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Archive for May, 2011

Since the time to try for baby number two is upon us, memories of baby number one’s first 40-odd weeks on earth keep barging into my head.  We began our pregnancy, luckily enough, with a midwife.  But I knew it was iffy whether we’d be able to stay there since I’ve had mildly high blood pressure for all of my adult life and indeed, by week 13 we were transferred from our lovely midwives to an OB at a Calgary hospital.

When we arrived at the OB’s office for our very first meeting with her, we were immediately presented with a sheet of paper that described what I dubbed the Traveling Circus of maternity “care.”  It informed us that call shifts at the hospital were shared equally by no fewer than 13 obstetricians.  It also said that not only would the OB ‘in charge’ of me not come to the birth if it happened to fall in the 92% of those shifts which were not hers, but she likely would never be directly informed that it had taken place.  I would simply not show up for the next scheduled prenatal appointment and she would glean the truth from my absence.  How’s that for customer service?

You can imagine that shifting gears so quickly from the hope of a solid relationship with a pair of personable midwives to this complete anonymity had me reeling.  When I expressed that dismay to anyone (and especially to women who had given birth already), I got the most baffling, shocking, offensive response:

“It doesn’t matter.  When it’s happening, you won’t really care who the doctor is anyway.”

Huh?

How could I possibly NOT care that there is a stranger elbow-deep in my pelvis?

As the title suggests yes, when it was finally happening, I DID care whose hands were in my vagina.

It’s not that I was so upset that I stopped pushing, or tried to hold my breath and stomp my feet until my real doctor came.  I didn’t enjoy my baby any less in the moments afterward because he was tugged from my vagina by a stranger.  And it’s certainly not like my regular OB was a dear friend whose presence would have been meaningful to me.  I don’t feel like I was violated in any way either.  I did, after  all seek assistance from the hospital for the birth and the doctors were good at their jobs and behaved professionally.

It’s just that… I caredIt’s my vagina, after all.  Up until that day I had control over who could access it.  I had always been able to choose my sexual partners and my doctors and give express permission to them before they did anything to any part of my body.  Now suddenly, the doctor I had given permission to was nowhere to be found and I had no choice.  It felt undignified.  It felt cold.  It felt as though they’d forgotten that this birth is very deeply personal to me, that it involved parts of my body that I usually keep private and to which I attach very strong emotions.  To me it wasn’t just another Wednesday night at the office, but it was to them, and they made that abundantly clear on that piece of paper at the first appointment.

And I still care about it, by the way.  I could be sitting in a restaurant next to the resident who stuck a good portion of her arm into me in order to flip the baby and I would have no clue.  Nor would she for that matter, and that grates on me.  That day (I laboured at the hospital for a grand total of 25 hours) I had 6 nurses, 2 students, 3 residents, 4 obstetricians and 1 anesthetist – that I can remember.  And out of those 15 people, 4 gave me pelvic exams.  That may be what’s entailed in treatment, but it certainly doesn’t consitute “care”.  And I guess that’s the bottom line for me.

This time, even if we can’t have a midwife, we’ll be looking for a small practice of doctors who make an effort to provide continuity and, above all, care to their patients.  My vagina will not be hosting any more traveling circuses.

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Since writing my post the other day about trusting myself I’ve been thinking a lot about confidence as a mother, but also as an intelligent adult who is also a mother.

When I was pregnant we often experienced a difference of opinion and philosophy with our doctors.  Whenever I was recapping for family or friends, a recurring theme appeared in their reactions if I implied that I didn’t agree with the doctor.  How many times did someone say to  me “You know, doctors do know what they’re talking about, they did go to school after all.”  It seems benign enough at face value.  I mean, fair enough, they did go to school, they do have knowledge.  But the implication is actually quite insidious: because the doctor knows something, I must therefore know nothing.

What's wrong with this graph?

I really started wondering why knowledge is assumed to fluctuate; to increase or diminish based on factors outside of ourselves, based on the intellect of the person you’re speaking to, for instance. Or based on the novelty of the situation you’re in.

Motherhood seems to be an excellent case study for this kind of thinking.  How often do we hear mothers termed as ‘new mothers’ or ‘first-time mothers’?  I even mentioned it in my previous post – in fact, I qualified myself that way.  This seems to be just as insidious as the previous statement.  Sure, it’s true my body had never built a human being from scratch before and I’ve never raised that particular human being before.  But does that mean I have no experience?  I do, after all, have three decades of accumulated knowledge about a lot of things to work from.  Was that all for naught? Does all of that suddenly vanish into thin air when I enter motherhood?

If (when, fingers crossed) I have a second baby, that baby will be unique.  It won’t be the same experience all over again.  I’ll be a new mother to that baby, but no one will call me a new mother.  They’ll assume I know what I’m doing because I have a couple of years of experience with my first child.  I will, of course, have experience with my first child but do I really think that will trump all of the other experience and knowledge I have independent of the first child?

And how often do we hear mothers talk about all of the things they’ll do differently with their second baby because ‘now they know’?  I find that so belittling.  But what is even worse is that those mothers are complicit in their own belittlement.  They bought into that idea that no matter how smart they were as an individual before their babies were born, they then became blank slates.  So rather than figuring the journey out for themselves, using their own intellect and transferable skills, they did what others told them to do (whether that be mom or doctors or books).  Now they realize with baby #2 that there is a different, better (for them) approach to take.  Maybe if they had trusted themselves more, counted their knowledge as real and valuable, they would have been able to find that better (for them) approach the first time around.

But let’s get back to those doctors for a minute, because that was a real sticking point for so many people in my own situation.  My doctors were very good at their trade, there’s no doubt about that.  But guess what?  I’m a trained molecular biologist.  I did cutting edge research at some of the foremost labs in my field IN THE WORLD.  I breeze through science journals like a lawyer through a contract.  So when the topic is the biology of my own body, I may not be an obstetrician, but I’m certainly no dummy.  Yet I was told to dismiss myself, to discount what I knew in the face of what someone else knew.

I wasn’t about to belittle myself that way.  I claimed my own knowledge for, well, for my own.  It’s great that my doctors also had a lot of knowledge but I took the attitude that mine was cumulative to theirs, not inversely proportional to it.

Ironically, my doctors took that seriously.  They even wrote in my chart that I intended to be a midwife so when new residents were handling my appointments, they mentioned it.  One told me it was always nice to work with patients who are ‘in the business’.  At our last visit, at 40 week +5 days, our main doctor told me that anyone else in my situation would have been induced already.  She hadn’t pushed it earlier only because she was confident in my understanding and my ability to gauge if my health changed.

The lesson?  I was right to value myself.  My knowledge depends only on me and it is very real.  My baby and I were healthier and happier for it.  And I should try to remind myself, and all of the other mamas, of that more often.

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Moms know their babies better than anyone else.  If mom feels like everything is right, then it probably is.  And vice versa.  So why is it so hard to trust our Momtuition?

95% confident in me… 95% of the time anyway

Up until now I’ve actually been really proud of my confidence in myself and my knowledge of my baby.  For a first time mom, I think I’m pretty cool and collected.  Friends and acquaintances have actually told me they’re impressed with how confident I am, given my neophyte status.  My mantra generally is that babies aren’t that breakable, emergencies aren’t that common.

And my confidence started early too.  When my OBs were trying to convince me that I was on borrowed time with my pregnancy, I knew better.  I felt the healthiest I’d ever been and at 41 weeks I pushed out my 8lb 9oz, perfect baby to prove it.  When the public health nurses were trying to tell me I was starving my baby and I needed to put him on formula, I knew better.  (Ok, I was hormonal, so I had a few moments of doubt.  I drove to the store, bought the formula, then came to my senses and threw it in the garbage.)  My milk came in that day so fast the baby was gagging on it and I told the nurses we didn’t care to see them anymore.  Then, when he was 8 months old and suddenly had a fever out of the blue, I didn’t worry too much.  I sat down on the couch and nursed him for two days straight until the rash showed up.  Then I called Telehealth and told the nurse I just wanted to confirm it was Roseola.  Indeed it was, and my Momtuition was right – again.

So why am I doubting myself now?

The other thing I’ve been confident about up until now is his ability to know innately what his body needs.  My philosophy about feeding is that as long as each of the options on the plate is healthy, then it doesn’t matter if he has 3 helpings of one and none of the other.  His instincts will guide him.  And I’ve already seen proof that this wisdom works.  One of his favourite foods has always been brussels sprouts (believe it or not).  But when he was about 8 months old, he started throwing them – and every other vegetable – on the floor.  The meat, eggs and avocados were the only foods that made it past the gates, meal after meal.  The environmentalist in me was cringing at how much meat he was eating.  But guess what?  I was mysteriously craving it too and 3 days later, lo and behold, my first postpartum period arrived.  What a smart Little Man to know he we needed extra iron!  That Momtuition about trusting him was bang on – yet again.

So why am I worried about his food preferences now?

Little Man started walking about 2 months ago and at the exact same time his molars started to come in.  He’s eating less, nursing more and moving all day long.  It’s a recipe for weight loss. He’s still growing and learning new things every day.  He’s still making ample diapers.  He’s happy all day and sleeping enough but not too much.  Every indicator outside of the 10.4% weight loss says he’s fine.  When the nurses overlooked all of those same markers last year and told me that his 10.3% weight loss trumped them all, I was livid.  How asinine!

So why am I so worried that he’s lost weight now?

I think part of my problem is that I don’t have the resources I did before.  When we lived in Calgary I had umpteen friends with babies who were going through the same things or who had already been there and done that.  I would hear about their worries, challenges and solutions before I encountered them myself so I had lots of time to mentally prepare my plan of attack.  And I knew constantly that my baby was totally normal.  Here in Toronto, I’m alone in Mommyhood.  The women in my family either didn’t breastfeed, or were done before their babies were a year old, so I can’t ask them either because formula-fed babies grow differently.

I think the other part of my problem is that food and weight are my biggest personal hang-ups.  I make sure to be hands-off with his eating so that I don’t project my screwed up attitude onto him, but it’s so hard.  So even though eating less and losing weight is actually the opposite of my problem, watching him pick the sweet fruit but not the nutrient-denser kale gives me visions of a lifetime of food manipulation.

I don’t have any answers to sum this post up with.  Just one final question: if anyone knows the whereabouts of the magic Mommy Confidence Wand, could you fill me in??

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One of these days I’ll put a nightvision camera in his room so I can figure out how he gets into these positions.

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Now that I not only have my own home to garden in, but we’ve also moved back to within driving distance of my family’s ‘cottage’, I’m full steam ahead on the wild food train!  Wooowooooo 🙂

I’ve always eaten a variety of wild foods from the aforementioned cottage.  Although, I should explain that the term cottage is used loosely.  What it is, in fact, is a 44-acre former gravel pit.  Heavily forested, but also containing 3 lakes covering about 10 of the 44 acres, and 3 powerless, waterless cabins.  In other words, heaven on earth.

The lakes have bass that are abundant and tasty.  The open gravel areas are usually a carpet of oregano and thyme with wild onions every now and then.  The roadsides are covered with raspberries, blackberries and wild grapes.  Go in a bit and you’ll usually find a highbush cranberry or two, some gooseberries and ramps.  By far the most coveted finds as a child were the spring fiddleheads and the fall puffball mushrooms.

This weekend, I went to a whole new level of wild with my food.  I ate a goose egg!  I wish I had taken my own picture, but the acquisition was sort of a surprise so you’ll have to look at this Googled picture.  One of the lakes I was mentioning has an island in the middle that’s been prime goose-nesting grounds for 30 years.  This year my Uncle ventured a peek inside the nest.

In case you’re curious, mama geese will continue to lay eggs until they get a brood of hatchlings, because nest predators are not uncommon.  So I haven’t ruined this whole generation!  But, it’s also important to keep in mind that the later the goslings hatch, the less time they have to mature before winter so there’s a limit to be respected.

I fried my egg overhard (I prefer my yolks yolky, but since I’ve never eaten a wild goose egg before and I’m nursing, I decided to err on the side of caution) and I have to say it was still very yummy.  Pretty much like a good farmer’s market chicken egg, only biiigger.  About 2-3 times the size.  The shell is a lot thicker too.  And others have said they found the yolk denser, but like I said, compared to a good pastured chicken egg, it’s pretty similar.

Nutritionally though, they’re apparently quite a bit denser.  Weight for weight, the goose egg has more selenium, potassium, calcium and magnesium.  It has twice the iron, twice the thiamin and FOUR times as much B12 and SEVEN times the Omega 3.  It’s ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 is about 1:1 whereas the chicken egg is about 1:15.*  Basically a multivitamin in a shell.

All in all, I’d say it was a very good long weekend.  And I even brought some ferns home so I can have fiddleheads in my backyard next year.

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*I do wonder if this data would differ for pastured eggs, from chickens allowed to forage for a biologically appropriate diet, but I couldn’t find any good info on that.

http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/dairy-and-egg-products/127/2

http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/dairy-and-egg-products/111/2

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When people promote breastfeeding they usually go through a list of the benefits and the notion that “it’s free” is always on the list.  They’re right, it is free, once you get started.  But the sad truth is that it costs a lot – too much – to even get properly started.

In Canada, about 85% of women initiate breastfeeding, but very few continue for the recommended periods of exclusivity and total duration.  In fact, almost a quarter of those who start, have stopped again within a month.  Why is this?  There are always lots of reasons given, but if you look closely, they usually boil down to one common thread: money.  It takes (a lot of) money to pay for access to the information, the support and the underlying health needed to make it in breastfeeding.

The women most likely to breastfeed are highly educated, partnered, urban and older.  I learned myself the hard way that breastfeeding is pretty much a DIY endeavor in Canada.  No one is going to help you if you don’t help yourself.  In fact, you’ll usually have to fight the medical establishment to do it, not to mention society as a whole, and it takes a lot of confidence and backing to win a fight like that.

Breastfeeding should be the biological norm, free and available to any woman with breasts and a baby, but the reality is that it’s more like a private club with steep membership dues.  It cost me more than $40,000 for my breastfeeding relationship. Here’s how:

University education: $30,000.  Postsecondary graduates have a breastfeeding rate of 89%, versus 79% for those who attended postsecondary but didn’t graduate, and an even lower 71% for non highschool grads. Why?  My six years of biology training gave me more than just an understanding that mammaries are for feeding mammalian babies.  I have access to literature databases that aren’t publicly available, I know how to navigate them and how to decipher the information I find in them so I was able to be truly informed.  Most of the women around me relied on popular literature, news articles or formula-sponsored propaganda that usually give incomplete or incorrect information.  But beyond that, my training gave me the confidence to go to battle with health professionals when I knew they were wrong – which was often.

A decade of contraceptives: $3,000.  Older mothers are more likely to breastfeed than their younger peers but believe it or not, most women these days do not stay abstinent until they decide to have a baby.  You can count me into that group and it costs money to stay pregnancy-free.

Marriage: $500. This doesn’t count the big fancy wedding we had to celebrate our marriage, it’s just the bare bones costs of getting a licence and hiring an officiant.  Partnered women are more likely to breastfeed because they’re more likely to have help and support (from said partner) in the postpartum period.  Having my husband in my corner was invaluable because everything I knew went out the window when someone suggested to me in my moments of hormonally-induced weakness that I was starving my baby.  The way he scowled at the nurse who told me to bottle feed gave me back my gumption and helped to continue doing what I knew was right.

Urban living: $6,000.  It would be impossible to get a really accurate idea of how much more it costs to live in an urban centre than a rural area.  So I checked rental listings in a small town about an hour from where we were living.  This number is strictly the premium we paid to rent our home for a year in the city, where we had access to breastfeeding support like our Doula.

Doula: $1400. Our doula had lots of training in lactation management so she basically functioned like an LC for us after the birth.  She was the first only one to suggest to us that our problems might stem from thrush, and she was right.  And, if she hadn’t been there to remind us that we weren’t obligated to do what the public health nurses said (informed consent does, after all include informed refusal) then we would have been stuffing 60mL of formula into Little Man’s 2-day old, chestnut-sized stomach every 3 hours.  That much formula would have left no room for breastmilk and we would have been doomed before the week was out.

Grand total: $40,900.

That’s quite the price tag to feed my baby the ‘free’ milk that my body makes.  Is it any wonder that 15% of women can’t even get in the breastfeeding door?  Or that 30% get kicked out of the club again 8 short weeks later?  Or that only 9% of us can pay the necessary dues to keep at it into the recommended second year?  The milk may be free, but the ability to breastfeed certainly isn’t.

http://www.statcan.gc.ca/studies-etudes/82-003/archive/2005/7787-eng.pdf

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For the first 6 or so weeks, breastfeeding for me was all business.  Don’t get me wrong, it was wonderful.  Watching my beautiful babe fall off the breast drunk with milk.  Seeing his little body relax into a deeper sleep than I thought humanly possible.  And then the way he would swing his little head back and forth next to me in the middle of the night, mouth wide open, eyes still closed because he was so confident that I would be right there, which I was.  But other than that, his mission was to get on and fill his stomach.

Hi I'm Little Man and I'm a boob-a-holic

Then when he was about six weeks old, he paused between swallows, looked up at me and, with my nipple still between his lips, smiled and cooed.  I thought my heart was going to explode from the cuteness.  That was the beginning of the booby games and they’ve only become more adorable, more elaborate and more fun since.  For some examples:

Booby Chats.  After that first time he got pretty into chatting up the boobies mid-drink.  He’d stop swallowing, pull back a bit and babble at my nipple.  Sometimes giggle, sometimes give it a little poke, sometimes just look at it perplexedly like he’s wondering how such delicious milk comes out of something so odd-looking.

Stinky Feet.  I think this is pretty standard, but Little Man is such an enthusiast that for about three straight months, the first thing he would do upon climbing into my lap was stick his foot up in my face so I could tell him how stinky it was and make the appropriately horrified face.

High Five.  Once stinky feet got boring, high fives took over.  Why he finds them so hilarious though is still a bit of a mystery!

High tea.  This isn’t so much a game as a nuisance because it pinches.  He sometimes gets very particular about the precise positioning of the booby in the mouth, so he grabs a little bit of my skin next to his mouth and lifts it to get juuuust the right angle.  It looks like he’s daintily putting a teacup to his mouth.

Move over Booby.  Sometimes a booby just isn’t enough, so he tries to suck his thumb – and occasionally his toe – at the same time.  For a minute or two he sucks air because the extra appendage in his mouth keeps him from latching properly, then he notices he has a dilemma.  He spends the next minute alternating from boob to thumb/toe, then finally realizes only one of the options has milk and gives up the lesser alternatives.

Trap the Booby.  This is still one of my favourites.  We had just had a shower together, and while I was trying to wrangle a diaper on him in bed, he decided to go after the boobies that were still uncovered and taunting him.  He jumped on me mouth first, missed completely and bounced off.  But he got up and tried again!  Now it’s a regular exercise whenever I’m topless.

Yoga Booby.  Once Little Man started putting his legs to use he was loathe to stop, even for milk.  He decided he could combine crawling and standing with nursing.  The result is something that usually looks very much like a downward dog, but with his head kinked back uncomfortably to accommodate latching.  It’s also the game that’s the most certain to attract funny looks in public.

Raspberry Booby.  This is his newest and, I have to say, weirdest nursing trick.  He smooshes his face into my boob then swings it from side to side exhaling as he goes, making a delightful whoopee cushion/raspberry noise through his nose.  It totally cracks me up!

Watching him have so much fun while he nurses makes me so happy.  And watching the games get more elaborate as he gets older and can do more is one of the best things about nursing past infancy.

So what are some of the weird and wonderful things your nurslings do during booby time?

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