Monday, April 30, 2012

Don't mess with women...especially women who blog

I know how pregnant women are…

Now you just need to calm down, miss/ma’am.

What, are you PMSing or something?

How many more degrading comments like these have you heard from men, and even other women? My guess is that there are thousands – thousands of ways to reduce a woman to some ancient definition of “femaleness” that insane male philosophers/writers/doctors have pulled out of their ass in past centuries.

Hysterical, unstable, irrational, emotional….let me count the ways.

And news flash to those of you who don’t believe me that we’re still fighting this form of oppression – when push comes to shove, women are still be shoved into these boxes.

The Twitter world was abuzz today when one of our fellow bloggers posted these tweets on her feed:

Omg. Shaking I’m so angry. Was woken up by an MD who told me basically I’m an idiot taking up an expensive hospital bed and need to go home.

I can’t believe they want to send me home like this. Or they can’t fathom why we want to try. And have to continually tell me.

The MD just told DH, “I know how pregnant ladies are. I don’t know who told her those babies will make it.” I WANT TO KILL HIM.

Still arguing. About our beliefs now. Perfect. Let’s mock our religious choices and call me hysterical.

Diana Stone, author of the blog Hormonal Imbalances and blogger at Babble Pregnancy, was basically in the fight of her life – not to save her own life, but the lives of her twin boys. At 18.5 weeks, Diana’s water broke, and doctors recommended an induction – her babies would die if this were the case.

Despite a risk of infection, Diana and her husband opted to hold on, hoping that the amniotic sack may repair itself (entirely possible), or that they would make it to 23-24 weeks, the date at which most babies are deemed “viable.”

Only, as you can see from the above, Diana was met with an unsupportive hospital staff, who not only disagreed with her choice of action, but pegged her as a hysterical pregnant woman who was wasting hospital bed space.

Diana’s story was retweeted, and then retweeted again, and soon supporters were phoning the hospital on her behalf. Babble grabbed hold of the story and wrote a post about Diana’s fight. Since this fire storm, Diana has been allowed to stay in the hospital and doctors have agreed to continue to monitor her for infection. She has been overwhelmed by the support she’s received, which has come mostly from women she’s never even met – fellow bloggers, facebook followers and Twitterites.

Sometimes I wonder why I spend so much time on social media – I wonder what benefit I’m receiving from the time I take to blog, read and tweet.

Now I know. I know that in any crisis where I needed support from a community, it would be heard and received. No, this isn’t the traditional community we’ve known in past years – I don’t have neighbours down the road willing to jump in and take over for me at a moment’s notice. And I don’t often walk across the street to ask to borrow a cup of sugar.

And although I feel some sadness at this loss of “close” community, I marvel at how I’ve found what I need through a different kind of community – virtual, but still steadfast in its strength, power and love.

I want to continue working towards a world where women do have neighbours they can rely on, with shared parenting, resources and emotional support at our finger tips. But this kind of system has been broken for so long that it’s going to take a long time to repair. And until that time, I need my “fix.” I need to be able to reach out, even if it’s through my Blackberry, and not by feet or by phone.

So until I can figure out a life where my community is working for me, I’ll be working to build my own community – through the amazing, incredible and strong women I’ve met as a blogger and small business owner.

Diana’s story has taught me a lot. We still have a long ways to go in building a healthy, compassionate maternity care system (both here and in the US). Women are still being mistreated and bullied, mostly by men who inherently believe that we are somehow flawed in our ways.

Hysterical? Irrational? No, no….far from it. Who else could organize themselves in a matter of hours, and have a hospital backtracking and quaking in their boots? By the swiftness of our thumbs, and the wit of our words, we can make a difference.

Maybe it’s true what they say….mamas can change the world.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


I talk a lot about my daughter having had GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease), but I've never done a post explaining what this term is all about.

Simply put, reflux is when our stomach contents backwash into our esophagus. This happens to many people, child or adult, and can either be symptom-free or associated with a host of problems (pain, burning, breathing difficulties, weight loss etc) Reflux becomes a disease when the episodes cause some sort of problem or condition.

Most babies have reflux, given that their digestive system is still developing. Spit-up can be occasional, or quite frequent. Parents of children who frequently spit-up know that it's an inconvenience and can result in a lot of laundry! But beyond this, the lives of the child and/or parents are not negatively affected.

Reflux can become an illness or condition when it is excessive, and linked to some symptoms. It becomes a disease when the symptoms are severe, and sometimes in very young children, life-threatening.

No one can really say whether my daughter had an "illness" or "disease," but labeling it GERD just helped me to put things into context. Suffice it to say, our lives were thrown for a loop for many months, as we struggled to figure out what was wrong with our little baby.

The symptoms of GERD vary from baby to baby, so I can only speak from personal experience. Before we got a true diagnosis (although it was still a bit of a guessing game), some of the things we noticed were:

  • Constant crying, especially after breastfeeding and at night
  • Fussiness at the breast
  • Coughing or choking when lying on her back
  • Excessive spit-up 
  • Inability to sleep, unless in an upright position
These symptoms began slowly, and we started noticing them around 3 weeks of age. At first we assumed we just had a colicky baby, but everything came to a head around 4 months of age (when colic has normally already disappeared). 

We made several trips to our family doctor, who at first, just waved it off as colic or "normal" baby behaviour. However, most people who spent the night with us knew that A was not "normal." The crying was intense and high-pitched, and I instinctively knew that she was in pain.

After my own Googling and searching around, I began to suspect that A was suffering from a mild form of GERD. She was still gaining weight (phew), but we could no longer cope with the crying and night-waking (which occurred every 30-45min). Once I became more specific in describing the symptoms A seemed to be experiencing, my doctor agreed with my suspicions. She prescribed Ranitidine (Zantac), a strong medication used by adults to help with the painful symptoms of reflux.

Immediately after the first dose, we suddenly had a smiling and giggling 4 month old on our hands. The transformation was a 180, and we knew for certain that she had been in a lot of pain.

Unfortunately, the medications used for reflux are not long-lasting, and come with a host of side effects. The Ranitidine worked on occasion, but A's body seemed to get used to it after a while, and it no longer had any effect. As well, it caused rashes, dry skin and constipation. After a trip to CHEO and a visit with a pediatrician, we switched to an even stronger medication (Prevacid). I was extremely nervous using this medication, as it had not been approved for use in infants. We continued to use it occasionally when things were really bad, but again, the side effects seemed worse that just dealing with the symptoms, so we eventually stopped.

Around 8 months of age, we did begin to see some improvement, and by 1 year, the reflux was gone (at least visibly). A continued to have digestive problems for another 6 months or so, until finally, we were able to say we were GERD-free.

The toll that this took on our family life was significant, and for a long time, we didn't want to have any more children, for fear that we would breed another GERD-ling. However, here we are again, praying that this little girl/guy may be blessed with a stronger digestive system. We feel confident that if this happened again, we at least have the tools and knowledge to deal with it. 

To help other parents out there who are struggling with this problem, here are some tips and other pieces of information I learned along the way:

1) If you suspect something is wrong with your child (even if it's just colic), keep a very detailed record of symptoms. Record exactly when crying starts and stops, and whether it's associated with feeds or not. Also mark down any other things you notice to be "off." This can be very useful for family doctors, who otherwise might discount things as run-of-the-mill.

2) Seek help and support. I found this forum to be really helpful, and purchased this book to read. I also poured over all of Dr. Sears' books, especially the one on "fussy babies." You may also need extra help around the house from in-laws, friends or even hired help.

3) Cry-it-out techniques and sleep training do not work for babies with reflux, and your child's pain should never be ignored. If you feel in danger of harming your baby because of excessive crying, lay her down in her crib, leave the room and call for some help. Scream, yell, kick things - do whatever you need to do to get your frustration out. Just don't take it out on your baby.

4) Some babies with reflux disease sleep fine. The majority do not, because lying on one's back can exacerbate the symptoms. You may need to consider alternatives, such as wedges or even propped up mattresses. Although safety should be foremost in your mind, if you listened to all the "experts" out there on "back-to-sleep", you would be dealing with a screaming infant all night long. I broke every rule in the book, and I'm proud to say that it worked for me. I even learned how to sleep upright, with my baby on my chest, propped up with a million pillows. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

5) Most doctors will tell you that breastfeeding is the problem - whether it's just the myth of breast milk as "bad" or because your child may have genuine allergies (which you are passing through the milk). If you hope to breastfeed, I strongly, strongly advise you to seek help from a Certified Lactation Consultant. It would be extremely rare that formula would ever be better than breast milk. Out of desperation, we tried formula twice, and endured the worst crying episodes we had ever seen in our child. I quickly went back to breastfeeding, and tried to eliminate some of the major culprits out of my diet (dairy and soy).

6) Listen to your gut (no pun intended!). I can't say this one enough. You know your baby the best, and you know what is best for them.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The High Needs Toddler

As first time parents, we're constantly questioning our skills, our judgement, and our ability to steer our child in the right direction. When A was a baby, I found myself consulting books and websites almost daily. I would type questions in Google, such as "why does my baby cry all day long" or "how do I get my baby to sleep longer than 45 minutes."

We thought we were just crappy parents. We couldn't understand why we were more tired, on edge and struggling more than our fellow new parents. We soon discovered it had nothing to do with our parenting abilities, and everything to do with the little person we had been blessed with. A was not only a high needs baby, but she also suffered from GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease. Medication and time were our saviours, and by one year of age, we felt we were finally exiting the fog of gloom we had been living in for so long. I've heard of parents of GERDlings opting for vasectomies after their experience, and I fully understand this decision.

Our little baby grew, and turned into an engaging and extremely verbal two year old. She speaks in full sentences, and says things like "Mommy and I had an argument, and I was so frustrated" (honestly!) We thought that when she was able to tell us precisely how she felt, that her tantrums and frustrations would subside.

Not so. Clearly, the books are not always correct. Having a child with good communication skills does not  equal a life of ease in the toddler world. Our high needs baby has grown up into a high needs toddler, and as of late, the household dynamic has not been good. There has been screaming (A), tantrums (A), yelling (Mommy) and more tantrums (Mommy).

And maybe I'm just making things sound worse than they are. As with all moms, I get to see the full spectrum of emotions from my child - when we're out (especially in the outdoors) she's a perfect little angel.

Being pregnant and sick has not helped the situation, and every morning that I'm working has turned into a battleground between myself and my daughter. Husband has started early mornings at the golf course, and misses most of the commotion.

Part of the problem seems to be A's "sensitivities" pretty much everything. She can't stand socks on her feet (she says they hurt, and the seam bothers her); any pants that are touching her feet are immediately taken off and thrown on the floor (and if they're tight in the waist, watch out!); brushing her hair is almost impossible given her curly knots; brushing teeth is a hit and miss; her coat bothers her when it pulls her sleeves up; and the car seat buckle is always too tight. And rather than just dealing with these issues by whining, A launches herself into full-blown tantrums over the smallest annoyance.

So far, my answer to the problem is three-fold:

1) Stay calm. Talk in a quiet voice. Reassure her that socks are not her enemy

2) Ignore the tantrums. This is hard when there are no rooms to lock myself away in my house.

3) Lose my cool, and begin yelling in return. Not a good strategy, I know.

The morning ends with me hauling a screaming A over my shoulder, no socks, no shoes, no coat, and hair not brushed. The neighbours must think we've lost it.

I need a change, because I have to deal with this by myself for at least 5 more months while husband works at the golf course. And starting my day in a terrible mood is not an option.

So far, my only solution has been to research products that might make dressing a little easier. Luvmum*** is a local Canadian business that carries brands of clothing for children with sensitivities. I plan on purchasing some seamless socks, and maybe some comfortable pants. As for the rest of the morning routine, I'm searching around for a fun/magnetic calendar we can use to teach A about the benefits of grooming :)

Any ideas for this tired mama?

***Luvmum is no longer operational. If you have any suggestions for other companies selling clothing for kids with sensitivities, leave a comment below!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Seeing the Light

I need to say this very quietly. And then I need to knock on wood, spin in a circle three times, and spit on the rug.

I think the nausea may be easing up.

Now certainly, I've just jinxed it. Tomorrow will be the day I spend hours with my head in the toilet.

But really, truly, I am starting to feel a bit better. And so far, not one Diclectin pill has passed my lips (I took Diclectin throughout my entire first pregnancy. I have nothing against it, and I know it's totally safe. But for some reason, I really wanted to tough it out this time. I felt like last time I relied on Diclectin for both placebo effect and perhaps some sedation - seriously, that shit knocked me out!)

Despite my regular morning vomit (which happens like clockwork), the rest of my days have felt better. Not so many food aversions, and I'm starting to eat a more balanced diet. Here's a sample of what my diet has looked like this past month:

Wake up - eat cheerios, vomit
Toast and peanut butter (possible vomit)
Bagel and cheese, or maybe some hard boiled eggs
Ginger Ale
Burrito (maybe a vomit here)
2 popsicles
Crackers and more cheese

Not pleasant to look at, is it? Certainly not a diet that would sustain a healthy pregnancy. However, the past several days have looked more like this:

Wake up - vomit (forget the cheerios! Throwing up water is easier)
Toast and peanut butter
Gigantic smoothie with coconut milk, avocado, banana and frozen berries
Crackers and cheese
Mary's Organic burritos (stuffed with beans and veggies - I think they're healthy, so don't pop my bubble!)
Dried fruit and nuts
Pasta dish with veggies
Protein snack right before bed

THIS diet has led me to feel much better (duh). The late night snack seems to ward off the middle-of-the-night nausea, and I haven't woken up with a migraine in a little while (knock on wood, spin in a circle three times, spit on carpet). Another trick I'm learning is to never leave the house without food. About 1-2 hours after I've eaten, I need to snack on something else, in order to avoid the empty/sick feeling I get. Dried fruit, crackers and nuts have been piling up in my purse.

So tonight I am off to my first prenatal yoga class, hoping this turning of the tide brings with it more energy and a renewed sense of positivity. I can DO this...I can be pregnant AND happy!!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

{Ottawa Doula} Don't Be a Martyr About It!

My last post on cesarean section rates here in Ottawa highlighted an issue that I had left out of the conversation. Someone commented that the epidural rate in most hospitals in Ottawa is 90% (it's actually more in some hospitals), which is indeed true.

I avoided making the link between epidurals and c-sections because, a) there is no conclusive evidence that epidurals increase the likelihood of cesarean section; and b) doulas provide non-judgemental support. Therefore, I have no opinion on epidurals. If my client needs one, I support her. If my client feels strongly that she doesn't want one, then I support her. Case closed.

However, I know it's not that easy. Women become doulas because they are inspired by birth, often in its most natural form. Either we have birthed naturally ourselves, or we have had a difficult birth experience that has led us to seek out alternatives. (And of course, there are wonderful doulas who have never given birth). Therefore, some doulas avoid clients who plan on getting an epidural. I respect the fact that doulas need boundaries too, and I think it's best to be upfront about what kind of doula you are.

I call myself the "middle-of-the-road" doula. I have experienced and seen natural births that have been magical, but I have also witnessed births with epidurals that have been just as special. I think that pain management (in the form of pharmaceuticals) has its place in modern care, and I know that certain labours require a woman to be able to rest and find relief.

That said, a rate of 90% is high. Really high. This would be all fine and dandy if epidurals were risk free, but they're not. They come with both short and long-term side effects, and some women are traumatized when their epidurals don't work like they should (imagine going through labour with only one side of your body frozen).

So what's convincing 90% of our population to try for pain free births? I like to call this the anti-martyrdom syndrome.

A martyr (in the non-religious context) is someone who undergoes severe or constant suffering. Another definition is someone who seeks sympathy or attention by feigning or exaggerating pain.

When I was pregnant with my first child and decided to try for a natural birth, I quickly realized that the majority of people I met would not be supportive of this decision. The most typical response I got was "oh, just you wait. You'll be begging for the drugs." I never once had a woman (or man) say "way to go," or "it's easy, you can do it!" (actually, scratch that. My boss at the time was the only one who gave me a positive story of her own natural birth).

And what I heard (and still hear) most often from women was that they didn't want to be a martyr about it. Meaning, they didn't want to purposefully suffer just to birth their babies.

In short, childbirth = suffering. It's been that way for a long time, and although a small contingent of brave women have tried convincing us otherwise, 90% of us still believe it.

Our hospitals make it well known that epidurals are the "better way to go." Doctors, OBs and nurses are not trained to support women through natural childbirth, so obviously, they're much more comfortable with women who get the drugs. Our whole society and health care environment is screaming to women don't be a martyr about it!!!

And if you want to bring a feminist argument into the mix, hasn't it always been this way? From the first time we start to bleed, we're immediately pegged as martyrs - people who seek sympathy or attention by exaggerating pain. God forbid we should complain about menstrual cramps or heavy bleeding, and the women who miss work due to monthly migraines are just slacking off. Any emotional response we may have to an issue is immediately written off as "PMS-ing."

Let's also compare this situation to the world of long-distance running, extreme sports, or those who scale Mount Everest. Clearly, many of these people are suffering - the throngs of runners collapsing into unconsciousness at the end of a marathon makes me shake my head and laugh. It's amazing to me that they'll put their bodies through hell just to achieve a rush of adrenaline. And yet these same people (both men and women) are intent on avoiding the pain of childbirth, despite the fact that natural childbirth offers the same rush of adrenaline and ultimate joy. I wonder what would happen if I began telling all those people who do marathons or extreme sports, "Hey! Pull up a bag of potato chips and plunk yourself down on that couch! Don't be a martyr about it!"

In an ideal world, the majority of women in childbirth would not be suffering. As I've stated above, there are instances where suffering becomes apparent, and relief in the form of pharmaceuticals is not only needed, but welcomed! However, when women are given proper support, and a calm and caring environment in which to birth you would be amazed at what we can do.

But we're not living in an ideal world. These days, women don't have proper support, don't have a calm and caring environment in which to birth, and go into labour with an inherent belief that childbirth is a form of slow and terrible torture. The epitome of suffering. It's only a small percentage of women that are asking for more - hiring midwives and doulas, and choosing a place of birth that supports a model of women-centered care. These are women who are surrounded by other women (and men!) letting them know that childbirth is not frightening, is not suffering, and heck - might not even be painful!

So frankly, I don't blame any woman for wanting an epidural - put in the same situation 90% of us find ourselves today, I wouldn't want to be a martyr about it either!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

{Ottawa Doula} Hospital Cesarean Rates

Hospitals are required to disclose their cesarean section rates, but the information is hard to come by without a lot of searching. Most women are admitted to hospital without any prior knowledge of their c-section risk, and will often be surprised when the birth ends up in the operating room.

Each hospital in Canada has a different cesarean section rate because policies and procedures differ from institution to institution. These are policies related to how women are "allowed" to labour and give birth. Things like timing of induction (how long you can go past your due date), electronic fetal heart rate monitoring (EFM), use of Pitocin and IV fluids, and length of pushing time are all regulated by hospital protocol.

Recently, we've seen a number of stories in the media sounding the alarm bell on the rising c-section rates in our Canadian cities. I came across this handy website today, and thought it would be interesting to share the c-section rates at various hospitals here in Ottawa.

Montfort Hospital: 25.8%

The Ottawa Hospital: 29.17%

Queensway Carleton Hospital: 33.18%

Almonte General Hospital: 25.91% 

Winchester District Memorial Hospital: 21.63%

The website also publishes each hospital's VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) rate. Scraping the bottom of the barrel is the Queensway-Carleton Hospital, at a dismal 7.63%

Does this mean that women in Ottawa who want to avoid a cesarean section should plan to give birth where their chance of c-section is lowest? This, of course, is a personal choice, but I believe a wiser strategy would start with demanding more evidence-based care from our hospitals. In my opinion, policies and procedures are governed first by consumer demand, and second by evidence-based information (which is ridiculous, I know). The more you are complacent about what is being done to you, the more you pave the way for other women to have the same done to them. [and of course, some c-sections are necessary and medically indicated. Clearly this conversation does not apply to those women, although they still have a right to respectful and informed care]

So if you're under the care of a doctor or OB at one of these Ottawa hospitals, and you hope to avoid a c-section, what should you be asking about?

1) How will you monitor my baby's heart rate? (there is no evidence showing that continuous EFM is beneficial, and there is an increased risk of cesarean section when it is used)

2) If I go post-dates, when will I be induced? (Most OBs are following the 40+10 rule - when you are 41 weeks and 3 days, you will be induced. Again, there is evidence showing that healthy, low-risk pregnancies can extend to 42 weeks without increased risk to mom or baby)

3) When do you feel the need to use Pitocin during labour? What are my other options if you feel that my labour has stalled? (psssst...hire a doula. They have some neat tricks for getting labour to progress!)

4) Do you use routine IV fluids during labour, or can I eat and drink whenever I want?

5) If my baby is doing well, will I be able to push past the allotted time given for second stage?

Also keep in mind that the whole team of OBs needs to be on board with the terms/conditions you have in place. If you decide you absolutely do not want to be induced at 40+10 days, then you will need to be prepared to meet with resistance if your OB of choice is not on call around that time.

Pregnancy shouldn't be a time that women need to do battle to get the care they want. But as you can see above, the reality is, 1 in 4 women will have a c-section in Ottawa (and sometimes that number reaches close to 1 in 3). So it's up to you and your partner to fight for the care you need - doctors are often prepared to listen, but it's our responsibility to make sure we're heard.

And of course, you've heard the same old from me time and time again....hire a doula and that percentage goes down...blah blah blah....get a midwife and that percentage goes down...blah blah blah....have a home birth if you're healthy and comfortable with the idea...blah blah blah.

You get the picture!

What do you think? Are my local Ottawans surprised by these rates?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bloom: A Review

Disclaimer: I'm not a book reviewer. I don't do this as a profession. There are many more talented people out there who review books. However, I read books - tons of them. I don't know how many books I've read in my lifetime, but it could be close to 10,000 (that's probably an exaggeration) So I have a fairly strong sense of what good writing looks like. And although I can't always agree that a book is "captivating" (just because it's a classic, for instance), I can certainly come to appreciate another reader's opinion. So if you've read Bloom, feel free to debate with me.

The lowly blogger's ultimate dream - a post goes viral, sponsors flock to your site, and publishers are pounding on your door, asking for a "tell all" memoir. It's happened a number of times (think Julie and Julia), and it will happen again.

And so it happened to Kelle Hampton, who wrote a heart wrenching blog post about her daughter's birth (when it was discovered she had Down Syndrome), and watched as the world shared the link, and then shared it some more.

Fast forward a couple of years, and the memoir is now on bookshelves. Bloom tells the story of Nella Cordelia's birth, and the family's realization that little Nella has an extra special chromosome. Interspersed in the present day story are short anecdotes from Kelle's own childhood (a bit of a dysfunctional family life, with a scandalous divorce in a tight-knit church community) and her life pre-children.

So...what's to like about this book? First off, it's gorgeous. The paper is coffee table quality, and about half the space is dedicated to Kelle's bright and airy photographs (who doesn't love photographs of the Floridian landscape? Is Floridian a word?). And if you're an avid reader of Kelle's blog, you'll be hit with her familiar style of writing. Her editors have clearly done a great job in keeping her "brand" in check.

Kelle provides just enough information to the reader to satisfy our curiosity, without over sharing. The book offers a very brief glimpse into her family life, her past and what she is working through at the present. But if you're looking for mud slinging or shocking stories, you won't find any. Just as Kelle's blog offers on a daily basis, this book is a tale of triumph - oh, and joy. Plenty of joy.

What's not to like about the book? Here's where my inner book critic eagerly jumps into the foray.

Her writing is somewhat repetitive. There are definitely chapters (or paragraphs) that involve family dialogue and stories, and these are the more interesting bits. The rest follows Kelle's style of grand similes and hyperbole, with quotations from the masters of poetry (e.g. Mary Oliver) thrown in here and there. Oh, and crying. Lots and lots of crying. She is clearly a creative, artistic and emotional individual, but it did grate on the nerves once or twice that the crying had to be described again.

And here's the other thing - if you're a parent of a child with special needs, this book (and probably Kelle's blog), might not be to your taste. Most likely, your days are not spent combing the beach for shells, and you may have a hard time summoning the "rah rah rah" attitude that Kelle imbibes. I can't imagine what a special needs parent goes through, but I know if my own life with a completely healthy child is any indication, I might maintain Kelle's optimism about 25% of the time. I'm British, what can I say. We love to whine and complain.

Despite some criticism, I liked this book, and I'll continue to read the blog. I look up to people with uncontrolled enthusiasm for life. I've always been attracted to positive women, and they represent to me the person I hope I may one day become (in another life of course...I'm still British in this life). When my house is a wreck and my child is screaming, looking at Kelle's blog doesn't make me jealous or sad. It just fills me with joy, and brings back memories of all the wonderful vacations my family spent together in Florida.

If nothing else, Bloom is the ultimate in self help. It's cozy, breezy, and warm, just like a Florida sunset. So grab your Pina Colada and enjoy. If it's not worth the $25 (in hardcover), it's certainly worth a trip to the library.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

You've Got Mail!

It's been a bad day. Another migraine, dizziness, and nausea. You know, the usual. I'm trying to remain upbeat about it all, but I asked Tom last night,

"How many more months of this do I have?"

On good days I celebrate my changing body. I take the dog on long walks through our backyard ravine. I eat salad for lunch, and I do some yoga stretches.

But on bad days, nothing much helps, and I find myself lying on the couch staring at the wall.

Which is exactly what I was doing today when the UPS truck rolled up to a stop in front of my house, and deposited into my mailbox my pre-ordered copy of Bloom, by Kelle Hampton.

Excited? Oh yes, I'm excited!

I've written about Kelle's blog before, and although I know she receives a lot of criticism (on average, I receive 20 hits per day from people googling "kelle hampton hate" or "kelle hampton annoying"), I just can't help loving her blog. I know nothing about her personal life, or whether she's a "good" person, and frankly, I don't care.

What I know is that her writing inspires me. Her blog posts lift me up when I need to be lifted up. And her photography is truly stunning.

So after my bad day, I anticipate an evening curled up on the couch, savouring the first glossy pages of Bloom.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Why I Won't Be Doing Prenatal Screening

Image Source
In Ontario (and most of the developed world), pregnant women are offered something called Prenatal Screening. The screening usually involves both blood work and ultrasound, and is done at around 11 weeks.

In my first pregnancy, prenatal screening wasn't really offered as a choice to me. I began my pregnancy under the care of my family doctor, as I was still on the waiting list to get a midwife. Midwives practice something called informed choice - you are given all the relevant information about specific tests/procedures, and then it's up to you to make the final decision.

Most doctors, however, do not practice informed choice, and instead tend to offer up tests/procedures as the "normal" thing to do. There's a whole body of evidence out there which shows that most clinicians are not successful at involving their patients in making health care decisions.

So when prenatal screening comes up in pregnancy, it's not so much a choice, as it is "the thing to do." And so I did!

If women understand the consequences of the screening, and have a good grasp on what they would do with the information, then there is no problem. But when women are unsure, or consent to procedures without really understanding what's going to happen, then it is a problem.

Screening tests for three things - Down Syndrome, Trisomy 18 and Open Neural Tube Defects. You will be told your chance of having a baby with these conditions (e.g. 1 in 250), and if your chance is higher than expected, you have a positive result. This does not necessarily mean your baby has one of these conditions, but it does mean you're offered further diagnostic testing (usually in the form of amniocentesis, which carries its own risks). If an accurate diagnosis is made through amnio, then you have three options:

1) Prepare yourself for life with a child who has disabilities, or a child who will die shortly after birth (depending on the severity of the condition)

2) Plan to give your child up for adoption if you feel you cannot handle caring for a child with disabilities

3) Abort your pregnancy

Clearly, none of these options are what any parent wants to go through. We all want to have a healthy child. But once you choose to undergo prenatal screening, you must be able to think ahead and imagine what you might do with the information you are given. If you get a positive result, will you go for amniocentesis (despite its small risk of miscarriage)? If you get a diagnosis, which option will you choose?

Testing for these conditions also raises a number of ethical issues, and potentially better screening tools soon to come on the market may have parents choosing to abort before they've had a glimpse of their baby via ultrasound or through movements felt - before any kind of bonding has occurred. Some experts suggest that the abortion rate for parents who discover their baby has Down Syndrome could be as high as 90%. Parents of children with Down Syndrome are concerned over this fact, as clearly, children with Down Syndrome are just as loved/special/amazing as children without the extra chromosome. As genetic testing becomes more advanced and available, you have to wonder where this will take us? How far is too far?

The 90% abortion rate definitely scares me. As a second time parent, I have firsthand experience loving a child. I bonded with my baby immediately upon discovering I was pregnant this time around. But as a first-time mom, I remember the baby in my belly being kind of abstract. Bonding didn't happen until later (and probably even later than it happens between most other mothers and babies). If the test had discovered one of the three conditions, would I have considered abortion and gone on to have major regrets? Part of me thinks "no," that I would have just prepared myself for life with a child with disabilities, but I wonder if other mothers out there have regretted the hasty decision.

So this time around, we have opted not to do prenatal screening. If I received the diagnosis during pregnancy, I don't think the information would be good for my well being. I'm a worrier, and my anxiety would probably rise to unmanageable levels. Plus, I'm a kinesthetic learner - I learn by doing and experiencing, not by reading books or observing other people's experiences. So life with a child with disabilities would be a shock, but I would need to learn as I went along.

Plus, as my midwife put it, "if you're a woman who believes in letting nature take its course, then prenatal screening is probably not the right choice for you." And that's exactly who I am - I believe that all things happen for a reason, and I would be willing to go down a difficult path if I needed to. Even one where I might have to say goodbye to my baby shortly after birth.

What is your experience with prenatal screening?