How I Talk to My Daughter About Privacy (Plus, Expert Tips)

The other day, my 6-year-old daughter and I had the usual morning argument about getting dressed, and I ended up losing the war on leggings. Whatever, I decided. It wasn’t worth my sanity. We got to the playground and instantly she began climbing and hanging upside down on the monkey bars and flashing her princess undies to the entire world. At school, the girls are required to wear shorts/leggings under their skirts presumably, in part, for this very reason, and I told her in a stern voice not to flip upside down (a futile request, of course). It wasn’t until a random mother came up and whispered, “Your daughter should be wearing something under that skirt. There are a lot of pervs around here, and you don’t want them to get a good look,” that I suddenly felt weird. As a rule, I despise nosy parents who give their two-cents on the playground—who is she to tell me how to raise my own kid? But then I started to second-guess myself. I mean, did she know for a fact that the 20-something guys loitering on the wobble-bridge were pedos? Was she saving my daughter from being molested? We stayed at the playground for another 10 minutes or so—pervs be damned—but on the walk back to the subway, I couldn’t help feeling morally obligated to talk to my daughter about it.

“Do you know why I always ask you to wear shorts under your skirt?”

“Because we have to at school,” she said.

“Okay, but do you know why?”

She shrugged. “For privacy?”

“Yeah, but do you know what privacy actually is?”

This time, when she shrugged, I could tell she was bored and didn’t really know (or care) what I was getting at. And to be honest, I wasn’t really sure how to phrase it. Discussing privacy is one of those topics I’ve dreaded for years because, much like the “stranger danger” talk, I don’t want it to result in cagey paranoia and fear of kidnappers lurking around every corner.  It occurred to me that when I am talking to my kids about their bodies, I usually try to keep things simple: “It’s your vagina, and nobody should be able to touch it but you … and even then, there’s a time and a place for it.”

Privacy is such a vague word, though, and as a result, I feel like I often probably make her more confused instead of less. How do you explain the need for undergarments without basically saying creepy dudes get off on seeing little girls’ panties? On that subway ride home, I tried to talk to my daughter about respect and consent (who’s allowed to touch you, and where), and about permission (both giving and receiving). After that, I asked her about five times if she understood what I meant. She rolled her eyes, nodded, and then asked for a snack.

So, did I get through to her? Who knows. I’ve since brought it up a few times, here and there, figuring that a little repetition might help get the point across. She groans almost every time I tell her how important it is to respect her body and her friends’ bodies. She rolls her eyes when I reiterate that her body belongs to her, and that everyone (even mom and dad) need permission to touch her body. I sound like a broken record, and I think we both find that annoying, but it’s important, and I’m going to keep trying, and try to let her know that I’m always here for her, if and when she wants to discuss any of it.

The privacy conversation is a very layered, very gray area, and thank goodness there are experts. I spoke to two – Cory Silverberg, sex educator and author of Sex Is A Funny Word, and Ellen Friedrichs, a health educator, writer and mom of three kids based in Brooklyn. Here are some awesome tips from both of them:

1. Discuss it with your kids as early as possible. “As soon as they can comprehend speech,” says Silverberg. And break it down by talking about the things we do alone (bathe, touch private parts) versus with others (hugging/kissing with consent), and why we wear clothes or knock on the bathroom door before entering.

2. Try to balance your adult fears with commonsense. “We can know there are scary and dangerous people in the world and work behind the scenes to keep our kids safe,” says Friedrichs. In other words, don’t freak your kids out by telling them frightening stories from the news.

3. Have conversations about respect. Friedrichs suggests broaching the topic with things like, “Every family has different rules about touching, or about bathrooms. It’s important to ask people before you touch them. Even if you just want to hold their hand or give them a hug. And people should ask you, too.”

4. Preach the bathing suit rule. “Explain to kids that no one, not older kids, not babysitters, teachers, or nice relatives, should touch them anywhere their bathing suit covers and if anyone does they should let you know,” says Friedrichs, adding that if they are touched in a bad way, they should let you know. Silverberg adds that it can be very complicated when we tell kids to “say no” if they’re being touched, when in reality it’s not always safe to say no. However, let your child know he should tell mom or dad if/when he can.

5. Don’t let genitals be a taboo subject. “It is also really important to teach young children the proper terminology so that they have words to describe something if it happens,” says Friedrichs.

6. Allow them to touch themselves. Silverberg explains that some kids really love to touch themselves, and there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that, as long as it’s in private (like at home in the bath).

7. Let kids learn on their own, too. “We want them to be taking calculated risks,” says Silverberg. As adults, we have certain expectations about privacy but kids need to figure some of it out on their own.

**Originally published on Momtastic**

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What it Feels Like to Raise a Child With Angelman Syndrome

When Theo was born in April 2013 in Brooklyn, New York, his parents, Christina Poletto and Daniel Weger, were thrilled to discover that he passed his newborn tests with flying colors and seemed perfect.

“A couple months earlier, our team of baby doctors informed us that because of my age, and according to some blood test results, my numbers for Down Syndrome were elevated,” says Poletto, who is a senior editor for Today.com. “We were thrilled to see that Theo looked great and had adopted the persona of a sweet little newborn right away.”

Within a few months, however, things started to change. Poletto had two pregnant friends with similar due dates, and as she watched all three of their babies grow and develop she realized that Theo was missing his milestones. At 4-months-old, Theo had a weak core and wasn’t turning or moving naturally, and at 6 months his motor skills were non-existent, he was laughing but not babbling, his sleep was poor, and he still had infantile reflexes.

“We initially thought that he had issues with his hearing,” says Poletto. After some testing, they opted for tubes surgery and, immediately following, Theo started moving his head more naturally and was able to tripod-sit for the first time. Yet, Theo’s parents knew something was still off.

“At that point, we thought maybe he had cerebral palsy,” she says. “We’d bring therapists to the house and they’d say they didn’t know what it was, but that it wasn’t cerebral palsy. My husband thought so much about Theo’s incessant happiness that one night he randomly Googled “happy baby syndrome” and the first thing that popped up was the definition of Angelman Syndrome.”

When they consulted Theo’s pediatrician, she dismissed their concerns. “She told us, ‘Boys always take longer, don’t sweat it.’” Although Poletto and Weger were sure it was more than just a natural delay, their pediatrician called them “alarmists” when they requested genetic testing.

Undettered, the worried parents sought a second opinion from another pediatrician. “His new doctor took one look at him and immediately ordered a genetics roundup,” says Poletto. The genetic testing took eight weeks, and within that time, right after Theo’s first birthday, his temperature spiked to 104-degrees Fahrenheit and he had his first seizure. Shortly thereafter, Theo had a grand mal seizure and was admitted to the hospital, given meds, and an EEG (a procedure that tracks and records brain wave patterns); it was then that his condition was confirmed.

“The pediatric neurologist explained that the results of the EEG displayed textbook brainwave pattern for Angelman Syndrome,” says Poletto. “She proceeded to rattle off her Googled diagnosis of this condition, and told us that Theodore would never love us or know that we were his parents…. We couldn’t believe it. It was a horrible delivery of the most important news. We didn’t see that doctor again—we couldn’t face someone who would make such bold remarks about the awareness of our child.”

According to the Angelman Syndrome Foundation, AS is a rare neuro-disorder that can be caused by a missing maternal chromosome 15, the inheritance of two paternal chromosomes, a chromosomal imprinting defect, or a mutation of the maternally delivered chromosome 15. It’s characterized by severe developmental delays, sleep disturbance, speech impairment, seizures, jerky movements (especially hand-flapping or waving), frequent chuckling or smiling, and generally excitable and happy demeanor. Although there is now prenatal testing for AS, detecting rare chromosomal abnormalities, it was not available when Poletto was pregnant.

“If you Google Angelman Syndrome, you’re going to get the worst case scenario for everything,” says Poletto. She added that she couldn’t believe that her smart, present, and aware little boy could be suffering from such a rare syndrome that affects 1 in 12,000 to 20,000 people and is often misdiagnosed as autism.

The genetics test results also came back confirming Angelman Syndrome, but Poletto says that she struggled to accept the diagnosis–and the new community they were a part of.

“The first time we went to the annual Angleman picnic—two hours from our home—we sat outside the gate thinking, ‘These aren’t our people. We’re only here because of Angelman,’” she remembers. “But then I saw angels running around, going to school, responding to their parents expressions, gesturing with iPads for what they needed. I was hesitant, but it opened my eyes to how it can be with an angel. Life doesn’t fall apart.”

Since Theo was diagnosed with Angelman, Poletto and Weger have made it their mission to help him thrive. Two years ago (when Theo was around 18-months-old), they moved upstate where they could be closer to family, and where Theo could go to a special school full time to receive PT, OT, and speech therapy. As a pattern-maker and tailor, Daniel is able to work for himself and therefore has more flexibility to help Theo and be there for the four therapists coming to and going from their home on a daily basis. Besides therapy, keeping up a daily routine helps.

Theo’s day is typically bookended by big, healthy meals. He’s on a low glycemic diet, which has been proven to help reduce seizures. “In between I like to take Theo out of the house. We run errands, hit the park where we get in our walking exercises, attend play dates with other angels, or go out to eat. We’ll often take road trips, too, because we don’t feel that Theo should be limited in his exploration of the world because of his condition. Camping takes a lot of planning and prep to travel with a special needs child, but it’s so worth it to see the smile on his face. He loves it.”

Like his parents, Theo also loves music, and has always connected with it. “He adores the full-size keyboard we have set up for him, and has somehow figured out a way to loop, record, and create amazing cacophonous mixtures of sounds that somehow work,” says Poletto. “We’d like to pursue more music lessons or music-based therapies in the future. I truly believe that Theodore connects with music on the deepest levels, and gleans something from sounds that he doesn’t from the natural world. It’s inspiring to see that sort of connection.”

One of the hardest things about raising a child with Angelman Syndrome has been Theo’s lack of speech. “I wish he could tell me what he wants for dinner,” says Poletto. “He can do open mouth sounds like ‘ma-ma-ma-ma-ma’ which is how he expresses emotion. If he’s hungry he might do more of a whine. It’s incredibly difficult watching a nonverbal child try to convey his frustrations, wants and needs, or express pain.”

However, there is reason for Poletto, Weger, and other parents like them to be optimistic about the future. The Foundation for Angelman Syndrome Therapeutics (FAST) recently received a $5.8 million grant from the Marnier-Lapostolle Foundation, to help develop and speed up life-changing clinical trials.

“The clinical trials range from ketone ester drinks that helps keep seizures at bay, to injections that might help with sleep, to various other therapies,” says Poletto. “There are two AS organizations, and many on the medical board are mothers of angels and they have the brains to back up what they’re looking for. They know AS has been cured in mice, and exactly what to look for.”

Poletto thinks there could be a cure within the next two years, which is both exciting and a little scary. “When we talk about these cures, what does it mean exactly?” she wonders. “Is it going to change his disposition? Is he going to be different from what I love? What if it doesn’t work? What if it has a reverse effect? I hope that wouldn’t happen, but would he regress at all? It’s difficult to contemplate. You don’t want to be in a more difficult spot than you already are.”

Fears aside, Poletto and Weger have high hopes for a cure. A cure could mean improving Theo’s ability to move, gesture, communicate, create, and expand on his intentions and interactions with others and the world. Calming his constantly buzzing mind might improve his sleep and keep the seizures at bay for good. A cure could help Theo express his ideas, opinions, and thoughts beyond facial expressions and gestures and make life less frustrating for him.

“I would love for Theo, and all angels, to benefit from something that will make their lives easier, without removing the magical essence of who they are,” says Poletto. “That is my hope for a cure.”

For more information on Angelman Syndrome, please visit: Angleman.org and CureAngelman.org

**Originally published on Momtastic**

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Why I’m Struggling to Stop Breastfeeding My Toddler

bfeed

I’m looking down at the beautiful, smiling face of my nearly-2-year-old son as he sits in my lap. His soft blond hair, those enviable mile-long eyelashes. He’s cherubic and sweet and perfect …aaand he’s sucking on my boob. Still.

I never planned to nurse for this long. Truly. When I made it to 15 months with my daughter, four years ago, I felt pretty pleased with our end date. She was down to one feed a day and my milk supply was dwindling so I made an executive decision. It made me sad and I worried that our bond would be broken, but she was ready to stop, and so was I. But with my son, it’s different.

This kid can’t get enough. Whether we’re on the couch, playing in the garden, or out at a restaurant, my son will walk over to me, sit in my lap, and assume the position. If I don’t immediately comply, he will help me by grabbing my hand and leading it up to the top of my shirt — like maybe I forgot where my own breasts are. And if you’re wondering: Yeah, it can be kind of embarrassing. He’s getting big. I always swore I wouldn’t breastfeed a child who could legitimately ask for it in words, and yet … “Mommy, booboo!” he shouts. Okay, so “booboo” isn’t exactly the Queen’s English, but the dude knows what he wants, and he knows how to get it.

Sometimes I tell him no. I am not HBO On-Demand. I don’t like to give in when we’re out in crowded places. And it’s not about displaying my sagging rack (well, not much), it’s more the fact that people look — they notice the 3-foot tall child in my arms — and then awkwardly avert their eyes when they realize what we’re doing. What seemed natural and acceptable and my human right when he was a baby, suddenly feels shameful.

I’ve obviously verbalized my paranoia at home because, a few weeks ago, I took my kids out for pizza and when my son started having an epic meltdown, I quickly brought him into my lap to shut him up. To my relief, he stopped crying, but then my daughter said, “Mommy, not inpublic!” I. Was. Mortified. For both of us. At that point I felt obligated to stand my ground, so I nursed for another minute or two, but I couldn’t help wondering why my daughter got so miffed. Was it because she’s a total teenager (at age 5) and everything I do is lame? Did a school friend tell her breastfeeding in public is wrong? Or did I project my own mania onto her?

I suppose I could have used that moment as motivation to start wearing turtlenecks and let the well dry up … but … somehow, I just can’t. My daughter’s freak out was (thankfully) a one-off, and the fact is, I’m not ready to stop for several reasons. First of all, breastfeeding is really f*cking convenient. Your boobs are always there. I’ve lost my keys, my wallet, I’ve run out of the house with an un-charged cell phone, but I’ve never forgotten my boobs. They call breastmilk “liquid gold” for a reason, and mine can keep my son busy when I need to get a bit of work done, lull him when it’s time for bed, and comfort him better than anything else in the world (except maybe Daniel Tiger) when he’s upset.

And there’s another really, really good reason to keep breastfeeding. Aside from the glory of keeping another human being alive and giving them useful antibodies and (possibly) an IQ boost, what it really comes down to is the calories. Breastfeeding can burn up to 500 calories a day, and that is a pretty solid argument to keep doing it. In fact, when you put it that way, I may nurse forever!

Just kidding, I will stop. Eventually. But stopping is going to be hard. The older my son gets, the more stubborn and demanding he becomes. It’s not that I feel powerless, per se, but taking care of two kids on little sleep has worn me down, and most of the time I don’t have the energy to deny him. Giving him the boob is just so damn easy, and it makes him so damn happy, and I want him to be happy. And when I look at him now, curled up in my arms and feeling safe and protected, I just can’t bring myself to take it away from him. You remember that fear I mentioned earlier? The one about breaking the bond between me and my daughter? Well, it wasn’t totally unjustified. I know she loves me, and obviously I love her more than anything … but I do think she stopped needing me as much when she stopped nursing. I’m not ready to be needed less by my son. Knowing that within a few days or weeks he will forget our bond makes me sad. It’ll be like living with a person with alzheimer’s, only — okay — not at all.

So I’ll try to get there. Maybe soon, maybe not. Maybe when he learns to say, “May I have some milk, please, Mommy?” Maybe then I’ll close up shop.

[Originally published on Momtastic.com]

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What will the Orlando tragedy mean for my kids?

IMG_20160526_210732For about a year, my 5-year-old daughter decided she wanted to be a lesbian. I don’t think she totally knew what it meant, but she was used to me encouraging her to be and love anyone — boy or girl. Maybe my repeated emphasis on “love is love” slanted her decision, but it made me proud, too. It still does, but it makes me scared now, too. Knowing that transgender people can’t use the bathroom of their choice seemed oppressive and immoral a few weeks ago, but after the tragedy in Orlando, I am suffocating in sadness.

It is too tragic to comprehend.

I want my kids to grow up to be whoever they want to be, but not if it means they’re going to be gunned down. On the other hand, I want my kids to go to school and grow up, too. Should I let Sandy Hook and Columbine scare me out of sending them to school?

It seems like there will always be another tragedy, as long as the NRA allows such unrestricted access to assault weapons, and it makes me feel so helpless. All I can do is sign petition after petition, support every effort to raise funds and awareness for the Pulse victims and LGBTQ communities around the world, and Like every article posted remembering the beautiful victims that were so heartlessly massacred this past weekend in Orlando.

I could also urge my kids to do whatever it takes to fit in. When they’re old enough to hear the horror stories of such senseless acts of hatred and destruction, I could beg my kids to be straight and “normal” and to lay low and stay out of harms way. I could beg them never to go to nightclubs, or fast food restaurants, or even the post office. But I can’t, I don’t want to, and there wouldn’t be any point because harms way is never in the same place twice.

Who knows if my daughter will grow up to be a lesbian, and who cares. All I want is for her to grow up in a world with stronger laws on gun control, more laws supporting the rights of LGBTQ people, and no more hate.

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What IVF Feels Like, According to Women Who Have Been Through It

After two years of trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant, Erin W.’s  doctor recommended that she try In Vitro Fertilization — a process commonly known as IVF, in which eggs are removed from your ovaries and mixed with sperm in a lab. Embryos are then transferred into your uterus. So, the 32-year-old, who lives in Brooklyn, New York, began a journey filled with doctor’s visits, shots, and tests. “IVF hurt my pride and my emotions more than it physically hurt,” she shares. But, Erin says that she was willing to go through all of it to realize her dream of becoming a mom — and it worked. She now has a daughter.

At the start of an IVF cycle, people usually feel really good because their hormone levels, especially estrogen, are high, says Allison Rodgers, MD, a board certified ob-gyn and fertility expert with Fertility Centers of Illinois, in Chicago. “However, as the ovaries swell with follicles, some women have cramping or bloating,” she explains. “Rarely, women can get ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome in which the ovaries over respond to the medication. This is rare, but can be serious.”

If you’re considering undergoing IVF, you may feel overwhelmed and even scared. But the exciting part is that IVF may lead to the baby that you’ve so desperately wanted. To give you a sense of what it really feels like to go through IVF, we talked to women who have actually been through it. Their experiences have many things in common, but they’re unique as well.

“IVF was a last resort for me, so by the time we tried it, I felt numb. It’s so expensive, so there was only going to be one round for us. Finding out that I was pregnant felt like a gigantic relief after the disappointment and physical discomfort of trying other fertility treatments for 18 months without success. The early months of pregnancy, when I was so sick and unsure if the pregnancy would ‘stick,’ were intensely painful. I do, however, feel incredibly appreciative now for the fact that I’m a mom. I take the job seriously, not that I’m perfect in any way, but I’m doing my best. Even though I fancy myself an atheist, I thank God every day for my adorable, sweet, smart, funny little boy and his little brother, who was a total surprise!” — Julie M., Brooklyn, New York

“We went through our first round of IVF after trying to have a baby for eight years. I gave myself all the shots, which weren’t painful, except when I occasionally hit a nerve. I produced a decent number of eggs, and the retrieval went smoothly, but I had a bit of pain and some uncomfortable bloating for about a day afterward. Unfortunately, it was unsuccessful, which was just heart breaking. A few months later, we did a Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) with donated embryos. I started my shots again, getting my body ready to be pregnant. Then, the transfer was done and it worked! The hardest part was the progesterone shots, which continued until I was 11 weeks pregnant.” — Niki J., Pullman, Washington

“I was sedated for egg collection and there was quite a bit of discomfort afterwards, so I rested for a couple of days to recover. While I was sedated, my husband had to deliver his sample, which he found to be very difficult due to the surroundings! The embryologist kept in touch with us over the next couple of days to let us know how the embryos were developing, and we were eventually called in for the transfer. This was a surreal experience because I was in the operating room with my legs in stirrups and feeling very exposed, making small talk. We discovered that the nurse, embryologist, surgeon, and I all lived in the same village. So, there I was, making small talk with my legs spread wide in front of two strange men…any remaining shred of dignity disappeared at that point!” — Jen H. Cardiff, Wales

“I did three cycles of IVF, spread out over nearly two years. All unsuccessful. The side effects were what I expected. On one hand, I definitely felt way more physically exhausted. I remember having a really tough meeting at work, one that I normally would have just been really pissed off about, but this time tears were streaming down my face. It was physiological and I couldn’t control it. On the other hand, when I was on estrogen I felt like a friggin’ goddess. It was bizarre. The needles, OMG, the needles. So, so bad. Stabbing a five-inch needle — so big you could see the opening of it — into my ass each night was a nightmare. The stomach shots were no biggie and I got used to them right away. But to do the ass shots I’d have to ice down my butt till it lost all feeling.” — Hallie G., Hudson, New York

“I was sad and lonely by the time I did IVF. I never thought I would get pregnant. I wanted to talk about it, but most people didn’t understand the heartache, and my husband didn’t want me to discuss our business. My doctor called and told me it was time to start the process while I was at a conference for work. I left and went to a specialty pharmacy, a half hour away, to pick up my drugs. I went back to the hotel, where the conference was, and got some band-aids and alcohol swabs from the front desk. I gave myself a shot in the public bathroom. I was so worried a co-worker was going to come in and see me! But, the actual shots did not hurt that much. Once you get used to sticking a needle in your stomach it’s not so bad. The side effects weren’t that bad, either. The actual procedure to remove the eggs was a bit painful but kind of dreamlike, because of the anesthesia. I was awake for the placement of the embryos so it was a bit uncomfortable, but not terrible, and it was over in a couple of minutes. The doctor gave us a picture of our embryos and a little petri dish to remember our visit. I thought it was so weird at the time, but now I treasure that first picture of my twins.” — Jenn S., Chapel Hill, North Carolina

“My husband had to give me shots at a very specific time, something like 12:15 a.m., every day. Then more tests, followed by going to hospital for the egg retrieval. During the procedure, I was on a big table in an operating room with my pelvis in the air. The last thing I remember before they knocked me out was the anesthesiologist telling me she liked my nail polish. I woke up when they were wheeling me back to the recovery room. My doctor came and told me how many eggs he got — 15! I went home and slept for hours, and the next day they called to tell only 8 of the 15 eggs had fertilized. Still good. Then it’s a bit of a waiting game, because they wanted to see which embryos would continue to thrive. Four days later, one embryo was put into my uterus. They also gave me a picture of my embryo – just a ball of cells at that point, but it’s crazy when I look at it now. That’s my daughter’s first baby picture!” — Erin W., Brooklyn, New York

“Making contact with the fertility clinic was about the most daunting thing I’ve ever done, even though it only involved sending an e-mail. I was making the decision to become a mother on my own, and I was terrified. However, once I’d met with the doctors and nurses, and once I was really on my way, it was all fine. I might liken the experience to going away to college—absolutely intimidating, horribly isolating, seemingly beyond my ability to withstand…until it wasn’t. Generally speaking, I was happy while going through IVF. I may have been moodier than usual, but I wasn’t weepy or depressed. I felt a sense of purpose. I most definitely took great pride and care in making sure I did all the injections right and at the right time. I was taking control of something, and I was proud of myself as well as, of course, apprehensive. And, I ended up with a healthy baby.” –Caroline S., Washington, D.C.
[Originally posted on Momtastic.com]

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8 Truths About Why I Seem to Love My Second Child More Than My First

IMG_20150730_090512As a kid, I remember asking my mother, “Who do you love more?” Her answer was always the same. “I love you and your sister both equally,” she would say, and give me a big squeeze. Now that I’m a mom, it’s time for me to face that same question. And the answer should be obvious. I love my 5-year-old daughter just as much as I love my 1-year-old son. Yes, of course I love them both equally … but I can’t help noticing that sometimes it seems different with my second child…

1. I care more when my son hurts himself. When my daughter was a toddler, I prided myself on taking a step back and not overreacting when she tumbled. But now, anytime my son falls down, I scramble to his side and shower him with affection. The truth is… I probably wasn’t paying attention when he fell. I was helping his big sister on the monkey bars, or rushing to make two different breakfasts and a lunch, and since I don’t know what actually happened, I have to overcompensate.

2. I am more affectionate with my son. He always wants to be held, and we have the best snuggles. The truth is… I’d cuddle my 5-year-old, too, but she’s not usually in the mood. Half the time she’s mad at me (and, let’s be honest, I’m annoyed with her, too), or else she’s off at school/playdate/art class. Besides, this is the last baby I’m ever going to have, and I don’t want to miss a minute of it.

3. He didn’t kill my social life. When Friday night rolls around, I am perfectly happy putting on sweatpants and going to bed early, knowing I’ve got a 6 or 7 a.m. wake-up call. The truth is… When my daughter was born, there was this moment of panic: “Ohmygod. My life will never be the same. WHAT HAVE I DONE?!?!” By the time my son arrived, it wasn’t that big a shift because I’m already a hermit parent. Parties, bars, openings — I gave up most of that stuff years ago.

4. My son is showered with gifts. Our house is full of books, mountains of Duplo, and every type of ball, puzzle, and teether. The truth is… Only two of those toys are his; the rest are hand-me-downs from his big sister or one of her friends.

5. We have all the fun. We laugh together, play together. We don’t worry about anything. The truth is… I’ve outgrown the hypochondria I had with my first baby. I take it in stride now. My son ate a random band-aid at the playground? Protein. And I never bother with the pediatrician if he’s got a 102-degree fever and a runny nose anymore. I’m not an expert, but I’m more confident (and relaxed) in my job.

6. My son is in all my pictures. Scrolling through my phone, you might think I only have one child. Every picture is of my son: taking a bath, laughing on the swing set, eating strawberries. The truth is… When my daughter was an only child, there were a billion pictures of her, too, but now that she’s in kindergarten there’s no time. By the time I pick her up from school, it’s a race to get home and make dinner, bathe both kids, and get them off to bed. Not to mention, she hates posing for pictures!

7. I’m totally in tune with my son. I have the right game, the right song, the right story for every occasion. It’s like I’m a second baby savant. The truth is… I learned the hard way, just like every other mom. When my daughter was born I only knew a few songs. Over time, I learned a few more and a few more. Everything I know has been tried and tested on his big sister.

8. He’s an easier baby. I don’t need to watch him like a hawk when he’s playing and exploring and testing new skills. The truth is… He’s not an easier baby. Not by a long shot. What feels easier isn’t really because of him, but because I am a more experienced mom. After five years of parenting, I am easier on myself, and naturally that filters down through my kids.

*Originally published on Momtastic.com

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So Infuriating: Michigan Pediatrician Refuses to Treat Lesbian Couple’s Baby

A 6-day-old baby girl in Michigan was refused treatment by a pediatrician because her parents are lesbians. There are so many things wrong with that statement, it makes my brain hurt. When I first read this story, I couldn’t believe it. Really? I mean, really?

It continues to baffle me that people still find homosexuality so morally offensive. Gay, straight, female, black, we should all have equal rights — it’s that simple. I’m straight, and I think my daughter is too (judging by her crush on almost every Disney prince), but that doesn’t stop me from chiming in whenever I get the chance. “You know, you don’t always have to marry Prince Eric,” I tell her. “You’re allowed to fall in love with Ariel if you want.” She doesn’t totally get my point, but I will never stop reminding her that it is okay for girls to love girls and boys to love boys.

Living in a progressive Brooklyn neighborhood, it’s easy to forget that there is still so much prejudice in the world. Nobody blinked an eye at the gay couple in my newborn prep class, or the lesbians at baby yoga. My local grocery store is a distributor for the free ‘Gay Parenting’ magazine. It’s okay to be different. It’s great, in fact.

Sexual orientation is nobody’s business and it should be legal to love and marry whomever you choose, but, in this case, that’s not even the point. After my rage subsided on behalf of the really adorable Michigan couple, I still couldn’t get this story out of my head. Outrage for discrimination aside, this doctor — this professional who specializes in the needs and wellbeing of children — REFUSED TO TREAT A BABY. It’s worth saying in all caps because in my head I am screaming. On what planet is it okay to discriminate against a baby?

Okay, calm down. Calm down. Just for arguments sake, let’s try to rationalize it. Put aside the facts and your personal feelings about same-sex couples. Imagine these are swastika-tattooed clan members bringing their baby in for a checkup. Or convicted murderers. Or Jack Johnson fans. If the victim were somebody you disagreed with morally or simply didn’t like, could you see it from the pediatrician’s side? It shouldn’t take you long to realize, NO, that doesn’t change anything. Of course racists are horrible, and don’t even get me started on Jack Johnson, but that has absolutely nothing to do with a baby. Nothing. No matter how you look at it, it’s not about the parents. It’s about the baby. An innocent, six-day-old baby.

It is infuriating that anyone, much less a doctor, would take her narrow-minded beliefs out on a baby. It is more than infuriating, though. This story makes me sad and confused. I never thought to ask my pediatrician if she supported gay rights, but does she? I don’t know if she’s a democrat, or a christian, or a member of the NRA, but none of those things should affect the job she does. Unfortunately, it affected this Michigan pediatrician. After praying long and hard, she apparently felt so strongly that she chose to humiliate and belittle the new moms. By sharing her petty, bigoted views, she disrupted their happy-family-mojo, distracting them from the extraordinary first moments of parenthood.

I feel for them, and I wish none of us had to raise our children in an intolerant world. But, forget about the hippocratic oath and the dead-wrong decision this pediatrician made. The truth is, these mamas dodged a bullet. Who wants someone like that caring for their child? Not me.

[Originally posted on Momtastic.com]

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Born in the bath, in Bath

When I woke up Sunday at 4 a.m. with strong contractions — a week before my due date — I thought it was a false alarm.

“No, I really think you’re in labor,” my husband said, watching me wince and grit my teeth every four minutes like clockwork. “Call the hospital,” he added, and handed me the phone.

A mild-mannered nurse agreed. Second babies often come quicker, and she suggested I make my way in to the hospital ASAP. Well, this was not part of my ideal labor plan but I did as I was told. I had been hoping the baby would come on Tuesday. Tuesday would be after Trixie and I attended The Queen’s Knickers (a kids musical) on Sunday, and after my booked-long-in-advance dermatologist appointment on Monday. Tuesday worked for me.

Sunday, however, worked for the baby. At 5 a.m. we dropped Trixie off with her granddad and drove through the empty, pre-dawn streets to the Royal United Hospital in Bath. Hobbling into the Princess Anne maternity wing between two-minute-apart contractions, the first thing Andy and I noticed were the screams — heinous, blood curdling shrieks echoing out of delivery suites and into the vacant hallways as women were tortured labored nearby.

“Jesus,” I gasped, but there was no time to dwell. With my legs spread wide, my midwife (a total stranger, because prenatal, labor, and postnatal care are handled by different midwives in the UK) told me I was about 8cm dilated. In a haze of pain I muttered the words “water birth,” and the squat, mousy brunette shuffled off to fill the tub — which took forever to fill, by the way. Water dribbled from the tap like the wheezy remnants of a kids juice box. Even the midwife seemed to think it wouldn’t fill in time.

“You could labor on the bed,” she suggested. “Or squat, or get on all fours?”

“No,” I bristled. My homebirth dreams had already been quashed; the least I could do was labor aquatically. “I’ll wait.”

While we waited, I thought about Buckethead. He’s a guitarist known for wearing an expressionless white mask and KFC bucket-hat, and we’d been up late watching his music videos the night before. A contraction rolled through me and I wondered about the bucket. Was it an affront to vegetarians? Did the bucket combat stage fright? Within seconds the pain was so severe I realized I didn’t give a crap about Buckethead or his greasy cardboard helmet.

“Do you want gas-and-air?” the midwife asked softly.

This I was eager to try. Quickly I nodded and accepted the portable oxygen and nitrous oxide mask. Gas-and-air is the go-to pain relief in the UK. In the scheme of things, it is lowest on the totem pole, followed by the nerve-stimulating TENS machine, pethidine (morphine), or what we in the U.S. are all familiar with, the epidural. Gas-and-air, aka laughing gas, is supposed to have a calming effect, but with each sharp inhale, all I felt was a buzz of nervous energy. Thanks for making me feel like I drank seven cups of coffee, gas-and-air.

Soon, a mega-contraction rippled through me. “I think I need the bathroom,” I groaned.

My midwife stopped in her tracks. “The toilet?” she said. “What? Don’t sit on the toilet.” At first we thought she must be kidding, but she explained, “If you think you need a poo, it probably means the baby’s coming. You don’t want your baby born there, do you?!”

Point taken. So, with Andy’s hands digging firmly into my lower back, we made our way across the delivery suite and into the ¾ full tub.

“What do I do?” I asked, taking another swig of gas-and-air, which, although ineffective, did alert my husband that another contraction was ahead.

“What do you feel like doing?” the midwife asked.

I looked at Andy for the answer. He shrugged.

“Uh, I guess I could push?” I finally said, wondering if this was a test, and if I would pass.

She shrugged. “Okay then, give it a try.”

Part of me appreciated her laidback, hands-off approach to midwifery, but another part of me just wanted to grab her by the scrub lapels and scream, “You’re the midwife! Tell me what the fuck to do!”

But it was up to me. And, actually, that was kind of cool. I pushed when I felt like it; I bossed my husband around; I changed positions when the urge struck. I took charge (I mean, while screaming bloody murder and begging the midwife to ‘Get this thing out of meeee!’)

Ten minutes later the tub had finally filled and I was looking at a grapefruit-sized human head between my thighs. “Can it breathe?” I sputtered, reveling in the sensation of my baby’s body wriggling inside me as its noggin swiveled in the water.

“It’s not breathing yet,” the midwife replied calmly.

How the hell could she be so calm? There was a frigging head twisting around between my thighs!

“One more push,” she said—or, like, mildly suggested, I guess.

With Andy’s hand still dedicatedly rammed into my lower back, I did as I was told. A few seconds later, out came the body, and I pulled a total stranger from between my legs and into my arms.

Andy cut the slimy, gelatinous umbilical cord and then looked between the baby’s legs. “It’s a boy!” he cried.

No way. Even though we suspected we’d have a boy, and our family and friends thought we’d have a boy, and even my mother’s psychic in Santa Fe predicted a boy, I was still in total shock that it was, indeed, a boy. A remarkable boy named Harvey, we later decided.

Though the next few hours were a blur, some things stick out in my mind — especially when comparing this experience to childbirth in America. For one, the nurses never took Harvey away. Not to warm him or weigh him or clean him or to give me a chance to rest. Never. Your baby stays with you the whole time, which would be a frigging miracle at a US hospital. Also, we were released three hours after Harvey was born. Three hours! Think about it: While you were at the multiplex seeing ‘Interstellar’, I was delivering a baby, staying long enough for vitals, cuddles, and a cup of tea, and then driving home with him in the backseat. Wow.

And the midwife. I joke, but she was amazing. It might seem glaringly obvious that midwives are incredible and invaluable, but two weeks after Harvey was born there was a Midwife Strike in England over a one percent pay increase. One percent? Frigging give it to them, right? But apparently one percent is a tall order (in a world where the MPs have been recommended to get a 10 percent pay increase — insanity!).

So, that’s it. That’s my birth story. Even though it didn’t fit in with my ideal labor plan, everything worked out pretty well. Trixie’s granddad took her to see The Queen’s Knickers (“Mummy, there were knickers everywhere!”), and I kept my booked-long-in-advance dermatologist appointment, too.

“Ms. Richards?” the doctor said, calling me into his office a mere 30 hours later. “This way.”

“Coming,” I said, then added, “Sorry,” when I realized how slowly I must’ve been walking. “I gave birth yesterday.”

It was worth it just to see the look on his face.

[Published on Momtastic.com]

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Making Friends For My Daughter … With or Without Her Help

We’re one month in, and Trixie seems to be adjusting very well to life in England. She’s happy with nursery school, our house, and the new words she’s learning for the things in her life (like mum!). She’s even started to make a few friends … well, sort of. Turns out, my daughter has the frustrating tendency of hindering her own friend-making abilities. Let me elaborate.

Yesterday at the playground, Trixie was whizzing around on the flying saucer swing (a contraption I’ve not seen in the states, but it is awesome), when a towheaded little girl with a Cabbage Patch face and bouncy braid (I mean a plait as the English say) came up and asked to get in the swing, too. She looked a year or two older, and Trixie was instantly smitten. They giggled and sang until the girl ran off for more playground fun. Trixie wasted no time chasing after her older, bolder pal. For about 20 minutes the girls played and chased and egged each other on. I pushed them on swings, guided them on the ropes course, and bought imaginary ice cream from them … though my heart sank a little when the girl told us she didn’t live in Bradford on Avon, and was only there while her mom had a picnic with a friend (and left the caretaking to me, apparently). Turns out, our new friend was from Swindon, a town about an hour away (think Park Slope to Newark — and just as charming).

An hour away? I thought to myself. Ugh. Not to sound lazy, but that’s too far to schlepp for a playdate, considering we don’t have a car. Instantly, our plaited pal was dead to me. Trixie, on the other hand, wasn’t sharing in my geographical antipathy. The two girls continued playing but I retreated to a shady patch of grass, loath to make small talk with a four-year-old I’d likely never see again.

It wasn’t until a bit later that a blaze of ginger hair skipped into the playground and I heard a little boy yell, “Hi Trixie!”

My ears perked up. Hastily, I made my way toward them, smiling at the mother when she caught up with her son.

“Does your son go to the nursery school?” I asked, quickly pushing Trixie’s swing like I’d been there the whole time and not sitting on the grass reading my Facebook feed.

“Yes,” the mom said with a friendly smile. “And this is Trixie? I’ve heard Oliver mention her!”

“Cool!” I said, and smiled back.

We were off to a good start. The kids were all playing together and the mom and I were talking … but then all of a sudden Trixie and the Cabbage Patch Party Crasher zoomed off to another area of the playground. Oliver shrugged and went in the opposite direction, taking his mother with him. Noooo! Come back! I thought desperately. But I put on a brave face, secretly praying Little Miss Towhead would eff-off already. Yeah, sure, maybe they were having fun, but Trixie was ruining a perfect opportunity to befriend someone we might actually see again! Trixie, don’t be a fool, I wanted to scream.

But I’m not a horrible person. Not really. I stood back and let the girls have fun, occasionally using my psychokinetic powers to will them back toward the slides and adorable Oliver. To be honest, I can’t blame her. Trixie is a girl, and not just a girl, but a girlie girl. Of course she wanted to talk about Frozen and chase after a real-life Elsa clone rather than play bad guys with a boy from school. How was she supposed to know Oliver was a keeper, and that we’d probably never see blondie again?

However, I’m happy to report, it wasn’t a total bust. The three of them managed to band together for a game of hide and seek, and I focused diligently on chatting with the boy’s mother. (The girl’s mom, BTW, was still totally uninvolved and enjoying a picnic 50 feet away, which Oliver’s mum and I happily rolled our eyes at and bonded over.) Turned out, we had a nice conversation, and when a friend of hers arrived (with another of Trixie’s classmates), we all had a friendly chat. Eventually, Cabbage Patch McPlait was called back to the picnic blanket, and Trixie got in a few solid minutes with the two kids from her nursery school. And even though she kind of screwed it all up by chasing after a playground-one-night-stand, it all worked out in the end because, guess what: Trixie snagged an invite to a birthday party this weekend. Our first English birthday party –hooray!

So, ultimately, it’s okay if Trixie foils her chances at making new friends. That’s what I’m here for, and I’m damn good at my job.

[from Momtastic.com]

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From Brooklyn Pre-School to UK Nursery

From the moment we got to Trixie’s new nursery school, I knew things were going to be different. Not just because the space itself is a gorgeous three-story Georgian home opposite a sprawling playing field, whereas her Brooklyn preschool was in an old schoolhouse with a concrete slab for outdoor space and a gym in the basement. Cosmetic allure aside, there are a few things that set this English nursery school apart.

It wasn’t an ordeal to get in. Unlike Brooklyn, I wasn’t required to visit the school or (as in some cases) put Trixie through an interview process to apply for admission. All I did was send a pleading e-mail, informing the manager that we were about to move to England and if I didn’t get my daughter into a nursery school she wouldn’t make any friends and she’d hate her new life and we’d all drown in our own misery. Bam. Done.

It’s total chaos … but organized chaos. I’m no longer fooled by the lush front lawn, sparsely strewn with children’s playthings and muddy wellies: inside the foyer, it is anarchy. Kids everywhere, caregivers trailing behind, and an alarm—a sort of muffled but constant wail. The siren seems to trigger whenever the front door is ajar (a reassuring thought, should a toddler be nimble and tall enough to twist the lock and escape). When the door shuts and the alarm stops, boisterous energy ebbs and flows between rooms. One plush-carpeted room leads to the next, each floor separating the different age groups in a Hogwarts-esque fashion from Minnows, to Puffins, to Tigers and Giraffes. Heaps of babies and toddlers giggle and cry; sing and play. And by pick-up time, the kids are never found quietly waiting at 4 p.m. sharp, as I relied on in Brooklyn; no, it’s anyone’s guess where I’ll find Trixie, from the playhouse on the front lawn, to the field over the road, or maybe reading a story in the classroom. Like I said—anarchy! And yet, somehow it works.

There’s a special school-issued bag. On the first day, I was given a pink cloth sack with the school’s logo and told to personalize it, fill it with spare clothes, and bring it back. I managed to throw in some extra princess undies, but completely forgot to ‘Trixify’ it. And so, on her second day, I foolishly scrawled her name across the label with Sharpie. Bad move. Turns out, most of her classmates bags are embellished with patchwork, buttons, and even macramé. Damn you, English parents! Needless to say, I went to my mother-in-law’s begging for colored ribbons, and hurriedly sewed an array of vibrant tassels onto Trixie’s bag. God forbid my daughter become the loser-new-girl with an uncaring, uninspired American mom.

The cirriculum is different. I’ve always been curious if my daughter was taught anything other than macaroni necklace techniques at her school in Brooklyn, but up on the third floor of her new nursery (I mean second floor, because the wacky English call the first floor the ground floor, and the second floor the first floor and—help!), the Tigers dress as knights and ladies for Medieval studies, and have a weekly French lesson during which they name and then eat fresh fruit from the market. Tres magnifique!

The field trips are less stressful (for me). In Brooklyn, the idea of toddler outings used to panic me. I’m not super-overprotective, but there was a lot of traffic and—I dunno—it just seemed like a lot of effort. Here, however, watching the kids don their tabards (aka neon yellow vests) and scurry down off-road passageways to the local farmers market to buy flowers, I feel totally at ease. I suppose maybe the organic cheese monger at the library-parking-lot market could accost them as they’re selecting a dazzling bouquet of foxgloves … but I think I’ll chance it.

Originally posted on Momtastic.com

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