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Archive for January, 2007

I just stumbled across George Will’s column in Newsweek. Never heard of the guy, but I read it thanks to the topic, which is prenatal screening and Down Syndrome. I suspect I wouldn’t much like Will, based on his line: “this era of the casual destruction of pre-born babies.” As someone who is strongly pro-choice, the term ‘pre-born’ raises flags. And yet, I can understand his distress over the abortion of children with Down Syndrome, or Trisomy 21.

I was 35 when I became prengnat with Boo, which automatically put me in the category of recommended screening. Everyone just assumed that, as I’d hit that magical number, I’d have an amnio to check for genetic abnormalities, Down Sydrome being the main one. But with Maya and Asher, I’d had pre-term contractions. They never actually turned into pre-term labour, thankfully, but my doctor and subsequently midwife, told me I had an ‘irritable uterus’. (Made sense really – the rest of me was damn irritable during pregnancy, why not my uterus as well?)

What no one could tell me was if my irritable uterus was more likely to eject it’s contents if someone stuck a needle in there. As it is, amnios carry a small but not insignificant risk of miscarriage, which completely freaked me out. Boo was a surprise, but once she was on her way, I was desperate to keep her (I was completely, irriationally convinced she was a girl).

Prenatal screening is a stressful game. There are blood tests that can tell you your odds of a problem, but nothing absolute. And, to make it more fun for the already hormonal mom-to-be, the blood tests are often wrong. So you get the blood test, it indicates a possible problem and you have the choice of living with that extra stress until the child arrives, or going on to an amnio. The only absolute tests involve needles and an increased risk of miscarriage. Most people with a false positive (of problems), as far as I can tell, go on to an amnio that tells them everything is fine. All that stress for nothing, really. Some end up with the news of a problem and some end up miscarrying a perfectly healthy baby.

I was terrified of the tests. I’d done nothing in my previous pregnancies, electing for the head-in-sand approach to the whole issue, but suddenly, having reached the magic 35, it was assumed that I’d have the tests. If the blood test came back with a bad result, it was assumed I’d have an amnio. If that came back with a bad result, then what? Was it assumed I’d have an abortion?

I felt my babies really, really early. By about 14 weeks, I had little low flutters. I remember Boo’s clearly, as she liked to hang out in the lower right of my belly. I remember lying on my bed, feeling those tiny tickles and realizing that the part I didn’t get in this whole equation is that Down Syndrome is supposed to be worse than miscarriage. I realized that I didn’t care if the baby had DS. I could feel her. She was there, and that was where I wanted her to stay, no matter what.

I did some research into Down’s and a lot of research into what my odds really were, at my advanced age (which really wasn’t, statistically-speaking, that advanced after all). I decided that if I balanced all those odds out, it really wasn’t worth the risk. J agreed, thankfully, and we did no tests. That decision lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. I was convinced the baby was fine, even if she did have DS.

When Boo turned 2.5 and moved up to the preschool room at her marvellous daycare, which she attended twice a week, she soon began to talk about her friend Olivia. She loved Olivia. I heard lots about the two from the caregivers too, how close they were and how they fell over with exuberance when they hugged each other. It took me ages to actually meet this new friend, but finally one day, as I walked in to pick up Boo, I was greeted by a lovely little girl with jet black hair, bright red lips and snowy white skin. I swear, the first thing I thought when I saw this child was: it’s Snow White! The second thing I noticed was that she had DS. This was Boo’s best friend.

I feel as though Olivia is some sort of confirmation of the choice I made then, that even though Boo is completely healthy Olivia is proof that I made the right choice. I know that is crazy, but there it is.

I am too pro-choice to suggest those pre-natal tests aimed at detection genetic problems be disallowed, as some people are apparently suggesting. I also think that every woman, every family, has a right to decide for themselves what their family will look like, as much as they can. Only they know what they can cope with.

But I can also completely understand why people like Will and others who are related to people with DS are angry at the prenatal testing aimed right at detecting the syndrome, because it seems to come with the assumption that a diagnosis of DS means terminating the pregnancy.

I think the answer lies in education. Much of the time, it seems that prenatal screening is just presented to pregnant women as a given, without much discussion about what real information the results will provide and what her options are after that. The results come with assumptions too, and that also is not fair. It is only truly a choice when women know exactly what they are chosing.

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What she said

Here I was going to write about the June mommies and Yogamum beat me to it. I do want to add that I do feel in a way like this blogging thing is old hat, thanks to the June moms. We have been talking to ‘strangers’ on the internet for over a decade now, unlike this new-fangled blog thing.

I would not be the parent I am without them. When Maya was an infant, one of them explained how to massage her tummy and move her legs to ease her tummy problems. About a month ago, a couple of them urged me to follow Boo’s teacher’s advice and get her eyes checked, so I changed my mind about ignoring it. From that time to this, they have provided advice and support in every aspect of my life. Yogamum even edited my columns for me. I’ve only met a couple of them and, even though I know my unplugged friends and family can’t understand it, I count them among my best friends. They provide support, sympathy, laughter and they know my secrets, even if they quite possibly wouldn’t be able to pick me out of a crowd.

I think we lucked out, our little June mommy crowd (by the way, Maya was due on May 29th, but I was sure first babies were all late, so I joined the June group. She showed up on her due date. As she mentioned, Yogamum’s son shares the non-June birthday, though. We have kids born from March to July 14). We founded out little group at a time when the internet was just beginning to come into popular use and we ended up with a small, tightly-knit, diverse group of women hanging out in our little corner of the web. People now can’t possibly reproduce our experience and I feel kind of sorry for them, but happy for me!

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I dragged Boo all over the place trying to find frames to fit her little face. It wasn’t that easy. At least there aren’t the ugly kiddie frames I was fearing, but it is just hard to find a variety of frames that small. We did succeed, but we have to wait about a week and a half for her glasses because her prescription is difficult to fill. Everyone kept commenting on the difficulty of making such a strong prescription for such small glasses. It is just all surreal. Every time someone said something like that, I’d be struck all over again by it: she really has awful eyesight.

While I am eager to get her glasses to show her what the world really looks like, I also feel a bit like we are handicapping her by handing her those glasses. She copes so very well now. There are so few clues to her bad eyesight that clearly she manages marvellously. But the moment we hand her those glasses, she won’t be able to do without them. Of course I know it is better for her to have them. And I am very relieved that we found out about this before she started skiing. Imagine of her hurtling down a hill on skis with that eyesight!

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My doctor went and got sick, the nerve. Her office told me to go to the after-hours clinic, which I knew, deep down in my achy gut, was a mistake before I even saw the doctor, which I did on Tuesday. Sure enough, primarily what he did was complain about my doctor’s office sending me there rather than bringing me in to another of the doctors in their clinic. He then said he had no idea what it was and couldn’t order an ultrasound – only my doctor could do that – but he’d order blood-work.

He didn’t think it was my gallbladder, which was my working theory, but thought maybe liver. My doctor keeps a pretty close eye on my liver (regular blood-work, in case you are wondering how one keeps an eye on a liver) so I at least am not panicking about some horrible liver disease. Which is good, because when I got home, I googled ‘liver pain’ and stumbled upon a web site that helpfully allowed you to input all your symptoms and it’d match them up to an illness (whoever thought that was a good idea is a complete idiot). As I clicked off symptoms, possible diagnoses kept disappearing from the screen until I was left with only one: leukemia. With the helpful note in a bright red box saying, “This is not a diagnosis!” Well, really, then what the fuck did you put it there for?

Nevertheless, I felt more much human yesterday, like I was actually on the mend for real. Unfortunately, I responded to that be behaving as though I was all better and ate food I shouldn’t have. Today, the nausea is back, but I can see that light at the end of the tunnel I still want to know what the hell is going on, but I’ve been conveniently distracted by Boo, who we discovered yesterday is blind as a bat.

Okay, before you start telling me bats aren’t blind like some sort of nerdy 13-year-old boy, I want to point out I think the phrase is completely relevant, because she doesn’t act like she can’t see that much. She appears to see well, most of the time. There are only two hints that she has trouble with her eyesight. She insists on being right up in front of a screen, either TV or computer, and she sticks her face very close to the page when she draws or writes, some of the time. Since the second sign is sporadic, we didn’t really notice. The first sign, the smushing herself against the screen, we wrote off as a quirk, since Asher did exactly the same thing. I dragged him off the the eye doctor for it only to find his sight was fine. I wasn’t getting fooled twice.

Boo’s teacher was more concerned, though, disturbed when she plastered herself against a piece of paper, and asked us to get her eyes checked. I thought she was bananas. I admit it. I was downright insulted, but that was mostly because she tossed in the comment that Boo is ‘quirky’ and she can’t figure out why Boo refers to letters as “Grampa’s letter” and “Daddy’s letter” rather than “G” or “D.”

The reason she does that, and the reason I was convinced her eyes are fine, is that she taught herself the alphabet. She taught herself to write, too. She’s a completely neglected third child in that regard. She’d just show up one day with “Asher” written on her magna-doodle and ask, “Is this how you write Asher’s name?” We’d look surprised and say, “Um, yes!” and she’d say, “Good. I thought so,” and go off to do something else. How can a kid who can figure stuff like that out, and use a computer and hit a baseball with a bat with remarkable skill not be able to see?!

But the eye doctor put a regular screen of letters up on the wall and Boo claimed not to see any of them. So he put bigger letters up and she claimed to not see them. Finally, he put one huge E and she said happily, “E!!” That lead to a great deal of studying her eyes with a variety of instruments and muttering on the doctor’s part and the words: “20/750”

Turns out, that is pretty bad. Her eyes have always been awful, the doc said, from birth. I had a crappy night’s sleep last night, thinking of Boo going through her entire life in a fuzzy world. I feel badly for her. I started remembering how annoying she is when I put nail polish on her toenails because she keeps sticking her head between me and her feet to see her nails up close, and how she does the same thing with books. There were other signs, we just missed them, wrote them off as quirks of a kid.

I also feel badly that once she gets those glasses, she realize how bad her eyesight is and be utterly dependent on them forever now. In the grand scheme of things, I realize this isn’t that big a deal. The glasses will apparently manage to strengthen her eyesight for a couple of years and even though she’ll always need glasses, it least this is a problem with a very simple fix. But it is still a bit hard to realize my kid has been living her life in a blur because, or course, she’s my kid, and I want her life to be as perfect as possible.

We are taking her tomorrow to choose frames and she’s very excited. I warned her that that we’d have to wait for a few days for the actual glasses themselves to be ready and she looked dreadfully sad and said, “Oh, that is just so frustrating. I want to be able to see now.” So at least she’s totally on board.

I now call this picture from the spring “Stupid Parents.”

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Moo

Here’s a question that has always baffled me: why does it matter that a little kid knows what sound animals make? I was just surfing around some adoption blogs (my current obsession), while on hold on the phone and noticed that several parents bragged that their children were now saying the standard basics – hi, bye, mama, dada – and knew what sounds animals made. It brought to mind an encounter I had with an acquaintance from university when Asher was a little over a year. Her daughter was the same age, but a her first child. As I commented on the baby’s cuteness, her mom launched into this bizarre shtick with her kid, clearly well-rehearsed: What is your name? Grace. How old are you? One. What does a sheep say? Baa. What does a doggie say? Woof. What does a cat say? Meow. What does a pig say? Oink oink. What does a cow say?

At this point, the kid got briefly distracted and didn’t respond, so her mom had to reassure me that she did, in fact, know what a cow says. I found this completely bizarre – who cares what these animals say? Why are we so obsessed with teaching small children about farm animals? I cannot get over how many books there are for little kids with animals as main characters instead of people – why don’t they just use people? Do children really like talking sheep better? Someone explain this to me.

I was impressed by the kid’s repertoire, mostly by the fact that she’d perform on command, though. As first-timers with Maya, we too would try to demonstrate her marvellous brilliance to people, but despite the fact that she knew perfectly well what colour her shirt was, she’d always stare blankly at us when we asked her in front of someone else.

We came to our senses with Asher and rarely bothered to ask him anything along that line, partially because it no longer seemed to matter and partially because whenever we did think to quiz him on something, like colours or where his nose was, he’d adamantly refuse to respond.

Which made it extra funny when, as my old friend and I were saying our good-byes, he suddenly bellowed out, “MOOOOO!”

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Today marks two years since I ended my reproductive career, weaning Boo. It was surprisingly abrupt. There was no one else coming along to encourage me to end it, so logically, she could have gone on the longest and had the most gradual weaning. But she was absolutely obsessed with the boob. If I sat down, no matter where or when, she wanted to nurse. At 2.5 years old, she probably nursed at least 10 times a day. It was a constant struggle. And, when she did nurse, she lazily allowed her teeth to rest on my nipple, refusing to be corrected.

Boo unknowingly marked the milestone by asking me the other day if she could nurse, inspired, no doubt, by the videos we have been watching of her babyhood. (Since I was always the one holding the camera, you can’t actually see a lot of nursing going on, but occasionally it was clear she was in my lap as I taped, and once or twice her wild-haired little face popped up and said, “Udder bweast (other breast),” then disappeared.) I was amazed she asked and said, “Nurse! But it was so long ago I’m sure you don’t remember how.” She said, “Yes I do. You just suck on the round brown things in the middle of your boobs.” So I had to break it to her that breasts only have milk when there is a baby regularly nursing. When I told her my milk has gone away, she cried.

It isn’t really a surprise. Boo was the roughest weaning. It was just a big, painful battle. Finally, I actually slapped a couple bandaids across my nipples and told her they were broken and she needed to wait until they healed. (This was, of course, after trying all the other more reasonable solutions, like distraction, time limits etc.) That was wrenching, having my two-year-old pleading, “But I’ll be gentle!” It broke my heart, but I knew she was lying and despite how sad it was to have such a stressful and unpleasant end to my nursing life, but I was more miserable nursing, so that was it.

(I don’t have any more nursing pictures on the computer to illustrate this post, so I’ll have to settle for this picture of Boo at about a year, making it clear that I was supposed to be holding her, not the camera, and the next step after I picked her up would have been the hand trying to yank up the shirt.)

baby-boo.jpg

I thought I had it rough with Maya, who was similarly obsessed, but she was also my first child and I could dedicate the time to fun and interesting distractions, and arguments, in a way I couldn’t with Boo. When she turned two and was down to nursing only at naptimes, I sagely cautioned J that we could’t keep encouraging both the weaning and the toilet training at the same rate, that all the baby books said not to push them on too many of the major life skills at one go. So, of course, one weekend Maya announced, “I’m a BIG girl now and I don’t need to nurse or use diapers.” And that was it for the both of them. (And the parenting books.)

Asher was the dream child, as far as breastfeeding went. He liked it as much as the next baby, happily using it for comfort and snacking, but it was also easy to say no. The truth was, the boy was easy to distract. As he rounded 2.5 years old, I started responding more often to his requests with, “Sure, but first do you want a cookie?” and that was it until it occurred to him again. We nursed on my terms until he turned three. When we finally quit, people would ask me if I’d weaned him and I said, “Yes, but he doesn’t realize it yet.” For about 3 weeks, I responded to his dwindling requests with distractions, always agreeing first, “Yes, but first …” and he never caught on. (As a side note, this is great for weaning, but not so helpful for things like, say, learning just about anything in school – the teacher wants me to do these math problems. Hey, what’s that outside? A flock of geese. Cool, that means it’ll be winter soon and then Hanukkah! Oh, I wonder what I’ll get for Hanukkah this year. I should tell dad I need new skates …)

Having written this weaning post in honour of this anniversary, it occurred to me that perhaps I shouldn’t post it, for fear of some mom-to-be stumbling on it and, visions of heartbroken babies and bandaids across her boobs, deciding maybe the bottle is the way to go after all. That would be bad. The fact that I kept it up for 7.5 years should make it obvious that it was all worth it. Beyond clearly not knowing how to wean, I kept it up for so long because breastfeeding was how I parented: baby tired? Nurse. Hungry? Nurse. Hurt herself? Nurse. Tantrum, forgot a sippy cup, bored, frustrated, annoying? Haul out the boob!

Oh great, now I just sound lazy. Well, I was. Breastfeeding is the easiest parenting tool out there, once you get the hang of it. I think I’ll write about that next. I’m feeling all nostalgic.

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I’m in a holding position until another doctor’s appointment until tomorrow. Still wobbly sweaty and exhausted, which makes the grocery shopping I am going to have to do later unpleasant to contemplate. I added a raging migraine to the fun on the weekend, but figured out that it was probably lack of food, so I started choking a bit more down – more sore tummy, less sore head. Life’s all about trade-offs, right?

In my deepest, darkest moments, I fear this is just the new me – that must be lack of chocolate talking.

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This is how I am trying to write – with the silly kitty whacking at the mouse on the screen.

I spent the weekend knitting and reading, when I was awake. J took the older two skiing and the in-laws took Boo out to run errands with them (they fed her a chocolate banana crepe and she didn’t like it. Clearly not my child). Everyone is being very nice about picking up the slack while I blob about. Thursday, a good friend (such a good friend that she has a car seat permenantly in her car, but no children of her own) picked the crew up from school, took them home and fed them dinner, while I slept.

I read Waiting for Birdie. by Catherine Newman. She kept a blog/columns at babycentre. If you want, you can just sit and read through them all there – you get pictures that way too – but it you want to just lie in bed and read, reading the actual book works better.

I loved this book and I hated this book (I’ll get to the hate later). I’d highly recommend it, because pretty much everyone else will only love it. It made me choke with laughter at times, rolling on the bed with tears in my eyes. Wait, I’m going to modify my recommendation – if you’ve ever had children, you’ll love it. Maybe if you don’t have kids, you might not love it, because it is about raising small children and much of the hysterical laughter comes from recognition of a fellow-traveller.

In this weekend’s Globe and Mail, columnist Leah McLaren happened to be writing about parenting memoirs and how boring they are. Well, some are boring, I agree, but my first thought was, of course McLaren finds them boring – she doesn’t have kids. Unless you actually have kids, or are in the process of trying to have them and are therefore obsessed with them, why would you read about other people’s adventures in parenting?

However, if you are in the midst of parenting small children, especially if you are a woman, your appetite for this stuff could be endless. Mine is, only every time I read something like this, I kick myself for not having written it. (That’s where the hate comes in.) There is nothing remarkable about Catherine Newman and her family – one kid, then a pregnancy, then another kid. There’s no hook (which journalists call something interesting to hang a story on). No illness to cope with, there aren’t 8 embryos, she doesn’t give birth in the woods, she’s not even a single mom. Just two people having babies. The reason it is so good rests solely on Newman’s ability to write. And she’s a great writer.

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I feel great! As long as I am lying in bed, not moving. Moving still causes the sweats, which I do not enjoy. Not nauseous, either, because I stopped eating. I’m starting to consider the possibility that this is not a virus, but maybe something like gallstones. My mother told me she felt much the same way when her gallbladder acted up. Truth is, my stomach has been causing my problems for a long time and I get stomach flu symptoms every couple of months, as well as a lot of stomach pain on the right side, but I’ve ignored it because it hasn’t been debilitating – until now.

I dragged myself to a dentist appointment this morning to check on a tooth that refuses to settle down after a filling (it’s fine), so I  figured I might as well stop by the grocery store to put a cheque in and get some basics for lunches, since we are really running low. It wasn’t fun – I leaned on the cart and sweated my way through it. When I got to the line-up, it was uber-slow. Someone very old wanted a delivery. Appreciating the rest, I just leaned on the cart and read a People magazine. After a while, a kid with one item lined up behind me. He had dyed hair and multiple piercings, plus ipod earphones in his ear. I couldn’t hear the music, so I figured it wasn’t that loud and told him, “This line is really slow. You might want to switch.” He looked at me a little suspiciously, and I could see what was running through his head: if the line was so slow, why hadn’t I switched, and was I – a pale, tubby, middle-aged lady – just trying to get rid of the pierced kid? I said, “I’m just too lazy to move.” He took a look at the cashier loading groceries into big boxes slowly and then smiled and said, “Thanks!” and disappeared. Hopefully I raised his opinion of tubby, middle-aged women, of which I still cannot actually believe I am one.

Anyway, I was going through all the crap on my Palm Pilot, in honour of getting the new one I stumbled across a bunch of little notes on stuff Boo has said when she was younger (like, three years old, instead of her current advanced age of four). Less swearing here, but still kind of funny. I leave you with these before I go away. We are going up to the cottage for the weekend, where J can take the kids skiing and I can sit in front of the fire and knit.

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At breakfast one morning, Maya was telling me something about her day when Boo said sharply, “Maya! SHUT UP … And could you pour me some milk?” Worst part is, after she stopped choking with laughter, Maya did. Such is the power Boo holds over our household.

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This one is probably meaningless unless you’ve seen both movies mentioned. Shortly after we introduced the kids to the original Star Wars trilogy, they watched The Princess Bride (lovely movie – highly recommend it to anyone).  They were completely obsessed about Darth Vader being Luke’s father and talked about it a lot, but Boo confused the two movies walked around for days saying, “Luke Skywalker, you killed my father. Prepare to die.”

Okay, doesn’t seem so funny written here, but it was hysterical. My brother refused to believe me and I desperately tried to get it on video to prove it to him, the result of which is a lot of tape of me saying, “Please say the Luke Skywalker thing again, please?” and Boo saying, “No!” or simply refusing to speak at all.

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Boo, picking up J’s watch off the bedside table: “Whoa Dad! Your watch has a clock on it!”

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Boo asked, “Mom, what is snot made of?” Although I actually do know, I said, “I don’t know. It is just something our bodies make to keep places like our noses from getting too dry.” She said, “Oh. Okay. What are M&Ms made of, then?”

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