Friday, July 29, 2011

Breastfeeding a toddler

As A's second birthday approaches, I'm well aware that I'm entering a small camp of Moms who breastfeed their toddlers. I don't know the exact statistics (unless you want to look at stats from over 10 years ago), but the number is certainly low. Out of all my friends, I know of only one or two who continue to breastfeed past two years of age.

I can remember my own opinion (before I became a Mom), that if a child can ask for milk, then they shouldn't be getting it! Ah, how silly and judgemental I was back then. This perhaps explains why I feel apologetic when I explain to people that she's still breastfeeding. It's because I feel judged - my own ignorant remarks are coming back to bite me in the bum.

Kids ask for milk all the time, but usually they're asking for milk from a jug in the fridge. And that seems to be OK with us. But asking for milk from a boobie?! What a shocker!!! I wonder how parents would feel if their child asked to suck on a cow's teat?

I like this quote from Jack Newman's Guide to Breastfeeding:

"Some mothers are told they are breastfeeding for their own gratification. I must say, this argument makes me very angry. There are few, if any, women who breastfeed just for their own gratification. This is once again taking breastfeeding as some sort of sexual activity, in a society that does not understand that the primary purpose of breasts is to nurture children."

Because really, deep down, this is all about sex, isn't it? - unless your argument is that breastfeeding past one year will lead to an overindulged/dependent child (and these are usually the people who put the same argument forth for parents who co-sleep). When I ask people why they feel breastfeeding a toddler is "wrong," they usually just give me an uncomfortable look, as if to say - but it's your BREASTS!

Sex, nurturing, love, tenderness....all of these things are connected to each other, and there's no real way to separate them. Am I breastfeeding to have a sexual experience? No! I am breastfeeding because my child enjoys it, it provides me with a stronger connection to her, we both find it relaxing and it is an expression of our love (and just because you don't breastfeed your toddler doesn't mean that you can't express your love in other ways - just don't judge me for doing it my way).

But the main reason I have kept up breastfeeding is that I find it to be so easy. I spent the first 3 months in tears because of breastfeeding - being exhausted all the time, having sore/cracked nipples, and never having time to "get away" made our breastfeeding relationship difficult. Once I hit 9 months, things had become significantly easier, and I finally started to enjoy breastfeeding. So why the heck would I want to give it up? As well, A is not showing any signs that she's ready to give it up, so I've decided to continue on until we both come to a mutual agreement.

Down the road, if I am tired of breastfeeding and want to give it up, I may find ways to gently wean A. People tell me that I need to set a "deadline." That if I don't, I may be breastfeeding a 5 year old. I strongly disagree, and even if A hangs on for longer than I hope she does, there are ways to gently encourage her to give it up. Just like we need to gently encourage our children to give up their pacifiers or thumbs.

I'll never forget this hilarious story one Mom told about her breastfeeding toddler:

"We had been trying to gently wean our 3.5 year old, but each time we suggested it, she would burst into tears. She had been nursing less and less, but still needed Mommy's boobs on occasion. One day while nursing, she stopped, looked at me and asked "Mommy makes juice?" And I said, "no honey, Mommy only makes milk." She took my hand, led me to the fridge and asked for juice! She was weaned after that day."

If you're not yet a parent, be very careful in your judgements of other breastfeeding Moms. You will never truly know what it's like until you experience it. You may be VERY happy to wean at one year, or you may be quite happy to continue on and let your child self-wean. And if you're a new breastfeeding Mom, perhaps open yourself up to the possibility of having a breastfeeding toddler. And don't worry, some day they will be going to high school, and won't be asking for "Mommies boobies."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


As I go sailing past a milestone, I am taking a moment to reflect. Most couples celebrate their 10-year anniversary and organizations will spend a whole year marking their first 10 years in business. As adults, the beginning of each decade is a significant birthday - we move through our 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond.

What inspires us to stop and honour the number 10?

In my case, I have recently completed 10 births as a doula. I no longer have to explain to potential clients that I am a "newer doula" and I'm supposed to be able to say with confidence that I am experienced in what I do.

And so, I would like to celebrate this moment by reflecting on the process of moving forward as a doula. I admit that it's easier to see this process as non-linear, but our world tends to operate more on the basis of ABCs and 123s!

Birth 1: the honeymoon stage. Ah, love and bliss. In the birthing world, we hold steadfast to our strong (and often naive) beliefs in birth as a beautiful and natural process** (see note below) Our first birth either reaffirms or shatters these beliefs.

Births 2, 3, 4: the honeymoon begins to fade away into the dark recesses of our minds. Doubt creeps in. We begin to pick away at ourselves and our imagined failings as a doula. At 4am, after being awake almost 24hours, we are wishing we never became a doula, and pray for a warm bed to lie in.

Births 5, 6: Something "big" happens. We leave a birth feeling confident; the outcome of the birth was especially good; or we receive high praise in an evaluation form.

Births 7, 8, 9: we begin to see our role in a whole new light. We are not the director of a woman's birthing experience - we are the guide. A natural birth is not always possible or desired. A birth can be beautiful anywhere, with any caregiver. When the woman holds the power, she is the director of her experience.

Birth 10: a new confidence emerges. We are calm and careful - we speak less, and listen more. With each birth comes a new lesson, and we are eager to learn. We realize that no amount of books, conferences or research papers will make us into "experts." We will always be learning, growing and moving on.

Thanks to all the mommies, daddies and babies who gave me the opportunity to witness their personal and awe-inspiring journeys. Here's to the next 10!
**I'm not trying to argue here that birth is not beautiful and natural. But I think new doulas start their careers with rose-coloured glasses on, and the belief that our mere presence will result in positive outcomes. This is not always the case, and there are many, many factors that play a role. Regardless of the outcome, our continuous support has given Mom a sense of choice and power in her birthing experience, and THAT my friends, is what makes our role so important

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Getting Organized

The key to preventing burn-out is to get organized! It takes a lot of time (and a bit of money) to invest in an organized life, but once you get there, things tend to run a bit more smoothly.

In light of my recent discovery that I'm overdoing it, I've decided to find ways to help this family car chug-a-lug!

I went out today and purchased a huge family calendar - the one with the boxes big enough to fit an entire essay! We will be keeping track of Mom and Dad's work schedules, A's playdates, Mom's doula appointments and other social events.

I've also purchased a special calendar for A to assist with potty training. So far, we've been potting training half-heartedly, even though A is showing clear signs that she's ready to do away with diapers. A fun and creative calendar can help kids feel visually motivated about their successes.

In addition to these visual cues and friendly reminders, it's time to get our physical space organized. The office, which is my workspace for most of the week, is still packed with boxes, stacks of paper, and random items (like q-tips??) Hubby's workshop is a DISASTER (think Hurricane Hazel-type disaster), and I have been *gently* proding him to clean it up. I have recently hired someone to help out with some spring cleaning, and we may also retain her services for some organizational advice. I know, it sounds crazy that I actually have to pay someone to do this, but I'm most definitely a rotten organizer. And you can't run your own business without being on the ball.

I read some advice recently on a great birth business website - if we continually have things on our "to do" lists that aren't getting done, we need to consider delegating or outsourcing. In hiring someone to help with spring cleaning (that clearly was not done in the spring!), I am essentially crossing 10 things off my to-do list that I'll probably never get around to. Either that, or my poor Mom will take pity on me and do it when she's visiting. And once our physical space is in order, we'll have the time and sanity to spend on more important things - likely playing with our daughter, exercising and cooking healthy meals.

Tell me your story about how you're making life easier on you and your family - any organizational tips?

Monday, July 25, 2011

A cloud passes over the sun

Saturday night we returned home after a long (but fun) day spent with our friends from Toronto. It seems as though all days have been long lately, and there has been a lack of sleep in this household. We are playing musical beds - hubby falling asleep while putting A down; me moving to the couch when hubby finally wakes up and comes to bed; and then getting up a couple times a night to tend to A. I've had trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, and my days are passing by in a blur. Hubby is working 12 hour (or longer!) days, and he is up at 4:45am to make it to work by 6. A sees so little of him that she adopted a "new" Daddy this weekend when our friends came to stay (pictures of that to follow!!)

It is easy to slip into a rut without noticing the subtle signs along the way. These past six months have been exciting ones - I have launched a business, grown into my role as "Mommy-preneur," and completed ten births. I'm also keeping my job with the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, and have been busy working on some big projects. A, always the busy toddler, keeps us on our toes every day - there are no sleep-ins in this house, and don't even think about sitting down to check your email! She is a wonderfully spirited child, but it's exhausting being "on" all the time. We get a lot of questions about when we'll be having another child, and all I can say is "not anytime soon!"

But there are subtle signs that one is no longer coping so well with a busy schedule:

1) Never taking the time to exercise

2) Forgetting to do the things you once loved to do

3) Finding your coffee mug filled for the third time that day, even though you are committed to limiting your caffeine intake

4) Being OK with eating cheese, raw veggies and bread for dinner every night because you can't be bothered to cook

5) Relying on alcohol to "calm your nerves"

and the BIGGIE...

6) Missing/Cancelling/Reneging on appointments

On Friday a wonderful woman called me to inquire about doula services and we chatted for almost half an hour about her pregnancy and birth goals. We both felt a good connection and agreed to meet the following evening. I wrote everything down on a piece of paper (first mistake), and let hubby know that I would be out that evening. Only the universe truly knows why, but the appointment completely slipped my mind. I sat up in bed at 10pm in a complete panic, and quickly went to call the woman to apologize. She of course sounded a bit upset, and although she said she would call back to reschedule, I am 99% sure I'll never hear from her again.

For some reason this set off a flood of tears (the kind my daughter has, when she can't catch her breath and hiccups a lot). It didn't help that I'd been reading the news for an hour before bed, hearing about the shooting deaths in Norway, Amy Winehouse and the drought in Africa (ok, so maybe I wasn't crying over Amy Winehouse, but it was a recognition of all the suffering that occurs around the world that I have absolutely no control over; whether it's one death, 90 deaths or thousands of deaths).

All of which to say, I think I may be on the path to burn-out. I hear a lot about "doula burn-out" and I always assumed it happened to other doulas - ones that had 4 births a month, who became too involved in their clients and never took time for themselves. But this missed appointment has alerted me to a similar problem - I think I am doing too much. And the funny thing is, I was committed to having the month of September off before this woman called!

I'll never forget the time I took a boat trip on Lake Ontario with my ex-boyfriend and his family. We were chugging along, parallel to the shores of Hog Town (Toronto), and were watching a slow-moving storm system creep up behind the city. The clouds resembled a giant lion's paw, ready at any moment to take a swipe. The sky darkened and the air grew very still. We quickly realized that we needed to find some shelter at the nearby Toronto Islands. We rode out the storm as it bashed the small boat against the docks. We later found out a tornado had touched down somewhere in the city.

I am in that boat now, and have sensed a stillness in the air. The calm before the storm. It is time for me to seek shelter, regroup, and emerge to the dewy-soft after rains.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A little bit of nothings which say everything

I am currently eating genetically-modified, chemically-laden soup from the hospital cafeteria

I haven't packed a lunch to bring to work in weeks

There is a sticky residue festering on my floors

My green bin is filled with maggots

I don't remember the last time I worked myself up into a sweat

This morning I turned on the vaccum cleaner and left the room to drown out the sound of A's temper tantrum

I missed my blogging goals this week

We have lived in our house for one year, and there are still numerous boxes left unpacked

Our vegetable garden boxes were built with treated wood, which I recently discovered will leach and contaminate the soil

And yet...

Yesterday I massaged the feet of a woman giving birth to her third child

I continue to meet and befriend kind, passionate, and hard-working women in this beautiful capital city

The other night my daughter asked to "tickle mama's back" and I got to lie down and enjoy the sensations of tiny fingers working their magic

My hubby has been voted sexiest man alive by the Pratt-Stacey household (it was unanimous)

I have learned the joys of jumping through a sprinkler with my clothes on

I will go to sleep tonight and wake to a new day

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
- Mary Oliver, "Wild Geese"

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Great Expectations

I have a deadline at work that has been keeping me glued to a computer, all day long, with few breaks. My wrists are aching from repetitive motion, and words like "mean, standard deviation and standard error" are rattling around in my brain. I have been staring at massive spreadsheets with eeny weeny numbers on them and transferring all this data into pretty Word tables.

So the blog posts I have been composing leave much to be desired. My theme this week is "community and motherhood" and I had planned on writing some excellently researched articles, with links, resources and quotes. But in reading through what I have written, I'm sad to say that these posts are BORING!!

And while I was doing some jumping jacks here in my computer room (to get blood flowing again), a thought came to me: I didn't start this blog to be academic  and witty. I started this blog anonymously so that I could have a place to write creatively and spill my issues/thoughts/concerns onto virtual paper. So why now all this pressure to write a blog that is everything: educational, funny, touching and personal?

On the subject of community, this past year I have dived headfirst into the community of social media. I have met many wonderful people, but have (of course) started comparing myself to other blogs. All of a sudden, I needed to do things better! How come my blog doesn't have 5,000 followers? How come my blog is full of silly personal anecdotes when there are so many more important stories out there? I decided my blog needed to be a place for people to come to read about a variety of topics - other doulas/midwives/mamas should be reading my blog!!!

The problem with expectations, of course, is that they often go unmet. My jumping jacks jolted me out of my fantasy of world-wide blogger fame, and back to the matter at hand - for me, this blog is for fun; it's creative; and I love interacting with other mommies in my community. I like sharing personal stories because the majority of my readers are family and friends!

I haven't abandoned my idea of some interesting posts on community and motherhood, but I've gone back to the drawing board to take a deep breath and tap into my creativity. After all, no one wants to read a research paper (let alone me, after the thousands I have to read at work).

Stay tuned, mes amies...

Monday, July 11, 2011

We've come a long way, baby

Time Spent Living In...

Scarborough, ON: 19 years

St. Catharines, ON: 3 years

Trois-Pistoles, QC: 5 weeks

Toronto, ON: 2 years

Huntsville, ON: 6 months

Ottawa, ON: 5 years

Number of Times I Have Moved House: 12 (not including the back and forths from St. Catharines and home again for summers off)

Hours I Have Spent on the Road:  Countless

Carbon Emissions: Embarassingly high

When the word "community" comes to mind, many of us remember the various places in which we have resided. Some we remember with fondness, and others we could soon forget.

Most of us live in urbanized areas where we work and raise families, and often this is at a distance from our own parents and extended family. The reasons are varied and familiar - it is easier to travel now as compared to 100 years ago; it is cheap to travel (for most of us); and our society seems to encourage youth to "discover their world" via foreign jobs or volunteer work. We are required to go where employment can be found, and many of us end up rooted in a community that is thousands of kilometers away from where we were born.

Our globalized world has opened up countless new opportunities for growth. Some would argue that it has also done a good job at chipping away at the foundation of community - our economic, social, cultural and political landscape.

This is most apparent (to me) in the lives of North American women. I am one of many mothers who lives at a distance from close family members. Yes, I live in a "community" as it is so defined, with all the modern conveniences at my fingertips. I have a large house with ample green space; I have two good jobs that both bring in enough dough to keep up mortgage payments; I am close to public transportation, malls, and shops; I have adequate health care; and I have access to clean water and food.

What is perhaps missing from this picture is a strong emotional connection to other people in my community. Oh, of course we have friends and some family here (on my hubby's side). But when it comes down to it, I probably wouldn't call any of these people after a rough day, when the only thing I want to do is click my heels and be in another place and time. I have no one to ask to come over at a moment's notice to watch the little one while I try and finish up some work, or run an errand. And I am certainly alone in many of our days adventures of cooking, cleaning, and childcare.

Of course, this is entirely my fault because I moved away from home in the first place and had a child here, but that doesn't mean that something shouldn't be done to remedy the problem. I completely understand that I will never live in an African village where I spend my days toiling with the local women (and nor do I wish I were there, as I love my country and my society). However, this does not mean that I need to abandon the idea of a close-knit community that may afford me with some of the benefits of a communal life.

This is not the 1960s and I cannot (and choose not) to run off to a commune somewhere, in hopes for a better life. I do realize that the grass is always greener on the other side, and that communities with close ties have their own set of problems. But I am ready to contemplate how to redefine my sense of community - one that is conducive to mothering a family. We could choose to stop where we are with one child, and most likely things would get easier as time goes on. But for a society to continue to grow and prosper, women must feel well supported in their choice to have multiple children.

Join me this week in a discussion on community; how it is defined, where we fall short, and how to envision a healthier community.

Check back here everyday for new posts, and follow me on Twitter @chickadeedoula

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Super Mom to the rescue!!

My super duper flying skiis

Oh no, wait!!

Super Mom has crashed and is down for the count!!

Super Mom thought she could fly on skiis, but discovered she could not

Could this situation have been avoided?

YES!!! Let's tell Super Mom how:

1) Know that when you scale a mountain, you somehow need to get back down.

We all have our "to do" lists, which are miles long. We have children, chores, meals to prepare, jobs, and perhaps even second jobs. On top of all this, we want to learn new skills, maintain our social lives, and find time for some volunteering. As we add each new thing to our "mountain" we can find ourselves teetering on the top, unsure of how to make our way back down. The solution? Stick to the straight road, with the rolling hills. Don't make a mountain out of a sweet little mole hill.

2) We can't fly without wings

We are not angels. We have temper tantrums, breakdowns, we yell and throw things. And these un-angelic-like behaviours become habits when we are trying to do too much. In the end, our kids suffer, our partners suffer, and WE suffer. Come to the realization that you are not perfect, and never will be. But you CAN minimize said uncontrollable behaviours by taking one half hour each day to: shut down, log off and go out. Take a walk, read a book under a tree, or light some candles and soak in the tub.

3) The path you take must be your own

In the blogosphere, we can see all sorts of snapshots of other families' lives, which look charming and wholesome in light of our messy, muddled existence. I often wonder if I'd be a better mother if I knew how to sew/knit or organize super fun activites each day. But I've come to the realization that I need to do my own thing, and that my child will grow up to love our special path (except between the ages of 13 and 19, when she will hate me and talk about me with her therapist) - if we all think back, don't we remember the great memories we have with our own mothers?

4) We must learn that when we love, we open ourselves up to loss

As a mother, you will lose a lot. You will lose time, energy, brain cells, and perhaps even your dignity for a moment or two (like the time you burst into tears, stomped your foot and slammed the bedroom door). You may lose friends who are not on the same page as you, and who knows, you might even lose your child in the grocery store some day (but find them again a few terrifying seconds later). Despite all this loss, the love you have for your child and your family will add oodles of joy to your life, and you don't have to be a Super Mom to appreciate this.

Therefore, Super Moms of the world, take these lessons with you wherever you go, and remember...

"There is no way to be a perfect mother, and a million ways to be a good one”
- Jill Churchill

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sleep my sweet baby...

Yes, I have read the Adam Mansbach book "Go the Fuck to Sleep," which looks like a cute little children's book from the cover, but slowly dissolves into verbal diarrhea with each passing page. And yes, I giggled quite a bit, as I'm sure we've all said a version of this sentence (in our heads!) to our children when bedtimes become frustrating.

Sleep is probably one of the biggest concerns that parents have about their children. You'd think we would worry more about character development, physical activity and healthy eating. But no, it is sleep. How long, where, when and with whom.

I have written about this a few times (see this post, and follow-up post), but have been prompted to write again by a good friend and an interesting blog I have recently discovered.

Specifically, I wish to address co-sleeping, or what we are now calling "bed sharing." Co-sleeping means having your baby in the same room, but in their own bassinet/crib/bed. Bed sharing is when your baby/toddler sleeps in the same bed as you do. This post is not meant to convince you to bed share. I have complete respect for parents who choose their own path, and I hope that they have the same respect for me. The aim of this post is to dispel some myths, and try to open the lines of communication on a popular practice that seems to be condemned by media and many parenting "experts."

Bed sharing or co-sleeping is a hot-button topic. Most public health agencies are against bed sharing, but support co-sleeping (see the City of Ottawa website: "it is unsafe for your baby to sleep with you or anyone else, at any time") In a 2010 segment on CBC's The Current, Richard Haber, the Director of the Pediatric Consultation Centre at the Montreal Children's Hospital, claimed that bed sharing is dangerous - he compared it to driving without your seat belt on. I answered quickly with a letter to the CBC, which was later read on air. I don't have a copy of it, but I vaguely remember writing something like "I wish so-called experts would stop trying to tell me how to parent my child."

Let's take a poll right now (leave your reply in a comment below) - how many of you have shared a bed with your infant, even just once? I'll bet a million bucks that most of you will say you have shared a bed, even for just part of a night. And so, if it's so dangerous, why is everyone doing it and why aren't more babies dying as a result?

Let's take a look at some of the arguments against bed sharing:

1) It's dangerous, as we heard from Dr. Haber. The CBC piece was done in response to the second of three inquests into the deaths of infants who died when they were sleeping with their parents.

2) Your sex life will dwindle away to nothing

3) Your child will forever be dependent on you to go to sleep and stay asleep

4) Your infant will grow up to be spoiled and needy

Let's address these arguments one by one (and I encourage everyone to add anything they think I've missed). Is it truly dangerous? When we look at the deaths that have occurred with babies in bed, we tend to find specific reasons for the unsafe situation. These include alcohol/drugs, smoking, water beds, too much bedding, or sleeping on soft surfaces such as a couch. And as devastating as this situation must be for parents, we also know that babies can die from SIDS, tucked away nicely in their cribs.

Second argument: sex. First of all, in the early days, you will probably not be having very much sex. You will be sore, tired and most likely not very interested! As time goes on, perhaps you will become more interested in relations with your hubby. So after you put your sweet sleeping baby into your bed, then what?  Go somewhere else! I'm sure you have a guest bedroom, and if you don't, there's always the couch. Finding a different location took all of about two seconds of creative thinking, didn't it? You probably need ways to spice up your sex life at this point, so there you go (maybe even the kitchen table??)

Third argument: dependency. Yes, your child depends on you. And just because night has come, this dependency doesn't go away. Babies who share a bed with their parents usually have the same needs as babies who sleep alone in their own room - they want their parents around to help them fall asleep and stay asleep. And parents who decide to share a bed do not end up in a lifelong battle for sleep with their children - at some point down the road, you WILL be able to gently help your child wean from your arms, then from your bed (if they don't just do it by themselves, which many children do). You will know when that time comes, and you can respectfully support your child in becoming more independent.

Finally, there is a myth that children who share a bed with their parents are spoiled and needy. There is a lot of research out there showing otherwise (check it out here), and in fact, bed sharing infants seem to become well adjusted adults, with higher self esteems and a better ability to handle stress.

If you are considering a bed sharing arrangement, I would get your hands on some quality information about how to practice "safe sleep." There are countless articles, books and websites out there for you to read. The basics are:

- never sleep with your child if you are taking drugs or drinking alcohol. Your ability to sense your child's movements in bed will be significantly impaired.

- if your hubby is a heavy sleeper, have your baby in between you and the wall (or you and a mesh bed rail).

- most parents find it easiest to get rid of the bed frame for a while, and just sleep on a mattress on the floor. This reduces the incidence of babies falling out of bed (but don't forget that your infant is not going to be able to roll around much - this becomes more of a worry when they are a few months older)

- never sleep with your child on a water bed, or other cushy surface (e.g. your couch). Your baby's face could get smooshed in a corner and they could suffocate

- make sure your mattress is nice and firm, and that there are minimal blankets and pillows. For a while, you and your hubby should each have a separate blanket, which they should be thin and breathable (or, if you wear warm pajamas, you could even go without blankets). You want to ensure that there won't be any way for your infant to get underneath a blanket

- do not share a bed with your baby if either of you are smokers

There are many more guidelines out there, and it's up to you to get the best possible information. In approaching a parenting decision, remember that YOU are the expert - no one else out there knows your child better than you do. And if you are not yet a parent, try to avoid saying things like "I would never let my child sleep in my bed".....because you most likely will, just as you will probably feed your child sugar, yell at them, let them stay up late, and occasionally let them run wild around the house in their birthday suit. We were all better parents before we became parents :o)