Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Son Was Born "Imperfect" - What Would You Do?

I am really excited to be joining Connected Mom as a writer. I have three wonderful children, one of whom is 9 and in Elementary school. His name is Styles and he is the most wonderful, sweet boy I could have ever hoped for. I will be writing a lot about issues regarding his age range so I'd like to use my first post as a way to introduce Styles and to also address one of the most difficult parenting decisions I've ever had to make.

This post has the potential to be the longest blog post in all of history, simply because there is SO much history and science behind Styles’ birthmark. However, I want to keep this more about my emotions and less about history or science so I’ll do my best to do just that.
Styles was born after 3 hours and 6 minutes of labor, from first contraction to finish. No lie. Nobody expected him to be born so quickly; I was young, he was my first child, yadda yadda yadda. That said, everyone and their mother was in the room when he was delivered because the nurses didn’t have time to kick ANYONE out. And the entire thing is documented in photographs. I’ll gladly send you a picture if you’d like
to see. Or not.
When he was born, he was pink and beautiful and had a very prominent purple stain on his face. I was in shock that I had just delivered a baby so I didn’t notice it at first but everyone around me seemed to see nothing else. They didn’t care that he had perfect Agpar scores, or that he was breathing, or that he had 10 toes, and 10 fingers. They were more concerned about this “thing” on his face. Questions swirled around us, “Would it fade?” ”Would it grow?” ”What will you do?” ”People are going to stare…what will you say?” ”Maybe the OB rubbed his face like that as he massaged your perineum during delivery?” “Will you sue?” I could go on for another thousand words but I’ll stop now. His pediatrician came in the next morning with the news. There were two “Worst Case Scenarios”. One was that it was a “Strawberry Hemangioma” where it would grow in size and become raised, possibly blocking his vision due to its placement on his face. Treatment for this would include shots of steroids in the hemangioma, causing it to shrink so that it wouldn’t hinder his eye sight. The second scenario was that it was just a port wine stain. That in and of itself is not so bad. What he was
concerned about was that because of its placement, it could very well be associated with Sturge-Weber
Syndrome. SWS is not life-threatening and many kids with it have relatively normal lives. It can cause calcification in the brain leading to some learning difficulties, delayed or difficult speech, seizures, and possible paralysis or weakness on one side of the body. We would have to wait with both diagnosis to see if either presented itself. This was all VERY overwhelming for me. I was young, this was my first baby, and I just didn’t know how to handle the news. I still didn’t really “see” the birthmark. He was my beautiful baby no matter what. I was aware of the stares in public and I couldn’t close my ears to judgmental remarks from my family. But our pediatrician was certain that it would fade after puberty, and urged me to let it be.
After a few MRIs and CT scans, Sturge-Weber was ruled out and Styles’ birthmark never did grow in size. It
has actually faded quite a bit from its original magenta, but still covers the same percentage of his face as it always has. It has been determined that it is a simple port wine stain, strategically placed like a slap across the face, absolutely cosmetic in nature. I decided when he was very young that I didn’t want to put him through the surgery necessary to have it removed. It involves pulse-dye lasers and many, many treatments. Because of its proximity to his eye and his age, they would have had to put him under general anesthesia for treatment. Yes, the younger the skin, the better the healing but I couldn’t risk putting my child under general anesthesia for a cosmetic “flaw”. To me it felt like giving a 2 year old breast implants or liposuction. Was it really necessary?
I fretted over what people would think as he grew up. Kids can be cruel. I was laughed at because of my name. When I moved to Alaska at the age of 9, people teased me because of my southern accent. My last name rhymed with “butt” so I often heard, “Summer Northcutt has a big butt” (which is/was TRUE – can you blame
them?) I was also called “Winter” and endured endless snickers as we learned about the seasons. There is always something to tease a kid about. But was I setting my son up for failure by allowing this birthmark to remain on his face? I decided no. His name is “Styles”. He has WHITE hair and a birthmark on his face. He’s going to be teased about SOMETHING at some point in his life. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?
I still wasn’t convinced but I waited. People came up to us in public and often asked nicely what was on his face. But sometimes we’d encounter
some rude, uneducated jerk who would ask us “what happened to his face” to which I would reply, “It is a capillary hemangioma.” I never explained to those people that it was simply a birthmark. Using the scientific term with classless people was much more satisfying to me
since I couldn’t way what I really wanted to say:
“What happened to YOUR face?”
As Styles grew and learned to talk, I taught him that it was a birthmark. I never made a big deal about his stain because I didn’t feel that it needed to be a big deal. If I made it a big deal, then it would be a big deal to him and I didn’t want to be the cause for any self-esteem issues that he would suffer as a result of having a birthmark on his face. Styles learned that when people asked him what it was to simply respond with, “It’s a birthmark” and then be on his merry way. As a result of his flip nature about it, he has not endured any teasing or name calling, which surprises me as he gets older and is now in the 4th grade. I firmly believe that because he is so nonchalant about it, kids move on to something else because they see that it doesn’t bother him.
When Styles was 4 I sat him down and had a serious talk with him about having it removed. I told him that the decision was his and that I would support him no matter what he decided to to. His response to me was, “But
Mom, if we get it taken off, I won’t be Styles anymore!” I choked back the tears as I laughed and gave him a huge hug. OK, baby, whatever you want.
I’ve received a lot of flack from family and friends of family whose opinions matter very little to me. They all say that I am doing him a disservice by not taking the initiative as his parent to have it removed. But as you can recall from the beginning of this post, it is simply cosmetic. My mom never got me a nose job when someone told me in the 6th grade that if I ever wanted to be french kissed that I’d have to break my nose. (Thanks a lot, Zach Brown). My mom has a LONG list in her head of the names that people are going to call him. I won’t even bother listing them, it’s quite ridiculous to pretend she can see into the future and know that he’s going to be called “this thing” or “that”. If you’d like to know what Styles is going to be called in the future by some jerky little kid, feel free to contact her and she’ll regale you with at least 649 different names.

I personally think that it will make him a stronger person. I want to use his birthmark to teach him that we all have differences. Sometimes, those differences are obvious and other times they’re not, but they’re there. I want him to know that beauty lies on the inside not on the
outside. Not based on the color of someone’s skin, or because they have a birthmark, or other physical or mental handicap. I don’t want him to date girls who only want him because he’s attractive (another argument my mom has for getting it removed – God forbid Styles not some day have a hot girlfriend). I wouldn’t want him dating superficial girls like that anyways. I want him to marry a woman who loves him for his outstanding personality, intelligence, and wit. Not because *GASP* he has a birthmark on his otherwise very handsome face.
I know that it frustrates him sometimes when the same people ask time and time again, like the answer is going to change. For instance, we were in the grocery store this week and this annoying little twit saw Styles in an aisle. Apparently he knew who Styles was from school but is in a younger grade. He asked Styles “what happened to your face?” and Styles told him that it was a birthmark. The kid kept asking. It was SUPER frustrating for me as a parent but I stood back and watched to see what Styles would do. He completely ignored this little turd-hole after he answered him the second time and kept talking to me like he couldn’t hear
him. I was very proud. Because I don’t want to make a big deal about it, I didn’t ask him how it made him feel. He knows that he can come to me when and if he wants it removed. So we went to check out and this same little nit-wit leaves the aisle his mom is in and runs over to our aisle to ask Styles AGAIN what happened to his face. After the FIFTH time, I bent down and said loudly, “IT’S A BIRTHMARK”. He said, “what happened to your face?” (for the sixth time) and I again said loudly, “IT’S A BIRTHMARK AND IT’S BEEN THERE SINCE HE WAS BORN.”
The little monkey kept asking and I finally said, “OK the truth is, he was annoying me, kind of like you are right now, and I slapped him. You want one too?”
He ran back to his mommy and I have NO clue whether or not he told her what I had said and quite frankly, I really don’t care. OK so I shouldn’t have handled it that way, but this kid was SERIOUSLY irritating me. I finally talked to Styles when we got to the car (cough…van) about this kid and how he (Styles) had reacted. I told him that I was super proud of him for being calm about it. But I also gave him full-on permission to make up some sort of radical story about his birth mark. I told him that if someone keeps persisting, that it’s completely OK to tell them that he was burned on his last safari through Africa and that it will never go away. Or that he was licked by a tiger in Nepal and that tigers tongues are SO rough that it left a scar. Or to simply say, “What happened to your face?” He laughed at me and told me that he was afraid he’d get in trouble at school for saying those things but I told him I had his back. I reiterated the fact that he should always start by simply saying, “It’s a birthmark” but on the rare occasion where someone won’t back down and take that truthful answer for what it’s worth, to go ahead and tell a little lie. I also reminded him that when and if he ever wants it removed, that we’ll do it in a heartbeat. I’ve told him that it won’t hurt my feelings and that I just want him to be happy and make the decision for himself. He says it doesn’t bother him and that he wants to
keep it. And he can keep it, for as long as he wants. It’s his to do with as he pleases.
I’m proud of the decision I’ve made. It wasn’t an easy decision and it certainly is not a decision that I made lightly. It was not made due to finances or selfish ambitions. It was made the same way I make all decisions regarding my children: after lots of research and soul searching. It is a decision made by me (his parent and loving mother), in a step to do what I believe is best for him. It might not be the same decision you would make for your child and that’s OK. I don’t judge you for your decision, just please try to understand mine. We all want the same thing: the very best lives for our children and this is what I’ve chosen for my super-smart, outstandingly witty, sweet, loving, accepting little boy.
What would you have done?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Four Lies Sleep Trainers Tell You (And One Truth They Won't!)

I'm writing this for the mama at the end of her rope that has started letting her baby co-sleep (or is contemplating it) and is scared to death that she is doing her child a great disservice. I'm writing this for the mama who is so exhausted every night that she cries just thinking about the sun going down and another night of a crying baby. I'm writing this for the mama who is sitting in a group of other mamas whose babies are all now sleeping through the night (or are all only getting up twice a night at most) while your six (or eight) (or ten) (or eighteen) month old baby is still up five to seven times a night and you almost burst into tears wondering what you are doing wrong. (The answer is NOTHING.) I am writing this for the mama who planned to sleep train and now doesn't think it's the right thing to do. I am writing this for the mama who is thinking she doesn't have the strength to go on, but also doesn't know what she wants to do. In short, I'm writing this for the mama I was this time last year.

I need to come clean. When my son was a newborn I never questioned if I would sleep train, I only wanted to know when to start. Most of the sleep training sites I devoured on-line or read in person told me to start sleep training at the four month mark or "when my baby no longer actually needed me in the middle of the night and was waking up out of habit rather than necessity." I was assured by my reading that there would come a time when he "didn't need me" and was waking up for "attention." He just turned 20 months old and I am still waiting for that time. So, if you are reading this and you have sleep trained your baby or toddler and you think it was what you had to do and it was necessary for your family, I will not argue with you. I don't live in your house; you're the mama and I'll believe that you did (and do) what your family needs you to do and that you did it with love and respect for all your family's needs.
For those who are conflicted like I was, I offer this.

Lie #1: If you start co-sleeping with your child/rocking/nursing your child to sleep, your child will NEVER learn to sleep on his/her own.

Never is a very long time and like most "never" statements, this one is not true. How many adults fall asleep being rocked? How many still co-sleep with their parents? Not everyone was sleep trained, so obviously the child does decide to sleep on his/her own eventually. It is true that time does seem to drag on forever when you have an infant, but believe it or not, these first few years really do only last for a few years (no matter what our sleep deprived sense of time makes it feel like). It can feel like you either have to sleep train right away or you will be doing whatever you are doing "forever," but there are other options.

You will not be parenting your child to sleep forever. My great-aunt co-slept with her adopted daughter from the time she was six months old until she was five years old. Then, one day, her daughter decided she wanted to sleep in her own room and never slept in her mom's room again. This story is about a two year old who decided she was ready. Not sure you can wait until your child is between two and five? You can always sleep train when your baby is older (either a toddler or a kid old enough to reason why sleeping in their own room all night is a good thing) if that feels better to you.

Lie #2 Your child does not need to wake up after the age of four months. It is normal for the your baby to sleep through the night by then.

Just because your baby is physically capable of going without food for longer periods at four months doesn't mean that they are physically ready or emotionally capable to sleep through the night. Several doctors and anthropologists agree that many young humans are not designed to sleep through the night until the age of three or four. Even if it is your doctor telling you that your child is ready to sleep through the night keep in mind two things. (1) Your doctor sees your child for twenty minutes every one to two months while you see him/her every day and (2) doctors often only see night waking from a nutritional point of view. Your child will no longer be at risk for going into a low blood sugar coma if he/she sleeps 12 hours a night. That is hardly the same thing as your child being completely ready. Think of it this way, as an adult, you are physically capable of running a marathon, but without being physically, emotionally, and nutritionally ready, you might not be so great at it. Even with someone there to train you step by step, if you are not mentally and emotionally ready for that marathon, it will be a hundred times harder.

Another thing to think about is how much contact you have with your baby during the day. Breastfeeding hormones and milk levels are regulated by how much physical contact you have with your baby. His or her night waking and co-sleeping which is murder on your energy level at work, might be a key factor in how capable you will be at maintaining a good milk supply.

Lie #3: Sleep is a skill that you must teach your child.

That line haunted me as I struggled with a son who just could not sleep for long stretches because of problems with reflux and food allergies. I was terrified that I was failing to do my job as a mother and teach him sleep, but just think about how silly that sounds. For those who have suffered insomnia, did any amount of "training" teach you to sleep even when you were highly motivated to sleep by your own insomnia? Sleep is what Peggy O'Mara calls "an instinct," just like you don't teach your child to laugh or cry, you cannot teach them to sleep.

You can teach good sleep habits and associations, but you can't force your baby (or yourself) to sleep. You can train your baby not to call for you in the middle of the night, and that might mean you get more sleep, but that does not necessarily mean that your baby will be getting more sleep. He or she might just not bother trying to get your help. (It's this idea that has kept me from sleep training my son thus far. I value that he knows I listen to him when he calls for me and I respect that he calls me only when he needs me.)

Lie #4: If your baby doesn't learn to sleep through the night now, he or she will have sleep problems when they are older and those can be detrimental.

This is another lie that kept me at the edge of breaking into tears at any moment. What I didn't know then, but I do know now is that there is absolutely no correlation between an individual's sleep patterns as a baby or even a toddler and those of when they are an older child or an adult. Babies and toddlers are evolutionarily designed to sleep differently. Again, good sleep habits are wonderful to reinforce from the beginning and do have an effect on how an older child sleeps. If you teach your child that sleep is a fun, relaxing thing, than they will be more willing to go to sleep when older. If you teach then that sleep is a scary and lonely thing, I think that association probably does travel with them as well.

The Truth: You can survive this and so can your child. This will end one day and it will get better.

You are stronger than you think you are. Ask for help when you need it, but inside you is a survivor. Your body and your mind is more resourceful than you can ever imagine and you are not alone. I know it feels like it will never end and I know you feel like you cannot go on. I have shed your tears and I have said those words. You can get through this; if I can anyone can!

Here is what has inspired me. It's from The Tao of Motherhood by Vimala McClure:

Everything which endures can
only do so because Eternal
Consciousness gives it a sentience.

A mother who gives herself
completely to her infant meets
herself in the dark and finds

In the hours between midnight
and dawn, she crosses the
threshold of self-concern and
discovers a Self that has no limits.
A wise mother meets this
Presence with humility and steps
through time into selflessness.

Infants know when their mothers
have done this, and they
become peaceful.

Who, then, is the doer? Is it the
infant who brings its mother
through the veil of self-concern
into limitlessness? Is it the
mother, who chooses to hold
sacred her infant's needs and
surrender herself? Or is it the
One, which weaves them both
through a spiraling path
toward wholeness?

You can sit and meditate while
your baby cries himself to sleep.
Or you can go to him and share
his tears, and find your Self.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

When You Have Tried For A Year

Rarely do couples go into trying to conceive thinking that they will hit that year mark.  Rarely do they think that they will have issues or will just be unable to get pregnant.

But, for 15-20% of couples, that year mark comes and goes without a pregnancy, or without a baby.

Next month we have been trying to conceive (or rather trying to keep a pregnancy) for three years.  There are a lot of bad days and a lot of days where nothing seems to go right.  There are some milestones that are harder and some that are easier, but one that stands out is the year mark.

My year mark was also the one year anniversary of my first miscarriage.  A lot of those days I don't remember, but I do remember the pain upon hitting one year.  Most of my friends were pregnant or just had babies, and I wanted desperately for it to be me too.  I was so bitter and so angry.  We had had two miscarriages in that time, and I was just so fed up with all the advice.

Every other time I talked to someone that knew we were trying gave me their "foolproof method to getting pregnant."  Some of it had to do with my husband drinking mountain dew to help his sperm swim faster (HAH) and others had to do with us relaxing and we would magically wind up pregnant.

Not only are you now in a the new category of "infertile", you have to deal with people telling you that you are doing something wrong and need to try their method.  As if you haven't already lost completely faith in your body.

Even two years after this, I am still tired of the advice and well meaning words.  I know why we have trouble conceiving and keeping a pregnancy, but knowing isn't half the battle.  Knowing just means that you have an answer that you can't change.

For a lot of women that have tried for a year, most of them have never heard of cycle charting.  Even if they go to their OB and Urologist to get the "necessary" tests, a lot will tell you to chart your cycles and come back in six months.  They can't help if they don't have some idea of what is going on with a woman's body.

Just having a regular cycle isn't enough.

(I know this won't help everyone, but it is a great place to start).

For me, the year mark revitalized me.  It helped me realize that having sex with my husband a few times a week wasn't enough.  I needed to know when I was ovulating, how long my luteal phase (time from ovulation to my period) was, and any other information I could gleam.  I needed to know if it was just a timing thing, or if there was something that needed to be fixed or worked on.

I found a copy of Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler (INCREDIBLE BOOK, a *must* have for any woman, regardless of whether you aren't having kids, want to have kids, or are done having kids).  I devoured it.

I learned that I didn't ovulate on day 14, and it was okay to not have a 28 day cycle.  I learned that I could track when I ovulate by just checking my temperature before I got out of bed every morning.  I learned that not only was I not having sex on the right days, but that I could tell what days I was the most fertile just from wiping when I went to the bathroom to check my cervical mucus.

I was so angry and so bitter, but I was able to turn that into something that helped me.  I was able to take charge of my fertility (see what I did there ;) ) and not just be a passive bystander.

The year mark hurts in more ways than one.  I would never assume that I am able to understand what it means to different women.  Every person feels things differently.  The year mark for you could just be another cycle, or it could be a crippling blow that makes you completely lose hope.

The one thing I do know is that the year mark doesn't have to be the final blow.  The year mark is hard.  However, the year mark is just the beginning.  I learned more about myself and what I was capable of because of the trouble we have had getting and staying pregnant.  I am able to better appreciate the daughter I do have because of what we have been through.

The year mark sucks, a lot, but it doesn't have to be the end.  What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and this will make you stronger than you have ever known.

You will be amazed at what you can handle without quitting.

Take the time to grieve, to feel what you need to.

But always remember that you can weather any storm and come up swinging.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Elimination Communication Myths

Now that we have been practicing elimination communication (EC) for nearly 9 months, it's hard for me to remember a time when we didn't do it. It's hard to imagine what our lives would be like without it, and hard to fathom how different our relationship would be if we'd never started at all. 

I think back upon those first impressions I had about the practice and can't help but wonder why it took us so long to get on board.  I've come to realize that my reluctance to even read more about the practice until that epic diaper rash of 2010 had a lot to do with the myths in our culture about infant elimination. 

Without ever digging any deeper than a preliminary explanation of what EC was, I dismissed it out of hand because of the myths and commonly held believes that I was holding myself. I want to explore these myths in the hopes that any other parents contemplating the process will discover the fun, joy, and bonding that come along with it a lot sooner than I did! 

When I think back upon our journey to EC I feel almost cheated out of those first 10 months of my son's life by my own inability to let go of these myths!  

1) Infants do not possess any awareness or control of their eliminations until they are 2-4 years old.

Many parents who hear about EC have the same first reaction. I know I did, and nearly every parent I've introduced to the idea has said the same thing: What is the point of pottying your child when they don't have control until 2 -3 years of age?

I am not sure where the myth of 2-3 years came from. (Probably Huggies and Pampers.) But the truth is that only a few short generations ago, the idea of a walking talking 3 year old toddler or even 4 year old preschooler in diapers was unheard of. 

In cultures where diapering is not commonly practiced, and  even 50 years ago in North America, children are completely potty independent between 18 months and 2 years of age if not sooner. 

So what's so different about toddlers now from 50 years ago? I'd say it's the diapers. 

Babies are born with awareness, and even a small amount of control over their eliminations. This is plainly evident in the first few weeks of life where, especially if you have a boy, every diaper change is accompanied by a little pee shower. An infant's instinct is to eliminate away from themselves, and so when the diaper is removed and cool air hits the baby's bare bottom he takes it as a cue to eliminate. 

But after a few weeks this phenomenon starts to dissipate because the diapers available to parents these days are so good. Almost too good! They wick the moisture away from baby`s skin so fast that within a few short weeks they have learned that eliminating in the diaper is no more or less comfortable then eliminating anywhere else, and because they cannot feel any wetness they quickly loose the awareness they already possessed at birth.

Thinking about it this way, it`s not at all hard to imagine why it takes so long for toddlers to regain that awareness and control after years of eliminating into a diaper and having no awareness of it at all. 

At some point every child will `potty train` almost by themselves, but the age that this happens `naturally` seems to be getting higher and higher.

Before anyone goes racing for that comment button: This absolutely does not mean that I am against the use of diapers. Many families who practice EC, including my own, still use diapers on a part time basis. I am simply pointing out that they are a parenting tool, one that can interfere with the ability of parent and child alike to recognize elimination cues and establish communication. Many of us heavily rely on their use without a second thought, when we do this, we miss out on an amazing opportunity. 

2) Introduction the potty 'too early' will psychologically harm your child.

Once you accept that our culture`s views of awareness and control are flawed. The myth about potty `readiness`starts to fade pretty quickly as well. 

According to the `potty training gurus` of the today, your child needs the following to be `ready`for the potty:
  •  Awareness of their need to use the potty
    •  see above
  • The ability to communicate their need for the potty.
    • Many babies squirm, shiver, cry, or experience changes in breathing and movement when they need to eliminate, and babies as young as 5-6 months can start learning to sign for the potty. 
  • The ability to sit on the potty
    • There are many in-arms options for very small infants and a few different potty options for when an infant starts to sit up.
  •  Motivation or interest in using the potty 
    • According to many, this requires the use of sticker charts and treats, but for babies the desire and instinct to stay clean and dry is enough. 
To my mind, every one of these signs of readiness is present from day one. Ignoring these signs and `training`a child to use a diaper then bribing, shaming, or in some cases punishing them into using a potty later in life sounds a lot more damaging then the practice of establishing mutual communication around elimination needs with an infant. 
Once again, I am not against the use of diapers, I am only pointing out that the logic behind these myths is greatly flawed.

3) Parents who practice elimination communication are forcing their babies to grow up too fast.

There is no force used in the practice of elimination communication. If you come across any infant hygiene practice that says otherwise see point 5!

EC is about communication, it is about recognizing and acknowledging an infants need to eliminate. This communication enriches parent/child attachment and respects the needs of the child.  This is not forcing an infant to grow up, or do anything out of the ordinary, but rather recognizing the natural coarse of an infant`s development. 

Diapers are not a necessity to babyhood, they are a tool, one option out of many. The diaper does not make the baby a baby any more than a pacifier, swaddling blanket, or baby booties do. 

4) EC is unclean/unsanitary.

When comparing infant hygiene practices, sanitation is definitely a concern. With EC the question becomes where does the elimination go if it is not contained in a diaper?

Well, when the elimination is a `miss`, meaning that the parent or caregiver failed to catch the elimination in a potty or other container, the elimination goes pretty much wherever the infant happens to be. With infants who are not yet mobile, the use of a wool pee pad, or a prefold diaper placed open beneath the baby`s bottom keeps a miss better contained. In the case of a mobile baby, it`s still a relatively easy job to wipe away. 
All I can say is that these messes are MUCH easier to clean up with an infant. their bladders are tiny and they don`t eat much other than formula or breast milk. A potty training 2, 3 or 4 year old will likely have misses as well, and.... Well, I can`t even stomach to finish that point, but you get the idea. 

For me, the biggest sanitation concern isn`t about where the elimination goes when it happens. It`s about where it goes after you have changed the diaper and thrown it away or put aside to wash. 

Billions of diapers are thrown away every year only to end up in land fills. I wonder how many tons of human waist that equates to just sitting around, being rained on, and then seeping into the ground? If not open to the elements, they are sealed within specially made garbage bags that take longer to decompose, lingering until well after your child has started using the toilet. That doesn`t sound very sanitary or clean either. 

Cloth diapers though more sustainable, come with their own health concerns. including ammonia build up resulting in diaper rash. 

Every form of infant hygiene comes with it`s pros and cons. Elimination is messy by definition, and no practice of dealing with that is 100% fool proof.  Elimination communication is just as clean and sanitary as any other hygiene option. 

5) Elimination communication is the same as infant potty training. 

The desired result of EC and natural infant hygiene is not necessarily potty independence. Though that does tend to happen much sooner in ECed infants.

It is not about potty training. It is about communication, as this communications grows and develops, potty independence happens gradually and usually without any 'training' at all. Elimination communication is a natural process that fits in with an attachment style of parenting very nicely. I do not believe the same can be said of any method that involves 'training' an infant or child. 

'Training' is a word often associated with methods of teaching that are drastically one sided. Elimination communication is two sided communication. It is about parent and child working together, and there is a balance in the relationship that is in no way represented by the word 'training'.  

Any infant hygiene, or potty learning method that promises specific results within specific time frames, or otherwise puts the end goal over the needs of the child is not in line with attachment parenting or elimination communication philosophies. 

It took me 10 months to come to this point. I look back and feel like I missed out on something very special in those first 10 months of my son's life. I plan to start elimination communication from day one when we have another baby and I can't wait to see how the practice will change my experience, perceptions, and relationship with the next child. 

For now I can only hope to reestablish that communication between my son and I as best I can. At 18 months old I feel like we've fallen into a comfortable rhythm and our confidence and his independence is growing daily. I see potty independence in our very near future, and the pride and sense of accomplishment I feel about having come this far without ever feeling like we were at odds or in any kind of power struggle is amazing. 

Elimination communication may not be for everyone. But in order to know whether or not it's right for you and your family, you need to really know what it is. That includes letting go of the myths surrounding infant elimination and truly opening your mind to other possibilities.  

Friday, March 25, 2011

New AAP Car Seat Recommendations: What Do They Mean for You?

The American Academy of Pediatrics' new car seat recommendations have created a buzz in the past week. Parents might worry that they are breaking some law or putting their children at risk. Let me rest your fears. First, remember that these are not laws. They are simply recommendations to ensure that your child is as safe as possible. If you find that you are doing something differently, you are not a criminal--simply adjust it! Second, the recommendations reflect the same common sense that many of us are already using.

For most in the natural parenting community, it comes as no surprise that rear-facing is recommended up until a child turns three. Many of us have been using convertible car seats to do this for years.

I have heard some scoff at the idea of twelve-year-olds in booster seats. In fact, the recommendation does not say that all children should ride in a booster seat until age 12. At 5'6", I would have outgrown my booster seat long before that age. What it does say is that the car's shoulder belt should fit across the middle of the chest and shoulder and the lap belt low and snug on the hips and upper thighs. Most children are ready to graduate from the booster at about 4 feet 9 inches (57 inches or 145 centimeters) tall and between 8 and 12 years old. My children's growth patterns do not suggest that they will be under 57 inches at age 12, but if they are, frankly I care more about their safety than about looking "weird." The AAP doesn't say it, but perhaps some older children--or even smaller adults--might benefit from a booster.

Keep in mind that these recommendations are only applicable until your child outgrows the seat. Rear facing is not safer if that means a 50-pound child is riding in a car seat only rated up to 40 pounds. The main points I gather from the new recommendations are these:

  • Keep your child rear facing until at least age two, preferably longer if the height and weight limits of your seat allow it.
  • Make sure that the seat or belt fits properly. Your child should meet the seat's height and weight limits and the belts should lie in the proper position (if you have any questions, follow the link below).
  • Keep kids in the back seat until 13 years of age.

It's that simple. :) For more information about car seat safety, including pictures of safe configurations, see the car seat guide at

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Agoo Apparel Leggings Review and Giveaway!

Agoo leggings come in lots of adorable and vibrant patterns!
My obsession with baby leggings started the summer of 2008 in the midst of a three day music festival in the Canadian Rockies. My friend and I had hitched a ride into town from the festival grounds for breakfast. Standing in line at the coffee shop we`d chosen was an incredibly attractive granola-looking dad holding THE most adorable baby I had ever seen. The baby was wearing a Flaming Lips onsie and a bright blue pair of leggings to match. My head just about exploded of cute.

This was more than a year before my son, Oliver, was born, and to be completely honest, my husband and I were still `just friends`, so to say that Oliver hadn`t even been thought of at that point is an understatement. But even though he hadn`t been thought of I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that when I had babies they would wear leggings all day, every day, all the time, no matter the season. Flash forward to September 2009, Oliver was born and I kept my promise to myself, he wears leggings and my gosh is he ever darling!

So when Agoo Apparel sent me their new leggings to review, I knew I would love them! The question wouldn`t be whether or not I would recommend leggings to other parents, it would be about what set Agoo leggings apart from other brands.
Oh wow! They`re bamboo!

The thing that caught my eye and most definitely sets these leggings apart, is that they are made from bamboo! Bamboo has so many natural qualities that make it perfect for this type of garment.
  • It`s antibacterial 
  • It sheds moisture
  • It`s breathable
  • It`s odor resistant
These natural qualities make bamboo leggings perfect for parents who practice Elimination Communication. These leggings won`t pick up bacteria from the potty seat, will stand up to a small miss or splash-back, and keep your child`s legs comfortable during diaper free time! Bamboo fibers are also much softer than traditional cotton, I could feel the difference immediately and unlike our other cotton leggings, these did not leave any marks around my son`s thighs.

The lack of irritation from the bands of the leggings could also be because Agoo leggings seem to be made to fit a larger age range then other brands. Our other leggings still fit Oliver, but he is quite tall and the gap of thigh poking out the top of the leggings is definitely getting bigger. Agoo leggings are longer then the other brands we own, and the bands that keep them secure around the ankles and thighs seem to be quite a bit more flexible. I have no doubt that they will still fit securely on the tiny legs of an infant, but they will also fit comfortably all the way into toddler and childhood!

Cute, comfortable & durable, they`re made for play!
I also noticed that they didn`t pill as badly in the wash as other leggings. I live in an apartment building where the washing facilities leave much to be desired. Washing things on delicate in these machines just isn`t really an option if you want to get them clean within your allotted time limit, so imagine my delight when these beautiful leggings came out of the wash looking every bit as vibrant and new as they looked going in! They held their shape, their colour, and didn`t shrink a bit, which makes me confident that they will survive Oliver`s toddler years and maybe even get passed down to his younger siblings when we have them.

If you`re not convinced that bamboo fibers are enough to make such a big difference in a pair of leggings, also note that bamboo fiber is an environmentally sustainable choice! The cultivation of bamboo requires little irrigation and no pesticides, and it grows at such a rapid rate in a variety of climates that it is readily available to growing demand. Products made from bamboo are biodegradable and non-toxic!

To top all that off, these leggings are just plain cute! They`re adorable! They come in so many colours and patterns that I have no doubt there is a pair to match every occasion, and every child! So you`ll probably want a pair for your little one.

That`s why Agoo Apparel is giving away a pair of these to one of our Connected Mom readers! AND after you enter to win your own pair, you can go to The Connected Mom Facebook page, or see the Agoo Apparel advertisement on the right hand side of this page to find a 70% off discount code!

1) Mandatory entry: Click on over to the Agoo Apparel website browse through their leggings and then leave a comment under this post telling us which leggings you love the most!

2) There are 3 bonus entries! Remember to leave a separate comment under this post for each of the following entries:

3) The winner will be drawn at random two weeks from today on Thursday April 8th! The winner will be posted here and contacted via email, so remember to include your email address on the comment form! If we do not hear back from our winner within 48 hours a new winner will be chosen by another random draw. 

Agoo Apparel sent me a free sample for review, I recieved no other compensasion for this post and all views expressed are my own.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Finding Hope in the Midst of Tragedy

The events in Japan almost two weeks ago have been enough to shell shock all of us. If you're like me, the images from over there have been hard to stomach. The numbers of those affected have been overwhelming to say the least and it's seemed surreal that life here in my home has continued to go on as usual while so many lives have been changed forever half a world away.

As I've went about my day to day life I've found myself thinking about the people in Japan (and in other places where natural disasters have hit and caused devastation like Haiti or New Orleans) and what they must be doing. How will their lives ever be normal again? What can be done to help them? What can be done in the future? I've also wondered, as a mom, how do I handle these situations when my son gets old enough to ask about them? What can I say to him when he asks me why these things happen?

Those are big questions and I'm sorry to say I don't have definitive answers for any of them. When it comes to physical aid, there are resources on-line to help you. (Older children can even help you determine the ways in which your family can help. Here's a link to get you started.) However, the more philosophical questions are especially troubling for me. What can I say when my son gets old enough to ask "why" about things that I don't know the answer to? It's one thing to explain the science of global climate change or earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. It's another to answer the emotional "why's."

In the meantime, however, my son is only a year and half and his schedule has been largely unaffected by events a world away. At the library last week, we checked out books (my boy is a voracious book listener). Because he is currently obsessed with balloons (a by product both of his increased speaking skills and my birthday two weeks ago), we checked out the book The Yellow Balloon. If you haven't seen the book before (and I wouldn't blame you if you haven't), it's a little like "Where's Waldo." There are no words, just different complex scenes on every page and together you try to find the yellow balloon wherever it is hidden. Sometimes, the balloon is pretty obvious and you find it quickly, sometimes the scene is very, very complicated and the balloon is very tiny and hard to find. My son and I had a blast finding the balloon on every page, and even when both of us would be frustrated, we kept going because we knew that somewhere on that page there was a yellow balloon. When my husband got home, we shared the book with him, but he was less than impressed. On every page, in every scene, rather than focusing on the yellow balloon, my husband kept looking for scenes of impending doom or mayhem. Even when I looked at the same images and mentioned that each scene might have some hope in it, he seemed more distracted by his perception of chaos than the hope found in the yellow balloon. (For example, in one scene a ship wrecks, but on the next page, the crew is being helped. My husband claimed that it had to be new people being helped because clearly the whole crew would probably be dead.)

It wasn't until much later in the evening that it occurred to me that what my husband was doing with that book was exactly what I (and many others) have been thinking about the events in Japan. The truth is that there are just some events so awful that there is no answer of "why" that we can accept or understand. As a mother, I can't ever answer those larger philosophical questions adequately when my son asks them. He will have to wrestle with them just as much as I do. What I can do, however, is teach him to look for the hope (no matter how slight) in even the most awful and chaotic situations. I can teach him to honor the survivors of natural disasters and to grieve with them. I can teach him to rejoice when those presumed dead are found alive. I can teach him to learn what lessons can be gleaned from tragedies. I can teach him to embrace the joy of living even in the face of tragedy. I can teach him to do what he can when he can and to not lose hope when he can't fix everything and doesn't have all the answers. I can teach him to embrace the yellow balloon.

Thanks for reading,
Connected Mom, Shawna

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"Natural" Induction

A lot of natural minded women cringe when they hear about induction in the hospital. Most have strong opinions on why induction can be harmful to baby and mom, and try to stay away from it as long as they can, or until it is absolutely necessary.

And yet, when women start nearing the end of pregnancy, it seems like *all* women start to throw around their "natural" techniques to starting labor.

It's as if people don't realize that induction is still induction, even if it has the word "natural" before it.

I've seen women that were "naturally induced" with previous babies. One was induced with herbs and ended up having her labor stall because the herbs were the only thing keeping it going. She had to be transfered from the home birth she planned and augmented with pitocin and needed a very traumatizing vacuum delivery. With her next birth she was terrified her body didn't know what to do because it "failed" the first time.

I've seen women that are staunchly against induction in the hospital jump at the option of stripping membranes and guzzling castor oil because it didn't involve medication and is a great natural option.

Here's the thing. You are still trying to induce labor whether you are using herbs, sex, vitamins, or exercise. The entire basis of induction is the intent behind it. When you induce, whether naturally or medically, you are trying to coax on labor so you have a baby in the near future.

You are telling your body it needs to be done when it isn't ready to be.

In essence, you are undermining your confidence in yourself and taking for granted the natural process that you claim to love.

There are so many little things that all end up coming together to help a woman believe in herself and in her ability to birth her child. One look can make you question your decision. One touch can mean the difference between a loving, peaceful experience and one shrouded in fear and pain.

When you tell a woman that she should have more sex or she should walk more or she should start on this herb because that is what started your labor, you are telling her that it is okay to think her body won't go into labor on its own and it needs a little bit of a jump start.

For a lot of women, that's fine. They are tired and cranky and just want to be done being pregnant. They take all this advice and pray that what you told them will work because they just want to hold their baby.

But amidst all of these women, there are some that question their body and its ability, even if they believe in the birth process. There are some women that are terrified that their bodies won't know what to do, that their bodies need that help, especially if they have trauma from another birth.

When you tell women, even jokingly, that such and such technique helped start your labor and they would love it because it is natural, you plant a little seed in their thoughts. You make them wonder if they should be taking herbs and vitamins and having sex more. You make them wonder if because they aren't doing that, they are doing something wrong.

It is just like asking if a woman feels like pushing in labor. If you ask, she wonders if she does. And if she doesn't feel like it, she wonders if she should. And if she starts to wonder, she loses faith in not only her body, but in her decision.

Natural induction is still induction. You are still trying to do something your body isn't ready to do. And the thing is, most natural induction techniques won't work unless your body is about to start labor anyway.

Why not spend a little more time enjoying the kicks and rolls and feel of your baby? Why not spend some time with your husband and children before you add another person? Why not just enjoy it for what it is?

Because in the end, you will not be pregnant forever.