When I saw an article last summer about a woman who took to social media to expose and essentially pressure a school to stop asking questions perceived as too personal on a kindergarten application, I didn’t read it.  I thought it would pertain to one school, or just a handful of schools that maybe don’t have it together, and one parent making a mountainous outrage out of a question she could just as easily have ignored.

Then I took my kids to the dentist, and I was asked during the intake process if there were any complications with the pregnancies.  Not exactly the place I’d expect to ever get that question.

I’m not opposed to answering questions like this when it comes to my children – not in a protected privacy setting like the doctor’s office.  After all, there’s lot of research that what happens in the womb and even during birth can have lasting lifetime effects on children – from chance of obesity to reaching developmental milestones – which is presumably why there’s a question on the kindergarten registration.  But teeth?  Really?  And, who cares?  Teeth can be fixed, right?

So when I’m asked the question, I quickly dust off my elevator speech.  “Intrauterine growth restriction.”  The nurse, who was sweet, kind, and only asking questions as they popped up on her computer screen, continued, “Do you know what caused it?”  “I have a unicornuate uterus.”  I could tell by her pause that she hadn’t heard it before.  “I basically have half a uterus,” I finished.  She smiled and thanked me for the explanation.  No more questions.

Now, I still kind of doubt that a dentist would really need to know about that but maybe there’s a reason for it.  And why wouldn’t a school want to know if a child is coming in at a disadvantage compared to other kids, particularly if that child might need additional services?  And wouldn’t you as a parent want to advocate for your child?

I think if I were to put this into perspective, imagine for a moment that it’s 1985 and the question on the form was instead, “Did you smoke while pregnant?”  A loaded question, for sure, but at the time lots of people still smoked around kids and didn’t think there was anything wrong with it.  Three decades and lots of research later we know better to the point that legislations abound protecting kids from second hand smoke and a horde of other ills; but would you have blamed phys ed teachers in the 80s for wanting to know if a kid might have asthma?

So I went back to read the New York Times article after my experience at the dentist.  If suddenly people are probing into your kids’ health history as far back as birth then maybe there’s more I need to consider.  And it seems that the author of the article saw the question as an egregious invasion of privacy and didn’t like that the registration form wasn’t kept locked up under lock and key.  Okay, maybe that’s a valid point.  But is that really more egregious than search engines using information they know about you to sell customized ads and make money?  More egregious than apps on your phone wanting access to your identity, pictures, text messages, and location?  How do you think Google knows when stores are busy, or Instagram knows when one of your friends creates an account, or your phone gives you coupons for the supermarket you just pulled up to?  Is anybody wondering how secure any of that information linked to you is, where that is stored?  And I think my pictures, my messages, my email, my location are more valuable to me to protect than knowing if my kid was born through a C-section or not.  Especially if said information can actually help my child.

Here’s the original article about the kindergarten questionnaire.  And yes, my school district’s questionnaire asks the same question.


The hidden costs of daycare

I took my son out of daycare the week I had my daughter.  He had been in daycare for a little over a year and he had a great time there.  We paid a lot of money to have really great care, but no amount of money could really change some of the drawbacks to having him in that setting.  So for those of you contemplating using a day care facility for your little one once you go back to work, here’s my lessons learned.

First, the positives:

  • For kids with no close relatives (geographically, or in age) or siblings, day care helps them learn to share and live with others.  My son LOVES his sister and I think it’s because he was around lots of other little kids all the time.  He’s also great playing with other kids.
  • I could always rely on day care being available.  It was my responsibility to get him there, not to wait for someone to show up at my house.  And I could rely on them having plenty of supervision and qualified caretakers available.
  • My son learned things he wasn’t learning at home, like baby sign language, which has been a huge help.
  • For me, I got to hear advice from other moms and teachers, which was helpful as a first-time mom. They taught me about mum-mum cookies, showed me it was ok to fasten a diaper tightly, and reassured me about normal baby behavior. I am grateful to his early teacher for sharing their stories with me, supporting me, and showing him as much compassion as they did.
  • My son loves his sister and plays well with others. He was always a social baby and I think he did well in the day care classroom environment.
  • I didn’t have to think of clever activities to do – his teachers did that for me and he came home with projects and art work, and sometimes a card made of his hand and footprints that made me cry.

The negatives:

  • My son learned things he wasn’t learning at home, like throwing his food off his tray when he was done with it.  I know he picked that up from other kids at school.  It has taken a month to unlearn this habit – now he politely pushes his food away and says “Done,” or sometimes signs “done.”
  • My son was constantly sick.  While it took almost six months for him to develop his first ear infection at day care, he had three ear infections within a period of six weeks and was on antibiotics throughout the holiday season.  He had a runny nose… always.  We went through a box of tissues a week – and that’s just with mornings, evenings, and weekends!  He was never a fully healthy kid.  Everyone says it gives kids a greater immune system later for school, but…
  • I had to leave work to get him when he was really sick.  Because he was sick a lot, I had to use a lot of my own sick time to pick him up, rush him to the doctor, and stay home with him while he recuperated.  Some weeks I only worked one day and struggled to keep up with my job.  I might as well have been a stay at home mom those weeks!
  • In addition to the monthly fees, there were always fundraisers or other things happening that required additional money.  From candy sales to book sales to holiday candle sales, there was always another ask for cash.  Then twice a year there was staff appreciation collections done by the parent council.  Not to mention things we had to purchase for class parties (such as food, valentines, cards, books, etc.).  And whenever we switched classrooms or celebrated a major holiday, I bought something small for his teachers.  There was something every month.
  • It was downright expensive.  Really, really, expensive.

I wish someone had told me about how much my son would be sick.  I knew what I was getting in to with the tuition of managed day care, but I wasn’t counting on the stress of getting that phone call to pick him up.  I had one hour to pick him up from the time of the phone call; one time the poor guy was in quarantine because of a goopy eye which they believed was pink eye.  So I usually had less than an hour to find or call my boss and explain the situation, send emails to anyone with whom I had meetings later that afternoon to inform them I’d cancel and reschedule, leave notes or sign timesheets if needed, let people in the office know how to reach me, and call the pediatrician and get an appointment.  (Oh, and if you’re pumping at work, don’t forget your breastmilk).  I wish I was better prepared for it.

So there you have it.  If you’re considering going with the option I did, instead of a babysitter, nanny, or relative and you’re returning to work, here’s some things to ask about when you visit the facility.  And be prepared.

The secret lives of moms: Competitive Mommies, Day Care Edition

I realized I had teased but never followed up on a story from the summertime about my first blush with competitive mommy behavior.  Until that point I thought I was doing a pretty good job of being a practical mommy – dressing my baby in hand-me-downs (because how many times do they really wear an outfit the first year before growing out of it?), using reasonably priced brands like Graco instead of Britax or Chicco (no matter how much I still drool over them…), purchasing toys at consignment sales and gratefully accepting toys from friends with older kids, actually using jarred (!) baby food instead of painstakingly pureeing my own (one of the big baby company manufacturing plants is actually not too far from where I live, so I could justify it being local), using formula, etc.  You do the best to make the best decisions with the information and resources (time, money) that you have to do what’s right for your family – end of story.

Then Ms. Perfect came along.  Her son was in the same infant classroom as mine and was born exactly one month ahead of mine.  I could see early on that his development – sitting up, rolling over, waving, walking – far superseded the timeline of my own son.  A month might go by and my little one would not have caught up to his Perfect classmate.  Ms. Perfect, however, had in less than six months shrunk down back to a size 0, wearing cute outfits every day, great shoes, perfect hair, never looking harried or rushed – while I was still struggling to lose the last 10 pounds, still in my maternity work pants on particularly bad days, and feeling like I was barely holding it together.  How did she do it?  Worst of all, she was nice – as we dropped off and picked up at about the same times, we often saw each other in the hallway or classroom and made small talk.  In an alternate universe I imagined us actually being friends.

But I didn’t hold all of this against her, at least, not at first.  She drives a gas-guzzling Chevy Tahoe (that makes me feel practical by comparison) and I have no idea what her life is really like, what she does for a living, how happy she might be.  She’s got a kid who’s an early bloomer, so what?  No need to get my panties in a bunch.

One day there was a sign-up outside the classroom door for parents to bring in breakfast during Teacher Appreciation Week.  One of my biggest and best go-to breakfast dishes is a baked French toast casserole.  It feeds a crowd, isn’t terribly hard to make, and turns out very gourmet.  It’s so well-liked that it is guaranteed to show up on my Christmas brunch table every year.  I headed over to the sign-up sheet, pen in hand, ready to volunteer my baking – and there it was, in perfectly legible mom-handwriting.

French toast casserole – Ms. Perfect

That b!  Foiled again!  I quickly wrote down “banana bread” and walked away.

It turns out it was probably the better choice to bring something simple.  My banana bread is pretty good, relatively healthy, and, as it was a staff-wide breakfast, my teachers wouldn’t have been able to pick out my breakfast from someone else’s.  Plus they’re so busy they probably would have only had time (and hands) to grab something and go.

Well, I learned my lesson.  There were a few with this one:

1. Sometimes being a mom means being served up a huge dose of humility.

2. There’s nothing wrong with taking a shortcut every now and then.  There is a time and a place for the French toast casserole, and this time wasn’t it.

3. People appreciate the little things as much as, and sometimes more, than the big gestures.

The secret lives of moms: Mall shopping

Now that my son is a little bit older, he’s slightly more portable.  Though he still eats every three hours, if I time things just right I can make it to the mall and back without too much of a meltdown.  He takes a long early-afternoon nap so any trip to the mall must be done before it or after it.  Snacks help too.

I’ve begun to notice, from the few times I’ve made it to the mall, that there are two different types of weekday mall moms.  There are moms like me, who are out with the kid(s) and no other support.  And there are moms out with their kids and another adult, like grandma or a friend.  Moms like me walk fairly quickly throughout the mall: we know we are on a time-limit and we were lucky to get out of the house looking somewhat put together.  Moms with support are more relaxed, walk slower, and give me pitiful looks.  “Look at that poor, lonely mom.  Man, it’s a production getting to the mall on your own with a kid!”  I feel it every time.

But apparently there is an unspoken bond among moms like me, who have the courage to go it alone in public.  Like motorcyclists who give each other the low left-hand air 5 secret signal when they pass each other on the road, moms like me give a little smile and head nod.  It’s a mutual acknowledgement of the sheer strength – if not madness – it takes to make it to the mall and enjoy yourself.  Because let’s face it – the mall is for mommy, is it not?  It’s a relic of the carefree spending days, of the days spent looking for the perfect dress.  Those days may still exist – they just have a little different shadow to them.  A mom pooch, a mom bag, a mom budget – whatever the case is, the mall holds for it the promise that you are still yourself, maybe even better for the chatterbox trying to pull things off the shelves from the stroller seat.

Maybe I’m projecting towards the moms-with-friends with a little bit of jealousy.  It’s always nice to have extra hands on deck, and I wish I had that whenever I wanted it.  I wish I could either fit into my skinny jeans again or at least not feel guilty enough to splurge on a new pair.  I wish I could look cute at the mall again, not just presentable.  But moms-with-friends don’t give you a smile.  They don’t give you the head nod.  They just size your kid up (as you size theirs up), then size you up, and keep walking.  And all I can do is vow to be a little bit more forgiving if I’m ever lucky enough to be in their shoes.

You need to read this magazine

My local library branch is small.  The building it’s in is basically a small modular ranch home; when you enter there is a small bedroom-sized space with all the book stacks, fiction and non-fiction.  The main part of the building is open, with four cushy chairs for seating in a circle, four computers for public use, magazine racks, and the circulation desk.  To the far left, with the highest ceiling and widest space, is the children’s section of the library, with a small desk with crayons on one side and a wooden alligator filled with board-books on the other.  What the library doesn’t have in books it makes up for in two important ways: one, the ability to have books from any other regional library delivered to this library when available; two, a great magazine selection.

Consumer Reports, Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living… ah yes, this is what dreams are made of.   Issues available for the loaning for two weeks, all free and within five miles of my home.  It was on one of these days thumbing through Consumer Reports for phone reviews a few years ago when I noticed the magazine placed next to it.  Brain, Child was the name.  The tagline: The magazine for thinking mothers.  I gave a half-smile, thinking, “Oh good, there will be a magazine to keep my brain from turning to mush when I have kids.”  I was still blissfully ignorant of how difficult of a time I would have becoming a mother at the time, and I tucked away the knowledge of a magazine I had never heard of before into that place where I save trivia for a rainy day.

Last summer, several months pregnant, I happily checked out my first issue of Brain, Child for a 12-hour car ride.  And within minutes of opening the pages, I was crushed: this issue was going to be the last.  I thought It figures, the minute I get close to becoming a mother one thing I looked forward to is taken away.  I read the magazine sad with my knowledge.  I guess there isn’t a market for thinking mothers.

Fast-forward to a few weeks ago.  Now that my son is no longer a ball of instinctual and evolutionary responses and is gasp! learning things daily, I am making more of an effort to give him purposeful activities.  This would include Saturday morning story hour at the library.  While waiting for other children to arrive, we wandered over to look at the magazines and lo and behold, Brain, Child was there on the shelf.  I thought they must have been saving the old issues for posterity.  But no, the date said “Summer 2013.”  Wait a minute, I thought.  Was this an episode of baby brain where I had completely missed the message?  I grabbed the oldest magazine there – Winter 2013 – and brought it home.

Turns out the magazine did end, but not long after someone had come along to purchase the magazine and keep it up and going.  The new owner/editor, Marcelle Soviero, was a reader who, like me, couldn’t let the deliciousness of the magazine slip away – and I am so grateful she took the leap to keep it alive.

You need to read this magazine, especially if you are an infertilite, but it’s not going to be easy for you.  Every poem, article, essay, and letter is written by a mother.  But every poem, article, essay, and letter is moving and impactful and considers different perspectives on what it means to be a mother, and what it means to have a family.  The Winter 2013 issue alone hears the voices of women who’ve had miscarriages, who are searching for egg donors, who are foster-cum-adoptive parents, who are infertile.  And I have cried at their stories, able to know exactly what they mean and so grateful they were brutally honest about their thoughts, emotions, experiences.  Brutally honest.  But underneath it all, every story is written by a “mother” in however way that means for her.  Unlike other pregnancy or parenting magazines which focus on what chic stroller you should buy or the latest in teething biscuits, this magazine gets to the root of discovering what it means to be a mother.  The decisions you make on behalf of your children and how you think through those; the emotions of reproductive endocrinologist waiting rooms and their travertine floors; understanding teenage neuroscience…  It’s all peacefully co-existing in the pages of one relatively-ad-free (there are a few) judgement-free magazine.

You won’t find this magazine easy to find.  There are no beautiful cover models.  The cover story of this issue is “Playing God? Do kids really need religion?” and beneath that, “Babies and BMI: How big is too big?”  Those headlines fall below the main water color painting on the issue of two red-brown owls with large magnetic black eyes.  But if you let yourself listen to these women and take the time to hear their stories, you’ll find that not only are you not alone but that there is hope for you too.

Go, now. or @brainchildmag.

The art of living simply, and of simply living

As I approach the one year anniversary of my last miscarriage, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I changed my life to optimize myself for fertility and how I have changed my life as a new parent.  In many ways, the differences in those changes aren’t that different.  If anything, this entire journey has taught me the value of living simply and has led me to ask the question many times, “Do I really need this?”  A new parent has no time for complications.  I don’t know how people with multiples do it; I don’t know how people with lots of little kids running around do it.  I give single moms a lot of credit.

The more free time you have, the more you can fill your life with complications and commitments.  You tweet, you blog, you train for marathons, you become an extreme couponer, whatever.  When you start trying to conceive, some of these commitments go away in favor of TTC-friendly activities.  You take yoga, you meditate, you research ovulation kits and set an alarm clock for o-dark-thirty so that you can take your temperature every morning at exactly the same time, waiting for a spike in temperature and dreading a drop.  In that excruciating long period of time, your private time is no longer your own.  It has already been usurped by your wished-for passenger-to-be.  And it happened so slowly you probably didn’t even notice or mind.

Having a child in no way makes your life simpler, and demands far more of your time – practically all of it, especially at first – than you would imagine.  Unless you have live-in nannies or lots of extra help around the house, you will start to schedule your life around someone else’s.  You will mind at first, and then you’ll just live with it, because like electricity you will choose the path of least resistance, especially if you want to survive.  And the path of least resistance also includes giving up some of your own complicated rituals in favor of shortcuts.  You learn to let go of some of your standards of living so that you can have a life that you enjoy.  You will find yourself slowly letting go by asking yourself these questions: Is there an easier way?  Is this good enough, even if it’s not just so?  Can I live with this for now?  Do I really need this?

I used to take nearly an hour to get ready for work, not including the time I would spend eating breakfast and reading the newspaper every morning.  That hour was filled with picking out an outfit and accessories, a nice shower, makeup, and hair.  Now that is an  hour that I could be spending with my son; that I might need to spend taking care of the family.  Is there an easier way?  Sure, there is.  I take short showers.  I pick out my clothes the night before.  I whittled my makeup routine down to five pieces.  I don’t even blow dry my hair anymore.  I am ready for work in 15 minutes.

I used to sort my laundry into many, many piles, by color or texture or water temperature.  It seemed important.  Now I make three piles.  Darks, colors, whites.  And baby clothes are dumped in all together at once.  The clothes are cleaned, their colors don’t run, and they don’t shrink.  I may not be able to fold everything immediately, but it’s good enough for now.

I have accumulated so much baby stuff… accent on the “stuff…” that I have a pile in the closet of new unused stuff ready to be passed along to the next baby that comes along.  Friends talk about the new things they buy for themselves – new outfits, new shoes, new makeup, new purses – and it sounds frivolous to me.  Be happy with the things you have.  We are so wrapped up in things, and having the right things, the hip things, the best things.  I get a twinge of jealousy at every Chicco or Peg Perego car seat I see at the daycare.  They are so sleek, so fashionable, so sophisticated.  But do I need them?  No.  They might have made me a little bit happier – or maybe a little bit more smug – but only for a little while.  Things like those are nice to have, but not need to have, and I’m okay with not having them.  And things only distract you from where you should be finding your happiness: your partner, your family, your pets, your friends.  Leading a fulfilling life doesn’t have to be any more complicated than spending time with the most important people in your life.  It’s just that simple.

No formula for formula

The hospital pediatrician who told me my 2 day old baby had higher than normal, but not critical, bilirubin levels and was approaching jaundice, was also hesitant to recommend us formula feeding to help him along.  “No more than 1 or 2 ounces,” he said.  “But continue breastfeeding.  You don’t want him to think it’s too easy.”  Meaning it’s easier to suck on a bottle than it is a human nipple, so don’t let him get into the habit early.  But all along there had been no nurses encouraging me to breastfeed, no doctors monitoring us, just a daily check-up for the little one to find out of he’s thriving or not.  And he wasn’t, so of course I had to breastfeed more.  A nurse gave me lanolin lotion for my cracking nipples and I waited hours for a lactation consultant to tell me if I had milk.  She poked the top of my breast and said, “Oh yes, your milk is coming in.”  Then she discreetly rolled in a breast pump and walked away.

I’m telling you this story because as well prepared as I was for pregnancy and labor, I felt horribly underprepared for parenthood, especially what to do in the 72 hours or so following birth.  It doesn’t help that they pump you full of narcotics (the nurse had to get special permission to give me a half dose because I didn’t want the whole thing) to help you cope with the pain.  And there were so many decisions that had to be made I never really thought to prepare myself for.  Like how best to feed the baby.  I was going to breastfeed, right?  Sure.  That’s what they say to do.  “Breast is best” is the message on posters in every OB/GYN office.  If it’s so natural how hard could it be?  Surely I didn’t need a class for that.  Yet at the same time I had registered for bottles, because that’s what everybody does and eventually I knew I’d be returning to work, so the little one would have to get fed somehow, right?  Right. 

Turns out breastfeeding is hard – very hard, in a physically taxing kind of way, not in an intellectual way – and I should have taken that class.  The popular media, from magazines to websites, tout how healthy it is for you and for the baby.  You’ll burn extra calories and lose your pregnancy weight that much quicker.  You’ll pass along valuable immunity to your baby, reduce his chances of ear infections, allergies, and other illnesses.  You’ll bond with your baby that much sooner.  Breast is best. 

Tell that to someone who’s been a mom for 48 hours with a screaming infant lying skin-to-skin on her chest, red-faced and screaming, his mouth so dry from dehydration his lips are chapped, lips which in turn chap the mother’s skin on her breast, making breastfeeding a horrifying experience.  While you don’t have milk the first few days after labor, you do make something called colostrum, and your baby will extract about a teaspoonful of that stuff, because that’s all he needs and can digest.  I guess most babies are happy with a teaspoon.  I either didn’t have a teaspoon or my LO’s metabolism needed more than what I was giving him.  Which led to the whole formula supplementing thing.  Except I didn’t know anything about what to do with formula, either – I just had a shelf full of samples of different brands that had been arriving for the last few months.  I knew my labor coaches would have wanted me to throw those “artificial baby milk” products out.

Throughout the first month of my son’s life, every doctor seemed to have a different theory or approach to adding in formula.  The nurses at the peditrician didn’t judge, and sent me home with boxes full of samples.  One pediatrician asked that I nurse regularly before every feeding; another said to nurse exclusively and only give formula “if things get hairy.”  Which they did.  My OB asked if I was breastfeeding, and when I said I was supplementing she said, “That’s okay, it’s not for everyone.”  (Her acceptance/non judgmental attitude is one of the main reasons I chose her to deliver my son).  Does that mean breastfeeding is not for me? 

I looked for validation of my choices where everyone else does – on the internet.  Was it okay to be doing what I was doing?  Was I a failure, or had I given up too soon on breastfeeding?  Would my son suffer long-term ill-effects for it?  There are plenty of haters out there who say yes, I’m a failure; I’ve given up; I’m selfish for not breastfeeding.  And sure, there are people who say it’s okay to formula feed – of course, it seems like there’s always a medical condition that excuses that woman from breastfeeding.

Choosing formula versus breastfeeding, as with dealing with infertility, is something that women tend to beat ourselves up for, and judge each other harshly for.  We should be more supportive of each other, not tearing each other down.  And from my discussions with other moms, the number of women who choose to use formula with or instead of breastfeeding seems to be much much greater than the media would have me believe – so why doesn’t it feel that way?  Are they too embarrassed or ashamed to speak up?  Remember when women had to fight to be taken seriously in the workplace?  (Some would argue we still do).  Women who fought for you to get 6 weeks away from your job to recover and take care of an infant, without penalty to you?  Women who protested in order to make it a choice for you to be a stay at home mom, not the expectation?  What would they say to a petty bickering over how a woman chooses to feed her child?  As I read in one article helping to defend women who choose formula in any capacity over breastfeeding, there are worse ways to parent a child than to choose to keep him or her well-nourished with formula.