Thursday, October 31, 2013

happy halloween.

Friday, October 4, 2013

just breathe.

I remember the exact moment I fell in love with meditation. I was in fourth grade. My class was brought down to the makeshift room behind the cafeteria where we had music class. Our music teacher, who taught us about a different kind of music each week, put in a new CD by David Sun called Enchanted Forest and encouraged us to close our eyes, breathe deeply and relax.

Everyone else in the class seemed to be looking around embarrassed or rolling their eyes at the absurd suggestion, but I was in to it. I remember closing my eyes, letting the music carry me away and feeling light, feeling free, feeling my breath take me away. What a nine-year-old has to escape, I have no idea, but I was sold. So much so that I went back after school to ask the music teacher to write down the artist's information for me and as soon as I got home that afternoon I told my parents that the only thing I really wanted for my tenth birthday was that CD. I used to sit cross-legged on my bed, listening to the two songs on repeat for hours. While I no longer have a functioning CD player, I still have that CD in my basement. It has been played too many times to count.

Fast forward to sixth grade. My Language Arts and Social Studies teacher, Mrs. Kramer, decided to experiment with a unit on imagination. The very first day she had us all lay down on the carpeted floor in our classroom, close our eyes, and follow her through a guided meditation. I don't remember what was said, but I will forever remember the disbelief as I felt my body slowly sink down into the carpet, into the floor beneath the carpet, into the earth beneath the floor, inch by inch by inch until I was sure I was at least a foot underground.

Meditation was a powerful tool for me back then. I could use it to uplift me or to ground me as needed because I believed it could. As the years progressed and I became more and more jaded, I started losing faith in the ability of meditation to help me face whatever life threw at me. The idea that sitting and breathing could solve "real" adult problems seemed devastatingly naive and so I rolled my eyes at the absurdity like my fourth-grade classmates had rolled their eyes at me.

Yet I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that the child in me had been on to something. I longed for the peace I had found in quiet moments alone on my bed and my attempts to replicate that tranquility through other means proved fruitless.

It was my freshman year of college that I rediscovered that peace, in a small stuffy room off of the counseling center in a weekly meditation class led by a small man with kind eyes and a voice of honey. I left the building that evening drunk with sensation, feeling completely alive for what seemed to be the first time.

It helped me through countless dark hours as the years progressed. The moments I needed it most seemed to directly correlate with the moments I most resisted it.

Which brings us to the now, (which is all there really is, isn't it? - this present moment?) where I need it more than ever. If ever I needed a way to stay grounded, to feel uplifted, to remain calm, to escape, it is now, caught in the challenging throes of new parenthood.

I need meditation now more than I ever have in my life. So I signed up for a study on mindful meditation and am taking a ten-week course. I am only two weeks in and already I am falling in love all over again.

What I have found is that the child in me had been on to something. Rediscovering the power of meditation has shown me that while, yes, sitting mindfully can still uplift or ground me for a fleeting moment or two if I believe it will, it will not magically and instantaneously solve my problems. If sitting cross-legged on my bed as a nine-year-old and listening to downtempo instrumentals made me feel high on life it's because I was - I was a child after all with not enough experience to drag me down. Yet the power of meditation lies not in uplifting and euphoric moments as it's made out to, but instead in the practice of staying present and simply staying, even and especially in the most difficult moments. Its power is not found in the moments I am meditating, but instead in the moments I am not.

Every time I struggle to sit still and focus and then give in and just stay with my breath during meditation, I am empowered to give in and just stay during other seemingly impossible moments of my life. After the emotional pain of a traumatic birth, the struggle of the possibility of having a child with disabilities, the impossibility of caring for newborn twins and maintaining a healthy relationship with a spouse, the unbelievable physical strain of not sleeping or eating well for nine months, not to mention the crazy postpartum hormonal ride, I have never not wanted to sit and feel the stress and full weight of the crosses I have to bare more. But instead of my survival tactics as of a few weeks ago, mainly drinking a few beers or glasses (bottles) of wine and eating a banana nut muffin (or a few loaves), I am just sitting, breathing and staying with it all. It's bleeping hard and it hurts and most of the time I absolutely hate it.

But just like the meditation, I know if I sit and breathe and just stay through the discomfort, eventually I'll get through it. And who knows, once I'm done processing this crazy mental trainwreck, maybe, just maybe, someday I'll feel the spiritual nirvana of my enlightened heyday back in fourth grade.

Until then, I'll be sitting here, staying, just breathing.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

project zero.

Almost five years ago I took on a lofty project in an effort to overcome some serious emotional distress. Looking back on that time in my life with five more years of experience, what appeared to be rock bottom, huge and abysmal and life-altering, now seems like a tiny rut compared to the physical and emotional trauma I've been through in the past year.

I've recently been diagnosed with PTSD and PPD and my struggle coming to terms with the diagnosis and finally accepting that I need help to process and resolve these issues explains my recent absence. I'm sure I will delve into my journey in much more detail in the future as I attempt to find some sort of resolution, but for now I am reverting back to what was once a saving grace at a dark time in my life.

It is called Project Zero. The basic idea is to compile a list of 101 tasks within 1001 days. The tasks must be specific and either measurable or clearly defined, with no ambiguity in the wording (for example, "listen to 12 pieces by Mozart that I've never heard of" as opposed to "listen to more classical music"). They must also be realistic, though hopefully will push me beyond the boundaries of my current comfort zone (I probably won't realistically be able to ride in the Tour de France within the next three years, but I might be able to ride STP). 

If I learned anything from my last experience with this project, it is that it is highly unlikely that I will complete all 101 tasks. I am hoping to approach this time around with an open mind and full awareness that it is not accomplishing the tasks themselves that is important, but that the mindfulness of focusing on specific goals will direct my attention away from unhealthy thought processes.

I have appreciated all of your love and support with all of my endeavors, and this is no exception. I would love more than anything to hear your thoughts, your words of wisdom or encouragement, and your feedback throughout this journey.

Without further ado, the much anticipated list*, to be started today, October 1, 2013 and to be completed by Monday, June 27, 2016:

1 Meditate
2 Take my vitamins
3 Drink enough water (my body weight divided by two in ounces, plus and additional one ounce per pound of baby while breastfeeding)

4 Cuddle with my husband
5 Write and send a letter or a card
6 One comic drawn and posted
7 Write an inspirational quote on the kitchen chalkboard

8 Read one book I've never read
9 Go on a date with my husband
10 Buy a lotto ticket
11 Buy one item of clothing or accessory
12 Go on a family hike
13 Prepare one new recipe

14 Do Bike MS
15 Have a potluck
16 Give blood

17 Complete a month of thankfulness
18 Write down an idea for a greeting card every day for one month
19 No TV or movies for one month
20 No Facebook for one month
21 No processed foods for one month
22 No alcohol for one month
23 Go swimming 3x a week for one month
24 Go to bed before 10pm every day for one month
25 Read one poem every day for one month
26 Blog every day for one month
27 Eat meat for one month
28 Be vegan for one month
29 Eat gluten-free for one month
30 Find flute music and practice every day for one month
31 Keep the house entirely clean every day for one month

32 Complete a meditation course
33 Complete 40 days to Personal Revolution
34 Do a three day juice cleanse (once the boys are weaned)
35 Complete Project Reconnect
36 Go through my wardrobe, get rid of the old & unused
37 Start the divine beings project
38 No technology or media whatsoever for one full day
39 Get a pedicure
40 Get a foot massage

41 Go to Alaska 
42 Go to Italy
43 Touch a new continent (South America!)
44 Visit every park in Seattle
45 Visit A & J in San Francisco
46 Visit K in Iowa
47 Go on a two-day vacation by myself

48 Go wine tasting
49 Buy & enjoy an expensive bottle of wine 
50 Can something
51 Make my own cheese
52 Make a meal using only local ingredients
53 Make 10 different types of homemade bread 
54 Acquire 10 bottles of spirits and start a liquor cabinet
55 Try 10 new foods I've never tried before
56 Eat at 10 local restaurants I've never been to

57 Complete the application for MIT at UW
58 Complete my MIT
59 Become certified as a translator/interpreter
60 Join or create a bookclub
61 Read 10 parenting books

62 Complete baby book for each boy
63 Plant the boys' placentas
64 Open savings accounts for the boys
65 Take a class with just Owen
66 Make each of my boys a stuffed animal
67 Make Halloween costumes for the boys

68 Create an Etsy
69 Make & sell bibs
70 Get my own internet domain
71 Write a children's book
72 Publish something in a printed medium
73 Finish the knit patchwork blanket
74 Learn to crochet
75 Paint 10 paintings on canvas
76 Take a photography class
77 Find & develop all my old rolls of film
78 Learn photoshop
79 Print out copies of my favorite photos
80 Complete the color/food photo project

81 Go ice skating
82 Go camping at Larribee State Park
83 Go to a Sounder's game
84 Go fishing
85 Go mushroom picking
86 Cut my own Christmas tree

87 Ride my bike to Lake Chelan
88 Ride RSVP
89 Ride STP
90 Run a half marathon
91 Go climbing
92 Go paddleboarding

93 Visit Point Defiance Zoo
94 Visit Mount Rainier
95 Visit Olympic National Park
96 Visit the grandparents in Sequim
97 Get professional photos of the family taken
98 Put together a homeopathic first aid kit
99 Have a wedding ceremony
100 Buy a house
101 Get pregnant again

*I reserve the right to alter, edit, replace or otherwise change tasks as I see fit throughout the course of this journey.

Let the games begin!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

teach me how to breastfeed.

Another amazing video to inspire you to breastfeed!

Happy National Breastfeeding Awareness Month!!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

pictures of boobies.

In honor of National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, I teamed up with Naissance Photography to try to capture the beauty of breastfeeding. This amazing video is the result.

Happy National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, everyone! Get out there and use those boobies! (And capture it on film if you can!)

Monday, August 12, 2013

reasons breastfeeding rocks #4.

Reasons breastfeeding rocks #4: It reduces the risk of SIDS.

SIDS is scary and not entirely understood. For some reason, some babies in the first year go to sleep and just don't wake up. Horrific. Luckily there are a few things you can do to significantly reduce the risk or that happening:
  • put your baby to sleep on their back; 
  • don't smoke during pregnancy or around baby - or come on now, ever
  • have baby sleep with their face uncovered, in a safe environment, in the same room or bed as the caregiver for the first six to twelve months; 
  • and breastfeed baby if you can.)
Dr. Fern Hauck, MD, of the department of family medicine at the University of Virginia, examined 288 studies on SIDS and breastfeeding from 1966 to 2009. The research showed that for babies who received any amount of breastmilk for any amount of time the risk of SIDS was 60% lower. 60 freaking percent!!! For babies who were breastfed for at least two months, the likelihood of SIDS was 62% lower. For babies who were exclusively breastfed at two months, the incidence of SIDS was 73% lower.

Talk about an easy way to protect your baby!

The relationship between breastfeeding and reducing the risk of SIDS is also not entirely understood, but probably involves the decreased risk of infection in breastfed babies, the fact that breastfed babies and breastfeeding mamas are both more easily roused from sleep, and breastfeeding improving breathing and swallowing coordination, among other things.

So sit back and know your sweet babe is safe while you nourish them with those luscious boobs of yours! 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

reasons breastfeeding rocks #3.

Reasons breastfeeding rocks #3: It saves you money.

Now if that isn't a reason to hop on board, I don't know what is.


Formula is expensive. The cheapest standard type of formula costs about $1000 for the first year for one baby. Is that not crazy?! If you need specialized formula due to allergies or preference or want to go organic, double that (at least).

Besides the few extra dollars it will cost for you to eat two servings of dinner every now and then in order to get the calories to produce enough, breastfeeding is absolutely free.

It also helps save money down the road, as the American Academy of Pediatrics states that breastfed babies have significantly lower incidence of illness than those who are formula-fed. This saves money two ways: fewer visits to the doctor to pay for (as well as fewer medicines and treatments to pay for) and fewer days staying home from work to take care of sick babies (meaning no loss of income).

So sit back and save money while you nourish your baby with those luscious boobs of yours! 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

reasons breastfeeding rocks #2.

Reasons breastfeeding rocks #2: It gives you a rockin' bod.


Making milk is hard work. Think about it. You are producing all the nutrition your baby needs not just to survive but to thrive! Every time you go in for a check up and your baby has gained a few ounces, those ounces came directly from you. It's pretty phenomenal, really.

All those calories you are putting in to baby have to come from somewhere. Breastfeeding requires about 500 additional calories per day, meaning if you are using your boobs to feed your babe you can lose all that pregnancy weight faster without dieting or running marathons. In fact, you will probably need to eat even more than you did while you were pregnant - just think about how big your baby was in the womb versus how big they are now and remember that you are still the sole sustenance your baby gets - and you will still lose weight. No joke. Fan-freaking-tastic!

So sit back and lose weight effortlessly while you nourish your baby with those luscious boobs of yours!

Friday, August 9, 2013

reasons breastfeeding rocks #1.

Reasons breastfeeding rocks #1: Let down helps me let go.


Breastfeeding stimulates the release of the hormones oxytocin and prolactin, which promote relaxation, stress-release and a general sense of well-being. Oxytocin is the amazing hormone which induced your labor (or if it was artificially induced, synthetic pitocin is structurally modeled after oxytocin), and is also the hormone which helped your uterus contract back down to the size of your fist from the size of a watermelon right after birth.

This hormone release also promotes sleep if you are having difficulties, helps you fall back asleep more quickly during night time feedings, and helps you to sleep more deeply, meaning you feel more rested after a short amount of sleep than you would if you weren't breastfeeding. Amazing!

So sit back and relax while you nourish your baby with those luscious boobs of yours!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

reasons why i love breastfeeding.

The chance to nourish your child literally by yourself doesn't happen often. The window of opportunity for knowing you are the sole provider for your baby is a small one, and time spent giving your baby life from the breast should be just as cherished and celebrated as the time you spent nurturing and growing your child in the womb. The fact that we can sustain life and provoke growth with just our breasts is miraculous.

Take a minute and really think about it. If you are exclusively breastfeeding your baby, they are alive exclusively thanks to you. You are the provider, the sustainer of life. You are physically building your baby, molecule by molecule, every time you nurse. You are God.

In the spirit of this National Breastfeeding Month, let's talk about the reasons breastfeeding is amazing. Let's help spread the word. Some places on this earth (and especially in this nation) it is frowned upon, seen as unnecessary, sexualized and misunderstood.

Let's change that, you and me. Let's make a list of all the reasons we love to nurse. Do this with me? Join the boobolution?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Monday, August 5, 2013

a record number of boobies.

As you all probably already know, August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month.  To kick start this whole month dedicated to celebrating boobies, August 1 - 7 pushes the party even more global with World Breastfeeding Week. Here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest seeing a mama with her boob popped out to feed a babe is not a particularly crazy sight, but in some parts of the world it is. There are a ton of reasons why breast is best, in whatever capacity you can offer. Even just a little boob is better than no boob; I'm pretty sure everyone in the world can agree.

This month is meant to celebrate those determined mamas who have given their all to nourish their babies. (In no way is this meant to belittle mamas who give their babies formula, as Mama by the Bay so eloquently explains in her declaration of support!)

To celebrate my first year as a breastfeeding mama, we participated in The Big Latch On. The idea is to help rally in the troops, celebrate breastfeeding and feel connected to other mamas who share your passion for the breast. Across the globe, mamas get together at different locations and all latch their babes on for one minute at the exact same time!

In 2012, 8862 women came together to latch their babies on at the same time. It was a Big Latch On record at the time, but this year we broke that record! 14,536 of us all over the world came together on August 2nd and 3rd this year! How amazing!

 I realized at the event that there are not too many photos of me tandem feeding my boys. Breastfeeding them this long has been quite a challenge, and I am so proud of myself for all the hard work I've put in. It's a beautiful thing, a breastfeeding relationship, and I am so happy to have it documented here!

We hope you'll join us in more booby fun next year!!!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

maman musing #8.

Sometimes just putting on your dancing shoes makes you feel like a ballerina.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Monday, July 22, 2013

tip: jot down memorable moments.

If you are a new parent and you are anything like me, you probably have one of these lying around somewhere:

A beautiful baby journal that you got months before your due date. You probably spent countless hours fantasizing about recording your precious angel's every move.

Until you had the baby. Then the journal was abruptly shoved in that pile on your desk of white onesies you were going to decorate and ink pads you were going to use to imprint baby's hands and feet every week. Hah! Instead your life is a constant blur of poop and spit up and now pureed spinach you somehow find in your ears (how did they manage that?) and you have long forgotten that beautiful blank baby journal.

You know that saying. The best time to plant a tree was ten years ago. The second best time is today.

We don't all have time to get out there and dig the holes and plant the trees and make them pretty and make sure they're watered and maintained. And that's ok. While you're in the thick of this crazy whirlwind that is the first year of your baby's life, you aren't expected to spend hours you don't have filling out a baby journal. But at some point life will calm down a bit and you will have the time (or at least that's what they tell me), and when that day comes there is an easy way to remember all those moments that seemed to pass by in an instant.

Grab a simple crappy wall calendar from the dollar bin the next time you're at the supermarket, and jot down the memorable events as they happen.

Just a few words, shorthand, something to help you remember what was going on. Baby doubled their birth weight, baby sat up, baby ate asparagus for the first time. You get the picture.

Keep it in the room you are most often in when baby does something memorable; where you eat or play for example. Make sure there is a pen next to the calendar at all times.

If you are really on top of it, keep a camera next to the calendar, and whenever your sweet babe does something memorable, snap a few photos before you jot it down. This not only forever preserves the memory of your baby doing something exciting, but together with your calendar it can be used as a chronological reference later on for when the other bajillion pictures of your baby were taken.

Later you can easily look back at this and fill in that baby journal as if you never even missed a beat. I promise, your baby will never know you cheated and filled out the book when they were three (or thirteen)!

What are you waiting for? Make those memories, people!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

tip: freeze milk flat.

We have had a lot of milk donations over the past seven months and it has taught me quite a bit about milk storage. I still remember the first time I thawed a bag of milk that had been frozen flat. The amount of time and water required was reduced by at least ten times what we were used to, and at that time we were feeding our boys exclusively donor milk by bottle. Between the two of them, we spent a lot of time thawing milk, and this significantly cut down on bottle prep time.

Most milk when it gets thrown into the freezer ends up looking something like this:

This hard nugget of milk takes incredibly long to thaw and its odd shape makes it a pain to keep the freezer even remotely organized. I think it often gets frozen this way so the number of ounces is easily visible with the markings on the bag.

Instead, mark the number of ounces on the outside of the bag in permanent marker along with the date and place it flat in the freezer so when it is frozen it looks something like this:

Having the milk frozen this way increases the surface area, which means when you thaw it under warm water, more of the water can touch more of the milk, helping it thaw faster. Plus its slim shape means it is very easy to store the milk upright chronologically, making it easier to follow a first-in-first-out milk-using policy (use older milk first).

This is the one of the simplest changes possible, takes zero extra time, and can make your life significantly easier.

Happy pumping!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

you know you're a new parent when #6.

You become an emotional wreck any time there is a sappy child-parent scene on television, even/especially the over-exaggerated ones.

Friday, July 19, 2013

maman musing #6.

It is not worth giving asparagus to babies. They don't yet appreciate the seasonal importance and anyone who's ever eaten a bit too much in one sitting can only imagine the horrendous smell of their diapers.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

trick: try side sitting.

Some babies just don't like tummy time no matter how you try to entice them. With special toys, laying on your chest, with snazzy books, on a play mat. You can make it seem like the most fun activity in the whole wide world and still they fuss and whine and cry it out any time you put them on their stomach.

The goal of tummy time is to work the chest and arm muscles in preparation of crawling and it may seem like the only way, but it's not. Helping your baby side sit is another great way to build the muscles of the upper body and help them get ready to crawl. Plus it helps them learn to eventually transition from sitting to crawling on their own later down the road.

Seat baby in front of you facing you.

Turn baby's right leg so their knee is down in the center and their foot is pointing out to their right, just like the left one. Position baby's body towards their left and place their hands out in front of them to the side.

The further away from their body the hands (and the closer their face to the floor), the more strength needed to keep them stable. Start with them close to their body and progressively move them further away to build strength. 

This is usually more tolerated than tummy time and it is easier to distract baby in this position by reading stories or playing with toys. It is also easier to do small little sessions of side sitting without causing a total upset - if baby starts getting fussy, simply move them back to sitting. It is less of a total transition from being on their tummies.

Make sure to switch sides to build strength equally in both arms.

Happy sitting!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

the best damn onion rings in the world.

Onion rings are delicious. So much so that we don't mind paying that extra dollar to upgrade at the restaurant or a few bucks for a serving or two from the frozen section of the supermarket. Turns out they are super easy to make, way cheaper, and a thousand times more delicious when made fresh in your own kitchen.

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder (Don't add too much or it will make your batter bitter.)
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg (I'm working on finding a substitution to make this vegan... I'll get back to you.)
1/2 bottle Fat Tire Ale (I suppose you could substitute any beer here, but Fat Tire is the best.)

2 yellow onions, sliced to desired thickness (I like using Walla Walla Sweets here and slicing them pretty thick, about 3/4 of an inch.)
Vegetable oil for frying

1. Heat the oven to 200 degrees and place a cookie sheet covered with paper towels in the oven.
2. Whisk all batter ingredients together in a bowl. 
3. Slice your onions. Separate out the individual rings.
4. Heat at least an inch of oil in a deep pan on medium high. You want the oil hot, but not so hot it will splatter all over the place when you put the onions in.
5. Dip the onions in the batter and make sure they are coated. Put them in the oil and fry them until golden, a few minutes. Turn the rings over and fry the other side.
6. Place the finished rings on the paper towel-lined pan in the oven to keep warm until all the rings are finished.

Our favorite dipping sauces are easy peasy Magic O-Ring Sauce and Karam's Garlic Sauce (find it at PCC, try it, and thank me later), but the possibilities are endless!

Magic O-Ring Sauce:
Mix equal parts ketchup and Veganaise together. Enjoy!

This batter can also be used for tofu (or fish) or for delicious tempura-style veggies. Make these and just try to tell me these aren't the best damn onion rings you've ever had!

Bon appetit!

Monday, July 15, 2013

pain in the ass.

Where has Madame been? She had to take a little hiatus and unfortunately not a fun one.

I have been on a pain vacation.

There are different levels of pain. Different kinds. Some pain is mental - your heart aching when someone you love moves far away; your heart breaking as you watch your baby suffer (from their own teething pain, for example). Some pain is a bother but you can mostly ignore it - your tooth after biting into ice cream; that ankle that bugs you sometimes as you as you miss the bottom step. Some pain has purpose and you can push through it - your legs burning as you climb that mountain; your uterus contracting as you squeeze out a baby.

And some pain is just unbearable.

This is graphic and it is personal, but that's what this is all about, isn't it? Sharing the most intimate parts of life because they make us who we are? Consider yourselves warned.

I thought giving birth to two babies would be the hardest, most physically painful experience of my life. At the time it may have seemed that way, but I was wrong.

Five weeks after having my beautiful boys, I got mastitis. Now that was pain. Fever of almost 104, chills, vomiting, hallucinating and feeling like shards of glass were embedded in my breast. It was the worst pain I had ever experienced. 

Ten days later I got mastitis again. Boy, that first time I had had it easy. I was hospitalized for five days. Five days for a breast infection. I was hooked up to IVs and filled with pain meds. I don't do pain meds and I was begging them for more. I was the small percent that gets it really bad, the percent we all ignore because that won't happen to me. There was talk of taking a giant needle and draining the infection because the antibiotics just weren't seeming to work as fast as they should have. It was that bad.

Now that was pain.

Until they realized the reason I was still spiking fevers and vomiting three days in was no longer the mastitis. I was so hopped up on narcotics and so dehydrated from the fever and vomiting and no one had noticed I hadn't used the bathroom in three days. For a girl who usually goes three times a day, that is a serious backup. Who knew narcotics are constipating? The doctors, obviously, but no one felt the need to fill me in. Like I said, I don't do pain meds. I don't even do Tylenol. How was I supposed to know these things?

The next few days were filled with doctors doing everything they could to, how shall we put this delicately? Alleviate the problem. I crossed off many things on my anti-bucket list. Stuffing myself full of laxatives? Check. Having someone else insert suppositories? Check. Mineral oil enema? Check. None of it worked. When they threatened to resort to manual extraction, which is exactly what it sounds like, I took matters into my own hands, so to speak.

After a sizable dose of pain meds and a tube of numbing lubricant, it was time to give birth yet again, except this time the baby wasn't so cute. In the process, I did what no one ever wants to do: I tore my anus.

Now let's go over a little anatomy, here, because bottom talk seems gross and is usually off limits at the dinner table; most people don't know the specifics and that is crucial. You have your rectum, which is essentially the lower part of your large intestine. That ends at an internal sphincter, which is the beginning of your anal canal. The anal canal is lined with muscle and nerves and terminates at your external sphincter, commonly known as your butt hole. Such lovely terminology, no?

As you digest food, the liquid mush goes into your large intestine where vitamins, minerals and water are absorbed. By the time it reaches the internal sphincter it is a nice, solid mass. The reason you need to drink lots of water and have fiber in your diet, specifically the insoluble fiber found in fruits and vegetables, is because insoluble fiber absorbs water as it passes through your intestine, adding bulk and making the mass soft.

Why does it need to bulky? Because of a reflex called the rectoanal inhibitory reflex (RAIR).

When your rectum (that upper part of the above diagram) fills with stool, electrical stimuli induce your internal sphincter (that part with the tentacle thingies) to relax, and your external sphincter (the end of the track) to contract; the upper sphincter opens and the bottom one closes, allowing the stool to start making its way down into the anal canal without exiting the body completely. You can't control or feel your internal sphincter contract or relax, but you can feel the stool (or alternatively gas) in your anal canal and that feeling, the fact that you have sensation there is very important.

The amount of relaxation directly correlates with the mass of the stool. The more bulky the stool, the more your internal sphincter relaxes and the bigger it gets to allow the stool to pass through. You can't control this, so in order to relax and let the stool out, it needs to be bulky enough to trigger the RAIR.

Drink your water and eat your fiber, boys and girls. Trust me on this.

Enough science. Back to the story. So I got the mass out and in the process literally tore myself a new one. But I didn't know this yet.

After being discharged I was in more pain than when I had been admitted, and that is saying something. For weeks after coming home I was bed-ridden. I could not stand. I could not sit. I could not take care of my babies. I could not eat or sleep or think. I spent my days in tears between the toilet and the bathtub. I cried and I cried and I cried and I asked the universe how it was possible for someone to be in so much pain. I did not want to go back to the hospital because in my mind they had done this to me. Every time I went in I seemed to come back out worse for wear.

Luckily, a dear friend convinced me I needed to be seen by someone. My primary care physician was on maternity leave, so I went to see one of her colleagues. One quick look and her face told me it was grim. It's like the Grand Canyon down there. I had torn my external sphincter.

"At least I didn't really tear while giving birth," I mused. "That must be awful."

"Um, not so much," she replied. "You give birth once. You poop every day."

What can one do to heal a torn sphincter? Not much. If you tear the corner of your mouth it hurts like a b-word, but you keep your mouth closed for two or three days and it heals. If you tear the corner of the other end of the human gastrointestinal tract you can't just keep it closed for two or three days. The goal is to eat your fiber and drink your water and make those stools nice and soft so when they do pass through they don't keep ripping off the scab and starting you back at painful square one. Sitz baths became a two- or three- or four-times-a-day affair. I was going through post-partum herbs and Ibuprofen like it was going out of style.

Slowly, slowly, the pain started being more manageable. Then I was in pain for only a few hours after going to the bathroom. Then only while on the toilet. And then magically, a few months later, I had my first pain-free BM in what seemed my entire life. I still cried, but this time they were tears of joy. I was out of the woods! I was into the magical land of reading magazines and checking my email on my phone and not wishing and praying for a colostomy bag!

Don't count your eggs before they are fully hatched, people.

A few weeks later the pain returned and became progressively worse every day. We were back in the woods and it was dark in there.

Fast forward to last week. The pain was so intense I found it hard to do anything other than lie around and wish I were dead. Going to the bathroom became so intense that sometimes it took me over an hour to finally manage. And then one morning I found myself in so much pain that I was using birthing techniques, screaming and moaning as I had been in labor while squatting in the bathtub. Have you ever pooped in the bathtub? As an adult? Cleaning your own poop out of the tub is possibly one of the greatest practices of humility possible. I was by myself and still I was blushing. How devastatingly embarrassing.

It was time to call a surgeon.

After a fiber-optic anal probe, probably one of the least fun experiences out there, I finally discovered why I had been in so much pain for the past six months. That fateful January day I had not just torn my external sphincter, but my entire anal canal as well. Remember before how I said your anal canal having sensation was very important? Ah, yes. I have a tear in the muscle in there and I can feel it. My whole rectum has been traumatized as a result. Attempting to avoid the intense pain that comes with stool passing anywhere near the anal canal, my RAIR has ceased to function properly, leaving my internal sphincter in permanent spasm. This keeps stool out, but also causes the torn muscles of the anal canal to spasm, as well, meaning they can't relax enough to heal and meaning I am in constant pain. When I do need to go, my sphincter refuses to relax, hence the hours I spend in pain trying to coerce my bowels to cooperate. It is a vicious and painful cycle.

So what is the solution? Well, I can try to increase my water and fiber intake and take it easy and try to let my body heal on its own. Painful. Or, alternatively, they can surgically remove the tear and the surrounding scar tissue left over from six months of improper healing, essentially creating a new, bigger anal fissure for my body to heal. Painful. The difference would be that this purposeful fissure would be cleanly cut and properly stitched up which might entice my body to heal faster.

Hm... Rock... Hard place... Me. Which one to choose?

This is why I have not been posting pictures of my babies and sharing recipes and drawing comic-versions of my life as of late. I have been trying not to convince a surgeon to sew up my sphincters all together and give me one of those poop bags reserved for people who have parts of their colon removed because honestly I don't ever want to use my anal canal ever again for the rest of my life. I have been trying to convince my body, despite all this damn pain, to relax and to heal; and all the while somehow take care of the two tiny humans I created while smiling through the pain and feigning normalcy on the rare occasion that I venture out in public. I have been trying like hell to decide between the rock and the hard place and I have no idea what to choose.

This whole ordeal is a giant pain in my ass, and it's slowly wearing me thin. I'm at the end of my rope and unsure what move to make. I've lost all sense of humility here. I pooped in the tub, for god's sake! Don't be shy. Don't pretend like you didn't read this. If I had torn a muscle in my hand we wouldn't be blushing here. It is what it is and I need your help. Tell me, please, I'm begging you, if it was you, what would you do?

Friday, July 5, 2013

teething pains.

Someone once told me they read that if someone were to go through teething as an adult, it would be so painful that it would literally cause them to go insane. I don't know if this is true. That same person told me that this is why we get teeth before we can remember, so we aren't conscious of the pain; I'm pretty sure my babes are conscious of the pain and I'm pretty sure we get teeth when we're so little so we can start to eat solids, but maybe we're both right.

Either way, my babies might someday forget how painful the process is, but I sure won't. It is literally driving me insane. Teething babies x 2 = no sleep in the entire household and it is starting to take its toll. Don't expect anything profound out of me until this whole process is over, or at least until Arlo's first two teeth finally poke all the way through.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

happy birthday, love.

Happy first birthday as a Papa to my favorite human over six and a half months old!!! You are the love of my life, the rope that tethers me to reality and the best friend I have ever had. I would be lost without you and am so blessed to watch you come into your own as a father every single day. 

<3  We love you! <3

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

tip: stay cool in the pool.

It has been infernal here in beautiful Pacific Northwest this past week. I know other parts of the country and world suffer much greater heat than this all the time, but 94 in the shade? That's too much for fair-skinned rain-loving Seattlites like myself. Don't get me wrong, I like sun. My body just wasn't designed to take this much of it.

If I'm feeling faint, I can only imagine what my poor sweaty little boys are feeling. So how have we been managing? By taking the advice of another fellow mama.

We've been staying cool in the pool!

My soul hurt a little bit as we bought the cheap made-in-China pools at the toy store, but I don't know of any well-made baby pools or what type of store would sell them locally. If any of you know where to find one, please let me know!

Needless to say, they are a hit. They are dually amazing in providing fun water exploration activity and a way to stay cool. An added plus is how much they wear the babes out. Every time we have water time the following nap is quite a doozy. We have been doing this daily and probably will continue to do so until the cool weather returns. Thursday is the 4th of July, so when the rain comes back for the fireworks, maybe we'll take a break then! :)

Monday, July 1, 2013

public service announcement.

After spending a few hours at the ER this morning, I find it my duty to strongly recommend you always always wear protective eye gear when weed whacking.

A small piece of gravel was so embedded in my eye they had to spend a good deal of time trying to extract it. They eventually did, but it was not fun.

The worst part: the tetanus booster that makes me feel like I got punched in the arm. The best part: getting my boys matching eye patches. :)

Sunday, June 30, 2013

the stuff of dreams.

Arlo was taking his nap on the bed upstairs when a neighbor starting using a saw. I thought the high pitched sound was my baby screaming and my heart started to pound. I immediately jumped to my feet as my thoughts raced trying to find what could possibly be so wrong to make him scream that intensely. Since birth he has often woken up mid-scream, as if in the middle of the worst nightmare imaginable, but he's only six months old. What could he possibly be dreaming of? The screams are piercing and with every one I can feel little cracks riddling their way through my heart; I've been just waiting for the day when it finally shatters and I lose it.

I run to the stairs and as I pass an open window realize that it's just a saw. I take a deep breath, go peer in at him, calm myself down and come back downstairs.

An hour later he's still asleep. Napping has never been my boys' forte. They are difficult to put down and rarely stay asleep more than a half an hour. It was a scorcher outside, and the upstairs of our unshaded brick house must have been in the mid-eighties. I started to wonder if he was still alive up there and again made the mad dash up the stairs to check if he was ok.

As I approached the bed, I couldn't see his tiny chest moving at all and tears started rolling down my cheeks as I lunged towards him. The floor creaked under my weight and he stirred and exhaled. I stopped short and had to stable myself on the bed as the blood rushed back to my extremities and the adrenaline faded. I wiped my eyes and held my hands over my heart, so happy he was fine and feeling silly for having overreacted.

Still, something didn't feel right, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I was shaken up by the scare and didn't want to wake him, so I crept back downstairs and found my husband in the living room.

One minute later, as I'm telling my husband what had just happened, hands still over my racing heart, I hear it. A loud thump. I'm running even before I hear the screaming. That's what had been out of place! I hadn't surrounded him with pillows like I always do to make sure he doesn't roll off the bed!

He's face down in a giant pile of my husband's clothes and he's shaking and crying, and I'm shaking and crying and holding him so close I worry he might not be able to breathe, but I can't let go or loosen my hold. My husband is right behind me and sits on the bed next to us. I'm rocking and crying and shushing my poor baby, until my husband points out that Arlo is completely fine. He is smiling and laughing and making ba ba sounds, reaching for his papa to give him a bisou. I can't stop shaking and rocking and shushing and crying.

"Can I hold him for a bit?" my husband asks.

And I can't let him. I can't let go. It takes me a good five minutes until I finally relent and let him peel my knuckle-white fingers off his poor little body. That's when I suddenly remember we have a second baby and my husband calls out to me as I'm sprinting back downstairs.

Owen's fine, bouncing contentedly in his little chair, smiling at the world around him. I scoop him up and rock him, still shaking and crying. I cry because I let Arlo fall out of bed. Because he is the baby I didn't mess up and here I am letting him get hurt. Because Owen is the baby I did mess up and he is ok. He is breathing, he is alive, he is bouncing and smiling and for all intents and purposes normal when there is no reason he should be. I cry because I have two fat little healthy monsters and some people don't ever even get the blessing of one. Because an old classmate was recently found dead in the break room of the hospital where he was a resident; no foul play, no medical conditions, just dead, and it has made me hyper-aware of how fragile life is. I cry because life is short and terrifying and devastatingly beautiful and overwhelming and simple and I am way too lucky for my own good.

When my husband wanders downstairs with Arlo and sees me clutching Owen for dear life there is a moment when a panicked look takes over his eyes and I can't even make out through the sobs that he's okay and I'm just an unnecessary mess.

He takes the boys and tells me to take a few minutes to calm myself down. I try, but the sobbing and shaking keep coming back. I can't stop crying because I know that if my own heart breaks, I will somehow find a way to pick up the pieces and glue them back together. But I've brought these little beings into the world and they have their own little beating hearts and someday they will be riddled with their own cracks just waiting to shatter. I can protect them in every way I possibly can and they still will get hurt, physically and mentally. I can avoid thinking about it at all costs, but still someday they, too, will die. I am overwhelmed with guilt and the selfishness of having wanted a child so badly without really understanding that my precious innocent little babies feel pain, too.

If there is some form of a god out there, this must be how he feels about us. It all boils down to the paradox of free will. We want our children to grow up free to become whomever they wish to be, and yet want so terribly for them to choose the right path. I so want to give them a fighting chance to find their own ways, but as they get older there will be much bigger booboos than just falling off the bed and I won't always be there to comfort them. Nor will they need or want me to.

It's rough stuff, this being a parent. It's your wildest dream and most vivid nightmare all wrapped up into one eternal sleepless night.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

how to not wake a baby.

To every action an equal and opposite reaction. Just like there are sounds that will always wake the baby, there are some sounds that, no matter how much you cringe while making them for fear of waking the babe, for some reason have no effect on their slumber. There are a lot of sounds I won't list here - a gurgling brook, or breathing, for example, are sounds that won't wake a baby, but you know that already (hopefully). Some are quite surprising.

Sounds that never seem to wake the baby:
  • Vacuum
  • Faucet
  • Juicer
  • Blender
  • Music (amazingly this is pretty much across the board any type of music, though I haven't tried black metal, so maybe not so much the screamy stuff...)
  • Talking
  • Singing
  • NPR or KUOW (especially Steve Sher; gotta love Weekday...)
  • Toilet flushing
  • Sirens
  • Passing gas
  • Brushing teeth
  • Snaps
Why have some of these sounds even been tested out while a baby was sleeping? Unfortunately to answer to most of them I'll have to defer you to my lovely husband. As for KUOW and passing gas, well, sometimes I just can't help myself. ;)

Friday, June 28, 2013

how to wake a baby.

There are some sounds that, no matter how far off or how muffled, will always wake a baby. Some of them make sense; some are pure mystery.

Sounds that will wake a baby every time:

  • Creaky door
  • Creaky floorboard
  • Creaky stairs
  • Creaky knees
  • Silverware on dishes
  • Ice from the fridge ice maker
  • A sneeze
  • Motorcycles
  • Someone honking their horn right in front of your house
  • Someone peeling out right in front of your house (usually the same lovely person as above)
  • A cat meowing
  • Loading or unloading the dishwasher
  • A zipper
  • Velcro
  • Greys Anatomy theme song
  • Applause (from a live cover of a song or radio show or I suppose TV for those of you who have one of those)
  • The sound of unplugging the breast pump shields
  • Turning the pages of a magazine (somehow only magazines and not books...)
  • Opening a carbonated beverage (those requiring a bottle opener fair slightly better than twist off but only by a slim margin)
  • Ice cream trucks
  • Peeing (in a toilet)
  • Scooting a chair to sit or stand
  • Another baby sucking Maggie-style on their pacifier
  • Plastic bags
Am I missing anything?

If you have a baby and want it to stay asleep, these sounds must be strictly avoided or else it's guaranteed to be at least another hour of rocking and humming baby back to sleep for you!!!!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

shout out: alki dental.

My dentist called yesterday and asked if I could stay an extra hour after my cleaning this morning to fill a few cavities I've been denying the existence of. I was honestly really excited and I'm not sure if that says more about how awesome my dentist is or how sad an existence my life is right now. It's true I don't get out much these days, but what's more true is how awesome Alki Dental is. (Seriously. Just look at those pictures on that website and tell me they are not awesome.)

I first heard about Dr. Bret Shupak in the Sound Consumer, PCC's monthly magazine for members. He had an ad for his practice somewhere in the back - PCC members get a discount. We were living in West Seattle where they are located, were both PCC members, were in the market for a dentist and certainly could use a discount. He had a holistic approach, which I had never heard of in the dentist world, and that intrigued me. Quite frankly up until that point I hated dentists and anything related to teeth, and hadn't been in for a cleaning since before moving to France; it had probably been eight years.

Boy, were we in for a pleasant surprise.

It turns out we already knew Bret. He knew my husband because he regularly went in to the store where he worked to do his grocery shopping and I knew him because he regularly came to my deli in West Seattle for lunch. We had already had many conversations and he was one of my favorite customers; my husband also. He quickly became my favorite dentist. Ever.

I don't think it's very often that a dental assistant has to stop cleaning your teeth because you are laughing so hard about some story she's telling you about her sons that it makes having medical instruments in your mouth slightly dangerous - no laughing gas involved, I promise. Nor do I think it's very often that your husband regularly runs into your dentist on a walk in your favorite park. Nor do I think it's very often that a dentist's office sends you a text wishing you a happy birthday. (Let's be honest - how many of your friends even actually send you a birthday text these days?) Nor do I think it is very often that a dentist sings along (extremely loudly and proudly) to Regina Spektor while filling your cavity. Nor is it very often you enjoy the company of every single person in your dentist's office. (Nor is it very often your dentist looks like Bret. I haven't met anyone oozing so much European energy since moving back to the States, I swear.)

These people are magic.

I had five (small!!! Hey - I have two other humans to take care of! My teeth have been a little neglected!) cavities taken care of this morning and it was fantastic. Bret uses this crazy & fabulous numbing technique where instead of numbing your entire mouth he just targets the exact tooth he will be working on. I am not a fan of needles, but honestly did not once feel whatever he was doing in there to numb me. Not once. At the end of the appointment I could actually move my tongue and mouth enough to thank him and smile. No drooling like one of my babies!

Bret is also an artist and he makes the most psychedelic pieces that cover the ceiling lights right above your chair. They are genius! Why has no dentist (or doctor for that matter) ever thought of this before?! I could stare at those things for hours. The music is always something that I like, not elevator music, and hearing Bret sing along is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Plus they make me feel like a human being. I've always kind of felt like going to the dentist was an evil cross between doing your taxes and going to the mechanic. It's one of those unavoidable duties of being an adult; it involves things you've never even heard of; any explanation appears for all intents and purposes to be in another language; and then when all is said and done you owe so much money that it makes you blush a little. Then there's the scary tools and all that pain.

Alki Dental makes me feel like some hip European accountant in organic designer jeans is doing my taxes for me, calling me by my first name, and when I end up with a huge return in the end I'm blushing a little for other reasons. Like I said, they are magic.

There are still scary-looking tools, but today as Bret and his assistant were speaking in their beautiful dental language above my open mouth, he made those scary tools look like musical instruments, not instruments of pain. I wasn't scared, nervous, anxious or uncomfortable for even a second of the whole two and a half hour ordeal.

Looking up at those crazy psychedelic lights as they fixed my pearly whites, I smiled behind my dental dam and vowed to share the glory of a pain-free fear-free dental experience with all of you. Bret & Alki certainly deserve a shout-out. If you're searching for a dentist, or even if you're not, check them out. They are all amazing, real, local people!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

me time.

Even though I am physically and mentally deteriorating from lack of sleep, I find it really hard to go to bed once the boys are finally down for the night. Even though it takes away an hour or two of potential sleep, I need a little bit of me time. Time to eat, time to take a pee break, time to catch up with friends and family and connect with the outside world. It feels worth it each night, but then every morning I'm kicking myself for not having taken advantage of that extra hour of zzzs.

Is it worth it?

Ask me again in a few weeks and my answer might have changed, but right now it's one of the very few things keeping me sane and in my mind sanity trumps sleep.

Monday, June 24, 2013

tip: sit baby up.

Sometime around four to eight months babies start to want to sit up. They discover life from a whole new perspective than the one they've had on their backs or during tummy time. It is new and exciting and they want more.

My babes were at the point last week where they were so excited about sitting up that they no longer wanted to be laying down. No more time on the fun blanket, no more tummy time, no more bicycles or rolling races. Nuh uh. They wanted to be seated. I am more than willing to oblige; helping them sit is a very amusing albeit stressful job - I am still waiting for the first inevitable head bonk - but I am only one person. I can only give my attention to one wobbly baby trying to sit up at a time. Whoever I was helping was having a blast. Whoever was left laying next to us watching was not too happy about being left out. I needed a solution.

I have heard about special chairs designed to help a baby sit up, but I know this phase will only last a few weeks at most and buying more baby stuff seems excessive.

And then a dear friend of mine gave me the best freaking tip ever...

Use a nursing pillow!

If you help baby sit up all the time and don't let them fall a little bit, it takes them a long time to figure out that there is a physical consequence to wobbling and that usually results in a big bonk or total face plant. Sitting them in the middle of a nursing pillow reduces the risk of a major head injury, while still letting them fall over and learn about their little body mechanics.

When they start to tip, they will learn to instinctively put their hand out to catch themselves, even if the pillow will do most of the catching for them. Not having the protection of your arms there every time will help them learn to have confidence in themselves.

Of course this should always be done under your supervision. Once baby is sitting up by themselves and able to play freely with something in their hands, it's time to occasionally take the pillow away for practice with their balance, but in the meantime, enjoy having your hands free!

Happy sitting!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

recipe: the best damn tofu marinade ever.

If you don't cook it often, tofu on its own can be a hard one to tackle. Making something spectacular boils down to two essentials: the quality of your ingredients and your marinade.

This recipe is my mom's famous salmon marinade. She has made people cry her salmon is so good. Her secret? Fresh Copper River salmon (wild Alaskan salmon for those of you not from the PNW) and this marinade.

It magically transforms tofu into something even the pickiest eaters will love; they will probably even beg for more.

1/4 cup soy sauce (I use Bragg's Liquid Aminos.)
1/4 cup honey or agave or maple syrup (I am one of the vegans who eats honey and that's my preference here. Each type of sweetener adds its own flavor.)
1/4 cup sesame oil
3-6 cloves garlic*, minced
A thumb-sized chunk of fresh ginger*, grated or minced
3 green onions, thinly sliced
Sesame seeds
Pepper to taste

*The garlic and ginger can be replaced by powdered versions of each in a pinch, though it pains me to even make that suggestion. Just like you can buy cheapy tofu or farmed salmon, it will not be as orgasmically delicious if the ingredients aren't fresh.

To make the marinade, mix everything together so that the oil is well incorporated.

Press your tofu to expel all the liquid. The more liquid you press out, the more marinade will be absorbed and the more flavorful your tofu will be.

Cut your tofu however you please, usually based on how you plan to cook it. Cubed or crumbled is good for sauteing. Sliced into rectangles or triangles is great for baking or broiling or barbequing. In general, the thicker the pieces, the longer they will need to marinate and cook.

Put your tofu in a container and cover with the marinade. Leave in the fridge for at least an hour, turning the tofu once to make sure both sides get equal marinade love.

My favorite way of cooking it up is on the grill; the barbecue adds an extra smoky flavor that works really well with this marinade. A close second is broiling. Line your broiler pan with some aluminum foil and dump it all in. Baste every few minutes and cook until the tofu's slightly browned and it smells so good you can't stand it anymore, 10-20 minutes depending on thickness.

I guarantee you will ask for seconds.

Bon appetit!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

night terrors.

The other night I had my first baby nightmare. There was a man in a suit and bowler hat with dark sunglasses following us and I knew he was going to hurt my babies in unspeakable ways. I've had pretty terrifying dreams before, but this was something new. This was an earth-shattering fear, one that I could feel in my bones, one that shook me to my core. It was feeling helpless for something as helpless as your own innocent child.

It was awful.

I haven't had many dreams about my babies since becoming a mom, and while part of me feels this means I'm truly a mother, protecting her babes even while sleeping, there's another part of me in there that was suddenly incredibly aware of all the fears that come along with being a parent.

What do I do if there's an earthquake? If we're in a car accident? If, as local current events brought to mind, we are driving across a bridge and it collapses?!!! How do you decide who to unbuckle from their carseat first? What do you do if someone hurts them in unspeakable ways? How are you supposed to protect them from all the uncontrollable evils of the world?

This is where my amazing husband comes in. He gets home from work. He comforts me. He tells me everything is alright. And it is. He tells me we can't control everything. We are good parents, we love our children, we do our best to protect them and that's all we can do. And I know he's right.

If our car goes off a collapsing bridge, I will do everything in my power to save both my babies. A bridge collapsing as I'm driving over it - that's out of my control.  It won't happen. Not to us.


Even though I know my husband is right, tonight I'm locking my doors, I'm checking under the bed for the man in the bowler hat and I'm praying to all the gods that no earthquake shakes the ground we sleep on for at least another night. Not tonight. Not this first night of my first summer with my first babies. Let the earth quake another day.

What are your greatest fears?

Friday, June 21, 2013

maman musing #5.

Don't ever, ever doubt your maman instincts. They are always right.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

throwing it out with the bath water.

It was bathtime. Someone had given us a Night-time Baby Bath made by a common generic brand and it was sitting in the upstairs bathroom. The bottle said it was supposed to "release fragrant aromas that calm and relax your baby while you gently cleanse him/her" and claimed it to be a "natural way to help your baby have a restful night"; I was too lazy to go downstairs and get the organic soap made with essential oils that I usually use, so I figured why not and poured a little in the bath.

A few seconds in, the smell of "lavender" was so horribly fake I decided to look at the ingredients list. I generally do this whenever I am considering buying a product and steer clear of anything with ingredients I don't know the composition or purpose of. Since this was a gift I hadn't given it much thought. After seeing the long list of words I could hardly pronounce I promptly poured out the bath water and drew a new bath.

I get a lot of criticism for being too over-cautious from some family and friends. They roll their eyes when I won't let my baby eat something that wasn't grown organically or be covered in chemical-riddled sunscreens or when they hear I am vegan. Well you know what? Let's go through the ingredients list on this one random bottle of baby body wash in a whole sea of baby body washes and see why I am the way I am.

This seems like it is harmless. Water is harmless when it's just water. But beauty products with water on the ingredients list should be avoided because any formula that contains water must contain a preservative. Preservatives are usually known or suspected xenoestrogens, an endocrine disrupting chemical that imitates estrogen and have been linked to high rates of breast cancer, endometriosis (a painful condition affecting the uterine tissue), unusually early onset of puberty, infertility, miscarriages, decreased sperm count, prostate and testicular cancers.

Cocamidopropyl Betaine
What is it? A surfactant (it gives the wash its foaming, lathering and cleansing properties).
What's it made from? Coconut oil and dimethylaminopropylamine.
Concerns? It is a known skin, eye, and lung irritant.  At high temperatures and under acidic conditions, it can also form carcinogenic nitrosamines (although the temperature would need to be 350 degrees or more). Also concerning is that residues from processing (amidoamine and 3-dimethylaminopropylamine) can remain in the product, potentially causing contact dermatitis, eye irritation, and other allergic reactions. Cocamidopropyl betaine was named Allergen of the Year by the American Contact Dermatitis Society in 2004.

PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate
What is it? A polymer of ethylene oxide used for fragrance, binding and surfactant purposes.
What's it made from? It is a is an ethoxylated sorbitan monoester of Lauric Acid with an average of 80 moles of ethylene oxide.
Concerns? There is a low concern about organ system toxicity.

Sodium Trideceth Sulfate
What is it? A sodium salt of sulfated ethoxylated Tridecyl Alcohol, used as a foaming agent.
Classified as not expected to be potentially toxic or harmful to people or the environment.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate
What is it? A widely used detergent and surfactant that can be derived from coconut oil or petroleum by-products.  It is commonly used as an industrial degreaser.
Concerns? Sodium Laureth Sulfate is an ethoxylated compound and during the creation process it is  processed with ethylene oxide which is a known carcinogen. Traces of ethylene oxide and 1,4-Dioxane (another known carcinogen) can be found in the detergent. It's also a skin irritant that can lead to and aggrivate skin conditions like eczema and an eye irritant that has been shown to cause cataracts in adults and inhibit the proper formation of eyes in small children. Sodium laureth sulfate is commonly used in laboratory testing.  When companies need to test the efficiency of lotion, they first have to irritate skin.  To do so, they use sodium laureth sulfate.

Sodium Lauroamphoacetate
What is it? An amphoteric organic compound used as a foam booster.
Classified as not expected to be potentially toxic or harmful to people or the environment.

Polysorbate 20
What is it? A fragrance component, a surfactant, an emulsifying agent, and a solubilizing agent. Although it's derived from a natural ingredient, it is not natural--it is an ethoxylated compound.
Concerns? Polysorbate starts out as harmless sorbitol, but then it's treated with carcinogenic ethylene oxide.  It's called Polysorbate 20 because it's treated with 20 "parts" of ethylene oxide.  The higher the number, the more ethylene oxide it has been treated with.  This substance is then combined with various fatty acids. There is a risk that it could be contaminated with ethylene oxide, and subsequently, 1,4 dioxane.  In addition, it can be laced with heavy metals.

PEG-150 Distearate
What is it? A polyethylene glycol diester of stearic acid used as a cleansing and solubilizing agent.
Classified as not expected to be potentially toxic or harmful to people or the environment with limited evidence of sense organ toxicity.

Sodium Benzoate
What is it? A preservative.
It is known to be a neurotoxin to aquatic animals and is toxic/lethal at high doses in humans. Animal studies have shown some developmental abnormalities. Rats and mice given moderate doses of sodium benzoate showed decreased weight and some endocrine disruption, however, at low doeses there were no effects. Animal studies have shown it to be toxic to the liver at moderate doses. When combined with vitamin C (ascorbic acid) or citric acid, it forms benzene, a known carcinogen.  This is a common problem in soft drinks. One study found that sodium benzoate created free radicals in the body, destorying mitochondrial DNA, adding to the body's aging process.

What is it? A combination of chemicals intended to produce the synthetic version of a desired scent.
Concerns? A 1986 report by the National Academy of Sciences noted that 95 percent of chemicals used in synthetic fragrances are derived from petroleum and include benzene derivatives (carcinogenic), aldehydes, toluene, and many other known toxins linked to cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders and allergic reactions. A 2001 study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that synthetic fragrances were often shown to contain hormone disruptors linked to abnormal cell reproduction.

Citric Acid
What is it? A weak acid naturally present in fruit. It's usually used in cosmetics to balance the pH.
Concerns? It might cause a little bit of irritation at full strength (think of lemon juice on a paper cut) but used in tiny quantities in cosmetics probably won't cause irritation. However, when combined with sodium benzoate (which is present in this product, as seen above) it forms benzene, which is a known carcinogen.

Why oh why do we bathe our babies in known carcinogens, or even products that could be potential carcinogens or skin irritants? These are our babies for crying out loud!!! We wonder why everyone we know has cancer! Maybe we should literally stop bathing in cancer-causing agents!!!

There are always natural alternatives. Next time I want a soothing bed-time bath for my babes, I will add a few drops of essential oil of lavender and call it good.

Chemical of the Day
Environmental Working Group's Cosmetic Database

Monday, June 17, 2013

parent day.

For Father's Day yesterday I let my husband sleep for twelve uninterrupted hours. Twelve freaking hours! Can you imagine?! He got coconut banana chocolate chip pancakes; photos of him and his beautiful babes in adorable frames; an awesome book about being a new dad (which I've already stolen multiple times to sneak advice); a transmitter thingy so he can listen to his iPod in the car; an afternoon marathon of beer and Dr. Who; and a night out with a fellow new Papa.

Now that is an awesome day.

It brought back the same nagging thoughts I had on my wonderful Mother's Day weekend: why is there only one designated day per year for this? Every freaking day is a Parent Day! We work our little tooshies off taking care of our babes and we deserve more than one day each year to sit back and relax. We need more that one day a year to recharge our batteries. Rest makes us better people which in turn makes us better parents.

So I'm pledging to give both my husband and I each a day all to ourselves once a month. I'll get a day where I can do whatever the freak I want all day long while he takes care of the kids and is extra nice to me. Two weeks later he'll get his turn to relax and unwind and have a perfect housewife and no child responsibilities. In between our "me" days we'll have "us" days where we'll make a conscious effort to have a date. Maybe we can even finagle our friends and family to babysit for us once a month so we can have a real soirée together.

Taking care of ourselves - what a crazy idea, right? You know what would be crazier? If all the mamas in the area had the same day off. Just imagine the possibilities...

Saturday, June 15, 2013

nursing strike.

All strikes are annoying to whatever persons, companies or parties being destabilized; nursing strikes are absolute hell.

A nursing strike is when baby abruptly starts refusing the breast. Babies very, very rarely wean themselves entirely from breastfeeding before 18-24 months. If your baby has stopped nursing all of a sudden, don't assume they are done with the breast. They are probably just on strike! It means something is wrong for your sweet babe and it is your job as their mama to figure out what that problem is and fix it. It is incredibly frustrating, but with a little patience and determination (ok, a freaking lot of patience and determination!) baby will come back to the breast.

Refusing the breast can be due to a whole host of factors such as :
  • illness, especially if a stuffy nose makes it hard for baby to breathe,
  • pain (from something like teething, an ear infection, reflux), 
  • reaction to vaccines (which could also be localized pain or headaches), 
  • hospitalization of mom or baby, 
  • excessive stress to mama (you are having a hard time at work, your in-laws are in town, you got in a fight with your partner - baby can sense your mood!), 
  • excessive stress to baby (over-stimulation from nursing in public, being held in an uncomfortable position, not knowing how to latch on properly),
  • being scared (from a loud noise, interaction with a pet, mama yelling after being bitten, etc),
  • a drastic change in a solid nursing schedule,
  • a change in the flavor of your breastmilk (if you have eaten something that makes your milk taste unpleasant to baby or started taking some medications),
  • a change in your lotion, perfume or soap that makes you smell different to baby,
  • not enough milk (reduced supply or a letdown that is too slow after baby latches on)
  • too much milk (engorgement or too heavy flow that results in baby coughing and sputtering)

It usually only lasts a few days, but can last up to a few weeks, or very rarely a few months.

It is very important not to force baby back to the breast!!! Baby is having a hard time; nursing is about comfort. They need to be comforted and coaxed back gently. The breast should always stay a safe place.

There are three main steps in resolving a nursing strike:
  1. Feed your baby.
    • There are a few options here for what to feed baby and how to feed baby. The best choice is always mother's milk freshly expressed, though this can be unrealistic. The next best choice is mother's milk in general. Then donated milk from another mama. Then formula. It doesn't matter what combination of these options baby gets, but make sure baby is getting food! Baby will come back to the breast more easily if they are happy and the problem has been solved, not if they are starved.
    • Baby can be fed by bottle, by cup, by spoon, by a supplemental nursing system (SNS), a finger feeder or any combination of the above.
  2. Keep your supply up.
    • Pump or hand express your milk as often as you would feed your baby. Milk supply is all about demand. Stop the demand and you lose the supply. Lose the supply and baby has nothing to come back to.
  3. Seduce your baby.
    • Offer baby the breast often. If they refuse, that's ok. Don't push it. Just let baby know it's still there.
    • Skin-to-skin as often as possible. This lets baby smell your scent and reminds baby how wonderful you are and how safe they feel with you.
    • Wear your baby, preferably wearing little clothing so there is as much skin-to-skin as possible.
    • Sleep near or with your baby, preferably with as much skin-to-skin as possible.
    • Try a baby-mama honeymoon. Go back to the very beginning when you and baby were just getting to know each other. Spend all day in bed with baby, shirtless, constantly offering baby the breast. Take a bath with baby and let baby just hang out on your chest. You might find baby suckles a little, even if they're not really nursing. This is good! They are getting reacquainted with your breast! Let it happen!
    • Try nursing when baby is very sleepy, such as at night, right before falling asleep or just after waking up. 
    • Try nursing in a distraction-free environment and in a position where baby feels very stable such as laying down.
    • Relax. Try mediation or breathing exercises, taking a walk (wearing baby!), doing some yoga, drinking a cup of chamomile tea, taking a bath. Reduce your stress and baby's stress level will come down, too. 
    • Temporarily eliminate foods you might think are making baby upset (either stomach-wise or due to taste).
    • Help tempt baby with a little milk. If you're using a nipple shield, fill the tip with milk before hand. Stimulate your breast so letdown happens before baby latches on, leaking milk onto baby's mouth. Cover the nipple with milk. Squeeze milk onto the breast through a syringe while getting baby to latch on. Use an SNS or finger feeder.
    • If baby is teething, try rubbing baby's gums or letting them gnaw on a chew toy or something frozen just before nursing to ease the pain.
Contacting a lactation specialist is always a good idea whenever nursing problems come up. Try your local hospital or La Leche League for help finding a good reference.

Usually comfort nursing comes back first, either during sleep or sleepy moments; then just suckling; then occasional low-key nursing sessions; and then finally full-time resuming nursing as it was before the strike.

This is one of the hardest moments a mother can experience - literally being refused by your baby. Don't give up! Don't take it personally! Baby still loves you, I promise! When baby finally does come back to the breast, you will appreciate the connection you have with your little one so much more. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

tip: give baby a spoon.

Sometimes when you're first starting to experiment with solids it's hard to get food into baby's mouth. They want to play with the spoon, they want to play with your hands, they want to make spitting noises. This play is all good for baby's development.

Sometimes, however, you need to get that food in there. We personally want our own babes to both get at least a taste of each food we've prepared at every solid food meal because sometimes it can take ten or twelve tries before baby decides they like or dislike a certain food. If they don't want to eat it after that first taste we don't push it; it's never a good idea to force food on a baby. If baby knows that you're coming at them with a certain offender, though, sometimes you need a trick to get that first bite in there.

An easy fix: give baby a spoon of their own to play with. They have fun, they go to put it in their mouth and you slip in a bite of food along with it. It's minimally invasive and baby will tell you right away if they respond well to it or not. An added plus is the hand-eye coordination it works on, and pretty soon they'll start trying to feed themselves. And it's darn cute to boot!

(This is one of those things, like being in a high chair, that should always be supervised. It's amazing how far a baby can jam one of those tiny spoons in their mouth when you're not looking. We don't want any choking!)

Happy Spooning!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sunday, June 9, 2013

recipe: strawberry rhubarb pie.

 Nothing announces the approach of summer like berries & pie. This recipe masters both. It is quick and easy and freaking delicious. The filling is made on the stovetop, meaning it is no-bake apart from the crust. Start to finish it shouldn't take more than a half an hour.

(Adapted from Big Vegan by Robin Asbell.)

  • Your favorite pie crust
  • 2 cups sliced rhubarb
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 2 Tbs cornstarch
  • 4 cups sliced strawberries
  1. In a medium pot over medium high heat, add the rhubarb, raspberries, sugar and almond extract. Bring to a simmer and reduce to medium low, stirring occasionally until the mixture is thick and jam-like, about 15 minutes.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and 2 Tbsp water. Turn the heat up and add this mixture into the rhubarb, stirring constantly until it comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the mixture is very thick.
  3. Remove from heat and quickly fold in the strawberries. 
  4. Pour the filling into your pre-baked pie shell. 
  5. Refrigerate until the pie is fully cool.
  6. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

first foods.

There are quite a few fairly easy first foods that babies tend to love and that only take seconds to prepare.

Baby Rice
If you really like the idea of giving baby rice cereal for their first food, making your own is not hard. Boil 1 cup water. Add 1/3 cup rice and bring it back to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed and the rice is very tender. Blend or mash up with a fork, adding breast milk or formula as needed to make a nice, creamy mush.

This should make about 8-10 servings. Freeze in tablespoon-sized chunks (ice trays are great for this) or keep it in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 48 hours, provided no saliva touches it. (When you go to serve more, use a clean spoon. Anything saliva touches should be used up or discarded.)

Banana is a pretty fail-safe first food. It doesn't need to be cooked and babies tend to love its sweet taste.

Choose a ripe banana, peel it, mash it up with a fork and add breast milk or formula to obtain the desired consistency. Store as directed above.

Avocado is a favorite for babies and parents alike! This is one you want to prepare just before serving to avoid discoloration. I've found one average-sized avocado is good for about four to six portions.

Cut off 1/3 of the avocado, peel it, mash it up with a fork and add breast milk or formula to obtain the desired consistency. Keep the rest of the avocado with the pit not yet removed in a plastic bag in the fridge. Keeping the pit in tact keeps the avocado from turning brown. It's possible to store a portion for same-day use, but after about 12 hours it becomes discolored and might not appeal to baby.