Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Her Crying Spot

A few weeks ago, my daughter got really upset about something and ran to my room.  I could hear her muffled sobs and walked back there to see what I could do.  I unwrapped her from the blankets she'd pulled off the bed and wrapped around herself, picked her up and held her tight.

"What's wrong, sweetheart?"

"I am just a little sad, so I came to my crying spot to feel better."

"Your crying spot?"

"Ya.  The place I go to feel safe and cry until I feel better."

"Oh, that's very smart!  Would you like me to leave you in your crying spot until you need me?"

"Yes, mama.  Thank you."

Since, every time she gets a little upset or doesn't want to talk, we ask her if she'd like to go to her crying spot and then call for us when she was ready for us.

What an ingenious idea!  A place you can go where you feel safe, comforted, and you can just feel whatever you need to feel.

We lost our seventh baby almost two weeks ago, and the idea of a safe place to grieve came back to me.  How many women suffering through the loss of a child put a smile on day after day and wonder when they can finally feel safe to actually feel what they need to feel?  How many times do we wish that we could run to the nearest hill, in the pouring rain, and sob all the anxiety and grief away where no one can hear?

How many times do we, as mothers and wives, just wish we could go somewhere to feel warm and comforted?

No matter the trials in our life, everyone needs to be able to let it all out sometimes.  Being a woman, and I speak from experience, we feel we need to take care of everyone else first and then deal with ourselves.  Not only is this unhealthy, but all the bottled up emotions have to eventually come out.

Everyone deserves their own place to do what they need to do, regardless of what that is.  It doesn't have to be a crying spot, but make a place of your own that is just yours.

Everyone has times where they're discouraged, sad, troubled, and grieving, and feeling safe can do a lot for letting that out.  Don't bottle things in.  Find a crying spot.  My daughter swears by them.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

What Are Mothers Not Saying?

A few months ago, a dear friend and her husband visited my husband, children and me in New York City. We met them for a lunch of lobster rolls on the Upper East Side. After hugs and cheek kisses, we asked how each other were. My husband said, “We’re good!” just as I said at the same time, “we’re hanging in there.” My friend laughed knowingly, of how it’s tiring with a new baby (even if we are all sleeping through the night), while the men understand that for months after giving birth, women are tired, without really knowing just how tired we are. Our husbands played chase with my son. My son instantly claims any kind man as his play gym, even if the last time he saw the man was when he was baby. My friend took the baby from me, as I threw our coats, hats and gloves over my son’s stroller.

My friend took the natural segue of our greeting and began telling me her three worst moments of motherhood. Often the worst moments, people say, are the ones that make you laugh when you look back at them. Nonetheless, my friend still had a moment – when she kicked her 8 year old out of a car on a city street and made him walk the rest of the rest way home after he called her names – when she caught herself thinking, “Crap. This just became a Social Services issue.” She then stopped the conversation and asked, “Why am I telling you this?”

I was listening rapt, as if she had been telling me about her personal encounter with aliens that landed in her yard.

“Because no one talks about these things,” I answered. I had just thrown my first temper tantrum in front of my son that week. I had just had my first experience of wondering if I had crossed into Social Services territory. I had just had my first realization that there is a whole other world of parenting that people don’t talk about. Or at least I don’t hear them talking about this underbelly of parenting - the days we think about sending ourselves to the looney bin, the days we don't want our children to crawl into our laps because we're tired of them touching us, the days our children disappoint us, but we don't say so because we think we're supposed to be accepting and free from expectations.

My friend's son walked home. And now, when someone in the car puts down his mother, he says, “We are too far from home for you to be talking like that to her.”

My son survived my temper tantrum too, and now greets my exasperated groans with, “You’re frustrated, Mom?”

This week, I was talking with my neighbor who, like me, is adjusting to life with two children. Her second child is three months old. We wondered at how some parents sail through the adjustment, while we found it so exhausting and so much work.

She then said, “I don’t enjoy motherhood as much as I thought I would.” She looked at me, “I know. I’m not supposed to say those things.”

“Why not?” I asked. “Not all of motherhood is enjoyable.”

But I know why we don’t usually say these kinds of things. When I’ve mentioned in conversations our adjustment growing pains, I’ve been advised to just take better vitamins. I’ve been on the receiving end of that stern matronly that says: “Woman! Make an effort!” I’ve been told that if I had my own interests, it’d be easier (I swear.). I’ve been asked if I had Post-Partum Depression.

No, I said, but thanks for the reminder that the thinking of the Victorian era is still with us, that if a woman finds mothering hard, she must be sick.*

I’ve also received notes from friends wondering how to stay on top of it all, or if they made a mistake in having children, or friends who love their careers, but find their children drive them crazy simply because they are worn out from work. They have it all, but if they admit their exhaustion, some one tells them to quit complaining. There’s a recession.

It’s had me think, if motherhood is so hard, why is it so taken for granted? Why is it so undervalued? Why are women feeling guilty and isolated for not loving it as much as they think they should? Social Services exists for a reason, but should we fear its existence on our bad days? And why are women such harsh judges of each other, when we do open up about the raw, ugly, and authentic moments of parenting? What are mothers not saying about mothering?

*Please don’t get me wrong: I greatly appreciate that women can talk about having Post-Partum Depression openly and we can know it strikes any one from Gwyneth Paltrow to the young woman in the Walt Whitman Projects who threw her baby down the trash chute. Being able to talk about it makes a difference for women, their partners (especially now that we know men can also suffer from Post-Partum Depression), and their children, and we’re also now dealing with a kind of backlash – that if we take too long to recover from giving birth, or have too many hard days or what have you, we must be depressed. Rough spots don’t necessarily mean illness.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Practical Tools for Challenging Times

At my best, I am a loving, gentle, compassionate parent who adores my children and strives to be positive and focus on relationship. At my worst, I'm pretty sure clips of my week could be sewn into a reality television show about how not to parent.

So what about the in between? What about when you want to be centered and calm but trials of everyday life become overwhelming? What do you do when you start to become frustrated and need a better way to handle things?

Following are six tips I use around our house when things start to spiral. 

(Or, Six Ways To Get Through the Day When You're About To Lose Your Mind. Not that I've ever—ahem—felt that way.)

1. Chill out. (Breathe, Momma, Breathe!)
This one is soooo hard for me to put into practice. I may possibly have a wee bit of a tendency to overreact. So I attempt to follow the old adage: Will this matter in 10 years? 10 hours? 10 minutes? I try to maintain a calm perspective using the ideas in this fabulous post from Dr. Laura Markham. Can I just tell you how many times a day I mutter to myself, there is no emergency . . . no one is dying?

2. Take a hug break. (Remember: Break before you snap.)
Sometimes all I can do is invite Agent J to come flying across the room into my arms. I just call out "hug break" and she comes running. (Well, 95% of the time, anyway.) When I'm tempted to get angry with her, or to yell at her (again) . . . or when I start thinking this time I'm just going to bag all that gentle parenting stuff and try something different . . . I hug her instead. And I squeeze tight. 

3. Sing a lot. (Talent optional.)
Kids love to hear singing. I don't know why this works so well, but I can get my kids' attention instantly if I sing instead of talk. The louder and the nuttier the lyrics the better. Our favorites include Where Is . . . (sung to the tune of Where Is Thumbkin?) as well as variations on the Kindermusik Hello Song. Works great for diaper changes on a wiggly baby, too. Agent A is a huge fan of the ABC song.

4. Talk really fast. (Topic irrelevant.)
Remember the TV show Gilmore Girls and how Lorelai and Rory would engage in rapid fire conversations that would baffle anyone listening in? Babies love to listen to your voice, and they seem especially interested when you talk super quick. I find that if I just start yammering on about whatever, A will forget all about trying to run away from a diaper/clothing change and actually lie still (for 30 seconds, anyway). Talk about your to do list, your last vacation, a great new website you just discovered, your thrilling plans to clean out the refrigerator.

5. Get really quiet. (Yes; the exact opposite of #3 and #4.)
Sometimes, however, the other extreme can be just as effective. Quiet down . . . to a whisper if you need to . . . and often your little ones will, too. Many days weeks I need to get drastic and just stop talking altogether for a while. It helps me to focus on my words and how often I keep talking when I should really just listen instead. On a related note, having time each day to be quiet with my own thoughts helps tremendously, too.

6. Use labels. (Ooh, wait . . . is that bad?)
We have this running joke that sometimes we all turn into giant grumps and we need names to match, like Eva Grumplepus and Mommy Grumplepus. We've shortened these to initials: E.G., J.G., M.G., etc. Cracks them up every time and helps to lighten the mood. Even my usually serious E can't help but giggle when I call her out on her E.G.-ness. Now she is able to just tell me "hey, I'm just feeling grumpy right now" before things go off the deep end. I already use silly nicknames for all of them so this fits in well around our house.

We definitely don't get it right all the time (and plenty of days I need to re-read some of my own advice). But we incorporate these six things into our routine to release the tension and give us me a chance to get back on track.

Thanks for reading and have a blessed day.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Post-Partum Pardon

This is a blog that is a long time coming. It's one that I've struggled with a lot since my son was born over two years ago and I think I'm ready (finally) to talk about it. I was inspired by this blog I read recently about "Don't Carpe Diem" and conversations I've had with moms who have had similar experiences with new motherhood. I thought maybe it was time I shared my story in case there are new moms out there who are struggling and need to hear how someone like them survived.

I struggled with being a new mom. Really struggled. I was not blissful or happy with my newborn. I was heartbroken, tired, and (in retrospect) depressed. I did not feel instant joy when he was placed in my arms and I was unable to "treasure every moment" as I was so often urged to. Maybe it was the circumstances of his c-section birth; maybe it was the intermittent depression I've dealt with all of my life; or maybe it was the fact that we initially had a very small support system in the state where we lived but the first six months of my son's life were probably the hardest six months of my life.

I think what made it especially hard was all the shame I felt about not being the mom I thought I should be and would be. It wasn't about what I was or was not doing. Technically, I was doing everything that I thought I needed to do. I was a stay at home mom who wore my baby upwards of 16 hours a day and I was up for hours and hours every night with him. I breastfed him, I cloth diapered him, I was attentive to him day and night, I dramatically changed my diet to help his reflux, I was really trying to do my best. I did everything I thought I could do to be the best mom I could be for him, but I did not feel like I thought I should. I was not blissful and it seemed like everywhere I turned there was another person telling me how I should "love" every second of the infant stage because it would all go by so quickly.

I would go home and cry every time I heard someone say that because in my heart of hearts, I felt like I must be the world's worst mother not to be capable of "loving every second." I felt like I was just letting precious time pass me by and was throwing away all of that wonderfulness because I just didn't feel like I loved it. I loved my son; but I didn't love caring for all of his very intense needs. In fact, the love I felt for my son as a person only made things worse. Intellectually, I "got" that he was a wonderful angel who had health problems that made it difficult for him to sleep and that his crying was an expression of how he felt. I "got" that I was lucky to be his mom and to be able to stay at home with him and yet . .. and yet I felt overwhelmed and heartbroken. I found myself unable to escape the absolute blackness of sleeplessness. I felt overwhelmed more than I ever had in my entire life! I remember in my most desperate moments almost wishing someone would put me out of my misery so that my husband could remarry and my son could finally get the good mother he deserved. I loved my son, but I did not love being his mother. I felt like no matter what I did, it was never good enough! I was terrified of whether or not I had made the right choice in becoming a mom. Surely God had made a mistake because I definitely wasn't half the mom my son deserved to have! The experience left me so scared that I was absolutely terrified of having another baby. For an entire year, every time someone told me they were pregnant, my first instinct was to say "I'm so sorry!" and if it wasn't their first child, I wanted to scream out "Why?!?!? How can you do that knowing how tough it is?"

How could this have happened? I am a very sentimental person. I've looked forward to having children for most of my life. I began crying about what I would do when my last baby leaves for college before I even had children! How could I be anything other than completely honored to mother my son? I had been wanting to have a baby for at least six years before I actually had one. I have been campaigning for a third baby before we were even pregnant with the first because my husband was clear that he only wanted two and I wasn't sure two would be enough. I love children. I've worked in education for years. I helped my mother in her home daycare all through my middle school and early high school years. I was an awesome babysitter! I make it my mission to make the choice to be optimistic. I believe whole heartedly in seeing the best in everyone and in every situation. How could I be that depressed after having my greatest dream come true? What was wrong with me? How could I see nothing positive about myself as a mother? I felt so ashamed.

I was afraid of going to counseling because I didn't want to be more of a financial burden to my husband and my son had the tendency to scream for hours unless I held him and I already felt he was stuck with a horrible mom; I didn't want to make him stuck with a nut case mom who had to abandon him every week for counseling. I didn't know how to ask for help because I didn't want the world to know how little I deserved my son and what a lousy mom I was. I beat myself up worse than anyone around me could ever imagine. I loved my son with all my heart and I loved being near him, but I hated it at the same time because of how awful I felt about myself and my inadequacies as a mom. I felt hopeless. I would pray desperately for God to hear me, but then would wrap myself up in my depression before I could feel any relief. I was in a bad place.

It took a long time, but eventually, I opened up to my husband. Eventually, I allowed myself to open up a little to friends and eventually my son became able to sleep a little more at night and I began to function more like a person again, but still some shame remained. Every day, I fell a little more in love with my son and every day I tried a little harder to see in myself what my husband (and increasingly, my son) seemed to see in me. Eventually, I learned to accept myself as a flawed mom, but also a good one (or at least a good hearted one).

Looking back, I see those dark times as my "cocoon" stage. Maybe I'm just the kind of person who always has to cocoon myself up in complete darkness before I can really start meaningful transformation. The woman I was when I gave birth to my son was not ready to be the mom she could be although she really, really wanted to be good mom from the very beginning. That first year or so, I had to learn how to let go of that woman and all of her judgments, expectations, and misgivings. I had to learn how to open my arms to the woman I was becoming and forgive myself for the flaws of the woman I already was. I had to learn how to love myself again even when I didn't live up to the mom I thought my son deserved. I had to learn how to take care of myself by letting go and pardoning myself for my many imperfections, the same way that my son seemed to pardon me every day. I had to learn how to parent myself the exact same way I was attempting to parent my son. When I lost my temper, I had to say to myself, "Okay, you made a bad choice, you were tired and you should have done things differently. Now, go hug your son, tell him you are sorry, make things up to him and LET IT GO AND FORGIVE YOURSELF."

The mom that I am now is better than the mom I was two and a half years ago when my son was born. I have emerged with new wings and new freedoms now that I'm out of my black "cocoon" stage. I now have the power to not worry so much about what pre-new mom me would have thought of me and I don't worry so much what parents who disagree with me think about what I am doing. I have accepted that I will and do make mistakes, but I also have accepted that it is my job to learn from those mistakes and try not to repeat them again. (Tara recently wrote beautifully about this!) It is this new ability to forgive myself that really makes me a better mom. I still may not be the mom my son deserves me to be 100% of the time, but I am the only mom he has and every night I pray that tomorrow I can be a little bit better mom tomorrow than I was today. I don't know that depression won't sneak up on me again. I don't know that I won't start to cocoon again, but if I do, I pardon myself ahead of time and I will focus on learning what I need to from the darkness as quickly as I can so I can emerge transformed. The next time I have a baby (yep, I'm over that fear!), I plan to have a counseling plan in place before the baby is born. I also plan to be more honest with my pain with those who love me and to ask for help more readily (because I'll probably need it even more with two children!).

So if you found this because you are desperate and because you are worried that you are not a good mom, I hope that you will reach out to someone and learn that the core of you is already a good mom. You deserve the baby in your arms. You don't have to be happy all the time or treasure every moment. Just take care of yourself and forgive yourself. Remember that you need and deserve care every bit as much as your baby does! If you suspect you are struggling with postpartum depression check out websites like this one and this one. If there is a group for new moms to go and talk . . . Go! (My mom's group was like a life raft to me . . . other new moms "get" it!) Don't struggle it out alone because you feel like you deserve to feel awful for being a bad mom (yep, I told myself the same lie and probably had to stay in my cocoon longer because I would not face that for the vicious falsehood it was!). Embrace that transformations are painful and you are going through a particularly challenging one. You don't know what a wonderful woman you are becoming! Give yourself a postpartum pardon and give yourself permission to emerge exactly as you are . . .even if you are not yet mom of the year. (After all, you are going to be a mom for the rest of your life . . .you can always take the honor some future year!)

All my love,

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, January 24, 2012


When you read natural birth books, when you learn about a natural lifestyle, a lot of people talk about intuition, and how you should go with your gut.

Unless it is going the opposite way they would.

Having most of our lives on the internet can lead to a lot of issues.  People thinking you should have done things differently, being judged for things you choose for yourself and your family.  By going with your intuition, you will get steamrolled if others don't agree.

We tell women to follow their intuition with their pregnancy and birth all the time.  To find what information they need, to do what they need to do in their pregnancy to protect themselves and their babies.  And yet, when they do this an end up with an outcome that we think was wrong, like an induction or cesarean, we judge.

When a family chooses to bedshare or cosleep with their child because they feel it is the right thing to do, the natural community is so excited.  But when they move their child to another room, or let their child cry (when they are obviously just going to cry anyway and old enough to not be at the age where they don't understand), we judge.

Intuition goes both ways.  It can be anything from something like knowing you're pregnant before you are, to knowing that you are going to lose your baby before you actually do.  It can be planning a very hands off homebirth to being in labor and knowing that something is wrong and a transfer is necessary before any signs show.  It can be keeping your child close or letting them sleep alone when they are old enough.

Intuition is at the very core of being a mother.  You know your child better than anyone.  For most, you grew that baby, you birthed that baby, you nurtured that baby.  They are forever part of you.

We need to stop judging so heavily because we think they are doing something wrong.  Just because you think would do it differently (though in reality you have no idea why they are actually choosing what they are) doesn't mean it is okay to slam another family.

We need to learn that everything has two sides.  Intuition has two sides.  The side where things are good and the side where they are bad.  That's how life works.

We need to learn patience and acceptance of other families, of other mothers.  Mom wars get us all nowhere.  It turns people off to what we are trying to do.  You can't yell at someone that they are doing it wrong and at the same time hope they will listen and learn something.

It will forever be the one in the crowd speaking in soft tones full of patience and love that people will listen to.  The one yelling will have them turn away.

Be patient.  Be with others how you would want them to be with you and your children.  And in the end, go with your own gut regardless of what others say.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Embracing Your Inner "Crunchy"

I admit it, I’m what some people may classify as a “crunchy” mama. Being a type A, self-professed control freak with OCD tendencies, I’d always shirked off my crunchy status. Not that the two can’t coexist, as I am living proof, but I just had some silly, preconceived notion of what a supposedly crunchy person was. Despite being referred to in this manner by others, I never really identified with the term. However, when I found myself converting to unpaper towels, family cloth and mama cloth, there finally came a time when I could no longer deny it – I had to embrace my crunchiness!

I used to like to think of myself as a relatively eco-conscious person. I recycled, composted, and diligently washed out my plastic baggies. I grew a lot of our food and tried to can it when I could, and was always proud of the fact that our recycling output at the curb was 3-4 times the amount of our regular trash. I always knew I could do more, but it wasn’t until we started trying to conceive that I really began my quest to try to lead a more natural lifestyle.
After being diagnosed with just about every hormone related affliction that can adversely affect achieving a successful pregnancy, I began to investigate why and how this could’ve happened to me. I was angry. Some women had just one hurdle to get over, while each of my 3 surgeries over the course of a year and a half would uncover another, and another and another. Each time they found something new it would explain why the previous months of fertility treatments, pain, heartbreak and sometimes miscarriages were completely and utterly futile. I felt like I had all the odds stacked against me. I spent what felt like all three years on bed rest, recovering from all of the above, plus many complications like ovarian cyst ruptures, ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, and even a rare second bout of mono in the midst of it all at the age of 30. It gave me a lot of time to kill at my computer, and that’s where my real journey began.
It started with toxic chemicals – pesticides and herbicides, BPA, phthalates, PBDEs, and the synthetic estrogens known as parabens. The more I learned, the more I realized it became a question of how could I NOT end up with all these hormone problems when surrounded by endocrine disruptors and synthetic estrogens everywhere I looked! I quickly converted our diet to mostly organic, whole foods, scrutinized every personal care product we use, and I began to phase out plastics in our home as much as possible. Since we were trying to conceive at the time, that led to researching baby gear and toys. I was appalled at the data regarding flame retardants in strollers (I never heard of too many kids being left in strollers in burning buildings?!) and bouncers, PVC in teethers, lead paint on snaps of baby clothing and zippers of boppy covers…you name it. I began to contact companies regarding the origin and makeup of their products, and formulating a baby registry of things that I regarded as “safe.” Keeping an updated list of all the baby products I found that were nontoxic did seem somewhat superficial and materialistic to me. I mean, I had the majority of my baby registry all in place years before I was even pregnant! However, in a strange, therapeutic way, it kept me going through the miscarriages, the failed fertility treatments, the surgeries and the endless physical pain and heartbreak. It was my way of telling myself, “You WILL need this baby registry one day – this will ultimately work.”
Of course no nontoxic baby registry could be complete without cloth diapers, and I found myself deeply immersed in all things cloth diapering. I still am! My daughter has not worn a disposable since our first day home from the hospital, and after over a year and a half, I hope to continue that trend until she’s done with diapers all together. And as far as toys, well, to the dismay of my family I have kept a strict no plastic policy. I only wish they would understand this is not simply a “no plastic toys” rule, it’s a no plastic anything if we can avoid it household rule.
I mentioned I used to be proud of our overflowing recycling bin because we had so little regular trash. Well, now I’m ashamed of it. I used to wash out plastic baggies, and now I avoid them like the plague. I do my best to keep ALL of our waste output to a minimum. This includes buying my milk in returnable glass bottles, and hauling my bags of jars to the co-op and filling them with as many bulk items as possible, including cleaning supplies. I’ve also tried to start making as much as I can from scratch – condiments, bread (in a breadmaker!), snacks and cereal to name a few. The real catalyst for all of this was becoming a stay at home mother. I realize I come from a position where I not only have the luxury of being home with my amazing daughter all day, but I also only have one child. This affords me time that many don’t have. So I chose to push myself. I continue to push myself. I know I can do more.
Once my cloth diapering routine was in place, the leap to unpaper towels, family cloth and mama cloth was more like a tiny step. It just made sense. I do find some of my extra “from scratch” items falling to the wayside now that my daughter is climbing things left and right, and has an innate proclivity for turning mundane items or situations into dangerous ones. Even so, I’m still hoping to move onto my next goal, which is to start sewing more clothing for her. I’ve made a few things, but I know I could do more.
Overall, I think the difference between myself in my 20’s and myself in my 30’s is I’ve set my focus closer to home. I used to think I could help change the world. In my 20’s, I thought I could convince people to change THEIR ways and make a difference. In my 30’s, I’ve turned that focus 100% inward, and I continue to challenge myself to do what I can to make a difference in the microcosm we call home. I realize many people out there do not have the kind of time I have to devote to such things, and perhaps do not live near co-ops with glorious bulk sections that sell milk in returnable glass bottles, but I still believe everybody can do a little something more. So I challenge you, as you read this, to take a moment and think of one small thing you can do to help lead a more sustainable life…and do it.

Getting Rid Of Dye

My daughter is a fairly well behaved and calm child.  She does have issues sitting still, and she is very distracted, but she's also only four and a half.  As with every child, she has moments where she is mean, and feisty, and does not play well with others.  It happens, she's a kid.

About a month ago, I went to a cookie party with some amazing women, and we got onto the topic of food dye and how some of the women have seen huge changes when their children have dye.  We got to talking about it in length, and one of the women, how her son acted was exactly how my daughter would act only on certain times, which corresponded with when she had food dye.

I researched a bit when I got home, just to see what affect dyes could have on someone, and was shocked at the things I found.  Multiple blog posts and articles all talking about food dye and their effect on not only children but adults too.  Some was just hyperactivity, depression, meanness, but some was cancer and other things you don't want your child to ever face.

I found this research paper, A Rainbow of Risks, which is long, but completely worth the read, and that is what cemented our decision to cut food dye completely.  Not just with our daughter, but with us too.

About a week after we got rid of the few things we had in the house with dye and cut them out, we went to see family, and I gave my daughter Runts without even thinking about it.  Within minutes she was bouncing off the walls, screaming, not listening, just all over a different child.  You could say it's the sugar, but she had had sugar without dye and doesn't act this way.  The thing is, she only had two runts.  A sugar high as ferocious as this doesn't come from two pieces of tiny candy.

That is what proved to my husband that cutting out dye was the right thing to do.

Ever since we cut out dye, we know the instant she has an accidental ingestion.  Red40 is the worst, it makes her really mean, and it takes days to get out of her system.  Yellow5 and Yellow6 make her really hyper, but she doesn't really react to blue.

Food dyes in the US are made from petroleum, which isn't good for you.  For years people have been trying to ban artificial food dyes in our food and switch to natural dyes, but with more foods being processed and made in boxes, the more money companies make when they put food dye into them.  They're addicting!  And going off can make you jittery and cranky, so you feel you need more, just like with caffeine.

Lately, with trying to get healthier and trying to fix my body for pregnancy, we have been eating at home and making everything from scratch a lot more, so we didn't have much dye in the house.  I only threw out two things, and one of them was V8 juice which really surprised me.  Now when we go shopping, I constantly check labels to make sure it doesn't have any dye, even caramel dye (which has its own set of risks not included in the research paper), because I don't want my child to be ingesting petroleum, even if it had no bearing whatsoever on how hyper or mean she can be.

I found a site that lists almost all of the foods that contain artificial food dye and the list is staggering.  Even some fresh oranges have dye injected into their peel to make them more orange!

It is hard finding some items without dye, like fruit snacks or some candies and juices, but it's been worth it.  We don't keep much sugar in the house anymore, so that helps, but when I want something that has dye, like M&Ms, it's hard to resist.

Having her change her demeanor when we went off dye really helped show us that it was worth it, but reading the risks of petroleum based dye scared me to change.

I wouldn't want to put it in my body after learning it, why would I want to give it to my child?

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Case Against Swaddling

My very content un-swaddled newborn baby
When my son was born just over 2 years ago now, I remember being rather annoyed that every time the nurses brought my son back to me after tests and treatments (We were hospitalized for 5 days due to a placental infection not diagnosed until the birth) he was bound tightly in hospital issue receiving blankets. At the time I didn’t know why I was annoyed, it just seemed wrong that each time I would have to rescue my tiny grunting struggling son from his flannel burrito and spend the next 5-10 minutes calming him down enough to breastfeed.

‘Don’t un-wrap him’ one nurse told me. ‘They like it, it feels like the womb, he’ll settle.’

I looked down at my grunting, grimacing, rooting baby and then back up at her with disbelief. My son HATED the swaddle. In fact, my son hated anything that didn’t involve being skin to skin with a boob in his mouth. Yet each and every nurse would tell me how much babies like to be swaddled, about how it was comforting and would help him adjust to being on the outside. All of these praises made me feel kind of dumb, made me feel like there might be something wrong with my baby because he so obviously didn’t like their magical blankets one tiny bit. As I said before it was just kind of annoying.

When we finally got home and settled in I promptly forgot about the whole thing. Needless to say we never swaddled him again. Life went on.

More recently I found myself thinking about this again when I was watching a friend struggle to wrap her flailing infant as tightly as she could because ‘the nurses said it would help him settle’. I thought about how much my own baby hated it, and about how the more newborns I see swaddled the less I believe that any of them like it half as much as everyone says they do, and I started wondering where health care provider’s knowledge of it's wonderful benefits were coming from since every actual parent I’ve heard talk about it reports that their baby wasn’t really all that impressed by it.

So I did a little research. As it turns out there are, as far as I can see, far more reasons NOT to swaddle a newborn then there are reasons TOO do it.

Reasons to swaddle: Tightness is “womb-like” making baby feel content and keeping them from startling resulting in longer periods of sleep.

Reasons not to swaddle:

1) Keeps baby from startling – When we remember that the startle reflex is a survival mechanism which help infants to wake up and alert their parents if something is wrong. (Like falling out of a tree or forgetting to breath) Then logically it seems like a bad idea to intentionally subdue that reflex. As a parent the idea of it makes me really uncomfortable. Sure babies do sometimes startle when there is nothing wrong, but I will take a few false startles as a comfort that my baby will wake up if something is actually wrong. I should mention, however, that the scientific jury is still out on this one.

I have found two similar studies done on the effects of swaddling on the startle reflex here and here that come to two different conclusions. One recognizes the inhibition of startle reflex but asserts that this poses no risk for SIDS (This study used a swaddle method that did not limit mobility of the infant’s legs, which is interesting.), while the other shows a big difference in arousal responses of infants who are routinely swaddled vs those who are not and suggests that further study is needed on what this means for SIDS risk.

2) Not entirely all that womb-like – Aside from the snug fit, a swaddling blanket is nothing like the womb, it isn’t always the perfect temperature (see next point), it doesn’t have a heartbeat or comforting voice, it has no means of providing nutrients.

3) Possibility of overheating – Human infants are born quite helpless, we all know this. They cannot walk, feed themselves, or do their own (never ending) laundry. They also aren’t very good at regulating their own body temperature. When an infant becomes too hot, which could happen in a tight swaddle in thick blankets, they are at risk for apnea. The most natural way for an infant to maintain a proper temperature is through direct contact with a parent or caregiver. (see link in point 5)

4) Hip Dysplasia – The standard super tight burrito swaddle that the nurses at our hospital raved about can often result in an infant spending a lot of time with their legs incorrectly positioned causing problems in the hip joints not unlike the effects of improper babywearing. While no extensive large scale studies have been carried out on the effects of swaddling on hip joint development there is still evidence to show the correlation. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/121/1/177.full

5) Limits tactile stimulation – Since an infant in a swaddle is so tightly wrapped in so many layers of fabric it limits the stimulation of a caregivers touch. Since physical contact is so important for bonding, breastfeeding, and for an infant to self regulate body heat, heart rate, and other biological systems, it may not be such a good idea for an infant to spend too much time wrapped up in this way. http://www.naturalchild.org/guest/jack_newman2.html

6) Could potentially interfere with breastfeeding – In the early days a swaddled baby who enjoys being swaddled may rouse less often and therefore spend less time at the breast, this can lead to a higher incidence of jaundice and weight loss in newborns. A swaddle also prevents a newborn from displaying early signs of hunger like trying to get their hands in their mouth. In the very early days and weeks when learning cues and communication is still in progress limiting these early cues could potentially cause feeding problems. Limiting direct contact between mother and baby could also have an effect on milk supply. http://www.nancymohrbacher.com/blog/2010/12/3/rethinking-swaddling.html

7) Interferes with Elimination Communication - If you are planning to use natural infant hygiene with your infant, a tight swaddle will also limit your newborns ability to communicate elimination cues and your ability to acknowledge eliminations quickly.

There was, of course, no mention of any of this when my son was born and constantly being brought to me tied up in his flannel prison of sadness; only insistence that babies love to be swaddled when my baby so obviously did not. My instincts told me that the swaddle wasn’t right for us and I am happy I listened to them because knowing what I know now about it I would have been a lot more adamant that the hospital staff stop doing it.

I am, of course, not suggesting that no one should swaddle their infants ever. If your baby seems to enjoy playing cabbage roll then by all means don’t eliminate the practice from your repertoire completely. However I would say that the points above are very good reasons to limit the time an infant spends in a swaddle. All of the benefits of a tight swaddle can be achieved in other ways that do not pose the same potential risks. A good tummy to tummy hold in a sling or wrap for instance. So if you have the option to wear your baby, or have a family member spend some skin to skin time with your baby then why not do that instead when you can?

What I am saying is that swaddling really isn’t the magical cure all that many of us are led to believe and there is absolutely no harm in leaving it out of your life if that’s what you want to do. There is certainly nothing wrong with a baby who doesn’t enjoy it, so don’t feel bad when you quickly un-wrap your newborn the second a caregiver hands them to you.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

10 Tips for Preventing Parental Breakdowns

To start 2012 off right in the mothering facet of life, Sarah Maizes of the Huffington Post wrote a list of 10 Tips for Being a Happy Mom in 2012. She has some good ideas, even if they seem blatantly obvious. She shouldn't be faulted for pointing out the obvious; some of us have to be told to eat. However, my personal favorite of her list is #10: Give yourself a break. But this one I felt should be a post in itself. It's important to take a break - or as Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile point out in I Was A Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids: Reinventing Modern Motherhood, you have to take time for yourself, because no one is going to give it to you.

But giving ourselves breaks is, I have discovered, the least talked about aspect of mothering. What I've realized is that when a mother says, she's going back to work after having children, what she is really saying is, "I need a break." What I've also realized is that mostly while we may want a break or some time to ourselves, in the busy ebb and flow of life, unless there's income attached to the time we take for ourselves, it falls to the bottom of the priority list. The Catch-22 of this? If we don't take a break, we break.

As Sarah Maizes points out, however, while it can be scary for children to watch a parent lose it or their mother's head spin, it is important that children learn that parents have needs and emotions too. We may be parents, but we're still human and humans have moments when they lose it. Also, as Maizes says, it's important to own up to our behavior, forgive it and get back on the horse of trying to do our best. When I recently lost it in front of my son, I was overcome with grief and remorse. My son and I sat at the kitchen table while I cried and told him how sorry I was and that I know how scary it is to watch a parent lose their temper. Even if there's no violence that occurs between parent and child, it can feel violent for a child when a parent yells. But sitting together and apologizing can do a lot to mend the situation. Knowing that you feel remorse for your behavior can be valuable for a child, in the world of being role models of behavior. Apologizing doesn't happen very often in our culture; to learn how to do it or why it matters, children have to be on the receiving end of them.

The silver lining of this cloud I discovered? When my son throws his occasional tantrum, he now apologizes. I have mixed feelings about him thinking he has to be sorry for feeling emotions like anger, but the truth is when we feel anger or extreme frustration, it does impact those around us. The other silver lining is that me hitting my breaking point has given us a way to talk about how to express the more difficult emotions. My son and I practice screaming into pillows or walking beneath an overpass where we can scream as loud as we want and no one can hear us or we take walks where we stomp our feet for blocks at a time.

Still, we'd like to prevent parents hitting their breaking point, if only for the sake of the parenting experience. Also, bad childhoods or children growing up in unstable environments happens far too often. We all want to enjoy our children and our parenting experience. So I have my own things I would add to Sarah Maizes' list.

1. Yes, naps are necessary. My three year old is mostly done with napping. I don't understand how this happened given that I still need naps, but he's seems to have moved on. Alas, I have been guilty on days where I can barely keep my eyes open of putting a movie on the computer, getting him set up on the bed, just so that I can nap for an hour with my infant. It literally saves my sanity. Just as my husband says, happy wife, happy life, I say a rested parent is a happy parent.

2. To nurture other people, you have to nurture yourself first. If there's anyway you can muster the strength to get up before the rest of the family to have that first cup of coffee while it's quiet and you can hear yourself think, do it. Even if it's just 20 minutes of quiet. It helps. It makes the day go smoother. I do love the extra sleep when I do sleep in with my family, but when I wake up at the same time, I spend the rest of the day trying to meet my needs at the same time as my children and it is far from easy going.

3. It's okay to want time away from your children. I know they are beautiful and brilliant people. I know they make better conversation than most people working in corporate America. I know they make more sense than most the politicians in office. Still, you need time away from them. And time away helps you appreciate them all the more. Even if you're a full time stay at home parent, a few hours of a nanny or daycare is worth the money. It's breakdown prevention. It's hard work being on call 24 hours a day.

4. Get out of the house. Especially, if your patience is running thin. If your patience is running thin, chances are your child's is too. It's a funny thing how moods are contagious. Getting out of the house disrupts difficult dynamics. Fresh air also feels good. In the New York City winter, 30 degrees is warm enough for the playground, so get thee outside!

5. If you're having a hard day, call someone. Conversation can be a mood lifter, whereas not talking when the going gets rough can be a downward spiral towards Depressionville. The caveat to this is just don't call anyone. There are people in your life who will take advantage of you while you're down or up against it. There are people, whom if you call, will say things like, "Of course you're having a hard time. You're so disorganized. If you had cleaned your room as a child, you would have learned the organizational habits that would have made your life easier now." Don't call them. Call your friend who is a stand-up comic. Call the aunt who has been through it all and maintained her love of you, her children and her ability to laugh.

6. Get help and know it's okay to get help. Blah blah blah it takes a village to raise a child blah blah. It takes a village to support a mother/single parent/at home parent. A few hours of day care here or nanny there, a house cleaner, drop off playgroup, having the groceries delivered, a mom's group, or a therapist. Whatever. Whether you stay home or go back to work, you need help. It's a quality of life issue. If you think you can't afford it, think again. You'd be surprised. There are families who get together on weekends, cook a bunch of dinners together, then swap leftovers containers. Baby sitting co-ops trade time. Many moms groups have sliding scales.

7. Play with your child, but play the things you like. I’m a lousy playground mom. While I like making train tracks, I don’t enjoy playing trains. When I don’t like the toys, I don’t like playing with my son. Luckily for me, he loves dollhouses. I love blocks, and he loves to knock them over. This week at the Met gift shop, he asked for a knight and horse. I bought them because I wanted them. We played happily afterward, building block houses for the horse and knight. The horse and knight chased the cars and trains off their tracks. It was great fun, and a huge tension release.

8. Read. Yes, to your child. But really for yourself and the fun things you like. I’ve spent most of the last four years reading parenting, child development, and education books, with the occasional miscellaneous non-fiction book thrown in, just so I could feel informed. This past holiday season, I started reading Dickens’ David Copperfield and almost instantly felt as nurtured as if I had had a massage. I had forgotten how delightful it is to read fiction. The soul needs stories. It’s true. I read it in a book on Waldorf education.

9. A woman recently told me that children are born into our world, that they have to learn that the world doesn’t quite revolve around them. This is true to some extent, but I think there’s a balance. It’s good for children to learn that their parents have needs, and getting our needs met doesn’t have to come at the expense of our children’s either. For example, my son needs to run around, while I won’t run even if I’m being chased. But my favorite place on the planet is Central Park. I found a group of other parents that take their children to the park for long, lengthy walks. The kids run, climb rocks, collect sticks and leaves, play in the sand pit, and climb up the Alice in Wonderland statue, while I get to talk to other parents and revel in my favorite park. Afterward, we stroll through the Met or Natural History Museum. One day a week where we get Central Park and a museum? My son and I come home worn out and happy.

10. On the roughest days, know you are not alone. My kids are easy going and happy children. Still, our family’s adjustment to having two children has felt like running a marathon in a blinding snow blizzard. Some people breeze through it; in fact, it seems most do. But I felt instant relief when I finally learned that other people found it just as hard. I don’t know why it helps, but knowing I’m not the only one does help.

There. Sarah Maizes has ten things for making a happy mom, and I have ten. Twenty things to hopefully help support parents and prevent breaking points. I hope it helps.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Elusive Parenting Expert

Several days ago, we took our youngest son to file for his birth certificate. A nurse looked him over to confirm that he looked about the correct age to match the birthdate on our paperwork. After she passed my baby back to me, the nurse asked, in kind of a concerned tone, if I had gotten along okay at home. I told her that I had. Once she learned that he was my fourth child, her tone totally changed. I believe she called me a "pro." It felt good not to be condescended to for once, but it also struck me as funny. I don't consider myself a parenting expert--far from it! If anything, with every new child we welcome into this family, I realize just how little I know.

So what makes someone a parenting expert? There are some people who have achieved celebrity status for their "expertise." Maybe they have a few strategies (like the infamous "naughty chair") that work with most kids--or least seem to work through the magic of television. Maybe their books come with glowing recommendations from your religious group. Not all famous experts got there by touting time out or the switching of babies, either. In the natural parenting community, we have our own celebrities. Our favorite authors might have wonderful, research-based things to say about fostering attachment, and listening to our kids, and loving them unconditionally. This makes them excellent resources, but does it make them parenting experts? I would argue that it doesn't. In fact, I don't think that such a person exists.

If you are fairly confident as a parent, you might take offense at my last statement, but bear with me. No one, no matter how many degrees they have, or how many books they have published, or even how many children they have raised has ever raised your child in your situation. Your body grew him, birthed him, and nourished him. You know his quirks, his cues. You understand how his personality plays into your family dynamic. If you have multiple children, you know that this is different for every one of them. You are the only one (except maybe your partner) who possesses this specialized knowledge.

I am not saying that you don't need support or that you should stop doing research. I'm just encouraging you to listen to your instincts. Don't follow a piece of advice, just because it is popular or dispensed by a so-called expert. Weigh everything against your own expertise. While there is no expert in parenting, there is an expert on your child, and that expert is you!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Natural" Infertility

This is a topic not discussed very often, unless you are part of most infertility groups, because no one likes to admit they have trouble getting or staying pregnancy.  For most, the looks of pity and sympathy are enough to make them not want to let anyone know.  It's a long lonely road, even when you have friends going through the same thing.

For me, it has been a little different.  Yes, I've been through some testing, I've had a very hands on pregnancy that ended too soon, I've taken synthetic progesterone for weeks.  However, I won't do that again.  It may sound crazy, but when you go through this for years, you have to find your own balance.

I have a suspected progesterone deficiency, a scarred uterus, and I have a really hard time getting pregnant and when I do get pregnant, 6 out of 7 of those pregnancies have ended in loss.  I try really hard to keep the hope and faith in my body, and the best way for me to do that is to help my body along and not go with quick fix drugs.

After taking synthetic progesterone for almost 8 weeks, my body was worse off than before.  It completely forgot how to consistently make progesterone, which is a big deal.  If I couldn't make progesterone, I couldn't even *get* pregnant, let alone stay pregnant.  So, I made a decision.  I was going to help my body remember how to make progesterone instead of supplementing so it.

This was almost a year ago now.  I've worked so hard to help my body recognize that it needs to take a bit of control, and then I will help it out after.

I've tried a lot of combinations of things to help.  Everything from just vitamins, to vitamins with vitex, to learning that vitex made me worse, to acupuncture and meditation, to finding an herb blend that would do the same thing and help my entire reproductive system become healthier.  It's been a year of learning about myself, learning about my body, and  fully being in charge of my own care and infertility.

I have tried a lot of things.  And the thing is?  I don't think one thing in particular is what did it for us.  One thing that always bugged me about those that give advice but have never been through infertility was they gave these "This one thing will work!" speeches, when the fact is that not just one thing will make it happen.  So much has to come together for the sperm to even *get* to the egg, let alone fertilize it, have it grow and implant, and to stay a healthy pregnancy.  The entire idea that this one thing will get you pregnant is so bogus. Even those that are more than fertile, more than one thing got you pregnant each time.

I chose to go through our infertility in a way I was comfortable with because I don't like putting synthetics in my body and I refused to turn over my care to someone else before I was ready.  I needed to be in control, since this was one area of my life where I really and truly felt that that would help me.

For us, doing this has worked.  We worked harder than we ever have, and the results are amazing.  My body still needs a tiny bit of help to keep up the progesterone production, but I was able to get pregnant without helping it along at all during the luteal phase (time from ovulation to my period) which is huge.  I'm only five and a half weeks, but because I put complete faith and trust in my own body to get me here, it's carried me on even in times when I was more scared than I have ever been.

If you are going through infertility and loss, know that you can do whatever you feel like you need to do.  If you want to go in and have ultrasounds every week or blood tests or synthetic drugs?  Go ahead!!  If you want to see an RE for testing, have IUI's and possibly IVF?  It's your body, do what you want to do!!  You have to feel comfortable and okay with the process you are going through.  This isn't an easy road, and finding your own balance is key.  For me, that meant going a very different direction and it paid off.  I won't tell you the one foolproof thing to get you pregnant, because there isn't one.

Go through this how you need to.  You only have to answer to yourself, and doing it for someone else doesn't make the process any easier.