Friday, October 23, 2015

Finding My Parenting Groove

Yes, it's true that parents of newborn are going to have interrupted sleep for a significant period of time. It's also true that we will become insanely preoccupied with baby's needs. It's the grey areas of when and how nurture that have kept me second-guessing myself from the beginning. All the well-meaning advice and enticing books and blogs on the subject only make it harder to find my way.

The Ameri-centric information I have read and received is strongly supportive of some type of sleep training. Whether it's as strict as "crying-it-out" or as loose as a general routine, it seems that Americans are obsessed with making sense of and gaining some control over the madness. Although I'm not entirely sure where I stand, I don't feel comfortable adhering to a course of action dictated by my needs rather than Bug's (which I feel underlies many of these methods). I didn't sign up to be parent except between the hours of 7pm to 7am. This is a full-time job.

Before Bug was born, the idea of a schedule sounded great. As a teacher, I know that routines and predictability really help with classroom management and productivity. However, now that Bug is here, there is no way I am sticking to feeding and sleep at strict intervals. First, if my baby is crying, I am going to feed him whether it is at a "suitable" time or not. Second, I don't believe my own life has to end just because I had a baby. It seems very American to lock yourself inside and not leave until your baby is two years old, but plenty of other cultures just bring baby along. That doesn't mean I take Bug out partying all night, but if a coffee date falls during his nap time, I just stick him in the pram and head out. I think that keeping myself fulfilled socially helps me be a better mom. There are always exemptions; for example, I skipped a date this morning because Bug had just gone down and I didn't have the heart to wake him.

Especially since I've hired a nanny for Bug and want to make sure she knows my expectations, I've been tracking his feeds and sleeps to see if any patterns are emerging. Only recently have time and length of naps begun to stabilize, but eating patterns have been hard to identify because nursing is a bond we share for both eating and soothing. I was starting to feel like a bad mom for not putting him on a schedule sooner. I tried a few times to follow the "EASY" (eat, activity, sleep, you time) routine but deviated when Bug was hungry at the "wrong" time or I went out to run errands and messed it all up. Admittedly, this routine did help me in the very beginning when I was still learning to identify Bug's hunger and sleepy cues. I wasn't following it really, just using it to help see what he might be needing. Another mom a few months ahead of me helped put things into perspective. Was I feeding him when hungry? Was I putting him down when tired? Was he happy and well-adjusted? Yes to all. So stop worrying.

But I worry so well. If I'm not doing sleep training or a set schedule, what am I doing?

I've always had a bit of a hippy-dippy side, so attachment parenting resonates with me. Essentially, this style of parenting means that the baby is worn in a close-contact carrier for much of the day, where he can breastfeed and snooze as needed. Sounds very African to me, although it is done here out of necessity rather than to make a statement. It makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, since humans have not changed biologically as fast as they have socially. Infants are meant to be held close and tended to around the clock. It regulates their body temperature and heart rate, and in the wilderness would have kept them safe from harm. Today it allows moms to keep working and bring their infants along (as with many Mozambican service workers or when I need to make breakfast). 

As great as it sounds, attachment parenting isn't realistic for me as I will be going back to work soon and cannot wear Bug all day. I also fear that that much codependence could backfire. I am an American after all; independence is at the core of our culture. Isolating babies in strollers and putting them in their own bedrooms at shockingly young ages is considered good parenting. I've learned that other cultures do not. So I use a stroller but face Bug towards me, and we change his diapers and play in his bedroom so it is familiar when the time does come to move him there. I think it's wonderful to "wear" him for a bit, and the nanny agrees, as it's very Mozambican to "nenecar" (literally to wear the baby in a carrier). We've decided that putting him in the "neneca" (carrier) is best in the afternoons when Bug gets fussy yet resists his nap. However, I don't want her wearing him for the whole day, and I do want him to be able to sleep in the crib. (I've spoken with moms here whose little ones have a hard time falling asleep in the crib because they are used to being carried and sleeping on their nannies all day.) It's important for babies to develop some independence. Bug actually enjoys playing alone in his crib, knowing one of us is supervising nearby. He also needs to learn to self-regulate. What is he feeling? What does he need? If I just jump to feed him every time he fusses, he won't learn to identify and eventually articulate these things.

That being said, I am quite uncomfortable with the various types of crying-it-out I've heard and read about, both because I don't believe it's good for my baby and because I could never endure the torture of of hearing him cry and not tending to him. A counter argument that makes a lot of sense to me is that when babies are left alone to cry-it-out, their cortisol levels shoot up, which makes them highly stressed and susceptible to internal physical and psychological harm. I don't care what the most popular book is calling it or saying about it, I'm not dong it. That doesn't mean I run to his crib at every fuss. I wait and listen. For example, he tends to whimper when he changes positions or loses his pacifier. Sometimes I put the pacifier back in and sometimes I don't. The books all say not to, but I make the decision on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes he fusses between sleep cycles but quickly falls back to sleep. Other times his nappy is wet, he is hungry, or he feels lonely and wants to be picked up. Those times, I go to him. He needs to know that I will be there for him. It isn't always clear when I should sooth or let him work it out. For example, he recently began rolling over and fusses when he startles himself or gets his arm stuck underneath. Do I help him so he settles back to sleep quickly, or do I wait so he can learn how to fix the problem himself? 

As with everything else, it's about balance. And intuition.

There is an underlying anxiety that if I don't do certain things my baby will...I don't know...not grow up healthy and happy? But those certain things are abundant and conflicting. I'm glad to have read so many books and blogs since I initially had no clue what I was doing. Science is always interesting -- and always changing. So it's good to consider but is not the green light for every choice. Sometimes I need to step away from the computer, put down the book, and just be with my kid. When I stop and listen to him, and to my instincts, I know we are doing just fine. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Breastfeeding Blues

I absolutely love nursing. For hundreds of reasons from nutrition to bonding. I hold no judgment for moms who choose or need to give their babies formula; it's a very personal choice. But for me, I am 100% dedicated to breastfeeding the Bug for as long as I possibly can. This has been a long journey already, and I am not a quitter!

As with many of the hardships of pregnancy, birth and raising a newborn, many of the details are forgotten once the immediacy passes. It has been the same with breastfeeding for me. I can intellectually recall the ups and downs of the initial process, but the emotional and physical intensity of it all is quickly getting lost in a fog of sleep-deprivation. With so many friends getting pregnant now, I want to document the experience while I still remember!

During my pregnancy, I read numerous books and even took a breastfeeding class from an American nurse who works part time between our school and the embassy. Interjection: This woman is incredibly -- she was also our doula. Anyway, I was determined to breastfeed. Then in middle of labor, during transition no less, my doctor exclaims, "You didn't tell me you have flat nipples! Nursing is will be hard for you." So I am breathing through contractions and she begins plucking at said nipples. Way to keep it positive, Doctor.

Flat nipples? It's not like I've seen that many others to really know the difference. Nor did I get the immediate post-birth skin-to-skin opportunity that I'd dreamed of to even try and nurse. Labor ended in Cesarian, Bug was whisked away to the NICU for oxygen and antibiotics, and I was left alone, paralyzed in the recovery area trying not to freak out. So much for the drug-free, oxytocin-induced euphoric bond I had hoped for.

I didn't actually get to see Bug until the next day. I was going crazy. Finally, the nurse took him out of the oxygen tent, handed him to me, provided a plastic chair to sit in, and instructed me to nurse. Nothing happened. Of course nothing happened. My baby was dazed and full of drugs, we had been separated, and hello people, have you heard of colostrum? As predicted, Bug did have a hard time latching because my nipples did not draw out are far as they needed to. But I kept pumping to stimulate milk flow, and we kept trying.

I do not know how many people grabbed my breasts over the next two days with conflicting advice on how to hold him or position myself. At one point, Brian went to the pharmacy to purchase nipple guards so Bug could have a quasi-nipple. Thankfully a gentle night nurse came in and told me not to bother with those, and that we were doing fine. She gave me a huge boost when I needed it.

Bug and I had a big breakthrough on our second night together (his third alive). Late that evening, we were snuggling skin-to-skin in the dark and Bug's nursing instinct finally kicked in. Just like I had imagined our first feeding after birth would would have been. I was reclined with him on my tummy, and he began to squirm. He rooted his head side to side and used his little legs to inch up my chest. The journey culminated with him face-planting on my nipple and suckling ferociously. All I did was help him keep balanced and make sure he could breath while face down. Maintaining the latch was tricky (and would continue to be for a few more days), but we did it!

Throughout our time in the hospital, the pediatrician kept coming in to check if I had milk yet. Um, you work in a maternity ward, don't you know that is not immediate? Apparently the doctors and nurses were not up to date on the necessity for and small quantity of colostrum that can sustain a baby in the first few days. He was not even two days old and they were pressuring me to give him formula or sugar water. Sugar water? What decade do we live in? I kept resisting until the next day when I agreed to give him formula with a syringe. Everything I read said absolutely do not give the baby a bottle or nipple confusion will ensue. I had enough issues with latching to not even go down that road. I knew in my heart that Bug was just fine, but they had sent my into a downward worry spiral. So the nurse brought in a syringe with 20 mL of formula and shamed me when I returned it after he had eaten 7 mL. I knew, and confirmed with my doula, that 7 mL was more than enough for feeding a three day old.

There were other issues at the hospital, but in the end Bug latched and we were both well enough to go home. My milk came in and he was eating around the clock. Latching was still tricky, so I was doing a few things to draw out my nipples, such as using an empty syringe or pumping for a few minutes before feeding. This on top of his constant un- and re-latching made my nipples so chapped and sore. I cringed before each feed and used deep breathing to make it through the pain. It felt like Bug was rubbing sandpaper across my chest rather than lovingly suckling. On the plus side, I never cracked or bled.

Let's just say he ate his weight in lanolin those first few weeks! Ultimately, I discovered that my nipples don't really love lanolin, so I switched to coconut oil. Fine by me, I am kindda crazy about putting coconut oil on/in everything; however, it was a little too thin for this particular use, so I also used olive oil, which felt amazing. The key to happy nipples is keeping them smothered in oil.

Nipple pain stopped around week six, and Bug and I eventually got so good at nursing that we could do it anywhere. Cafes, grocery stores, walking down the street, even running through the airport. He and I are an awesome team. Well, actually, Bug, BRIAN and I are an awesome team. My husband was (and still is) always there to encourage me, hand me my phone, or make sure I am hydrated. He also still often takes Bug to burp him after feeds so I can have a break. Eventually I was producing enough milk to began my pumping regimen, and the freezer quickly filled up.

Everything was going fantastically until we went to visit family and began experimenting with bottles. Brian had been successfully bottle-feeding him before bed each night using freshly pumped milk. However, while in the US, I needed to build up a stock so multiple people could experience feeding him...and I could actually have a beer or two :-) I accumulated several bottles of milk over a few days and tasted one to make sure it was still fresh. YUCK! Others agreed it tasted off, but I was confused because breast milk should last a lot longer than three days. I got on the internet and discovered that my milk might have a higher amount of an enzyme called lipase. This enzyme breaks down fats in the milk to help the baby digest it, and over time it may lead to a metallic taste. Unfortunately, refrigerating or freezing does not stop the process. Once we returned home, I defrosted and tasted milk of various dates from my three month stockpile, and they were all gross. The milk technically isn't spoiled and thus is safe to give to the baby if he'll drink it. Sadly, Bug's tastebuds are too discerning. He said, "No thank you."

The only way to stop the lipase from doing it's job so quickly is to scald the milk immediately after pumping (or as soon after as possible). Since there is no milk bank (which will still take the milk, I've read) here in Mozambique, I am going to have to throw it out. I tried mixing old milk with fresh milk, but Bug wasn't having it. So now I have to develop a new plan since I go back to work in four weeks. Bug will take milk that is one or two days old, so I will need to stay a few days ahead of schedule. Additionally, I  need to start over with my frozen stock by scalding before I freeze. The catch? Bug is growing like crazy and drink every drop that I currently produce. So time to chug fenugreek tea, eat oats with almonds every day, and sneak in pumping sessions where I can to convince my body to produce more milk. Is it ideal? Not at all. But I am committed to exclusive breastfeeding, so I accept this latest twist in the journey.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Mixed Feelings

Today is the first day of school...for Brian. I am still on maternity leave. I have gone to work, bringing Bug, a few times in the past week to help set up my classroom and meet with the substitute and my teaching assistant for planning. I even went yesterday for the new student orientation. But today I stay home.

A bit of adult interaction each day has been fantastic; I've needed it. But honestly, if I didn't have to work, I don't think I would go back. At least not until Bug and his future siblings were school-aged. Don't get me wrong, I do love my job. It is incredibly fulfilling. The students are little bundles of love and wonder, and I am always challenged to grow professionally. However, my priorities have completely shifted. Quiet snuggly mornings, silly playtime and intimate nursing are what I live for right now.

In reality, I will have to return to work in a very short five weeks. Both of us working affords our spacious apartment in the center of the city and all our amazing travels. Neither of which I am willing to give up. And I will probably need a life that entails more than wearing pjs all day, changing diapers every two hours and babbling in gibberish. So in preparation for that big event, we have hired a nanny. Yesterday was her first day. Before I had children, I thought I would be a laid back parent. Now, the thought of leaving Bug with someone who isn't family is terrifying. I know it is necessary, for many reasons, but I need a little more time. So we've brought the nanny on half time until I return to work. This allows all of us to get to know one another, and for me to model Bug's daily care and watch her with him.

Did my heart ache as I watched her rock my baby to sleep? Absolutely. Did Bug take to her gentle and caring ways immediately? Yup. I wouldn't have hired her if he didn't. So this is just going to be a process. He is in good hands, and I need to have a life outside my baby. Am I looking forward to leaving him on my first day of work? Heck no.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Fast Forward

Welcome table at our stateside reception
Yoo hoo. It's me again! Two years down the road, Brian and I had a fabulous wedding fiesta in December 2013 and a stateside celebration in July 2014. We've been nesting in Maputo since August 2013. Lots of African adventures under our belt -- to name a few: camping in Kruger, wild animal encounters, daily off-roading in our 4x4, rustic beach getaways, moving out of the burbs and into the city...and HAVING A BABY!

Ellies at Kruger Park.

Yes, Brian and I are officially parents. Our little guy, nicknamed Bug, was born in May 2015. After lots of wishy-washing we decided to deliver him here in Mozambique rather than crossing the border and dealing with passport and visa bureaucracies at embassies in South Africa. Many expats said we were "brave" (polite for "crazy"?), but really I felt safe and any negative aspects of the experience were not surprises. Oh, except for the cesarian after 16 hours of unmedicated natural labor. Or Bug's overnight NICU stay for oxygen and antibiotics. But those things could have happened anywhere, and it's all in the past now. I'm mending. Bug is healthy and happy. Brian is, as always, our calm eye in any storm.

Maputo cityscape
Life is not only's amazing. I'm so happy that I'm actually afraid to admit it. So I've uncovered my Achilles heel -- not feeling worthy of such happiness. Thanks to Brian, I've already tackled the hurdle of not feeling worthy enough for genuine love and am working on uncovering my authentic self. As if having a baby wasn't enough of a growth experience (literally and spiritually!), now I'm signing up for a little more self-love bootcamp. Parenting and self-improvement...this could be an interesting combo!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Jumping In

Apologies for the long absence after my promise to be a dedicated blogger. In the last three weeks: (a) my boyfriend Brian almost died of heatstroke in a rural Vietnamese hospital after running in a 10k where the race company ran out of water halfway through, (b) we interviewed and accepted jobs at a school in Maputo, Mozambique, and (c) we got engaged and are planning a wedding for this December!

If you're gonna jump in, jump in ALL the way :-)

Lots of updates and recipes to come on delicious smoothies I've invented. But for for now I will give you the engagement story.

I am definitely not a morning person. Capitalizing on that, Brian decided it would be a fabulous idea to wake me up and propose to me on Monday morning. From what I remember, it was very special. Apparently, my answer was, "What??? Brian?!?!" He continued, "Is that a yes?" And I finally responded, "Of course!" Then I proceeded to administer two shots to his leg as part of his medical recovery. And here we are.

He used a pearl ring that my grandfather gave my grandmother in the 1940s when they lived in Japan. While I absolutely love this ring and it means the world to me, we will most likely switch it when we return to the US in July for a diamond ring from the same time period that belonged to his great aunt.

My family was already planning a Christmas trip to Puerto Vallarta, so we are thinking of piggy backing on that, inviting his family to join us, and whipping together an intimate ceremony. Yes, I recognize this is crazy to plan in seven months. BUT we are not going to be able to plan anything that is not a destination wedding while living in Africa. The beauty of this situation is that everything is planned via emails with wedding planners who are experienced in not having brides on site, and we show up to a fantastic party. I know it will be more work than that, but it seems like the easiest way to have a lovely experience with our families with minimal stress. I will certainly keep everyone posted as to how this evolves.

For now...I am tingling with excitement about being engaged and embarking on this new, African adventure with the best partner on the planet. <3 br="">

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Blender Bender

That's right, I'm on a bender! It's smoothies, smoothies, smoothies. I can't get enough. I'm throwing all kinds of weird stuff in there: spinach, cucumbers, mint, apples, mangoes, papaya, bananas, celery, lime juice, green tea, almond milk. I've got ginger, fennel, parsley and green beans just waiting for me to get even crazier. Slowly letting go of sweet fruit comforts and gearing up to try some savory concoctions.

I want to share recipes and pictures of my experiments, but will mostly share pre-blended ingredients rather than resulting drinks...because...well, the colors are not too appealing. Maybe I'll get better at appearances once I get the hang of the flavors, but I can assure you that they are delicious and give such a vitamin buzz when imbibed. And since I'm not doing a total deprivation detox here--just a slight lifestyle adjustment--I will be revealing a guilt-free watermelon martini recipe.

Before I get into ingredient combos, however, I will give some basic tips.

*Blending versus juicing. There are camps that advocate for one over the other. I am blending because I am not prepared to buy a juicer right now. I'm not to concerned about which is better nutritionally because they both are better than not having any fresh food at all.

*Best blender. Dedicated green smoothie bloggers swear by either the Blendtec or Vitamix brands of blenders. I wish either were available in Vietnam, but alas, I will have to wait until this summer to purchase one in the U.S. Future update to come on which I decide to buy and how deeply I fall in love with it. I'm currently using my Phillips blender, and it's working fine. I have only had problems with the motor when making cashew butter or almond milk, but it's still alive and spinning.

*Order of ingredients. For best preservation of the motor, it's best to blend liquid and softest ingredients first and then add firmer fruit and veggies one at a time. If the blades aren't catching, just jiggle the machine or add more liquid.

Don't be afraid to experiment! If the result is not so tasty, just hold your nose and rejoice in all the healthy things you are putting into your body

Apple, Celery, Cucumber, Watermelon, Aloe and Lime

1/2 C water
1 apple sliced
2 stalks celery
1 cucumber in chunks
watermelon (2 servings?)
juice of 2 limes
1-2 TBS aloe gel

 Aloe is a bit of a bitter taste, but it can be masked by sweet fruit. I don't mind it, but my boyfriend hates it. I keep a whole aloe leaf in the fridge and cut two inch chunks for smoothies. If you've never worked with the leaf before, just cut away the outside green part (never eat this or your intestines will be very unhappy!), then toss the clear gel into your blender. I keep the green scraps in refrigerated for a few days and rub the gooey side on acne spots, bug bites, and sunburns. Individual aloe leaves are super cheap and widely available in SE Asia, and I used to have a huge aloe plant in Virginia.

I've spent enough time fiddling with html as I try to make this blog pretty, so it's time for bed. But stay tuned for several more smoothie recipes tomorrow.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Spring Healing

I love that my birthday falls in the spring. April is such a refreshing month of new beginnings. This year there was a full "pink" moon and a partial eclipse on the night of my birth, and I was definitely feeling all that intense energy. I dabble in New Age-y stuff and was directed to some interesting celestial commentary by beautifully tuned in yogi, Michelle Lloyd. I've been feeling stagnant lately and carrying some heavy emotions, so I was interested to read on Depali Desai's site: "The issues, emotions and things arising around the time of the Full Moon/Lunar Eclipse in Scorpio at 5° 46′ on April 25th, 2013 may feel highly “cause and effect” oriented. Deep, intense, powerful rush of emotions and swelling up of a core issue that requires healing is very likely."

And from Molly Hall: "Eclipses can sometimes be destabilizing in some way. But breaking apart could be the very thing that leads to true healing, inner treasure or solid footing."

Healing. Yes please!

But healing is not passive. It's spiritual, psychological, emotional, and physical. I'm approaching it from all angles. And I've got a plan. Detox, meditation, journaling, yoga, and exercise.

The Food Matters 7 Days in May Green Juice ChallengeFirst step - Detox. Whole food, fresh juices to replace breakfast, lunch, and snacks.Well-balanced dinners without meat but maybe a little seafood. Wheat-free, as usual. And dairy-free as much as possible. Motivation and juice recipes from Food Matters  Green Juice Challenge. There's tons of stuff out there about how to make green juices. More on that later :-)

 Second step - Meditation and journaling. Since I took some kundalini classes from the amazing Sharon Cassius at Atmanjai Detox Center in Thailand in February, I've been very interested in the power of pranayama and mantra. I just finished reading Healing Mantras by the late Thomas Ashley-Farrand and chose a specific mantra to begin my healing journey. More details to come, but I will say that after reciting it for even a few minutes, I am compelled to journal all kinds of issues and emotions that arise.

Third step - Yoga. I've been attending a wonderfully grounding yin practice with the incredibly intuitive Daphne Chua every Monday. What a way to start my week!

Fourth step - Exercise. This has been the hardest part for me. Working out was my life ever since I was a kid. Gymnastics and cheerleading took up all my free time and there was nothing else I would rather do. As an adult, I find the gym so boring. And without a competition to prepare for or a team relying on me, I struggle to stay committed. On top of that, lingering lower back, hip, and leg injuries always seem to get in the way. I met with a physical therapist and learned how to better stabilize my lower core and back muscles, but I'm on my own for rehab. I've been swimming, taking Zumba, and attempting some slow jogs, but not consistently. plus, I'm really missing the strength training element. I have an appointment today with a new boutique gym in my neighborhood, so hopefully something will come of that.