Wednesday, October 29, 2014

My Son's Future Careers... Or Not.

It happened again.  On our way out to the car a few days ago, we had stopped so that Bug could drive his cars along a crack in the sidewalk and through the "car wash" (under a nearby bench).  A man walking by commented, "It starts young!  All boys love cars.  That little guy is going to be a race car driver!"

I gave an appropriate non-committal response, and we all continued on our way.  Well, Bug and I did eventually.  Walking out to the car usually takes awhile, since there are so many things that require closer inspection and so many ways to explore along the way.

Have you ever noticed that lots of people do this?  I'm sure they mean well.  I'm sure they're trying to make cute conversation.  Some of them probably intend it as a complement: your kid is interested in neat things; your kid is so clever and creative; your kid has a bright future!

But honestly?  Secretly?  These kinds of comments bug me.  Just a little.  I know, I know, it's a stupid little pet peeve.  It's not something I let myself get worked up over, but it does annoy me.  (And I bet I'm not the only one!)  And I recognize that if this is one of the biggest things I get annoyed over on a normal day, I'm pretty lucky.

But still.

Just for fun, here's a list of some of the someday careers that have been predicted for Bug over the last few months.

Hey, that little boy is holding a strawberry plant in a staged photo!  Someday he's going to be a gardener.

The fact that my son loves to play with cars apparently means that he will someday be a race car driver, or an automotive tech (like his daddy used to be!), or a hot rod enthusiast.

The fact that my son loves driving onto base and looking at the big ships apparently means that he will someday be a sailor.

The fact that my son loves building with blocks apparently means that he will someday be an architect.

The fact that my son loves going swimming apparently means that he will someday be an Olympic swimmer.

The fact that my son loves to read apparently means that he will someday be a writer, or a librarian, or a bookstore drone.

The fact that my son loves to watch "Thomas & Friends" apparently means that he will someday be a train conductor.

He's playing with a snail!  Someday he's going to be a snail trainer, like in that picture book by Weird Al.

The fact that my son loves his to sing apparently means that he will someday be a rock star.  And the fact that he loves playing around with his ukelele and other musical instruments apparently means he will be a musician.

The fact that my son loves to visit the zoo apparently means that he will someday be a zookeeper.

The fact that my son loves to help me bake muffins apparently means that he will someday be a pastry chef.

The fact that my son loves to play with our cat apparently means that he will someday be a veterinarian.

Hey, that baby is wearing sunglasses!  Someday he's going to be a professional Cool Dude.

Honestly, the ways he plays now probably have no bearing on his future.  He's not even three years old, for goodness' sake!  He likes toys.  He likes to run and jump and be active.  He likes to play pretend games.  And I highly doubt that any of the things he does on a day to day basis are really predictive of his future vocation.

Heck, I'm an adult and I still don't know what I want to be "when I grow up!"

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Simple Marinara Sauce

My little boy loves pasta.  Absolutely loves it.  He would eat it for lunch every day if he could.

To be fair, I love pasta too, as does my husband.  So not surprisingly, pasta with a basic (but delicious!) marinara sauce is one of the staple meals of our home.

I almost always have the ingredients to make this simple tomato sauce on hand. It's great on any kind of pasta, and I have also used it in lasagna and on pizza.

Simple Marinara Sauce

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 med. onion, diced
2-6 cloves garlic, minced
2 (14.5-oz.) cans OR 1 (28-oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 (6-oz.) can tomato paste
Italian herb blend to taste (mine has oregano, basil, marjoram, thyme, and rosemary)
salt & pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion and garlic, and saute until soft and translucent.

Put onion and garlic into a blender.  Add 1 can tomatoes (or half of 28-oz. can) and tomato paste.  Blend until smooth.

Return to skillet.  Add remaining tomatoes and stir to incorporate.  Add Italian herbs to taste.  Heat over medium-low heat until thoroughly warm.  Add additional Italian herbs if desired, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Enjoy!


Non-Chunky.  I always reserve half of the tomatoes before blending, then add in after because I like noticeable chunks of tomato in my sauce.  But you can also blend all of the tomatoes for a smoother sauce.

Oil-Free/Fat-Free.  I usually use olive oil because I think it adds to the overall flavor of the sauce.  And who doesn't love the smell of onions and garlic cooking in olive oil?!  But you can just as easily cook the onions and garlic in plain water or vegetable broth if you want to have a fat-free sauce.

Extra Veggies.  I love adding extra vegetables to this sauce!  Mushrooms can be sauteed separately and added to the sauce after blending.  Zucchini/summer squash can also be sauteed separately and then added after blending.  Greens can be chopped (spinach, chard, KALE?!) (if using a sturdier green, chop it finely to make sure it cooks quickly in the sauce) and added in after blending; keep the heat on until they wilt.  A carrot or two can be diced and cooked with the onions and garlic and then blended in; this mostly adds sweetness, and usually doesn't affect the final color or add a noticeable carroty flavor.  (If you're one of those people who hides vegetables in their kids' foods--which I am not--this is good to know.)  Peel an eggplant and salt/sweat it prior to beginning the sauce; saute it with the onion and garlic, and then blend as usual.  I have even been known to slip in a little bit of pumpkin puree on occasion, when I have a tiny odd amount languishing in my fridge.

Extra Protein.  Add 1/2 cup cooked red lentils or 1 cup cooked chickpeas before blending to add texture and extra protein.  Or add the chickpeas after; I love chickpeas with marinara sauce, and this works great with a chunkier pasta shape.

This post is linked to Kelly the Kitchen Kop's Real Food Wednesday blog carnival on 10/22/2014.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Why You Need a Childbirth Class

I spend an awful lot of time talking to women about birth.  I am endlessly fascinated by birth, and I love listening to others tell their stories.  In all honesty, I'm kind of a junkie when it comes to birth.  Everyone's experiences with pregnancy, labor, and birth are so different, and I have heard stories from all across the board.

Here's a comment I come across sometimes:  "Why do I even need to take a childbirth education class?  I've read a few books.  Won't my doctor tell me everything I need to know?"  Sadly, the answer to that is a resounding NO.  Reading is fantastic, and you can prepare yourself pretty well that way, but a good childbirth class can fill in the gaps and truly prepare you to have the amazing birth you want to have.  And as much as we want to believe that our care providers will educate us, the fact remains that you are only one of their patients, and their time is limited; even if they want to teach you all they know, they just don't have time.  And many care providers, unfortunately, would be happier if you just did everything they said without question.

You are doing yourself a great service by taking a childbirth class!  Educating yourself is never a waste of time, and will hopefully help you to have the birth you want.

Here are some other things I have heard:
"My doctor decided to induce me.  I didn't want to be induced, but I didn't think I was allowed to say no."
In an ideal world, your caregiver would give you the facts about your & baby's condition, give you the benefits and risks of all options available to you, and offer their professional opinion about the course you should take.  You could than use this information to make an informed decision about your care, and your caregiver would respect that decision, even if it was not their recommendation.  Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world.  Chances are good that your caregiver knows a whole lot more about pregnancy and birth than you do.  But chances are also good that they are considering factors beyond their own experience and your best interest when they make their recommendation.  You do have options, and your caregiver's word is not law.  Informed consent means knowing both benefits and risks for any procedure, and it includes the right of informed refusal.  And a good childbirth class will teach you about risks and benefits of interventions before labor even begins, so that you don't have to distract yourself from the important work your body is doing by trying to learn new information on the spot.  This enables you to make truly informed decisions regarding your care.
"After how hard the last labor was, we decided to just schedule a repeat c-section."
I obviously can't comment on the last labor, since I was not there and I do not know the full story or why baby was ultimately born via cesarean.  However, the fact remains that every labor is different.  Just because the last one was difficult does not mean that this one will be.  VBAC is safe, and in many cases it is safer than a repeat cesarean.  Labor is hard work, but it is worthwhile and you CAN do it.  A good childbirth class will cover VBAC, and will give you the information you need to achieve your birth wishes.
"They want to induce me at 39 weeks.  When I asked why, they said, 'It's just what we do.'"
Like everyone else who works in the birth world, I do not take issue with induction if there is a valid medical reason.  But there is something troubling about a caregiver who wants to take such a drastic step without providing any reason at all.  Early induction increases the likelihood of your baby needing a stay in the NICU; every day that your baby stays in the womb is beneficial for growth.  Early induction could be the start of the slippery slope known as the "cascade of interventions," and if induction fails because your baby and your body just aren't ready, there is a good chance you will end up with a cesarean.  A good childbirth class will help give you the confidence to stand up for yourself, and to demand legitimate answers to reasonable questions.
"After they gave me my epidural, they broke my water.  I didn't even know they had done it until one of the nurses casually mentioned it later."
Hearing things like this just drives me crazy, but it is shockingly common.  For some caregivers and hospitals, breaking a woman's waters (the technical term is artificial rupture of membranes, or AROM) is such a standard procedure that the doctor doesn't even feel the need to mention it to the mother.  This is just one of many reasons why it is so important to have a good labor support team, whether it is your partner, family members, a good friend, or a doula.  Your support people will know what you want out of your labor; if you've requested no routine AROM and they see your OB heading your way with an amniohook, they can tell you before it's too late.  A good childbirth class will talk about your personal labor support team, including doulas; your teacher will likely even know a few if you are interested in recommendations!
"I hadn't done any research on epidurals before going to the hospital; I had no idea I'd need a catheter!  I'm just glad my husband knew enough to explain things to me, because the nurse wasn't helpful at all."
Wouldn't it be nice if your doctor/midwife/nurse took the time to explain these things ahead of time?  Unfortunately, that's usually not the case.  Most caregivers recommend some sort of childbirth class during pregnancy (and even OBs will usually recommend at least the class offered at the hospital where you are giving birth).  The fact of the matter is that you cannot depend on your caregivers to provide you with all of the information you need, but a good childbirth class will.
"My doctor induced me a few days after my due date.  He said going post-date put my baby at risk."
This touches on two things:
  • The "safest for baby" card: Naturally, no mother wants to put her baby at risk.  But using it as a tactic to scare a mother into what might otherwise be an unnecessary induction is just wrong.
  • Definition of post-date: The above quote is just flat-out inaccurate.  Recent studies have indicated that the length of a healthy, term pregnancy can vary by as much as five weeks, and even ACOG (the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) recognizes that post-term is a baby born 42 weeks or later.  (Read about their recent statement regarding new definitions of term pregnancy.)
Sometimes, there is a good reason to induce around your due date.  Other times, there is no harm in letting baby stay put for awhile longer.  A good childbirth class will discuss what you may be faced with if you go past your due date, and will help you to understand when to let nature take its course and when to consider intervening.
"When I got to the hospital, I was in very early labor.  But I live 45 minutes away, so they didn't want to send me home.  Instead, they broke my water to 'get things moving.'"
The woman who I heard this from gave birth more than thirty years ago, but I've heard similar statements from friends who have given birth more recently too.  Nowadays, if they don't just send you home for coming in that early, you'll probably end up with Pitocin or some other form of augmentation.  (And that's not even getting into the discomfort of several trips to and from the hospital and how it can potentially slow down labor, or the emotional upheaval that many women experience upon finding out that they have a long way to go!)  A better idea would be to find a nearby park and go for a walk; if you live really far away from the place where you will be giving birth, you might even consider renting a nice hotel room for early labor.  It's important to remember that in many hospitals, once you have been checked in you are "on the clock."  Many hospitals place rather arbitrary limits on how long a woman can be in labor for, and as you near that time limit they may start pressuring you to accept interventions that you do not want.  And if your waters are broken (or they do it for you), you are even more likely to face time limits.  AROM brings its own set of risks: there is an increased risk of cord prolapse, especially if done early in labor, and there is an increased risk of infection (a risk which rises further with each vaginal exam you receive).  Routine early AROM hasn't been shown to provide very many benefits either; the hospital is not likely to go over the risks and benefits with you in detail before the procedure, but a good childbirth class will!  A good childbirth class will also help you know when is the best time to travel to your birth place (or when to call your midwife over if you're birthing at home).

Please do yourself (and your baby) a favor and take a good childbirth class!  You will learn things you didn't even realize you needed to know, and the knowledge you gain will ultimately help you to have the birth you want.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I Love Babywearing!

In honor of International Babywearing Week, I am resharing this blog post, which originally appeared on a different blog of mine.

Yes, that's right.  I LOVE BABYWEARING.  You know when you see parents walking around with their little one strapped to their chest or back (or hip)?  That.  Love, love, love.

I bought a Moby Wrap when my son was just a few weeks old.  My sister had used one with her son, and I thought it seemed like a neat idea.  It was relatively inexpensive as far as carriers go, versatile, and delightfully snuggly for my little guy.  We used the Moby for a few months, and I loved it!  And then soon after we arrived in San Diego, he began to refuse to go into it, presumably because the weather was warming up and he was just getting too toasty.

We bought an Ergobaby Carrier next, the performance model because it looked like it would be comfortable and more temperature-appropriate.  It seemed a bit expensive to me initially, but it was worth every penny and I tell everyone who asks about it now that it's the most useful parenting tool I own.  Seriously.  It can carry a baby up to 45 pounds (my son is now about 31 pounds and he still loves riding in it occasionally), it's small and compact, and it makes both of our lives better in many ways.

I personally have no experience with any other kind of carrier.  I have friends who have used ring slings, woven wraps, Beco carriers, Tula carriers, handmade carriers purchased from Etsy, and others.  I can't tell you what kind you should buy, but as with all things parenting, I suggest you do your research!  Talk to friends, women from your local parenting groups, people you see at the mall.  Read reviews.  Please read about the importance of using an ergonomically-correct carrier and the risk of hip dysplasia from "crotch-dangler" style carriers.  Look for local groups or classes where you can try out different styles of carrier and learn how to use them before purchasing.  (Check out Babywearing San Diego or other similar groups in your area!)

Here are just a few of the things that I love about babywearing.

Babywearing helps you meet your baby's needs.

Have you ever heard of the concept of the "fourth trimester?"  The basic premise is that human babies are born before they're really developmentally ready because we have such big brains that we couldn't fit through the birth canal if gestation lasted any longer.  Human babies are really quite immature at birth, at least when you compare them to other animal babies.  During the first few months after birth, babies to struggle to adapt to life on the outside, and this is part of the reason why so many babies just want to spend all of their time in someone's arms.  One of the best-known books on this idea is The Happiest Baby on the Block, in which Dr. Harvey Karp offers suggestions for "recreating the womb" to soothe unhappy babies.
"Putting your baby in a carrier or a sling and taking him for a walk gives him three of his favorite sensations: jiggly motion, cuddling, and the rhythmic, soothing sound of your breathing.  These devices are great ways to treat our babies to a sweet reminder of the fourth trimester."  Harvey Karp, The Happiest Baby on the Block

It's perfectly normal for your baby to want to be held all the time.  Babies need to be close to a caregiver; this is biologically normal.  Babywearing can help you meet that need.

Babywearing lets your baby get more out of life.
"Wearing humanizes a baby.  Proximity increases interaction, and baby can be constantly learning how to be human.  Carried babies are intimately involved in their parents' world because they participate in what mother and father are doing. Consider the alternative infant-care practice, in which baby is separate from the mother most of the day... For the infant who lives alone, normal daily experiences have no learning value for him and no bonding value for the mother.  At best, baby is involved as a spectator rather than a player."  William Sears, The Baby Book
When I am wearing my baby, he truly does get more out of life.  I carry on conversations with him.  He points at things, and I identify them for him.  He can see more than he can from a stroller, especially from a rear-facing infant stroller.  Even a "regular" stroller leaves him too low to the ground to see as much as he'd like to.  (And when he gets tired of looking at things, he can still snuggle against me and go to sleep!)  He can wave at pedestrians on the street, and they often wave back.  He can wave at big construction trucks stopped at red lights, and sometimes they honk their horns for him.

Compare that to the baby riding passively in a stroller.  Assuming he isn't screaming and demanding to be held while his parents uncomfortably ignore him, everything is just washing over him.  His parents talk with each other, or play on their phones, not with him.  People walking by don't make eye contact.  He can't really see much of what is going on around him.  Which baby do you think is happier?

Babywearing lets you do more.

There's this meme I see floating around Facebook occasionally.  It has a picture of a man with a very strained expression on his face, and he's carrying a handful of bags and a loaf of bread tucked under his arm.  The caption is "I'd rather break my arms than take two trips."  This is my husband.  After we go shopping together, he divides all of our bags between his hands, or stacks boxes from Costco so high that he can barely see over the top, or otherwise does his best to bring everything inside in one trip.  Before our Little Bug was born, I'd share the load; once we were parents, my job was to carry our son while he carried everything else.

And then, when Little Bug was about seven months old, my husband left on deployment.  Suddenly I had to bring in groceries by myself.  Thanks to my trusty Ergo carrier, I could strap my baby to my chest or back and carry bags with both hands.  (For the record, I am not a pack mule like my husband.  I will make two or three trips if necessary.)  (Also, I call my husband a pack mule in the most loving way possible.)

With a baby carrier, I can do all kinds of things more easily.  With my baby attached to me, I can take trash and recycling out to the dumpster.  I can wash dishes.  I can vacuum the carpets.  I can eat with both hands.  I can nurse while doing my grocery shopping (and no one can even tell).  I can make it through airport security with ease.  When you have a baby who wants to be held all the time, as mine did, you can get a lot more done with the aid of a baby carrier.

Babywearing gives you greater mobility.

When my son was around eight months old, I joined a meetup group for mothers whose babies were of a similar age.  One of the very first meetups I attended was at the mall.  There were six of us, if I remember correctly, and all of them were pushing strollers while I had my little guy strapped to my chest in the Ergo.  We were a force to be reckoned with, this parade of strollers carving our way through the crowds, filling the elevator to the brim when we went upstairs, walking two by two up the ramp and not leaving room for anyone else to get around us.  We kind of ended up with a marching order every time we headed to a new store, and whoever you were walking next to was who you were talking with until we stopped again, because with strollers it's just not easy to switch places.  We had to use elevators and ramps, since strollers cannot traverse staircases, and if there was a slow- or non-moving crowd, we had to slowly wade our way through.

Watching others struggle with strollers is part of what convinced me to try a carrier in the first place.  With a baby in a carrier, you can slide through thick crowds with ease.  You can go up staircases (weighted stair climbing makes for fantastic exercise).  You can walk places where strollers do not dare to tread.  Beaches?  Easy hiking?  Gravel pathways?  All very doable with a carrier.

At the top of Cowles Mountain in San Diego.

And don't go thinking that carriers become obsolete once baby starts walking.  As I mentioned earlier, I still wear my little guy frequently.  Sure, I love letting him walk on his own and explore the world.  But sometimes I just want to, you know, actually make it to a particular destination within a reasonable amount of time.  Or go shopping without just following him around and telling him not to pull things off the shelves.

Babywearing can help make you healthier.

Before you ask, no, I do not get some misguided sense of superiority from wearing my baby.  (And yes, I have had that "argument" lobbed at me before from people who do not agree with or approve of my intuitive, attached style of parenting.)  What I'm going for here is that babywearing can help you get more exercise, both because of increased mobility and because, well, when you walk or hike you're carrying the added weight of your baby.  I personally believe that babywearing helped tremendously as I slowly lost my baby weight.  (It took awhile, but I was in no rush to get rid of it either.)  Note that I don't say anything about my "prepregnancy body."  I am not in nearly as good of shape as I was before having a baby, since walking and hiking are just no substitute for the cardio kickboxing and intense strength workouts I favored before I got pregnant (and for a good chunk of my pregnancy too).  But babywearing does turn walking into a more effective form of exercise.  And if you hike up a mountain with a baby on your back, you will find yourself both short of breath and rather sore the following morning (although you will also get some admiring looks from other hikers).  There's even an actual Babywearing Workout DVD that you can try, should you so desire.  (I have not, although I would like to.  Well, maybe not with a squirmy toddler.)  Babywearing has definitely helped me to be healthier.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Review: Yoga Mama, Yoga Baby

 Note #1:  My original review of Yoga Mama Yoga Baby was written for San Francisco Book Review and appears on their website.  I have expanded that review for this post.

Note #2:  The opinions in this post are just that: my own opinions, for better or for worse.  No one paid me to write any of this.

Prenatal yoga has become a very popular practice in recent years, and with good reason. Practicing yoga postures helps moms-to-be stretch, get gentle exercise, and prepare for labor. I have many friends who practiced yoga while pregnant and swear by it, and I was rather dependent on my yoga DVDs toward the end of my own pregnancy. But yoga, and its complimentary science Ayurveda, have so much more to offer!

Enter Yoga Mama Yoga Baby, in which author Margo Bachman helps expectant readers to further integrate these practices into their lives. For those who know little to nothing about it (like me), Bachman offers readers an introductory course in the science of Ayurveda, which can be translated to mean "the science/knowledge of life/longevity." She provides basic self-assessments to determine your type, along with guidelines that can help you to subtly alter your diet to be more effective for your particular body type. Whether vata, pitta, or kapha, or some combination of more than one, you will find dietary advice that will help you feel more balanced. (Note that it's just that - advice; Bachman emphasizes that those who are uncertain of anything presented in the book should consult with a qualified health care provider.)
"The holistic diet and lifestyle recommendations of yoga and Ayurveda begin with understanding your unique constitution and how to live in harmony with it. Self-knowledge and self-care are central principles of Ayurveda and are key to real, deep, and lasting healing and health."
The heart of the book is a month-by-month breakdown of your pregnancy. There are brief chapters on each trimester, with very basic information on your baby's development, your own physical changes, and how your emotions might be reacting to pregnancy at this point. There are also chapters devoted to each month of your pregnancy. Each chapter has a theme of sorts, and begins with Bachman's thoughts on that particular idea (such as protection, nurturing, and opening the heart). Readers will enjoy the journaling exercises, which delve deeper into the chapter's theme. Each chapter also presents ideas for appropriate asana practice, breathing techniques, guided meditations, and chants.

There is also a chapter on labor and birth: asanas, marma points (pressure points), aromatherapy, and more. This book is not a definitive source of tools to help get you through labor, but there are definitely some great ideas here that some readers may not have otherwise considered!

Bachman delves briefly into the postpartum period as well. She has advice for getting through those first few months, suggestions for writing your own birth story, and, of course, Ayurveda guidelines for postpartum diet. There are recipes here for making your own herbal sitz bath, something that I know I found very soothing when I was recovering from birth! She also offers a blend to make your own postpartum tea, which will definitely appeal to many. My son is 2 years old now, and I still periodically drink my (store-bought) postpartum tea. There are basic guidelines for baby massage and a gentle asana practice, complete with pictures, to help you adjust to your new role.
"Your adjustment period will last as long as it needs to for your particular family. Accepting this uniqueness is a key piece of your recuperation."
And then there are the appendices, which readers will surely find themselves thumbing through again and again. There are natural, gentle remedies for the discomforts of pregnancy (including some that I have not seen suggested in any of my other pregnancy books) and a simple set of food guidelines. There is an appendix full of delicious-sounding recipes, not to mention others scattered throughout the rest of the book. There is an extensive list of herbs that pregnant women should avoid and basic tutorials for the use of essential oils.

I feel that there are sections in this book that will appeal to anyone interested in a mindful pregnancy, no matter what prior experience you have (or don't have) with yoga and Ayurveda. This book probably won't appeal to everyone, but there is definitely a growing audience for it.