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.

Friday, June 7, 2013

introducing solids.

Making your own baby food is incredibly easy. When I used to hear people talk about making their own a decade ago, I used to roll my naive lil' not-a-mama eyes and mutter, "Granola!!!" Baby food from a jar is not the devil. These days it is completely possible to find baby food made with simple, organic ingredients and no or very little preservatives and it's true that you can't get much quicker than opening a jar.

However, homemade baby food takes only a few seconds more to prepare, you know exactly what's in it and where it came from, you can control yourself how it was prepared - meaning you can choose cooking methods that retain more nutrients, you know the food is incredibly fresh and you can control the texture to suit your baby. In the beginning you might be making special little meals for baby, but this is equally fun for you and for them! They are discovering foods for the first time and that exploration is awesome and hilarious!

Later on when their palate is more developed, all you have to do is reserve a little of whatever you're cooking for the rest of the family and mash it up. In that case it might be easier than opening a whole bunch of little jars.

You don't need fancy baby food makers or special food processors. Most of your preparation can be done with a fork. Contrary to popular belief, babies don't need their food to be the purest puree ever. There shouldn't be any lumps big enough that baby can choke, but texture is good. It teaches baby not to become one of those annoying kids who will refuse to eat a yogurt with the tiniest chunk of fruit in it. Steamed, simmered or baked foods require such little attention you will hardly notice the extra effort.

Baby's first food doesn't need to be rice cereal, either. This has become the custom for a few reasons. Firstly, it's very bland and nondescript taste-wise. It's easy to introduce something that doesn't have much of a taste; nothing to complain about or refuse. Secondly, all rice cereal in the States is required to have iron added.

When your baby was in your belly they got all of the iron they needed directly from you through the umbilical cord. Baby was born with huge stores of iron to keep them functioning, but was not making iron on their own yet. Around six months is when baby starts producing iron by themselves, but it is also the the time where they have the lowest level of iron they will probably have in their entire life as the iron store gift from you has almost been used up. Adding iron to rice cereal was a convenient way to make sure baby got a kick start. It was promoted as the perfect first food to ensure baby didn't become too anemic.

As long as you start introducing solid foods around six months and as long as you are getting enough iron in your diet, baby will get all the iron they need from solids and your breastmilk or formula until they start producing it on their own.

Pretty much anything can be a first food for baby, though whole dairy products, foods with gluten (like wheat and barley), berries, citrus fruit and nuts are typically avoided for about the first year to reduce the likelihood of developing allergies. This is because your baby's digestive system isn't fully developed yet. Your intestines are like a giant sieve, and when you are a baby those tiny holes are much bigger, allowing larger pieces through. If certain foods pass through the bigger holes less digested, they can cause the body to react to them later on, causing a food allergy for life. Berries and citrus fruits are avoided because the acidity can upset baby's stomach.

The only things to completely avoid are salt and honey. Absolutely no salt should be added to any of baby's foods. Their kidneys are not developed enough to handle salt, and giving them even a little can cause permanent damage. Honey should be avoided because of the risk of botulism, although if boiled for five minutes it should be sterile enough for consumption (though in my personal opinion no baby under two needs any added sugar).

It is a myth that introducing vegetables before fruits will ensure they like them before getting trapped in a diet of all sweet. Babies like the taste of vegetables; when they are tiny they do have an affinity for sweet foods because breastmilk is sweet, but this does not mean they will never eat veggies, I promise! As their palate grows they will learn to love a variety of flavors. If baby refuses something one day they might love it the next, and vice versa. Keep offering! You might be surprised!

Last but certainly not least, make sure you introduce new foods one at a time, introducing only one new food every three or so days to make sure they don't have any reactions to it. If they do, such as diarrhea, rashes, vomiting, bloating or gas, remove the suspect food from their diet. In a few weeks, introduce it again and see if they react again. Be sure to let your pediatrician know.

It's very helpful to keep a little journal to jot down when you introduced the foods, how you prepared it, any reaction they might have had, and whether they loved or hated it. You only get to introduce a new food to baby once - have fun with it! It is an amazing learning process for everyone!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

finding out you're pregnant with twins.

It was decided: we did not under any circumstances want to know the sex of the baby. This was a routine ultrasound to check and make sure my humongous belly did not mean our baby was truly a monster, but that did not mean we needed to know if it was a boy or a girl. We still wanted that surprise at the birth. We had been hoping the first time we saw our baby would be as it was born, but a healthy baby we'd seen on a sonogram was better than an unhealthy baby we'd be seeing for he first time on its due date.

As the technician squirted the jelly onto my abdomen we made her promise not to tell us the sex. I knew I would be able to tell if I saw, so I glanced at the screen to get a quick peek before shielding my eyes for the rest of the exam.

That's when I saw it. Two perfect little ovals. Two.

"Uhhhhmmmm," the technician started.

"What?!! What is it?" my husband panicked.

"There's two!!!" I shouted.

"Yes," continued the tech. "Here's Baby A's head." Click. She took a picture to send to the radiologist. She moved the wand from near my pelvis to up near my ribs. Click. "And up here is Baby B's head!"

My husband's jaw might as well have been on the ground. "I'm sorry, what?!!!!" he shouted after a long pause.

"You are having two babies," the tech continued. Click. As if to help him better understand, she rephrased. "You're having twins!" Click.

Long pause. Click. Click. Click.

"I'm sorry, what??!!!!"

We both were in complete disbelief. There was no good explanation for why there were two. I didn't fit any of the typical descriptions of mamas of multiples. We were in complete awe. We laughed. We cried. We asked the poor technician if she was sure about a thousand times.

"Does this ever happen?" I asked her. "Do people often find out they are having twins at five some odd months pregnant?"

She shook her head, still looking at the screen. "No," she said plainly. Click. "This almost never happens." Click. "Most everyone these days gets an ultrasound as soon as they find out they are pregnant." Click. "This is very, very rare."

My husband was very quiet for a long time, staring at the screen, trying desperately to understand. Finally he squeezed my hand and kissed my cheek. "I guess we just love each other so much we made two."

This is why I love my husband.

At this point, life had already dealt us the biggest surprise we would likely ever get. "Still sure you don't want to know the sexes?" the technician asked. Without a beat, my husband answered. "Tell us everything!!!" The boys were not shy. Even a blind man could have seen that they were definitely boys. No mistakes here.

Oh boy, I thought. I'm freaking surrounded. My dad had been cursed/blessed to be constantly surrounded by women. He had four daughters and it seemed every pet we owned was female, too. Now it was my turn to be the minority. Two male cats, my husband, and now two little boys. I was in for it good.

The most surprising part of the whole story is how unsurprised everyone else seemed to be when we broke the news. Every single person reacted as if they had known the entire time. We called my husband's parents immediately after leaving the radiologist and their reaction? "I told you." All of my friends and coworkers who joked about me having twins? "We told you so." The customers? "I knew it." It was as if the universe had been playing a big cosmic joke and everybody was in on it except for us.

As if to seal the deal, one of our chickens laid their very first egg not long after the ultrasound. As we cracked it into our cast iron pan that August morning, I almost peed myself. The egg had two yolks. Two freaking yolks. The universe could not have been more clear.

A dear friend from New York had the best reaction of them all. When I told her I was eating for three, instead of the previously assumed two, she replied quite simply. "Too much fertility tea." Indeed.

From that moment on life was a blur. We were suddenly extremely conscious of the fact that we were no where near prepared for having these babies. We weren't even prepared for one baby. We had bought exactly five things. A pair of overalls from Finland, a stuffed rabbit from France, and three books. No crib. No clothes. No diapers, no bottles, no car seats, no strollers, no nothing. We had assumed that we still had all the time in the world. We still had nineteen weeks to go until our due date! But we quickly learned that being pregnant with two babies meant they could potentially come months in advance, cutting the time we had left in half.

We had our work cut out for us.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

you're having twins.

This being my first pregnancy and all, most of the time I didn't know any better. No one can ever experience pregnancy from anyone else's perspective, but in hindsight there were some signs (ok, sign after sign after sign) that something extraordinary was brewing. I had never done this before. I had nothing to compare it to.

Apparently everyone else knew before I did.

Sign number one was the very first sign I was pregnant. Our very independent French cat, Tippen, who immigrated all the way from rural France with my husband and I, has never ever been a cuddly lap cat. He is a hunter, happy to spend hour after hour stalking birds and mice and other cats and racoons and cars through the tall grass of our overgrown yard. All of a sudden, come the beginning of April, he started rubbing up on my legs, purring wildly and "making biscuits" as a wonderful friend so endearingly describes it, while trying to find a comfortable spot on my lap. At first I thought it meant we had found the perfect house. We both had agreed the second we stepped through the front door that the whole property had incredible energy. You could just tell there had been a lot of love living under this roof for a whole lot of years. It was infectious and we soon fell in love with the house as much as we were in love with each other. I thought love had drugged our cats, too. Turns out it was hormones. Lots of hormones. Maybe I should have paid more attention to what Tippen was trying to tell me...

Sign number two was the pregnancy test. The friend who consoled me that April morning was right - it is the darkest freaking pregnancy test line ever. I still have it and the other one (why did I take two and not the three provided in the box?) wrapped up in a plastic baggie in my medicine cabinet and it is pink. I figured it meant I was really pregnant. The egg had implanted. I was really fertile. Well, that's exactly what it meant. I was really fertile. Maybe I should have paid more attention to what my friend told me...

Sign number three was a dream. Not my dream, but my father-in-law's. When we first found out I was pregnant we decided that my husband's family, being so far away on the other side of the globe in France, would be the first to know. They would be missing so much of baby's life with us living in the States, it was only fair. We called them as soon as we could and delivered the news. That night my husband's father had a dream. In it were two beautiful little boys, running, running towards him, always running. He called the next day to tell us. "You are having twins," he said. I laughed. "How ambitious of you!" I replied. "I think we're good with just the one for now." The thing is, he is not the type to have symbolic dreams or take stock in them, and even less the type to share them. Maybe I should have paid more attention to what my father-in-law was trying to tell me...

Sign number four was my instincts. I knew from the very beginning that I wanted a midwife. I was born in a midwifery, I loathed hospitals, and I trusted in my body. I wanted to find someone who trusted in me, too. We found a group of midwives locally who had a little midwifery not too far from our house. We walked hand-in-hand to our check-ups and often ran into the midwives at the local farmers market or co-op. It felt perfect. I was terrified something was going to go wrong and I wouldn't be able to deliver in their quaint little birthing room. One of the few reasons we would need to transfer elsewhere was if we were having twins. We weren't, so it wasn't an issue; I even asked them to check for two heartbeats at one of the appointments. "Do twins run in either of your families?" Nope. "Are you taking hormones of some sort?" Nope. Plus I wasn't over thirty-five, I wasn't obese, I didn't consume any dairy products (the hormones in dairy can sometimes cause women to over-ovulate, releasing more than one egg and resulting in multiples). I was pretty much the least likely candidate ever for having twins. I had a 0.06% chance. Still, they humored me and tried to find a second heartbeat. "It would be pretty hard to distinguish two separate heartbeats this early on," they told me. "But we can pretty confidently say you are not pregnant with twins." Still, in the back of my mind, one of the reasons I didn't want to get an ultrasound was if there were for some reason two babies in there, if we didn't get an ultrasound to find out for sure, they couldn't refuse me. We'd just go along with everything as planned and then after baby one came out they'd laugh, surprised, and out would come baby two. Do most people have these weird thoughts hidden in the back of their pregnant minds? I think not. Maybe I should have listened to what my instincts were trying to tell me...

Sign number five was my belly. It was growing at an alarming rate. My jeans stopped fitting before the nausea had even subsided. I was too big for a belly band to work around my old pants. The lady at the maternity store had told us whatever size you are before you get pregnant, that is the size maternity clothes that will fit. Not true. Of course I just assumed she didn't know what she was talking about. She did. When you're normally supposed to be gaining around a pound a week and you're gaining at least two, it's not the salesclerk at Motherhood Maternity who is in the wrong. And when your belly is supposed to be growing at about a centimeter a week and yours is five weeks ahead, you might have a serious problem. Maybe I should have listened to what my body was trying to tell me...

The last sign was every freaking other person in the entire world. I cannot tell you how many times upon divulging I was pregnant, even loooong before I was showing, I would be told, "Aw!!! Oh! You're having twins, I just know it!!" or "It's twins, I swear!" or "What if you were pregnant with twins?!" I asked the midwives if this was normal. "Is it a thing, when you're pregnant does everyone come up and touch your belly and tell you you're having twins?" They looked at each other. "Um, no." And yet that was my whole life as a pregnant lady. We had a friend staying with us for a few months right when I first got pregnant; he told me I was having twins. I thought he was joking until one of my best friends came to visit from Iowa and, a twin herself, they constantly bickered about whether I was having two boys or a boy and a girl. I had to constantly remind them there was only one baby in there. They both just shook their heads at my naivete. Another amazing friend, a friendly viking of a man, very seriously told me I was gestating two little monsters. Customer after customer at the deli where I worked informed me I was not with one child, but two. One kind woman who I could chat with for hours was so excited when I told her I was pregnant. Her only response? "It's twins!!!" she shouted, and skittered off smiling. Her husband came over to me in the wake of her energy. "She's psychic, you know." He leaned in closer to my scowl. "She tends to predict these things, and every time she's right." My co-workers joked about it; my friends joked about it; strangers joked about it. And every time I had to correct them politely. How funny, haha, how silly, what fun. "Unfortunately, there is only one baby in here," I would say. Maybe I should have listened to what every freaking person in the entire world was trying to tell me...

For someone who trusted her body, trusted her baby and had such faith in the universe, I was not very receptive to any of it. Maybe I should have opened my ears, opened my heart and opened my mind and just freaking listened to the universe...

Monday, June 3, 2013

being pregnant: the beginning.

The day I found out I was pregnant it was as if I had been asleep for my entire life and was suddenly waking up. Colors were more vibrant, the sky brighter, the sun warmer, the scents of spring more potent; people smiled at me as if they knew my secret and even the birds twittered our good news from bush to bush to tree to tree as I walked around the neighborhood. I couldn't wait for the joys of pregnancy to really start, and I mean all the joys of pregnancy. I was naive or simply crazy, but as I said before, I wanted it all. Any symptom in What to Expect When You're Expecting, I was eagerly expecting.

Be careful what you wish for.

That first day knowing there was a little person growing inside of me, I was scheduled to work the evening shift in the deli of a local co-op. My menial job seemed suddenly utterly insufferable and devoid of purpose. What could be more fulfilling than physically creating a child? Baby was only the size of a poppyseed and yet I already felt I was more powerful than any god, putting together this little person piece by piece with each breath or bite. A customer asked how my day was and my eyes started to tear up. I told him it was the best day of my life. He asked why and I let him in on the secret I was supposed to tell no one, not until more time had passed and we could be sure baby was here to stay; at least not until our families and friends knew. I had to excuse myself and spend a few good minutes sobbing in the bathroom, tears of joy spilling out onto my chef's coat as I thanked the universe for my good fortune.

I rolled into bed that night exhausted beyond words physically and mentally. Little did I know it was just the beginning.

Slowly the nausea began to creep in. Just a low buzz at first, annoying, but bearable if I kept my nose plugged. Smells were too intense to handle. The tiniest shift in the air could send a hint of some far off scent in my direction, which was enough to make me woozy, so I plugged my nose at all times in an effort to avoid unpleasant smells and the resulting nausea. The relief was short-lived. Morning sickness is possibly the least accurate description anyone has ever come up with. Constant sickness would be much more appropriate.

Every day it increased in intensity until I felt I was constantly at sea, riding wave after wave of nausea and with no solid land anywhere in sight to fixate on. I could hardly keep anything down other than foods in the "beige" food group: crackers, white toast, plain pasta, plain popcorn. And the fatigue! Sleeping less than twelve hours in a day left me feeling like I had been hit by a train, and I often found it physically impossible to drag myself out of bed. It was all I could do to stay awake for an eight hour shift at work, and I was often so sick I couldn't even make it in.

I was having a rude awakening. I did not want this nausea. I did not want this fatigue. I did not want this emotional rollercoaster. I was completely caught off guard at how unprepared my body was for the stress of pregnancy and I was devastated that I could not handle it. This baby was kicking my ass.

"This is so much harder than I ever thought it would be," I confided in a friend. "I don't know if I can do this."

"You can do it," she assured me. "This too shall pass. They say the morning sickness and fatigue only lasts the first six to twelve weeks anyway. It will be gone in a flash." Six to twelve weeks?!?! It had only been two and I was convinced I was dying. Was she trying to torture me?

She was right of course, although it got worse before it got better. In my case it was about ten weeks of hell before things started to turn around, and turn around they quickly did. As the nausea abruptly subsided, my appetite steadily grew and with it my belly. I had always had the flattest stomach of anyone I knew, and suddenly there was a very noticeable and awfully adorable little bump; finally proof that my little blueberry really was growing in my womb.

My appetite was insatiable and my thirst unquenchable. I ate and I ate and I ate with no satisfaction and I drank and I drank and I drank but still my throat was dry. Other pregnant friends assured me that they, too, had become human garbage disposals, but when we ate meals together even they were astonished by the bottomless pit that had replaced my stomach. They were convinced I had miscalculated my due date. "There is no way you are already showing that much," they would insist. "I've hardly got a bump and I'm x weeks ahead of you," they'd say. "It's hard to know for sure when you've ovulated; you must have miscalculated."

Oh no, I knew.

My husband and I packed our bags and together with my mother and three sisters went off to France to visit his family. My mother had warned me in the years prior as we were planning this epic trip that I should wait to get pregnant until after. "You don't want to travel while pregnant," she told me. "Especially not a long trans-Atlantic voyage." Listen to your mother, ladies. She is usually right.

What could possibly be worse than being packed like a sardine on a fifteen-hour flight when dealing with the physical joys of the first trimester? A three week road trip in a tiny European car with your sisters and mother when dealing with the emotional joys of the second trimester. That. That is worse. That is soooo much worse.

And what better way to fly to France than with a twenty-four hour layover in Finland? At the street market in Helsinki we made our first purchase for baby: a pair of green overalls handmade by a beautiful old Finnish woman with kind eyes and dextrous fingers. We chose something unisex as we had decided to forgo any ultrasound for the duration of my pregnancy. I was incredibly healthy; I was young; my mother had had four healthy pregnancies without ultrasounds. We figured they were medically unnecessary and an excessive frivolous expense. We had no desire to know the sex of the baby; how often does life give you such a surprise? Thus the green overalls - neutral enough to work either way.

We continued on to Paris where my husband left my sisters and mother and I to go visit his family. We spent time puttering around playing tourist and enjoying the quaint French countryside at each others' throats. I am surprised any of us survived, honestly, but somehow we did. And upon returning home to an overgrown yard, greedy chickens and hungry cats we were astounded to find that I was measuring five weeks later than I should have been.

It had been at lunch in a tiny coastal town in rural France that I had first truly felt baby move, though there had been bizarre bubbly feelings before, and when baby moved, baby moved. I often had to stop and brace myself, so intense was the feeling. Coupled with my too-large belly, this movement left us with one possible conclusion: this baby was a monster.

We decided this new little person was huge enough to merit getting checked out. After much debate we decided to go ahead and get an ultrasound. The possible benefits of finding out something was wrong ahead of the game with adequate time to prepare for the consequences outweighed any possible detriments.

And so, at twenty one weeks (just over five months) pregnant, we went in for our very first ultrasound.

Boy oh boy were we in for a surprise.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

finding out you're pregnant.

I had imagined the moment I would finally find out I was pregnant too many times in too many ways to count. Reality is so rarely like the creative endeavors of the imagination.

In my mind, I would see the two pink lines and gasp dramatically, hands placed on my cheeks like a surprised 1950's house wife or Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. I would run gracefully, wind blowing in my hair, to my husband who would be waiting for me with his arms outstretched. We would kiss, embrace, cry beautifully and the music would crescendo while a burst of sunlight broke through the clouds and illuminated the joy in our glowing faces.

In real life I was by myself sitting on my toilet at 7am and I was a hot mess.

It was a Wednesday in early April, I woke with a start after a vivid dream and I knew. I was only two days late but I knew with 100% certainty. The sun was barely up and my husband was still snoring heavily next to me. I watched his chest rise and fall, watched his eyes twitch a little and wondered what was going on in those dreams of his. I thought about how after today he would wake up feeling different for the rest of his life.

Walgreens was almost empty. The pregnancy tests were locked up. I had to find an employee to access them and as I squirmed as she fumbled with her keys she smiled at me. I beamed back, already glowing. At the register the woman looked me directly in the eyes as she scanned my two items: the test and a giant bottle of Perrier. "I hope it is whatever you want it to be, hon," she said. I almost cried. "Me, too," I managed. Me, too."

I downed the whole bottle on the five minute drive back and when I arrived home drank a few more glasses of water and waited for the urge to go, antsy and anxious with anticipation.

I have played a lot of waiting games in the past six years, most of them in France. Waiting for trains, waiting for visas, waiting for paperwork to go through so I could finally work. Never in my life has waiting been so excruciating as the few minutes a pregnancy test takes. I left the test in the bathroom and huddled on the couch in the living room until the designated time had passed, shaking and mumbling incoherently to myself.

Why I didn't run upstairs to wake my husband before looking I will never know. We had taken so many tests in the months prior and every time my heart broke a little when I saw his face. My heart fell crooked on its own with each negative, but knowing that he was disappointed, too, made the hurt worse. It was easier for me to compose myself and face him with a bit of time to cushion the blow than with my head shaking "no" as I walked out of the bathroom and soon thereafter my body shaking with sobs as he comforted me.

Seeing those two pink lines felt different than I had expected. It was utterly overwhelming. I started shaking and crying uncontrollably, obsessively checking the box to make sure I was reading it right. "One line, negative; two lines, positive," I kept repeating under my breath. "One line, two lines," I counted. And again. And again. I took a second test, and when two pink lines showed up again, I found myself sobbing on the toilet for a good twenty minutes. I would finally calm myself down, then disbelief would creep in and I'd check the box again to make sure the directions hadn't somehow changed in the five minutes that had passed. The crying would start up again and I'd wonder how in the hell I was supposed to keep it together long enough to tell my husband, which would just make it worse.

I called one of my best friends for help. "Are you sure I'm reading this thing right?" I asked. I sent her a picture of the little window with the two pink lines. "Oh, yes!" she replied. "That is the darkest line I have ever seen on a pregnancy test. You are definitely pregnant!" Hearing it from someone else made it seem a little more real. I realized I had told someone before my husband that we had created a new little person together and instantly felt the most guilty I ever have in my entire life. I had to find a way to tell him that he would never forget.

I tried to wait patiently for him to wake, but my husband is a sleeper. If he could, he would sleep sixteen hours every day. I made it to 10 or 11 o'clock and couldn't take it anymore. I ran upstairs and woke him with a kiss, trying not to let him sense my excitement. It was easily one of the hardest conversations I've ever had. I could not look him in the eyes or I knew I would lose it, so I focused all of my attention on the comforter, counting the folds and stitches in an attempt to distract myself.

We had just recently moved into a new house in a new neighborhood and my husband's family in France had not yet gotten the tour, so I told him I wanted to make a video to show them our new home. He seemed confused as to why this needed to be done first thing in the morning, before eating breakfast, but after a bit of persuasion he acquiesced.

The camera was set up facing the couch where we sat awkwardly facing each other. With the camera rolling, I am obviously nervous; there is anxious tension in the air between us, which is uncommon and makes the whole scenario seem even more unreal than it already is. I ask him casually what he thinks of the new house. He looks at me sideways either annoyed or suspicious and answers he likes it just fine. I reach under a pillow sitting between us where I have carefully hidden the evidence and hand him the pregnancy test wrapped up in toilet paper and ask him what he thinks of this. His jaw drops. He looks up and me, back down at the test, back up at me. "Does this mean...?" he starts. I nod and start crying. "You're going to be a Papa," I say. He starts crying. We kiss. It is epic. We embrace. He turns to the camera and asks if we can turn it off now.

I do.

That is finding out you're pregnant.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

you know you're a new parent when #4.

All conversation with other adults somehow seems to end up at either breastmilk, childbirth, placentas or some combination of the three.