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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Generation to Generation

Ms. Willow Elizabeth at 9 days old.
Well, if you happen to share with me the same networks of Social Media, you can't help but know that we have a new addition to our family.

Ms. Willow Elizabeth was born at 1 PM on April 10, 2015.

She joins her five cousins - Maxx Allen, MacKenna Jane, Melina Marie, Abigayle Sophie, and Mason James - who are all excited to meet her.

She was delivered safely at home, in her parents bed, by a nurse midwife, after 11 hours of pretty intense posterior ("back") labor. Her mother was able to walk around her own home, lean on her Pilate ball, take a few showers, and ease the pain in a warm labor pool set up in their dining room.

We are convinced that, had she been in the hospital, Willow probably would have been delivered via a C-section.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, you understand, and we are deeply grateful that such surgical interventions are available for true obstetrical and/or neonatal emergencies. It's just that our family is part of a growing number of people who are deeply concerned about the rising number of C-sections performed and what constitutes a "true" obstetrical and/or neonatal emergency.

Anyway, Ms. Willow is, as you can see, just as bright and shiny as a newly minted penny.

video
This video was taken when she was just three hours old.  Notice the wee tear in her right eye.

I'm not sure what it is, exactly, about the sound of a newborn baby's cry that does something deep in one's soul. There's something primal about it. Something instantly recognizable. It's the sound of an anxiety we all understand and want to hold and soothe and comfort and console.

"It's okay," we hear ourselves say. "Shhhhh . . . .," we coo. "I'm right here."

And, mostly it will be okay. Except, life happens. Which means that sometimes, it won't be "alright".  And, sometimes, we can't be "right here" - physically or emotionally.

Our daughter and son-in-law, like all first parents, have done their homework. They have read and researched and studied everything from best methods of birthing and breastfeeding, care of the umbilical cord after birth, eating the placenta vs. having it encapsulated as a nutritional supplement ("We're the only mammal that doesn't eat the placenta," we were told with great assurance.), cloth vs. disposable diaper (and, the best way to fold the diaper on the baby, depending on gender. Oh, and absolutely NO diaper pins.), the best way to hold the baby - every minute detail, right down to how many times a day breastfed babies should poop and pee and what it should look and smell like. 

As I listened to these new parents, I wondered how I must have sounded to my thoroughly modern American mother and old school, old country Portuguese grandmother, who were, for example, absolutely stunned and slack-jawed that I wasn't putting a silver dollar on the umbilical stump.  How else was I to be sure that it wouldn't bleed? Or, develop an unsightly hernia?

They let the "silver dollar rule" pass but put their collective and individual foot down and insisted that I use a "belly band" around the baby's abdomen as long as the umbilical stump was still attached to prevent bleeding and hernias.

So, I did. You pick your battles.

Years later, I discovered that the salve we used in the nursery at the time contained a sliver extract, to prevent bleeding from the umbilical stump. Now? Some nurseries use alcohol but mostly, they just leave it alone.

Leave it alone? My grandmother would have been scandalized.

I also had a hard time explaining to my grandmother that maybe I wouldn't have that glass of red wine while I nursed because my pediatrician was saying that recent studies showed that babies actually got some of that alcohol in the breast milk.


I'll never forget the look on my grandmother's face when I told her that. She caught herself, smiled, and said, unable to hide her sarcasm, "Yes. Of course. That's why you drink red wine when you nurse. A relaxed mother and a relaxed baby is a beautiful thing," she would say.

"Besides," she would add with great authority, "you need it to build up the blood you lost when you gave birth. Red wine builds up the blood. But, of course, your smart doctor should know that."

So, I occasionally drank a glass of wine when I nursed my babies.

As I say, you pick your battles.

I think I can say with certainty that, based on abundant anecdotal and subjective evidence, no brain cells were injured in the course of their parenting.  Not any more than any parent is liable for.

Of course, when I was a kid, things were very different than they were for our children and, especially, for our grandchildren.

My mother was discouraged from breastfeeding. Indeed, she was encouraged to "enter the modern age" and fed me a "formula" of evaporated milk, water and Karo syrup. At age two weeks, I was started on a few mouthfuls of Zwieback cookies (yes, with sugar and cinnamon), soaked in warm water, fed to me by my Grandmother's hand. At three weeks, a bit of rice cereal was added to my diet, so I would sleep better at night.  At a month, applesauce was added.

Imagine!

Now kids are breast or formula fed for up to a year before anything else is added to their diet.

I didn't wear a helmet or knee pads when I rode my bike. Neither did I wear a seat belt when I rode in the car. Indeed, I remember going for long rides on Sunday afternoon, and my baby sister was in a "car bed" on the front "bench" seat of the car between my parents. My sister and brother sat in the back seat, one by each window. I, being the oldest, got to stretch out on the back "shelf" and look at the people behind us and watch the sky above us as we drove. 

Imagine!

Now, parents are reported as negligent if they allow their kids to ride in the car without a proper, age/weight appropriate car seat, ride their bikes without a helmet, or walk home alone from school.

And yet, somehow, I'm alive to tell the story today. 

As each one of our grandchildren have made their way into our lives and our hearts, the particulars of their parenting styles becomes less and less important.

What is important is to do everything you can to live up to the promise that you whisper and coo to them when they are first in your arms, "Shhh . . . it's okay . . .I'm right here."

There's a wonderful song sung by children's superstar Raffi, the refrain of which is: All I really need is a song in my heart, food in my belly and love in my family."

I know. I know. That's pretty simplistic. Life is more complicated that that.

Of course it is. Bottom line? That's really the essential goal of good parenting. To have a child grow to be happy, secure, confident adult who knows how to love because they know that they are loved.

Indeed, it's what it's really always been about. From generation to generation.

The rest?  Just details.

Each one of which I plan to overlook, as my mother and grandmother did. Well, mostly. I plan to spend my energy enjoying every single delicious moment of being a Nana.

Which, oh by the way, is the best job in the whole world.

I suspect it has ever been thus, from generation to generation.

6 comments:

Brother David said...

¡Felicidades Abuela!

In that first photo she looks like she's keeping a secret.

JCF said...

Mazel Tov! Welcome to the World, Ms. Willow Elizabeth! I hope and pray and trust you'll make it a better place...

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Right, Br. David. I think she's looking directly at us and saying, "I know stuff, you know."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I do believe she will, JCF. Her parents ROCK.

8thday said...

When my partner and I had our first baby we lacked all knowledge of babies. We read tons and tons of baby books and became obsessed with the proper stages of growth and development. We became absolutely distraught that our daughter didn’t roll over or grasp small objects at the time the books said she should. Fortunately our neighbor, who was a home economics teacher (remember those?) assured us that by the time she went to kindergarten she would walk and talk and be just fine. And she, and her sister, did indeed turn out just fine.

Being a grandmother will (hopefully) be the next stage in my life. I am so looking forward to loving and spoiling babies, and quietly smiling at the fears and obsessions of those new parents. I think I will bookmark this post for them as a much better resource than Dr. Spock.

Congratulations on the birth of your new granddaughter. She is beautiful!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

8th Day - Thank you. Being a grandmother is the BEST. I love the baby stage and toddler stage as well as the conversations I have with them as they've grown older. You'll be great. Your kids have already taught you the hard stuff.