Friday, November 13, 2015

Organ donation: Just do it

This will hopefully be the last time I blog about my mom's illness. In fact, I'm not going to write about her illness at all, rather, I want to take a couple of minutes to encourage everyone to be an organ and tissue donor.

In Ontario, you have to sign up to be an organ donor. The form comes with your driver's license, and you can either mail it back, or you can fill out an electronic version. You actually have to confirm your donor status online, so it might be better to just do the technologically advanced thing, and save a tree. Either way, it takes about 2 minutes to complete the form.

Just do it.

Here are a few points about organ donation, summarized from the Be A Donor website.

Why donate?
  • According to the Be A Donor website, currently 1,500 Ontarians are waiting for an organ donation, and every 3 days, 1 of those patients dies due to a lack of a suitable organ. My Mom waited approximately 6 weeks for her liver.
The Donation Decision:
  • Your decision to donate is confidential, and it will not affect the care you receive in the hospital should you become ill. The only thing we know about my Mom's donor is that they weren't local (the guess is Northern Ontario).
  • Anyone over 16 years of age can donate, and you can withdraw your consent at any time.
  • Although the Trillium Foundation always confers with your family before your organs are donated, your family can override your decision to donate, so make sure you talk to your family about your decision.
  • Without a pre-signed consent form, only 50 percent of families agree to organ donation.
The Donation Process:
  • Once a donor dies, their organs are tested for medical suitability, and to determine which patients are a best match for your organs.
  • Organs that can be donated include: heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, pancreas, small bowel, stomach, corneas, heart valves, skin and bone.
  • The whole process takes about 24 hours, and should not impact funeral arrangements. An open casket should still be possible.
  • The family should not incur costs from the donation process.
So, that's it. I hope I'm done with this chapter of my life. As Andrew and I have discussed lately, it feels like we've lived through several lives since June, and we could do with a break.

Please consider agreeing to be an organ donor. You can save a life, possibly several.

Just do it.



Thursday, October 15, 2015

Tainted blood

That's what my Mom received in 1977, a tainted blood transfusion. It saved her life at the time, and I wouldn't have been born otherwise, but it almost took her life 38 years later.

My Mom was a victim of the tainted blood scandal and contracted Hepatitis C. She only found out she carried the virus last spring (2014). I remember the phone call clearly. My parents had emailed to ask if we could talk sometime over the upcoming weekend (we were still living in Boston at the time). We had no idea what was coming, and after some awkward storytelling (where we thought a different C word was going to be relayed), we were informed of my Mom's condition. It was the same weekend we were planning to inform our families that I was pregnant.

The CBC has a full timeline of the tainted blood scandal. According to the timeline, Hepatitis C (not yet identified as type C) began appearing in 1971. In 1978, the American Red Cross informed the Canadian Red Cross that blood donations may be tainted, but testing for HIV didn't begin until 1985, and it took until 1990 for direct testing of donations for Hepatitis C. Yeah. The Krever Commission began in 1993 looking into Canada's blood system. The following year the Red Cross recommended that people who received blood transfusions be tested, but as far I know, the Red Cross didn't actually contact people directly and tell them to get tested. Finally, in the late 1990s, lawsuits were launched to obtain compensation for all people infected by tainted blood.

My Mom, Dad, my brothers and I are all eligible for compensation.

What you might be wondering now is, how could my Mom have lived for 37 years without knowing she had Hepatitis C? Well, Hepatitis is a 'silent' disease, meaning there aren't a lot of obvious symptoms until the illness is quite advance. Things like fatigue, lethargy, and loss of appetite are typical, but could be interpreted of signs for almost anything. However, once the disease is advanced, liver damage (cirrhosis), organ failure, and liver cancer can occur (Canadian Liver FoundationCDC). As we learned from my Mom's experience, the liver does a lot more than act as a filter. It creates important proteins that keep the fluid of the vascular system where it should be (and not leaking out into the lungs), and helps manufacture platelets (an important factor in clotting). So, when the liver is damaged, many other bodily functions start to break down.

After 38 years of living with Hepatitis C, my Mom's liver was severely damaged. Even before she went into the ICU in June, there had been talks of liver donation. After she went into the hospital it became evident that if a transplant didn't occur, it was unlikely that my Mom would survive.

As a dose of irony, even if my Mom had found out about her condition earlier, she wouldn't have been cured of Hepatitis C any sooner. Yes, her condition could have been managed, but not cured. It was only in 2014 that, Harvoni, the drug my Mom was eventually treated with, was approved by Health Canada. Her most recent blood tests show she is now free of Hepatitis C.

So that it. That's more-or-less the story of my Mom's illness without going into any private details. In my next post I'll talk about the importance of organ donation.



Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Barely controlled choas

That's what my life feels like, right now. Like I'm juggling, and just managing to catch the balls, or possibly occasionally dropping one and having to snag it on the bounce back. I'll throw this out there right now, into the vast space of the Internet, that if I've let someone down over the past couple of months, I'm sorry. Very sorry.

Let me explain.

First, the family emergency. In June my Mom was hospitalized. She spent something like 10 weeks (my Dad knows exactly) in the ICU. She received an organ transplant mid-August. Her life is no longer in immediate danger, but it still recuperating in hospital (she was bed-ridden for almost all of her time in the ICU, so rehab is going to take awhile). We hope she'll be transferred to a hospital more local to where my parents live soon.

I still hope to write a couple more details posts about this experience, not because I want to air my family drama, but because I want to provide some education about my Mom's health concerns. Mainly, her illness and its cause, and the importance of being an organ donor.

While my Mom was in hospital, Andrew and I continued to house hunt. After viewing 35+ houses, we settled on a semi-detached in the East Ward of Kitchener. It isn't perfect (is that even possible?), but the main and top floors have been recently, and nicely renovated (the house was built in 1850), and it's in the neighbourhood we wanted. We took possession on July 30th, and have been slowly putting the house together, made more difficult by trying to reacquaint ourselves with friends, and by the fact that we've essentially had 1-day weekends all summer since we lose a day to visit my Mom most weekends. We're also slowly tackling some larger house issues (the roof needs to be redone, the foundation needs to be looked at for a small seepage problem, etc).

If moving and sick family members weren't enough, we've also somehow found ourselves involved in the possible expansion of a small business, and a start-up. These are two different ventures, involving entirely different people and different ideas. I can't talk too much about either of these at the moment, other than to say I'm excited to be involved in both, but hope to blog about them in the future.

And have I mentioned lately that I have a 10.5 month older daughter who is constantly on the go? She crawls like a speed demon, and can cover the length of our main floor in the blink of an eye (especially if she's chasing after Tabitha). We don't think unassisted walking is far off at this point, which means I'm going to be running after Ruth pretty soon. How time flies.

I've been wondering for sometime if life will ever not feel this way--like we're juggling chaos. I hope that it's due to the events of this summer that we're feeling extra crushed, and eventually the stress will dial back a few degrees. We'll see, I suppose.



Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Family Emergency, Update

This is a short post to update you, gentle reader, on my family emergency.

It's on going.

That's it. I would like to write about a couple of the aspects of this situation (for educational purposes), but I feel like I need to wait until we've reached something more of a conclusion before I do that.

Here's what I'll say for now:

When we flew back to Ontario in June, the state of the emergency was probably at a 9.5 out of 10. We thought we were coming to say goodbye. For much of the following week we continued to think that was the most likely outcome.

At this point I'd probably dial the emergency rating back to about a 5 or 6 out of 10. My family member isn't well. They are slightly better, but there's still no immediate expectation of them being discharged from the hospital.

Finally, I want to encourage everyone to consider being an organ donor, and then make sure you discuss your decision with your family.

I hope everyone's have a great summer.



Thursday, July 16, 2015

How my life is really unglamourous

Have you ever read or heard that Facebook is bad for your self-esteem?

I have.


Right? Right?

I'll admit, I'm totally guilty of this too. I post vacation pictures, pictures of the cakes I decorated, me doing aerials, and what is probably the most annoying habit: I post pictures of my adorable daughter (she's really cute, it's hard not to inundate my Facebook feed with pictures of Ruth everyday).

Why do we do this? Ostensibly, it's to share, right? Share pictures with friends and family who aren't local. Share good and bad experiences with vacation locations/businesses/restaurants. Share our successes, and share our failures. Share our feelings, both positive and negative.

But maybe, just maybe, we also share to make ourselves feel better.

I'm not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. Facebook is a great communication tool. I'd never know about friends struggling with depressions/anxiety, physical illness, crappy jobs, job loss, etc. if they didn't post things on Facebook. And I want to know. The last thing I want to do is make an inappropriate joke or comment to someone (which isn't to say that I wouldn't do that due to my extreme Darcy-pants), but knowing will make it slightly less likely that it would happen.

Obviously I've used this blog and Facebook to describe some of my recent family stresses (they're still ongoing, by the way). I wanted to let people know that something crappy was happening in my life, and writing the posts that I did was the easiest way to do so. It also provided me some cathartic release. Perhaps the less formal avenue of a cyber community makes it easier for people to share difficult things?

So, the shares I'm really referring to here are the boastful posts. The vacations, the fancy food, the *cough, cough* aerials videos. Let me say again, I am NOT without guilt. I don't post my pictures to intentionally make others feel bad, and I'm sure others don't post their pictures to make me feel bad, but I do. I desperately want to have cool worldly travels, do amazing aerial tricks, and have the cutest baby. But I can't, and I don't, and trying to find positive things to say about your awesomesauceness is dragging me down.

This is why Facebook is terrible for the self-esteem. We post the awesomest pictures of our lives, which makes the rest of us in our turn to feel like our everyday sucks.

I'm not asking anyone to stop posting pictures exemplifying their badassitude in life, I'm mostly trying to remind myself that people tend to share only the smallest, best portions of their lives, and in between those moments they still have to do laundry, get groceries, and brush their teeth. And, unless you're Chuck Norris, you probably do those things in a pretty boring, everyday manner.

So, I'm planning an experiment. For the next week or so, I'm going to post ordinary pictures. Pictures that show what my current life on mat leave is like. I'll try to limit the posts to less than 5 a day, and none of Ruth being cute. Feel free to comment or not, feel free to post your own in response to mine. Feel free to ignore me completely.

It's your life. and this is mine.



Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Anger and other possibly inappropriate emotions

Andrew tells me that in our current situation, it's normal to feel anger toward the person in your family who is sick and the cause of throwing your life off kilter.

I'm not sure I'm actually angry at my sick family member, but I certainly am ticked off at the world at large. Could the timing of this emergency have been worse?

Only slightly. It could have happened last November to coincide with Ruth's birth. That would have been a certifiably worse time to have to deal with a sick family member in a different country. Learning how to take care of a brand new baby who was a slow gainer and took over an hour to feed, while spending hours in a hospital waiting room would have been horrendous. As it is, this emergency has occurred just as we were moving back to Canada, are trying to find a house, and were to go on vacation.

Of course you can't pick the timing of emergencies. That's kind of what makes such an occurrence an emergency, right?

As I mentioned in my previous post, Andrew had to deal with the move more-or-less on his own. He managed. Most everything was taken care of successfully--except for our car. Since our car was purchased in the US, we have to import it into Canada, and to do that you have to file paperwork with US Customs 72 hours before you plan to cross the boarder. Apparently Andrew missed the deadline by a minute or two. Seriously, a minute or two.

We have to go back to the US with our car for 72 hours so we can import it. That's great. Just what we needed, to figure out when to make it back to the US to import our car with everything going on.

In some ways, this emergency has helped our house hunt, in that we're here and can look at more houses (so far we've seen 31). In other ways it only adds to the stress we're under. We saw a house we liked last Thursday night, but ultimately we felt we couldn't deal with trying to put in an offer. There was too much going on in our lives. The outlook for my family member didn't look good. How could we rationally contemplate the purchase of a house?

So we didn't. We let the house opportunity slide  by.

Then there's our vacation. We were supposed to be in England right now. We should have visited Lyme Park (aka Pemberly) on Saturday, and spent Sunday in Manchester. On Monday we were to travel to St. Bees in order to begin walking the Wainwright Coast-to-Coast trail today (Tuesday). That's what we were supposed to be doing. I've wanted to do the Coast-to-Coast for, oh, I don't know, 5 years? At first we didn't think we could do it this year either (because we now have Ruth to take care of), but then people kept telling us to go for it. The only thing Ruth cares about right now is whether or not Mommy and Daddy are around. And she loves being outside.

This is where most of my anger and despair is concentrated, the lost vacation. I'm trying not to mope about it, but it's hard. We haven't taken a vacation since I graduated from library school--5 years ago. Plus we lost most of the money we spent in planning the trip, and we don't know when we'll have time to take a holiday later in the summer or fall. Andrew starts work in mid-July and my mat leave ends in November before Christmas break. The need to travel back to the US in order to import our car feels like a booby prize.

And then I remind myself how I shouldn't be whining about my lost vacation when my family member is extremely sick.

Then I feel like I'm a bitch.

So that's where I am. I'm grumpy, annoyed, and overall stressed-out. I'm trying not to be, and I'll get over it, but it will take a while.

I'll try to find something more cheerful to post next time.



Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Family Emergency

Without going into any details, a member of my family is very sick.

Andrew and I had to scramble to find tickets on the earliest flight out of Boston (that we thought we could reasonably make) last Monday (June 8th) morning and get back to Ontario. Have you ever had to find a flight last minute? It sucks. 'Compassion' tickets don't really seem to be a thing. When I explained we needed to fly due to an emergency there wasn't much response from the customer service agent, and there was definitely no adjustment in cost. It didn't help that we needed to transport our cat, too, as we had no idea when we'd be back to Somerville.

I'm, in fact, not going back to Somerville. We didn't want to drag our daughter and cat back and forth from Somerville to Ontario twice more in such a short period of time. Our move out of the US had been planned for this week anyway (June 15th and 16th), but now Andrew has to take care of everything on his own. We're relieved we'd always planned to hire professional movers to pack up our apartment. At least that means Andrew doesn't have to box things up on his own. It does mean, however, that he's had to run around like a mad man to finish up things we'd meant to do together.

So, now I'm in Ontario with Ruth, and Tabitha (our cat) waiting. Waiting for things. Waiting for illness to run it's course, waiting for Andrew to join me.

I don't know what to do. I'm no good at offering emotional support, as I have a strangely detached view of illness. I get emotional over a lot of things: Ruth's refusal to sleep, rejection letters, music, but death I do not. Andrew thinks it's because of my stint in nursing; that I've seen illness and old age in ways many people haven't, but that might be the nice way of saying that in instances such as this I'm a cold, hard...well, let's just say I'm cold and hard.

And I'm getting tired to talking to people and being around people that aren't my daughter and Andrew. I'm especially getting tired of making small talk with people who insist on oogling Ruth--which is happening a lot at the hospital. I get she's cute and all, and most people aren't trying to touch or interact with her, but I have to do a lot of: "She's 6.5 months," (people often ask how old he is as Ruth is usually dressed in green, blue, or white), and saying "Thank you," when people comment on her appearance or her big blue eyes.

Today I'm hermitting. Owing to a bad sleep night for Ruth (and therefore me), I'm staying in. I think I'm going to have to spend less time at the hospital in general, as it's not doing anything good for Ruth's sleep and stress levels, Hopefully today's rest will help me rejuvenate, and then Andrew will be back tomorrow.

So, that's all I feel like I'm at liberty to say right now. It helps to get a few of these thoughts off my chest. There are many more, but at this time they're not for sharing on the internet.



Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Six months have come and gone, how is that possible?

I haven't written a post in a while.

Ruth's six months, and well, I haven't had the time. Or, perhaps I haven't had the mental capacity to focus long enough to complete a well thought out, sensible post. Also, I've been desperately trying to use what down time I have to write and edit a new manuscript, while trying to prepare another one (the first of the series) for submission.

I thought I'd mark the beginning of the second half of Ruth's first year (convoluted, I know), by reflecting on a few of my experiences thus far of motherhood.

Feeding and Weight Gain: I'm so glad I stuck with breastfeeding. The first 8 weeks or so were hard, over the next 8 weeks Ruth continued to improve. Her eating time dropping little-by-little. Andrew and I continued to check her weight weekly on our kitchen scale until she outgrew its capacity (around 3 months). Now, my little girl is a speed eater, completing a feed in about 10 minutes (both sides), and has gained her way up into the 8th percentile. It was hard to start, but I feel like my rocky start goes to show that if you really want to succeed at breastfeeding, you can.

We've now added solids into the mix. I have A LOT of thoughts on eating and meals times--which I might write about at some point. At first I had absolutely no intention of giving Ruth solids before 6 months, but she looked so darned interested when we were having dinner,...and we were curious to see what she would do. We've started with well cooked, mashed vegetables. It seemed like the right thing to try, and so far she's been more than happy to take anything offered to her on a spoon. It's pretty adorable the way she tends to lean in, mouth open, as the spoon approaches. Often after dinner she will smack her lips together like an old man who lost his dentures--we think she's practicing eating.

Napping and Overnight Sleep: Unlike breastfeeding, napping, in particular, is still a work in progress. I had several incorrect notions of baby sleep before Ruth was born. One, I had an unreasonable daydream that Ruth would nap 1.5 hours in the morning, then 1.5 hours in the afternoon, then go to bed at 7:00 pm. WRONG! I also thought that Ruth would just fall asleep (for naps) when she was tired. WRONG AGAIN! I imagined I would have so much time to myself I wouldn't know what to do. SO, SO WRONG! Honestly, I often feel defeated in my failure to get Ruth to sleep consistently.

In my inexperience as a parent and child giver, I would say Ruth is a challenging napper. She gives clear tiredness indicators (pink eyebrows, chirpy vocalizations, trying to burrow into your chest, rubbing her eyes), but I find if I don't time the put down perfectly, I wind up with a battle on my hands. Sometimes Ruth wins (and doesn't sleep), and sometimes I win (and she does sleep)--but I take little pleasure in the victory. Sometimes we all wind up crying, and I certainly take no pleasure in that either. For now I'm trying to be as consistent in my attempts as possible, and I hope we'll both get things sorted at some point.

Overnight getting better. I understand that many babies go through a series sleep regressions, and we went through a doozy of one at around 5 months. Ruth went from getting 6-7 hours of sleep from first put down, to her overnight feed, to not even making it past midnight many nights, then waking up once, if not twice more. It was as though she'd reverted to newborn sleeping skills (or lack of sleeping skills). It was tough. I think we put up with inconsistent sleeping (sometimes good, but often bad) for about 2 weeks before I insisted we create and adhere to a bedtime routine (bath, story, feed, song), and stick to a bedtime (7:10-7:20). Things are getting better.

Growth and Development: A lot changes in 6 months. We went from a having a tiny little peanut who felt as though she would break if we held her the wrong way, to still having a tiny peanut, but one who's solid, capable of holding up her head, taking her own weight on her feet (although she's incredibly unstable), can roll in both directions, and sit--albeit wobbly, and with a hand to steady her. She's trying to work out crawling by kicking her legs and trying to get up onto her knees, but she hasn't quite figured out what her arms are for in the process. Everything she can get into her mouth goes there--she's at that age. We also expect teeth to appear every day, although there's been nothing yet.

And the Rest of the Story: I'm trying to read to Ruth as much as possible. That's both picture books, and novels (that I'm really reading out loud for my own amusement, but hey!). My favourite picture book is 'Dinosaurumpous,' which one of my brother's got for her, and I'm working my way through Jane Austin's novels--I'll be lucky if I make it through Emma by the end of my mat leave (that would be the major 3, S&S, P&P, and E). I often get to the end of the day and wish I'd read more.

Then again, I often get to the end of the day and wish I'd done...more. More what? I don't know. Just more, more everything. More playing, more reading, more encouraging, more loving. I'm paranoid, and worried, which I suspect comes with the territory of being a new mother. I want to do everything right, which isn't possible, I know, so I guess I have to settle with doing my best and hoping it's enough.

Ruth's smiles are adorable, her laughs and giggles heart-warming, these things fuel my day, and help me get over, or at least cope with the moments when she's crying so hard I cry with her. I was long uninterested in having children. They weren't my thing, I didn't know how to interact with them. I wasn't sure I ever wanted a baby.

I love Ruth more than I can say. I loved her when she was still in my womb--I wanted to meet her so badly. I feel rewarded by having brought a life into the world, and I hope I can do my best. My best to raise a thoughtful, kind, intelligent daughter, who's comfortable in her own skin, and knows her parents love her NO. MATTER. WHAT.

I love you, Ruth.


Mom (Andrea)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Homeward bound, returning after so many years

'When the summer's ceased it gleaming,
When the corn is passed its prime,
When adventure's lost its meaning,
I'll be homeward bound again.'

I don't think adventure's lost its meaning for us yet, but we are homeward bound after 10 years away from Ontario.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, Andrew and I (and Ruth, of course) are moving to Kitchener-Waterloo this June. I didn't specify before, but it's because Andrew will be taking up a lecturer position at the University of Waterloo. The big question now is, can it be home again?

I've only lived in KW for 2 stints (first for 8 months, then 4 years later for about a year and a half). Yet, that's where I think of as home when I think of Ontario. I'm not sure why. My first year of undergrad at UW was pretty unsuccessful (I failed my second semester chemistry course, something I've never done since--failed a course, that is), but that's also where I met Andrew. Perhaps that's why I consider it home, Waterloo is where we began our married life.

Regardless of why I think of a city I barely lived in as home, that's what it is now to be; the place where we are hoping to buy a house, settle, and raise Ruth. Do I sound a little uncertain about the move? Maybe. I'm not sure we're really uncertain or scared, we're only trying to by mindful. Mindful that both we, and the city have changed.

Every time we were back at Christmas we remarked on how many things were new: the expansion of UW into Kitchener, the makeover of Uptown Waterloo, the introduction of the Go Train, and now the construction of the ION. I understand the Engineering department at UW has changed considerably as well--growing its programs, and constructing new buildings. It won't be as potent for me, but for Andrew, who is returning to where he completed his undergraduate degree to teach--he'll have to deal with his memories as a student, adjust to changing relationships with the staff who used to be his teachers, and grow himself into a lecturer. I know he'll strive to do his best, but there will be a lot of adapting for him to do.

There's also the people in KW. We've managed to keep ties (reasonably well, I think, considering the distance at which we've lived), but when we left, many of our friends were recent grads. They too were only beginning their lives as adults. Most were unmarried, had no children, and still lived in student housing. For many friends that has changed. We are hopeful after all these years of thinking, wouldn't it be great if we could call up so-and-so tonight to see if they're free, it really will be the case when we're back in town.

Making friends in new cities has been hard--especially for me. I'm naturally an introvert, and for each move, we have moved for Andrew. He has always gone to a place with a purpose, with a 'job' (being a full-time student, and then a Post Doc, is the equivalent of having a job--with out the benefits, of course), and so has always immediately met people, who at the very least had similar academic interests. I have moved with the hope of finding a job, and thus hoped to find a crowd with which to fall in. It took a long time in Edmonton (but there are friends there I dearly miss), and I don't think I've had enough time to make many connections here Boston (there are few people, don't get me wrong). Being unable to work legally in the US has also been a hindrance,

I've always looked to Ontario as 'the sweet spot.' The place where I know people, and where maybe, people would occasionally think to include me in their plans. Yes, I often feel that people just forget about me. Not intentionally, but for whatever reason, I don't feel like I'm the first on anyone's 'must call' list when they've having a get together--I guess my Darcy-pants are a little too starched and ironed. This adds to the trepidation of the move: will I (and Andrew, too) be able to reconnect with our friends more fully, or will I find myself as lonely and out of place as ever.

So that's it. Those are my thoughts about moving, or the gist of them, anyway. I could possibly run on longer, but I would start to get rambly--if I haven't already.

Thank you to Edmonton, and to Somerville. You have helped to shape us, to grow us. We will remember you fondly.

I look forward to you, Ontario. To the friends, the family, the sights and sounds. I look forward to home, the future, to life.



Saturday, April 11, 2015

Homeward bound, but first away

'In the quiet, misty morning,
When the moon has going to bed,
When the sparrow stop their singing,...
I'll be homeward bound again.'

This is one of my favourite songs that I used to sing many, many, years ago when I was in the Oxford Youth Choir. Andrew and his siblings also sang it (in the Kitchener Youth Phil, I believe). Occasionally, when we're all at my in-laws house, and my brother-in-law is at the piano, we'll all join for a little sing-a-long (insert comment about Von Trapp family here). It's a good time.

Sometimes I'll break into it on my own, usually while walking some place semi-remote, and I can imagine I'm a better singer than I am.

Reminiscences isn't actually the point of this blog post. The point is actually to look forward.

We're moving home, to Ontario.

Andrew and I moved away from Kitchener-Waterloo nearly 10 years ago. It was, in fact, very early in the morning on probably the 1st or 2nd of September 2005. I have no recollection of why we took such an early flight since we were only flying to Edmonton (2 hours behind Ontario), possibly price--we were poor students at the time. When we arrived we rented a mini-van and drove to Ikea (on the way into Edmonton, anyway) and bought ourselves a table and chair set, a futon, and probably a few other bits and pieces.

We were going for a Master's degree (Andrew's), a couple of years at most. Then it was a PhD (during which time I also did my Masters). Edmonton, and Alberta was good to us. We both got degrees, I had a good job, we took up aerials, we made friends.

Seven and a half years later we moved again, this time from Edmonton to Somerville, Massachusetts (or, the Boston area as I usually tell people--it's just easier explain). Somerville was to be one last adventure before settling down, how could a post-doctoral position at MIT hurt Andrew's chances (seriously, what engineering school would say, you spent time at MIT, what a waste)? We could have 2 years of living in a cool city, in a different country. We did more aerials, we made more friends. We (I) had a baby.

So, why did we move away in the first place? Well, as Andrew puts it, his elementary school, high school, and university were all a 30 minute bike ride away from each other--he needed to expand his radius. Being from a small town, I had to leave home to attend university, but I too felt I needed to get away, and experience a different part of the world. Grant you, it's not like we dropped everything to go work in a remote village in Africa, we moved to Edmonton, but we did step outside the comfort zone of friends, family, and familiarity.

I can't say my perspective on life has changed drastically. I don't think I've had any epiphany moments, but I've had many wonderful moments. Recently, Andrew and I have found memories of Edmonton cropping up, friends, Firefly (the aerials studio), restaurants (Elm cafe, Blue Plate dinner, Dutchess bakery), etc, and I'm sure once we leave Somerville something similar will happen for here.

If I remember correctly, when we left Ontario I said something to the effect of: moving away for a little bit would only make the return sweeter, that it would make settling in KW more rewarding because we had lived elsewhere for a while first.

I still think that's a true statement, and I'll talk about some of our trepidations of moving home in my next blog post.



Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Breastfeeding: it's hard, Part 2

As I indicated in my previous blog post, part of what caused me to struggle with the early weeks of breastfeeding was that Ruth was a tiny baby, and a slow gainer. She was born at 6 lbs, 5 oz, then dropped to 5 lbs, 12 oz before we left the hospital (a very interesting conversation took place on my Facebook wall about trying to breastfeed premies). This was an okay amount of weight loss, the max that was considered normal, so Ruth was ready to come home with us two days after her birth. Then it took her nearly three weeks to get back up to her birth weight.

At 11 weeks out, looking back at those early pictures I can understand why people were worried about her weight. She was all skin and bones, no fat whatsoever. Having very little experience with babies, I didn't know any different.

This is where I'm extremely grateful our pediatrician (who's actually a nurse practitioner) gave me the appropriate referral to a lactation consultant rather than insist that we go straight to supplementing with formula. A lactation consultant visited Ruth and I three times at home before things really picked up. I was instructed to take fenugreek (a galactagogue--a substance that increases milk production), and also to pump to increase my milk supply. Every ounce I pumped was to be fed to Ruth after she finished nursing from me. I was also told to let Ruth go no more than three hours at night without feeding (early on she was inclined to sleep slightly longer at night), and she was to wear a hat as much as possible (so she wouldn't burn extra calories trying to keep warm). We did everything we could to boost my milk production and ever so slowly she gained back the ounces.

In the meantime, while Ruth remained below her birth weight, I was in a near constant state of anxiety. Why wasn't my baby gaining fast enough? She was producing plenty of wet and dirty diapers (the best marker for whether a breastfed baby is consuming enough besides weight gain), and she seemed happy, but that wasn't enough. Tears emerged during more than one hour plus night feed because I felt I was failing to provide Ruth with what she needed. If we had extra pumped milk Andrew often offered to take over the feed, but I rarely consented.

Ruth is now up to 9 lbs (as of Saturday), putting her firmly in the bottom first to second percentile. She's happy, she's healthy, and we love her.

Here's where I kind of go against medical opinion/advice. Pediatricians seem to want all babies (I'm talking full-term babies) to gain an ounce a day, but after listening to other mothers I feel like this goal simply isn't practical (in terms of the stress parents go through trying to get their infants to gain that much).

It isn't, in fact, even possible.

According to the WHO growth curves (girls, boys) the baby gaining an ounce a day is growing on the fiftieth percentile curve, which means not every baby can gain that much (because not every baby is ON the mean). Some, at the top of the curve will gain more, some at the bottom, like Ruth, will only gain around two-thirds of an ounce a day, and that's just fine. So why physicians get all antsy over a baby gaining at a slower, but healthy rate is beyond me. It only makes parents anxious, possibly pushing them to supplement with formula when they don't need to.

I noticed one other thing when looking at the methods for how the WHO growth curves were developed. The research team used data from a variety of populations (US, Norway, Brazil, Oman, Ghana, and India), which is good, but right there in the second paragraph it says that greater than or equal to 20% of woman followed the WHO guidelines for feeding. Greater than or equal to 20%...that's a lot of room there. And when they say the WHO feeding guidelines, I believe they mean the one that says that infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life. So, if possibly as little at 20% of children were breastfed exclusively for 6 months in some of the sample populations, might that mean that these growth curves aren't necessarily accurate for breastfed babies?

I don't know, I'm just guessing here. Certainly, exclusively breastfed babies can be on the ninety-ninth percentile, but perhaps it shouldn't be too surprising if they aren't.

Well, that's all my thoughts on breastfeeding. It IS getting better. Ruth's growing, and I plan to keep it up for several months to come. I'll try to find something other than my baby to talk about in my next blog post. Snow, perhaps? It's a rather popular topic here in the Boston area (NOT!).



Thursday, February 5, 2015

Breastfeeding: it's hard, Part 1

So after saying in my last post that I wouldn't be turning this space into a mommy blog, I'm immediately following up with a post on breastfeeding. Being Canadian, I'm inclined to apologize about this, but as a new mom who wants to share a challenging experience, I won't. To contain the size of this post I'll split it into two: 1) the challenge of the actual act of breastfeeding; and 2) the challenge of the outcome of breastfeeding, the baby's weight gain.

Before I go further, I don't mean this blog to be a resource for how to deal with breastfeeding difficulties. If you're looking for help, two online resources I've found useful are: Kelly Mom and Le Leche League. Rather, I hope that by sharing my experience, others might feel reassured that what they're going through isn't all that uncommon.

I knew breastfeeding wasn't going to be a walk in the park. Prenatally (and maybe even postpartum while I was still in the hospital), people want to talk about how a newborn, when placed on it's mothers chest immediately after birth, will wiggle it's way up to it's mother's breast and latch on. I don't doubt that this is true. I had Ruth nursing while we were still in the delivery room; however, getting her to actually breastfeed effectively afterwards was quite another matter.

I recall thinking during the second night on the postpartum ward, after I don't know how many hours into a feed, exhausted and probably in tears (Ruth was likely crying too)--"I completely understand why women give up so quickly and switch to formula. This is hard."

So, what makes the physical act of breastfeeding hard?

First, this is a whole new sensation to get used to. You need to get the latch just right, because if you don't, it's going to hurt and you're going to destroy your nipples. When I was in the hospital one of the nurses asked if the latch felt 'pinchy' (bad) or 'pully' (good) and my answer was I didn't know. I understood why there was a difference, but having never breastfeed a baby before, I didn't know which one I was experiencing. The in-hospital lactation consultant spent a lot of time with me trying to figure out what position would work to improve Ruth's latch (not football, and definitely not side-lying), and we tried a breast shield--it felt awkward too. I'm not sure I felt terribly confident heading home and facing the first night without a nurse on call.

Beyond getting the latch right there's also the fact that a tiny human is repeatedly compressing your breast, which can leave one feeling a little 'sensational.' My breasts felt tingly, and raw (at this point I'm used to it). Let's just say I was glad we didn't have any visitors at home since it considerably lowered the dress code standards around our apartment.

The second issue I had is, Ruth is a small baby, and was even smaller when she was born (6 lbs, 5oz). Now, I'm not large-chested, but there's still a lot of tissue to get in a tiny mouth (this probably didn't help with latching). Feeding in the first several weeks could take an hour or more--every feed. I was told in breastfeeding classes that babies should get the bulk of the milk in about 15 minutes of sucking, and anything after that was non-nutritive. This didn't appear to be the case with Ruth. If tried to let her feed for only 15 minutes on each side she wouldn't be full and I'd be feeding her again in short order.

It's both exhausting and boring to be feeding a baby for more than an hour. Exhausting because you're not sleeping much, and boring because you're stuck in your bed, on your couch, wherever, waiting for your baby to fill up their stomach. I didn't want to spend my days watching TV shows or movies (not that I haven't done some of that), so we purchased a touch screen laptop for me to use while nursing--I've typed most of this blog post one handed. There's not much you can do to speed a baby up either. You can do breast compressions to make it easier for your baby to get your milk, and you can try a few techniques to help increase your milk supply (again making it easier for your baby to feed). I've been taking fenugreek, and pumping after each feed (a rather unawesome experience in and of itself).

At first, getting in the pumps was difficult. I'd put Ruth in her baby recliner right in front of me, but often she'd be crying within minutes, so I'd have to pick her up. If you've ever used a breast pump, you know they're rather awkward, so I'd be trying to calm my baby, possibly feeding her milk I'd already collected, while connected to the pump. One particularly bad afternoon I had to call Andrew and ask him to come home early--I was distressed over our tiny, slow to gain daughter, and my seeming inability to feed her sufficiently. I wanted to be a successful breastfeeding mother, and in those early weeks the idea of having to supplement with formula was an upsetting possibility.

Still, for the first 6-7 weeks Ruth took over an hour to feed, and talking to other mothers, this doesn't seem so uncommon with newborns as it felt at first. Several friends have told me their children were slow eaters, and many women at the new parent support group I attend seem to have had a similar experience. I would guess in many of these cases the babies were fairly small, like Ruth--but that's purely speculative on my part. Furthering my surmise, I would say it seems like small babies just need a little extra time to sort themselves out.

Somewhere around the 7th week of Ruth's life she started to pick up her game. Her feeds dropped to more along the lines of 45 minutes, which makes a huge difference. And she seems to 'practicing eating' after some feeds by sticking out her tongue and sucking on her lips (it's really rather cute).

And people say by 6 months she'll be finishing a feed in 5-10 minutes. That will be amazing.

These are my thoughts on the act of breastfeeding--still a pretty long post as it turns out. When I write next I'll discuss the anxiety of having a slow eating baby who is also slow to gaun her birth weight back.



Saturday, January 31, 2015

My first post-baby post

It's been 9 weeks, Yup. Nine weeks since my daughter, Ruth Moira Milne, was born.

I think *knock on wood* I am coming out (or already out) of the newborn baby haze of sleep deprivation. Part of this is owing to Ruth's mainly content, cheerful disposition *knock on wood again*, but also, 9 weeks out, I think I'm starting to understand my daughter's cues a little better, which helps to keep her happy.

But let me back up a bit.

Ruth entered our lives on November 26th, 2014 at 5:46 p.m.. My labour was about as uneventful as my pregnancy, which is to say I noticed my first contraction around 4:00 a.m., laboured for 12 hours at home, spending the last 2 in the hospital. Andrew and I took a couple of walks throughout the day, I spent part of the morning on the couch reading Harry Potter, I tried to stay as relaxed as possible considering what was happening.

Ruth is beautiful--but then, what parent doesn't think that of their offspring? She has blue eyes (as many babies do), but I can't quite tell what her hair colour is. In some lights I think she might turn out to be a redhead, in others I think she'll be a brunette. Slightly more people think Ruth looks like me rather than Andrew, although how anyone can tell at this point I don't know. Photo evidence from when I was a baby suggests at the very least that she has the same face shape as me, but her hairline (a widow's peak) is more like her father's.

Presently, I do not intend to post pictures of Ruth here or on Twitter. You need to know me personally to have the chance to decide for yourself who my daughter looks most like.

I also do not intend to turn this space into a 'mommy blog,' but I may occasionally write about some of my experiences/observations of parenthood. After all, being a parent to a little girl is consuming my life right now. I definitely have a few thoughts to share about breastfeeding, we'll  see if anything else comes to mind in the coming weeks.