Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Crunchy Parenting in Tucson: From Pregnancy to Baby


When I moved to Tucson a decade ago for grad school, I didn’t realize that I was moving to the bestest town for the hippie-dippy parenting journey that I would eventually undertake. I had no idea what kind of parent I would be—or if I would even want to be a parent. But as the years went by I traded my diabolical Procter and Gamble face wash for local jojoba oil and started washing my hair with baking soda. In the process it became clear to me that I wanted to have a child and that I wanted everything about that child’s world to be as natural and healthy as possible—starting with the prenatal care and delivery.

My first choice for prenatal care was an Evenki shaman but he wasn’t taking new patients. I therefore just slathered on some coconut oil and made an appointment at the midwives’ empire known as The Birth Center (formally, The Birth and Women’s Health Center—An El Rio Clinic). After two miscarriages we finally got a pregnancy to stick and I set my sights upon a fully natural, medication-free water birth. I expected to wear a Baltic amber necklace and call it good. Of course, I landed at Tucson Medical Center on Pitocin and a big fat epidural instead, but that’s a story for another post. (In a word: pre-eclampsia).

My partner and I joined a pregnancy and delivery education group offered by the Birth Center, where we made a number of friends expecting to become parents around the same time as us.  It was wonderful to be a part of the group as it met periodically throughout the entire pregnancy and we gradually got to know people as we went through similar stages. In this group I learned about Hypnobirthing classes offered in the evenings at University of Arizona Medical Center (Now Banner University Medical Center). At an affordable $125, I figured why not. Developed by a Marie Mongan, one of Hypnobirthing’s main premises is that labor doesn’t have to hurt if a woman trains herself to trust the process. This is done through hypnosis, deep relaxation, breathing, education, affirmations and visualization. I was already into yoga, meditation, the power of the mind and making my own granola, so hypnobirthing was a perfect fit for me. Seriously though, look up hypnobirth videos on YouTube and you will see a whole slew of home videos where women peacefully “breathe a baby down” until it quietly slides out of the vagina as it blossoms like a beautiful flower. 

There are definitely some things about the book—Hypnobirthing: The Mongan Method—that didn't work for me, but I simply endeavored to mentally substitute them with things that did (and the author encourages this). For example, one of the affirmations recorded on the accompanying disk is read by a woman with an uppity British accent: "My birth will be easy because I am so confident and relaxed." I can't handle it because it sounds like "I have chosen a better birth method because I am obviously better than most people." Also, I, like many, recoil from the word "easy" due to the deeply-ingrained notion that labor is called that for a reason. You can substitute the word "pain" for the words "intense sensation" but the truth is it will still hurt like the dickens.

Certainly, there can be a lot of discomfort involved in labor and pregnancy, but Tucson features a number of talented body work specialists and alternative medicine practitioners who can help. I took Deep Water Aerobics at the YMCA downtown where I regained confidence in my sex appeal after being hit on by a grandfather doing the doggy paddle. I also took prenatal yoga at Tucson Yoga, where cat/cow pose took on a whole new meaning. My chiropractor offered some great physical therapy exercises and a few vaguely sexual adjustment sessions. And when I was tired of it all and needed some effortless relief, I got acupuncture from Charlie Roach Acupuncture on Campbell; nothing like a hundred tiny pricks. Did I mention that pregnant women can be very horny?

Fortunately our baby was born on one of the first warm days of spring. Fighting the baby blues is easy in Tucson if a woman is lucky enough to not give birth in the months of June, July, August or September. Most of the year the weather makes going for walks with baby convenient. Getting out of the house and into the sunshine can be challenging early on but is so beneficial. (Check out Hike It Baby on Facebook for support with that.) No matter when you birth, though, you can sign up your newborn for free mom and baby swim classes during their first six months at the indoor DeMont Family Swim School; it’s super fun and your baby will nap hard afterwards, allowing you to drive through a Starbucks in peace. Some report that eating the placenta can also be very effective for fending off post-partum depression. I fried mine up and ate it with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. Just kidding. My partner wouldn’t let me use our kitchen for that. Instead I had it encapsulated by Tucson Doulas (intotheworldbirth.com). They even desiccated the umbilical cord in the form of the word “love.” (I wanted the word “delicious” but it was too long.)

Socializing is also key for keeping the post-partum mood lifted. The Birth Center’s Baby Love Group became the cornerstone of my week. It’s free and doesn’t require registration. It’s a great opportunity for babies and their parents meet weekly to hang out and learn about things like baby massage, essential oils, baby proofing, and generally compare notes. Another place Tucson moms go to meet is Mom Baby Yoga at Tucson Yoga. I consider it a great place to feel like I’m doing something about that weird floppy stretch-marked pancake stomach I’m left with after the birth of my child, besides putting coconut oil on it. Disclaimer: Mom Baby Yoga sounds like it is going to be all adorable and zen, but it can be a shit show—a room full of crying babies sticking to sweaty mamas with nerves frayed from trying to sneak in one $6 downward dog between diaper changing and breastfeeding. I still recommend it, though.

Tucson’s parents’ online presence is also robust, and there are a number of Facebook groups where parents, particularly moms, can meet virtually to give each other support, advice, and buy/sell/swap baby goods. My favorite group is Badass Breastfeeding Tucson Moms (1500+ members), because these mamas don’t play. They are fully dedicated to breastfeeding anywhere, anytime, and until their babies are any age. And if anyone makes a comment or a face at you while nursing in public, just post their home address in this group and dead animals will start appearing on that poor fool’s lawn! The group wall is often wallpapered with brelfies (breastfeeding selfies. Get with the program.)  But for reals, Arizona law protects breastfeeding in public, stating that a mother may breastfeed in any place she is otherwise authorized to be, and breastfeeding cannot legally qualify as indecent exposure (See Title 13 of the Criminal Code, 1402.B.) That said, while online and legal support is great, sometimes you just need a real live stranger to flick your nipples and tell you you’re doing it wrong. This is where lactation consultants who do house calls like Mama’s Latte come in. I’ve also heard La Leche League meetings are excellent for those seeking to troubleshoot their lactation woes and get support. And new in town is Milk and Honey, a specialized breastfeeding and postpartum support center.

Another active online group is Tucson Babywearers (1400+ members), who post all day long about ring slings, Tulas, Moby wraps, Ergos, Kinderpacks, Líllébabies, Infantinos, etc, If you don’t know what those are, that’s okay. Neither do I. Oh alright, I confess; I wear my own squish around in a cotton gauze Moby-wrap type wrap I got on Etsy. One of the coolest things about Tucson Babywearers is their monthly lending library event where you can borrow different wraps and carriers for a month and see how you like them before you go out and buy what can sometimes end up being a very expensive carrier. 

Tucson Cloth Diaper and Baby Fluff Lovers (600+ members) post about, you guessed it: cloth diapers (which also come in a stunning array of types and brands.) This is a good place to buy/sell/swap cloth diapers, but the drawback of buying anything in one of these groups is the extra work you have to put in to coordinate a pick-up, and often the people who have what you want basically live in South Phoenix or North Mexico. That’s when Little Bird Nesting Company on Broadway comes in handy. They specialize in gently-used baby everything, and really, baby stuff is outgrown so quickly that it doesn’t always make much sense to buy new. If you find a blemish on something, just rub a little coconut oil on it.

Once babies get bigger there are a number of free activities and groups about town. My LO (Little One—you gotta get with the lingo if you want to have a baby!) is still pretty small, but we have heard great things about the story times hosted by the different public library branches and some of the classes offered by Parks and Recreation.

Being a crunchy parent in Tucson is more fun than I imagined—but I had a hunch. I suppose that’s part of the reason why we named our daughter Sonora after this wonderful desert, and in honor of this wonderful desert town where she was lucky enough to be born and where she is (too) quickly growing up.