Teaching Dignity

Our family honors and respects life. Sometimes I don’t know exactly what that means when I look at the world around me and see the violence and harm people commit daily. I struggle to learn how to disagree with someone while still upholding their dignity. I forget how to discipline my kids without relying on subtle shame. I don’t always know how to eat ethically. I don’t always know how to spend my money without supporting unsafe work conditions. And sometimes I just want to stop thinking about the inherent outcomes of the millions of decisions I make daily. I count on grace for the things I have done and the things I have left undone, but I don’t think that excuses me from making deliberate choices to honor the dignity of life in this world.

Our 7 year old is reaching the stage of childhood where justice is very apparent, and injustice is unacceptable. The weight of every living thing is heavy on her heart. At our county fair she took a pony ride which she looked forward to all day. She struggled to be patient, waiting for her turn. And when it finally came she got on the little pony and started riding around and around. Surprisingly, she struggled to hold back her tears the whole time. Afterwards her Aunt asked her if it was fun and she said, “It was kinda fun for me, but I don’t think it was any fun for the ponies. I don’t think they do anything but walk in a circle all day.”

Here is a very dignified grave site for "Delicate" the Painted Lady butterfly

Here is a very dignified grave site for “Delicate” the Painted Lady butterfly

She is also raising some Painted Lady butterflies in her bedroom. Three of the caterpillars didn’t survive their life cycles, and one of the butterflies never fully expanded her wings. As an adult, I know that this is the reason why insects reproduce in such large numbers. Their delicate lives require the strength-in-numbers strategy of carrying on the gene-pool. Ants will cannibalize their dead so that they can reuse the nutrients for the survival of the colony. There are no individual ant’s right, or respect for the individual butterfly in the animal kingdom. But she doesn’t know that yet. She is grieving the loss of each one, and feeling terribly guilty that their short lives are happening in a mesh cage in her room, not the big green world of flowers.

People are animals. But they’re more than animals. The world is a ball of resources. But it is more than just resources. Having respect for the dignity of a butterfly is a small act, but it is one that I hope will translate into having respect for the dignity of all life. We won’t always know how to respond to that dignity, but at least we will acknowledge that it exists.

Finding my Identity

When I am hiking with my family I know who I am, because the world is a beautiful thing to be reflected in. Too bad we can't live in the woods all the time.

When I am hiking with my family I know who I am, because the world is a beautiful thing to be reflected in. Too bad we can’t live in the woods all the time.

If you want to learn how little you know about yourself move across the country. We heard a sermon in Akron before we left where our pastor used the illustration that you don’t know who you are until you see how you are reflected back by your community. You do something good for people, the community reflects your generosity, you learn you’re a generous person. That reflection forms your identity.

He then used the same illustration to explain the Gospel. Well, this blog post is not about that. It’s only about the first part of the illustration, how your self image is made up of reflections from your community. I know about 15 people here now, maybe 30, but only 10 or so I know well and see regularly. In Akron I knew every one and everyone knew me. I knew everyone because that’s the way Akron was. It was the biggest small town I’ve ever known. It was both comfortable and overwhelming. And all of that identity reflection was very comfortable after beginning a family life so quickly I felt like I was reeling a little. Put the pieces back together, make some good plans, do some quality work in the community and next thing you know I’ve got some pretty good self esteem and life is good. Then pick everything up and leave that mirror behind.

Trying to get back to work here has been hard. I have learned about myself that I’m not very good a being only a stay-at-home-mom. I’m too worried about what I’m going to do once the kids are gone and I’ve spent the last 20 years driving back and forth from playdates. I haven’t said that out loud very much because I don’t want to insult my fellow stay-at-homers who feel complete in their callings. I steer away from controversy because I can hear it clanging in my ears. But I’m going to try to be more honest in my writing. It’s time.

I digress…

So, I have been struggling to get back on the doula-work bandwagon. I went from 9 births in one year, to 1 birth in a year. The silence is deafening and misplacing my doula-work identity mirror has left me wondering who I am again. I’ve been trying to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge of web design while I wait for my birthworkers network to grow. Some things about web design are well suited to my natural strengths, some are a major struggle for me to understand. I spent a few nights trying to hash out the discrepancies between my understanding of php and the reality of php only to come crashing head-on into an identity crisis. I am trying to get positive feedback about who I am as a person based on how well I understand computer stuff. I am lacking something.

Out of the group of wonderful people I’ve met here I’m growing close with a handful of them. I was very blessed that one of these people texted me for an impromptu park date the morning after my php-meltdown. She is going through a similarly disruptive year so we can talk about the things that are hurting us …and there is the mirror I’ve been looking for. She called me out for being too hard on myself, and said important things like, “You have to let yourself feel what you’re feeling.” And together we puzzled over what is going on and that’s how I figured out that I’m struggling to know myself as a mom.

I want to write about this. I want to figure out what’s going on in my mind and in the collective American mind. How does feminism and parenting fit together? How can I build my own life confidently while not pointing out how others are doing it wrong just to make myself feel better? How can I share my experience as someone who’s survived some really rough times, and how that informs my choices as a parent? And how can I do it without letting myself be a victim of the random internet-shaming from strangers? So much is going on in the collective American Woman experience that I have to share about, from the #yesallwomen movement to airlines continuing (STILL?!!?!) to harass passengers for breastfeeding on flights to trying to raise three STEM strong girls in a bro-technology culture. I’m going to start talking about this instead of just puzzling over it while I drive or take a shower. I’m going to share my struggles about it because it wouldn’t be Love and Blunder if I didn’t. And I’m hoping that once I find my voice again I won’t spend so much time looking for my reflection in the wrong mirrors.



I’m a Natural Mom and I Vaccinate

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a long time, and I think I’m finally ready. It took me years to really figure out how to state my “position” on this controversial topic, mostly because it took me years to know what my position is. I think it’s important to quickly establish my “natural mom street cred” before I explain why I vaccinate, and how I do so. I know this topic turns into mud slinging faster than a presidential campaign, so I’m going to try to cover all the bases.

I am a doula, and support natural living/birthing, and extended (like three years) breastfeeding. If you look under my kitchen sink the only chemical cleaner you will find is Dawn and a biodegradable dishwasher soap. Everything else is homemade spray bottles of vinegar and essential oils. I treat my kids with homeopathy and rarely take them to the doctor if I think we can cure ourselves at home with some rest and a good diet or homemade soup. I don’t own any bleach. I don’t dye my hair with anything but a natural henna mixture. We buy organic produce. I almost owned backyard chickens (but we had to move to California before we could bring our pullets home). I take my kids to Monsanto protests and to support tree-sitters. Basically, I’m super granola, and I’m that way because of my own research.

But I did vaccinate my own kids. I’m not going to persuade anyone who’s done the research and reached the conclusion to avoid vaccines. And honestly, that’s OK with me. I believe we all have the right to make that choice for our own kids. This post is NOT an attempt to change anyone’s mind. I delayed vaccinations with my kids because that was my personal conviction, and if someone had tried aggressively to change my mind it wouldn’t have worked.

So, why did I vaccinate? I believe in the theory of herd immunity. The group as a whole needs to have some percentage of immunity so that any potentially harmful diseases do not have a large vulnerable population to spread through. It’s the same reason I got my own boosters after my third was born. There was a whooping cough outbreak in the local high school that year, and one of Rob’s sisters attended college at a school with a mumps outbreak. I didn’t want to take any chances catching the diseases when the baby was still too young for the vaccine herself. Also, my grandmother was undergoing Chemotherapy at the time, and she caught whooping cough. This was all in the same year, after I had already decided to vaccinate, but it furthered my commitment to doing so.

So, what about the risk? Well, I don’t believe that there is a link between autism and vaccines. The major research on that was debunked by the author of the study himself admitting it was falsified. Is there risk that I do acknowledge? Yes. Big yes. I think that the vaccines which we have at this time are less-than safe. There is too much we don’t know about the side effects concerning asthma, allergies, and behavior issues. And drug companies are not to be trusted, in my opinion. But the alternative, of allowing our weakest populations to suffer diseases and even death because of these unknown fears seems worse to me. I’d rather face the unknown possibility of harm than the known harm of preventable diseases.

So, how do I approach vaccinations as a naturally minded mom? First, I delayed all vaccines for the first 6 weeks so that I could establish breastfeeding successfully and get to know my newborns as they were before adding any chemicals to the mix. Next, I ate as cleanly as I could while breastfeeding. This wasn’t very clean when my first was a baby because I didn’t know as much then as I do now. But avoiding toxins from food sources to reduce the load on my babies’ system from the toxins in the vaccines was a good balance for our family. We avoided plastics, avoided synthetic chemical cleaners, and avoided being around any smokers or other environmental toxins.

I went to a talk by a local acupuncturist recently. He described the human immune system as a sort of bucket. Each enemy of your health is like a cup of water being poured into the bucket. Allergic to pollen? Pour a cup of water in the bucket. Dairy intolerance? Water in the bucket. Exposure to common cold virus? Water in the bucket. Too much estrogen-mimicking chemicals in your cleaning supplies? Water in the bucket. Vaccines toxins? Water in the bucket. Too many of these exposures and the water overflows the bucket and you have a system response with symptoms of allergies, or disease.

That explanation really resonated with me. Some of these toxins I can’t control. There is air pollution that I can’t avoid unless I stop breathing or move to the top of a mountain away from any other humans. There are toxins in the water supply that I can only filter so well. Sometimes we are around sick people and we don’t know it. I can’t control those things. I chose to vaccinate knowing that there would be exposure to toxins for my family. So, what environmental toxins are we exposed to that I can change? Where can I put my efforts so that the bucket doesn’t overflow? Those are the things I changed, and I have had a very good experience with that approach.

My kids are 9, 7 and 4. They’ve all been almost fully (we declined a few of them) vaccinated. They are old enough now that  I could tell if they have had any unintended immune responses to the vaccines. I am glad to report that we have no real allergies to speak of (one of us is allergic to hazelnuts and we have regular seasonal allergies). There are no symptoms of autism, adhd, behavior problems, or anything else. We are almost always healthy, and only get sick once or twice a winter, but even less now that we’re in California and can keep getting outside in the winter.

We did catch whooping cough this past winter, even though the kids are vaccinated. We went on a round of antibiotics and it cleared right up. And our symptoms of the cough were very very mild. If I hadn’t known that it was going around in our community I may not have even known why the kids were coughing so strangely at night. My youngest had it the worst. She had barky coughs, punctuated by little gasps all night long. I controlled the symptoms of the cough with eucalyptus oil in an infuser in her room and on the soles of her feet while we waited for the antibiotics to kill the germs.

People who are against vaccines might say, “see the vaccine didn’t work, you didn’t stop them from getting it.” Well, sure. Some of the people who got the same disease had much scarier manifestations in their children. And it lasted much longer. I completely respect their choice to approach disease this way. I respected their choice to hang out at home until their family wasn’t contagious anymore. I feel that these families handled their exposure responsibly and the end result for them was the same, their kids are healthy again. But I am still glad we went the conventional medicine route for our family. It was the right choice for us.

So, why am I even writing this post? Am I just trying to add fuel to the fire of the mommy-wars? Am I trying to shame or blame non-vaccinating families? Not at all. As a natural mom, one who moderates a board for other women who choose to live holistically, I know that we cruchy-vaccinaters can feel left out. It seems like not vaccinating is the norm in our group. But I’m finding out that it’s not. I don’t have a statistic because I don’t want to alienate anyone by asking their families’ vaccine status (it’s none of my business). But I know that in confidence a lot of moms have told me that they actually have vaccinated but didn’t feel comfortable sharing that information out of fear of being brought into the argument that just won’t end.

I’m sharing my stance because I feel that those of us who are vaccinating families who choose to live holistically need to be sharing with each other our tips for weathering the exposure to toxins. We need to able to speak up without the argument happening. Just like non-vaccinating families have the right to choose, so do we. We just happen to be straddling two worlds: conventional and holistic medicine. It’s not talked about a lot, but I wish we could support each other more openly. I’m not even going to allow comments on this post, because I don’t want to spend the time moderating all the comments. People say ugly things about this topic. I don’t like ugliness. But if you want to talk about it, I encourage you to speak up. Ask your questions. Share your experiences with others, and don’t be ashamed of your choice. Trust your gut, and no matter what choice you’ve made about vaccines know that we are all in at least one camp together: the camp of people who want to do the best by their kids.