Monday, May 11, 2009


Her children rise up and call her blessed. Yeah, right. Maybe someone else's children do that. Not mine, and I wish they would stop rising so darn early. That would be a blessing. The thoughts that churned in this mother's heart when it beat stronger and surer a half decade ago when I was up to my eyeballs in diapers and sippy cups.

Today is Mother's Day. To celebrate, Claire drew me a card on a piece of notebook paper in church where she was informed by today's sermon that it is a significant day. Happy mothers Day, Mama! A bouquet of flowers drawn underneath. For lunch, we hit the McDonald's drive through (where the cashier wished me a Happy Mother's Day) and then went to Lowe's for home improvement materials (where an employee operating a fork truck said the same). It has been a great day.

I do mean this. Around here, every day is Mother's day. Not the saccharine, stress-inducing, sainted, card-bestowing, mother-worshipping kind of day. Thank goodness! No, I mean the kind where the children rise up and bless me in a thousand considerate, unexpected ways.


Kindness springs forth from my offspring as naturally as breathing. I am typing this post on my knees because I'm too lazy to go get a chair. John sees this and brings me one. The girls notice where there is work to be done and they do it to ease my workload. Charlie wraps his arms around me a hundred times a day and kisses me...on one cheek and then the other and then on the forehead. I kiss him back in the same manner. "I love you SO much, Mama" he says while squeezing his arms tight around my neck. Sometimes I'm wrapped in ten-arm hugs and pummeled with ten-hand backrubs.

"You look pretty, Mama." This surprises me...that my children notice what I wear and are free with extravangant words of praise. "I like that shirt, Mom. It is the same color as your eyes." They bring me armloads of wildflowers and arrange them in vases until the whole house flowers with the affection of these young ones.

They love me enough to call me on my shortcomings, too. Not in an aggravated or disrespectful way, but gently, in a way that makes me want to be better than I am now.

And this, this gets to the heart of my astonishment. I have offered my children a little...a little love and care and nurture, mixed with some grumbling and entire days of hot temper and occasional despair. Yet, they flourish. They are good because of me and in spite of me. I'm learning the loaves and fishes principle applies to motherhood. These young saplings, the same ones I thought would never see beyond their own needs are beginning to look out, to bud and flower and bear fruit in abundance.

Happy Mother's Day!

(A repost from my personal blog, Small Scribbles.)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Not enough support?

I was listening to an interview on the radio yesterday about breast-feeding. The guest was a demographer who had studied recent trends in the number of nursing mothers (they're up). As the issue was discussed, she lamented the lack of support breast-feeding mothers find as they try to feed their babies what research has shown is the healthiest for them. I wasn't able to hear the entire story, but during the part I listened to, the lady specifically mentioned how there just aren't places set aside for women to breast-feed and that some are "stuck nursing in a dirty restroom stall."

I laughed at that and compared it to my own experience. That morning, I'd nursed Harmony during a meeting for new kindergarten parents. Last week, I'd nursed her during storytime at the library. In the past nine months, I've nursed her at the mall, at various museums, at the zoo, at Disneyland, at department stores, at a dinner party, in a car, and even as I walked up and down the grocery aisles shopping for our family's meals. No one's looked at me funny or made any comments. And when I'm nursing in public, I'm certainly not even thinking about whether or not I have enough "support." My baby's hungry or fussy and I feed her; it's as simple as that.

It seemed like the demographer thought if we could just set up a zen-like oasis in the middle of every public place where mothers could go for privacy, more mothers would feel support and decide to breast-feed.

I think whether or not there's a nursing room somewhere, mothers who breast-feed will find a way to do it. A commitment to the time, effort, and sacrifice required to provide the primary nourishment for her baby's first year is not going to change just because someone sticks a Lazyboy in a restroom somewhere.

I've had nearly six years experience nursing, including fourteen months nursing twins. In that time I've never found it difficult to find a place to do it, and I've never had anyone give me a second glance when I'm doing it. Of course I believe in modesty and discretely cover up while feeding my babies, but I also don't go out of my way to find a private place to do it.

I do realize, of course, that times have changed and that my mother was not so lucky. She gave birth to six children during the height of the feminist movement in the seventies and nursed us all for a year, despite going against the popular culture. Her two best friends at the time, also mothers, believed breast-feeding was "icky" and my mother did nurse us in many a private restroom stall because public opinion was so decidedly in favor of the new "scientific" formula-feeding.

I'm grateful that the tide has turned. Research since then has found again and again the benefits of breast-feeding, and most people are at least mildly supportive of the idea, if they think about it at all.

I agree with the researcher that it's important to be supportive of breast-feeding mothers, especially during the early weeks when it can be new, painful, and sometimes intimidating. But that support is best found in the form of an experienced friend or a caring professional, not in a movement to set up nursing rooms. I wonder if such an effort would have the opposite effect -- once a place is set up for nursing mothers and their babies to be separated from the masses when their baby is hungry, then a mother who chooses to feed in public might be glared at or the comment made, "We have places for you to do that, you know."

I guess I'm just happy with the status quo. I like feeding my baby when my baby is hungry, no matter where I'm at. I like that people hardly notice, and I certainly feel there's plenty of support for my choice.

Honestly, while I often get comments on the size of my family, I have never, in all my years of breast-feeding, ever gotten a comment, positive or negative, about breast-feeding. The one exception was when I was talking to another mother while nursing my twins under a blanket. When I was finished and pulled off the blanket, she exclaimed, "Wow, I didn't realize there were TWO in there!"

I realize that some mothers are unable to nurse for various reasons, and formula is a valid alternative that's not about to poison anyone (see this article for an interesting take on the subject; a little too polarizing for my taste, but interesting none the less). I would hope that they also feel supported in the choices they've made.

But I also know that my experience is limited to the Western United States, and that cultures differ in other parts of the U.S. and other parts of the world. What are attitudes like in your area of the world?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

As Our Mothers?

I was featured recently in an article in the Brazilian magazine IstoE Magazine. We did submit a photo, but it was not used. Here is a link to the article. I also have a translated version below. Note: I have to apologize since I don't know Portugeuse and I don't know anyone else who does. The translation was done using "Google Translate" and it is choppy in parts (if anyone would be willing to re-translate this for me, please let me know). Still, even with the sub-par translation, I still think you can get the gist. I have some commentary below.


As Our Mothers

Contrary to the statistics, some women have one child after another and are held with the house full.

Life in the house of Claudia Junqueira is lively and loud. At the time of eating, sleeping, doing duty at home or play, the excitement is guaranteed with four children. A "escadinha" composed by Arthur, 3 years, Clara, 7, Chloe, 10, and Max, 12, is sometimes encourged by school mates, to join the mess. "My four children were wanted and loved," says the manager of 37 years. The family of Claudia contramão is in the statistics. While Brazil has fewer children, it is part of a minority who chose to have the house full.

Large families were the norm in a relatively close past. In the 70's, the fertility rate was 5.7 children per woman. In 2000, dropped to 2.3 children, and among those with eight or more years of study, 1.6 children. According to the latest data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), the numbers shrunk even more: 1.9 children per mother.

What motivates then some families to go against this trend? To Claudia and her husband, who come from homes full of brothers, is a natural choice. "Since I wanted a girl huge family," explains Claudia. "The friends of my children love coming here because it is a house designed for children." Businesswoman, it gives me a flexible schedule to monitor closely and dispensed small nanny and daycare.

For Marina Vasconcellos, couples and family therapist from the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP), is essential to have financial planning and time when you decide to have a large offspring. "Having many children is a party, but they demand attention," he says. The therapist says that, despite requiring dedication, children created with several siblings tend to develop with greater autonomy. From the biological point of view, the body of the woman with the winning maternity leaves.

Pregnancy reduces the risk of problems such as endometriosis, cancer of the breast and uterus. "In this sense, the more a pregnant woman, the better," says gynecologist Nilce Donadio.

It is essential to have financial planning and time to dedicate when you decide to have a large offspring. The scriptwriter and writer Maria Mariana, 36 years, spent the last ten years alternating breastfeeding with pregnancy. Known by the book Confessions of Teenager, who became part of TV series and it is launching the book Confessions of a Mother, with the reflections during the pregnancies of cobbled Clara, 9 years, Laura, 7, Gabriel, 5, and Isabel, 2. "I always wanted to many, but I want one after the other," says Mariana, who finds it easier to create more children than one. "They learn together." After almost ten years living in the light of the children, she returns to work as a writer of Rede Record and says that getting out, despite the criticism. "I thought I was depressed, and had been abandoned," says Mariana.

In countries with lower birth rates, having numerous offsprings, at least, looks suspicious. Michelle Lehmann, 38 years, secretary for a law firm in Chicago, is the mother of eight, aged between 13 and 2 years, and created the online community to help parents with many children to share experiences. "People think you're irresponsible, or ignorant religious fanatic to have a larger family," says Michelle. Slanting eyes are common when the Lehmanns leave the house.

CONFESSION OF MOTHER Maria Mariana was criticized by the break of ten years, which prioritized the children. From the fourth pregnancy, the secretary came to be treated differently. "I support the right of not having children or having small families," says the secretary. "I only wish that I and my husband were more respected because we believe be wonderful to have more children."

Besides the bias, these parents face the specter of not giving enough attention to all. "My children are very different, but I do a considerable effort to devote time to each of them," says Michelle. Professor, Department of Psychology and Philosophy of Education, University of São Paulo (USP) Silvia Colella stated that the issue of attention is never resolved in conference. "Parents have to be critical," teaches. "What you learn with a child not to apply to serve another." It is this tireless dedication that makes true the saying: "In the heart mother, it is always one more."


While it's not surprising, it is interesting to read about the challenges and negativity that large families get in other areas of the world. One thing in particular I found quite compelling is the birth statistics. Just as recently as the 70s, for Brazillian women there was a birth rate of nearly 5.7 children per woman. In just 40 years that has dropped to 1.9! I mean, even in the U.S. we saw the birth rates start decreasing in the 50s and 60s, and there was not nearly as steep of a drop.

Another thing I found particularly interesting in the article was this information:

Pregnancy reduces the risk of problems such as endometriosis, cancer of the breast and uterus. "In this sense, the more a pregnant woman, the better," says gynecologist Nilce Donadio.

In a nutshell, multiple pregnancies can have positive benefits to a woman. This is an argument that many woman have used, but is widely dismissed by U.S. professionals as being anecdotal or unproven. Or, on the flipside, that the risks outweigh any possible benefits. So, who do you believe? Problem is, our country is very focused on the idea that women should be career-oriented and "responsible" in their child-rearing. It wouldn't seem to fit in with that mentality to promote the benefits of having more than 1-2 children.

So, what are your thoughts? If you are reading from outside the U.S., how supportive are those around you of large families? We'd love to hear you weigh-in.

*** Cross-posted on the Mega-Moms blog. ***