Yellow Bird

Happy Birthday Amalia

I am not the average unmarried young mother. I am still privileged with the love and financial support of my parents who could have chosen to treat me differently. I have been able to stay in school and work as a nanny over the past year and am blessed to have had the opportunity to bring my daughter to work and have Max’s immense help with childcare so I could attend class.
Amalia has taught me much about myself and about life as a whole. She has a wonderful sense of curiosity, joy, and expression. I want to imitate her in these aspects instead of forgetting that life is full of wonder and I have opportunities to grow each day. Her first birthday gave me a chance to reminisce on my mistakes as well as my successes as a mother, which was a mostly joyful reflection. I have learned that I really don’t know much of anything, but allowing myself to be open to the flow of each day will benefit myself and those around me. Marrying Max, participating in the Church, earning a degree in nursing, and being a mother are some of my roles in life. Within these, my aim is to release the things I cannot control and let all of my actions be in accordance with Love. I regret that I have not been very successful in either of these aspects thus far.

Individualism, Consumerism, and the Rejection of Nature

The obsession with individualism, consumerism, and the rejection of nature are three important factors in the degradation of personhood in our society. Individualism is linked to “success” of a person, which is usually defined by the number of dollars in his bank account. Obviously there are many issues with that, but I will speak about how this affects babies. From the start, modern mothers are told not to let the baby be too attached or dependent because they’ll grow up to be wimpy, insecure, and needy. The other side of this is that mothers somehow deserve not to be inconvenienced by their children because that would impede upon their own individuality. So we have all these contraptions and devices that make parenthood “easier” when it doesn’t have to be difficult in the first place. Giving babies and children objects instead of human connection may be a contributing factor to the major consumerism that literally devours us today. Along with the aforementioned is the rejection of nature. To be a successful individual, one must acquire nice things that usually make life so convenient that there is no real need to venture outside except for recreation. This attitude of living comfortably and being disconnected from nature carries into our parenting. A baby not spending much time outside is a negative aspect, but also the way we treat babies is called into question. We as mothers are so far from our primal instincts that we rely on books often written by men to tell us whether or not to respond to the baby’s cry, when to feed the baby, how often to hold the baby, where the baby should sleep, how long the baby should sleep at night, and more. Babies, on the other hand, are the most primal humans there are; so responding to their cues accordingly seems to make sense (they also don’t read baby care books). Babies are not born broken; there are no habits to be fixed. In the beginning, they do not know anything but their need for nourishment and human connection. Yes, it is convenient for the baby to sleep all night, but it’s simply not natural (Dr. Sears on Sleep). We need to start respecting babies’ utter vulnerability, not taking advantage of it. We also need to start respecting mothers’ God-given instinct to respond to their offspring instead of piling on the guilt with each “is she sleeping through the night” inquiry. I may write later about my severe derailment from the natural mothering track, but it’s still too painful to do so now, almost one year later. The attitude we have toward our children starting when they are babies is likely to carry into toddlerhood, childhood, and beyond. If leaving the baby in her crib to cry is the pattern parents begin with, it’s likely that will continue into childhood.

Of Course Modern Mothers Are Depressed

I have been attempting to write this for months and have just now mustered the courage to share it.

“It takes a village,” they say. Where is the village for new mothers in the modern world? I’m luckier than most to live in a town with numerous new-mamas groups, breastfeeding support meetings, baby wearing groups, new dad groups, and the like. These aspects definitely make Athens better than other places to become a parent. A village is not just a bunch of moms with tiny babies, though. It is a community including people in all stages of life. The way babies learn to be toddlers should be by watching toddlers. The way small children learn to be big kids should be by watching the big kids. The way women should learn to be mothers should be by communing with other mothers and grandmothers. If we remain isolated in our nuclear family homes, we do not have consistent opportunities to do so. People are generally happier when they are living life together. The playgroups are a good start, but cooking, gardening, and doing laundry together might be even more fulfilling. I spend most of my days alone with my baby who is almost one year old, and I have suffered fairly severe post partum depression and anxiety. There are many contributing factors to my illness, but the main is a feeling of isolation that I know many new moms share because it doesn’t make sense to spend all day playing with an infant. Playing with babies is definitely part of it, but it should not become a chore. What does make sense is strapping the infant to oneself and going about the day, hopefully in fellowship with other humans, while the baby nurses, sleeps, and watches his mother be human. In this way, the baby gets to be part of the daily activities instead of laying in a cot or swing watching the ceiling while moms scramble to make a sandwich or wash a dish before the next shrill cry from her new addition. The irony is that modern parenting gives permission to exclude babies from normal human activity and when the baby becomes a child and does not behave the way the parent desires, the child takes the blame.

I am fairly consistently questioned (I won’t use the word criticized) for using a sling instead of a stroller, for sharing a bed with my baby, for responding to her cries, for nursing through the night, for driving as little as possible because my baby screams and vomits on car rides, for trying not to let her eat sugar. There are individual reasons for all of these, but on the whole, it is because I am on a journey to wholeness and I want to give that opportunity to my daughter as well. I do not want her to grow up fearing my reaction to her actions. I want to let her learn and grow at her own pace and in her own way. I try not to interfere with her exploration and not do anything for her that she is able to do on her own – this is definitely not easy and I am not extremely proficient in it yet. I do not want to force her to be “tough” by ignoring her cries, the only mode of communication she has in this stage of life. In my experience with other children, I’ve noticed that non-responsiveness actually prolongs the crying for years instead of it gradually slowing down as babies mature. There is always a sense of unsettled-ness between the parents and children whose cries went unanswered in infancy; the trust was never built so now there is a foundation of anxiety, fear, and hunger for approval.

I’ve seen villages in Uganda, Malawi, and Nicaragua where the parents and children lived in harmony. There was no squabbling over who gets the first turn on the xbox. There was a soccer ball made of plastic bags that kept the kids busy while the mothers shucked corn, some with babies on their backs or in the crook of an arm to nurse. The children who wanted to help were given jobs to do, and there was no complaining. Compassion, trust, and respect were communicated in each word exchanged. I truly believe the scene I’ve described exists due greatly to how the Ugandan children were treated as infants. I’ve seen first hand what Jean Liedloff describes in The Continuum Concept. How to create that atmosphere in The United States is somewhat mysterious to me, though I am brainstorming, as are other like-minded families.
More to come soon…

In Its Midst

Having a baby is hard. Caring for a baby is even harder. I have these thoughts but then I think of the woman in Malawi walking three miles to the filthy watering hole carrying two five gallon buckets with an infant strapped to her back. I’ve seen that woman and I am not her, I am not nearly as strong or dedicated. I “won’t survive” without my cup of coffee each morning and both my daughter and myself have a bed with adequate warmth and coziness. The most difficult thing I have dealt with specifically concerning Amalia on a semi-daily basis is that she doesn’t enjoy car rides. She is flourishing in every way, especially her weight, which has now doubled. My point is not that I have an easy life or that people in less comfortable circumstances always work and never enjoy their time. Instead I am writing as a challenge to myself to not accept a life where I feel too overwhelmed to still stretch out to reach my ambitions. Maximos challenges me to be joyful, which has not been the norm for me as of late. Without joy procured through love, there is no real purpose to accomplish goals. Due to the conveniences of the modern world I live in, I am fully able to work toward something great. Part of that greatness is raising a precious girl with Max, and really that is what will highlight all of my actions because that is my chief purpose now. This doesn’t mean that every time I sit down to write, make soap, or study for classes that she will cease to need me. My accomplished goals will be interrupted by dirty diapers, shrill cries, miniature smiles, nursing breaks and sweet cooing. Nothing is impossible, though. This oddly shaped blog post is hopefully the beginning of a new mindset for myself. I will falter more often than not, but the end goal is to live a joyful life void of apathy or laziness. “Mom” is my favorite title, and someday maybe I’ll have others.

Go Bullfrawgs; a crowdsourcing endeavor

After researching and partially understanding Fair Use and Parody laws, Maximos and I began advertising our newest product, Go Bullfrawgs T-shirts. The idea is that if we make 50 sales, we will order the shirts. However, if we do not make it to fifty, we have the excruciating task of sending a refund to each buyer. People use this method (crowdsourcing or crowdfunding) for all kinds of business endeavors and it’s supposed to motivate buyers to become advertisers. It’s really kind of exciting, yet nerve-racking at the same time. So now we wait and advertise for the next month until the deadline of December 1st hits. We have received great feedback and even some sales, but who knows where the next month will take us. To see what we are offering, check out our Etsy page at https://www.etsy.com/listing/208313748/go-bullfrawgs-t-shirt? or our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/bullfrawgs

We grew up in Athens, GA and are constantly bombarded by UGA paraphernalia and advertisements. Maximos is even a student there. This humorous take on the mascot will hopefully turn out to be a smashing success.

Amalia’s Birth Story

The doppler happened to catch a slow fetal heartbeat the moment the midwife checked at our last Centering Pregnancy group. After a few moments, the baby’s heart rate went back to normal, but we were sent to the hospital to check on our sweet daughter. After an overnight stay deprived of dinner in a very uncomfortable bed strapped to very uncomfortable monitors, a crowd of nurses rushed in telling me to shift to various positions and putting an oxygen mask on my face. The screen blinks 65, 71, 68. In terror, I make an attempt not to hyperventilate, as I am aware that baby’s heart rate should be at least above 110 and ideally even higher. After an eternity of six minutes, the tiny one’s heart stabilized to a decent speed and soon the doctor and midwife stood before me explaining that they couldn’t send me home with the risk of something unspeakable happening. The next blur of sentences were about our options for an induction and the possibility of a caesarean section if the baby’s heart couldn’t handle labor. From the beginning of pregnancy, I had begun preparing for a drug-free birth. The evidence of the benefits of a natural birth is tremendous, so though I knew it would be one of the most difficult experiences of my life, I was determined to attain this birth experience. Thankfully the doctor and midwife were aware of my wishes so they assured me that we could try more “natural” techniques to make contractions begin. All of the sudden Maximos and I were in a labor and delivery room, but not in labor. It was a strange feeling to know we would hold our daughter in our arms sometime in the next day or two. Around 11:30am they inserted a Foley bulb that would dilate the cervix to four centimeters, which in turn causes some minor contractions. Shortly after it was in place, contractions began, as did the realization that this was reality. The pain was not extreme, but I did find that practicing for future excruciating pain with different breaths was helpful. I think at this point we were still working on a crossword puzzle. As the contractions grew more intense, I told Max to make me get up and walk every once in a while in order to make things progress more quickly. Eventually after a short break from contractions, the Foley bulb fell out and the midwife told me I was four centimeters. She recommended breaking my water as the next step in the induction. This initiated some real contractions, sending me into some sort of out of body experience where all I knew was pain, closed eyes, and Max’s voice in my ear. Those people who want to refer to contractions as “rushes” or “waves” are ridiculous, or just much stronger than I. I have never broken a bone or experienced any sort of physical trauma to speak of, so I had no idea what kind of tolerance I would have for labor pains. As things grew more intense, I tried to continue moving, but what I mostly recall is lying in bed. Sometimes I would venture to sit on the toilet since it didn’t put unnecessary pressure on my sitting bones, but usually when I sat there the fetal monitors would malfunction for some reason so the nurses would have to come mess with them, which was not pleasant in the least bit. Eventually I wanted to get in a tub of warm water. Here is where I believe I was in transition and began to really doubt my ability to have this baby. Maximos told me that this portion of the day was especially difficult for him. I had been using moaning and humming breaths during contractions and I can imagine how utterly unpleasant it sounded echoing off the tile walls and floor. Max kept the water warm enough and held my hand and told me I was doing great. I kept telling him I couldn’t do it, but he insisted I could. We had decided that he wouldn’t let me get an epidural unless I said the code words, which were “Go Dawgs.” I wouldn’t say those words in real life, so we were hoping I would do the same in labor. It was actually very helpful because I knew I could say, “I can’t” or “I’m dying” or even “give me an epidural,” but unless I said those two horrible words, Max would just encourage me to keep persevering.

I’ll just take a moment to say how wonderful Maximos was through all of this. He was basically the reason I didn’t give up. He was constantly in my ear telling me how great I was doing, reminding me to breath, taking breaths with me, rubbing my back. The three times I puked up my apple juice, ice chips, and popsicles (they wouldn’t let me eat still), he held the bag in front of my face. My mom had told me that he would probably do things to annoy me during labor, even if he was trying to help. There was one moment late in labor when he started popping his knuckles. I was only able to utter one severe “STOP.” The other thing that bothered me for some reason is when I would lie in the bed on my side and my back was to him. I always wanted him in front of me, even though my eyes were closed 85% of the time anyway.

Somehow with the help of my nurse and Maximos, I made it back to the bed and wanted to get on my hands and knees. Now the contractions seemed to be on top of each other, never giving me any relief, so I asked Max to get more help. The nurse transformed the magic bed so that my knees could be at a lower level than my hands, which felt a little better. She also rubbed my back for a long time and I forgot to thank her for that. Shortly after this she asked if I felt like pushing, to which I replied, “I don’t know.” I think on the next contraction I convinced myself that I did indeed feel like pushing, in other words, I wanted this to end. Now. So I told her I was going to push and various people filled the room but I only recognized the midwife wearing a gown and head covering. My groaning turned to uncontrollable screaming with each contraction, which frightened me a bit at the time. In normal life, I avoid raising my voice at all costs. I wasn’t even sure I had the capacity to yell before this experience. The pain was just so overwhelming that all I could do was yell and hold my breath, but thankfully Max kept reminding me of my need for oxygen, even when breathing seemed impossible. At one point I even blacked out, only for a moment, in between agonizing contractions. The midwife tried to feel for the baby’s head and I demanded she stop…I wish I had apologized for snapping at her but I suppose it wasn’t the first time that happened to her. Anyway, I could feel the head getting lower, but I didn’t want to believe it was almost over because I knew it was possible to be pushing for hours with a first baby. By some miracle, I only had to push for about thirty minutes according to our hazy speculations. Then, all of the sudden, she was there with us in the room. A gooey, screaming, purple Amalia was placed on my chest, when she decided it was a good time to empty her bladder. A little hat appeared on her head and I tried to form appropriate words. I heard Max beside me attempting to do the same. And all the pain of labor just faded to the background (for like ten minutes maybe). There’s no way to describe holding your child for the first time. It’s difficult to recall the details, but I know it was wonderful. She was beautiful, especially since she wasn’t too cone-headed because I didn’t push very long. I mean, really, she probably looked like a little alien as most newborns do, but she was beautiful to us at least.

Almost five weeks later, after sleepless nights, millions of dirty diapers, screechy cries, endless cluster feeds, and gallons of spit up, she is even more beautiful. I pray for a fulfilling life for her. I hope she will be stronger than me in every way.

Amalia Clarke DeLaurier

September 9, 2014

9:59pm

7 lbs. 1 oz.

19.25”

Dead Bamboo

I had a three-inch tall bamboo plant that I kept alive for almost a year. It survived moving twice, the spectrum of extreme hot and cold in my thirty-year-old apartment, and long weekends without my attention. I even revived it from the onset of yellowing leaves two or three times. It could not, however, survive a baby. This tiny plant that sat on my desk all these months was not built to thrive under such neglect I’ve given it since Amalia’s birthday.

Having an infant is something that engulfs every inch of a parent’s personhood, at least so far that’s the case. This morning as I sat nursing my three and a half week old daughter, my nose caught a pungent stench and I asked her, “Is that you…or me?” Contact with bodily fluids and all things nasty have become the norm, but it’s somehow delightful. In the first days of her life, Maximos jokingly wondered how we are going to be able to see her as a real person with dignity after caring for her basic needs in such a humiliating way. It is an interesting thought, but we were all once this helpless. I think of my mom sustaining the lives of six children, how many clean diapers we soiled before she was even finished fastening them, how many hours she sat rocking and singing in the dark, how many cries she soothed, and I’m amazed. No wonder she’s crazy. I apologize on behalf of all my siblings and myself, Mom. She told me this is the easy part of parenting, just keeping the kid alive. Since that’s the case, I’m sure I’ll be crazy soon too. Amalia will soon turn into a real person with feelings beyond “I’m uncomfortable because I’m sitting in poop.” or “I don’t care that it’s 3am, feed me before I scream.” She will feel loneliness and disappointment, excitement and happiness one day. My hope is to be there for each of the new feelings she experiences, to help her become an empowered, empathetic, and joyful person. It’s been less than a month since her life outside of me began and I already feel the nostalgia for her birth, her first days, her first week, and earlier this morning when she seemed so much smaller and newer than she is now.

Fortunately, staring at my sleeping baby has turned out to be much more fulfilling than watching a three-inch bamboo plant siting in a pot. Also I’m glad that my ability to care for bamboo is not reflected in my parenting (so far).

Emperor’s Newest Clothes Explanation

My second article for Fr. Anthony Salzman.

What a glorious hope we have in our new clothes.

http://franthonysalzman.tumblr.com/post/92955531521/idea-behind-the-emperors-newest-clothes

Theology in Color

Father Anthony Salzman of St. Philothea Greek Orthodox Church studied Byzantine Art in Thessaloniki, Greece for 6 years as part of his artistic training and is a talented Iconographer. He hired me to write for his business, Image and Likeness Iconography. Below is the first post, mainly highlighting what exactly an Orthodox Byzantine-style icon is and what the purpose of icons are. I hope you enjoy…

Theology in Color

Feel Free to Print and Attempt

Recently, Max opened my eyes to the joys of crossword puzzles, which in turn inspired me to create my own, which proved to be much more challenging and time-consuming than I had expected. Anyway, I don’t know if it’s any good, but feel free to print the attachment and try it out.

 

 Crossword 1