Monday, December 31, 2012

Attachment Parenting Throughout the Ages

The end of the year is a great time to reflect on what has been, but its also a great time to look ahead. Today, on this last day of 2012, I'm choosing to look years ahead. I was/am blessed to have a Mama that provides an amazing example of what AP can be long after the baby years. I wanted to share that forward perspective with all Connected Mom readers. Here's wishing you a beautiful 2013.

When someone mentions Attachment Parenting, the thing that pops into most people's minds first are breastfeeding, babywearing, and bedsharing. However, as Valerie has pointed out before... AP is more then just breasts, beds, and babyslings! You can do all of those things and not think of yourself as AP, or do none while proudly wearing the label. Not to mention, that while the years when those three things are even an option are fleeting, being AP is something most people can continue for the duration of your baby's childhood, and can even be carried over into the rest of your life. Basically, those particular actions are not the core of AP, nor are they the most lasting of its principles! I do all three, proudly wear the AP label, but see myself as an AP mom for the long haul, and not just until our boob, bed, and babysling days are over! Let's review the 8 principles*:

1. Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting
Become emotionally and physically prepared for pregnancy and birth. Research available options for healthcare providers and birthing environments, and become informed about routine newborn care. Continuously educate yourself about developmental stages of childhood, setting realistic expectations and remaining flexible.
At first glance, this principle seems to be a one time thing. However, the continuous education of the parent on developmental stages of childhood, and the setting of realistic expectations is an ongoing process that lasts through the child becoming an adult. It is one that is long lasting, and during those frustrating toddler... and teenage years!... is one that is so important for a peaceful household! 

2. Feed with Love and Respect
Breastfeeding is the optimal way to satisfy an infant's nutritional and emotional needs. "Bottle Nursing" adapts breastfeeding behaviors to bottle-feeding to help initiate a secure attachment. Follow the feeding cues for both infants and children, encouraging them to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. Offer healthy food choices and model healthy eating behavior.
Ah-ha, you say! Here it is... breastfeeding! But read it again. Yes, "breast is best" but as long as you are feeding your child in a way that follows their cues, and is done in a way to deliver emotional sustenance along with physical nutrition, then feed the way that works best for your family! Once solid foods are introduced, continue to feed in a way that is best for your child, offering healthy options and demonstrating a healthy relationship with food. I think its easy to see how this one can last a lifetime. 

3. Respond with Sensitivity
Build the foundation of trust and empathy beginning in infancy. Tune in to what your child is communicating to you, then respond consistently and appropriately. Babies cannot be expected to self-soothe, they need calm, loving, empathetic parents to help them learn to regulate their emotions. Respond sensitively to a child who is hurting or expressing strong emotion, and share in their joy.
From the beginning we try to understand what our babies are trying to tell us. A newborn/infant has only its cry to tell us that it needs something. It is up to us to take the time to listen to them, and respond in a way that is comforting, and shows them they can trust us. They learn we are there for them by us being consistent, and they learn they can come to us with anything by us being sensitive to what they show us. As they get older, our responses grow and change with them, but the level of sensitivity we show should not diminish. Their anger, their fears, their joys, and their excitement... they are trusting us with these emotions, and we should react accordingly. 

One of my favorite quotes about responding to your child is from Catherine M. Wallace, and it says, "Listen earnestly to anything [your children] want to tell you, no matter what. If you don't listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won't tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff."

4. Use Nurturing Touch
Touch meets a baby's needs for physical contact, affection, security, stimulation, and movement. Skin-to-skin contact is especially effective, such as during breastfeeding, bathing, or massage. Carrying or babywearing also meets this need while on the go. Hugs, snuggling, back rubs, massage, and physical play help meet this need in older children.
Babywearing! There it is! But again, I'm sure you notice, it is a single word in a paragraph of ideas. So I'll just say this... Hug your babies. Hug them when they are newborns, hug them when they are toddlers, hug them when they are kids, and especially hug them when they are teenagers. Then, hug them when they are adults too. We all need affection in this form, don't be stingy with it, and don't hold it back as your babies become big kids.

5. Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
Babies and children have needs at night just as they do during the day; from hunger, loneliness, and fear, to feeling too hot or too cold. They rely on parents to soothe them and help them regulate their intense emotions. Sleep training techniques can have detrimental physiological and psychological effects. Safe co-sleeping has benefits to both babies and parents.
Bedsharing** can be so rewarding (when done safely!), co-sleeping has amazing benefits, but good sleep is is unique to ever family. Babies do great in the parent's room when they are new to this world, listening to your breathing, close at hand for easy soothing. Whether that is in your bed, in a co-sleeper or in a pack'n'play nearby. As your baby grows, their needs will change, but their need for you, during the night, might not. 

On a personal note, Gwen was not a great sleeper for a very long time. She bedshared with us for the first few months, then transitioned to her crib for most of the night followed by a few hours with us in the morning. We needed that transition, as much as I love sleeping next to my baby, we all (Gwen included) sleep BIG! Moving, and taking up a lot of room, and it was leading us all to get less then stellar sleep. But she transitioned easily. It was all going pretty well when we went away on vacation at 6 months and her sleep went straight to hell! We were told we had to sleep train her, or she would "never sleep through the night." I'm a firm believer that her need for me, her need for consistent loving response, does not end just because the sun goes down. So, we did not sleep train. I followed her lead, listened to her needs, and gave her gentle direction when the opportunity arose. She now sleeps very well, and she still enjoys an hour or so of sleep in the "big bed" in the mornings. 

Arguably, this is the shortest lasting of the principles. However its importance in the beginning is so big, and can be very long lasting. 

6. Provide Consistent and Loving Care
Babies and young children have an intense need for the physical presence of a consistent, loving, responsive caregiver: ideally a parent. If it becomes necessary, choose an alternate caregiver who has formed a bond with the child and who cares for him in a way that strengthens the attachment relationship. Keep schedules flexible, and minimize stress and fear during short separations.
A scenario for you: Everyday you report to work at the same time, follow your same morning routine, take lunch at noon, follow your same afternoon routine, then clock out at 5. Yet some days your boss is full of praise for your work, and other days he screams at you for being lazy. You would start to dread work... not knowing what was waiting for you. But if you change that around, and replace that boss with one that reacted in a calm, consistent manner, providing constructive criticism as needed, well you would probably be a lot happier about reporting to work. You would know what was in store for you, and would even be able to take the admonishment in a much more positive way, and be more open to learning from it. 

Now obviously babies and toddlers do not offer the same consistency to us that you offered to your boss in that scenario; but ideally, we would all rather be boss #2 then boss #1! Be consistent in your actions towards your child, and when leaving them with someone else, be sure that they will be consistent with their care as well. As your toddler learns and grows, repetition and consistency are the key to encouraging them to grow in ways that work for everyone. This applies to every age though. If you child knows what to expect from you, there will be less need to push boundaries, or test limits (note I said less, not none!). While the practice of it evolves and changes, the principles stay the same. Act consistently, and act with love. 

7. Practice Positive Discipline
Positive discipline helps a child develop a conscience guided by his own internal discipline and compassion for others. Discipline that is empathetic, loving, and respectful strengthens the connection between parent and child. Rather than reacting to behavior, discover the needs leading to the behavior. Communicate and craft solutions together while keeping everyone's dignity intact.
This one is the most self explanatory when it comes to continuing throughout the stages of a child's life. This is also one that I find is the most of a "work in progress" for me. Whether you are dealing with a toddler or an equally rational teenager, show your child that they are not a lesser then member of the family, but a fully loved member. We teach our daughter respect, by modelling respect. That means explaining our reasons, understanding and empathizing with their disappointments, and encouraging natural consequences. We don't hit or berate our child, or tell her that she is bad, instead we teach that we all make mistakes, and that those mistakes have consequences, but we can learn from them together and come out closer. 

8. Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life
It is easier to be emotionally responsive when you feel in balance. Create a support network, set realistic goals, put people before things, and don't be afraid to say "no". Recognize individual needs within the family and meet them to the greatest extent possible without compromising your physical and emotional health. Be creative, have fun with parenting, and take time to care for yourself. 
Once a week I head out to yoga. My husband does the nighttime routine without me, and Gwen is asleep before I get home. I love our nighttime routine, but I've come to love this night away from it too. It is time for me to stretch my body and mind, and recharge myself as a whole person, not just as Mama. The hugs I get the next morning let me know that I was missed, but the stories she tells me about what they ate for dinner and what books they read before bed let me know that they had a great time and it was okay that I went. The fact that I have more patience lets me know that it was more then okay that I went... it was a benefit to all of us. 

Finding balance doesn't mean you have to go out, but it does involve looking at what makes you tick as a person outside of your attachments to your little ones, and making time for those passions. This is a principle that applies whether you are AP or not, whether you are a parent or not! Everyone needs to find balance in their life, fulfillment in multiple areas, and it is something that can be so hard to come by. But especially when you are working to pour so much of yourself into your babies, it is essential to find time to refuel. 

Gwen is getting bigger and bigger everyday. We already babywear less and less, now only pulling the Mei Tai or the wraps out for things like hiking or long walks with a tired girl. Breastfeeding is only 2x a day now, and sometimes even less then that, and I know that soon enough she won't need that anymore. But I am an AP Mama now, and an AP Mama I'll remain. When she is 5, or 15, or 25, I will still seek to parent Gwen in a gentle way that respects her individuality and adjusts to her current stage of development.

* As taken from Attachment Parenting International.
**  Rachelle gave a great overview of the difference between bedsharing and cosleeping, here.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

One Word

Do you make resolutions for the new year? Do you keep them?

Last year I had this brilliant (read: doomed to fail) idea to commit to One Word for 2012. My word was intentional. 

Don't get me wrong; it's actually a fabulous idea, it just didn't work for me this year. After multiple attempts to jump start my motivation for intentional living, I admitted defeat somewhere around the beginning of May.

So, I decided for 2013 I would not choose a word. Perhaps a year is just too long, too intimidating. Also, to me, intentional seemed so . . . so . . . goal oriented. I would strive to be intentional in all areas of my life. I would be intentional with my kids. with my husband. with my writing. I would check in with myself weekly, monthly, quarterly to evaluate my progress. Intentional people have it together. I can't take that kind of pressure. No word for me, thanks.

Then I realized, maybe I just need a different kind of word.

Maybe I  didn't need to try to "be" anything other than present. Maybe what I really needed to do was slow down and focus on what's right in front of me. Maybe I should stop thinking in terms of goals and getting my future self in order and simply take life one day, one hour, one minute at a time.

My word for 2013 is breathe

What's yours?

Thanks for reading and have a blessed day.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Giving Thanks and Never Giving Up

I wrote the following post just over 2 weeks ago, the night before finding out my baby was dead at 16 weeks.  In an ironic twist of fate, I had been up all night passionately writing, all about our infertility journey and how excited we were about our pregnancy.  We never dreamed we’d be able to have our first daughter, much less a second child, and I wanted to inspire hope for those who thought even one child may be unattainable.  I wasn’t going to publish what I’d written, because of the obvious devastation.  But a friend pointed out that perhaps I was writing this for my future self.  Maybe I need to heed the very advice I set out to convey to others about perseverance and never giving up on your dreams.  When I wrote it, I hadn’t the slightest idea that 3 hours later I’d wake up, go to a routine OBGYN appointment and receive the news that there was no heartbeat at 16 weeks.  No clue that I’d lay on that table while they double checked with an ultrasound, weeping and wailing once it was confirmed.  That everything we’d planned for was gone, and our whole world would be turned upside down in an instant.  So I decided to post what I’d written – for you and for me…

My second child is due this May.  It will be nearly 4 years to the day since I heard the doctor utter the one word I never thought I’d hear at 33 years old….hysterectomy.  I went into that appointment with such high hopes, thinking I’d finally found a specialist who would help me fix everything.  Needless to say, I was completely blind-sided by the recommendation.  Friends and family encouraged me, and even my husband felt that my quality of life was more important, and perhaps it was time to give up on having a baby.  I considered it…and came pretty close to going through with it.
My story is not a short and sweet one, nor is it an easy read.  But my hope is that for those of you who are going through it, I can provide a little bit of hope and exemplify just how important it is to keep yourself educated, have the courage to persevere even when everything seems stacked against you, and most importantly - never simply trust the word of a doctor because they say so.  For those of you who have not gone through it, or may know someone going through it, I sincerely hope you will take the time to read my story, so that you may have a better understanding of something that is so painful, and such a taboo topic of discussion.  It’s easy to just rattle off a list of treatments and surgeries, but there is so much more to it than that.  So much more physical and emotional pain with every cycle - so much heartbreak.  Infertility has to be one of the most isolating difficulties a couple can face.  It is such a unique sadness that at times it can feel like even friends and family just never seem to know how to comfort you unless they’ve been through it themselves.  And when it comes to acquaintances, somehow people can muster far more sympathy and even empathy for illness, but mention the word “ovary,” and most get flustered and seem confused as to why you would even say such a thing. 
Above and beyond the feelings of isolation, the daily physical pain and complications that came with my afflictions and nearly every treatment I sought, the greatest challenge by far was finding knowledgeable doctors, and continually educating myself.  I have had two different doctors tell me at two different post-op appointments that they had “no idea what that was” growing inside of me.  Unfortunately, these statements were regarding two completely different things.  To this day, I’m appalled by the fact that I had to contact a friend at the U Penn library to access medical journals so I could research these things myself.  I just couldn’t believe that a doctor would simply show up after looking inside my body during a surgery and basically say, “Yeah, um…there’s something growing in there…I got nothin’ – no clue what that is…have a nice day.”  One removed what he found (a web of scar tissue filling the inside of my entire uterus) in what turned out to be the worst method possible, and the other simply left what he found, because as of my final surgery, these other mystery growths are completely covering all of my organs in my entire pelvic region, and couldn’t be removed without scraping and damaging everything.  
It can be a little unsettling to hear that foreign things are growing all over your organs, with only a pathology report to guide your way to interpret the findings.  I tracked down a man who wrote the one article I found on the subject, just to make sure this was not something that had the possibility of becoming malignant.  Why was that my responsibility as the patient?  I would think a doctor would be inclined to take on the challenge of figuring it out in the 14 days time to the post-op appointment, and would feel like a fool to simply admit incompetence.  Yet, time and time again they did.  And every time they stopped asking questions, I’d move on to another doctor.
In three years time, I went through six doctors.  I had 3 surgeries in the last year and a half of that time, all performed by different doctors.  The first two surgeries each unveiled a completely new problem, which explained why all previous fertility treatments were utterly futile.  The doctor who diagnosed my PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) decided to simply send me home with prescriptions for 3 months worth of Clomid to make me ovulate, and Metformin for the PCOS, and told me to come back in 3 months if I wasn’t pregnant.  It was only through meeting other women on the infertility forum that I discovered the standard protocols of treatment that my doctor was completely neglecting.  He refused to do ultrasound monitoring for residual ovarian cysts, even though it is quite common when stimulating polycystic ovaries for extra cysts to linger (hence the name - polycystic).  As a result, I was in the ER 3 times in my 7 months on Clomid for cyst ruptures.  Other things he overlooked were testing my husband’s sperm before putting me on all these drugs, checking that my tubes were open with an HSG (hysterosalpingogram), and most importantly, taking my progesterone levels each cycle to make sure the drugs were working and making me ovulate.  I had to kick and scream and force them to do all of these things, months into treatment.  Turns out the pills didn’t work several times, and by the end, I was on the maximum dose.  Needless to say, having to battle them to get the proper care, and ultimately not receiving it when it came to monitoring for cysts, only compounded the emotional stress and drain that came with each failed cycle. 
Despite my increasing cyclical pain, prescribing me 40 oxycodone for my monthly cramps, and once even hospitalizing me overnight when painkillers were not enough to control my cramps, this doctor refused to entertain the notion that endometriosis was a possibility.  I even had a family history of it.  The next doctor confirmed this diagnosis with my first surgery, and found the endometrial implants were pulling on my fallopian tubes.  When I asked if that could’ve been inhibiting the egg from successfully getting to my uterus to be fertilized during all those months on Clomid, she said, “Absolutely!”  She also discovered that the greater source of my pain was probably adenomyosis – a condition where the endometrial tissue grows within the muscular walls of the uterus.  And just as with endometriosis, where the implants scattered throughout the pelvis act as they would if they were inside the uterus – swelling with blood and then shedding it once a month in a foreign place, the same happens with the implants within the muscular wall in adenomyosis.  Because of this, it had really gotten to the point where there was very little time in my cycle when I was even remotely comfortable or pain free.  Every day I would wake up not knowing if I was going to be incapacitated in pain that day, or just have random stabbing pains where I could manage to function.  Unfortunately, unlike endometriosis, the implants cannot simply be removed, since they are in the muscular walls.  The only way to cure it is to remove the muscle all together – the uterus.
With this news came great frustration, but also comfort in knowing what I was facing, and the assumption that now that the endometriosis had been removed, I may at least have a shot at conceiving.  I simultaneously began seeing a reproductive endocrinologist that we had to pay out of pocket for.  So began the daily hormone injections in the belly, the IUI (intrauterine insemination) and IVF (invitro fertilization) cycles, and failure after failure.  Early miscarriages, complications like ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, and after my egg retrieval for my first IVF, I was not exactly optimistic because I showed up for the embryo transfer doubled over in pain with a terrible fever and awful pelvic infection.  For those of you who may not be familiar with the egg retrieval process in IVF, a vaginal probe is inserted with a large needle on the end of it.  The needle goes through the vagina and all the way up into the tender, swollen ovaries that have been stimulated to produce sometimes dozens of follicles with eggs, and each follicle is stabbed with the needle to extract the egg.  Each time I had it done I had 18 eggs removed, many women can have more.  You then have 3 or 5 days to hurry up and heal, before growing embryos are implanted back into the uterus.
After two failed IUI’s and a failed IVF, 10 months had passed since the first surgery and the daily pain was intolerable again.  Since the first had provided some relief, I scheduled a second surgery with a new doctor, who I’d recently switched to after many other incidents of incompetence by my last one.  This time, he decided to take a look INSIDE my uterus, where he found a dense web of intrauterine adhesions (scar tissue filling my uterus).  Aside from hearing the final doctor recommend the hysterectomy a few months after this, the post-op appointment for this surgery was perhaps the other rock bottom moment of my infertility journey.  I was informed that he found this tissue and that he had never, ever seen anything like it before (but removed it anyway).  He repeatedly emphasized while shaking his head and almost grimacing that I had “Just a boggy, BOGGY uterus!” – a term used to describe the severity of adenomyosis and how flaccid the muscular tissue is because it’s composed of blood filled implants.  He also handed me my pathology report, which described the samples of tissue taken from my uterine wall as “necrosis,” or dead.  Then he wanted to do another ultrasound to check on things, but I had to wait while he went next door first.  I sat there, trying to hold it together with the knowledge that all those recent fertility treatments were again futile given my uterus had been filled with scar tissue the whole time, that I was now up against some other unknown factor that this dipshit hadn’t bothered to research, that I’d now be forced to move onto another doctor again, and that word – “necrosis” just lingered in my head and made me feel like my womb was dead inside and I had no chance of ever conceiving.  In the meantime, he went next door to give an ultrasound to a VERY pregnant woman I had seen in the waiting room.  Through paper thin walls, I got to hear them talking about the positioning, what that meant for the impending delivery, their excitement, their laughter…  It took everything I had to wait until I got to the curb where I waited for my husband to pick me up before I began sobbing uncontrollably.
The news of what I would later learn was called Asherman’s Syndrome led me to find someone who was actually listed on the websites for this extremely rare affliction as a specialist, and astoundingly, he happened to work in the same office as my reproductive endocrinologist.  Unfortunately, even though he was only an OB/GYN, since he was affiliated with a fertility clinic my insurance wouldn’t pay.  In the meantime, I rather foolishly attempted another IUI and another IVF, thinking since he had taken the scar tissue out, all systems were a go!  More early miscarriages…more failure. 
I did a little more research and heard of something called ovarian drilling as a treatment for PCOS.  I was bound and determined that all the other doctors were incapable of cleaning me up properly inside, and I would go see this specialist, ask him to do the job, and at the same time perform the ovarian drilling.  It’s a procedure that has less than a 50% chance of inducing ovulation, and even less getting pregnant, but at this point, I decided I was done with the fertility treatments.  I couldn’t take ANYMORE hormones or procedures that caused my ovaries to swell with pain.  The drilling had at least a small chance of getting me pregnant naturally.  However, we had no means of paying for it all.  So after three years of me being in and out of employment and on and off bed rest, all the while paying in part for fertility treatments, we ended up putting our first home, a house we poured our hearts and souls into fixing up, on the market.
I marched into this specialist’s office with such enthusiasm that I’d found my savior.  I told him my story, and again, by this time another 8 months had passed since my second surgery, and the intolerable daily pain was back.  I told him I wanted the ovarian drilling, and if he could clean up any remaining scar tissue in my uterus (properly) as well as any endometrial implants I thought I had a shot.  He stopped me dead in my tracks.  He refused to do the drilling on the grounds that he was concerned about creating more scar tissue on my ovaries and causing more pain.  He told me it was time to consider giving up, and in his best judgment I should probably just get a hysterectomy. 
Like I said, I considered it, and quite seriously.  I was enduring a lot of pain at the time.  But after attending NYU, Drexel University, SUNY Cortland and Cornell for three different majors, the only thing I was ever sure of in my life was that I wanted to be a mom.  And not just be a mom, but HAVE a baby – hopefully several.  It was the only thing I’ve ever felt in my heart that I knew I wanted to do and be.  I couldn’t give up.  I also knew deep down that if I gave up then, that I would hold such deep resentment for the rest of my life for those incompetent idiots that had failed in my care all of those years.  And not just the ones for the 3 years prior, but all those doctors who never recognized the signs of my PCOS and endometriosis all along, and never treated me until my PCOS had progressed to the point where I gained 60 pounds in two years regardless of changing my diet and exercising, and my endometriosis was getting me hospitalized for menstrual cramps.  I had to at least try one last time with someone who I felt confident in, so that if it didn’t work after that I could be more at peace.
I went back into his office teary-eyed, and literally begged and pleaded.  I told him that “no” was not an option.  He very reluctantly agreed, and the surgery was scheduled just 2 weeks before we closed on our house and moved.  We paid for the surgery with what we made off of the sale of our home, and moved into my mother in law’s house.  Leaving our first home to move into someplace where another’s belongings occupied every nook and cranny was not easy. 
The surgery was a phenomenal success.  The first month immediately after, I ovulated completely naturally but did not get pregnant.  The second month, I got pregnant with our first daughter!  Of course, even that had a roller coaster start.  Initially some things were spotted on the ultrasound that were perceived as loose blood, and no heartbeat was detected by 7 weeks.  I was told to go home and wait to miscarry.  I remember very unsuccessfully attempting to work at the coffee shop where I was employed at the time, but being set into an emotional frenzy by every little cramp waiting for the bleeding to start.  They were convinced since my HCG levels were so high, there had to have been a heartbeat.  After a week of no bleeding, I returned to the doctor where there was not only a heartbeat, but the source of my astronomical HCG levels, as well as what was originally thought to be loose blood – 2 other gestational sacs!  We went from one to none to potentially THREE!  Fortunately the other two never got to the heartbeat stage, so there was no sense of loss.  Because of my PCOS I had not only ovulated, but done so 3 times all on my own.  So everything is always possible. 
Since having my daughter, my cycles have never been more regular, and more pain free.  In my entire life I never experienced anything like it – even as a 14 year old.  I continued to nurse because I felt that had to be contributing to the hormonal balance.  I got pregnant about 15 months after giving birth, but lost it in the first few weeks.  But we continued to try – month after month peeing on sticks, let down after let down.  I would cry when I would see friends post pictures of their adorable families, with my heart aching because I knew my daughter would make such an amazing big sister.  I felt the clock ticking away as I knew I couldn’t nurse my daughter forever, in what I perceive to be the driving factor in my hormone balance right now.  Finally, 26 months after giving birth I got pregnant again, 100% percent naturally.  After going through all of this, not only was it looking like we’d never have any children, but we never, ever dreamed we’d be able to have another.  
There are no words to describe the gratitude my husband and I feel in our hearts that we were successful in the end, and will now have the family we’ve always wanted.  Lucky?  Absolutely.  Some may say miraculous, and many say god had a hand in it all.  That’s your choice to believe, but since I don’t believe in god, miracles, etc... I can only affirm that had I not continued to search for answers, simply rolled over and refused to take control of my own treatment, not demanded to be properly cared for and refused to take “no” for an answer…I would be childless today.  We are ecstatic about our upcoming arrival in May.  Four years ago I never would’ve imagined we’d be where we are today – awaiting our second child.  It CAN happen.  There is always a chance that it will!
Thank you for taking the time to read my story.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Special Diet

About two years ago, I discovered a have a gluten sensitivity. It triggers my migraines (I have many, many other migraine triggers, but gluten is the most severe and immediate) and so I avoid it as much as I can. We are not 100% gluten free at home, but I'm working on it.

These days it seems as if "gluten free" is the way to go whether you have a sensitivity to it/are celiac or not. I hesitate to tell people I don't eat gluten because I know it must seem as if I'm trying to be trendy. But a lot of people don't know that wheat, and the gluten contained in wheat, cause a host of issues for many of us. It's not just about gaining weight, either.

Did you know that wheat has only been in our diets for 7,000 years (source: Gluten Free Baking Classics by Annalise Roberts)? Humans, or homosapiens, have been on the earth for roughly 100,000 years but we didn't eat wheat for about 90,000 of those years. As Annalise points out, that's like a 45 year old man eating wheat for the first time at age 41. I like to spout that statistic when I hear people wonder why it seems as if gluten is causing issues for people "all of a sudden." In reality, these issues have developed over the course of many years, and what seems like an everyday problem (like IBS, indigestion, arthritis, depression, even acne) can often be attributed to a gluten sensitivity/intolerance or celiac disease. Celiac is the most misdiagnosed disease in the United States!

More telling is the fact that the wheat we grew 200 years ago is not the wheat we are growing today. In order to make the fluffiest cakes, muffins, and breads, we have genetically modified our wheat to contain as much as 50% more gluten than it used to.

Of course, the easiest way to avoid gluten is to just stop eating things that contain it. But it's so difficult to avoid gluten completely, and even harder if you love a good slice of pizza or have a serious sweet tooth. Plus, gluten seems to be in everything. Did you know that soy sauce and sausage casing have gluten in them? (I didn't.) It's a constant effort on my part and sometimes I "cheat." A cookie here, a pita there. Bagels and pizza (two of my favorite foods) trigger a migraine for me within an hour after I've eaten them--most likely because the gluten content in those is high. Crusty breads do the same.

It's important to remember that gluten free does not equal healthy. Processed food is processed food, whether it's gluten free, vegan, low fat, sugar free, whatever. And I don't like substitutions. I eat vegan for periods of time and I don't like fake cheese or textured vegetable protein that pretends to be meat. 

I often get asked if my kids are off gluten too, and for now, the answer is no. They are carbohydrate hounds, and I monitor their consumption as much as possible, because simple carbs = sugar, and well, we know how that goes with small kids (it's been over a year since I've bought those Goldfish crackers, and that was a big hurdle to overcome!).

The best solution I've found is to make as much of what we eat at home from scratch, which is always a priority to me whether it's gluten free or not. Baking is a science, and gluten free baking/cooking is even more so. You need a balance of grains and starches, but there are so many different flours it's easy to get confused and overwhelmed (and buying all those flours can get expensive!). I've found a few great resources and I'd love to share them with you. We are once again enjoying pancakes, waffles, bread, muffins, cookies, and cakes.

Gluten Free Baking Classics by Annalise Roberts -- Every single thing I've tried from this book is delicious and easy. Annalise has a few basic flour mixes which are simple and accessible. The first part of her book has some history on gluten (part of which I shared above) and explains the science behind gluten free baking and cooking, which is really invaluable. Her blog is also awesome.

These pancake and waffle recipes from Lynn's kitchen adventures are fantastic--fluffy, delicious, and not a hint of gluten.

Gluten Free Slow Cooking -- I love my slow cooker and I love gluten free. This has some delicious recipes.

Gluten Free Girl and The Chef -- A writer as well as a chef, Shauna's blog is a wonderful source for many amazing recipes and great information.

google -- Yep, google. I have found many intriguing and ultimately tasty recipes by just googling them.

Do you have a special diet?

Monday, December 17, 2012

That Morning

I had about half a dozen ideas floating around in my head to write for this week. But I simply cannot even begin to write about anything else without first acknowledging what happened last Friday, December 14th, in Newtown, Connecticut.

If I can think of one event in my adulthood that has changed me as a human being and changed how I look at my life and the world as a whole, it is what transpired on the morning of September 11th, 2001. And now, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary last Friday morning has altered me once again, but this time in a much more profound way--as a parent.

Elizabeth Stone is quoted as saying, "Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." As my children grow and pull farther and farther away from me, I feel this sentiment every single day, with every fiber of my being. 

I have cried with joy and sorrow every September, so proud that my children have reached a new milestone, a new grade, and yet so sad to see their miniature bodies, the back of their little heads, disappear beyond their huge and heavy school doors. I worry almost endlessly while they are there. Will they listen to their teacher? Will they get along with the other kids? Will they be bullied, made fun of? Will they get hurt at recess? Will they get lost in that gigantic building, and will they know how to get help if they do? 

A tiny part of me often worries that they won't be with their teacher when they come out at pick-up. It's irrational, but there it is. 

After Friday, that worry is exponentially larger and more real. 

On that morning of December 14th, 2012, evil invaded my life, all our lives, in a way that I never expected. That morning, in a small town in Connecticut, the unthinkable, the unspeakable, the unbelievable, became a reality for all those families at Sandy Hook Elementary.

26 souls lost. 20 of them small children.

As the story unfolded I was numb, in shock--then I started to weep and it feels like I haven't stopped since. I weep for those innocent babies--their tiny lives ripped away from them, their little bodies destroyed by a crazed psychopath and a gun. I weep for their parents, their grandparents, their aunts, uncles, and anyone who loved them. I weep for the heroic teachers and staff who no doubt sacrificed themselves for those children. I weep for the first responders--the people who had to descend upon the most horrific thing they will ever witness in their lifetimes. I weep for the survivors. The children who had to hold hands and close their eyes. The teachers who heard the screams and the gunshots and were powerless to stop them.

I weep for them, for us, for the human race. God help us.

It is true, people die in violence all over the world every day, children included. But for me, for every parent in America who sends their child to school--this particular case hits so close to home. Because I am those parents. We are those families. That morning, I dropped my children off at school, just like they did. I hugged them and watched them skip off and thought nothing of it, like those parents did. My mind quickly shifted to other things, to my to-do list, to my social engagements. I went to a good friend's home and we sang happy birthday to her beautiful little daughter. I assumed, as those parents did, that my children were safe and sound and that I would be seeing them at day's end. 

The holiday gifts I have chosen for my children's teachers seem trite. Nothing I can think to give them speaks to how enormously grateful I am that my children are under their protection.

That morning, how many of the teachers and staff at Sandy Hook kissed their loved ones goodbye? How many huddled over their lesson plans, assuming it was going to be a typical day? 

That morning, how many children woke up cheerfully, looking forward to a new day? How many were excited at the prospect of seeing their friends, for show and tell, for dance and art and social studies?

That morning, how many of those parents hurried their child along for fear of being late to school? How many lost their patience and might have yelled at their child to quit wasting time, as I have done more times than I can count? 

How many let their children run off without one last hug? Without one last "I love you?"

Dropping off my children at school on Monday morning was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. As we said goodbye I hugged each of them tighter than I ever had before and as they disappeared beyond those doors I sobbed openly and uncontrollably into my husband's shoulder. I was both grateful for the opportunity to hug my children and destroyed by the thought that so many other parents cannot.

My sorrow for those families reaches no end. I am so deeply and immeasurably sorry for those families, those children. 

That morning changed everything for them. For us all. 

If you have ten extra minutes, please watch the video below.

I want her to say...

Everyone has to parent the way that rings true for them. The way that tells their Mama heart that they are doing what is best for their baby. I'm an AP mama for that very reason. Gwen thrives in that hands on, child-focused style; and it emphasizes the things that I love about her and for her (independence, respect vs. obedience).

When Gwen grows up, I want her to say

 ... that she always had a voice and that voice always meant something.
 ... that her Daddy and I were there whenever she needed an ear, and that she felt comfortable telling us what was on her mind and in her heart.
 ... that expectations were straight forward and obtainable.
 ... that if the answer was No, she always knew why.
 ... that she didn't get everything she wanted, but that she had everything she needed, plus some.
 ... that compassion and a consciousness of others and our surroundings were important from an early age.
 ... that she was appreciated and valued.
 ... that there was never a doubt in her heart that her mama loved her and was there for her. Period.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

In the Shadow of the Holidays: Helping Those Who Grieve This Season

This is the time of year when we often celebrate the abundance of our lives. We fill our homes with lights, decorations and presents. We send cards and well wishes to people that we feel lucky to know and to keep in touch with, but with whom we may not be able to have many visits or interactions with over the year. We gather for large family meals and we celebrate our religions in a way that really doesn't happen over most the year. Joy is usually the theme that permeates our airwaves, our thoughts, and our lives during this time of year, but in the shadow of all this light and happiness there are many who are grieving this year; who grieve every year. I don't know what it is about this year that has made me realize this more than any other year, but I seem particularly attuned to it everywhere I look.

You see, my life has been touched by women who have lost (or are losing) their children this year. Think about the degree of that loss. Most of us don't want to. Most of us can't. You see, the people who read this blog are all parents and we don't want to think about losing the most precious people in our lives, the very people who have redefined who we are and who gave us the title of mother or father. Yet, I look around me and I see many mothers grieving this season. Many of you might remember the blog I wrote featuring the Harper family and honoring Alicia Harper, well, I am sorry to say that the Harper family was hit by the devastating loss of their youngest member, Brayden, whose miracle life has inspired and continues to inspire so many. Likewise, you may also remember the blog I shared about another inspring mom, Melissa Bissing, who successfully turned the grief she feels after losing her son in May of 2011 into a movement, Orange for Owen that has transformed not only her community but the lives of people all over the world. Another brave mother with ties to my own hometown community is currently facing the possible loss of her beloved daughter, Kyra, to cancer this season. Even our own contributers here at the connected mom website have been bravely honest about their own pregnancy losses and as I grieve with yet another woman that I have come to care about who is currently suffering her own second trimester loss, I can't help but think about all these mothers' grief even in the midst of my joy during the Christmas season.

It is easy at this point, when you hear or read about so much loss to resolve to pray or to think of all these mothers and then use their grief as inspiration to cling that much closer and to be more appreciative of our own children, but I think that is only the first step. The most effective way we can help them in their grieving is to participate in making their loss meaningful by liking the facebook pages I have linked to above and maybe even donating or giving when we can to those who are making thier loss meaningful like those at Heaven's Angels who accept donations of yarn, other materials, and knitted goods to help grieving mothers who lose their babies in later pregnancy or The Global Hydranencephaly Foundation who works to educate and create support and full lives for families faced with the same devastating diagnosis that just cost the Harper family their son. We are all mothers together and we are all a community, whether we have ever met in person or not, and we must also grieve and act as a community as well. It may not make any mother's grief less painful, but it can make the world a little brighter for everyone if we remember to keep the candles burning for the children whose light no longer burns in this world.

Thank you for reading,

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Guest Post - Help Your Child: Prevent Diabetes With Exercise

Diabetes was never something that I personally worried about, and it wasn’t until my little cousin was going through testing for Type II Diabetes that I started to really pay attention to the disease, and to understand the serious consequences that come with it. Diabetes is a serious disease that affects millions of people each year including children. The only way to free our country of this disease is to raise awareness about it. November is American Diabetes Month, so it is more important than ever to promote knowledge of this illness.

Type II Diabetes used to be a disease that mainly affected adults, however it is now affecting children at an extremely high rate. In fact, nearly 200,000 people under the age of 20 have diabetes. Children are more likely to develop Type II Diabetes if they are overweight and inactive. Carrying excess weight increases the chance of insulin resistance, which is a main cause of diabetes. While there are factors that are uncontrollable when it comes to Type II Diabetes, obesity and lack of exercise are the two biggest controllable factors, which is why it’s so important to understand them and practice preventative habits.

The fact that so many children are developing Type II Diabetes is disheartening. They are still so young and have to deal with this terrible disease that can be life-threatening – many people don’t realize that the
longer a person has diabetes, the more risk they have of developing heart disease when they are older. This is why parents have to step up and do everything they can to prevent their children from developing
diabetes. In addition to encouraging healthy eating habits, parents should motivate their children to stay active. Exercising at least 30 minutes a day can greatly reduce your child’s risk of developing diabetes. There are many activities that will allow kids to get the aerobic exercise they need without it feeling like they are actually exercising.

Here are tips on how you can help your child stay active so that he can avoid obesity and diabetes.

Yoga: Calm-Inducing and Demanding Activity All in One
Yoga is not just for adults; children can also enjoy this relaxing exercise. Doing yoga exercises will not just keep your child fit, but it will also improve his mood, increase his flexibility and improve joint health.

Think about attending a parent-child yoga class at your local health club with your child. Once you two learn all the different yoga moves, you can do the exercises in your home – either through memory or by following along to yoga videos!

Hiking through Nature
Your child is more likely to enjoy exercise if you choose a physical activity they enjoy. For example, you can go on a nature hike with them the next time the weather is nice. During the nature hike, your child can burn calories and see all sorts of different trees, flowers and animals. They can also collect different rocks and leaves on the way and make a collage with them when you get back home!

Get Your Groove On!
A fun way to help your child stay fit is to have a dance competition in your living room. Encourage them to invite a few of their friends over and compete against one another. Each child has a certain amount of time to dance to upbeat music. Once they are all done, choose the one who danced the best, silliest, etc.

Thinking about your child developing diabetes can be scary, but encouraging them to exercise on a regular basis, along with a healthy, nutritional diet, can significantly reduce their risk of developing the disease. It is scary for me to think of my little cousin having diabetes, particularly because of all the consequences that come with the disease. Taking a preventative approach with her now will hopefully prevent the development of heart disease and other illnesses later on in her life. In my attempt to get her on the right track of a healthy lifestyle, as well as my other cousins, I have started to implement activity days each week in which we try some form of activity that keeps us moving – we did the dance party, took the nature hike, played paintball, organized a neighborhood-wide kickball game, and are going to continue this so it becomes a lifelong habit for all of them.

Carolyn is a 20-something year old with a passion for life, fitness and overall well being. She is an avid cycler, golfer and has known to bust some serious moves on the dance floor. Check out Carolyn’s blog at

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Reading List: Motherhood and Beyond

I have to start by apologizing for my self-imposed hiatus. I didn't plan it, but I needed it, and it feels great to be back and writing. As promised, here is the last post in my series of three reading lists. These are books that may or may not have to do with motherhood and children. Enjoy and as always, leave a comment and let me know what book you've liked or would recommend.

As I thought about what books to include in this list, I realized that I haven't read a great book that doesn't revolve around being a parent for a while. I'm going to get on that, and hope I can stay awake long enough at night to read!

1.  The Truth Behind The Mommy Wars: Who decides What Makes a Good Mother?  Perhaps the most contentious "mommy war" of them all, working or staying at home was something I thought a lot about during my son's first four years, when I was a working mom. I felt guilty, tired, inadequate, and that was on the good days. I loved this book because not only did it give voice to all those feelings, but it helped me sort through them, as well. The author explores women's choices when they become mothers; talks about the middle ground many of us fall in (working part time or working at home); discusses work environments for mothers (with most of them severely lacking what is needed to strike a balance between home and work); women's overall role in the workforce; and does so through research and personal accounts.

2. The Motherhood Manifesto: What America's Moms Want - and What To Do About It  A feminist look at motherhood today, this book speaks to those working moms who want to "have it all"-- a job they love with a good family life balance. It's both fascinating and frightening how much women are still discriminated against in the workplace, and it only gets worse when we become mothers. I stay home with my kids now and I wouldn't have it any other way, but while I was still working, the disadvantages were crystal clear and I felt quite helpless. Outlining the problems working mothers face today, we also read about companies who have got it figured out--those with paid maternity/paternity leaves, on-site childcare, special pumping rooms for breastfeeding mothers, and it's outlined how much those types of work situations benefit us as women, and how much they benefit society as a whole.

3. Buy, Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds  Ok, I admit it--I love to buy stuff. I love stuff. However--I don't hoard, I donate things I don't use several times a week, and I don't buy stuff *just* to buy it. We all go through our stuff (children included) every few months to decide what we don't need anymore. This book is not simply about buying stuff--it's about the consumer manipulation many of us are victims of, whether we realize it or not; especially children. It was truly jarring to learn that there are entire corporations hard at work trying to figure out how to penetrate my infant's mind so that, when she's old enough, she can point to what she's been brainwashed with thinking she wants to have. That even before we have children, if we are in the correct demographic, we are marketed to so that when we *do* have children, we can buy stuff we don't need. Interesting and educational if you are into consumerism and marketing.

4. Heaven Is Here I read this book just a couple of months ago, and it's an incredible story. You don't have to be a fan of Stephanie Nielson (of NieNie Dialogues fame) to read about how she and her husband, parents to (then) four small children, miraculously survived a horrible airplane crash, their lives being changed forever. She is inspirational and her story is really and truly amazing.

5. Louder Than Words She's not a scientist, and she doesn't have all the answers, but Jenny McCarthy's book on her journey with her son's autism is the reason I started researching vaccinations and one of the reasons I am as informed as I am today. Whether you agree with her stance or not, this book is a gut-wrenching and emotional account of every parent's worst nightmare--that our child might have, or in this case does have, an often incurable and life-altering disorder. She eloquently expresses the emotion and the guilt involved and takes the reader inside her plight.

As always, these titles are all available on Happy reading!

Monday, December 3, 2012

one and done

My husband and I are young. I'm 30 and he's 32. So I say the following with the caveat that there is plenty of time should we change our minds. But I don't think we will.

See, before having kids I was always so sure that two would be our perfect number. Now, now I think that what we have shouldn't be messed with. I can't even fathom adding another person into the mix.

Before Gwen, there was such intense longing for a baby. Now, I feel no need for a second child, no desire to upset our balance, no longing to go through the baby stages again. I feel content with Gwen, complete as our unit.

Sure, in the back of my mind there is a little voice that whispers of the relationship I have with my brother, Ethan, and our amazing bond. A little part of me feels badly "denying" Gwen that relationship. I wonder if I'm forcing her to miss out on a great relationship and a ton of memories? Denying her future kids the pleasure of Aunts and Uncles? Making things harder for her when Trav and I get old and she has to deal with us on her own?

But who is to say that a sibling would be any of those things to her?

If we did have another, I'm positive the love would be there. I'm sure that I would take my first glances at the little one that had grown in my womb and feel nothing but amazement. I would wonder how we ever considered not doing it.

But would we be able to do less of certain things? Less of the traveling we want to do with Gwen? Less one-on-one? And its silly, but I worry what if I don't love the second one as much? Or worse, what if I love it more?

From an AP standpoint, would I be able to parent the way I wanted with a very attached little girl, and a newborn in need of much attention? Would I get touched out that much sooner? Would have have the "gas" to get me through 3 more years of breastfeeding if that's what the babe decided? I would have patience enough for Gwen and a second, when sometimes I feel I don't have enough patience for just my almost 3 year old? Would I be able to find and keep a balance in my life, between being the hands on Mama I love being while still being a wife and sometimes just Meegs? Something I'm really just getting a handle on now?

Recently, I visited with a friend and her newborn baby boy. I adore babies, I really do, and I loved every second of holding and snuggling with the grumpy little old man. But it really hit me at that moment, as much as I loved holding and snuggling this baby... I am happy not to do it again. I don't want sleepless nights and crying that I'm not sure how to fix. I don't want the helplessness. I don't.

We remind ourselves that decisions at this point don't have to be infinitely binding. That my brother and I are close as can be at 7 years apart. But at this point we've given away all the baby clothes. We've started giving away all the gear. And eventually, "not deciding" will be a decision.

How many kids do you have? If you have one, will you have more? Why or why not? If you have more then one, how did you know having number two (etc) was what was right for you?