Weekend Review: Laboring Under An Illusion, Dir. by Vicki Elson

Laboring Under An Illusion: Mass Media Childbirth vs. The Real Thing DVD
So much of what we believe and hold to be true is influenced, consciously and subconsciously, by the images that we see and the media that we absorb. In the documentary Laboring Under An Illusion: Mass Media Childbirth vs. The Real Thing, Vicki Elson shows us examples of how birth is portrayed in a variety of media; from the frantic pace and inherent doom of birth on network TV to the tranquil calm and goddess worship of the alternative birth movement. She very poignantly asks whether these are the only two options: impending death or an "orgasm in a hot tub." What exactly is a normal birth and why don't we ever see them portrayed in the media?

The topic of this film is an important one, I believe, and one that I had never really thought about until I considered getting pregnant myself. It wasn't until that point that I started examining my assumptions about birth and exploring where those notions had come from. Like many people of my generation, I have never seen a birth in person. I live in an era in which birth is something that is hidden away in hospitals, the details of which aren't talked about in polite conversation. The hole that this leaves is quickly filled by episodes of ER, A Baby Story, and the evening news, leaving one to assume that all births are one step away from crisis at all points in time when in reality, this couldn't be further from the truth.

The structure of the film is such that Elson guides us through a series of questions, illustrated by clips from movies, TV, and videos from the natural birth movement. "How does labor begin?" for example, would juxtapose the sudden onset of labor in films such as Juno, in which labor seems to sneak up on a woman and progresses so rapidly that one must get to the hospital right now, with the almost leisurely pace of a natural home birth video. This set up allows Elson to draw effective comparisons between media representations, but ultimately it becomes a bit repetitive. The point being made here is an excellent one, but the low production value of the film is a bit distracting. There are plenty of funny moments, though, making this a great non-confrontational introduction to the issue of birth in America.

A Spot for Feeding

My parents came for a visit this past weekend and brought with them a much needed chair for nursing. Prior to its arrival, the seating in our house could all be described as comfortable, but in that sink-in-and-have-bad-posture sort of way. None of it was really suitable as a place to comfortably nurse a little one. As you can see, Medea has given the rocker her seal of approval, much to my relief. She really is the expert in such things. This has already become one of my favorite places in the house and each day I retreat here to knit and to read while enjoying my window view of the cardinals and blue jays.


I'm frantically knitting wool soakers! Or, rather, one soaker at the moment. I had downloaded a couple patterns off of Ravelry.com, but found that I don't have enough experience with short rows to complete them without much frustration. I need something easy at this point; comprised only of knitting skills that I already possess. I'll save the learning for another day. So, I popped over to the library and found this pattern in Vintage Baby Knits by Kristen Rengren. So far, so good.

Weekend Review: Love in a Time of Homeschooling by Laura Brodie

Love in a Time of Homeschooling: A Mother and Daughter's Uncommon Year
When Laura Brodie finds her oldest daughter Julia hiding in a closet in an attempt to avoid doing her homework, she comes to the realization that their current public school arrangement just isn't working. Love in a Time of Homeschooling: A Mother and Daughter's Uncommon Year (2010) tells the story of Julia's fifth grade year, which she spends being homeschooled by her mom. Intentionally they set out to make homeschooling a short-term affair. Brodie's idea is to give her introspective and fantasy-book-loving daughter a break from the rote memorization and standardized test preparation of public school so that she can rejuvenate her love of learning before she enters junior high. In place of the state mandated curriculum of fifth grade, Brodie wants her daughter to focus on writing, reading, art, and music. Math, science, history, and social studies are also in the mix, but Brodie wants to give Julia the opportunity to explore those topics with more depth and with a bit more freedom. What follows is a very thoughtful account of the ups and downs of this arrangement.

What I appreciated most about this book is the honesty and sensitivity with which Brodie interacts with her daughter and their decision to homeschool for a year. While she understands and respects the full range of motivations for homeschooling, she isn't coming from a specific dogmatic opinion. She really is just trying to provide for her daughter's educational needs in a way that is tailor-made for that individual child. There are moments of great joy, such as when Julia finally has time to write about the fictional worlds inside her head. There are also low points when Brodie's notions about what homeschooling "should be" clash with the type of instruction (or lack of instruction) Julia craves. Brodie closes with a bit of reflection about what was successful for them and what wasn't, the role of homeschooling in their family, and the possibilities of having a homeschooling year with either or both of her younger two daughters. This was a fast and delightful read. As someone who has never experienced homeschooling, neither as a student nor as a parent, I thought that it provided a very honest window into what that decision might entail and the unexpected roadblocks one might face. No matter what schooling situation is best for any particular family, I think we would all benefit if we gave those educational choices the same measured and careful consideration as Brodie.

A Spot for Diapering

I am so encouraged by the thoughtful comments on yesterday's post. The Midwifery model of care is one that I believe in whole-heartedly and I know that it is in the forefront of many other minds as well. For me, the bottom line is choice. All women should be empowered to make the maternity care choices that best suite her needs and anything that we can do to bring us closer to that ideal is a good thing.  

On to less weighty topics...diapering! We now have a spot in which to diaper our babe and that spot shares a room with my computer and my sewing machine.

We are very fortunate to have a local diaper service. We're planning on going the cloth route and we've had a mixed bag of feedback from friends and family. Luckily, the majority of it has been positive. I'm not too worried about it, although I need to get my act in gear and knit some wool diaper covers. I'm also very interested in Elimination Communication. I remember the exact moment that I first heard about it. A couple of years ago I was picking up some books that a woman had posted on Freecycle. She invited me in and her very naked and adorable babe delightedly ran into the room. She must have felt the need to explain (although, it was an incredibly hot July day so I don't think anyone would have needed too much convincing that less clothes was better at that point) and said that they were trying "Natural Infant Hygiene." She very very briefly explained that that meant they had "no diaper" times and tried to pick up on the little one's cues to go to the bathroom. I remember thinking, "huh. That's interesting." and not really giving it too much more thought. After having read more about it and talked to some other practicing moms, I think it's genius.

I'm sure that the already full laundry basket is a sign of things to come. 

Homebirthin' Midwives

When I was younger, I never really had a clear picture of how I would bring my children into the world. I knew that I would have kids someday and I suppose I assumed that I would have them in a hospital, but I honestly never really gave it much thought. The only notion that I had about how a birth "should" go was based on what my mom had always told me about my own birth. I was the third baby and born in a small hospital a half hour's drive from where my parents lived. Apparently, mom's labor progressed more quickly than she was expecting and there was just no time for any drugs or other interventions. She wasn't necessarily planning on having a natural birth, but ended up with one by default. All through my childhood she gushed about what a satisfying experience that it was. How she held me immediately and that I smelled so good that she wanted to lick the vernix off of me. How energized she felt and how she told my dad she was ready to have another one right then and there. So that's what I've always thought birth should be. Satisfying. Exhilarating. Powerful.

Well before Steve and I made the decision that we were ready to add a baby to our family, I found myself at a fundraising screening of The Business of Being Born. Until that point, I hadn't known that there might be barriers to the birth I was starting to realize that I wanted. I'd like to say that my decision to birth at home came after much intensive research, but it didn't. I made the decision first and was relieved to find the safety of it supported again and again when I later did do the intensive research. For me, it was a common sense approach. Over and over I heard that the number one predictor of positive birth outcomes is that the mother feels that she is an active participant in the process and has continuous one-on-one support. I knew that, for me, I would find that situation at home and not in a hospital. It also helped that my midwives are amazing. Choosing them was, again, something that I felt my way through. We didn't interview anyone else. We knew from our first meeting that we all clicked and that they would be able to provide us the balanced approach that we were looking for. 
Which is why the current state of midwifery in this country is so frustrating. I can throw out all the stats I want to about the safety of home birth for low risk pregnancies like mine or about how cost effective it is. But in almost half of the states, Certified Professional Midwives, those who generally attend home births, do not have recognition of their license to practice, causing them to face prosecution if they do provide the birth options that women like me are demanding. Women should be able to birth wherever they choose and be attended by the practitioner of their choice. I'm very lucky to live in Iowa where we have an incredibly dedicated team who are trying to pass a bill recognizing CPMs. But, progress is slow and there is always more work to be done. I didn't before, but I have a clear vision of my baby's birth now. Everyone should have the freedom to make the choice that is best for them and to have it safely realized.

Aviatrix for Baby

I finally took the time to have someone show me how to pick up stitches so that I could knit the chin strap and now the aviatrix cap is complete!

Well...not completely done. I haven't sewn the button on yet, but for good reason. I'm waiting until there is actually a baby to put it on so that I can get the fit right. I used Cascade Yarns 220 Wool and it was a super fast knit. Just an afternoon, really (although I definitely stretched that out).

 It's just so tiny. It's hard to believe a person could be so tiny.

Weekend Review: Sweetgrass, Dir. by Ilisa Barbash & Lucien Castaing-Taylor

In the spirit of Berenice Abbott's photography of a quickly disappearing New York in the 1930s, or any other WPA photographer for that matter, the film Sweetgrass, directed by Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, pants a filmic portrait of a very specific time and place; one that is coming to an end. Filmed over the course of three years, it provides a glimpse into the days of one Montana family's sheep ranch and their disappearing way of life. Opening on a winter scene, we follow the sheep and the ranchers who care for them through a year, through shearing, lambing, driving the herd up the Absaroka-Beartooth mountains for summer pasture, and bringing them back home again for the last time.

We don't hear a human voice until a good 30 minutes into the film and the focus remains on long meandering shots of the animals, the landscape, and the men at work. There is no voice over, there are no interviews, the camera remains an unacknowledged capturer of these moments. The goal here is very simply to record the daily lives of these individuals (both human and ovine) before they have passed. Not that there aren't issues presented for discussion. Many questions were raised for me (for example: the environmental impact of such a large herd grazing on public land, whether or not their way of ranching is "standard," and the hows and whys of some of the treatment of the animals), but the film refrains from making any overt judgment. It allows the viewer to absorb and ponder. To discuss and to mull over.

I do think that the filmmakers make an honest effort to show both a sympathetic and a more critical view of these men and their lifestyle in an attempt at an unbiased presentation. For example, a drawn out shot of the herd in which a sheep urinates for what seems like forever is followed shortly by a similarly composed and timed shot of one of the ranchers urinating. A clear parallel is being drawn here in what seems to be an attempt to allow the viewer to see man and beast as similar. They're in this thing together. On the flip side, we are shown a jarring scene in which the sheep have descended into a valley (where the ranchers, clearly, do not want them to go) and we are witness to the rancher's frustration as he calls the sheep every foul word in the book. It's hard for us to sympathize with him though, because there is a real disconnect between the audio and the video elements of the scene. The rancher is wearing a wireless mic and we hear him as if he's standing right next to the camera, but the visual we see is the herd being rounded up in an incredibly long shot in which the camera appears to be on the top of a different mountain and the sheep in the valley look to be small white dots on the landscape. We don't see the rancher at all and this makes it hard for the viewer to understand where he is coming from or the trial that this situation clearly is causing and he ends up seeming a bit harsh.

The film is slow, which may make it hard for many viewers to enjoy. But, I think it's a really interesting peak into a way of life that is so very different from my own and those are the filmic experiences that I find the most valuable.

This Moment

Playing along with SouleMama today. In her words: {this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

Sewing Nook

The second zone in the baby/mama/activity room is nearing completion. My sewing nook.

Just one little wall in the room. The basket on wheels to the left of the desk is my in-box to house current and upcoming projects as well as daily mending to-do items. This, by far, has been the most useful addition. When sharing space like this, I'm finding that having a home for everything is really key so that it can all be put to bed when the area is needed for something else. Much like the computer nook, it doesn't have a loved or lived in feel yet, but it will come I'm sure.

Thank you Sew Baby & Sew, Mama, Sew!

Quite awhile ago I was fortunate enough to win some patterns from the Sew, Mama, Sew! Blog. They did a really fantastic "Baby Shower" week that was full of tutorials and drawings. I downloaded many, many projects that I'm hoping to try. I received the Sew Baby patterns pictured above and I was planning on posting about it after I had attempted at least one of them, but at the rate I'm sewing, it might be a long time before I would be thanking Sew, Mama, Sew! and Sew Baby for their generosity. So, "Thank you!" I'm most looking forward to trying out the travel high chair. It looks like a simple enough pattern for this newbie as well as being really useful. Plus, I have quite awhile until Baby Cable will be sitting up and able to use it, so there's a little less pressure. Phew!

Showers for Babies

Sunday found us at Steve's parents' home where we ate much cake, cooed over tiny newborn clothing, and visited with family. Yes, it was a baby shower. It was perfectly "us": small, low-key, mixed gender, devoid of cutesy games, and full of good food. I think that if we'd had our druthers, neither of us would have pressed to have a shower at all. We're both a little uncomfortable being at the center of a roomful of people's attention. But, it was lovely and we feel so blessed to have family to honor us and our new little one in such a way. The absolute best part, without a doubt, was the passing on to us of many handmade family items. There were old crocheted blankets from both sides of the family, a blanket and ring that were my mom's when she was a babe, and a precious hand-knitted wool diaper cover that was worn by Steve's mom. I was overwhelmed by it all. 

Used Toys

So far, I've been very lucky in my kid's-toy-finds at Goodwill. It probably helps that I go there fairly frequently, but I've been fortunate to find everything from brand new Melissa & Doug puzzles that are still in the package, to a hand-made wooden train made by a local artisan. All for just a couple dollars. My most recent acquisition is this vintage Playskool Village from, I believe, the 1960s.

It's a container of blocks that one can put together in endless combinations to build a town. It originally came with a mat that had roads and such printed on it. This set lacks that, but it seems like a replacement would be easy enough to make. I was absolutely enthralled by the blurb on the side of the can:

Because building an "urban renewal" is exactly what I want my children to do. When I brought it home, Steve asked if there were, perhaps, blocks to represent a ghetto that could be gentrified for said urban renewal, but, alas, there is not. All that aside, I still think it's a pretty solid activity. I have very fond memories of my own set of blocks and building houses and bridges out of them.

We've talked a lot about the type and quantity of toys that we want our kids to have. There's just so much out there. Too much. I really want each item to be chosen deliberately and with care. To be well-made and to encourage open-ended creative play. To be beautiful items that they will want to pass along to their own children.

Weekend Review: Into the Minds of Babes by Lisa Guernsey

Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children from Birth to Age Five
I've often taken it as a forgone conclusion that TV, and most screen time in general, is "bad" for very young children. This notion most likely stems from the American Association of Pediatricians recommendation that children under the age of 2 not be allowed any screen time at all. Lisa Guernsey, a journalist with two young daughters, heard these same warnings, but found herself turning to the television for an occasional way to fill her kids' time or just to get a break for half an hour. She started to wonder, "was she a bad mom for doing so?" In Into the Minds of Babes: How screen time affects children from birth to age five (2007), Guernsey consults with education and child development experts, mines the published research (what little of it there is), and interviews a range of families on how they actually use screens (TV, computer, e-readers, etc.) in the home. The result is a thoughtful exploration of real concerns that actual parents have about the effect (or lack thereof) of screens on their children's development.

The book is arranged topically with each section headed by a parental concern, such as "can electronic media enrich my child's vocabulary?" or "will screen time make my children fat?" She then methodically goes through the available research on the topic and comes to some sort of conclusion. Her advice really isn't that surprising and there are no real ground-breaking reveals here. Throughout, she encourages parents to use the "3 C's" to inform their TV choices: content, context, and the individual child.

On the one hand, I found this book helpful because it wasn't coming from a scientist or someone else who has a definite point of view to push. Guernsey really is just a mom who wants to do right by her children. But this point of view is also what made this book, overall, somewhat forgettable to me. While Guernsey concludes that TV, in general, won't do irreparable harm to our kids, there also aren't any real benefits to it either. While it has been shown to increase things like vocabulary, it still pales in comparison to real life human interaction and teaching. So, we're not going to scar our young kids (even the very young ones under the age of 2) by popping in a Blues Clues video occasionally, but we're also not going to create Nobel laureates by feeding them a diet of Baby Einstein videos either. Yup. Got it. And the rule at our house is still going to be that the TV will not be on while the baby is awake. For me, this is more about the TV distracting Steve and I from being attentive parents than it is about the screen itself being a harmful influence. But then again, this could all change once there is actually a baby in the house...

This Moment: Week 35-ish

Playing along with SouleMama today. In her words: {this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

Computer Nook

A big part of why it's taken me so long to feel at home in our house is that I hadn't yet taken the time to really occupy the space in a way that works for me. When we chose our house and when we moved in, we had all sorts of notions about the kind of life that we would live as a married couple. It took us awhile, though, to realize that those notions no longer suited us. In our younger dating years we were a couple who entertained. We threw parties and drank and served appetizers. And so we chose a house that would facilitate the same. But we had closed our eyes to the fact that that wasn't "us" anymore. Or maybe it was marriage and buying a house that made that not "us" anymore. I don't really know. But, we are quieter and calmer. We'd rather cook a three course meal for just the two of us than whip up a selection of appetizers to serve 30. And we're quite happy with that.

It's taken a lot of inward looking, but I'm starting to get to a place where I can let go of the past and make a nest that reflects who we are now, in this moment, and who we aspire to be. The "baby's" room has been a part of this process. Maybe my eyes will be opened once I actually have a baby, but I just have a hard time understanding why a baby, especially a newborn, really needs his/her own room. So, I'm taking my new found insight and applying it to what would be the "baby's" room (although, we're having a tough time figuring out what else to call it) and making it a space where mama can easily access the things that she wants and needs to do, including caring for the little one.

Part of that space is mama's office.

Most of the time hidden away (because I've never really liked the look of electronics) behind the closet doors...

Inside is my computer, our files, and some storage. There's still a little bit of TLC needed here, but the bones of the space are in place. I love how tucked away it is. I really love that I can shut the doors and keep myself from mindlessly wasting entire mornings online. In short, it works for me and that's about all I can ask.

Works in Progress

For 35 weeks I've been able to stave off any and all fall or winter colds. Many people told me that while pregnant I should expect to catch every little bug that went around. So, I was careful, getting as much sleep as I needed, eating better than I ever have, and avoiding all the illness "hot spots." But, I must have let my guard down. I've attacked this bad boy with everything in my arsenal, and he will still not be tamed. So, I'll take it as a sign to slow down, put my feet up, and rest. And what a perfect time to make some progress on the workbasket, no?

This has yet to be cast on, but it is next on my "big project" list: a cabled baby blanket. My prior (and only) baby blanket attempt took me three years to complete. Let's hope this one goes a bit more quickly. 

A wool baby romper. I have sweet visions of this being what Baby Cable wears for his/her birth announcement photos and I just might get it finished in time. It's a bit of a repetitive mindless knit, so it has been my go-to project when I can't sleep and need to get up for a bit in the middle of the night.

A wool baby aviatrix cap. This is so close to being done. I'm stumped by how to pick up stitches to do the chin strap. Online video tutorials have been helpful, but I still want to make a trip to my LYS to have someone show me how to do it in person.

And there you have it. What's in your workbasket?

Pets and Babies

There are three cats and a dog in our menagerie of animals. Steve and I have talked often about how we think they will react once there is a baby in the house. They all have such distinct personalities and the only one that I really worry about in making that adjustment is Nikita, our dog. She's a very sweet girl and my worry is not that she'll be aggressive towards the baby, but she is incredibly attached to me and I do worry about how she'll handle no longer being at the center of my attention. She completely ignores other beings (namely, Steve and the cats) and will step on them to get to me and gets noticeably jealous if I have a kitty in my lap. We just can't have her doing those things to a baby and I'm not at all sure how to deal with it. I feel like there is preparation that I should be doing now so that she can get used to our new world without associating her sudden lack of attention with the baby. My midwives advise that these things generally have a way of working out and maybe it is one of those things that we'll just have to deal with post-birth day. I hope so.

Lone Holiday Crafted Gift

Happy New Year! We didn't do much to celebrate the turn-over to 2011, but I did make one quiet resolution to myself, which is to spend more time in this space. As I'm searching to find a rhythm to my days at home I need a structured time of reflection. So let's start with the one hand-made gift that actually made it under the tree this year, shall we?

I don't think I've ever seen my husband sans hat. Even around the house. When we first met it was a John Deere baseball cap (which I found irresistibly adorable). Then a blue knit cap. And for the last three years or so, his daily wardrobe has included a white baseball cap from where he works. The poor fellow needed something new.

It's the Striped Hat pattern from Blue Sky Alpacas; so incredibly easy to knit, even for this girl who has never done anything in the round before. None of my local yarn stores carried the yarn I was looking for, so I had to substitute. The main yarn is Berroco Cuzco Alpaca/Wool in the colorway "Potting Soil Mix." The stripe is Blue Sky Alpacas cotton in "Pumpkin." What's that you say? You're not supposed to mix cotton and wool in the same project? Well, this novice doesn't know any better, so she went ahead and did it. It was a smashing success.