Why Your Response to Your Baby's Cries Are Hardwired

A new study found that infant cries activate certain brain regions connected with movement and speech in mothers.

Few things tear up my nerves as much as hearing my baby cry in the car. It doesn’t seem to matter if my infant is fed, freshly diapered, and otherwise content – the second I strap him into his car seat, he falls apart, and sometimes I do, too, because what’s worse than hearing your baby wail but not being able to stop it? After failed attempts to soothe him from the front seat, I end up white-knuckling the steering wheel, with my heart racing fast and my mind made up that I’m never leaving the house again. It goes against every instinct I have not to pick up my poor baby, but of course I can’t hold him in the car (which is why he’s crying in the first place).
Turns out there’s a valid reason for my car-ride stress. In a new study from NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), researchers found that infant cries activate certain brain regions connected with movement and speech in mothers. The study team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to conduct behavioral and brain-imaging studies on a group of 684 new mothers in the following 11 countries: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, France, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, South Korea, and the United States. In the study:

“…Researchers observed and recorded one hour of interaction between the mothers and their 5-month-old babies at home. The team analyzed whether mothers responded to their baby’s cries by showing affection, distracting, nurturing (like feeding or diapering), picking up and holding, or talking. Regardless of which country they came from, mothers were likely to pick up and hold or talk to their crying infant.”

Moreover, the team discovered through fMRI studies of other groups of women that hearing infant cries activated similar brain regions in both new and experienced mothers. The crying stimulated their supplementary motor area, linked to the intention to move and speak; the inferior frontal regions, related to the production of speech; and the superior temporal regions, associated with sound processing.
According to these findings, my urgent impulse to jump in the backseat of the car, scoop up my baby, and calm him with kisses is a hard-wired response (but also, obviously, a terrible idea). When we’re not in the car, however, this need to console my baby, driven by parts of my brain related to movement and speech, is beneficial, since babies need attentive caregivers for healthy development. This study could thus help professionals better understand, identify, and help people at risk of being inattentive or harmful caregivers to young children.
The consistency of behavior and underlying brain activity in the study sample made up of women from all over the world suggests that mothers have an intrinsic response to their babies’ crying. So I guess I can’t blame the anxiety it causes me (solely) on my high-strung nature, or the intense child-centric society in which I live. I suppose I also can’t blame my husband for putting headphones on in the car when the crying gets to be too much, because what this study has also done is expand upon previous research showing how the brains of males and females respond differently to infant crying.
While I’ll continue to avoid any nonessential car rides with my little man until he grows out of this phase (which he will, right?!), it helps to have a better sense of why it’s so distressing and to comprehend on a cognitive level what’s happening when I listen to him cry.
Now, if only I could find a study that reveals the trick to making babies love (or at least tolerate) the dreaded car seat.

What This Harvard Project Determined About Raising Kind Kids

The Graduate School of Education at Harvard University project, Making Caring Common, came up with five strategies to teach kids how to be kind.

Being kind to others seems to be going the way of the dodo bird. I am appalled by the nasty comments I see floating around Twitter and Facebook. The shaming and the bullying. The judging and the hate. Social media has given an outlet for people to voice their deepest, darkest, meanest, most critical thoughts and people seem to be leaping aboard the nasty train in droves.
But I also see stories that give me hope the world is not lost. Stories of love, acceptance and random acts of kindness. It’s these stories I want to share with my kids. To teach them being kind has a huge impact on their own lives as well as the world around them.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise kids need to be taught empathy. Spend one minute in a room with two toddlers and only one Thomas the Tank engine, or spend one recess outside at an elementary school and you will quickly discover this is true.
So why are we not spending the time teaching our kids how to be kind?
We can sit back and blame it on being too busy. Trying to keep up with family, work, school, homework, extra curricular activities and social obligations in a day where 24 hours just isn’t long enough. Or we can blame it on the ever-growing pressure to focus on giving our kids the competitive edge. Or we can blame it on social media, technology and world events.
Rather than blaming, however, we can look inward and see what we can do to initiate change. And it starts with how we parent.
To address teaching empathy, The Graduate School of Education at Harvard University and psychologist Richard Weissbourd initiated a project called Making Caring Common. In 2013, they conducted a survey of 10,000 middle and high school students. What they discovered is that almost 80 percent of kids rated personal success and happiness as their main priority, while only 20 percent rated caring for others as a top priority. Those results are sobering. And a wake-up call that changes need to be made or we will end up with a society of narcissistic, self-serving buffoons.
They came up with the following five strategies to teach kids how to be kind.

1 | “Make caring for others a priority”

As a mother of three kids, I hear myself ask on pretty much a daily basis “How would you feel if…?” But it is not enough to ask the question. I want my kids to understand and internalize how their actions affect others. How their words and deeds can be used to either heal or hurt.

2 | “Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude”

Caring about others beyond ourselves not only makes the world a better place, but research shows that it also makes us happier, healthier and more successful. Practicing gratefulness and counting our blessings reduces anxiety, strengthens relationships, and fosters hope. So why not teach it to our kids?

3 | “Expand your child’s circle of concern”

There is life outside of our homes, our communities, our cities, our countries. There are people outside of our families and friends. Help our kids to see others, recognize their value, and include them within their world. Playing with the new kid at school, asking the grocery clerk how her day is going, saying thank you to the waiter at dinner are examples.

4 | “Be a strong moral role model and mentor”

Actions speak louder than words. But words matter too. How we talk with our kids and interact with them has a direct impact on how they will treat others. As parents, we need to pay attention to the messages we are sending our kids. When we get cutoff in traffic, when we’re running late, when the barista gets our coffee order wrong. And when we screw-up, which let’s face it, we all do, we need to acknowledge our mistakes and apologize.

5 | “Guide children in managing destructive feelings”

We’ve all been there. The flailing, the screaming, the sudden melting away of bones resulting in a puddle of enraged toddler on the floor. However, temper tantrums and angry outbursts serve a purpose. Not only do they provide an emotional outlet for our children, they also provide us with the opportunity to teach proper coping skills, such as deep breathing and finger counting. These strategies will help them understand and manage their feelings which in turn will increase their ability to be empathetic.
Yes, it takes a lot of time and effort to raise kind, caring, socially responsible kids. But in the end, isn’t it worth it?
This article was originally published at Her View From Home.

The Art of Essentialism: How to Do Better by Doing Less

Embrace the idea of “less but better” and accept trade-offs as an inherent part of life.

When I left my office job about a year ago to spend more time with my three children, I thought I’d have more time. Time to start a blog, read, write, learn, exercise, practice mindfulness, and do a lot more. Clearly, I was being too ambitious.
And soon enough I became so frazzled and overwhelmed by it all that I realized I was being busy but not productive at all. I’m sure I’m not alone in trying to pack our schedules to the brim, doing everything we think we should be doing (or want to be doing) to improve our lives. But we just have to come to terms with the fact that we can’t do it all. And I don’t know about you, but when my house is full of things that never get used (i.e. clutter) or schedules that are filled with tasks that I cannot complete, I don’t feel any better for it. Quite the opposite, in fact.
So, in the attempt to look for ways to identify my priorities and do things more efficiently, I picked up a copy of “Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” by Greg McKeown. Seeing that he coaches companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, and LinkedIn, I’ll take any advice he might have!
The first tip is I picked up from this fantastic book is that we should learn to focus on what is absolutely essential to our happiness and well-being. When we do things we “have to do,” rather than things we “choose to do,” we’re surrendering our power to choose. And essentially we give this power to others. McKeown calls this “learned helplessness.” Instead, embrace the idea of “less but better” and accept trade-offs as an inherent part of life. To do this, we need to adopt the principle of essentialism, which focuses on four main points.
1| Do less, but do it better. Identify the things you need to cut out, and do what’s left at a higher standard. Be ruthless in cutting away things that aren’t essential.
2 | Reject the notion that we should accomplish everything. We just can’t do everything. So choose what matters most to you and choose to excel in those specific directions.
3 | Question yourself and update your plans accordingly. Life, people and circumstances change, so keep asking yourself: is this worth my time? Or should I invest my time and energy into a more productive area?
4 | Take action. Nothing changes if we don’t take action. But how exactly do we implement these principles?

Escape

Giving yourself space to escape will help you pick out the vital from the trivial. With modern technologies giving us instant and constant access to entertainment and communication, we’re never bored. But carving out regular periods of time to do nothing can give us an opportunity to think clearly about what needs to be done. Think about your life – what options, problems, or challenges you face, and assess what’s vital and what isn’t. According to McKeown, people like Newton and Einstein used to do this, and many of today’s most successful CEOs do the same. Are we really too busy to do this too?

Keep a journal and focus on the big picture

We get so lost in the small, day-to-day tasks that sometimes we lose track of the reason we are doing certain things in the first place. In order to maintain focus on what’s important, essentialism teaches us to always concentrate on the bigger picture. And one way to do this is to keep a journal. McKeown suggests to force yourself to write as little as possible though. This way you can think through everything you’ve done and sift out only what you consider essential. And when you read it back, you will see the big picture emerge.

Play

Playing is a vital tool for inspiration. It gets our creative juices flowing, helps us develop new connections between ideas that we would have never otherwise considered, it’s a great antidote to stress, and it helps us prioritize and analyze tasks. Unfortunately, some of us (me included) tend to see play as trivial and unproductive. Because it’s pure entertainment, we may feel it’s as a waste of time. But if companies like Twitter, Pixar, and Google, for example, promote play based on the belief that a playful employee is an inspired and productive one, maybe we should take a leaf out of their book too?

Rest and sleep

It sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it? With so much to do and not enough hours in the day, are we really saying that we should sleep more? Indeed. Sleep increases your ability to think, connect ideas, and maximize your productivity during your waking hours. One hour of sleep actually results in several more hours of higher productivity the following day. Studies have shown that going 24 hours without sleep, or getting a weekly average of just four to five hours of sleep per night causes a cognitive impairment equivalent to what you would have with zero point one percent blood alcohol level. That’s enough to get your driver’s license suspended!

Learn to say no

Say no to non-essential tasks. Unfortunately, we are so socially programmed to please others that when other people are involved in our decision-making, we fear saying no. We feel awkward and pressured not to disappoint everyone we care about, fearful that we may damage our relationships. So separate your decisions from the relationship. Know it’s not personal and try and remember that failing to say not to the things which aren’t vital can lead you to miss out on the opportunities that truly are.

Let go of what no longer serves you

Do you ever find yourself doing something that you know is a waste of effort simply because at some point you committed to it? McKeown calls this the sunk-cost-bias – the tendency to continue investing money, time, effort, and energy into something we already know is unlikely to succeed. You can easily avoid this trap by developing the courage to admit your errors and mistakes and to let them go. If it’s clear that something isn’t going to work out, don’t be afraid to cut your losses and abandon ship.

Believe in small wins

Creating success is all about building upon your previous progress with small, incremental steps. Small wins create momentum, which gives you the confidence to further succeed. And they allow you to stay on track by giving you the opportunity to check whether you are heading in the right direction. While it might be frustrating to take small steps, their consequences can be far-reaching.

Create a routine

No matter what your goals are, ensure you stick with them by designing a routine. Routines create a habit, thus making difficult things become easier over time. Create a routine that aligns with your goals, and you’ll be on to a winner.
So, are you ready to lead a more productive and fulfilling life by focusing on your goals and well-being and letting go of the rest? Do you have any more tips to share? Leave tips or suggestions in the comments section below.

When Parenting Ignites Your Imposter Syndrome

I’ve always wanted to be a mom and was decently prepared for it…so I never would have expected to feel like a big old fake.

Today, my spouse and I did something new that marks a transition in our parenting journey. We took our very first preschool tour. It was good, but I found that I felt unbearably awkward through a lot of it.
Sure, we learned a lot about the educational models they follow, and got to see the classrooms in person and ask some important questions. But I spent the majority of the time half wondering whether I was even supposed to be there, which is ridiculous.
I am a 32, with a child who will be ready to begin their pre-K program next fall. The application window is right now. Of course, I had every right to be there, as did my partner. (We even RSVP’d several weeks ago). Yet that awkward self-consciousness still permeated the experience.
Afterwards, my spouse turned to me and said, “I wonder if I was the only one there who felt like they were wearing an adult costume?”
“Well no,” I responded, “because I definitely did, too.”
“I felt like a stack of kids in a big coat!” she said, invoking my favorite metaphor for imposter syndrome, and a popular cartoon trope. “I kept waiting for someone to find me out!”
As a freelance writer active in a community of women and transgender writers, I’ve had a lot of conversations about imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome, also called imposter phenomenon is described by Dr. Pauline Clance (one of the psychologists to first describe it) this way:
“I experienced IP feelings in graduate school. I would take an important examination and be very afraid that I had failed. I remembered all I did not know rather than what I did. My friends began to be sick of my worrying, so I kept my doubts more to my self. I thought my fears were due to my educational background. When I began to teach at a prominent liberal arts college with an excellent academic reputation, I heard similar fears from students who had come for counseling. They had excellent standardized test scores grades and recommendations. One of them said, ‘I feel like an impostor here with all these really bright people.’ In discussing these students, Dr. Suzanne Imes and I coined the term “Impostor Phenomenon” and wrote a paper on the concept.”
In my totally unscientific experience, imposter syndrome seems to be experienced a lot by women, trans people, and nonbinary people. Perhaps we just got into the habit of constantly second guessing ourselves at a young age, or maybe coming up against gender bias again and again has affected us more than one might expect. Regardless, these feelings are real and can have a pretty dramatic effect on anyone experiencing them.
When I started writing professionally, it may have made sense to feel like an imposter. I had to present myself as a professional to editors, but I was very new to being a professional and didn’t quite believe it about myself. I often worried that I would say something that would give me away, everyone would realize I was woefully underqualified to write words, and I would go back to my old job selling dog food.
What actually happened was that I said plenty of wrong things (I was brand new, after all) and I received gentle and kind corrections. Mostly, the people I worked with were more than happy to fill me in.
You’d think those feelings would have dissipated with time and success, but they honestly haven’t very much. With each new assignment, I often find myself worrying that the next email in my inbox will be, “Why did you think you could write? You clearly can’t!”
Because I talk with other writers all the time, I know that such feelings are surprisingly normal, but I still wish I could make them go away. I’m decently confident, but I still feel like I’m faking it a lot of the time. I have always assumed this is (mostly) due to the fact that I don’t hold a formal degree.
Hi, my name is Katherine, and I don’t hold a formal degree.
Only, if my education (or lack thereof) was the reason for my imposter syndrome, why do I feel like an imposter when it comes to parenting? I’m pretty sure you don’t need a degree to parent! I’ve always wanted to be a mom and have been planning to have kids my entire life. I was decently prepared for it…so I never would have expected to feel like a big old fake.
I took Dr. Clance’s IP Scale quiz, trying to pay careful attention to my feelings about parenting and being a parent in the world. I scored a 78, which means I “frequently have imposter feelings.” The maximum score on the quiz is 100.
In groups of moms, I often worry that the other moms will figure out that I’m not really “one of them.” Whenever we’re faced with a new parenting task, like introducing solid foods to our baby, I’ve felt absolutely certain that I wasn’t good enough. (Please note that my two-year-old now eats three meals and two snacks every single day of his life, and in retrospect, I can see that I was perfectly competent – as are most parents – in helping him get to this point.)
I don’t know how to turn off my parenting imposter syndrome, but I do have one small sliver of hope in all this: My partner and I can’t be the only ones.
When other parents also feel like outsiders or fakes, like a stack of kids in a very big coat, and I can see from the outside that they are definitely not those things…maybe other people can see that I’m a decent mom, too? I sure hope so.

How to End Screen Time Without A Struggle

Do you ever struggle with getting your kids off the screen? Does it often end in tears (both theirs and yours)? This could help.

Do you ever struggle with getting your kids off the screen? Does it often end in tears (both theirs and yours)? Like so many other parents, I used to give my children warning.

“Five more minutes, then it’s dinner!” I’d yell from the kitchen.

This statement would either be ignored or grunted at.

Five minutes later, I’d march into the living room and turn the TV/tablet/gadget off, expecting them to silently accept and for us all to have a lovely, quiet dinner together.

Cue screams. Cue tantrums. Cue cold dinner. Cue grey hairs.

I realized something was wrong. Something was wrong in the way I was approaching the issue. My children aren’t naturally prone to tantrums, so I was thrown by this. I couldn’t work out what I could do to stop the sudden screaming at the end of every screen-time.

I wanted to find a way of gently disconnecting my children from the screen, of bringing them back into the real world without continual bumps and bruises along the way (because this happened almost every night), but I didn’t know how. Then a friend introduced me to a little trick by Isabelle Filliozat.

Isabelle Filliozat is a clinical psychologist specializing in positive parenting. She is the author of many books about children’s education, and an authority on gentle parenting in the French speaking world. From one day to the next, my world changed. I suddenly knew how to handle the end of screen-time without the screams, the tantrums, the cold dinner, or the grey hairs.

Here is Isabelle Filliozat’s very simple method to end screen-time without the screams.

The science behind screen-time

Have you ever had the electricity cut off just as the football game reached its most nerve-wracking stage?

Or your toddler pressed the “off” switch just as the protagonists in the deeply engrossing romantic comedy were finally going to kiss?

Or you ran out of power just as you were going to kill that alien and move up a level?

It’s hard to come out of the state of pleasure, which is what screen-time creates in our brains. It’s hard for adults. For a child, it can be terrible. Literally. Here, according to Isabelle Filliozat, is why.

When we human beings (not only children!) are absorbed in a film or playing a computer game, we are, mentally, in another world. Screens are hypnotic to our brains. The light, the sounds, the rhythm of the images puts the brain into a state of flow. We feel good, and don’t want to do anything else. We certainly don’t want the situation to change.

During these moments, our brains produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter which relieves stress-and pain. All is well – that is, until the screen is turned off. The dopamine levels in the body drop fast and without warning, which can, literally, create a sensation of pain in the body. This drop in hormones, this physical shock, is where children’s scream-time begins.

It doesn’t matter that we parents are quite clear that now is the end of screen-time. After all, we’d discussed and arranged it beforehand (”20 minutes!”), and/or given them warning (“5 more minutes!”). To us, it’s clear and fair enough, but to the child, it isn’t. When in front of a screen, she isn’t in a state to think that way or to take that information in. Her brain is awash with dopamine, remember? To turn the “off” switch on the television can, for the child, feel like a shock of physical pain. You’re not exactly slapping her in the face, but this is, neurologically speaking, how it might feel to her.

Cutting her off forcefully is hurtful. So instead of simply switching the “off” button, the trick is not to cut her off, but to instead enter her zone.

The trick: build a bridge

Whenever you decide that screen-time should come to an end, take a moment to sit down next to your child and enter his world. Watch TV with him, or sit with him while he plays his game massacring aliens on the screen. This doesn’t have to be long, half a minute is enough. Just share his experience. Then, ask him a question about it.

“What are you watching?” might work for some kids.

Others might need more specific questions. “So what level are you on now?” or “That’s a funny figure there in the background. Who’s he?”

Generally, children love it when their parents take an interest in their world. If they are too absorbed still and don’t engage, don’t give up. Just sit with them a moment longer, then ask another question.

Once the child starts answering your questions or tells you something she has seen or done on screen, it means that she is coming out of the “cut-off” zone and back into the real world. She’s coming out of the state of flow and back into a zone where she is aware of your existence – but slowly. The dopamine doesn’t drop abruptly, because you’ve built a bridge – a bridge between where she is and where you are. You can start to communicate, and this is where the magic happens.

You can choose to start discussing with your child that it’s time to eat, to go have his bath, or simply that screen-time is over now. Because of the minute of easing-in, your child will be in a space where he can listen and react to your request. He might even have been smoothed back into the real world gently enough, and is so happy about the parental attention that he wants turn off the TV/tablet/computer himself. (I’ve experienced my children do this, hand to heart.)

To me, simply the awareness of what’s going on in my children’s minds helps me handle end-of-screen-time much better than before. It isn’t always as smooth as I want it to be, but we haven’t had a scream-time incident since I discovered Isabelle Filliozat’s little trick.

Don’t take my word for it, go and try it yourself

Next time your child is sitting in front of a screen, and you want to end it, try this:

  • Sit with her for 30 seconds, a minute, or longer, and simply watch whatever she is watching/doing.
  • Ask an innocent question about what’s happening on screen. Most children love their parent’s attention, and will provide answers.
  • Once you’ve created a dialogue, you’ve created a bridge – a bridge that will allow your child to, in his mind and body, step from screen back into the real world, without hormones in free-fall, and therefore without crisis.
  • Enjoy the rest of your day together.

Treat Your Kids Like You Want Your Grandkids to Be Treated

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that how people are treated as kids impacts how they treat their own kids.

You’re having a lovely, Instagram-worthy day with your family until someone knocks over a pitcher of lemonade and you let loose a string of expletives. As you hug your child and beg forgiveness for your overreaction, you realize in horror that you’re becoming your mother.
Only you’re not becoming your mother. You already are your mother.
That’s the finding suggested by a recent review article published in Neuroscience. The article’s authors examined the available data on “adverse parenting styles,” both in animal and human populations, to determine how early-life experiences affect later-life mothering.
Unsurprisingly, it turns out that how people are treated as kids impacts how they treat their own kids. This phenomenon, scientifically referred to as “intergenerational transmission of parenting,” stems from psychological, physiological, and perhaps even genetic factors.
Children’s early adversity led to psychological problems. They had lowered perceptual responsiveness; that is, they were more responsive to negative stimuli than positive stimuli. They had impaired executive function, meaning that they were less successful at regulating their emotions and inhibitions. They experienced emotional dysfunction, meaning that they were more likely to experience depression and other mood disorders.
All of these psychological issues created barriers to good parenting. Parents who have lowered perceptual responsiveness may be inadequately prepared to respond to their baby’s stimuli. Parents who have poor emotional regulation may be more likely to lash out at their kids both verbally and physically. Parents who are depressed may be less effective caregivers.
The overall picture suggested by the research is that childhood adversity results in psychological and physiological changes that affect parenting later in life. In short, you’re not turning into your mother because you turned into her decades ago.
Childhood adversity can often result from societal pressures to low-income, low-education households. The review underscores what we already know: Address poverty and education and you can help alleviate early childhood adversity.
But the review also suggests that by focusing solely on the children, we only address half of the problem. The researchers promote “interventions that focus on parenting difficulties,” that is, addressing parents’ perceptual responsiveness, executive function, and emotional dysfunction, alongside other physiological factors.
One possible intervention is better education for parents. Many women take childbirth classes in order to prepare for birth. Those classes help prepare women for a single medical event, but not the surge of challenges that take place in the years to come.
Instead of placing our focus on child birth, perhaps our attention should shift to child rearing. In many cases, the resources are already available: Hospitals, community centers, regional parenting magazines, and even local schools all offer parenting courses that can help parents learn emotional behaviors that will help their children to thrive.

Every Mother Deserves a Doula: The Benefits of a Supported BIrth

Supported birth is not just a luxury – it is a complete and utter necessity.

I’m 24-years-old, lying flat on my back in a stiff hospital bed. I’ve been forced here by a nurse who told me that regardless of what my doctor had said, “it’s hospital policy.” I’m entangled in wires, attached to monitors. Gray machines are beeping at me. I’m growing more uncomfortable, being held like a hostage in my own body, and I haven’t even begun to feel the force of my contractions.
“Am I having one now?” I ask naively, when a gentle tightening comes across my belly.
The nurse shifts her gaze to the screen next to the bedside.
“Yeah. You’re having one.”
Within a few hours, being on my back is unbearable. I’m twisting and turning, tying myself in knots. I am not being pounded with one contraction after the next, like I anticipated. I am in constant, unrelenting agony. I am blindsided by it and at a loss for how to manage it.
I sense everyone is angry with me for thrashing wildly, tearing at the bed sheets. But I don’t care because I’m angrier. I’m thinking of the time I spent reading pregnancy books that emphasized how important it was to move during labor, how birthing on your back could make for a longer, more difficult delivery, how your pelvis can’t open when you’re laying flat, and how the risk for cesarean birth increases. I did my research, and here I am, suffering at the hands of someone else’s ignorance. Someone who should know better.
My daughter finally emerges, in the early morning, but not before a doctor picks up a knife a slices me from underneath without warning. I almost yell out “Don’t!” I want to command him, but something, a fear of authority perhaps, holds me back. I don’t yet realize that it will be months before I can sit down without wincing, that my nerves have suffered permanent damage from his deep cut.

The advocate I wish I had

It’s been eight years since my first birth, but I’ll never forget how it felt to be so utterly unsupported on one of the most important days of my life. Yes, my then-partner, now-husband held my leg and said encouraging words. But he’d never attended a birth before. How should he know how to offer labor support? Everyone made it out alive, yes. Is this the only standard by which we measure the experience of giving birth? Escaping death?
No one had seemed to care about my choices, my feelings about my body or my baby, or what my recovery would look like as a result of how my body would be manipulated. There had been no one in the room to help me manage my pain, or to be my advocate when policies that lead to riskier birth were forced upon me. From laboring in bed to the episiotomy I received (a procedure that hasn’t been routinely recommended in over a decade), most of what happened during my first birth wasn’t evidence-based. I knew it at the time, but advocating for yourself while you’re in the throes of labor is practically impossible.
It would be years before I would become pregnant again. When I did, I learned there was a profession called a “doula,” a designated person who provides non-medical support during labor and delivery and in the immediate postpartum. I learned that doulas have the power to drastically improve labor outcomes, from decreasing the rate of cesarean birth by a landslide, to making sure women feel supported, empowered, and comforted during delivery.
Personally, a doula could’ve helped me to achieve an evidence-based birth, rather than one that felt convenient for everyone in the room, but torture for me. A doula could’ve saved me from hours of back labor (the most excruciating pain of my life) by letting me know I had the right to informed refusal (as any patient, even a mother in labor, does). A doula could’ve helped my partner be a better support, or spoken up to hospital staff if medical treatments I didn’t want were being pushed upon me.
A doula could’ve been the light when everything seemed dark and terrifying.

The case for doulas

There is no denying that giving birth in the US has become astonishingly dangerous. From having the worst maternal mortality rate in the developed world, to high rates of unnecessary interventions, to women experiencing birth trauma (PTSD-like symptoms post-delivery), supported birth is not just a luxury – it is a complete and utter necessity. Where you give birth is now the biggest predictor of what kind of birth you will have, and your care provider’s preferences and bad hospital policies dictate outcomes, rather than science.
Why shouldn’t they? A traumatic birth can lead to greater cases of postpartum depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Not to mention, the day a woman becomes a mother is a day she will likely remember for the rest of her life. Only too many of us don’t want to.
Women shouldn’t have to learn the hard way that when it comes to giving birth they need to arm themselves with an experienced person whose sole job is to support her, because often times no one else is (or even knows how). It’s why every single pregnant woman deserves a birth doula. It’s why they should be accessible and covered by insurance without question. And because black women are more likely to die in labor than white women, we especially need to make sure women of color have access to doulas, too.
Research also shows that women’s feelings about their births have more to do with labor support and having choices than specific details about the birth. So doulas shouldn’t be brought on board for one specific type of birth. Rather, they should be a standard for every birth. Whether a home birth, a hospital birth, a planned cesarean, or a VBAC, making doulas the new norm can make women feel comforted and supported no matter what type of birth they plan on having – or end up having.
Regardless of positive outcomes demonstrating the importance of labor support, mothers-to-be are routinely subject to messages that tell them that their choices about their own bodies aren’t important. They are told if they plan for their birth at all they will be mocked by the care provider. The narrative of calling women “controlling” or “unreasonable” for wanting to make choices about their own bodies might be centuries old, but it’s certainly not gone. We hear it all the time, and yes – some providers still hold onto the paternalistic attitude that tells women to lay down and be quiet. We should be pushing back against this harmful narrative, not accepting it so easily. These are our births, our bodies, and our babies, after all.
Supported birth is not our normal. We don’t see it or hear about it often enough. And while hospitals and care providers need better policies, training, and an attitude that seeks to protect women’s choices, we still have far to go. Too often, birthing women don’t receive the care they expect. Labor support can help bridge that gap for every birthing person and every type of birth, too.

Illness and Family Dynamics: What Happens When We Get Sick?

It’s what we do as a society when we or our children get sick that highlights a lack of flexibility in our lives.

It’s inevitable that, at some point while raising children, you will be used as a tissue substitute, thrown up on, or pooped on. But it’s what we do as a society when we or our children get sick that highlights a lack of flexibility in our lives.

Lack of sleep never stopped anyone

Everyone has a sick kid tale to tell. My mother tells me about staying up all night with my ill brother when he was a baby. She talks about standing in the shower with him as he coughed, the endless checking of his temperature and the worry for my sister sleeping in the next bedroom.
My mother didn’t sleep that night. By the time the sun had risen, her temperature was rising, too, and she felt that familiar thumping in her head that precedes influenza. That same morning, she drove to the next camp where my father was working, not so he could take over – he was busy building a road and couldn’t take time off – but because it was the agreed upon plan, and illness doesn’t stop motherhood.

What are the options?

Whilst I never drove cross-country with a fever, a sick baby, and an excitable child, I certainly know what it feels like to wake up ill and have that sinking feeling that it can’t make any difference to my day. I’ve begged my husband to stay home, citing a thumping head and a stomach-ache that turned out that night to be appendicitis.
He went to work. He had to, and I understand that. People rely on him, and his work requires a significant amount of notice to enable him to take a day off. This is not about who should or shouldn’t take a day off, or who deserves to be cared for when they’re ill, or exactly how ill you need to be to justify staying or leaving. This is an examination of what we all do, what I’ve done myself, and how I wish we could do better.
Because it feels awful to watch your loved one leave and know that you have to get through at least nine hours without throwing up on your child. It feels awful when you’re the solo parent and you can’t even count down nine hours until you see another adult and have some help.
It feels awful to leave your loved one behind, knowing they’re going to have a terrible day, but that money or your boss’s goodwill just can’t stretch for a day off. It feels awful when your kid says they’ve got a sore throat on the day you’ve got back to back meetings. Dosing them with medicine and sending them anyway becomes a viable choice.
These are all options people routinely choose. Yet, none of them are ideal.

There is no illness!

Many parents have made the choice to ignore their symptoms and just get on with it. In two parent families where one parent is at home, most of the time the other parent will still go to work. Currently, there are no legal requirements for paid sick leave in the U.S. Families are entitled to unpaid sick leave instead. This forces people to choose between leaving their child with an ill care-giver, relying on a support network (which may or may not be available), or losing a day’s wage.
We would never let our children stay with a caregiver who could barely walk, so why do we consider it acceptable to care for our children ourselves when we’re so sick? We do it for two reasons: lack of flexibility in the workplace, and cultural expectations. Our culture is entrenched in the idea that sickness is weakness. We power through. Advertising for medication isn’t about getting better; it’s about masking symptoms and getting on with your day. Stay-at-home parents put a movie on and hope for the best, because really, what other options are there?

I’m not sick, it’s just pneumonia

This ‘powering through’ isn’t limited to stay-at-home-parents. When working parents get sick, they go to work. Time off for illness is rarely available. Given the nature of sickness, it’s not as if you can book a sick day a fortnight in advance for a head-cold. Illness takes us by surprise and often leaves us with the choice of going to work or missing a day’s pay.
Unsurprisingly, research shows that people in low-paying jobs are the most likely to go to work even when they’re sick. This is likely because the consequences of missing that day of work are monetarily more severe than for workers in high-paying jobs. However, 45 percent of people in high-paying jobs still go to work when they’re ill, but they more frequently cite reasons such as letting down co-workers.
The culture of the workplace has a big impact on whether workers come in if they’re sick or not. Companies who have procedures and policies in place involving back-up staff and the flexibility to work from home are less likely to have sick staff in the workplace. Interestingly, companies who have better policies also have workers who take less time off overall.
Families who have found workplaces with flexibility surrounding illness want to keep their jobs, so they work harder even when they’re working from home with sick kids watching a movie. Flexibility is they key to providing families with viable options.

They’re not sick, it’s just…pneumonia

When kids get sick, guess what happens? They still go to school or childcare or wherever they usually go. Four out of 10 working parents say they might send their sick child to school. Six out of 10 do this because they fear they’ll lose their jobs if they take time off to care for their child. Clearly, workplaces hold some of the power here.
Families with children will get sick more frequently throughout the year. A study found that, in childless households, viruses were present four to five weeks in a year, whereas households with children had viruses present up to 45 weeks in a year – that’s 87 percent of the time. We all know that once one person in a family goes down, it’s inevitable that everyone will.
Perhaps the best thing to do is to have a solid plan.

Make a plan, and make it good

Talk to your spouse about what you’ll do when you or the kids get sick. Find out how you both feel about illness and responsibility. Figure out who will do what so you’re not left simmering with both fever and resentment as your partner drives away to work.
Also, find a really good takeaway place, stock up the freezer, or sweet talk Grandma into watching “Moana” on repeat with a sneezing toddler. Try and strengthen your immune system in preparation for flu season. Build up your support network. Even if your friends or family can’t watch your sick children, maybe they could leave a lasagne by the door?
Perhaps most importantly, talk to your workplace about flexibility. We all deserve to know that we’re worth receiving care when we’re sick, whether that’s from a partner, a parent, or an employer.
Planning for sickness will pay off. The way we do things now? It’s a bit sickening.

The Easiest Thing You Can do to Improve Kids' Eyesight

Scientists have now found a fascinating link between the amount of time children spend outside and their eyesight.

Have you noticed that more and more people are wearing glasses these days? Throughout the world there is a nearsightedness, or myopia, epidemic. This condition is when individuals need corrective lenses to see objects far away. The blurry vision is the result of the eye growing too long for distant rays of light to focus accurately on the back of the eye. Myopia can potentially lead to serious eye diseases later in life, such as retinal detachment or degeneration.
It is estimated that about one-third of the world’s population are nearsighted. Nearly half of young adults in the United States and Europe are nearsighted, which is twice the amount from a half century ago. For years, researchers have been trying to identify the reason for the rise in vision problems. Could it be all the computers, video games, and texting? Although that is the most obvious culprit, scientists have now found a fascinating link between the amount of time children spend outside and their eyesight.
Scientists reviewed data for nearly 5,000 children over 20 years as part of the Collaborative Longitudinal Evaluation of Ethnicity and Refractive Error (CLEERE) Study funded by the National Eye Institute. They made the following conclusions:

  • If a child has two nearsighted parents, the hereditary genetic effects increase the child’s chances of needing corrective lenses to about 60 percent if they spent little time outdoors.
  • More time outdoors, about 14 hours per week, can nearly remove genetic risk, lowering the chances of needing corrective lenses to about 20 percent (the same chance as a child with no nearsighted parents).
  • Time spent outdoors has little to no effect on how prescriptions change over time in children who are already nearsighted, although more studies are underway to explore this issue in more detail.

In another review that was presented at the annual Meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, researchers at the University of Cambridge examined eight studies that encompassed data for 10,400 children and adolescents. They found that each additional hour spent outdoors per week could reduce the risk of developing myopia by up to two percent.
Finally, a research team in China looked at the effect of prolonged exposure to sunlight on eye health in 1,900 schoolchildren. The children were broken into two groups; the first group spent more time outdoors than the second group. Scientists found that the children who spent more time outdoors had a 23 percent reduced risk of developing myopia over a three-year period. Researchers also discovered that of the children who developed myopia, those who spent more time outdoors had less vision issues than those who did not.
Researchers have several theories to explain the connection between vision and time spent outdoors. Some believe that the outdoors provides a protective effect on our children’s eyes as the children grow. Others talk about how the exposure to more ultraviolet B radiation from the sun leads to a boost in vitamin D production that may improve eye health from a biochemical standpoint. Another theory is that children who are outside often tend to be more physically active, and that movement could protect the body. Finally, another idea is that bright light slows abnormal myopic eye growth by stimulating a release of dopamine from cells in the retina. Dopamine then causes slower, normal growth of the eye that is not impacted by myopia.What can parents do to take advantage of this new information?

Check vision annually

Nearsightedness typically begins during elementary school, so please be sure to have your children’s vision checked annually at school and/or at the pediatrician’s office. If an issue is identified, then you will be referred to a pediatric ophthalmologist for a more thorough exam.

Limit screen time

Whether is it natural light or the damaging effects of the electronics themselves, these studies give us more reason to limit screen time and send our kids outdoors.

Encourage daily outdoor play

Children are spending less time outdoors these days because of a number of factors. It is up to us to schedule fun outdoor activities throughout the week. This can include organized sports teams, free play with friends and neighbors, family bike rides, trips to the park, gardening, or even setting up a spot outside to do homework. Even though the goal is to have our children’s eyes exposed to more natural sunlight, it is still critical that we protect them with sunglasses and sunscreen.

Increase light exposure indoors

If the weather is not conducive to head outdoors, consider using daylight-spectrum indoor lights to minimize myopia. These are the same types of lights used to address seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Raise Your Hand if You Don’t Like Scary Movies

In all honesty, I don’t think it was my age that ruined it for me. I think some people just aren’t cut out for the scary stuff.

The first scary movie I ever saw was “Jaws”. It was a July afternoon in Oklahoma, and I was visiting my cousins.
I don’t ever remember a hotter summer than that one. The heat rose off the roads in waves and the tar that zigzagged over the cracks in the sidewalks grew soft and stuck to our flip flops.
By noon, we retreated indoors, sunburned and tired from running through the sprinklers and hungry for a bologna sandwich. Still in our swimsuits, we ate in front of the television lying on our stomachs.
“Jaws” seemed innocent enough at first – the banana boats, the too short shorts on the guys, and the Farrah Fawcett hair on the girls. It was beachy and perfect for a summer afternoon. And then the music kicked in.
Dunna. Dunna. Dunna dunna dunna duuuuuunnnnnna.
A fin knifes through the water. Somebody gets dragged under. The water bubbles red. Everybody screams. And my cousins, all boys, tickle me until I am crying. I’m not sure where my heart has gone, but it is thumping loudly from somewhere underneath the floor. I am seven.
My scary moving-going has not gone any better since. I caught one scene from “It” on TBS at age 10, which forever ruined clowns for me. Although, does anybody really like clowns? I will not be seeing the remake.
At 11, I watched “People Under the Stairs” in a detached trailer neighboring my grandparent’s lake house with a girl named Chastity, who was one year older than me but looked like she was 30. She, too, was visiting her grandparents for the summer. They had cockatoos that roamed the trailer, freely pooping on the backs of chairs and your hair if you weren’t fast enough. Both the movie and the trailer gave me nightmares for weeks. I still can’t handle cockatoos.
Maybe I was simply too young for blood and terror and creepy slo-mo shots of half open doors. Maybe I should have waited a decade or two. Even now, I steer clear of the “Horror” category on Neflix. I can’t even pause in my scrolling because the movie covers give me the shivers. How do the eyes of the serial killers and demon dolls manage to follow you around the room?
In all honesty, I don’t think it was my age that ruined it for me. I think some people just aren’t cut out for the scary stuff.
According to Glenn Sparks, a professor at Purdue University, who conducted a research study on why certain people are affected by these films more than others, it has a great deal to do with our wiring. Some people get a kick from that adrenaline rush. The quickened heartbeat and prickling at the back of the neck leave them with more energy when the film is over, what he calls the “excitation transfer process.” It leaves you jittery and happy at having gotten to enjoy the thrill. It’s the same reason some people love roller coasters – the fear factor that leads to greater victory when it is done.
There’s also the novelty of the horror film that draws people in, the idea that you’re seeing something you don’t see every day. It’s curiosity that keeps you watching and wondering what could possibly happen next.
But for some of us, the rush and the novelty isn’t worth the emotional price. I don’t want to come out clammy and shaky and headed for sleeplessness just to say I did it. I’m all for novelty, but let it be for the good. Let it bring me a vision of utopia, not the stuff of nightmares. Give me “This is Us” and “Sing” and let me relax.
I think some of us are simply more sensitive to stimulus than others. The magic of story-telling in books and film is that it carries fiction into reality. If done well, the world in the story is all-encompassing and complete. But if you are a super feeler, a highly sensitive person, the reality can be too much to handle.
You can feel that hot sun and choppy water right before the shark appears. You can hear that door creak open from a mile away. You can already see those unblinking eyes looking back from the rain-slashed window and will continue to see them long after the credits roll. If you are anything like me, you need less, not more, stimulus. Life is enough of an adrenaline rush.
If you’re a scary movie lover, more power to you. With Halloween right around the corner, this is your season. But for those of you who aren’t, know that you’re not alone. I’ll be right there with you, with the lights on, watching re-runs of “Parks and Rec” and locking all the doors after dark.