Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Pregnancy: the 2nd time

 Being pregnant the second time was in many ways the same and in many others different. I still got lucky with almost no nausea during the first trimester, just a queasy feeling when I went without eating for a long time, for which healthy snacks (apples, bananas, yoghurt with granola) were the solution. I craved orange juice, salmon, enchiladas verdes, steak. I think I threw up only once. The constant tiredness was the same, maybe even more, with a toddler added to the mix. I remember coming home from work, having dinner, showering and going to bed at the same time as little Yu.

I started showing a lot earlier though. I think the body just "remembers" and everything gets pushed upwards and outwards almost immediately. I started wearing my maternity jeans sometime around week 10 or 11 because I just did not want to deal with tight waistbands. On my first pregnancy I was still wearing the loosest of my jeans up til week 28 or something.

I was a lot more achy this time though. I started having round ligament pain pretty much since the beginning. I also had a lot of trouble sleeping and felt some kind of weird pain in one side of my pelvis. I believe it was pelvic girdle pain (formerly known as pubic symphisis dysfunction), but the pain was not located in the center of the pubic bone, rather on one side, so maybe it was some weird muscular pain due to everything being stretched.

In terms of managing the pregnancy, since Yu was born quite early (at 34 weeks) I was considered high-risk and handled by the gynecology department of the hospital. My cervix was measured at different stages, to determine its length and possible weakness and to consider a cerclage. In the end it was not needed because my cervix was in the correct size range. I was also monitored closely: for diabetes, anemia, etc (not routine tests in every pregnancy within the Dutch healthcare system). Moreover, from weeks 10 to 36 I had weekly injections of progesterone, which seems to have an effect in preventing preterm birth. 

After Yu's unexpected early arrival we did not know what to expect in terms of when our second girl would come. Reaching 34 weeks was a relief. It coincided with the week I started maternity leave. From then on, we knew what to expect and we were glad for every week that passed. My mom arrived when I was 36 weeks and 5 days. At that point on one of the prenatal checks we saw the baby's head was way up high in my abdomen (from being down and close to engage in every other appointment) so they turned the baby (the procedure is called an External Cephalic Version) and luckily it went well. We also found out that our baby was measuring slightly above average and that I had a lot of amniotic fluid (polyhydroamnios) without any explained reason.

And then we waited, and we waited, and we waited. I reached full term (38 weeks), I reached 39 weeks, and then 40. I was feeling Braxton Hicks and every now and then a slight cramp, but then it would stop. I had swollen feet, but was otherwise feeling ok, still energetic, still walking a lot. In the end our girl was born at 41 weeks exactly. I never thought I would be overdue, at that point we were so eager to meet her already. I was also afraid she would be too big and that birth would become difficult. I will write the story down as soon as I get a moment.

This time I really wanted to document the pregnancy: knowing this might be our last, and haven't been able to do so last time, we did a pregnancy photoshoot. We hired Erika Bourne Photography, and we loved the results. She made us feel comfortable and the whole process was easy and enjoyable.

I was also very grateful that my closest friends organized me a baby shower, which I also wasn't able to have last time. I felt so blessed and overwhelmed by everyone's kindness. I am still in awe that our little girl is here, that we are a family of four.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Of Baby-led weaning, purées and smoothies: a feeding story.

When Yu was around 6 months we decided to start experimenting with solid foods. I had been reading well in advance about feeding methods and recommendations. I went through the Canadian, British, American, French, Mexican and Dutch advise from their respective pediatric organizations. All advise was contradictory. Should you start with proteins? With vegetables? With fruit?

In the end I trusted my gut and made a mish-mash of methods. Some things are really absolutely out of the question, mainly not giving any honey until after the 1st year (knowing well about the Clostridium botulinum risk I waited well until she was 18 months) and avoiding hard round pieces of food that could present a choking hazard like nuts or whole grapes. We also avoided salt and sugar, but did use some spices in a little tea infuser to gradually add flavour to her food.

I mostly followed baby-led weaning, starting by letting her play with soft-steamed little broccoli trees, sweet potato or cucumber sticks (to suck and bite). But I was also super excited to make my own purées, I received a french book with tons of baby recipes a present ("Family cookbook" by Laurence Haurat)  and all the recipes sounded so tasty that I decided to give it a go. Baby-led weaning purists will tell you not to combine methods or it will somehow "go wrong" but I didn't really believe it and just did a bit of both.

We did introduce 1 food at a time, letting her have it for 3 days to observe her reactions and only afterwards making mixes of previously eaten foods. We never gave her rice meal as it is completely stripped of nutrients and preferred to use a mix of cereals (oatmeal, wheat) with her steamed-fruit in the morning. When she was about 10 months old we started with yoghurt and different types of cheese. We also started with peanut butter on her bread (a very common Dutch breakfast staple) as I read that starting with allergens early might decrease the risk of developing allergies later.

She was always an avid eater and tester: she loved zucchini, eggplant, carrots, pumpkin, avocado, banana, blueberries, spinach, green peas and most fruits as well as egg and little pieces of meat.

Everything you read tells you that in order to avoid fussy and picky eaters you should introduce a variety of flavors and foods very early on. Well, ha ha. I say. Yes, sure, right. I guess those people's children did not  reach toddlerhood yet. Our girl was really used to all kinds of food: she would eat things like ratatouille and surinamese roti with pleasure. And then, slowly, she developed her own will; learnt how to say no and there were days where she would only eat orange food. Or green food.

She is now 3 years and a half and we struggle. She goes through phases -that last 2 to 4 days- where she will eat a lot of food but she then reverts to requesting the classic bland foods small kids like and refusing to even try veggies she used to love so much. So she eats a lot of yoghurt, bread with peanut butter, pasta and cheese. And we have to bargain and bribe and negotiate to get her to eat a few pieces of carrots or green stuff. We have tried all the tricks: have her help me cook and prepare her meals (which she loves), arrange food on her plate in fun figures, ignore her, let her starve. In the end she eats when she eats and she doesn't when she doesn't. I like to give myself praise as a parent whenever she eats a whole plate of spinach (over her cheesy thin pizza) or when she requests carrot soup, but most days it is still something I worry about. Trying to make sure she is getting plenty of vitamins and nutrients while not making meals a battlefield is a challenge.

 Lately we have tried things like spinach-banana-orange juice or cucumber-ginger-apple smoothies, which she loves, but I am still uncertain if those are actually any good, with all the finely cut fibers and (natural) sugars concentrated.

Spanish pediatrician Carlos Gonzalez's words on this interview really struck a cord:

 "You should eat vegetables, leave your children alone and, in the end, they'll probably eat vegetables also. But there are changes in food preferences in a lifetime. Between one and 16 years, most children would prefer macaroni to vegetables. They will change again, unless you make them really hate vegetables."

I do not have any answers but in the end I think there is only so much you can do as a parent but the child will still decide what it needs and what goes into his/her body. And toddlers will be toddlers and what they are is defiant, strong willed and stubborn. I want to trust that as long as she keeps seeing us eating a varied, healthy diet she will pick it up and start trying and enjoying all kinds of food again. 
This post was written in collaboration with The Honest Company's Feeding Stories Campaign.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Finding Dory birthday party

About a month ago Yulia turned 3. I do not know how I do this, every year I say to myself we will keep the celebration small and then I make a list and we end up having a party full of kids (and their parents). I love it though and get so excited making things ready.

We have slowly been showing short cartoons to Yu, last summer she fell in love with Nemo and Dory so we decided to go with that theme. I tried to keep the menu simple: vegetables and hummus, sandwiches, olives, cheese, fruit , mozzarella-tomato-basil sticks and some chips. I made -agua fresca de naranja-  homemade orange water and put it in a "Nemo" jar.

The cake was chocolate-raspberry, we had a blast decorating with little girl (sculpting fondant is just like playing with play-doh), following this tutorial, and lemon-rasberry cupcakes.

 Little Wing Atelier made the cutest piñata. She loved it so much that Dory had to sleep with it the day before, it was so cute. She enjoyed the day and had so much fun. It is a lot of work, but so worth it!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Getting the pink lines

I am pregnant again. We are so happy this is happening and sometimes I still can not believe it.  After we had our miracle Yu I had totally drank the Kool-Aid that as soon as we "relaxed" we would get pregnant spontaneously. I know this is not a thing and yet I wanted it so much to be true. Everyone tells you those stories: "my friend did IVF, and for the second one, they got pregnant without expecting it" or "we were about to adopt, and in the middle of the process we did a test out of the blue, and boom, positive".

We basically never used protection since baby Y. was born. I breastfed her for almost 2 years so at some point I started taking ovulation tests to verify everything was "fine" and that I was ovulating again (my cycle was back and regular, it actually came back quite fast after birth, I think 3 or 4 months after).

 I read that CoEnzyme Q 10 might have a positive effect on sperm motility and function so Mark started taking it. And then months and months passed and.... nothing.  We were back to square 1. Suffering in silence again and not even daring to talk much about it because I felt so guilty and ungrateful to even dare to want more. It is so difficult to have a kid and be among fertile people who can just get pregnant when they want or whom the event takes them by surprise. Makes you feel completely isolated.

Anyhow, in November 2015 we went to the fertility clinic again. It had been almost 2 years and things were not moving. They told us Yulia had to be fully weaned if we wanted to attempt treatment  so we had to go through that. Then we planned a trip to Mexico last April and with the whole Zika virus thing going on we wouldn't want to risk it.

So in May 2016 we were ready to start an IVF/ICSI cycle. We went through it all, confident that it would work. When I saw the negative test and my period came I was so incredibly sad. But this time around they were able to freeze 2 embryos so we could try a frozen cycle before starting from scratch, without doing the whole stimulation and follicle aspiration process. When an IVF cycle fails though, they make you wait a month to let your body rest. Come mid July we were ready for our frozen embryo transfer, singing ice-ice baby to ourselves whenever we talked about it to each other. But it was not to be. On the day of the transfer they called us to say that neither of our embryos had survived the thawing process. I cried so much that day.

 So there we were, getting ready for a 2nd round of IVF, hopes renewed, about to start. I remember being at the carousel at the beach when we received the call that we had only 1 embryo growing that time. We went on with the transfer. And waited, and waited, and waited. I did a test a bit too early and there was the faintest line, barely visible.

But I got my period the next day. I guess the line was leftover medication from the trigger shot (that's why you are not supposed to test early) but the devastation we then felt was enormous. I remember sitting on the outside benches of the office, crying, without being able to stop as I felt all our hopes crushing down. I was at work but I could barely do anything. I remember being on the phone with customers and the tears just kept coming of my eyes. I had no control over my feelings.

 After that we had to wait another "resting" cycle. We had a talk with our lovely doctor to discuss our options. Our insurance would cover a 3rd fresh IVF cycle, we had to think about which medication to use during the stimulation period. She showed us numbers and data and how my body had specifically reacted to each of the options. One medication was the one that we used during our succesful cycle (Yulia), on the other one my body seemed to react better (it was the one where we were able to get frozen embryos). Statistically, when looking at the population level, they did not really see differences between both. We went with numbers knowing that our failed cycles were most probably due to genetic factors (as my body responded well to either stimulation protocol) and hoping we would be able to get strong embryos.

We started our 3rd cycle, full of hope, but with fear trailing behind. We were not able to to let go of this just like that. We had agreed that if it didn't work out we would still discuss the possibilities of trying yet another time. And then we got lucky.  Mid October we found out this time it had stuck. We were so overjoyed and are still so grateful. I am now 21 weeks. This time my pregnancy is being followed more closely (at the hospital) and I am getting weekly progesterone shots to try to prevent a preterm birth. I am feeling well, just mostly tired. 2nd time around I have been showing a lot earlier. I was on maternity pants since week 10 or 11 and I just seem to be more achy everywhere. We are so happy that this is happening again and just keep praying that everything will go well.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Night-weaning our toddler at 24 months old

It is difficult to write about breastfeeding, about ending such a relationship. I have had this post in my mind for about 3 months now, always dreading to sit and write it. It is a subject so full of feelings that I kept procrastinating. But when I was in the midst of it, I was desperately looking for others' experiences and so here is ours.

I originally thought I would breastfeed 6 months and then continue with solids. I clearly had no idea on how babies work. Our start was not exactly easy, 6 months flew by and by then it was so comfortable and she was growing so well that I was definitely not stopping at that moment. Then I thought I would simply go on to 1 year at which point I planned on trading the boob for bottles of regular cow milk. Except the baby had other plans. We tried several different types of bottles, and they just would not replace the boob. Sure she would drink a bit and fiddle around with a bottle, but it would not ultimately make her sleep or calm her down, it was more of a game or a snack. At that point she was still waking up several times each night. Nothing would soothe her except the breast and only mom was accepted. Rocking, bouncing, shh-ing, singing, reading stories, massage, dim-lights and strict routines did not really help at those moments. I read that at that point babies "didn't really need" breast milk anymore and that it was just a ("bad") habit. I was not convinced, so I followed my instinct and kept on. The World Health Organization does recommend breastfeeding until 2 years old, so I figured there was at least some benefit in breastfeeding (and is there! *), but more importantly I felt that she truly needed it. For me, even an emotional need was justified.

We read that it had to be the non-breastfeeding partner who should be giving the bottle and soothing the baby, but she really would not have it. A year went by, in which she fully stopped breastfeeding during the day, not even when I came home from work, at around 6 pm, after being all day in daycare (the first few months she seemed to need me at the end of the day, just briefly). There were also periods, particularly during a very hot holiday (Sevilla in July, with 40ºC temperatures) where she would ask for the breast during the day which was unusual for her at that time. Honestly, I would have liked her to naturally outgrow the nightly wake ups by herself, to wait until she was ready. But it was becoming  very, very tiring and sometimes I felt she was just there because it was what she knew to do, and because she did not know how to sleep otherwise. Naps have never been a problem, but calming down at the end of an exciting day and fully relaxing has always been a challenge for her. At the end of last year we went to the fertility clinic again, to get everything tested before starting treatment again, as nothing seems to be happening on my womb, no matter how much we try. At first the doctor said that the hormonal treatment is not known to pass through the breast tissue into the milk, so in principle, she would be safe, but after discussing it with other specialists at the clinic they decided not to take a risk, as  the impact of breastfeeding on implantation is not very well understood. So even though I was ovulating, we had to wean her before attempting treatment again. It was so bittersweet, I felt like I was betraying her, in some weird way. Like it was a cruel and mean thing to do to her, to take away something that she needed so much. At the same time, I was ready to -maybe- start sleeping full nights again, and she was starting to suck very very hard, making it painful and uncomfortable.

We had heard about a technique where you gradually reduce the time of each breastfeeding session. We tried that, but with her it would not work. If she did not get all the milk she needed, or if I released her while she was soothed but not completely done, she would wake up 15-20 minutes after, or wake up multiple times in a 3 hour interval. At the moment when we decided to really wean her, just before her second birthday, she was breastfeeding 2-4 times a night: around 8 pm when she fell asleep, then around 11 pm, then around 1 am and later, sometimes, at 3 or 4 am. Since she was not going to accept shorter breastfeeding sessions we decided to go cold-turkey on every session, doing 1 session at a time, starting by the first one ( 8 pm, sleepy time) and waiting until that one was assimilated before moving on to the next one. All in all the whole process probably took around 1 month or perhaps it was 3 weeks. It was at once the hardest thing I have done as a parent, and yet, easier than I thought. I think taking the decision and going through those first 3 or 4 days was the most difficult. I was happy to do it at a moment where she could really understand what was going on, where we could explain it to her and she could process it. I did not feel like telling her things like "the boobs are asleep", it felt strange to me to talk of them as a separate entity, not as part of my body, of me. So we just told her that she was a big girl now and that she was ready to learn to sleep without mom's milk. She understood it so well she refused right away and started crying whenever we mentioned it, but she did accept to try. We also told her that we would always be there to soothe her if she needed it.

We decide not to have Mark soothe her while I went away to another room, because it felt like we would be taking away two things she wanted, the milk, and me, and she would totally lose her shit. It was something we had to do together. So on day one we explained what was going to happen and I just started rocking her, without breastfeeding. She cried and cried. I did as well, silently, while Mark was holding my hand and signed to me that it was ok, that we could go through it. I think the intense crying lasted no more than 1 minute, but it felt so long, it was so heartbreaking. At one point she would accept the pacifier and fall asleep. Those days I would still breastfeed at the next wake ups. We did this for about a week. I think she only cried the first 3 days, and those were the hardest. Once sleeping without breastfeeding was settled, we moved on to the next session, normally 11 pm. Those times normally Mark would pick her up from her crib and try to soothe her or offer water. This second session coincided with an antibiotic treatment, so she would get it at that time and since it was a sweet "treat", sometimes she would just settle down with a bit of rocking. There were times where she would want to sleep on top of my chest or where she would ask for water or milk (in a glass). This again, took about a week. Then she started skipping the 1 am session on some days, sleeping for longer stretches. If she would wake up we would explain again that she could not have breast milk, but she could be with us, and we offered water, milk or the pacifier. When this seemed settled we tackled the last wakeup (3-4 am). This time, since we were well in the process I told her she would have breast milk for a definite amount of time (10 minutes), and then we would stop. She understood it and accepted it. The next day I told her we would do it for 9 minutes, then 8, then, 7, and so forth. The day she had 2 minutes was the last time she woke up to ask for breast milk. I think two or three times after that she asked around 5 or 6 am, which was rare for her (she had not being doing that since the baby days), but since it was so close to breakfast tine and since I did not want to be inconsistent (that would seem mean to me, why would I sometimes say yes, and sometimes deny it), I would explain that she did not need it anymore and we would just cuddle. It was hard, but I was afraid it would just mess the process and it seemed cruel to go backwards when we were almost done with the process.

I really could not believe it, but since we night weaned her she started sleeping longer stretches at night. Sometimes she does still wake up in the middle of the night, but a bit of shh-ing and soothing usually brings her back to sleep. There are days where she looks at my chest, points at it and says that milk is for babies, that she is a big girl. Or she role-plays it with her cow and calf figurines. It was hard, but I think it was the good decision for both of us at the moment it happened.

Have you gone through something similar? How did you do it?
* This fascinating article summarizes it well

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Apple and banana oatmeal bars

 I made these oatmeal bars for Y.'s birthday in the form of little bears and ever since then she has been repeatedly asking for them: "Bobbi, Bobbi, Bobbi, eten". Last Monday, after we finally made them again she insisted on bringing some to her favorite teacher. We wrapped them in silk paper and a ribbon and she had them ready in her little backpack.  Toddlers are full of feelings! We arrived at school in the morning, she took them and excitedly gave them to her teacher, happily. Then we left the room to go upstairs to her classroom and she started crying and crying like she suddenly realized giving something meant letting go off it as well. It took her a bit to process it, she talked about the incident on the days that followed, we emphasized how kind and thoughtful it was for her to share her cookies, eventhough it also made her a bit sad to give them away.

Anyhow, these are so good, easy and healthy that I thought I'd post the recipe.

You will need :
4 apples
4 bananas
3 tbsp. honey
270 gr. oats
a bit of cinammon
150 gr. raisins and dried cranberries

What to do: 
Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Peel and grate the apples. Drain the excess liquid using a sieve (but don't throw it a way, save it and drink it: it is delicious, fresh apple juice). Mash the bananas. Mix the fruit with the oney, oats, cinnamon and dried fruits.

Line an oven tray with parchment paper. I used a cookie cutter to give the bars the form of bears and spooned the mix into the form, then gently lifted it. Bake for 25-30 minutes and let cool. Enjoy!
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