Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Why I Immunize: Part I

I am a mother who loves science.  I also love my children and do everything in my power to do the best I can by them, including using logical practices to prevent disease and injury.  I also have my own, very real long term health concerns that lend to some difficulty in providing immunity and protection for both my soon-to-be-baby and the toddler.

There are a number of things that can be done to prevent disease without going so far as to place one's child in a bubble and never allow them contact with the outside world.  I follow trends in medicine closely and form my own rules based on what has the highest proven safety rate.  To explain all of the options and give them as much discussion on both sides (pros and cons) they will be broken into topical sections.
If this is your work let me know.  I want to credit the artists
because it contains huge amounts of awesome and you deserve credit!

In these entries I plan to cover the most basic forms of prevention and some of the situations where prevention has been ignored to detriment of community health.  From the basics of person hygiene and hand washing, to the controversy of vaccines and epidemics, I believe there should always be open discussion to reach a solution.  Anyone having a topic or supported information that might be interesting to add as an alternative is welcome to submit it for discussion provided that can show credible sources. 

I will refer often to both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) because they provide a great dictionary for easy reference and are responsible for the information a typical pediatric center will provide when asked by parents. 

Please understand that while there is a point to having a dialog about health choices, the spreading of misinformation or admittedly false "facts" is not helpful.  Most notably the infamous claims that vaccines cause autism which were based on intentionally falsified documents do not lend to providing an education for parents.  Discussion about allergies to vaccine components and alternative choices to support good health are very useful and can assist a parent know how to prevent many kinds of undue risk to their child.  Health information from homeopathic sources is wonderful and welcome with verifiable proof such as clinical or otherwise approved trials (many countries require different types of tests).
At the end of my prepared sections I will share some of the home remedies and alternatives to over the counter items that I have found to be safe and successful in my own home.  I cannot promise they will work for everyone, nor that they might not be problematic in terms of allergic reactions which you should always watch for with any new substance.  Many of these are based on herbal medicine and for those interested in it I highly recommend doing your own study on the topic and making a reference library. 
Section One: Hygiene As Prevention
To ease into this, we'll start with the basics, hygiene as prevention. 
MDH poster for the prevention of disease through hygiene.
Washing hands and brushing teeth is so basic we start on these skills with toddlers.  My two year old is so fond of washing hands and baths that he will ask everyone in our house to lift him up so he can use the skin.  I'm not discouraging this behavior, hand washing helps remove exposure to bacteria and viruses we come in contact with through even the safest daily behavior.  

I'm a fan of homemade soaps and it really does help when picking out smells that things like mint and lemon are both naturally anti-bacterial and work without damaging the skin.  When making a hand soap purchase, go for a soap that does not contain perfumes as they often involve a chemical base that can promote headaches and be problematic on sensitive skin.  If you are a fan of organics or shop at farmer's markets but have not found something to be attached to so far, I suggest the awesome soaps from LUSH: Handmade Cosmetics and use their "Sexy Peel" as our hand soap if I am out of my farmer's market goodies.
While we all know hand washing is simple and essential, how often is it actually done and when should we do this?  Yes, I'm going into detail on something we all learned as children because the numbers of people who do not practice the basics is worrying.  To quote the CDC "About 2.2 million children under the age of 5 die each year from diarrheal diseases and pneumonia, the top two killers of young children around the world."

Cholera is a world wide issue and comes from the transfer of contaminated fecal matter the next victim via oral means, large countries have outbreaks due to poor conditions where the virus can hide after feces enters the water supply.  Pinkeye (Conjunctivitis) is an issue because the touching of eyes and face is so common that failure to wash hands between activities can spread infection from both the viral and bacterial agents which create this issue. Salmonella is a risk we are aware of in my home because we have had reptile pets and chickens which may increase the chance of exposure through both skin and eggs.

While these infections can be prevented with hand washing (and proper food prep techniques if you are consuming eggs), there are cases where washing might not be viable at the moment and so we move to the next solution.  Next on the list of typical choices is hand sanitizers.

Most parents know about these little bottles that appear as if by magic at playgrounds and birthday parties when kids show up with sticky hands.  I carry a bottle in my diaper bag and use it after cleaning my hands with a baby wipe post diaper change or dealing with other disgusting messes.  As a temporary fix for exposure to possible contamination, these are wonderful, but there is a downside too.

The problem comes when over use of these products does not always prevent contamination AND can lead to more resistant bacterial strains.  While they serve a purpose in the grand scheme of things, the dependence on such things may also factor in to the resistance of some bacteria to known treatments.  This becomes a more pressing problem when sanitizers are being used as the primary defense in medical settings like hospitals where people who have a lower resistance level will naturally congregate. 

To recap what I said here, the following is a simple list of times to wash hands and how to properly wash them:

When Should You Wash Your Hands:
  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating prepared food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or pet treats
  • After touching garbage
 How Should You Wash Your Hands:
  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them with a blower.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Future Not-A-Mom

News flash, not every woman wants or needs to be a mother!

For the not-a-mom(s) out there, I understand and support you.
A friend of mine from college recently married a very nice guy who makes her happy.  Their wedding was this summer, meaning that she is now getting the "so when are you having kids" idiocy.  I remember when I was in a long-term relationship prior to being with my husband and began getting these questions as we approached three years together.  It was perhaps only slightly less annoying than the "are you ever going to get married" or even "do you think he'll pop the question soon" that come from all sorts of nosey jerks.

Now, I know that when they are ready my friend and her husband will have kids.  They are both in agreement that they do want a family with children, but they also want to have time to enjoy just being a couple first too.  They are happy to be married and just making ends meet without having to worry if there will be money for food and diapers this week.  In a time when so many are just able to make rent and expenses, they both have school to pay for and as my friend said recently "I've been in school my entire life so far, can I just have a year off before needing to be a mommy?" 

The following is not meant to tell you how to live my advice, it is just some thoughts from one mother to somebody who is not ready or never wants to be a mother:

Enjoy your time off.  Enjoy being a single person or a couple before you are a group.  Enjoy being free of a baby as long as you don't feel ready to be responsible for a tiny person that needs every thought and action to come from you.  You are not being selfish when you say "I am not ready for kids!"

Being responsible for an entire person is something insanely hard to do.  Giving up part of your life to devote to caring for them, even when they drive you bug-nuts crazy, is not something to be taken on lightly.  Saying you are not ready to have kids means you are being honest about your maturity level and it takes a ton of balls to do that.
If you do choose in time to have kids, know that it is not fair for anyone to ever tell you "I told you so".  If anyone attempts to do that to you, I'm all for tossing a used diaper at their face or asking them if that means they are ready to babysit.  Your life is your own and it means being reasonable with your choices.  If you choose to just be Crazy Cat-Lady Aunt for your eternity that is a perfectly valid choice and your cats will love you for it.  Seriously, all house-cats are very PRO birth-control... just ask mine.

What you choose is what is right for you, so go with it!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Sleep Like A Baby

The next person who uses this phrase is going to have the joy of experiencing my semi-psychotic cackling first hand.  Honestly, anyone using that phrase has NEVER had the joy of having a baby.  

Newborns need to feed from either breast or bottle about every three hours, this does not change no matter the time of day for adults.  For this reason, and many others, you will notice sleep deprivation being a common link between all parents of very young children.  Let me explain is easier terms here...

Thanks to random images on Facebook for this one.

Babies know when you are attempting to sleep.  Young children wait until the exact moment when you have completely relaxed and faded into that first level of dreaming where you are caught between conscious and blissful nothing.  As your breathing slows, your muscles finally drop tension, and you stop processing thoughts clearly, that is when they strike... screaming like their hair is on fire and the world is ending.

It seems that post birth, the saying should be "sleep like a husband".  So many of my friends have said it seems like their men can sleep through anything, and now that our boy is older I agree.

I actually got very lucky.  On those early nights with our newborn it was hubby who gave him the night-time feeding while I sat hooked to the machine in the next room because even with the battery our pump model was so loud it could wake the dead.  It was only after our boy was in his own room all night and only waking once that he suddenly gained the ability to sleep through anything.

Sleeping like a baby seems to only happen in fairytales and movies.  I'm convinced that "sleeping through the night" is a myth too, but we all have our quirks.  The one with my boys (the tiny and adult sized one) seems to be only sleeping when I am awake.  Cool trick, really.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Spare Time

I think, perhaps it is just an illusion or a dream, but I think there was once a time when I had that mythical gift... SPARE TIME!

Perhaps it was just back in the days when I was crazy enough to believe life would never get better than those long walks on the beach behind my college apartment and I had no idea how the world would change.  Now my life is filled to a point of insanity and showers, toilet breaks, and hiccups need to be scheduled with military precision just to get through the day.  I would sell a lung for a nap, seriously...

In an effort to learn how to save time I wasted an epic amount of that precious stuff trying to learn some tips from the wilds of Google.  While I would love to write an article in the style of on how not to do what I just did, this is not that article. 

You see, I did manage to come down with an abundance of the stuff unexpectedly when complications with my current pregnancy lead to "Bed Rest" orders from the doctor.  This is about all the things I would like to do in my free time if I manage to get off of of the couch, recliner, bed or chair in the kitchen (I'm still cooking dinners and trying to be productive).

1.  Take the toddler to a farm.  How about it? Sunshine, cows, photo ops all over, and plenty of manure for my son to face plant in because he has all the grace of his mother.  Actually, before we had kids my husband knew I love to volunteer at or visit the local SPCA barns because it gives me a chance to give back to the horses in honor of my beloved pony long gone.  Now I want my kids to grow up knowing that though our food does come from those pigs, chickens, and cows, they are lovely animals that deserve our respect too.

2.  Swimming at the beach.  Ever had the joy of spending hours just watching other tan-less bodies flounder in the waves?  I live in a state known for our beaches and bars.  It is fun to know I am not really so iridescent that I glow in the sun, but getting to stand in the waves is a great reminder that none of the superficial things matter in the grand scheme of things.  Also, the smell of salt air is wonderful for the soul.

3.  Photographing birds in flight.  I love watching birds fly, butterflies too actually.  We have a cute little bird feeder up year round at the window and many of our visits to the botanical gardens are exercises in my husband dragging me out of the butterfly house after they start bugging us that closing time passed three hours ago.  I love flowers and want a garden to attract plenty of the lovely flying beauties, both insect and avian when we have the room for the garden of my dreams.

4.  Growing roses.  I guess this should go with the lack of room to have a garden listed above, but time is also a factor.  Being able to go spend those long hours with my fingers in the dirt and not have it all end when a particular neighbor who was super concerned with his lawn not looking green enough talks the condo association into spraying lethal crap all over the common areas leading to our plot.  Not only did it mean bringing my then crawling little man outside was a problem for exposure, but the delicious edibles I had planned to harvest and the tall blooms of flowers all became spotted in toxic nasty.

5.  Ice skate more often.  This is the land of winter.  Snow is on the ground and we have had some days of bitter cold causing big trouble lately.  We are also home to some of the best ice skating and hockey playing locations in the country.  I miss having the chance to go do figures and laps on the ice to clear my head in the cold.
So, what are your favorite things you would love to do once you find the free time?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Pregnant Pants: Why I Hate Clothes While Expecting

I loath maternity clothes.

I'm one of those women who always has trouble bending over due to a top-heavy figure, so the idea of slowly inflating a balloon in my belly is torture.  Add to it that this pregnancy has sparked some big complications with my health and it becomes torture to find clothing I know will look flattering.  I'm round in all the womanly places and the stick figure that swallowed a basketball that most designers go with to model the rare designs deemed maternity just make it a joke when trying to get an idea if something will give me a positive outcome.

A few nights ago I was perusing the web for something to cover the fact that I have gone from looking like a "well rounded woman" to a "small beached whale" and stumbled across a horrifying new trend in maternity fashion, something I can only describe as Lolita pregnancy gowns.  Not only am I fairly sure the models are all underage (this worries me on a personal level) but the dresses are seriously fashioned after what I believe are anime school girl uniforms. 

Now I'm a big fan of anime.  I will even admit to having watched some films that could be called hentai back in the days when hubby and I did not have to worry about anything animated being mistaken as "kid friendly".  What I am not a fan of... creepy stories that run right up to the line of things I think are or should be illegal and then use that to attract viewers because there are those online predators who will pay to watch that kind of smut.

Found via George Takei on Facebook.

I'm not saying all anime is evil, I am still a fan of many anime and manga series like I said before, but it should not be used as the basis for maternity fashion.

Well then what am I saying? I am saying the basis for fashion for a round bellied woman should be something comfortable and round bellied!  We're growing an entire person inside our body, that is more than difficult enough when it goes smoothly.  Add in more of those psychological pressures to be frighteningly slender and you are aiming for a new level of health risk via mental disorder.  My exact phrasing was something less direct when I posted for input from friends, but I will share it unedited.

"Fashion companies should ban the idea of a "size zero maternity model". All women feel huge and uncomfortable at some point when they are pregnant. The idea that you still have to manage to be skinny and perfect while growing an entire living person inside your body is part of the screwed up body image issues already rampant in the female psyche!"

 So this is my question to the world of women who have carried a child, do you feel like your body is being fairly represented by the models showing off the clothing you are being sold?  What would you like to see if you are not happy?  What do you think designers should know about your body while pregnant so they can offer something better for clothing and for modeling?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Tiny Monster: Picking an Online Identity for Kids

My son's birth announcement photo.  Perhaps the one and only time he
posed and stayed exactly as I wanted while taking the picture.

We all do it.  In this digital age there is hardly a day that goes by when we parents are not checking our facebook or sharing those cute snapshots of the kid doing something.  I'm guilty of being *That Mom *.  You know what I mean, the one that has an obsessive number of albums documenting everything from the first ultrasounds to his most recent slapping of some crayons on paper that prove his the next Picasso.  I make sure to balance the "perfectly posed cute" with "look at this giant wad of gum he tied into his hair while I was trying to pee with the door closed".

This morning a friend and fellow mom shared an absolutely brilliant piece that appeared last February on another great parenting blogThis article covered something many parents in the technical age are guilty of, depicting their parenting life as *so perfect*.  The writer described it as lies by omission... we use cool filters to make it look like everything is awesome and hide the spots where the newborn just vomited an entire feeding full all over that new onesie. 

I do it too as a portrait photographer working with kids and brides to make everything picture perfect!  That photo of my son up there, that hat is covering the fact that his cute little baby butt had constant diaper rash until we figured out the right combination of cream, diaper type, and detergent for his delicate little infant skin.  Years later, I am still posting him all over the interwebz like a cool kid but with one big detail still in omission... Unless you spend time around us in person, chances are good you'll never know his name. 

A baby monster.
I posted the first camera phone images to facebook from the less than relaxing new location on the maternity floor.  Those cute, wrinkly faced images came along with the one and only time I ever shared his birth name and have long since been changed to reflect the nick name we keep for him. I have friends, co-workers, even family we are not exceptionally close to and only rarely see that know him only as "The Tiny Monster".  The name came about while I was pregnant and not yet aware of the gender of the tiny person attempting to kick an opening through my belly button like one of those creatures that haunted my nightmares for months after watching a certain scifi film.  

It is cool over time his name has proven to stick even off the digital realms because, well, it fits him so well as a toddler.  His babysitter, our friends that spend any time around him, even my parents who have seen the true evil look in his eyes that comes out when he is plotting to draw on the walls with my expensive artist's pigment pens.  

But it helps in another way too.  

You see, we are all guilty of over sharing as parents in the digital age.  From the moment we have counted those ten little fingers and toes the proof of their existence pops up on the live feeds of our entire social circle.   This means that any random bloke on Twitter, Facebook, Google, Vine, YouTube, (and whatever else I missed listing but is part of the social media insanity) is going to know all about them.  I'm not saying your child will be facing the public awareness craze of pop-culture personalities who feel the need to post selfies or even allows documenting for a TV series(I'm looking at you Snooki and Kim Kardashian), but any child who's mother is tweeting from Labor&Delivery is going to face the reality that their whole life is out there for the world to see.

Don't want to believe me, here's everything you could learn quick glance at your previous posts:

1. Birth Date: This one is seriously easy, when did you post that first picture with the "He's finally here" tag?

2. Gender: This is normally obvious well before birthdate because unless you fall into the slowly dieing group of parents not finding this out with "the big ultrasound".  If you do decide to wait, that first picture and post of the new family member is a pretty safe bet for figuring it out.

3. Name: Unless you choose to do what we have and use only a nickname, this is also often found right on that first little birth announcement post.

4. Hospital/Location: Not a big deal until you start to consider what I am listing now is not only obvious from just that first week is all you will need to apply for a copy of the baby's birth certificate... the first step to identity theft.

5. Parents Name(s): I'm sure you can guess this is one of the most obvious details for that identity theft thing I mentioned above.  It is also a good detail if you are just going for the creepy stalker factor that comes in with recent problems of child abduction. 

6. Home Location/Address: You know that little "Hometown" tag you get from profiles, yeah, consider that when you tag the location where you live and make it obvious that you are the primary parent.  This info is now out in the world and means that a dishonest person has an easy in for finding any of the many expensive items in your home left unattended while you are in the hospital with a newborn, or getting a track on that cute little bundle of joy.

I could keep going, but honestly now I want to run back and check that my profiles are all safely set to not sharing anything with anybody because I know how dangerous it is to have that out on the web.  What should we adults really be doing?  

Well, following the guidelines listed here are a good way to keep things smart and safe.  Limiting the insane sharing of details online is a great starting point for everybody, your own safety is included in that part too.  Using a nickname for kids and never listing the name of schools, day cares, or other daily activities where people can find a way to contact your child is another great idea.

So there it is... I call my son "The Tiny Monster", I don't share the name of our home town, and I over share about his self feeding habits because if you can't humiliate your kids with those cute spaghetti-in-hair photos as a toddler, their teen years will be devoid of good reasons to complain about you talking to their first girlfriend/boyfriend.

I'm fairly sure he was supposed to be eating mashed potatoes and meatballs with peas.  Yes, I feed
him in the nude after he learned to lift and "paint" under the bib with his food... I'm not a fan of
laundry even on a good day, so this lowers the rate of complete mess clothing to wade through.

Mommy's Messy Life

Well hello again interwebs,

Have a few minutes to yourself? GREAT!  I envy you right now.  So, to make your few minutes of freedom from laundry, toys, and the endless "Mommy I need..." or "Daddy can I..." here's a fun little story about how you're not alone feeling like being a parent is an endless uphill run on a treadmill with no off switch.

Sit down. Relax. Have some coffee. 
Not this one though...
This is MINE!

In 2010 I made the biggest mistake of my life... I relaxed long enough to fall in love and be happy with a great guy.

Alright, that doesn't sound like such a bad thing does it?  Well, it really isn't, until you consider the timing.  I was three-ish years out of college, living just north of NYC, working at an endless corporate nightmare job doing the best I could to make my payments for my loans, and living with this amazing man who I had the vague feeling would not be the kind to continue the cycle of ending it when the honeymoon period was over and he saw the clear crazy I had stored up from a lifetime of work and self esteem issues.  

Seriously though, you cannot imagine how wonderful it was to know that I could trust him not to give me the stink eye for spending a very rare day off in nothing but ratty pajama pants and a sports bra while I swore at the computer and shot digital zombies like my life depended on it.  This man saved me from living in my car when the relationship I had pretty much given up my dreams for failed from a serious lack of personal responsibility on both sides.  And when he was done saving me from that crap-tazm... he went and proved that the guy I had unintentionally friendzoned was actually the person I should have been dating the whole time.

I'm fairly sure I had unknowingly stamped this on his head years before while dating
Mr. I'm-The-Guy-Your-Parents-Want-You-To Bring-Home. 

Yeah, I fell hard, and I relaxed long enough to think "hey, this getting married someday idea might not be a lost cause like I thought".  So we started looking for an apartment closer to my new job and he apparently started cooking up a scheme to propose on what he knew was routinely the worst day of the year in my relationships.  It was a bumpy but fun little ride up until the point when I went to the doctor about the nausea and stomach cramps that had started plaguing my life thinking I had yet another stomach ulcer from my chronic overachiever lifestyle.

While it was honestly far more technical, I'm fairly sure this is how the doctor's answers actually sounded in my head:

Our son's gigantic kicking feet.
"Surprise, there's something living in your uterus!  That birth control you figured was doing the trick doesn't work so well when you expose yourself to certain photo developing chemicals as part of your line of work.  Cool beans though, you're now home to something cute and tiny and vaguely kidney bean shaped.  Here's some pamphlets on how being a human incubator is going to cause you emotional and physical distress at times.  Now off you go so I can see to the next patient."

So there I was, handing the most amazing guy in the world a pee-stick with two lines and praying he would do something other than freak out.  It took him about ten minutes to compose words but he finally was able to tell me he was happy and that we should figure out what we wanted to do from there.  I admit, I had a bit of an explosion in my brain at that point, but once we both had full use of our vocabulary we took the time to decide if we would go through with being parents or explore other options.
Two years later and we're married, and genuinely happy.  We don't have a perfect life by any means.  There are things I would LOVE to have money for, like paying off those school loans I have piled up or maybe getting a professional manicure for the first time in my life... What?  I've just never had the time or money to get one done, don't give me that look!  And no they are not "man hands" thank you.

As I was saying, our life is good but realistic.  The cat or dog or toddler occasionally pee on our bed and routinely take over the couch so I get to sit on the bean bag chair and watch nothing but endless cartoons.  I go to make a sandwich and find out that somebody ate all the damn tuna without telling me to get more while making a shopping list.  The diaper pail still stinks because apparently the toilet is some sort of soul-sucking demon out to eat my child and though he will pee in the bathtub it is impossible to consider using the potty like the rest of the world.

Life is real.  Messy, confusing, wonderful, and very very real.  So, welcome to the insanity.  You're not alone and I invite you to take a few minutes to laugh at the things I share because that is the beauty of being a parent.  You have your own tiny entertainment to provide hours of stories for others to laugh at while you shake your head and clean up the mess.

- Mommy J