The Blue Spring (Dust if you must, but the world’s out there)

A few weeks ago, on a late summer’s day, we went for a walk to the Blue Spring in Putaruru, where most of New Zealand’s bottled water flows from.

The water is a magical blue colour, with bright green weeds that call you to watch out for freshwater nymphs swimming beneath the ripples. Madelyn rode on my back, and we filled our drink bottles with fresh water and ate lunch beside the spring while our friends swam in the freezing water.

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There, in the beauty and the sun, we found this poem, in honour of Linda Margaret Pearce, who passed away on the 18th October, 2003. It is so perfect.

Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
To paint a picture or write a letter
Bake a cake or plant a seed
Ponder the difference between want and need

Dust if you must, but the world’s out there
With the sun in your eyes, the wind in your hair
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain
This day will not come around again

Dust if you must, but there’s not much time
With rivers to swim and mountains to climb
Music to hear and books to read
Friends to cherish and life to lead

Dust if you must, but bear in mind
The time will come and it’s not kind
And when you go, and go you must
You yourself will make more dust

Infants are “effectively being killed” by the practice of co-sleeping

There has been a lot of focus in the New Zealand media lately about the practice of co-sleeping, and the occurrence of infant deaths as a result. I know this, despite not owning a TV and avoiding the newspaper in my hormonal state, because people keep telling me, upon learning that we co-sleep, “Oh, but did you hear that they’re finding now it’s actually really dangerous?”

It has been interesting, reading the recent articles, as well as other articles from around the world in recent years.

It is important to note that New Zealand parents, upon the birth of their child, are given information on Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Most parents are given a pamphlet distributed by Change For Our Children, which provides a list of the factors which make a baby more vulnerable to sudden death. These are:

  • Exposure to tobacco, both during and after pregnancy
  • Born before 36 weeks gestation
  • Weighing less than 2500 grams at birth
  • Not breastfed

Being unwell is also said to weaken a baby’s drive to breathe. Parents are also advised to sleep their baby face up and face clear, on a firm mattress with no adult bedding, no pillows, and no soft toys. If there is alcohol, drugs or partying around the baby, parents are told to ensure a sober person is with the baby.

The recent focus on bed-sharing in the media has been spurred by the fifty-five to sixty deaths of infants that have occurred during the night as said infant slept in the same bed as another person each year for the past four years (NZ Herald, ‘Co-sleeping baby deaths ‘like an epidemic,’ says coroner‘).

The death of Ivan Karaitiana in September 2011, at four months old, is one recent example that has been used in this campaign against bed-sharing and co-sleeping. Bed-sharing is being named as the culprit in little Ivan’s death, which has been ruled as SUDI. However, in reading the recent details of his death, it is clear that there were more prominent risk factors involved,

“[Ivan] was 6 ½ weeks premature and weighed 4lb 8oz (2.04kg) when he was born at Hutt Hospital…Cherie slept with Ivan in the double bed where they would normally top and tail, and his siblings slept in bunk beds…On the night before he died, Ms Karaitiana fed him formula and put him to bed, covered by a polar fleece baby blanket and a larger mink blanket.”
(NZ Herald, ‘Co-sleeping baby deaths ‘like an epidemic,’ says coroner‘ bold effects added by me)

Not only did Ivan have a very low birth weight, he was premature, so his lung function was potentially not as developed as it would have been, had he been full term. This is a known risk factor for SUDI. Further to that, he was not exclusively breastfed, providing the potential for the suppression of hormones which allow the mother to mimic her baby’s sleeping patterns. He was also covered by adult bedding, which placed the baby at risk for suffocation. The article also mentions that Ivan’s two older siblings also slept in the same room, as they had moved in with their grandfather due to financial difficulties.

Almost as an afterthought, right at the end of  the quoted article, the reporter adds, “[Ivan’s mother] had drunk a bottle of wine and smoked cannabis before going to bed“. Any baby, whether in the adult’s bed or not, is arguably placed in danger when their caregiver has consumed an entire bottle of wine and taken drugs.

Five month old Roretana Holland died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (now commonly synonymous with SUDI) in July 2010, while sharing a bed with his four year old sibling. The coroner was reported to have said that Roretana’s death was “another tragedy involving co-sleeping arrangements for infants as well as other matters highlighted by the pathologist” (The Dominion Post, ‘Infant died in bed with sibling‘), though it is important to note that this is not a direct quote of the coroner. However, closer reading of the article which details the coroner’s findings reveal again that bed-sharing, as attachment parents use it, was not the most prominent problem,

“The baby, one of four children aged under-five, co-slept with his four-year-old sister. All four children shared the same bedroom because they relied on a single oil heater for warmth. “Bedding consisted of a duvet cover acting as a mattress protector with a sheet over the top with a queen sized mink blanket (this was an unzipped sleeping bag). The children each had their own pillow.” On the night Roretana died he was given formula and pureed food before being put to bed at 7pm… Dr Kerry Thornbury of the Ora Toa Cannons Creek Medical Centre said the baby had been developing well, though had suffered skin infections, which were treated with Penicillin. There had been some concern about possible family violence but attempts to engage the Tamariki Well child nurse had been unsuccessful. The coroner’s decision stated that the mother had smoked throughout her pregnancy and drank alcohol, though gave up the latter when she found out she was pregnant after two months.”
(The Dominion Post, ‘Infant died in bed with sibling‘, bold effects added by me)

Roretana was not sleeping next to his exclusively breastfeeding, teetotaling, drug-free, healthy weight mother. He was sleeping with a very young sibling, out of necessity due to poverty. He was not sleeping on a firm, safe matress, but on a duvet cover, with adult bedding keeping him warm. The article seems to suggest that he may have been using a pillow, and if he wasn’t, his head was certainly next to a pillow, as his sibling used one. He was not exclusively breastfed, he was at least given formula at night, and was already being fed solids. He was not in perfect health, and was taking antibiotics. There is speculation that there may have been family violence in his household. And, perhaps most significantly, he had been exposed to tobacco from the time his mother had been pregnant with him.

The death of three month old ‘Baby N’ in June 2010 is being used as another example of why parents should not share their bed with their baby, despite it being clear that co-sleeping was one of several significant risk factors involved in his death,

“[Baby N] was born prematurely in Wellington Hospital in March last year, weighing just 785 gramsExposure to tobacco smoke and sleeping in the same bed as his parents against medical advice, on top of a premature birth also likely contributed…After being readmitted to Hawke’s Bay Regional Hospital with vomiting and lethargy he was discharged but died at home later that night. Staff at the hospital were concerned about his parents smoking, and that they shared a bed with the baby. Mr Devonport said asphyxiation caused by Sudden Unexpected Infant Death  was the main cause of death. ”[But Baby N] should have slept in his own cot, appropriately positioned with his face clear, and preferably with an apnoea alarm attached.””
(The Dominion Post, ‘Baby died needlessly, coroner finds‘)

Baby N was born prematurely, and very underweight. Guidelines given to New Zealand parents suggest that babies born under 2500 grams are at a higher risk for SUDI. Baby N was less than half of this weight. He had also been exposed to tobacco, and had been in hospital that day with vomiting and lethargy, where concerns had been raised about the safety of co-sleeping for this particular baby. This was a baby known to have been very at risk of SUDI, and he should not have been in bed with his parents. But this does not automatically prove that co-sleeping for healthy babies of a normal weight is dangerous.

Kompton Renata Joseph’s 2009 death, at the age of one month, is particularly frustrating for the coroner involved, as his parents admitted to co-sleeping with their new baby at the time of Kompton’s inquest. But, as in the cases above, co-sleeping does not appear to be the whole problem.

“Kompton Renata Joseph, aged one month, was found dead in his parents’ bed after they woke in the morning…About 5am parents Lesley and Kirsty Joseph went to bed after drinking bourbon mixers with Mr Joseph’s brother, Lance. Ms Joseph began to feed the baby in bed but then fell asleep. When she woke about 9am she found the baby lying in the bed between her and her husband, with a “purple face”. An autopsy found Kompton died of sudden unexplained death in infants, or Sudi.”
(The Dominion Post, ‘Sleeping with baby earns coroner’s ire‘)

The parents had both been drinking alcohol. Kompton appears to have been breastfed, but if his mother was consuming a fair amount of alcohol on a regular basis, I do wonder whether this may have effected him. Certainly, he was not in a safe environment with both of his caregivers being under the influence of central-nervous-system depressants.

Interestingly, it is the same coroner who looked into Kompton’s death, as Ivan’s. In the article detailing Kompton’s death, the said coroner, Wallace Bain,  is quoted as having blamed co-sleeping for the death of the baby, “The country needs to get serious, but I’m not sure how long it will take to get the message through. It is an absolute no-no.” (The Dominion Post, ‘Sleeping with baby earns coroner’s ire‘) I can understand why Bain may be getting frustrated at the regular occurence of infant deaths. But I would argue that co-sleeping is not the problem.

Deliberate co-sleeping can be just as safe as any other sleeping arrangement. According to The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, studies have shown that a breastfeeding mother will naturally sleep facing her baby, with her lower elbow forward and her legs curled up underneath the baby. A sober, breastfeeding mother of a healthy weight will not roll over onto her baby. A later blog will discuss how to safely co-sleep, but rest assured it does not involve tobacco, alcohol, pillows and adult bedding, nor does it involve sleeping with a baby who is known to be vulnerable to sudden death.

In all four of the deaths discussed above, the parents were users of tobacco and/or alcohol. In two of the four deaths, the co-sleeping was acknowledged to have occurred because of financial difficulties. At least two of the four babies were formula fed. Where birth weight is provided, it is under 2500 grams, and both of these babies were premature. Co-sleeping itself is not the danger, it is co-sleeping coupled with known risk factors that proves to be a danger to babies.

Parent, talk to your child about the end of the world

A lot of what I do is based around building relationships with children and young people. I have had thousands of conversations over the last few years, ranging from the mundane to the really serious stuff. The conversations I have with these fabulous little people allow me to have great insight into what is on their minds. One thing that I have noticed a lot lately is the anxiety that children, particularly 7 and 8 year olds, feel about death, dying and the end of the world. Often, I am the first adult they have had the chance to talk to about this, which makes me really sad because it means their parents aren’t talking to them.

I know 7 and 8 year olds are babies, and they seem way too young to need to know about this stuff, but they are picking up bits and pieces and without an adult to talk things through with, they’re getting afraid. This is particularly so with this year being 2012, the year the world is supposed to end. Parent, you need to talk to your child about this. Pretending it isn’t an issue won’t help. They need to know that there is nothing to worry about. Here are the three most common questions I am asked on this topic (my answers are based on what I would say to an averagely intelligent 7 or 8 year old):

1) What happens to you after you die? 
I know many parents choose not to tell their children their beliefs about an afterlife, preferring to let them figure out their own beliefs. I challenge you to tell your child what your beliefs are. She will figure out her own beliefs as an adult regardless of what you tell her – children go against their parents’ beliefs all the time. At this age, children are developing their core values. These will have been developed, for the most part, by age 10. They are figuring out the world, and they need your guidance in doing so. You can start with “I believe…” and finish with a disclaimer that they may believe differently, and that’s okay, if you want, but give them something. Even if it’s “I believe that dying is like having a really long sleep.”
When talking to children in a religious context who ask this question, I say, assuming I have explained the concept of sin and Jesus’ sacrifice:

“The really cool thing about Jesus is that He died in our place, so that when we die we can go to Heaven and be with God. The Bible says Heaven is a really awesome place, with only good things. When our bodies die, our souls (the part of you inside that holds all your thoughts and feelings) go to Heaven. Our souls already know the way, so we don’t need to worry that we won’t know how to get there.”

Hidden questions (the real reason they’re asking) include: Will I know anyone in Heaven/the afterlife/where ever? Will you be there? Will I be lonely and afraid? How will I know how to get there?

2) Is the world going to end in December?
There are adults who have fallen for the hysteria surrounding this, so is it any wonder that children are falling for it? Yes, it is true that the 21st of December 2012 brings to a close the 13th Bak’tun, and almost 400-year long period in the Mayan long-count calendar. But this is like the year ending on our calendar. It’s the end of an old phase, and the beginning of a new one. There is nothing to suggest that it predicts either the end of the world, or a phase in which the world will decline to it’s eventual end. If you are still convinced that there is serious cause for concern, I point you back towards Y2K, when the new millennium was starting and everyone thought that the computers weren’t going to handle the changeover and subsequently the world was going to descend into chaos and then end. Or the countless times a “prophet” has predicted the coming of Christ, and then that day has passed like a normal day. Or the days dated 666 in some way.
With that in mind, I confidently tell children:

“When I was just a little bit older then you are, everyone thought the world was going to end because it was the new millennium and they were worried all technology would fail. I went to bed that night and I was so, so, so scared that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. But I woke up the next morning, and guess what! The world hadn’t ended! And the world isn’t going to end in December, either. Some people like to say they know when the world will end, but it never comes true. There is nothing to worry about.”

I say this which such confidence because not only is it probably not going to happen, but if it does we’re not going to know about it, because we’ll all be dead. Children don’t yet know how to discern truth from scare tactics from the media. They haven’t had enough life experience to know that predictions such as this don’t tend to result in the world’s end actually happening. The last thing they need is adults buying into the hysteria and scaring them more.

3) When will the world end?
This one usually directly follows the above question. If it’s not going to end this year, when will it end? Spiritually speaking, Jesus could come again at any time. But no one knows when that time will be. The Bible is very, very clear about that. A lot of Christians think that the time is near because current events seem to line up with the prophecies in the Bible. But they have done so since the beginning of time. You don’t think they thought the same thing in either of the World Wars? In the Dark Ages? During the periods of revolutions? The writers of the New Testament clearly thought it would happen any day. No body knows when Jesus will return. Physically speaking, when scientists say “soon,” they are talking within the context of several billion years. Remember that when reading about global warming, imminent eruptions, etc.

“No one knows exactly when the world will end, but chances are it won’t happen while you are still alive. It will probably be thousands of years from now.”

This question scares us all, because we don’t like the idea that we can’t control what will happen. I think that’s why people get so caught up in end-of-the-world predictions. If we can predict it, we can prepare ourselves. The world might end in December, but you might be in an accident and die next week and therefore never know about it. Worrying does nothing to prolong our lives. God knows what each one of our days holds, and no matter what happens between now and the end, all will be alright in the end.