Saturday, February 20, 2010

The journey

Something looks a little fake about this picture, doesn't it? I will let you in on a little secret about it. But first let me tell you about why I love it. Beautiful fall colors aside, I love this picture because it was taken in Trollhättan, Sweden. It was our first big trip together when we were just dating, and we had so much fun exploring Sweden and Norway together! I remember the moment vividly. We were at the top of a channel in a lock system - you can kind of see some water next to my head, that was a level or two down from where we were. Just as our friend Tom was about to take the picture a small gust of wind blew my hair into my face, so I quickly tried to brush it away before the camera clicked (you can see my hand behind Mark's shoulder, which wasn't quick enough to beat the camera.)

The trip came about because Tom, a good friend of Mark's from college, was on a long assignment in Sweden for work. It worked out perfectly: Tom welcomed visitors and offered to let us stay with him, and we were excited for the opportunity to see him and visit a few Scandinavian countries while we were at it.

During our 10 day trip we took a few days to do Norway in a Nutshell, an informal tour of the country which allows one to "experience the scenic Bergen Railway, the breathtaking Flåm Railway, the Aurlandsfjord, the narrow Nærøyfjord and the steep hairpin bends of Stalheimskleiva." (Got all that?) Basically, it's a chain of train, bus, and ferry rides that take visitors to some of the most beautiful areas of the country where they can stay to explore, or hop onto the next leg of the trip. Time- and money-wise, we did it as economically as possible by scheduling the longest train ride for nighttime and only spending up to a few hours at each stop. We each had a backpack with a change of clothes and minimal toiletries; Mark had the camera and I had my journal. Some favorite moments include stopping at a grocery store along the way to pick up some bakery bread, local cheese, and sliced ham for a picnic on one of the shorter afternoon train rides; taking a ferry through the magnificent fjords; the scary bus ride up a treacherous winding mountain road on a rickety bus with fellow visitors from all corners of the globe.

This trip is also the first time I ever attempted driving a car with a manual transmission. How many people get to say they learned to drive a stick shift in a brand new Saab convertible in the Swedish countryside with two really awesome guys? It was on a weekend road trip the three of us took to Stockholm, where we visited the Vasa, the royal palace, Gamla Stan, and more.

While Tom was at work one day, Mark and I decided to visit Läckö Castle . We hopped on an afternoon train, then took a bus - which was a city bus that also happened to be taking local elementary school kids home, so an added benefit was taking the "scenic" route. As much as I loved the touristy stuff, I also really enjoyed seeing how and where the residents lived. Tom's flat was in a rather urban area on a river and had many tall buildings but little green space, while this bus took us by fields and farmhouses where you could see for miles. Both were beautiful and interesting in their own way.

While boarding the bus we had asked the driver if he was going to Läckö, pronouncing it "Lacko" as most Americans might. We soon found that he didn't speak English, and that we were horribly butchering the name of this castle. After some confused looks and repeated attempts, I think Mark showed him the word written down somewhere and he said "Ahhh! Lahckuhhhr." We both tried repeating it, but he shook his head and said it again. "Lahckuhhhr." Mark and I looked at each other, "Lacker?" Anybody listening in to the conversation must have been thoroughly amused at the tourists trying to pronounce this word, thinking they were getting close when really we were probably a million miles away from being close. He was a nice guy, and gave us a motion when we finally made it to the appropriate stop for the castle. He motioned that it was just up the road, so we started walking. And walking. And walking. It must have been a few miles before we even saw it, but with Mark it was an enjoyable hike. We stopped at one point to say hi to some horses near the fence just a few feet from the road, and took another picture that I really like (can you believe this was so long ago that we were using a film camera? That one hasn't been scanned in yet.) Long story short, by the time we got to the castle, it was closing for the day. Bummer! But I still see this afternoon as a highlight of the trip, because Mark and I were enjoying each others' company and having a good time.

It's all about the journey, not the destination, right?

So back to the picture at the top. The beautiful September colors, the scattered clouds in the Photoshopped sky...yes, it's the sky that's fake. It was a beautiful day, but the sky looked gray and bland so Mark found this sky and worked his magic. Not too shabby, if you ask me! Although I personally like the picture either way, because really my favorite part is that we're together.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Scuba Claire

Claire's birth has been on my mind lately as I prepare for the birth of Mystery Baby, as I've taken to calling him/her. There are so many things I want to do differently, so many things that I want to avoid so that we get started off on the right foot this time. I still think of Claire's birth as the most beautiful moment of my life - I'll never forget how she looked when she was lifted out of the water and we locked eyes for the first time. It was like meeting a stranger, yet at the same time I felt like I had known her forever; somehow there was something familiar about her, in looks and in spirit.

Just moments prior, I had been in a state of extreme fear for her safety. The midwife had broken my water (more on that another time) and we discovered that Claire had already passed her first bowel movement, which I knew could be very dangerous and mean a trip to the NICU if she had aspirated any meconium. The midwife allowed me to get back into the birth tub to continue laboring, but cautioned me that I was no longer eligible for the water birth I had planned on having. Labor is already a surreal experience, and this was compounded by the element of danger; terrified, I got back in the tub and started pushing with all my might. I had to get my baby out to make sure she was ok! The midwife left the room ("a watched pot never boils!" she chirped, and was gone. Again. Despite my requests for help or direction, because I had no idea if I was pushing correctly. Of course I was doing it right, I just needed my midwife to confirm it and give me some encouragement!)

I was soon doing exactly what I knew I shouldn't be doing: ignoring my body and simply pushing, pushing, pushing. No break, no time to let my body do what it was designed to do, no time to let Claire glide into optimal positioning for her descent; I was taking charge and forcing my baby out NOW. Not even 5 minutes after the midwife left the room, she came running back in with an alarmed look on her face. "That's a birthing scream!" She plunged her arms into the water and brought my beautiful baby up to the surface. A birthing scream? Really, I had screamed? Wait, she's holding a baby...she's out! I was so exhausted from overworking myself that I was in a state of shock. It took me a moment to realize that I had just given birth. And this was natural childbirth - I hadn't had any drugs - it was just that intense that my brain was completely overloaded.

I hadn't meant to break the rules, I had only been focused on my mission of making sure Claire was ok. But it was a miracle the way things worked out, because Claire was perfectly fine. She was silent as I held her close and we studied each others faces; she was breathing well, and her apgar scores were excellent despite the fact that just moments before she had been swimming in her own poop for who knows how long. The waterbirth likely mitigated the danger, watering down the tainted amniotic fluid and helping to gently clear her lungs as she hung out underwater. The reason waterbirth is possible is because the warm water mimics the environment of the womb, other than the new sense of open space to move about in. Babies can stay underwater for several minutes with no danger; they have been in a similar environment for the last 9+ months. An additional factor that may have contributed to her safety was the fact that I froze, and didn't frantically pull her from the water right away. The midwife was in another room down the hall when she heard my scream, so it was a minute or two before she could get to me and lift Claire out of the water for me. Those precious moments may have been all it took to safely clear her lungs.

Needless to say, I'd like to avoid this sort of drama with our Mystery Baby. I don't mind the anticipation of which day the birth will happen, not knowing the gender of the baby, or any other details, I just don't want the fear of my baby not being ok. Of course the meconium issue can happen no matter the setting. It's not unique to hospital birth, although I do think in my case that it contributed. I had been laboring at home for about 15 hours before we headed for the hospital, and I was fully dilated and ready to push when we arrived. These first 15 hours had been hard work, there's no doubt about that, but it felt manageable. I was "in the zone", completely tuned into my body, and it wasn't scary at all. But the 15 minute drive to the hospital, along what felt like one of the bumpiest roads in the county, was enough to jolt me out of this concentration. Entering through the ER didn't help, as I had been there before with a bad case of food poisoning and don't have positive associations with it. The bright lights, the team of strangers coming at me and working on me as if I were on an assembly line, the stark look of the hospital was all so different than the comforts of home. It's no wonder things changed and I suddenly started to feel stressed. Now that I had dilated fully I was no longer in any pain, or even discomfort, but I felt helpless. As if I were an actress on stage in front of a large audience who suddenly forgot her line in a climactic scene. The stress I felt certainly didn't help the situation and may have contributed to Claire's poor positioning and the meconium issue.

Planning a home birth feels right to me. This time around I fully trust my body. I started out that way with Claire, but once I got to the hospital I started having doubts...maybe it was all the nurses donning scrubs, or the intimidating medical equipment, but I can't help equating hospitals with problems or illness. The midwife's neglectful yet alarmist attitude didn't help. This time in addition to having two awesome doulas, I have two amazing and wise midwives to offer support and guidance when I need it. They will all be here just for me, and I know and love them all so there will be no "stranger" element this time. And my midwives won't treat me like a gadget on an assembly line, requiring internal exams and artificial membrane rupturing. Let's not even get into the whole third stage nightmare, that's an entirely different story! Mystery Baby's birth is coming together like a beautifully orchestrated musical. Everything is falling into place and steering me towards a safer and more enjoyable experience.

Instead of dwelling on the things that didn't go right with Claire's birth I feel as if I'm making progress, processing and purging the negativity. This is all stuff that I need to address so that I'm ready to face childbirth again without fear. It's such a wonderful feeling dissolving the frustration of what didn't go right, and instead focusing on the excitement of meeting Mystery Baby. I wonder how it will be similar to, or different than my first moments with Claire. During that first quiet moment Claire and I had after her birth, as we studied each others' faces, her lower lip suddenly quivered a bit and folded over in a pout. The cutest, most heart-wrenching pout I had ever seen. "Oh!" I softly exclaimed, new to motherhood and the giant responsibility of caring for a helpless human being. "It's ok, baby!" And like that, the pout was gone. And everything really was ok.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Babies were born to breastfeed

After a great appointment with my midwives this afternoon, I have babies and birth and breastfeeding on the brain (although none of these topics are ever really far from my mind, considering my line of work and the fact that I'm a pregnant mom who loves babies). It won't be long before our newest addition joins the family, and I will once again be a nursing mother. Claire weaned at 23 months, so one might think I feel pretty confident that things will be extremely easy since I've already been there, done that. I'm not sure if my post-birth complications had anything to do with it, or if things would have been difficult anyway, but it was kind of a rocky start when Claire was born. And even though I've done this before, our new baby hasn't - it will be a completely new partnership, one that may take some time to master. Here is what kept me motivated to work through each and every challenge the first time around:

Breastfeeding is linked to a lower risk of these problems in infants:
  • Ear infections
  • Stomach viruses
  • Diarrhea
  • Respiratory infections
  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Asthma
  • Obesity
  • Type 1 and 2 diabetes
  • Childhood leukemia
  • SIDS
  • Necrotizing entercolitis

And for the moms...
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Postpartum depression
Studies are still looking at the effects of breastfeeding on osteoporosis and weight loss after birth.

These bullet points alone are worth trudging through a difficult beginning, but this is just a scratch in the surface of benefits (and I should add that breastfeeding is not always challenging - many moms and babies pick it up right away with no problem!) One of the coolest things about breast milk, in my opinion, is that it is constantly changing. Immediately after the birth a mother will have colostrum, appropriately referred to as "liquid gold." Just a few nutrient-dense drops fill the baby's marble-sized stomach with the exact nutrition and antibodies he needs; about 4 days later the mother's milk comes in, and again it's made up of the exact nutritional requirements for this stage of life. As the baby grows, the milk evolves; the milk of a mother breastfeeding an infant is different than that of a mother breastfeeding a toddler. The baby is also benefiting from the varied tastes he is being exposed to through the milk - the flavor will change depending on what the mother eats. So not only is it tailor made to suit the needs of the growing child, but it sets the baby up for expecting - and enjoying - a wide variety of foods in the future. Formula, on the other hand, stays the same from feeding to feeding, and doesn't change weekly or monthly to account for the baby's changing needs. It only changes when you switch from an infant formula to a toddler formula. Another cool benefit? The milk also changes with the environment - if the mother is exposed to a certain virus, she will develop antibodies for it and pass them on to the baby. Could it get any better than that?

The economical benefits can't be denied, either. Formula is expensive, even with the millions of samples and coupons you'll be swimming in as a pregnant woman. I supplemented with formula for a few weeks after my 2 week postpartum hemorrhage and the surgery that followed - in a way, it's really cool that the body knows when there is a piece of foreign matter in the uterus (a retained portion of the placenta, in this case) so it tries to flush it out by bleeding profusely. It wasn't so cool that this also resulted in my milk taking longer to come in (and that it almost killed me.) I continued breastfeeding to maintain my supply - it's all about supply and demand with breast milk - and even though we were only supplementing about 50% of the feedings, it was still a very expensive 3 weeks. According to these calculations from 2005 formula costs anywhere between $714 and $3163 in the first year of life. And these calculations are 5 years old! Think of what you could do with that much money...

I bought a top of the line breast pump for about $300 while I was pregnant because I had planned on returning to work, and although a little on the unnecessary side, it was nice to have sometimes; I also bought a few boxes of breast pads at the beginning for about $10 a box. We spent well under $50 on bottles and milk storage containers. I still have and could reuse all of these items (except for most of the breast pads, which were disposable) for our future kids, so the savings grow as the family does. And truly, you can get by without any of this. Breastfeeding can be free. There are also inexpensive pumps and reusable breast pads that fit somewhere in between the two extremes.

Convenience is another factor. Breast milk is ready to go whenever and wherever the mom and baby are. I've breastfed Claire in the car (parked, sitting in the backseat), on airplanes, out in the woods, in museums, at parks, and a variety of other places. There's no need to measure, mix with water, heat, or wash bottles. Baby + breast = the ability to feed your baby all day long without toting any junk around. Washing bottles was a huge pain - heck, finding bottles was a nightmare! We went through 5 different brands before we found one that worked. Some nipple designs gave Claire gas, some she just refused to drink from. We were lucky that we didn't have the same issues with formula...many people go through the agonizing process of having to try half a dozen different types and brands. Talk about expensive and frustrating!

Breastfeeding also benefits society. Breastfeeding saves on health care costs. Total medical care costs for the nation are lower for fully breastfed infants than never-breastfed infants since breastfed infants typically need fewer sick care visits, prescriptions, and hospitalizations. Breastfeeding contributes to a more productive workforce. Breastfeeding mothers miss less work, as their infants are sick less often. Employer medical costs also are lower and employee productivity is higher. Breastfeeding is better for our environment because there is less trash and plastic waste compared to that produced by formula cans and bottle supplies. The U.S. Surgeon General recommends that babies be fed with breast milk only for the first six months of life. This means not giving your baby any other food or drink — not even water — during this time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for at least 1 year, if not longer; the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least 2 years, if not longer.

Some lesser known benefits include the fact that breastfeeding requires a mother to take some quiet relaxed time for herself and her baby, helping them bond. Physical contact is important to newborns and can help them feel more secure, warm, and comforted. Breastfeeding mothers may have increased self-confidence and feelings of closeness and bonding with their infants.

I was fortunate enough to have read about all of these benefits during my pregnancy, so when Claire was born there was no question in my mind how I would feed her. These benefits kept me motivated during those difficult feedings when it was easy to think that switching to formula might make life easier. Life with a newborn is never easy, but I have found that breastfeeding made things less complicated than they would have been formula feeding full time. My hope is that these facts will soon become common knowledge, so that when women become pregnant they won't even consider the question, "how should I feed my baby?" Babies were born to breastfeed, and this should be the first choice.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Baby was on vacation

Claire has never really attached herself to a lovey, or even a pacifier. The closest she's gotten is with Baby, a small plush doll that fits perfectly in her arms and lap. Baby is soft, huggable, and pleasant-looking with an embroidered smile and open arms; her body is pink and she has two short orange ribbons for hair. I first noticed Claire treating Baby like a companion on our vacation to Colorado last fall, just before she turned two. When we arrived at our condo in Snowmass, she and Baby walked around the place to investigate and I noticed Claire putting Baby's hand up to the dishwasher buttons as if she was pretending to push them. Lately Claire has been feeding Baby pretend food that she's cooked in her little kitchen and asking, "Baby ok?" if she accidentally falls off the couch (that all goes out the window when she decides she's had enough, and throws Baby across the room to get a break.)

Bedtime routine lately has included taking Baby upstairs with us to brush teeth, snuggle in Claire's bed to read books, and then fall asleep. Claire never falls asleep holding onto Baby; Baby is sometimes allowed to lay next to Claire on the pillow, other times she's laying on the floor across the room.

I can recall only one time that she got really upset and needed to have Baby, sometime late last week. Claire and I were backing out of the driveway to head to a friend's house when she started flipping out in the backseat. "Baby! Claire's Baby, Mama, Baby!" She was pointing to a front window, and sure enough, Baby was perched on the windowsill looking back at us through the window. I ran in and got Baby, and placed her in Claire's outstretched arms as I wondered if this was going to be a new thing with Claire...had she attached herself to a lovey? Would we never be able to leave the house without Baby again? But the phase was short-lived, as she returned to her casual attitude by the time we arrived at our friend's house 15 minutes later, and Baby was thrown across the backseat by the time I walked around to open her door.

So earlier this week when we couldn't find Baby we were not too concerned about a meltdown about it, but we were puzzled. She had to be somewhere in the house, but where? We checked the usual spots, Claire's room and kitchen, then spread to the rest of the house including the basement. Under couches, in closets, within balled up blankets. For five nights Claire was completely fine going to bed without Baby, but I kept an eye out for her in case Claire should happen to remember her and suddenly need her in order to sleep. Not that any child has ever used a stall tactic like that before bedtime...

Just when I had given up, deciding that she would turn up one of these days, she did. I was in Claire's room this morning, she was in mine, and I was calling for her to come in and get dressed for a playdate. She came galloping in, full of excitement, triumphantly holding Baby. I started laughing and asked her where Baby had been.

"Tunnel! Baby was in the tunnel!" She exclaimed happily.

"Can you show Mommy?" I asked, wondering what tunnel she could possibly be talking about.

Taking my hand, we walked (I walked, she skipped) back into my room and she lead me over to our dresser. Kneeling down, she pointed to the 2 inch space beneath it and announced, "tunnel!" She was so excited that her eyes were sparkling.

I lost it and laughed even harder. One of her favorite books includes a tunnel that the main character rides through while on a train. I remember when my parents gave it to her, they spent a lot of time reading it to her that weekend, and from then on she always pointed out the tunnel when I read it to her. "'s dark," she always pointed out with a certain level of authority. When we took her through an automatic carwash, she compared it to the tunnel. When we play with her blocks, she likes to make tunnels and then point them out. Maybe she was in need of a break, or just decided that Baby needed a vacation in a local tunnel. So that mystery is solved, and I have a better idea of where to look for missing items from now on - in anything that could resemble a tunnel to a 2 year old. At least it's not the garbage anymore...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

"Does this computer come with the internets?"

As I've complained on Facebook in the past, my computer is a dinosaur. Or should I say "was"? Yes, that's right, after 8 years of using what is quite possibly the first laptop ever made, I finally got a new computer!

A good friend of ours is a computer guy, and built the tower. My ability to multi-task on this computer is incredible! I can have several browsers and tabs open at the same time and this thing doesn't even flinch, whereas my laptop would get bogged down and then need to be restarted.

"You mean to say that I can do photo editing with a browser or two open, and it won't crap out on me?" The answer is yes. "And I can even listen to music the same time?" Yes again. "I can even use it to play a movie on the tv, while still working on the computer (but probably not listening to music, since the tv is right next to my desk) and this thing won't explode from the extreme multitasking??" Yes! It's amazing!

I probably sound like a time traveler from the 1980s, witnessing technology for the first time (although it would be odd that I would have a time traveling machine, then...). But you have to understand how exciting this is for a girl who was using a laptop that had less memory space than a blu-ray dvd. An iPhone touch has more power than my laptop. A stinking cell phone! Don't get me wrong, I love my laptop and it served me well for a long time (and will continue to be a good backup when I need portability)...this is just a great illustration of how often technology is updated and how quickly things can become obsolete. What used to take me 3-4 hours to accomplish (paying bills and balancing the checkbook, reading and responding to email, and researching prices on newborn cloth diapers, for example) now takes about an hour on this new computer. I'm always wishing for more time in the day, well, my average day has just been extended. Now where is that genie? I'd like to cash in on some more wishes.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Twice a day Claire and I take liquid vitamins together. We use the little plastic cups that came with the bottles instead of spoons to avoid spilling. Recently Mark taught Claire how to clink glasses and say "Cheers!" or "Salud!", so that's become a part of the vitamin routine. It feels mildly inappropriate, though, as if we do shots together twice a day. I feel like maybe I should be garnishing our vitamins with salt and lime wedges...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Blessing in disguise

"I got some bad news today..." Mark had just gotten home from work, had hung up his coat, and walked into the kitchen where Claire and I were cooking when he said this. And before finishing his thought, he turned around and walked right back out. What's the big idea?!

It's been a rough week, so my first thought was something major: pay cuts at work, threats of job elimination, a huge heating bill, a family member with a terminal illness.

"Well don't say something like that and then walk away! What's the bad news?" I exclaimed when he walked back in a moment later. (What a stinker!)

It turns out that our cable provider is changing things up, and we will no longer be getting free cable channels beyond channel 28 (in other words, we'll no longer be getting any of the good ones.) He had stepped out to grab a flier for cable rates that I had just thrown into the recycling bin. Can you tell we've been having a rough week? We're somehow zombies, yet kind of on edge at the same time.

So this cable thing...we probably sound like whining jerks for complaining that our free cable is about to be taken away. It's kind of funny how it happened, though. A few years ago Mark found a really great deal on cable, an introductory rate for 6 months with no obligation to stick with it. So we signed up, knowing it was just going to be temporary (we were not ok with the cost increase afterwards, and agreed together that we would cancel it then.) It just so happened that the 6 months ended in March, and a few days before the actual day our service was to be terminated, we had a huge blizzard. We did our part and drove the cable box and remote back to the service provider. We both had long faces that day, having become hooked on the large selection of channels and the on-demand feature, not to mention the tv guide that allowed us to scroll through at our leisure. But that night after work Mark turned the tv on for some reason and the cable channels still worked.

The 5 feet of snow blanketing our yard, including the very spot the cable guy was supposed to access, must have been a pretty strong deterrent. Ok, it probably wasn't 5 feet, but it was really deep. At any rate, it's been a few years and we've been enjoying free cable ever since - minus the on-demand feature and the scrollable tv guide. But recently this provider has started converting to digital, so the channel numbers are changing; we lost the annoying tv guide channel a few months ago (the one where it scrolls by slowly on it's own on the bottom half of the screen, and the top half is occupied by American Idol Rewind or the Canadian celebrity makeover show). I felt guilty continuing to watch the stolen channels at first, but then justified it by the fact that we did our part, returning their components, and it wasn't our fault that they didn't do theirs by disconnecting the wires. Besides, most cable shows can be found online for free anyways, with less commercials to boot; we're doing the advertisers a favor by subjecting ourselves to more ads on tv. Right? Yeah, I don't really believe that, either. Flimsy excuse.

Over the last few years we've gotten busier and don't have as much time to watch tv, and like I mentioned, we can find virtually any show we want online. So I'm not too disappointed. Paying for cable just doesn't sound worth it at this point, and I'm actually starting to see that this is a good thing. No more parking in front of the tv before bed and flipping through the many channels just because we have them. No more wasting time waiting for something good to come on, or getting engrossed in something we wouldn't normally watch just because we're already in front of the tv. From now on, the content we see will be on purpose, shows we seek out because we want to see them, not because the last show ended and why not stick around for the next one.

It was fun while it lasted, but the party's over. Thanks for the good run, unknown Cable Guy.