Embracing Deployment Chaos

During her husband's 11 1/2 years of active duty service with the US Navy, Laura worked full and part-time, completed a Master's degree and the lion's share of her Ph.D., birthed 2 babies, moved 9 times, and still remembered to buy milk. Check out her advice on facing the chaos head-on in this week's guest post.

Guest Post by Laura Paganucci

Being a parent is hard.  We all know it.  No matter what walk of life you may lead, we all face seemingly insurmountable challenges, achieve great victories, and experience more defeats than we care to admit.  I have learned a lot about myself while being a mother, from patience, to absolute love, to the limits of my frustration.  More specifically however, my time spent raising children through deployments gave me my most prized quality, resiliency.

While my husband was active duty with the United States Navy, he was deployed, detached, or training for well over half of our marriage, was gone 3 of my daughter’s first 5 years, and he didn’t enter my son’s life until the age of 2 ½.

As such, I learned to be resilient.  I remember my first day going it solo in Japan.  It was evening, about 95 degrees and equivalent humidity.  My daughter, then 2, sat in her stroller and my son, 2 months old, was literally glued to me with sweat, no longer needing the Bjorn to stay upright.  I stood at the head of the Ginza, a 6-block length of storefronts showcasing screaming neon lights, kanji characters, restaurants and unknown street food, all on a stick.  We had been in country for a week and my husband was gone.

So there I stood, a sight to behold, a tiny white girl strapped to two wide-eyed children, sobbing in public, in Japan, at the busiest intersection in town.  I admit, not the proudest moment of my life, but a moment none-the-less.  At that exact point in time, I made a conscious decision to begin embracing deployment chaos.  I embraced the chaos when my daughter decided to stuff a plastic lizard tail up her nose and proceed to swallow it, prompting a trip to the base ER the night before a ridiculous bus trip to Nagasaki.  I embraced the chaos when I opened the door to my tiny faded red Honda Fit, a kid on either hip, to find 12 inches of standing water after the latest typhoon.  I embraced the chaos when I realized my potential mistake, after getting on the plane of course, in taking my 7-month old son to a third world country just so we could get a week away with my husband.  And I embraced the chaos even when my daughter cried for her father every night and my son no longer remembered the man I so desperately loved.

Don’t get me wrong, embracing deployment chaos was rarely pretty.  It meant being stoic in public and for my children, but melting into tears when alone.  But it also meant wiping away those tears, standing up straight, and setting sights on tomorrow, taking every day one day at a time.  It meant finding the good in my day and celebrating enough little victories to turn the tides to happiness and contentment.  Embracing deployment chaos wasn’t just surviving, it was living, even when faced with those many seemingly insurmountable challenges of parenting, alone, in a foreign country.  I learned to be resilient.

This resiliency allowed amazing things to happen.  While my husband was deployed during our time in Japan, we lived next to a woman whom I now consider my sister and her children, my children.  Our family expanded.  During that time, my daughter attended a Buddhist pre-school, learned Japanese, was wrapped in a fiery orange kimono to celebrate Girl’s Day, and ran through thousands of torii gates as if she were frolicking across a local playground.  My son rode the Shinkansen many times and dreamed of speeding trains, and he learned to adore the attention of petite Japanese women squealing, “kawaii!”  But most of all, my little family learned to be an impenetrable team, depending on and finding absolute joy in one another.  And when my husband did finally return, we embraced him and all of the challenges associated with re-integration, multiple moves, good-byes and hellos, new schools, and new jobs.  He is now, again, part of our team.  My daughter no longer cries and my son knows his father. 

We are resilient. 

The Two-Week Wait

The longest two weeks of any planned pregnancy are the two that stand between the tiny twinge of suspected ovulation and the twenty minutes spent staring at the positive pee stick and muttering “holy shit” as it slowly dawns on you that sex really works. Sometimes! But not every time, hence the 336 interminable hours of wondering whether your martini and brie binges are turning a bundle of cells into a knubbly carrot stick or whether a free-floating blastocyst can be psychologically damaged by your repeated viewing of the season finale of The Walking Dead.

The hardest part of the first two weeks of a pregnancy—or a non-pregnancy—is that every little blip and flip your body creates is both a perfectly ordinary function of a non-pregnant person and an absolutely positive sign that you are pregnant. These 14 days create a comforting symmetry to the final few weeks of pregnancy, when every flip and flop your body creates is both a perfectly ordinary function of a third-trimester pregnant person and an absolutely positive sign that you are in labor and your water is about to break all over your conference room chair during your quarterly all-division staff meeting.

Take heart. If you are pregnant, you are in the first days of a 40-ish week journey filled with tummy-clenching uncertainty, heart-palpitating second-guessing, and insomnia-inducing Googling. Also, insomnia, heart palpitations, and a clenched tummy are all possible early signs of pregnancy, while also being perfectly normal bodily functions of a non-pregnant person with a moderate anxiety disorder or a penchant for drinking too much wine on weeknights.

Because the only thing any woman in the midst of the two-week wait wants to know is whether or not this or that vague feeling is an early sign of pregnancy, I will share a few of the signals my body was sending before it was time to take a test. Keep in mind that scientifically speaking, the only way to know for certain that you are pregnant is by giving birth to a human infant.

Things I Vaguely Recall Feeling Very Early in My First Pregnancy (Before the Double-Lined Pee Stick):

  • Like I was definitely not pregnant.
  • Like just in case, I should probably drink up all the good wine in the house.
  • Like everyone on the planet was pregnant but me.
  • Cramps that were not at all dissimilar to pre-period cramps, and only after I learned I was pregnant did I discern a possible difference in that pre-period cramps feel more “squeezy” and these cramps felt more “stretchy.”

Things I Felt Very Early in My Second Pregnancy that Caused Me to Drink Up All the Good Wine in the House:

  • Nausea—All of the real official medical websites say that morning sickness does not begin until at least three weeks after conception, and all of the ladies on the message boards claim they started puking the moment sperm met egg. The first week of waiting I felt pretty yakky, but I think that was the six or seven cups of coffee I was drinking per morning. The second week I felt differently yakky, like the way I imagine a panting cat feels, but I figured that could’ve been the metric ton of leftover Easter candy I consumed.
  • Cramps that felt maybe stretchy, maybe squeezy, maybe just the quart of Pad Thai I ate last night.
  • Like I was definitely not pregnant.
  • Like I was definitely pregnant.
  • Like all of the same people who were pregnant last time were pregnant again.

Intuition is incredibly reliable in hindsight.

Of course, both times I eventually confirmed that the cramps were not PMS and the queasiness wasn’t the leftover Pad Thai, it was a microscopic embryo burrowing into my uterine lining and doubling her HcG like a champion. No matter what you hope or think or feel or read on the internet while you’re waiting to build up enough good, concentrated pee to whip out a stick, there is no way to know until you know. The nail-biting uncertainty of the two-week wait is maddening, but as I learned, it is excellent training for parenthood.

Written by: Kathleen

A Dad's-Eye View of Parenting

What’s new about this installment of Parent Proof? It comes from someone who has never grown a child from within, given birth, or had to sit down to pee. What qualifies me to even write about parenting, then? I am a father of fourYes, four kids. I’m not the quickest study, so it took some repetition to figure out what caused this phenomenon. I think I’ve narrowed it down to a small list at this point. 

Digression aside, the women of this fine publication decided to give us guys a chance to show everyone that we don’t have it figured out, either. As Alice said, “I know a man who has kids…AND he’s literate!” That’s apparently the only criteria needed to contribute to this blog as a male. They don’t want to set the bar too high for the guys.  

In case the ladies were wondering, guys don’t see parenting the same way as their female counterparts. I know that statement has not blown anyone’s mind, but allow me to elaborate. There are apparently these things when it comes to raising kids called details. Things like presentable outfits, clean faces, extracurricular activities, routines, and meals fit into this category, or so I’m told. I hear these details thrown around by people who spend energy maintaining them and think, Did I turn off the coffeepot this morning? 

Point is, I forget to think about the details most of the time. I’m more of a big picture fellow. My mental checklist when it comes to the survival of my children goes something like this: 

  • Is the child breathing? If YES- All is good. Move along. If NO, call 911 and try to fix it. 

  • Is the child happy? If YES, don’t change a thing because I don’t wanna hear screaming and crying. If NO, feed it and/or do something fun. Then try to sneak in a nap by lying with the kid in bed and reading Goodnight Moon for the fifty-billionth time. 

There are variations on the happiness strategies, but those are my main concerns as a dad. I try to keep things simple. 

My simple plans sometimes cause problems when it’s five in the evening and I want a quick catnap. As I read the gripping tale of a rodent infested bedroom that has a blazing fire going in one corner and a creepy red balloon floating near the ceiling to my dozing offspring, the one responsible for that routine thingy comes in and asks me what the hell I’m doing.  

“Hold on, let me get to a stopping point,” I say. (Luckily, the sturdy cardboard book blocks the projectile following that comment.) 

As a father, I parent in the moment. Is there a problem right now? Let’s try to fix it and we’re good. I think it’s great that moms can plan ahead and multitask on seven different timelines that all end in teeth being brushed, baths being taken, and bed being gotten into at a decent time. It’s something with which I will always struggle. My skill set does, however, afford me the talent of helping the kids build one bitchin’ couch-cushion-and-blanket fort five minutes before the nighttime routine is supposed to start. As long as they can breathe in that fortress of padding, I only have one concern: Are they happy in that moment? Check! 

Sam is a father of 4, science teacher, coaches soccer and likes to spend his free time thinking up new quotes about the awesomeness of Chuck Norris. 

Sam is a father of 4, science teacher, coaches soccer and likes to spend his free time thinking up new quotes about the awesomeness of Chuck Norris. 

The Second Trimester: Pregnancy's Middle Child

Second trimester is supposed to be a period of rainbows and sunshine and zen-like bliss. You’re over the first trimester with its puking and crying and 2pm naps, yet you’re miles away from the third trimester, when you can’t get out of bed without a decent rolling start and you’re pretty sure your baby’s head is actually poking out of your vagina most hours of the day. Oh second trimester, you mythical 13 weeks of superhuman energy, teenage sex drive, and beautiful maternal glow, why do you dangle your sparkling wares in our faces, dragging us through these middle weeks whispering sweet lies in our desperate ears? While the second trimester is perhaps not as abjectly miserable as the first or third, it still has many unique traits that remind you that pregnancy has no pause button. Below are just a few of the ways the second trimester shines own its special star over the 40 week shit-storm that is growing a human:

  • Nausea II: The Revenge—All of your pregnancy apps and weekly emails begin to inform you around Week 6 that nausea and vomiting may soon be upon you, but each is quick to reassure that morning sickness disappears the moment the clock strikes midnight the day you enter the 2nd trimester. Then when you’re actually in the 13th or 14th week (because no single resource can agree when ol’ 2T really begins), your app is all like, “JK, BTW, nausea often recurs until 16 weeks, and sometimes it lasts the whole pregnancy, but it will DEFINITELY be gone by the time your kid starts kindergarten, trust us, winky face, heart.” I have found that there are some notable differences between first- and second-trimester nausea. Whereas my 1st trimester morning sickness arrived after breakfast and just kind of hung around in the background all day like your pot-head college boyfriend, my 2nd trimester nausea has been a sneaky little bastard, leaping in with a karate chop in the afternoon and forcing me to mainline tortilla chips and Gatorade ‘til dinner.
  • Weight Gain—Those same hateful pregnancy apps that lied about morning sickness may also welcome you to the 2nd trimester by telling you that it’s OK if you haven’t gained any weight yet, but you’ll probably start adding a pound or so a week going forward. For both of my pregnancies, I gained 5 lbs the moment I saw two lines on the stick. Something about the act of peeing on a pregnancy test sends my body into a spiral of carb collecting and calorie hoarding that results in an impressive accumulation of back fat by Week 3. But the real fun starts at about 15 weeks when your wee one begins the journey from tomato to watermelon and you being your own journey from freshman sorority girl to hibernating grizzly bear.
  • Bleeding Gums/Nose Bleeds—Apparently Nature has her reasons for absolutely ensuring no father will ever get laid during his wife’s pregnancy, and boy is she thorough.
  • Braxton Hicks—Braxton Hicks contractions are like real labor contractions in that they both involve your uterus, and otherwise they have absolutely nothing in common. But you won’t necessarily know that, so it’s OK to panic the first time your stomach seizes into a hard knot for several seconds. For me, BH contractions feel like a charley horse in the uterus, and while they may be uncomfortable, they don’t hurt (just an FYI for first-time moms looking for a comparison: no matter what Ina May Gaskin says, labor contractions hurt, and not in that “holy crap, that really hurts” kind of way, more in that “holy crap, I am being eaten by a tiger” kind of way). Mine show up around 18-20 weeks, whereas some people don’t feel them until the end of the 3rd trimester, and a few lucky ladies won’t experience them at all. Exertion and dehydration make them worse, so if they are frequent enough to ignite the twinge of worry that inevitably leads you to WebMD, park yourself in front of a House Hunters marathon with a bottle of SmartWater and tell your spouse you can’t do the dishes until next week. As always, if you feel something is off or funny in that general region, don’t be afraid to call your doctor’s office so that the nurses can have a good giggle behind your back.
  • Frequent Peeing/Heartburn/Aches & Pains—So begin the minor foibles of pregnancy that by 38 weeks will have you feeling homicidal, if only you could get off the couch without grunting like your grandpa. I have to pee about 45 times per day, with approximately 80% of those times occurring in the 20 minutes between turning off the lights and falling asleep at night. I am only up twice per night, however, which is a far cry from the bi-hourly pee breaks that will begin around week 30 and make you twitchy with rage every time some moronic jack-hole in your office elevator says, “Sleep now while you still can!” Also, I generally have to pee far less often this time around because I spent the first few months of my son’s life only getting to pee once every four days, thus re-training my bladder for the lifestyle of a cactus. The heartburn has started, but again, it’s merely a harbinger of misery to come—the canary in the mineshaft of my esophagus is still tweeting merrily with nary a premonition of the volcanic hellfire that will erupt in late September. Likewise, the back and hip aches are only just beginning to flare up, most often when I have to carry my two year-old home from the park because he threw his $40 sneakers in the creek again. 

Despite my rage against the machine of lies about the glories of the second trimester, I must note that many of these discomforts become relative in your second and subsequent pregnancies. First-time moms are delicate flowers, dedicating most of their days to sensing, experiencing, and Googling every single symptom of their magical journey. Second-time moms are often a bit heartier and/or more distracted—is that sciatica I feel or just the result of crawling under the electronics display at Target this morning to retrieve my toddler and the armful of women’s underwear he sprinted off with while I tried to find a belly band? I imagine third-plus-time moms are downright Amazonian about the whole process, and I’m surprised more of them don’t accidentally give birth while waiting in line at McDonald’s to exchange the Minion toys in their kids’ happy meals because they already have the purple one and want the caveman one that supposedly swears. And to be fair, second trimester has its perks, like you’re allowed to have an occasional glass of wine, assuming you live in Europe where they’re cool like that, and you’re probably wearing maternity pants now, so feel free to belly on up to the buffet at Golden Corral for thirds because you’ve got room to spare. And sleep while you can, because seriously, the whole house of cards is about to come crashing down, and also you’re about to get hemorrhoids. 

Written by: Kathleen

The best part about the 2nd trimester is getting to find our your baby’s sex so friends and family don’t lose any time imposing ridiculous gender stereotypes!

The best part about the 2nd trimester is getting to find our your baby’s sex so friends and family don’t lose any time imposing ridiculous gender stereotypes!

Up in the Air Part II: Flying with Toddlers

As I was sitting at the gate awaiting the departure of our return flight from Orlando earlier this summer, I gazed upon my 22 month-old son with pride as he sucked on a toasted bagel while yelling out directives through the window to the luggage trucks roaming the tarmac below. He had been so well behaved on our solo journey to visit friends in Florida that I did not think I would have anything useful to add to my series on travel. I had timed the flights perfectly, packed appropriately, and never even had the chance to test my standing-on-the-toilet poopie-diaper-change prowess, as my child’s bowels had cooperated as swimmingly as he had. Traveling with a toddler is a breeze as long as your kid is as exceptional as mine, I thought. Next stop, Paris! 

Then we boarded the plane. 

Now I feel like this post should really be an apology to the various passengers and crew members aboard that flight. To the man seated beside us, I am sorry for bragging about how well-behaved my child would be when in reality he spent most of the flight testing the upper limits of your noise-cancelling headphones. To the flight attendants, yes, I am aware of how difficult it is to clean 400 goldfish crackers from loosely woven upholstery, and I am sorry that we went the extra mile to crush each individual fish into a fine, orange powder that forms a powerful adhesive when mixed with drool and our seat-mate’s upended scotch and soda. To the man in the seat in front of us who just attained his status as a Million Miler with Delta, I can only hope that the 65 minutes you spent with our tray table slamming into your seat because it was the only way to quell the ear-piercing screams of “Outside!?” and “That Way!” emitted by my little lovebug helped you reevaluate your priorities in life and decide to spend less time traveling and more time at home with your family. 

By the time we landed, the only shred of advice I could muster for air travel with toddlers is: Don’t. Just don’t. 

But if you have some overwhelmingly compelling reason to take your limit-testing little angel on a plane, I have a few thoughts that may make your experience slightly less soul-sucking and masochistic. 

A Non-Comprehensive Guide to Air Travel with a Toddler 

(For tips on flying with the younger set, please see Up in the Air Part I: Air Travel with Infants)

Air Travel Basics: 

  • Ticketing—Children under the age of two years do not need a ticket on domestic flights, but you do need to notify the airline that you are traveling “Infant in arms” and that should be noted on your boarding pass. That said, depending on the size of your child and the length of your flight, you may want to ante-up and buy your kid a seat. In the past 6 months, I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not to buy C his own seat before he reaches his first legal milestone. The FAA repeatedly declares that having your child strapped in a car seat or FAA-approved travel harness is much safer than flying in a parents’ lap, but their concern only goes so far as to make official-sounding recommendations, not to put pressure or regulations on airlines to offer seats to children at reduced or even reasonable rates. It’s hard to justify a $400 ticket to Charlotte for an 18 month-old who will spend the entire four minutes you manage to keep him in his seat shrieking, “Uppie Mama!” like he’s been abandoned in a pool of alligators. That said, most of our flights in the last year have been between one and two hours long. I think for any flight beyond three hours, I would probably hire a baby-sitter and leave the kid at home. Barring that option, then for a long flight I’d say pawn your car title and buy him a seat.
  • Security—Despite the fact that my child weighed 30 lbs and I was 12 weeks pregnant, I still strapped on the Ergo and carried him through security on our last flight. I also brought the stroller as it served dual purposes as a luggage cart and a jungle gym while waiting at the gate. 
  • Car Seat—And you thought hauling the infant carrier was a colossal pain in the ass! Unlike your Chicco Click-n-Clack that weighed about 8 lbs and came with a handle, your Graco Titan XXL convertible car seat weighs 47 lbs and is comprised entirely of round, smooth surfaces. However, as with the infant carrier, you do need a car seat at your destination, unless you are visiting someone who has one to share that is not expired. Car seats provided by rental car companies are generally only a step above a cat crate in terms of safety and comfort, and anyone who trusts taxi cab drivers with their child’s life should have their executive functioning skills evaluated by a professional (sorry New Yorkers, but seriously, at least try to use one of those dog harnesses when you put your kid in a cab). Your gargantuan car seat still checks for free, and there are a plethora of options available on the internet to make transporting them a bit easier. I use this J.L. Childress Gate Check bag for both gate and baggage check, or check out this J.L. Childress Ultimate Car Seat Travel bag that my friend with two toddlers recommended and then if you love it, send me one as a show of appreciation. 

Timing Your Flights: 

  • Planning for Poop—Depending on your origin and destination cities, you may have some leeway as to what time of day you plan your flight. With toddlers, there are two major considerations for flight times: Poop and Sleep. If you have one of those magical toddlers who poops on a daily schedule, you may be inclined to plan your flight times around this body clock. I do not have one of these toddler unicorns so I may be underestimating the importance of this particular function, but I suggest you place sleep ahead of poop. You don’t want to lull yourself into thinking that both your child’s bowels and the airline’s schedule will move like clockwork, thus failing to properly train for the big event by practicing changing an explosive diaper on your child while he or she is running through a crowded food court or hiding under a row of chairs in the smoking lounge.  
  • Planning for Sleep—Planning around sleep also has draw-backs, of course, depending on the time of day you choose. 
    • Morning: Flying in the morning seems most logical for your typical afternoon napper, but if your kid is like mine, morning is when his Energizer battery is most charged, and you’ll end up spending much of your flight prying his tiny hands away from the emergency release lever on the door of the airplane. 
    • Afternoon/Toddler Naptime: Flying at naptime only works if your kid is capable of falling asleep in random public places, and in my experience if you have one of those kids, you don’t actually have a scheduled napper, so you’re free to fly whenever. 
    • Evening: Flying during the witching hours may be your only choice for Eastbound international flights, but otherwise it’s a terrible idea, unless you’re cool with letting your toddler participate in happy hour, and then hey, no judgments here. 
    • Overnight/Red Eye: I have not had the opportunity to experience this particular joyful milestone yet, but everything I have heard from my much-braver friends is that for red eyes and international overnight flights, you must sack-up and buy your child a seat, even if he’s under the age of two. Trust me, you do not want to be the reason your plane has to divert to Reykjavik because your sleep-deprived toddler threw a mini-bottle of Merlot at an air marshal’s head. 

In Flight: 

  • Cabin Pressure—Remember how before you had kids you used to hear some poor little elf’s cries begin just after take-off and you’d roll your eyes and say something asinine to your companion like, “they ought to ban babies from airplanes?” All adults should be required to endure take-off and landing without being allowed to pop their ears, and it would be doubly useful if their ear canals were still straight like a young child’s instead of curved so that there was more fluid build-up to make the pressure change especially painful. The best way to help your toddler clear his ears during changes in cabin pressure is through sucking or chewing—anything to flex the jaw. If your child won’t take a pacifier, try getting him to crunch on small pieces of ice (this works well for older kids, too—I have fond memories of chewing on chardonnay-tinged ice cubes whenever I flew with my mom as a child) or a hard snack like pretzels. Vigorously rubbing his ears seemed to alleviate some of C’s pain, although it may have just been jostling his brain and causing some kind of oxygen disruption that served as a satisfactory distraction from the feeling that his face was going to explode. 
  • Entertainment—If your child will stay calm and watch television for any extended period of time, ignore all AAP recommendations or hippie parenting philosophies to the contrary and load up your nearest device with Thomas the Tank Engine and Elmo. Even if the only thing that captures your tot’s attention for more than four seconds is vintage midget porn, I do not think anyone on that plane will report you if your child is sitting quietly in your lap bopping along in his headphones to bow-chicka-bow-wow. Unfortunately for my fellow travelers, my child must be gearing up for the Waldorf School or something, because the only thing he likes to do with an iPhone is chuck it across the plane toward the cockpit door. 
  • Snacks—Food is the only weapon I have in the fight against air travel meltdowns. This is a time when all notions of health or good habits should be tossed out the window at 30,000 feet—Fritos, Twinkies, those little chocolate-filled wafer things that Delta sometimes has that are probably made out of heroin they taste so good, anything goes when you’re flying with a toddler. Every single time my kid opened his mouth I popped something moderately edible in it, and about half the time it stayed in his body. The other half he would chew for awhile then politely spit whatever Biscoff-flavored mush he’d created into my hand and continue his demands to go “That way!” and “Outside?!” with calorie-infused vigor. 
  • Toys—Everything I found on the internet about air travel with toddlers insists you bring a bunch of new and exciting toys in the diaper bag to keep your little one distracted. As far as I can tell, the only distraction my toddler gained from the tiny cars and trains I handed him lasted about two seconds while he watched in rapt fascination as each toy sailed over my head and into the eye of an unsuspecting passenger enjoying his post-Bloody Mary nap. In my opinion toys take up valuable space in your carry-on that could be better filled by extra Go-gurt tubes and a bottle of Benadryl, but hey, you know your kid best, so if he loves shiny things, be sure to hit the dollar bins at Target before your trip. 

Traveling Alone with a Toddler: 

All of the stuff I suggested in Up in the Air Part I  applies here—use the Amazon Prime account I know you have if you ever listen to anything I say to ship diapers/wipes to your destination ahead of time, check your luggage, and use your stroller as a luggage cart. The only thing I’d revise is the bit about asking for help, because as I learned in Orlando, when other travelers see you arrive in the terminal with a toddler, they run screaming to the nearest airport chapel to pray you’re not on their flight. Babies are cute and children can be entertained by watching Frozen on repeat on the iPad, but a toddler on board ranks right up there with an east coast hurricane and lifting the ban on using cellphones in-flight as every frequent flyer’s worst nightmare. You may be on your own with this one, but hey, you have a toddler now, so you’re basically a parenting expert. 

For more information on airline regulations and recommendations for traveling with children, be sure to check out the links to helpful resources at the bottom of the travel page under 'Quickies'. Bon voyage! 

Written by: Kathleen

The C-Word

Colic is an ancient medical term for “your baby screams at you for nine hours a day because he hates you and you’re probably a terrible mother.” Like IBS or global warming, colic is a catch-all explanation for a host of vaguely connected symptoms that nobody really understands and a few loony jack-holes deny exists. Some people think it’s related to gastrointestinal issues, but they are confusing colic in infants with colic in horses, so don’t listen to those people when they recommend you check your haystacks for mold. Colic in infants has no explanation and no treatment. It arrives out of nowhere like a tsunami of velociraptors and leaves you lying eviscerated on the living room floor in a bloody pool of your maternal hopes and dreams.

My son’s symptoms developed when he was about three weeks old. He cried all day, beginning just after my husband left for work, occasionally breaking to nurse and doze for a few minutes, and then resuming with renewed vigor until midnight. If he was awake, he was crying, and no amount of swaddling and swinging and shushing made it stop. Even my father-in-law, a physician who received his medical training in Mumbai where patients routinely presented with complaints of bubonic plague, felt that C seemed an exceptionally unhappy baby. We described the situation to our pediatrician at C’s 4-week appointment, oozing new-parent naiveté from our overtired pores as we awaited a proper diagnosis and course of treatment—Zantac, exorcism, whatever the APA recommended. All we got was a fact sheet on colic and an assurance that “it usually passes by 12 weeks,” with no useful suggestions for how to prevent the complete obliteration of our humanity in the interim.

Here are the facts on colic that no pamphlet will tell you. Colic will make you regret having a baby. It will convince you that you have destroyed your life and any hope of future happiness. Colic will make one week feel like one decade, and it will make the prospect of surviving it for eight more weeks feel like you have been condemned to the burning flames of hell for infinity years plus eight more weeks. Colic will make you hate your husband, scream at your pets, hide from your friends, and cry during American Idol. Colic will make you consider running away to join ISIS so you have some space to relax and just breathe.

There is not much you can do about colic, but there are a few things that helped me persevere without contacting an adoption attorney, and a few other things I only discovered in hindsight that might have saved me some despair:

1) Buy a Baby Bjorn: My number one life-and-custody-saving apparatus was the Baby Bjorn Classic. I plan to have my Bjorn bronzed and mounted over my mantle I love it so much. The Bjorn holds your infant upright and tight against your chest, and for whatever reason, this is what is required to quell the evil spirits. It costs about $50 on Amazon.com, which is a whole lot less than the co-pay for in-house psychiatric care.

2) Tell Someone: Tell everyone. When your friends or neighbors or colleagues ask you how it’s going, say, “It’s like having genital warts removed with nail clippers.” Some people won’t get it; they will back away awkwardly while muttering the usual drivel about your heart exploding with joy and love. But some will understand because they went through it, too, with colic or another postpartum nightmare that left them miserable and isolated. They won’t have any solutions to offer you, but at least you’ll know that people survive, and sometimes they even voluntarily procreate a second time.

3) Know That It Ends: Unfortunately, the absolute worst piece of advice I can offer is also the most true. Yes, like high school and the first few episodes of most HBO series, the adage applies to colic: It gets better. It doesn’t happen all at once, but slowly the hours spent crying recede and somewhere in the empty black void of your baby’s eyes appears the glimmer of a human soul. Then one day out of the blue he smiles at you. Let the healing begin.

Our journey into the light began around six weeks with the first real smiles, and things improved dramatically at eight weeks when we took C to a family wedding in Aruba, because apparently all he really needed was a warm ocean breeze and some dark rum in his breast milk. By 14 weeks he rarely cried at all without an obvious reason, and ever since he’s been a delightful boy with nary a sign that he was once possessed by the demon Zuul. Maybe it’s the Stockholm Syndrome speaking, but I would endure it all over again if I knew the result would be a child as easygoing as C. Which pretty much guarantees our next kid will be charming for the first 12 weeks before transforming into Rosemary’s baby.

Written by: Kathleen

I promise, that first smile makes it all worthwhile...unless it's just gas.

I promise, that first smile makes it all worthwhile...unless it's just gas.

Surviving the NICU

Today's "PP Guest Post" is brought to you by an incredible mother of three toddlers. We are amazed by how she juggles everything! She has definitely had some unique experiences and we asked her to share one with you. This is her experience in the NICU right after having the twins. 

I grew up surrounded by birthing goddesses.  Women who delivered naturally at home with my mother as the midwife, and it was so magical. A slight moan, a little push and a tilt of the head: Oh, did I have a baby?  I thought I felt a little pressure.” When I got pregnant many years later, I read all the books to prepare myself for my induction into the birthing goddess circle. I read these while imagining myself with my double jogging stroller, hair blowing in the wind as I pushed my perfectly healthy full-term twins, both asleep and full of breast milk. (Important fact—double jogging strollers are so GD heavy that you will pee yourself and leak most of your milk straining just to get them out of the driveway).    

Most of the books I read told me that 1 in 9 babies in the U.S. are born preterm, and with twins it’s a whopping 60%, but I had no concept of what prematurity really meant for a familyNow, looking back after my twins had to be medically evacuated across the ocean and live in the NICU for months, I wish there had been a book on how to survive the microcosm that is the NICU. I vaguely remember the neonatologist speaking to me after the birth and my mind wandering in a futile attempt to distract myself from the severity of the situation, thinking, um, is NICU a word or an acronym? Crap. I should know this, I read all the books.   

So I will give you the condensed version of my Neonatal Intensive Care Unit survival guide, written by someone with no qualifications other than that I am a mowho froze my ass off in the NICU for half a yearleaving only for oh-so-brief hints of sleep at the Ronald McDonald House. Here are 15 survival tips  

  1. No sleeping! This isn’t a hotel! It’s inevitable that at some point, you will fall asleep unintentionally. Perhaps from intensely concentrating on holding your finger through the incubator to touch what little of your baby you can, or from the never-ending sleep deprivation and obsessing over your child’s daily weight gain chart and watching it go down instead of up. Whatever the reasonthe nurses are always required to wake you.   

  2. If you do manage to nod off anyway, amidst all of the alarms that go off every minute, congratulations.  If you had been a cave man, you and your offspring would have died. These alarms are intentionally designed to trigger your adrenaline because they notify the nurse that your baby stopped breathing or there was a sudden HEART RATE drop.   

  3. Heart rate drop?  Oh that’s just a ‘Brady” (short for bradycardia). No big deal.  Happens all the time.   You may hear the term every day, along with “apnea” and “desat.”  You might even watch your child’s heart rate drop to zero and feel like you’re on ER, hoping that George Clooney will run through the door. This site explains each of these terms:  http://preemies.about.com/od/preemiehealthproblems/f/AsandBs.htm 

  4. You’ll freeze your ass off. Bring a hoodie and leave a blanket for yourself next to the incubator. Your hand is already shaking enough because you’re afraid that you’ll break your child, you don’t need to add hypothermia to that.  

  5. Keep a notebook with you at all times. Write down questions as you think of them and the responses you get from the staff.  Advocate for your child(ren).       

  6. Make sure you’re there for rounds each morning so you can hear the latest about your child. The staff walks from room to room and they get briefed about each patient. If a parent is there, they give the briefing anyway. They do this at ungodly hours, I assume hoping that no one will be there. If you are working and cannot get much time off, this would be the time I would choose to go.  

  7. You can page a doctor. Yes. It’s just like the movies. And they’re usually just as good looking. Except that you don’t care because everything is blurry from sleep deprivation and you’ve just aged 10 years in a few months and haven’t washed your hair in 3 weeks. But page away….  

  8. The wipes on the wall? Don’t touch them. They kill cancer. Your skin will peel. At least that’s what the sign says. Use gloves.  

  9. You’ll want to be with your child at all times, but you’ll have to leave for the following: 

    1. To use the restroom 

    2. To eat 

    3. To pop a Xanax 

    4. Twice a day for shift change, so the nurses can brief each other about how cute your children are. At least that’s what you like to imagine because you know they are actually gossiping about how you never leave and how many questions you incessantly ask.    

  10. When you do leave, know that the process for re-entering is so difficult and time consuming that you feel ashamed for even thinking using the bathroom was important. There is a litany of steps you’ll need to take in order to see your child.  Yes, your child that you carried and birthed, who is now on the other side of a well-armed castle (which ultimately you’ll be grateful for after watching too many of those switched at birth films in the 80’s)My fav of these steps has to be the monotonous sanitation video playing at the hand-washing station that you will most certainly want to burn by the time you leave.  

  11. The car seat test. This is a requirement for your child to be released to go home.  We, the very experienced nurses who change a 2 lb baby’s diaper without blinking an eye, are going to watch nervous, shaking, sleep deprived you put your 4 lb baby in a car seat without breaking him and if he stops breathing at any point, then he’ll have to try again tomorrow. He may even become a feeder-grower. 

  12. Feeder-grower? These are babies who are premature with no other conditions, they are simply there to eat and grow. Boooo-ring.  When you walk by these feeder-growers or a 9 lb baby who was admitted because of a small apnea episode, don’t be jealous. No, be jealous. Your hormones are pumping, your breasts are engorged because your preemies can’t latch well yet and the 9 lb baby looks like a total freak to you.  You are blinded by motherly love so much that you can’t see your babies for what they are—naked little squirrels.    

  13. The nurses. We had a different one every day shift. That’s over 60 nurses that I had to get acquainted with every day. Here’s a helpful tip I didn’t know until halfway through—you can request nurses that you like. Maybe they gossip more and it distracts you from the fact that you can’t hold your child all the time or maybe they’re quiet and leave you alone but are good with the babies—whatever the reason, they don’t have to know whyGo to the NICU nurse scheduler and ask them to make that nurse your regular. They can (if the schedule permits and the nurse agreesassign her or him to your child.   

  14. Sometimes the nurses may weigh your child before and after you breastfeed, to calculate how many oz they gained from that feeding and if they need to supplementSo if you are breastfeeding, no pressure!  Luckily our NICU nurses were very pro-breastfeeding and encouraging. If you are not producing enough, you can ask if your hospital has donated breast milk available. The feeding schedule for our twins was every three hours and if you’re not there, they get a bottle. So I recommend that you pump pump pump.  You can ask family to be your breast milk carriers. Believe me, it’s everything they ever hoped being a grandparent would look like. If you are so dedicated that you want to be there for every feeding, then more power to ya! You are insane and will never sleep.   You can also go the (GASP!) formula route. The NICU will provide that 

  15. If the alarm goes off and you see everyone scrubbing in, it can mean they are performing emergency surgery on a child in the NICU and they don’t have time to take him or her to the OR. Run as fast as you can or you will be locked in until they give the all clear.   

As challenging as my time in the NICU was, it gave me perspective and I am grateful for that. When my three toddlers are throwing food on the floor and my daughter takes her diaper off and smears it everywhere when I’m not looking, it doesn’t faze meIt’s in these moments, these sweet, (literally) shitty moments, that I remember looking at my babies through a plastic wall, the startling and constant sound of the alarms, and the CPAP on my son’s face. Most of all, I remember the baby who was also Level 3 like my son, who was released to hospice, and the nurses grieving quietly together. In the end, I may not have been inducted into the birthing circle as I had intended, but every mom I saw there was a NICU goddess. We can all certainly survive the toddler years if we survived the NICU 

The Birds and the Bees Revisited

The moment you go from actively not trying to get pregnant to actively trying to get pregnant, your sex life changes. Often it’s not a single moment but a month or more of inactively not trying, the birth control equivalent of slowly stepping into a freezing cold swimming pool rather than closing your eyes and jumping. You pull the goalie then forget to invite the other team to play. Or the other team is so freaked out they don’t even try to score. Or they do try to score but don’t, and then you start to wonder if there’s something wrong with the other team, if they’re too old or too stressed out or smoked too much pot in college. That’s when you go from dipping your toes in the water to doing a running cannonball off the diving board—Geronimo, kids, it’s time to get busy.

Unfortunately, despite what the Lifetime Movie Network and your high school guidance counselor want you to believe, making a baby is not as easy as a six-pack of Zima and a rec room couch. I went to a progressive school that prided itself on a liberal and comprehensive sex education curriculum. I remember writing anonymous questions about boobs and periods in fifth grade, a particularly horrific slide show about STDs in seventh grade, and a series of heated arguments throughout high school about whether legalizing prostitution would empower or oppress women. At the age of 32, when my husband and I decided to close our eyes and jump into the baby-making pool, I could argue the constitutionality of abortion, gay marriage, and pornography. I knew how HIV was transmitted on a molecular level. I could recite statistics on the risks associated with advanced maternal age as they related to miscarriage, infertility, and chromosomal abnormalities. But I didn’t truly understand that I could only get pregnant on four, maybe five days of the month, and probably fewer, because I was a maternal dinosaur and my husband smoked a lot of pot in college.

That’s the annoying truth of it. While it seems like every teenager on reality TV can get pregnant 26 days a month, and you swear your best friend occasionally gets knocked up in the shower, you and your old “career oriented” eggs have only a 12- to 24-hour window to get fertilized after ovulation. Your husband’s boys may be able to survive longer, depending on whether your fallopian tubes resemble a mahogany-paneled man-cave with a built-in beer tap and 60-inch plasma television or a women’s studies class at Smith, but at most you have five days during which sex leads to baby. Five days is the best-case scenario, and let’s be honest ladies, at our age, we have to aim for the bull’s eye just to hit the target.

So if you’re done testing the water and you’re ready to dive in, don’t waste your energy shaving your legs the first day after your period ends. Start spritzing your fancy Versace perfume a few days before you think you’ll ovulate, and save date-night at your favorite martini bar for the day before. And if that night happens to coincide with a major sporting event or highly anticipated episode of The Walking Dead, you might as well throw on your yoga pants, open a bottle of pinot, and wait ‘til next month.

Written by: Kathleen

PS: If you've been doing cannonballs for several months and are starting to get antsy, or if you're just trying to be more precise in your baby-making so you don't end up with, say, a Christmas due date, I highly recommend www.fertilityfriend.com and the accompanying app for more comprehensive information and tools to maximize your chances of getting pregnant regardless of who dies in the next episode of Game of Thrones.


Baby Boom

We’re having a baby! I couldn’t let Alice have all the fun and new blog material. Plus, my husband and I decided that after having one child, we were still too well-rested and had too much money leftover each month and we needed to remedy that as quickly as possible.

This was not always the plan. My husband is an only child and maintains the deluded notion that being the focal point of his parents’ love, energy, and financial resources somehow contributed to him turning into the well-adjusted, successful individual that he is today. Bearing witness to the occasional fights between me and my brothers that involve hurling verbal daggers at one another’s deepest insecurities has done nothing to convince him of the superiority of a childhood shared with siblings.

He wasn’t the only one with reservations. At my six-week postpartum appointment following C’s birth, my doctor asked me how many more children I wanted and I told her I wasn’t even sure I wanted to keep the one we had. Yet as our baby grew into an amazing little boy, we couldn’t help but think that we owed it to the planet to further perpetuate our gene pool.

The best part is, the new baby is due on Christmas Day. So not only will we instill in C the notion that Santa is a vengeful bastard not to be fucked with, but our second child will forever be competing for attention with the world’s most popular firstborn son. The kid’s not even born yet and we’ve already done our level-best to give him or her a serious inferiority complex. Parenting A+!

Written by: Kathleen

   C's big brother field test did not go as well as we'd hoped...

   C's big brother field test did not go as well as we'd hoped...