Thursday, April 13, 2017

An Rh Sensitized Pregnancy (Part 4)

Just the other day, my baby received what will hopefully be her/his final blood transfusion before birth.

So. Worn. Out.

By now, you'd think I'd be an old hand at this. This was transfusion number three, after all. Five days after another procedure day, although that one was just a cordocentesis. Just. I swear, I could draw constellations on my belly and arms from all the needle marks right now. My poor arms, in particular, seem to finally be getting visibly tired of being pincushions; the blood draws from both of these most recent procedures have left bruises, and that's unusual for me. Bruises that are still faintly visible a week later. Normally, I handle blood draws like a champ. I've had a lot of them this pregnancy, after all.

Each one of these procedures is an all-day affair, with me arriving early for my ultrasound and blood draw #1 (there are always at least 2 blood draws, and 3 this time around), then spending hours waiting for the actual transfusion procedure. The wait usually has more to do with the blood bank than anything; when providing blood for an intrauterine transfusion, blood for a baby still in the womb, they do their homework and make sure the blood is the best possible match, the purest and cleanest available. Most days, as a result, the transfusion doesn't happen until after lunch.

In the meantime, I get to have an IV inserted (honestly, one of the worst parts; I cry every time) and spend some time on the fetal monitors. When I'm lucky, I only get monitored for 20 minutes. The last few appointments, I've been apparently having hardcore Braxton Hicks contractions. As in, very frequent, apparently pretty intense, although I have yet to actually feel a single one. Consequently, I've had the non-pleasure of spending hours on the fetal monitors. I've gone through several books, wasted more time scrolling Facebook than I care to admit, and played a ridiculous amount of phone games. All the while stuck in bed (is this what a standard hospital birth feels like?!?), wearing my hospital gowns (I always demand two, one for the front and one for the back), requiring permission for even the simple need to get up and go use the bathroom.

Oh, and because of those contractions, they've put me on magnesium sulfate for an hour or two leading up to the procedure, in the hopes of reducing the duration and frequency of them. Woooo, something else in the IV.

I really, really hate IVs.

Apparently, magnesium sulfate has no effect on me though. Because the contractions didn't stop, or even slow at all. It didn't make me sleepy, or light-headed, or overheated, or physically unstable; the nurses were quite surprised that I was, in fact, still capable of walking to the bathroom on my own (although they insisted someone accompany me). The only side effect I noticed was that my vein up above the IV kind of hurt while the magnesium was going in.

Also because of those contractions, I've had to consent to several cervical exams. They don't hurt so much as they're just awkward and uncomfortable, but I do understand their need to verify that I was not, in fact, in labor. Because I totally wasn't. Yes, I am ever so slightly dilated (good to know? Except I don't care, because cervical exams prior to labor tell me absolutely nothing about when labor will actually start, assuming it gets to start on its own. As the natural birth community reminds me, my cervix is not a crystal ball), but that's absolutely normal for being in my third trimester. I'm only half effaced, and baby is still very high up.

No other real signs of labor, anyway. Baby shows no more reaction to my Braxton Hicks contractions than I do. No decels. No discharge, no fluids leaking. Definitely not in labor, but I consented to the exams anyway. Like a number of other things in a high risk pregnancy like mine, this wasn't worth fighting about. I've got other, more important areas where I need to stand my ground.

And have I mentioned yet in this post that I'm not allowed to eat or drink in the hours leading up to the procedures? Yep, our old friend nil per os rears its ugly head. Sure, I can sneak a bit of water when nobody is looking, but once my water bottle is empty, I'm stuck. Sure, I can sneak a mid-morning snack (and yes, I totally usually do; research shows that aspiration during/after general anesthesia is relatively rare, and rarer still is it actually life-threatening... I'll take my chances, thank you very much), but there's no way I could get away with a full lunch. Even if I wanted to.

Anyway. The procedure itself usually takes about an hour. An hour on the table, being poked in the abdomen with needles. An hour of listening to the medical speak surrounding me. An hour of yoga breathing. An hour of keeping my eyes closed, even though the room is kept relatively dim so that the doctor can see the ultrasound screen. An hour of keeping the tension confined to my hands so that the rest of my body can stay loose. An hour of breathing in the essential oils I rubbed into my hands prior to the procedure (a blend of geranium, lavender, Roman chamomile, ylang ylang, and lemon, in case you're wondering), letting their scents keep me calm.

Then I get to spend a few hours in recovery, monitoring the baby's heartbeat as well as watching me for signs of premature labor. (After all, these procedures necessitate puncturing my uterus with a needle! No one would blame it for getting irritable.) Because my baby is so wiggly, they've had to give medicine to sedate her/him these last few times, which means that part of recovery is waiting for baby to wake up and start moving again. We already know by heartbeat that baby is fine, but the doctors want to know that there's movement, too. As do I, of course!

It's all for this little squish!

But now, hopefully, the transfusions are over. Done. Baby is tanked up with fresh blood and hopefully good to go for a few more weeks. We're down to the waiting game now. Soon enough, this baby will be earthside and all of this--the stress, the appointments, the blood work, the unpleasant procedures--will have been worth it. We're counting down the days.

No one is counting down more fervently than I.

***

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Review: The 4X4 Diet

Personal trainer Erin Oprea never set out to create a “diet” program or write a book, and she certainly never thought she’d have devoted celebrity clients.

But there’s a reason for her popularity. She helps clients–and now readers–develop a clean eating style using just four principles, and her simple workouts make exercise both fun and effective.

In The 4X4 Diet, Oprea lays out the basic principles that she uses to keep herself and her family fit, and which also keep her clients coming back for more. The book is separated into four sections. The first is a part introduction, part motivation. The second details Oprea’s rules for eating clean: no starchy carbs at night, less sugar, less salt, and less alcohol. These four rules are accompanied by explanations of why they’re necessary, and readers will appreciate Oprea’s straightforward and simple reasoning. She also provides a list of necessary kitchen items and a number of recipes that will help readers get started with healthier eating right away.

The third part focuses on the workouts. Oprea’s workout of choice is the tabata, which is essentially a mini-workout made up high-intensity exercises alternated with short rest periods. String a few of these together and the result is a workout that is still relatively short (following her advice means working out for less than 30 minutes) but surprisingly effective. Oprea provides three levels of tabatas, with numerous examples of each level; there are detailed instructions on how to do the moves, making them accessible even to fitness newbies, and there are plenty of pictures.

Part four puts it all together into an actual diet plan, although Oprea is quick to remind readers that this is a lifestyle change, not a temporary “diet.”
“All of this can be done in just four weeks. Each week, you’ll incorporate a new clean eating habit and slightly more challenging tabatas. And each week, you’ll feel cleaner, leaner, healthier, and stronger. That momentum will keep you going not just for four weeks straight but for the rest of your life.”
There are pros and cons to this book. Readers will love her simple rules, as well as the fact that she embraces “cheat” meals. At the same time, the meal ideas she offers are pretty heavy on eggs and meat, so readers who dislike those foods, or who choose not to eat them for other reasons, may find themselves struggling with how to make it work for them. Her rules are good ones, though, and a clean diet like hers could very well aid in weight loss, so long as readers actually stick with it over time (and minimize those “cheat” meals). The workouts are extremely challenging, and some readers will love jumping right in, while others might have a hard time staying motivated. It’s wonderful that she only uses very basic equipment; readers can either work out at home and have to buy only a few things, or do the workouts at their nearest gym.

Overall, the book is quite short, which will help those interested get started with their new lifestyle right away; a large chunk is devoted to the individual tabatas, which don’t all need to be read through before beginning the program.

For those who need help improving their diet in small ways and who want a simple–but challenging–workout plan to get started with, The 4X4 Diet is a great resource.

*****

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed within are completely my own.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Review: Boobin' All Day... Boobin' All Night

Every new mom has been there.

Baby sleep. That thorny, difficult issue.

We all want to know how to help our babies sleep longer. More. We want to know the best ways to soothe. We want to know the best place for baby to sleep. We want reassurance that nighttime waking is okay, and that we’re handling it correctly. Should we be night weaning? Sleep training? How much sleep is enough?

We want to know that our baby is, in fact, normal.

Meg Nagle, renowned IBCLC (lactation consultant) and blogger at The Milk Meg, is here to provide that much-needed reassurance. Her book, Boobin’ All Day… Boobin’ All Night is a short, sweet bit of sanity in a world that has way too many sleep trainers and baby whisperers.

This is not the bestest, most complete book on baby sleep ever. (My suggestion for that would be The Gentle Sleep Book by Sarah Ockwell-Smith. More complete, yes, but also a much longer read. It’s worth it, but don’t say you weren’t warned.)

Boobin’ All Day… Boobin’ All Night is a relatively short book, ideal for the sleep-deprived parent who just needs help NOW. Meg covers the essentials. She helps parents understand why it’s completely normal for breastfed babies and toddlers to wake up so much. She talks about why breastfeeding–or boobin’, as she prefers to call it–is often the most surefire way to soothe said baby or toddler, and how breastfeeding to sleep is absolutely not a bad habit. She talks about co-sleeping and bedsharing, and offers guidelines on how to bring baby into your bed–safely–so that everyone can get more sleep. She talks about how routines can work while nursing on-demand, caffeine, the breastfeeding-at-night-causes-cavities myth, and more. She has a relatively in-depth chapter all about night-weaning, for when it’s truly the best option or when it’s simply the right time. She provides all kinds of ideas and methods, tips and tricks that might help parents out with whatever challenge they happen to be facing at any given moment.

Through it all, Meg offers personal anecdotes, warmth, humor, adorable pictures, and plenty of encouragement, which we all need sometimes. Meg has a lot of experience with breastfeeding, both as a lactation consultant and as a mother, and her experience shines through in this lovely little book.
Feel confident in mothering through breastfeeding and cuddling during the day and at night, just as nature intended.

*****

I have been in no way compensated for this review. The opinions expressed within are completely my own.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Review: Birth Work As Care Work

These days, more and more pregnant people are starting to spend time researching birth before actually giving birth. They’re researching where they’ll give birth, who their care providers will be, who their support team will consist of.

And yet, as a society we still have a long way to go. A long, long way.

It’s easy for those of us who benefit from societal privileges to be completely blind to the advantages we have. It’s easy to forget that some birth givers don’t have access to the “good” hospitals because of location, insurance, or financial means. For some pregnant people, a higher risk of unwanted interventions or unnecessary surgery is unavoidable. For some, home birth is not an option. For some, hiring a doula is either impractical or impossible. For some, prejudice is faced at every turn due to skin color or gender identity.

For some, it’s a blessing simply to be able to give birth without being chained to the bed.

There are many issues that those who perform birth work need to be concerned with. Midwives, doulas, and childbirth educators are always learning, always reading. A new book to add to the “to read” pile is Alana Apfel‘s Birth Work as Care Work: Stories from Activist Birth Communities.
This anthology delves into a lot of sensitive ideas that are not often discussed in more mainstream birth communities, although there are certainly individuals and groups out there that are working in these areas.
“Ultimately the anthology is conceived as a platform through which to honor birth–in all its forms–as itself a profoundly radical act that holds the potential for deep transformative change.”
For example, many sections discuss the idea of white privilege with regards to birth, although those aren’t the exact words used. But there are discussions about how birth is experienced by racial minorities, and how marginalized groups have less options and less choice, and often face a certain amount of judgment simply for who they are. In addition, these people must sometimes deal with more affluent birth workers–because birth work often tends to draw in white, wealthier women–and the stigma of being “saved.”
“One such problematic narrative relates to the language of ‘choice’ within modern maternity care. The danger of celebrating the rise of choice within transactional birthing environments lies in masking ongoing forms of coercion that result in a denial of choice for marginalized communities and those with less access to the kinds of choice-making power enjoyed by more privileged counterparts.”
Also discussed is how birth is shaped by a person’s gender identity. Sure, plenty of white, hetero, cisgendered women give birth every day, but that doesn’t mean that birth is restricted only to straight women or even to those who identify as women. This book is sure to get readers thinking about ideas that some may have never encountered before.

And of course, Birth Work as Care Work talks about some of the issues that are widely known about among birth workers of all stripes, such as how the institutionalized medical model of care affects birth outcomes, the value of midwives, our society’s implicit (but not always well-deserved) trust in medical professionals.
“People see their doctors as authorities with complete control over their bodies and their babies–to the extent that they expect to be raped. The word rape might sound extreme, but I am quick to point out that when someone does something to your genitals without your consent, that is rape.”
Readers will get an overview of some basic herbal medicine–just a discussion of herbs, but no recipes–because of the importance of reclaiming medicine for ourselves. There is also a wonderful, straightforward glossary: the “Political Dictionary.” This gives readers an easy understanding of some terms they may be less familiar with, which makes this book even more accessible to everyone.

There are discussions of how doulas can serve different kinds of pregnant people, and readers will learn about groups they may not have heard about before: volunteer doulas, prison doulas, doula training programs, doulas that work in areas of reproductive health not normally associated with doulas at all (like abortion or adoption).

There are also a number of birth stories, which readers will love. Birth is beautiful, and these stories celebrate it in all of its messy, myriad forms. This is the kind of birth the author and others are fighting for, and readers will enjoy getting to experience it up close.

Overall, Birth Work as Care Work is a book that will leave readers thinking and questioning, and perhaps wanting to get involved (if they’re not already). This is a fascinating and thoughtful collection of stories, questions, and essays, and a book that any birth worker would benefit from picking up.
“Transformation happens when we come together and meet each other where we actually are, not where others perceive us to be.”

*****

I received this book from the publisher, PM Press, in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed within are completely my own.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Review: Harvest

Do you ever find yourself wondering what to do with some of those more obscure fruits or veggies that come in your weekly CSA box? What does one do with quince? How about huckleberries?

Or what if you decide to be a little adventurous in your own gardening endeavors? How do you harvest rhubarb? When is the best time to plant herbs like oregano, feverfew, or lemongrass? Where do poppy seeds even come from?

Or perhaps you're just looking for some unique ways to utilize nature's bounty. Did you know that you can make a lovely floral arrangement using artichokes? Or that you can make delightful seasonal salads composed entirely of herbs?

If any or all of the above describe you to some degree, be sure to check out Harvest, a gorgeous hardcover book by Stefani Bittner and Alethea Harampolis. This is not your standard cookbook, and it's definitely not a normal gardening book. Instead, it contains some basic growing info on a wide variety of plants that are harvestable in the early growing season, mid-season, and late season. Some are common garden plants, while others might be ones you've never even thought about adding to your own yard. Some, like lilac, are plants you may not have realized were edible at all.

The recipes, meanwhile, go beyond kitchen creations. There are also ideas for floral arrangements, teas, personal care products, and more.

Each plant is featured in a four-page spread. One page features a full-page, beautiful color photograph of the plant, while the second discusses growing instructions and how to harvest the usable parts. The final two pages include a recipe of sorts and a photograph of the recipe results.

What makes this book stand out is the uniqueness of the recipes. Everybody has heard of making rhubarb pie or rhubarb jam, but pickled rhubarb will be a new concept for many. We all know berries are delicious to munch on or turn into traditional preserves, but have you ever heard of a shrub? A shrub is a type of beverage made by preserving fruit with sugar and vinegar, and readers will learn how to make a delicious huckleberry shrub. Persimmons make a delicious snack, and the branches pruned every fall can be turned into a gorgeous wreath.

This book is just packed with ideas! Harvest is definitely a great addition to the library of any gardener, or anyone who is just looking for unique ways to work with plants.

***

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed within are completely my own.

Friday, March 10, 2017

An Rh Sensitized Pregnancy (Part 3)

Somewhere between 30 & 31 weeks

 About 28 weeks into my pregnancy, my baby started to show potential signs of anemia.

At that point, we'd been doing weekly ultrasounds for quite some time (I've honestly lost track of how long exactly). Half of those ultrasounds were at my normal doctor's office, while the other half were in the hospital where I've been seeing a different specialist, one who has a lot more experience with my particular medical condition (Rh sensitization).

As I explained in my last post on this topic, they've been monitoring four things in particular:
  • the MCA, or how fast the blood is flowing through a particular artery in the brain (faster blood flow = thinner blood, which could indicate anemia)
  • the presence of hydrops, or excess fluid around certain organs or under the skin
  • swelling of liver or spleen, both organs that deal with old red blood cells (larger organs = baby's body is working harder to deal with the red blood cells that my immune system is attacking)
  • level of amniotic fluid

Any of these is considered a soft marker for anemia in a baby or fetus; the presence of two or more of these signs is much more indicative of a problem.

At about 28 weeks, the MCA shot up. Before that, it had been staying on a nice curve (it naturally increases speed as baby grows) well within the "acceptable" limits. They've been tracking it on this nice-looking chart (I wish I had a picture of it to share, but I do not) that shows my numbers and what's considered both too slow and too fast. As my doctor once explained, a high MCA doesn't necessarily mean anemia, but he's never before seen a baby with anemia whose MCA wasn't above that acceptable limit. So once my baby's MCA became borderline too high, my doctor immediately ordered cordocentesis. Yes, it was only one of those markers mentioned above, but when dealing with fetal anemia, it's much better to be conservative and to do more tests than it is to watch and wait.

Because one of the potential risks of cordocentesis is early delivery, I was required to have two shots of a corticosteroid ahead of time, which helps speed up the development of baby's lungs. I had the first after that fateful 28 week ultrasound, and the second on the following day at my regular hospital. Both are shots to the butt, so I probably don't need to say anymore about the unpleasantness of it.

Cordocentesis is known by several other names: fetal blood sampling, or percutaneous umbilical cord blood sampling (PUBS). It's a test used to detect certain abnormalities in a baby or fetus; in my case, the goal is to obtain the baby's complete blood count (CBC), a number that can be obtained within minutes, which then indicates, among other things, how many red blood cells baby has (red blood cell count, or RBC). A low number for RBC is a definite marker for anemia. Additional blood tests are also done with the sample collected, but I'm not sure what all else they did.

So here's the basic procedure for cordocentesis. It's an outpatient procedure, so I wasn't checked into the hospital. I got to stay in my regular clothes. They created a sterile area around my stomach with drapes and cleaning solutions, then gave me a shot of local anesthetic to numb the area. Using ultrasound as a guide, a larger needle was inserted through my abdomen and into baby's umbilical cord. Then they took a few small vials of blood, did the red blood cell count with some of it, and kept the rest to be sent to the lab later. The initial CBC did not show that baby was particularly anemic, so that was that.

After the procedure, I had to spend 20 minutes being monitored electronically; they were watching baby's heart rate, to make sure baby had no issues from the procedure, and they were monitoring me to make sure the procedure hadn't set off contractions.

There are definitely risks to cordocentesis, but they're generally pretty small. There's a risk of internal bleeding, hemorrhaging even, since they are sticking a needle inside me and inside baby's umbilical cord. There's a risk of preterm labor. There's a risk of baby reacting badly to the procedure, which might necessitate immediate (cesarean) delivery. There's a small risk of baby dying. But those risks are all small, and (in my mind) they were definitely outweighed by the benefits of knowing for sure if baby was anemic or not.

We spent the better part of the morning in the hospital, then left, ate lunch, and headed home.

The following week, I went back for my normal ultrasound (I'll be getting all of my scans at the higher risk hospital from here on out). Apparently, the MCA had jumped up further above that acceptable limit, so my doctor came in and told me that after cordocentesis the following week (which was already the plan, since we needed to see how baby was holding up over time), it was almost certain that we'd be doing a blood transfusion as well.

Intrauterine blood transfusion. It's exactly what it sounds like: a blood transfusion to a baby (or fetus, depending on how far along the pregnancy is) while it's still in the uterus.

Suddenly, my upcoming appointment was a whole lot more nerve-wracking. My appointment time was moved up and I knew it would be a longer day.

Of course, I now realize I really had no idea what to expect from this new procedure. Sure, I had talked to specialists and read everything credible I could get my hands on, but the theoretical just didn't quite match up to the reality. I assumed they'd do it all at once, cordocentesis followed immediately by intrauterine blood transfusion, and that since they wanted me to arrive sooner it'd all be done fairly early. Instead, we spent pretty much the entire day in the hospital.

The morning started with a blood draw for me (yay?), followed by the usual ultrasound. MCA was still high; still no sign of hydrops, stressed organs, or abnormally high amniotic fluid levels. Then, I was checked into the hospital. Formally. Intrauterine blood transfusion carries much the same risks as the cordocentesis does, but the numbers are higher. This time, the procedure would be inpatient, performed in one of the operating rooms just in case there was an immediate need for a cesarean.

I was brought up to labor and delivery and checked in. We managed to sneak my husband and son up (well, bend the rules a bit might be a better description; the hospital recently instigated a "no visitors under 18" rule, and technically my son wasn't supposed to be there at all. If I had known that, both of them would have just stayed home all day!), and I was put into a labor room. I had to change into a hospital gown (ick) and they gave me an IV (double ick; also: ouch). I was not allowed to eat or drink anything (yay for nil per os? Except not, since it's an outdated and non-evidence based policy) because of the slight risk of immediate delivery under general anesthesia. They wiped my belly down and shaved it (also in case of cesarean). They had me sign lots of consent forms. They even wanted to give me a catheter, but I managed to put that off unless actually necessary, since it literally only takes a few minutes to do. And they put the monitoring belts on me. I was all but prepped for a cesarean.

So there I was, stuck in bed for HOURS, waiting until the blood was ready for the baby (and for me too, just in case). My husband and son got to stay for part of it, but once they left to get lunch, they couldn't come back. Finally, at some point after lunchtime, they were ready. I at least got to walk myself over to the OR, where the setup was much the same as with the cordocentesis. Sterile area on my belly, drapes, me lying there crying (because that's what I do when I'm anxious). Lots of doctors and nurses crowded around. Ultrasound machine on, and a quick scan to make sure everyone knew exactly where they were aiming. The local anesthetic, which my doctor described as a "bee sting," hurt a lot. The needle through my abdomen hurt even more (because I was only numbed on the surface).

Not a lot of pain from the procedure itself; instead, I felt a lot of pressure and tugging. I kept crying off and on, but I tried to focus any tension I had on gripping my kleenix box (since I couldn't hold my husband's hand this time; next time, I'm bringing a stuffed animal!) so that I could keep the muscles in my belly loose. Lots of yoga breathing, and I like to think that the essential oils I applied just before leaving my room helped me stay calm, too.

Turns out baby was more anemic than last time, but not as anemic as the doctor was expecting her/him to be. Consequently, the blood transfusion was rather small; they just gave baby a little boost with some fresh, thick, healthy blood. Everything was all over relatively quickly, thankfully.

I was walked back to my room (yes, at least I got to use my own legs again!) for recovery. After an hour on the monitoring machines, I was allowed to eat lunch (which my wonderful husband brought, although my nurse had to go downstairs and get it from him), and the simple fact of consuming real food made me feel so, so much better. I hadn't been lightheaded or anything before, since I'd been receiving IV fluids, but there's something to be said for a good, hearty salad and a nice chunk of bread.

Apparently, the norm for intrauterine blood transfusions is to continue monitoring mom and baby for at least three or four hours post-procedure. I managed to talk them down to two hours; I wanted to go home and be with my family, and there were absolutely no signs of distress in the baby or pre-term labor in me. And it's a long drive home. So after a few dull hours of sitting in bed--monitoring belts attached, peaceful music on the TV, book in hand... you'd be surprised at how weird and boring this was for me--I was finally able to sign my discharge forms. The dreaded IV was removed, I got to put on my real clothes again, and my little family and I began the long drive home.

And guess what? Before too much longer, I get to do it again. And probably again a few weeks after that. And again every two or three weeks until baby is term enough for induction to be safer than another transfusion. This is the reality of an Rh sensitized pregnancy. It's not pretty. It's far from fun. But it's necessary to keep baby healthy and strong. Ideally, I won't be induced until 38 or 39 weeks, but we'll see how the reality plays out.

***

See more:

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Review: Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth

If you go to your nearest bookstore, you will no doubt find an extensive selection of pregnancy books: general guides, week-by-week or even day-by-day books, books geared towards "natural" mamas, books that appeal to "cool" mamas, books for dads, books that tell you what to expect if you're a beginner or going for a VBAC,books that tell you what to eat.

What you won't find are books that deal with the postpartum period.

Well, there will be plenty of books related to your baby during that period: breastfeeding, baby sleep, doctor's visits and vaccines, milestones, natural remedies, raising boys or raising girls, how to soothe your babies and what to do with them.

What's missing are books related to you during those first few postpartum months.

And just think about everything your body has been through in the past ten months. You've grown not only an entire human being, but also a brand new organ (your placenta) and an expanded blood supply. You've gained weight. You might have been through hours of intense labor. You might have a tear in your bottom area after pushing that baby out, or you might be recovering from major abdominal surgery.

Surely, you deserve to focus on yourself for a bit, too.

So pick up a copy of Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth, and start learning about the steps you can take to take care of yourself!

Jolene Brighten is a naturopathic doctor who truly knows what she's talking about. In particular, she has an extensive knowledge of how pregnancy can affect a woman's thyroid and adrenals, which is a subject that many care providers sadly know little about. She uses her knowledge about the topic to educate readers, providing information about both hyper- and hypothyroidism, as well as adrenal dysfunction. She talks about treatment options and provides effective--and safe--natural remedies to help women take control of their own health.

Dr. Brighten provides similar information on a whole host of postpartum topics. Breastfeeding mamas will appreciate ideas for natural ways for soothing hurting breasts, remedies for thrush, and recipes for making your own lactation tea. Mamas who gave birth vaginally will surely find comfort in an herbal sitz bath and appreciate knowing what supplements they can take to help ease postpartum discomfort. C-section mamas will be thankful for her recipe for an herbal wash to help keep infection away.

There are ideas for dealing with common postpartum complaints: constipation, "baby blues" (and information about how to distinguish between simple blues and actual depression), low energy, vaginal dryness, stress, and more. There are recipes for all kinds of teas, soups, and smoothies, and even body scrubs for self-care and delicious cookies. There supplements that will help with all manner of healing. There is information on postpartum nutrition, including how to support yourself through breastfeeding.

The information in Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth will make a tremendous difference in the postpartum experience of any new mama, and as such is highly recommended for both expecting mamas as well as those who have recently given birth. Midwives, doulas, lactation consultants, and anyone else who works with pregnant women will find great value in this book as well.

New mamas deserve to know how to take care of themselves while they heal from birth and adapt to new parenthood. This book helps fulfill that need. So do yourself--or your partner, or your clients--a favor and dive right in.

*****

I received a copy of this book as a gift from the author, although not with any expectation of a review, positive or otherwise. The opinions expressed within are completely my own.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Review: Happy, Healthy Pregnancy Cookbook

It's no secret that a healthy diet is extremely important during pregnancy. Every pregnancy book ever devotes a substantial section to food: how much, which nutrients, what to avoid.

Okay, but what should a pregnant mama be eating instead?

There are plenty of lists of pregnancy superfoods out there, but some readers want just a little bit more guidance. That's where a book like Healthy, Happy Pregnancy Cookbook can help!

This little book is a great guide to the best ways a woman can nourish her body during pregnancy. The beginning talks about basic stuff: weight gain, superfoods, vital nutrients, ways readers can encourage themselves to do more cooking. The real "meat," as it were, of this book lies in the recipe section.

Registered dietitians Stephanie Clarke and Willow Jarosh offer readers more than one hundred recipes that will nourish women during this important time. These are recipes that are well-balanced and include a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, and meats, and thus plenty of nutrients for a growing baby.

Better yet, the chapters are organized by common pregnancy symptom. Feeling nauseous? Try some Avocado Toast with healthy fats and B vitamins, or Quinoa-Veggie "Cheeseburgers" with plenty of protein without the smell of cooking meat. Fighting off cravings? Satisfy your sweet tooth with Peanut Butter, Apple, and Chickpea Breakfast Cookies. Third-trimester heartburn got you down? Recipes like Confetti Sweet Potato Hash or Lentil and Pumpkin Soup will provide a hearty sense of satisfaction while avoiding common triggers like onion or tomatoes.

Healthy, Happy Pregnancy Cookbook has such a thoughtful, useful premise, and it's full of recipes that will appeal to the whole family. This book is sure to be enjoyed by anyone who is struggling with eating well during pregnancy, anyone who is hoping that some dietary changes might alleviate common pregnancy symptoms, and anyone who just wants some new ideas to pack in the nutrition.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Review: Tox-Sick

In this modern era, we are literally surrounded by poisons.

That's one of the primary messages that well-known author Suzanne Somers wants readers to take away from her new book, Tox-Sick: From Toxic to Not Sick. Not only are we surrounded by poisons, but our bodies are, quite simply, becoming overwhelmed by them. Decades of exposure to pesticides, genetically-modified food, chemicals in carpets and furniture and cars, fluoride in water, unnecessary medications, and more have taken a toll on the bodies of many once they reach the tipping point. People are feeling tired, bloated, foggy-headed, achy, and sick.

If you're ready for a change, like Somers was, read on.

Tox-Sick delves into many of the biggest health issues we face today, issues that many people aren't even aware of (unless they've been directly affected). Somers gets into some of the deeper causes of cancer, and discusses how detoxification is necessary to avoid (or beat) it. She talks about toxic mold, why it's become such a problem in recent years, and what to do if you encounter it. She talks about nutrition, and how the "low-fat" craze has not done us any favors. She talks about antibiotics, and how they wipe out the good alongside the bad. She talks about what supplements you should be taking to support your immune system, your liver, your thyroid, and the rest of your body.

Most readers will find themselves learning a lot, and there's a good chance that a number of book titles will be added to the "to read" list. The majority of the information in Tox-Sick is delivered via interviews between Somers and various health professionals, experts who have ventured off the beaten path and have found themselves specializing in true health care. Many of these doctors have written their own books, which will no doubt be sought out by readers who recognize themselves and their problems in these pages.

To be honest, though, the fact that so much is told through interviews is one of my biggest problems with the book. While the information in Tox-Sick is fascinating, the Q&A format makes for rather tedious reading at times. I understand that Somers wanted a lot of this information to be coming directly from the experts, but I still can't help but feel that there must have been a better way to accomplish this than through verbatim interviews. As a copyeditor, I'm also a little bothered by the lack of proper citations. There is a "Further Reading" section at the end, as well as a bibliography, but it would be nice to know which specific sources were used for each chapter.

Overall, this book doesn't quite live up to my expectations. Somers missed a lot of opportunities to educate readers on some big issues. Tox-Sick is written to be provocative, yes, but it also toes the line on a number of topics that readers would benefit from knowing more about. One example is fluoride. Somers makes a point of telling readers to avoid fluoridated water, but doesn't go into any detail why; the mainstream audience that this book is intended for likely doesn't know much of anything about fluoride except what their dentist has been telling them for years. Another example is vaccines. Several times, either Somers or her interviewees allude to the toxins within vaccines, at one point even talking about how "over-vaccinating" has made us sicker. That's as far as this book dares to go, but there is still a lot left unsaid here, a lot that readers might be curious to know.
"Within hours of emerging from the womb, a newborn is given a dollop of antibiotics in the eyes, injected with the hepatitis B vaccine, with known neurotoxic properties, and jabbed with a vitamin K shot, which contains 9 mg of benzyl alcohol. In 1992, Golding published concerns that vitamin K injections could be associated with a doubled risk of malignant disease in children, particularly leukemia. While there have been considerable doubts about whether the association is coincidental or casual, the controversy has never been completely resolved."
All three of those "standard" newborn procedures are quite controversial. In some circles, anyway. This is just another missed opportunity to dig deeper.

In the end, though, Tox-Sick is a good read, packed with great information that will hopefully get people thinking and inspire them to take charge of their own health. The personal stories that Somers presents from her own family are heartbreaking, and the case studies from some of the doctors will give readers hope for their future. This is a great introduction to a number of issues that many don't even realize they're affected by. Here's hoping that Somers can help turn the tide.
"It's time for us to grow up and realize that nobody's going to save us; we've got to save ourselves. It's up to each of us to control the amount of our individual toxic exposures. To live and thrive, we need to truly think about every product we use and every bite of food we take."

*****
 
I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed within are completely my own.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Review: Punderdome


Puns are a way of life. For some people, anyway.

For some of us, the puns just flow. Puns about food, puns about jobs, puns about current events. If you fall into this category of people, a game like Punderdome is right up your alley.

This game is literally all about puns. Making them, laughing at them, judging which of them is funniest. The game play goes in rounds, with the person leading the round--the Prompter--changing each turn.Each round starts with a Quick Pun, which is simple Q&A style pun: "Why did Mozart and Bach get in trouble in school?" While a sample answer is provided ("They were caught passing notes."), players might be able to come up with something more creative.

The centerpiece of each round is the prompt section. The Prompter has two cards which each contain a single-subject prompt: pets, dieting, presidents, farting, putting on a play, facial hair. Each player than has 90 seconds to create a pun linking those two words together. The instructions offer advice for making puns for newbies, and there is also a card that contains examples for those who need an idea of how to combine topics.

So it's a simple game. The real question: is it fun? Heck yes it is! Well, if you're good at puns, it is. Or if you're just good at creative thinking. Or even if you're just opening to working on developing those punny skills. For many, it could very well take a few rounds of gameplay (or alcohol?) to get in the right mindset so that the puns are flowing. For others, this kind of wordplay is easy as pie. But Punderdome has the potential to be lots of fun for anyone who dares to give it a shot.

*****
 
I received this game from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed within are completely my own.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review: Against All Grain Celebrations

Paleo is a relatively new way of eating, and despite the abundance of blogs that have jumped on board with the idea, many who follow Paleo have a hard time with family get-togethers. This is all the more apparent at this time of year, with Thanksgiving and the winter holidays right around the corner.

 Blogger Danielle Walker has been there, and she knows exactly how you feel. Over the years that she's been running her blog, Against All Grain, Walker has shared all kinds of recipes that readers have utilized for birthdays, picnics, and holidays. In her new book, Danielle Walker's Against All Grain: Celebrations, she shares a diverse collection of tested and true recipes that are certain to help readers navigate any number of parties and, well, celebrations.

The book is organized by occasion, with each holiday or gathering offering a complete meal spread. Valentine's Day has ideas for fun, child-friendly foods (Cupid's Arrow Pancakes, Lunch Box Love) as well as a more adult dinner for two (Cabernet-Braised Short Ribs with Parsnip-Turnip Puree, Salted Caramel-Chocolate Panna Cotta). Baby showers, wedding showers, or other fun summer get-togethers can be celebrated with Lemon Lavender Bundt Cakes or Ahi Tartare on Taro Chips. There are plenty of different cake options for birthday parties, delicious BBQ recipes for a game-day cookout, and a Thanksgiving spread that features all the classics (Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Shallots; Smoky Candied Bacon Sweet Potatoes; Braised and Roasted Turkey; and, of course, three kinds of pie).

Every single recipe fits into a Paleo diet (although readers are always able to substitute ingredients as fits their individual eating habits). Every recipe is grain-free, gluten-free, and dairy-free; many are egg-free, nut-free, or nightshade-free, and a number of them can also be utilized by those who are following SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet) or GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet).

Readers are going to LOVE this cookbook! The instructions are all very straight-forward, there is extensive information about the ingredients Walker uses (for those who are unfamiliar), there is helpful information about ingredient substitution and making dishes ahead of time, and nutritional data is even available about every recipe on Walker's blog. Whether you are gluten-free, grain-free, or full-on Paleo, this book will make every holiday and family gathering so much easier.

*****
 
I received this game from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed within are completely my own.

Friday, February 3, 2017

An Rh Sensitized Pregnancy (Part 2)


It has long been a mantra of the natural birth birth community that "women's bodies aren't broken." And long have I subscribed to that idea, since I was pregnant with my son and even through both of my miscarriages.

Even now, I still believe it, at least in the sense it was originally intended. Our bodies do indeed know how to give birth, for the most part. When left to their own devices, most women with low-risk pregnancies will go into labor on their own, and given enough time and the right support, birth will eventually happen with no or minimal intervention.

The key word there, of course, is low-risk. More than halfway through a high-risk pregnancy, my perspective on the general not-brokenness of my body has changed.

Almost 26 weeks!

When your baby is in danger from your own body... When your own immune system views your baby as a threat that it may eventually do its best to eliminate... Well, excuse me if it feels sometimes like my body is indeed quite broken.

***

About three weeks ago, I missed a phone call from my doctor, and was rewarded with an ominous-sounding message: "I need to talk to you about your most recent titer test."

We all know that if the news had been benign, she would have just said so in the message. Heck, for most of my blood tests, I never received any kind of call at all, as my doctors apparently subscribed to the idea that no news is good news. So when I received a call regarding my latest blood test, and that call came not from a nurse or the most recent OB I had seen but from my perinatologist (high-risk doctor), you'll forgive me for immediately assuming the worst.

Well, it wasn't the worst, but it wasn't good, either. My titer--my blood antibodies against Rh(+) blood--had just jumped up. For the first few months of my pregnancy, those antibodies were barely detectable, and now they were suddenly in the range that meant I--and more importantly, my baby--required more intensive monitoring. My doctor immediately referred me to a new doctor at a new hospital, an hour away but where they had more experience dealing with Rhesus isoimmunization.

So a few days later, the whole family set off on a long morning drive to see someone new. I had another ultrasound, just as extensive as the typical "anatomy scan" already done at my normal hospital just a few weeks prior, and more bloodwork done, since apparently every new hospital wants to type my blood and establish their own baseline when it comes to my antibody count rather than just relying solely on the medical records they have received for me.

Then, we sat down to talk with the newest high-risk doctor on my team and to get an idea of what we could expect from here on out.

The current prognosis: baby is not in danger. Yet. But we will be monitoring her/him much more closely for the remainder of my pregnancy.

The current prescription: more ultrasounds. Lots more ultrasounds. Weekly ultrasounds.

Monitoring the MCA

It looks like, for the foreseeable future, I will be alternating between my "normal" hospital and the higher-risk hospital for those ultrasounds. Most of them will be rather quick and to-the-point, checking just a handful of things that may or may not indicate anemia:
  • The velocity of the blood flow through the medial cerebral artery (MCA), which is one of the arteries in the brain. If the blood is flowing too fast, it's an indication of the blood being too thin, which is a potential marker for anemia. It doesn't mean baby is suffering from anemia in and of itself, but as the doctor explained, there is a range considered normal; a faster blood while flow doesn't necessarily mean anemia, every baby he has encountered who had rhesus-disease-based anemia also had a blood flow that was above that average range.
  • Hydrops fetalis, or a buildup of excess fluid (edema) in at least two parts of the baby's body. The places the ultrasound technicians are looking are in the lungs, in the stomach, and around the baby's heart.
  • Swelling of baby's liver or spleen. The liver handles the decomposition of red blood cells; if my immune system is attacking the baby's blood and damaging baby's red blood cells, the liver will be working overtime to deal with the aftermath. An enlarged liver is a sign that baby's body is having a hard time keeping up with the damage my immune system is dishing out. Likewise, the spleen plays a role in disposing of old red blood cells, and an enlarged spleen can indicate that the spleen is working too hard to keep up with what's being demanded of it.
  • The amount of overall amniotic fluid. An excess of amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios) is another indicator that Rh disease is starting to become a problem.
Every ultrasound I get will be checking those things, and if the doctors see any combination of things to concern them, then I will potentially face more invasive procedures to verify if baby is actually suffering from anemia (via testing a sample of baby's blood taken from the umbilical cord), and then to treat baby (via intrauterine blood transfusions) if that is the case.

The good news is that, barring some sort of complication (there is approximately a 1% chance that, during an intrauterine blood transfusion, a problem will necessitate baby's immediate delivery), I will most likely be able to keep baby inside until she/he reaches term. If blood transfusions become necessary, they will have to happen every three weeks or so, but the doctor specified that they aim to time them so that the final one happens around 35/36 weeks; baby may still require induction if labor doesn't start on its own before 38/39 weeks (note that my son came at 37 and a half weeks entirely of his own volition, but every pregnancy and every baby is different, so who knows how long of a gestation this baby would choose if left to her/his own devices), but an induction at 38/39 weeks is infinitely preferable to an induction at 34 or 36 weeks, as I was initially told was a possibility.

My second high risk doctor doesn't seem interested in doing any further blood work; as he says, my titers are already up and so we will step up the monitoring in response, and it doesn't really change anything to know exactly what the titers are at in the future. On the other hand, my primary high risk doctor (who I will now be seeing for all future regular prenatal checkups, instead of OBs and nurses from the standard OB/GYN group) sees value in continuing to monitor my titers; while they're in a concern-causing range now, and have only gone up in the past few weeks, it would be a good sign if they either stabilized or started to decrease again. So it looks like I get to continue being a pincushion, but only part-time.

***

So we'll see how things go from here on out. Optimistically, ultrasounds will be the extent of baby's additional monitoring, everything will continue to look normal, and I'll be able to go into labor naturally and have the nice, normal birth I want. But that is far from a guarantee at this point. There's still a pretty high likelihood that induction will be necessary, and a slight chance still of a premature baby if complications occur at some point.

All in all, a high risk pregnancy is the pits. It's unpredictable and completely out of my control, which makes it that much more stressful for me; about the only thing I feel I have any control over at this point is keeping baby's sex a secret until birth, and even that is in danger should any individual ultrasound technician forget my wishes and reveal the sex during one of my many upcoming scans.. For the time being, I am trying to remain focused on my joy at having this baby in my uterus, my excitement at eventually getting to meet her/him, and the knowledge that I have a solid team of doctors overseeing my care and doing everything possible to ensure a healthy outcome.

That's about all I can do. Stay strong, little baby! We're more than halfway there!

***

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Review: Amazing Animal Facts

We all know that "adult" coloring books are all the rage right now.

But what about adult coloring... post cards?

Okay, so I've got to admit that I've seen a few different colorable postcard sets floating around, but none are quite as fun and informative as this new set from author, illustrator, and architect Maja Säfström. Amazing Animal Facts is a set of 50 collectable, colorable postcards based on her book, The Illustrated Compendium of Amazing Animal Facts. These fun postcards feature a wide variety of animals from the seas, forests, fields, jungles, and skies. Each card, printed on easily colorable uncoated card stock, has a lovely drawing of an animal and one or more facts about said animal.

For example, "Sloths are so slow that they grow green algae on their fur."

Or, "Kangaroos are the size of a kidney bean when they are born."

Or, "Shark moms lose their appetite before giving birth so they won't be tempted to eat their own babies!"

Oh, the things you will learn from this delightful set! Cute animals, fun trivia, and stress relief from coloring? What's not to love?!

In fact, chances are good that you won't want to send any of these postcards out; you'll want to just keep them in their cute recipe-collection-style box to refer to periodically, or to place them on an end table somewhere where guests can amuse themselves with fun new factoids. This is a fun set that is sure to delight lovers of animals, lovers of art, lovers of coloring books, lovers of trivia, and more.

***

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own!

Monday, January 16, 2017

2017 Reading Challenges


In 2017, I have decided to tackle three specific reading challenges, as well as one more open-ended option. I do a lot of reading, between reviewing for two websites (San Francisco Book Review and San Diego Book Review), writing for a digital magazine (Natural Mother Magazine), and occasionally writing about books here, on my personal blog.

Last year, I just assumed that the sheer number of books that I read would mean that all of the challenge categories would just line up for me. At the end of the year, I learned otherwise. So this year, I'll be making some more discerning choices when I select new review choices, and I may be seeking out some specific books at the library or for my Kindle.

This year, I also have the added challenge of an incoming newborn, who I am expecting in May or so. We'll see how much a new baby puts a damper on my reading aspirations.

Now, the challenges.

First off is Book Riot's 2017 Read Harder Challenge. (I didn't do too great on their 2016 challenge, so here's hoping I'm more successful this year!) This is only the third year of Book Riot's challenge, but it definitely promises to be the best one yet. There are 24 tasks on the list, with each one designed to help readers create a "perspective shift." With book spanning all kinds of genres and a wide variety of author categories, this one is sure to be fun... assuming I can fit more of the options into my reading list!

Second is the PopSugar Reading Challenge 2017, which I also attempted last year (see my 2016 challenge results here!). This year, there are 40 normal categories and 12 bonus categories, covering a wide variety of topics. Some have to do with authors, some with plot or genre, others with more fun things like what's on the cover. It's quite a list, though, so we'll see how far I get.

Then there's the Picture Book Reading Challenge, which I picked up from a book blog called Becky's Book Reviews. Seeing as my son is on a quest to read 1000 books in the next six months or so, this one was an obvious choice. Even when my son isn't in reading-machine mode, he still loves to read, so I imagine this one will be easily doable for us. I might need to use a little foresight and put some specific books on hold at the library, to make sure we hit specific authors and subjects, but that's easy enough, too.

The non-specific challenge I'm taking on is the Foodies Read 2017 challenge from SpiritBlog.net. This isn't an exact thing; instead of reading specific books, or even books that fit specific categories, readers/bloggers are to simply write and post reviews of books where food plays a major part. That can be cookbooks, novels set in restaurants or food-related settings, memoirs... anything where food is an important part of the book. And since I occasionally review cookbooks, I figure why not? Maybe it'll motivate me to get a cookbook review up here at least once a month; we'll see.


So that's my reading challenge agenda for 2017. What are you reading this year??

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Review: Wake Up to the Joy of You

It's a new year, and January is a time when many people make resolutions to make some big changes. Author Agapi Stassinopoulos is all for change, but rather than making potentially unobtainable resolutions, she advocates that this year be one of self-discovery, a year when we look inward to learn more about ourselves and, in the process, create the kind of life we really want.

Her newest book is Wake Up to the Joy of You, and it's a collection of meditations, thought-provoking questions, and simple life practices that can help readers change themselves for the better.

There are 52 chapters in this book, and each focuses on a specific theme. Each features a short(ish) reading about the topic, followed by either a guided meditation, simple practices readers can take to truly hold that message in their hearts, or both.

For example, one chapter urges readers to focus on worries, and how chronically worrying about things--especially things outside of your control--can lead to anxiety and fear; this reading is followed by a guided meditation to help readers let go of worry about things they cannot influence or change. Another chapter inspires readers to find their calling, to think about the things in life they are there to learn or teach, the challenges they must overcome, and more; this is followed by a short list of simple suggestions, including a journal prompt and a writing project to help readers fully visualize what their lives would look like if they could truly follow their calling.

This book is not one to be rushed through. Readers would do best to savor each chapter, to read one per week (or so) as suggested in a time and/or place where they can focus on what Stassinopoulos has to say and to truly take her words to heart. Readers will get even more out of the book if they take the time to actually do the guided meditations and/or attempt the activities she suggests.

Really, this is a gorgeous book. It's small and compact; it'll fit nicely on your bedside table, or in your handbag or backpack for a trip to your local coffee shop. Each chapter, peppered with personal anecdotes and quotes, is long enough to get readers thinking but not so lengthy that readers will find their minds wandering. The author's warmth shines through, and readers will get the sense that she really does care about the personal progress they're making.

Wake Up to the Joy of You promises a "calmer, happier life," and readers who work through the whole book are sure to discover the truth in that!

***

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Raising a Bibliophile

Several months after moving to Virginia, I finally got around to getting a local library card.

Okay, to be fair, I got a card for the local city library months ago. Bug and I have hit story time there a few times, and it's a cute library with a decent set of books. But we hadn't made it to the county library yet. The closest branch is actually right across the street (almost literally), but it's currently closed for renovations (reopening next summer or autumn), and I didn't figure out that there's a temporary branch open a block away until just a few weeks ago. And since I did discover that, it's just been too cold to go.

I know. Whine, complain. I'm serious, though; it's been in the 20s and 30s lately, and most of the time we don't have a car during the day, and there's no way I'm walking even a few blocks when the temperature is at freezing or below.

So. Anyway. We finally got a library card to the county library a few days ago, and when we were there, we heard about a new program they just started called 1000 Books Before Kindergarten, which is exactly what it sounds like. The goal is to read kids 1000 books before they start kindergarten. They don't all have to be different books, and you don't have to track every individual title. Instead, the librarian gives you a series of coloring sheets, if you will, which each have a certain number of butterflies on them. Kid colors in a butterfly for each book, and once you fill in a sheet, you take it to the library for a reward. There are different milestones to aim for: 100 books, then 250, 500, 750, and finally 1000.

Almost done with this sheet!

Theoretically, you sign up for the program after first having read 25 books. Considering the amount Bug and I read every day, I just signed up same day, because we've obviously read way more books than that over the course of his life so far. Parents can sign up even their little babies, so I figured we're covered.

Once I explained the premise to Bug, he got very excited. Because: prizes. Actually he took it as a personal challenge of sorts (which is guess *is* technically the point).

The result? We read more than 75 books over the past three days. Bug claimed his first reward this morning.

It's a magnet!

And there's no slowdown in sight.

Bug has always been a big reader, just like his mama. He has an overstuffed bookshelf in his bedroom, plus there are always other books rotating in and out of the house: review books; library books; new arrivals from bookstores or book sales or Paperback Swap coming in, other books we weren't too thrilled with heading out.

While we lived in both San Diego and the Sacramento area we hit story times nearly every week. Bug has participated in the Summer Reading Program every summer he's been alive (again, because: prizes). When I request new review books from one of the outlets I write for, I almost always ask for a few picture books for his sake (and before too much longer, he'll be able to start reviewing books himself!). We frequently buy books from library book sales and I can't walk into a regular bookstore without picking up at least one new selection for him. Bug obviously can't actually read to himself yet, but he enjoys having even longer stories read to him, including ones meant for 2nd and 3rd graders. He's got a short attention span for most things, but he'll happily bring me book after book after book. We can read for hours on any given day.

So a challenge like this is really not pushing us to do anything new. We're already big fans of books. But it is bringing out Bug's competitive spirit, and it's giving us something specific to work for.

Just another way I'm working to raise a book lover, I suppose. Bug loves being active, playing board games, being wild outside, watching cartoons, and doing other normal almost-five-year-old things. But it's very important to me that he not only appreciates books, but that he love them. Books are amazing tools, and I dearly want my son to grow to love them the way I do. And programs like this are a fun way to motivate him to do something he already enjoys.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Mid-Pregnancy-ish Update: Similarities & Differences



Sometimes, I don't even know how to properly label this pregnancy.

Whenever I tell someone I'm expecting another baby, or whenever they notice my little bump, they always ask what number it is. Is it your second? they'll ask, eyeing Bug nearby. Well no, it's not. Technically, this is my fourth pregnancy. Fourth. But things get murky because Bug is my only living baby, and lots of people don't really recognize miscarriages as actual pregnancies. Or they like to pretend that since the baby never was born, not in a traditional sense anyway, that it never existed.

I don't like glossing over my losses; they were real; those babies existed, if only for a short time physically, although forever in my heart. My decision to openly acknowledge the pregnancies I lost tends to make people uncomfortable. Or maybe they just don't know what to say. Either way, I find myself in an awkward position; I'm not fishing for sympathy when I mention my miscarriages, but I also don't want to pretend that there was only nothingness between Bug and now.

Fourth pregnancy, second baby? Simply say this will be my second living baby? I feel like I'm jinxing myself when I say that. Even now, more than halfway through the pregnancy, I find myself not wanting to believe that this is all real. Unable to believe. I likely won't believe until I'm holding this baby in my arms. I may sound morbid, but there's still no guarantee that a living baby lies at the end of this journey. Any woman who has suffered a loss can understand the fears that underlie an otherwise healthy pregnancy.

***

It's hard to really contrast this pregnancy with any of my others. Bug was born so long ago now, nearly five years, and I honestly have a hard time remembering what my pregnancy with him was like. As for my other two pregnancies, I found myself comparing this one to them and contrasting at every turn. As much as I don't like to admit it, part of me was trying to avoid doing anything wrong, making any mistakes, doing anything that might increase my risk of another miscarriage. Even though I know, intellectually anyway, that neither one of those losses was my fault, I still couldn't help but wonder if I could do things better this time around, somehow.

I found myself comparing pregnancy symptoms and discomforts. I remember being really nauseous when I was pregnant with Bug, for pretty much my entire first trimester. I also dealt with nausea during my second pregnancy, the one I lost at 12 weeks. I had none with the third, but that one lasted only six weeks. So when I started feeling sick a few weeks in with this one, what did it mean? What about the exhaustion I started feeling as I inched closer to that 12 week mark? How much was pregnancy-related and how much was simply from running around after my son?

There have been other interesting comparisons as well. With Bug, I broke out like crazy toward the end of my first trimester. I constantly had pimples around my mouth and on my chin. Some people told me that was a clear sign I would be having a boy (old wives' tale, of course, although I did indeed end up with a son), while others simply reminded me of the amount of extra hormones my body was producing. This time around, my face remains clear as can be. Does that mean I'm having a girl? Does it have anything to do with my diet (I was lacto-ovo vegetarian when I was pregnant with Bug, but I've been fully vegan for a year and a half now)? Is it simply a case of every pregnancy is different?

When I was pregnant with Bug, I didn't really have much in the way of food cravings. I did have a few aversions--tea, chocolate. Contrary to what some predicted, meat continued to gross me out (a few people told me I'd surely start craving it). If I craved anything, it was greasy things: breakfast sandwiches (I had all but eschewed eggs for a long time before that), french fries, other fried potatoes.

This pregnancy so far is much the same. I stopped drinking tea a few weeks in; my body apparently knows that caffeine is a no-go, and I don't even want herbal tea, although I drink it sometimes anyway. My aversion to chocolate isn't as strong as it was with Bug, but I still haven't voluntarily eaten a brownie in a long time, I can't handle hot cocoa, and I stopped buying myself the high quality dark chocolate bars I used to indulge in. About the most chocolate I can handle now is the occasional chocolate chip cookie. As for cravings, I don't know that I really have any of those either. Nothing so bad that I want to send D out in the middle of the night in order to achieve satisfaction. I've been wanting potatoes on occasion (french fries again, and I find myself making fried potatoes frequently in the mornings), tater tots. I have wanted onion rings a few times. I definitely find myself gravitating toward salty rather than sweet these days, but for the most part, I'm still eating the same overall-healthy plant-based diet as I was eating pre-pregnancy.

***

When I was pregnant with Bug, I exercised consistently throughout my first trimester. I was running three or four miles at a time, lifting weights, attending cardio kickboxing-type classes, swimming. I started to taper off sometime during my second trimester, for various reasons related to scheduling and energy levels. I did yoga for the duration of pregnancy number two, and I honestly can't remember if I had started regular exercise again (or not) for number three.

By the time I got pregnant with this baby, I had been well settled into a regular routine, switching primarily between several workout DVD sets and an at-home yoga practice. I continued exercising for the first few weeks after my positive test, but I have to admit that I fell out of practice soon after. Even though I know, know that exercise does not cause miscarriages, that irrational fear was definitely part of the reason why I quit. Other reasons included nausea and exhaustion.

Once I had gotten past the first twelve weeks, the most scary part for me, and been in for a regular doctor appointment where I could verify that baby was still alive and well (there's that morbidity again), I started exercising again. And for the most part, I've managed to stick with it. I've been exercising 4-6 times per week, sticking with a mixture of yoga and my workout DVDs (modified as necessary, of course; avoiding pretty much all abdominal and back-lying exercises at this point, and focusing more on yoga and strength than on cardio) and occasionally trying out videos I find on YouTube or apps on my phone.

Pretty much every book I've read on prenatal fitness (and trust me, I've read a lot of them) indicates that there are myriad benefits to staying fit throughout pregnancy. At this point, now that my baby has a consistently strong heartbeat and I can feel him/her moving frequently, I am beyond my fear of somehow damaging my baby. Instead, I'm focusing on this as one aspect of the pregnancy that I have complete control over. Being Rh sensitized means that there are many things I likely don't have control over--where I give birth, some of the tests I will have to endure, certain hospital procedures, not to mention the possibility of induction if things get bad--but I can control how healthy my body is and do everything in my power to ensure strong muscles, a centered mind, and--hopefully--a good birth (even if there's a possibility neither I nor baby may get to decide when that will be).

***

In the mommy groups I'm in on FB, lots of women ask when others first felt their baby move. To be perfectly honest, I don't remember when I started feeling Bug move. I really don't. Pregnancies two and three never got that far. This baby, though, I've been feeling since I was about eleven weeks.

Eleven weeks! But I was afraid to tell D for days, in case I was imagining it, and I didn't mention it to anyone else for some time either. They were only the lightest flutters, but I felt them. And continued to feel them through and beyond my subsequent prenatal appointments. And even so, only I could feel them; it's only within the past few weeks that anyone (meaning, D and Bug) has been able to feel them by placing a hand on my belly.

By this point, though, those movements are pretty strong. Strong enough that they keep me awake at night sometimes. Strong enough that I can't concentrate on other things sometimes because I'm just so in awe of the life inside me. Strong enough that I can't fall asleep at night because I just want to lie awake and revel in the fact that this baby is still with me.

At roughly halfway through the pregnancy, I have a respectable baby bump, too. I also don't remember how fast my bump grew with Bug, other than to say that I remained relatively small throughout. My bump now isn't huge, but it's big enough to get in the way when I do yoga and to make it hard to sleep.

***

Roughly halfway done. Here's hoping the rest of this pregnancy goes as smoothly as the first part has gone.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

PopSugar Ultimate (2016 Reading Challenge)


Finally, challenge #3 for 2016. PopSugar's Reading Challenge 2016 aimed to help dedicated readers broaden their scopes and included an interesting variety of categories.With 40 different categories, this was definitely the most extensive of the ones I attempted.

Of course, I only managed to hit 22 of those 40 categories. Not a bad haul, but next year I aim to do better. 

The moral of this challenge? Well, I guess I kind of thought that by reading a ton of books as a reviewer, all of these categories would just sort of fall into place. Clearly, that's not the case. I tend to read a lot of non-fiction (specifically books on parenting, pregnancy, and natural living, as well as cookbooks), modern/popular fiction, and young adult novels (guilty pleasure). So when it comes to hitting specific marks like in this challenge and the other two I attempted in 2016, I fell short. 

In 2017, I plan to try a little harder to expand my horizons. Going to request some review books I otherwise might not have asked to read, and maybe pick up some others from the library or for my Kindle to read in between.

Anyway, here's PopSugar's list. Take a look!

[X] A book based on a fairy tale
Immortal's Spring - Molly Ringle (this is kind of a stretch, as it's loosely based on Greek mythology, but I'll run with it)

[  ] A National Book Award winner
Failed

[X] A YA bestseller
The Rest of Us Just Live Here - Patrick Ness

[  ] A book you haven’t read since high school
Failed

[  ] A book set in your home state
Failed. Maybe? There's a good chance I read a book set in California, but I can't remember which one.

[X] A book translated to English
Megalopolis - Cléa Dieudonné (yes, yes, I know, using a children's picture book for this category is a bit of a cop-out, but it is a translation!)

[  ] A romance set in the future
Failed

[X] A book set in Europe
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper - Phaedra Patrick

[X] A book that’s under 150 pages
My son started to get into early chapter books this year, books that took us hours to read aloud, and many of those were under 150 pages.

[X] A New York Times Bestseller
Career of Evil - Robert Galbraith

[  ] A book that’s becoming a movie this year
Failed

[X] A book recommended by someone you just met
The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern

[X] A self-improvement book
A Plant-Based Life - Micaela Cook-Karlsen

[X] A book you can finish in a day
Best Friends Forever - Kimberla Lawson Roby

[X] A book written by a celebrity
Tox-Sick - Suzanne Somers

[  ] A political memoir
Failed

[X] A book at least 100 years older than you
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

[X] A book that’s more than 600 pages
America's First Daughter - Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie

[  ] A book from Oprah’s Book Club
Failed

[X] A science-fiction novel
And Again - Jessica Chiarella

[  ] A book recommended by a family member
Failed... going to have to start asking around!

[X] A graphic novel
Something New - Lucy Knisley

[X] A book that is published in 2016
DONE - almost every book I read in 2016 was published in 2016!

[?] A book with a protagonist who has your occupation
 I'm *sure* that at least one of the books I read had a mother or a writer for a main character...

[X] A book that takes place during summer
Summer of Supernovas - Darcy Woods

[  ] A book and its prequel
Failed

[X] A murder mystery
Silent in the Grave - Deanna Raybourne

[  ] A book written by a comedian
Failed

[  ] A dystopian novel
I know I read at least one of these, but I already used it on another list. I think that for 2017, I may do away with my no-doubling-up-between-challenges rule.

[X] A book with a blue cover
The Opposite of Everyone - Joshilyn Jackson

[  ] A book of poetry
Failed - not much of a poetry fan

[  ] The first book you see in a bookstore
Failed - I usually don't buy books for myself. Weird.

[  ] A classic from the 20th century
Failed

[X] A book from the library
Ghost Boy - Martin Pistorius

[X] An autobiography
Laughing Through Life - Larry Moran

[  ] A book about a road trip
Failed

[X] A book about a culture you’re unfamiliar with
A Sworn Virgin - Kristopher Dukes

[  ] A satirical book
Failed

[  ] A book that takes place on an island
Failed

[X] A book that’s guaranteed to bring you joy
The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy - Beau North