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Every Reader Deserves an End to Dan Savage’s “Mother/Father” Posts

June 9th, 2011 No comments

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I was just forwarded a press release, indicating that Dan Savage is about to receive a special “Webby” award for his ground-breaking “It Gets Better” series. He should. It’s really broadened the dialogue about the complex challenges that face many of our LGBT (and, especially important in talking about teens, Q) youth. The entire nation — not “just” those of us in the LGBT community — owe him a huge thanks. As I write in this week’s 365gay column, the idea is so obviously good that it’s only surprising that no one thought of it sooner.

But in this same column, I go after Savage for his just juvenile “Every Child Deserves a Mother and a Father” posts. These exploitative, peep-show pieces portray heterosexual couples who have done awful things to their kids. Here’s a little snippet from the column, for which I’m expecting substantial blowback. But I still think I’m right about this:

[W]hat is Savage trying to say in this series? That some of the mothers and fathers out there are capable of doing terrible things to their kids? Everyone knows that. Sadly, everyone also knows that some same-sex parents have done equally terrible things.

And these are exactly the sorts of examples we might expect the most ignorant of our right-wing opponents to use against us. Stooping to their level, while it may gratify some visceral urge for revenge, is hardly contributing to the real debates and issues that surround the fight for equality and dignity for all families.

And we hope (or anyway, we need to hope) that most parents – whether single, or partnered with either a same- or opposite-sex person – are doing the best they can, given their circumstances. Every child deserves good parents, we might better say. Demonizing the majority to make a point about the ignorance of our worst-intentioned opponents is just irresponsible, especially for someone with as broad an audience as Savage enjoys (mostly deservedly).

[T]here’s a certain childishness to these posts; Savage is peeved at those who say, in the face of clear and contradictory evidence, that kids only thrive with opposite-sex parents.

So am I.

Like Savage, I’m a gay parent, and at times I feel a petty urge to compare my wonderful children to kids being poorly raised or served by their opposite-sex parents. But it IS a petty urge, and we shouldn’t give in to it, our justified frustration notwithstanding.

Kangaroo Care and The Connection Between Parents and Our Infants

December 14th, 2010 No comments

It’s common wisdom that marsupial mammals are a more primitive life-form than their placental cousins, surviving only in unusually favorable niches — like Australia, with few predators (or, in the case of the “New World” opossum, the fact that the animal lives in trees and is nocturnal). But this story about “kangaroo care” is a heart-warming reminder that this narrative is too simple. One Dr. Edgar Rey, of Bogota, Colombia, figured out a simple yet ingenious way to deal with the shortage of incubators in his hospital:

What is the purpose of an incubator? It is to keep a baby warm, oxygenated and nourished — to simulate as closely as possible the conditions of the womb. There is another mechanism for accomplishing these goals, Rey reasoned, the same one that cared for the baby during its months of gestation. Rey also felt, something that probably all mothers feel intuitively: that one reason babies in incubators did so poorly was that they were separated from their mothers. Was there a way to avoid the incubator by employing the baby’s mother instead?

What he came up with is an idea now known as kangaroo care. Aspects of kangaroo care are now in use even in wealthy countries — most hospitals in the United States, for example, have adopted some kangaroo care practices. But its real impact has been felt in poor countries, where it has saved countless preemies’ lives and helped others to survive with fewer problems.

In Rey’s system, a mother of a preemie puts the baby on her exposed chest, dressed only in a diaper and sometimes a cap, in an upright or semi-upright position. The baby is strapped in by a scarf or other cloth sling supporting its bottom, and all but its head is covered by mom’s shirt. The mother keeps the baby like that, skin-to-skin, as much as possible, even sleeping in a reclining chair. Fathers and other relatives or friends can wear the baby as well to give the mother a break. Even very premature infants can go home with their families (with regular follow-up visits) once they are stable and their mothers are given training.

The babies stay warm, their own temperature regulated by the sympathetic biological responses that occur when mother and infant are in close physical contact. The mother’s breasts, in fact, heat up or cool down depending on what the baby needs. The upright position helps prevent reflux and apnea. Feeling the mother’s breathing and heartbeat helps the babies to stabilize their own heart and respiratory rates. They sleep more. They can breastfeed at will, and the constant contact encourages the mother to produce more milk. Babies breastfeed earlier and gain more weight.

The physical closeness encourages emotional closeness, which leads to lower rates of abandonment of premature infants. This was a serious problem among the patients of Rey’s hospital; without being able to hold and bond with their babies, some mothers had little attachment to counter their feelings of being overwhelmed with the burdens of having a preemie. But kangaroo care also had enormous benefits for parents. Every parent, I think, can understand the importance of holding a baby instead of gazing at him in an incubator. With kangaroo care, parents and baby go through less stress. Nurses who practice kangaroo care also report that mothers also feel more confident and effective because they are the heroes in their babies’ care, instead of passive bystanders watching a mysterious process from a distance.

This story struck a chord with me. Like so many parents, I can recall having my kids — two at the same time, in my case — lying on my chest, all three of us falling asleep to the rhythm of our breathing. The physical connection deepened the emotional bond between us, and created something beyond my poor powers of description. Among the many ineffable joys of parenting, that one will always occupy a special place in my heart.