Friday, December 30, 2011

How Our Homebirth Saved Christmas

Growing up, Christmas was my favorite holiday. My family, thankfully, never emphasized the commercial aspect. We simply enjoyed spending time together and exchanging heartfelt gifts. Since I got married, the holidays have been increasingly stressful. With double the family, our time is spent rushing hurriedly from one gathering to another, staying for long enough to make an appearance. Adding kids to the mix made it increasingly difficult. The stress was hard on the kids, and I felt guilty for putting them through the ringer each year. I had come to dread the entire month of December. This year, I received a special gift--one that caused me to slow down and reconsider what's really important.

On Christmas day, I was 36 weeks, 5 days pregnant. I woke up feeling a little pressure down low, but didn't think anything of it. I am a firm believer in letting a baby come when he's ready, and had bookmarked a link about why at least 39 weeks of pregnancy is better for baby. I planned to share it when people started asking, "Have you had that baby yet?!" By about 10 that morning, I knew that I would have no need to share it. It took a few more hours to convince myself and my labor support that this was the real deal.

By 10, I was having regular contractions--about 3-5 minutes apart--but I could talk through them. I have had pretty regular Braxton-Hicks contractions in the past, and I certainly didn't want to birth my baby so early. Plus, I didn't want to disrupt anyone's Christmas unless I was completely sure. We decided that I would rest on my side for a while and see if things continued to progress. My husband took the kids out visiting. This slowed my contractions to between 5 and 7 minutes apart. They stayed that way as long as I didn't get up. By around 6 in the evening, the family had finished their visiting and my parents were free to take our three older kids to their house.

That's when I got vertical. Anyone who tries to tell you that position is not important during labor is wrong! Assisted by gravity, my contractions went from somewhat painful and 3 or 4 minutes apart to almost unbearable and 2 minutes apart. I slumped over the birthing ball some, sat on it some, swayed and rocked a lot, and paced back and forth to the toilet over and over again. Nothing seemed to work for comfort. I decided to soak in the tub for a while to help relieve the pain. It slowed things down again, but they soon picked back up and then, whoah, did they pick up! After a day of questioning myself, I finally felt sure that I was in active labor. We called our midwife and asked her to come.

Our midwife arrived around 7:30 and determined that I was 4-5 centimeters dilated. She gave me about 30 minutes alone with my husband to work through labor, but by that point, I did not feel there was any working through it. I did not want him to touch me, and I could not hold still. Then again, it hurt too much to move. I had been through transition before, and this was it. How did I ever go through this lying in bed or strapped into a car seat? After 45 minutes or less, I was pretty sure I felt ready to push, and asked him bring the midwife into the bathroom. "Are you sure?" he asked. That's when I yelled at him (sorry, babe!). After a long day of self-doubt, I was over being questioned. I was ready!

After hearing me yell, the midwife was as sure as I was. She went straight to our bedroom and prepared for the delivery. I wanted to try squatting on a birthing stool, but it hurt too much, and I ended up lying on my side instead. I decided to try a push or two, after which my water broke. Suddenly, the pain subsided and my body could do nothing but push. It was beyond my conscious control. As our midwife turned around to ready her supplies, my husband saw our baby's head emerge and jumped quickly to catch it. Two pushes later, my youngest son was born into my husband's hands on Christmas night, right there in our own bedroom. Shortly after, we were cleaned up and snuggled into our own cozy bed.

I truly believe that our homebirth made a positive difference. The whole birth experience was so peaceful and free from drama. So far, I have seen this reflected in my little guy's calm demeanor and in my own easy recovery. It even seems to have cast a peace over the household. Best of all, my Christmas baby has turned the holiday around for me. From now on, the stress of the holidays will be overshadowed by the memory of this special Christmas night. I will remember cuddling my 8-pound bundle of hope and looking forward to the promise that his new life represents. He reminds me that what is at the very heart of Christmas--and of life itself--is love. When a child is welcomed into the world surrounded by love, he can grow to spread that love to family, friends, and maybe even to all mankind. I can't think of a better way to give him that start.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Savoring the Undone

As a parent, I learn over and over again to give up my expectations and mostly my expectations of myself or events and holidays. I am reminded frequently, that even with organization and planning and being prepared (and the kind of prepared that comes from being raised by an Eagle Scout and then marrying one), things still don’t go as expected.

On Christmas Eve morning, my husband took my son to the Farmer’s Market and playground, so I could have some “alone” time for writing and blog posting. “Alone” these days means me with a nursing baby who ideally will nurse to sleep and will stay asleep while I work on my laptop next to her on the bed. Except my baby has an intense Mommy radar and knows instantly if I have moved farther than 3 feet away or if I have turned my attention to something other than her. This can be frustrating at times when I want to get something done, but really, I don’t mind all that much. She loves me more than any other human being ever has. I’m sure of it. I can see it on her face when she sees me. It can be easy to just sit play, talk and look at her rather than do anything else. When my husband works from home, I’m constantly distracting him with the baby, because I can’t simply believe he just doesn’t want to look at her all the time.

Other people don’t get anything done with a baby in the house because they’re going without sleep. Sleep has never been an issue in our family (thank heavens). The four of us could medal in napping if the Olympics ever decided to officially make it a sport (which it is just in case you didn’t know). But we don’t get anything done in our house, because we’re playing and flirting with our children. (This is kind of why my blog posts are always late these days).

Back to the writing time I was supposed to get that I actually spent nursing and trying to put my baby to sleep while reading Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, my son and husband didn’t stay out that long. It was too cold for the playground. (In the beginning of Winter, 45 degrees is too cold for the playground; by the end of Winter, 25 degrees is acceptable playground weather.) My son has had a cough and cold the last couple of days. He’s been in that in between sick phase, where at home he thinks he feels better enough to go out and play, and then he gets out and realizes it’s better to just rest in the stroller.

I thought we’d spend Christmas Eve making more Christmas cookies. My husband and I have gotten addicted to having gingerbread cookies with our bedtime cup of tea, and we’ve already eaten the cookies we made. My son didn’t want to do anything baking related. He wanted to play planes. My daughter wanted to play with the wrapping paper left out. We let her do this because watching a 5 month old play with paper and ribbon is as hilarious as watching a kitten play with a paper bag. It’s endless fun honestly. But I suddenly remembered that I had to make my husband’s favorite Christmas treat: pumpkin roll cake with cream cheese frosting. I managed to make this cake, though now as I’m writing this I am remembering I still have to frost it and after the late night Christmas Eve wrapping that happened on the kitchen table, I realize now I don’t actually know where that cake is. Crap.

My son, thanks to not feeling well, ended up taking a three-hour nap. During his nap, I was able to finish wrapping his stocking gifts. I knew I had to, that even with not feeling well, his nap meant he’d be up until close to midnight. I was right about this. After dinner, instead of a bath, he played some more. We decided we could finally assemble the gingerbread house we had baked the weekend before. We made the royal icing to glue the house together. My husband and I had made up our own gingerbread house pattern. We had wanted to make a gingerbread Eames-like house. Once my husband figured out how to get the right consistency of icing and got our house iced together, our house looked more like a Flintstones house than an Eames house.

At 9:30 pm, my son showed no signs of slowing down. We decided to watch A Miracle on 34th Street. When my son finally did get tired, he refused to go to sleep until he had seen the end of the movie. My daughter had nursed herself to sleep in my arms. As predicted after naptime, my son was up until 11:30 pm. He finally fell asleep as my husband read him The Polar Express, while I filled his stocking downstairs. I was about to head to bed with the baby, when I remembered we still had our son’s Santa gift in the upstairs closet. Luckily for me, my husband took care of it.

As I fell asleep, I thought of the things I had hoped to get done. I’ve always hoped to be one of those people who has dozens of gingerbread, sugar and shortbread cookies laying around the house. Toffee seems easy enough to make, but I have yet to master it. The only way I can think of to save this year’s batch is to take a hammer to it and crunch it up to make ice cream with it. I’d like to have the house cleaned with all the laundry done before going to bed Christmas Eve, yet this year just getting the living room and kitchen cleaned up was enough.

I don’t feel like I’m one of those people who wants perfection. I feel more like the mom who’s barely keeping it together – with a son who at three has already pointed out that Santa coming into our house while we’re sleeping will probably wake the dog and is slightly invasive, not to mention that presents actually come from the post office. Oh yes, and my husband’s favorite pumpkin roll cake is still lost somewhere in my kitchen.

Recently, an older mother said to me, “You can have everything, dear, but you just can’t DO everything.” Wise words. I have a lot to be thankful for this holiday. The things that didn’t get done? Kind of defeats the point of the holiday to beat myself up over those.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Birthing (and Re-Birthing) a Mother

"The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new." ~Rajneesh

Our babies births are not the only births that are important. We become the mothers we are through a variety of different channels and experiences and, if we do so mindfully and really embrace change, we continue to evolve and grow just as our children do. In the end, we birth ourselves into the new world of motherhood and, later, we can emerge as better mothers and women. I truly believe that birth is just the beginning of that path. Clearly, a good birth experience can be a wonderful beginning for that journey. However, we sometimes focus a little too much on the actual, physical birth experience and not enough on the spiritual evolution of what it means to be a mother.

Recently, I was reading about birth and I came across an article that disturbed me. (I will not mention the article or the author of this article because I feel that midwives are already maligned too much and I do not want to impugn all the good she writes and does for women and their births because of one part of one article.) I'm not as "birthy" (yet!) as some of the other amazing women I know, but I do love a good birth story. I whole heartedly believe in a woman's right to choose her birth and that women in our current birth culture are not given all of the information they actually need to choose the best birth possible for themselves and their babies. Women also often don't have enough access to birth settings that are best for them because of insurance concerns. However, in this article, the author was talking about the long term effects of birth and mentioned a conversation she had with another midwife in which the midwife pointed to women playing in a swimming pool with their babies and stated that she could determine the kind of birth (natural, cesarean, or medicated) each baby had by the connection (or lack there of) the mother/baby had in the pool. That moment cut me to the quick because I am a mother of a baby born through cesarean and it hurt me deeply that there was an assumption that because of the way my baby was birthed, we somehow could never grow as deeply connected as mother and child as a mother who had successfully had a natural birth and that difference would somehow be obvious even to the most casual (but interested) observer.

As important as birth is (and it is very, very important) to the health and well-being (physically and mentally) of both the baby and the mother, it is still only one part of the relationship between mother and child. When a c-section happens it is still a birth; when a medicated birth is chosen, that is still a birth. Both are just as much new beginnings for mother and babies as much as natural births are and each new beginning holds just as much promise as the next one for the people who are involved in it. Bonding after a cesarean or a medicated birth is not impossible and lack of initial bonding (should that occur), is not as insurmountable as the author seemed to suggest in that vignette. In fact, what brings many women into birth activism and attached parenting practices are their difficult birthing experiences and from those sad beginnings spring strong women who work tirelessly to connect to their children in new ways and to make birth safer for the women who become mothers after them.

Our children may only be physically, literally born once, but they are spiritually born many, many times as they grow and change. We, as their mothers, also have the chance to birth ourselves into new kinds of mothers and women. Every day, we are offered the chance to make a new start and, personally, I avail myself of those opportunities as often as I can. When we focus too single-mindedly on the importance of physical birth and any regrets we have about our past decisions, we risk missing the rebirth we have available to us every day. I know that my son and I are not the same people who met on the day of his birth after an unplanned c-section. We have grown beyond the mother and son that were birthed that day. The love we share and the relationship we have worked to build has helped us evolve into something better. I love him more every day. If we were swimming in that pool, I don't think anyone could ever see us as anything other than what we are, a completely bonded, loving mother and child in spite of our less than perfect birth experience.

Thanks again for reading,

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tis The Season For Santa

When my son was six weeks old, my mother-in-law visited and my husband thought it would be fun for her if we took our newborn to see Santa Claus. Indeed, seeing a grandchild visit Santa and having an opportunity to take as many pictures as possible is the kind of thing that is right up my mother-in-law’s alley. She loved it.

I, however, did not. Santa Claus, when he doesn’t live at the North Pole, happens to live at the mall. He also brings lots of elves with him that shake jingle bells in your face. The mall provides him with loud piped in Christmas music and quartets of percussion playing carolers throughout his line. The line to see Santa Claus is full of overdressed children and parents all making their lists of what they really want (American Girl dolls, quiet non-whiny children, just one good picture before they can get out of there.). It was too much. Between all the people, various forms of music, overdressed children and elves shaking jingle bells in my face, I got overwhelmed. I haven’t taken my son to see Santa since.

But this year, my son is three. He loves looking at Christmas trees. He loved decorating our tree. He’s already seen the Christmas exhibit of trains in Grand Central station three times. We started talking about Christmas and what we would eat and do what we wanted. I asked him what he wanted.

“A basketball, Mommy,” he said. “Not two, just one. And a taxi car.”

My husband and I started talking about what we would tell him about Santa. We were clear that Santa is a fun idea that lots of people participate in. While neither of us fully believed in Santa as children, we both loved the magic of Santa. We loved those childhood Christmas mornings when we woke up early and walked into the living room with the tree lit, Christmas music softly playing, and our overfull stockings laid out next to our Santa gift. We loved waking up those Christmas mornings and finding a Christmas tree lit transformation in the living room. I still love Christmas because of the Santa Claus inspired magic.

But I don’t have a problem with Santa. What I hate about the whole Santa myth is the socially accepted form of manipulation that gets used on children. I cringe when I hear people ask children if they’ve been “good” this year. I cringe even more when I hear parents or adults tell children that if they’re good (and don’t argue with their brother, or do as mommy asks, or make their bed in the morning or whatever it is that the parent wants) Santa will come and bring them what they want. Occasionally, I hear older generations throw in that if they’re not, they’ll get a lump of coal. I’ve never actually heard of a child getting a lump of coal on Christmas, which to me, makes it the worse kind of manipulation, as it’s the kind where parents don’t actually follow through. The parent’s word is meaningless; whether the child is good or not, Santa comes and leaves behind a full stocking and gifts.

No wonder children don’t trust adults. The adults lie to get what they want in the short term just as much as children do. And some parents swear by it for younger children, which, for me, is exactly the problem with the whole mess to begin with: it’s not sustainable parenting. It’s trick parenting that makes the parent-child relationship a power struggle and whoever has the better trick wins. Rather than offering children meaningful and authentic guidance for living life and getting along with others, parents instead are always looking for the next manipulation scheme to give them the upper hand in the relationship.

Except the use of Santa is not just between parent and child, it’s society wide. The carolers stand outside of Macy’s and sing “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and “to be good for goodness sake.” I get emails from various Moms groups or event notifications telling me about the Santa hours around town and all of them ask if my child has been “good” and knows what he wants Santa to bring him.

Needless to say, while I love the magic of Santa, it’s another year where I can’t bring myself to dress my son up and take him to see Santa. I tell him that Santa is coming to him, that he doesn't have to be good. He can just be himself.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Potential Poison: The Life of a Food Allergy Mom

Imagine walking into a grocery store and nearly every box, every drink, and every bag (even the organic, all natural ones) have the potential to poison your child within two hours (or less) of ingesting it. The poison may just make your child sick to his or her stomach, or it might cause hives, or even catastrophic breathing failure. This poison is so strong that it may make your child sick if he or she eats foods that are even on the same equipment as that poison. The problem is that this poison is often odorless, invisible, and tasteless. You are your child's only defense. You must read every label of every food you give your child multiple times to ensure that you do not feed him or her something that will poison them. You also wash your hands constantly when you are in the kitchen and practically panic any time a well-meaning relative tries to make safe food for your child just because you know how much your child trusts you. He or she will eat whatever you give because they have ultimate faith that you could never hurt him or her. (Faith that, despite your best efforts, proves to be occasionally misplaced.) That is the pressure that is on a food allergy mom every minute of every day.

In my case, my son currently has dairy, nut, and egg sensitivities. Additionally, pork is the only meat we've found so far that he can eat without throwing up. (Sensitivities in small children are basically identical to official allergies with the same symptoms and life threatening potential. The only difference is that "sensitivities" are not officially diagnosed and (often) the child grows out of them by the time they hit puberty . .. or at least that is every mom's dream. For official diagnosis, it is also recommended that one has the blood test, the skin test, and a challenge done. I'm hoping that he will outgrow them before all that is necessary.) Meanwhile, because of the pervasiveness of dairy and his extreme sensitivity to it, I do not trust any restaurant's food enough to let him have it. (It's really hard to pin down accidental contamination). So, every time we go out to eat, I have to prepare and bring food for him to eat on his own plate from home to decrease the potential for accidental contamination. Every visit to a friend's house, I have to be painfully aware of what my child is putting near his mouth at all times. If their child is having a snack of peanut butter and milk, I have to make sure that my son does not touch the table, the cup, or the wash cloth that touched any of the food. Every time we are invited to a birthday party, we have to make our own birthday cake and/or ice cream and (often) a meal to bring with us and I spend most of the "eating" portion of the party on pins and needles afraid that he will start crying because he cannot have what the others have or (worse yet!) will get hold of the other children's food, have a reaction, and we will end up in the emergency room.

Don't get me wrong. I know that I am ultimately lucky. I have a child who is very healthy and will likely remain healthy and I also know that it is very, very probable that he will grow out of some, if not all, of his sensitivities. I have also never had to witness my child gasping for air because of any reaction, yet. We have had some facial swelling, nasty rashes, hives, blood in the stool and heart racing episodes, but those have, thankfully, been few and far between. Mostly, we have a lot of diarrhea, stomach aches, light rashes, and sleepless nights when he comes in contact with his problem foods (signs of intolerances rather than full allergies, thank God!).

My son's food sensitivities have also forced me into a new relationship with food that has led to many new, positive choices that I may have been too lazy to make before. (Spending increased time in the health food store will do that to a person!) I also am extremely fortunate that I am a stay at home mom who really can buy, prepare, and watch every morsel of food my son eats. We can also afford a lot of alternative foods that are pricey, but that give my son a sense of "normalcy" (soy puddings, "safe" cake mixes, a sometimes necessity since I'm only slowly learning how to become a better baker, safe gummy treats, etc.).

Are his food issues caused by all the chemicals I exposed him to when I was pregnant? Perhaps. I probably wasn't as careful as I am now about what foods I bought. Are they the result of a bad genetic lottery? Perhaps. His father certainly had many food issues at his age and I have several seasonal allergies. Over all, I've found the search for the "whys" are pretty useless at this stage in the game. For now, we just hope that it won't last forever and I'm just grateful that our diligence has paid off in that, most of the time, our son is happy, healthy, and eats very well. I offer this testimony, not to complain about my life, but to explain a little of how a food allergy affects everyone in a family. For better or worse, this is our life and this is who our son is. We are doing everything we can to make the world a safer place for him and to be the best parents we can be. Just remember when you hear about a child with a food sensitivity or allergy how important it is to help his or her parent out a little if you can. Pay attention to the ingredients if you want to make something for the family to eat, try to avoid snacks that contain the allergens if the child is coming over, let the parent know what you are serving at birthday parties so that she can try to approximate it as best she can for her child, and remember that this is about safety, not special treatment. It takes a community to keep some of our most precious, fragile children safe.

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Starting Our Homeschool Collection

Since we officially decided to homeschool our daughter for at least Kindergarten, we decided to start getting things really organized so she can study and learn whenever she wants now so we are in a good place once we "officially" start to homeschool next Fall.

We are going to be using a mixture of homeschooling and unschooling practices to keep us all sane, while helping her learn and have fun.  We've already had a few doses of what happens when we push her beyond what she wants to do, and I do not want a repeat of the complete shutdown that ensues (which is just another reason we are keeping her home).

I found so many different preschool and kindergarten printables on Pinterest, but leading back to their main sites was amazing (which I will link to at the bottom of the post).  So many free pages to print off so we can do activities and learning at home without buying expensive books that she can only work on once.  I went and bought a $30 laminator at Walmart, with 50 laminating pouches, so all told I spent $45 on that, not including paper and ink to print the pages off.  I also bought her her own binder, so I could organize it all, tab dividers, wet erase markers (so they wouldn't rub off while she was writing or drawing) and some ring clips to organize the games I was able to find and print off.  I think I ended up spending about $60 on everything, but the laminator was the most expensive and an item I won't be buying again.

It took about two hours to print, cut, laminate, and get everything ready for her to use, but she helped me with the entire process, which I think made her even more excited to use it all.  I keep finding more things to add to it all, but I knew that was how it would be, and another reason I am so glad I bought the laminator.

For four hours the first day, my daughter did nothing but the pages I had made for her.  The next day she spent another four hours.  That night we did have our first meltdown when we did push her to play just one more time when she didn't want to, but even then, she was happy through the rejection.  Today, she took a break from it all, and I know she just needed a break, but she brought the stuff out multiple times and then became distracted.

(Sorry about the quality of the pictures, my camera is missing and I used my cell phone)

Letter Matching - Match the capitol letter with its corresponding lowercase letter

Lowercase and Uppercase tracing pages


Letter Matching Game - Match the animal to the letter it starts with

Mazes and drawing pages

Number and Shape matching game. There are even backs to print off so you can't see through the pages

Number Book - Find the numbers, and write on each page

Number Tracing Pages with counting ladybugs

Each of the links above have more pages to print at each site.  These are just the basic ones I printed off as a trial, but please feel free to click through the sites and find whatever you need.  There are thousands to print off, and they are all free.

Do you use any tools (ie: books, toys, printables) for homeschooling?  If so, what are they?

Friday, December 2, 2011

You Won't Win a Medal

You haven't heard a lot from me here lately. I won't make excuses, but I will give you a reason. I have been struggling with where I fit into the whole attachment parenting/natural family living community. Idealistically, I subscribe to almost everything to do with the philosophy. Realistically, it just doesn't play out that way. I don't know if I'm overwhelmed or overstressed or it's just the voice of almost every other parent I've ever known ringing in my head. They all seem to scream the same message: "You won't win a medal! Why don't you just [insert conventional parenting method here]." The truth is, I'm not trying to win a medal. I'm just trying to give my kids the best possible start in life--to raise them to be kind, thoughtful, confident and fulfilled individuals. Most days, I feel like I am failing.

I especially worry about my oldest child. He is a quirky, bright, creative five-year-old. He does very well academically--especially in reading. He is generally outgoing and talkative with people, even those he has just met. Still, some days it feels like I'm not getting through to him at all. I can address the same problem behavior--say, writing on the walls--again and again. I can explain why he shouldn't do it (because we work hard to provide this home and want to take care of it). I can provide paper to write on and other creative outlets. I can even put all writing implements that I can find out of his reach. He inevitably extends his reach or finds something else to creatively use as an art medium.

It is on days like these that I relive his entire life history, wondering where I failed him. I was younger and less informed when he was born. I should have stood up for my rights during his birth. I shouldn't have allowed the doctor to clamp his cord immediately. I should have breastfed longer, worn him more. I should have been more selective with child care providers. I replay every scenario and wonder if that would have made the present any easier. Of course, dwelling on it won't change the past, but if I knew where I went wrong, maybe I could figure out how to undo the damage. Then those sneaky voices start telling me, "He needs discipline!" And they sure don't mean gentle discipline. With my guilt pulling from one side and societal pressure pulling from another, it's enough to pull a mom apart.

Despite all that internal conflict, what pulls me back to my senses is neither guilt, nor pressure, but the constant, gentle tug of something deeper. I'm not sure what to call it, but I feel it when I treat him with respect and watch him open up to me. I feel it when he models that same respect to his brother and sister. It's amazing how a change in my tone can set the mood for the day. I realize that ink pen with clean, or at worst can be painted over. Suddenly, I don't need a medal, or any outside acknowledgment, to know that I'm on the right track. My children's love, their trust, and--if my instincts are correct--their future, are the only prize I need.