Thursday, February 28, 2008

News From Christopher Briscoe

This just in from Christopher Briscoe, the photographer for The Baby Bonding Book for Dads: "I am in Cambodia for another week. It has been amazing here, shooting in refugee camps, families in a city dump, a city jail ... all the while taking with me a battery operated photo printer and making portraits of the villagers. Huge success!"

These photos of Chris's (the first one of a garbage dump in Mae Scot, Thailand and the second, "Looking for Daddy," of Burmese Refugees) remind us that some children can't bond with their fathers because political, social, or economic strife keeps them apart.

Compulsive Motherhood

An ABC news story about Angelina Jolie, who is apparently expecting her 5th child, claims that "compulsive motherhood" can be a sign of depression or manipulation. The 32-year-old actress who is in a relationship with Brad Pitt has adopted 3 children and birthed one of her own.

More tabloid gossip than news, the article outs Mother Teresa as depressive and all but dismisses charitable work as something only psychologically empty people engage in. Ms. Jolie's crime? Adopting three children from three different countries and giving them a loving home, economic prosperity, and a happy childhood.

If compulsive motherhood or fatherhood means caring for neglected children, would we all become as compulsive as Angelina Jolie.

Here's an excerpt from one of the comments on the story from a writer friend of ours, Meagan Francis:

"...focusing solely on "finding ourselves" throughout our entire lives creates selfish, self-centered and boring people. Human beings create relationships because without relationships, life IS empty. Not everybody has kids, and that's fine. Some people form friendships, they get a dog, a partner. And some--gasp!--have and enjoy children, sometimes even more than one or two! Finding fulfillment in motherhood doesn't mean you're competitive, compulsive, twisted, avoiding life, trying to re-define yourself, seeking attention, mentally ill, or any of the above. For most of us, it simply means you like children, and want a house full of them."

--Meagan Francis, Author "Table for Eight: Raising a Large Family in a Small-Family World" (Alpha/Penguin, 2007)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Read the book's preface!

Some visitors were complaining that they couldn't see the whole book cover, so here it is again. The right side gets cut off on smaller screens.

The subtitle of the book is "Building a Closer Connection with Your Baby," and that's what we hope the book will help dads do: feel closer and more connected to the little people in their lives.  If you're interested, you can read the preface here:

My dad used to sit on the bathroom counter while he shaved and brushed his teeth, finished dressing, and tied his tie.  I did the same with my toddler.  It would be before dawn and very quiet, and I would set our daughter on the side of the sink while I shaved, talking quietly to her.

Something about being alone together, trying made it exciting and special for her. It didn’t matter that I was busily getting ready; she was glad to come along, and even the sense of purpose was fun for her, just as she still likes to come on the most boring and mundane errands—to the post office, the DMV, even the dentist. When my daughter accompanies me, she doesn’t act bored and impatient. The outing becomes more like an occasion, and I enjoy it more too.

One day, at the sink, she insisted on shaving me. She was just three. If not for the fact that I remember sitting on the sink to watch my dad shave, I wouldn’t even have considered putting a razor into my toddler’s hand and letting her at my throat. I showed her the motion (down, pick up, down—never sideways!—and don’t press hard) and guided her hand through it a couple times. I told her how my grandfather, each morning before he went to elementary school, had gone upstairs to his own grandfather’s room with a straight razor, soap, and brush, to shave him after he had gone blind in his old age. She looked totally absorbed by this, and held her hand steady, so I positioned her hand at the top of my cheek and let her try a stroke. She carefully removed a stripe of shaving cream from my cheek, without trimming a single whisker. We worked on the pressure a bit, and she did most of the flat, easy parts of my cheeks.

My daughter was very proud to have been allowed this responsibility, and to have done something to care for me the way I normally took care of her. It was a bonding moment, which she has asked to repeat every few months since, and which I’ve carried on with her two younger siblings as they reached that age—without a single scratch.

Most men are like I was before my first child, having never even held a baby in our lives and with little or no experience taking care of kids. Of course we feel apprehensive about bonding and unsure how to interact with our offspring. I knew, though, that if I let my apprehension put me in the back seat in parenting, I would be taking a step back from one of the most important experiences of my life. I needed to take the initiative and create my own ways to bond with my child, right from the beginning.

It’s hard to engage after work when you’re tired and stressed, and part of the choice facing fathers is whether to play it safe, stay in that work mode and be very hands-off at home, or to engage with our children, something for which we’ve had no practice, and makes us feel unsure of ourselves.

Bonding with a baby or small child is about the small moments that you spend together, looking at each other, talking, taking walks. It’s not something that happens instantly. It’s a relationship that grows over time. That’s what this book is about: practical, everyday things to do to enjoy being with your children and forge the bond for both of you.

A lot of dads feel closer to older children, the ones who can catch a ball and enjoy a slice of pizza. But the bonding process starts in infancy, in hundreds of small ways. That's where we'll start—we'll get to ball and pizza later.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Babies of Teen Dads at Risk for Birth Problems

A study published in the journal Human Reproduction reports that babies of teenage fathers (ages 19 and younger) are at higher risk of having problems at birth than babies born to older dads.

According to a Reuters 2/6/2008 article about the study published on the Scientific American Web site, these babies are:

--15% more likely to be born premature

--13% more likely to have a low birthrate

--13% more likely to have a low Apgar score

--22% higher risk to die in the first 4 weeks after birth

--41% higher risk to die after the first 4 weeks and before the first birthday

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The castle of my 4-year-old

My son delights in collecting things from around the house--things that are not his, such as his sisters' candy, my tools, rolls of toilet paper--and stashing them in small nests he has hidden around the house, then hiding there himself to spend hours perusing his loot. After the latest clean-out, which included some family heirlooms, packing peanuts, dried mango strips, and about $30 worth of pesos, I told him we were going to build him his own hideout, and he would get to keep his stash in there, but only there, keeping his clutter away from the rest of the house.

This involved a drive to the cardboard recycling dumpster in front of the nearest appliance store, to which he clung with a maniacal grin, peering in at me swimming through giant refrigerator, stove and washer boxes. I found several prospects, though the deeper I dug, the heavier the cardboard above me got, until I was lifting several feet of ultra-heavy board-stock with my back, while trying to extricate washer & dryer boxes on which I was standing. That's when I noticed the rain starting somewhere above my cardboard burrow. I frantically dug out the last boxes, threw them on the car, and piled three more on top to keep the rain off the good ones. We tied them on and took the surface streets home.

The washer & dryer boxes were perfect, and more than enough, so I moved several hundred square feet of excess cardboard out to the porch, and got to work. We taped them back up to shape, arranged them next to each other in the corner, and then pulled out one so that it was edge-to-edge with the other, leaving a space right in the corner it had just vacated, exactly the size of another box. This I called the courtyard, and he approved it over the other designs. The touching edges got taped together, to secure the courtyard against invaders, and we cut a little hobbit door into one box for an entrance to the compound. A little round hobbit window on the side where the natural light and the lamp can illuminate the interior (he wanted it wired for electric lighting, but combining electricity, cardboard, and someone with poor bladder control seemed like a non-starter to me). Another door leads into the interior courtyard, from where the only door to the second box makes that one rather isolated from the outside (and from anyone larger than a hobbit). He is beside himself over this new domicile, which is tall enough for him--and only him--to stand inside.

And I spent money on Christmas presents?

What if You're Jealous of the Baby?

One mom we know was married to a man who couldn't stand watching her take care of their newborn son. It made him seethe with jealousy and he would act like a neglected child and compete for his wife's attention.

After the birth of their second son, that couple divorced. The husband remarried twice more and had three more kids. He became a more involved, less jealous father with the help of his third wife (who was 15 years younger but a lot wiser than him) but he always resented paying child support to the wife of his first two children.

What's the moral of this story? Maybe that it's important to work out your demons before you have children so you can act like a man, not a baby, once they're born.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Great Dads and Choreplay, a Web site we really like that's devoted to fathering and has lots of good information on it (in fact, we like it so much we are talking to Paul about becoming contributing writers over there), blogged today about dads and baby bonding. You can read it here.

On February 12th The Atlanta Journal Constitution offered up advice for dads on how to get lucky with their wives. It's called CHOREPLAY. Forget the roses and firelight. Clean the sippy cups instead.

For the record, Heidi Raykell's husband in a chapter of Confessions of a Naughty Mommy: How I Found My Lost Libido (Seal Press), wrote about how doing dishes was great for his sex life long before Parenting coined the term "choreplay."

Monday, February 18, 2008

Article in the Tidings about the book

You can find the original article (and a photo) here

February 2, 2008
Raising Baby: A Dad's guide

By Julie French
Ashland Daily Tidings

When James di Properzio had his first child, he intended to be a perfect father. He thought his plan was working, until a trip to Paris when his oldest daughter, Hesperus, was 18 months old. His dreams ended abruptly in the metro station when he attempted to heave the stroller over the turnstile with his daughter still in it. She tumbled six feet onto the concrete floor and cracked her skull.

"All of my ideas about being the perfect dad were shattered along with her skull," he said. Still, he has made a noble effort over the years to be more connected to his children than the generation of fathers before him, and two more children, Athena, 6, and Etani, 4, have joined Hesperus, now 8, who survived the fall with no lasting injuries.

Di Properzio and his wife Jennifer Margulis, both freelance writers in Ashland, recently completed "The Baby Bonding Book for Dads," due out in March, to help those not-so-perfect dads develop relationships with their newborns.

"In our twenties, most of us had the same idea," di Properzio said about his male friends. "Sure, maybe we wanted to have a kid someday ... once you move from there to actually having a kid, you can see you're sort of under prepared and apprehensive."

As di Properzio learned after his daughter's brush with disaster, parenting doesn't require perfection, and any time spent with baby is better than none. For those dads at a loss for what to do when they are spending time with their child, the book offers suggestions such as "baby wrestling," reading and talking, no baby babble required. Babies will pick up on the sound of their voice no matter what the subject.

Fathers are also encouraged to integrate baby into their life, taking them to sporting events, even hiking or fishing trips. Spending time with baby doesn't mean fathers have to be stuck at home, di Properzio said.

Taking a baby along might even up their popularity with the opposite sex.

"They're such a good chick magnet because any guy with a baby is going to attract every young woman around," Margulis said.

Although it might be hard, moms have to step aside and let their husbands make a few mistakes for the best bonding, Margulis said. She recalled one friend who complained her husband never changed their baby's diapers, then quickly explained that he wouldn't do it right anyway.

"They're going to put the overalls on the kid backwards, and the diaper won't be perfect, but it's not like you always do it right," she said.

Men are also at a significant disadvantage when it comes to bonding with infants, she said, because they lack the hormones that drive women to love their babies despite their scrunched faces, acne and constant crying.

"It's easy for men to leave themselves out, and that's exactly what we don't want," she said.

Margulis has made sure di Properzio has enough time with his children. Six weeks after her first child was born, she was back to work, teaching literature at Emory University.

Last year, the family lived in Niger, a French-speaking African country, and di Properzio stayed home with their kids and wrote the baby bonding book for fathers while Margulis was teaching at the local university through a Fulbright fellowship.

This is the couple's first officially co-written book, although they have always served as each other's first-string editors. Margulis has published three previous books, including "Why Babies Do That," a short guide to 40 mystifying behaviors of newborns. She is also a Tidings columnist, and is working on a proposal for a book about the family's year in Africa. Di Properzio is working on his first novel about a man trying to create a musical instrument as perfect as the human voice, set during the Italian Renaissance.

The couple have not ruled out more parenting books, however, and may follow up with books on the behaviors of toddlers or older children as their own kids age.

Although "The Baby Bonding Book for Dads" is full of local work, from the authors to the photographs by Christopher Briscoe with many local models, it will be distributed nationally.

There are tentative plans to sell the book in hardware and fly-fishing stores, Margulis said, and she hopes to reach fathers who might otherwise never pick up a parenting book.

"There are not enough books on how to get dads involved and interacting with their child," Margulis said. "The misconception is that only women-only moms-buy books, and only women read books. I'm on a crusade to change that and so is James." Even if a father's children are well past the infant stage, her message is it's never too late to start bonding.

"You don't need to bother reading any books at all," Margulis said. "You just need to spend time with your child."

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Pregnancy Testing

This article was originally published in the Ashland Daily Tidings. So much about pregnancy today is medicalized, which some parents find comforting but others find deeply disturbing:

Tales from the Crib

To Test or Not to Test?

By Jennifer Margulis
Tidings Correspondent

My friend Marie just emailed that she’s pregnant. She’s 43 years old and has been trying for years. She and her husband have one son who’s autistic. Should I do the first ultrasound, she asked me over email. Should I do CVS? What did you do?

With my first pregnancy I followed the doctors orders, for the most part. I was 29 and in excellent shape. But I found the prenatal visits to be really stressful: the doctors in the practice that I had to go to (because it was the only one my student health insurance would pay for) were rushed, they responded cursorily to my questions, predicting terrible outcomes if I did not follow their advice exactly.

Some people are soothed by the metal tables and scrubbed floors of a doctor’s office. I’m not. But I dutifully went to every check-up even though the stress of going invariably made me cry afterwards. The only recommended test I refused was the glucose tolerance test for diabetes. I couldn’t eat any sugar while I was pregnant and I knew the test would make me very sick. I was already on the equivalent of a diabetic diet, and the outcome of the test would not change anything.

Most people, without understanding that these tests often have false results and can also create problems in the pregnancy, feel it’s better to know definitively about every detail of the pregnancy. But if the knowledge a test gives you won’t change your behavior, why bother doing it? Take Down’s Syndrome. My husband and I wanted a healthy baby more than anything in the world. At that point in our lives—and I don’t know if this is still true for us now—we would not have chosen to terminate if we discovered there was a problem with the fetus. If I were carrying a Down’s Syndrome child or a child with a terminal illness, I would have carried that child to term. So why know? We felt like if there was a problem with our baby we would find out at the birth and deal with it then. To stress out about it for nine months, fretting and wondering and waiting, was not the best option for us.

With my second pregnancy I hired homebirth midwives. My prenatal visits consisted mostly of talking, often about healthy eating and the birth. Instead of a sterile doctor’s office the visits were held in the midwives’ tiny colorful space that had lots of open windows, plants, and books. No medications were advertised on the walls. No handouts about AIDS stood in stiff cardboard casings on the bookcases. It was more like being in someone’s living room than at the doctor’s, and it felt so much better that way.

“Call me back as soon as you can.” My brother’s voice sounded terrible on the message on my answering machine. I rubbed my 5-months pregnant belly. My sister-in-law was also pregnant, just a few weeks behind me.

“We found out Mary’s carrying an anencephalitic fetus,” Zach said.

Anencephalitic. Anencephalitic. I couldn’t think clearly enough to remember what that meant but I started to cry. I knew it wasn’t good.

“The baby has no brain,” he explained. “It’s a medical emergency now and she’s going to the hospital tomorrow to terminate.” Zach’s voice caught. He told me that even if she managed to carry the baby to term, it could be stillborn, and it couldn’t live. A person without a brain isn’t a person.

“Are they sure? What if they made a mistake?”

“They’re sure, Jen.”

The next day my sister-in-law went for the procedure. She had a severe hemorrhage after the operation and the hospital staff went into Code Red. Zach told me he’d never seen people work so efficiently and seriously in his life. The doctor said she could have died.

I sobbed for days. Should we find out about our fetus? Was there something wrong with our baby? Why should my sister-in-law, who had no children of her own, have a problem and not us? It seemed so cosmically unfair. I rubbed my belly and wept. But I also realized that even if our baby was anencephalitic I would carry it as long as I could, until it died in my uterus or out in the world.

Pregnancy testing seems so straightforward when a doctor explains it in his office, but there’s so much more to consider than just the test itself.

Here is the reader reaction the on-line version of this article generated

Current Comments:

Sometimes the tests, (like the amniocentesis), actually lead to miscarriage!

Like you say, it all depends on what you will do with the information.

Each mother has to decide for herself.
Michelle O'Neil - Lynchburg, VA - May 2nd, 7:01 AM


I was 35 when I had my first baby, and 37 with my second. Prenatal testing was recommended by my midwives due to my age. Our actions would not change if we had advance knowledge of a problem, and given the high incidence of false positives we chose to have no testing except one ultrasound. We would not terminate under any circumstances and did not want anything to mar the joy of expectation. Besides, I had enough morning-noon-and-night sickness to worry about!
Linda Peters - Houston, Texas - May 2nd, 7:23 AM


Jennifer, I definitely understand what you're saying here. I went and had all the tests. While I wouldn't have terminated a pregnancy, I'd have liked the chance to prepare for any predictable issues before birth, so that day wasn't spoiled by a scary surprise. I also would have liked the chance to find a support group as early as possible. Happily, my daughters were born healthy. We've been through a lot since... but who hasn't?
Martha - Seattle, WA - May 2nd, 8:08 AM


I feel the same way. I've had 6 miscarriages and every test imaginable. With 2nd viable pregnancy, we lost one of the twins. My OB recommended AFP testing, which came back positive. We spent 3 days in Hell before reaching my perinatologist, who said I should never have taken the test. AFP has a VERY high incidence of false positives. But in my case, the "vanishing" twin had caused the false positive. My daughter is 18 months old and in great health. I doubt we'll test much if we have another.
Annabelle Robertson - Lompoc, CA - May 2nd, 8:20 AM


Great column, and I can really relate to it. I'm now 3-months pregnant with my fourth child (at 36), and we just signed a waiver saying we do *not* want any prenatal testing beyond routine ultrasounds. It's kind of scary to skip the tests (and be left to imagine the worst), but abortion simply isn't an option for us. Given that, we've decided to pull back and just treat this pregnancy as the blessing it is -- come what may.
Holly - Frederick, MD - May 2nd, 8:31 AM


It's always nice to know that folks like Jennifer have more knowledge, experience, and wisdom that the physicians who spend 8 years in medical school, residency, etc and have participated in ten times more births than any midwife. Commentaries like this spread the disease of misinformation. . . .
Whatever Jennifer. . . - Ashland - May 2nd, 8:33 AM


As a nurse practitioner, I spend a lot of time discussing this topic. I find most women want an ultrasound even though there is no reason for obtaining one unless there are problems. But the picture/info gives them peace of mind. Although it is true that many women would still choose not to abort if they discover problems, most want to know in advance so that they can psychologically prepare themselves. There is no right or wrong. It is a personal choice that should be supported either way.
Peter - Niamey, Niger - May 2nd, 9:36 AM


I was 35 when pregant with my first, and had no tests. All that was available was amnio then. I was anxious my whole pregnancy because I wasn't doing what the doctors had reccommended. With my second I had an amnio. I wasn't sure what I would do if something was wrong with my baby, but I needed to know. For me, that was better. I had my second at home, no medical interference! We're all different, with different needs. There is no one right answer, as "Whatever Jennifer" seems to think
Judy - Oakland, CA - May 2nd, 9:41 AM


I’m having an amnio and not looking forward to it, yet I’m craving the results. After 3 positive ultsnds, still my blood results came back 'high risk'. Everyone's beliefs are different as are their circumstances regarding support, finances and freedom to care for a child with a severe disability. It's just that once we become fearful, we crave affirmation that all is well. These tests can prove that almost everything is ok and certainly no one should be judged for wanting to know that baby is ok
Anonymous - Medford - May 2nd, 9:42 AM


Such a thoughtful essay, Jennifer. With each of my pregnancies, I've ratcheted back the medical involvement I allow, and been much happier for it.
caroline - san francisco, ca - May 2nd, 2:47 PM


Some "need" to know the baby's sex beforehand, and some don't. Some want every drug during delivery, some don't. Some want to know ahead of time if there might be a problem so they can mentally prepare and make decisions, and others prefer not to worry for nine months and to deal with whatever happens when/if it happens. The point is to support parents and help them feel confident so they can try to do the best they can for their kids, not discourage them or make them feel inadequate or wrong
Dawn - Casablanca, Morocco - May 2nd, 6:17 PM


I was 36 when I was pregnant the 1st time. I was
seen by midwifes in a hospital. I felt
pretty comfortable with them, and actually safe.
The apts were pretty mellow, most of it was like
Jennifer's home midwifes experience. I didn't
have the amnio because I felt the AFP4 and level
2 u/s would be sufficient to tell us what we
needed to know. We didn't feel strong enough to
take whatever life gave us and always kept the
option of terminating if something was
wrong. We have 2 healthy bb's.
Nathalie - Medford, MA - May 3rd, 6:59 AM


Definitely a personal Right or Wrong here. It's kind of a personality test. My analogy: from experience I have found most people do not want to accept this public Fact [just google Grace Commission Report to read about it]: not a dime of the billions collected in personal IRS income taxes goes to pay for the govt services people assume theyre paying for. Most have a knee-jerk reaction at best, and very few take the 30 min necessary to find the truth. Ignorance = comfort.
1speed - ashland, ore - May 3rd, 10:10 AM

Friday, February 15, 2008

Blogging-An Internet Trend to Bring Parents Together

This article was published in 2006 in Valley Kids. Since we're planning a blog book tour for The Baby Bonding Book For Dads (and we already have some amazing bloggers signed up), I thought I'd share an edited version of it with you here:

Blogging—An Internet Trend that Brings Parents Together

Special to Valley Kids

This month I’ve been traveling. I’ve been to about 15 different states and I’ve gone as far afield as South Africa and Western Canada. I’m even scheduled to appear in Australia before the month is out.

In my pajamas.

I’ve been on a blog book tour, traveling via the internet to promote my latest book called “Why Babies Do That: Baffling Baby Behavior Explained.” For the whole month of May I’ve been making “stops” on the tour at mommy (and some daddy) blogs.

Blogs are big. Blogs are an internet trend and a social phenomenon that is worth following. However, you may have no idea what a blog is (after all, my spell check program doesn’t recognize the word.) A short form of the words “web log,” a blog is an interactive site on the internet where people write entries and others come to read and leave comments.

Chicopee-based writer Tish Grier has been blogging since November 2004 when a friend told her to try combating her writer’s block by blogging. She rolled her eyes, thinking that writing on the internet didn’t really count as “real writing” but she was working two jobs at the time—at a machine shop during the day and a retail store in the local mall in the evenings—and she didn’t know many writers and was feeling rather lonely. So Grier decided to start a blog.

“I got tired of the isolation,” Grier told me in a phone interview from her home office in Chicopee. “I thought, let me start just throwing some things out there and seeing what would happen.”

Now the editor of Corant Media Hub and a very popular media blogger (you can find her at The Constant Observer), Grier sees that blogging—especially mommy blogging—has reached the proportions of a social movement.

“From what I see and the information that I read through Blogher [], mommy bloggers are a very powerful force,” says Grier whose job is partly to watch media trends. “They are home during the day and women are spread out and they don’t have the support systems that they used to. People get a lot of their information on-line. They go there to talk to other women, to get the information that they need.”

Grier says blogging helps parents find a community and create a support network. “You make community and connection through your blog and through commenting on the blogs of others,” says Grier. “It breaks the isolation.”

But 34-year-old Kerri Vassar, who lives in Gill and has a 1-year-old daughter named Olivia, is not convinced that blogs are an effective way to bring parents together. She doesn’t read blogs and she doesn’t have any mommy friends who do either.

“I’m not even sure I know exactly what they are,” Vassar admits. “I don’t read them because I don’t have any idea where to even find them. I’ve read a couple (at least I think I have) that just seemed confusing, outdated and hard to follow. I have no interest in someone else’s personal blog. If it’s that fascinating I’m sure someone will make a movie out of it and I can catch the ‘short version’ later.”

Grier thinks Vassar is wrong about the merit of blogs but acknowledges that Vassar’s opinion is shared by many on the East Coast (blogging is more popular out West, says Grier). “I think it’s an East Coast thing, actually … not necessarily that we’re snobs, it’s just that we’re a little bit more conservative out here, especially in Western Mass.”

Being socially conservative translates into being hesitate about the appropriateness of blogs. “The impression is that [bloggers] might be airing their dirty laundry,” says Grier, who adds that that perception has been perpetuated by the media and that blogs are more than just on-line journals, that they are carefully crafted narratives that merit attention.

“Most of us know what to say and what not to say,” says Grier. “It’s not like reading somebody’s live journal.”

Since blogs are Internet wide and not usually tagged by geographic location, it’s challenging to locate bloggers in any given region. “One of the most difficult things I think about blogging in general is finding people in your own geographic area. The search engines don’t work well for finding local people,” says Grier.

But the appeal of blogs goes beyond geographic specificity, and for many the appeal of the Internet is that it seems without boundaries. Susan Ito (who blogs here) first came to the world of mommy blogs because she suffered from debilitating preclamsia in all three of her pregnancies (and lost one baby because of it) and her doctor put her on bed rest. With nothing to do but stay lying down all day, Ito found her tribe through reading mommy blogs.

Some 40 mommy bloggers started a group blog called Dot Moms (you can find it here) to promote and celebrate the different faces of motherhood. The site was mentioned in a Time Magazine on-line article about the 50 coolest Web sites. A recently formed group Web site written by a handful of daddy bloggers called The Blog Fathers indicates a growing interest in the mommy blogging phenomenon among fathers as well.

With three small children to run around after, and a job that keeps me in front of the computer several hours every day, I don’t read blogs as often as I’d like. But some are hard to resist. Tertia Albertyn’s So Close welcomes about 2,000 visitors a day (she was the South Africa stop on my tour) and Mrs. Kennedy’s Fussy is so hilarious that many blog readers without children consider it a mandatory stop to enjoy with their morning coffee. My other favorites include Kelly Ferry’s Her Able Hands, (Ferry’s blog used to be called Baggage Carousel) and Suburban Turmoil ,which is worth visiting just to see the hilarious graphics. Grier's favorite mommy blog is State of Grace.

Although she does not see any merit in blogs, Vassar does find message boards, like the one at (maintained by Mothering Magazine) to be a useful way to communicate with other parents. “Message boards are what I enjoy and have found to be the most helpful,” Vassar explains. “They are more organized and easier to navigate. They seem to have much more variety within the site and aren’t so topic specific.”

So if you are a mom or dad with small children, should you start a blog? It’s easy, it’s free, and you can have a site up and running in a matter of minutes (visit which will walk you through the steps to starting a blog). “My first piece of advice would be to just go in and read others, maybe leave a comment if you feel like it, get a feel for what it’s like first, see what the community is, and see how you feel,” says Grier.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

More Briscoe Photographs

Introducing photographer Christopher Briscoe

The photos in the book were done by an internationally known and much loved in Ashland photographer named


He's the kind of guy who CEOs fly around the country because they love his work so much and have to have him shoot their family. (That means take pictures of, not kill, in photographers' jargon. You knew that already.)

He's also the kind of guy who gets so involved in what he's doing he forgets to eat, has a blood sugar crash, and needs a candy bar quick. At least, that's what happened the one time that we met in person. We knew him by reputation only, because he has these incredible, highly stylized, always eye-catching photographs in the window of his studio on A Street in Ashland not far from the co-op. So when the publisher was looking for a photographer, we suggested they check out Chris Briscoe's work. They did, and liked it, and our partnership--one that we hope will continue for many years (if he doesn't get offended by the blood sugar comment that is)--was born.

Here's his bio from the book:

Christopher Briscoe photographs people from all walks of life, all over the world. His celebrity faces include Michael Douglas, Kathryn Zeta Jones, Kirk Douglas, Rob Lowe, Ray Charles, Bo Derek, and Mikhail Gorbachev. Based in the Pacific Northwest, he has published his photographs in Time magazine, USA Today, and The Los Angeles Times. Chris' portfolio at is an example of his connection with people and the magic light he splashes upon them. Aside from the pleasure of photographing wonderful faces, Briscoe's greatest joy comes from being a dad to his son, Quincy.

And we'll post some more sneak previews of photos from the book in a separate entry, so you can see more examples of his work.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What If You Drop The Baby?

A lot of men (and women too) are afraid to hold a baby for fear of dropping them.

Once you've been doing the parenting thing for awhile, this seems sort of ridiculous. But it's not.

Our friend Richard was carrying his 4-month-old son in a car carrier in a parking lot when the baby fell out and slammed to the ground. Richard, who lost his family in the Rwandan genocide (his father, mother, and two brothers were killed with machetes), and who had to leave Rwanda because of fears for his safety and did not even see his son until he was three months old, felt like the worst father in the world. When the ambulance came to take Nshuti to the hospital, Richard begged them to arrest him. He was crying so hard he didn't see the looks on their faces. They knew, like you and I know, that Richard hadn't dropped his baby on purpose.

Nshuti, who had blood in his eyes from the fall, was totally fine.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A New Generation of Dads?

Cindy LaFerle, who's son is just off to college, said that there is so much more to read that debunks the stereotype of the Perfect Patient Always Smiling Mother for moms today than there was when she was raising her son.

What about for dads?

It seems like more dads than ever before are involved with the day-to-day rearing of their children, and there are certainly dozens of dad-oriented books on the parenting shelves these days.

That said, our publisher told us that it is still overwhelmingly women who buy books (and presumably who read them). And the truth is James is often -- almost always -- the only dad at the Music Together classes, the only dad at the park, and only one of a handful (one hand only) of dads at the grocery store with the kids.

And there's a vibe that a lot of working moms or work-from-home moms feel at school, a vibe that I've probably given out sometimes to other moms too (why? years of counseling may be needed to answer this question). It's the Where Have You Been Vibe, the Why Are You Working and Sending Your Husband in Your Stead Vibe. As if having the male parent there is not good enough.

So, here's the question: ARE dads more involved with their children than they used to be? When someone asks you what you do would you say "I'm a dad and ... " Or are we still locked in roles that some argue are predetermined by our biology?

If I Had a Horse

One of our favorite books from Willow Creek Press has nothing to do with babies. It's called If I Had a Horse: How Different Life Would Be and it has some of the most impressive equine photography ever taken in it. (Stay tuned for lots more about the photographs in The Baby Bonding Book for Dads, taking photography of babies and children, and photography in general, by the way.) The prose is as spectacular as the photos; it's written by Melissa Sovey who raised her three tiny sons by herself after her husband died in a freak car accident. Her husband drove off to a work dinner one night and that was the last time she and her children ever saw him. She waited, trying not to worry and thinking that his work engagement was running late, until she got a call from the police telling her her husband was dead. Now her oldest son, Mike, is expecting their first child. Here is a picture of them, together, at his wedding. If I Had a Horse is a testament to Melissa's bravery raising her sons by herself, and the power of healing you can find in horses. In the interest of full disclosure: in addition to being an outstanding writer and mom, Melissa is also the National Sales Director at Willow Creek Press. Working with her has been such a privilege, and she's become a good friend.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Myths and Realities of Baby Bonding

When Megan Lewis-Schurter’s son was born nothing went as planned. Lewis-Schurter expected an on-time baby and a typical long first labor. Instead Tristan was born six weeks early and delivered in under two hours.

“I was shocked,” Lewis-Schurter, who is originally from South Africa and now lives in Minneapolis, explained via email. “I really didn’t have time to know what I felt.”

The doctors whisked the 5-pound baby off to the neo-natal ICU, where he was kept for a week. Not allowed to sleep with him, Lewis-Schurter had to expose herself in front of the nurses, doctors, and other parents in the NICU in order to cuddle and breastfeed Tristan. She and her husband felt frantic with worry and had a hard time cementing the bond between herself and her son.

“The NICU’s not conducive to bonding,” sighs Lewis-Schurter. “It’s too bright, too sterile, and filled with noisy machines that monitor your baby’s every breath and heartbeat … Babies are on artificial feeding schedules that don’t jive with your mother-instincts. It takes a very clear head—which is distinctly not where you are after the birth of your baby—to keep a good sense of your priorities and to be able to bond with your child.”

It wasn’t until Tristan, who’s now a golden-haired preschooler with green eyes and a mischievous grin, was four months old that Lewis-Schurter felt truly connected to her son.

“Once I got him home, I felt more at ease,” she says. “But also terrified by my fatigue and the overwhelming responsibility of caring for a newborn. To be honest, I only really stopped feeling insane at about three or four months, once our rhythms were a little more settled and he (and I) seemed less fragile!”

Although some new parents bond instantly with their new babies, others, like Lewis-Schurter, find that bonding’s hard won. Still, bonding between a baby and its caregivers is an essential component to a healthy childhood and a happy mother-child relationship.

“We humans are primates, animals designed by evolution to be physically and emotionally attached to an adult of our species,” explains one of my favorite writers and thinkers, Meredith Small, a cultural anthropologist at Cornell University and author of “Our Babies, Ourselves: How Culture and Biology Shape the Way we Parent.” “Without that kind of attachment, we grow up without the interpersonal skills to make relationships.”

Myth: Normal parents bond right away with their babies.

Reality: It often takes time to feel really connected to a new baby. If you’re caring for your child—holding him, feeding him, cuddling with him—even if you don’t feel deeply connected, you’re doing what you need to do. The bonding will come, in its own time.

“Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t immediately swoon over the screaming, wet miracle that just gave you stretch marks and a prolapsed bladder,” says my friend Holly who found bonding with all three of her children to take more time than expected. “Just put in the time—the bonding will come.”

Meredith Small agrees. “You’ve met a new friend,” she says, “and just like meeting a new friend you both need to get to know one another.”

Myth: You fall in love with your baby and think he's as adorable as ____________ [insert favorite good looking actor's name here].

Reality: Babies have misshaped heads, scaly skin, half-closed eyes, acne, and a host of other not-so-perfect-looking features. Even if you would deny it vehemently, you may actually find your newborn bizarre-looking at best and unattractive at worst. This, like so many things in your life with the baby, will change.

Myth: Even after a hard labor, the pain is quickly forgotten and parents feel instantly connected to the new baby.

Reality: A physically traumatic labor often requires a longer recovery and may mean that it takes longer to bond. Disappointment, feelings of failure (over an unexpected C-section, for example), and postpartum recovery may all take attention temporarily away from the newborn and shake your self-esteem. For new dads who have watched their wives suffer, concern for your spouse's health may make it harder to focus on the baby.

That’s what happened to Margot Finke of Newburg, Oregon, when her son was born. Although she had no trouble bonding with her first two babies, her third labor exhausted her to the point of apathy. “The labor was long and then suddenly stopped,” says Finke. “I needed artificial hormones to get the contractions going again, and after many more long and miserable hours of labor, out he popped. I took a look at him and thought, ‘Who cares!’ I rolled over and went to sleep.”

“After a long hard labor, it’s no wonder women sometimes feel great distance from this little stranger who has arrived to take over their lives,” says Small. “Bonding is not instantaneous, but a process—a relationship that grows from being together over time.”

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Why Babies Do That

Willow Creek Press used to only publish gorgeous books with incredible photographs about non-human animals. They had a series of books, Why Dogs Do That, Why Cats Do That, Why Birds Do That, and Why Horses Do That, that were popular and selling well. Based on the success of those books, they decided they wanted to do a book called Why Babies Do That. The result was Why Babies Do That: Baffling Baby Behavior Explained, which was published in 2005.

Friday, February 8, 2008

How to Soothe a Crying Baby?

I remember the inconsolable shriek of a newborn in the hospital room next door to ours. I’m so glad that’s not our baby, I thought selfishly. Ours made small mouse-like noises, “ut ut ut ut,” when she wanted to nurse, and calmed instantly when I responded. But the baby next door screamed as if being tortured.

When my second child was born those other parents had their revenge. Baby Athena cried terribly and often, piercing eardrums and sanity with urgent screams.

Whether your child murmurs or wails, the cry of a baby is often heart wrenching. Some moms even feel panicky when their newborns cry. “I was intimidated out of my mind,” our friend Katelyn confided, looking back on her first days with Aidan. Recovering from an emergency C-section, Katelyn’s solution was to pass her son to her husband, who was much less affected by Aidan’s cries. “I felt like I was thrust into a new world that no one had prepared me for,” she said. “There was so much to do to keep this tiny person alive.”

Babies cry to communicate—that they are hungry, wet, tired, uncomfortable, or needing to be held—but it's often not easy to understand what they're saying.

One of the scariest moments in a new parent’s life is when your baby cries and you don’t know what to do.

But you may understand more than you think. “Parents know their children whether they know it or not,” says Jessie Payne of Turner’s Falls, Massachusetts. “You sense what they want or need in a visceral way that may not always be conscious.”

Jessie and her hubby had a foolproof method to soothe her son who was colicky for his first five weeks and would have long crying jags in the evening. Even though Kai was born in the winter, Jessie or her husband would brave the cold and leave the house. “Literally every time we would take him outside he would calm down,” she remembers. “Getting outside always shifted the mood.”

For our friend Eve, who lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, changing her daughter’s diaper was the only way to calm her. Ruthie, the fussiest of the Page-Weinbaum’s three children, got her diaper changed a lot. “Wiping her bottom was the only thing that would help. We would change her all day long.”

When your baby cries it may be that picking her up from the crib or bouncy chair is all that she needs (after all, we all like company). Make sure he’s not hungry (newborns go through sometimes unpredictable growth spurts and can become ravenous even though it’s not “on schedule”). Check that your baby’s diaper is dry and that he is not too hot or too cold. If your baby is shrieking (and isn’t usually a screamer), a tag from his clothing or an errant pin in that fancy little dress may be the culprit.

Ways for dads and moms to keep cool with a fussy baby:

1. Wear earplugs to take the edge off

2. Go on a hike to calm your nerves and the baby's

3. Put on some music and hip hop with da bébé

4. Take a bath or a shower together (warm water works wonders but beware: newborns especially are slippery)

5. Ask for help: pass the whining wee one off to a calmer adult

6. Take up recreational drug use

Thursday, February 7, 2008

They Aren't This Cute When They're first born

This adorable creature is 7-month-old Luis. Newborns don't look anything like this: they don't smile, they can't hold their heads up, they often have acne and stork bites and misshapen heads. If you are secretly wondering if you have an alien baby, don't despair. As you learn to bond with your baby, he grows cuter every day. Just look at Luis.

Bonding Before the Baby's Even Born

Five months before our daughter was born, we started keeping a journal for her. As we wrote in the journal we worried something might happen to end the pregnancy. That made keeping written notes of the gestation and early days even more important.

Dear Chickpea (that’s what we call you because, even though you’re bigger now, once you were the size of a chickpea),

Last week you were in the rain forest in Costa Rica and you had a bath in volcanic hot springs. We also went on a tree canopy tour. First I climbed up a ladder, attached to an 800-year-old kapok tree, that was 80 feet high. Up in the top of the trees we were attached to a steel cable and, like Tarzan, and we swung from one platform to another. Your father loved it; he wasn’t afraid at all. My hands started sweating from fear but after realizing I wasn’t going to fall, I started enjoying it too.

We saw a family of howler monkeys. They are small and have dark brown fur. When they feel threatened they make a ferocious roaring noise. They found us completely unthreatening though. One monkey decided to urinate right on us, to show us who really had the upper hand.

We like to talk to you, even though you probably can’t hear very well yet. James plays you classical music by putting the speakers on my growing belly. He says you talked to him and told him if you were a boy or a girl (we’re not going to find out), but he won’t tell me what you said. I tell him it’s not good to encourage secrets from Mommy at such an early age. So we compromised. He’s going to write down what you said and put it in a sealed envelope. After you’re born I’ll open the envelope to see if he was right.

Dear Chickpea,

We saw you on the sonogram this morning! Even though I can’t always feel it, you move around all the time. Your feet were crossed Indian style and you looked very happy, energetic, and well protected. We got to see the four chambers of your heart, and watch it beat, and we also saw you sucking and drinking amniotic fluid. We have some pictures that the technician printed out for us. She said you weigh about 14 ounces.

Dear Chickpea,

My bellybutton, always an innie, has started to protrude. You and I went on a bike ride today, along the bike path. Last night James and I saw the newest Star Trek movie. You kicked ferociously throughout. You were the only one of the three of us who got excited by the movie (and I worried it was too loud and overwhelming for you), which was terrible.

Dear Chickpea,

The doctors told us I was “measuring small” (It’s hard to imagine that it’s really true. I feel like I’m as big as a house). My theory about it is that it’s because I’ve been exercising a lot. This week I’ve gone biking or swimming every day. Yesterday I swam 40 laps. The cool water and feeling of buoyancy are invigorating and relaxing at the same time. Before I was pregnant I loved going downhill at breakneck speed (your father was usually more cautious), now I try to be careful but I still bike fast. As I write this, lying on my left side, your feet are pitter-pattering below my right ribs.

Today James learned that a peachick is the offspring of a peahen and a peacock. You’re our little peachick. On the sonogram you had lots of hair and stick-outy ears.

Dear Chickpea,

People look at me oddly when I’m carrying a big box or bicycling swiftly. At the grocery store (a funky organic foods place) the dredlocked man at the checkout counter saw my helmet and asked me where my bike was, “You pregnant?” he said with a smile. “Still riding your bike!” He wasn’t judgmental, just admiring.

“I’m not handicapped,” I told him, “just encumbered.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about labor—I try to imagine the terrible pain of a contraction and then imagine myself relaxing through it, paying attention to the pain but not fighting it. It’s a good pain—the more intense it is, the more it’s working to bring you closer to me. I already love you so much—the thought of getting to see you makes any pain seem bearable.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Do You Want a Boy or a Girl?

“I really wanted a boy,” my mother said of her first pregnancy. We were sitting side by side at a faux Japanese restaurant where the food is prepared at an enormous grill in the middle of the table. I had left my three children at home with my husband so my mother and I could spend some time together. A handsome Korean twirled his spatula in the air. “And I had a boy.” My mother looked pleased. In one deft movement, the chef squirted teriyaki sauce on the tofu on the grill.  

“Then I really wanted a boy,” she laughed. The chef added a heaping portion of white spaghetti to the tofu. “And I had a boy.” My mother looked smug.  

The chef flipped the tofu dish onto my plate and shot a mass of oil onto the grill. It started to sizzle. At a nearby table I heard the squeal of delighted customers. Their chef was hurling shrimp directly into their open mouths. Although there was space for ten others, the rest of our table was empty.  

“Then,” my mother continued, “I REALLY wanted a boy.” Something in the way she said this—her emphasis on the word really and her forced exuberance perhaps—made me suspect she wasn’t really telling the truth. I looked down at the tofu and spaghetti on my plate. This restaurant had been my mother’s idea. “And I had a boy!” she exclaimed.  

Okay, boys are great. I like boys. My brother will never forgive me for asking this question But does anyone really want three kids of the same gender in a row?

“Then,” my mother paused for a moment and pointed at me, “I really wanted a girl.” Her voice was full of remembering how much she wanted me to be a girl. “And I had you.”

When we were pregnant for the first time, we really wanted a healthy baby. Forget counting fingers and toes. If some of those were missing, I knew I wouldn’t care. The bigger issues worried us. We hoped for a baby who was mentally okay and who did not have a crippling physical ailment. We didn’t want a boy or a girl per se, we wanted a living breathing baby.

So when I was eight and a half months pregnant and my doctor looked at my small measurements and ordered an immediate sonogram, I panicked. She mumbled something about wanting to rule out “inter-uterine growth retardation.” Then she clicked her pen closed and walked out of the room. I had been exercising a lot during my pregnancy. We lived in Atlanta then and I would zoom down the bike path in a sports bra and tight shorts with my enormous belly (I don’t care what the doctor thought, it seemed enormous to me) hanging out.

“You go girl!” African-American women would call out to me. So I’d pedal faster, leaving open-mouthed teenagers in my wake. 

Feeling better after six and a half months of toe curling nausea, I was in the best shape in my life. Still, I was too superstitious to have a baby shower or to buy anything in advance except one tiny little pink and yellow striped outfit. No crib. No changing table. No clothes.

The sonogram confirmed that the baby was fine. Then, ten days before my due date and more than three weeks before we expected her—we were sure the firstborn would be late—we were flying home on our bicycles over jagged potholes and terrific bumps and my water broke.

Twenty-two hours later my daughter was born. When it was clear that she was strong and healthy I finally had the luxury of admitting that I had been lying to myself. I had really wanted a girl after all.

Table of Contents

The book is divided into twenty chapters. Here they are.

Chapter One: Newborn Bonding
Chapter Two: Carrying
Chapter Three: Skin to Skin
Chapter Four: Comforting
Chapter Five: Diapering
Chapter Six: Dressing
Chapter Seven: Going Places
Chapter Eight: Face Time
Chapter Nine: Bonding at Bedtime & Bathtime
Chapter Ten: Epicurious
Chapter Eleven: Bonding in Nature
Chapter Twelve: Napping
Chapter Thirteen: Baby Wrestling
Chapter Fourteen: Singing
Chapter Fifteen: Reading to Baby
Chapter Sixteen: Exercising Baby & Daddy
Chapter Seventeen: Playing Ball
Chapter Eighteen: Getting in the Picture
Chapter Nineteen: Writing to Your Baby
Chapter Twenty: Talking