Monthly Archives: March 2012

Push Presents

A friend of mine recently sent me an article on the concept of Push Presents.  I think he was surprised that these even exist, and he made the comment that no mother of his child should ever expect to receive one.  So it raised the question – should new fathers engage in the practice of purchasing a push present for the new (or second, or third, or fourth time) mother?

What the heck is a “push present,” you might ask?  Simply, it’s a gift that a new father gives to the mother of his child upon birth or shortly thereafter.  It is meant to commemorate the birth of a new child, and to celebrate the mother who has carried and delivered that child.

I’m told that this gift-giving tradition goes way back, but that it’s only been in recent years that it’s become commercialized under the Push Present moniker.  Of course, jewelry and gift companies have begun jumping all over this bandwagon to capitalize.  Yet still push presents remain, at best, controversial and, at worst, unknown.

Why the controversy?  Proponents of the practice see it as a token of affection and appreciation to celebrate the new mother’s act of carrying and delivering a new baby.  In some ways, it’s intended to thank her for the months spent carrying the child and then successfully delivering the child; or for the burden and stress that was put onto the mother physically and/or emotionally during pregnancy.  Some fathers purchase a gift that can become an heirloom to later be passed on to the child, while some focus on something solely for the mother’s enjoyment.  For some, it’s a simple yet thoughtful and meaningful gift.  For others, the expectation is that the gift lives up to a certain standard of value so as to be proudly displayed to friends and family (somewhat like the engagement ring phenomenon)?

Opponents of the practice dispute it on moral grounds.  Why should the new mother, who is being given the very best gift in the world, expect a commercial bauble on top of it?  The gift itself is almost seen as cheapening the event.  It’s furthermore seen as buying into the materialistic values of today’s society and implies a sense of trying to “keep up with the Joneses’.”  In addition, it is argued that the money spent on the push present (very often a pricey memento) could be put to much better use if applied to child-related expenses instead; supplies, college fund, trust, etc.

This is relatively new territory for etiquette experts, so there’s not really any guidance on that front.  It really leaves the decision up to the individual family, for better or worse.

So what do I think? 

I’m in favor of the push present.  I like the idea of something commemorating such a beautiful event.  I see it as similar to the wedding day gifts that new brides and grooms exchange with each other – the wedding itself is of course the biggest gift, yet a small souvenir given to your new spouse provides a memento to look back on and recall that wonderful moment.  Same goes with engagement rings – why the heck does a woman need an engagement ring??  She doesn’t.  It’s simply a keepsake, a reminder, of the moment that two people agreed to spend their lives together.

That said, I do agree that push presents have become a bit commercialized for my taste and that the pressures to purchase a bigger or better or more expensive gift have become too strong.  I much prefer a more intimate and meaningful gift, or something that can later be passed on to my child with the story of what it meant or when it was given.  Really it’s the memory behind the gift that’s important vs. the gift itself.

I also think it would be a nice gesture for the new mother to gift the new father with something as well.  I know, I know, the last thing any soon-to-be mom has the energy to worry about is a new father gift, but it can be something small and meaningful.  Even just a special card sharing your thoughts and feelings.  Or something handmade, or even just a homemade coupon book with redeemable coupons for babysitting, back massages, Daddy’s night out, etc.  Something to celebrate his involvement and support throughout the months of pregnancy and then through delivery.

My husband did give me a push present.  He gifted it several days after the birth, once we were home and somewhat settled.  A beautiful watch that could later be passed down.  I love it.  But what I loved even more was the card he wrote.  The thoughts he shared about this new journey that we were embarking on together.  The words are what made the gift special.

So to each his own, but I do see the pressure to buy push presents growing amongst new fathers.  I’ve definitely seen many local mothers talking about and showing off their push presents to friends.  I only hope it doesn’t get to engagement ring proportions, where the focus is more on the present than on what it represents.

What about other mothers – are you in favor of or against push presents?


10 Myths of Pregnancy

I’m a conspiracy theorist.  Oh, I admit that I fully bought into the pregnancy propaganda sold by my mommy family and friends.  It was the best time of my life, they enthused.  I glowed!  I was treated like a queen!  My hair/skin/nails/[insert body part here] looked amazing!  I really miss it – I wish I were pregnant again.

I call BS.

Now that I’ve been through it, I’m convinced that other mothers purposely, deviously, upsell the virtues of pregnancy to encourage unsuspecting women like myself to take the plunge.  So that they don’t have to suffer alone.  Yes, I was duped.

Now don’t get me wrong – carrying a life is a beautiful, amazing thing.  To think that there is a baby growing inside of you, depending on you for its every need, is incredible.  It’s everything else that goes along with it that blows.

So I’ve compiled a list of the 10 biggest myths that I fell hook, line, and sinker for:

  1. You will Glow.  There was absolutely no glowing going on with me.  I may have given off a greenish tint, due to my all-consuming morning sickness.  Or perhaps this “glowing” they speak of is code for the sticky, clammy sheen of sweat that coats your body pretty much the entire 3rd trimester.
  2. You will have thick and luxurious hair.  I give them the “thick” part.  But mine was by no means “luxurious.”  It was thick, dry, frizzy, and out of control.  It was so thick I couldn’t do anything with it.  I wanted my regular old un-thick and un-luxurious hair back.
  3. You may experience some morning sickness.  Understatement of the century.  See my other post.  ‘Nuff said.
  4. Crackers will help with Morning Sickness.  Give it up already.  Nothing is helping.  Definitely not some dry crackers. 
  5. You get to “Eat for Two.”  This was probably the aspect I was MOST looking forward to.  Finally!  I don’t have to watch what I eat and exercise like a maniac.  I get to let myself go.  The bigger the bump, the cuter the pregnant woman.  Again, this is a complete crock.  Come to find out, the baby only needs about 300 additional calories a day (and even then, not until later in the pregnancy).  What’s 300 calories!?  A granola bar?  A smoothie?  Gee.  Thanks.
  6. You will receive special treatment.  Sometimes.  Sometimes not.  I distinctly recall a gentleman on the plane watching me struggle to lift my carry-on bag up into the overhead compartment.  I took it down and stood to catch my breath before trying again.  He walked over and I fully expected he was going to offer to help the struggling pregnant woman.  Instead, he took my rest break as his opportunity to shove his own duffel bag into the compartment (bumping me in the process). 
  7. Your ankles may bloat towards the end of pregnancy.  Try your ENTIRE BODY.  Ankles on up.  And up.  Including the face.  I looked like I had stepped into one of those funhouse mirrors.  And don’t expect any jewelry to fit.  My rings all went on hiatus.  Even my watches were a tight fit.
  8. You may have to empty your bladder more frequently.  Ladies, be prepared.  Once the 3rd trimester rolls around, you’re not going anywhere that doesn’t have a bathroom within a 10 step radius.  I literally had times at work that I would return to my desk from a restroom break, only to immediately stand up and head back.  I would plan my drives around distance and restroom breaks.  Even walking the dog became a test of “holding it.”  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
  9. You may be more tired than usual.  What they fail to mention is that you will become a temporary narcoleptic.  It will become a battle of sheer strength and willpower to get out of bed in the morning.  And yes, there WILL be times when you’re talking to friends or family and simply – doze off.  Don’t fight it.  You won’t win.
  10. Pregnancy hormones may cause mood swings.  Um, YA THINK??  Expect to lose just about all control of your moods.  Things that would be minor annoyances pre-pregnancy suddenly turn into dramatic rage-filled wars.  Television commercials, magazines, even billboards – will throw you into a weeping tailspin.  From hysterics to fury to maniacal laughter, you will become an emotional mess.

The bright side is that, ultimately, pregnancy ends.  I know it doesn’t feel like it when you’ve got, say, 6 months to go and you’re an exhausted, vomiting, hormonal mess.  But it WILL end.  I found that chunking phases of pregnancy into days and weeks helped me get through the tough times (especially the first 4 months at which point I was just trying to get through each day).

And the prize is so so sweet.  I would do it all again, in a heartbeat, for my beautiful baby boy. 

(And I imagine that THIS is how mommies get suckered into #2…)

Best Baby Item Purchased

Best. Baby Purchase. Ever.

I know I’ve already mentioned this product in a previous post, but I have to give props again.  This is, hands down, the single best baby purchase we’ve made.  And it was a whim purchase, a nice-to-have for a first time mom worried about SIDS.  But it’s turned out to be the most valuable item we have.

Last night we had another alarm.  It was about 9pm, and baby had been sleeping for a couple of hours.  We were upstairs (baby sleeps downstairs) and heard the alarm via the handheld video monitor that hubby had brought into the office. 

We’ve been through this before.  In the beginning, the alarm would disorient us… Is it an alarm clock?  One of our cell phones?  But last night we knew exactly what it was and flew down the stairs and into the nursery. 

It doesn’t get less scary every time.  Every time we wonder, is this time going to be different?  Are we not going to be able to rouse him? This time, he is already awake when we come flying into the room.  That’s unusual as typically he is not, and we need to shout and flick or slap the bottom of his foot to rouse him.  But this time the alarm and vibration must have wakened him. 

He looks disoriented…  Eyes are red and swollen and face is blotchy.  Blinking.  Confused.  We swoop him up into our arms and kiss him hug him rock him tell him not to scare us like that again.  We reset the alarm and then put him back to sleep.  We turn up the volume on the handheld video monitor.

The way the Snuza Halo works is by detecting very very small movements, such as breathing.  The device is clipped to the diaper so that the sensor (the purple part) lays over the baby’s belly button.  It can then detect the small rise and fall of the stomach as breaths are inhaled and exhaled.

Should there be no movement (breathing) for 15 seconds, the device will vibrate in an attempt to rouse the infant.  If this works and subsequent breathing is detected, the device will then begin monitoring silently once again.

Upon the third incident of this nature, the device will also alert the parents.  This is done with a beep….  beep…. beep. 

If, at any time, the vibration doesn’t rouse the baby and there is another 5 seconds of non-movement (so 20 seconds total), the alarm will sound.  This is a loud sound much like an alarm clock.

For us, the alarm does go off.  The first time it went off was our 4th day home, and it caused a world of panic.  The pediatrician said it was “periodic breathing” and nothing to worry about.  Said the baby would outgrow it.  Actually advised us to stop using the Snuza as it would only cause unnecessary worry.

Of course we threw that advice right out the window.  If anything, we became more diligent about using the Snuza whenever the baby is sleeping (now attaching it even during nap times).  My pediatrician would say overkill.  I say, I don’t want to find out that you were wrong when it’s too late.

So baby is now 18 weeks old and has not yet outgrown this periodic breathing.  The episodes have become less frequent (maybe once every few weeks now instead of once or twice a week), but they still occur.  They occur during nap-time as frequently as during the evening. 

In doing my own research, it appears that periodic breathing is characterized by breathing stops of up to 15 seconds for infants under 6 months.  So we meet the under-6-months criteria, but not the timing criteria (since the Snuza alarms at 20 seconds).  I will be discussing this with our pediatrician.

In the meantime, the Snuza is quite simply the only thing between ongoing sleepless nights and the ability to sleep soundly (us, not baby).  When I wake in the night and the baby is still and silent on the video monitor, I can relax knowing that the Snuza will alarm if there is an issue…  Instead of running into his room every 20 minutes to check on him and, in the process, wake him up.

Oh and I do have to mention – we follow all other advice to prevent SIDS.  Baby is not overheated nor wrapped while sleeping, never sleeps on his stomach, no blankets are used (besides the wearable ones), no toys are in his crib, and we use mesh (breathable) bumpers.  He doesn’t appear to have any risk factors besides being a boy: was not a preemie, we don’t smoke, I took care of myself during pregnancy, etc.  So we’re really at a loss as to why this is happening.

Regardless, if you’re even considering a sleep monitor – DO IT.  I promise you will not be disappointed.  I personally prefer the Snuza to the Angelcare mat because it is portable and can go anywhere with the baby. 

For some reason, I’ve had difficulty finding the Snuza in stores here on the west coast, so I ordered mine on Amazon.  It looks like it’s about $120 there, but I would have paid a lot more than that for the peace of mind it provides.

Prenatal Testing: Quad Screen vs. CVS vs. Amniocentesis

At some point during every older mother’s pregnancy journey comes the dreaded  Prenatal Testing.  This is when all the statistics and risks we hear about genetic, chromosomal, neural tube, and other disorders come to a head… to provide us a healthy dose of additional worry.

Given my age, I was definitely concerned about Down syndrome.  What I was too ignorant to be concerned about, until I was so informed by my doctors, were the host of other  potential problems that could occur – including the various trisomies, fragile x syndrom, neural tube defects, etc, etc.  I remember at one point sitting with a genetic counselor, 2-page list in hand, and skimming all the potential issues and my baby’s risk of having these issues.  Worse, the list was segregated by age group – so I could see that for the younger age group, wherein the risk of a particular disorder might be 1 in 2000, for me it might be 1 in 200.  Scary stuff.

Which is precisely why prenatal testing is so important.  My understanding is that younger mothers are typically tested using simple ultrasound and blood testing techniques (with more invasive measures offered only upon request and doctors’ agreement).  However, in my case, my Advanced Maternal Age prompted the doctors to provide me with 3 separate test options, all with their own pros and cons:

  1. Quad Marker Screen:  Between the 15th and 20th weeks of pregnancy, this is a blood test performed to determine the levels of 4 substances within the amniotic fluid.  These levels are then analyzed to see if they fall within acceptable limits; if not, additional more invasive testing may be recommended.  The major pro of this approach is that there is no risk to the baby – it’s just a simple blood test.  The con is that results are not diagnostic; that is, they can only identify certain increased risks of an issue – which would be the signal for additional testing.  They are also not 100% accurate – e.g. not 100% of Down syndrome cases (I believe it’s somewhere around only 80%) can be predicted with this test.
  2. Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS):  Usually performed between the 10th and 13th weeks of pregnancy, this test uses an ultrasound to guide a thin catheter through the cervix or the abdomen to draw a sample of placental cells.  These cells are then tested to diagnose chromosomal or genetic disorders.  The pros of this approach are its levels of diagnostic accuracy (98-99%), the timing of potential diagnosis (very early in the pregnancy), the inclusion of DNA in the sample (allowing for paternity testing if desired), and the nice-to-have ability to determine the baby’s gender very early in the pregnancy.  The cons of this approach are the fact that it doesn’t identify neural tube defects, the elevated risk of miscarriage (somewhere around 1%), a risk of amniotic fluid leakage, and a risk of infection (as with any invasive procedure).
  3. Amniocentesis:  Usually performed between the 14th and 20th weeks of pregnancy, this test uses an ultrasound to guide a thin needle through the abdomen to draw a sample of amniotic fluid.  This fluid is then tested to diagnose chromosomal, genetic, or neural tube defects.  The pros of this approach are its levels of diagnostic accuracy (over 99%), the inclusion of DNA in the sample (for paternity testing if desired), and the ability to determine the baby’s gender.  The cons of this approach are a small risk of miscarriage (less than 1%), a risk of infection (as with any invasive procedure), and a rare risk of injury to the baby or preterm labor.

So then comes decision time.  Do we want to go with the no-risk procedure, yet give up complete diagnostic ability?  Do we want to go with a more invasive procedure, yet introduce a risk of miscarriage?  If we do go with a more invasive procedure, do we want to do the more common “tried and true” amnio, or the newer CVS that will provide results weeks sooner?

Then comes the ethical debate… Would we consider terminating a pregnancy depending on the type of problem that was revealed?  If not, then why do anything but the least invasive test?

In the end, we decided to go with CVS testing.  Given our previous miscarriage along with the risk of miscarriage that this test would introduce, it wasn’t an easy decision.  But ultimately we liked the fact that we would know what we were dealing with sooner than later.  Also, we reasoned that the miscarriage risk would go down with an experienced doctor, so I sought out to find the best local one I could.

Fortunately, I was quickly pointed in the direction of a wonderful local doctor who had to date performed over 25,000 CVS procedures.  His success rates were high and past patients raved.  I checked out his error rates and was satisfied.

The first appointment is a genetic counseling session.  We are ushered into a little office with a genetic counselor who questions us and then basically draws out our family medical history on a piece of paper.  She reviews the 2-page RISK LIST, our eleveated risks due to maternal and paternal age, and finally discusses the CVS procedure in detail.  She concludes that we (I) are good candidates for the procedure with no glaring risk of fetal abnormality.  We schedule a date.  I will be 12 weeks pregnant at the time of the procedure.

The night before I’m really nervous.  Praying for no infection, leakage, or miscarriage.  Fortunately, work keeps my mind occupied (the silver lining of a stressful job)?  The procedure is scheduled for a Friday so I can do the required bed rest for 2 days. 

Once we arrive, we’re seen by an ultrasound technician.  The technology here is amazing!  MUCH better than the ultrasounds we have received at my local OB-GYN’s office.  We can see the little bean in 3D, jumping, moving.  He shows me his heart rate.  We hear the heart beating (and all the other noises in there – who knew how loud it was?  No wonder babies love the sound of vacuum cleaners).  He takes brain and other measurements and says that everything looks normal.  He sees that I am nervous.  Reassures.  Says this doctor is the best on the west coast.  It will be fine.

We are then led into a room tricked out with some sort of super-sonic ultrasound machine.  Since the procedure involves EITHER a transcervical or transabdomenal catheter, I ask which one I’m going to get.  The nurse says the doctor prefers transcervical (quicker, easier, less painful) so he will do that.  I agree but internally wish for the other method.  Somehow seems less invasive to me.

The doctor arrives.  Given the number of these procedures he performs, I am expecting a kinda “assembly-line” experience.  A detached persona.  To my surprise, it’s the complete opposite.  The doctor is cheerful, engaging.  Asks about our summer vacation plans.  Shares about his most recent trip, a family gathering in Texas.  Chats while he positions me appropriately (maybe this is part of the plan?  To keep our minds occupied?)  Tells me to BREATHE and RELAX.  That if I am not relaxed, I will start to contract, and that may impact his ability to draw a large enough sample.

The nurse turns on the ultrasound.  Again, I’m amazed at the level of detail.  At only 12 weeks!  The doctor prepares… something… I’m not really in the best position to see.  Then he begins to guide the catheter, watching the ultrasound monitor the whole time.  Relax, he says, breathe. 

He stops.  Okay, you’re starting to contract…  see?  Points to the monitor.  Now I only have this much space.  I giggle sheepishly, nervously.  Oh sorry.  I concentrate on deep breathing.  I know it’s not going to work.

He tries again.  Breathe, okay, just breathe.  Now it’s done.  I sit up.  He is looking at the sample.  I’m sorry, he says, it’s not enough.  We will have to go through the abdomen.

Wow – Two For The Price Of One!  I can barely contain my excitement. 

Belly cleansed.  Numbing shot.  Ouch.  Now the needle and catheter.  Don’t look, it makes it worse.  I can’t really see anyway, with my head positioned at a lower angle than the rest of my body.

I feel the pressure of the needle catheter.  He gently guides it up and down to get the sample.  Okay, done.  Good – great sample here.

I sit up as nurses start cleaning up.  Hubby looks shocked.  What?  He wants to know if it hurt.  Then he shares that he is certain he saw the baby on the ultrasound monitor looking towards the needle as it was poking around.  He says the baby’s face had been turned away but then rotated towards the needle and was watching as the sample was being taken. 

Next two days are uneventful.  Bed rest.  No pain.  Just watching watching watching for any bleeding, any sign of miscarriage.  Thank goodness… Nothing.  Start to relax.

We had paid extra for FISH results…  these are not full results, but high level preliminary results that look at a few of the most common chromosomes for issues.  These results would be provided within 72 working hours.  Full results would come about 2 weeks later.

Glad I paid extra for the faster results.  Next few days are excruciatingly slow.  Every time my cell phone rings I grab it to look at the number.  Finally, at the end of a Wednesday work day, I get The Call.

Everything looks great.  No issues with the preliminary results.  Final results will be completed in two weeks but assume that no news is good news – no call means everything looks normal.  Happy.  It appears that she is about to say good-bye and hang up.

Wait – I say.  What about gender?  Can’t you tell gender too?  She pauses, teasing.  Do you really want to know?  YES!  She pauses again, she likes this part of her job.  You’re having a baby boy.

A baby boy!  A healthy baby boy!  WOW.  I can’t believe it.  I’m so lucky!  Bursting.  Already thinking of special ways to tell my husband.

Two weeks comes and goes.  No call.  We’ve just gotten through the first anxiety-ridden phase of pregnancy.  We are happy with our testing decision.

I have friends who have opted for both the Quad Screening and Amniocentesis testing options.  They are also happy with their decisions.  Those who opted for the Quad Screening were comfortable with the level of accuracy and in their philosophy that no matter what the results, it wouldn’t change the direction of the pregnancy (e.g. termination would not be considered), so why go through the risks of more invasive testing?

Those who opted for the Amniocentesis were more comfortable with the fact that it is a “tried and true” procedure (vs. the newer CVS procedure) with a lower risk of miscarriage and also the ability to conduct neural tube analysis. 

So there’s no right answer for everyone – simply what each family is comfortable with.  Ultimately the question you have to ask yourself is what level of diagnosis and procedure risk you would be comfortable with in order to maintain a stress-free (as much as possible) ongoing pregnancy. 

The one thing I did learn was to try not to put too much stock into “The Statistics” for my age.  A statistic is a statistic.  I had to keep reminding myself that even if I had a 1 in 100 chance of a problem, that still meant I had a 99 in 100 chance of that problem NOT occurring.  Regardless of the odds, if you happen to be the person who is 1 in 100 or 1 in 1000000, the statistics are meaningless.  All we can do is try to be as healthy as possible with a little luck thrown in.

Daycare vs. SAHM vs. Nanny

Before I had my baby, I had everything all figured out.  I was going to take my maternity leave and then head back to work.  I interviewed caregivers, and picked out a wonderful licensed in-home daycare close to my home.   I wrote up a list of emergency contacts and brief instructions.  I prided myself on having been so organized as to having completed everything on time.

And then I had my son.  And everything changed.

Now – I am a planner by nature.  I don’t make too many big decisions in my life without well thought out (compulsive?) planning.  So when I found out I was pregnant, I immediately armed myself with spreadsheets for budget, daycare selection, and necessary home renovations.  I pulled up and edited a list of interview questions for daycare providers.

I always knew from the beginning that we would go the daycare route.  It was less expensive…  not cheap by any means, but not ridiculously expensive like some other options out there.  My baby would have the chance to socialize.  My sister’s kids were attending daycare.  My friend’s kids were attending daycare.  It’s what we knew.

I also knew intuitively that I didn’t want a “corporate” daycare.  I wanted my child to be able to form a relationship with just a couple of care providers, and I didn’t want the corporate environment at such a young age.  So I began researching in-home daycares.

I soon learned about state licensing requirements, so promptly printed out a list of all local licensed in-home daycare facilities from California’s Child Care Licensing Website.    Then I began simply calling down the list, asking about availability and hours.  I came up with about 7 who had both availability and offered the hours we were looking for (pretty long hours of about 11 per day).  Of those, I picked the top 5 I would interview.

The interviews were a good exercise in better learning what to look for.  I could immediately tell the ones who were in it for a paycheck, and they were scratched off the list.  There were 3 remaining that I really liked and who seemed to really love the kids, so I called the state to ask about previous audits and if any of them had ever received any complaints (none of them had). 

Now we just had to decide.  Option A we really liked – she had a nursing background and a real genuine interest and love for children – BUT she was a bit out of the way and talked too much.  Yes, talked way too much – we were there 3 hours when the interview was over in about 45 minutes.  And we quickly began calculating in our heads how much time would be wasted after work when picking up the baby and having to endure hours of conversation.  So she was put at the bottom of the list.

Option B also had a genuine love for children – and was meticulous about cooking fresh and healthy and homemade meals.  She reminded me of one of my best friends, which was comforting.  But she was also located out of the way, even more so than Option A.  And over time, she began texting and emailing and calling a bit too much.  It almost gave off an air of desparation which, valid or not, worried me that something might not be right since she was pushing so hard for the business.

Option C had a lot of things going for her.  She was located very close to our home, right across the street from what will eventually be our child’s elementary school, and had a wonderful maternal/grandmotherly feel to her.  Her husband works in the education industry, and her references seemed very passionate about the level of care she provided.  She also offered some additional flexibility that the others did not – like the ability to have her care for the baby on an “a la carte” basis as needed.  So ultimately, we decided to go with her.  Baby was registered and we were good to go.  The plan was to leave the baby with her a few times during my leave to get everyone accustomed to it, and then full-time once returning to work.

But once I delivered and had bonded with my son, I simply couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him at daycare.  I knew I would never leave him one second longer than I had to (there goes the plan of leaving him a few days during my leave to ease us both into it!)

There was and is absolutely nothing wrong with that daycare.  The family is wonderful.  The facilities are perfect.  Everything else checked out.  But I just began having visions of my son laying in a crib or being left alone while other children were tended to.  Crying in the other room.  Irrational thoughts, and I’m certain not warranted, but I couldn’t help it. 

Then I began paying closer attention to my sister’s and friends’ children who were in daycare.  It seems that they were always getting sick!  And in my sister’s case, the children are only in daycare a few hours a week.  I began to worry about my son coming home sick frequently and at such a young age (especially since I was choosing to space out his vaccinations).

As my remaining leave time dwindled, I began experiencing true anxiety at having to leave my son at all.  Almost mini panic attacks every time I even thought about going back to work and leaving him with someone else.  My mind began racing through all the horrible “What If” scenarios that could occur if I trusted someone other than myself or hubby to care for him.  Hubby assured me that those feelings would die down.  Sister assured me it was just hormones and would get better.  But it didn’t.  I felt horrible, guilty.  And I hadn’t (and still haven’t) gone back to work yet!

I decided I simply couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t go back to work and leave my son at such a young age.  At least not until he could walk, communicate.  At least not until he was bigger, sturdier.  At least not until I trusted someone as much as me to care for him… and fat chance of that happening any time soon.

This was a foreign feeling for me.  I had never once considered the option of staying home.  In fact, I was proudly adamant that I would NEVER stay home.  If I’m being honest, until now, I never had much respect for SAHMs.  Although I never spoke it, I felt that they were somehow lazy, too willing to use motherhood as an excuse to “opt out” because Corporate America was too difficult, too willing to rely on a husband to support them.  That would never be me.

I was instantly humbled.

Suddenly my financial independence, my identity as a working woman, my entire career – none of it mattered anymore.  Nothing could even come close to comparing to this tiny life relying on me for his every need.  I wanted to be there for every roll, every step, every word.  I wanted his memories to be of US.  Every fiber of my being was screaming at me to do the right thing and raise my own child.

We ran the figures.  It would be tight, but we could manage.  We reasoned that I could use the time to start my own business.  It would be an opportunity to pursue what I really wanted to do, both personally and professionally.  Perhaps if we wanted another child, we get started on that front immediately so as to better justify my time out of the work force.

But still, always, in the back of my mind was that niggling voice.  Is now, when you have a new life to support, really the right time to be quitting your job?  Are you being fiscally responsible?  Sure, you can do it, but what about lost retirement contributions and compounding?  What about future marketability?  What if hubby, heaven forbid, ever lost his job?  What about the career you’ve worked so long and hard for?

I didn’t, and still don’t, know the right answer.  But I knew I needed to have a back-up plan while we figured it out.  I had already decided I couldn’t, wouldn’t, use a daycare facility at this point.  I had exhausted all other options such as pursuing care by a local family member.  That left us with only one other option – a nanny.

At first glance, I had serious sticker shock.  Nannies ain’t cheap, especially in this neck of the woods!  But by now, I didn’t care about the cost.  What was best for our baby was really the only consideration.  As long as we could afford it, we would do it.  I figured we could bite the bullet on the cost for 1-2 years, or at whatever point I felt comfortable to begin putting my son into a group program (as I still do feel that socialization is very important). 

I began the long process of finding a fit for our family.  Posting the job, interviewing applicants, running background checks, finding CPR classes, installing nanny cams, obtaining Workers Comp insurance, reviewing Nanny Tax laws, etc, etc.  I’ll save this for another post, but I had no idea how difficult it would be to even find someone willing to work “on the books,” never mind legally documented to work in the United States!

Finally, we found someone who met most of our qualifications (I literally had a laundry list of requirements) and who we liked and felt comfortable with.  We made her an offer that has her coming in part-time during our leaves (more to get us, ME, comfortable with the situation), and then full-time once we are both back at work.  I’ve gathered every single piece of information I can from her, her references, etc.  I’ve spent almost three days with her already; watching, training, and trying to predict how I’m going to feel when I go back.

And we’re going to see how it goes.  That’s all we can do now.  Once I go back, I’m fortunate to know that my husband will be home for an additional 12 weeks.  “The Plan,” as it stands now, is to simply see if I can handle it during those 12 weeks.  If I can handle being away from my baby.  Handle the thought of trusting someone else to care for him.  Handle inevitably missing some of the firsts.  Handle the juggling act.  And then go from there.  If yes, we should be okay.  If no, well, then we can cross that bridge.

And yesterday, for the very first time, I forced myself to leave the baby alone with the nanny for a few hours.  I didn’t want to leave.  I kissed him so much he started fussing.  At just over 17 weeks, this was the first time I would ever be leaving him with someone other than husband or myself.  The nanny knew it, and she was wonderful – reassuring.  Calming. 

I left, drove down the street, and promptly called my husband to have him start watching the nanny cams and dictating to me what was happening as I drove to my first errand.  Okay, he said, she just put the baby into the carrier….  she is putting them into the stroller….  now she just put the leash on the dog… okay now they are leaving for a walk….  now i’ve lost all visibility, they are out in the world.  Out in the world!  No visibility!  I immediately panic and then calm myself down, focus on my errand (except there is no real focus on anything other than what is happening at home).

Right afterwards, I pull up the nanny cams myself.  Oh no!  I can’t see them!  I call my husband, worried.  I’m sure they’re just still out for their walk, he says.  I get nervous.

Now it’s been 90 minutes.  I still can’t see them.  My mind starts racing.  Ridiculous thoughts.  I know they’re crazy even as I’m thinking them.  What if she took him away in her car – kidnapped him?  What if she got hurt on the walk?  What if she didn’t latch the carrier onto the stroller correctly and it tipped over?  What if she couldn’t handle both the dog and the baby at once and the dog got run over?

My heart literally starts pounding and I have to tell myself to CALM. DOWN.  Now it’s been 100 minutes.  They should be home by now!  What’s going on!?  I frantically jump from one nanny cam to the other to the other.  Suddenly, I see the stroller in the foyer.  Waves of relief.  Hear the baby crying.  Hear the nanny calming him.  Relief.  Relief.  On cue, husband calls me.  He must know I’m scared…  or maybe he’s scared too?  They just got home, he says, I see her with the baby now.

So I survived Day 1.  It was hard.  Anxiety-ridden.  But I did it.  And I have to admit, I got a TON of errands done.

So I’m afraid I don’t yet have the answer for us.  I’ve ruled out daycare for now, but am still torn between using a nanny and becoming a SAHM.  I should point out two books I’ve read to try to help me make sense of the confusion I’m feeling:

  •  The Perfect Stranger by Lucy Kaylin discusses the complex relationships between mothers and nannies.  It is written from the perspective of a working mom, albeit a seemingly very high income earning working mom.  This book was fascinating and I could hardly put it down.  Instead of making me feel better about using a nanny, however, it pushed me in the other direction – and made me feel more and more like I should become a SAHM.  An interesting read with lots of personal stories and anecdotes.
  • The Feminine Mistake by Leslie Bennetts delves into the Working Mom vs. SAHM wars.  Also a fascinating read, it is one of the few books I’ve read (really, one of the few pieces I’ve read anywhere) that discusses the potential downfalls of choosing to stay at home.  While not promoting work as the necessarily best option, it does discuss some of the niggling fears I have of losing marketability, retirement savings, financial independence, etc.  I highly recommend this book for working mothers who are feeling guilt or anxiety as it has definitely helped me to better reconcile myself to this option.

So I suppose this post ends with a big TBD….  as we ultimately decide what child care route to go over the coming weeks.  Any others struggling with this who have come to a final decision?

Judgments: Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding

I want to make a plea to all mothers…  Can we please all just support each other?  We’re all going through similar experiences, emotions, and hormonal changes, and at a time when we are most vulnerable, we should be supporting each other vs. attacking each other when it comes to controversial topics.

I’m sure the above gives a hint as to where I’m going with this, but I feel it’s important to share my story.  To share the “other side” per se.  Maybe it will help shed some light to those who are so dogmatic about one right way of doing things.

Before I begin, let me state very clearly and succinctly: BREAST IS BEST.  Period.  There is absolutely no debate about it.  Breastfeeding your infant during their most formative weeks and months is arguably the single most important thing you can do to give your baby the best start in life.

But hear me when I say it is not always possible.  For me it was not, partially due to some actions on my part and partially due to circumstances beyond my control.  That doesn’t mean it won’t be possible if I have another child.  That also doesn’t mean I am a bad mother.  Let me repeat: It does not mean I am a bad mother.  It took me a long time to be able to say and believe that, so I think it’s important to repeat it.

I admit I was pretty ignorant when it came to the “breastfeeding vs. formula feeding” controversy while I was pregnant.  I understood at a high level that breastfeeding was better and encouraged, but didn’t really think that formula was all that bad.  I definitely didn’t put a lot of time into researching it.  I figured, heck, much of our generation was raised on formula, and we all turned out okay.  As long as you pick the right formula, your baby should be fine.

I wasn’t excited about the prospect of breastfeeding.  I hadn’t yet bonded with my baby – to me, “my baby” was still some abstract idea, a foreign invasion of my body but not much else.  I was scared that breastfeeding would hurt.  I had heard stories of mastitis and bleeding nipples.  I didn’t want to leak when I went back to work.  I didn’t want the daunting responsibility of having to be the sole provider of nutrition and sustenance for an infant.  I worried about my diet and how it would impact breast milk.

So I figured that formula feeding was a good enough back-up plan.  In fact, I was pretty sure it would be THE plan – although I left the door open to breastfeeding should I change my mind upon delivery (which I doubted).  Friends were shocked and tried to encourage me to reconsider my approach.  Doctors pressured.  The more pressure I received, the more I pushed back and the more adamant I became that it was my choice and I would formula feed if I wanted to! 

About 2 weeks before giving birth, I suddenly had a change of heart.  I literally woke up one morning in a panic – what was I thinking?  I have to breastfeed!  It’s the best for my baby!  I began to read up on it.  I talked to family.  I was torn.  It felt like so much to learn, so much to prepare for, so late in the game.  Within a few days, the impulse had died down.  My sister, who had experienced difficulties breastfeeding herself, advised me that if my heart was not fully in it, I wouldn’t be able to do it.  We agreed that I was just hormonal and to “stick to the plan” (meaning, decide at birth what I wanted to do).  Thus no preparations were made.

Delivery day arrives.  My baby is born after a very long and difficult delivery, and I miss out on the hospital’s Golden Hour bonding opportunity as they are fast and furiously working on my baby to ensure he is okay.  I am happy but utterly exhausted.  I just want to sleep.  Not yet bonded.

The nurse asks if I want to latch him onto my breast.  I do not.  I am beyond worn out.  I am sore.  I feel as if I can’t manage something else new at this moment.  I ask for a bottle instead.  This is now my biggest regret about that experience.  His first feeding is newborn formula.

My healing process is slow.  I stay in the hospital an extra day and night beyond what I had planned to.  During that time I am pretty much bedridden, and hubby takes over most of the feeding/diapering responsibilities.  Which means that the feedings continue via formula.  I am not yet fully bonding with my baby.  Nobody at the hospital asks me again if I want to breastfeed.  I probably would have pushed back if they had anyway.

Finally getting discharged.  I am told that my breasts should engorge within the next 2-5 days and that if I don’t want to breastfeed, to avoid contact with them and basically wait out the engorgement.

5 days come and go.  10 days come and go.  No engorgement.  Finally just after 2 weeks postpartum, mild engorgement begins.  I have nothing to compare it to, but they’re not nearly as painful or engorged as I’m told they should be.  All during this time, we are continuing to formula feed.  I am adjusting to having a new baby at home.  He is cute and small and I love him…  But I’ve not yet bonded.

Hubby is going back to work soon.  I now force myself out of bed and start hobbling around the house to help take care of the chores and, most importantly, the baby in preparation for his return to work.  I begin spending more time with the baby than I had in the days prior. 

Then slowly, something starts to happen…  I feel something starting to stir.  I start to really watch him while he eats, when I change him, while he sleeps.  We make some meaningful eye contact.  I begin focusing less on my healing and more on him.  I start to fall in love with him.  He is no longer just a responsibility, a chore, something I have to do.  He is now MY SON.  My beautiful, perfect, angelic child.  A gift.  A miracle.  My heart opens up and with it comes the anxiety.  The panic.  The worry.  And the absolute NEED to do everything in my power to love, protect, and provide the very best for him.

At about that time, I receive an email from one of my best friends.  He makes a passing comment about how another mutual friend (who works for an infant formula company) saw a photo of me formula-feeding my baby and said that I really needed to “stop feeding him that crap.”   He went on to mention a few of the statistics our friend had shared in regards to formula feeding. 

I lost it.  While reading the email, I began crying uncontrollably (and those who know me know I am not a cryer).  I couldn’t stop. 

Suddenly it all hit me.  The profound love for my child, the anxiety, the guilt, the worry, and the fact that I had made the absolute worst decision I could have in giving him the best start in life.  What was wrong with me?  How could I have done this?  The words stop feeding him that crap are permanently seared into my mind.

I begin frantically researching.  Researching researching.  Can I still breastfeed?  Is it too late?  Of course, most of the articles and forums I read berate women who didn’t attempt to breastfeed from Day 1.  I am called selfish, unfit to be a mother, and borderline abusive.  I hear that I am ignorant and uneducated.  I read a piece that asserts that mothers who do not breastfeed should not be allowed to procreate.  I am told that my child will now not only suffer from a lifetime of disease and lowered immunity, but that he will also end up stupid and obese.  All because I made that one fateful decision.

The guilt and regret are overpowering.  I can’t stop crying.  Hormones, Google overload, and other mothers’ judgments only make it worse.  I feel absolutely horrible for what I’ve done.  The articles and books are not helping.  Hubby becomes worried.  He doesn’t understand.  It’s not as if you’re feeding him poison, he says.  But I am desperate to salvage the situation.  I will fix this.

I begin putting my baby to the breast.  Predictably, he won’t take it.  Why would he?  He’s become accustomed to the easy flow of the formula bottles.  Why work harder than he has to?  I keep trying.  Trying.  He simply won’t latch.  Once he bites.  Hard.  But never latches.

I buy a hand pump.  I pump pump pump for 40 minutes and get a few drops of milk.  I am ecstatic.

I call 3 different Lactation Consultants.  One I don’t like off the bat (she spends a lot of time reprimanding me for what a horrible decision I had made – as if I didn’t already realize that).  The other two are great.  I spend a lot of time talking with both of them.  I share my proud moment of the hand pump.  They both feel I can successfully re-lactate, but that it is going to take work.  I need to be committed.  I am.  I will do anything.

First thing I am instructed to do is to rent a hospital-grade breast pump.  I do that immediately.  The nurse shows me how to use it and also confirms during our test that I do “have milk” and should be able to re-lactate.  She furthermore confirms that the small amount of milk produced during that session is in fact colustrum – even better!  I am told to pump at least 25 minutes every 2 hours day and night for at least two weeks to start seeing results.  I’m shown how to give myself compresses and massages that should also help stimulate milk production.

I’m told to begin a cocktail of Fenugreek (10 capsules a day), Milk Thistle (6 capsules a day), 5 glasses of milk a day, and a lot of oatmeal and water.  I send hubby to the health store to pick everything up.  I’m told to visualize my baby to allow for the “let down” of milk, and to relax as much as possible.

Finally, I’m referred over and over again to La Leche League.  I desperately read up on their forums, websites, and once again conclude what a horrible mother I am for not breastfeeding from Day 1.  But I can relactate, they tell me.  Even adoptive mothers can lactate.  Just don’t give up.

The pump HURTS!!  Wow, turn power down.  Relax.  Focus on your baby.  Take the supplements.  Never mind the chapped and bleeding nipples.  Clean it up and keep trying.

Every two hours.  Has it already been two hours??  Do it again.  Produce only 5 ml.  That’s okay, keep at it.  Day, night, night day.  Every two hours.  Water, oatmeal, milk, supplements, lanolin, pump, soothe chapped/bleeding nipples, clean pump parts, repeat.  This becomes my new obsession.

A week later and still only 5-10 ml.  No matter.  Those precious drops are added like miracle medicine to my baby’s bottles.  Keep at it, it will increase.

Two weeks in.  I’m getting tired.  Not sleeping since up through the night pumping.  Nipples ain’t pretty.  And STILL only producing about 5-10 ml a session.  Dreading pumping time.  I remain obsessed with pumping out every single drop possible.  Not seeing an increase.

I take a day off.  I rationalize that I am out and busy and didn’t get a chance to pump…  but if I’m being honest with myself, I just want a day off!  I want my nipples to heal.  I don’t want to dread pumping time.  I don’t want the pressure.  I want to take a nap!

Next day I pump and get 30 ml.  30 ml!!  Three times as much as I have gotten before!  Maybe the tide has turned.  But, after the next 4 subsequent pumps yield even less than 10 ml, I realize it was just build-up for having skipped a day.

Time passes.  I’m starting to become depressed.  I am obsessed with increasing my milk supply.  I can do this.  I WILL do this.  I cannot ruin my son’s future.  I am miserable and I wince any time anything grazes my breasts.  My nipples aren’t improving.  I become furious when my husband fails to shake every last drop of “liquid gold” into the formula bottle.  I am sleep-deprived, and not due to a crying baby!

After about another week or so of this, hubby pulls me aside.  You’re doing a great thing, he says, and I see how hard you’ve been trying.  But – don’t you think you’ve tried enough?  He struggles for the right words.  I feel like… you’re starting to lose focus of your son.  Says it gently.

I start to protest.  Argue. 

But then stop.  He’s right.  I can’t remember the last time I’ve focused on my son while feeding him (vs. thinking about The Pump and My Supply).  In fact, I can’t remember the last time I’ve focused on anything other than increasing my supply.  I am frustrated.  Snapping at everyone.  Depressed.  Defeated.

And hubby has inadvertently given me the best gift he can.  The permission to stop.  I realized afterwards that was all I needed.  I knew a couple of weeks in that it wasn’t working.  My milk production wasn’t increasing.  I wasn’t succeeding.  But I couldn’t stop.  Wouldn’t stop.  Had to make up for my inital mistake.

So I needed that permission to stop.  Someone to acknowledge that I had given it everything.  That I wasn’t a failure as a mother.  And that it was going to be okay.  And he reminded me, again, that I was doing the best I could.  I wasn’t feeding him poison.  I loved him.  I cared for him.  And was learning as I go.

I returned the pump.  I put away the supplements.  And I decided to take the permission to move on and not look back.  I decided to use this as a learning experience for the next time.  Relief.  Peace.

I began to look forward to feedings again.  That quiet time with baby and I.  I began to physically heal.  I slept.  Through the night.  And was happier.  A better mother, a better wife.

And I vowed to no longer look up another forum, thread, or article regarding the Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding war.  I supposed I had lost the battle.  La Leche League would not have been pleased.  But the gray cloud hovering above me was lifting.  I was starting to feel like myself again.  I was engaged with my son.

All we can do is our best.  And we make mistakes.  I know that this was one of my biggest mistakes.  But I have accepted it, learned from it, and moved on.  What I wish is that during my most vulnerable time, I had been supported by other mothers, even those with different experiences.  Instead, I felt degraded.  I WAS degraded.  But what I needed at that time, instead of lectures and reprimands, was simply support.

Sometimes when we’re passionate about something, we forget to respect others’ perspectives and experiences.  It’s understandable – we simply KNOW we are right and cannot comprehend why someone else would not see it the way we do.  Yet in our constant lecturing and soap-boxing, we push those people away.  The ones we are so fervently attempting to sway, to see it our way, are turned off and retreat.  Who wants to be reprimanded?  Scolded?  Scoffed at because they cannot or will not follow the same practices that we do?

I’m all for education, but it needs to remain objective and fact-based, not personal and attacking.  I can only imagine how an adoptive mother who formula feeds her child must feel – and she has no choice!  Present the facts and let the mother decide. 

And other mothers, especially, be kind to your peers.  Remember that we will all make mistakes along the way.  Let’s band together and show compassion, not pass judgment.  Let’s maintain the assumption that mothers want to parent the best way that they possibly can, although particular views may differ.  Let’s hold each other up instead of trying to tear each other down.

We’re all in this together.

Last Day of the Swaddle

As of age 16 weeks and 6 days, it appears we have finally been able to retire the swaddle – YES!

I was never good at swaddling.  No fewer than two nurses and three helpful moms have tried to help me.  I’ve read the books and followed the diagrams, and I just can’t get it.  Sure, I can bundle up my baby in a lumpy and loose burrito, but it’s nowhere near the tight papooses that other moms can crank out in seconds while doing two other things at once.  (Speaking of which, the BEST swaddlers I have ever seen are in Ghana – those moms are incredible at not only whipping up the tightest swaddles I’ve seen, but then wrapping them around their waists so that their babies are snug and secure on their backs for hours at a time – of course all of this takes probably a grand total of 10 seconds).  But I digress.

Finally admitting to myself that I would likely never get the hang of swaddling, I purchased what we call “Swaddles for Dummies,” or the SwaddleMe swaddles (say that 5x fast).  These things have been great!  Instead of fiddling with corners and watching our son Houdini himself out of the blanket before we can even finish the swaddle, he is now trapped, straitjacket style, with the help of zippers and velcro tabs.  We largely credit these with our son sleeping through the night beginning at about 6 weeks.

About a month ago, we tried to retire the swaddle.  I suppose maybe his Morro reflex hadn’t gone away yet?  First night in, he got up and began crying three times in as many hours.  We gave in and swaddled him so we could sleep the rest of the night.  Poor planning on our part as it was a weeknight.

A week or so later (weekend this time) we tried again.  Again, baby startled himself and cried and cried – Mommy and Daddy gave in with the swaddle.

After that, we told ourselves we would wait until he was good and ready – or at least 6 months old – before we began trying again.  But it was getting a bit ridiculous.  The swaddles were getting too small, and Houdini had improved his techniques.  Whereas before we would wake him in the mornings to find his little hands had escaped, now one or both of his legs were escaping, along with an arm. 

During his daytime naps, I began putting him down sans swaddle.  He hated it.  He would cry and cry, and I spent many an afternoon comforting him.  But slowly he got more used to it.  I would watch him on the monitor, see him startle and wake, and then soothe himself back to sleep.  Finally had an hour or two to myself.

We decided this past weekend that we would try to put him down at night without the swaddle.  Saturday he was scheduled for pictures, so figured better to try Saturday night than Friday night (to avoid a sleepless night for everyone).  We bundled him in his sleep sack, and he slept through the entire night!  Soundly.  So soundly, in fact, that I went in to check on him twice (I admit – to make sure he was still breathing – even though he is already under dual surveillance with two monitors). 

I figured it was a fluke but then last night…  Same thing!!  I think we’ve done it!  Again, slept so soundly that I was a bit worried in the night.  I’m used to him grunting and groaning and kicking.  But then realized – now that he is not swaddled, he has nothing to escape!  He can just sleep.

So I suppose it was just his time and he was finally ready.  We’re thrilled!  Even as I type this, I’m watching him on his monitor, sleeping in peace.  Little Houdini has finally escaped the swaddle – for good.

California Maternity Leave

Right off the bat, I have to say that I find it deplorable that the U.S. has such poor policies for maternity leave accommodations relative to most other industrialized nations.  In the words of one of my foreign relatives, it is “barbaric” that Short Term Disability only pays a new mother 6 weeks for a regular delivery (8 weeks for c-section).  Compare that to up to 7-12 months PAID in many other countries, and it’s no wonder that many working mothers simply can’t fathom returning to their jobs so soon and, ultimately, don’t.

Fortunately, I live in California, where policies are marginally better.  In addition to Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protection, both hubby and I are eligible for additional job protection under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA).  That said, I am convinced that both legislators and companies make the acts as confusing as possible to encourage new parents to give up the headache and simply come back to work!

I am by no means an expert, but after much research and about 30 calls to my company’s Leave Department, I think I have enough of a grasp to help explain the benefits for my particular situation:

  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA):  This is a federal act that allows for 12 weeks of unpaid job protection (both mother and father) following the birth of a child.  To be eligible, the parent must have worked at least 12 months and 1250 hours at their company, and the company must employ at least 50 employees.  The rub is that if both parents happen to work for the same company, they’re only entitled to a combined 12 weeks of protection (vs. 12 weeks each).
  • California Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) & Short Term Disability (STD):  This is paid and assuming you take it post-birth, it will run in concurrence with FMLA, so will be job protected.  Only the mother is eligible in a childbirth scenario.  Typically, for a vaginal birth, the mother will receive 6 weeks of STD and/or CA PDL.  For a c-section, the mother will receive 8 weeks.  Payment depends on your company’s policies – in my case, my company pays 100% of my salary up to a certain number of weeks based on my tenure, and then 75% of my salary for weeks beyond that.  I believe that if your company is paying less than 100%, then that’s when CA PDL kicks in to cover the rest.  Note that CA PDL also allows for up to 4 weeks prior to birth at a benefit amount of up to 55% of your weekly salary (capped at somewhere around $1000/week).  However, this pre-birth leave is NOT job-protected and some companies (including my own) will not allow you to take it.
  • California Family Rights Act (CFRA):  This is unpaid leave that provides 12 weeks of of job protection in a rolling 12 month period for mother and father.  This runs in concurrence with FMLA but begins after STD ends (for the mother).  This means that if the mother opts to take the full leave under both FMLA and CFRA immediately after the birth of her child, that her CFRA protection will begin once she is released from Short Term Disability, and will subsequently out-run her FMLA job-protection benefit.  Confusing, I know.
  • California Paid Family Leave (PFL):  This allows for up to 6 weeks of paid benefit for both mother and father (assuming both take advantage).  You get paid up to 55% of your weekly salary amount, with a cap of somewhere around $1000/week.  This leave is NOT job protected, but can be taken in conjunction with CFRA/FMLA to ensure job protection.

Clear as mud??  I found that the most important thing in trying to clarify the best plan for us was to first identify our top priority – Time or Income.  Were we looking to take the longest job-protected leaves possible, regardless of income during that time?  Or was income during our leaves the larger concern?  In our case, we chose time, so the following illustrates a rough example of how we were able to maximize our job-protected leaves:

  1. Prior to baby’s due date, I took 1 week of Paid Time Off (required by the company as a “waiting period” for Short Term Disability).  Please note that many California companies will allow you to take advantage of up to 4 weeks of California PDL prior to the baby’s due date, paid at up to 55% (capped) of your weekly salary.  By “allow you,” I mean “job-protect you.”  Mine unfortunately was one that would not.
  2. After baby’s birth, I received 6 weeks of Short Term Disability for a vaginal delivery.  Additionally, the FMLA job protection clock started ticking the day the baby was born.  Hubby concurrently took 3 weeks of company-paid time off upon the baby’s birth.
  3. Once I was released from Short Term Disability at 6 weeks postpartum, the clock began ticking under CFRA (if you’re keeping count, I’m now 6 weeks into my 12 weeks of FMLA job protection; now an additional 12 weeks of CFRA is running concurrently with my remaining 6 weeks of FMLA).  In addition, I received 6 weeks of payment under California PFL (up to 6 weeks of payment at 55% of my salary – capped at about $1000/week). 
  4. Once my California PFL benefit ran out after 6 weeks, I began my final 6 weeks of UNPAID job-protection under CFRA.  My full FMLA benefit of 12 weeks has now run out so I am only protected under CFRA for the remaining 6 weeks.
  5. Once I have exhausted all job protection, I will use 2.5 weeks of accrued Paid Time Off (PTO).  At the time that PTO begins, I am “reinstated” back at work and am no longer on leave.
  6. Once I return to work, hubby will begin his 12 weeks of job-protected leave under CFRA.  Like me, his first 6 weeks will be partially paid at 55% of his salary (capped).  His final 6 weeks will be unpaid.

In a nutshell, this puts us both back to work when our baby is about 7.5 months old (exhausting all job protection and PTO).  That’s a total of about 5 months of leave and PTO for me, 3 months for hubby.  Of this time, we are receiving 6 weeks fully paid by STD/CA PDL, 3.5 weeks fully paid by PTO, 12 weeks partially paid (55% of salary) by CA PFL, and 12 weeks unpaid.

For those in California looking to maximize income during leaves, the plans would be different.  If you are looking to continue receiving full pay throughout your leave, you would rely on 6 weeks of STD/CA PDL after the birth of your child (8 weeks for c-section).  Beyond that, you would have to use company-paid PTO or vacation time.

If you decide to sacrifice some, but not all, income, you can take your 6-8 weeks of fully paid STD/CA PDL following by an additional 6 weeks of CA PFL paid at 55% of your salary.  The baby’s father could then also receive benefits for an additional 6 weeks of CA PFL.  This would put you at 18 weeks postpartum (assuming vaginal delivery) before taking into consideration any company-paid PTO or vacation time.

Bottom line is that our maternity accommodations here are dismal.  I can’t even imagine what it would be like in some states outside of California where the job-protected leave is limited to 12 weeks total under FMLA (all unpaid except for concurrent STD).  I think change can come, but it will be a long time coming.  In the meantime, do your homework and begin your leave plans well ahead of time to ensure a financial safety net as well as a full understanding of your rights and limitations.  Good luck!

Top Pregnancy and Motherhood Smart Phone Apps

I have to admit that I was never going to get a smart phone (well at least not for a while).  I remember several years ago now my husband pleading his case for us to purchase a pair of smart phones – iPhones, to be exact.  It’s wasteful, I said.  We don’t need them.  Our phones right now make calls – that’s all we need.  Don’t we have enough with our work Blackberries??  Why do we need more??

But he pushed and pushed and pushed.  He wouldn’t drop it.  He negotiated.  He bargained.  Ultimately, I just got tired of arguing.  We got the damn phones.

And you know what?  I’m hooked.  I don’t think I could live without that damn phone now.  Everything’s in there.  I’m torn as to which product to pick at the store?  Look up reviews on the phone.  We’re traveling and don’t know where to eat?  Yelp local restaurants.  Lost?  Map directions.  What did we ever do before smart phones??

And now I find during pregnancy and new motherhood, that they’re even MORE useful.  I’ve tried a lot of apps.  Loved some, hated others.  Following are my top picks for pregnancy and beyond:

  • IP Free (Free, as the title implies):  First things first.  If you’re trying to get pregnant, or trying to figure out if you may already be pregnant, you need to have a good idea as to your monthly cycle.  If you’re anything like me, you really have no good idea as to when your cycle will start until it’s upon you (not a matter of regularity so much as not-paying-attention-ness).  Cue IP Free.  It’s a simple and easy app that allows you to track your cycles so that you know when you’re next cycle is scheduled to begin, or when you’re scheduled to ovulate (if you’re tracking).  This app was my first clue that I might be preggers – the blinking :”7 DAYS LATE” message triggered the first pregnancy test.


  • BabyBump ($3.99): My go-to pregnancy app which I still use now for motherhood.  Every day of your pregnancy, it shows a picture depicting what your fetus or baby looks like, and provides information on what may be of interest to you during that day (e.g. morning sickness, prenatal testing, upcoming delivery, etc).  It includes a “Journal” tab that allows you to record weight, waist size, mood, appetite, cravings, and doctor appointment information.  It has an included mini-app for Baby Names, as well as separate Kick and Contraction Counters.  It has a place where you can store photos.  But the best part is their Community.  There are forums for anything you can imagine – Trying to Conceive, Trimester, Exercise During Pregnancy, Due Dates (mothers with same due dates group together), 35+ Pregnancy, High Risk Pregnancy, Teen Moms, Delivery, etc, etc, etc.  And then once you have the baby, there are forums for SAHMs, Working Moms, New Moms, Feeding, Preemies, etc, etc, etc.  I downloaded a total of 4 pregnancy apps (including “What to Expect – Pregnancy” and “Baby Bump – My Pregnancy”) and this one BY FAR has the best and most utilized forums.  I met women on the app who I’m still in contact with today, and all of the November 2011 mommies in my Due Date group have since formed a smaller Facebook group.  Long story short – you won’t be disappointed in this app.


  • Full Term – Labor Contraction Counter (Free):  Even though Baby Bump includes a mini-Contraction Counter within its app, I much preferred this one.  It’s simpler to use and more intuitive.  I used it for both Braxton Hicks and the “real thing” to help determine when it was time to go to the hospital.  You simply push the huge button at the start of the contraction, push it again at the end, and the app does the rest.  It even tells you when to go in.  I love that you can chart the contractions, email a list to yourself or doctor, and save the information.


  • Baby Connect ($4.99):  The single best $4.99 I have ever spent on an app.  Purchase a copy for you, your baby’s father, and any other caregivers.  Helps you track everything from feedings (time, type, amount, and set reminder alarms), to diaper changes (type, consistency, color, and even a setting for “open air incidents”), to sleep patterns, to mood, to activities, to medical information (vaccination, history, height, weight, head size, and auto-charting on WHO percentile charts for easy reference).  The best part is the saved information synchs amongst all caregivers in REAL-TIME!  This may not sound like a big deal, but when you are an exhausted parent who is sharing caregiver responsibilities, it keeps you straight as to when the baby was last fed, changed, etc.  You can email yourself or your doctor updates.  You can set up text messages to be immediately alerted when an update is made.  The alarms ensure that the baby is fed on time.  Since most people typically carry their phones with them, it’s easy to update on the run.  If you don’t happen to have your phone with you, there is a free web app you can log into that also provides the information real-time.  Finally, the Customer Service is GREAT!  I recently had an issue wherein we were attempting to set our nanny up and I couldn’t get everyone to synch up (it turned out to be the fact that we had inadvertently created too many profiles for the baby).  Anyway, I emailed the address included under Help, never really expecting to hear back.  Not only did I hear back within the hour, the gentleman continued to email back and forth over the next several hours until the issue was resolved.  Very impressive!  If there is one app you purchase upon birth of the baby, make it this one.


  • Pandora (Free): Before baby, I used Pandora to set up my favorite music stations.  Now, I use Pandora to set up “Lullabye” and “Baby Einstein” music stations.  Free, always accessible (since on your phone), and helps make Tummy Time more interesting.  Also sometimes helps calm baby in a pinch.


  • Gifts to Grow (Free):  So, who knew that there are diaper rewards programs??  I certainly didn’t.  But there are.  Like most things, loyalty pays.  Rack up enough points and you’ll receive diaper discounts or other rewards (somewhat similar to credit card reward programs).  I happen to prefer Pampers diapers, so I use the Gifts to Grow app.  You simply type the code from each package of diapers into the app – which is great because the codes are typically long and convoluted so much easier to type into your phone then have to drag the diapers over to a computer.  Another tip – search online for additional free codes as well.


  • myDlink Lite (Free):  I’ll cover the topic of nannies/sitters in another post, but if you go that route and decide to use nanny cams (specifically one of the dLink nanny cams such as the DCS-932L), you MUST download this app.  Allows you to view the cams on your phone from anywhere.  ‘Nuff said.

There are so many more apps out there, but these are the ones I use consistently.  Any other favorites out there?

Exercise During Pregnancy

I’m a runner.  Not the marathon runner I once was, but a runner nonetheless.  And I always just assumed that my running days would be temporarily over once I got pregnant.  I always hear of pregnant women being told to “take it easy.”  I always see pregnant women “eating for two.”  The good news is that isn’t fully true. 

The bad news is that things DO change.  Quite significantly towards the end of my pregnancy.  But I was able to continue my workouts up until 3 days before giving birth.  And, many days, these workouts were the only link to my pre-pregnancy self; the only activity that made me feel like ME again.  Hey, I’m all in support of becoming a vessel of life, but sometimes you just need a break from it.

I talked to my doctor about continuing workouts immediately upon becoming pregnant.  She was all for it.  She said to basically listen to my body, and not push the limits.  Now wasn’t the time to be shooting for personal records.  If I was tired, I was to stop vs. pushing through it.  I was to not elevate my heart rate too significantly.  A little sweat was fine; drenched and dripping was not.  So off I went, smug in the knowledge that I was going to gain a mere 20 pounds this pregnancy and spring right back into shape a week after giving birth. 

Fast forward  12 months… Well THAT was a humbling experience.  Not only did I not gain 20 pounds (it was 36), it is taking much much longer than expected to now take the weight off (6 yo-yo-ing pounds to go at 15 weeks postpartum). 

But back to pregnancy-time.  I admit I did give up my exercise routine altogether sometime around the end of the 1st month.  I was simply too sick to work out.  I guess the so-called silver lining of that is the fact that I was also too sick to eat.  So they canceled each other out? 

The second trimester comes along.  Still sick.  Then, somewhere around the 4th month of pregnancy, it begins to improve.  Slowly.  So I tentatively creep back into the gym one day, head hung, and suspiciously eye the Stairmaster.  It’s mocking me.  I step on it and begin a light workout (light as in 8 levels lower than my normal starting point).  I set an easy goal of 30 minutes, but achieve only 20.  But that’s okay – I did it!  And I didn’t vomit!  Good. 

Next day, I attack the Stairmaster again.  This time I do the entire 30 minutes, albeit at an even LOWER level.  That’s okay.  I didn’t vomit.  I didn’t even have the urge.  I feel extremely happy with myself.

Next comes the treadmill.  My nemesis.  I start to jog, again very slowly.  I’m doing it!  Shockingly, the jogging is easier than the Stairmaster.  I crank up the speed a bit.  I get into a comfortable rhythm.  I feel great.  The jog ends, I am sweaty (but not drenched), and I feel fabulous.  For the first time since becoming pregnant, I feel a trace of my old self.  Sweaty and satisfied after a good workout.  Endorphins.  I’m back!

After that, I stepped right back into my regular workout routine.  But with a few twists.  Every cardio workout was completed at a lower rate and lower intensity.  When I felt tired or lazy, I stopped.  It was quite liberating, actually.  We always train to push through those times and to simply listen to my body and give myself permission to stop was freeing.  I drank tons of water.  I took more days off than I normally would. 

I had to force myself to stop silently competing with everybody who stepped onto the treadmill or Stairmaster or spin cycle next to me.  I never realized what a motivator that silent competition was.  I wished that my “competitors” knew that I was usually much faster/stronger than this, that I was pregnant and that was why I was so slow.  I had to swallow it. 

I had to deal with my growing belly.  I had to modify my running gait so that it wouldn’t bounce as much.  My calves started to burn with the increasing weight.  I started to feel sharp twinges in my belly and pelvic area, and would have to stop as needed.  Reflux and heartburn were not my friend during these workouts.

I had one run where I felt extremely strong.  I ran much longer and faster than I probably should have – but I felt so great, I wanted to continue.  Afterwards, I was drenched.  And continued sweating.  And sweating.  And sweating up to two hours later.  I was really scared I had done some damage.  I promised myself at that point that going forward I would always stop well before the point of exhaustion…  and I did.  I didn’t experience that again for the remainder of my pregnancy.

Then along comes the third trimester.  My belly is huge.  My ankles are swollen.  I can drink gallons of water and still not quench my thirst.  But the running still helps me maintain my sanity.  I am going much much slower now.  I compensate by increasing the incline.  That makes my calves BURN BURN BURN but I rationalize that they’re going to be so strong and running is going to be so easy once I give birth (I was wrong, BTW). 

I get looks.  A few women commend me on staying fit for so long into my pregnancy.  A few give me dirty looks (what – am I expected to be holed up at home eating bon bons?)  Men are scared to look at all. 

Then – Sciatica.  This is no joke.  I can barely roll out of bed nor make it up the stairs, never mind RUN.  By this time, I am working from home so it is all I can muster to simply take the dog for a walk down to the end of the street.  I’m embarrassed by my limping.  It really hurts. 

But now, more than ever, when I’m miserable and just “over it,” is when I need my workouts.  Simply to feel sane.  The treadmill is out of the question now.  I try the Stairmaster and elliptical machines, and I can’t do those either.  The only thing that saves me is the cycle.  I love that I can multi-task (iPhone + cycle makes for a fun workout).  I read my pregnancy apps and ask my pregnancy forum questions while on that bike. 

So I begin cycling every day.  I ball up my towel and stick it behind the small of my back for better support.  I cycle, cycle, cycle.  Never mind that it takes me upwards of 10 minutes to waddle up the gym stairs and over to the cycle, as long as I can sit down and cycle and break a sweat, I feel good. 

Then the day before I go into labor arrives (although of course I don’t know it at the time).  I am MISERABLE.  Swollen, sore, in pain, and I swear I can feel a little head just pressing pressing pressing down into my pelvis.  Now I’m really over it.  I’m not hitting the gym anymore (even I am embarrassed now by my limp/waddle/wincing gait) but I want this baby out.  Doctor says MOVE.  So we go to the mall.  It must take 30 minutes just to walk INTO the mall.  But hubby is patient.  It’s not as embarrassing with him there.  We stop at pretty much every storefront for a rest break.  We linger at the food court for far too long.  Hubby keeps checking watch and tapping foot.  He helps me up.  We walk from one end to the other and now I am REALLY sore.  But hoping it helped.  I collapse into the car and don’t want to get out to go into the house.

Sure enough, 2:30am the following morning, labor begins.  And I will say, during labor, I am SO glad I had worked out.  I can’t imagine doing it without that “training” per se.  I had a pretty long labor (think: 24 hours with 3.5 hours of pushing) and I’m glad, at risk of a potential c-section, that I didn’t poop out.

So my advice is to continue the workouts.  Slow them down and stop when you’re not feeling it, but continue.  It’s no longer about maintaining a “girlish figure” but rather maintaining some semblance of self during the long and arduous pregnancy journey.  Ignore the looks, embrace the compliments.  Simply celebrate the wonderful expanding YOU.