31 January 2009

Shout Out - Canada Mom Deals

I'm thinking about my friend Stephanie.

She is 40 weeks plus 4 days along, and there have been no Twitter or facebook updates yet today. Did the spicy Singaporean food yesterday do the job? Or, like me when I went 3 days past my due date, has she simply grown weary of telling people nothing's happening yet? I actually changed the outgoing message on my cell phone to say, "Hi, you've reached Lexi. And no, we haven't had the baby yet." When you're so ready to give birth, having to reply "Three days ago," to the question, "When are you due?" or smile through yet another round of "Oh my God, you look like you're ready to pop!" can become a little irritating!

I'm hoping that Stephanie's radio silence means magic things are happening!

But this post is about somebody else entirely, although tangentially related as she's an acquaintance I made through Stephanie - one of her followers on Twitter: CanadaMomDeals

Lucia scours both the ether and old-school bricks and mortar in search of great deals for mom and baby focused products and services, and is kind enough to post the results of her hard work on her website and Twitter page. Please join me in welcoming her to Blogs I Love on the right!

30 January 2009

Things I've Learned - Breastfeeding and Formula

Before my son was born, I was absolutely, completely, without question, 100% committed to breastfeeding. I was so NOT interested in anything else that I skipped the sections in all the books about bottles and formula. Didn't even read them. "I'm not going to need that," I thought smugly to myself. I couldn't even wrap my head around why someone who could breastfeed would choose not to.*

I was so intent on breastfeeding that I wasn't even going to buy a pump to use for the occasional evening out. I was planning on being happily tethered to my child for at least a year, ready to sacrifice all to do the right thing.

The Boy was born on a Monday evening by emergency c-section (another part of the books I had skipped, so confident was I that I would be able to handle whatever childbirth threw at me). I was in post-op recovery for almost an hour before I was wheeled back to our hospital room to make our first attempt at breastfeeding. The Boy was a champion eater - although it was all new and a little scary for me, he latched on immediately like he knew exactly what he was doing. The nurse who helped us was satisfied that all was well and left us to it. I fed him from both breasts and he settled down for a sleep. I felt exhilarated, despite the pain from the c-section incision, the discomfort of the catheter (yeah, not so much with the fun there...), the exhaustion of 30 hours of labour (had I known it would end in a c-section, I might have skipped some of those 30 hours)... I had breastfed my child and that was a good thing. I continued to feed him on demand through the night and all the next day. He latched on well, and although it was painful it didn't hurt too much. In the last few weeks of my pregnancy, I'd been leaking colostrum from both breasts like crazy, so I was feeling pretty confident about the whole thing.

I tell you this just to help illustrate how absolutely crushed I was when on Wednesday my milk hadn't come in yet. At all. And the colostrum I was producing wasn't cutting it. The Boy was losing too much weight and the doctor was concerned about his low blood sugar levels. He was, essentially, starving.

It was awful. A technician came in every six hours to poke his tiny little heels to draw blood for tests, which made him shriek in pain, and made me cringe in anguish. The Boy got so that if you put him in his bassinet at all, he would start to cry, anticipating the pricks on his feet. The nurses insisted that he had to drink some supplemental formula just to get enough nourishment to thrive.

The sense of guilt I felt was extreme. I wept. I sobbed. I felt helpless. I felt like the worst mother in the world. I was incompetent. I was terrified my milk would never come in. I thought, "There must be something wrong with me. I can't believe that two weeks ago I was running a multi-million dollar company, and now I can't even nourish my own child." I worried about the cost of formula and how that hadn't been part of the plan, budget-wise. I couldn't sleep; my mind reeled with fear, anxiety, and self-recriminations (none of which, by the way, are helpful in producing breast milk).

I was devastated.

The hospital was completely on board with my continued efforts to breast feed. Nurses helped me get physically comfortable and showed me various holds and techniques. They helped me work out a feeding plan, track feedings, and supplied supplemental formula to The Boy only after he had emptied both breasts, not as a substitute for breast milk. The Boy's blood sugar was so low that he kept falling asleep before he got a decent feed in, and they helped me wake him up to continue. They were really amazingly helpful. I can't say for sure, given my mental/hormonal state at the time, that I wouldn't have given up without this army of incredibly knowledgeable and supportive people mustering to my side to make it all happen.

They also did whatever was necessary to stimulate my body to increase milk production, putting me on domperidone (which sounds like champagne but isn't), a prescription drug that stimulates lactation.

Then they brought in a breast pump that was truly terrifying in appearance. It was a big, heavy, industrial-strength, shiny with chrome and metal thing from a 1950's science fiction pulp magazine that rolled in on its own wheels. (It looked a little like the big bullying older brother of the pump in the photo below.)

I was to use this scary piece of equipment to pump after every feeding, 5 minutes at a time, alternating breasts, for a total of 20 minutes each. It was completely overwhelming.

And my husband, through all this, felt even more helpless than I did.

They let us leave the hospital the next afternoon - with the formula, The Boy's blood sugar had stabilized. We had to rent a hospital-grade pump to use at home, and continue with the domperidone and the supplemental formula. I kept hoping to feel the engorgement of my milk coming in. I would gladly have traded the guilt of failure for the ache of too-full breasts.

My doctor referred me to the BC Breastfeeding Centre, and we went to see them on Friday morning. I'd had such hope for the appointment; after the amazing support at the hospital, I expected it to be a La Leche League type of experience. In fact it was a very clinical medical environment, and while I do not in any way doubt the vastness of their medical knowledge, the style of their practice did not suit me at all. I left the appointment in tears, feeling like I never wanted to breastfeed again. Once home I watched The Boy sleep, dreading the moment he would wake up and want to feed. Fortunately the public health nurse (who was totally. awesome.) was scheduled to visit that afternoon, and she talked me off the ledge. She told me,

"No matter what happens, the most important thing to remember is that your baby will be fed. He will not starve. Whether it's formula or breastmilk, he'll get adequate nutrition and thrive."

That simple statement allowed me to let go of the guilt I'd been beating myself up with, and to move on to practical matters and focus on doing what I needed to do to feed my child. Three days later, to my eternal joy, my milk came in, and I've happily breast fed since. I visited a lactation consultant who recommended a great nursing pillow (Things I Love review coming soon) and helped us achieve an optimal latch. Now, when I'm cranky and tired, feeding The Boy in the middle of the night, I just have to remember how hard those first few days were and everything shifts into perspective!

Eventually, many weeks later, I recovered from the trauma enough to buy a small, cute, quiet breast pump (a conscious choice that was as far from the hospital pump as possible) for the occasional evening out or morning when my husband, a prince among men, watches The Boy and I go out and do my own thing for a couple of hours. I love it. (Proper review in Things I Love coming soon...)

The Take-away:
  1. Don't be rigid in your expectations. I didn't expect a c-section, and it never occurred to me I'd have trouble breast feeding. Much heartache could have been avoided if I'd been more accepting of circumstances earlier than I was.
  2. Guilt is not useful. It paralyzes you and stops you from being able to see beyond your own failings. It makes it impossible to be pro-active.
  3. The hospital staff is on your side. They want you to succeed.
  4. Contrary to what I somewhat foolishly and naively believed, formula is not evil.
  5. Pumping breast milk is not abandoning your child.
  6. And breastfeeding is not as easy as it should be. How did the human race survive all those millenia?

*I'm in Canada, which has a very generous government-sponsored maternity and parental leave program. Having that full year of paid leave makes breastfeeding a lot easier. If I'd had to go back to work right away, I don't know how easy it would have been to pump several times a day...

22 January 2009

Things I've Learned - Fingernails

The Boy's fingernails at 8 days old

My boy was born with an impressive set of fingernails. After all, they'd been developing and growing for about 28 weeks. Within an hour of his birth, he looked like he'd gone ten rounds with a feral cat; babies will scratch the hell out of themselves without even being aware of it. We dug around in the go-to-hospital bag for the tiny mittens that had come as a set with a hat and booties. It never would have occurred to me to buy them on their own... We put them on him. This immediately stopped him from ripping his face to shreds, but looked kind of goofy. Actually, really goofy.

The nurse who came into our room to give him a bath the morning after he was born seemed like a friendly sort, so I asked her if the hospital had a set of infant nail clippers I could borrow to cut his nails. She matter-of-factly said, "Oh, those clippers are more trouble than they're worth. The easiest and safest thing to do is to just bite his nails off yourself."

I stalled. I honestly didn't know what to say. Bite them? Seriously? I'm supposed to chew on the ends of my baby's fingers? In the modern world, in a fully equipped hospital, this was the best science and technology had to offer? Really?

"Yes," she said. "Just bite them off while he's sleeping."


I couldn't do it.

Each time that I looked at my baby boy and saw how silly those little cream coloured mittens looked on him, every time I thought about biting his nails - which was often as he would really gouge at his face given half a chance - I just couldn't do it. It was too... weird.

At one point I managed to remove one of his mittens, gently take his little perfect hand in mine, and... quickly put his mitten back on and tuck his hand back under his blanket. I just couldn't do it. I don't know why. I wasn't afraid of hurting him - I knew I wouldn't bite the end of his finger off or anything like that. There was just something so... feral about the whole thing. So animal. I felt like next I'd be picking bugs out of his hair and eating them.

I'm not saying I was rational.

On the second day, I started a campaign to get my husband to do it. I wheedled. I pleaded. I even tried to order him to do it. (Yeah, that went over really well...) He didn't want to do it either, and all the while, The Boy's nails kept growing. His face would just recover from one set of scratches and we'd forget to put mittens back on and he'd claw at himself again.

In almost all our photos from the first few days of his life, he's got those ridiculous mitts on. We left the hospital three days after he was born, still needing a manicure. I just couldn't chew his nails. I was getting almost frantic about it. I couldn't bite his nails, yet I couldn't just let them grow and keep him in mittens for the rest of his life. Those mittens were starting to take on a significance all out of proportion; they were becoming a symbol of my epic fail. I was clearly the worst mother in the world.

Two days after we came home from the hospital, I just couldn't take the accusation of those mittens any more. My husband and I were sitting on the couch, exhausted. The day's visitors had all gone home, so it was just the three of us, The Boy sweetly sleeping in Daddy's arms.

So I did it. I took those damned mitts off his hands, and started to chew off his tiny nails.

And it was truly weird - a very Animal Planet moment. There's nothing like sitting in your fabulous apartment in the sky crouched over your sleeping infant grooming him with your teeth to really remind you that it doesn't matter if you read The Economist every week, you are really just a monkey deep down. His nails were so small that I couldn't even feel the bits I'd chewed off in my mouth. The Boy, of course, slept blissfully through the whole event.

A few days later, a friend gave us a care package that included some infant nail clippers. I have yet to use them... It really is easier to just bite them off.

  1. Baby fingernails grow ridiculously fast. I have to trim The Boy's nails every two to three days. Toenails, not so much. Maybe every two to three weeks. (I don't bite his toenails. That would really be too weird.)
  2. Take baby nail clippers with you to the hospital if you think you might prefer to use them instead of embracing your inner monkey.
  3. Be prepared to do things that never ever occurred to you.

20 January 2009

Shout outs (Shouts out?)

Quick shout out to my pal Stephanie who's due to have a baby any day now. Her blog is partly what inspired me to start my own. She's written so eloquently and honestly about being pregnant, about the hopes, fears, and questions that assail you throughout the process. I only wish we'd been pregnant at the same time so I could have enjoyed her writing as I was going through it too!

She posed a number of questions on her blog - questions I too struggled with during my pregnancy. It occurs to me that if we both had those uncertainties that there must be others with the same concerns. I hope to address some of the issues we both encountered during her pregnancy in the coming weeks here.

If anyone stumbling upon this blog has any pregnancy or baby questions, feel free to leave them in the comments. Like I've said before, I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I'm just bursting to share what worked for me. While I was pregnant, one of my neighbours, Sinead, took it upon herself to be my very own pregnancy elf. I would come home exhausted from a day at work, and she'd have left a bag of maternity clothes at my door for me to borrow, or some healthy snacks, or books and magazines. When I thanked her, she said something that I've found to be true as well:

"Once you've been through it yourself, you just want to help another woman on the same journey."

Sinead's kindness was utterly selfless and much appreciated. I can't pay it back, so I'll attempt to pay it forward.

19 January 2009

Things I Love

This post was prompted by a conversation I had yesterday with a newly-pregnant friend. She's been collecting lists of must-have baby items and we were discussing some of them. It's my experience that at least half the items on any must-have baby list are not in fact things you must have. What you absolutely must have for a newborn is food (your breasts or formula), shelter (your home, including diapers), and love (your arms). And a car seat, or they won't let you leave the hospital and drive home. Everything else, no matter how convenient or attractive, is non-essential. So many of these helpful lists are compiled by companies, stores, or manufacturers who want to sell something to you, or by magazines who are currying favour with their advertisers. They all have a vested interest in making you think you need more than you do.

One of the things on the list my friend was looking at was a fancy counter top steamer. The helpful hint that accompanied the recommendation was that the steamer could be used not only for sterilizing bottles in the early days, but later on would be great to steam vegetables and make your own baby food. It was multi-purpose, thereby saving you from having to buy both a bottle sterilizer and a baby food steamer. Sounds logical, right?

Except that you don't need to sterilize bottles. A run through the dishwasher or a careful hand wash in hot soapy water is all that's required. And you don't need to buy a special steamer to make baby food - an inexpensive insert or dim-sum style bamboo steamer is more than adequate to cook anything you want. Or sterilize your bottles, for that matter.

It's always better to trust recommendations from other moms. They have no interest in selling you something you don't need, and they've actually used the product in practical, real-world situations.

With that, a new feature here on Wave The Stick: Things I Love.

It should be noted that I do not work for any of these companies, I don't own stock in them (but maybe I should!) and I've not been given free samples to review or promote. This is stuff I have heard about from friends or discovered for myself and actually use. I should also say that I welcome feedback if you've tried a product I recommend and love it too - or even more important, if you've tried something and didn't like it at all! Nothing works for everyone - I'd love to hear all perspectives.

The Bumbo Baby Sitter

It's a really fascinating and wondrous thing to watch your tiny human evolve from a helpless being completely oblivious to his environment, to an aware little creature observing his environment, to an engaged little guy interacting with his environment, to a very busy little person trying to effect change on his environment.

Until babies' eyesight develops enough to see beyond the distance from mother's breast to her eyes, they're pretty much oblivious to anything and everything else. You need to get right up close and personal for them to be aware of you. Toys don't mean much - heck, even their own hands float through their field of vision and cease to exist once they're no longer in view.

As eyesight improves and babies learn to hold their heads up, observing becomes a huge thing. They watch EVERYTHING. My son has always wanted to know about everything that was going on around him, and would get frustrated if he couldn't be a part of the action. He got bored pretty quickly with looking up at the ceiling all the time. That's where the Bumbo seat came in.

Here's The Boy, pictured in his Bumbo at about 3 1/2 months. It gave his little body excellent support, allowing him to sit up and watch the world before he could manage it on his own. There are no fussy straps or buckles, and it's really easy to get him in and out of it - but not easy for him to escape from himself, at least not yet! It's really easy to clean - a smooth surface with no nooks or crannies for gunk to collect in. Babies are shockingly proficient producers of gunk in various forms: spit up, drool (not the same thing), dropped food particles... Not to mention the unfortunate leakages that occasionally occur...

Once my boy was past simply watching what was going on around him but not yet able to sit up on his own, his Bumbo allowed him to stay upright while interacting with simple toys: rattles, wooden blocks (and whatever else was handy and not baby-toxic).

Now at 7 1/2 months, and really trying to effect change on everything around him - what I call the see-it-grab-it-eat-it stage - the Bumbo is really effective in limiting his grabbing range. Now that he can sit up and move around a little on his own, I use the Bumbo to curtail how much trouble he can get into. It keeps him just immobile enough that I can get things done, but not so immobile that he's shrieking to get out of it.

Excellent product, performs as advertised.
Retails for about $60 new.
Pretty indestructible. I bought mine used for $30 - it looks brand new.

17 January 2009

Navel gazing and good intentions

We live in an apartment in the sky. We’re on the 21st floor, looking out over one of North America’s largest urban parks. We have amazing 300 degree views of mountains, beaches, bridges, and our city’s downtown core.

Today is a foggy day – not only metaphorically, as there was precious little sleep in our household last night (a subject of another post), but physically, atmospherically, and meteorologically, it’s a foggy day. The fog is so dense that I can barely see the near edge of a neighbouring building 20 feet away. The far edge of the same building is lost in insubstantial whiteness. Other than the periodical sounds of fog horns moaning in the harbour, it’s very quiet. You would never know I was in the heart of a city of a million people.

As I neared the end of my pregnancy, this is what impending motherhood was like for me; looking out into the fog from the 21st floor. I knew in a vague way what was out there: vistas of endless possibility and potential, milestones and landmarks, astounding joy and desperate heartbreak, and a million people who’ve been there before. But it was all insubstantial. It was unclear and difficult to really visualize, no matter how much I read, and how many friends I talked to. There was the occasional fog horn, helping me to re-orient myself, and every now and then there would be a light breeze that would lift the fog just enough to let me see farther than I’d been able to before. Then the breeze would disappear, taking any certainty I felt with it.

Seven months later, it’s still like that in many ways.

I am an admitted control freak, so this is difficult for me. I like to know what’s coming. I read, I research, I ask questions, I arrange facts and figures in my brain to call on them when needed. I’m not very good at being a beginner. I was a successful career woman in my late 30s when my son was born. I had a role. I knew what was expected of me. I led, I made decisions, I was an expert in my field. There were very few foggy days.

Becoming a mom changed all that.

Here I am: a beginner.

Despite having read my own body weight in books about pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting, nothing really prepared me for that moment when I became someone’s mom. And it’s not just one moment – for me it’s been ongoing. Every day I’m a beginner again, because my son grows and changes so fast. The fog of uncertainty never quite clears. But I’m learning to be okay with that, which is a huge thing for me.

So I guess what I’m hoping to do with this blog is to be a sort of metaphorical fog horn or light breeze for other women going through some of this same uncertainty. I don’t pretend to know all the answers. But I’m enjoying learning the answers that work for me, and sharing what I’ve learned with the one or two people that might stumble upon this blog.

And I promise not to take myself too seriously, despite the earnestness of the preceding paragraph!

I received some very good advice years ago. I was at a very low point in my life, going through the last painful death rattles of a very bad relationship. I was in the ladies’ room at a friend’s wedding and having a lighthearted conversation with a woman I had worked with briefly and knew only slightly. Maybe she could sense that all was not well in my world, or maybe she made the comment in an offhand way, never realizing the impact it would have on me in that moment and for the rest of my life. She said this:

Just remember, when you’re going through a difficult time, that trouble is like a fog bank. Fighting it is pointless. All you have to do is just stand still and strong and it will roll through and past you and be gone.

Those words have come back to me often since I became a mother. Motherhood is many wonderful (so wonderful!) things, but it can also be difficult. Exhaustion, the helpless feeling of not-knowing, frustration – all can contribute to a sense of being lost in the fog. In the dead of night, when my son won’t go to sleep no matter what I try, when I’m just SO tired, when I’m angry at my husband for no rational reason, when a million things seem to conspire to make me want to give up, those words have reminded me to just stand still and strong. Morning comes, the fog lifts just a little bit in the form of my son’s happy grin, and I peer out the window trying to see what the new day will bring.

It’s been a hell of a ride so far.

16 January 2009

Things I've Learned - Diapers

Today, a post all about diapers.

Before I became a mom, I'd changed diapers. I remember my twelve year old self in a babysitting course dutifully learning to fold cloth diapers and pin them on a baby doll. Throughout my teens, I'd babysat. In my twenties, I looked after friends' babies from time to time. So when I became pregnant, I felt like I was a veteran. I was no stranger to the diapering concept. Everything else was foreign, but for this, I was dialed in.

Nonetheless, when it came time to change my little boy's diaper for the first time, I was all thumbs. There I was, in the hospital, in the middle of the night, surrounded by people (including my sleeping husband) but for all intents and purposes, alone. With this little person less than 24 hours old who needed everything from me. Daunting!

We had decided to use cloth diapers before he was born. People thought I was crazy (many still do!) but I wanted to try it. I just couldn't stand the notion of disposable diapers and contributing that much garbage to a landfill. If my son is going to leave a legacy, I thought, let him determine what it will be. Not a pile of feces laden indestructible plastic for the generations. I digress - I'll save that rant for a future post...

Digging out the cloth diapers and covers I'd packed so lovingly in the hospital bag almost a month before, I set to work.

Babies, unlike the doll in my long ago class, squirm. They've never worn diapers before. And they don't really like to be naked and exposed after all those months of being completely sheltered and warm at all times. So he squirmed. And he cried. And as he squirmed, equipment and supplies scattered. And as he cried, I became frantic, and made a messy situation messier.

Eventually I managed to get him diapered and swaddled and settled back into his bassinet. I looked around and took stock of my first real MOM experience. The room was a shambles around me. I had used every wash cloth they give you in your room in the hospital. My gown (I'd had a c-section) was askew. My hair was crazy-homeless-medusa style. My brow was furrowed. And sweaty.

An hour or so later, when the nurse came in to check on us, (by the way, don't expect to get ANY sleep in the hospital as there is always someone coming in to check on you) I learned that I could have just buzzed for her and she would have changed his diaper for me in about 32 seconds. But the sense of accomplishment I'd felt getting it done myself was worth it. And she was kind enough to tidy up what I'd scattered, and bring a fresh supply of wash cloths. And she did so without judgment, just a smile, telling me I was the only new mom she had ever encountered who did it myself without calling on a nurse. I think I beamed.

Since then my husband and I have changed over 2000 diapers. We're getting the hang of it.

  1. Pointer pointing down. If you have a boy, this is vitally important. If his penis is pointing up, he will soak his entire stomach and chest the moment he pees, no matter how absorbent his diaper is, and how waterproof the diaper cover. We learned this the hard way. There I found myself, struggling in the ladies' room of the Imperial to change not just his diaper, but all of his clothes as well.
  2. If you're using cloth diapers, keep in mind that wicks are made of cloth. When you think you're done with a change, before snapping up that cute onesie and putting those tiny pants back on, check all around the diaper cover openings: legs, front, and back. Tuck in any hint of cloth sticking out, or you'll find yourself in the ladies' room of the Imperial, changing not just his diaper, but all of his clothes as well.
  3. Diaper cream is messy. And sticky. And gooey. Put a clean diaper under your baby before you smear that stuff on. Or you'll find yourself in the ladies' room of the Imperial, wiping diaper cream off their marble counter.

15 January 2009

Things I've Learned

Baby boys pee all over the place

They pee as soon as you get their diaper off, as soon as you're done wiping them, and as soon as you put them in a bath. They'll pee on your clothes, they'll pee on the doctor's exam bench, they'll pee on the floor, and of course, they'll pee on themselves. They're refreshingly non-discriminatory in that respect. In addition, the arc and range of a newborn boy's urine stream can be quite astonishing. So mesmerizing in fact, that you may find yourself just helplessly watching (once you've leapt out of range). When my son was about a week old, one spectacular diaper change resulted in a stream of urine going up in the air about a foot and a half, then, subject to the laws of gravity, returning to earth to land squarely in his eye. He peed in his own eye. I let my boy pee in HIS. OWN. EYE.

Take-away: when changing your baby boy, ALWAYS put a washcloth or similar over his penis so that when he pees, the cloth will soak most of it up. Incidentally, Pee Pee Tee Pees might work for some people, but they were useless for me. My little guy was way too squirmy. They just fell off. And then he peed on them.

All is vanity...

Yes, I know. A blog. I've let my vanity get the better of me.

I don't know what my intentions are with this enterprise - I'll likely figure it out as I go, as I do with most things I attempt. It occurs to me that I've learned a thing or two (mostly the hard way because I'm stubborn), and that sharing the fruits of my anguish, or even just writing them down to remind myself, might be a good idea.

Most of what I've discovered lately has to do with the care and maintenance of babies - I've recently become a mom, and THAT learning curve is pretty steep!

08 January 2009

This is the part...

...where I figure out what comes next.