Thursday, May 30, 2013

Things to gladden the heart

It's bright and sunny, the girls are napping, and D has not peed her pants yet today. And there are many other reasons to be cheerful:

My mom's sweater-to-be, started eleven days ago

A very helpful toddler and some delicious rhubarb muffins

A contented baby

Hanging up laundry at 3pm, knowing it will be dry by sunset

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Purchasing tips for new parents

It seems like everywhere you turn these days, someone is having a baby! I remember back when I was expecting my first, back when I didn't know the difference between a onesie and a sleeper, never mind what a receiving blanket is, I wondered how much baby gear does a person actually need. I don't know if I ever determined "need", but the amount we have is pretty staggering, so I consider myself seasoned enough to make recommendations.. For new parents looking for a decent list of what to get, or for friends and family looking for shower gift suggestions, here are my tips for baby biz.

Don't bother with:
A Diaper Genie. We never had one. I think it's because they might be a waste of money and space.

A change table. We barely use ours, especially with our squirmy second baby. A change pad on the floor works fine, and you don't have to worry about your kid rolling off the table.

Crib bedding sets, as they are unnecessary. You know the ones with bumper pads, a ruffle sheet, a duvet, a fitted crib sheet, and a couple of other useless things like valance and a cloth sack to hold disposable diapers? They tend to be right by the baby registry desk in Babies R Us. We bought one secondhand and wondered why the previous owner didn't use it much. These days, the bumper pad pendulum has swung entirely away from using them, so those were a no-go. Ditto for the duvet. The ruffle got in the way whenever we changed the crib sheet. The valance and cloth bag had no purpose.

Buy used:
A pack and play (easy to find used) instead of, or in addition to, a crib. Both our crib and playpen were from Used Ottawa. The latter is great for travel, or naps away from home.

A booster seat (also used) instead of a high chair. We have an increasingly beat-up blue plastic booster chair from an Outgrow Outplay sale, as well as a yellow wooden high chair from thrift store. The booster seat is infinitely more useful as it is portable and keeps baby well strapped-in. We keep the yellow chair around for when we have baby/toddler guests, which turns out to be fairly often.

Exersaucers, Jolly Jumpers, swings, etc. We bought our swing new (which was in constant use with our first, but not so much with our second), we were gifted a Jolly Jumper (which our second loved, but only until she could move on her own), and we had a hand-me-down exersaucer (which was of great use for the period when a baby can hold its head up until it can crawl reliably). The thing to keep in mind is how briefly these will be used.

Clothes from consignment stores, thrift shops, and big consignment sales (like the aforementioned Outgrow Outplay). There's rarely a need to pay full-price.

Toys and books from garage sales; save them to use as birthday/Christmas gifts, if you like.

A good enough food processor to make your own baby food (which it seems like everybody does now anyway!). Mine came from Kijiji for 10$.

Buy new but cheaply:
A few crib sheets.

A diaper bag, or really, a purse with lots of pockets and compartments.

A bath sling (supports newborn's head and back for those early-days, terrifying baths).

Lots of little wash cloths.

Next year's winter boots at the end of the season. March is about the latest you can go, before the boots come off the shelves entirely, to be replaced by sandals! The same does not apply to snowsuits. Buy those in October from a consignment shop.

Invest in:
Breastfeeding, if you can and if you want to. It's cheap, portable, a great way to lose weight postpartum, and it has tremendous health benefits for your baby. Do get some good nursing bras; I liked the ones at Motherhood Maternity in the States, where they were half the price of the ones in Canada. A breast pump is optional; I had a manual one so that I could leave milk for my kids when I was away during feeding time.

Good shoes, which are a fraction of the price in the States (outlets are the best for this; we like Stride Rite, where a pair of well-made, supportive shoes are about 20$).

A really good all-purpose stroller. Ours is a Phil & Ted, with the extra seat, rain cover, and car seat attachments. It was like 700$ back in 2009, but we've never had to use anything else. At the time, we knew we wanted two kids close together, and I didn't like how wide most double strollers are. It's been very well worth it, and it helps that a generous aunt and uncle bought it for us.

A nice, neutral glider and ottoman. This is the comfortable spot where I spent a lot of time nursing my babies, and where I still read M's bedtime stories. Later on, it'll move to a different location in our home, and it'll still be a great, comfy place to relax.

A reliable, quick, easy-to-use thermometer. When you get gift cards for Toys R Us, this is what you'll want to buy. Ours is from Safety First.

The big diaper question: 
We are like a lot of parents, I suspect: we've used both disposable and cloth diapers. I knew I wanted to try cloth, and for the most part it's been fine. We've maybe saved money. Hubby prefers disposables, and that's what we'll use when we're at church, a friend's house, or travelling. I have to say, diapers are not remotely a passionate subject for me. You can do a bunch of research, ask other parents if they have a brand of disposable or cloth diaper that they'd recommend, and you'd get hugely varied responses. I use Kirkland Lake or Huggies disposables (whatever's on sale at Costco, where the unit price for a disposable runs at 18-19 cents), and Bummis cloth diapers and they're okay. D had a rash almost her entire diapered life, and I never figured out why; M hasn't really had a problem, we put her in a disposable every night. Maybe that's why I'm so ambivalent towards diapers. Or it could be the fact that no matter what you choose, it's always going to be gross and there's always an element of waste, whether it's from washing and drying, or from throwing out used disposables.

All the other stuff:
Bumbos, Sophie the giraffe, snack traps, Woombies, baby carriers, nursing pillows, nursing covers, etc. We've had all those and more, and as with everything on this list, it's up to the parents. I would file most of those things under "Nice if you want to spend the money; borrow them if you can."

Be wary of baby product marketing. There are so few things you actually need, but advertisers can make you feel like what they're selling is the magic bullet that will help your baby (and you) be more content. Just do your research and own your decisions. The best things for your baby are the love and care you provide!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

No UFOs in sight

The upside to working on a number of projects at once is that you tend to finish a lot of them at the same time! (And despite this post's title, there are still many unfinished objects in my house, just not in these pictures.)

D's Rainbow cardigan

Striped socks for a dear friend
 I've been buckling down to finish up Frances' mostly-knit garments. The green sweater needed its seams sewn up (sleeves, hem, collar, underarms, sides), and the dress was a bit trickier. I had to deduce the sleeve pattern and needle size, knit a matching sleeve, work up a collar, and seam the whole business together. Both of these need a good little wash and dry, and they'll be ready to go. Three more items still on that list: a yellow cardy, a blue v-neck, and a blue and white vest.

More of Frances' finishing

Frances' finishing strikes again
 I finished my sweater on April 30th, just in time for that early May heat wave we were having. I've been able to wear it once since the weather has cooled off. Not terribly pleased with the buttons, but those are easily replaced.
The completed Blackberry cardigan. New buttons a must.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A fine day for finishing

This past weekend was spent in Toronto, catching up with family and participating in the MS Walk (thanks to little sis Rach for organizing!). The weather was just beautiful, and we spent a lot of time outdoors, including an amazing day at High Park. However, being in Toronto (and getting to and from home) meant that we also spent a lot of time in the car. My brother-in-law Kirk was kind enough to do most of the driving, thus I got a good chunk of knitting time.

The fam at Jamie Bell Adventure Playground in High Park

MS Walk in Downsview

Siblings at dinner on Saturday
On this beautiful day, I'm finishing up a few knits. I just grafted the toe of a sock, and now I'll weave in some ends. Next up is D's rainbow sweater. Her gray one is now impossibly small on her, and when I asked her if she'd like a new one, she said "Yes, a rainbow one." I'll hopefully have time to work on one of Frances' dresses that needs a collar, but first I need to free up the needles that I'm using on D's sweater. Lots of pictures to follow in the days ahead!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

I lift my thankful heart: My journey through PPD

This morning, I shared part of my testimony with the women at the weekly Bible study I attend. God graciously but firmly laid it on my heart that this is what I was to share. I've decided to post it here to provide transparency, encouragement and hope. 

“Praise the Lord, my soul
And forget not all his benefits-
Who forgives all your sins
And heals all your diseases
Who redeems your life from the pit
And crowns you with love and compassion,
Who satisfies your desires with good things
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:1-5)

This was the part of the Psalm that stood out to me when I read it this past fall; I had been asked to share my testimony as it related to that Scripture. A couple of years ago, my husband and I were asked what the greatest crisis we had faced in our marriage was, and I was hard-pressed to name one. Of course we have our own disagreements and arguments, and we have to handle fatigue and child-rearing and career decisions, among other stressors. It was just that we hadn’t yet dealt with an acute crisis. In 2012, our crisis was upon us. 

On October 27th, 2011, I gave birth to our second daughter, Maeve Catherine. From the start, she was difficult to soothe, and she was colicky for the first several months of her life. At the same time, I entered the darkest period of my life to date, during which I had postpartum depression.
It came on gradually, as the fatigue of caring for a newborn and a toddler set in. Maeve was prone to screaming fits, so I tended to stay home rather than go out and see people. I got really frustrated really easily and couldn’t dig myself out of my anger. I was irritable and snapped a lot, especially at my children. Other times, I wouldn’t be able to stop crying. I’d have intense mood swings where, in the space of fifteen minutes, I could go from feeling that life was great and only getting better, to feeling like parenthood was a relentless downward spiral. I had certain thoughts that would repeat in my head: “Every day is a little bit worse.” “Maeve is draining the joy from our home.” “No one is coming to help me.” My then-two-year-old, Daphne, started asking me “Mummy, are you happy with me?” My husband knew for sure that something was very wrong when I texted him one night when he was at Bible study, and said that I hated Maeve and wondered if we had made a mistake in having her. 

On a Wednesday morning last winter, I drove to W2W, crying all the way. I checked the girls in to child care (in truth, that was the only reason I had come, to get a break from my kids) and slowly made my way to the gym. Tears were still falling down my face as a friend looked up from her table and rushed over to me. We went into the parents’ room across the hall and I told her about what had been happening. She gently suggested that I go talk to one of the pastors, and Pastor Daniel was free at that time. He was so compassionate and gracious during our meeting, and suggested that I follow up with my family doctor and a Christian counsellor. 

I want to be clear as I explain my journey through PPD: each experience of mental illness is different, and there is no specific set of steps that you can take to guarantee a return to normalcy. In fact, I experienced a recurrence when I thought I was over it, which I’ll speak about in a bit, and I may have further recurrences in the future, as well as an increased likelihood of clinical depression. This is just how it went for me. 

I was blessed in that no one ever suggested to me that my depression was due to weak faith or a lack of prayer. But being the judgmental person that I am, I thought I could “earn” my way out. I read the Bible more consistently than I ever had, I was at church as frequently as ever, and I was even a backup table leader at W2W. Eventually though, I came to realize that my problem was medical and needed to be treated as such. There were many treatment options available, and I hesitantly tried a few: exercise (hard to do in the winter), omega-3 fish oil (gross), keeping my commitments and expectations minimal, and seeking practical help with household chores and child care. Medication was also a possibility, but I was concerned about it getting into my breast milk, and I wasn’t sure how I’d know when I was better and when to stop taking it. Rob could see that my weak attempts weren’t working, and we had a huge fight about it. I tried to explain that I was tired, so tired at the end of the day that I had no energy to put towards fighting depression. I suggested that maybe this is who I was now. He said that if he were in my place, he would do whatever it took to get better. I chalked that up to personality differences. He insisted that this was not me, and begged me to fight. Finally, he said that if I could not or would not fight, he would fight for me. Through his passion to see me get better, I saw the love God has for me.

One of the hardest things for me about PPD is that not everyone gets it, literally. I was used to doing a lot, and doing it well. When I was sidelined by PPD, I wondered what my problem was, why I couldn’t seem to manage my two children when other people were raising as many or more, while keeping a clean house and providing healthy homemade meals (I assumed). Why was I affected by PPD? Why wasn’t everyone? In a room this size, with this many moms in it, I am sure that several women listening have had PPD, or maybe even have it now. To those of you journeying through that dark valley, can I encourage you that the way you feel today is not the way you will feel forever? God can lead you through it, provide healing and restore joy to your life. If you feel like you cannot talk to anyone else about it, please come and talk to me. You wouldn’t believe how many women you know have been where you are today.

God provided for me in so many ways during that dark time. One unusual thing that ended up working for me was acupuncture, and because my dad is an acupuncturist as well as a chiropractor, this treatment was free. My husband was able to take paternity leave to help look after me and the girls. Family also stepped in to give us relief. Friends prayed for us and offered us practical help. By the summer, my depression had subsided significantly. I had been meaning to see a counsellor, but I saw enough improvement to decide against it. I was still very cautious and not willing to declare that I was out of the woods until I was done breastfeeding (by which time my hormones would have settled down more). 

Just after Maeve’s first birthday, I wrote in my journal that I felt like I had my old life back, or at least my old self, adjusted to my new life. I was spending time with friends again rather than avoiding them, and I felt like I had hit my stride in caring for my family and my home (although it is always messy). I was feeling optimistic about the future again. About a month later, I felt myself slipping back into depression. I honestly thought that I had somehow jinxed myself by saying I was better, and this was what I got: regular-type depression. The girls and I had been through the first round of cold and flu bugs of the season, both girls were having behavioural issues, and I was burnt out caring for them. I still had my mom and sister coming around to help on evenings when Rob couldn’t be there. So again, I wondered why I couldn’t handle things. And this time, I didn’t wait for things to get or stay worse before making an appointment with a Christian counsellor. I also cried out to God in prayer, asking him to get me to the other side of this, again. 

The counsellor I met with is one who specializes in PPD. She listened while I talked, and advised that what I had now was probably a continuation of PPD rather than depression or bipolar disorder (which one of my grandmothers has, in addition to PPD in her past). My counsellor told me that onset of PPD can be anywhere in the first year of your baby’s life, and there’s no set time that it lasts. 

These days, I am feeling optimistic again. I’m finished with my acupuncture treatments and counselling for now. I don’t enjoy revisiting the dark times of my depression, but remembering how it felt to lose my mental wellness makes me all the more thankful to have it restored. And to the God who healed my disease, and who redeemed my life from the pit of depression, I lift my thankful heart.