Sunday, May 29, 2011

Birth Matters

I had the good fortune to be in town this afternoon in time to attend a workshop at Philadelphia University with Ina May Gaskin who was in town supporting Womencare in its efforts to expand birth options to local women. She has a new book called Birth Matters which I've only just begun to read this evening and it was pretty special to be able to hear her speak in person.

I came across this legendary midwife via her book Spiritual Midwifery when I was browsing in the library looking for any books I could find on pregnancy. I did not understand the significance of Ina May's work in the modern natural childbirth movement or the impact she has made on bringing further awareness and respect to the birth experience but after reading her book and Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent my outlook was changed for the better. Ina May showed us several birth videos including an incredible one of an elephant mother's birth and another of a birth at Attica Zoological Park (love the 'doula' helping and the mom's upside down position). She talked about the fact that we human women are the only species who has to be taught to do something we are naturally made to do. There was also an overview of birth history and her birth experience and what led her to become a midwife.

The unresolved question Ina May shared today that most touched home with me was she asked why is it that motherhood is held as something not so important in our society. 

The need for natural birth education, the return to women being able to make informed choices regarding their births and subsequently greater support for mothers is issues that I feel especially devoted to.  Ina May's gentle yet matter of fact rolling thunder approach in speaking made me want to spend entire afternoon with this breathing treasure of information and inspiration.

So for today, recommended reading for all, if you can find any time to spare one day, is any book by Ina May Gaskin. You will be shocked, mystified, inspired and empowered by the time you are through.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A little more, a little less

I go through Winter's closet and drawers every other week to weed out anything too small, no longer used etc. The steady flow of bags going to donation, to Craig's List and Freecycle has left me with plenty of opportunities to take stock of what was a waste (for us) and what worked so far.

If I had to do it over again, here's my list of a little more a little less:

1) Knitted 'going home' outfit for the hospital
In my euphoria I did succumb to the picture lady before check out and a sweeter looking gender neutral outfit, instead of the prison getup I had on hand, would have been ideal. Which brings me to...

2) A white/cream starter layette
I searched high and lo for gender neutral newborn clothing but there was very little to pull from. Now that I know the various baby clothing brands with more depth perhaps I would have done better but even still having a few more outfits upon arrival home would have been helpful. In retrospect I should have just gotten a layette of all white and cream to start.

3) More bibs
I eyeballed our initial stash of approx. 20 and actually thought that was too much. Little did I know Winter rivaled Old Faithful and until she was about 5 months having closer to 50 on hand would have been the most convenient.

4) Receiving blankets, can't have too many
I've actually used them as nighttime diapers, an extra layer for the bed, the changing table, the boppy, the floor, as a nursing cover, as a wipe, as a towel and the list goes on.

5) Forget the diaper bag
In my case aside from the newborn period the diaper bag has been collecting dust for a good 4+ months. I had gotten 2 others, one to use with my carrier and another I used as my pump bag and I've abandoned those to. I now use my purse to carry my pump and supplies and a regular canvas tote when we go out on the weekends etc for longer periods of time. The tote was $20 on Etsy and though not waterproof etc it is washable. I could have saved the $100 spent and closet space on the other bags had I known this.

6) Snuggle nest
I thought I needed this for co-sleeping and it proceeded to collect dust in the closet for about 6 months until I found another mother who wanted it. Winter's spot of choice is right next to me, no special mini bed needed.

7) Any jumper with feet over 3 months
Completely annoying when you have a long baby with larger feet. I avoid these at all costs.

8) Newborn clothing with snaps
Wished I had more, so convenient.

9) Pacifiers
Boycotted in our home upon sight. I offered, she wasn't interested. More $$$  wasted in getting different ones for her to try.

10) Reusable nursing pads I really enjoyed the Lanacare danish wool ones for the beginning and I should have gotten 2 pair and PLENTY of wool wash to begin with and called it a day.
Instead I tried other brands and did not ever have enough wash or pads to keep them up as often as I needed which resulted in my using the cloth wipes. Not a bad thing but between our cloth diaper wipes and the danish wool pads as a nice back-up that was all I needed.

11) Nursing bras
MAJOR waste in my case. I got one of the nicer brands spending $50+ and a cheaper one around $20 both were uncomfortable and just downright bizarre. The concept seemed necessary and an ideal coping mechanism but it wasn't for me. I'm sure if I kept testing I would have found ones that worked but I started wearing my own usual bras and have never looked back. I don't have the fancy snaps etc but I just fold down and that's that. I'm sure all the handling is wearing them down faster but its a small price to pay for a return to comfort and normalcy.

Just a few observations on the look back.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Simple Graces

For both encouragement and insight I became very interested in looking at the schedules of other working mothers as a way to further organize my own routine so I too could walk the tightrope that is the work/life balance. I also found it helpful as a building block to understanding pumping schedules, unique though they are, as I was not around anyone who was actively pumping at work.

This may seem overly detailed but somewhere out there it might be of help to a mother pressed for time who could use encouragement knowing that she is NOT alone, she CAN do it and anything you set your mind to as a priority can remain that way if you're organized.

So here is our schedule (typical workday) at present:

5AM - Mama wakes up!

5AM-5:15/5:30AM - pump (for freezer stash or to add to any shortages prior day)
5:30-5:45AM - shower/get ready
5:45AM/6AM - pull out lunch, freezer packs, finish packing purse and dress
(sometimes I am also blending a smoothie or cooking rice)
5:45AM - Winter wakes up! (or Mama gets her up)
6-6:15AM  - get Winter ready / grandma comes in!
6:15-6:20AM - grandma prepares bottles, Winter nurses, grandma/mama talk
6:25-6:35AM - drive to train station,spend time together in car
6:46AM - train leaves!
8:35AM - arrive at work, sterilize pump parts, organize lunch, fill water bottles
9:30AM - 1st pump break
12:15PM - 2nd pump break / eat lunch / work / check on Winter
2:30PM - 3rd pump break
3:40PM - run/walk to subway
4:03PM - train home!
5:35PM - touch down, grandma/grandpapa's house to get Winter (nurse on cue until departure next morning)
6-6:30PM - grandpapa drives us home / we visit briefly
6:30-8:30PM - cook/eat dinner, pack bag for next day, measure milk, change into PJ's, use sling to continue nursing as needed and shift Winter from floor, chair, rocker etc. story time!
7:30-9PM - Winter dozes, goes to crib. Mama scrambles to finish above!
9-11PM - quiet time! reading, movie, writing, studying, house chores, pumping
11-4:49AM - nurse 1-2x as needed, sometimes more sometimes less (no crying or outburst due to co-sleeping)
5AM - we start again!

You'll notice 2 things missing from the above that will drive any mother's limited amount of time into the ground. Laundry and bottle sterilizing.

Wanted to note that as of now I wash my diapers and handle clothing laundry on Thursday night and Sunday afternoon. The diapers that come home from daycare stay with Winter's grandma who handles pick-up/drop-off. Grandma tackles the diaper bag and replenishes (including sterilizing the bottles) so that the next morning my job is simply to provide her with the milk. We fell into this routine naturally because both grandmama and daycare use pocket diapers so she can do one big load as she pleases and I wash my flats and fitteds at the end of the week. We've stashed a reserve of clothes at her grandparents so that the only laundry that builds over the week is the outfit she comes home in and my own. Since I personally have not ever used a bottle with Winter this also reduced us shuttling bottles back and forth. Baby food I make on the weekend and freeze, then give to grandma in batches every few days. Winter has fresh food at night and on the weekends with me.

Now, moment of silence.

The reality is, every mom once she unloads all that she does in a single day has a schedule that asks the world of her and then some. What I have learned in listening to the various schedules and methods of juggling is that we all need support both verbally, practically and otherwise. I've heard repeatedly that you should find a way to do something small for yourself, each day, which brings me to what I call simple graces.

My simple graces are found on my train ride home. I sit, stare at out at the world passing by me as the train pulls through the landscape like a chariot and it is the most calming, mind numbing, meditative state I've managed to find for myself and I embrace the peace. I find simple grace in the peace of my home. I may be a party of 1 but my home is a calm, warm and peace filled environment. Less is more. I find grace in the meaningful moments gained with my parents who, after 15 years of living in different states, short visits and a rapport relegated to e-mail and phone calls, I now see morning and night. I find grace in the few but intensive friendships that have tangled even tighter with love and protection around me, and now my daughter, as we weathered yet another life change together. My grace is in each new person Winter and I meet in our new home that shows some small act of kindness.

My grace is in coming home and finally feeling fulfilled.

I am a devoted follower of the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh and he has a wonderful book called Present Moment Wonderful Moment. Its mindful verses for mundane tasks like brushing your teeth, washing your hands and other simple encounters.

Here are fragments from the last pages of the book, all of which I have found to be true:

We can practice beginning anew at any moment of our lives. As humans, we make mistakes. Without these mistakes, there would be no way to learn to be more accepting and compassionate. When your life is meaningful, happiness becomes a reality...Every one of us is capable of this. - Thich Nhat Hanh

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Eco tip: Note on container for homemade toothpaste

I've used a few different types of containers to store my toothpaste and the one that I like best is a peri bottle. I like that you can squeeze it out the same way as you would a tube and therefore avoid the bacteria growth from double dipping your toothbrush into a jar. 

You can add more or less vegetable glycerin to get it to a consistency that is easier to squeeze if that's an issue. And if you are concerned about grabbing the wrong bottle in your sleep deprived state you can easily put your own label on it.

Also, just a pea size amount is all you need and brush for 5 minutes or a song.

I like that there are no nasties or unpronounceable in this paste and you can customize the 'flavors' (mint, lemon, etc.).

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Eco Tip: Make your own toothpaste

I admit post Winter my personal care standards descended to a humbling crawl from which I am just now lifting into a newly established 'beauty' routine. I don't believe I was high maintenance before becoming a mom but I've reached a point where until recently getting a shower longer than 3 minutes was a luxury. And more times than I can count I stumbled out of a fragrant, luxuriously warm bath only moments after submerging myself to soothe Winter's nearby battle cry.

One evening this week while enjoying the start of a bath I realized several minutes had lapsed before I had performed the alphabet song or something off the soundtrack for Sound of Music. I looked over and Winter was sitting in her chair nearby simply staring at me. I couldn't tell if it was a let me decide how long I'll give her or Mama I'm fine, if you'd quit the one woman show I'd be even better. Apparently it was the latter because her stare turned to an amused look of concern before she returned to her play book. 
This is a worthwhile milestone they fail to highlight in the life with baby books. 

One of the other rituals in my self care routine that went by the wayside was my homemade toothpaste and alas my teeth have not been as crisp since. No matter how much or what kind I use, its just not the same. Now that we've moved the simple act of going to my near and dear health store to get the paste's key ingredient, vegetable glycerin, has not been possible as a drive to Whole Foods is too much expenditure when I have so little reason to darken their floor space to begin with. Alas, thank gawd for Amazon Mom. I am a dedicated customer and have earned the maximum duration of free 2-day shipping allotted. 
May I return my teeth to their previous status as quickly as Fed-ex can save us.

If you want to spare sending another $5 to Tom in Maine here's the light:

You need:

Equal parts baking soda/vegetable glycerin
Drops of edible oil (peppermint, cinnamon, lemon - can be found in baking aisle) to your preference
Container to store

Mix the above, put in your container and your good to go. Can be stored in your medicine cabinet.

Sometimes I add other special "ingredients" to whiten etc. but you can't go wrong with the above. There have been times when I've not done equal parts vegetable glycerin or used none at all and it really is a key ingredient for an end result that is familiar to what you get from a tube.

Good luck!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Starfish Warrior

I have completely dismembered our home and am on the road to rearranging our 1 bedroom apartment into two  mini studios, which I happily have christened our 'sweets'. The result of the transition meant the departure of my very large, very plush pillow top bed to a single, yes...a twin, which I've arranged as a daybed.

I've never been happier.

I've become more and more fond of small living spaces which is why I am a regular follower of Apartment Therapy and Ohdeedoh home design blogs, one with kids in mind, which often spotlight and wax poetic the creative uses of small living space and design. Aside from a smaller eco footprint, less stress and more incentive to remain organized and free of excess the smaller space also contributes positively, at least in our case, to our overall home environment.

Having lived in a variety of home set-ups both large and tiny (flashbacks of my first NYC apartment, the infamous micro studio on York avenue come to mind...). What I've noticed is I do better with less.

As of 7 months we are still co-sleeping and breastfeeding successfully and the loss of the larger sleep space left me wondering if our co-sleeping would be adversely affected given her starfish warrior assumption of any space once she sleeps but I'm very happy to report we've adapted without issue. I know co-sleeping is a controversial topic in American society.  The research in support and opposition led me to feel this was the best decision for us. I'm highly doubtful I would have been able to maintain the milk supply I have without this additional contact at night. It's also contributed more rest overall.

So now she does 'sleepovers in my space and as we continue into the next months and year I will gradually encourage her to transition into her own space full time. I'm introducing the concept by spending more time in her room, 'playing', reading and maintaining naps and early evening in her own bed. I did not experience a problem in getting her to sleep in the crib but I think the security of not existing in a large home and close proximity to sounds and movements of the household around her as a result contributed to this. Regardless, there is no hurry, when she's ready she's ready and I feel a natural pace already has been assumed.

Less can be more.

For a taste of some of the interesting ways parents have adapted small spaces to create a special place their children you should check out the latest entries for Apartment Therapy's Small Cooler 2011 contest for kids.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The way forward is with a broken heart

This book title by Alice Walker is for me the most accurate summary of how I would describe my journey these last 2 years wherein ultimately I have found myself dismantled, on the mend and now blossoming into something and someone restored for the better.

Parenting affects your life so completely that I could speak endlessly on how various areas of my existence have been updated with a new lens, and for the better.  One of the most significant changes it has brought is a heightened decisiveness, confidence and esteem. The importance of decisions has taken a new level as everything I do now affects another human being, a living being who relies on me to protect her, comfort her, care for her and guide her on the path to her fullest potential whatever that may be. 

If there is one thing in this journey so far that I did not expect it was just how early important decisions would be presented and the intense long term impact that could result.

When I learned that Winter was coming and that I would indeed be a single mother my nesting period became one of intensive research and contemplation. Everything from breastfeeding, prenatal care, schools (homeschooling, nanny care, preschool, private primary school). I cycled through endless versions of work schedules, the options open to us if we moved out of the city or stayed, salary and childcare calculations, length of commutes, pumping schedules and as I sifted through the thousands of questions, books, websites, blogs, and various conversations with those I trusted as well as other parents, professionals and general observation I slowly found our way forward.

As I look around I see the fruits of mindful decision making which ultimately is reflected back to me in Winter as she blossoms and grows with assurance and contentment. There are endless decisions that are coming our way and I hope to navigate each one with patience, awareness and clarity.

So this is the mantra for today,

My mind stills and in reflection may I find the way that's true.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Slow Family Living

I am completely touched by the concept behind Slow Family Living and many of the decisions I make do reference this ideal set.  While it is difficult in our present society, as a work out of home mom, and a single parent especially, to create the utopia of a conscious attached living environment for my daughter I see the value in the ways I am able to send these messages of connectivity and warmth to her albeit in an adapted capacity given our modern surroundings.

The Slow Family living manifesto appeals to me especially as a single parent because my capacity is divided so thinly into all the various responsibilities I feel are required to maintain our family unit as I want it to be. Slowing down, creating a warm and inviting home, spending quality time, maintaining joy and appreciation for what we have, each other, and being present in the moments are all very important to me so it’s nice to come across this resource and to share it with others.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Reflections on Mother's Day

This is my first Mother's Day and it does give me pause to reflect on this past year.

I'm someone's mother.

Winter has changed my life so completely I feel as though her first breath was my own. 

When my father said to my last week, 'I do for you what I cannot even do for myself' his statement of strength pulsed my own inner well.  I know this to be true.
I've found strength, a voice and clarity in matters that I previously would have backed down from or shown little boundary for.

I spring out of bed every morning with the lightest step I've ever known and each day I'm away from her I work with an increased no nonsense efficiency, my little girl is waiting on me.

My first true love,
The little girl who arrived and brought heaven with her.
I walk through this brave new world with you.
My beloved
May you see me and know love. 

Happy Mother's Day