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Lann is 15!

Yesterday was Lann’s fifteenth birthday. Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, sitting, bedroom and indoor

It has been fifteen years since I started to become forged in the fires of motherhood.

Fifteen years since I brought that first baby to my breast and offered him my life.

Fifteen years.

Mothering has been hard on my personality, but good for my soul. And, this little baby, whose soft head I cupped in the night and cried while worrying he would grow up to be a “bad teenager,” has always been so easy to love (and he isn’t bad at all!). He was a sensitive and high-need baby, who grew into a timid and creative toddler, and then into an energetic, high-spirited, playful, expressive kid, and then now into a still-sensitive, but calm, helpful, easy-going, cooperative, pleasant, kind, creative, capable teenager.

From 8lbs4oz to 5’11 in just a few years, on the morning of his birthday when we measured him to Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people sittingsee how tall he is, I found myself crying. And, then I remembered something I wrote in 2011:

The tears that may spring unbidden to our eyes in the future when our growing child makes us remember this potency of early childhood, the very fact that we look back with such a pang, means that we did a very, very good job with the savoring—if we hadn’t savored, we wouldn’t know how to feel so deeply later.

I became an artist because of my babies. When I was pregnant with Lann, I made numerous small needle felted birth goddesses to prepare me for birth. His birth introduced me to the goddess as an embodied reality and I started to consider that the power that I felt course through me as a birthing woman, might just be available to me all the time, not just while pregnant and laboring. With my second pregnancy, I continued to create needle-felted goddess sculptures. During my fifth pregnancy, following two devastating losses, I started to create goddesses in clay as a means to heal my grief, to reintroduce Pregnant Woman into my identity, to give me the courage and trust to birth again, and to create a 3-D journal of my life. These little hand-held goddesses spoke to others too and from that original process of self-exploration, honoring, and healing, the whole of Brigid’s Grove was born. 

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The Last Time

I lie in bed with him, cementing the details in my memory. The way the morning air is heavy and green. The sound of last night’s raindrops continuing to drip from the overfull gutters on the roof. The insistent stab of a single-note bird song in the air. His head nestles in the crook of my arm the way it has done every morning for three years. Blond hair against my nose, breathing in the slightly baby smell of him. “This is the last img_9756time,” I whisper softly. “We are all done after this. This is the last time we will have nonnies.”

This is not the first last time for me, but it is the last, last time.  The first baby was born 14 years ago and gathered to my breast with all the tenderness and uncertainty and instinctiveness of a first, first. “Do you want nursies?” I whisper to that new little boy, and we begin the next steps in our bond, nursing for nearly three years, until one day, six weeks away from the birth of the next baby boy, the first little brother in our family, I decide that we truly have to be done. I am a breastfeeding counselor for other nursing mothers and I feel like I should want to tandem nurse my two boys. I fondly envision their hands joining across my body, the easy love and camaraderie between them blossoming through this shared time with their mother. But, I feel an intense irritation with nursing while pregnant, nearly a sense of revulsion and the almost irresistible urge to shove away my sweet little boy as I prepare to greet the life of another. I talk to my midwife about my feelings and she explains that with her own two daughters, the agitated feeling at nursing the older one did not go away with the birth of the second, but instead became dramatically worse.

After hearing this, I feel panicky and I decide we do, in fact, have to wean. He is a very verbal and precocious toddler and I am easily able to explain to him that it is time to be finished nursing. One night though, he lies in bed with me crying and begging to nurse. He says he really needs to. I tell him, “remember, we’re all done, but if you really, really need me, if you really, really still need to have nursies, you can.” He doesn’t nurse, but instead falls asleep, reassured that while our nursing relationship might be over, I’m still here.

The second baby boy nurses the longest of any. Beginning while still attached to me by his umbilical cord, after a short and intense birth in my alaina005living room, nursing is the comfort tool that soothes the powerful emotions and hot temper of this baby. To him, breastfeeding is “na na’s,” a word he learns to say at only six months old, reaching towards me from his father’s arms and calling, “Mama, na na! Mama, na na!” At nearly three, when snuggled in my lap for comfort after an emotional meltdown and burst of fiery, destructive temper he explains: “Mama, when I’m not with you, I feel like I’m in lava. When I’m not nursing, I feel like I’m in a dragon’s mouth!” When this boy is 3.5, I nurse him for the last time. I am pregnant again and feeling the same aversion and revulsion towards our once-treasured bond that I felt with my first. We talk and I tell him we are all done. I wonder if I will be sorry that I have weaned him if something happens to the new baby, will I be sorry that I cut him off and then don’t have a new baby to nurse? I decide that no, I will not be sorry. In fact, that I am truly desperate to be done nursing him.

This third baby, a third boy, does not ever make it to my breast. He dies early in my second trimester, less than two weeks after I nurse my second son for the last time, wondering if I’ll be sorry about weaning him. Though I am overcome with grief at the loss of my baby, I never regret the decision to wean the toddler. What follows is the only three months in more than fourteen years in which I am not pregnant or nursing anyone. april-2014-022A short fourth pregnancy, less than six weeks in duration this time, fills in another month, and then, I am pregnant with my daughter.

My only girl is born in one sudden moment, whole and healthy, into my hands as I kneel on a futon in my living room. The wild, sweet relief I feel at seeing she is actually alive is the most powerful emotion I’ve ever felt in my life. She is gathered to my breast in the coldness of this January morning and continues to nurse for the next three years, until I am pregnant with her little brother. “Na na’s” become “nonnies” with her and she is finally weaned in the sunny days of spring. We sit in the field by our house, kites flying on a windy day. She cries on my lap when I tell that we have to be done, “remember, this is our last time. We’re all done now.” My second son comes over to us, he of the big feelings and the lava of emotions. “What happened?” he asks. I tell him that she is feeling sad because we are all done having nonnies now and he reaches out to touch her leg. “I’ve been where she is,” he says compassionately, “I know what she feels.”

Much later, as I complain about still nursing her little brother and exclaiming that I just need to be done, she asks me: “why don’t you get a kite?” “What on earth are you talking about?” I ask her, “Why would I need a kite?” She stares at me as if I’m foolish, “so you can fly it and then be done nursing Tanner!” she exclaims.

Tanner. The last baby. The baby I wasn’t expecting, the first pregnancy of six pregnancies that took me by complete surprise. The baby that taught me that blogging about how I was done having children was not, in itself, an effective means of birth control. The baby that challenged me to re-open myself, my heart, my body, and my family after I had mentally and emotionally shut the door on being pregnant again. The baby I whispered to as I knelt in the birth pool in my living room, “We want you, baby, we really, really want you. You can come out now.” It is finally with this baby, become toddler, that I realize that it is not nursing during pregnancy that I find so incredibly agitating, it is simply that I don’t really enjoy nursing someone after they reach about two. I always blamed the subsequent pregnancies on the agitation, the anxiety, the tense unrest, the canine or feline-like urge to nip and snap at my pesky offspring and to stand up, letting my overgrown baby plop to the ground, watching after me bewildered as I walk away, waving my tail. In truth, I simply do get done nursing. This is the first baby for which I have to admit that I am done july-2017-049simply because I am done, not because I am expecting the birth of another.

I do not always feel like a good mother, in fact I have often felt very badly about myself as a parent, and yet on this morning when I nurse the last child for the last time, I do the math and realize that I have put a child to my breast approximately 32,200 times over the last fourteen years. Maybe there are more than 32,000 ways to say I love you, I reflect, and each child has felt that from me day in and day out, in this embodied dance of interconnection, this weaving of cells into souls into life.

I stroke the soft little arm of my youngest son, here in my bed on this August morning as we nurse for the last time. I notice how my thumb and forefinger easily meet around even the uppermost portion of it and my eyes pinch with tears. In the last month he has lost his sweet yogurt-smelling baby breath in the mornings and instead smells a bit sour and in need of a tooth brushing. He unlatches and peers at me in the darkness. “I’m done,” he says, and rolls away from me. I cup my hand on the back of his head, the way I’ve done with each of my kids when they were newborns, feeling the curve of their skull under my palm and marveling how that head rested so easily in the cradle of my pelvis. My cells, my blood, my milk, made flesh. And, I cry.

This is the first time my body will be wholly my own, sustaining no one else’s life force but my own, in fourteen years. My body at 24 years old weighed just 159 pounds the day I gave birth, full-term, to my first eight pound baby boy in 2003. My body now 38 years old, weighs 160 pounds, and is pregnant with no one but herself.

Crossposted at Feminism and Religion and Brigid’s Grove.

Talk Books: Liberating Motherhood

liberatingmotherhood“Women’s liberation must be mothers’ liberation or it is nothing.”

–Germain Greer, in The Whole Woman, quoted in Liberating Motherhood

Since I have three homeschooled children (ages 6-13) and one toddler (2) who are all home full-time, as well as a home business, I often fell asleep with the book Liberating Motherhood in one hand and december-2016-001my nursing toddler asleep on the other arm. However, the mark of how much I liked a book can be told most reliably, not by my eventual typed review, but by the number of pages whose corners have been turned down. In case you can’t tell in the picture, that means that Liberating Motherhood is a winner. Complex. Witty. Wry. Assertive. Bold. A detailed manifesto of maternal feminism.

Liberating Motherhood is a fairly heavy read, made readable and engaging by Vanessa’s deft way with words, sharp wit, and clear explanations. It covers broad themes and weaves together issues of justice, ecofeminism, politics, and socialization in sections titled A Mother’s Body, A Mother’s Mind, a Mother’s Labour, and a Mother’s Heart. The core of the book is the argument that many mothers wish to actively mother their young children and yet are wholly unsupported in doing so. Patriarchy’s answer is subordination of women into a caregiving role that has no monetary or economic value or respect. Contemporary feminism’s answer is “full female employment” and outsourcing of childcare into a universal daycare system. Olorenshaw is assertive that the answer to the “problem of mothers,” is not more daycare, but rather more social and economic support, including a basic income. She is willing to tackle the classist assumptions that work outside of the home is inherently fulfilling for women, noting that the ability of women in the upper socieconomic status to “lean in” rests fully on the backs of lower paid, overworked women who are doing the work that no one else wants to do. However, she does not glamorize or romanticize the role of a stay-at-home mother either, exploring in-depth the economic and social vulnerability that women are placed in by depending on the income of a partner and exploring the potential for abuse and exploitation that results from this common social model.

I have consciously self-identified as a feminist since I was 13. After giving birth for the first time at september-2016-01124, I became immersed in the writing and world of “mother’s rights,” and at this time, became rebirthed as a maternal feminist. My spiritual path is that of a goddess-feminist and I have been also immersed for years on a goddess path that is firmly feminist in orientation. Since my feminism has been entwined for a long time with my mothering and with goddess-spirituality, I sometimes found that Vanessa was arguing against a type of feminism which I find mostly unrecognizable, or almost more of a caricature of feminism than that which I have found in my work in the world. In fact, one of my favorite quotes from a book of feminist thealogy is feminists make the best mothers. (Charlotte Caron, To Make and Make Again). I also write for the feminist blog, Feminism and Religion, and while there have been a few notable exceptions, the majority of writers there seem to embrace a maternally-inspired/influenced feminism, unlike some of the writers and leaders encountered by Olonrenshaw. I don’t find that as many contemporary feminist thinkers and writers ignore the issues of mothers and maternity as much as she asserts. I would also have liked to see some coverage of the life structures and experiences of women like me who find their solution combining mothering while working for themselves. I have long said that I am not looking for an “or,” but for the “and,” mothering while also working on other tasks!

Published by Womancraft Publishing, Liberating Motherhood takes on not only the patriarchy, but neoliberal capitalism and modern feminism as well in a complex brew of social critique, call to action, values-exploration, and manifesto. Unapologetically assertive and with a large dose of wry wit and candor, Olorenshaw explores the many ways in which an insidious social and cultural web is woven that simultaneously devalues and ignores women’s unpaid work, yet benefits greatly from its fulfillment.

“The problem is, for all the talk of women’s liberation, when it is predicated on liberation from motherhood, it is no liberation at all. When feminism is based on ideas of equality which ignore the actual reality of her life, her deep wish to care for her children, and deny the value of caring, a mother is in chains. We need to get going on liberating motherhood. We can say loud and clear that: ‘I don’t need liberating from motherhood: motherhood needs to be liberated from a system which devalues it, devalues us and devalues our children.”

–Vanessa Olorenshaw, Liberating Motherhood

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Happy Birthday, Tanner!

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I actually got the perfect picture this morning of our birthday boy! Tanner is TWO! He says: “I’m two!” He speaks in 2-3 word sentences and adds words every day. He can basically say anything. He loves tools and fixing stuff and “working” with mom and dad. He watches closely enough that he even blows on the tops of the heads of tiny goddesses when he sits down with them and tries to work on the tops of their heads. He likes cars and trucks. He is the first kid to run to help when someone says, “help,” including trying to be the other side of furniture moving. Loves swings and big boots and running fast. Is observant and attentive and clever. Likes knives (too much!).

Falls asleep in my arms each night, just like he did the day he was born.

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His birth video is here and his birth story is here

We having his birthday party tonight and going to a Halloween party. He has a dinosaur costume as well as a karate kid t-shirt so he can be Johnny, the blond kid from the Karate Kid movie (he was Draco Malfoy last year. Apparently, I can only think of blond-hair-related costumes and bad kids in movies are blond?!) I have made a non-professional-looking pumpkin cake with super yummy pumpkin cream cheese icing.october-2016-076

I can’t image a world without a Tanner in it! He is a powerhouse, a dynamo, and an inextricable part of our family.

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Eighteenmonthababy!

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The serious little face. The fishing pole. The lactivist-baby t. The tiny Crocs. The blond hair.

This is what an eighteenmonthababy looks like.

I feel inspired to share a quick update post about our little Tan Tan and his adventures in becoming March 2016 012Boy instead of Baby. He is adding new words constantly. I cannot keep up with them all. We’ve skipped right past the stage at which I can keep a list of the words he knows how to say, because he can say anything (albeit with limited range of enunciation. So, most words are not clear, but you can ask him to say anything or repeat anything and he will do it. He will also follow instructions like, “go find a dinosaur and bring it to me.”) He is also starting to do a few two word combinations: “big car,” “yes, dog,” “Daddy, outside.” We are lucky in that he’s been able to shake his head for yes and no for many months now, which eliminates lots of frustration and confusion in communicating with someone with limited vocabulary. This month he has begun verbally saying, “yeah” as well though.

He adores going outside and would live outside all day long, in whatever weather, if he could. He April 2016 043loves playing on the trampoline and runs around on it in impossibly fast circles with blond hair sticking straight up all around his head. He also runs very fast inside and there his hair flops up and down in an adorable fashion. He has begun using the potty with some regularity on his own accord. Often wakes up with a dry diaper and will even pull at his pants saying, “pee pee, potty,” sometimes.

He has to do a lot of keeping up with everyone in the house and has a tendency to run after me/get left behind while I’m doing whatever it is that needs my attention. Falls asleep for nap each day in Ergo and sleeps by my leg in the bed, waking instantly if I try to get up without him.

Fascinated by the cats and enjoys the fact that we have baby kitties right now for him to study. Stares with delight. Says, “wow!” and “yay!” and “uh oh” liberally and has a most indescribable twinkle in his eye + the most impish grins and expressions of any toddler I’ve ever seen. Climbs on stuff. Jumps off stuff. Uses my body as jungle gym. Is a wrestling act to even keep him in the air while holding him, as he writhes and twists and climbs my body instead of just sitting on my him. Wants to be on counters and tables March 2016 007constantly. Desperate to “help” with all business elements like packing orders and attaching jump rings. It is hard to take good pictures of him because he is constantly in motion. I’m not sure if it is the fact that I’m older than I used to be, or that I have four kids now, or that I have a business to run, but it is extraordinarily tiring to parent this small delightful whirlwind of a person. I feel literally worn out and worn down by him at the end of every day. It is physically exhausting just to hold him. And, even exhausting and a physical strain on my body just to nurse him while wrestling his other hand around from my other nipple and holding myself up as he flops from side to side, kicks and twists his legs, stands up, etc. while also nursing. He has a huge presence in life and in our family. He is good at “rolling with it” in terms of noise and chaos and people suddenly swinging him up into the air. He is funny and clever and a tiny problem solver and “engineer.”

He also loves his shovel.

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I can hardly believe he is one and half already and yet, he is so here with who and how he is, I forgot that he hasn’t always been in our family.

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Product Review: Robeez Soft Sole Boots

My almost 18 month old has a favorite pair of shoes and will rarely wear anything but them: a hand-me-down pair of Robeez soft leather shoes with cute little puppies on them. My daughter wore her favorite Robeez with dragons on them and my older son had a favorite pair with trains. These shoes are inextricably linked with toddlerhood to me–the small hand reaching up to join mine and then setting forth on uneven terrain with an extra bounce of confidence in the step, once securely hand in hand. So, when I had a chance to review some fabulous new Robeez soft leather boots, I jumped at the chance! Available in multiple sizes and colors, these little boots are quite simply: beautiful.

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Soft and flexible, they mold to my toddler’s feet, protecting them from his adventurous terrain and yet allowing them full range of motion so important for healthy foot development. For our family, Robeez shoes have been all-terrain, all-weather, sometimes-even-napped-in, childhood favorites. All of our kids have liked to go barefoot whenever possible and we find that Robeez are the next closest thing.

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The fur-lined interior of the boots gives them both extra comfort as well as extra protection against wear, meaning they will last for a long time. Plus, did I mention cute?!

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These boots have a non-slip suede outsole which helps prevent slipping. They also have an elasticized ankle band which does a great job keeps the boots on securely.
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The boots in my photos above are the Brown Classic Baby Boots. Giveaway now closed. I’m excited to have another pair of Robeez boots to give away as well! The giveaway pair are the Cozy Ankle style instead, which have a suede upper and faux-fur lining.

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Size 12-18 months, there are several ways to enter to win this pair of Brown Cozy Ankle Boots for your own precious little one.

  • Leave a comment letting me know why you’d like to win these boots!
  • Follow Talk Birth on Facebook and leave a comment on the picture I post there.
  • For a bonus entry, share this post on social media (and leave a comment letting me know you did so).

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Giveaway is open until March 28th. Good luck! These are certifiably adorable!

Disclosure: I received a complimentary pair of these boots for review purposes. All photos in this review were taken by me of the boots I received.

Tuesday Tidbits: Breastfeeding Wisdom & Social Context

December 2015 029Like all of life, breastfeeding occurs in a context. While it is easy to simplify it down to a matter of “personal choice,” the issue is really much broader than that and people often overlook the powerful influence of the systems surrounding them on the accomplishment of women’s breastfeeding goals.

This article takes an in-depth look at why breastfeeding, and the benefits of breastfeeding, don’t need to be “debunked” or have a “case” made against them. (My only critique of the article is that it falls into the comfortable default of “formula as the norm,” by saying things about how babies that breastfeed have a health advantage. Actually, they don’t. What they have is a normal species-appropriate immune system developed in direct response to a diet of species-specific milk.) It is a long read and covers a lot of important ground so settle in…

What the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and many other organizations failed for too long to note, however, is how difficult breastfeeding can be. Yes, they showed the world how beneficial breastfeeding was, and, yes, they helped design policy to ease the transition back to work. But the messy, exhausted moments that change a mother’s mind about breastfeeding? The bleeding nipples, the crying baby, and the paralyzing fear that the baby’s not eating enough? The back-to-work struggle and the boyfriend who thinks breastfeeding is dirty?

Those were, for a long time, left out of the breastfeeding conversation beyond a cursory, “Yes, it will be hard, but it will be worth it.” It’s this difficulty, and the fact that it remains unaddressed in many ways, that drives so many women to start supplementing with formula or to stop nursing altogether.

The most frequently cited challenges associated with breastfeeding include pain, supply issues, work-related pumping issues, and lack of support.

Source: The case for breastfeeding: what skeptics miss when they call it overrated – Vox

Luckily, breastfeeding also develops species-appropriate cranial development, jaw structure, and facial development. This also in-depth article looks at how the motions of breastfeeding shape and develop the skull and jaw muscles for life (at the end it also has some interesting comparisons of the shape of infant skulls after chiropractic adjustment soon after birth). Again, it uses language that implies breastfed babies receive a “benefit” in this area, while in reality breastfed babies simply have normal craniofacial development.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BREASTFEEDING – A Craniopathic Perspective | Speaking With Major

When we swing too far towards the science of breastfeeding though, we overlook the intense emotional impact of new parenting and the widespread lack of sociocultural support for healthy parenting, especially parent-baby togetherness. This is the context in which breastfeeding occurs and it is often one that actively or passively sabotages the breastfeeding pair. This mother writes heart-wrenchingly, and all too familiarly, about her postpartum experience:

I have many days when I feel truly well, and I have other days when I wonder if I’m still climbing. But in the meantime, I’m living life, I’m enjoying lots of moments and not enjoying others and learning to be fine with that. Because when well-meaning people tell you to “enjoy every moment” they are setting an unrealistic goal for any parent. Many aspects of parenthood are simply not enjoyable. Instead, I focus on feeling every moment, good and bad. If I feel afraid, that’s okay, I just sit with it and let it pass. If I feel sad, I allow myself to cry. And if I feel happy I clutch that joy to my chest and absorb it into my soul, and try to keep it safe forever.

Source: I Can’t Enjoy Every Moment – Postpartum Progress

Another powerful systemic variable is our national workplace culture and the lack of reasonable parental leave:

When it comes to women and work, the largest myth of all is that working is somehow optional. Like men, women work for personal fulfillment and a passion for their job. Also like men, women work to support themselves and their families, and always have. The reality in the United States today is that earning money is an absolute necessity for the vast majority of women. And the sad truth is that we aren’t doing anything to support them or their families — not because we can’t, but because we won’t.

Source: We act as if work is optional for women. It’s not. – The Washington Post

I often feel puzzled and angry with myself about why I can’t do everything in one day. “Is it really so much to ask?” I say, waking each morning with the optimistic faith that during that day I should surely be able to eat adequate food, exercise, play with my kids, spend time writing/reading/personally enjoying something, work on my many projects, and go to bed/wake up at a decent hour every day. Unfortunately, it apparently is too much and the most we can hope for is to “pick three”:

This sounds harsh, but it’s true, according to a recent interview with Storenvy founder Jon Crawford on Founder Dating. “Work, sleep, family, fitness, or friends–pick three. It’s true. In order to kick ass and do big things, I think you have to be imbalanced. I’m sure there are exceptions, but every person I’ve seen riding on a rocket ship was imbalanced while that rocket ship was being built. You have to decide if you want it,” Crawford declares.

Source: Work, Sleep, Family, Fitness, or Friends: Pick 3 | Inc.com

And, while picking three, things slip away. As I’ve written before, my daughter fell asleep with her head on my arm every night for nearly four solid years until Tanner was born. Now, her opportunity to fall asleep on my arm is hit or miss, depending on whether my arm is occupied with him, and increasingly, even when I do wiggle an arm free for her, she only lies on it for a few minutes before she says, “I’m going to lay in my own bed now,” where she then lies, snuggling her pile of pandas, until she falls asleep.

…I tried.

I tried to capture her smallness. I tried to hold on to the last breaths of her babyhood. But try as I might, it has slipped right out of my grasp. Despite my efforts to slow down and enjoy every moment since everyone told me it goes so fast… all I have left are memories and photographs.

But it doesn’t mean that I can re-live it. Not really. Some of my favorite memories of her as an infant will always be of bedsharing. She always started the night in her own bed, but after her first wake-up of the night, I’d scoop her out of her room and bring her into our cozy nest to feed her and quickly soothe her back to sleep. And for the most part that meant that we all got more sleep… except for the times I’d find myself staring at her while she slept. I’d watch her tiny chest move up and down, and memorize every little detail of her perfect little face. I’d think to myself this is crazy, what are you doing, go to sleep. But those memories, in the dead of night, the ones where there aren’t any pictures – are the clearest in my mind’s eye.

Source: The Beauty In Bedsharing | The best season of my life

This nighttime savoring may also be due to actual addiction to baby-head-sniffing…

Most of the women struggled to pinpoint the baby smell, although they generally said it was a pleasant one. Their brains, however, told a different story. When sniffing the baby pajamas, the dopamine pathways in a region of the brain associated with reward learning lit up, LiveScience reports. Other odors, like those of delicious foods, trigger this pathway, and the same dopamine surge is also associated with satiating sexual and drug-addiction cravings. This mechanism influences us by triggering “the motivation to act in a certain way because of the pleasure associated with a given behavior,” Medical Xpress writes.

Source: The Smell of Newborn Babies Triggers the Same Reward Centers as Drugs | Smart News | Smithsonian

December 2015 006Other related posts: