Morning Glory Muffins

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This is a recipe I got from my lovely blogging friend Meaghan over at The Ginger and the Giant. They are Morning Glory Muffins, a recipe she found in a cookbook called Spilling the Beans, and they are definitely glorious.

I don’t make them as much as I would like, because they can be somewhat labour-intensive, by muffin standards. Now that I have a toddler-helper, I do some of the prep before I get her involved. While C was out ice skating with her Dad, I grated two cups of sweet potato, boiled some red lentils and chopped up an apple for the muffins. Toddlers do not have time for that sort of thing. The baby, however, was happy to watch from his vibrating chair while giving me encouraging smiles.

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These muffins are not only super delicious, but they stay moist for ages. They’re full of fruit and nuts and coconut and have a pretty small amount of added sugar. And rather than using carrot (which Pete has an aversion to since the carrot cake incident) I grate sweet potato. They’re super yummy, and they usually don’t last long around here.

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According to C, these are the muffins “that mommy helped me make.” Hmmm.

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Biking with a Bump

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CyclingWhilePregnant

At my first midwife visit, I asked if it would be all right if I kept riding my bike while pregnant. My midwives said that as long as I felt good, didn’t push myself too hard, listened to my body, and felt safe, cycling was a great form of pregnancy exercise.

I’m currently in my 32nd week of pregnancy, and I’m still loving my bike. Here’s why:

Even though I’m in my third trimester and feeling tired, heavy and achy, cycling still feels good. It’s low-impact and (miraculously) makes my back feel better. It makes sense, when your back is being pulled forward all day by a heavy load, spending some time in an opposite posture (with a curved back) is a relief.

There is also something amazing about being able to zip around on a bike when I’ve become used to lumbering. I’m still able to move at a normal human speed on a bike, as opposed to when I’m waddling around on foot. Although I haven’t been swimming much, I imagine it’s the same sort of freeing feeling of being lighter and more agile. It feels wonderful.

Some drawbacks: I have to be much more careful about falls. This means that I find myself getting off my bike a lot more often, for safety’s sake. The people of Collingwood generally will not keep their dogs on leashes, and I have to be careful that no one darts in front of me while I’m riding. One woman actually told me, as I was slowly approaching her off-leash Weimaraner “Watch out, because she WILL run out in front of you.” So, maybe keep her on a leash whilst on this busy, multi-user trail?

Also, as the baby grows, we’re both running out of room and leaning forward is becoming difficult. I suspect that sometime soon the baby will just refuse to cooperate, and I’ll have to give it up. But until then, I’m going to enjoy this as much as I can.

Back to Blogging…For Now

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I’ve taken a bit of a break from the blog lately.  I didn’t plan on it, but life got interesting.

We’re expecting Baby #2.  Little C is going to be Big Sister C.  And even though I didn’t think a pregnancy would get in the way of my blog-productivity, I spent weeks (and weeks and weeks) feeling so sick that typing on a keyboard would have sent me into a nausea tailspin.

Side note: I had zero morning sickness with C.  I thought I was super tough and designed for pregnancy.  Hubris.  It gets me every time.  Well, I got my comeuppance.  I spent my first trimester feeling like I was going to throw up from the moment I woke up every morning until the moment I went to bed.  I also had food aversions that left me living on crackers, toast, and Kraft Dinner for two months.  I may have developed scurvy.

So now I’m in the wonderful second trimester and back at it.  I’ve been cooking again (unthinkable two months ago) and even biking and running.  Well, “running” is a bit of a stretch.  I’ve been jogging very slowly.  I’ve been doing some extra work for the board of directors.  And I’m hoping to get back to blogging for a while.

I say “for a while” because I’m sure when this baby arrives I’ll be far too busy and exhausted to do anything other than try to keep everyone in this house alive and fed.  But for now, the blog is back.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

A Parent’s Guide to the NICU

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300990_10150802984205344_1412243073_n(N.B. This post is for parents who may spend a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks in the NICU with their babies as they recover and grow stronger. I don’t pretend to know what the NICU experience is like for parents of micro-preemies, and I would certainly never speak for them.)

When C was born, she was a tiny 4 lbs 6 oz.  Her gestational age was 37 weeks, which is considered full-term.  But, as I explained in a previous post, she had not had enough nourishment in utero due to placental insufficiency.

C spent two weeks in the NICU, before she was sent home with us. We were extremely lucky.  Our baby came home.

We had advanced notice that C would likely spend time in the NICU, and we were given Parents’ Guides to help us prepare.  Those guidebooks were valuable, in that they prepared us for the equipment we would encounter, for the constant alarms, and explained the roles of each type of medical staff.

But beyond that information, I wish I could go back and give my past, pregnant self some advice.  Here is what I would have told myself:

1) Get some rest:

The nurses at Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie told us this, many times.  They told us that attending each and every attempted feeding (every three hours, start to start) was wearing us out.  Each attempted feeding and diapering took at least an hour, but usually longer.  Pete and I would then have to go to a room to pump breastmilk and then deliver that milk to the nurses and then wash the pump parts.  After each session, we tried to sleep.  This was Hell on Earth.  It’s nothing like the feedings you do with a newborn at home.  Not even close.

Finally, the nurses and our neonatologist sat us down and insisted we take two night feedings off per night and get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep, or we would be of no use to anyone once C was discharged.  I felt guilty.  I felt like a terrible mother.  I was afraid C would think the nurses were her parents, instead of us.  But those few hours of sleep helped us cope with everything we were going through.

2) Nurses are wonderful, but they are not always right:

The nurses who looked after C at both hospitals were wonderful.  My Dad is a registered nurse, and he is also wonderful.  Nurses usually know best, but not always.

C had very low blood sugar when she was born because she was so deprived of nutrients in utero.  She was give a sugar solution intravenously but we tried to get her to breastfeed as well.  The problem was that she was exhausted.  And the nurses at Mount Sinai in Toronto insisted we try to get her to breastfeed every three hours, for forty-five minutes at a time, even when she couldn’t keep her eyes open.  I know that newborns are sleepy, but this was different.  And Pete and I felt that.  We didn’t speak up, however, because we’re just lay people and didn’t feel we could contradict the nurses.

It turns out that the nurses at the Mount Sinai NICU are less accustomed to full-term babies like C and more at ease with very premature infants.  Once we arrived in Barrie, where the staff are accustomed to less severe cases, the nurses immediately recognized that C needed to rest.  From then on, we would try to get her to breastfeed for five or ten minutes, until she tired out, and then gave her the rest of her milk by feeding tube while she slept on our chests.  She improved dramatically from that point forward.

3) Learn from the nurses:

I have to mention again that Pete and I were very lucky parents.  We got to take our baby home, at a robust 4 lbs 12 oz, after only two weeks in hospital.  And because our baby was fairly healthy and not on a respirator, we were allowed to perform a lot of baby care ourselves.  What we got in the two NICUs/nurseries was a sort of newborn boot camp.

The nurses taught us how to feed her, how to bathe her, how to change her teeny-tiny diapers.  In fact, after you’ve changed dozens of preemie-sized diapers while negotiating all the monitors and wires, through the two little holes in an isolette, regular diaper changes are a breeze.

4) Find some kindred spirits:

If possible, talk to some of the other parents.  They understand what you’re going through.

And although it can be difficult to find parents you “click” with, you might just be surprised.  The other parents in Barrie seemed to be so different from us, but then one day a couple came in and they seemed like kindred spirits.  And then, the next day, the husband half of the couple walked into the nursery wearing a Rad t-shirt.  Pete was so very excited.  Rad is a very cheesy ’80s movie about BMX bikes that all of his biking buddies love.

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5) Laugh:

During the hours I spent pumping, Pete often put a DVD on on his computer to amuse us.  We watched I Love You, Man, The Forty-Year-Old Virgin and because it was on TV in our care-by-parent room, Kindergarten Cop.  Pete has a bizarre love for that movie.

6) Spend some quiet time together:

Pete and I made an effort to go for some quiet walks near the hospital together.  It was so nice to step outside the hospital and enjoy the weather outside.  Hospitals can be so oppressive.  It was also nice to reconnect as a couple while going through such an intense experience.  It helped us to feel like “us” again.

7) Spend some time in the “real world”:

This is similar to the last point but the emphasis is to socialize a bit.  After five full days inside the dark and cavernous Mount Sinai, we stepped outside and said “oh, the real world, I forgot about this.”  When Pete and I had a few dinners at my sister and brother-in-law’s house in Barrie, we really started to feel like humans again.  No alarms, no buzzers, no hospital equipment, no medical jargon.  It’s so important to interact with people slightly removed from the NICU world in order to feel normal again.

8) Don’t let specialists scare you:

The neonatologist really, really scared the bejesus out of me.  He told me that because of my placental insufficiency, C was at risk of developmental problems, speech delays, problems with motor skills and that she was at much higher risk of death by SIDS.

The nurses got annoyed at him and told me not to worry about C.  One nurse (thank you, Sandy!) saw me crying after the neonatologist told me C was at risk for cognitive delays, said “I’ve been doing this for more than twenty years, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that little girl.”  Did I mention that nurses are wonderful?

9) Remember that the situation is temporary:

I should give the specialist-who-scared-me some credit for this one.  He was the one who reminded me that two weeks was a tiny fragment of C’s life and a fragment that she wouldn’t even remember.  Sometimes it’s hard to keep this perspective in mind.  Time goes by so slowly in the NICU, when you’re always awake and always worrying over every monitor, every alarm, every glucose reading, every ounce eaten, every ounce spit up, every drop in heart rate.  My bond with C was not diminished by this experience, no matter how much attachment parenting books terrified me into thinking it would.  She’s a happy, healthy toddler with no recollection of her rough beginnings.

10) Enjoy your baby:

It can be difficult to enjoy your baby when you’re worried sick about her health, when you’re so sleep-deprived you can barely think, and when you’re away from home and living out of a suitcase in a hospital.  It’s easy to feel too afraid to become attached.  It’s normal to be nervous to pick up a tiny, fragile newborn and cuddle her.  And it’s easy to feel that you’ve had what was suppposed to be the most wonderful experience (the birth of your healthy baby) taken away from you.  But try to remember to enjoy that little baby.  Even though time has slowed down, almost to a standstill, it will speed right up again soon and your 4 lb peanut will be an opinionated toddler.  Try to cherish these times, as difficult as they are.

Greening My Cleaning

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I’ve made a New Year’s Resolution of sorts.  And I’m posting about it on January 7th, which shows the depth of my commitment.  I’ve been so busy sticking to my resolution that I haven’t had time for anything else.

I actually decided a few months ago that I would stop using commercial cleaning products around the house.  I had an epiphany one day last summer.  I realized that I only mopped the floors or cleaned the windows while C was napping upstairs, so that she wouldn’t be nearby to inhale all the fumes from the cleaners.  Then I thought “why is not okay for C to inhale all this, but it’s fine for me?” 

I decided to switch over to good, old-fashioned vinegar and water for a lot of my household cleaning.  Baking soda is my new best friend.  And for disinfecting, rubbing alcohol is up to the task.

So why did I wait until now to put this into effect?  Well, we still had lots of commercial cleaning products on hand, and, being thrifty people, couldn’t bring ourselves to throw them out.  Pete and I just couldn’t do it.  As much as we’re committed to our new, green, cleaning regime, we were just too cheap.  Life is full of dilemmas.

Life is also full of challenges, and this new green cleaning commitment has presented a new one for Pete.  I love my Swiffer WetJet, but I want to stop cleaning the floors with the liquid in their cartridges.  I asked Pete whether he could MacGyver me a cartridge for the WetJet that would allow me to use my vinegar and water mixture on the floors.  He is an engineer, after all.  It was on his holiday-to-do-list and he even made a special trip to Home Depot for supplies, but got sidetracked by another project.  I’m still waiting for my green, non-toxic, MacGyvered Swiffer WetJet.

Photo via Swiffer

Photo via Swiffer

So, while I wait, a question for all of you: have any of you undertaken a similar change?  I’m hoping to tackle household toxins in other ways, and I’m eager for tips.  Happy New Year (seven days late), everyone!

In Pregnancy, Knowledge is Power

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When I was pregnant, I read and heard a lot about prenatal testing.  Many women around me said that they had declined it.  They would love their babies no matter what, so what was the use in having any testing done?

First, a disclaimer, I am not a medical professional.  But I am here to advocate for prenatal testing.  I know from experience that prenatal testing can save lives.  It can lead to a healthier baby and a better pregnancy outcome.  In pregnancy, as in everything else, knowledge is power.

When I found out I was pregnant, I went to visit my family doctor.  He said a few things to me.  One was that I shouldn’t announce my pregnancy, because I could miscarry.  He really said this.  The second was that I could opt to do some prenatal testing.  The prenatal testing, he explained very quickly, tested for Down Syndrome.  My (former) family doctor said that I should only go ahead with this testing if I were willing to abort a fetus who tested positive for Down Syndrome.  He also really said this.

Thank goodness I ignored this advice.  Why?  Because what he didn’t tell me was that the standard prenatal blood testing (done – in Canada – before 15 weeks) can also screen for neural tube defects and for placental problems.

At twelve weeks, Pete and I announced that we were expecting.  At fifteen weeks, when my prenatal blood test results came back, we had to tell our loved ones that we had bad news.  Our baby had a 1 in 5 chance of having Down Syndrome and an elevated chance of having a neural tube defect.

We were referred by our midwives to Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, one of the best hospitals in the world for maternal-fetal medicine.  There, I underwent genetic counselling and later, an amniocentesis.

We eventually found out that our baby did not have Down Syndrome, and neither did she (because they accidentally told us she had two X chromosomes – there goes that surprise!) have a neural tube defect.  At that point, we thought we were in the clear.  The blood test was wrong!  It was all a big misunderstanding.

What we found out, however, is that often, a false-positive screen for Down Syndrome or a neural tube defect does not mean that nothing is wrong.  It often means that something is wrong with the placenta.  In my case, my placenta was too small.

There was nothing that I did wrong.  There was nothing I could have done differently.  It was either genetics or simple bad luck (we still don’t know, and probably never will).  In about 2-3 percent of pregnancies, something goes wrong with the placenta.

Placental problems are serious business.  They are often life threatening to both mother and fetus.

I’m writing this post because I’m hoping to spread some awareness.  Our placenta specialist (there is such a thing!) told us that many midwives, family doctors and even obstetricians are not aware that prenatal blood testing can provide important information about the health of the placenta.  He said that this was partially the fault of placenta researchers (himself included).  They simply weren’t great at getting the word out.

Please, if you’re pregnant, have prenatal testing done.  If you do have a placental problem, there is a lot you can do to minimize the risk to yourself and to your baby.  Monitoring babies who are not growing properly due to a placental issue can save their lives.  Monitoring your own health (because placental insufficiency is linked to pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome) can save your life.

Little C had intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) due to my placental insufficiency.  She was monitored by ultrasound every two weeks and when she stopped growing, and was in danger of suffering brain damage, I was induced.  She was born at 37 weeks and a teeny-tiny 4 lbs 6 oz.  But she was delivered early enough that she didn’t suffer any long-term difficulties.

C in the nursery with her feeding tube

C in the nursery with her feeding tube

We were lucky.  We got the best possible outcome.  Not all babies whose mothers have placental insufficiency do so well.  C spent 2 weeks in the NICU and is now a busy little toddler.  Even though I spent my pregnancy worried sick about her, I’m so thankful that I followed through with prenatal testing.

Remember, in pregnancy, knowledge is power.