Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Things I Learned on the Internet

There are many things that I like about the internet. Sometimes I curse the internet – like when my daughter has said “mama?” five times, and I’ve neglected to hear her because I’m looking at my Twitter feed. Or when I stare sadly at the mountainous pile of dishes in my sink, after wasting an hour surfing my fav blogs and websites.

But then there are moments of pure delight, and I wonder how I ever survived without this magical tool. The tool that allows me to get the answer to any question I have; the tool that connects me to amazing, talented people who write articles that lift me up to the heavens; and the tool that gives me insight into the kind of life I want to be living.

My week on the internet has been on of those magic-inducing weeks. Here are some highlights

  • Most of you probably read Glennon Melton’s piece in the Huffington Post. If you didn’t, you must read it. And if you read it, you must head on over to my friend Sara’s blog, and read her response. Both are insightful for any mother (or father!) out there.
  • After that, I did some googling on Glennon, and found her blog Momastery. All I can say is… This woman has some serious talent in writing. And the weird thing? I’m totally not religious (unless you consider my dabbling in Buddhism to be “religion”; or my token visits to church at Christmas), and yet all of her posts where she talks about God and Jesus give me goosebumps. If I read any more, I may soon be accepting the Lord as my saviour and making a beeline for the church down the street.
  • I discovered that I can make tortillas. Really easily. And it cost me, like, 40 cents. Have you read the ingredients on the tortillas that you buy from the grocery store? It’s like a chemical bomb erupted in your mouth! 
  • And the most important, all-time, best thing I have learned from the internet (this week): I can make my own hair gel using water and flaxseeds. And it WORKS. This is a seriously amazing thing for a curly-haired gal. I have tried bottles of different kinds of spray, moose and hair gel, and only about 5% of them actually work to reduce frizziness. And the chemical bomb I was talking about earlier? Hair gel is a big-ass atom bomb.

What have you learned this week? What has inspired you?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

{Ottawa Doula} Let's talk

Yes, I'm going to do it (pun intended).

I'm going to talk about the thing that we don't really talk about - unless you're a bunch of moms diving into glasses of beer and wine, while experiencing several hours of kid-free bliss at a local high-end establishment (as I may have been doing the other evening).

Then you talk about it.

IT......SEX. (Disclaimer: this post contains scenes of nudity and coarse language. Reader discretion is advised.)

Sex is one thing that expectant parents want to know more about, but is a subject that is hard to broach with family, friends and healthcare providers.

Oh sure, there's plenty of information out there. All of your pregnancy books will talk about sex during pregnancy and postpartum, and you can read anything you want on popular baby websites.

But the reality is usually quite different, and as with any issue/topic, you can be treading muddied waters. No woman (or man) is the same, and experiences differ widely.

I thought a lot about how to write on this topic - should I make bullet points? List some of the myths associated with pregnancy and sex? Write about my own experience (ummm....TMI)? Then I thought about a top 10 list...."top 10 things you might not know about sex." But I think we all know those.

For instance, I'm sure you're well aware that a man's penis cannot "bump" into your baby's head while having sex during pregnancy. And your baby cannot "feel" you having sex. And from my post the other week, you know that orgasm during childbirth is rare (and perhaps a myth). And you probably realize that you won't be jumping right back into the sack after pushing out your baby.

But what is "normal"? What kinds of things might happen to you, and what kinds of things will you experience?

To answer this question, I always like to consult Season 4 of Sex and the City. Because, you know, Sex and the City is just like real life....really. We all have oodles of money to spend on fancy restaurants and posh New York night clubs. And we all live in really awesome apartments in the Big Apple. Come on, I can dream though, can't I?

The reason I like Miranda's experience in pregnancy is that the show's producers stick to pretty "normal" issues - Miranda puking on the phone while talking to Carrie; Miranda farting up a stinky storm in a shoe store; Miranda so horny that she'll sleep with father/ex-lover Steve; and Miranda feeling lost in the postpartum period, as she struggles with sleep deprivation, loss of non-mommy friends, and a pretty dry sex life.

So to add to this list, let's create some additional fictional episodes of Sex and the City, featuring a pregnant (or postpartum) Miranda - I know I've also committed blasphemy by not remaining true to the story, as Steve is not really supposed to be living with Miranda. Please don't write me emails trying to educate me on how Season 4 really went :)

These are all issues that women, at one time or another, have dealt with. And I've probably missed plenty of them, so feel free to add.

Episode 1
Contrary to the real Sex and the City episode, this time, Miranda is pregnant and does not want to have sex. She has no desire, whatsoever. She is big, bloated, and can't even see her toes, let alone her vagina. So no sex here Steve-o, sorry!!

Episode 2
The girls meet at their local spot, and Miranda worries about the state of her vagina, post-baby. She experienced a 2nd degree tear, and wonders if it will ever be the same "down there" again. The episode ends positively, with Miranda braving a peek with a mirror, and discovering it pretty much looks the same - minus the stitches, swelling and bleeding (kidding! It totally goes back to normal....I promise....although you may experience more of those unpleasant "queefs" than you did pre-pregnancy, a.k.a farts out of your vagina)

Episode 3
Miranda has decided to bed-share with little Brady, and Steve makes the mistake of disagreeing with her. He thinks it will "ruin" their sex lives. Miranda points out that, first of all, she has no interest in having sex at the moment. And second of all, if Steve is so disingenuous that he can't think of some alternate places to make love, than maybe he's not such a great lover after all.

Episode 4
Miranda and Steve decide to try to have sex 6 weeks after the birth, only to realize that Miranda's birth canal has turned into the Arabian desert - dry, dry, dry. They must use an entire bottle of lubricant just to get things going, which quickly evaporates within the place-where-no-wet-things-live.

Episode 5
Miranda worries about birth control. Her period comes back much earlier than she thought it would (while breastfeeding) and she knows her body will soon be back into baby-making shape. But this is not good - ohhhhh no, definitely not good. No babies, ever again (or so she thinks). So, a birth control conversation takes place amongst the girls. Condoms are out - much too sore for a dry girl. The pill is out - no hormones while breastfeeding! The IUD is expensive.....but, maybe she could try Taking Charge of Your Fertility, the wildly popular new do-it-yourself gynaecological bible (seriously, read it. It's good!)

Episode 6
Miranda and Steve quickly realize that they won't be having sex after the typical "6 week postpartum" rule. It may be more like a "6 year postpartum" rule. Miranda feels pressured to have sex, and Steve feels put out that Miranda isn't ready when the pregnancy books say she will be. In fact, after the first year postpartum, they count that they have had sex only 4 times. That's averaging 0.3 times per month.

Episode 7 - the happy ending
Miranda and Steve finally have a successful "coming together" and Miranda discovers that not only is her body back to normal, but sex is better than it ever was before! Samantha is very jealous, and considers having a child herself.

See? Everything always ends happily.....on TV. But in real life, it might not. Severe tearing, crappy suturing jobs, and infections can make for a not-so-good sex life. Things sometimes get a little tight down there if you've been sewn up. If this is the case, I suggest you consult a knowledgeable physiotherapist about getting your "flexibility" back. Here's a great one in Ottawa: Heather Grewar

Babies take up a lot of physical space. They suck away at you (literally) for most hours of the day, and the last thing you want to do at the end of the day is hop into your lacy panties and put on Marvin Gaye's "Get It On." Some women struggle with sexual desire even when their babies grow up into toddlers. My advice to you would be to recall situations/memories when you easily experienced sexual desires, and try to recreate them. Most women begin to drool over the sight of a clean kitchen, folded laundry and washed floors....hubbies, take note!!

In addition to physical issues, feelings and emotions can also play a role in postpartum sex. Both Mom and Dad can feel traumatized by their birth experience. Some men who are unprepared for childbirth (and who may have specific fears relating to blood etc.) can experience significant trauma related to his witnessing of the birth. Women may feel disappointed or angry if the birth didn't go as planned. These issues should most definitely be dealt with, especially if you want to maintain a strong relationship with your partner for years to come. A good counsellor can go a long way in helping you both work through various challenges.

Ladies (and men), do not despair. If  your sex life was great before baby, it can still be great post-baby. If you give yourself time, and if your hubby is willing to give you time (sans guilt trip), then it can make your first tries quite fun - almost like being a virgin again!

But remember, both of you are responsible for making your sex life work. And if you don't want it to work, well, that's another kettle of fish.

Reporting from between the bed sheets, I'm Misty Pratt.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Babies in 3D

I came across this article today, about the rise in numbers of parents scheduling 3D and 4D ultrasounds of their babies. This particular article is about "fetus parties" (which sounds really weird), but touches on the issue of ultrasound in general.

Studies conducted in the recent past have concluded that ultrasound in prenatal care has no significant impacts on neurological development. However, more recent studies (such as quoted here), have found brain damage in ultrasound experiments with mice - the kind of damage consistent in the brains of children with autism.

Now, we know that everyone is trying to pin the blame for autism somewhere. I've written about possible links to pitocin, and you know the rumours (yes, just rumours - nothing has been proven) over links with vaccinations.

Both of those things concern me, too. I didn't have to worry about pitocin, as I was not induced and my labour wasn't augmented. I did vaccinate my child, but with some reservations. I was not so much worried about the link to autism (as I had read about the retraction of the Lancet article), but I was worried more about the preservatives used in the vaccines. Injecting my child with formaldehyde doesn't seem very appealing, but I weighed the risks and benefits, and made an informed choice.

But when it comes to ultrasound, no one talks about risks. Ultrasounds are made out to be "perfectly safe," and women are sent for ultrasounds any time a small concern arises. Furthermore, as the article discusses above, new 3D and 4D ultrasounds are bringing in the big bucks by offering expectant parents a chance to view their child in a way that makes them look "real" (as opposed to the alien-like pictures you are given at your regular ultrasound appointments). Most parents I know (including myself!) have no idea that there are suspected risks involved with ultrasound technology.

Here's my ultrasound experience:
When I first got pregnant, I was sent for a "dating" ultrasound, as my menstrual cycles had not been very regular (because, of course, we have to know our exact due dates...insert sarcasm). This occurred at 10 weeks. I later consented to the regular 20 week ultrasound, which also included the prenatal screening for things like Down's Syndrome. However, my baby was not very cooperative in my belly, and they couldn't get proper measurements. So, back again the following week!

Several weeks later I experienced some light spotting, and was sent for another one to confirm everything was OK (it was). This was followed by another ultrasound to check growth, as my belly was not growing the average 1cm per week. In dealing with an inept technician at the Kemptville Hospital, I then had to go back for a repeat ultrasound to check again.

So let's count them: that's SIX ultrasounds! And that was for a healthy, low-risk pregnancy. I wonder how many ultrasounds women get who are considered high-risk?

I'm not trying to scare you here into refusing all ultrasounds. Clearly, much more research needs to be done to find out if there are any risks to your baby. But what I am trying to do here is to highlight that ultrasound technology does do something, and there is evidence that this "something" affects the brain. So if you are consenting to many unnecessary ultrasounds and participating in these costly 3D and 4D sessions, you may want to do a bit more reading.

Technology often comes with a cost. Maybe it's time for us to become more aware of those costs, and the impact they're having on our babies and our children.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Case of the Missing Bathing Suit

The inspector sat in his wing-backed chair, squinting at the report in his hand. The light was poor, and the cigar smoke drifting up from the tray made it difficult to focus on the words.

The door to his office slammed open. A woman entered, and the Inspector could instantly sense her distress. Her hat was slightly askew, and her hair had been hastily pinned.

"Inspector," she cried breathlessly. "There's been a robbery."

"Why don't you take a seat." He got up, and putting a firm hand on her elbow, guided her to the chair.

"I'm sorry," she said, brushing the hair from her eyes. "It's just been so distressing." She proceeded to tell the inspector her story.

****************** Fast Forward 6 Weeks ******************

"I'm sorry to be the one to break the news to you, my dear." The inspector was sympathetic. "We've discovered that, in fact, there was no robbery. It was simply a misunderstanding - your husband accidentally donated all of your summer clothing to The Salvation Army. He must have mistaken the box with your bathing suit for goods that were to be given to the poor."

"Well....," she said, at a loss for words.

Yes, it's a true story (minus the inspector). My summer clothes are gone - now hanging at the local Salvation Army. Or so I assume, as I haven't had a chance to go "shopping" there yet. The Salvation Army is closed on Sundays (duh).

All of my bathing suits (actually, I'm guessing those get thrown out), my shorts, tanks and god knows what else, are on display for the world to purchase. At a low cost, mind you.

The situation is a funny one, because really, things like this only happen to me, ie. people who are dumb enough not to double check all of the bags and boxes of stuff being loaded into the car.

Many people living in this world don't even have enough clothes to wear, so really, I can't be very upset. Except for the fact that we're on a strict budget at the moment, and I can't really afford to buy a bunch of new things (I've budgeted for 1 new pair of work pants for the next month). And it won't be a problem until the weather is warm enough for me to waltz around in shorts and t-shirts.

So the whole kerfuffle has me reflecting on the value of my clothes, and thinking back to a recent interview I heard on CBC's Q. The clothes we buy from stores like Reitmans and H&M cost pennies to make, but cost lives to consume. The "sweat shop" issue is far from old news. In the 1990's there was a big hue and a cry over practices by brands such as Nike. And yet today, we barely here a peep of dissidence, despite our ever-growing appetite for cheap and fashionable clothing.

I haven't read the book featured on Q, but the interview certainly struck a cord. Most of us fill our closets with cheaply made clothes, replacing our things with the changes of the seasons. And every garment we buy will end up in a landfill - despite our efforts at donating clothes, they will someday need to be disposed of. And the new fabrics, which are not natural at all, do not decompose well in our mountainous landfills.

The answer to the problem is a tough one for the "modern" woman (ie. the woman who wants to look semi-fashionable, especially in the workplace where this is expected) - we must spend money on really good quality clothing, which will last 10x longer then the hastily sewn stuff at H&M, but our bank account will suffer in the short-term. We don't tend to see the long-term benefits, and in a consumer driven world, this is not enough motivation to change our purchasing habits.

So in essence, it's a behavioural change problem - a lot of us know about the social and environmental impact we have on our world, but this doesn't translate into changed behaviour. We may care about the workers who are treated poorly in other countries; we may care about the massive quantities of natural resources used to make our clothing; and we may care about the waste; but we care more about our wardrobe and how we "look" to others.

In having lost all of my clothes (some of which I may recover by taking a visit to the good old Salvation Army), I am suddenly forced to take a good look at my desire for new clothes, coupled with my desire for a sustainable wardrobe. My goal in the next few months will be to scour the city and online stores for clothing that is going to last me a long time, albeit at a much greater cost in the short-term.

First up? A bathing suit - I may not be allowed to enter the pool with A's swim class wearing only my birthday suit :)

Have any tips or suggestions for sustainable clothing? Share them below!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

{Ottawa Doula} Research to Action

I sat in on an  interesting presentation at work today about "knowledge translation" - a very basic term describing how research actually gets translated into practice.

She used a great story to kick-off the talk:

In 1497, a ship sailing with 160 sailors discovered that supplementing the men with lemon juice may have helped to ward off/cure scurvy. Guess how long it took for the British government to formally implement the citrus remedy onto every ship setting sail from the country?

368 years.

So for 368 years, more and more researchers discovered (and conducted trials) to assess the applicability of citrus juice in preventing or treating scurvy. But it took until 1865 for the "head honchos" to do anything with the life-saving information. Soon, all ships sailing from Britain used citrus fruits to ward of the impact of scurvy.

Luckily for us modern folks, the gap between research and practice has now shrunk to 17 years. Yikes - still doesn't seem that great, does it?

Let's take a birth-related example. Research for the past several years has shown that delayed cord clamping can have significant benefits for the newborn. However, most hospitals, unless you insist (and you have to be quick - they'll go "snip, snip" before you know it!) will cut the cord immediately after birth.

So why the gap? There are 2 main reasons:

  • Researchers don't do enough to pass their findings on to health care practitioners - instead, they focus on publication, which they are bound to do by the institutions they work for ("publish or die" is pretty much the mantra in the research world)
  • Doctors don't have time to read hundreds of studies published in medical journals

We're all working on solutions to the problem, mainly by attempting to be better at translating knowledge - by working directly with patients, health care professionals, and other interest groups.

But in the meantime, what's a poor pregnant mama to do? Maybe you've heard of something that could be beneficial to yourself or your baby, but it's not common practice at your institution. Here are some tips for putting your own research into action:

1) Stay really well informed. Avoid wasting time with websites like Baby Centre or books like What to Expect When You're Expecting. These are not sources of good quality evidence. Instead, check out these websites:


Health Evidence

Cochrane Library

2) If you read something you want to know more about, print off a copy and bring it to your next prenatal appointment. Doctors are time-strapped, but they do appreciate (generally) patients who are well informed.

3) Compromise. Try to come to some agreement with your healthcare practitioner. It's never helpful to become angry, and most doctor's don't respond well to "unruly" patients. Remember that they're working within an institution, which comes along with many rules and regulations - sometimes they want to help, but their hands are tied.

4) Accept when something may not be possible. Despite all of your efforts to convince your doctor that a certain procedure is beneficial, they may be bound by hospital policy.

5) Know your rights. You do have rights as a patient!

6) If you can't change it, go somewhere else! If it's not too late, try to find a practitioner who is more willing to address your needs.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Making evenings work

What are your evenings like? Ours go like this:

4:30pm: pick up A from daycare
4:45pm: arrive home; someone walks the dog
5:30pm: hopefully have dinner ready, depending on how much I've planned out
6:00pm: dishes and playing with A
6:30pm: A's bath
7:00pm: Storytime
7:30pm: A's (hopefully) asleep
7:45pm: curl up on the couch, watch old episodes of Being Erica or read a book. Tom goes downstairs, watches old episodes of Top Gear or works in his shop.

There's not much "wrong" with this schedule until we hit about 7:45/8 at night. Then suddenly we become couch potatoes - and separate couch potatoes at that! No fun Scrabble games, or interesting conversation....just a boring old couple too tired to do much else.

Last night I was angry going to bed, because I realized that in addition to sitting all day long at my desk job, I basically sat all evening long, and went to bed with a sore back and neck. I've never thought of myself as a couch potato until I had a child, and now I'm the queen potato!

So, today at work (yes, I am actually working as well, but must take a break from the monotony of spreadsheets), I have compiled a list of things that Tom and I could be doing in the evenings. Some are projects that we can work on together, while others are personal goals of ours that we should be attempting to achieve.

  • Using our indoor bike trainer (Tom)
  • Doing yoga (Misty)
  • Creating a family budget
  • Planning for our 2012 garden!
  • Finishing our downstairs bathroom renovations
  • Meal planning
  • Work on a new website/blog for me!
What do your evenings look like? Any tips for ways to reconnect as a couple?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Birthy Reads (a.k.a An Advertisement for Chapter's)

I think that I've now made it through the most popular birth-related reads out there, and I'm happy to share my thoughts about them here. Some of these are definitely geared towards midwives, doulas and childbirth educators, while others are just fictional novels that anyone could enjoy. Please send me lists of others you have enjoyed that I haven't included here!

Keep in mind I'm only discussing fictional/non-fictional "fun" reads - there are, of course, thousands of other birth-related books out there on pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum.

Midwives - my very first birth-related work of fiction, read long before I was considering children or doula work. One word: terrifying. Do NOT recommend this book to any expectant parents. It is the story of a midwife who needs to perform an emergency cesarean on a woman in a remote location in the North-Eastern US, as a winter storm prevents the midwife from transferring her client to hospital. Totally gripping, edge-of-your-seat drama, but really, really terrifying. Not a positive boost for home birth.

The Birth House - In case you missed it, this was a 2011 Canada Reads nomination, and a national bestseller. Regardless of whether you're into birth or not, you must read this book, if only for its fabulous Canadian writing and content.

The Midwife (or Call the Midwife) - Written by Britain's Jennifer Worth, this is a memoir of the author's experiences working as a midwife in London's east side during the 1950s. Definitely geared to folks hankering for beautiful and touching birth stories, as well as those wanting to know more about life in post-war London. Worth is an eloquent writer, and I'm excited to read her other novels. And bonus, the BBC is making this into a television series!

The Midwife of Venice - Just finished this one! Wasn't exactly what I had expected, but was a very quick read and kept me turning the pages. The story follows Jewish midwife Hannah, and is set in 1500's Venice. If not necessarily an accurate portrayal of birth in the 1500's (although, who knows, it could be!), it was certainly interesting to learn a bit more about the Jewish ghettos and relations between Christians and Jews during that time in history.

The Red Tent - really enjoyed this one, which takes fictional liberty with the biblical story about Jacob, his 4 wives and his 12 sons. I've never read the Bible, but it was interesting to skim through passages of Genesis and compare the "real" story to this fictional account. We need more of this - female perspectives of historical events, religious or not. Women are certainly not well represented in the Bible, and this at least adds some depth and meaning to a text that may otherwise be rejected by people like me. And seriously, bring back The Red Tent. I will go gladly into the tent.

Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife - this is another one with edge-of-your-seat birth stories, the majority of which end happily. I love reading about the journey the author takes from L&D nurse in the late 60's/early 70's, to home birthing midwife in the 80's.

Here are some others I'd love to try:

The Midwife's Confession (fictional)

The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir (non-fictional, memoir)

The Midwife's Tale (fictional)

Playing Catch: A Midwife's Memoirs (non-fictional, memoir)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Orgasm During Childbirth? I call BS!

Everyone loves the movie Orgasmic Birth (now retitled Organic Birth, or something like that). At least, everyone in the natural birthing community loves it. Why? Because it communicates the fact that birth doesn't have to be horribly painful and scary. It can be beautiful and loving.

Birth is a time when our "love" hormones are at their highest levels - we will never experience that kind of high at any other point in our lives. So yes, a lot of women will get a "rush" as the babies head emerges, and some have even reported orgasmic-like feelings.
But seriously...I call bullshit. Not "bullshit, you didn't experience that" (because, who am I to deny a woman's experience?). But bullshit that childbirth will result in orgasms.

As one friend so aptly put it to me several years ago, "along with all the pressures women face in terms of their bodies, we now have to experience orgasm during childbirth AS WELL!?"

I agree with you 100% sister. Isn't it enough that I have to deal with (on average) 12 hours of knock-me-to-the-floor contractions (oops, sorry, I'm supposed to say "rushes")? But now I have to orgasm at the end of it all? Give me a break!

To all women out there - I can attest to the fact that natural childbirth is definitely wonderful. I think I re-live my labour/birth experience almost every day, and I am extraordinarily proud of what I accomplished. I wouldn't do it any other way.

But it hurt. Like, REALLY HURT. Here is how one woman put it when describing her water breaking:

Words cannot really describe the pain of my water breaking in that doorway, and the [babies] face dropping so fast, too fast, into my pelvic bones. They just can't. A too oft used cliche, but a true one. Like my mother's old 14 pound pink bowling ball being dropped on my pelvis?

If we tell women that birth is all orgasmic and stuff, aren't we setting them up for some serious disappointment if they experience something else? The majority of women do not experience orgasms in birth. Yes, there can be joyful moments, and some women report having painless childbirth - this is possible, but not the norm.

As doulas, I urge you to tread lightly when speaking to women about the experiences/feelings of childbirth. No one experience is the same, and when you talk too much, you risk your client coming back to you and saying "hey, it totally wasn't what you said it would be." Our role as a doula is to listen - to work through fears and concerns, and prepare parents for the reality of childbirth. And the reality is - it will probably be much more painful than expected. Chances are, if you skim through the book Hypnobirthing, you're not going to be moaning in pleasure during your contractions.

But does that mean that a positive natural childbirth is impossible to accomplish? No way! Our job is to encourage our clients in seeing their upcoming experience as a rite of passage - and an extremely positive one at that. Again, here is a quote from the same woman above:
There are moments that define us, that are written so vividly in our memories that nothing erases them, or overrides them. That moment, in the doorway, now defines me to myself, for it is always in my mind. In that moment, I knew I could face motherhood and everything that word encompasses. If I could get through that pain, that moment of the most unbridled display of emotion I'd ever had, when I was gripped in my partner's arms, screaming in his ear "I can't do this, what the hell is happening to me, this is too much" - if I got through that without crying Uncle, without the thought of drugs or asking for relief crossing my mind, I know I can manage whatever comes. Mayhap not gracefully, or quietly, but manage I will.

We can manage, we can conquer, and we can succeed.
But orgasm? No....sorry, not this time, honey. I have a headache.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Pacifiers Suck or Pacifiers Rock?

I didn't really want to introduce a pacifier to A when she was a baby. At first, I thought it would destroy our breastfeeding relationship (yes, I'm a drama queen), and was following the guideline of waiting 4-6 weeks after birth to introduce an artifical nipple. But then I decided I just didn't want her to rely on some thing to soothe herself.

However, as the reflux she experienced became more severe, it was apparent that something needed to be done. A was never a thumb sucker, although I desperately wished she would develop the habit. I even tried guiding her thumb into her mouth, but she would cry and spit it out. Breastfeeding couldn't soothe her, because it made the reflux worse (especially at night).

And so, one day we reluctantly tried the soother (which she now calls her "suckie"), and magically, our daughter dozed off on her own! This was the first time anything like this had ever happened, without some seriously intense jiggling and rocking, and screams that sounded as though 10 people were being murdered at the same time.

Fast forward 2 years, and A adores her "suckie." We began restricting its use during her awake times, so she now knows she only gets it at naptime and bedtime. However, our daycare person has been successful in putting her down for naps without it, so we began wondering how to do the same. And we've been told by countless people that you must get rid of the pacifier around 2 years of age.

There is, of course, the cold turkey method, which many parents find helpful. Just take them all away, either by replacing them with a special "gift" or ceremoniously giving them away to another baby. We haven't tried this, but have been talking about doing it for many months. Our hesitation is this: A does not respond well to popular behavioural methods. She never has. All those stupid books that you read to help your baby sleep better, eat well, etc.? They never worked for A, and we always ended up just doing our own thing.

There is another method that has you cutting off the tip of the suckie, and allowing the child to use it if they want (children will discover it no longer works, and lose interest). We tried this method first, and not surprisingly, A just sucked away happily on her broken pacifier, all night long. Did I mention we have a strong willed child?

And then there is no method at all - you just let them continue to use it at night, and hope that they someday willingly give them up. Dentists would be pretty upset over this one, as supposedly they cause dental problems.

For the record, I sucked my thumb until I was 5. I seem to have survived, and I actually asked my Mom to stop on my own. I was getting embarassed about sucking my thumb at school, so she helped me find ways to remind myself to stop.

Like so many parenting debates today, this one has different "camps" (my mother is of the opinion that our generation overthinks everything to do with parenting, and I've come to see her point). So if you decide to allow your child to use their pacifier past the "deadline" of 2 years, you'll certainly have people wondering why you haven't enforced the rules and taken it away.

Those of you who read my blog know that I don't respond well to rules. I like to break them. So I'm finally following my mother's advice (everyone wave "hi" to my mom!) and I'm going to be relaxed about this one parenting decision. We won't be following the 2 year rule, but will take a "play-it-by-ear" approach. When A's ready, we'll know.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

{Ottawa Doula} By Letting Your Child Cry-It-Out, Will You Fix Your Depression?

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A well-known researcher in Australia (Harriet Hiscock) is responsible for the first large, controlled study of infant sleep interventions (cry-it-out) for mothers with postpartum depression. Although conducted almost 10 years ago, the evidence continues to be used today in Australia (and abroad), with many healthcare workers advocating for sleep interventions to help with maternal depression. One of these popular online networks is Babycenter, which most of you have probably consulted at one time or another.

At first glance, the evidence from this study seems to favour the sleep intervention (as opposed to the "control group," where mothers were given an information sheet on normal sleep patterns, with no advice). The sleep intervention is simply a cry-it-out (CIO) technique - either by leaving the room and waiting longer and longer intervals, or by "camping out" and allowing your child to cry while you sit by the crib or bed.

When reviewing the evidence more closely, we discover several questionable aspects of the study:

  • There is no blinding - participants know whether they're receiving the intervention or control, so they're more apt to want to please the researchers, by reporting that CIO worked.
  • Depression scores fell in both the intervention and control groups, which suggests that depression will just improve with time, regardless of the intervention (depression scores did fall slightly more in the intervention group, but was not significant. A more signifcant drop was found when they looked only at mothers with more severe depression)
  • By 4 months, this improvement in mood was no longer significant for the intervention group. Meaning, all of the mothers in the study (regardless of doing CIO or not) had improved
  • Depression scores increased for "persistent sleep problems" - meaning, depression got worse when babies didn't repond to the CIO techniques
  • In a follow-up study, 1 in 5 children's sleep problems had returned
So what does all of this mean?

The study does show that CIO techniques seems to improve both baby's sleep patterns and mothers who have more severe depression. What is worrisome is that the evidence is weak for women who are experiencing mild depression (which may just be an extension of the baby blues - I've discussed the difficulty in diagnosing these symptoms in a previous post). So CIO techniques are touted as the "fix" for any woman approaching their doctors with signs and symptoms of depression.

How could CIO fix your depression? Well, we all know that most of us feel more emotional when we lose sleep. Dealing with a child who wakes frequently during the night may become a source of anxiety for women who are already feeling low. So the answer? Let your baby cry, get a good nights rest, and soon you'll be a happy, healthy mama!

Why this line of argument doesn't work for me

If you've let your child CIO, I'm sorry if you're offended by this post. I don't agree with CIO, although I'm not here to judge you. I'm here to support women who may be experiencing signs/symptoms of PPD (postpartum depression), and who've been told to allow their babies to cry so that they may feel better. Here's my issue:

"Normal" infants wake up frequently in the night. This is a fact of life, which extends across all species who breastfeed their offspring. Frequent night waking is NOT a problem.

Depression is multi-faceted, and a "quick fix" is not the answer. The answer is more support for new mothers, more education on gentle baby care, and realistic expectations of what it means to be a new mother

CIO is harmful to parent-child relationships. Please read Annie's post over at PhD in Parenting. This is not just an opinion - it has been proven with high-quality research

CIO works (sometimes) in the short term, but many babies will go back to night waking after any small changes, such as teething, sickness or travel.

CIO can create more depression and anxiety for mothers, as it forces them to ignore their infants' needs and deny their own feelings/desires - mothers are designed to respond to their crying infants.

CIO can lead to mental health issues later in life, as it raises cortisol levels, which remain high long after the CIO has been completed. So if you're depressed, wouldn't it make sense to respond to your baby, in the hopes of warding off the development of your child's own mental health issue?

There are other ways to get more sleep. This goes back to my "more support" point. New moms need to spend their entire first months focusing on resting and recovering from birth. Other cultures seem to get this idea - our culture praises the mom who jumps out of bed and loses 20lbs in 2 weeks.

If you are a new mom struggling with postpartum life, you will be bombarded with advice from parents, in-laws, doctors and websites, all telling you to put your child down and "fix" yourself by getting a better night's sleep.

Only you can make the best choice for your family, but I strongly believe that COI is not a long-term solution for depression. My blog post on PPD touches on some of the things you can do to get help, and resources here in Ottawa.

I'll finish by quoting Annie here, who says:

"Rates of depression are skyrocketing. Violent and senseless crimes are on the rise. As human beings, we need to spend more time being there for each other, showing compassion, nurturing our children. Learning that you can’t count on your parents to be there when you need them is a tough lesson to learn that early in life and can be a root of many of the social problems we are facing today. I want to give my kids every chance possible of escaping depression and staying away from violence. And I’m convinced that nurturing them and responding to their needs at night, as I do during the day, is the first step in the right direction."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

{Ottawa Doula} Preventing Disordered Eating in Your Kids

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PhD in Parenting's recent blog post on buildilng a healthy relationship between toddlers and food has got me thinking more about how to prevent disordered eating patterns in my own family.

Having worked for two years with a non-profit that supports individuals with eating disorders, you would think that I'm an "expert" on these issues - that I always do the right thing with my child.


Like most parents, I know, intellectually, what I must do to create a healthy relationship with food, but my behaviour says otherwise.

Join me for a moment, and raise your hand if:

1) You keep a scale in your house. Do you weigh yourself every day?

2) You often say "god, I look terrible in this skirt" or "I need to lose a few pounds" or "take a look at this buddha belly!!"

3) You live a black-and-white kind of life. Yesterday, you ate cookies, ice cream and enjoyed your glass of red wine. Today, you've sworn off sugar entirely, committeed to never drinking coffee again, and claim that alcohol is a sin.

4) You label foods - "oh, honey, that cookie is really bad for you. Why don't we find something good, like an apple?" Bad vs. Good.

5) You're always on a diet. Or a cleanse. And then you're "off" again.

6) You deal with your emotions by clamming up, or acting out.

7) You either overexercise (pushing yourself to the limit, just in the name of weight loss) or you don't exercise at all, because you feel "weak."

8) You shovel your food in, never really enjoying its flavour. Mealtimes are stressful, and you become anxious when your child won't eat.

If you raised your hand to some of these, you most likely suffer from disordered eating. But before you panic over my (totally unprofessional) diagnosis of your condition, remember that probably 90% of our society is a disordered eater. You're not alone.

The good news is that disordered eating is entirely preventable. Sure, genetics plays a role, especially in more serious forms of disordered eating (anorexia and bulimia). Research has shown that anorexia has a strong genetic component, whereas bulimia and binge eating have strong links with our culture (which is why rates of anxorexia remain stable over time, and rates of bulimia and binge eating have skyrocketed over the past 20 years - because of our increasing focus on weight and food)

The answer would be to stop doing all of the things I listed above, but we know that this is easier said than done.

So the first question to ask yourself is: how much of a problem is this for me? All forms of eating disorders reside on a spectrum, from mild to severe. If you find that your life is consumed by food and weight issues, I strongly urge you to seek the help of a therapist. There are many good therapists here in Ottawa.

If, like me, your relationship to food is generally healthy but you know that there is room for improvement, consider some of these tips on preventing disordered eating. The important ones include:

- getting rid of the scale. Seriously....throw it out the window, or smash it to bits!!

- stop labelling your food. There no longer exists "junk" food and "health" food. All food is food.

- down with diets!!! What kind of message are you sending to your child when the rest of the family gets to enjoy a cookie, but you're "not allowed."

- enjoy gentle exercise that involves your children. Go for hikes, play sports, or just get outside to the playground!

- teach your child to think critically. When they point to the poster of the half-naked lady at La Senza, ask them "does that look like a real woman? Why do you think the store wants to put up pictures like that?"

- teach acceptance. If you are ridiculing a friend or family member for being a "porker," your child will grow up to have similar attitudes towards people who are a bigger size.

- make mealtimes stress free. No phones, no TV's and no discussions about food. Choose topics to discuss and stimulate interesting conversation. Promote mindful eating - chew your food slowly and carefully, and allow yourself to quietly savour the taste.

Over the next few months, begin by implementing one of the tips above. Then move on to the next. Explore how hard it is to change your behaviour, and reward yourself for small changes (eg. you can't throw out the scale, but you stop stepping on it every day).

In parenting through the early years, you have complete control (perhaps not the best word....influence?) over your child's food and relationship to food. You can establish healthy patterns that will last a lifetime. Sure, peers will have an influence later on, as well as genetics. But your kids will never forget your words and actions, and their childhood memories will be strongly tied to their experiences at the dinner table.

Be conscious, and tread carefully.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Oh, the Joy!

Although many of us "mommy bloggers" find it cathartic to write about our challenging experiences raising children, the joyful posts are also necessary.

A's first gymnastics class was a huge hit:

Getting her post-workout stamps

What a face!

Just hangin' around

Certificate of completion