The Medici Madonna

It’s 10:40am- nap time- and today I am babysitting at the kids’ grandparents house, my first time here. I put the little guy in his crib and took my girl in the next room to get her to go down.

The quickest, easiest, and sometimes only way to get her to sleep at the same time as R is to nurse her while walking around. As I’m pacing, singing, and nursing around this unfamiliar guest room, I spot a glorious sight on the wall. A framed print of the preparatory drawing for the Medici Madonna. I’m not the only one breastfeeding in this room!

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I think it’s important to note that she is not wearing a cover, and that the baby looks to be a year old. In the actual sculpture, the child looks more like a two year old.

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The statue is located outside of a church in Italy. Then it got me wondering what it was like to nurse in public in a country where there are hundreds of pieces of breastfeeding art on display. Sadly, even Italy is beginning to sexualize breasts (although not quite as bad as it is in the US), according to this interesting blog post.

It also reminded me of this post I read recently about the Bible and breastfeeding. It says the Bible references breasts in relation to nursing twice as often than it does about sexuality. So, while yes, breasts can be sexual, let’s not forget their primary and most important function- feeding a child.

There are situations where I am more comfortable using a cover or going somewhere privately. Most of the time I don’t. And really it isn’t because I’m on a crusade to show the world I’m nursing- it’s more like its 90 degrees out, my baby needs to eat, she has refused to let me use a cover since 6 months old, and I’m not traipsing off the beach to waste my gas turning the air on, sitting in the car to nurse because someone might look at me funny. It’s a mother’s choice. If a mom is comfortable to nurse without one, that’s her right.

What disappoints me most is that other young women- even mothers- are often the ones giving disapproving looks. If you’re uncomfortable with your kid- boy or girl- seeing a mom breastfeeding, it’s possibly time for some reflection.

When my girl was 8 weeks old I nannied for another family. The 3 year old boy had a little brother and had seen his mom nursing. When I said it was time for her to eat, he smiled and asked, “is she going to drink from your chest?” Hilarious, but more importantly it was normal to him. I know a bunch of moms whose kids have this normalized view of nursing and to them, I give two thumbs up.

I hope that my daughter will grow up to appreciate her healthy body and that one day she will be blessed to carry and nurse a baby, and not measure her worth by her sexuality. Maybe we should all hang a framed print to remind us that breastfeeding truly is a beautiful work of art.

fine.

DIY Growth Chart

I love it when I actually get around to starting (and finishing) a Pinterest inspired project. Here is my version of the DIY growth chart. I wanted to be able to take it with us when we move eventually.

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First I bought a 6′ board from Home Depot for about $20. I already had the paint, paintbrush, and sandpaper in my basement. I spent $4 on a dark gray marker from Michaels.

First I whitewashed the board with diluted gray paint for the undertone. Just one coat. You only need a tiny bit of paint. Buying the samples for $3 from HD is enough!

After that dried (about 10 minutes in the June heat!) I whitewashed two coats with diluted off-white paint. I liked how easy and forgiving whitewashing was.

After that dried, I sanded the edges until I got the distressed look I wanted.

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I measured and marked feet, inches, and half inches. Then I free-handed the numbers by looking at a font on the computer screen.

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I could probably go over the numbers one more time and make them nice and neat. Now I just need to hang it, and make it easy to take down to mark measurements accurately. The first mark will be the baby’s on her first birthday.

It was so easy and probably took me 2-3 hours if I did it straight through, including drying time. If your kids are already bigger it’s not too late to start one. You could always look up their growth stats from their doctors check-ups and add them if you really wanted!

“Everything Causes Cancer”

I am willing to bet you a lot of money that you have heard someone say, “Oh, everything causes cancer,” as he/she takes a bite into a hotdog, sprays bleach on the counter, or opens a can of paint. Perhaps you have said these words yourself. (I’m sure I have).

Not everything causes cancer. Organic kale does not cause cancer. But lots of things do. And that phrase is just an excuse to keep living in an unhealthy way, whether it’s because of perceived financial constraints or sheer laziness.

When you get into a car, you put on your seatbelt. A seatbelt cannot guarantee that you won’t get into an accident, but it very well may save your life. It may save you from a serious injury. I like to think of doing things naturally as my seatbelt.

My husband likes to tease me by saying, “Water is a chemical.” Okay, I know! Everything is a chemical and I don’t think we need to go back to 7th grade chemistry here. The “bad” chemicals are found in pesticides, weed killer, conventional cleaning products, food additives, traditional latex paint, deodorant, lotions, toothpaste, (basically all conventional beauty products), scented laundry detergent, dryer sheets, soaps, candles, car fumes… The list could go on and on. You can’t protect yourself from all of these things, but you have control over plenty.

You can choose what you eat. Eating healthy and organic doesn’t have to be any more expensive than your regular grocery bill if you are diligent. My grocery budget is pretty high for the two of us and a baby. But I truly believe in those sayings, “pay the farmer now or the doctor later,” and “let your food be your medicine.”

A short but important word on plastic: avoid it. BPA is being replaced with BPS which has not yet been studied for safety. Choose stainless steel and glass whenever possible. And NEVER put plastic in the microwave: heating plastic leaches chemicals that have been proven to cause cancer. If you leave a plastic water bottle in a hot car, don’t drink it.

You can increase your indoor air quality. The air in your house is toxic if you are lighting candles, spraying Febreeze, and scrubbing your bathtub with bleach. The chemicals in these products circulate through the air, and settle on your furniture, beds, and carpets. Opt to clean your home with vinegar, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, and natural brand cleaners such as Seventh Generation. Buy a quality brand HEPA air purifier. Make everyone who enters your home take their shoes off. Your husband who just walked up the driveway could very well be tracking in car oil and pesticides all over your floor (and whatever else he has stepped in). If you have a crawling baby, this one is extremely important.

Choose beauty products carefully. There are natural or organic alternatives to most products. Scientists are in a dispute over how much the skin actually absorbs, so until they hash it out I am going with better safe than sorry. Check out the EWG for safety ratings on your favorite products. I really cannot stress enough how important this is for little ones. Their small bodies accumulate more than adults’ do.

You can buy Eco-friendly alternatives. It’s ok if your yard has a few weeds. Try googling natural weed killers to save yourself and the health of the planet. Buy low VOC paint and eco-friendly deck stain. If you must have scented laundry, try adding a couple drops of essential oils to the detergent.

There are things I would prefer to ignore, too. I really despise reading about how terrible cow’s milk is for you because I love my cereal and milk. I need cream in my coffee. Maybe one day I won’t buy it at all, but for now I try to buy it from a local, organic, grass-fed, low-temp pasteurized, glass bottled farm called Trickling Springs Creamery. It’s one foot out the door. If I was doing everything I could to prevent my exposure to cancer-causing chemicals, I would need to be a vegan hermit in the woods. But I promise, if you make healthier choices you will reap the benefits, and hopefully neither of us will lose our precious life to cancer.

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Natural Childbirth

DSC_0128WMblogThe primary motivator for choosing to go drug-free in labor was my fear of having a c-section. I read that moving freely during labor and having the least amount of interventions and medications lessened your chances of needing a cesarean. Done. I was more afraid of the epidural needle and major surgery than the pain of labor itself.

Starting at 10 weeks pregnant, I read, read, read, and learned so much about labor, birth, and the psychology of pain, which is so interesting! (Nerd alert).

The more I learned, the more determined I was to not use medical pain relief. It felt like a personal challenge, and I wanted to experience it all. Waterbirth sounded fun. I was excited instead of afraid.

I kind of skipped over the early labor stage. At my last appointment I was nearly 4cm and had my sweep. I went into labor that night- and it wasn’t a guessing game when I felt my first real contraction. I started active labor immediately at 11pm just as I was getting into bed, and it was intense enough that I had to get out of bed and start walking around. My labor was 7 hours (I pushed for 1 of these). Not bad for a first timer! I also attribute my great labor to my doula and husband. I had amazing support. To top it off, one of my best friends/photographer was in the room, so I have amazing birth pictures. If you are thinking about going drug free, don’t just consider a doula, hire one. Do it. You will regret it if you don’t. And a photographer.

It’s ok if you want pain relief! Chances are though, even if you are getting an epidural, you’ll experience some active labor and can benefit from learning relaxation techniques. These can reduce pain and encourage dilation. I prepared myself for the possibility of a c-section and allowed myself to change my mind of pain relief. You just don’t know what’s going to happen.

Your mind can be your best friend or your own worst enemy, especially during labor. If you are fearful and stressed out, your body (and cervix) will tense up. Your doctor will check you and tell you that you aren’t progressing “fast enough” or at all! That will stress you out further and the vicious cycle continues. Meanwhile, you are probably in a lot of pain.

The one thing that really helped me was reminding myself that the contractions weren’t harming my body, that it is pain with a purpose. They were helping me to meet my baby. I handled them one at a time and relaxed in between.

Here is a link to The March of Dimes page on relaxation techniques during labor. You can use these at any point, even if you are planning on getting an epidural. They will help you get there faster! I used progressive muscle relaxation, massage, guided imagery, breathing techniques, hydrotherapy, bounced on a birthing ball, changed positions, and my doula used hip compressions. Whoever is going to be by your side during labor needs to learn the hip compression.

My sense of time was completely warped by 7cm. An hour went by in what felt like minutes. You’d think it would be the opposite, right? It’s your body’s way of helping you cope. When my midwife told me I could get in the water, I was excited. It did help with the contractions, although it didn’t take long before I was ready to call it quits. My doula (who had been doing the amazing hip compressions during contractions) couldn’t physically help squeeze my hips once I was in the bath. They were one on top of the other, no chance to relax in between anymore. Everyone was just watching me work through them, offering supportive words and cold water.

I was starting to feel like I couldn’t do it. I said I changed my mind several times. A contraction would come and I would jolt up onto my knees and rock back and forth in the water. I pleaded to know how much longer, and nobody answered me. Then I felt a pop! And said “my water broke!” The midwife checked me. 9.5cm, I could start pushing after just a couple more! My spirits shot back up- I did it! I made it through transition, which everyone knew I was in by my actions and words, but I myself didn’t recognize while I was going through it.

Pushing was hard work, but it didn’t hurt. It felt like a relief. The only part that hurt for a short time was when her head was actually crowning. I pushed for an hour. When my little girl finally made her entrance, it was the best feeling in the whole world. I know that’s true no matter how your baby enters the world- there is nothing like the moment you get to see your baby’s face after all that waiting!

It was extra special for me to feel like I accomplished something I set my mind to. I imagine it’s a lot like running a marathon- someone prepares mentally and trains hard, and when they finally cross the finish line they feel accomplished and empowered. Pushing your body to its physical limits and overcoming is an amazing feeling. I cannot believe that was almost a year ago. I think about her birth often. I did it for myself, and I can’t wait to do it again.

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Sorting out the Labels

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A lot of people turn the package of food around to read the nutrition facts: they want to know serving size, calories, fat content, and nutrient values. I rarely look at these. Instead, I always read the ingredients. It isn’t hard to learn, it just takes a 5 second scan with your eyes.

I try to follow the rules Michael Pollan describes in his book “Food Rules.” This is a great read for anyone looking to eat healthier.

First, if it has food dye, it goes back on the shelf immediately. Chemical food dyes (especially reds and yellows) have been shown to cause cancer and hyperactivity in children. They are banned in many countries. They are found in tons of processed foods, such as macaroni and cheese, pickles, and juice.

I never buy anything with high fructose corn syrup. Despite those lovely commercials claiming “sugar is sugar, your body can’t tell the difference,” science is saying otherwise. Here is an article describing the effects of HFCS on your body, especially the fat around your midsection.

It’s too long to list all the foods this is added to, but I’ll name a few: bread, fake maple syrup, ketchup, salad dressings, candy, yogurt, cookies, and juice. I have noticed many more brands making a “natural” line or advertising “no HFCS.” Look for these items over the traditional label.

Too much of HFCS gives my husband migraines, which is why I originally cut it out of our diet. If you suffer from migraines, it might be worth a try getting rid of it, too.

Next, if I can’t pronounce several ingredients, I don’t buy it. My favorite example is this Skippy brand peanut butter. Same company, vastly different ingredients. The one on the right can hardly be considered peanut butter.

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Here are two JIF peanut butters. Avoid “fully hydrogenated vegetable oils.” If you want to really go natural, visit a store like Whole Foods and grind your own.

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I try to avoid GMO ingredients. This one is a bit trickier. If it isn’t organic, and contains corn syrup, cottonseed oil, vegetable oils (likely a combination of these), soy-anything, or rapeseed oil I don’t buy it.

I ignore health claims such as “low-fat” and “less sugar.” It’s likely the “fat” is replaced with fake sugar like HFCS or aspartame, which I believe is worse for you anyway.

It’s all about making better choices, not depriving yourself. If you can’t live without cupcakes and cereal, you don’t have to. (I don’t!) If I am at a party, I will eat the dessert, knowing it contains the ingredients I am trying to avoid. Maybe one day, they won’t.

I mostly worry about protecting my baby from a lifetime of GMO ingredients, food dyes, and toxins. These things are harder on their tiny systems, liver, and developing brain. Just take a quick look at diseases in the US among our children and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize it is because of our environment. I care so much about food because it affects all of us- we ALL have to eat, every day. And we should care what it is.

Lunch time! 🙂

Car Rides

At this very moment, I can’t complain. I’m in the passenger seat, J is driving, and baby girl is sleeping in her carseat.

It usually isn’t like that though. From the day we brought her home from the hospital, she has hated the confinement of the carseat. I’m almost positive that’s what she hates, because she has always hated to be swaddled, or having a jacket on, or tight clothes. These are all optional, but the carseat is not. She pulls and rips at the harness, and turns red with frustration.

Just let her cry, you say? She’ll fall asleep eventually, right? Well, yes and no. I used to nanny for a second family one day a week, they lived a half an hour away. Each week, I left early enough in the morning she slept on the way there. The way home however, was a 30-45 minute (depending on traffic) scream fest, usually she did NOT fall asleep, and almost always got so upset she pooped. A couple times she fell asleep as I was turning into my neighborhood. It didn’t matter if we were driving 3 minutes or -God forbid- a whole hour, if she wasn’t the perfect combination of sleepy and content, she was going to scream.

Things got slightly better when we switched from the infant seat to rear facing convertible seat at 5.5 months. She enjoyed looking out the window, but still cried.

At 11 months, there is light at the end of the tunnel. I strap her in, give her a handful of toys and teethers in her lap (which I can help her play with- “where is the banana?” And she can look down and find it and be proud of herself. She can also say “more,” so I sing to her, and at the end of the song she asks for more instead of crying. I think my record is 25 straight minutes of happy birthday, ABC’s, itsy bitsy spider, and baa baa black sheep. So, it’s not easy, but I can at least go shopping or grab a coffee without being tortured.

I have a lot of friends and family 3.5 hours away who I haven’t been able to go visit. It’s been hard, to say the least.