Baby Wears Blue: Medical Edition

medela lactina select breast pump single breas...

The medical-grade breast pump we rented was like this, only in a box instead of on wheels.

Sylvie was five weeks old when I needed to return the breast pump we had rented to the hospital. I put her in her sling, and carried the hulking package into the hospital. Every time people were able to catch my eye, and even some times when they were not, they exclaimed over the little baby in my arms. They generally fell into two categories.

“How precious/sweet/beautiful! How old?” — Notice that they avoided any pronouns at all in this exclamation. They waited until I started talking, and then adopted the pronoun that I used.

“It’s so tiny!” — That’s right, people who did use pronouns went so far to use “it” to avoid being wrong, even though using “it” for a person is generally considered insulting and inappropriate. People are not objects, after all. “They are,” similarly avoiding being wrong.

There was one person who made the assumption: When I sat down to rest in the lobby, before trekking out to the car (I was still recovering from my c-section at this point), one woman brazenly came over to me and looked into the sling. Seeing the blue she said, “So precious! It’s a boy, right?” I half nodded, surprised and caught off guard despite the experiment, but in the course of the conversation I used “she” or “her” and the woman corrected to match my pronoun use.

The attention for my baby surprised me. (In fact, my mother-in-law asked me what the most surprising part of parenthood has been, and I said, “The attention we get everywhere we go.” She chalked it up to babies being a symbol of hope. I’m not sure that’s it, but I don’t have a better explanation.) But the lack of real discomfort also surprised me — that, I suppose, was because it was actually pretty hard to see what Sylvie was wearing, considering she was only five pounds and was being engulfed by the sling.

The next day, the onsie wasn’t dirty, so she wore it again.

We had a well baby visit, two weeks after we came home from the hospital, for Sylvie to have her first Hep B shot (these are usually given in the hospital to newborns, but we deferred because we didn’t think she had enough muscle, being premature).  The pediatrician we go to is a single-doctor practice, and we’ve seen the same nurse each time we’ve gone. Now, the nurse knew that Sylvie is a girl, but I expected some feedback on the way she was dressed — after all, these doctors and nurses are supposed to be authorities in my parenting life.

Maybe it was because babies spend most of their time at a doctor’s office naked, but the nurse didn’t say anything. And the doctor didn’t even see what she was wearing.

I don’t know what I was expecting, exactly. Or maybe I do. I was expecting people to be uncomfortable — and there were some signs of that. Without seeing what she was wearing while Sylvie was in the sling (which is white, by the way), people didn’t want to make a mistake. I was expecting people in positions of authority to tell me what to do regarding the gender presentation of my infant; they didn’t — for which, ultimately, I am glad.

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Blue PANIC! My baby girl wears blue.

My husband and I decided we were not going to find out the biological sex of our child before he or she was born, which resulted in very few gifts of clothing. My mom made an effort to buy things that were yellow and had ducks on them, my friends helped make awesome nerdy decorated onsies, but other than that, nothing.

It turns out, my baby’s biological sex is female. Cue all the pink clothes ever from well-meaning friends and family. Unless she informs us otherwise, we are raising her with the assumed gender. Cue debate and philosophizing about the signifiers of female-ness and the potential behaviors related.

For a while, all that fit was a purple sleep-n-play that had clouds and carriages and castles on it. (Message: dream of being a princess?) My friend Patti offered to buy her something that wasn’t pink or princessy, and sent a gift set with the following note:

Kate & Tim –
A list of things I learned at the baby store that you probably already know:
1. People really love dressing babies as animals.
2. If something is intended for a girl, the animal must have eyelashes – even if it is a butterfly.
3. It’s never too early to put your female child in a ruffle-y pink dress. (For a newborn? Really?)
4. Lacking an equivalent marker to eyelashes or ruffles, baby boy clothes, if not blue, must clearly and visible state “boy.”

So, obviously, as a result, I bought Sylvie a “boy” outfit in blue. Start the gender-bending early.  Besides, I think the characteristics of a bear (loud, strong, hungry for food that comes from picnic baskets) are much more interesting than those of a butterfly (fragile, pretty, short lived)!

Anyway, CONGRATULATIONS! You two will be awesome parents.

(heart), Patti

I was super excited about the outfit, but I wasn’t sure how people would react.

I showed it to my mom, and felt the need to justify it. “I think the paw prints all over the onsie is potentially feminine,” I said.

She looked at the sleep-n-play (i.e. the footed all-in-one outfit), and said, “These colors are preppy!” in an effort to appease me. Strangely, I didn’t want to disappoint her with the way that I dressed my daughter, even though my mom has been fabulous about supporting me in my own parenting decisions and not offering too much unsolicited advice.

And so, I was appeased. Then I put the outfit away because my baby did not fit into it yet.

When my baby did fit into the outfit, I was excited again, and washed the onsie first. When I put it on my little Sylvie, I began to be anxious. What if she was mistaken for a boy? And so what if she were? Why did we have to identify little beings with no secondary sexual characteristics as one gender or another? It was a blue onsie with a semi-accurate depiction of a bear on it — she had another onsie that was green with a teddy bear that I had no qualms about putting on her. What gives?

In fact, as I looked down at my own shirt standing at the changing table, frozen with indecision, I realized that I was wearing a solid blue shirt. And with the knowledge that blue used to be for little girls, and pink for little boys (Because pink is a very decided color?!), I decided to swallow my anxiety and have her wear the outfits.

Perhaps my discomfort isn’t as strong as I am describing here. Patti, as she read the draft for the blog entry apologized for her gift causing anxiety — but perhaps that anxiety is productive.

As a parent of a little girl, I am worried about her future. Her self-esteem, keeping her interested in math and science, helping her be the person she is meant to be and wants to be. Hell, I read Reviving Ophelia when I was ten-years-old, already a survivor of sexual harassment.

I love these outfits, and Sylvie has worn them many times. They have resulted in comments, which I will share another time. But I’ve written on this blog before about how culture is agreed meaning — and there is certain agreed meaning about pink and blue — it’s worth thinking about.

I listened to a Diane Rehm interview with the author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein. She was arguing that pink was a gateway to poor self-image, among other maladies of young womanhood. I’ll read that book so you don’t have to, but in the mean time, I will keep observing people’s discomfort with me obscuring shared meaning.

Dealing with Disappointment (Birth Edition)

Storage containers, bottles and cups for expre...

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My 34 week check up with my midwife practice turned up protein in my urine, and a 10 pound weight gain, both signs of pre-eclampsia. My blood pressure was normal for me, which is even a little low for the general population. They sent me home with a 24 hour urine collection, which I brought back the next day.

The day after the urine collection, I called about the results. About an hour and a half later, I was admitted into the hospital. Two days later, I delivered my baby girl by medically necessary C-section after 8 hours of active labor, six weeks early.

I had wanted to give birth naturally, without pain meds. I had wanted to be supported by midwives, be monitored intermittently, be allowed to labor in peace. This is not what happened.

I know that the important thing was and is that we are both alive and healthy and healing. Is it completely unreasonable to be disappointed that I didn’t have the birth I wanted?  Reasonable or not, I’m hurting.

I know better. I know better than to tell myself stories of how things should be, to set up expectations, to set up disappointment by trying to predict the future. I did a lot of work to prepare myself for a unmedicalized birth — and it didn’t happen by a long shot. I can’t go back in time and unplan; learning and planning was prudent at the time. Still, it makes sense that I’m disappointed.

I am anxious hearing about other births, other pregnancies — I want to believe that I was strong and that I was brave, Like Tim told me and tells me, but my experience was not what I had defined as strong and brave.

Just like how I am not sure that I will ever nurse my daughter, even as I feed her with expressed breast milk, because of the cascade of circumstances that has led us here. And while it seems to be working, it wasn’t what I had defined as ‘best.’

I have a friend who is thankful for my sake that medical interventions exist, and were able to save me from seizure and organ damage, and to keep my baby healthy despite being born early. I wish I could look at it that way now; what I see is that the cascade of medical interventions I have read about happened to me: first, cytotec, then pitocin, then unreassuring fetal heart tones, then a c-section.

It’s a story I need to reframe. I read recently a list of 10 lessons that hospital births can learn from home birth — the first was thinking of doctors as back up. I was sick; something had gone wrong. The only way to help me (and this is the hard part to accept, the believing that I was in danger) was to deliver. And because Sylvia was not ready to join us in the outside world, it required induction and augmentation. That everything that happened was necessary back up, even if the help they were offering caused complications in and of itself.

My daughter is sleeping on my chest in her sling. I am so proud of her — she was too strong for the NICU to hold her more than 36 hours. She is growing like gangbusters. She shows personality in her dark eyes, and smiles contentedly both awake and asleep. I love her, but it doesn’t stop me from wishing we could have met differently.

Healing from this birth will be both physical and emotional. My c-section incision is shaping up, but the emotional scars are going to take a while.