Wednesday, January 10, 2007

But what will the neighbours think?

My mother has complained bitterly all my life about her own mother's obsession with what the neighbours would think of any given situation. (The answer is usually "They don't. They have their own lives to worry about.") Instead of enabling me to become a devil-may-care type, however, her complaints seem to have installed this same attitude in me. I am my own worst critic. (But we've known this for a long time.)

Clara is still tiny for her age. As of last Friday (at 13 and a half weeks) she was nine pounds, 1.5 ounces. This is off the bottom of the growth curve that the paediatrician uses (and I'm pretty sure she's using the new one that's calibrated for breastfed babies, who tend to be much leaner than formula-fed ones). Even so, Dr. D is very happy with Clara's development, which is right on schedule: she's grabbing at things, she smiles and coos at people, she controls her head better every day, she rolls from her back to her side at will, and so on.

Yesterday I went back to FitMom after the holiday break (which I had confused with the Movies for Mommies holiday break, and assumed was one week longer than it actually was). Two things depressed me a lot.

(a) I've lost a huge amount of ground with my fitness again -- it's like being back in high school gym class and being the biggest sluggard there. I know from so much past experience that it's just a matter of buckling down and exercising three times a week and eating more protein before I'm getting stronger and feeling better again, but sleep deprivation plus shorter days plus having nine pounds of raw need right. there. all. the time. are making it harder for me to convince myself that this really is something I have to do. And all the pep talks in the world from other people don't help.

(b) I'm to the point where I'm embarrassed to tell people how old Clara is, because she's so small and mothering seems to be such a competitive sport. I talked to one woman yesterday whose ten-week-old's slow weight gain had prompted her paediatrician to recommend supplementing with formula. The mother did, and the baby gained more than a pound in a week. Clara gained 13.5oz in the past month.

There are lots of reasons I really don't want to supplement: reduction of my milk supply, changes to Clara's intestines (PDF), messing with the incredibly fine-tuned system that is a nursing mother and child. Plus, she's obviously healthy and developing appropriately; Dr. D. even said that if she stays on the curve she's on now, even if it's below the "official" one, there's no need to worry. (I like Dr. D.)

But good ol' Lizard Brain is shouting at me that People are going to think that I'm a bad mother because my baby is so tiny. I know this is stupid, but I feel this way anyway. Telling myself not to doesn't shut it up.

I've read that parenthood is a whole lot of being faced with things you can't fix and learning how to deal with them anyway. I've spent most of my life fighting my weight and feeling rotten about the bigness of my body; who'd have thought that my first big challenge would be trying to accept my daughter's smallness?


Italophile said...

Em, this is a bit off-topic, but are you still vegetarian? Just wondering how you get enough protein.

I went veg in 2003 (for environmental reasons: all those cow farts trapping atmospheric heat as much as fossil-fuel-based transportation -- see the NYT editorials, 27 Dec 06).

I felt good about the change (even more so now: I'm actually a bit smug about it), but I did lose the 15 pounds that you described losing when you went veg. From my body, it came off as muscle mass, and I've never gotten it back (nor tried to).

I was impressed with your stories of having strength and was wondering whether you were getting your protein through food sources or through supplements.

esquiver said...

Em, there is so totally nothing wrong with smallness. :-)

Well, I mean, I don't know squat about babies, but I'm assuming that if you have a doctor telling you Clara's ok, that aspect's covered.

As for the neighbors belonging to the general public (i.e., women innocent of parturition; men), it would never occur to most, I think to size up the baby that way -- growth tables are just not part of mainstream knowledge. Even for women who had their last kid a few years ago, I bet.

Anyway, there's a lot of different ways to spin the guilt: what of the NYT article not too long ago (it was in the "most emailed" forever) that basically said that based on what's now known about the benefits of breastfeeding, you'd have to be a tad irresponsible to use formula? What about all the other studies that show that teenage (and adult) obesity is strongly correlated with size as an infant?

And finally, speaking as someone who's been off the growth chart her whole freakin' life to someone who's not a heck of a lot taller than her: er, isn't it possible that Clara is simply genetically petite?

Aside to italophile: you crack me up. I've been vegetarian since 1990, and I'm currently about 20 pounds overweight (Pop-Tarts also contain no meat). Perhaps your lean wiriness has a bit more to do with the bicycle being your primary mode of transportation?

Emily said...

I haven't knowingly eaten any land animals since 1991, but I started eating fish and shellfish again in 1997 after a trip to Nova Scotia.

When I'm lifting regularly I have a protein shake just about every day, with yogurt, fruit, rice milk enriched with protein, and whey powder. I've also been known to sneak silken tofu into casseroles and baked pasta dishes.

I'm working out with my trainer on Saturday for the first time in months and months, and rejoining my gym next week. I'm hoping this will be the turning point in my post-pregnancy fitness.

Congrats on going veg. You? Smug? Who ever would've imagined? ;-)

Emily said...

e: you are, of course, right on all counts.

I'm sure I have a very warped perception of my own size, anyway. When I was in my teens and early 20s I was under relentless familial pressure to lose some weight. (Once in my 20s when I went to visit my family in Denver, one of my cousins took me aside and said, "You're not nearly so fat as we'd been led to believe." Um, thanks?)

Some days I look in the mirror and think "Wow, I'm actually looking pretty svelte for three months postpartum." Other days I look and think "God, look at all that flab. I've really let myself go."

As for Clara: the other thing about her size that is weirding me out is how freaking LONG she is. She's grown at least six inches since she was born, and gained less than two pounds. I do have tall skinny cousins on both sides, so a Long Tall Clara is more than possible.

I'm actually feeling a lot better for having held this stuff up to the light: it looks a lot less neurosis-inducing at noon on a sunny day than it did on a cold dark night.

Thanks for your replies, both of you.

plinth said...

Here's the thing about current parenting that drives me batshiat insane: there is a plethora of marketing that is centered around Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt that is designed to make you overreact to a previously unnoticed threat to that which is most near and dear to you.

Nearly all baby-centric marketing states of heavily implies that your child will suffer unless you purchase their products, where in fact this is not true at all.

One side-effect of this is an infectious competition between parents about milestones and health, rather than doing what you should be doing: enjoying the brief time that you have as a parent of a newborn and worry only when it's necessary or you can't think of anything else to do.

I think the way to manage this is to stop, identify, think, and ask. Stop what you're doing, identify what you're feeling, think about what your doing or intending to do and ask if it's reasonable or even worth it.

Babies will grow and thrive. They are designed to do that under even highly adverse circumstances. Further, you are deeply wired to help and to want to help.

You are currently and will continue to provide circumstances which are far above adverse, therefore Clara will grow and thrive. You can suffer all the consuming self-doubt you want, but that won't make the process of parenting one whit more enjoyable. If instead you choose to believe in yourself, allow yourself to be human and make mistakes as well as to excell, I'm willing to bet that everyone will get more out of the process.

And remember, it is a process and you're still learning it.

Italophile said...

I'm smarting from your smug tease, but only because it's so, so true (and I hate that it's been so obvious to others my whole life).

I typed a lot of other stuff in this comment before realizing that Plinth and Esquiver covered it all, and better.

Italophile said...

BTW, I'm always glad to crack anyone up, but just to clarify ... I was curious as to whether Em's inspiring experiences at the gym were at all connected to a change in the sources of protein in her diet. I definitely know how to put on non-muscle weight! (Most recent method: move to New York without my trusty bicycle. You walk everywhere but that doesn't burn that much, even in fast-paced NYC.)