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Monday, 27 February 2012

Babies and Pets

McKenna (@ 6 weeks) and Reese 
Recently, there was a tragic story of a 2-day-old infant who was killed by the family dog in Airdrie, Alberta. As the story goes, the little boy was crying in his crib when the dog bit him in the head. I can't even imagine what the parents have gone through since that terrible day.

It seems that every year there are one or more publicized cases where a very young child is killed by the family pet. In the majority of cases the dog is described as loyal, loving, and gentle, and the parents never anticipated their pet harming anyone's child, let alone theirs. But unfortunately, no matter how sweet, gentle, and good-natured a dog may be, they should never be trusted to be alone around young children, and certainly not around an infant.

When we brought McKenna home from the hospital, part of me was concerned about how my minpin would react to her. Minpins as a breed tend to attach themselves to one person, and can often be possessive of "their" human. While we also have a big, goofy German Shepherd, his intentions towards the baby were never a concern for my partner or I. Reese, on the other hand, would require constant (and close) supervision, until we could be sure that she was not jealous enough of the new baby to take a bite out of her. Fortunately, Reese took to her right away. From the moment we brought her home, Reese wanted to smell, lick, and explore this tiny little creature that she had been smelling on Greg's clothes for the past few days while we were in the hospital. She couldn't seem to get enough of her. Was she jealous? Of course she was. Reese would try to force her way in between the baby and I during feedings, would quickly jump onto the nursing pillow as I was laying the baby down to nurse, and would otherwise try to come between the baby and I. Up until McKenna arrived, Reese had been the center of my universe, and now she was relegated to sleeping on the couch (instead of in bed with us) and having to wait to be petted, fed, and let outdoors. The world wasn't revolving around Reese anymore!

 As time has passed, Reese has come to accept the baby. While she is still a little jealous of the baby, her jealousy has largely been replaced by curiosity. She is so gentle around the baby, and many a time I have woken up and found that Reese has crawled into bed with us, and is lying curled up against the baby. More than likely, she is just stealing her body heat, but it sure looks cute.

Getting back to the point of this post, dogs, no matter how old, how smart, how loyal, or what their past history with children is, should never be trusted to be unsupervised around small children. It only takes one bite. As much as I don't want to believe that my dogs are capable of hurting my child, the fact is that they are. As a parent, it is my responsibility to protect my child from dangers, particularly those that can easily be prevented. The dogs can be kenneled while I am taking a shower or doing laundry. They can sleep on the floor or at the foot of the bed instead of next to us on the pillows. While I don't think that either one of them would ever intentionally hurt McKenna, when a child is fatally bitten, the dog's intentions really don't matter.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

McKenna's Birth Story

My initial plan was to have a homebirth with McKenna. Because I am young, and in pretty good health, I didn't see the need for a dramatic, medicalized hospital birth. I wanted to labour quietly at home with my partner, our dogs, and in familiar surroundings. However, this was not to be, so I found a family physician who was willing to follow me throughout the pregnancy, and ultimately, help me bring my baby into the world. I also hired a doula to help my partner and I prepare for the experience of childbirth. Although I still did not relish the idea of a hospital birth, I felt like I had done my best to ensure that my birth experience would be as natural as possible, given the limitations of giving birth in the hospital. My birth plan clearly stated that I did not want to be offered any pain medications, that I did not want any routine interventions, basically, that I wanted to be left alone to have my baby in peace. I imagined soaking in the tub, walking the halls, and snacking as needed to help me get through what would likely be a long labour.

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED...

My water broke with McKenna at around 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 15th, her due date. It was quite a surprise to me, as I knew that it is not very common for your water to break before labour has started, so it hadn't even crossed my mind that it could happen. But it did, and the contractions soon followed.

My partner had gone out with a friend, so I called him and told him he should probably finish up, and head on home. Fortunately, my mother was staying with us, so I wasn't alone when it happened. I couldn't remember the protocol for what to do if your water breaks, so I called into the Case Room to see what I should do. They advised that I head in right away. Unsatisfied, I called my doula and asked her if I really needed to go in right away, or could I stay at home as long as possible. She too advised that I go straight there as soon as I was ready. Knowing that it was probably going to be a very long night, I took my time getting showered, had something to eat, and made sure my bags were ready to go.

On the way to the hospital, I was still pretty much in shock. It hadn't really hit me yet that I was not going to be leaving there until I had had this baby. Upon arriving, triage was really full, so we ended up waiting there for a good two hours because there were no delivery rooms available at the time. At my first check, my doctor informed me that I was only a few centimeters dilated, and that she could see some hair in the membranes. "Good, my baby will have some hair", I thought. However, when she went to check the heartbeat, she couldn't find it for the longest time. Finally she located it over on my left side, near the top of my ribcage (i.e., not where it should have been). After a lengthy ultrasound it was confirmed - my baby was breech. Only two days before, at my last check-up, she had been perfectly head-down and ready to go, but somewhere between that appointment and labour starting, she must have turned.

Because my water had broken hours before, trying to turn her manually was not an option. I was told that the only way she could come out was via a c-section. Now, anyone who knows me will attest to my fear of needles, blood, operations, anything surgical or injury-related. So the idea of having to undergo surgery was not at the top of my list of fun things to do on a Thursday night. I didn't know anything about having a c-section, other than the basics. I didn't read up on it at all during the pregnancy, and walked out of the prenatal class when it came time to show the c-section video. I was completely unprepared.

I was told that I would have to wait about an hour because of the snack that I had eaten prior to coming into the hospital. After a good cry, the nurse came in to prep me for surgery, I had a chance to speak briefly with the anesthesiologist, and I was escorted down the hall to the OR. Oh, and I sent my doula home. There was no need for anyone else to lose sleep over what was happening.

Minutes after birth
The c-section itself was over pretty quickly. All in all, I would guess it took about 40 minutes. McKenna was born at 3:30 a.m., and placed on my chest for a few minutes, before being whisked away to be cleaned up. Apparently, the first thing I said after they told me I had delivered a baby girl was "when can I eat?" I was still in shock over the whole thing, and nothing felt real at that point.  It would be days before she felt like mine, before I felt like I had even given birth. I felt like a passive observer, rather than an active participant in the birth of my baby girl. While it spared me some short-term pain, in the days after, I just felt numb. I saw a cute baby, but not my baby. That instant connection that a mother is supposed to feel with her baby just wasn't there. When people asked how I was feeling about the section, my automatic reply was something akin to "well, she's here and she's healthy, so that's all that matters". But I didn't believe that. Something was definitely missing. I felt like I had been cheated. I didn't get to feel my baby come into the world, didn't get to see her as she emerged. I was numb, not only physically, but emotionally as well. While I was hurting inside, I felt like it was selfish to mourn my loss when I had this perfect little baby in my arms.

Nine weeks later, I am still coming to terms with how McKenna came into the world. While I am overjoyed that she is here, and that she is healthy and happy, I still feel as though I missed out on her birth. I feel some guilt over not being more "present" during the c-section, and not being able to really bond with her in the days after she was born. The "ideal" birth that I had envisioned turned out to be anything but. I spent a great deal of time thinking about the birth in the months leading up to it, and for me, the birth experience was so very important. I was excited for the process of giving birth, not just the end result.

My doula asked me to think of the c-section as just another form of delivery. It may not have been my ideal, she said, but in the end, I still delivered my baby. And I guess she's right. So I'm trying.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Breastfeeding Facilities

McKenna and I are visiting my family in Fredericton, NB this week. It's been so nice to be home and to get to introduce her to my friends and family. At 8 weeks old, she has already been to Ontario and now to NB - thank goodness she's a good traveller!

I try to get out as much as possible with her, as I want to expose her to as much as possible from an early age. Also, being wintertime, it can be hard to get outside for walks sometimes, so we hit up the mall on particularly gross days or days when I am feeling trapped at home. As such, I have had the opportunity to sit in many a washroom, change room, and nursing room with her. The "nursery" provided by our mall back home in St John's is absolutely terrible. The breastfeeding area is literally one straight-backed chair in a washroom-type stall. No arm rests, no comfy plush seat, nothing to help make the process more comfortable for mother and baby. Come to think of it, I don't even think they provide a sink to wash your hands after changing the baby (I could be wrong?). The first time I had to use this room, I ended up having to stop the feeding prematurely, because my arms were so sore from having to hold the baby in place with nothing to support them. It was a frustrating experience for both McKenna and I. The Sears at the mall however, provides a really nice room for mothers to nurse in privacy and...comfort! Two faux-leather chairs, multiple change tables and privacy screens. As a result, I find myself going to Sears more and more now. I definitely go out of my way to go there when I need to nurse the baby, but I have also found that I am shopping there more often now. I appreciate that Sears has made an effort to support breastfeeding moms, rather than expecting them to feed their babies in the washroom or rush through a feeding because the accomodations provided are so uncomfortable. In turn, I have made a conscious effort to shop there more now, and to let the staff know that I do appreciate the room that they have provided.

So what does this have to do with being home in Fredericton? Well, I was at the mall here earlier today and had to change McKenna so I went off in search of a family-friendly washroom. To my surprise, the mall in F'ton has also provided mothers with a very nice room for breastfeeding, changing, etc. It's nice to see that some places are going out of their way not only to accomodate nursing mothers, but to make the experience more comfortable for them when they are away from home and need to nurse.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

New Baby Resolutions

I don't typically make New Years Resolutions. They're usually lame, and just give people another excuse to feel like a failure when they inevitable don't succeed at their goals. But this year I decided to make some "New Baby" resolutions - goals that I want to achieve not because of a new calendar year, but because of, and for, this new little person in my life.

The first thing I resolved to do was to get back at working on my dissertation. Between teaching a course, working 30 hours a week, and trying to keep a house clean, very little was getting accomplished towards completing my PhD. This is resolution # 1. I want to finish this degree so that I can start on my career and be able to provide for my daughter, as well as be a good role model for her. Not that I think that every mom needs to go out and get a PhD in order to be a good role model for her kids, but it's important for me to finish what I have started, rather than giving up or putting it aside when things get busy. Of course, the first day I tried to get back at some academic work, she decided to fuss and cry all afternoon. But that's life. The next good day she has, I am back at it!

Secondly, I want to start getting more exercise and living a healthier lifestyle. Those commercials on t.v. that talk about how today's kids have a shorter life expectancy than their parents scare the crap out of me. I want to make sure that I am around for her as long as possible. I want to be there for all of her big milestones, from graduating high school to getting her first big promotion.

And that's it. Those are my goals for the foreseeable future. Oh, and to be a good mom :)

Saturday, 4 February 2012

The Cloth Diaper Fiasco

I consider my self to be environmentally conscious. I recycle as much as I can and try to keep waste to a minimum. So when I discovered I was pregnant, I made the decision to use cloth diapers. Financially, it made sense. Environmentally, it made even more sense.

To my delight, I discovered that there was a diaper service in town that would collect your soiled diapers and replace them with freshly laundered ones. And it was very affordable. So not only could I feel good about reducing the environmental impact of my little one's waste, but I could get by without ever having to clean them myself!

However, much to my dismay the service went out of business before my little girl was born, presumably due to lack of demand. So I had a decision to make - do I stick with the cloth diapers, or go to disposables?

When I brought her home from the hospital, she was wearing Huggies Little Snugglers, with the wetness indicators (such an amazing invention!). We liked them so we decided to stick with that brand. However, McKenna is very particular about being wet or dirty - normally the strip hasn't even had a chance to change color and she is already howling to have her diaper changed. This results in many, many diaper changes each day, for every tiny little poop and pee. Not a single drop of pee is allowed to touch her sensitive little behind. Knowing we were going through more than our fair share of diapers, I started to consider cloth diapers again. I bought a trial pack, washed them several times to remove and chemical residues, and put one on her before her afternoon nap.

To make a long story short, it was a disaster. Within 10 minutes of putting it on, she was screaming for me to come and change her. When I picked her up from her crib, her blanket was covered in poop (is it really considered poop when it's yellow and runny?) and it had soaked through her pants. Upon closer examination I realized that it had come straight out the leg opening in the diaper - her little thighs just weren't big enough to keep the diaper firmly in place. I changed her, and put her back into her Huggies. For now, cloth diapers are not going to work for us. I plan to give it another try when she's a big bigger and can fill out the diaper a little better, but for now, we're sticking with disposables.

Friday, 3 February 2012

To Give or Not to Give (Unsolicited Advice)

I fully expected to get lots of unsolicited advice from family, friends, and even complete strangers - from advice on how to dress the baby for the weather to when to start her on solids. What I did not anticipate was being told by so many that I was spoiling my baby by responding to her cries all of the time. As a new mom, I have a lot of doubts about my skills. I don't always know what her cries mean or how to soothe her. I don't always know whether I should let her nurse "just because", even when I know she's not hungry, and is just going to spit it back up. But what I do know is that when she cries, she needs me. She's not being manipulative or trying to control me. She's being a baby - a beautiful, innocent, utterly-dependent-upon-me baby.

Most pediatricians and experts in child development will tell you that it is not possible to spoil a baby. Attachment theory tells us that when an infant's needs are not met by their caregiver, they risk developing an insecure attachment style, which impacts upon all of their future relationships. When a mother is not available for her infant and does not meet his needs, the baby learns that his caregiver is unreliable and that he cannot depend on her. This is not the lesson that I want my baby to learn. I want her to know that when she cries, mommy will be there. When she is hungry, tired, in pain, or just needs a hug, I will be there to meet her needs. After all, I'm the one who signed up for this; she didn't ask to be brought into this world. I will not let her cry for  hours on end, in order for her to learn to sleep on her own. I will not wean her until she decides that she is ready. If she sleeps in my bed until she is four, or seven, or ten (highly unlikely), who is this hurting?

I found a cute t-shirt at Walmart the other day. It reads "My mommy doesn't want your advice". I mentioned it to my partner later that day, and he said to me "you should get it". While my initial reaction was to think "I couldn't, it might offend people", once I thought about I realized that no one was concerned about offending me by offering me advice on how to parent (or more accurately, what I was doing wrong). Please, if a new parent asks for help, for advice, for a shoulder to cry on, by all means be that for them. But don't offer them unsolicited advice on how to raise their baby. The way you raised your kids is not necessarily the best way (or even the safest!). Research has come so far in the past 30 years, and we now know a lot more about how infants grow and learn than we did when I was growing up.Chances are, things will change again by the time my daughter is ready to have her own children (assuming she decides to have children). But for now, all we can do is rely upon what the current research tells us about babies. Which is:

1) You can't spoil a baby by responding to their cries
2) Allowing your baby to co-sleep (sleep in your bed with you) does not mean that they will still be sleeping with you when they are 15.
3) There is no one right way to raise a baby

Take care,
M