Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Evolutionary Psychology of Andrea Yates

The Texas woman who drowned her 5 children in a bathtub has been on my mind nearly non-stop since my husband, Mr. Field Notes, was told by his new psychology prof that evolutionary psychology has nothing to say about the case, because her genes died with the kids, whereas the other perspectives of psychology do.

I have been trying to keep from going bananas about it. After all, he is only taking the class to satisfy a dumb prerequisite required for what he really wants to study. And it's only a dumb requirement because he already has a much larger knowledge of psychology than most students who take intro retain even after 6 months.

So anyway, he started taking an introductory psychology class online through our local community college and I didn't have high hopes that it would actually be a good class, and I agree that he should just do the minimal effort required to get an A and leave it at that.


When the prof so summarily dismisses my field's perspective so early on, it sort of slams the door on that perspective being seen as valuable from there on out. I just don't like the foundation it sets for the rest of the class and he can, if he chooses to, defend the perspective and show that it actually has some value, not to mention increase everyone's knowledge. I don't know if he will speak up in the class discussion forum where it came up, but I kind of hope he does.

If I were him, I'd argue that Andrea Yates killing her kids is an example of female infanticide and that under certain circumstances, killing your own progeny can increase reproductive success. It wouldn't at first glance seem so, but evolution is not as simple or as black and white as it appears.

A woman who has a lifetime of reproductive years ahead of her and has a baby that is unhealthy, sick or disabled, or for whom she is unable to care for due to life circumstances such as poverty, lack of support, or ill health herself (including mental illness), may 'choose' to kill that child (or children) and try again for a healthy one or postpone having children until her situation changes so that when she does have another child, the child will have a better chance of actually surviving long enough to reproduce. By doing so, she cuts her losses and saves wasted energy.

Rarely do other animals continue to care for sick or disabled offspring. And, there are examples of animals, primates even, that postpone their reproduction until their circumstance becomes more favorable for reproduction. Tamarins are a great example of this. Often, the reproductively mature offspring of these small South American monkeys stay with their parents and take care of their younger siblings instead of moving away to start families of their own. They could move away from home, get 'knocked up' and try to take care of those babies on their own in an area where they cannot adequately defend enough territory to have food to eat and a safe place to sleep, but they don't. And they don't go off to have those babies, realize they made a mistake, kill the babies and try all over again when they can find a place with food and shelter. Instead, they don't even bother moving out; they stay put and become adult babysitters. They invest in the genes they share with their siblings and bide their time until they can successfully raise a family of their own.

We humans don't seem to be very good at delaying reproduction until better times even with access to condoms and birth control. There are plenty of news reports of babies found in the toilet and in garbage bins, and of course, humans have plenty of abortions. There are also plenty of examples of women who wait until they're done with school and have a career and an established social support system before they start a family (and sometimes they wait a little too long and find their fertility has dropped, making this strategy not entirely foolproof either).

My point is that people kill their own kids, more often before they are even born, and while it seems counter to evolutionary theory for them to do this since it kills their genes, it doesn't kill their ability to produce kids. They can still reproduce in the future and if being motivated to kill your kids under the right circumstances means that your reproductive success isn't zero, i.e. you still have a child that survives to reproduce later, then the genes that contribute to that motivation haven't been selected against. The only thing that would truly be inexplicable from an evolutionary perspective is why people would get a vasectomy or have their tubes tied before they ever reproduce. And even that can be predicted by evolutionary theory if those people tend to contribute to the reproductive success of their relatives, with whom they share many of the same genes.

In any case, evolutionary theory would predict that a woman would be most motivated to kill her own children if:
* They are severely sick, injured, or physically or mentally disabled to the point of being unlikely to reproduce as adults,
* She lacks the financial, emotional or social resources (social support) needed to effectively care for them,
* The woman is young enough to have a better chance of successfully reproducing later than if she continued to care for the child/children.
In such cases, the benefit could outweigh the cost. For the behavior of Andrea Yates to be a perfect example of this, she would have had to be younger than 45 (an age at which there is a significantly reduced chance of being able to become pregnant) and be poor or depressed or socially isolated or have ill or disabled kids. She was 36 at the time, young enough to be able to reproduce again, and from the Wikipedia account on her, sounds as though she had little social support to help care for the children, and was convinced the children were defective.

Steven Pinker, a respected evolutionary psychologist, argues in his book How The Mind Works, that post-partum depression is a mechanism that motivates a woman to kill her newborn in just these circumstances. It has been said that Andrea Yates had been experiencing post-partum depression.

I don't think Andrea Yates is a perfect example of the 'kill your kids to bide your time and reproduce again when conditions improve' strategy, but she does fit the bill for an individual who would be expected to be motivated to do so.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Felt Food: Meat & Other random stuff

I made some more felt food! It's slow going on account of nearly always having a baby in my lap but I think these turned out pretty well.

A bowl of udon noodles, braised tofu and carrots:

A steak, tuna rolls and slices of mikon:

A fillet of salmon, cinnamon roll, deviled eggs, fruit slices and crackers:

Bacon and a T-bone steak:
The bacon has wire in it so it can be bent and stay that way. The steak has a cooked and un-cooked side so it can be flipped and 'cooked.' She has an amazing collection of felt food now — it fills 9 shoebox sized containers!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My baby looks like a Francois Langur!

You'll just have to take my word for it, because I lack photographic evidence, but Baby Field Notes looks just like a newborn Francois Langur.

She gets the same drowsy, relaxed look on her face. She's got the pointy little monkey ears, the plump upper lip hanging over a receding chin... the almond eyes, the fluffy red hair. A hint of a spike mohawk.

There's no way to get around the superficial resemblance of baby humans to baby monkeys, but one thing you may not know about is another way that human and monkey infants are alike — the presence of a natal coat. A natal coat is the term for the different coloration of primates during infancy that later changes. Only about 10-20% of primate species are born with different hair color than they'll have as adults.

These francois langurs are relatives of silver leaf monkeys. Like the silver leaf monkeys, they give birth to bright orange babies that stand out in stark contrast to the significantly darker adults. Black and white colobus monkeys also have babies with a conspicuous natal coat. Theirs are completely white. Chimps are born with tufts of white hair on their rears (I think it makes them look especially cute!), and some human babies and toddlers go through a blond phase before they become brunette as adults. The natal coats that chimps and humans show are less conspicuous but no less noteworthy.

Primatologists, admittedly, don't know why primates are sometimes born with a different hair color, but they have some decent hypotheses. One is that the different coloration provides a signal to others that the baby is indeed a baby and that elicits extra care from elders. Another is that the stark contrast helps adults see the babies better in a dark forest and this may help the troop better protect them from predators (who could also see them more easily, but this cost is presumed to be smaller than the benefit of adults being able to readily see the baby). Both hypotheses propose the coloration denotes the individual is young and needing extra attention. Perhaps in the same way that little blond ringlets are cute on toddlers, orange fur on these primates makes them look especially cute to adults.

No one has studied the natal coat thing among humans, and it has really not been well studied among other primates, but I think it's an interesting subject for research. Some evolutionary psychologists think that the reason that blondes are so attractive in our society is that blond hair is a trait usually seen naturally only in the young and therefore blond hair on an adult woman signals youth and therefore, fertility.

Right now Baby Field Notes has golden red hair. In the sunlight it's the color of the baby francois langur pictured above. It will be interesting to see if she developes blond hair as toddler like Mr. Field Notes had. I never did.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

SAHM vs Working Outside Home: How do other primates solve the work vs childcare dilemma?

Before I ever got pregnant, I knew I wanted the early experience for my baby to be consistent with how most primates have grown up for eons. Lots of body-contact, including sleeping together in a 'night nest,' nursing on demand, prompt and appropriate responses to her needs, i.e. nursing on demand, grooming baby to sooth her, and exposing her to developmentally appropriate stimuli.

Being a stay-at-home-mom, SAHM, was the foundation of that plan. I didn't, and still don't, think that working outside the home (if it entails having to be away from your baby for long periods of time) is the best way to raise a baby from a primatological standpoint. Looking at other primates, it's akin to leaving your baby with someone else, often completely unrelated to you, while you forage all day for food. No other primate does this. And there ought to be no surprise as to why this doesn't happen. Leaving a baby with someone else has its hazards: Others are never as careful or as attentive as they would be if the baby was their own.

But, it's a risk we humans accept out of necessity. Unlike our primate relatives, humans can't usually take their kids to 'work' with them so we face the difficult choice of what to do about childcare. While there are certainly jobs that are unsafe to perform around infants and children, the jobs most women are engaged in are office or retail jobs that aren't dangerous. If allowed to, I have no doubt that women could, and would, bring their babies to work with them. And, some do indeed get to do this, but it's largely a privilege reserved for few women.

For moms who must work outside the home, the myriad ways they solve the childcare problem is actually mirrored in some other primates, which I think is really cool.

When in need of childcare help, primate moms can sometimes rely on one of the baby's blood relatives. A natural first choice is the baby's father because he shares more genes with the baby than anyone else does besides the mother. But, there aren't many primate dads who assume the bulk of childcare, mainly due to their lack of paternity certainty. Yet, where males can be reasonably certain they are the father and when mom needs help, they lend a hand. Guys who shoulder much of the burden of infant care can find company with the tamarins and marmosets of South America.

These monkeys, like humans, have infants that are so energetically demanding to care for that two, and sometimes more, helpers are required. Mothers of these monkey species usually give birth to twins that are rather large compared to the mother's body size. Put together, the twins are equivalent to a 120-pound human mom giving birth to a 30 pound baby! That size of baby is both metabolically costly to carry and to feed. Human infants are also difficult to care for, not because they are particularly huge, but because they are basically born premature and consequently are far more dependent at birth than any other primate.

Tamarins and marmosets have, for similar reasons as humans did, settled on the very same solution about how to take care of such demanding creatures. The dads of these monkey species carry the infants whenever the mom isn't nursing, two babies at a time. This spares mom the energy so she can save it to forage and get enough calories to make enough milk to feed two babies at a time. These monkey dads also scan the trees looking for predators — birds of prey and snakes. They even hand over small bites of food to older infants. This sort of food sharing is something almost completely unheard of in most other primates, except humans.

This need for two parents to 'work' to provide for the infant is very unusual. Most primate moms do quite well without the help of the infant's father, but many still get help. Most often it comes from other related females such as sisters and the maternal grandmother. Getting help from female kin is typical among the langurs of India. Among langurs there, males leave the troops they are born into at puberty to avoid inbreeding. Females stay and and breed with newcomer males. The females in the troop are blood relatives, kin, who help each other with infant care. Other related female langurs carry a mom's baby for her at least half of the day. This gives younger siblings valuable parenting practice before they have babies of their own. Even so, first infants die at a much higher rate than subsequent ones, mostly due to the inexperience of their mothers.

As a rule, primates rarely, if ever, allow a stranger to hold their infant. So hiring a daycare center, nanny, or babysitter to watch one's child is a distinctly human pattern. It's no surprise really, that there are so many rules of operation for daycare centers so parents can trust that strangers will take care of the child appropriately.

Nevertheless, nonhuman primates do occasionally 'take care' of stranger's infants. This is especially true of high ranked females without their own infants. Higher ranking females have a penchant for snatching the infants of lower ranked mothers — to carry around, play with, and inspect. They don't keep them for very long, and that's a good thing, too, because sometimes they are so careless the babies wind up injured, if not a little traumatized. Their mothers are frightened, too. They also don't let the infants go willingly. But, being lower ranked, they don't have much choice.

Infant-snatching is an especially smart strategy for higher ranked females who haven't yet had babies of their own — they can practice on someone else's baby.

I wouldn't go so far as to call it daycare, because it hardly qualifies as care, and is rarely chosen, but it is paid for. Lower ranked mothers do often wind up having their baby handled by a relative stranger whom they have 'paid' in the form of grooming (lower ranked primates tend to groom higher ranked ones more so than the other way around). It's just not really a beneficial arrangement for the mother of the infant who is snatched willy nilly whenever a higher ranking female feels like it. And, infants are really attractive to them.

The last strategy for infant care is an unusual one seen among bushbabies. They park their babies in a tree cavity at night while they go off to transact the important business of being a primate, all the while leaving their baby completely alone. It is thought that bushbabies can get away with this because the hiding spots are relatively secure and their milk is fatty enough they can be away for long stretches. It is pretty bizarre though, for a primate mom to basically leave her kid in parked car to disappear for hours to 'shop' and 'chit chat.' If a human mom did that, she'd be arrested. But, it works quite well for the bushbabies.

Although there are a few different strategies for childcare that primates have adopted, one thing I didn't consider was that being at SAHM would be a departure from the usual primate pattern in one regard: I'd tend to be alone most of the time, cut off from socializing with others. That's not a big deal for me personally, because I like alone time — a lot. But, at some point, Baby Field Notes is going to have to regularly play with other kids so she can develop some social skills!

Species top to bottom: emperor tamarin, silvery marmoset, gray langur, bushbaby

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Visual Development - Part 3: Handmade Boppy Cover

Baby Field Notes has finally started to track moving objects regularly now with her eyes and shows interest in objects she sees. Her eye contact is more steady too. The other day I caught her looking over my shoulder at my sock monkey collection, so now it is officially time to break out the things I've made for her to stimulate her eyes and more importantly, her brain.

Recently I finished a cover I sewed for the Boppy nursing pillow I have. It's got the same bold black, white and red fabrics I used for her fabric book and the taggie blankets. I used left over ribbon to edge the cover so she has something to tug on and finger during tummy time.

The thing is, I don't use the Boppy pillow anymore. A bunch of jumbled up blankets stuffed here and there around her is way better. I just could never really figure out how to fit the Boppy around my waist and position her on it to permit easy, comfortable breastfeeding. It purports to conform to 'all body types' but it doesn't work for me, or her, so I've abandoned it in favor of blankets.

But, I still have this awesome cover for the Boppy so I am hoping to discover a way to use it for something else.

p.s. Here she is with our newest sock monkey. Can you believe that grin?!?

Monday, September 07, 2009

Primate Parenting - A Stark Difference?

When I saw this product, the BéBé Bottle Sling, at first I thought, hey cute! Monkeys! Then I thought, hold up a sec — that is weird and maybe a little wrong.

The bottle sling hangs from the handle of an infant carrier or car seat and positions the bottle right on front of the babies face. Babies learn coordination and figure out on there own how to take the bottle into their mouth and drink when they want. After they're done, the bottle returns to a spot right in front of the baby's face. It permits hands-free bottle feeding.

Cool concept.

I thought I could make one of those, how hard could it be? But then I realized, perhaps wanting to save myself from yet another project or perhaps recalling all of my many childhood pet hamsters, that this is like sticking your kid in a cage and hanging a bottle inside so they can drink/eat. A flash of a baby in a wire cage with cedar chips, running wheel and a bottle full of milk mounted to the side of the cage briefly flashed in my mind.

While I think this product is potentially interesting, and useful, it also highlights a major difference between nonhuman primates and human ones, especially those in western, industrialized countries anyway.

Nonhuman primates (most often moms but there are plenty of exceptions) have their babies with them all of the time, even at night, often in full body contact. Not until the babies are old enough to crawl on their own are they away from mom and even then they stay within arms reach. Ape babies can be in full contact with their moms for 3-4 years on average, nursing on demand the entire time, even at night while mom sleeps.

But human babies, especially those in the US, get bundled up in infant carriers, motorized swinging chairs, strollers and cribs in separate rooms starting in their first days of life.

I wonder what effect all of this 'baby parking' has on human attachment — the affectionate social bonds shared between baby and parent, and later between romantic partners. After all, it has been shown that it's a warm, responsive caregiver to cling to that young primates need for normal social development.

When that soft, warm, responsive body is taken out of the equation and replaced with a cold, hard nipple hitting you in the face, how can you possibly develop normally?

When primatologists who study parenting point out the stark difference between nonhuman and (Western) human parenting, they rarely come right out and say what effect this lack of constant body contact has on us as a species. Does it make us more prone to be solitary jerks as adults? Is that why we needed to invent stuff like religion to remind us to be kind?

I don't know what the answer is, but it is reasonable to ask.

Now, really, an argument can be made that this product allows a more natural approach to feeding if you're using a bottle. When nonhuman primates feed, they can cling to mom by themselves, riding along and nursing while she forages. Her nipples hang down and baby can latch on and drink whenever. The only real significant difference between this and and the BéBé bottle sling is the nipple and the temperature of the milk.

As long as baby gets interaction at other times, as most babies would, this product could come in very handy. I just can't envision myself using it, but they ..almost.. got me with that darling monkey design.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Handmade Gorilla-Adorned Taggie Blanket

Although I am still obsessed with making felt food for junior, I sense I am also bound to become obsessed with making taggie blankets.

I've already made three. They are all in a black, red and white theme. One for us, one for my sis and her baby on the way, and another is a surprise for someone who might read this blog. Each blanket has 9 quilted squares and on the reverse, red 'minky' cloth with a black felt applique — heart, butterfly, and a gorilla - all shapes I have a die cut for which makes it easier. Guess who gets the gorilla =D

Between the appliques and the 'minky' fabric, I put some crinkled cellophane for sound effects. Babies like the sound it makes when it's touched, in addition to the tactile stimulation all the ribbons provide. They give them something to clutch and suck on while mom's not immediately available. The bold black and white and red patterns are stimulating for infant eyes which is why I chose them. So it's an awesome design concept from a sensory standpoint. And, eventually it will have that smell than babies love to sniff on too. There you go — four senses in one piece: sight, sound, smell, touch. And, I suppose, taste too!

I could, in theory, sell these but they are so much work that I'd have to charge $75 for them and I think hardly anyone in the whole world would pay that price for them. But, you never know. If someone wants one though, for that price, I'd do it.

I keep buying fabric (and ribbons) to make more even though I rarely have time to work on them. And, I keep piling up more sewing projects! What am I thinking?! I still haven't made the curtains for Baby FN's room!

I caved and bought more fabric for them because I decided my original plan is unfeasible because it's too complicated. So now I'm just doing curtains in all chocolate brown except for a border of animal print at the bottom. I'll use the other fabric I bought and won't end up using to make her some alphabet pillows. I remember my kindergarten class had plastic blow-up letters. I thought they were cool. I must have anyway, because I remember them! I figure she'll be able to display them on her shelves and may even still like them as a teenager. At some point, she's bound to get ridicluously upset with me and spell out some fuck off message.. (maybe I will only make her one F). Yeah, she's going to swear. I don't care so long as she uses her curses judiciously. And I do have a plan for the swears.

A jar. You put in some amount of money or something your kid likes to play with and they earn it back by doing chores, or other desirable things. But never homework. I don't believe in rewards for doing your homework. Education is its own reward.

Education is its own reward.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Barkfest 2009 will go down as Barf-fest 2009

No wonder it stunk.

A cowpie the size of a dinner plate was deposited right in front of my desk. So goes the start of day three of Barkfest 2009, otherwise known as the extravaganza of festivities surrounding the addition of a new roof on our house.

Barkfest 2009 began with a bang at 7 o'clock in the morning Monday with two giant, and scared, Newfoundlands barking their heads off. However, what began as Barkfest 2009 soon morphed into Barf-fest 2009. Both dogs were so nervous about the goings on overhead and all the attendant bangs, rattles, and nearly constant thuds, that they developed upset stomachs. Even Yuki, Miss Big Tough Bossy Bossins, ran around the house with her tail firmly curled between her hind legs. Katy was much cooler about it all by the end of day one, but it has all caught up to her. She's been barfing up green bile.

I had hoped that she would be able to blow it off and acclimate to it, but nope. Poor kid. Just what she needs, numerous strangers surrounding her house, and wrecking it too. If I were her, I suppose I'd barf too.

And it was she who left the enormous, foul smelling dump by my desk, I know it.

But this afternoon, it wasn't a funky fart left by a big nervous newf that perfumed the air, it was instead — another giant saucer sized dump. In the kitchen, and diarrhea no less, with all the little air bubbles and splatter surrounding it. A foot from it was the most enormous puddle — no pond — of urine I have ever seen.

Oh very wonderful. Just what I needed with a crying baby who isn't ready to go take a nap yet. I can't hold her and bend down to clean up poop goop at the same time, so I compromised.

I put her in her swinging chair, gave her a few shots of pumped breast milk from a bottle, popped the pacifier in and hoped for the best as I went to the kitchen to clean it up. To clean poop goop expediently, all you need to do is scrape it up between two pieces of cardboard (cereal box cardboard is ideal), wipe the area with TP, then scrub and dry.

Piece o'cake.

Well, not when you have a screaming baby who either wants:
A) to be held
B) to be fed or
C) her diaper to be changed (oh goody! More runny poo!).

I chose B.

Feeding her always buys me about 10-15 minutes, so I went for that route since changing her diaper means I have to do that, then feed her for 10 minutes to get her to quiet down and nod off enough to set her back down in her big comfy chair (that's what we call her swinging chair). And I can't clean poo goo one-handed.

So there I was going back and forth between the mess in the kitchen and the swinging chair to give her hits of the bottle. That breast pump sure comes in handy. It is definitely on my top three baby essentials list.

It took several trips back and forth, and eventually Baby FN fell asleep. I think it was the vacuum that pushed her over the edge into milk coma land. And, once you clean one floor, they all need to be cleaned. And windows washed, and surfaces dusted... and and and...

That's what you have to do when you finally have a sleeping baby: Clean house.

I feel for the dogs. They are having a right well rotten time of it now. It's too hot for walks most of the day and they can't go out for yard time because the roofers need to keep the gate open to get their work done. I know the newfas don't want to crap and pee in the house. They are good girls, but when their person can't help them, there's not much point in sitting on your tail very long I guess.

Needless to say, I think the floors in the house are now the cleanest they have been since the day they were installed.

I hope I figure out a solution to the dog needs to go out immediately, on a leash, to the backyard problem soon, because we have at least 2 more days of this. Leaving the baby inside to scream her head off is not a solution. It takes the dogs far too long to get relaxed enough to do their business with all the scary people and equipment around.

........ Be thankful I did not post pictures ........