrounds identify even secular Xmas stuff like Frosty the Snowman as Christian.  I see what he’s saying in a way, but Christianity is very intertwined with Western culture, and I can’t see how I would expunge every characteristic about me that says “Christian” to people from other cultures.  Most of these features peg me as Christian all year long, not just in December.  My name for instance – that “C-H-R-I-S-T” right at the beginning is a dead giveaway.  Also my complexion and eye color, my language, and my place of residence.  I’d be willing to bet that an awful lot of the population of Earth would call me Christian, without inquiring into my actual religious beliefs.  So what?  I’m reminded of the joke about Northern Ireland: “Are you a Protestant or a Catholic atheist?”  When you come from a part of the world that was known for quite a while as “Christendom,” people will often assume you’re Christian whether you celebrate Christmas or not.

I don’t believe in Jesus, but Christmas is part of my family tradition, and it’s a great excuse to party, give and get gifts, eat and drink with abandon, and lounge around not doing work.  What’s not to like?  Also, I don’t have to be scared that The Great Dragon is consuming the sun to give a little cheer for longer days, returning warmth, and the sun moving upward in the sky, so it doesn’t stab me in the retinas when I drive to the Y in the morning.  (Though perhaps I shouldn’t go the YMCA, since it might be perceived as supporting the Christian social hegemony.)

I don’t really understand Flynn’s particular hate for Christmas either.  I also celebrate Thanksgiving, though its origins are decidedly Christian.  I love Halloween, which wouldn’t exist without All Saints’ Day.  Like most people, any celebrating I do during Mardi Gras is totally unrelated to getting in some last partying before Lent.  If I lived in Thailand, I’d probably participate in Loi Krathong celebrations; in India, Diwali, and so on.  Parties are fun.  No further justification required.

Flynn also objects that celebrating the winter solstice is somehow incompatible with a global society.  I’m totally puzzled by this argument.  He says non-believers shouldn’t try to build any alternate celebrations around the winter solstice, because it’s only relevant in the northern hemisphere (the southern then experiencing the summer solstice, while areas around the equator experience no significant differences in weather or daylight hours in any case).  This seems like a non-sequitur.  Why does any particular celebration have to apply to every person on the planet?  Should we also hesitate to call Memorial Day the beginning of summer, and refrain from hitting the beach because it’s winter in Australia?  Is it OK to celebrate the 4th of July, given it only applies to the United States?

I would understand most of his argument if it was an answer to someone saying he should celebrate Christmas.  It doesn’t speak to him, he has no particular reason to give it special meaning, and he chooses not to partake.  No problem.  But the implication that somehow I’m not a Real True Atheist because I do celebrate it definitely rubs me the wrong way.  I’d like to read his book, The Trouble with Christmas, but I’m not coughing up $80 for it, so for now I’ll just give him the benefit of the doubt and assume the best.  He was speaking extemporaneously, and describing his inner thought process, so maybe he just meant, “I thought to myself, ‘Hey, if you’re an atheist, why are you celebrating the birth of Christ?’” and meant only to refer to his internal debate, not to comment on the sincerity or thoughtfulness of other non-believers.

If so, it’s cool.  More fruitcake for me.

Sleep Deprivation

Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast,–

- Macbeth, Act II, Scene II

Since we’ve been discussing sleep training, why not look at one of the big reasons parents use it: sleep deprivation.  As I’ve said before, there seems to me an underlying idea in many AP circles that parents (especially moms) should just suck it up and deal with sleep deprivation.  Actually, to an extent I think it’s true.  When you bring home a newborn, your life is turned upside down for a while, and because a new baby’s needs are so vital, you do need to learn to cope with sleep interruptions for a bit.  In the first few months, babies need to nurse every 2-3 hours, with perhaps one slightly longer period at night, if you’re lucky.  Formula takes slightly longer to digest, but a baby’s stomach is approximately the size of his fist – no matter what you’re putting in, you’re not going to provide 8 hours of nutrition in one feeding.  So someone will be waking up with the baby.  And of course, they tend to poop frequently, get belly pain as their digestive system learns to cope with life outside mom, and generally need lots of help to organize themselves physically and neurologically.

During this time, moms and dads are encouraged to lower their housekeeping standards, rely on their social network for help with meals and household responsibilities, nap when they can, and trade off night time duties to allow each other at least one reasonably lengthy block of uninterrupted sleep.  During this time, keeping the baby in the parents’ room is not only powerfully protective against SIDS, it eases the burden of waking up to take care of the baby’s needs.  Most often, babies develop something of a routine, and begin sleeping for longer blocks of time as they mature.

But what happens if that doesn’t occur?  Or if a baby sleeps better for a while, then begins waking more and more often at night?  After four, five, or six months, most of the social support from friends, church members, and neighbors will have evaporated.  Parental leave and vacation days have been used up, and people no longer cut parents the same slack they did when their baby was new.  From perusing some parenting boards, I see that some babies (who probably slept for a few hours at a time as newborns) degrade to sleeping only 45, 60, or 90 minutes at a time, all night long.  While waking up with the baby twice a night might be a bit wearing, one can usually cope with it, and even get a total of about 8 hours of rest.  But waking up 5-10 times a night? How do you cope with that – for months?

“Lower your standards.”  There is a point at which lower would be too low for the health and safety of you and your baby.

“Sleep when the baby sleeps.”  This is awesome advice – for stay-at-home moms with no older children, that is.

Don’t worry, we’ll amuse ourselves. Is there flour in the pantry?

“Bed share!”  A lot of moms will take the AAP admonition against this at face value.  Others can’t bed share for a variety of reasons even James McKenna “authorizes” as legitimate.  Also, to judge by the bedsharing sections of The No Cry Sleep Solution and Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, bedsharing by no means guarantees a good night’s sleep.

In the whole Narvaez debate, I’m seeing quite a few people saying, “Those selfish mothers – I can’t believe someone would leave a baby to cry just so they won’t be inconvenienced!”  Now, I agree that parents shouldn’t put their convenience above their baby’s needs.  (Heck, I’m taking apart Babywise with just this attitude – the book so far seems to be based on the idea that babies shouldn’t inconvenience their parents).  To think that you can be responsible for all the needs of a helpless human being, 24/7, and not have major changes in your life is absurd.  However, when inconvenience develops into major cognitive impairment and huge health risks, some balancing of needs is called for.  To all those Judgy McJudgersons decrying lazy parents who can’t stand some inconvenience, I invite you to set your alarm to go off every 60 minutes at night, for just a week.  Then get back to us about how inconvenient you find it when you develop depression, can’t make decisions or concentrate, forget simple things, get in a car crash, or even develop high blood pressure or diabetes.

There’s a reason for all the controversy over the U.S. government using sleep deprivation methods on prisoners.  It is considered by many to be a form of torture, and is indisputably an effective means of breaking someone down psychologically.  So maybe, just maybe, you AP advocates could cut those “evil, lazy, selfish” parents who consider sleep training a little bit of slack.  Especially if you were lucky enough only to have moderate sleep deprivation, or you’re among the 5% of people who do OK on less sleep, or if you’re an “expert” who has never had children.

(By the way, I was looking for a good picture of a tired mom, and all the images were of happy moms holding sleeping babies, or moms asleep with a gentle smile on their faces.  To find an image expressive of true mom-sleep-deprivation, I finally did an image search for “zombie” – there we go, perfect.)

Last Friday Night – the Parents’ Version

And now, something silly and fluffy for Friday.  It’s shocking how little needs to be changed to reflect life with small children:

There’s a toddler in my bed,
There’s a pounding in my head
Glitter all over the room
Pink flamingos in the pool
I smell like I need a bath
Should I cry or should I laugh?
Barbie’s on the barbecue
Is this some chocolate or some poo?

Homework from last night
Nearly slipped our minds
I’m screwed
Oh well
I’ll break up a brawl
Then I’ll make them all some food
Damn

Last Monday night
Yeah, they danced on tabletops
And we listened to Kidz Bop
Meant to clean but I forgot
Last Tuesday night
Yeah,I paid our credit cards
Changed the oil in the car
Trimmed the bushes in the yard
Last Wednesday night
Toddler streaking in the park
Stepped on Legos in the dark
Think that’s gonna leave a mark
Last Thursday night
Think they almost broke my jaw
Always telling them to stop Whoa-oh-oah
This Friday night Do it all again
This Friday night Do it all again

Trying to connect the dots
Don’t know what to tell my boss
Goldfish all over my car
Chandelier is on the floor
Peanut butter on my dress
Will I ever get some rest?
Think I missed the diaper pail
That was such an epic fail
Picture day’s today
And I didn’t pay
I’m screwed
Oh well
I’ll dash off a check
Get the kids the heck to school
Damn

Last Monday night
Yeah, they danced on tabletops
And we listened to Kidz Bop
Meant to clean but I forgot
Last Tuesday night
Yeah,I paid our credit cards
Changed the oil in the car
Trimmed the bushes in the yard
Last Wednesday night
Toddler streaking in the park
Stepped on Legos in the dark
Think that’s gonna leave a mark
Last Thursday night
Think they almost broke my jaw
Always telling them to stop Whoa-oh-oah
This Friday night Do it all again
This Friday night Do it all again

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