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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Waiting for Autism

It's a all too common feeling.  The waiting and the preparing the night before something big will happen. Packing before your big vacation, picking out clothes the night before your new job, putting out cookies for Santa on Christmas eve.  How do you prepare to find out if your child is autistic? How do you resolve the hope and the dread?

It not something you can discuss easily with friends.  Especially friends who are parents because no one can resist the urge to try to be reassuring and solve what they perceive as a problem.  And there must be a problem, right? otherwise why would we have gone through the evaluations, the drs appointments, the occupational therapy.  It's hard not no think of autism as a problem needing solving, but I honestly don't. It's not a problem. It just.... IS.

Here's how I see it: nothing can change how awesome my child is. He is funny and passionate. Imaginative and unusual. And so, SO smart. Nothing changes that. Nothing we can be told tomorrow changes who his is today, labels don't have that kind of power.  But what it can do is change who he will be.  That's where the hope and the dread really start to battle it out.  The double edged sword of diagnosis and labeling.  Opening of doors and slamming of others.  The labels can bring assistance that could be so beneficial to helping my amazing preschooler thrive in school and later life, and labels can get him left out of sleep-overs and group activities.

And maybe the scariest thing of all is no answer, more evaluations, more waiting, more preparing.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Liam's Birth Story

Laim will be three years old tomorrow.  I have been thinking about his labor and birth way more than I have at past birthdays and I was finally motivated to write his birth story.  I'm up much later than I should be, but somehow staying up late on the anniversary of my first labor to write the story feels right.

The birth of our Liam

There was a little stress and drama the day before Liam was born (friday). Well, a lot of stress actually.  I was attended by a very mainstream medical midwifery practice and because I was more than a week past my due date I was constantly checking in with them for monitoring. Through that process I found out that there was a gap in the midwife schedule on Sunday that was being filled by the OB that I didn’t like and felt very uncomfortable seeing. We contacted Jenny, the doula who had taught our yoga birth class and made plans to try to speed the process up with castor oil and have Jenny help us during the birth.

We made plans to start the “induction” after dinner so in the middle of the day we took a trip to the co-op to buy a bottle of castor oil and stopped into the garden store next door to buy a nice glass bird bath for entertainment.  We spend the afternoon relaxing in the backyard, ate a healthy venison and garden veggie dinner, and took my first dose of castor oil after dinner.  When nothing happened in the first hour and half I took a second dose per the plan and Ina May guidance.  I felt like the baby got really slow after that and was worried and calling the midwife when the kick counts weren’t the normal rate.

And then the action started.  My labor is hard to remember because I became very primal very quickly.  I’ve later described labor as being like a freight train, but there was a calm before that began.  When my pains were just starting to ramp up I was getting scared and Jim was trying to help me lay in bed a rest a little.  Then a big pain came and I felt panic and tried to get up.  Jim folded me into him and rocked in bed through the pain.  We stayed like that, him wrapped around me and the baby for about an hour while I slept briefly between pains.  

The rest of labor is a bit of a blur. I remember there was lots of diarrhea (thank you castor oil), a little vomiting, singing, groaning, music, soaking in the tub, and some yoga.  I focused a lot on singing and then groaning to facilitate opening during my pains.  I think I even moaned “ooooppppeeeennnn” in a big low voice repeatedly.  I labored in our great big tub until it felt to confining and I had to get out and get moving.  I remember that the yoga positions with Jims support that I had found uncomfortable during pregnancy were just the best feeling ones during labor (like the hip pressure one) and the ones I had liked during pregnancy were almost irritating during labor (too light and hesitant).

At some point Jim called Jenny the doula because he needed help deciding when to go to the hospital (and I was offering no opinion).  My pains had been about 2 mins apart since the first and each pain lasted about two minutes.  Nothing like what the books said would happen.  Jenny came to the house and asked a few questions, helped me through some pains and gently encouraged Jim to make the decision to go to the hospital.  Longest 4 min car ride ever! The pains in a confined setting were almost unbearable and I had a bathroom garbage can at the ready for puke.

We entered the hospital through the ER and I another pain brought me to hands and knees in front of their desk (they got us out of there in one hell of a hurry). I was up to the birth floor and into a room around 3:45. I refused the hospital gown and IV and paced in my yoga bra and skirt hoping the transition to the hospital hadn’t stalled the process.  Far from it.  Katie the midwife attending that morning came in and checked  how dilated I was, and told me I was 8cm.  They all seemed very pleased but I thought it sounded like I still had a lot of work to do. The nurse tried to monitor me with the belt monitor and I could not hold still during the pains for the monitoring.  I wasn’t pacing anymore, but i wanted to rock and sway my hips and be on my hands and knees. My movement kept interrupting their feed on the monitor and this was apparently a problem.  I don’t remember the discussion really but I know the nurse was very upset I wouldn’t hold still and Katie started talking about using a scalp monitor.  I just wanted them to stop talking to me and let me get on with my work, but some way we settled on Katie breaking my water and attaching the scalp monitor to the baby.  She was still settling up just about to use the amnio hook and I felt my waters give way during a strong pain.  I hadn’t realized she hadn’t broken them but they had broken on their own and was wondering why there was a rush with towels to clean up the mess.  I was on my hands and knees on the bed and not looking behind me but I could feel them scurry around to tidy up.  

Jim was firmly planted in front on me on the bed and Jenny next to us cooing soothingly and feeding us both sips of water and recharge.  We were ready to get back to work and Katie told us that there was meconium in my waters and they would need to bring in more people to look at the baby right away which was a deviation from our birth plan.  I must have consented, but I don’t remember speaking. I was completely using my reptile brain or “letting my monkey do it” as Ina May would say.  I was moaning deeply, moving with the pains, collapsing into Jim to rest between and completely following my instincts at that point.  Getting closer to pushing Jenny reminded me that my plan was to have the baby on my chest right away for skin to skin so I should take my bra off.  I did and had my little skirt rucked up like a belt so I was essentially naked.  I’m sure the pediatricians and labor nurses were scandalized.

The “ring of fire” is a perfect description of how my perineum felt during crowning. Taunt and burning.  Katie applied warm moist cloths and warm oil which felt amazing.  When the urge to push came I pushed, and when it stopped I rested.  In a period of time that felt both infinite and remarkably fast I was on my final pushes. I think The monitor showed something that worried Katie because she asked me to push harder and deliver the baby right now.  I bore down and went for it. Katie had everyone lift me at the last second and flip me on to my bottom facing her sitting up in this amazing fluid motion that felt like being weightless.  Liam’s shoulder has stuck and the flip changed his entry angle and then he was there, and then he was suddenly gone. Whisked to a table in the corner under bright lights.

The mental armor that had made me non-verbal was suddenly gone to and I was crying and so was Jim, and so was Liam. Jim sort of grabbed my shoulders at the same time Jenny and the labor nurses lunged for me.  It surprised me because I hadn’t realized I was trying to stand up and go after Liam.  When Jim and Jenny told me later that I had done that I was surprised.  My body had moved without me realizing it. They had him back to us in less than a minute I think and they didn’t clean him or wrap him just like we had specified in the birth plan.  The nurses really tried to follow it even though they had to cut his cord right away and take a little detour to the doctors in the corner before landing on my chest.

And then I was staring down into Liams face. He was big in some ways and then so little in the details. “Well cooked” the nurses liked to refer to him since I was 10 days past my “due date” and so sturdy and ready for life. Laim was calm on my belly and we basked in him, saying all the amazed ridiculous things new parents say when in awe of what they made.  When I felt the next pain it seemed almost worst than the other phases of labor because I was completely in the present and didn’t have any of the mental armor up.  I remember telling Katie that I thought more pains after delivering the baby was completely unfair.  Then the soothing ooze of the placenta over my perineum which I hadn’t even notice had been hurting so badly. The final rush to push had left me with a large tear that she adeptly stitched while I cuddled Liam.  The needlestick to numb it was painful but the rest was fine.

William James Rudenko 9lb 5oz (giant head)
Liam was strong and tried to do that classic newborn squirm up my belly and start to nurse.  It’s hard to remember the order of everything because I nodded off to sleep when I didn’t have the baby.  Jim bathed him at some point and I got up and walked to the bathroom to pee (everyone seem completely freaked that I wanted to walk, but I was totally fine. Sore, but fighting fit.  And then we ordered breakfast and I ate SOOOOOO much.  The french toast was so yummy.  Liam had been born about 45 minutes after we arrived at the hospital.  A few hours later I was walking down the hall to a recovery room pushing him in the clear plastic bassinet. The hospital stay was longer than necessary and there was much stress and frustration but I remember so many good parts too.  The nurses were really amazing and supportive.  I remember some of them coming into my room to check on me and saying they had heard about my birth and were so blown away with how fast it was and that it was all natural and how well I had labored.  Makes you feel very good, especially coming from someone who sees birth everyday. They gave me so much help learning how to breastfeed and helping me with the healing process.

Liam was such a amazing newborn.  He weight 9lbs 5oz and even with all the crazy medical stuff he was put through he had gained a few ounces by the time he was a few days old.  I think one of the most amazing things for me to realize was that I was now the person who could soothe and fix things.  It took a little while to feel like I had the right to make decisions about my baby, but I did and it felt great to stand up for us and to know he felt safest with me and that he already knew me.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Roll Call

Picking up a blog after a two year break is such an obvious indicator that you have found life to be a bit more overwhelming and time consuming than expected.  The funny thing is that probably means there was lots of fodder for great writing.  In fact some great amateur bloggers (redundant?) have stopped writing right when life got really interesting because writing is so often the first thing to go when life gets messy.

Our most time consuming, overwhelming project in the last two years has been adding another member to the family. Lily is the sweetest, happiest baby I know (and I'm one of the things that makes her so happy, how awesome is being a mom?!)

Lily was born last August in our cozy old house in Salem. It was magical and perfect and all those other adjectives mothers use to describe homebirth.
Maybe I will finally write it all down one of these day.  I keep saying I will write Liam's birth story and he'll be three next month.....  But I digress.

Sweet little Lily loves so many things in her life, but perhaps none more than her quirky older brother Liam.  We often capture the looks of adoration she give him on film (do we still get to say that with digital photography?) and it just melts your heart.

And now that they are learning to play together and develop new social interactions we get awesome moments like what happened last night. We heard Lily cry out following the distinct thump of being beaned with a toy.  When we asked Liam if he hit Lily he responded "No, fire truck hit Lily."


No one said this parenting gig was easy, but at least we're still laughing.

My motto is "life is messy" and I find that to be truer every day. The more we fight the mess the more stress and turmoil consumes our lives. I try to just accept this hot mess of life and soak it in like steam in a nice hot sauna.  My success in acceptance is mixed sometimes, but acceptance is like yoga; a process not a end point.

Jim is the stable center of our family. Kind and unwavering.  He stays at home to care for Liam and Lily full time, a job made for true saints.  And one of these days he will finally break down and write a blog post on one of the many interesting subjects he is an expert on such as cargo biking, kombucha, dad assisted birth, hiking with kids, oh and the list is endless.

So this is us. Four imperfect people filled with love for each other.  Wandering, adventuring, growing.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Pastoral Dreams

What is it about human nature that makes us crave the pastoral setting? The way we manicure our lawns to reflect grazed pastures is the most obvious emulation.  But we also find something seductive in a golden field of wheat and rolling hillsides of livestock.  My heart filled to bursting with love, nostalgia, and dreamy pastoral thoughts when we traveled home to help with the haying.

There have been many homes in my life but there is one Home. And I've never even lived there. Our families farm in Oakland, Oregon has been more constant than any other completely wonderful and stable home I have had in my 33 years.  It is a dreamy pastoral paradise where I have always felt at home.

Bringing in the hay has always been the work of one man, my grandfather.  He has spend most of his life laboring in this place and now that he's in his 80's we've finally realized we need to learn his trade to carry on his work.

The experience of haying on the family farm was perhaps most profound for Jim.  Having grown up in an extremely urban setting in Southern California he has be transported through the years of random encounters and happenstance to sit upon a old Massey Ferguson baling hay on a small family farm in Southern Oregon.
and he was damn goo at it too.

It's hard to express the enchanting feeling I had standing with our son watching him bale the hay while my father and grandfather looked on from their perches on 4-wheelers, and my sister, mother, and grandmother watched over little Lily in the shady backyard of the farm house.  It was all so lovely and natural feeling it is hard not to idealize a place filled so full of loving people and special memories.

There is a lot of joy to be found in the seat of an old tractor
Even when letting my practical side rein and taking my own turn on the tractor the dreaminess of the pastoral setting creeped in when I gazed across the field to spy my son sitting with my grandfather on a bale in the shade.

Liam and his great-grandfather enjoying a shady break

We can be cautioned against idealizing a place all day long, but that may never smother the pastoral dreams it inspires.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"One Of Those Moms Who...."

Since Liam turned 1-years old a week ago it's a question I've been getting asked in varied forms:
"You're not going to be one of those moms who [fill in blank with apparently unforgivable parenting mistake]?"
The questions have mostly been about how long we intend to breastfeed and to be fair not all of them have been phrased in such an openly critical way.  For example the nurse at Liam's 12 month check-up just judged me quietly to herself and emphasized the importance of MILK (i.e. not mine)

Two things I find interesting about these inquiries:

  1. The sudden renewed interest in my lactation plans.  Previously it was rare for any one to say boo about nursing and pumping milk for my son.  Generally people could care less about my boring old boobs. (Although I did get the teasing "Moooo" from one colleague)
  2. No one can agree on the unacceptable.  The apparently unforgivable lengths of time vary so greatly and unpredictably depending on the questioner; beyond-a-year, 18-months, 2-years, 4-years, 5-years are all apparently unforgivable or at least unnecessary lengths of time.
So, why the renewed fascination with the business of my breasts?  I think it's a pretty simple explanation: While breastfeeding your baby is still not what the majority of American mothers do, it has finally returned to being recognized as what is normal in most American minds. On the other hand nursing a toddler is still in the realm of "freaky" "unnecessary" "hippy parenting".

Perhaps it's time to start pushing for a wider  understanding of extended breastfeeding and get the American Academy of Pediatrics to increase their minimum period of breastfeeding to at least 2 years, consistent with recommendations of the World Health Organization.  

Mothers of nursing toddlers often begin hiding their illicit nursing behavior, and I now know why; condemnation by society, shame on you society!  But wait, aren't we society too?......
William nursing during my lunch break in the park on his first birthday.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cherry Season In The Cherry City

Pitted Organic Sweet Cherries destined for the dehydrator.
These have sat in a acsorbic acid bath for 5 minutes first.
A few ways you can tell it's harvest season at our house (beyond the obvious cherry stained fingers, the hum of the food dehydrator and the rumble of the water-bath-canner) include a leaning pile of unfolded laundry, floors going unswept, dishes going unwashed and most meal plans don't go beyond leftovers and sliced raw veggies.

While our house may be in disarray at present our stores of winter goods have grown by a weeks worth of picking and processing evenings.  It may not sound that substantial but for us this is a moment to be commemorated; our first cherry season since moving to The Cherry City.

Jim and William Picking in the commercial orchard
opened to grateful Salem Harvest Volunteers
Our first windfall of cherries came with a generous invite from a co-worker to pick the remaining cherries from her over producing tree.  Never ones to turn down free food we rushed to her house after work and after a delightful evening up a tree we returned loaded with many pounds of sweet juicy cherries, a pint of blueberries and a large bag of almonds. (Yes almonds can grow in Salem! It was news to me too)

The next day, while our cooler sat full of cherries waiting to be pitted and processed, we received notice of another harvest scheduled for the very next night. When Jim and I discussed this harvest he pointed out that it was on his birthday, I paused and, not unlovingly, replied "I guess that's what happens when you're born during cherry season." So we made plans to pick again with a cooler full of fruit and a birthday looming.

That night we pitted, bathed in asorbic acid, filled the dehydrator to over flowing and froze the remaining haul in two large zip-locks.

Jim pitting our haul with William and Bud's "help"
The next evenings harvest was a Salem Harvest event.  This fantastic gleaners group coordinates volunteers to pick unwanted crops and donate half to Marion-Polk Food Share.  The harvest was very popular with families and I really enjoyed seeing other moms with young tots and the older kids stretching to their tiptoes to reach the next sweet red morsel.

The plan for these sweet little Queen Anne Cherries was to can them for winter pastries. So the next night we dusted off our water-bath-canner reviewed our food preservation books (we're a little out of practice since Williams birth) and after a call to both mother and grandmother for extra fruit canning tips we dived in hands first.  Canning always feels so much simpler than I think it will be and setting up the pitting, washing and canning area in the garage instead of the kitchen is FANTASTIC!

The biggest surprise to me was that to dry fruit or veggies correctly (according to Preserving The Harvest) after running the fruit in the dehydrator for the recommended time (and temp) we must then "cure" the dried fruit in a non-reactive open container stored in a warm dry place.  The dry fruit must be stirred 1-2 times per day for 7-14 days.  Then the final step is to pasteurize the dry fruit by cooking briefly in a cool over or spending a few days in the freezer.  We will report the detailed results later, but I can tell you from the few I've been seeking into my oatmeal in the morning, the results are delicious.

The end result of our week of harvesting is

  • Approximately 10 cups of dried organic sweet cherries "curing" on Jim's dresser destined for muffins and oatmeal (or possible to be smothered in melted dark chocolate and given as christmas gifts
  • About 4 "pies-worth"(official measurement) of organic sweet cherries in the freezer (which may end up in the dehydrator if I can't find the trick to baking an acceptable cherry pie)
  • 7 quarts of Queen Anne cherries in light syrup
  • 1 edible but not stupendous cherry pie (made with a coconut oil pastry crust,  Queen Anne and sweet black cherries)

Not bad for our first cherry season in the Cherry City, and a stupendous way to begin the season of unwashed floors and dirty knees.

Queen Anne cherries in light syrup, processed in a
water-bath-canner, they really loose their color
Organic sweet cherries ready to be dried in our basic food dehydrator

Monday, July 9, 2012

First Green Birthday - a year in review

Today is Liam's first birthday, and I thought I should take a moment and reflect back on our families goals and accomplishments.

1- We wanted Liam to make a small impact on the environment
  •  Cloth diapers have been a huge success! They are way cheaper and easier than disposables, and they work better! We gave up using the occasional disposable when they started printing the Lorax character on them (but that's another subject entirely)
  • We have exclusively breastfed and bottle fed expressed breast milk (EBM)
  • We always try to buy used clothes and toys first (especially colorful adorable sweaters, but that's also another subject entirely)

Liam modeling the adorable sweater that started my addiction (circa December 2011)

  • We threw a huge birthday bash for Liam and Dad and managed to keep it very green: compostable plates, jam jars for cups, real utensils, and compostable cupcake wrappers (all natural parchment paper).  The total garbage produced from the party was less than half a grocery bag (and consisted of a little plastic film and half a hotdog- just the meat part, composted the bun.)

The compost bin - 2 days post party
2- We wanted to live "actively"
  • For the first six months Liam rode the bus and rode in a stroller most days (much of the time out of necessity as much as convenience) and we tried to limit the use of the car to my long commute and the trips to visit family
  • At six months Liam could hold himself up well and wear a bike helmet.  So, we started him in a Peapod seat on the back of Dad's xtracycle.

Liam's first Bike ride (January 2012)
  • In February we moved to Salem, reducing my daily commute from a 60 mile round trip by car to a 2 mile round trip by bike (or foot).  Now Liam and Dad walk or ride to my work every day for lunch so we can nurse and play and eat together.
  • We can now grocery shop and do most other errands exclusively by bike (and sometimes by foot).
Riding home from shopping trip to Roth's in West Salem, we love crossing the Willamette on the Steel Bridge.

3- We wanted to eat whole foods and teach Liam to enjoy the seasonal variety Oregon has to offer
  • We've dived in to the local markets and really been please by what the Cherry City has to offer.  Even during the hungry months (February and March in my book) we could find enough local produce at the public market to fill the meals (somewhat creatively) each week.  This included  trying out cardoon, turning some wrinkly apples into fresh sauce, and eating alot of leafy greens.
  • We've joined a local harvest group that cleans-up unwanted crops for donation and our own consumption
  • Friends in our new community have helped us find new foraging areas, shared harvests of delicious wild greens (we made a rocking nettle quiche!) and have invited us to harvest at their homes when there is an overabundance (we have a freezer full of raspberries and a giant bag of cherries on my table waiting to be processed)
  • I started making my own yogurt which Liam really enjoys too.  (Now I just need to find a source for good local milk)
  • We put the work into starting a new vegetable garden and some perennial edibles at our new place in Salem (even after saying we would wait a year to discover the sun an soil situation)
Liam helping Dad put up the new garden fence
  • The whole foods we find essential and can't find locally (flour, beans, rice, oatmeal, olive oil, peanut butter) we try to buy in bulk quantity from a good source and store in our make shift basement pantry

We prefer Bob's Red Mill Flours and Grains (25lb bags stored in food grade buckets), Maranatha peanut butter and Napa Valley Naturals Olive Oil (purchased by the case from the manufacturer online)
  • We finally purchased a pressure cooker! Now we can smoke, dry, freeze, water-bath-can, and pressure-can for winter
  • Most importantly we let Liam try everything possible.  To my discontent the only food he just doesn't seem to excited about is avocado! but I am saved by his apparent love for heirloom tomatoes, raspberries, and blueberries.  Other wonderful surprises have been his love of homemade whole wheat bread, black beans, lentils, and plain popcorn.
Liam enjoying a cherry today at lunch (Mom removed the pit first)

Every day of success breeds the next round of life changing goals (I want to make lavender and rosemary hand cream and age prosciutto in the basement).  It's a open ended process full of dirt, and sweat, and peeing on paper-plates while they rot back to the soil we will grow next years dinner in.