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I am going to be starting out on a new journey, both myself, and as the primary food preparer, my family as well.

A long time ago I heard the phrase "clean eating" being thrown around, but never really gave it much thought. It wasn't until I started poking around on the website of Paul Plakas (a famous Canadian personal trailer, best known for his appearances on the Canadian documentaries X Weighted and Taking it Off) and reading his articles on health and nutrition. He advocates eating wholesome, healthy foods that are high in nutritional content and low in calories.

Since Avery was born I have desperately needed to lose weight. While I have lost my baby weight (which looking in the mirror is really hard to believe) I have a lot more to go before we will be comfortable trying for another baby. I have lost so much of the muscle I once had. I am not sure why I have found it so much more difficult to lose weight this time around (after all, I have done it before more than once), but I do. Perhaps it is combined with being a mom and not having much time to myself, being sleep deprived and indulging in comfort foods, or perhaps it has to do with my desire to be the ultimate housewife and bake awesome cookies. Either way, something really needs to change, and it needs to be a change that I can make for my entire family (because really, our whole family could stand to lose a few pounds, and the most important thing is setting a good example for Avery and teaching her to fuel her body with the very best fuel available).

So I started to search online for information on clean eating. The basic plan I want to follow is to not buy anything processed. An analogy that Paul had on his website went like this: "Let's say you want to buy blueberry pop tarts. You would think there would be blueberries on the ingredient list, right? Think again. You will not find blueberries anywhere on that list. What you will find is a whole bunch of chemicals. Companies go to people called flavourists, whose job it is to combine certain chemicals together to make a desired flavour. These people could make pop tarts the flavour of fresh cut grass if they wanted to, but that wouldn't sell many pop tarts now would it?".

Gross!

My new motto? If I can't pronounce something on the ingredient list, it doesn't go in the cart.

So yesterday I set out for Costco with my new plan in mind. I could not believe the options there! A $450 bill later I came home with a pantry stocked full of wholesome, organic, unprocessed and natural foods. They had organic salsa, natural peanut butter, a huge bag of quinoa, unsalted nuts, organic tomato sauce, natural rice cakes and crackers, there were so many options and the total of my bill suggests just how much I purchased!

Blair has approached my new plan with supportive hesitation. He basically says he doesn't care "as long as it tastes good". Well, I think it will taste good! And I also believe that eating our food with the knowledge that what is going in is free of toxic chemicals and preservatives will help. Here are some photos of the recipes I got off of cleaneatingmag.com:

The opportunities are endless.

It is going to take some adjustment to my cooking techniques in order to make this work. But I also think I need to be realistic with myself about what I can accomplish. That is why I am thinking that this will be a 70/30 or 80/20 split. If we can eat clean 80% of the time I think that will be enough to hugely benefit my family and our bodies. That is 8 out of every 10 meals or snacks. Not bad at all.

I truly believe that this goes hand in hand with my parenting style. I want our family to eat the way humans, as mammals, were designed to eat. The way hunter/gatherers ate. They ate plants, nuts, seeds, and meats. They parented their children in an instinctual way. I highly doubt they were worried about sleep training their babies or thought that a baby or toddler crying was manipulative. I am sure they responded to their children and met their needs quickly.

But that is a topic for a whole other day!

Today I will focus on my new adventure, as I approach it with enthusiasm.
 
 
Well, it’s officially official. I am going to be a stay at home mom for the foreseeable future. I let my work know last week and handed in my resignation letter. Alas, another chapter of my life begins.
 
Pretty soon my maternity benefits from the government will stop and we will truly be a single income family. I am so thankful that in today’s day and age we will be able to get by this way. One of the blessings that come along with living in a small community where the cost of living is low. 
  
I have always wanted to be a stay at home mom. Some of you might find this surprising, but it is probably no surprise to anyone who knew me really well in recent years. I want to be the mom who goes on all of the field trips, bakes fresh cookies for an after school snack, wipes the blood and tears and never misses a story off the bus. I want to do crafts with my toddlers and go to play dates on weekdays. But most of all I don’t ever want to hear about any firsts from someone else.
 
The last 9.5 months at home with Avery have been really hard. I won’t lie. Harder than any job I have ever had. So much harder than I ever expected it would be. It was such a drastic change in my life to go from a work environment 5 days per week to the home environment with a baby. The days are long (as are the nights) and there is no validation in the work of staying home. Sure, you might get a thank you for supper, or a compliment on how great the house looks when you spend a day cleaning, but any work you do is short lived. There will always be more dishes, laundry, and
dirt.
 
Sometimes it makes me sad when I talk to friends who want nothing more than to stay home, but it is impossible for them because of their circumstances. Be it debt obligations, a high cost of living, being a single mom or some other reason, the saying “where there is a will there is a way” is not really true in this instance. 

So, I’ll say it again. I am so thankful that we are going to be able to make this work for our family.
 
 
Yep, I am an uptight mom. 

I don’t like to leave my baby (unless it is with her daddy). I plan my day according to her schedule. It is important to me for her to take her naps. If I am in the middle of something and she calls for me, I drop what I am doing and go to her. Nothing is more important to me right now than keeping her happy and healthy. 
 
Before Avery was born, I really had no idea what kind of parent I would be. I read a few books (including the dreaded Baby Wise) but it wasn’t until after (well after, in fact) she was born that I stopped analyzing and planning what I was going to do with her and just let it happen. What I have found is that my parenting style is very baby-directed and instinctual. I do what feels right, when it feels right, and that is the end of it.
 
In all of our struggles with Avery’s (very) wakeful personality- I am talking often up each hour, with the occasional long stretch of 3 hours thrown in there- Blair and I have discussed what we could do to make things better. He really wanted to try a form of “sleep training”. Pretty much letting
her cry a little bit, going in and comforting her periodically, until she manages to fall asleep on her own. What Blair didn’t understand though, is how I, as a mother, am wired. People lose sight of the most basic fact- that we as humans are MAMMALS. We have instincts just like every other animal out there, and we should listen to them. When I hear my baby cry, especially a piercing cry, I begin to sweat, I can feel the adrenalin surge, and every ounce of my being desires to go to my baby and fix whatever is wrong. Leaving her to cry in her room, while my brain is screaming for me to go to my baby, just doesn’t make sense to me. Sleeping through the night is a milestone, just like crawling, walking, talking, and I am sure my baby will get there, on her own time, just like every other baby.

What I am getting at is following your instincts as a parent. People (myself included) spend so much time worrying what others think. Take, for example, the little to no desire I have to leave Avery under the care of someone else. We have a wide variety of loving and capable family members close by that could take Avery off our hands for an evening. In fact I would imagine there are some who are just waiting for the day. But I am just not there yet. Now more so than ever, because Avery has started to have severe separation anxiety (which very common to begin between 9 and 12 months). Part of it is that Avery is still breast fed, day and night, every 2-4 hours. Part of it is that she does not drink from a bottle. Part of it is that she is so wakeful I worry about her caregiver getting her to sleep. And most of it is that it just doesn’t feel right to me yet.
 
Some might say they worry about me. That I need some time to myself and with my partner so that I am nourishing my most important relationship, and myself. Others might call me a martyr, or like I said at the beginning of this blog, “too uptight” or “hanging on too tightly”. Let’s go back, however, to the premise of this blog. We are mammals. We are animals. I don’t see monkeys, deer, bears, cows, racoons, etc. leaving their young to go off on their own for a while, while grandma monkey looks after the baby. These animals are with their babies day and night, until the natural age of weaning (found to be about 6x the length of gestation for our closest relatives, chimps and gorillas). I am not saying that parents who leave their children are doing the wrong thing. I am all for spending time alone with your partner. Everybody needs that. I have just been creative in finding that time to re-charge. I take a hot bath after Avery is down for the night. I read a magazine, book, or forum while she naps. After supper I go take a walk on my own or spend some time in the garden while Blair plays with the baby. Instead of going to the movie theatre, Blair and I rent a pay-per-view movie off the satellite dish. We enjoy talking in bed before Avery wakes up for her first feeding.  
 
This is not how I imagined it would be. I particularly remember telling Blair that it was really important to me that we still have date nights every couple weeks when the baby came. What I didn’t anticipate, however, is that these date nights would be with a two-foot tall chaperone. And that's alright with me.
 
 
I am constantly trying to explain my child’s behaviour.

I write this bleary eyed over my 2nd cup of coffee for the day. It’s been a rough few weeks with my little monkey, who has been pushing me to my limit. No matter how far we go, though, it seems I can always find just an ounce more of patience and energy to give my baby girl what she needs from me.

At around 2 months old, Avery began to sleep beautifully. She would be in bed for 12-13 hours at a time, only waking twice (sometimes only once) for quick feedings. It was wonderful. Especially now looking back. People warned me not to get used to it, and they were right. Just when I got used to it, she changed things up on me. DRASTICALLY.

Around 12 weeks, Avery started waking up every 2 hours again. It was really hard at first. After doing some research I decided she must be going through a her 3 month growth spurt, especially since she would wake up hungry and need to eat before she would go back down. Her pacifier, which was usually good enough, was not anymore. So, I did my best to deal with it, and figured it would get better soon.

In the 5 weeks since, it has not gotten better. In fact, one might say it has gotten worse. Much worse. There have been nights where she wakes up needing me each hour. There have been nights, and days, when she will sleep nowhere but in my arms.  Most nights her “long” sleep stretch is 2 hours, and only if I am lucky. Just two nights ago I was up with her 6 times between 11pm and 7:30am.  I am coping ok, and doing my best to deal with it. What makes my life easier is the fact that I am co-sleeping, and that often times all she needs is just a little bit of comfort (in the form of nursing in her mamas warm cuddly arms) before going right back down, sometimes in less than 5 minutes.

As her mother, I can’t help but feel like this is happening because of something I did. That if I did (or had done) something differently, this wouldn’t be happening at all. So, I set out to explain why my baby has regressed so terribly, and I realized that it is so common they actually have a name for it! It is called 4 month sleep regression. Hallelujah! It is not something I am doing wrong! It is not something that is my fault. It is completely normal. So normal that it has been studied and named. This made me feel much better.

Through all of the reading and research I have done on infant sleep, I have come across sleep training- aka “crying it out"- over and over again. This school of thought believes that if I let her cry it out and go back to sleep on her own, eventually she will teach herself to go back to sleep on her own without needing me.

Maybe I am a softie ( I have always been a fairly sensitive person) but the thought of it makes me sick to my stomach. Leaving my baby girl to cry it out in order to go to sleep is not what I am prepared to do (and logistically, would not work really well considering she sleeps only a foot or so away from me). It ignores what a baby's cry was designed for- to alert parents that something is not right. I just don’t think I could ever do it, even if this were to go on for many more months.

I knew when I decided to have a child that there would be sleepless nights. Forcing my infant into independence, before she is ready, is not something I agree with. My belief is that children need to be parented to sleep, not put to sleep. I feel (in fact, I know) she is too young to manipulate me, and by crying she is communicating a need- the only way she knows how. The CIO approach is, in my opinion, a mis-guided effort by some sleep "expert" to try and mold babies to fit into their parent's lives- not the other way around. Another aspect of the "let's have babies conveniently" mindset. A lot of research supports my feelings as well.

So, I will keep doing what I can to find the energy I need to carry on. I know that eventually, as her sleep system matures, she will learn to go to sleep on her own. Current findings say that this happens at some point between 10 and 18 months.

10 and 18 months??

I’d guess I’d better stock up on coffee.
 
 
Before Avery was born, I put a lot of time and effort into setting up and planning her nursery. We bought a beautiful crib, painted the walls and got the change table ready. I  imagined my beautiful baby sleeping in her (or his- we did not know the gender at this time) crib and swooping her into my arms in the morning. While I had planned on having her in our room temporarily to make breastfeeding easier, I did not expect it to continue much past 2 or 3 months.

It’s funny how your opinions and ideas can change so drastically after you have a baby.

Probably around 5 weeks old I started to realize that even though the bassinet was right beside the bed, Avery slept much much better when she was snuggled in the bed next to me (safely of course, following guidelines for safe co-sleeping). It has been such a special thing, waking up right next to a smiling, happy baby each morning, and knowing all night that she is warm and safe (and still breathing) right beside me in our warm, cozy bed. The thought of her in her crib in the other room, waking up alone, in the dark, not able to hear me breathe or reach out and touch my arm just does not feel right to me.

For quite a while I struggled with this decision. I was afraid people would think it was weird. So I started doing some research, and quickly found that co-sleeping is not weird, it is not unusual, it is not a fad- cribs are. It is only in the past 100 years or so, and only in western cultures, that babies being left alone to sleep has become the "norm". 

I did however, hate that Avery was not using the beautiful crib we bought for her, and felt like it was wasteful. So after careful research online for how to do it safely, we set up the crib as a side car crib and securely attached it to the side of our bed after removing one of the sides. We all have our own sleeping space, but still get to sleep together- the perfect arrangement- for us. (while I am an advocate of co-sleeping and attachment parenting, I fully understand that each family is unique and must do what works for them).
Dr. Sears, author of The Baby Book (and numerous others) and world famous pediatrican lists some of the scientific benefits of co-sleeping (or as he likes to call it, sleep sharing):

Popular media has tried to discourage parents from sharing sleep with their babies, calling this worldwide practice unsafe. Medical science, however, doesn’t back this conclusion. In fact, research shows that co-sleeping is actually safer than sleeping alone. Here is what science says about sleeping with your baby:

Sleep more peacefully
Research shows that co-sleeping infants virtually never startle during sleep and rarely cry during the night, compared to solo sleepers who startle repeatedly throughout the night and spend 4 times the number of minutes crying (1). Startling and crying releases adrenaline, which increases heart rate and blood pressure, interferes with restful sleep and leads to long term sleep anxiety.

Stable physiology
Studies show that infants who sleep near to parents have more stable temperatures (2), regular heart rhythms, and fewer long pauses in breathing compared to babies who sleep alone (3). This means baby sleeps physiologically safer.

Decreases risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
Worldwide research shows that the SIDS rate is lowest (and even unheard of) in countries where co-sleeping is the norm, rather than the exception (4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9). Babies who sleep either in or next to their parents’ bed have a fourfold decrease in the chance of SIDS (10). Co-sleeping babies actually spend more time sleeping on their back or side 1 which decreases the risk of SIDS. Further research shows that the carbon dioxide exhaled by a parent actually works to stimulate baby’s breathing (11).

Long term emotional health
Co-sleeping babies grow up with a higher self-esteem, less anxiety, become independent sooner, are better behaved in school (12), and are more comfortable with affection (13). They also have less psychiatric problems (14).

Safer than crib sleeping
The Consumer Product Safety Commission published data that described infant fatalities in adult beds. These same data, however, showed more than 3 times as many crib related infant fatalities compared to adult bed accidents (15). Another recent large study concluded that bed sharing did NOT increase the risk of SIDS, unless the mom was a smoker or abused alcohol (16).

Click here to see resources.

While it may not be for everyone, and I certainly never expected it would be for us, co-sleeping has turned into the norm in our household.

Just another one of the many wonderful surprises that having a baby brought us.
 
 
Before Avery was born, I will admit I was perhaps a little bit ignorant. Ok perhaps a lot ignorant. When people would tell me things like “nothing can prepare you” I thought to myself they are under-estimating me and my killer abilities to take on challenges and excel.

Let me back up a little bit. When I found out I was pregnant, I started reading like a mad-woman. I read books on parenting, infant care, natural birthing, parenting styles, you name it, I read it. I like to be prepared.

But the funny thing is that I really didn’t expect- NOTHING really could prepare me. I thought life would not change all that much- that I could still do the things I used to do, like go out for supper when I wanted to and take 45 minute long bubble baths. Some of my friends still think they will be able to do these things when they become parents. These are the ones who are still pregnant (or are yet to become pregnant).

But you know what I love about all of the above?  It is all so worth it. The past 7 weeks have been the most challenging, yet the most rewarding and fulfilling of my life. An amazing transformation happens as the baby grows and both Blair and I grow as parents. You come to quickly identify and understand what the problem is when the baby cries, and nothing is more fulfilling than being able to keep an infant happy and healthy- especially when they give you a big gummy smile.
Things I have learned so far:
  • Never will the adequate poop and pee of someone else be so important to you
  • Give yourself twice the amount of time to get somewhere as you would have before baby
  • Absolutely everyone will give you (often conflicting) advice. You have to learn to trust your instincts and do what works for you
  • Those parents who terrorize facebook with photos of their children really can’t help it
  • Coffee is your friend (just not too much!)
  • Never will you fall more deeply and completely in love
 
 
***Read at your own risk. Graphic content****

Thursday August 25th- 41 Weeks 6 Days Gestation

Had to be at the hospital to start cervidil induction at 8am. Had cervidil inserted around 9am and it did little more than make me uncomfortable and have mild contractions that did not increase at all. Baby was not engaged and still high in my pelvis. Dr. came back to check me a few times through the day, and not much had happened. We were sent home overnight on a “pass” and told to be back again the next morning at 8am for round 2.

Friday August 26th – 42 Weeks Gestation

Arrived at the hospital on time and had cervidil inserted around 9:30. Almost immediately contractions began, and I was not coping well at all on the monitor I was meant to be hooked up on for 2 hours, to ensure there was no hyper-stimulation. I was coping so badly that they removed me from the monitor after only 20 minutes. I was having bad back pain, and started walking around, using the tub, shower, etc. to try and get things going. At 11am Blair called my Doula and asked her to come. She arrived at 1, and when the Dr. checked me at 2 or so I was at 2cm, still posterior, head not engaged, and cervix was still hard. That was frustrating. Went to the bathroom and cervidil fell out. Things started getting hot and heavy after that, and coping became much easier as my body took over and contractions began coming naturally. Dr. checked me at some point that evening and I was at a 3, and 90% effaced. They were very happy with the progress. Contractions began coming hot and heavy, about 1 and a half minutes long and 2 minutes apart (so only like a 30 second break) sometimes one after another for up to 5 minutes. I began to vomit, but generally speaking was coping well and was confident that the baby would be there soon. After a huuuge long contraction, I made the (what I now believe to be bad) decision to get in the shower. It was about 10pm or so. After that labour slowed down, and I started to get frustrated. Dr. checked me close to midnight, and there was little change, maybe close to 4cm but not much. Finally at 1:30am when contractions had not picked back up they encouraged me to take some morphine so I could sleep, because the next day could be a long day. I kept having some contractions through the night but managed about 4 hours. My AMAZING doula slept in her car.

Saturday August 27th- 42 Weeks 1 Day Gestation

By morning labour had stopped. I was very upset. The dr. came and and talked to me- told me that she was not confident, especially since the baby was still high and thought I would probably be needing a c-section, but if I wanted I could start on Pitocin for a few hours and try. I cried and cried but finally started Pitocin. She did not want to break the bag of waters because of the possibility of cord prolapse. I started around 9:30 or so, and by 10:30 I was in heavy labour again. The nurse was wonderful and did not require me to be attached to the monitor, only to be checked every 15 minutes or so. It was similar to heavy labour the night before, with contractions about 1.5 minutes long and 2 minutes apart. When the dr checked me at noon I was at 5cm, but head was still high (though had dropped slightly). Decided to break the water- and it was meconium stained. After the water was broken I was suddenly 6cm and the head dropped slightly. This is when things got really bad. Coping became impossible, and I could not empty my bladder although it felt like I really really needed to. It was excruciating. I moaned and screamed, tried to shower, and nothing worked. The dr came back around 3pm, and there was no progress, the head was still high and was starting to swell. That was the worst news of my life.  That is when surgery became inevitable, 29 hours after beginning induction #2.

They got me in there quick, and our beautiful girl was born at 4:33pm. Recovery has been long and hard so far, I am still sooo sore. WHEN WILL I FEEL HUMAN AGAIN? I have yet to sleep much- I can only seem to doze and have weird body tremors on occasion that yank me out of sleep. I am afraid I will run out of pain meds before the pain goes away. (there was a lot of pushing on my ribs, lungs, etc to get her out of the small incision, and multiple attempts before the spinal was successful)

First night home , and it two nights ago, it as AWFUL. She had bad gas and cried for hours and hours. Second night was much better.

Breastfeeding going pretty well, she is latching good and milk is in.

More to come later when things settle down.
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Doulas

07/12/2011

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At the beginning of my pregnancy, I knew  that I wanted a natural birth experience. I tried to get a Calgary Midwife- I was even willing to drive into the city for each and every prenatal appointment, but unfortunately I was placed on a waiting list at every single clinic. (Current statistics for the city state that they turn away 9 out of 10 women who contact them).

So I knew that if I was going to get the birth I desired, I would have to approach it a different way. I started to think about hiring a doula. I did a lot of reading, some research on the cost of having a doula, but that was the end of it. The typical cost for a doula in my area is $400-$700…or $1000 for a doula out of the city. After Blair and I attended natural birth classes through Healthy Birth Choices in Calgary, we decided that we could do it on our own, because the financial burden was just too much for us to swallow.

As my labour approaches and anxiety builds, I am reconsidering this decision. Last night, we met and interviewed a doula, and I could not be happier.  She was everything I imagined she would be, and I loved her philosophy.

What exactly is a doula?

 
 
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Imagine this:  you wake up feeling rested because you did not have to wake up to an alarm and stumble through your morning half asleep and rushed. The sun is shining, and after having a piece of toast and tidying the kitchen, you make your way outside to water the flowers and the grass. Back inside, you check your email, put on some proper clothes, lace up your shoes and head out for a walk in the morning sun.

This is how my day started today.

After I got home I made myself some lunch, baked a batch of brownies, prepared supper for the next day (it needed to chill overnight) and got a Sheppard’s pie put together and in the oven.  Some people might think that this sounds boring. Like a day filled with chores, forced upon me by a sexist society simply because I am a woman. But I thought it was wonderful.