Fighting poverty, globally and locally, is easier than you might think

Today, Oct. 15, is Blog Action Day, the day that thousands of bloggers, regardless of their genre, unite to discuss a single issue. This year’s issue is POVERTY.

I feel very fortunate that I’ve never experienced poverty. Yes, money was always tight when I was growing up. We never took vacations that didn’t involve staying somewhere for free and bringing our own food (my great-grandma’s cottage), going out to eat was rare, hand-me-downs were a part of life, and my mom grew some of our food in a garden and sewed some of our clothes. But I never went to bed hungry, I never had to cram my feet in shoes that were too small (or go without shoes at all), and I always had a roof over my head and a warm bed to sleep in.

And now, in my adult life, I am just as fortunate. My kids have it better than I did growing up (isn’t that always the goal?), but my husband and I definitely make sacrifices as we live on one salary so that I can be a stay-at-home mom. We try very hard not to live beyond our means, but this has been a learning experience for us over the years. As an aside, we recently paid off our last credit card, so other than one Jody uses for business trips (which we are reimbursed for), we no longer have any credit card debt to worry about. That is a fantastic feeling!

The sad truth though is that millions of people around the world are not as fortunate as I have been, and I fear that as the U.S. economic crisis continues, more and more people will find themselves living on less and less as they struggle to make ends meet.

The good news is that there are some simple ways each of us can help make a difference.

I’ve found a few ways to easily help fight poverty ONLINE. The first two are the simplest, which require nothing more than pointing and clicking. The second two require investing some money, but are both pretty amazing.

  1. Visit The Hunger Site every day. One click can help feed others.
  2. Play the Free Rice game – boost your vocabulary while feeding hungry people.
  3. Kiva – Kiva’s mission is to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty. Kiva is the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs in the developing world.
  4. MicroPlace – MicroPlace’s mission is to help alleviate global poverty by enabling everyday people to make investments in the world’s working poor. MicroPlace is currently the only website that provides everyday investors with the ability to make investments in the microfinance industry. Through MicroPlace, an investor can make investments that earn financial returns while having a positive social impact.

If we are really going to make an impact on poverty though, we need to focus our efforts locally as well as globally. Here are a few suggestions on how you can make a difference in your own COMMUNITY.

  1. Go through your closets and drawers and donate anything you no longer wear or haven’t worn in the past year. Have your kids help with this too by going through their own clothes and shoes to find those that no longer fit.
  2. In the same spirit and keeping your children involved, ask them to select a few toys to donate to those less fortunate. Let your kids deliver them to the charity of your choice.
  3. Eat meatless dinners for one week every month (or one day every week) and donate all of the money you saved on meat to a local homeless or battered women’s shelter.
  4. Skip your Starbucks coffee once a week and donate the money.
  5. Donate your time to help serve lunches in a local soup kitchen.
  6. If you have a skill to offer, check with your local charity to see if they can put it to good use. Chances are they will welcome the offer.
  7. The Salvation Army’s Annual Bell-Ringing Campaign is coming up and volunteers are always needed. This could be a fun and worthwhile project to do as a family.

I hope you’ll consider doing one or more of the ideas above and that you’ll stop by Blog Action Day to read some of the other posts today. If you’ve participated in Blog Action Day on your own blog, please leave a link to your post in the comments and I will compile a list here, adding to it throughout the day as time allows. Thank you!

Other Blog Action Day participants:
– The Buy Nothing Project: Fighting Poverty the Self-Sufficient Way
– Ima On (and Off) the Bima: The King and the Shack
– 123Pizza: Poverty and the Girl Effect
– Chasing Domestic Bliss: Poverty and Homelessness
– Crazy Adventures in Parenting: Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty

Paris Hilton: I’ll see you at the debates, bitches

I never thought the day would come when I would find myself rooting for Paris Hilton, but after seeing John McCain’s election anti-Obama “celebrity” ad where he used both Britney Spears and Paris’s likenesses (apparently without their permission) and then Hilton’s rebuttal ad, I have to say – Go Paris, go!

McCain’s ad:

Paris’s response:

See more Paris Hilton videos at Funny or Die

I’ll see you at the debates, bitches. 🙂

And after that I’ll see you at the polls, beotches. ;P

More about the Hilton ad:
* Paris memorized entire McCain monologue
* BlogHers react to McCain, Hilton
* Paris Hilton’s mom takes offense at McCain’s humor

What do you think about all of this? If you blog it, leave me your link and I’ll add it to this post. Thanks!

Exclusive interview: Natalie of The Baby Borrowers discusses attachment parenting, teen pregnancy

A couple of weeks ago I shared my feelings regarding NBC’s reality TV show “The Baby Borrowers.” If you are unfamiliar with the premise of the show, it takes five teenage couples through a crash course in adulthood tasking them with responsibilities such as a house payment, a job, and for three days, the care of a baby (and later a toddler, pre-teen, teenager and elderly person).

As I mentioned in that post, I was surprised to find out one of the moms of the borrowed children – Natalie Nichols – practiced many aspects of attachment parenting (AP). I couldn’t stop thinking about her and wondering if my initial visceral reaction to the show was entirely warranted or if, like in any situation, there were two sides to the story.

I decided to go straight to the source to find out more about what motivated Natalie to lend her infant daughter (Etta – 6 months at the time of the show) and toddler son (Benjamin – 2 years at the time of the show) to The Baby Borrowers (to be cared for by teen “parents” Kelsey and Sean) and to find out if there was more going on behind the scenes than was depicted on the show.

While I still disagree with the show, writing my initial post and doing this interview with Natalie has been a learning experience for me. All too often in the blogosphere, we (myself included) tend to react off the cuff to news of this, that or the other thing, without delving in for more information or waiting to hear the other side of the story. I think it’s human nature, but it doesn’t make it right. I hope that I will remember this the next time I hear something “outrageous” and before I blow a gasket, I will check out the facts and try to find out the whole story.

What follows is an interview with Natalie Nichols about her participation in The Baby Borrowers, with questions from a few other AP moms as well.

Natalie Nichols and son Benjamin - July 2008First off, what are the names and ages of your children?

I have 4 children total: 3 boys, Mackenzie (13), Zackary (8), Benjamin (3), and then our daughter Etta is now 18 months.

In an earlier conversation you said, “yes, I am an AP parent.” What does that mean to you?

I actually would say that I have some characteristics of Attachment Parenting, and many of a Natural Family Lifestyle. It is important to note though that neither of these titles defines who I am or what I do. I simply do what comes naturally to me, and what feels right as far as my family is concerned. I do not judge others for their parenting choices. Over the years of parenting my 4 kids, I have responded to their cries, and they have been worn in a sling or in my arms. I have nursed with reckless abandon, some would say. I’m “one of those moms” who doesn’t think that breastfeeding should be hidden, so where my kids were hungry is where they nursed. I’ve never seen the need to buy a “hiding” cover, sit in a special room, or God forbid nurse in a toilet stall. I think that babies should be worn or held up close and in the middle of adult conversations as a way of becoming more social and fostering great communication skills. I believe in delayed vaccinations, I co-sleep, I have almost always been a stay-at-home mother, I have homeschooled, I have unschooled, and two of my 4 births were natural by choice (and beautifully peaceful if I might add). If my babies need something, I provide it. I have never used a pacifier for any of my kids. They didn’t need them, they had me, and that worked out wonderfully. Out of the bunch the only one to suck a thumb was Benjamin.

Heather, an AP mom who blogs at A Mama’s Blog and API Speaks, would like to know, “Why did you feel the need to let teens who virtually have no child care experience, “borrow” your baby and let them be your baby’s caregiver? Doesn’t this go against the very parenting philosophy – attachment parenting – that you are trying to apply with your baby?”

I have to begin with saying that I was a very intelligent young girl, but at the same time, I didn’t know anything. I moved out on my 16th birthday to live with my teen boyfriend’s family, we got pregnant on purpose, we were married when I was 8 months pregnant and I delivered my first son 1 month before I turned 18. Although I was in the top 10 in my class, in the National Honor Society, Gifted and Talented, captain on the Drill Team, and in Fellowship of Christian Athletes, I threw it all away to drop out of school and raise my son. Sure I could have kept going to school and placed him in the on campus childcare, but they wouldn’t allow me to physically nurse him, and the few breaks I could get weren’t enough to maintain a milk supply. I tried pumping and having my mom watch him for 1 day but he didn’t eat the entire day and screamed bloody murder. I decided that he was more important than a school with rules that I didn’t agree with, so I quit. I got my diploma from a mail correspondence program but I didn’t get a prom or to walk with my class or anything else that represents being a senior in high school. Sure, I was breastfeeding, and we tried cloth diapering, but I was not patient enough with the leaks and gave up. I was a good teen mom, by society’s standards. However I was not a good mom by my own standards and I know that my son deserved better. It was never fair to ask him to grow up with me, or for me to expect him to just wait until I figured myself out so that I could give him the best he needed. He is a fabulous kid now at 13, and I do not for a second regret that he was born. What I do regret is the timing. I would love nothing more than to rewind the clock and become the woman I was supposed to be and share with him the wisdom that living my life has given me. He understands now that he is older, but he had no idea why I wasn’t mature enough not to yell and why his dad and I argued in front of him all the time when he was little.

It is important for me to reiterate here that while I consider myself an attached parent, I do not go down a check list of ideals and ensure that I’m applying what someone or some organization thinks is best for my children. My style of attachment parenting applies to not just my own children, but to my view on how we should be with society as a whole. I live my life by what I feel is the right thing to do, instinctively and as a mother. For me, the right thing to do is to turn my mistakes in the past into something positive for someone else. My older kids are proud of what our family has been able to do to try to make the world a better place.

I don’t feel that allowing the teens to care for Etta for those three days had anything to do with going against the way I parent. There are many teen girls out there who think so little of themselves, as I did, that they fall madly in love with the first boy who looks their direction. They see their self-worth only in what that boy tells them to think. And they have sex with him so that he will value her even more. These girls just “need” someone to be there for them and show them that it is not the right path to take. They need someone to tell them to look deeper inside themselves and see the beautiful girl staring back at them. They need to know that the right man will love them for the person she is and for the person that she wants to be. He will never try to make her be someone else or try to stop her from achieving her dreams. As an AP and NFL mother, I feel that it is every one of our places to fill this role. In my opinion, these are all of our children. Just because they are teens, they are still someone else’s son or daughter.

Did you hope to educate the teens (and viewers watching at home) about the benefits of breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby wearing, etc.? If so, do you feel that you accomplished this?

I did teach the teens how to simulate nursing with Etta, using her breast-shaped bottle and my expressed milk. I didn’t share with them about co-sleeping, because the teens were not allowed to sleep with the babies in their beds as one of the safety precautions. While I do believe that co-sleeping with your own child is perfectly safe, you instinctively respond to the slightest sounds or movements with a baby you have recently given birth to and that couldn’t be expected of the teens. HOWEVER, Sean did co-sleep with Etta in a sense, after I had my initial tough love discussion with him. He walked holding her, he laid back on the couch holding her, and she slept, well, like a baby. Granted he didn’t get much sleep, but he fostered that feeling of co-sleeping that she was used to, and he made it work. In addition, since unlike me, he was having to prepare her bottles for her night nursings, it worked out well for them to be on the move anyway. I did bring Etta to the show in our sling, however I didn’t leave it for them because it is fitted and they were both much taller than I am. Plus I didn’t feel that they would be totally secure holding her in it and might have a false sense of security anyway. They did have the use of front carriers, but I don’t think they used them.

It has to be said though, I did not participate in this project because I am an AP or NFL parent. I participated to help show teens the realities of being a parent in hopes of deterring them from throwing their teen years away. I just happen to parent this way and was able to share some of that with them. I did tell Kelsey when I met her and saw her in the empathy belly “Congratulations, you have a beautiful baby girl and you are a breastfeeding mother now!” But that did not make the final airing. An additional neat breastfeeding moment was when Sean was caring for Etta alone and visited with his neighbor and fellow pseudo-single dad Cory. They were discussing their parenting tricks they had picked up. Sean told Cory that he needed to pick Karson up and take him to another room for a change of scenery (something I shared with him in the tough love conversation). And then Cory asked Sean if Etta had eaten and Sean said proudly, “Oh no man, I just breastfed her like 10 minutes ago.” 🙂 I’m hoping that his breastfeeding experience will give him some insight and enable him to be very supportive of his future wife.

The Baby Borrowers has fallen under attack by groups like Zero to Three and Attachment Parenting International, among others. How do their responses affect you as an AP parent who willingly participated in the show?

I am not bothered by the negative criticism these groups have given the show or us as parents. The issue of teen pregnancy is a big one and it requires serious communication. Look how people are discussing teen sexuality out in the open now. It is amazing. As far as the research that these groups are using to say that we endangered our children emotionally, I don’t feel that it even applies. There are many situations that these same groups excuse from their criticism. Working parents, military parents, parents who go on a long weekend and hire a nanny or leave their children in the hands of a relative they don’t see on a regular basis, etc. The babies in those situations have no idea why their parents are leaving, whether it be for a weekend getaway or to participate in The Baby Borrowers, and if they are securely bonded in the first place (which is next to impossible to avoid with AP) then they are fine. I truly think it was irresponsible for these groups to speak out about the show without gathering all of the facts first. I don’t know of a single parent or child involved in this program that has been assessed by any of these groups. I have to add that I did not participate so that anyone could decide whether I am a good mother. I was not the best mother at one point in my life, but I am doing the best that I can to right that wrong now. Regardless of any of the claims that these groups, who have no actual knowledge about the filming or the participants, I would do this all over again if given the chance. Every time I get a letter from a young girl who’s life was touched in some small way by this program or by my involvement, it is further solidified in my heart that I made the right choice, and these “experts” are fanning flames when no fire exists to begin with.

Did you, your husband Chet, and/or your children get to spend some time getting acquainted with Sean and Kelsey before they “borrowed” the kids?

We sat with Sean and Kelsey for a good while before we left the children in their care. We stayed maybe 2 hours or a little less with Etta. We went through the manual that the producers asked us to prepare for Etta’s care. It contained the brand of wipes and diapers we use, what she likes to eat, any allergies the children had, the children’s likes and dislikes, etc. We had a chance to thoroughly inspect every room in the house. Everything was age appropriately baby proofed. We were able to observe the teens each holding our daughter, and explained what she liked and what she didn’t in that regard. Chet reiterated to Sean that he had to support her head. We answered any questions that they had and just got to visit with them and find out a little more about them as people. Kelsey explained that she wanted kids right away, which we already knew, and hoped to change. And Sean explained that he was hoping Kelsey would realize that they should wait. We liked Sean’s idea better. We didn’t spend quite as much time with Benjamin there because he was ready to play on the swing set. We sat and explained to Sean and Kelsey that he was like night and day from Etta. And we explained that we wanted them to see that it was not as easy as saying, “Etta was just that way because she missed her mom, my child would be different.” We told them that no two kids are exactly alike, and you really never know what their personality is until you meet them.

On the show I believe they showed you intervening with the teens twice while they had Etta. I know that you expressed milk and brought that over to the house throughout her 3-day stay, but how many times did you actually intervene? Did you spend any time with Etta during any of those interventions?

On a few occasions we sent instructions through the nanny if we noticed something minor that the nanny might not have known to pick up on. Nothing against the nanny, but there are some things only a parent can recognize in their child. That is the benefit we had of seeing and hearing everything that went on. As an example, I sent word to the nanny, via the producers, to be sure that the teens were putting my expressed milk into the fridge in an organized manner and paying attention to dates/time to be sure they didn’t let any go bad, etc. And after Sean’s visit to the grocery store, bless his heart, he came home to tell Kelsey, “Etta’s mom said she loves avocado, but I couldn’t find any jars of that anywhere.” I did zip over quickly to let Kelsey know that they would just buy an avocado and mash it up for her with breast milk. It was not a big deal, just clarification. And before going over the first night, I did send word that they made Etta’s breast bottle and left it sitting on her dresser untouched while they frantically tried to figure out why the child would not just fall asleep.

Although it would have been fine with the producers if I had gone to comfort Etta, I didn’t choose to do that. Because she was nursing and was used to having the AP lifestyle, I just felt that would have been a mistake. It would not have been fair to her for me to show up when she had already gotten used to her surrogate parents and then leave again. My main concern was her smelling my milk and then refusing to take the bottle from Sean and Kelsey. My husband was not able to give her the bottle with me in the room because she wasn’t that easily fooled. But if I was gone, then she took it with no problem. I didn’t view this any differently.

Summer, an AP mom and blogger at Wired for Noise asked, “How sudden were the changes (for Etta) from co-sleeping and breastfeeding to not? Did she have time to gradually adjust to the new situation before the show, or was it sort of last minute? I wonder because I have heard that with many reality shows the people are selected with little to no notice.”

That is a good question. The notice is fairly short I guess when you are considering schedules that many children have, etc. Like I stated in an answer above, Etta continued breastfeeding, just through her breast-shaped bottle. We purchased the Adiri nursers because they feel like a breast more than any other bottle. As long as I was not the one giving it to her, she took it fine. We are regulars at our local gym and she went to the on-site childcare most evenings for an hour. We started taking the breast bottle with us when she went as soon as it was a possibility that she would be on the show. It wasn’t very long, but long enough that we knew if she was hungry, she would take it. Also, I really don’t feel that co-sleeping was taken away from her because of the way Sean gave her that constant touch that she was craving after I spoke to him. You all saw that she wasn’t very happy when they did try to take co-sleeping away from her, and it was not going to happen.

How did you mentally and emotionally prepare your 2-year-old son Benjamin for his 3-day stay away from you?

I guess I prepared Benjamin as much as one can with a 2 year old. When Etta was a newborn, Benjamin went to a preschool program for a few hours a few times per week to give me time to breathe. He was perfectly fine with that and wanted to go all the time. Benjamin, although he is parented the same way, has always been very independent. He has always been the “tough one” of all of them at his age. He doesn’t get phased by much, and separation is one of those things. It is funny that in one scene Sean is standing at the door where Benjamin is crying and says, “I think he misses his mom,” but they didn’t understand his words as much as I did and I had just heard him crying saying that he wanted to go outside and play. Benjamin knows we are here and that we are coming back. He’s always just been really laidback about that and doesn’t get stressed by being around others. Now if he watches us leave, he may protest for a minute or two, but as a general rule for him, when we’re out of sight, we’re out of mind. We always just distract him with something else and sneak out and he is A-OK. They took him out to show him the play equipment in the backyard while we left, so he didn’t have an issue with it.

On the show, they depicted Sean telling Ben that he had to go to his room for a timeout if he didn’t stop crying. He didn’t stop crying and was sent to his room, the door closed while he continued to cry on the floor. How did you feel about that? How do you discipline him at home? Did you intervene at all during Benjamin’s stay?

To be honest, even with 4 kids, I don’t have a lot of experience in this arena. Neither of my older two boys ever threw tantrums, so I didn’t get to experience that before Benjamin. I was the mother in the store in shock that children acted that way because MY CHILDREN would NEVER act that way. Well I believe that everything happens for a reason and I believe that Benjamin’s job was to show me once again that I didn’t know everything and that yes, even my children could act that way. At the time, we were telling him that if he did not stop the behavior, he would go to his room for a timeout. If he did not stop, he went to his room, and at home he threw fits much worse than he did for Sean and Kelsey. I actually felt like he was acting better than he did at home. This brought up an interesting point. We noticed that when Kelsey made deals with Benjamin, he held up his end of the bargain. She told him, for instance, that if he took a nap, he could go to the park. She asked him if he wanted that and he said yes, so he laid down and took a nap without protest. He was a fairly late talker, compared to my other boys so it didn’t dawn on me that he was able to negotiate his behavior like that. But what she was doing was working for him. So at home, we have started doing that. Sometimes, we will still do time out in his room, but it is his choice. He likes to hear that it is his choice. He feels empowered, I guess. We will tell him that he can either stop the behavior or he can go in his room, and then say, “you choose.” And generally very quickly he chooses to stop the undesirable behavior.

I didn’t intervene myself with Benjamin, but my husband did once I believe. At first, Sean and Kelsey were letting Benjamin do whatever he wanted, and seemed afraid to take control of the situation. So Chet went over and explained to them that they had to be the parental figures and that he could not just be able to run wild. They took his advice to heart and each developed their own approach to discipline. Sean wasn’t as creative and just used the time outs in his room that Chet suggested. Kelsey really turned things around and had a great rapport with him. In regard to Benjamin crying on the floor, I was not affected by his behavior. He was not sad or hurt, he was just mad. I had witnessed enough tantrums from him to know that he was just in a battle of wills with Sean, and I was not going to intervene and let him think that he was winning. And Benjamin didn’t actually start throwing tantrums until Chet spoke to the teens and asked them not to let him have his way. For instance he would not get up to the table for them, would immediately get down, etc. and they were just allowing it and ignoring it. We don’t accept that behavior in our home and did not want them to either. Being a parent is showing your children the correct way to behave too, and Sean and Kelsey had to learn that part as well.

Julie, an AP mom and blogger at ChezArtz and API Speaks would like to know, “What do you wish they would have shown as part of the series?”

I wish that they would have shown Sean’s sleepless nights with Etta after he finally did “get it.” It is unfortunate that he came across as this heartless little punk who called my baby girl an “it.” He was not that way at all. He developed such a bond with her and she with him that it is almost unfair to the both of them that you didn’t get to see it. Or maybe it’s better that way and it’s something special that only Sean, Etta, Chet, and I will carry with us forever. I am glad that Cory was shown stepping up to the plate when needed, but he did it reluctantly. Sean dug right in and didn’t complain. Both of those boys earned my respect, and that of my husband. They can hopefully serve to show teen boys out there that if you do get in a situation and you think the only thing you can do is run, maybe they might want to think again. Sean showed that if you relax and just hug and love your child, they will give you that in return, and it is rewarding. And Cory showed that even when it is hard, sometimes you just have to buck up and push through. They both proved that babies of teen parents (and anyone else for that matter) need more than their mothers to stick around.

On a separate note, I wish that there was more time to air the parents’ review of Sean and Kelsey with the toddlers. After having seen them care for both of my children, I did not just sit there nodding my head listening to what Chet had to say. I felt that I had come to know both of them well enough to speak candidly with them and that I owed that to them. So I told Sean and Kelsey that I did think separately they were wonderful people, and that someday they would both make great parents, but not with each other. I told them that they did not display the love and devotion that it takes to make a marriage work. When they were apart, they seemed to shine, but as a couple, they really didn’t support one another or complement each other. I also told Kelsey that I felt that she had low self-esteem, as I did when I was her age and became a teen mother. But that she couldn’t look to Sean or any other man to provide her with that. I told her that she had to love herself enough to know that she was a beautiful person with or without a man.

Do you have anything else that you feel myself or my readers would be interested to learn about your participation in The Baby Borrowers?

I will attach my response to viewers and critics of The Baby Borrowers, including 0-3 and AACAP, so that you can read more about my reasons for participating and what myself and others have gained. In addition, it is paramount to note that my family did not seek to get on television. We are not seeking fortune or fame, or even our 15 minutes as many have suggested. I was contacted by NBC because one of the casting agents found my Myspace page and they invited me to participate in the auditions. I had never heard of the show, and when they explained the potential to help reduce teen pregnancy, I was on board. There was no money or other compensation whatsoever for participation in this “social experiment.”

Thank you again, Natalie, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk candidly with me. I genuinely enjoyed getting to know more about you and appreciated your perspective on The Baby Borrowers. I wish you and your family all the best.

China’s heroic mother and the importance of breastfeeding in natural disasters

By now many of you have probably read about police officer Jiang Xiaojuan of China who became a national, and then international, hero practically over night. After the devastating Chinese earthquake on May 12, the 29 year-old mother of a 6-month-old son, was called to duty. What she encountered when she reported for duty was babies crying in hunger and that’s when her maternal instincts kicked in. Jiang breast-fed the infants separated from their mothers or orphaned from the earthquake, at one point breast-feeding nine babies.

Jiang Xiaojuan“I am breast-feeding, so I can feed babies. I didn’t think of it much,” she said. “It is a mother’s reaction and a basic duty as a police officer to help.”

Jiang doesn’t believe what she did was noteworthy. “I think what I did was normal,” she said. “In a quake zone, many people do things for others. This was a small thing, not worth mentioning.” The local media, however, named her “China’s Mother No. 1” and there are many others around the world praising her efforts as well.

On MOMformation at BabyCenter, Betsy Shaw wrote:

It’s stories like these, stories of ordinary people performing extraordinary, selfless acts in times of tragedy, that make all this bad news just a little bit easier to digest. They also make me proud to be a mom.

Would you do, could you, do the same if you were in a similar situation: lactating in the presence of many hungry babies?

Of the 73 responses there, the vast majority said they would do the same and breastfeed another woman’s baby, though interestingly enough, many also said they would not want a woman they did not know breastfeeding their own child.

A few of the people who commented at BabyCenter, as well as one at Milliner’s Dream expressed their concern about the possible transmission of HIV/AIDS through breast milk. There is conflicting information on what the risk of infection is if the woman is HIV positive, but, as another commenter at Milliner’s Dream noted, Jiang would have likely known her HIV status having just recently given birth 6 month ago.

Over on Broadsheet on Salon.com Jiang was named “Hero of the Day.” Sarah Hepola says:

As the death toll soars past 50,000, it’s nice to have a little good news to celebrate. You can remember Jiang next time someone complains about the evils of women popping out their boobs in public.

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes at The Moderate Voice found the story to be “beautiful” and said:

Most every night, I stay up late-late, long after everyone else is sleeping. I fly over the internet, looking, looking, trying to find something beautiful or restorative to share with you here at TMV, so either you go to sleep with a beautiful idea or image, or wake up with one.

Tonight, finding something beautiful in this wide and groaning world, was easy. Because there is Jiang Xiaojuan, a young provincial policewoman.

She went on to add:

As a mother who nursed til her offspring was practically old enough to go to school, and as the mother of a grown daughter who while nursing her own child also gave her nourishing milk to my ailing elderly father (expressed, not nursed), I feel certain we stand with many mothers worldwide who salute Jiang Xiaojuan profoundly.

It’s a mystery women don’t often speak of publicly, what it’s like to nourish another human being or many from one’s own blood and bones. It is, one of the greatest honors in the world.

I think, despite the restrictive and suspicious regime of China, it’s people like Jiang who really represent the true spirit of modern China, the compassionate soul.

Tonight, it was easy to find a beautiful story to tell you. I would that it were as easy on all other nights too.

It is stories like these of this selfless mother that remind us not only of the power of human kindness, but also how important breastfeeding can be in an emergency or natural disaster.

Melissa Kotlen Nagin notes on the Breastfeeding Blog on About.com:

Unfortunately, natural disasters are out of our control, but women like Officer Xiaojuan remind us about yet another important benefit of breastfeeding. We’re typically so focused on the health benefits and lose sight of the bigger picture. Here is the International Lactation Consultant Association’s position paper on Infant Feeding in Emergencies, which is a wonderful resource.

Tanya at The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog recently wrote a post dispelling some myths about breastfeeding in emergencies. She also shares:

In a disaster such as the one in Burma, breastfeeding can be a life-saving act. Why? In emergencies f*rmula is often not available. If it is available, water supplies are often compromised. F*rmula mixed with contaminated water can cause diarrhea and dehydration, which can quickly become life-threatening to infants. Power to sterilize and refrigerate f*rmula is also often not available.

Sometimes, well meaning humanitarian efforts result in such an influx of f*rmula that efforts to protect and support breastfeeding are disrupted. This is such a concern that in 1994 the World Health Organization adopted the following policy, urging member states to “exercise extreme caution when planning, implementing, or supporting emergency relief operations, by protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding for infants,” and to ensure that f*rmula is distributed only under specific conditions.

We often like to think of ourselves as untouchable here in the United States, but Hurricane Katrina was just three short years ago and was another instance where breastfeeding saved lives. From an open letter to health care providers attending to families affected by Hurricane Katrina: The Role of Human Milk and Breastfeeding:

Human milk is a valuable resource that can not only protect the vulnerable infant from disease, but can also promote psychological health and comfort during stressful times. Human milk reduces pain and promotes more rapid healing after injuries and infections. While maternal health is of great importance, it should be recognized that even the malnourished mother will produce milk of good quality for her infant.

To learn more about the important role breastfeeding plays in emergencies, please visit the links below.

I will close by adding that I think what Jiang did was amazing and I’m so glad to see breastfeeding receiving such positive attention. I hope she has already been reunited with her son (that relatives were caring for) or will be soon and that her breastfeeding relationship with him can continue to thrive.

And lastly, just a friendly reminder that BlogHers Act/Global Giving is continuing to accept donations for the Chinese earthquake victims as well as other maternal health causes.

More information:
Keep Abreast – Breastfeeding ensures survival in a disaster
Black Breastfeeding Blog – Breastfeeding Saves Babies During Natural Disasters
La Leche League International – Keep Breastfeeding: Supporting Mothers After Natural Disasters
KellyMom – Infant Feeding In Emergencies

One more important breastfeeding note – The Food and Drug Administration on Friday warned women not to use or purchase Mommy’s Bliss Nipple Cream, marketed by MOM Enterprises Inc. of San Rafael, California.

The cream, promoted to nursing mothers to help soothe dry or cracked nipples, contains ingredients that may cause respiratory distress, vomiting and diarrhea in infants, the agency said.

Mothers whose children may have suffered adverse effects because of this product should contact the FDA’s MedWatch at 800-332-1088. – CNN report

Women, Children Resort to Eating Dirt Cookies in Haiti: The Global Food Crisis

This post is part of Bloggers Unite for Human Rights

If you live in the United States or North America and are reading this blog, chances are you’ve never known what real hunger feels like. Sure most of us have uttered things like, “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse,” “I’m starving!,” or “There’s nothing to eat” while staring into a refrigerator or cabinet full of food (I know I’m guilty of all three), but the reality is that the majority of us always know where our next meal is coming from and we don’t truly want for much.

We may also complain about the rising food costs (again, I am guilty) and perhaps have had to scale back on the groceries we buy or forgo other luxuries, but we are still able to provide nutritious meals for ourselves and our families. We are very fortunate.

HaitiElsewhere in the world in developing nations, people are not so fortunate. The rising cost of food is taking it’s toll on the poorest of poor. In countries like Haiti, people are resorting to literally eating dirt in order to fill their bellies and stay alive. “Cookies” made from dirt, salt, and vegetable shortening have become regular meals for many Haitian men, women and children.

The price of food continues to rise and even the dirt to make the cookies, which comes from the country’s central plateau, has gone up in cost.

At the market in the La Saline slum, a two-cup portion of rice now sells for 60 cents, up 10 cents from December and 50 percent from a year ago. Beans, condensed milk, and fruit have gone up at a similar rate, and even the price of the edible clay has risen over the past year by almost $1.50. Dirt to make 100 cookies now costs $5, the cookie makers say.

Still, at about 5 cents apiece, the cookies are a bargain compared with food staples. About 80 percent of people in Haiti live on less than $2 a day.

I thought long and hard about what topic to cover for Bloggers Unite for Human Rights. Given that I’ve already written extensively in the past about maternal health both because of my personal interest and CE position with BlogHer, I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone and tackle something I didn’t have much knowledge about. While there are so many human rights crises going on in the world right now – the Myanmar cyclone and China earthquake just to name a couple of the most recent – I decided on something slightly less in the spotlight, though no less significant, in hopes of educating myself as well as others.

Emerson - age 1Clara (age 3)A friend of mine named Heather is personally invested in the situation in Haiti as she and her husband (along with their two biological children) have been trying to adopt two children – Clara (age 3) and Emerson (age 1) – from an orphanage there since March 2007. I took the opportunity today to ask Heather some questions about their adoption experience thus far and find out more about how the food crisis is affecting the lives of the children in the Haitian orphanage. She was kind enough to share personal information and provide me with some pictures of her children.

Amy: Have the living/food conditions changed between your first visit to the country (and/or orphanage) and your most recent visit? If so, how? And when, roughly, were those visits?

Heather: Our last visit was in January 2008. The visit planned for April 2008 was canceled due to the rioting in Port au Prince over the rising costs of food. We have also visited in July and October 2007 and plan to go again in July 2008.

We aren’t able to see much of the country during our visits as our orphanage only allows us to visit on escorted trips and we are not allowed to leave the hotel while in the country. From what we see driving from the airport to the hotel, Port au Prince seems cleaner and there are more functioning traffic lights. There are still canals filled with garbage and wild pigs eating that garbage. There is still the stench of burning garbage.

The conditions in the orphanage appear about the same since our first trip in April 2007 with the exception of there being 50-75 more children in the 3000 square foot house where they live. We believe there are now approximately 150 children living in what is a mansion by Haitian standards. There is no yard – the house is surrounded by concrete which extends about 10-20 feet from the walls of the house. The property is surrounded by a 15-20 foot tall cinder block wall topped with broken bottles. Laundry is done by hand and hung anywhere possible to dry.

The infants are all kept on the main floor of the house – probably in what used to be the living and dining rooms. Children who are walking up to about age five live upstairs. They sleep in double- or triple-decker cribs with at least two children in each. The orphanage’s directors and their children also live upstairs. There is one bathroom. Older children generally live in one of the other two buildings the orphanage leases in the suburbs of Port au Prince.

Amy: How is the current food crisis affecting the orphanage?

Heather: Parents are given very little information about the daily life of their children, however, we know that they usually eat two meals per day and one snack. This food is usually rice and beans – little to no protein, dairy, or fresh fruits and vegetables. Their water is rationed as they do not have a safe source of water other then bottled water which is expensive. Infants are weaned off formula well before they would be in the US as the costs of formula are astronomical compared to rice and beans.

Parents are attempting to collect 36,000 pounds of food to be sent by container ship to the orphanage in July.

Amy: Have your visits to Haiti changed the way you look at food and food waste in our country of plenty?

Heather: Every interaction I have with other people, every show I watch on TV, every news report I hear or read, every purchase I make reminds me of the overabundance we have in our country and how just a small fraction of what we have would provide Haitians with “luxuries” they’ve never experienced – daily protein, fresh fruit and vegetables, proper medical care, shoes, and so on. Listening to people complain about the hardships in the US makes it ever so clear that we have absolutely no idea what true need is.

Amy: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your children, the orphanage or your experiences visiting Haiti in general?

Heather: This is the most painful process I’ve even participated in – politics taking precedence over children’s lives, the different value placed on children in a country where it is common for children to die, the lack of urgency, difficult communications, arbitrary laws enforced (or not) at someone’s whim. Every day we live with the reality that our children might die before they come home. Clara, at age 39 months, weighs 18 pounds. She has not gained any weight in 15 months. She has TB. This is in the orphanage where her biological mother brought her to receive better care than she could provide at home. International adoption is not an undertaking for the faint of heart. I’m not sure I will survive it with my sanity intact.

Heather’s children are at Foyer de Sion orphanage. She doesn’t expect Clara and Emerson to get to come home to the United States until 2009. If you’d like to make a donation (PayPal accepted) to the orphanage, please visit Sion Fonds.

What can we do here at home to help with the food crisis?

Aside from making donations to charitable donations, there are other things we can do in our own part of the world that can have an impact on the global food crisis.

– I wrote a couple weeks ago about why growing even a little bit of our own food is so important. Even if you only start a container garden for some herbs and a tomato plant, every little bit makes a difference.

– We can also reduce our meat consumption. Meat is much more costly to produce than grains and energy is lost in the process of feeding grains to animals. “Though some 800 million people on the planet now suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chickens. This despite the inherent inefficiencies: about two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption, according to Rosamond Naylor, an associate professor of economics at Stanford University. It is as much as 10 times more in the case of grain-fed beef in the United States.” – Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler

– Become aware of your food waste and look for ways to reduce it. Take smaller portions and go back for seconds if needed. Buy only what you will consume so you aren’t throwing away produce once it goes bad. Teach your children about food waste and how to reduce it.

Compost your food waste.

I want to hear from you too. What do you think will help with the food crisis? What are you personally doing to make a difference?

Bloggers Unite for Human Rights tomorrow (May 15)

Bloggers UniteBloggers will Unite to raise awareness about Human Rights tomorrow. Will you take part? What will you write about? I’m still tossing around ideas on the topic I will tackle (there are so many to choose from), but I wrote over at BlogHer yesterday that it would be a great opportunity for people to write about maternal health or the relief effort for the people of Burma.

If you do blog about human rights tomorrow, please leave me a comment with the link to your post. I’d love to read it and compile a list of what all of my readers are raising awareness about.

Thank you. 🙂

Edited to add: By the way, I probably am not going to get to publish my post until the afternoon on Thursday since I didn’t get the opportunity to write tonight like I had hoped, thanks to a very wakeful little boy (who’s teeth will likely be fine by the way – per the dentist). 😉

The Mother’s Day gift that keeps on giving

When you ask your mom what she wants for Mother’s Day, is she the type that selflessly states, “Oh, nothing, dear. I already have everything I need.”? If so, good! Give love - Global Giving

I know what you’re thinking. “If my mom won’t tell me what she wants, how can I possibly get something that will make her happy?” Oh, but you can and it’s easy peasy!

What if I said you could buy her a present that honors her for the wonderful mother that she is, as well as helps save the lives of other mothers? Oh, and it’s green and eco-friendly too. Too good to be true? Guess again. 🙂

Earlier this week, Denise wrote at BlogHer about giving the gift of Maternal Health for Mother’s Day. And I thought to myself – it’s perfect (oh, and also – I’m so blogging this)!

For those of you who haven’t yet heard, BlogHers Act has teamed up with Global Giving in an effort to save as many women’s lives as possible between now and Mother’s Day. There are several worthwhile causes to support:

* Mother and Child Clinic in Nepal: $10 – 2 days’ operating costs for the Clinic OR a year’s worth of care for 5 women and children

* Help Afghan Women Deliver Healthy Babies Safely: $25 – 20 women will have improved quality of life through reproductive healthcare and education

* Ensure Healthcare for 40,000+ Displaced Darfurians: $25 – Trains 2 Traditional Birthing Attendants (includes 3 training sessions and training materials)

* Empower Women to End HIV/AIDS Stigma, South Africa: $50 – 2 women living with HIV/AIDS can receive counseling

* Noon Meal Improves Girls’ Learning in Burkina Faso: $15 – Provides a noon meal for 50 students for one day.

Once you’ve selected the cause you’d like to contribute to, enter the amount you want to give, click on the “give now” button and you will have the option of checking a box that says “Make this donation in honor of someone or send as a gift?.” You can then select if you’d like to send an e-card (hint, hint – save the trees!) or a paper card. Fill out the rest of the information and you’re done. 🙂

No frenzied trips to the store, no scouring the Internet, no commercialism, no “stuff,” and no worries. Just a wonderful gift to honor your mom and a chance at life for mothers on the other side of the world. You can’t go wrong with that. 🙂

And if you haven’t yet entered, please don’t miss out on my Earth-Mother’s Day huge green giveaway. You can enter to win until Mother’s Day.

Is your child’s sunscreen doing more harm than good?

The Centers for Disease Control recently came out with some bad news for nearly all Americans who use sunscreen. A recent study shows one of the commonly used ingredients in most sunscreens (for adults, children as well as babies), a chemical called oxybenzone, has been linked to allergies, hormone disruption, and cell damage. In fact according to the study, 97% of Americans are contaminated with this chemical. Another study has showed oxybenzone is linked to low birth weight in baby girls whose mothers are exposed during pregnancy. Also worth noting is “oxybenzone is also a penetration enhancer, a chemical that helps other chemicals penetrate the skin.”

Boy in the sunNo FDA regulations
The last time the Food and Drug Administration reviewed the safety of oxybenzone was in the 1970s. It republished its evaluation in 1978, and announced plans to develop comprehensive standards for sunscreen safety and effectiveness. However, it’s been 30 years now and the Agency has yet to issue final regulations. “Instead, it encourages manufacturers to follow draft guidelines that the Agency has delayed finalizing at the behest of the sunscreen industry. As a result, sunscreen manufacturers in the U.S. are free to market products containing ingredients like oxybenzone that have not been proven safe for people.”

No special safety standards for children
What really frustrates me is that many sunscreens are marketed specifically for babies or children, and one might expect that because of this they are somehow “safer,” yet they contain the same chemicals as those sunscreens made for adults. There are no special safety standards for babies/children’s products.

Additional cautions must be employed when considering the effects of oxybenzone on children. The surface area of a child’s skin relative to body weight is greater than adults. As a result, the potential dose of a chemical following dermal exposure is likely to be about 1.4 times greater in children than in adults (SCCNFP 2001). In addition, children are less able than adults to detoxify and excrete chemicals, and children’s developing organ systems are more vulnerable to damage from chemical exposures, and more sensitive to low levels of hormonally active compounds (NAS 1993; Janjua 2004). Children also have more years of future life in which to develop disease triggered by early exposure to chemicals (NAS 1993). Despite these well-documented concerns regarding children’s sensitivity to harmful substances, no special protections exist regarding ingredients in personal care products marketed for babies and children.

What does this all mean? Is YOUR child’s sunscreen safe?
If you haven’t yet familiarized yourself with the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database web site, I highly suggest you do so. Products from skin care to baby care, from make up to hair care and oral care (and more) are ranked on their hazard level.

Skin Deep lists 607 skincare products containing oxybenzone. Please check the list to find out if yours or your children’s is on it. Again, I’m frustrated and disturbed that one of the worst sunscreens on the list is one specifically for babies – Walgreens Baby Sunblock.

California Baby sunscreenSo what IS safe?
Here is a link to a list of the sunscreen best bets for kids.
I was relieved to find the brand and type we have been using since Ava was about 9 months old – *California Baby SPF 30+ Sunscreen Lotion Everyday/Year Round – is on the list (the California Baby Sunblock Stick is also on the list and might be easier to apply. I’ll be looking into getting some of that, especially since we’re nearly out of the lotion.). I’m thankful that many of the mommies I know (which is where I got the recommendation for California Baby in the first place) do their homework when it comes to safe baby/child skincare products.
*You can purchase California Baby sunscreen and other products at health food stores like Whole Foods and Vitamin Cottage and apparently Target carries it too, or order directly from the California Baby website.

Avoid these ingredients:

  • Oxybenzone – In sunlight, can produce allergy- and cancer-causing chemicals
  • DMDM Hydantoin – Allergen and irritant that can form cancer-causing contaminants
  • Triethanolamine – Allergen and irritant that can form cancer-causing contaminants

Safe Sun Tips

  • Minimize sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the greatest amount of ultraviolet light exists.
  • Wear Hats. Each inch of hat brim can lower your lifetime risk of skin cancer by 10%. A hat brim of four inches or greater is recommended.
  • Wear protective eyewear. Sunglasses with UV-blocking filters are very important.

Final thoughts
It’s frustrating when the groups that are supposed to be looking out for our health and that of our children let us down, but it’s things like these that reaffirm my belief of questioning authority. The best piece of advice I have is to arm yourself with information and trust your instincts. If dousing yourself or your child in chemicals doesn’t feel right to you, don’t do it. Find another way. In this information age where so much is available to us at the click of a mouse, it can be easy to find healthier and safer alternatives. Knowledge is power.

For more information, please check out: Is Your Sunscreen Safe?

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Help Afghan women safely birth healthy babies

You may or may not have read that yesterday Lisa Stone announced that BlogHer has teamed up with Global Giving in an effort to save as many women’s lives as possible between now and Mother’s Day. There are several worthwhile causes to support, and myself and others will be blogging about them all month on BlogHer. One of the projects is helping Afghan women safely birth healthy babies.

Afghan women and children

In the country of Afghanistan a woman dies of pregnancy-related causes every 27 minutes of every day. That’s 53 women every day and nearly 20,000 women per year or 1,900 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. According to the World Health Organization, in 2000 Afghanistan had the seventh worst maternal mortality rate in the world.

In the province of Badakhshan, “a woman faces almost 600 times the risk of dying in childbirth than do her counterparts living in North America. Of the thousands of infants left motherless, 75 percent will perish either during, or soon after, delivery.”

One of the reasons for the abysmal mortality rate is gender discrimination. In Afghanistan men are seen as superior to women and sons are preferred over daughters. This translates into high rates of female illiteracy and malnutrition. Because of the preference towards sons, daughters are often married off early, while they are still children themselves. “More than 40 percent of Badakshani women are married before the age of 15 and often long before their immature bodies can cope with both the demands of sex and the rigors of childbirth. Girls under the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s.”

The terrain of the country is also a problem. Eighty percent of the population live in rural areas which translates into remote and rugged terrain, where roads are poor or don’t exist at all. According to the Population Reference Bureau, only 14% of births in Afghanistan are attended by skilled personnel.

Because many women are without access to basic reproductive education, let alone modern methods of family planning, they are unable to choose when and how many children they have. The contraceptive use among married women, ages 15-49, is just 10%.

This Global Giving project for Afghan women can make a real difference. Creating Hope International and the Afghan Institute of Learning offer “lifesaving health services and medical interventions to pregnant women and babies through three rural clinics in Afghanistan, including on-site baby delivery for high-risk cases. CHI/AIL also educate women about their reproductive health so that they can make healthy choices during pregnancy and delivery.”

I think it’s important to note that the project is sensitive to Afghan culture and works with the community leaders before any programs are implemented. According to Global Giving:

AIL uses a culturally sensitive approach in providing health education and health services to Afghan women and children. They provide education and services in local settings that are safer and easier for women to access. They use mobile clinics to reach patients who cannot safely travel to the nearest health clinics. They employ female health providers because of a cultural preference in Afghanistan that women receive health care from other women. AIL works with community leaders and local men before implementing new and historical controversial programs, and begins new programs only at the request of communities.

As a result of this project 12,000 Afghan women will receive pre- and post-natal care, midwifery, family planning services, education on women’s reproductive health, delivery kits for home delivery, and assessment and intervention for high-risk pregnancies.

To learn a bit more about the Afghan women’s project and the role AIL is playing in education, take a look at this video of a birth attendant training class outside of Kabul: Afghanistan: New Births, New Hope.

A donation of $25 means 20 women will have improved quality of life through reproductive health care and education. For $50, 40 women will have healthier babies because of reproductive health care and education. And for a donation of $85, one woman will be trained as a community health worker and will assist 9,000 women annually. It’s amazing how such a small amount from us can make such a huge impact in the lives of people half-way around the world.

BlogHers Act NowTake action:
Now I pass the torch on to you. Please consider donating, adding a button or a widget (check out my right sidebar) to your blog and/or blogging about this project to help spread the word. If you do any of those things, be sure to leave a comment (and a link to your post if you blog it) below. Together we can make a big difference in the lives of so many women and children.

Filler

I got sick of seeing those first thing in the morning pictures of myself at the top of my blog so here I am posting a bit of nothingness to fill the void. Truthiness is good for a day, not for a week. :oP

It’s not that I don’t have something of substance to write about. I do – too much, in fact! I was just looking at the posts I’ve started, links I’ve bookmarked, and topics I want to write about and I’m at more than 50! My problem is that I don’t have enough time to write about everything (or anything on some days). Anyone else run into that?

Like right now, I really want to write about the exciting adventure we had this weekend when Ava decided – all by herself – that she wanted to sleep in her own room (after co-sleeping for the first 3 3/4 years of her life). But I don’t have time to elaborate right now, so that post will have to wait for another day.

There’s been a lot going on in the world regarding mommy bloggers that I’d like to blog about. First there was the fiasco with Johnson &Johnson’s Camp Baby (which, based on all the live Tweets I read, actually looks like it turned out to be a pretty good, albeit unusual, time), and then the mommy blogger meet-up with Katie Couric, all the while BlogHer’s Business Convention was going on.

There’s also been some bad news (death, heart attacks) in the blogging world. Stress can kill ya in any job. Bloggers aren’t immune.

I’d also like to write about how to be a better blogger (not by writing posts like this one – LOL), but I have two kids hanging on me and I can’t linger (and all of this news about blogging and stress is stressing me out!).

And then there are a ton of green links, tips, and other minutia that I’d love to share, but again, no time.

So there you have it, a short post full of nothing in particular, but now you don’t have to look at my sleepy face anymore and I know you’re thanking me for it. 🙂