Saturday, February 27, 2010

Thoughts on the freeway

My mind's always whirring when I'm doing something mindless... driving, dishes, folding laundry (oh wait, scratch that... I don't fold laundry). Anyway, this afternoon, as I drove on the freeway to pick up my husband at the finish of the Ragnar Relay Del Sol, I found myself thinking about birth. It's where my brain usually goes by default.

Anyway, I was remembering the dream I had back in November where I was doula-ing a woman, totally in my groove. Like it was what I was born to do. About a week ago I had another doula dream. This time I was doula-ing a friend of mine who is currently pregnant. I won't be attending her for this birth, but perhaps in the future? It was a great dream though. Seeing the look on her face as she pulled her vernix-covered baby up onto her chest was priceless.

Do you ever think about how all the pieces of your life come together and suddenly you see why they came together that way. When I attended my doula training almost exactly a year ago, I had no idea how I was going to fit doula work into my life. I have felt guided or "called" to this path, but I haven't been able to figure out how to make it compatible with being a stay-at-home-mom. But, this afternoon, I was thinking about those dreams, and thinking about the two births I may be attending this coming June (for a friend and a cousin), and thinking about how I have the luxury of being married to a man who has a month off every summer (he's a school psychologist). And I realized in that moment that I've been given a gift--a month-long window of opportunity every year. Maybe I can't be a full-time doula in this season of my life, but I can be a mid-June to mid-July doula. I can offer my assistance to a couple of friends each year. I don't feel ready or able to surrender my life to doula work all year (I can't just leave my family at a moment's notice), but the summer feels manageable and perfect. Maybe I could even start doing childbirth education of some sort on the weekends during the rest of the year?

I'm babbling now. But I guess I just wanted you to know... I'm excited about being a summer doula. (If you want me, plan your conceptions accordingly!) I'm also excited to see where life takes me next. And grateful I married that handsome guy in the above photo who inspires me to follow my dreams (and has lots of lovely work vacations).

P.S. Wow, I really like to break that rule about not beginning sentences with "And" or "But," don't I?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Book Review: The Science of Parenting

I'm catching-up on some things I've been wanting to write posts about for months. Like a book I checked-out from the library ages ago... I heard about The Science of Parenting by Dr. Margot Sunderland (director of education and training at the Centre for Child Mental Health in London) in a Canadian news article with the headline 'Crying it out' may damage baby's brain. Now that's a heavy headline, eh? I was definitely intrigued, so I decided to dig further into this. It took me weeks to read it (bit by bit while nursing), but I finally finished last month some time.

My initial reaction to the book was: it looks and feels like a text book. Lots of pictures, sidebars, bullet points, etc. The tone of the writing also reminded me of a text book--one that was giving you basic information without personality or fluff. But I was sort of disappointed because the book repeats phrases like, "There is a mass of scientific research showing..." but it only speaks in very general terms about what those studies actually show. I guess I expected a book called "The Science of Parenting" to delve more deeply into the science of parenting.

The book also struck me as somewhat biased. It kind of reminded me of Stupid Things Parents Do To Mess Up Their Kids which I read per a friend's suggestion. They're very different books written in very different ways, but they both support narrow visions of "good" parenting. It's no question Dr. Laura favors stay-at-home moms, so her book was like a big pat on the back for me (though I don't agree with everything she says). Similarly, The Science of Parenting leaves no doubt that it was written by a woman who is an advocate of attachment parenting and co-sleeping. For someone like me, it's validating. For an Ezzo-Babywise fan, probably not so much. (Actually, Dr. Laura herself would probably trash The Science of Parenting since Sunderland opposes spanking as a form of discipline.)

So where did the Canadian news headline come from? Sunderland devotes a whole chapter of her book to crying and separation. How does prolonged crying "damage" a baby's brain? Here's an excerpt:
Let's be clear at the outset--it is not crying itself that can affect a child's developing brain. It doesn't. It is prolonged, uncomforted distress. . . . It is the type of crying that goes on and on and on, and eventually stops when the child is either completely exhausted and falls asleep or, in a hopeless state, realizes that help is not going to come. . . . In a crying baby, the stress hormone cortisol is released by the adrenal glands. If the child is soothed and comforted, the level of cortisol goes down again, but if the child is left to cry and cry, the level of cortisol remains high. This is a potentially dangerous situation, because over a prolonged period, cortisol can reach toxic levels that may damage key structures and systems in a developing brain. Cortisol is a slow-acting chemical that can stay in the brain at high levels for hours. (p. 38-40)
I have heard similar explanations in previous reading and research, so this wasn't new to me, but I found Sunderland's explanation, visuals, and charts enriching. Despite these points, I personally feel that intuition trumps science and that we each are given promptings of how to respond to our children individually.

The part of the book I found most helpful was Sunderland's section about the two types of tantrums--distress tantrums and "Little Nero" tantrums. She explains that these two types of tantrums should be handled in very different ways.

Distress tantrums mean that rage, fear, and/or separation distress have sent "too-high levels of stress chemicals searing through his body and brain" (p. 122). These stress chemicals "hijack" your child's ability to think or reason or communicate effectively. Children in distress tantrums need help managing their big feelings. Sunderland encourages parents to remember that their child's distress is genuine and focus on giving physical comfort, emotional empathy, and safety.

Little Nero tantrums are another story. These tantrums are about control and manipulation and rarely involve tears. There aren't stress chemicals involved. Sunderland explains, "A Little Nero tantrum is about a child trying to get what he wants--attention, a particular toy, or food--through bullying his parents into submission. . . . Children who have Little Nero tantrums need to learn that they can't always receive the gratification they want at the time they want it, and that it's not OK to bully or control people to get what they want in life" (p.128). Sunderland encourages parents to ignore these tantrums, avoid trying to reason, argue, or negotiate with the child, remain emotionally calm, and be firm in saying, "No." Above all, don't reward these inappropriate tantrums with attention.

Reading her explanation of these two types of tantrums was one of those "aha" moments. I have seen both types hundreds of times but never really made that distinction or realized that they called for different parental responses. I'm trying to incorporate Sunderland's suggestions, when I remember. Fortunately, Little Nero rarely makes an appearance around here. But I definitely need to work on keeping my cool and ignoring those.

Even though it wasn't really what I expected, I'm glad I read The Science of Parenting. It reminded me to respect my children's feelings and respond in a way that honors their identity as children of God. It helped me to better understand what is happening inside when my 4-year-old freaks out about something--as she often does. It has validated my efforts to create a secure attachment with my babies through responsive parenting--both night and day. I'd definitely recommend the book to others, but only after making them aware of the author's preference for the attachment parenting style.

A couple of Amazon reviewers' statements might be helpful:
I think it inflates the parents' role in child-rearing. It goes completely overboard about activating the wrong parts of your child's brain. I'm not saying there is no merit to this theory, but the book would make it seem a miracle anyone ever grew up halfway sane if their parents nevcer read this book. -SWB "Parent"

[T]he discussion of the science is extremely superficial . . . . To learn more about the science of how the brain actually works, I would recommend What's Going on in There?: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life by Lise Eliot.
I've already put What's Going on in There on hold at our library. It sounds more like what I was expecting The Science of Parenting to be, and the reviews promise lots of dense scientific details. Goody! I also have another parenting book on hold, The Wonder Weeks, per Heather's suggestion. Can't wait to check them out!

Do you have any other book recommendations, while we're at it?

Pain, pain, go away

So... I've had chronic back pain since my first daughter was born. I attribute it to my scoliosis (which has worsened over time through pregnancy and motherhood). I've also spent my life fighting chronic headaches. I used to pop ibuprofen like candy multiple times a day to keep my headaches at bay (now I only take pain killers maybe a couple of times a year).

Reducing processed (MSG-laden) foods in our diet has alleviated my headaches immensely, but I'm finding I can minimize my body pain even more by eating more anti-inflammatory foods and avoiding foods in the nightshade family--tomatoes and potatoes. Apparently they can exacerbate pain for some people. Not sure if I'm one of those people yet, but I'm experimenting to see. (No easy task since I love tomatoes and cook with them all the time.)

I love anti-inflammatory foods. They're my new best friends. Here are a few of my favorites...

1) Turmeric
I had never used this deep yellow spice until this past year when I started hearing about how health-promoting it is. It's a main ingredient in curries and it's what makes mustard yellow. Now I put a bit of turmeric in our meals several times a week. I won't go into all of the health-benefits associated with turmeric, but studies have shown that its natural anti-inflammatory effects are as powerful as painkillers like ibuprofen. The smell and flavor of turmeric remind me a lot of celery which I'm not a huge fan of, but I'm getting used to it.

2) Sweet potatoes
Did you know they're in a different family than regular potatoes? And super healthy too. Since I'm avoiding nightshade vegetables, sweet potatoes will be my substitute in potato recipes. Growing up I really didn't care for sweet potatoes, but they've grown on me a lot over the years, especially since I discovered they can be cooked without marshmallows.

3) Olive oil and fish oil
I was already cooking with olive oil everyday and taking fish oil fairly often, but now I do it with more gusto and purpose. Instead of popping ibuprofen when I've got a headache or my back is particularly painful, I pop fish oil capsules instead. Studies verify that fish oil is an effective and safe alternative for pain relief (olive oil too).

Other anti-inflammatory foods: blueberries (and other berries), papaya, pineapple, broccoli, cauliflower, cherries, garlic, ginger, almonds, apples, cinnamon, dark chocolate, rosemary, chili peppers, meats from grass-fed animals, and more.

Last night we had ground bison and cut-up sweet potatoes sauteed in olive oil with fresh onion and garlic, sprinkled with chili powder and turmeric, steamed broccoli on the side. Yum.

Monday, February 15, 2010

DIY cardboard play kitchen, anyone?

As I was posting the pictures in my last post, I realized that I never shared our January 2008 home-made play kitchen adventure on this blog, and since I figure I have lots of readers who might be interested in making their own play kitchen from recycled moving boxes... here it is!

Years ago, my brother and his wife gave us the play kitchen their kids had outgrown. It was fantastic. Our girls got a lot of use out of that thing. You can see part of it in this picture here...Then we made plans to move to AZ, and (being naive and inexperienced in the world of play kitchens) we thought we'd sell it at a yard sale and just get a new one on Craigslist after we moved. We figured it would be easier than trying to move the thing 'cause it was pretty big. I think we sold it for like $11 or something ridiculous like that. Fast forward to post-move when I find out that some people actually expect you to pay $100 for a used play kitchen!? Obviously we were crazy to part with our FREE one. Yikes!

Seeing that there was no way we were going to pay that much for something so non-essential, I did a google search to see if anyone had a site with do-it-yourself play kitchen ideas. That's when I found forty-two roads. She made a play kitchen with cardboard and contact paper. Not a bad idea. What do you have coming out your ears after a move? BOXES! Stacks and stacks of flattened boxes were residing in our garage.

So, two years ago, my husband and I (with a little help from our girls) created a play kitchen using recycled cardboard boxes, contact paper, packing tape, glue, and a few knick knacks, screws, and gadgets thrown in. Voila! A pretty stinkin cool hand/home-made play kitchen for my little girls to go nuts with.

We were quite proud of our little creation, particularly the special features not included in the forty-two roads' original. We sort of took her idea and modified it to our liking. The special features include: a window in the oven door (with a sheet protector acting as "glass"), two functional cardboard drawers, a "granite" countertop, a faucet (bike hook), and colorful contact paper. Here are some pics of the work in progress and the final product:The folks who sold us our house left a couple of things in the storage closet, one of them being an old Sony stereo cabinet. We didn't have a stereo fit for it, and it had just been sitting in that closet for months... So... we covered the glass door with cardboard, contact paper and tape to make it safer, and it was instantly transformed into... you guessed it... a refrigerator! Check it out!They were a lot of work, but it was fun work. We've decided they're definitely better than anything we could have bought at the store.

Wrap Happy

You might like:
No-Sew Baby Wrap Instructions
DIY Cardboard Play Kitchen, anyone?

Saturday, February 6, 2010


About two years ago I went to a chiropractor, hoping he could help me figure out why I had chronic pain in my right shoulder blade region. (It still plagues me to this day.)

Wow. That's what I thought when I saw the x-rays of my spine. Wow. Holy cow. Good grief!

Back when I was a teenager I was diagnosed with scoliosis, but they watched it for a while and it never became more than "mild" scoliosis, so they sent us on our way and I sort of stopped thinking about it. Until the pain started several years later. When I was lying "flat" on my back, things just didn't seem to be where they were supposed to be. I was definitely right! As we stood there looking at the x-rays, I thought to myself, hmmm... that doesn't look like "mild" scoliosis to me! The chiropractor concurred. Mommyhood had taken its toll and made my curvy spine even curvier.

What does this have to do with birth, you're asking?

A recent post by Rixa alerted me to something fascinating. It's totally logical... one of those things you learn and wonder how you never thought of it before. Scoliosis and epidurals aren't always compatible. Makes sense, huh? I really don't know how it never occurred to me before.

So I just googled "epidural scoliosis," and found quite a few stories from women with scoliosis on forums and Q&A sites. It seems to be hit or miss. Some women with scoliosis had no trouble, but they seem to be in the minority. Most of the women with scoliosis fell into one (or more) of these categories:
1) They forgot about their scoliosis until the anesthesiologist pointed it out. It took some time to place the epidural, but it worked fine.

2) Placing the epidural was extremely difficult. The anesthesiologist had to poke them multiple times, sometimes excessively, and they suffered back pain for days, weeks, or months after the birth.

3) The epidural only worked on one half of their body or only worked when they positioned their body a certain way. Most of these women went on to choose natural deliveries for subsequent children and raved about how much better they were compared to their complicated epidural experiences.

4) Their OB recommended meeting with the anesthesiologist in advance and bringing along x-rays to ensure everything would be smooth.

5) They were told an epidural would not be possible because of the severity of their scoliosis. They opted instead for a spinal, a c-section under general anesthesia (Seriously... one lady's doctor let her have an elective scheduled cesarean because her scoliosis was incompatible with an epidural. Seriously.), or a natural delivery.
I feel so fortunate that I didn't have to learn these things the hard way. What if I had gone into my first birth expecting the epidural to save me from the agony? I think an unmedicated birth is so much more painful and difficult when it is unwanted and the mother is completely unprepared for it. It never occurred to me to mention my scoliosis to my OB or hospital nurse. I wonder how many women with scoliosis have miserable births because, like me, they didn't realize it could impact their experiences.

I also discovered through my internet digging that scoliosis can affect fundal height measurements. One women was told she would give birth to a 10+ pound baby because she was measuring so "big." Her child came out a 7 pounder. If you have scoliosis and your doc starts pressing for an induction or cesarean for a suspected "big baby," keep this in mind. Spinal curvature just might be misrepresenting the size of your baby. When I imagine hours of bone-crunching pit-contractions followed by an epidural that only works on half of my body followed by months of back pain from the multiple insertion attempts... all for an unnecessary induction... Ugh. NO thanks.

Fascinating stuff.