Tuesday, June 18, 2013

With knowledge comes responsibility

What is the point of learning about the world if we live for ourselves?  What the is point of research and of generating knowledge if we do not take what we learn to heart?

Scientists and engineers occupy a unique and powerful position in this culture, and they always have.  While kooks and quacks no doubt exist, scientists and engineers do important work in chemistry, atmospheric sciences, biology, physics, ecology, building and designing.  But if you're a scientist or engineer reading this, it is likely that you have been educated to (or at least told to) just doing the science and engineering, and leaving the decisionmaking that stems from it to others--policymakers, lawyers, businessmen, and politicians, many of whom do not have the best interests of people and nature at heart.  Scientists and engineers thus leave it to others, others who many not fully understand the implications of this knowledge, to decide what should be done about what we know, so scientists and engineers do not lose their "objectivity," so they do not cross the supposedly strict boundaries between scientific, reductionist research and the murky world of "values."

But in this glacier-melting, toxic tresspassing, obesity-inducing, mass-species-extinction, large corporate culture, scientists and engineers can no longer sit on the sidelines of decisionmaking.  Traditional means of scientific communication have led, for example, to politicians undermining and denying climate science (although in this episode of This American Life, it becomes clear that many politicians fully accept climate science, but just do not admit it).  Instead, given the incredible diversity of thought, skill, and knowledge they possess, scientists and engineers must take full responsibility for what they know and do, and that is to become front and center the faces of the radical social, political and economic change needed to align this culture and its laws with ecological holism and peace.

Fortunately, there are a handful of such brave men and women out there already, and Sandra Steingraber heads the list of courageous scientist activists.  A poet, essayist, author, environmentalist and ecologist, Steingraber has written extensively (in Orion magazine, among other places) about the links between industrial chemicals released into the environment and human health impacts, specifically cancer.  Recently, she has been intimately involved with the opposition to the extremely destructive practice of fracking, for which she was jailed.  In a conversation with Dick Gordon on The Story, Steingraber says,
In the absence of a powerful human rights movement behind the science, I don't think we can move this forward.  The world's most powerful industries are standing in our way.  And so I think science needs to be coupled with a kind of activism, similar to what we saw with [the] Civil Rights [Movement], similar to what we saw with the Abolitionist Movement.  And so, I feel inspired in the work that I do not just by the power of the data, whether it's on climate change, or on the growing evidence that we have linking childhood asthma to crummy air, [but also by how] Martin Luther King Jr. did what he did, and how my dad, at age eighteen, had to go off and fight global fascism even though at the time it looked like an overwhelming task...People under very desperate circumstances rose and said, "This is wrong." 
I carry around this German name, Steingraber, and my dad [was] also German...and what I learned from my dad was to not be a "good German."  If you see something is wrong because you have evidence, whether it is the kind of evidence that the French partisans had or whether it is evidence like I have as a biologist, we have a moral obligation to make sure that that evidence [leads to change].  You don't just say, "Here's the evidence," and that's your job, you're done.  But if nobody is coming to take the evidence and turn it into change, then you have to do that yourself.  It becomes your own responsibility. 
I hope to continue to develop these thoughts on the blog over the days and weeks to come; they formed an important part of my dissertation, and continue to be something I write about more academically.  I hope to translate more of that writing here.  I am sure many of you have thoughts on this very important issue, and I welcome them in the form of comments and even guest blog posts.  Until then, I encourage you to listen to Gordon's full conversation with Steingraber, which I have posted below.  You can also find the conversation on The Story's website, here.

Part 1 of Gordon's conversation with Steingraber.

Part 2 of Gordon's conversation with Steingraber.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Guest blog #29: Minimalist parenting by Crystal Thrall, part 2

I left off yesterday writing about elimination communication and breastfeeding and baby-led weaning.  Today, I finish off writing a little bit about co-sleeping and babywearing.

I am going to take away all the fun of preparing for the arrival of a baby by suggesting that a nursery is simply not practical.  The nursery: an entire room and furniture to fill it suited to the first year of a baby's life.  Sure, that crib probably converts to a toddler bed, but I really think that even a crib is unnecessary.  Why not skip the tiny mattress entirely and buy your child a proper mattress she can use throughout childhood?  For that matter, why bother with a nursery at all?  Why not make a fun room suited to your child's interests, when they become apparent, as she ages?  Yes, I am implying that you share your bed with your child during the infant, and probably the toddler stage of her life.  To make co-sleeping practical for us, we bought another mattress to increase our effective bed size, and we put our bed on the floor.  I can hear you quietly thinking, "How do you ever have sex when you share a bed with your child?"  That's a fair point to which I respond: it is possible to be intimate with your partner without having your bed available. 

I was given many things by very well-intentioned friends and family that would help me put my baby down: an infant seat (a.k.a a Bumbo); colorful play mats with exciting toys that could stimulate many of my baby's senses; a swing and a bouncy seat--both of which played soothing music or simulated noises from the womb; and a stroller.  I happily and gratefully accepted these gifts and hand-me-downs thinking it would be nice to put my baby down every now and then to have free hands.  Little did I know not all babies willingly accept any distance from a warm body.  Call them what you want: high-needs, fussy, colicky...I was/am the proud mother of one of these babies!  It wasn't long before I realized each of these items was practically useless to me, and I thought I would never be able to put my baby down without having to listen to her scream.  I knew that baby carriers existed, but the options overwhelmed me and I couldn't decide on one. 

One glorious day, a friend of mine introduced me to a local babywearing group.  I was honestly quite intimidated by the vast library of carriers and the babywearing proficiency demonstrated by these wonderful moms and dads...but mostly moms.  Nevertheless, I knew this was the solution that would work for my husband and I.  My carrier collection started with a simple ring sling crafted by my mother.  I quickly learned how easy it was to just pop my daughter in and out of the sling and carry her hands free anytime, anywhere.  Finally, I was liberated from my stroller!  The burden of my baby gear load decreased significantly, and I would no longer be forced to awkwardly maneuver a stroller around any store.  I didn't realize how much I loathed the stroller concept until I acquired my ring sling.  You can see a picture of me and a passed out organic baby in yesterday's post.  Here is one of my husband, Brian, with baby Rae awake.

Brian, organic baby, and a ring sling on Main Street in Ann Arbor
Now that I could leave the house with a happy baby, my next babywearing goal was to free my hands for domestic duties.  I had to learn how to wear my daughter on my back, and for this I would need a wrap which is essentially just a very long piece of fabric.  Even more overwhelming than choosing a specific type of carrier was selecting a wrap!  There are various sizes, colors, fabric blends, and brands, and in the end I learned many people choose their first wrap based on the color.  After buying a wrap and learning how to back-carry, I could resume many of my pre-baby activities while providing entertainment for my baby.  My daughter especially enjoyed watching me sweep the floors as I wore her on my back.  She still does, but she would prefer to sweep the floors herself (especially after she's involved in a mishap...not really, but maybe some day!).  

That leads me to the semi-babywearing-related topic of toys.  In the first year, a child needs few, if any, toys.  At this age, babies can be entertained by things you already have in your home, or better yet, outside.  What's even more entertaining than things is mom and dad and the activities they do. 

Final thoughts
I must confess that I have simply summarized the concept of "attachment parenting" from a different perspective.  Attachment parenting is what works for our family.  Coincidentally, this parenting style achieves another goal of ours--minimizing our impact on the environment. 

While putting together this post, my husband said that I should discuss his perspective throughout this process.  Here goes: Initially, he was opposed to co-sleeping, babywearing, and elimination communication.  He reluctantly followed my lead, but became more accepting as we progressed into a routine.  When he observed how happily our daughter would eliminate on a potty, he was no longer an EC skeptic.  He also appreciates doing less laundry and going out with less baggage.  When he started wearing our daughter, he appreciated the increased closeness and interaction he didn't get with the stroller.  And he quickly learned that co-sleeping gave him the ability to sleep more during the night.  Eventually, his entire view on what parenting should look like changed, and he will not do it any other way now.  (Now, on to conquering the world!)

Attachment parenting is probably not the only environmentally friendly parenting style, but this is what works for us.  Ultimately, you have to do what is best for you and your family.  I am quite satisfied with how relatively little clutter there is in my postpartum home and how my daughter doesn't require much baggage when we go out.   If minimizing the baby gear in your life is your goal, then you might want to consider wearing, breastfeeding, pottying, and/or sleeping with your baby!

There's a ton of used baby things out there!  And always remember, craigslist is your friend!

Elimination communication
The Diaper-Free Baby: The Natural Toilet Training Alternative by Christine Gross-Loh
EC Simplified: Infant Potty Training Made Easy by Andrea Olson
Andrea Olson's EC website: godiaperfree.com

Breastfeeding and Baby-led Weaning
Lactation consultant directory
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by Diane Wiessinger, Diana West, and Teresa Pitman
So That's What They're For!: The Definitive Breastfeeding Guide by Janet Tamaro
Baby-led Weaning: Helping Your Baby To Love Good Food by Gill Rapley

Find a babywearing chapter near you here
Babywearing blog from my local Babywearing chapter

There are also plenty of instructional youtube videos available!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Guest blog #29: Minimalist parenting by Crystal Thrall, part 1

Crystal Thrall, queen of the Diva Cup, is back, and this time, she writes about her new baby girl, and her efforts to minimize the ecological impacts of infancy. 

My parenting journey began unconventionally by planning a home birth, but I followed the mainstream idea of what babies need: diapers, a crib, a stroller, a car seat, and so forth.  As someone who lives a relatively minimalist life, I was troubled by the thought of adding all of this child-related baggage to my clutter-free home.  Over time, I realized that most baby gear is wasteful, unnecessary clutter, especially in the first year.  I know, you probably think I am nuts.  "How can you live without a stroller?"There is no way I am going to carry my baby everywhere!"  "And diapers?  Come on, babies certainly need those!"  "What about entertainment?  My baby will get bored!"  I admit that these ideas did not come naturally to me; however, I learned from other parents with similar interests.  All parenting philosophies aside, if your main goal is to minimize your environmental impact, the following topics might interest you: elimination communication; breastfeeding and baby-lead weaning; co-sleeping; and babywearing.  Today, I write about the first two.

Elimination Communication
The guiding principle behind elimination communication (EC) (also known as natural infant hygiene, infant potty training, or gentle potty training) is that people are born with the instinct to not soil themselves.  Babies communicate the need to eliminate just as they communicate other basic needs, and as parents it is our job to understand when that need should be met.  By exclusively diapering a child, the child learns that caregivers will not meet this particular need and that the appropriate place to eliminate is in his pants.  Imagine how confusing it must be after two or three years of eliminating in your pants to learn that you are actually supposed to use a toilet!  I won't go into the details about how to establish this sort of relationship with your baby, there are plenty of references out there that do a much better job than I ever could.  But I will share my personal experience.  

While I was pregnant, I thought I was doing my environmental due diligence by committing to cloth diapers.  Knowing that I would save landfills from a large volume of solid waste while protecting my baby's bottom from diaper rash made the additional laundry burden worth it.  For five months, we happily cloth-diapered our child until a friend and fellow new parent introduced us to the concept of elimination communication.  From the day her son was born, she started putting him on the potty.  I admit that I was skeptical at first, but after reading Diaper Free Baby, I knew that I had to at least try introducing my infant to the potty.  It wasn't long before my daughter refused to poop in her pants, and what an exciting accomplishment that was for us.  At this point, I was completely sold.  Now our daughter is 16 months old, and while she still has accidents, she doesn't wear diapers during the day and spends most of her time dry.  She directly communicates her elimination needs with either a hand signal or words.  Our experience has completely changed my perspective and opinion on diapers, and we are fully committed to respond to any future child's elimination needs in this way from birth.  

Some people would say that "elimination communication" sounds wonderful, but isn't practical for a child with two working parents.  The beauty of EC is that it can be accomplished part time and with zero stress.  Anything that ends up in a potty results in fewer diaper changes, and therefore less waste, so why not try it?!

Breastfeeding and Baby-led Weaning
Breastfeeding is a sensitive and controversial topic for many women.  Personally, I never questioned whether or not I wanted to breastfeed.  And while my breastfeeding relationship was easily established with my baby, I have met numerous women who have struggled for weeks, even months to exclusively breastfeed their babies.  I have also known women who, despite their best efforts, were unable to maintain breastfeeding for physical or psychological reasons beyond their control.  Breastfeeding is certainly not something women can take for granted, but even if it takes blood, sweat, tears, and a lot of time, the benefits to both mom and baby are well worth it.   

Well that's great, but my main point is to minimize "stuff consumption."  Obviously, if a baby receives his meals exclusively from mom, infant formula and the waste associated with it is completely unnecessary.  If mom stays at home, the need to bottle-feed is also unnecessary.  However, many moms work in which case bottles and breast pump supplies are probably necessary.  In the end breastfeeding can still lead to waste, but less so than formula-feeding.  
Breastfeeding is probably the obvious environmentally-friendly choice to many people, but what about the weaning process?  When I was pregnant, I had every intention making my own pureed baby food.  It could be organic, I could make my own concoctions suited to my baby's tastes, I would save money, AND I would contribute less waste by not buying packaged baby food!  This sounded like a great plan until I learned about baby-led weaning (BLW) which makes it even easier to avoid packaged baby food.  It's quite simple: let your child feed himself.  This means that the child eats finger foods rather than purees.  For us this means our child generally eats what we prepare for ourselves.  Honestly, BLW probably lengthens the path to weaning, so you have to be willing to commit to an extended breastfeeding relationship with your child.  As a mom who has been breastfeeding for 16 months, I know that it isn't always easy.  However, I didn't go into parenting thinking it would be easy, and I know she won't be breastfeeding forever.  

Come back tomorrow to read part 2 of Crystal's guest blog!

Crystal, a nuclear engineer, and her organic baby.

Brian, Crystal's husband, also a nuclear engineer, with his organic baby.