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Project J.A. Baby: The Politics of Baby
by Jennifer "Emiko" Kuida
Rafu Column November 17, 2004

I find myself 7 months pregnant and expecting my first child at age 40. For my husband Tony and I, starting a family is not something that just happened. As community activists, this process began with looking at our full and meaningful lives, busy in our respective careers in nonprofit arts and education, and active in the Japanese/Asian American community. It took several years of soul-searching, planning, negotiating, trying to conceive, experiencing miscarriages and enduring fertility treatments before we actually became pregnant.

We try to live our lives in a way that helps sustain and protect the earth, fighting injustices and working to make J-town, this country and the world a more peaceful place. As we often say, everything is political. And I’m not just talking about the decision to vote Kerry vs. Bush (a whole other topic in itself).

For us, having a baby is political as well. This runs from everything like what we name our child, buying baby gear, whether or not to breastfeed, where the baby sleeps, cloth vs. disposables, etc. The list we are finding, is endless.

GIRL OR BOY? The first question I am often asked as a JA is, “What are you? Where are you from?” You know the “My parents were born in LA, my grandparents were born in Japan” game. When you’re pregnant, the question becomes “When are you due? Do you know if it’s a girl or a boy?” Up until less than 2 generations ago, no one knew what the gender of their baby would be. My standard answer is that, “Yes, it’s going to be a boy or a girl, and that our primary concern is to have a healthy baby.”

Girl, boy, whatever. To us, it doesn’t really matter. We hope to raise our daughter or son, not to be defined by gender stereotypes or limits to what she or he can become. We hope not to let pink or blue define our child’s clothing colors, the types of toys he or she plays with, and what career our child chooses.

BABY GEAR: Baby paraphernalia is big business. According to the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association based in New Jersey, the baby business is $6 billion a year and is growing by as much as 6 percent a year. Babies ‘R’ Us Superstore is the nation’s largest baby products chain with 200 stores with $1.76 billion in sales.

Even though we typically try to stay away from chain, warehouse and mega-superstores, and try to shop at independent and local mom-and-pop stores as much as possible, I must admit that we did register for baby gear at Babies ‘R’ Us. Their online registry is about as addictive as slot machine gambling in Las Vegas. I have spent dozens of hours dutifully researching the safest baby accessories, reading countless parental reviews of bathtubs, cribs vs. co-sleepers, strollers, infant car seats, and the like.

Advice and checklists from everything that we and baby “must have” are endless. But my mother-in-law who is a certified nurse mid-wife and a breastfeeding educator, assures me that babies really need very little – breast milk is best, a clean diaper, plenty of skin-to-skin contact and the need to feel secure and loved. Swings, bouncers, toys that light up and sing, all extras. And we know that the baby won’t care if the bumper pads on the crib, matches the sheets, lamp and the draperies… but if they’re wet, tired or hungry, we’ll know.

I have been lucky to find a network of support on the internet from baby-mamas and feminist-mamas who do homebirths, don’t do vaccinations, make homemade organic baby foods, and have found advice about all kinds of natural family living (www.mothering.com), attachment parenting (www.attachmentparenting.org) and diaper delivery services (www.dy-dee.com). I have also been lucky to find products like organic baby clothes, cloth diapers, baby slings, non-violent, non-toxic toys, etc., all over the web.

I could go on and on about the things we are considering, such as not adding 8,000 more disposable diapers to the landfill, how long my extended maternity leave will last, and, our efforts, hopes and dreams for raising a socially-conscious Hapa/Yonsei/Gosei/Jewish child. But I’ll stop here because I think it’s all going to be about trial and error. We don’t really know what we’re getting ourselves into.

I do know that we will continue, although at a definitely scaled-back pace, to do what we can to support low-income housing and the Little Tokyo Recreation Center in J-town, advocate for access to quality education and the arts, especially multicultural arts, to speak out about Bush’s lies and deceits, and to help make the world a better place. Not just for our child, but our neighbor’s families, and keeping in mind the next 7 generations.

We’ll report back when we have had some actual experience with Project J.A. Baby.

Jennifer "Emiko" Kuida and her husband, Tony Osumi, are embarking on a new political venture, “Project J.A. Baby” which is estimated to begin in February 2005. For more info, updates and baby photos, see www.kuidaosumi.com. c. 2004

Originally published in The Rafu Shimpo, November 17, 2004.

Updated: 11/18/04

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