TMI

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.

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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.

What made the second c-section birth better

I was really dreading having another c-section.  Mostly because the memory of the first one is fresh in my mind – how painful it was to sit up, much less walk for the first few days.  I remember feeling helpless in the hospital bed, unable to sit up enough to reach my son who was crying for a diaper change.  It was a terrible feeling – not just the pain, but the inability to move like I wanted to.  Afterward, I wasn’t looking forward to the restrictions – not being able to lift my son, or go up stairs too much, or even drive for a few weeks.  But without an option, I had to resign myself to the repeat surgery and its aftereffects.

I did have the option, though, in hospitals given that my doctors practice in three different area hospitals.  I chose (after discussion with the doctor who would be performing my surgery) the smaller, local community hospital that’s near my town.  With my son I went to a large city hospital with a full NICU unit, just in case there were any issues with my son and his size.  With my daughter, who was growing really well and above average on her weight, I felt less of a need to make sure I had a huge medical facility.  Neonatal care was available at that hospital if I needed it.  And now looking back, I enjoyed that hospital stay much more than I enjoyed the one at the larger hospital.  While I realize my experience is highly specific to these two hospitals, I thought I’d outline some of the distinctions that made my second visit a more pleasant one.

1. Convenience.  The community hospital is less than 10 minutes from my house, while the city hospital is 30 minutes on a good day.  With a little one at home, being so close was handy for my husband to run home and take a shower, and for my mother and sister who were helping to care for my son and who don’t know the area well.  For my 6am check-in appointment for surgery, it was nice to only leave 15 minutes early rather than more than half an hour.  And there was no charge for parking.

2. A smaller, quieter facility.  I was the only scheduled section the day I gave birth; and from what I could tell I was one of the only people in recovery for a while.  My recovery room was the furthest from the nurses’s station and entrance – the last one on the floor – so it was furthest from outside noise.  When there was a code red or blue in the hospital, it was difficult to hear from my room.  No one was wheeled past my door.  It was nice.

3. Nurses were friendlier… and they actually came when called.  In the large hospital it might have taken an hour for a nurse to come in when called.  In this case, if my nurse wasn’t available they sent someone else in – which was the case when I wanted to stand up for the first time.

4. Pain control was more of a priority.  Seriously, you should ask about this at any hospital you are considering.  In the bigger hospital, you had to call for your nurse to bring you pain medication – and as mentioned in the previous bullet, that could take an hour before they even showed up to see what you wanted.  This time around, the nurses and the lactation consultant stressed making my comfort a priority – if mom isn’t feeling good, she’s no use to anybody, especially the baby.  The nurses were always concerned about my pain level.  Yes, I did have to call for medications a few times, but they were prompt and sometimes scolded me for waiting so long to call (since I wanted to see if I did need them or not… and I really did).

5. I had more than 5 minutes with a lactation consultant.  Her office was two doors down from me, as a matter of fact.  She asked that I call for her at every feeding while she was on her shift.  She sat patiently with me, reassured me I was doing everything right, and told me how much further along with breastfeeding I was than people are usually.  She checked in before she left to teach a class.  I saw her a lot and I didn’t feel guilty about it one bit (unlike at the other hospital when I was told, “You know, people usually only see a lactation consultant once before they go” after I had seen her twice).

6. I felt listened to.  When I was concerned about my daughter’s weight loss, her constant crying, her constant nursing (to what felt like no avail to me), all of my nurses were patient and explained options to me.  When I described what happened with my son, they listened but reassured me each pregnancy is different.

7. Even the cafeteria workers took pride in their job, even if they realized the food they were delivering wasn’t so great.   They were very kind to me, always offering to make something off the menu if nothing sounded good.  (I never took them up on that offer).  One morning the woman had an extra food tray (like I said, I was at the end of the hall which usually meant I was the last to get food), and she gave it to my husband so he wouldn’t have to go to the cafeteria and pay $3 for yogurt.  Super nice.

8. Between my husband and I, we had a connection to at least two of the nurses who treated me throughout my stay – that we knew about.  One of my surgical nurses during the birth was connected to me through someone at work, and one of the head nurses requested to be my nurse because she knew my husband and his family from high school (she was the nurse there).  While sometimes people might find it annoying to know someone everywhere you go, I can tell you this much – I don’t mind knowing people at a hospital, since I think you’re bound to get better service because if you don’t, then everyone will know about it.

9. I had two anesthetists with me during surgery.  In the large medical center, I had a nurse anesthetist.  She was great, sure.  I flinched during the spinal – actually, I tensed up pretty bad, which you’re not supposed to do – and later I realized it was because I was ticklish on that side on my back.  So the second time, I warned everyone who would listen that I was ticklish, and to please warn me when things were happening with the spinal.  And the second time, I had two people working on numbing me – a nurse anesthetist and the actual anesthesiologist.  They were both phenomenal, but it also added two more people to help talk me through the process and keeping watch over my vitals and state of mind.  It helped they both had a sense of humor and put me at ease.  Whereas the nurse hadn’t warned me during the birth of my son that lightheadedness, nausea, and a sense of panic are all side effects of the anesthesia, the anesthesiologist was very forward in asking how I felt and told me to tell him the minute I felt anything different.  I told him once I started feeling lightheaded, and he put a hand on my forehead and said, “Yep, you’re getting a little sweaty, a little clammy.  Don’t worry, perfectly normal.  We’re going to give you a little something to make you feel better.”  That. Was. Awesome.  I couldn’t have asked for a better team.

I hope you will be able to ask some tough questions and take a critical look at your birthing center, wherever it may be, and think about what’s important to you.  Privacy, quiet, pain control, accessible nurses…  You may think you know what you want – if you’re like me you think you don’t want a lot of pain medication, but then you do – so just keep an open mind, and I wish you the best of luck.

“So, is this it?” and other awkward second-baby questions

The experiences of the infertilite in the fertilite world are often befuddling.  I have had such strange advice about having a second child, and even stranger questions, that I usually have to keep from cocking my head to the side and thinking out loud, “Is that really how normal people feel?”  Here is some of what I’ve had to contend with and, in some cases, explain in polite terms.

“I was a surprise, too, and I turned out okay.”  I didn’t hide the fact that I didn’t plan on getting pregnant so quickly after having my son.  But I didn’t plan on it because, as you know, I didn’t think I’d be able to beat the odds for a second time.  As in ever.  So yeah, surprise!  But how do you explain that to someone who doesn’t know the whole history or background, without getting into it and turning it into a weird and awkward conversation?  You don’t.  You just go with it and move on.

“You must have been in shock when you found out [that you were pregnant].”  A close friend asked me this about a month ago while we were having lunch.  And I admitted that yes, yes I was – for the reasons mentioned above.  “You have to remember,” I said to my friend, “I spent most of my maternity leave coming to terms with the fact that I’d have to be satisfied with one child.  That as much as I didn’t want my son to be alone and without siblings, the reality would be that he very likely would.  And that’s when I got pregnant.”  My friend’s eyes went wide as he threw down his sandwich and leaned back in his chair.  “Holy crap!” he said.  “I never even thought of that!”  Yeah, so that’s men for you.  He really didn’t have much to say after that.  I’m pretty sure he’s still processing that information.

“So, is this it?”  This from a nurse, her eyes darting between my 15-month old son and my ready-to-explode belly.  “God bless you,” she said, shaking her head and smiling, as if to say that she felt sorry for me and for the next two years of my life.  But I don’t know how to answer that question, “Is this it?”  I don’t even know how to answer that to my husband.  When one of the OBs in my practice asks me, “And are you having your tubes done, too?” and I say, “No,” even I have to wonder why that’s my answer.  And the best reasons I could think of are this: after years of struggle, heartache, rationalizing, hoping, hurting, and celebrating, it feels like the wrong answer to say “Yes, that’s it,” at this point.  It feels like a huge disrespect to my body, which has given me two incredible gifts after it seemed to have failed me for so long.  In theory, I really don’t want to be pregnant again.  In theory, there are lots of other ways to make sure that doesn’t happen that doesn’t involve further severing an already flawed organ.

Plus, it’s a little gauche to say, “Do I get a discount if I only have one tube tied?”

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.  http://www.brainchildmag.com or @brainchildmag.