Unsolicited advice on giving unsolicited advice

The other day I was sitting at a restaurant bottle feeding Ben, when a woman approached me and asked me why I wasn't breastfeeding him.  Despite my knowing that the question was inappropriate and all the possible reasons why a person would or could not breastfeed, I was in shock, and I stumbled to answer, "Uhhh, this is breastmilk... errr, I do breastfeed, I am trying to breastfeed!" And she proceeded to tell me how good breastfeeding was for her, and how she breastfed all of her own kids.

I don't doubt that the woman had the best intentions. I think most people offering unsolicited advice normally do, but that is besides the point. The point is how its received. It is hard for the person getting the advice not to interpret advice as criticism.  In that moment in the restaurant, I took that woman to be telling me that I should be breastfeeding and was doing something wrong by bottle feeding. As new parents, Dave and I have been given a plethora of conflicting advice: breastfeeding will make your baby smarter and healthier, breastfeeding is overrated, let your kid cry a bit and soothe himself if you don't he will be needy, never let your baby cry it will cause permanent emotional damage, co-sleep, don't co-sleep because it will cause attachment, use a pacifier, don't use a pacifier - it will ruin your baby's teeth, use a swaddle, swaddles will ruin your baby's hips, so on and so forth. You get it. Every decision we have made has been with full knowledge of its supposed risks, and none has been with any level of confidence. I truly believe that our experience is one that is common to almost all new parents, and so giving unsolicited advice is actually providing criticism at a time when what is most needed is encouragement.

While I was pregnant I read blog entries on Cup of Jo and Kveller about how nice it feels to have someone tell you that you are a good mom. At the time I didn't quite get just how true that would be. The truth is, whatever advice you are about to give, rest assured, they have heard it. Trust me. So from now on, whenever I get the inclination to offer up some of my expert advice (we are all guilty), I will hold that thought and instead say, "You are a good mom (or dad)".  I am sure that both of us will be better off for it.


Miscellaneous mercredi...

After 9 months of wanting to wear nothing but stretchy pants and mumus, I have regained my interest in clothes! I am not ready to venture into the denim department just yet (I will be wearing my maternity jeans for another little while – don’t judge) but I would be happy with a new jacket and some sweaters. When I used to plant trees Carhartt was the go-to brand for super durable, nice looking work wear. Now they have a line of street wear that I love – here are some pieces that I have been drooling over.

PS: I am brushing up on my knowledge of the conflict in Central African Republic. I am starting at Times Topics (Terry - it's up to date!), BBC profilesAll Africa. MSF / Doctors Without Borders for humanitarian news. Do you have any good news and analysis sources to share?

PPS: Read Don't Date a Girl Who Travels to see why its so amazing that Dave has put up with me for so long...

PPPS: See how the US compares to other nations when it comes to paid maternity leave.

PPPPS: I just asked Dave, "What day of the week is it today, its Tuesday, right?" to which he responded, "Yes, its Tuesday."  Nope. Both wrong. It's Wednesday. I guess we're not as well slept and clear headed as we thought...


Maternity Leave + Paternity Leave = Gourmet Cooking!

I heart paternity leave. Big time. You heard me. Paternity leave. Having Dave around for the past four weeks has been wonderful. As much as I love him, I can't imagine being at home alone with Ben at this stage when he's so small and we're just trying to figure him out.

Dave is bonding with the baby and me in ways that he wouldn't be able to if he were at the office - he has had the time he needs to get to know Ben, to get comfortable consoling him, figuring out what will put him to sleep, or pique his attention. The benefits of having Dave home are many, not the least of which is the extra set of hands. Hands to bring me water when I am nursing, bottles when I am pumping, to take the baby when he's inconsolable and I have tried everything, to play with him, and watch over him when I am busy. Rather than being exhausted (okay - we are both still a bit tired) and overwhelmed, we are happy and doing well.

Dave and I have always loved food and cooking, but one of the best parts of having family leave together has been that we are able to cook dinner together and we have an excuse to stay in! Since Ben's birth we have made a point of experimenting with new recipes, and made a ritual of setting the table, lighting a candle. Here is what we have experimented with and loved:

Delicious salmon with garlic, lemon and dill.
Fennel, quinoa and pomegranate salad (top image).
The best herb roasted lamb chops I have ever tasted.
Pan roasted chicken with harissa chickpeas (image above).
The Plumpjack Balboa burger with pickled onions.
Sausage and broccoli rabe fritatta.
Baked cod wrapped in bacon.
This pasta sauce that we saw on a chalk board at Brooklyn Larder: 1 tin of Matiz sardines, 2 cans of peeled tomatoes, chili de arbol, and some garlic (this was our own addition) over fresh pasta.

PS: We're making an effort to eat more responsibly these days, so all of the meat we have cooked has been local and free range / organic.
PPS: If you are looking at these recipes and worrying about our arteries, here are our philosophies on food:

PPPS: First two images (and most recipes!) from Bon Appetit. Image above from the Print Shop by Alexandra's Kitchen.


Papa t'aime

Dear Ben,

Over the coming years you might notice your father being treated like a second class parent: men get less parental leave than women, if they get any at all.  Fathers who want to stay with their families when their babies are born have to pay exorbitant fees to do so. Today at the library your dad couldn’t find a place to change you because change tables are only found in women’s bathrooms. Even laws heavily favor mothers over fathers.

I want you to know that your father is anything but a second-rate parent. From the moment you were born he has swaddled, shushed and swayed you to sleep, and stayed up at all hours of the night feeding and changing you. He has rushed out in snowstorms to buy breastfeeding paraphernalia to help you eat and gain weight.  He has spent hours researching the best and safest daycares and strollers. He is a member of just about every parent listserv in the whole city and has read enough about your brain’s development and how to nurture it to make him an expert. He will never tire of holding you, kissing you, and playing with you.

In your first weeks of life, your dad has proven himself to be a wonderful, 100% equal, first-rate parent. Hopefully, by the time you are old enough to want kids, things will have changed, and if you choose to become a father, society will acknowledge the importance of your role in raising your kids and support you in doing so.





After a long hiatus from blogging due to unforeseen delays in the renovation of our house (which many of you know about and which I will elaborate on much more later) we had another life changing event that we thought was worth sharing - possibly the biggest accomplishment of our lives: on December 31st of 2013, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy named Benoît. It was simultaneously the most difficult and amazing day of my life. For those who are interested, I have included a blow-by-blow of the experience. Before I start though, I want to say that I chose to have a natural birth. It was a very personal decision, one that I am happy that I made, but by no means would ever want to push on anyone else. My delivery was not easy. I knew my contractions would be difficult, but assumed that I would have some time between them to recuperate. As you will see, my vision of myself relaxing in my candlelit bathtub listening to Air between contractions did not exactly pan out. I now totally understand and respect the reasons why a woman would chose to or not to have a natural birth.

At 12:30 am on Tuesday the 31st of December (five days before my due date), Dave and I were watching Riki Lake deliver her second baby in the movie The Business of Being Born  (seriously - this is not a joke). Something about her birth must have triggered some hormones of my own, because as I stood up to go to the bathroom, my water broke. Super excited, we called our doula, Sarah Kaylor, who told me to drink some wine and go to bed and told Dave that because I am strep B positive, Dave should call our OB and ask for his advice on what to do next.

Dr. Mussali, our amazing OB, congratulated Dave and I on the broken bag of waters and suggested that we call him when contractions start (even if it was in the middle of the night), otherwise to come into his office the next morning.

Off to bed I went. 

In the morning, I still had not had any regular contractions, so Dave and I took our time getting ready to go to the clinic: we showered, packed our bags, and ate a nice breakfast.  While not happy about it, we assumed that because of my strep B, we would have to be admitted and induced so that I would deliver in the Mt. Sinai required 24 hours.

My contractions started in earnest when I arrived at the clinic at around 10:30. I lay on my side in the doctor’s office with a super-tight fetal heart rate monitor on, having a contraction as Dr. Mussali told me that I was 2cm dilated, and that I should go for a walk in central park to get my labor moving, and come back to his office to get checked out again later at around 1pm.

I remember distinctly thinking these three things:
1.       2cm?!!! WTF. I am never going to make it.
2.       Walk in Central Park?  Is he crazy? I can barely move right now.
3.       If I have to put this fetal heart rate band on one more time, I am not going to make it.

On the way to the car, Dave and I decided that we would head to his parents place in the Upper West Side. Sometime earlier in my pregnancy, we had agreed with his parents that we would do this and that they would head over to our place in Brooklyn and essentially get the house ready for us. Unfortunately, we made this agreement under the assumption that I was going to deliver on or after my due date and the holidays, and not on his mother’s birthday / New Year’s Eve / while Dave’s brother and his fiancé were visiting from out of town.

So, while my in-laws sat biting their fingernails on the other side of the wall, Dave and I set up shop in is parents’ not-as-big-as-I-remember-it bathroom, and waited for our doula, Sarah, to arrive. Note: I do not recommend this! Knowing that other people are listening to you making animal sounds on their bathroom floor is never fun. Though I do think they may have learned a thing or two about childbirth... 

Very quickly my contractions went from being 10 minutes apart to being 2 minutes apart, and Dave had created a little circuit for me: I would spend the first 20 seconds of each contraction sitting on the toilet, then dive on to all fours with my head resting on the garbage can (in case I barfed, which luckily I did not), and then he placed a pillow on the floor at behind the garbage can where I would lie in the fetal position and wait for my next contraction.

This part was really, really hard. Every contraction I was questioning whether or not I could make it.  Breathing really did get me through it, as did Dave. When Sarah arrived at about 12:45, she listened to exactly one contraction and was like, “Have you been doing that, you know that thing where half way through the contraction you start pushing, for long? If so, it’s not really cool that we stay here.” So Dave called Dr. Mussali and asked him to meet us at the hospital.

At around 1:30pm I arrived at the hospital on all fours. Sarah led me in to the hospital while Dave parked the car.  As we walked through the front door, the security guy at the front rushed over with a wheelchair to help me. Sarah told him that I would not need the chair, I was fine on all fours, but if I could please get the emergency elevator that would be very much appreciated. Clearly, she had done this before. In the labor and delivery ward I was rushed into the closest room available and strapped to the fetal monitor. After a whirlwind of fears that there was meconium in my fluid and some hospital staff being nonplussed that I was strep B positive and arriving so late, the nurse asked me if I wanted an epidural. The room fell silent. I was supposed to answer that question?! For myself?! Clearly every fiber of my being wanted that epidural! Somehow, I managed to squeak out a very doubtful, “No thank you” before my next contraction came on.

Next the nurse measured my cervix, after the 2cm incident, I did not want to know how dilated I actually was, but asked that she tell Dave instead. I lasted about 10 seconds before I begged Dave to tell me how dilated I was. Luckily, I was 8cm and very soon after that I was pushing. Before I started though, Dr. Mussali asked me again if I would like an epidural, as it would be my last opportunity to request one. Perhaps sensing my hesitation, he told me that if I wanted a natural birth, I could have one – I was close and he knew that I could do it. It was just the vote of confidence that I needed to keep going.

I was surprised by just how hard pushing was. I certainly did not feel that “close”.  In my mind pushing was going to be this fast process where someone tells me how close I am to meeting my baby and within three pushes he would be out. In reality I was exhausted and the baby’s head, though visible, was not moving down very quickly. Nevertheless, with a lot of guidance and instruction from Sarah, Dr. Mussali and Dave, I delivered at 4:08 pm in, ironically, a modified happy-baby yoga pose. Sitting on that bed looking down at this tiny, cone-headed, blue, mucus-covered baby that has just come out of me was surreal. He was perfect. 

More on our experience as parents later, but one person who needs to be thanked in this story is Ben's uncle Steve, who actually sat in our car for two whole hours on the Upper West Side while I labored because we couldn't find parking at Dave's parents place... He even ran out to buy me gatorade! Thanks Steve!

The top four photos are by Lev Kuperman Photography.