Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hands


Willow is at the stage now where her hands are starting to function. She can spin the flowers, balls and smiley face on her bouncy seat, she can reach for dangling toys, she can open and close her fist on my finger.

Some of my favorite moments take place while she is nursing and her hands make some of their earliest movements. Yesterday she nursed with her arms wrapped around a breast as though she was hugging a bear. Her hands will touch a breast, lift up, slide back down, rest, fall onto my chest, a pattern of weight and lightness, of firm softness, of gentle innocence that is beautiful to experience. Even when her hands are slimy from spit up, from sweat, from her tongue licking them like ice cream, they are still a velvety soft ivory, tiny little appendages that will bring her so many experiences in life.

I love her hands.

I am so ready for some more sleep

It’s been well over three months since I have been able to go to bed without waking up two, three, four or more times during the night. Most of the time, I’m astounded that I’m able to function. I’m grateful that she’s always woken up just to eat, then goes back to sleep. But it’s been a long time now and I’m getting ready to see an end in sight (though I don’t see it yet).

For us, a very good night is two wakeups. Last night was not a good night. It was one of the nights in which I lose track of exactly how many times I fed her. I’d feed her, put her down, lay down myself, and pray she’d go to sleep so that I could keep my exhausted body supine. She’d fuss, I’d pick her up, feed her again, bent over in the dark and repeat.

Somewhere around 5:30 a.m., with both breasts emptied, she was sucking lightly as though on a pacifier. I was way too tired to be her pacifier. So although we have not used a pacifier yet, I decided to see if using one would allow me to sleep. So I went downstairs to try to find one. No luck. So instead, I ate cookies (yes, dumb move for someone carrying around 30-plus extra pounds) and checked email.

She still hadn’t settled, so I fed her again. Now I was starting to get angry. Angry as in – your needs win every time don’t they? Don’t you recognize that moms need some sleep too?

I was only angry, really angry, at River once as a baby. It was when I took him to Panama at six months old. Every time I put him back in his crib, he cried. I gave him a bottle of formula to try to fill him up and knock him out into sleep, but he sucked very slowly on the bottle, keeping me up another hour. I was living with a local family and there wasn’t anyone that could help me out in the night. So it felt overwhelming.

Babies don’t deserve anger and when I feel it, I know it’s a sign that I’ve reached my limit. I gave her one more shot at the breast and when she didn’t go down, I brought her to Mark.

“What time is it?” he asked.

“I don’t know and I don’t care. I need some sleep.”

As I passed her over to him, she smiled, awake and cheery as mom was exhausted and frazzled.

I returned to bed with earplugs and enjoyed almost three hours of uninterrupted sleep.

My friend who went to Morocco for two weeks lost her milk supply, which reminds me that every choice has its consequences. But her five-month old also sleeps 10 hours straight.

I wonder how much of Willow’s frequent wakings are due to breastfeeding (I imagine there would be less if she was formula fed), to cosleeping (her being away from me would probably cause her to wake up less), to not being huge (bigger babies are able to go longer without a feeding), to not using a pacifier.

Last year around this time, a friend was struggling with similar issues. She got the Sleepy Planet DVD and said it was amazingly helpful. She mailed it to us, but said the methods can’t be used until the baby is at least 4 months old and weighs 14 pounds.

I don’t think we’ll have an issue with the weight. So I’m waiting until Willow’s four-month birthday (3 more weeks!), then will watch the video with Mark on that evening. I’m hoping it will be magical for us too. If so, I may only have a few more weeks of sleeplessness to go.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Starting sports young - very young

This is the kind of article that makes me think – give me a break. Sending a kid to a place like Little Gym because you want something fun to do is one thing. Sending them because you are already trying to train them for a career is ridiculous.

With the exception of a few months of early swim lessons, we haven’t put River in a single paid class or lesson. He is the exception among many of his peers. But I didn’t want to spend the money when he’s perfectly capable of learning and exploring as a baby or a toddler for free. I wanted to have the funds available instead to give him enrichment when he’s a bit older, and the activity is more likely to do him some good.

Perhaps we’ve failed in this realm. River is bright, personable and analytical. But physically, one could legitimately call him a wimp. As his mother, I see it as a positive. He doesn’t take risks, so he never hurts himself. I can trust him fully - whether near a busy road, near steps, or with garden shears – and we’ve never had an injury or an accident to speak of. Has he tried to get out of his crib? No way. He knows better than to let himself fall several feet.

But when we see him around kids his age or younger, we see he’s physically behind. They can scamper up nets while he takes only a few cautious steps. At the Chinese preschool, one child sat on a trike and deftly took a passenger for a ride, while River preferred the push car that toddlers learning to walk choose. A couple of friends have suggested that perhaps we should enroll him in an activity, such as yoga, that develops his physical skills.

One thing I liked about the Chinese preschool is that they give more challenging tasks to kids who are advanced in a certain area (like scissor use for River). And they push them when they are behind their peers. They gave the example of pushing one child to ride a trike and that is definitely where River could use intervention. In fact, they did push him during the one morning he was there and he made more progress on a bike than he’s ever made before.

So, he’s unlikely to make it to the World Cup, as Mark may have dreamed of. He may even be unlikely to make the soccer team. But that’s OK with me. I want him to be healthy, to be physically fit, and to have the confidence to engage in a variety of activities. But I feel that at this age, he should be free to develop and explore at his own pace.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Squeezable food

I’m seeing a new invention around, and I’m not liking it. I admit I even bought two of these things, because I had a gift certificate to use at Babies R Us and needed to spend another two dollars. Even the organic producers are making these squeezable tubes.

I haven’t given them to Willow yet, but I already dislike them. Do we really need to generate a piece of non-recyclable waste every time a baby eats something? I hate to think of the effect on the landfill if these become popular when recyclable glass bottles or fresh food without packaging have made due for generations of babies.

Do we want to get our kids in the habit of basically drinking their food? I’ve read that cereal in the bottle can promote overeating, since you don’t realize how much you are getting when it’s a liquid. Will sucking on a tube have the same effect?

I recognize there are situations in which it might be nice to have a mess-free snack. I’ve been in that situation on airplanes and in airports. But we got through it with bananas, wet-wipes, bibs, and a spoon.

Am I an especially crotchety mom, or are these another example of putting convenience over health and the environment? Would you buy them?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Highlights (good and bad) from a March weekend

Willow fell off the bed. I don’t think I can express the oh-my-god-how-could-I let this happen shock/guilt I feel in that sentence. I was sleeping on a twin bed while visiting Mark’s parents and she was on another twin bed just over a foot away. Mark’s mom had asked whether there was a risk of her falling off the bed and I said no. I placed her on the bed, tightly swaddled, horizontally, thinking if anything, she’d roll to the side. I couldn’t imagine that in her swaddle, she could jujitsu herself downward and off the edge.

She went to sleep at 8 and I went to bed at 10. I put in one earplug, hoping to reduce my reaction to little night noises (like, duh, a thunk which I did not hear). I did hear crying at midnight, so I reached over to grab her. And reached again. And once more, without feeling her. Tired and confused, I turned on the light and saw her on the floor. Luckily, I hadn’t stepped on her. Luckily, the floor was carpeted.

I picked her up quickly as my heart raced with desperate fear and guilt. What if something happened to her? How could I forgive myself? How could I tell if anything was wrong? What if she had a concussion?

The rest of the house was asleep, so there was no one to consult. She had a red mark on her forehead which has now turned into a bruise, but she stopped crying immediately upon being offered the breast and she nursed vigorously. So I could only hope all was OK.

Nevertheless, I held her tightly the rest of the night, which meant I received even less sleep than usual. Three months old and she’s already on the move.

**

During each of the two nights we spent at Mark’s parents’ place, I put Willow to bed, waited a half hour, then pumped. During that half hour, I had 30 minutes to myself to drink hot tea and to read. I have this at home too, but somehow the time was calmer and more concentrated there. I felt in the moment, enjoyed it and appreciated it.

A big part of it was the quiet. That silence, stillness, calm, peace, ability to concentrate brought to light how noisy our house is. It was beautiful. I mentioned it to Mark and he reminded me that yes, we live in a duplex and have neighbors that play loud rock music. Then we have other neighbors not too far away, traffic, a tenant or two in our house (which makes us conscious of the noise we make too). As I write this, I hear the annoying music playing on Willow’s swing and the creak as it moves back and forth.

In addition to physical silence, there was greater mental silence. I didn’t use the computer for over 48 hours. Being away from messages, news, sites and activities made me feel calmer and more able to focus on my thoughts. And of course, not being in my own house meant I wasn’t surrounded by reminders of things I could/should be doing.

Those were nice little bits of time and now I crave more – some chunks of quiet, concentrated peace.

**

It used to be a given that if we traveled by car at River’s naptime that he would go to sleep. Not this time. I tried limiting stimuli. I tried distracting him with magazines. We put on Barney music, thinking he’d be lulled to sleep. Finally, I bribed him, telling him that yes, he could have a third cookie if after finishing it he’d close his eyes and rest. No go.

I put in earplugs and told him I was resting. I closed my eyes (though I really wanted to read) and tried to model sleep, thinking he’s soon follow suit. No.

As we neared home and he’d continued to chatter for nearly three hours (why are you driving a car, why is it windy, why do we need gas), my patience was wearing thin.

“Please let me read,” I said to him.

“Please let me chat,” he responded in kind.

**

We’ve passed that exciting yet bittersweet moment of putting away the newborn clothes and bringing out the size 3 months. It’s when I have to recognize that my baby is growing, this time is slipping past me, I can’t keep her tiny in my arms. At the same time, I marvel that this big, strong, little girl has been made and nourished by me.

During the newborn phase we dressed her almost only in zip-up and snap up sacks and one-piece outfits – whatever was easiest for us was good for her. Now that we have a little more time, I can take the few extra moments to dress her in something that may go over the head, or have two or three matching pieces. She looks better in real-person clothes. It’s even more fun to hold her and to play with her.

**

I ran across a piece in FitPregnancy about the likelihood of losing car keys. According to the article, memory loss was still apparent into the third month after giving birth. In the third month myself, and still not feeling intellectually up to par, this felt reassuring.

**

I think I’m coming closer to breaking out of the cocoon of new motherhood. I want to get away for longer periods. I used to leave for up to two hours. Now I often leave for at least two hours. I want to be able to focus on something, to take a hike in the woods, to have a conversation, to read a book, without the timer of the next milking constantly ticking away.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

South Korea tops international tests

Sounds to me like some South Korean families are a bit over the top in their devotion to their children’s academic success. That’s not what I’m hoping for in River’s education. But I do expect more than just above average for a nation with the resources the United States has at its disposal. I thought these commonalities among top scoring countries, offered by the vice president for education at the Asia Society, are worthy of thought: *An emphasis on teacher quality - Hiring teachers from the top of their class, and training them well *An emphasis on equity -- Making sure that all schools have access to quality teachers *Longer school days and/or longer school years -- By the time they are ready for college some of these students have logged an extra year in the classroom (And we’re are talking about public schools, not private tutoring here.) *Greater coordination of academic standards and higher standards for all students (In the US, it's traditionally been every locality and state for himself). Results can be seen here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Beyond the fourth trimester

We’ve made it through the fourth trimester and life really does feel distinct.

Willow has passed the extended fetus stage and is developing into more of a person. With smiles and laughs (extended, happy aaahhhhs) and a demonstrated interest in things, such as faces, lights, fans, computer screens, TVs, windows and little animals that hang from play mats or bouncy seats, she makes us feel liked and is beginning to reveal herself to us.

Breastfeeding is no longer painful and I’ve resumed a normal diet. I’m on medication for another two weeks and am crossing my fingers that everything will still be OK once I stop it. Day by day, the supply in the freezer grows. If I keep this up, I should have an adequate backup by the time I go back to work.

I am finally, finally, able to start being reasonable about diet and exercise. I’m walking 7500 steps a day and keeping my calories to 2,770. Yes, I recognize that 2,700 calories is not very low. But it’s currently lower than I would consume if I wasn’t tracking.

It’s increasingly feasible to handle both of the kids. I’ve been able to spend more quality time with River, which makes me feel better about our relationship and I think has reduced the whining. He likes to give me hugs and kisses and I treasure those.

I’m engaged in planning our month-long trip and am enjoying what research says is often the most rewarding part of a vacation – the anticipation.

Things are slowly returning to normal. However, I’m still having severely interrupted sleep. And my confidence level is low, both physically and intellectually. Physically, I’m fat. Not just post-partum heavy, but at the same weight I was around 35-36 weeks pregnant. Wide, flabby, pale and lacking strength, I still dress only in maternity clothes and feel like a dowdy middle-aged lady.

My intellectual confidence is also low. I struggle with Spanish and worry I can’t speak it well enough to keep River engaged. Too often, I come across words I don’t know, so I revert to a simpler way of saying it to River, or I don’t say it at all. I’m removed from current events, having spent the past few months in an insular focus on my family. And while I can handle small, discrete tasks, I’m starting to question my ability to think big, to connect the dots. Is it that I don’t have the time to focus long enough to get deep into a subject, or am I just losing intellectual capacity?

I take faith that I’ll improve physically as I increase exercise, take care with my diet, and eventually get off the medications. I’m hoping that my brain will start to work better with time too, as I gradually am able to get away for longer amounts of time and to focus on larger tasks. This is the price of having children, I tell myself, and looking into their faces during our happy moments, I think it is worth it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Baby Willow's birth story from our doula

This is the birth story written by the student doula we had at Willow’s birth. My own story is coming soon.

Baby Willow’s Birth

I arrived at the hospital at 6:15 and Wm was getting her epidural. As she settled in, I was able to enter and see how she was feeling. Wm was mentally starting to calm down. Pam was her nurse and said she was contracting regularly at about every 2 minutes. Mark and Wm told me it had been a bit difficult getting to the point of getting the epidural. At the time I arrived, Wm was 3 cm at the last time they had checked her, 90% effaced and a -2 station.

At 7 p.m., Dr. G came in the room and checked Wm, she was dilated at 5 cm, 100% effaced and still at a -2 station. He said she was progressing very nicely and Pam said she would have a baby born before her shift was over. Wm was then able to have some juice and broth and Pam left a bag for Wm just in case she got nauseous. Wm read some from a magazine and relaxed a bit.

At 7:52 – Wm was 7.5-8 cm, 100% effaced, and -1 station and Dr. G entered and said that there was some concern for the baby – that the baby was showing some distress after every contraction and he wanted to perform a scalp stim test on the baby to make sure the baby was ok. In order to perform the test, Dr. G was going to have to break the water.

Dr. G broke the water and performed the test on the baby’s scalp and the test was positive – meaning the baby was ok. At that time, the amniotic fluid shot out and soaked Dr. G’s pants, leaving Wm sitting in a pool of amniotic fluid.

When Dr. G returned at 8:04 after changing his clothes, Wm was dilated to 8.5 cm, 100% effaced and -1 station. He informed Wm that since there was so much amniotic fluid he was able to tell that the fluid was clear that there was no concern of meconium. Wm told Dr. G that she was in a lot of pain. So he checked her again at 8:31 and she was 10 cm, 100% effaced and -1 station. He told her not to be concerned it was just pressure because the baby was dropping.

Dr. G told Wm he could give her a pudendal block to help take the edge off. Head nurse Carrie stepped in to help. Wm was in tremendous pain and Dr. G said probably the best thing to do was to start pushing. He said that he didn’t want her to push unless she either went to the restroom or had a catheter inserted. Wm said she felt she needed to go, so she asked Mark and I to leave while she got a bed pan to attempt to “go” on her own.

At 8:40 the pudendal block and catheter were inserted. Mark and I were able to enter the room again and the dropped the bed and got ready for Wm to start pushing. Wm asked for the straddle bar. Carrie went to search for it but was unable to get it as another patient was using it (we were told there were 3 women including Wm in labor at the same time).

I attempted to use the scarf to start a tug of war to simulate the straddle bar, but just as we got started, Carrie entered with the bar and you could see the relief spread all over Wm’s body. At 8:45, Wm started to push. Mark was up over Wm’s right shoulder and I was at Wm’s left side. After about 3 pushes, Pam removed the straddle bar and told Wm she had gone as far with the straddle bar as she could. They readjusted Wm.

As she was pushing, Wm was yelling at Pam to stop putting the monitor on her belly. Pam would tell her that she had to check the baby’s heartbeat and she needed it there to make sure everything was okay. The next contraction Wm yelled at her again to take the monitor away.

I rubbed Wm’s forehead with a wet washcloth and Mark supported her on her right shoulder. She pushed and at 9:08 the baby’s head was out and the shoulder and body followed immediately. A beautiful baby girl. Her 1 minute apgars were an 8/9 according to Carrie. She told me there was a bit of fluid in the lungs as the delivery was very fast.

Carrie had to leave and Lisa came in and worked with Willow and her lungs to suction and rub her to get the fluid out though her breathing was very good and in normal limits. Once her breathing cleared, Lisa weighed the baby and measured her. Baby Willow was 7 pounds 15 ounces and 20 1/4” long.

At 9:15 the placenta was delivered and Dr. G was doing repair work on Wm who had 2nd degree tears. He told her that she did not have one big tear of a series of small tears.

While the repair work was being done, Mark handed me a camera and asked me to take lots of pictures while he took video. I was able to watch the nurse work on the baby and see Wm watch them from her bed. I felt very honored to be able to witness the love that was present in the room from the nurses working on the baby, the doctor working on his patient, the once again father with admiration of his wife and love for his new daughter, and the once again mother and her love as she viewed her newborn. I snapped as many pictures as I could.

At around 10 pm, Wm’s repair was complete and she and Mark were handed their beautiful baby girl. Everyone took a few minutes looking at this most amazing new person to enter the room, and she was able to latch and nurse from her mommy as soon as she could.

At around 10:45, Mark, Wm, and Willow seemed to be settling in with each other very nicely and I was no longer needed.

Wm and Mark are such an amazing couple. Wm was so strong and her courage was so empowering to witness as she faced her fear of pain and birth a beautiful baby girl with Mark by her side always – a strong support with devotion to her and her comfort, a constant source of humor and strength in both his actions and his words.

The loving support between the two of you will enable you to be caring and compassionate parents to your expanding family. I am honored to have been at your birth. Thank you for allowing me to be there.

Your doula

Sunday, March 20, 2011

an almost-spring, almost-normal weekend




Willow turned three months old. It felt like things got significantly easier at two months, and a bit more so at three. Hopefully this trend will continue. We remain in the happy afterglow of the news that our baby is healthy. Last night I took a walk with her and I pushed her in the carriage, staring at her face. All the little imperfections, like baby acne, diminished and she appeared to be perfect to me.

The sun came out, we shed our jackets, the birds chirped, flowers opened their petals and revealed their colors. The last sight of snow is gone and we are hopefully, finally, welcoming spring.

We visited an aquarium as part of a family class trip organized by River’s school. The trip was sponsored by a community organization and I think it’s a nice idea – provide transportation, admission and lunch to a fun and educational place, allowing kids access to something they might not be able to visit, and families the opportunity to spend quality time together. An excursion like that could easily cost $100 for a family of four, so it’s not an insignificant expense. Nonetheless, I’m sure our family wasn’t the one these people had in mind when they planned to sponsor a trip. It was a bit uncomfortable to be the recipient of a charitable venture. River is a member of the class, and was as entitled to go on the class trip as anyone else. Yet I found myself turning the diamonds on my engagement ring inward and trying to avoid mentioning that not only had River been to this aquarium several times before, but he has an annual membership. His class is not limited to low-income students. But it tends to attract them because of the financial aid available for those who can’t afford the modest cost, and because the amenities aren’t on the same level as more expensive programs. Also, the fact that it’s a dual-language program, targeted at kids whose first language is Spanish, results in most of the kids being Hispanic. I think it’s fantastic-- for the value, for the language, and for the opportunity to meet kids River probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet otherwise. But none of my friends have shown any interest in it.

Mark and I had a date night. We went out for dinner (with Willow), then went to a play. The play was almost three hours long, and I didn’t leave the (new) sitter with any milk for Willow. Luckily, she slept until we got home. If she hadn’t, we may have had trouble convincing this sitter to come back.
Some family time, some couple time - we're getting close to resuming normality.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A new feature of school buses


We didn’t have this during my school bus days - body fluid cleanup kit?

Friday, March 18, 2011

False alarm

Today Willow had a bilateral ultrasound of the hips and we received the surprising news that “her hips are fine.” Good news, very good, but surprising.

The doctor suspected hip misalignment, or dysplasia, due to uneven fat rolls on her legs. Mark had previously commented on her legs seeming farther apart than usual. Both me and Mark’s brother had club feet. We thought it was a question of what type of treatment to pursue, for how long, and how, not a question of whether or not she had a problem. So this was a huge gift.

I’d been anxious in the weeks between our visit to the pediatrician and the scheduled ultrasound. Mrs. Ca, who has been through this with her daughter, gave me some very helpful information. One of her suggestions was to look for a good pediatric orthopedist. So as I began researching orthopedists yesterday, thinking we’d need one soon, I realized that the expertise was centered at a large children’s hospital. I called them and they were able to get Willow in for an ultrasound today, while it took three weeks to get in at the place our pediatrician suggested. Our original ultrasound appointment wasn’t until next Wednesday.

I was nervous that we’d taken too long to discover this problem, that it was taking too long to get the ultrasound, that we’d be starting treatment too late – just when she’s going to be wanting to be putting weight on her legs. I was holding off on using anything that would spread her legs apart or put weight on her legs – a jumper, an exersaucer, a baby carrier.

I was also feeling some shock at the description of hip dysplasia as a birth defect that affects 1 in 1000 babies. Defect? My baby? It was hard to put those words together. The one to get it while 999 escaped?

One cause is insufficient space in the uterus, and this often affects first-born females. But since my uterus had expanded before, this was not likely the case for me.

It can also be caused by the baby’s reaction to the mother’s hormones during pregnancy. So then I started to wonder what I’d done wrong, or what was wrong with me. How could something my body produced harm my precious baby? Was this the effect of my feeling so strangely well during the first trimester? I recalled that I was on, or had recently been on some medication around the time Willow was conceived. Was it anti-malaria meds from my trip to West Africa? I’d intended to wait one more month before trying, both to clear my body of medications and to avoid a Christmas birthday. But things happen. Was this the result of my carelessness?

So I drove to the children’s hospital, a significant drive and maneuvered overfull parking garages, feeling confident I was going to get my child the best care I could. This is what my leave is for, I thought. I don’t care how far I have to drive or how often I have to do it.

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a children’s hospital, at least not in the U.S. It was big, beautiful, bright and cheery. There were toys in the waiting room, all of the lights were bright, the walls, chairs and carpets were colorful, and the staff very friendly and considerate. It was nice, but it also felt heavy, as all that happiness and hope seemed to try to counter the awfulness of children with severe problems or struggling for their lives.

A man in a suit saw me struggling with the stroller and opened the door to the waiting room for me. I didn’t think much about him, except that he looked like a typical guy in a suit. A little later, as we waited for our appointment, I saw him walking hand in hand with a bald, limping child. Probably his son. Probably a very sick son.

One thing I found odd about the hospital was they didn’t encourage breastfeeding in public. When I made the appointment, I was told to breastfeed one half hour before the ultrasound so that her bladder would be full. We arrived 15 minutes before the appointment, so I began feeding Willow in the waiting room. Then I was called up to the counter for the insurance discussion. Since I was sitting right across from a woman, I asked her if it was OK if I breastfed Willow.

“We’d prefer you to use a room,” she said. And indicated to me two closed rooms I could choose from. I told her that I’d been told to breastfeed the baby before the ultrasound, but she didn’t say anything. I just had to wait until we’d finished the paperwork, then go the room (the family counseling room, where some families have probably received heart-rendering news) and shut us off, as though we were doing something dirty. It’s nice to have a room for those who need the quiet or privacy to breastfeed, but I thought it was strange to tell patients they weren’t allowed to eat in public, at a place dedicated to the health of children?

Willow did fine during the ultrasound. She lay calmly on the table and giggled as I tickled her. The technician did her job, then told me she’d consult with the doctor. She returned and said the magic words, “Her hips are fine.”

So we left the hospital without even a simple, curable physical abnormality. It felt like we’d received a get out of jail free card, but it also felt so unfair that we didn’t even have to deal with this treatable problem when other kids had to face so much more.

“Nothing is fair about childhood cancer,” Mark said, when I told him about the experience. He is right. Willow will face her share of challenges in life, but hip dysplasia will not be one of them. Perhaps she’ll have other issues with her legs, perhaps she’ll be pidgeon-toed, but for now, I can look at her with the hope that she’s on track to develop normally. I feel blessed.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

watching through the window

I’ve been able to have a little more one-on-one time with River in the past week or so. One of the activities we did together was to attend a trial gymnastics class at Little Gym. He has always been very physically cautious, which means he’s never hurt himself, but also means that he seems to be behind other kids his age in his ability to jump, swing, hang, etc. So I thought it might be fun to try out something that would motivate him to develop some of those skills.

The class was fun, better than I expected, and the facilities were great for a child of his age. But the one thing that struck me was the parental involvement. Parents of younger children participated in the class with the child. Parents of children in River’s class (3-4 year olds) weren’t allowed in. However, chairs were lined up along the glass windows and parents sat in a long row gazing out at their babies as they traversed balance beams, jumped over a rope, and ran in circles.

I found it strange that I was led to a chair rather than being offered the choice of watching or taking an hour for myself. But all the other parents were lined up to watch and a friend of mine told me her two-year-old is in a morning preschool program that offers parents the opportunity to watch through a window (and she does). If I’d had the choice, I probably would have gone to a café and relaxed for an hour, confident that River would have been fine without me. Upon sitting, I realized I forgot my book and thought it would be a very long hour until I found an audiobook in my coat pocket.

To my surprise, I ended up enjoying watching the class more than I expected. River waved to me several times and perhaps it made him feel good that I was there to see him. After the first 15 minutes or so, he didn’t look my way again, but I did remember back to my high school tennis playing days and the extra effort I’d put in when I knew someone from my family was there. Also, I have to admit the voyeuristic pleasure I take at the gym when I watch him from the treadmill videocam and see how he manages on his own or when he doesn’t realize I’m watching him play outside and I can see how he explores his environment.

It was nice to see River in a classroom context, a place where he thrives. I loved watching his face change from the “what the fuck is this?” look of confusion upon encountering something new, to the look of concentration as he attempted to figure it out or do what was asked of him, to the look of confidence and achievement that appeared once he had done it. It’s the cycle of learning playing out in his expressions and it’s beautiful to watch.

I could also see how important the other kids were as role models. When he saw a little girl, a fraction of his size, grab onto rings and hang from them, he tried hard to be able to do the same thing, though he had never done it before. In the course of just an hour, I saw him do several things he had never attempted before, and he smiled almost the whole time.

Mark asked the other day why people pay huge amounts of money for preschool or these types of classes. He doesn’t think it’s worth it, and I’ve also been skeptical at the benefits to the child of classes offered at very early ages (though I see the benefit for the parents). I left that class feeling I had a possible answer. It’s for the opportunity to experience intense learning in a structured and fun environment, to be able to learn from the strengths of other kids, and to develop confidence in one’s body, mind and social skills.

I don’t know if I’d line up with the parents against the window every week. I might be like the mom next to me, who was doing work, or I might sneak off and get a cup of tea. But I did really enjoy getting a glimpse into how River can join into a class of strangers, have fun, and learn. Seeing him challenged and watching how he encountered those new situations gave me a sense of who he will be as an independent person.

Do you want to be able to watch your kids in school/classes/activities, or do you prefer to take time for yourself? How much parental involvement do you think is needed/worthwhile?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Twelve weeks and one day


Today, instead of returning to work after 12 weeks, I:


-Took River to an introductory gymnastics class and enjoyed seeing him smile and learn skills in a fun atmosphere.
-Ate whatever I wanted for the last day before I begin counting calories
-Walked 3.25 miles
-Worked on taxes
-Found grass-fed milk on sale for half price and made yogurt with it
-Pumped and filled one more bag of breastmilk
-Held a warm, soft, heavy baby in my arms, looked into her eyes, smiled at her, and received the most beautiful coos in return.
-Watched a couple of short films and Secret Millionaire
-Read River his bedtime stories and tucked him in
-Supplied Willow with the milk she needed for another day of growth and development
-Bought a pie for pi day

I did nothing intellectual, nothing particularly challenging. But I managed to have some quality moments with both children, to make some progress on tasks and to get a bit of exercise. This feels like a halfway normal life just emerging again (if you can ignore having to get up no fewer than two times per night).

I’m grateful to be able to hold on to this normalcy a little longer, to gain more skill and confidence in all of these areas, before adding on another major responsibility into the mix.

Pi day


This was our first year celebrating pi day, but I imagine it will become an annual occurrence. We started small, the highlights being a train ride with Einstein and the purchase of a small cherry pie.

River knows that Einstein was a famous man and perhaps knows he had something to do with math and physics. I told him briefly about the number pi, though I doubt it meant anything to him. But he definitely loved the cherry pie.

I have a friend who celebrates by eating various types of pie for every meal on pie day. Perhaps if I ever become very ambitious, or River and/or Willow become enthusiastic about this holiday, I’ll go for it. In the meantime, it’s a low-stress opportunity to mix some history and math with sugar and fun.

Do you celebrate pi day?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Buying in bulk


Why did it take me so long to figure out how much cheaper it is to buy things from the bulk bins? I’d been meaning to do it for ages, thinking I should just fill up our empty raisin containers from the bulk bin instead of buying more. But I never got around to it until today.

I can get organic steel cut oats in bulk for cheaper than they are available on Amazon, even with the 15% subscribe and save discount. Organic raisins are almost 20% cheaper. I took in my bottle of Xylitol, a plant-based sweetener that is also an antifungal, my battle against thrush introduced me to. It cost me only $2.80 to refill it, when purchasing the exact same bottle new would have cost about $14. Filling a bottle of organic rosemary only cost 45 cents, versus a few dollars for a new container. Plus each container reused was worth a 10 cent discount, less fuel was used to get the products to me and I both generated less waste and supported local business.

It’s a little more work to remember to bring the containers to the store, but I think I’ll be trying to do this more often.

And now that we have a huge stock of steel cut oats and raisins, we are secure in continuing our breakfast ritual of stove-cooked oats with raisins. River loves it and so do I. Having the time to cook a tasty and healthy hot breakfast for both of us is one of my favorite things about being on leave.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Heaven

Willow is swaddled and asleep in the swing and I’m in bed at 7:15 p.m. I hold a warm cup of white vanilla apricot tea and an almost 700-page Polish novel that appears to be promising. It’s raining outside, so I can listen to the patter of the drops on the roof.

River jumps onto the bed to give me a goodnight hug, then disappears into his room with Mark. Burrowing under two quilts, I start reading the novel, and all the excitement, thrill and appreciation of a long, quality novel stretch out before me. I’m brought back to the joy I felt reading the great Russian novels – War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Chekov’s stories, collections of Russian literature.

After reading River his stories, Mark comes in to cuddle while I read. By 8 p.m. I’m asleep. It didn’t last quite as long as I expected (Willow woke up to eat at 11:30 instead of 1), but still, it was blissful, a dream like the one Torpid Trifling described so well.

12 weeks

If I had to go back to work at 12 weeks, I’d be starting again on Monday. I suppose I could do it if it was necessary. I’m not fully recovered physically, but am certainly functional. Perhaps more time out of the house would mean more exercise, less eating, more intellectual stimulation, and an overall physical and mental return to who I am when not a full-time mom.

However, I’m really glad I’m not going back Monday or anytime too soon. Mainly because I think it would be difficult and stressful to continue breastfeeding. The fact that I have only four bags of milk in the freezer is not of much concern to me now. But it would be if I was going back to work on Monday.

I’m also enjoying the quiet pace of life and the lack of demands, other than the repeated demands of a toddler, which admittedly, can get on one’s nerves. I like being able to attend various talks and community events. Now that the weather will hopefully be improving, I’m looking forward to spending more time outside.

Willow has also just entered the moderately interactive stage, where she can react to things, such as seeing herself in the mirror and laughing, or cracking up every time I take a bite of pancake and say mmmmmm. These extended, happy interactions are such a joy that I want to be able to experience them throughout the day. That doesn’t mean I need to be with her every minute, but I like having at least a dose of her soft warm skin, her lavender scent, her light, beautiful laugh, every few hours. We’re moving beyond the love and care for her because of genetics, hormones and survival to developing a deeper, overwhelming love based more on an appreciation for who she is.

Since I don’t have more than a few hours of free time any particular day, it’s nice for my goals to be modest – such as getting a certain number of steps, writing a tiny bit, reading when possible, and perhaps attacking a household or nesting task. Maybe I’ll even start cooking again soon. Now that I’m eating sugar again, I checked the Gourmet Cookie Book out of the library and will finally try to arrange a cookie baking day with River.

I have 2.3 more months to continue this lifestyle, then we’ll have a month on the road. That trip will be probably provide such copious amounts of family time that I might well look forward to going back to work 10 days after we return.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

For Life

I’m watching an interesting program on PBS about a 16-year-old girl facing life in prison for shooting a man who had picked her up as a prostitute. As it recounts her life, we find out that her biological mother had her when she was 16. Her biological mother drank daily, then got into drugs. The biological mother has serious psychological issues and these run through the family, with several close relatives having committed suicide.

Someone asks the girl, Cyntoia, if she thinks her mother having her at 16 affected how she turned out. She said yes, not only did it affect her, but it affected all the people she hurt. She commented that not only is the baby being hurt by not being wanted, but many other people will be hurt by the “terror the baby will become.”

It seems very shortsighted to me when people focus on the importance of life, of bringing life into being, but then drop the ball, failing to provide the social services, families, structures and love that is needed to create a stable person. In Freakonomics, Steven Leavitt (SP) argues that the significant drop in the crime rate in the 1990s was not due to more police on the street, but instead by abortion becoming legal in 1974. When less unwanted babies were born starting in 1974, there were less criminals of adolescent and adult age in the 1990s.

I think it’s a compelling argument. You can’t take away individual responsibility for reproduction but then stick that individual responsibility back onto a person who is likely vulnerable and disadvantaged, expecting them to raise a solid citizen. It takes a village to raise any child. It takes an even larger and more committed village to raise an unwanted child.

First visit to the dentist

River made his first visit to the dentist today. Mark didn’t want him to go, thinking it doesn’t make sense to invest money in teeth that are just going to fall out in a few years. But should there be any decay, I didn’t think we could leave them to decay for that long, nor would it teach River good hygienic practices.

So we went, paid $125 out of pocket and received the reassurance that despite putting him to bed with a bottle for a long time, not starting brushing until the later side, and not being the most precise brushers, he is doing fine. The dentist said he could tell River’s diet is healthy, which perhaps is the most important factor. River brushes himself, usually once a day, and oftentimes for what seems like not enough time. But he uses my electric toothbrush (he has his own head) and I think those toothbrushes are super at preventing cavities. I went through years with a new cavity every time I visited the dentist. Then I got an electric toothbrush and haven’t had a cavity since then.

The best part of the visit was the office. I have never seen a doctor’s office as cool as this one. It had video games, an interactive activity on a flat screen TV, a juke box, a dinosaur emerging from a wall, Native American headdresses, stained glass showing a giraffe, a huge selection of magazines for children and for adults, and PC and Mac computers available for parents to surf the internet. In his office, the dentist had the most impressive collection of toys I’ve ever seen – a cow that poops jelly beans, a large face that dispenses Kleenexs through the nose, a nose with a giant rubbery booger hanging out. I guess there has to be something to woo people since the office doesn’t take any insurance.

River is getting a very good impression of medical offices. When I told him the other day I was going to take him to the doctor due to a rash on his face, he said, “Yay! They have stickers and lollipops there!” Now the dentist will be associated with video games and toys.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wanting to hear the three magic words

River doesn’t tell us he loves us. He’s said it to me perhaps two or three times in his life. I don’t know if he’s ever said it to Mark. One might start to think he’s autistic or something, except that he is sensitive, loving and happy. He’s proud of his family and will say he has the best family in the world. He enjoys the book Mi Mama, where the child narrator describes what a super mother s/he has. He gives hugs and kisses and does kind, considerate acts

I’d mentioned this to Mark lately, how other little kids seem to tell their parents they love them, but we don’t hear it from River. I even know a parent of a three year old whose child has told her he hates her. We don’t get words of love or hate. Then on our night away, our waitress told us she has an 18-month-old and she’s so cute because she’s always telling the mom she loves her and giving her hugs.

Mark and I both tell River we love him multiple times a day. When I tell him that, he either says nothing or says, “Yes.”

It is that girls say these things more so than boys? Or is River unusual as a three-year-old who doesn’t express love in words, but does in actions.

Formula feeding envy

For whatever irrational reasons, I am extremely committed to breastfeeding. Perhaps because I like challenges and following through on goals, and I set a goal to breastfeed this baby until she’s one.

Last night Mark saw me pump. I showed him the measly two ounces I got and reminded him to NOT TOUCH THE FROZEN MILK, since one 8-ounce bag is an hour and twenty minutes of my time. This is a stock for when I go back to work, not for when I get back a little too late from a short excursion.

“I think six months might be all the breastfeeding Willow needs,” he said. I think he has a better perspective as to the tradeoffs between the costs and the benefits. He thinks the benefits will only outweigh the costs for another three months or so.

“No way,” I said. “After all I’ve been through, now that it’s no longer painful, I’m breastfeeding her for a year.” My irrational self answered.

This was the same day I took a walk with a friend who is breastfeeding, but not exclusively, her five-month old baby. We weren’t able to walk far because Willow became hungry, started to cry, and there was no choice but to go to a café and feed her. So much for exercise.

When my friend’s baby became hungry, she whipped a little container of formula out of her bag, put two scoops in a prepared bottle, shook it, and fed it to her baby. He was done in a fraction of the time it took Willow to eat and they were ready to go on with their lives.

Just a teensy weensy bit of envy there. But the greater envy is at her ability to leave her children and go have wonderful adult experiences. Recently she and her husband spent a week together in another city. Next week they are going to Morocco (for two weeks!), leaving the kids with the grandparents.

Morocco? I want to go to Morocco. Forgive my whining, but I spend a lot of time around a whining toddler these days. And I love, love to travel, especially international adventures. But Morocco is out of the picture. I’m feeling grateful for a month to explore Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois.

I also think back to the woman from my pre-natal yoga who had her baby about six weeks before I did. When I saw her at the library story hour, I had Willow attached to me, I had selected my clothing based on what would make it easy to nurse and I would halt my schedule the moment Willow needed to eat. I saw this woman pull a bottle out from her purse, feed the baby, and then sit back and relax, knowing that he wouldn’t be hungry for another good chunk of time, and she could go ahead and think about other things.

Things like exercise. Things like work. Things like her book group.

I’m sure I’d be in better shape if I weren’t breastfeeding. Despite claims that breastfeeding makes you lose weight, it’s doing the opposite for me. I’m convinced my body has the evolutionary impulse to consume every calorie possible and to hang on to every fat cell available as long as my baby is in need of food.

I’d be able to exercise more if I could leave for longer periods of time. I could do more things, focus more, and think more, if I could let someone else give her a bottle. I’d get more sleep at night and would be better rested and perhaps more patient. I’m planning to attend three conferences in April and it sure would be nice to be able to spend all day there rather than darting in and out, running back home to feed my baby.

I’m sure Mark sees all of this, and therefore doesn’t share my commitment to long-term breastfeeding. I also see it and wonder sometimes if I’m being a dope, overly influenced by the social forces that equate breastfeeding with being a good parent. But there is something in me that says no matter what a pain or inconvenience it is, I’m going to do my best to nurse her and to try to nurse her exclusively for as long as possible.

I don’t really understand it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The hole

We knew when we decided to have Willow and I decided to take a six-month maternity leave followed by a gradual return to work, that we’d spend more than we brought in for several months.

This is especially true given that it costs us quite a bit more per month to own our house than it did to rent the place we lived when River was born. Also, our expenses tend to go up when a new one arrives because we both believe it’s worth investing in services that will make our lives easier during the short but high-stress time of having an infant around.

We went into a bit of a hole in the months after River’s birth too. And we got out of it. As long as we both remain employed, it won’t be a problem to recover from this temporary overspending either.

However, it’s still anxiety-provoking when you reach the point, as we are now, when you know your expenses are greater than your income. When River was born, we were saving for a house and had cash reserves we could dip in to. This time we don’t. Last time we could pretty much make ends meet on Mark’s income. This time, due to the increase in housing costs, we can’t.

It’s felt a bit stressful in the past few days as we’ve pondered how to handle some large bills and upcoming expenses. It can feel like we’re being irresponsible. Mark said we can’t afford to have any more kids.

But then, as I was working on our taxes, I took a look at the bigger picture. We’re preparing well for the future. We’re financially stable. Some of the unusual expenses will come under control in the coming months and I’ll slowly, but eventually, be bringing more income to the family budget. It really is a short-term situation.

So I try to give myself permission to not stress about it. This is the time for me to spend more time with my children. It’s time for me to adjust to becoming a mother of two, and to work out a new balance between my roles as a parent, spouse, individual and professional. It’s a temporary situation that I should enjoy as it is, because it is temporary. Soon enough, things will be more stable, but I’ll also have less flexibility. So I will appreciate it and enjoy it while I can.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A beautiful motherhood memoir

I have to mention a book I read recently because it was so beautiful, so spare and so haunting. Called An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, by Elizabeth McCracken, it tells the author’s story of going through a first pregnancy in her late 30s, only to have the child die in her womb in the 41st week of pregnancy.

It brings up all sorts of questions. Would her child be alive if she’d used more modern medical services, if she’d had different guidance? Where do you draw the line between trusting your body and taking proactive measures to ensure your child is safe? These questions are left unanswered, for the reader to ponder on her own.

Most enlightening is her depiction of what it is like to go through such grief. She describes it in an accessible manner and she helps people understand what they can do to be helpful to someone going through the loss of a child. Number one: mention the loss, don’t pretend it doesn’t exist.

Here is an interesting interview of McCracken by a British journalist:

Infant play mat




A friend of ours passed along her infant play mat, which seems to intrigue Willow. But someone else in the house likes it even more, an usually large baby.




My little doll


I was never very into dolls. I had a short stint collecting Strawberry Shortcake dolls (which I recently found out my mom saved, and will be passing along to Willow) and my grandma liked to give me Madame Alexander dolls. But the beautiful Madame Alexanders sat in a glass case and were hardly ever touched. I had a single Barbie and a single Ken, neither of which got too much use. The only doll I recall being somewhat enthusiastic about was my Cabbage Patch Kid, perhaps because the birth certificate made it seem more real.

So I didn’t expect to be among those moms who like to dress up their little girls like dolls. I’ve spent almost nothing on clothing. Since she was born, she has worn only zip up or snap up one-piece outfits or sacks. And most of those are blue, green or yellow, passed down from River. I had to get a pink jacket and a pink blanket to put over her in order to not have to constantly explain that she’s not a boy.

But we have inherited some really cute things and one beautiful, brand-new outfit hung on my dresser, waiting for an appropriate day to use it. It’s a spring dress, so the weather wasn’t cooperating. Then I realized she was going to grow out of the newborn size before she ever had a chance to wear it. So I had to put it on her at least once.

For the first time ever, I put bloomers, yes bloomers, on my child. Together with a completely impractical pink dress. But it was so cute, I kept it on her all day, cold toes and all. She is so precious and so beautiful to me that I do enjoy putting her in sweet little ensembles. She is the best doll I’ve ever had.



Yes, as a feminist, I know one shouldn’t categorize little girls as dolls or other objects. And I know there are all kinds of issues with the use of pink and princesses and an emphasis on beauty for females. I’m sensitive to all those things and will make the same effort to expose her to the physical and intellectual experiences that River will have. But I think I can nonetheless consider her beautiful and take pleasure in things that bring that beauty out.

our mini escape


We made it out of town with just one kiddo. It was definitely more relaxing to not have a toddler around. It would have been even more relaxing to not have a baby either, however, her presence didn’t change things too much, besides the fact that our attention was focused on her during dinner, rather than on each other.

While our excursion was very cheap, getting a babysitter for almost 24 hours was not. I tried not to dwell on how much that cost and instead enjoy the time away. We need an occasional investment in our relationship. In the future though, it may make sense to plan a getaway when the grandparents are visiting, or we are visiting them.

After a mediocre dinner, which was included in our hotel stay Willow went to sleep in her carseat, which we placed in the shower. She slept very well in there, waking up at 1 and at 6, which allowed me some nice blocks of sleep. Mark and I were able to have some couple time, which hasn’t happened in a long time, we were able to read a bit and spend a greater than usual amount of time in each other’s presence.

Today we played pinball while Willow slept among the dings and bangs and pops of the many machines. I recalled my days at Chuck E Cheese, when tickets would spew out of the skee ball machine, allowing me to buy all types of plastic treasures, as I challenged Mark to a game and won. For lunch, we indulged in a soul food buffet, which was fun as a cultural and a culinary adventure. I cheated big time on my no-sugar diet, trying the chocolate cake with creamy chocolate frosting, taking home a piece of red velvet cheesecake, and indulging in apple cider donuts from my favorite orchard.

We returned home to River napping, allowing us a bit more free time. I used my hour to walk nearly three miles in the rain, soaking my jeans from the knee down, but feeling invigorated.

In the evening, we joined friends for a potluck, where we enjoyed good food and company, without the hassle of cooking or cleaning up. River held hands with his buddy and they danced together. It’s fun to see real cooperative play.

Mark thinks we could have had an equally fun time at home, and saved a lot of money. He wasn’t impressed with the dingy town we visited and joked that I like to have adventures in run-down places. But the hotel itself was fine and to me, it was a real vacation. Upon waking up in the hotel, I colored my hair, something I haven’t had time to do in months. I spent the 25 minutes the process took reading a book, without a single interruption from a toddler demanding oatmeal, asking when the oatmeal will be ready, complaining that the oatmeal is too hot. To me, that’s a vacation.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A different place with number two

1. One thing that surprised me after Willow’s birth was my thought, just a few weeks later, that I could do this again. In fact, I’d like to do it once more. And I still want to adopt. This was a marked contrast from the period after River’s birth, in which I sent myself reminders of how horrible childbirth is and that I should remember the details of the horrendous pain before attempting it again.

Two months on, I would still like another child in my life. Not anytime soon. I can’t handle two little ones at once. But someday, if Mark should agree (which is a big question, as he makes frequent comments about us being done), I would like to welcome another child or two into our home.

2. Another area in which my thoughts are distinct is in the realm of employment. Last time I was eager to get back to doing something productive, to show that I could still contribute professionally while being a mom.

At this point, I’ve come to realize that the work I enjoy the most requires long trips abroad and it’s not very feasible at the moment. I do want to travel, but I don’t want to spend long periods of time without my children. I don’t want to stop breastfeeding in order to take one of these trips.

I’m not good at being a full-time parent – ie. someone who is around and who is the primarily responsible party all day. I need a breather, I need time to myself, I need to be around and in communication with adults, and I need to be able to think about topics more complicated and challenging than those at the level of a toddler.

But I do like having the time and flexibility to do fun things with my children. I like being able to attend events, to be involved in their educations, to be there when they need me. I also like having the time to take care of myself, to be able to cook, get enough sleep, exercise and be intellectually stimulated.

While I don’t think I’d be a good stay-at-home parent to small children, I’m starting to think that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad once they are in school. I could use the school time to do some independent work, then spend the afternoons with my kids.

I don’t think it’s likely it will ever happen, but just the fact that it seems remotely attractive to me is a change.

3. The third big change I’m noticing is more of an acceptance or tolerance to being more attached to my baby and a greater commitment to breastfeeding. Before, I wanted to give my baby that attachment and the benefits of breastfeeding, but I also wanted to have sleep and freedom for myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still thrilled to get away for an hour or two. If she sleeps for three or four or seven or eight, I’m in heaven. But I’m willing to limit my absences to roughly two hour periods, so that I can feed her. I’m not so eager to give up a nighttime feeding to Mark, thinking that we’re better off with the prolactin stimulation, even if it means I’m likely to go months without a full night’s sleep. This time, the year or so that seemed so long before, now appears much shorter. I’m more willing to make sacrifices, knowing that they won’t last all that long.

What was different for you the second, or third, or more time around?

Just in time

Yesterday we had our first overdraft in our checking account. And today, a couple of maternity leave checks arrived, in just about the amount needed.

Thank you to the politicians that made paid maternity leave a reality in our state. It’s not a lot of money and it’s not a lot of time, but it helps and is much appreciated.

maybe we’re doing better after all

At my weekly visit to the breastfeeding support group, I bared my nipples for the lactation consultant’s inspection (this now seems like the most natural thing in the world to do) and was surprised to hear her say she doesn’t think the thrush is back.

“Thrush usually has a shiny look,” she said. So while mine are pink, and occasionally red, they are not shiny. I no longer remember what normal nipples look like and I certainly don’t know what non-thrush infected breastfeeding nipples look like.

She told me I needed to continue staying away from sugar (“no excuses!”), but that I didn’t have to go back on drugs for thrush.

I feel some relief that perhaps the thrush has abated after all. It’s hard to tell though since the other issues are still active and no one knows what came first, or what is causing what. But I’m definitely bummed at the prospect of several more weeks on a restricted diet. I’m also starting to feel pretty bad about myself, as I’ve GAINED five pounds since putting these restrictions in place. So I not only feel deprived, but fat.

I’m also not feeling good about the way I am parenting River these days. It seems I spend too much of my time with him telling him no, hurrying him up, trying to get him to stop whining, or trying to deal with his needs quickly so I can move on to other things I need to address. There are times, especially when he’s whining, that I’m annoyed, I don’t want to listen any more, and I just want to get away. There have been occasions on which my chidings have made him cry, and there haven’t been enough fun, silly moments to make up for them.

I keep telling myself that I’ll do something special with him. Perhaps I’ll read him bedtime stories, perhaps I’ll take him somewhere. Sometimes I do. But most of the time, I’m tired or something else needs to be done, and fun time with him is pushed to the side.

This weekend we’ll be leaving him behind as we go out of town for the weekend. I plan to take him to get his hair cut before we leave and perhaps we can grab something to eat together. I’ll be taking him to a free trial gymnastics class soon. Occasions like this, where just the two of us can do something together, without Willow, are rare. I need to try to make them happen more often. Or I need to learn how to tune out the other things that need to be done and be able to sit and listen to him fully.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Breastmilk ice cream production halted

The other night, during a girl’s night out, I discussed this ice cream maker with my friends, all mothers and most, if not all, experienced breastfeeders. They were as shocked about the idea of breastmilk ice cream as others.

“I’ve tasted my breastmilk and it’s sweet, but it’s not something I’d want to drink a glass of,” one friend said.

Another friend admitted that despite nursing two children, she could never bring herself to try her milk.

I’ve tried only drops on my fingertips and it is sweet. In addition to being natural, “free-range” as the shop owner says, and with immunological properties, I think it’s a great thing for my kids. But I also have no desire to take a swig, or drink a glass.

I don’t think it gross though and blame my hesitance on my socialization. In the same way I was very hesitant about drinking mare’s milk in Kyrgyzstan, and couldn’t bring myself to take more than a few tiny sips, especially with the brown fat lumps floating in it, drinking breastmilk is strange to me because it’s unknown. I was even hesitant to consume the goat’s milk I got on sale the other day. I could take small sips, I could eat it atop oatmeal, but I couldn’t really chug a glass of it, just because I wasn’t used to it.

I doubt that adults consuming breastmilk in any quantities is even on the table, as the cost of production is too high. But I do wonder at our reaction to it. Sure, there may be some small risk of spreading disease. But with things like beetles and melamine recently found in formula, is the risk really any greater?

I don’t like the characterization of breastmilk as a potentially dirty “bodily fluid,” as though it’s on par with mucus or vaginal discharge. It is something our bodies make to feed and nourish our babies, not an unneeded substance that is discharged to keep our bodies clean. Yes, there is the possibility of spreading HIV or hepatitis. But most women should know if they are positive for these diseases. It’s possible, but not very likely, that they would extract milk for their babies, then give away their excess, if they thought it could do an infant harm.

I once gave River frozen breastmilk from another woman. It did feel a bit weird, but I thought it was better for him than formula and I appreciated her generosity. I knew she fed that same substance to her own babies. I think that breastmilk exchanges, such as Eats on Feets, offer a wonderful service. I just looked at my local group and saw a woman, whose two premature twins died in intensive care in December, offering her freezer full of pumped breastmilk to other babies. What a beautiful gesture, to allow another baby to be nourished with the food she lovingly made for her children.

This London ice cream shop owner is doing a great thing by recognizing breastmilk for what is it – a quality food source. Perhaps it’s not intended to make ice cream for adults, but why not? There are so many, many worse things we put into our bodies.

In the same way I had trouble drinking mare’s milk, or eating dog (even though I really dislike dogs), or even downing reconstituted powdered milk, I too struggle with recognizing breastmilk as a source of food. But I’d like to get over that. Is a cow or a goat or a sheep cleaner than I am or their milk of better quality than mine?

I don’t tend to be an overproducer, but should I wind up with extra, I’d definitely donate to someone on Eats with Feets. And if I should have enough at some point, I’m even considering making a batch of homemade ice cream for my children. Just for the heck of it.



This wikipedia page on human breast milk offers some interesting details.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The other side

Yesterday I stopped in a coffee shop with Willow. She was in her carseat, sitting there calmly as I prepared my tea at the counter. A woman approached the register, then bent down to look at Willow. She asked me how old Willow is.

“I have a one-month old,” she said. “He would never sit there calmly in a carseat. How long does it take until that can happen?”

She told me how she could never put her baby down and how she was getting desperate. “My friend is holding him right now,” she said “so that I could have a few seconds with the use of two hands to buy my coffee. I have a four-year-old, but I can’t remember how long it takes to get to normal.”

I told her for us it was about two months. And I told her about the expensive bouncy seat that gave me at least a few minutes respite, even when it was difficult.

“I’ll buy anything, I’ll spend anything, at this point,” she said. “Even 15 minutes would be enough to get something done.”

It wasn’t very long ago I was in her shoes, and now, suddenly, I’m on the other side. I don’t feel we are fully out. I still look at my nipples every few hours and stress over the shade of pink – is it indicative of continued thrush or am I back to normal? But they are definitely in better shape compared to our low point, I can put her down for periods, I can even leave for an hour or two. I’m starting to be able to do a few things that I enjoy.

Life is more enjoyable, more fulfilling. In that sense, we’ve made it through.

Depressed

As of last Friday, I thought I was clear on the thrush. Since then, I’ve avoided major backtracking, but have taken some small liberties with my diet. Just yesterday, I took Willow to the pediatrician and didn’t mention the thrush, since I thought it was pretty much taken care of.

“Are you sure it was thrush?” the pediatrician asked, and though I wanted to strangle her, she did make me doubt myself for the slightest moment.

Now I think it’s back. The redness is just too red and I’m starting to feel burning again. I want to cry. Instead, I bought a cupcake with icing and scarfed that down, followed by five blocks of Trader Joe’s milk chocolate. My God, if weeks and weeks of treatment won’t work, at least I can have some forbidden sugar.

It wasn’t very enjoyable and felt more like a binge. I know that tomorrow I’ll have to go back to the restricted diet. There doesn’t seem to be any other choice. I have to get rid of this, sometime, somehow. While I thought the madness was winding down, now it seems I’ll face several more weeks of it. I’m starting to feel discouraged and depressed.

This evening I ate my dinner in a corner of the kitchen, on the floor. Everyone else was in the living room, so it was quiet and I could eat undisturbed. Mark came in and laughed.

“It’s only one step from this to a closet,” he said. He’s been fantasizing lately about being able to spend a day in a closet. I thought a day in a spa or a beautiful site in nature would be preferable. A library might be nice. But a closet is looking more and more attractive. Especially if it doesn’t involve vinegar rinses, exposing nipples to sunlight, strict dietary regimes, clothes washing rituals, the need to constantly respond to a baby, and a toddler that is whining and demanding more than usual.

Yes, there are certain changes I should have made right away and my slowness in doing so is one reason we’re still struggling almost 11 weeks out. But I’ve really been giving it my all in the past few weeks. Not only am I constantly denying myself, but unbelievably, I’m gaining weight in the process. Fat, thrushy, cranky, tired and frustrated. Tonight is not a good night. I wish there was an end in sight.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

hip misalignment?

Willow had her two month checkup today. Though she is 10 weeks old, this is the first time we’ve gone to the pediatrician since she was just a week or so old. For some reason, we were told to come at two months rather than one month, then that appointment was delayed a bit.

Other than curiosity at how much she weighed (12 pounds 3.5 ounces, higher than my guess of 10-odd pounds!), I wasn’t in any particular hurry to return to the doctor. I was expecting a clean bill of health.

So I was surprised when we left with a prescription for an ultrasound of her hips. The doctor thinks they may be misaligned, based on the unevenness of the fat rolls on the back of her legs.

Mark had commented he thought Willow might be bow-legged. He’s especially on the watch for leg issues since I had some kind of issue (pigeon-toe?) that required casts on my legs as a toddler and I believe breaking my leg/s as well.

I didn’t notice anything in particular, though now I’m starting to see that perhaps there is a wide space between her legs, perhaps her legs turn out too much.

The doctor said that if caught early, treatment is easy and consists of wearing special pants for 4-6 weeks. She said if it’s caught late, then it requires surgery.

I made the ultrasound appointment as soon as I got home, but it will take a couple of weeks to get in. In the meantime, I’m plagued by nagging thoughts. What caused this problem? Was it something I did or didn’t do during pregnancy? Is is genetic? Is it something we can treat and she’ll never remember or it is something that will affect her life?

“You’re just full of genetic defects,” Mark said to her this evening. Admittedly, this is number two (the tight frenulum being first) in ten weeks. I try to keep in mind the many more serious issues that parents have to deal with and feel lucky we don’t have to go through that. But being told that anything is “wrong” or “abnormal” with my baby is hard to take. I want her to be perfect because I think she’s perfect and I want her to be perfect for her sake.

Now I look at her and am fearful that perhaps I’ll do something to worsen the condition. I wonder if it’s my fault that she has it.

Overall, she’s a chubby, happy and healthy baby. So I take comfort in that and will try to not stress too much until we’ve had the ultrasound and understand the situation better. I’m glad I have the time off to deal with anything that needs to be done and that we have access to a diagnosis and early treatment. Even so, I feel a certain sadness at knowing my baby has to go through things (her frenulum being cut, the exposure to radiation from an ultrasound), that incredibly strong and healthy River didn’t have to experience.

At the same appointment, she received her first vaccination, DTP. Unlike River’s miserable two month appointment, where we got five shots at once, I only let her get one and she took it like a champ. We’ll be going to the doctor’s on a monthly basis to get her shots gradually, one at a time. It will take a bit longer, but she’ll eventually get fully vaccinated. I feel better knowing that we’re not asking too much of her immune system.