Monday, January 31, 2011

Taking Care of Mama Mondays

I'm joining in the fun with a local blogger (Twig and Toadstool) to do a weekly post about the way I plan to "take care of Mama."

We all use plenty of excuses for why we can't take care of ourselves (too tired, too bored, too stressed out, too busy). I think I made up these excuses even before I had children! Adding a child to the mix just takes away that extra bit of time you might have used for yourself.

I'm lucky in that I have a very supportive hubby who helps out with everything - childcare, nighttime parenting, dishes, vaccuming, sawing/fixing/hammering (he won't clean bathrooms, but I hate fixing things, so it's a win-win). So it's hard to say I have the excuse of being "too busy" when my hubby would gladly hand me the time to do something special for myself. Just last week, he sent me out for an evening by myself to see The King's Speech.

I do have the excuse of being too tired, although that has been improving lately as A gets older and responds better to Daddy during the night. I'm definitely not as sleep deprived as I used to be, but I think I could certainly use more unbroken sleep!

The excuse I use that is most valid is that I'm too STRESSED OUT. Stress has been a constant in my life from the time I was a wee thing. I think it's probably part genetic and part learned, as we do live in a society where everyone prides themselves on being "busy." So it's been my goal in life to try as many things as I can, and learn as many new skills as I can afford. Unfortunately this sometimes leads to burnout, or just places me in the awkward position of needing to cancel on people or events. I'm getting better at saying "no" these days, but I still catch myself jumping on board with a project before I have time to think about whether or not I have time.

I have been reading a completely amazing book these past few days (recommended by Maureen over at Twig and Toadstool) called Broken Open: How Difficult Times can Help us Grow. I've always been a fan of inspirational books, and this one takes the cake. As I read each chapter slowly and carefully, I have found myself choked up so many times by the truth in her words. I know that the best way for me to deal with the ongoing anxiety (I call it the pit in my stomach), is to learn how to sit quietly each day and listen to the goings-on of my mind - to let that pit break open and experience the fullness of my difficulties. Only then will the pit dissolve and subside. But saying this and doing this are two completely different things!

The ancient Persian poet Rumi says,

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep.

Don't go back to sleep. Meaning, don't turn on the radio to distract yourself. Don't sit and eat to fill yourself. Don't watch TV to numb yourself. Don't take that drink, or that drug, to get away from yourself. Don't go back to sleep...

Friday, January 28, 2011

Short and Sweet

Short and sweet, just like my hubby requested. He asked me for the Coles notes version of my last post, so I was inspired to write a shorter one today!

I wanted to highlight a local (well, semi-local) up and coming artist, who I happen to think is WONDERFUL!! Her name is Kelly Sloan, and her music is described as "country-folk infused with soul." This young singer/songwriter hails from Almonte, Ontario, but currently calls Halifax home. Kelly will soon be embarking on her first tour, and I encourage you to check out her shows in Nova Scotia, Toronto, Almonte, Wakefield, and Montreal.

Kelly's Website
MySpace Page

Happy Listening!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Research Junkie (be prepared, this is a long one!)

I have been wanting to write a post for some time now to give an update on a previous post, all about my New Year's resolution to encourage A. to sleep (or at least sleep better than she does). I've been avoiding it because I'm a little tired of discussing this issue. Our trouble with sleep has been a problem since A was born, save for a couple of glorious weeks around 2 months of age when she decided to sleep through the night. So my hubby and I have talked this subject to death, and then some. However, the issue has come up again in our lives, and I feel the need to spill it all out onto virtual paper.

I am a research junkie (hence why I now work in health research), and so of course, I have scoured the internet for information related to babies/children and sleep. There is TONS of stuff out there, ranging from personal opinion to evidence-based research. You could drive yourself nuts trying to cover it all. As a researcher, I tend to rely on better quality material, as people with "opinions" haven't been in my house at 3am with my screaming daughter.

One very interesting paper is by C.M. Worthman and M.K. Melby, and is titled "Toward a Comparative Developmental Ecology of Human Sleep." Ecology is the branch of sociology that studies the relationships between human groups and their physical/social environments. Worthman and Melby attempt to gain insights into sleep regulation from an ecological and anthropological viewpoint. Before you start to nod off or find something else to do, keep reading! This is really interesting stuff, I promise.

According to these two women, we know absolutely NOTHING about human sleep, with some work on SIDS being the exception. Any Western studies that have been done don't adequately represent the range of human sleep ecologies - meaning, we don't know anything about the variety of sleep conditions amongst various cultures around the world (in particular, traditional cultures). The authors argue that Western sleep habits are grounded in our cultural environments; essentially, our sleep patterns, the proximity to others, bedtimes and wake times, and sleeping locations are all social, learned behaviours. The way we sleep is not natural, but social.

As Westerners, we have a sleep model that is binary - in our view, we're either asleep or we're awake. There is no continuum of sleep. But in other cultures, much emphasis is placed on the importance of many sleep/wake states, including daydreaming, dozing and napping. This allows individuals to gain many hours of various states of sleep throughout the day. Western society is very much concerned with an unbroken period of sleep that we think should occur at one point in the day (usually at night). Many of us frown upon napping, dozing or being "semi-alert." To us, this is an unproductive use of our time. Hence, the 7 or 8 hours of sleep we try to get at night becomes very important if we must function well during the rest of the day.

In other more traditional societies, solitary sleep is not the norm (the Balinese become very fearful about sleeping alone, as they believe they are more at risk of encountering evil spirits). In a review of 127 cultural groups from around the world, it was found that 79% of these societies had children who normally slept in the same room as their parents, with 44% of these sharing the same bed (Barry and Paxson, 1971). Furthermore, many of these sleeping environments are "open concept" where other members of the home or village come and go at will. Men (and sometimes women) will engage in nighttime rituals and practices that allow them to sleep for only short periods at a time. Music may be played at different times of the night, and the need for warmth requires some individuals to be up and down tending to the fire. This differs quite a bit from the sequestered, quiet and controlled environments in which we sleep.

Here in Canada most children have bedtimes and naptimes. Parents are anxious about setting these routines, as a lot of children have no interest in going to bed by the clock. In traditional cultures, children's bedtimes are not rigid. They will sometimes retire to sleeping areas with their mothers, but often fall asleep in someone's arms during family gatherings. Infants are carried almost full-time in a sling or sack, and thus fall sleep whenever they are tired (there are no distinct "nap times").

What I find fascinating about all of this is that Western sleep ecology is distinctive from so many other cultures - we are the anomaly in the world of sleep. Worthman and Melby make the suggestion that the particularities of Western sleep ecologies may contribute to the patterns and prevalence of sleep disorders. This makes sense to me - so many in our population are perpetually tired and sleep deprived, and many struggle with real sleep disorders such as insomnia. All of my time spent researching the phenomenom of sleep has led me to strongly believe that we have created our own sleeping problems - by trying to manipulate sleep, it has increasingly started to elude us.

And perhaps most relevant (to this post at least!) is that our culture seems to be most concerned with how our babies and children sleep:

"In those societies with a strong Euro-American influence, the moment of birth is commonly viewed as the beginning of autonomy for a baby who is no longer connected to the mother. Early independence is a developmental goal to be achieved rapidly by infants, particularly at night." (Ball, 2007)

This viewpoint is a recent one and developed less then two centuries ago, when increasing wealth for the middle and working classes led to changes in living conditions (separate sleeping and eating space, and then separate bedrooms). This was coupled with the popularity of behaviourist childrearing strategies - doctors (all men), who emphasized the self reliance of children, the withholding of affection by parents, and solitary infant sleep. Whether we like it or not, this influence still lives within us, and within our mothers and grandmothers.

So what does all this reading and research mean for my family? On one hand, I find it instinctual to have my daughter sleep with us and tend to her needs at night. This feels normal to me, and my daughter seems happiest with this arrangement. On the other hand, I live in a society where I must get all of my sleep at night so that I can function throughout the day. Plus, I have been conditioned to believe that sleep should be controlled and solitary. (On a side note, as a feminist, I find it frustrating that this has been indoctrinated into my life by a bunch of men who claimed to be experts in the care of babies and children. What might have happened if a bunch of mothers wrote the books on childrearing in the early twentieth century? We might be in a very different place)

I struggle with being woken up at night because I am unable to see the benefit of various wake-sleep states (and there is also not much space in my life for naps). So back to the conflict - do I do something to change my daughter's habits (and therefore go along with our Westernized ecology of sleep - I hate conforming!!) or do I learn to "go with the flow" and arrange my life in a way so this works?

There are probably more questions than answers at this moment, but I'll keep on readin' and maybe one day will be all the more wiser for it. Oh yes, and as for that update! A was doing really well with our "Operation A-to-sleep" plan until she got her shots, followed by a bout with the flu. We are back to where we started....

Monday, January 24, 2011

Room Without a View

The view from our back windows is a pretty one. Our backyard faces out onto a school park, which slopes down into a ravine. This piece of suburban nature is home to many different species of small wildlife, and every morning this past summer I could spot the little bunny rabbit that came hopping through our fence in search of fresh vegetables (sorry bunny, no garden this past year!). In the warm weather, our windows were always open, and I could hear the children's shouts and cries in the schoolyard during recesses and lunch. Now that winter has arrived, I have still enjoyed peering out and watching the neighbourhood kids making fresh tracks down the toboggan hill.

As of late, there has been no view out our back windows. The reason for this is an extreme cold snap (-30 here today, and that's without the wind chill!) and an increase of moisture in our house. This has created an incredible amount of ice buildup on the windows, which my hubby captured beautifully yesterday morning. We have decided to "embrace" the ice.

I'm having a hard time with this level of acceptance though, as with moisture and ice comes....MOLD. I am very scared of mold. I have visions of A weezing and coughing in a hospital one day, and a doctor quietly telling me "it was the mold, Ms. Pratt. There's nothing else we can do." There is so much information about mold on the internet, but I don't really know the best way to deal with it.

Okay, the best way would obviously be to replace all the windows. But until we can pull $10,000 out of our back pockets, that's not going to happen. We're saving up right now to replace at least 3 of the windows this summer, but the rest will have to wait.

So in the meantime, I must clean the mold. I have tried Borax. It seemed to clean it up, but I wanted something that I could spray into the cracks in the wood where my cloth can't reach, and the Borax doesn't seem to be killing it. So then I turned to the dreaded chlorine bleach, but I had such a reaction from the fumes that I couldn't bring myself to use it (plus, we just read this morning that bleach is not good for getting rid of mold). So now we are just sticking to hot water and soap. But before I can even start, I have to sit at the window for 10 minutes with a hair dryer, melting all the ice so that I can get the window to even open. They're so old that the previous owners had new windows "added" to the old existing storm windows.

Oh, the joys of owning an older home. I love this house - I love it more than anywhere else I've ever lived. I don't mind that the wallpaper we have is from the 80s, or that the wall in our living room is a garish maroon, or that the light fixtures are ugly chandeliers with fake jewels dangling down, or that the floors are worn and scuffed. I don't mind the dated kitchen, or the vinyl floor, or the loose banisters. None of that matters to me, because I know that over time we'll make it "ours." But what bothers me are the damn windows, the moisture and mold, and the wastefulness of having a leaky house.

Not much we can do about it now, though, so I'm off to clean with my trusty bucket of water and soap. Wish me luck, and send me any tips you have on how to deal with household mold.

This is Danny Michel's "Snowglobe":

I follow footprints through the snow,
right down the middle of the road.
The xmas lights across the lake,
the xmas cheer, the angel cake.

The mistletoe, the candy cane,
I ride your bumper down the lame,
the panning steady cam slow-mo.
Zooms with hypnotizing flow.

Here in this perfect snow globe night,
you keep shaking my life.

The smell of fire wood and rum,
carolers sing par um puma pum.
I heard that one and one make 3,
does that mean you and us make me?

Here on this cold December night,
here on this coal black ice.
Here at the bottom of this hill,
the camera jams and tears the film.

And the sky is falling tonight.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Just one of them days

I took this photo from Google Images, which I'm not sure is legal, but I don't have a good picture of me in this type of pose. This is meant to convey FRUSTRATION.

It has been one of those days. A is sick with a fever, and hasn't been sleeping for several nights (hence, we haven't been sleeping). Today, she seems to have perked up quite a bit, and even started playing with her toys this morning. This was a bit of a change from yesteray when she clung to my pants screaming the second I put her down.

So, I thought, maybe we'd have an OK day? But no. No such luck. A decided this morning that she didn't want to nap, no matter what I did. I am very envious of you mothers out there who walk into your child's room, lie them down in their crib and leave. Your child will babble to themselves for a while before drifting off peacefully.

Now, we're the ones partly to blame for A's bad sleep habits. But I also think it has to do with the child's personality. And as you've all read in previous posts, A is not big on sleeping. I think she'd rather be gnawed on by an alligator than take a nap.

But back to my long-winded saga, full of self-pity (I can hear the saddest violins playing now). I didn't want a big fight for a nap, so decided to take her out in the stroller and walk down to the mall. She fell asleep quickly, but promptly woke up the second we got into the mall. How do they KNOW?? The second the sounds change, or the temperature, their little eyes pop open and they start screaming. So she slept 10 minutes this morning.

I assumed that she would be exhausted this afternoon and take a nice long nap. NOT SO. She put up a huge fight. I left her screaming in her room, but could only handle it for about 7 minutes. Those of you out there who have done "controlled crying," I applaud you, because I don't know if I could ever make it past 7 minutes. It's like a form of horrible torture.

So I gave up (or gave in, whichever way you want to look at it) and she didn't fall asleep until we went for a car ride to the vet to have Darcy's anal glands expressed. Yes, you read right. Our dog, the pug, needs to have her butt squeezed every month, or her anal glands fill up with fluid that smells like fish breath and she rubs her butt all over our carpet. It's I pay professionals to do it.

Anyway, I committed a parenting no-no (I think I'm going to have a weekly post called Confessional, where I can 'fess up to committing horrible parenting crimes). I left A sleeping in the car and ran into the vets' office. I dumped Darcy on the poor receptionist and ran back to the car. I waited there until I could see the technician bringing Darcy back out from her procedure. Leaving your child in a car alone is SO not a good thing to do, but the thought of waking her up filled me with dread. I just couldn't do it. I feared that at any moment a police officer would arrest me for neglect, and I kept peering fearfully out the window of the vets office while I paid the bill (just in case you're about to call the CAS, the car was in my full view and the doors were locked...and it was very warm in there....I swear). Can you smell the guilt?

As I'm writing this post, Tom has called on the phone and told me that I'm going out to see a movie by myself tonight. He is going to take over as soon as he's home, and I've got the night off. God love wonderful husbands!!!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Just try it!

When I was a teenager, I was the queen of picky eaters. The only vegetables I would eat were raw carrots, cucumbers and celery. I also turned my nose up to dishes that had mixed ingredients - quiche, pasta sauce with veggies, casseroles, you name it! My food had to be carefully separated on my plate, and nothing could touch.

What did I eat? A lot of sandwiches (as long as there was no lettuce or tomato piled on top); pizza (pepperoni and cheese); cans of zoodles and fruit. Dinners out with me were easy to predict - I would order chicken fingers and fries. If there was nothing resembling chicken fingers and fries on the menu, I would order some kind of a sandwich....with fries.

My most shameful moment (shameful to me NOW) was when I was treated to a real French dining experience while visiting a cousin in London, England. In a place where haute cuisine was essentially born I ordered and chips. I think it was the only thing on the menu that might have been put there in the event a child was joining in. The sad thing was that I was 16 at the time; no longer a child. My cousin couldn't believe that I was being offered the meal of a lifetime in the heart of one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and I chose to eat fish.

I think my eating habits began to change slowly when I moved away to St. Catharines, Ontario, where I completed my degree at Brock University. Suddenly I was on my own - I had to take care of cooking for myself, and boxes of Kraft dinner were no longer cutting it. One of my roomates was getting her degree in Health Sciences, and with every food choice I made, she would grab the box/can/bag and cry "do you know how much fat is in that!?" She patiently showed me how to read nutrition labels, and pointed out that I was probably eating 3x the listed serving size.

I began to use recipe books, and started cooking simple meals. And I figured since I was trying to get healthier, I might as well start eating some vegetables. Lo and behold, I discovered that lettuce and tomato on a sandwich is not gross, but actually creates a much more pleasurable eating experience. I mean, who wants to eat a dry sandwich? Boring!

Soon I was venturing into different cultural territories - Indian, Thai, Chinese, Mediterranean. I learned how to use various spices to enhance the flavours of a dish. I wondered at the simplicity of a cucumber and tomato salad, sprinkled with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and fresh herbs. I attempted to create sauces that would make a pork chop get up and do a little dance for me. I was still a student, and definitely enjoyed my pizza and pitas, but my tastes were changing.

The defining moment in my relationship with food came during a three week trip to Thailand, where I came across stuff I hadn't even known existed. I was committed to trying everything. My friends and I ate dishes so hot that we all looked as though we were having a good cry. In Northern Thailand I found a display of roasted bugs in one outdoor market, and tasted my first pan fried worm (in case you're wondering, they tasted like fried puffs of some kind). Outside a wat (temple) we had just visited, we purchased a whole roasted chicken from a street vendor for $1. It had been stuffed with a variety of herbs and spices, and we tore into it with gusto. Eating on the floor is a normal custom in parts of Thailand, as well as forgoing spoons and forks. Many dishes are made so that you can pick the food up with your hands.

I came back from Thailand with an entirely different take on food, and was no longer satisfied with boxed creations from the grocery store. And lately, I've become even more interested in making a variety of different foodstuffs that I might normally purchase - such as cheese, yogurt, butter, crackers and mayonnaise. Food is an exciting hobby, and I am learning how to perfect my recipes and find the courage to try new ones.

It's my opionion that no one has an excuse to pooh pooh something, especially when it's been prepared by someone you know (ok, but if you have allergies, you're forgiven). Politeness aside, I think it's our duty to try new things. Food that is well prepared has the ability to alter our state of mind, and can create memories so strong that we spend years trying to re-create the taste of a dish we once tried. My travelling memories are full of food - I remember exaclty what I ate, where, and what the weather was like. I remember the sounds of the restaurant or street, and can smell the aromas wafting from the kitchen. Food is an experience, and one that should not be taken lightly.

We are very lucky in Canada to have access to a great variety of ingredients. Although I believe that the majority of our food should be purchased from here in Ontario, I also find pleasure in occasionally buying an exotic fruit or vegetable. But if you take the time to look around a little, you'll notice that there are "exotic" veggies right in our own backyard! Heirloom vegetables are making a comeback - you can find purple, red and yellow carrots. My personal favourite are blue potatoes - how much fun do kids have making mashed potatoes that turn out blue or purple?

So I hope to hear back from you, readers, about what kinds of new food you have been trying lately. While you're chopping and slicing in the kitchen, take a little listen to Serena Ryder's A Little Bit of Red (check it out here)

Hey you say you want to start over again
like I ever wanted it to be any different.
I've been watching all your colours fade to blue;
Said you'd come back,
like I'd want you, want you.
Stop pretending everything's all right.

Oh baby blue Oh baby blue
Come here I'm gonna smear another colour over you.
Get out of bed you little sleepy head.
Your black and white needs a little bit of red.
Your black and white needs a little bit of red.

Couldn't handle pressure life had put you through,
thought you might have bit off a little more than you could chew.
No I don't believe it when you say,
I will make it up to you.
Said you'd come back,
didn't want you to, want you to.
Still pretending everything's all right.

Oh baby blue Oh baby blue
Come here I'm gonna smear another colour over you.
Get out of bed you little sleepy head.
Your black and white needs a little bit of red.
Your black and white needs a little bit of red.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Holidays are for the dogs

This past weekend we celebrated our Pratt family Christmas at my parents' home in Bethany, Ontario. This side of the family usually plans our get-togethers a little late, in order to accomodate our ever growing families. A was delighted to have 4 furry friends attend the party:

Abby the Lab enjoyed knocking over the small children with her All-Mighty Tail

Misty, the long-haired Jack Russell, regaled us all with her agility by jumping into our arms from the ground up!

Darcy the Pug was quite put out by this unplanned doggy bash, as she feels she is the Queen Dog and should be consulted on such matters.

Ripper, the short-haired Jack Russell, is not pictured here. He is 15-years old, and a cranky senior. He spent the party snoozing in his bed upstairs, and was then sent to the neighbours house while we ate. Ripper has a habit of snatching food off of unsuspecting children.

The humanoids amongst this doggy party enjoyed themselves very much (a little too much?) by drinking large amounts of alcohol and consuming steaming bowls of chilli and plates of scalloped potatoes, ham and salads. The night was finished off with a plethora of sweets and hot, creamy coffee.

Time to get going on those health-related resolutions....

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Love the face in your mirror

Here is me with my hair recently lopped off:

The most exciting part about this is that I've found THE ONE. No, not my soul mate (I've already found him - he's been around for quite some time now). I mean THE ONE - the hair stylist I've been searching for for 8 years.

I'm not a hair person. I'm not really a makeup, or jewellery, or accessory person either. My friends can attest to the fact that I've been known to wear t-shirts with dogs on the front. I rarely buy new clothes, and I think I still have some items hanging around from high school (that was over 10 years ago).

It's not like I go to work looking like a slob or anything, but on my days off, you can usually find me in very old (saggy) jeans, a t-shirt and some kind of sweater. I'm the sweater girl.

So the fact that I've recently become interested in how my hair looks is a huge step forward for me. As I mentioned in my last post, I used to have fairly nice, curly hair. It was easy to manage - I never bothered straightening it. But since having a baby, I've lost most of it down the drain, and it's become very long, heavy and dry.

When I was living in St. Catharines, Ontario during university, I found an amazing hair stylist just down the street from my house. I walked in for a cut one day, and came out looking like I was ready for the red carpet. Since that time, I've gone from salon to salon, never being totally satisfied with how my hair was either cut or styled. Stylists tend to get excited when they cut my hair because they look forward to straightening it for me. They seem to think that I might enjoy straight hair because I never do it for myself.

The problem is that I look really funny with straight hair. My nose seems to stick out on my face, and I never receive any compliments about it. My husband hates when I come home with straight hair! And other than loving the feeling of it being soft and silky smooth, I'm not too partial to it either. I have a strong belief that people look the best when they go "natural." That doesn't mean that you can't shape or style your hair, but that you shouldn't try to change the natural texture (curly, wavy, straight etc.) I do sympathize with those with frizzy hair though, because I deal with that on a regular basis!

It's hard finding time to take care of yourself in our busy world. A lot of women I know would rather take a nap than worry about their hair, face, nails, or clothes. And that's ok! But when you find yourself down in the dumps, a trip to the salon can be the best thing going. I was joking with the stylist that although I'm committed to buying only natural makeup products and organic soaps, I seem to throw my ideals out the window when it comes to a day at the spa. Mousse scented like vanilla? Slather that stuff on! Nail polish that could kill a cat with its fumes? Apply away! I'm very guilty of contradicting my beliefs when it comes to brightening my day.

So feeling like a million bucks, I'm off to Peterborough tomorrow to visit the family. Will post again soon!

For the days when I have no money to spend on the salon, I like to listen to this song by Jann Arden and appreciate my life as it is, hair or no hair:

I've got money in my pocket,
I like the color of my hair.
I've got a friend who loves me,
Got a house, I've got a car.
I've got a good mother,
and her voice is what keeps me here.

Feet on ground,
Heart in hand,
Facing forward,
Be yourself.
I've never wanted anything.
No I've, no I've, I've never wanted anything,
so bad..(so bad).

Cardboard masks of all the people I've been
Thrown out, with all the rusted, tangled
dented God Damned miseries!!
You could say I'm hard to hold,
But if you knew me you'd know,
I've got a good father,
And his strength is what makes me cry.

Feet on ground,
Heart in hand,
Facing forward,
Be yourself.
I've never wanted anything,
No I've, no I've, I've never
wanted anything so bad..(so bad).

I've got money in my pockets,
I like the color of my hair.
I've got a friend who loves me,
Got a house, I've got a car.
I've got a good mother,
and her voice is what keeps me here.

Feet on ground,
Heart in hand,
Facing forward,
Be yourself.

Heart in hand,
Feet on ground,
Facing forward,
Be yourself.
just be yourself.
just be yourself.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hair today, gone tomorrow

Here is me at Christmas. I look a bit tired (no makeup on). You might be able to see my hair, although it blends in well with the tree. My hair has gotten way too long and unmanageable. During my pregnancy, I had beautiful soft curls. Since having a baby, half my hair has fallen out, I have funny little fly-aways sticking up everywhere, and my curls have the consistency of hay that horses might munch on.

So tomorrow, it is off with the hair! I can't wait. Very excited to have much shorter hair, and hoping that the new hair stylist I'm seeing doesn't make me look like little orphan Annie.

Stay tuned for an updated pic...

Weighty Stuff

This is a recent picture of our daughter, A, over the Christmas holidays. Look closely at this image. Study all the details you can. Because I have some serious questions for you to answer.

Does this child look sick to you? Malnourished in any way? Suffering from a strange disease called my-mother-doesn't-feed-me-well?

No? Well then why, when I go to visit our family doctor for A's shots, do I get told that there are issues with her weight? This is how the situation usually unfolds:

1. Mom and A are led into examination room. Mom attempts to distract A with the doctor's wheely chair
2. Nurse enters with scale and measuring tape. A is undressed and sumitted to growth tests
3. Mom axiously looks at the scale, and sees that A has not gained the right amount of weight.
4. Nurse leaves. A is now naked, running around the examination room, pulling open drawers labelled "pap smears."
5. Mom and A wait...and wait....and wait
6. Doctor enters the room. All serious-like. Sits down, and says "now, there's a couple of things we need to talk about. We're concerned about A's weight."
7. Mom groans inwardly
8. A screams in glee, and begins pulling all objects out of Moms' purse and throwing them onto the floor.

By the end of these visits, I'm exhausted from dealing with A and trying to talk seriously to the doctor at the same time (we all know how hard it is to carry on a conversation while trying to make sure your child doesn't do something to harm him/herself).

To give the doctor credit, he first asked me what I thought might be wrong, and also asked me whether I believed something should be done about it. I stated the argument that I use frequently: she looks healthy and I think those growth charts are rubbish (I don't think I used this language, but you get the idea).

The growth chart that is used by most doctors here in Canada was first developed for testing with inner-city children in the U.S. The data was derived from the growth of Caucasian children in Boston between 1930 and 1956. This data has since been updated, and the WHO has come up with its own references for growth charts. However:

"Concern has been expressed in the literature that breast-fed infants, living under favourable conditions, were growing less well than expected when compared to the [WHO] growth reference." (WHO website, 2011)

Breast-fed babies have been found to grow less rapidly than formula-fed babies, and therefore end up deviating away from the reference data, i.e., they fall of the charts.

So A is now off the chart in terms of weight, and the doctor is recommending we go back to see a specialist, and find out whether it could be related to a gastrointestinal problem. We have been through this before, when we were sent for a second opinion about A's reflux.

My gut feeling is that everything is fine, and that seeing a specialist will yield nothing more than the standard report of "let's wait and see." But the doctor's worry is that if A were to contract a stomach virus, she would lose enough weight to make things really serious.

I'm blogging about this because I'm concerned about how obsessive we've become over our children's weight. We don't live in a developing country; we have clean water, an abundance of food, and good quality medical care. We have such an abundance of food that in recent years, the government has launched a national campaign to curtail childhood obesity. 8-year-olds are being told by their family doctor that they need to lose weight.

Could our money and resources not be put to better use? How about a national campaign to foster a love of the outdoors? Get kids into canoes, on snowshoes and hiking our many beautiful parks. What about doing more to reduce the influence of food industry giants such as Kraft and Nestle? How about supporting lower income families in learning how to cook homemade meals that rival the taste and cost of a McDonald's Happy Meal? And most importantly, working to find the causes (and solutions) for the unprecedented number of children struggling with mental health issues (depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, bullying...these are all linked to our society's general mental health)

I know that some parents like growth charts. They like to brag about their child's height falling into the 95 percentile. Either that, or they're anxiously polling all the parents at playgroup about whether the 5th percentile in weight is a serious problem. It's a cause for a lot of comparison and worry, but can also be a source of comfort for those who like things that are clean-cut and measurable.

This is all fine and good for our babies, but serious issues can arise with an older child who is told that they're not measuring well compared to other children. In fact, this type of conversation can even lead to disordered eating behaviours and distorted body image. Eating disorders can develop, and then you've got a child falling off the other end of the charts.

I'm making a suggestion to you all. Let's put away the measuring tapes for a while. As parents, get rid of your scales. Try to avoid placing an emphasis on weight and body size in your family. What's more important is how you are all feeling. Do you feel strong and resilient, or weak and walked-all-over? Do you take time every day to dance in your bare feet? Do you stop to sniff the snow? (there are no roses out right now, so snow will have to do) Have you all experienced the rush of an early summer dip in the lake? Do you make big messes in your kitchen, and allow your children to concoct their own recipes?

Bravo to you if you do, and good luck to those who wish to start. Let me know how it goes!

(p.s. I promise to get back to some music-related posts soon. Life experiences require me to rant)

Monday, January 10, 2011

The things we're not allowed to say

While pregnant, I took the time to read about breastfeeding, convinced that this was the way I wanted to feed my child. It seemed much easier to me than fussing with bottles, it's definitely cheaper, and I wanted the bonding time with my little one. The saying "breast is best" has been drilled into our heads, and most new moms are willing to give it a try. In Canada, about 72% of babies are breastfed following birth. However, at 4-5 months of age, only 31% of babies are breastfed (LLLI, 2010). Why such a significant decline?

When discussing breastfeeding with doulas, midwives and other health professionals, the message I was given consistently was that "breastfeeding should not hurt." I was told that if it hurts, something is wrong with the latch, and I should seek professional help as soon as possible (by visiting one of the breastfeeding clinics around the city or hiring a lactation consultant). Sore, cracked and bleeding nipples are supposedly signs that something needs to be "fixed."

The first time A latched on, the midwife asked me how it felt - was it uncomfortable? Painful enough to make my toes curl? I thought for a moment, and said that although it wasn't painful, it certainly didn't feel pleasant. It was actually kind of irritating! Within several days, I had a big crack on one nipple, and I dreaded each feeding for the intense pain it caused. I told my husband we had to get help right away, and even though I was exhausted and still very sore, we went out to visit one of the local breastfeeding clinics. The woman there was helpful, and A latched pretty well. However, as soon as I got home, I couldn't get her to latch again, and called the midwife in a panic.

The following weeks, I dragged A (and my poor mother) to various breastfeeding clinics around the city. I hired a lactation consultant at $80/hr, and I read every book and website I could get my hands on. I even emailed breastfeeding guru Dr. Jack Newman, who gave me a very curt and unsatisfactory response to my message (as a side note, I'm sure Dr. Newman is wonderful and I know his books and website have been very helpful to many moms out there. Not trying to slam the big guy, but I was put off by the tone of his email.) The breastfeeding relationship was full of stress and anxiety, and I would wail away about the fact that I might not be able to breastfeed. My normal, unhormonal husband and mother tried to help, but they just couldn't get why I was so distraught. So what if I had to give her some bottles? What was the big deal?

My saving grace was the student midwife at my birth, who also happens to be a good friend. She counselled me a bit on the phone one night, and told me she knew I could do it. She said "give it until 6 weeks, and I promise you, you will make it." And you know what? She was right! At about 6 weeks, things got better, my crack healed, and I didn't have intense pain while feeding. I still felt like the latch wasn't quite right, but as long as she was healthy and growing, I kept going.

My daughter is now 16 months old, and I am a rarity amongst friends. I don't know too many people still breastfeeding at this age. Since the troubles I dealt with, I have eagerly polled every mother I know about her own experience with breastfeeding. I wanted to know if I was the only one who found things so difficult. And, (gasp), I wasn't! I can count on one hand the number of moms who have told me that breastfeeding was not painful. Almost everyone I have spoken with (including my mom and many women from her generation) has a story about sore or cracked nipples.

So what's the deal here people? Why are we telling women that sore and cracked nipples equals a problem, and that breastfeeding should not hurt? Here's the argument: if we start telling women that breastfeeding is supposed to hurt, a) no one will try it; and b) women who truly have problems won't bother seeking professional help, the problem will get worse, and they will give up on breastfeeding.

I agree with the second statement. I'm not trying to propose that women just suck it up and deal with the pain. Going to breastfeeding clinics and attempting to make a latch better will certainly help in the long run, and I think everyone should do this if you're feeling sore. Just the support of other moms and professionals is a wonderful way to reduce some of the stress (and maybe even have a laugh or two!) And hiring a lactation consultant to help with more serious problems is a necessity. But breastfeeing is a new relationship between you and your newborn. Neither of you really know what you're doing - we haven't grown up in a tribal culture where women breastfeed out in the open, all day long (and often practice communal breastfeeding!) So it is an adjustment period, and there will be a learning curve.

A part of that learning process will involve, for many women, sore and/or cracked nipples (I can hear the gasps and cries of outrage coming from the breastfeeding community...she's not supposed to say that!!) I've said it because I know it to be true. Who wouldn't be a little sore with someone sucking on your nipples for countelss hours a day? It's not like they've ever been stimulated so much! Imagine if someone repeatedly pulled and stroked on one part of your arm for 8 hours a day? Wouldn't you expect it to be a little tender after a while?

As a comparison, why do we prepare women so much for the pain of labour? Because we want them to realize that the intensity of contractions is a normal part of the process; we want to avoid the overuse of medicationas and interventions if we can. If women are well prepared for labour and birth, then they will feel confident in birthing naturally and will probably have better satisfaction with the whole experience. It's not like we tell women "oh, labour should not be painful...if it is, there's a problem."

If you believe that women aren't talking about how breatfeeding is painful, then you are quite blind to the conversations that go on amongst mothers. As I mentioned, it's a rarity in my circles that someone has breatfed without feeling uncomfortable at some point. Just yesterday at a baby shower I attended, one woman brought up her painful experience with breastfeeding, and soon the whole room was piping in. They warned the mom-to-be that things might be tough going for a few weeks, but that eventually it would all work out.

So let's start saying the things we're not supposed to say. Let's get truthful about breastfeeding, and perhaps women will be better prepared for the difficulties they might encounter. Heck, the least it could do is save a husband or other support person from having to deal with a new mother sobbing about her failure to produce a "good" latch.

I'm going to go hide out now and wear dark sunglasses and a wig for a while, just so I can avoid the angry mob of breastfeeding experts from tearing me apart.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Phobia Schmobia!

We all have fears - some of us are afraid of spiders, snakes or rodents. Others begin sweating several days before an airplane ride is scheduled. The thought of climbing a ladder can send some of us into a tizzy of anxious thoughts and a racing heart.

But what happens when a fear begins to take over our everyday lives? Soon we start looking for the source of anxiety in every situation we encounter. We begin avoiding certain events or places just because we are afraid of encountering that THING. A phobia is an irrational, intense fear, when our brains record an event as deadly or dangerous. In essence, we truly come to believe that the activity, thing or animal will harm us in some way, even if we realize that the reality of that happening is very slim.

For as long as I can remember, I have had a phobia of vomiting (supposedly this is called Emetophobia). As a child, we didn't label it a "phobia" but everyone knew that the second someone said they were feeling sick or needed to vomit, I was out the door faster than you could say "get the bucket." I never had the stomach flu as a kid, and I think that I willed myself to not get it.

My fear was manageable as a child, because it wasn't very often that I encountered someone who was vomiting. There were the several times my brother became sick, the one time a classmate vomited in our classroom, or the occasional poor kid that got carsick on the big yellow school bus. I worked through these events by running away when I could, or hiding under my coat, plugging my ears and humming.

No one understood where the fear had come from. Phobias generally develop when neutral, unconditioned, and conditioned stimuli trigger either conditioned or unconditioned responses. An example would be a person who was attacked by a dog (the unconditioned stimulus) would respond with an unconditioned response (intense fear, heart racing, short of breath, crying). When this happens, the unconditioned stimulus of them being attacked by the dog would become conditioned, and to this now conditioned stimulus, they would develop a conditioned response. If the occurrence had enough of an impact on this certain person then they would develop a fear of that dog, or in some cases, an irrational fear of all dogs. So basically, someone when I was very young vomited, and I responded with an unconditioned response that became conditioned over time. My Mom has suspected that it was possibly the time my Dad was quite ill (I was maybe 3), and I woke up to hear him vomiting in the bathroom. Perhaps the noises scared me enough to create an irrational fear of all people vomiting.

As I grew up, the phobia became quite embarassing, as I was never able to assist anyone who was sick, and I needed to avoid all situations where people might be vomiting. One example was hospitals - I always associated hospitals with vomiting. One of my best friends had a terrible allergic reaction while we were vacationing together in Florida, and we needed to take her to an emergency room. I couldn't even sit in the waiting room with her and comfort her - I had to wait outside! Public washrooms were another place I detested - the thought of someone vomiting in the stall next to me was terrifying.

Towards the end of high school, things seemed to get worse, to the point where I began worrying that I would get sick in public. The anxiety over this started when I finally got the stomach flu, and had to be sick at work one morning (I worked in a deli, so you can imagine how queasy I felt slicing up meat and cheese!!) Soon I worried that I would vomit in other public places as well - you can see why this is totally irrational, because what would cause me to believe I would vomit for no reason? I started having panic attacks, and began avoiding any place where this might occur (enclosed places were the worst - exam classrooms, buses and trains, times that I needed to perform during a concert)

Since that time, I have heard more about this type of phobia, and have even met some friends who share it. One woman I know is a professor at a respected university, and she has also struggled with this phobia for her entire life. We have shared funny stories about how much our lives have "shrunk" in size due to our need to avoid certain places and situations.

Over the years, I have managed to face my fear slowly, beginning in university when helping my fellow roomates who had had one too many at the bar. I also learned to support my family members on occasion (especially my hubby) when they were dealing with a stomach flu or recovering from surgery. When I became pregnant, I was one of the lucky ones who dealt with all-day sickness for almost 6 months. Vomiting became a regular ritual, and I adjusted to the anxiety over whether I might be sick in public - in the end I had to ask myself, who would really care if a poor pregnant woman had to vomit into a bag on the bus? The biggest question I asked myself, over and over, was "what is the worst thing that could happen?" The answer usually included things like: loss of control, embarassment, showing weakness, etc.

My biggest achievement of late was my first experience as a doula. You may or may not know, but many women vomit during labour. There are several reasons - the surge of hormones, the intensity of the contractions, and the squeezing of the uterus, which may trigger the stomach reflex to vomit. I was a little nervous about how I would handle it, but my fears were unfounded. There was a lot of vomiting, and I had no problem being right there through the whole thing.

I highlight this story and my experiences to show how long it takes to make changes. Imagine, I have had this phobia for almost 30 years, and it's only now that I can say that I may have overcome it. When we decide to change something in our lives (facing our fears, changing our behaviours) it's a long process of two steps forward, and one step back, many times over. Now, I'm not saying that all changes (like vowing to exercise more) will take 30 years to implement, but just that we need to learn to be patient with the ups and downs of life. There will be one day down the road, when we turn around and realize we've left our heavy baggage somewhere behind us...and there's no need to go back to pick it up. We have everything we need to keep going, right here and now.

This is Steven Page's "A New Shore":

As captain of this band of merry sailors I'm a black mark. I'm a failure, but before you watch me drown
I'm relinquishing command for something I don't understand. This man's about to turn his whole life upside down

I set a course for a new shore
It looked the same as the one before
And I forgot what I'd been sailing for
And why I thought this time would be different

I do most of this by feel and let go of the wheel. Constellations do the navigation on their own
Whilst yearning for adventure, dreading censure in absentia I would rather be at sea then be alone

I set a course for a new shore
It looked the same as the one before
And I forgot what I'd been sailing for
And why I thought this time would be different

Off the charts we drew
They said there wasn't anything but fairy tales
I showed them it was you, I told them you were everything a fairy tale could be

The boat sails by
The shore remains and so do I
I swear this time will be different

I settled here on a new shore
My lips were blue and my legs were sore
And I forgot if I was pushed or I jumped overboard
And after all this time, what's the difference?

Land- Ho! (Land-Ho!)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Music in Labour and Birth

We all know that music can play an important role in shaping our moods and even our ideas. Have you ever been driving along in your car, or going for a run with your Ipod, only to hear a song that suddenly makes you drive slower, or run faster? Where did that sense of relaxation or burst of energy come from?

Music can profoundly change or help your mental state. And it's not just the beat or the swell of the cello that works its magic. Think about a time when you were hurt by a loved one. You didn't sit and weep with a bucket of Chunky Monkey forever, did you? No way! You threw Alanis Morissette into the CD player and belted out You Oughta Know for the whole world to hear. Those lyrics bolstered your sense of self, and gave you confidence to move on.

In that same way, music can be beneficial in getting you through labour. The rocking, bopping stuff can be great in early labour when you are excited and chatty. You can sing and dance along in between contractions and enjoy the sensations of your body. Later on when contractions are overwhelming or when you're in your labour "zone," calming music can help you fall deep into relaxation and even allow you to doze.

It was around 2:30am during my labour when my doula put a relaxation CD into the player. It's a recording of loons calling, rushing waterfalls and orchestral melodies. At any other time, it might have driven me nuts! But I was very tired at that point, and had gotten into the bath. I put my head down onto the edge of the tub, and my husband and I sat and listened to the haunting music of the loons. Not too much later, I had a spontaneous urge to push, and realized I had made it! Dilation was complete and I was ready to get my baby out!

That moment in the bath is the clearest memory I have of my labour. Other women talk about hearing a song during labour and having flashbacks when hearing it again, long after their baby has been born. It can be a wonderful way to preserve the memories of such an important rite of passage.

So all you hope-to-be and soon-to-be Moms out there, start planning your birth tape now - what song will you want to hear?

And just for fun, grab that bucket of Chunky Monkey out of your freezer, and let's sing together:

I want you to know, that I'm happy for you
I wish nothing but the best for you both
An older version of me
Is she perverted like me
Would she go down on you in a theatre
Does she speak eloquently
And would she have your baby
I'm sure she'd make a really excellent mother

'cause the love that you gave that we made wasn't able
To make it enough for you to be open wide, no
And every time you speak her name
Does she know how you told me you'd hold me
Until you died, till you died
But you're still alive

And I'm here to remind you
Of the mess you left when you went away
It's not fair to deny me
Of the cross I bear that you gave to me
You, you, you oughta know

You seem very well, things look peaceful
I'm not quite as well, I thought you should know
Did you forget about me Mr. Duplicity
I hate to bug you in the middle of dinner
It was a slap in the face how quickly I was replaced
Are you thinking of me when you fuck her?

'cause the love that you gave that we made wasn't able
To make it enough for you to be open wide, no
And every time you speak her name
Does she know how you told me you'd hold me
Until you died, til you died
But you're still alive

And I'm here to remind you
Of the mess you left when you went away
It's not fair to deny me
Of the cross I bear that you gave to me
You, you, you oughta know

'cause the joke that you laid on the bed that was me
And I'm not gonna fade
As soon as you close your eyes and you know it
And every time I scratch my nails down someone else's back
I hope you feel it...well can you feel it

Well, I'm here to remind you
Of the mess you left when you went away
It's not fair to deny me
Of the cross I bear that you gave to me
You, you, you oughta know