Tuesday, March 23, 2010

knitting swap ii -- March

It is once again time for me to send out my Lady of the Month package for the knitting swap group that I belong to. March's Lady of the Month, however, did not give me much to work with as to what she liked and disliked. Really, the only thing I had to go with was that she likes the color red and the aromas of pumpkin and vanilla.

With that, I did all that I could, really. I watched what some of the other ladies sent her (red yarn, red cloths) and tried to come up with something unique. I did not want to go with strictly red since that is what she has been overloaded with so far. Instead, I chose a variety of colors that highlighted the color red. After knitting half-a-dozen very different washcloths, I chose the two that I thought a woman in her sixties would most appreciate.

The first cloth I was drawn to is a pattern that is reminiscent of Linoleum but combines two or three colors in a simple slip-stitch combination that mimics a diamond pattern. It was much easier than I initially thought it would be, but nothing the Mason-Dixon knitters come up with is ever disappointing! I chose my favorite combination of colors: bright red and vibrant cornflower blue. See for yourself:

The pattern for the Linoleum cloth can be found here on the Mason-Dixon Knitting blog.

To compliment the Linoleum cloth, I picked a basic basket weave pattern in Lily Sugar'n Cream's Swimming Pool, which is a variety of blues that do a sort of color-crossover when knit up. Here's a photo:

In the final package I included these two lovely washcloths; a little floral notebook and pen; a bar of handmade vanilla-oatmeal soap; two skeins of Lily Sugar’n Cream cotton yarn; and a couple of sample Stash tea bags. I also included a handwritten letter for an extra-personal touch. Here is a photo:

Since I am in the midst of my 52 project challenge, I consider this month's knitting swap to be project 44/52.

baby gift

I love making gifts. I love babies. And, yes, as you can probably assume, I really really love making gifts for babies!

Two weeks ago, a couple of friends of ours, James and Beth, had their first child: a little baby boy, who they named Riley. I have been planning to send a very special gift to them within the last couple months, especially since they were planning a homebirth. I finally shipped it out last week. Here is a photo of everything I included:

In this care package, I included a hand-knit Aviatrix hat, three onesies, a handmade burpcloth, three pairs of handmade waterproof nursing pads, two Mother’s Milk tea bags, and a copy of The Baby Book by William Sears and Martha Sears.

I started knitting the Aviatrix hat in January for the baby. Since James and Beth did not know the sex of their baby, I picked out a very pretty (and neutral) minty green. The pattern for the hat (the pattern is available on Ravelry) was a lot of fun and it knit up pretty quickly, too, even though I knit a larger size. I cannot wait to see a picture of little Riley in this hat! Here is a picture of the finished hat:

I also included a handmade burpcloth, which is large enough to be used as a changing pad in a pinch. The right side is has blue-greens-browns cotton stripes while the back is super-soft white terry cloth, as you see in the photo:

For the breastfeeding mama, I included three pairs of nursing pads, which are backed with a waterproof lining. One nursing pad is yellow, one is tan and white polka-dot, and one is sky blue. Since they are waterproof, they will hopefully keep mama dry at night in the first few months when her supply is settling. I also gave two bags of Mother's Milk tea by Traditional Medicinals. It is my favorite lactation blend. Here is a picture:

I had been keeping an eye out for The Attachment Parenting Book by William Sears and Martha Sears, but unfortunately have not been able to get my hands on a copy. That book is my favorite gift for new parents. Instead, I decided to give the ever-classic The Baby Book by the same authors. William and Martha Sears take a gentle, natural approach to parenting and medical care, which I know James and Beth will appreciate. The idea behind their baby care is simple: Know your baby and Know your baby's cues.

Even though this gift was not expensive or extra-fancy, I really had a great time putting it together in the hopes that the new parents will find everything useful. The hat was by far one of the most unique knitting projects I have done yet, and I hope James, Beth and Riley enjoy everything! Congrats!

As for my 52 project challenge for 2010, I consider the making and compilation of this gift to be project 45/52.

Friday, March 12, 2010

the politics of infant male circumcison

Infant male circumcision is commonplace in the United States. Since the 1970s, according to the US Circumcision Statistics Report, it is estimated that approximately 60% of infant boys had the circumcision procedure performed on them. However, within recent years, this trend has begun to decline as parents become more knowledgeable about the varied negative effects and untruths of the procedure.

As part of my postpartum doula training, I saw a circumcision procedure being performed on an infant boy. I kid you not--it was the most traumatizing thing I have ever experienced in my life. The helplessness and extreme pain that the child encountered was something I will never forget, though it is not the only reason I am against circumcision.

I came across this article, Would you Circumcise your Daughter? which presents an interesting perspective of highlighting the cruelty of female circumcision and then comparatively switches focus to the the circumcisions we have performed on infant boys for decades. When a circumcision is performed on an infant, it is just plain genital mutilation, and it indeed disregards the human rights of our children. As the author says, "We've trampled on the human rights of our baby boys, and we've done it holding our heads high and justifying ourselves." Whether for boys or girls, it is about time we rethink the circumcision procedure.

I firmly believe that you really do catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, so to say, but the author took a completely unique approach by bringing the subject of female circumcision into the picture before making the connection to the largely accepted practice of male circumcision. Many new parents are not even aware that they have the option to deny the procedure as it is so accepted in the US--and by taking an accusatory standpoint, the author really does run the risk of losing her audience's respect and causing needless guilt in certain members of her audience. However, you must also consider who the article was directed at--by the looks of the blog, it is likely feminists who are seeking passionate arguments that will rile them up and get them thinking about a new idea.

The author fortunately provided plenty of resources out there that site good, peer-reviewed information on the subject of circumcision, and as of now, it is parents' right to make the decision whether to leave their child intact or not. I firmly believe, however, that, as parents, we must make appropriate decisions to keep our children healthy and whole. It all comes down to informed consent. Our country's medical ethics state that it is absolutely unethical and illegal to perform an unnecessary procedure on an individual who does not have informed consent. Infants, as individuals, cannot give informed consent, and therefore should not be circumcised. If our own standards of ethics were unbiasedly applied to the common practice of infant circumcision, it would certainly be an illegal procedure. Our children's healthy bodies should be preserved as best as possible for them to make decisions of alteration when they are old enough to do so.

Additionally, not a single national medical association in the world recommends infant circumcision as it offers no significant health or medical advantage over the intact state for the vast majority of males. In fact, many European nations look down on the US for performing such a barbaric procedure. Circumcision is literally a painful mutilation of a healthy, functioning body part, and when performed on an infant, it is done so without the consent of the person whose body is being modified, risking complications (in an alarming 2-10%, a statistic believed to be under-reported), and botched circumcisions (>1%) which often result in the need for reparative surgery, and even, in some drastic circumstances, gender reassignment.

Some may argue that parents must make medical decisions on behalf of their children in order to keep them healthy until they are old enough to take care of themselves on their own. As such, circumcision is often compared to vaccination, another common childhood medical incident--the argument often being the administration of vaccine is often painful, and, if given the option, children would most likely choose not to receive them. My arguments against vaccination aside, inoculation is a completely different issue and not at all comparable with circumcision for several reasons.

Firstly, by administering a vaccine to a child, scientifically engendered toxins are actually added to the body. Circumcision, on the other hand, surgically removes an otherwise healthy and functional body part. As the author questions in the article, should you remove all the child's teeth as they come in just because someday he may end up with a mouth full of cavities? Probably not.

Secondly, vaccination does not deprive individuals of functional body parts. On the other hand, infant circumcision always deprives the male of the protective and sexually enhancing gliding mechanism of the foreskin, as well a substantial portion of genital tissue, hundreds of nerves and thousands of nerve endings contained in the foreskin. Consequently, infant circumcision reduces a male's full range of natural penile functioning.

Thirdly, inoculation can prevent common diseases over which individuals may have little control; on the other hand, circumcision does not prevent any disease--at best, circumcision is only alleged to "reduce risk" of certain rare diseases, all of which are behavior-related, and most of which take place after a man is mature enough to make the decision for himself.

Moreover, while it can be argued that a parent must make decisions based on what they believe is best for the health and well being of their child, it must be considered that, unlike vaccination, the motivation for circumcision is based primarily on religious and social customs, and alarming little research was done on the medical aspects of the procedure before it became wide-spread in the US.

I will not argue the pros and cons of vaccination here. I do, however, feel it is completely necessary to understand how drastically different circumcision is from vaccination, and how completely incomparable the two procedures are.
It should also be acknowledged that infant male circumcision is a medically unnecessary procedure with Biblical roots (Leviticus) based on the Kosher laws of cleanliness--essentially to prevent boys from masturbating by removing the pleasure the foreskin naturally adds. As such, it is a ritual that is not unlike the many other customs of childhood bodily modification from around the world.

For instance, there is the practice of foot-binding common in China in the 10th through 20th centuries, a fashion trend that caused painful disabilities in millions of young girls and women over that time period. There is the skull shaping and artificial cranial modification common in ancient Andean and Egyptian societies and still practiced in some cultures around the world today, a gradual procedure that is performed on children, whether to designate spiritual maturation or simply to be aesthetically pleasing. Also, there is the practice of neck stretching on girls from neck rings in certain African and Asian cultures; the elongated neck is a symbol of beauty in these cultures. When neck stretching is performed gradually, starting at ages three or four and continuing through puberty, it is not a painful modification (though rapid neck stretching, occurring when a girl reaches puberty as a right of passage, is extremely painful) and it does weaken the neck muscles and inhibits the ability to hold up the head once the rings are removed.

Despite their social popularity throughout history, we now find many of these traditional modifications to be barbaric and disabling. We, as parents in the US today, would not perform these procedures on our children because they would cause them pain and visually mutilate their bodies. However, it is considered perfectly acceptable to surgically remove the genital foreskin of our vulnerable baby boys in a painful procedure.

So why, when so much of the world does not circumcise their baby boys, does society and the medical community in the US still believe circumcision to be necessary? It always comes down to this one thing: Money. As Thomas Wiswell, MD, said back in 1987, "I have some good friends who are obstetricians outside the military, and they look at a foreskin and almost see a $125 price tag on it. Each one is that much money. Heck, if you do 10 a week, that's over $1,000 a week, and they don't take that much time." Over the two decades since Dr. Wiswell admitted this honest observation, the cost of the procedure has tripled, and in some areas, quadrupled, and is still on the rise.

Not only do they charge a pretty penny for a circumcision procedure, the foreskin itself is sold by the hospital for profit for medical research; one single Neonatal Foreskin Epidermal Keratinocytes goes for a profound $250 at the Coriell Institute for Medical Research. If you consider that 55% of boys are circumcised these days, that is a stark statement of how much medical professionals and hospitals are making on a 15 minute procedure.

My father was born and raised in Germany, and, as infant circumcision is nearly nonexistent in continental Europe, he has an intact foreskin. I once asked him, when we were discussing the politics of circumcision in the US, if he had the option, would he have his foreskin removed. Not surprisingly, he said no. He also does not regret that he was not circumcised as an infant. If you asked me if I wanted my labia removed, I would sure as hell say no. If an infant boy had the mental competency to make an informed decision on whether he should remain intact or not, what do you think his answer would be?

I believe it all boils down to one thing: Informed Consent. As parents, we should respect our children's bodies. Medical reasoning for infant male circumcision has not shown me any research to make me feel that the procedure is necessary or even warranted. Quite the contrary, actually. Informed consent is a beautiful thing, but is so often disregarded by the medical community, especially in obstetrics and pediatrics.

Unfortunately, much of our society does not even know they have a choice--a choice that should be a basic human right. Educate yourself. Research unbiased information. Spread the word.

Choose informed consent.


Would you Circumcise your Daughter? Woman Uncensored, 12/28/09
US Circumcision Statistics Report, The Circumcision Reference Library
Estimated US Incidences of Neonatal Circumcision Complications,  NoHarm.org
There's Money in Circumcision, Circumstitions Intactivism

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

a batch of beaded stitch markers

Stitch markers are tiny round rings that are slipped onto a knitting needle to mark a certain place in a row of knitting. Commercial stitch markers are usually made of plain plastic or metal. They are notoriously dull. But lately, since I have been experimenting with beading, and what with my love of knitting, I decided to combine the two arts and make a handful of beaded stitch markers. I figured I would post a  few for sale in my Etsy shop and use a few for the knitting swaps I am participating in.

For the first batch, I used the rings from toggle clasps. After some experimentation, I decided that these are actually my favorite style mostly because they look the neatest. The following pink and black stitch marker is the first one I made:

The next two stitch markers I made are lovely. I sort of made them as a matching pair with pink semi-transparent glass beads:

I also tried using wire for the marker itself because they are potentially cheaper to make. The beaded portion looks pretty enough, but I have trouble getting the ring part to stay round. Overall, I was less than crazy about the results, but I gave this batch to February's Lady of the Month in the swap package since she asked specifically for stitch markers:

After considering the wire markers somewhat unfortunate, I made another pair with the toggle ring, this pair is red and blue for this month's Lady of the Month swap:

My final foray into beaded stitch markers for the day included a set of three. By this point, Evelyn was home from school and Esme was awake from her afternoon rest, so they joined in the beading fun. I think these are quite possibly my favorites of the day:

I had a variety of inspiration for these projects. I had seen someone using beaded stitch markers when I ran into a local coffee shop the week before. When I got home, I did a search on the internet, on Flickr and Etsy, to see how common they were. I turned up with hundreds of results and combined several different ideas with my own to create these markers.

As for my 52 project challenge for 2010, I consider the beaded stitch markers project 46/52.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

breastfeeding and the pregnant mother

Breastfeeding is one of the most wonderful gifts a new mother and baby can share. There are countless benefits to breastfeeding, many of which you hear about on a regular basis, the most important of which are the undeniable health benefits for both mother and baby. When someone asks me, I have a ton of tips on breastfeeding. I have nursed both of my daughters for 78 months and counting, and I am a huge advocate. Unfortunately, speaking about the postpartum period is considered taboo in the United States--and speaking of some of the benefits of breastfeeding is considered taboo as well. Most pregnant mothers unfortunately do not get to hear about them, except from another mother who is not afraid of being candid and honest.

I guess my first tip regarding breastfeeding is to make sure your pediatrician and ob-gyn or midwife are advocates for breastfeeding. You want to have good resources at your fingertips if you run into problems. Unfortunately, a lot of doctors these days do not know a single thing about breastfeeding and do not know how to differentiate normal aspects of breastfeeding from potential problems, nor do they know how to resolve problems if they arise, aside from prescribing a breastmilk substitute. It is just not something they are trained in, and is unfortunately one of the biggest downfalls of maternity care in the U.S. Heck, I almost stopped breastfeeding my oldest when we were still in the hospital because none of the staff knew the answers to my questions--but I stuck with it. I met with a lactation consultant in the hospital the next day, and she had so much helpful information.

I was also lucky that my mom's cousin was supportive. She nursed her two children for a total of four years, I think, so she had a lot of experience. She was the only person I knew who did not fill my head with breastfeeding horror stories and nonsense that was really based on lack of breastfeeding knowledge. Almost everyone I knew at the time only had negative experiences to share--and the biggest problem about that was that it was extremely discouraging. It literally made me, an inexperienced young pregnant woman, feel like breastfeeding was going to be waaaay too much work. But now that I am educated about breastfeeding, I realize now that a lot of the problems these women were facing were not problems at all, but just unfortunate misunderstandings that could be solved very easily had they known someone who knew something about breastfeeding--or else, for problems taking place in the days after birth, side effects of labor pain medication or as a result of circumcision procedures on baby boys. One of the worst kept secrets about breastfeeding is that it is actually very easy--I like to think of it as the lazy mother's way of caring for a baby!

Pregnant women will find out very quickly that the one thing mothers want to share with them once they are pregnant is their bad birthing and parenting experiences. They will talk about everything that went wrong for them during their pregnancies (swollen feet, fat butt, weight gain, high blood pressure), their births (baby is too big, long drawn out painful labor, c-sections), and breastfeeding (cracked and bleeding nipples, painful latch, not enough milk). I highly recommend that pregnant women disregard everything negative that comes their way. Instead, focus on exactly what YOU want from your pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding. Think about the wonderful things happening to you during pregnancy (shiny beautiful hair, free massages, extra cleavage), birth (right of passage, meeting the baby your body created and nurtured, naming another human being), and breastfeeding (losing the baby fat, extra money and no dishes--you don't have to pay for formula or wash bottles, no period for months or even years).

Another extremely important tip: read books that are informative and unbiased rather than books that focus on complications and things that can go wrong. I must say that, despite its mass popularity, the "What To Expect..." series is a huge culprit of feeding the belief that everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Instead, try reading something like From the Hips: A Comprehensive, Open-Minded, Uncensored, Totally Honest Guide to Pregnancy, Birth, and Becoming a Parent by R Odes and C Morris. It is a fantastic, fun, and truely cool book. While the book focuses mostly on pregnancy and childbirth, the authors have compiled some sound information on breastfeeding and a nice section on sorting through the advice that comes your way. There is also the very funny book So That's What They're For! Breastfeeding Basics by J Tamaro, which is my first recommendation for anyone to read regarding breastfeeding.

There are so many good books and resources out there--your biggest, of course, being the mothers you know who have successfully breastfed their children. Also, attend LLL meetings in the early months, especially before your baby arrives. Surround yourself with breastfeeding mothers--watch a baby latch on to the breast, notice the different ways the mother positions the baby. It can be weird at first, but to be honest, in cultures where breastfeeding is normal and children are not weaned until they are at least two years old, everyone breastfeeds, everywhere, and no one thinks anything of it. It is human nature--just another person having a snack. Hardly any women in those cultures have problems with breastfeeding because everyone knows how to do it--mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins have experienced countless babies nursing since they themselves were babies. Humans have survived for so long because of breastfeeding.

While some mothers may hit a rocky point or two at the beginning of a nursing relationship, once breastfeeding is established, given the appropriate knowledge and resources, they will hopefully realize how much breastfeeding really has to offer. Breastfeeding literally is so much more than nurturing--breastfeeding makes life with a baby easy!

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