Monday, September 26, 2011

A Beautiful Birth - Not What You Would Expect

My daughter loves to watch birth videos on YouTube, which is great for me since I love watching births.  Mainly we watch the unassisted birth videos so she gets a very hands off feel for birth, and learns to trust the process early so it stays with her her whole life.

Every once in a while, she will get sick of watching women birth, and will turn to animals.  We have watched giraffes, horses, whales, cats, dogs, rabbits, elephants, and so much more. We found this video a couple years ago, and it still is able to give me goosebumps.

This is a video of an elephant giving birth.  Elephants like to be alone when they birth, like most animals, and most birth at night.  The female elephants surround the laboring elephant so she is completely secluded, so the fact that his elephant births with humans around just shows the level of trust.

With elephants, while they are in labor, the umbilical cord breaks about 30 minutes before birth.  For them, it isn't the same as humans, but it is so mystical to me.  A baby elephant goes 30 minutes without oxygen from anywhere, and is still able to survive.  Mother Nature rocks.

This is a video of an elephant birth, so if you don't wish to see that, don't hit play.  Also, this could be a trigger warning for anyone that has had a baby that needed resuscitation, so beware of that.

Basically, just watch and enjoy :)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

How I Got on National Television With A Placenta Preparer

No, really I did.

It was a fluke really. And only because I had had my placenta encapsulated.

Yes, my placenta encapsulated.

(Before you judge, do you really know what you're consuming in that Diet Coke? That hot dog from the corner? Most processed foods that millions of Americans consume daily? )

This was really one of those things that I didn't think was any big deal because I have known so many other women that have done the same and reaped the benefits.

Except in New York, when I talked to my midwife about doing the same thing, she struggled to think of someone who encapsulated placentas. The woman she used to refer new mothers to had moved out of state. My midwife gave me the name of another woman, except she was still learning how to prepare placentas. Then I found myself calling people who were referred to me who might know of someone. I began to feel like I was looking for an abortion in the sixties as each reference was someone who might know of someone who knows of someone who could help. It was also another moment when I realized yet again how much different the East coast is from the West, or at least from the Liberal Recycling Portland of my childhood and the LA of my first home birth.

At the birth of my daughter, my midwife put the placenta in the freezer, for when the placenta preparer came over. Except that 8 weeks later, I was still trying to find someone who did such things in my Brooklyn neighborhood. Just as I was about to give up hope and considered contacting my midwife who did it for me in LA (and asking about the logistics of shipping a frozen placenta across the country - which I admit now that I think about it is a bit much to ask from the postal service). Then the answer was literally delivered to me in my mailbox - in New York magazine (the August 29th issue if you want to check it out) as it featured an article about placenta eaters. Once in the hands of mainstream media, the things I kind of take for granted as normal or "just how we do things because it works for us" do look pretty out there to the mainstream world. But New York magazine's article featured the Brooklyn based placenta preparer Jennifer Mayer. So I googled her so she could prepare my placenta too.

Jennifer Mayer it turns out was getting calls for follow up interviews, but she hadn't gotten any other calls from women who just happened to have a placenta in their freezer, so she was able to come over that week and prepare it for me. As we exchanged emails, she mentioned that she got a call from Anderson Cooper's show who wanted to do an interview with her and maybe ask a couple questions of someone who had such a thing done about why or what had them decide to do such a thing and so on and she asked if I'd be willing to talk to them. I said sure as long as I could bring my baby, not thinking much about it (just as a reminder, this was also the week my husband was out of town and New York City was battering down for a hurricane - so you know, with two kids I was a little distracted). Or that is, I didn't think much about it until in conversations with Jen, and Jesse, of Anderson Cooper's people, it dawned on me that the interview was with Anderson Cooper on national television. At which point I ran down to J. Crew and bought a pencil skirt.

Check out the clip from Anderson Cooper's website:

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

(The photo is terrible. Note to self: Never laugh on national television again)

Anderson Cooper did his best to keep an open mind. And in talking with Jesse in the pre-interview, I did have to stop and think about it. Because when you stop to think about it, it is, well, something to think about.

My family spent a good chunk of my childhood vegetarian, and even though now I eat meat, I do get squeamish preparing it. So yes, when in my first pregnancy my midwife strongly recommended it, I did get a little squeamish. But I also really trusted my midwife, and she gave me her reasons: it prevented postpartum, helped the body recover from labor, and leveled out the hormones after giving birth.

I had had a bad run of depression in my twenties, and at the time, I had been told I had a 75% chance of developing postpartum depression because of having suffered from depression once before and having it run in my family (disclaimer: I don't know if this stat still holds true). I admit, Prozac saved my life once, but I have no wish to go on it again because of the side effects, and even though they say there are antidepressants that they say breastfeeding women can take, that too makes me squeamish. ( There's been too many times in history when it's been discovered something is dangerous after it's been given to thousands of breastfeeding or pregnant women that it makes me nervous). But the placenta? How could that have side effects?

After the birth of my son, I didn't get postpartum depression. I didn't even get the baby blues kind of weepy. I nursed. I napped. I fell in love with my baby and with my husband all over again. When I received my placenta pills (or my encapsulated placenta) I put them in the freezer thinking maybe I wasted 300 dollars having them made and then I forgot about them.

Until my in-laws visited. My mother-in-law visited first, for a week. She had said she was coming to help and hold the baby. Upon her arrival, I handed her my baby. She held him five seconds, then put him down, clapped her hands andasked, "What's next?" like Jed Bartlet on the West Wing. "What are we doing? Where are we going?"

I picked up my baby, explained how we were raising our baby and that we held him. We didn't put him down and just leave him around the house as if he was a potted plant.

"Well, rules are meant to be broken," she said. "What did you say we were doing?"

The entire week went like this. She'd do the dinner dishes, but the meal planning, shopping, cooking, cleaning, baby care as well as itinerary and entertainment planning once it became clear there needed to be things to see and do? Oy veh. Throw in the advice and criticism that older generations feel entitled to bestow upon the young or that when she got in the car she'd yell, "Pray for your life Fyo! Your mother's driving!" and it wasn't long before I was calling my lactation consultant begging her to please say it was okay for a breastfeeding new mother to have a martini.

Then I remembered the placenta pills in the freezer, and while they didn't replenish my nerves or give me the strength of someone who just lets things roll off her, they did boost my mood and energy and show me the light at the end of the in-law visitation tunnel. And three months later, when I visited the in-laws and my mother-in-law talked about how her daughter was struggling with her children and fatigue and how she needed a break and how my mother-in-law had compassion for her because she remembered what it was like to be a new mom, I can say those placenta pills prevented me from reaching over and strangling her.

I can also say that when I took one daily until I got my strength back the difference was noticeable; one that I could even compare to the feeling of when an anti-depressant kicked in or waking up from a good night's sleep. It was enough of a difference to make a believer out of me and to know I wanted them for after the birth of my second child.

My in-laws haven't visited since the birth of my daughter. We all now know better and needless to say, when anyone says they're coming to visit I have them clarify what they mean by the word "help."

(My in-laws have also improved immensely. They no longer offer criticism or advice and they compliment my cooking - they might even respect my parenting.) But I am thankful I have the placenta pills anyway. I have an energetic toddler who still requires a lot of my attention. Life still happens. I'm still recovering. This time around I have felt some of the weepiness and moodiness that women report feeling after they give birth. Even the days I feel great, I still know that it's a good number of months that my energy will ebb and flow and that I'll still feel sensitive or vulnerable.

And sure, the research on placenta encapsulation is still only anecdotal, but of the twenty or so women I know who have ingested their own placenta, I have yet to hear of any negative effects. It's also used in traditional Chinese medicine (which I also find squeamish if only because of the smell of the herbs, but it is rather effective). The cost is also reasonable (especially compared to the cost of most pharmaceutical drugs). Jennifer Mayer charged me $250 for the entire process that yielded 120 capsules (some placentas can yield up to 200). Jen is also a doula and does in-home massage. She in herself is a New Mom resource. She's also one of those people who is easily approachable, even though she possesses a daunting amount of knowledge.

Women get a lot of information about the ups and downs of pregnancy, but after the birth of my son, I felt blind sighted by the ups and downs of recovery from labor and birth. Some studies show it can take some women up to a year before they feel fully themselves after giving birth (take note; ration those pills!) and I didn't remember anyone telling me what it would be like, or how I should take care of myself emotionally. Sure, I had a heads up about the first six weeks. But I had no idea that two months later I'd have the potential to sob to my husband about why didn't his mother want to hold my baby longer than five seconds. So while Anderson Cooper was clearly squeamish about ingesting placentas (though he could get that when it's in a capsule, you can pretend it's like any other supplement), but he tried to stay open minded and if anything, I applaud his approaching the topic on his show and giving Jen and I the chance to say that as a new mom, you need all the help you can get.

Finally, a picture of Anderson with my baby girl:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Presence, Not Presents: A Lullabye Lesson

I have never liked the song "Hush Little Baby." I always felt that the song's message was "here, kid, I'll give you anything if you will just shut up!" I even remember saying that I would never sing it to my children.

So, imagine my surprise when my son learned to talk and the first song he requested I sing was that one. (He'd fallen in love with it through our Sharon, Lois, and Bram dvd and through a library book he'd checked out from story time one week.) Of course, it took me awhile to figure it out because he called it the "Mama" song, but when I did learn what he wanted, I sang it. And sang it and sang it and sang it. He was content to have me sing it as many times in a row as I could possibly sing it. He would even complain when I would switch to humming it. "No! No! Mama Song! Mama song!" I kept thinking, what in the world does he see in this song that I don't? Then somewhere around the fourth or fifth night in a row of singing it like twenty times in succession. It hit me. I'd had the song wrong all along.

Contrary to the message of the first couple of lines in the song, it really isn't about buying things to make your baby happy. In fact, no matter what is procured in the singing of the song, everything goes wrong and the baby is not made happy by anything bought! Furthermore, while the beginning of the song asks the baby to "hush," that request is never made again. Instead, the song offers example after example of a mama (or papa) and a baby sticking together through discouraging scenarios. No wonder my son thought it was the "mama" song! While "Hush little baby" is uttered in the first line (and sometimes the last line depending on how you sing it), a word for parent is repeated every single verse! Th real message isn't even "come to me with all of your problems and I will fix them." Quite the opposite! The song reveals time after time how many mistakes parents and children can make from buying your children inappropriate gifts that aren't even authentic (like the diamond ring that turns brass) to crashing the family vehicle (horse and cart).

So, what is the secret message of "Hush Little Baby," that my son somehow got right away, but it took me years and having my son to hear myself? It turns out that the message of the song is really simple but profound. I will be here to love you NO MATTER WHAT. The song is about being an imperfect parent whose only true gift is presence and love. Think about the song for a moment. In almost every version, the ending is always the same: "you'll still be the sweetest little baby in town" or "Papa loves you and so do I." None of the individual problems with any of the presents are ever solved. Rover never learns to bark, the cart, once crashed, is never fixed, but even with all these problems still left unresolved, the assures the baby that "you can rest my child because I love you and I am here for you." Put your trust in me and never fear to be honest with me because no matter what you do, I will still think you are the sweetest baby in town and I will still love you. No wonder the song has had staying power over the years.

So, now when my son requests the song, I don't roll my eyes and I don't dread it. I know that with every line of the song, I am making a very solemn promise to my little boy. I am promising him, that as imperfect and mistaken as I often am, and as imperfect and mistaken as he sometimes is, I will be there for him and will offer him every bit as much love as I have from the very beginning until the end of time. In fact, I now have trouble singing it because it makes me tear up to be able to offer him that kind of vow. So, remember, next time you and your children are having a rough day or next time your "baby" no matter how old asks you to sing him/her a lullaby, that your presence, no matter how flawed, is the sweetest gift you will ever give her or him.

(If you still don't like the original, check out Hush Little Baby by Sylvia Long. She's re-written the words to the lullabye to reflect all the ways in which mamas and papas work to soothe their little ones.)

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Fourth Trimester

We all know that pregnancy has three trimesters.  Most know what happens in each, and all that comes with them.  What we don't realize or don't understand is that there is more to pregnancy than growing and then birthing that baby.

There is another trimester that we brush over, the period from birth until baby is about three months old.  For most those first three months are a trial.  You are getting to know this new person that has needs and wants, and it is especially hard because babies don't use words, so you have to figure it all out through actions and cries.

The birth our your child starts a new phase in your life.  It doesn't matter if this is your first baby or your fifteenth.  Each baby has a different personality, different wants, different needs.  They are their own person.  You have to learn about this person right from the start, and having this new baby can be hard.

Unless you have an incredible support system after birth, the fourth trimester can be lacking and made even harder.  People come over, not to help, but to meet and hold the baby.  People that you don't know very well all the sudden invade your space, sit on your couch, and cuddle this new person, while your needs are put on the back burner.  You don't matter, all that matters is this cute, precious little bundle.  You have to go back to how life was before this baby was born, even if you aren't ready for it.

Women need support more than ever during this time.  They need people to come over, to do their dishes or laundry or make them dinner or watch their other children for an hour.  They need people to watch the baby so they can shower or nap or do something just for themselves.  Mothers shouldn't be left alone in this fourth trimester.

Most women stop nursing within this fourth trimester because of the issues that arise and there is no one there to help them.  Lactation Consultants at the hospital or in the health department are most times not board certified and don't know how to help most issues.  Women need a support system that understands the issues she might be going through, or even just where to find accurate help.

This fourth trimester is very trying, and new mothers need so very much.

This time is misunderstood, it is blown off as nothing more than new mom nerves or worries.  We joke that they will feel better later or that they just need to get this gadget or that gadget and things will be instantly better.  We give bad advice or tell our great stories thinking that it helps.  We tell them that they just need a wrap or sling, or need to nurse more, or maybe just need to pump and feed a bottle, and we even sometimes throw out that formula could be a better option for these mothers.

The fourth trimester is very real.  Women are vulnerable, they are crying out for help, and we are ignoring them.  We need to be there for them, even if it is just a shoulder to cry on or doing a sink full of dishes.

We need to do better.  We need to be better.

Next time a friend has a baby, go over and ask how SHE is.  Ask what she needs you to do.  Say hi to the baby, say how beautiful the baby is, but spend the majority of the visit doing or being.  She needs you.  Be that person she needs.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday School: Tumbling Into Fall!

Welcome to the Connected Mom Sunday School. No matter what the course of your child's education, be it unschooling, homeschooling, or conventional schooling, The Connected Mom Sunday School aims to provide you with fun and easy activities for children of all ages and stages. (Have an idea for a Connected Mom Sunday School activity or theme? Either comment below or send your idea to connectedmom (dot) julian (at) gmail (dot) com.)

This week marks the beginning of Autumn! This time of year brings not only a refreshing break from the summer heat, but also fun opportunities for learning. Grab a jacket and try some of these activities that are taylor made for fall.

Johnny Appleseed's Birthday

If you're eating seasonally, fall is the season for apples! September 26 also marks the birthday of legendary apple tree planter, John Chapman, or Johnny Appleseed. Read books about Johnny Appleseed, such as the picture book by Reeve Lindbergh. If there is one nearby, take a walk through an apple orchard and simply experience all it has to offer the senses. Listen to the leaves as they crunch beneath your feet. Smell the ripe apples. Taste the sweetness of a sip of fresh cider. Some orchards may even allow you to pick your own apples. If apples don't grow in your area, visit a farm or orchard that grows a popular local crop instead. What a great way to bring your child in touch with where our food comes from!

Pumpkin Investigation

Another popular fall crop, pumpkins offer more than just pie or jack-o-lanterns! Your little scientist will have fun observing them in many different ways. Teaching Tiny Tots shares several ideas for sizing up your pumpkin. Measure the weight and height of your pumpkin. Count the number of vertical lines around its outside. Drop it in a large bucket of water, and see if it sinks or floats. Then, using a pumpkin carving knife (kits are usually sold in the fall and are not sharp), cut open the pumpkin. Rinse and count the seeds, using tally marks to keep track. Use the tally marks to practice counting by 5s or 10s. If you like, you can even record your findings on their printable Pumpkin Investigation sheet. Now use your pumpkin however you like. If it's close to Halloween, make a jack-o-lantern. If not, cook your favorite pumpkin recipe or roast the seeds for a snack.

School-Aged Child
Changing Leaves

We all admire the colors of autumn leaves. This article from Science Made Simple, does a great job of explaining why the leaves change. Plants use chlorophyll, which gives them their green color, to make food. In the fall, the leaves stop making food, and the green chlorophyll disappears. Then we can see the bright yellows and oranges. Did you know that these colors are in the leaves all year long, but that the green covers them up? Reds and purples are made only in the fall and when the leaves are exposed to light. One way to see this in action is to find a tree that will turn red in the fall: perhaps a maple, flowering dogwood or a sweet gum tree. Before the leaves turn color, cover parts of several leaves with foil or heavy paper and tape (leave them on the tree). Once the leaves have turned, compare the areas that were covered to those left exposed. Where the leaves were covered, you should see only the yellows and oranges that were in the leaves all summer. Reds and purples will show only where the leaves were exposed to light. See the "Older Child (10+)" section for a more in-depth experiment about the colors in leaves.

Older Child (10+)

Hidden Colors in Leaves

From Science Made Simple comes another fun experiment with leaves. In the "School-Aged Child" section, we learned that some colors are in the leaves year-round, even when we can't see them. This experiment allows us to see the hidden colors. Collect 2-3 large leaves from a few different trees. Tear up the leaves and add each type of leaf to an empty glass jar. Pour enough rubbing alcohol into each jar to cover the torn-up leaves, and grind them into the alcohol a bit which a spoon or plastic knife. Cover the jars loosely with lids, foil, or plastic wrap. Set them in a shallow pan in which you have poured one inch of hot tap water. Keep the jars in the water bath until the alcohol has become colored (the darker the better). If the water cools off, replace it with more hot water. Flatten a coffee filter and cut it into long strips, one for each jar. Label each strip with the type of leaf in its jar. Remove the jars from the water bath. Place one end of each strip into its jar. Bend the other end over the rim of the jar and secure it with tape. Within 30-90 minutes, you should begin to see the different colors in the leaf travel to different lengths up the strip. You should be able to see different shades of green, and possibly yellow, orange, or red. Try the same experiment with a fall leaf and compare your results.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Raw Organic Dryer Ball Winner!

Thank you to all those that entered.  Remember, you can still use the code heartsandhandss at her etsy shop for 15% off your total order until October 1st!

And our winner is.....

#25, Giveaway Hound! Congratulations!

Again, a huge thank you to all that entered, I have emailed the winner, please get back to me within 48 hours or I pick a new winner.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Pee on a Stick

Pregnancy tests are not created equal.  Every commercial you see tests that say they can tell five days before your missed period, or tests that come up with a digital answer, or tests that smile at you.  When you go to buy tests, there are so many to choose from, and it is so intimidating.  Do you spend $30 on 6 six tests, or $9 on one test that says "pregnant" or "not pregnant" so you don't have to interpret lines?  Do you choose one that has two lines or one that has a plus sign?  Why are they either pink or blue?

It took me a very long time to realize that each test is very different, even tests that you buy in the same box can respond differently even when taken with the same cup of urine.

I hated feeling so confused about which tests to buy, especially once I started learning more about how each test has a different sensitivity, so I researched.

I couldn't believe the huge difference between each test, and it was more than just what they showed or how they tested.  As most of those that pee on sticks know, it isn't just about looking at the test and then saying if it is positive or negative.  You hold it up to the light, you talk to the stick, you take the strip out of the case and hold it up to the light, you keep it for hours to analyze later.  All you want is that second line or plus sign, and analyzing is what we all do.

Knowing that there are different sensitivities, the level of false positives, and other information about the test can make it easier to put down the test instead of inspecting it for hours on end (though from personal experience, it is still really hard to put the test down and walk away even if you know all about them).

Most of the sensitivity information I got from Pee on a Stick, but I did call the bigger brands and get more information directly from their customer service.  It's amazing how much information they are willing to give about their tests when you ask, and it can really help you choose which test you want to use.

1.  Some general information

Most digital tests always have two lines if you pop open the case and look at the test strip.  Digital tests test the sensitivity of the line, not the fact that there is two lines.  Opening a digital test that says "Not Pregnant" and seeing two lines does not mean you are pregnant.

All pregnancy tests are only valid for 10 minutes once they have been peed on or dipped in or drops put in.  If a positive shows up after the 10 minutes, it means nothing.  A positive needs to show up within the 10 minute time frame.  Have a timer set to 10 minutes, and once it dings, throw the test away.  Resist the urge to pull the test back out later and look for a second line.  It can give you false hope if you see two lines.

Evaporation lines do exist.  Most evaporation lines are not the color of the test (so not pink or blue) but, again, if after the 10 minute time frame, they can be.  Most evaporation lines are gray or look like a shadow, and are NOT a positive test.  The second line needs to be the same color as the test, if it isn't, it isn't a positive result.

There are also evaporating positives on tests, which are rarely talked about but exist.  If you test, see a positive right away, but it disappears before the 10 minutes is up, it is NOT a positive result.  Again, the best way to check for a positive is to check right before 10 minutes is up, if there is a second line the same color as the test without turning it this way and that, it is a positive result.  If not, it's a negative.

Pregnancy tests are not considered accurate until at least twelve days after ovulation.  Yes, people get positive results before then, but that doesn't mean everyone will.  Some test later, some earlier.  If you get a negative result, it does not mean that you aren't pregnant.  If your period doesn't show up, test again.  A lot of people get negative results only to get a positive result a few days later.

First morning urine is the best time to test.  Overnight, you go longer without going to the bathroom, so your urine will have a higher hormone concentration in the morning than any other time of day.  If you are testing early, use your first morning urine.  You will get the most accurate result.

Blue dye tests do have a higher false positive rate than pink dye tests.  For some reason, the blue dye pregnancy tests are not as accurate as pink dye tests.  There are higher instances of false positive results using blue dye, though that number is still pretty low.  To keep that risk at a minimum, try to stick with pink dye pregnancy tests.

Tests that give a +/- result are very likely to have some bleed over into the + area.  Because the test is a crossover test and not two solitary lines, there might be some blue dye in the area of the +.  This does not make it a positive result.  You need the full + for this test to be a positive result, not just a few dots or tiny crossover.

Some women will not respond to some tests, or will not show a positive with a urine test at all.  Some only respond to certain tests, and no one knows why.  There are even some women that will never show positive on urine tests, no matter how pregnant they are.  If you are late for your period (whether charting or not), try a different test if you are still getting a negative result.  If you still get a negative result (especially if you know when you ovulated) you might need to go in for a blood draw.

2.  Sensitivities and Other Information

+ : Recommended test
- : Not recommended test
+/- : They work for some women, but not all
? : Not enough information to recommend or not
P : Pink Dye
B : Blue dye
Sensitivities are in mIU, a level of 20 mIU on a blood test is when you would be confirmed as pregnant

Test Name
Other Information
+ P
Used in most doctor's offices
AimStep Midstream
+ P
AimStep Stick
+ P
AimStep Dip
+ P
Answer Quick & Simple Early
- P
Disappearing positives are common
New Choice (Dollar Store Test)
+ P
Accurate test, not very expensive
Clearblue Digital
+/- B
False positives reported, known sensitivity of 25, reported at 50
Clearblue Easy
+/- B
False positives reported, very light colored test/hard to read
CVS (cassette)
? B

CVS (midstream)
? B

Early Pregnancy Test
+ P
Very accurate early result for most women
+/- P
False positives reported, though not common
+ B
EPT (+/-)
- B
False positives reported, test can be hard to read even just the control line
EPT Certainty
- B
Many false positives
Equate (II)
+ P

Equate (+/-)
+ P
Control line disappears, but positive result will remain for most women
First Response Early Response
+ P
Many get result with sensitivity as low as 12.5, disappearing positives can occur
Inverness (II)
+ B

Inverness (+/-)
- B
False positives reported, inaccurate result common
? P
? P

Rite Aid
- B

- B
Very light control line
- B

Walgreen Digital
+/- B

Wondfo Strips
+/- P
These strips work for some, for others false positive readings are very high, as are evaporation lines

Store brand tests are distributed and made by Inverness, and most with the +/- result are not recommended.

Just from this, most of the blue dye tests reported false positives, weak control lines, and hard to read results. Personally, I would stick with any test that uses pink dye.  Your result will be more accurate, with less false positives, easier to read control lines and positive results, and pink is much easier to distinguish from the gray evaporation lines that do happen.

Please remember, tests are NOT accurate after ten minutes, so throw them away.  Any result you receive after the ten minute mark is not a viable result and you will need to retest to find out what the answer truly is.  A lot of blue dye tests, when taken apart, have a very clear positive area where the result would pop up.  If you open the cassette or take pictures and invert the colors, it is very possible you will see something that looks like a positive test.  Please remember that if you can see a positive result on a test from however far away you would read a book, that is a positive test.  Do not hold it up to the light this way and that, don't invert the colors, and don't keep the test after ten minutes have gone by.

A line is a line is a line, but it is very important that you read the test the way it was intended and the understanding of how each test works can save you from heartbreak from having a false result.

I called the major pregnancy test companies to find out any reported issues and their sensitivities.  Everything I found out is listed in the above table.  This is not a medical guide, and this post is not to take the place of medical advice if you are possibly pregnant.  This is just a guide for pregnancy tests, no more.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Nothing To Cry About

The week my husband was out of town my almost three year old son and my new born daughter and I weathered a hurricane-turned-tropical-storm, having the drunk who lives on our block harass us one dark night by banging on and yelling through our living room windows, and an out of the blue request for a brief TV appearance. All this, I took in as if it was par for the course, just the normal run of things when my husband left town – never mind that I was still a wee bit tired and recovering from giving birth to the daughter who still fits in the sling I wear her in. But it’s the morning when my son wakes up before he’s ready to at 6:45 am that made me think I was going to lose my mind, that made me question myself and think I was a terrible mother, and that made me put myself in time out so I could think through and figure out the appropriate course of action.

When my son wakes up after a good night’s sleep, he’s cheerful, independent, and playful. He thinks everything is exciting and a game. When my son has woken up before he should have, for reasons unbeknownst to all of us, he’s indecisive, impish and well, there’s just lots of crying, simply because he’s tired.

Like many mothers, I want to give my child everything his heart desires, and if he can’t have it or if I can’t give it to him, well, I want him to at least feel like he can ask, and I do explain when he can’t have something. And I do often say when he’s in such foul moods that I will give him anything he wants but he just has to tell me what it is. Except when he’s in that too-tired-still-needs-to-be-asleep mood, he can’t tell me what it is.

His request for breakfast goes something along the lines of:

“I want blue berries.”

“No. I don’t want blue berries.”

“I want a spoon.”

“No. I don’t want a spoon.”

And in between all of it is crying and screaming. I think some would describe it as a temper tantrum. A really good one. Except the cause is unknown to all except him. I just happen to suspect it’s because he’s tired.

When I was a child and something made me cry, my mother uttered the line that many mothers of her generation did: “Stop or I’ll give you something to cry about.” This never made sense to me as a child. I swear I remember thinking, “But I’m already crying, thanks. I don’t need any further help from you.” I think my mother was attempting to make me stop crying, which is part of why it doesn’t make sense. Such a sentence suggests that the child is crying for no reason, except that children don’t cry for no reason. Just because we as parents don’t know the reason, or the child is unable to tell us the reason doesn’t mean they don’t have one. It infers that even if the child has a reason, the parent considers it invalid or unworthy of tears.

Needless to say, I hated it when my mother said this line to me, and when I was teenager I often made lists of the things I promised I would never do to my children. At the top of this list: washing a child’s mouth out with soap and uttering this famous line.

Watching my son crying and asking for something only to refuse it, I thought, this is one of those moments that my mother – if she were here – would indeed say, “Stop, or I’ll give you something to cry about.” Or she’d want to, and bite her tongue, knowing I don’t believe in corporal punishment or really, any kind of punishment. And, I can get how frustrating it must have been for my mother in such moments, simply because it is frustrating, when your child is endlessly crying and frustrated and screaming when you give him what he asks for.

I walked out of the room to give myself a moment. (Just because I don’t see the sense in time outs for children doesn’t mean I don’t regularly take them myself.) On my living room bookshelf are half a dozen of the child rearing books I have read and refer to: You Are Your Child’s First Teacher, my favorite, Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves and so on. On my refrigerator are clippings from parenting articles, so I have reminders of how to stay rational in such situations. Despite all my reading and research, I felt completely inept at the moment. Until my eye falls on a quote from one of the articles, “When you can ask nicely, Mommy will be ready to listen.”

It wasn’t an exact fit for the situation, but close enough. I adapted it, and said calmly, “I will give you whatever you want, when you can ask nicely.”

His immediate response, of course, was to hit, kick, open the fridge and slam it shut. But I knew I couldn’t take it personally. I just repeated what I had said, with the added, we don’t kick or hit or slam doors.

I had to repeat myself I don’t know how many times. The phase became a mantra that for whatever reason removed the anger from both of us and the situation.

Finally, my son hugged my legs, looked up at me and said through his tears, “I want a nap.”

“I thought so.” I said. “Let’s go back to bed.” So we went back to bed. He didn’t sleep, but he curled up and rested his head on my shoulder, while his sister continued sleeping on the other side of me, and we read the latest installment of books from the library.

Half an hour later, my playful, excited, game loving independent almost three year old, sat up as if he was now ready to start the day.

Thank Heavens, I thought, for the morning re-start. And thank heavens I didn’t give him something to cry about.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Preparing your children for their educational future

Once again, it's back-to-school time. For some of us, that involves getting ourselves ready to embark on another year of learning. For some, it is the first experience we have at letting our kids walk out in to the world, to trust others with the minds of our little ones. For the rest of us parents, we look towards the future and what will be the best plan for the educational goals we set for our children.

My husband and I are both college educated individuals. I graduated from ASU with a Bachelors degree in Family and Human Development and my husband graduated from a tech school with a Bachelors in computers/web design. We see education as essential to a person's future. Right now, it is starting to seem that you have to have a Bachelors degree to obtain any job that pays a sufficient amount for a family to survive. In the future, that will jump up to a Master's degree. With all the pending competition for our futures, we know that getting an early start is important.

To prepare for the future of our children, we started a college fund shortly after getting married and one year before conceiving our first child. We feel that if we are going to ensure that our children attend some form of higher learning, we have to make it possible. We will also try and help our children to earn scholarships and grants to help to pay for their education.
Choosing the right school from the beginning will help ensure the later success of our children. Research shows that it takes 2 consecutive years with bad teachers to affect a child. This may be true but I believe that even a week with a bad teacher can change the way a child perceives their education and their success
Join me on my journey to find the perfect school for my 4 year old daughter who will be starting Kindergarten next fall. With all the public, private and charter schools in our area, this will be no easy job.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

My Preschool Dilemma

My son, Lou, is three and a half years old and has entered the age where most kids start preschool. Since I try not to focus on what "most" kids do, it took me a while to determine if I should even bother enrolling him in a preschool. It was a much more difficult decision than I had anticipated. Like any mother, I want my child to have a good education, but deciding what type of schooling is right for my child proved to be quite challenging.

I didn't attend a traditional preschool. My mother and a few other mothers in the neighborhood took turns teaching a group of preschool aged children. I've heard that it was similar to Joy School. I was at home for a good portion of my "schooling" at that age. I have many fond memories of it. I remember several activities that encouraged creativity, sharing and confidence, but I don't remember it feeling anything like traditional schooling. It was more like a slightly structured playgroup. I like this choice for preschool since it's not a traditional curriculum, the children are learning at home, and it still provides social opportunities. To me, it combined what I love about homeschooling with what I like about traditional schooling. Unfortunately, we don't live near many preschool aged children. My poor kid doesn't even have a single preschool aged friend that lives near enough to do something like this.

Honestly I don't feel that my son needs a preschool at all. This blog post conveys my attitude about what preschool aged children (and their parents) should know. One of the best things I can do to help my son learn is to read to him. I love reading and have thoroughly enjoyed reading to my son. (It's the only time he sits still!) So, I figure why pay for a preschool when a library card is free? It doesn't have to cost anything to provide learning experiences to your child. I think reading to your child is one of the most important things you can do for them. The following are some lines from one of my favorite poems: The Reading Mother by Strickland Gillilan.

"You may have tangible wealth untold;

Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.

Richer than I you can never be-

I had a mother who read to me."

My husband and I are fortunate to have work schedules that enable us to each work outside the home without needing daycare. Lou is always home with at least one parent. The downside is that he is an only child and has limited social opportunities. There just aren't many preschool aged children nearby. My main reason for researching preschools is to help fulfill my son's social needs. I am not concerned with finding a school with challenging curriculum or schools that claim high test scores or better "kindergarten readiness." I just want my little guy to get to meet and play with other kids his age. I know this need can be fulfilled in many ways like playgroups and other activities. Due to our work schedules and location, preschool is the easiest and most consistent place to facilitate social opportunities.

Although the social aspect is appealing, I still wasn't convinced that enrolling my son in preschool was the right decision for him. There are so many things to consider. Am I ready to expose him to a classroom environment for learning? Am I comfortable with the things preschools will be teaching? Do I agree with their forms of discipline? Can I afford it? Would my money be better spent buying materials to enhance learning at home? Does my son even want to go to school? I could go on and on. Decisions like this are tough.

Long story short: I wasn't able to find a preschool that was the right fit for us. The right school, found us. Not long after I had made up my mind about keeping Lou out of preschool, a close family friend opened a preschool in her home. Since I know her personally I was better able to ask a multitude of questions without her getting defensive or trying to "sell" the school. She shares my same views on discipline and age appropriate curriculum. She keeps her class size small and the "classroom" still feels like a home. (And when you have connections like this, you just can't beat the price.) Call it fate, karma, answered prayers or whatever you choose, but I am so glad I was finally able to find something that combined a non-traditional school in a home with the social opportunities my son needs.

Is preschool important to you? Why or why not? What factors helped you decide whether to go with a traditional school or a non-traditional alternative? I'd love to hear your feedback!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Inspiring Mom #1: Alicia Harper

Last week, while visiting a neighbor with three kids of her own, the topic turned to motherhood and how every woman is a superhero in her family, but some women are superheroes for us all. We decided that there ought to be an award for those moms who inspire us with their strength of both body and character. So, I went home and I decided that here at Connected Mom, we needed to recognize these bastions of motherhood and so, with your help, I'd like to honor one of these mothers a month.

My first honoree is Alicia Harper. Growing up, I attended the same school as Alicia, but, while we did play softball together one year and were in band together, we didn't know each other very well. She always seemed like a sweet person and I would have liked to have known her better, but we were in different grades and had different circles of friends. However, years later, when I saw her on a mutual acquaintance's facebook friend list, I decided to friend her and see where her life had led her. Little did I know how much that action would inspire me.

It turns out that Alicia is the proud wife of a soldier and is a mother of three beautiful, perfect children. The oldest two are little girls whose pictures reveal sunny dispositions as well as natural, effortless beauty that is reminiscent of what I remember of their mother in school. The youngest, a boy, has enormous brown eyes, adorable little glasses, and a smile that you can't help but return even when all you've ever seen are pictures of it. He also has some profound special needs and was diagnosed before he was even born with hydranencephaly. It is, unfortunately, a terminal condition that occurs during pregnancy in which "part of the child's brain matter is replaced by fluid" (that is a quote from the hydranencephaly awareness facebook page.) However, Alicia, being the strong, inspiring woman that she is, has taken what many would see as a prognosis for the end, and has turned it into just the beginning. She has revealed how much life there is for someone who sees beyond a life threatening diagnosis.

To say that the Harper family faces many challenges that most of us are lucky enough not to face is an understatement, however, what is most profound about their family is not that their youngest member has special needs. Instead, it is the way in which they (especially Alicia) have turned a terminal medical condition into motivation for a life affirming celebration of everything that is precious and wonderful. You can read in Alicia's own words their journey as a family and I think that you will know within a paragraph just how awe-inspiring, strong and encouraging she is as a person and as a mother.

Not only has she succeeded in creating a beautiful, full life for all of her children while negotiating each child's individual needs even though her son's needs are profound and many, but she also engenders inspiration and support for anyone who gets to know her. Her love for life, her boundless exhortation of hope in any situation, her seemingly limitless ability to really grasp the joy in the art of day to day is the very definition of uplifting. Rather than defining her son by his limitations, she is consistently in awe of his capabilities. She teaches you to do the same.

And that's not all! Not only does she provide all the support and love her own family needs as well as inspire those who know her, she also provides support for other parents whose children share diagnoses (and prognoses) similar to her son's. She has even created a non-profit group The Global Hydranencephaly Foundation to help educate and support parents who also face hydranencephaly and also to educate the medical community on the ways in which the lives of children with this diagnosis can be enriched and can thrive. Her adjoining blog "Journey of the Bees" often brings me to tears with its inspiriting stories of tenacity, tenderness, and the insatiable truth of how life perseveres even when it is faced with the greatest of challenges. "Like" the foundation on facebook and you will know what it is to be inspired to be a better mom, a better friend, and a better supporter of all those in need.

Now, what about you? What inspiring moms do you know? Who do you know who makes a difference in the lives of her children, her community, her friends, or her world? Email me at and she could be our next "Inspiring Mom."

Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

You are Beautiful

I often hear women talking about themselves, especially mothers, and saying the words “fat”, “gut”, “muffin top”.  It makes me so sad.
One thing that has drawn me to helping women is how beautiful they are.  Short, tall, big, small.  They are all just so gorgeous.
And the women I love more than anything are mothers.  Whether they had their baby a day ago or they are a great-grandma to 15.  Their bodies are just aged to perfection.  They have the bodies I want.  The body that grew and nurtured multiple children.  The body that when you look at it looks saggy and tired, but in truth is just simply beautiful.
As women, we always compare ourselves to others instead of thinking about how we *feel*.  We see commercials and TV shows and covers of magazines and wonder what we are doing wrong.
When the truth is, what we are doing wrong is comparing our body to what we think the perfect body looks like.
My favorite woman’s body is the one that she is comfortable in.  I can’t even begin to describe how a woman glows when she is comfortable in her own skin.  With her wrinkled, sagged breasts, and her stomach that doesn’t really bounce back like when she was a teenager.  The body that grew a living being.  The body that nourished that being and helped it grow.  The body that taught and loved and raised another person.
We, as mothers, don’t give ourselves enough credit.  We see these magazine racks and the women on there with their new babies and perfect bodies and we measure ourselves and find ourselves lacking.
When in fact, the only difference is a trainer that charges $5000 an hour, and a professional with an air brush.
I see women that have just given birth to their child, and their stomach still looks pregnant, and they are tired, but they are at their most beautiful.  Our bodies were made to stretch and grow.  They were made to grow more beautiful with use.
Some of my favorite artwork is of big breasted, full bellied women.  Just like the cavemen used to pray to.  The Mother of all the Earth.
She wasn’t a skinny supermodel.  She wasn’t slim or trim.  She was a woman that loved with everything she had.  She was a woman that bore her body with pride at what she had created and nurtured.
She is the most beautiful of all.
(courtesy of google images)
In my eyes, she is beautiful.
We shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to others.  We shouldn’t be unhappy because the number on a scale isn’t what we wished we saw.
We need to learn to be comfortable in our own skin.  We need to learn to be happy with the body we have, the body that grew and nurtured our children.  We need to learn to love ourselves.
You are beautiful.  A number on a scale or a pants size doesn’t make the mother.  What makes a mother is the love she has for her children.  The love she has for herself.
Mothers are the most beautiful to me of all.
This was originally posted on my site months ago, but I felt it needed to be shared on here as well

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunday School: Gently Encouraging Good Manners

Welcome to the Connected Mom Sunday School. No matter what the course of your child's education, be it unschooling, homeschooling, or conventional schooling, The Connected Mom Sunday School aims to provide you with fun and easy activities for children of all ages and stages. (Have an idea for a Connected Mom Sunday School activity or theme? Either comment below or send your idea to connectedmom (dot) julian (at) gmail (dot) com.)

I recently learned that September is Children's Good Manners Month. Now, my first reaction to this information was not so positive. I am not a fan of the sort of manners training where children are forced to say "please" or "thank you" or to make insincere apologies. Then I got to thinking about it: gentle parenting is really all about manners! Good manners are about treating people--including little people--with respect. No matter what your parenting style, who doesn't want their children to be considerate of others? This week's activities help to gently encourage good manners.


Thank You Coloring Cards

Toddlers may not have the impulse control to behave like perfect ladies and gentlemen, but it's never too early to teach the important lesson of gratitude. Helping your child make thank you cards is one fun way to teach it. Fisher Price Print & Color Cards offers several different free printable thank you card designs. Just choose a card you like and print it on your own paper. Then give your child some crayons and let her go to town. You might also like to write a message, telling the recipient how your child appreciates their kindness. Your child might not make the connection yet, but making a card draws her attention to the recipient's act of kindness and helps form the habit of sending thank you notes. The site also offers get well cards, perfect for encouraging empathy and compassion.


Reading Emotions

A big part of good manners is paying attention to others' feelings. ChildFun shares a fun idea for helping children read different facial expressions. From magazines, cut pictures that show children and adults displaying a variety of emotions. Glue each picture to a firm backing, such as card stock of poster board and cut it out. Show your child the pictures, one at a time, and ask him how he thinks the person feels. Ask him what he sees in the person's face that led him to that answer. If he is having trouble answering, point out certain facial traits, such as raised eyebrows or a frowning mouth. Older children may also like to make up background stories for why the person feels this way. For example, maybe the little girl is smiling because her brother shared a toy with her.

School-Aged Child

Role Playing

Think of a variety of situations in which good manners are necessary. Some possibilities include: sharing art supplies, standing in line, waiting one's turn to speak, etc. Play out the situation with your child. If possible, involve a sibling or friend in the role play. One example, also taken from ChildFun is the following scenario:

Two children are sitting at a table coloring. One child needs a crayon that is out of his/her reach. It is within the reach of the other child. What should the first child say to the other child nearest the crayons?

See their site for more scenarios. Of course, the best scenarios are those taken from your child's own experience! It's also fun to be silly and use bad manners, then ask your child what you should have done differently.

Older Child (10+)

Formal Night

Perhaps the best way to learn table manners is to practice. Starting out in the comfort of your home helps eliminate uncomfortable situations in a public place. Laura Agadoni of Modern Mom suggests hosting a regular formal night. At dinner time, have everyone in the family dress up. Set the table formally and serve a special meal. As you enjoy your meal, model to your child basic table manners, such as how to hold a fork and where to place your napkin. Rather than criticizing your child's mistakes, point out when you are using manners and describe what you are doing. For example, say: When I sit down to eat, I put my napkin in my lap. Once he has a good grasp on manners, your child could even practice being a gracious host by planning and hosting a dinner party for his friends.