Thursday, December 31, 2009

"Just let her cry"

There was a time, not so long ago in my life, when I was nearly as helpless as a baby.  It was a dark time in my life, when it should have been a radiant one.  I was pregnant, and joyously happy about it, but my body was not.  I was sick, and not in a "oh I don't feel so hot" kind of way.  It was a "if I didn't have big things to live for, I'd want to die" kind of sick.  Some of you may have experienced this too.  I could literally not even hold down a sip of water or a nibble of food.  Eating made me throw up.  Not eating made me throw up.  I would throw up stomach bile.  Anyway, the point is that I was VERY weak.  At 4 months pregnant, I weighed less than I did when I was 16 (and everyone called me stick girl back then).  My clothes were falling off of me, instead of becoming tight.  Every few days, I would be able to hold down maybe one meal's worth of food.  In case you are wondering, it is called Hyperemesis Gravidarum, and it typically does not respond to medical or natural treatments.  We tried anything that wouldn't be harmful to the baby, and nothing worked.  Despite the physical misery, the emotional scars I suffered at the hands of a loved one were far more profound.

I grew so weak that I could rarely leave the bed.  I needed support just walking the 10 feet to the bathroom.  I needed a shower stool and help getting clean.  Just raising my arms to wash my hair was an immense strain.  I relied heavily on my husband. 

My husband was loving during the day, but things would change at night.  He would leave me in the bed, tell me it was time to sleep, shut off the lights, and walk out.  I would say "But honey, I'm not ready to sleep yet" but he would ignore me.  It was confusing.  Sometimes, I'd be having a day where I felt I may be able to eat or drink something, and I would call out to him, asking for something.  Again, he would ignore me.  Sometimes he would poke his head in, but it was only to tell me that I needed to go to sleep and I was "fine".  I had times where I grew very depressed.  On top of being sick and miserable, I missed my husband's loving arms.  Sometimes I just needed to be held and comforted.  Still, he would ignore me.  I began to wonder why my needs were valid during the day, but not at night.  At times, he would leave the room far too cold or warm.  Sometimes I desperately needed to use the bathroom.  Sometimes the pain all over my body became unbearable.  Sometimes I was just very scared and lonely.  Alas, no matter what I felt or needed, my husband ignored me.

I longed desperately for my independance, and loathed needing another person for even the smallest things, but for the time being, there was nothing I could do but ask for enough help to at least keep myself and our baby alive.  I was so hurt and confused.  I would weep bitterly, alone in the dark.  One night, I overheard my mother in law talking with my husband.  She said "Just let her cry.  She has to learn.  Don't let her manipulate you, she doesn't really need anything.  Keep it up and you'll win eventually."  Win?  What exactly was he going to win, and at what cost?

Eventually, I lost all trust in my husband.  I would lie there in bed, hungry, hot, cold, hurting, and/or just plain sad and lonely.  I stopped asking for help.  I later heard my husband boast that he had finally "trained" me.  So now I was an animal.  Why did he get to decide what needs and feelings of mine were valid, and which were not?  Why was it okay for him to be my husband during the day, to love me, talk with me, and help me, but at night time all my needs were expected to suddenly cease?  I would never be able to fully trust or open my heart to him again.

In the darkest time of my life, my most beloved person failed to be there for me.  My needs were small, things that would take very little time or effort, but were of great importance to my physical and emotional health.  I was neglected.  You may even call it abuse.  Fortunately, it was a brief time in my life.  Unfortunately, there are countless more victims of this kind of neglect, and even worse.  They are even more helpless than I was.  They are babies.  Sweet, innocent babies.  They have parents that love them fiercely and truely, but fall victim to beliefs and advice that (usually) inadvertently put babies on a level even lower than animals.  Books and well-meaing friends or family tell tired new parents to "just let her cry".  This is often referred to as CIO (cry-it-out) or "controlled crying", although the already twisted concept of controlled crying is often further misunderstood and warped and becomes "I let my baby scream for 2 hours and eventually she threw up and wasn't the same for weeks after".

Helpless babies are expected to cease all "neediness" once a certain time on the clock comes around.  Their God/nature-given intincts to cry and express real physical AND emotional needs are ignored or written off as manipulation or just plain not "real" needs.  Why?  If a sick adult or an elderly person were treated in such a way, they would suffer in deep ways and the person responsible for their care could even end up in prison.

Why are babies treated as less than human?  Why would we WANT to teach our children that we won't be there for them?  Why should we get to pick and choose which needs are "real" and which ones are not.  Why should our job as parents simply end at night?  Just because they've been fed and changed doesn't mean they are "fine".  All they have is their instincts.  For all they know, a predator could be lurking and waiting to eat them!  They are programmed by God/nature to want to be near us for their own safety and for their proper development.  We know that human contact is essential to the developing brain of a baby, but we deny their natural pleas for such contact.  We lock them in the dark and even though we may sing, pat them, and say "you're okay, sweetie", when we walk out of the room and leave them in the dark alone they may still be cold, hot, uncomfortable, in pain, or just plain scared or lonely!  Why is that so wrong?  "Cry it out" or "controlled crying" is just neglect with a different name.

Scientists everywhere know the short and long term consequences of these so-called "methods", and they are vast.  Most parents also instinctually know these things.  Some parents listen to those instincts, and others listen to people like my mother in law who say "Just let her cry.  She has to learn.  Don't let her manipulate you, she doesn't really need anything.  Keep it up and you'll win eventually."  These people usually mean well.  They aren't setting out to harm a child, but that doesn't change the fact that they are.  Argue with me all you want.  Say "I let my baby cry it out, and he/she is fine".  I don't believe you.  I believe you broke your child like an animal.  I believe they gave up.  They didn't magically learn to "self-soothe", they just figured out that you suck at being a parent at night time.  YOU will be old some day, or you may find yourself in a helpless situation even earlier than that.  See how you feel if another person tells you what to feel, when to feel it, and how to express it.  See how you feel if they ignore your feelings and only meet the needs that THEY deem valid.  See how you feel if you are treated like less than an animal, someone that must be trained.  Someone that must lose, so they can win.  A baby has far less capacity to understand these things, so the next time your little helpless one cries out, remember that they cry for a reason.  Even just wanting to be held is a real NEED.  If you've ever seen what happens to those babies in foreign orphanages that never get held or talked to, you'll realize the incredible importance of human contact.  It's so simple.

I could go on for days with even a million more reasons, but I will leave you with a few resources, and a simple piece of advice.  Next time you hear "Just let him/her cry", think twice.  You'll never regret being there for your child.

Edit:  It was mentioned that I condemned CIO/sleep training without offering alternatives.  I guess my links below were missed?  Anyway, I'll add some more ;-)

Pinky McKay does an excellent job of summing up the very real damage that "controlled crying" can do.  This is a must-read on the subject!  Enjoy.

Dr. Sears is another great resource.  If you have a baby with sleep problems or just want to learn more about babies and sleep in general, give it a look!

The No-Cry Sleep Solution:

TONS of great articles about sleep:

Anyone please feel free to share more!  I'm pretty tired at the moment, but its hard to find time when I am both well-rested AND have the time to write :-P

***ALSO!  This is very important.  I want to make it very clear, for the sake of my friends that may be rather concerned now, that the above story is only half-true and was given a different spin for the purpose of making people think.  I was unfortunately very sick and helpless, but my husband would NEVER neglect or abuse me in such a way.  I did want to make people think though.  If any other helpless person (sick, injured, elderly) were treated in the ways described, people would be disgusted.  The fact that babies are often "trained" in such a manner proves that babies are still viewed by many people as lesser beings with invalid needs and feelings, even though the care-taker probably doesn't realize that is what they are doing. 

I would also like to add that when a parent is near their breaking point and has to put their child down in a safe space and leave the room briefly for the sake of gathering their sanity, that is VERY different.  This is essential to preventing a mental break in the parent and possible harm to the child.  Do not feel guilty if you've found yourselves in moments like these.  It is an entirely different situation than it is to leave a child crying, screaming, even vomiting alone in the dark on a regular basis for "training" purposes.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Would you circumcise your daughter?

I was talking with a guy friend of mine who'd recently had his first child: a perfect baby girl.  He chatted happily about the joys of being a new parent, and then mentioned an upcoming appointment.  "Oh, just a usual checkup?" I asked casually.  "No, its time for her snip-snip" he replied, equally casually.  I was confused.  "You know, her circumcision of course", my friend clarified.  Oh, right... that.  I asked how he and his wife had come to the decision to have the procedure done on their daughter.  Now it was my friend's turn to look confused.  "Well, everyone does it, don't they?".  "Far from it, actually." I replied.  "But I'm interested in your reasons, so go on".  And he did. 

He talked about how he wanted his daughter's genitals to look like his wife's, so she wouldn't be confused later in life.  At this point, I wondered if he also intended to get his daughter a nose job, boob job, etc.  He mentioned not wanting her to be teased in the locker room someday.  I stopped him.  "Wait, was she born with a deformity?".  He said of course not, but that an un-cut vagina was just funny looking.  Then he went on about how dirty they are, and being cut makes them cleaner.  He said little girls don't know how to wash themselves anyway, and it would be gross.  He said her husband would be glad for it someday as well.  I stopped him there too.  Would her husband also be glad that his wife felt less pleasure?  My friend was confused about that.  In his mind, removing parts of his daughter's genitals didn't mean she'd experience less pleasure.  Right, how silly of me to think that.  I had a million more things to say and ask, but I tried to stay civil.

This conversation was clearly becoming strained and painful for both of us, but he felt the need to defend his decision further.  My friend then told me about how so many women get yeast infections, UTI's, and such, and that the circumcision might prevent that, and maybe even lessen her risks of some STD's too.  I'd seen these supposed studies, and also the ones that debunked them.  I guess he'd missed those, and also missed the fact that not a single medical association in the world promotes this "procedure".  It was obvious he was doing something he thought was good for his child.  I just looked at him, baffled.  He then stammered on about how he was the parent and he had every right to make this decision for his child.  Everyone else in his family had done it, and they were "fine" and "happy" with it.

My mind was reeling with questions and anger.  Did he really believe that all baby girls were born defective?  Should they have to undergo cosmetic surgery to have "prettier" and "cleaner" genitals?  Was it really that hard for a child or any person to spend a few seconds washing down there?  Certainly washing one's hair takes more time, but we all seem to manage that.  How could he look at his perfect little girl and think that something on her was so disgusting and ugly that it had to be cut off?  How could he think that it was "normal" and that "everyone does it"?  How could he put her through the risks of a surgery for such stupid reasons?  He even thinks that removing her parts would prevent infections and diseases.  Following that logic, we should remove ALL teeth because they *might* get cavities, breasts because they *might* get cancer, and well... EVERY other part of the body because they may become infected or diseased some day.  What odd reasoning.  Certainly there are better ways to prevent and deal with such things.  We do it for every other part of the body, why not the genitals?  And why would he assume he has the right to make such a decision for his child?  Her genitals were posing no immediate risk to her, so didn't she have a right to her own healthy body parts?  Isn't it HER body?  Aren't we supposedly all about "rights" and "choices" in America?  Where were his daughter's rights and choices?  He was going to walk right into that doctors office and pay to have his child's most sensitive parts mutilated.  I felt sick to my stomach and just left him with a half-hearted excuse about needing to get home.

You may be sitting there, SHOCKED at how something like this could happen in America.  You may think this isn't even true.  The truth is, the healthy genitals of non-consenting minors are cut apart every single day, and many people don't even think twice about it.  Many people defend the decision to do so with every fiber of their being.  Many people even have it done to their child without really even knowing WHY.  They don't even think twice about it.  I've encountered numerous people who feel just like "my friend" in this story, and use the very same reasons that he did.  The one thing I lied about is the child's gender.  When this story is told about a baby girl, most people would be HORRIFIED and would want to see the parents imprisoned for mutilating their child.  However, when we talk about a baby boy, suddenly it is a parent's "choice", and supposedly a valid and legal one at that.  WHY? 

Why do we protect our baby girls like mother bears, but throw our sons under the knife every day?  Because his penis is ugly?  Because it is dirty?  Because it is different from his father's?  Because it *might* become infected someday?  Because his wife will be glad?  Because its what everyone else does?  Because its "no big deal and it doesnt hurt anyway"?  Because its "just a useless piece of skin anyway"?  Wrong.  Just like every part of the female genitalia has purpose, function, and sensation, so does the male foreskin.  And hello... there are these lovely things called soap and water readily available to us.  We are WASHABLE people!  You wouldn't dare let a doctor or any other person suggest that your daughter's genitals were ugly, gross, and unneccesary.  Why do we allow such nonsense with our sons?  Many of us don't.  Most of the world, in fact, and now about half of Americans.  Those who DO have circumcisions performed on their sons, operate under the assumption that it is just the normal thing to do.  It is not.  It was, for a very short time, considered "normal" in a few parts of the world.  It was promoted heavily during the times that masturbation was seen as dirty and even dangerous to the body and mind.  It was believed that circumcision would stop boys from masturbating.  Some doctors even recommended it for American girls for a time.  Then later, as people realized that circumcision did not stop masturbation, they tried coming up with other "reasons" to mutilate our boys.  Myths sprung up like weeds.  Its time for the insanity to stop.  Its time for the sexism to end.  In a time where we've fought for the rights of minorities, children, and women, we've left one portion of our population out.  We've trampled on the human rights of our baby boys, and we've done it holding our heads high and justifying ourselves. 

Wake up people.  It is nearly 2010.  We should be smarter than this.  If you read my story above and were horrified for the little girl, but sit there and justify the same thing being done to boys, congratulations, you are a raging sexist. 

If this story has made you think, even just a little, thank you.  Thank you from me, from the men who resent being circumcised as babies, from the parents who regret having it done to their child, and from the babies of this world who won't have to endure such a travesty because of increasing awareness.  Please check out the links below regarding this issue.  There are countless more, but I trust that if you're interested enough, you'll find them.

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