Because the important moments in life just don’t fit in a status update! I started this blog when I was training for my first ½ Ironman, (70.3 miles) to record what I hoped would be growth and progress but ended up being a huge learning experience. Although fitness is one of the key ingredients to a happy life, it certainly isn't the only ingredient. My blog has evolved to document growth, progress and setbacks in other areas too. From my surprise proposal in Rome and wedding in the fall of 2013, to Mom's devastating stage IV cancer diagnosis and death 2 weeks after I found out I was pregnant. Who knows what shape it will take, but thanks for being along for the ride.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Her First Birthday Party

I went a little overboard for our little girl's first birthday. I surprised myself by how into the planning I was, because I can procrastinate with the best of 'em. I have never been this excited about planning anything before, not even our wedding! Planning things has always seemed like work and, much like going through labor (which also means work), I wanted no part of it. But this was a labor of love and I ended up enjoying every minute of it.



I picked the You Are My Sunshine theme when she was just two months old. The song had been on my mind since my brother-in-law TJ's wedding to Rebecca that took place in Virginia that previous fall. The outdoor wedding was at a time when the change of season was just starting to be reflected on the leaves of the trees dotting the rolling hillside behind their ceremony. As the beautiful bride walked down the aisle with her mother on one arm and her father on the other, that song played, and I fell in love with it all over again. A favorite from my childhood, it was so poignant to me at that time because I was loosing my Mother right around the time I found out I was pregnant. The absolute worst time of my life happened to coincide with the most joyous, and I already felt and knew that this new life was making me happy when my skies were the darkest grey.

I built her theme around that song and the favors that I had decided to make. I wanted to crochet her favors for three reasons: My Mom taught me to crochet, my Mom crocheted for me on my first birthday and because making something for her guests just held more meaning than purchasing them. Here's what my Mom made on my first birthday:
I still have the Kewpie Doll, but now it's Autumn's.
It was always part of my childhood narrative that my Dad blew up 100 balloons for my first birthday, and Mom would proudly recount that as evidence of how much I was loved. Too humble to tell me what she made (my gifts and our outfits), when I found out in my late teens, I was so touched. I wanted to go all out for our Little Bean too, as a demonstration of my love. So when my she was just two months old, I found this tutorial on how to make three-dimensional suns. See, when I told you that my Mom taught me how to crochet, I meant that she tried to teach me. I never really learned enough to read my own patterns, and mostly only know the basket weave pattern that we worked on together while she was battling cancer. Because my Mom was taught by her grandmother, Mary Mangan, I did not want to loose this tradition and not be able to teach my girl. I figured committing making 50 of these suns was a good way to hold myself accountable.


Although I was almost regretting it during the last month when I had to make one per night (they took about an hour to make!) to stay on track, I now know that pattern well enough to be able to watch TV or talk while I do it. Thankfully, my husband's cousin stepped in to help by stitching all of the points on for me, otherwise I would have fell short.

The next thing I did was pick the color scheme: Bright pink and yellow. While some You Are My Sunshine themed parties include a pretty teal, I didn't want to worry about matching that color. At least 8 months out, I started picking up decorations in those colors and stock-piling them in the guest bedroom. This way, my husband, who does the finances and prides himself on being "financially responsible" wasn't really aware of how much I was spending. It slowly leaked out, instead of disappearing all at once, so he was none the wiser. 

My Mom, at her first birthday.
One of the first things I made was a banner for her high chair and one to hang in the dining room. I purchased fabric in her colors and cut them into strips and tied them off. Super simple. Then, I purchased some burlap triangles and painted them. Hobby Lobby became my home-away-from-home, and I was really excited to discover their spring line of decorations were exactly the colors we needed. Quickly realizing that you have to plan far out, those decorations were all gone before spring even rolled around. I bet you right now they're putting out ones for fall.
My next mission was to find matching outfits for us. Again, I was inspired by my Mom, who made us the outfits that we wore for my birthday. That's where Etsy came in. While I did want to make as much as I could, there is no way I would have had time to make everything. Here is the shop where I found her party hat, and here is where I ordered our matching tutus. 
My online shopping spree coincided with my misdiagnosis of melanoma, and I was completely distraught. At a loss and powerless to assuage my very real fears of leaving her without a mother too soon, my husband asked "Is there anything at all that will help you get through this weekend?" I thought about it for awhile and answered "Well, honestly I think one thing that would help take my mind off things is if I could have like $400 or $500 to order some things and shop for her party." He actually thought I had cancer; we both did. How could he say no? And the retail therapy began.

I made the sun peaking through the window back in January, and she was able to help. Here it is in the beginning stages (right). The cardboard came from our new bathroom vanity, and so did the pressed wood that I used for the window frame. I continually had one project that I was working on, and would spend some time on it every weekend and most nights after she fell asleep. When I decided to use it for a photo-backdrop, my friend Marjorie suggested that I hang a yellow sheet ($11 off Amazon) behind it, which really made it pop. Another project was a large "1" photo collage. I ruined the first attempt because I used Elmer's glue, and the photos warped when they dried. Re-doing it with Mod Podge wasn't a big deal because the party was still months away. This is my one piece of advice no matter what party you're planning: start early. I put up many of the decorations, including the three different photo collages, about a month before the party. 
Who knew you could make things that are not on Pinterest?! That sun shining through the window? All my idea!
Since it was her first birthday, I wanted to invite a lot of people...almost everyone I knew. I'm so glad that I did, because there were some people who came to the party that had not yet had the opportunity to meet her. Because I sent out 75 invitations, I quickly realized that I would need some help with seating and food.


She had a blast!

Here's a list of the vendors we used: 
You can check out more details her party over at Catch My Party.

Having a photographer come to the party was a bit pricey, but worth every penny. There is no way I would have had time to take the pictures myself and if I tried, it would have interfered with visiting my friends. 

As the big day approached, I just had excitement. What could have been a very stressful event was just fun, because I had everything finished so far in advance. That morning, I put finishing touches on things before heading over to The Dry Bar to get my hair done. The only thing my husband had to pick up on the day of was the cake; everything else was brought to us. The one glitch was getting this video to loop on our smart TV, but my friend Andrea's techie husband Bill quickly solved the problem after I texted her at 10am. 




I've said all along that our Little Bean is the happiest, most easy-going, well-behaved baby, and the day of her party was no exception. She took an hour-long morning nap, and then slept from 1:15-3:30 (her party started at 4). She wasn't overwhelmed or fussy, and genuinely seemed to have a good time, even (especially?) when covered with cake.





I received a lot of positive feedback from my friends, but they're supposed to say good things, right? 

But someone who has over a dozen grandchildren wrote: A most remarkable & forever memorable 1st B-day party! The MOST FESTIVE 1st B-day party I've ever seen! And Autumn was perfectly behaved, no tears or tantrums with about 50 people making her the bell of the ball. She was the perfect little princess . . . even when she made a planned mess of her cake!

With that many grandchildren, I consider her to be a connoisseur of birthday parties, so her positive feedback means a lot to me. 

It was such a wonderful experience through and through, and a day that I will never forget. I hope that when I'm gone, she will look back at the photos of her first birthday and know that it is but one small measure of just how much she is loved. 

I promised my husband she would not have another big party until she was 5. But on the way to work this morning, a theme for her next party popped into my head. One quick pinterest search yielded a ton of the cutest ideas that fit that theme. Well, it will be a small one, I rationalized...with only family and our closest friends. Sending him the guest list for approval, and he promptly responded with: What?  Are we really creating a list for a party over a year out?  This is insane.

Maybe so, but it sure is fun.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Skype Consult - Prague Fertility Centre

I woke up at 4:45 am for my 5 am Skype consultation with Dr. Stevikova at the Prague Fertility Centre. After introductions and pleasantries, the first thing she did was mention my extremely low AMH level of .2 (that's point 2, not 2.0), and suggest egg donation as a better path for successful IVF. When I said that I was not interested in using donor eggs, she dealt me some news that was hard to hear: "Your chance of a positive pregnancy with IVF is about 10%."



My AMH was .39 in 2014 which is not quite as low, but still low. I ended the conversation a bit defeated, but with plans to move forward with my third IVF at the end of July, while we are on vacation in Europe. When our Little Bean woke up, happy and with her infectious smile, I was reminded just how lucky blessed we are to have her. Yes, a sibling would be nice - I want her to have that - but, if that is not in the cards for us, she is more amazing that I ever could have imagined a baby could be. I have to remember that some couples going through IVF never make it this far, and that there are some advantages to being an only child (private secondary school, 100% inheritance, not 50%).

The total cost for IVF in the Czech Republic is 2,500 Euros, or about $2,800. Compare that to $15,000 here in the states, plus another $4,000 for medication. Although not planned, I am very fortunate that we are going to Vienna and Budapest before our stay in Prague, and are there long enough for me to start the stimulation medication after I arrive. This allows me to travel to Prague from Vienna (a 4 hour train ride) on our first day and pick up my medication for a third of the cost. The exact same medication would cost $4,000 here in America, thanks to the Food and Drug Administration, compared to $1,000 over there.

Here is my protocol and the amazingly reasonable cost:
Hello dear Megan,
the doctor has prepared the stimulation protocol.Till the day 8, when the ultrasound should be done the medication will cost:
Gonal F 620 Euro
Orgalutran 150 Euro
Clomifen aprox. 130 CZK

On the day 8 is usually decided if, and when so, how the stimulation will be prolonged = you will need more medication. So the price should be less then 1500 Euro for you for the medication.

This means that my entire medication will be less than $1,683 dollars! 

Here's a rough idea of the timeline associated with an IVF cycle. My stimulation medication will start on July 6-8 and last 10-12 days.

                                                                     Birth Control Pills
                                                                     (Approx. 14-21 days) 
                                                               
Stimulation Medication
July 6-8
(Approx. 12-15 days)

Trigger Shot
July 16-18
Egg Retrieval
Approx July 20th
(36-37 hours after trigger shot)
Embryo Transfer
Approx July 23
(3-5 days after retrieval)
Pregnancy Test
(14 days after retrieval)

So, while our chances may be low, at least the associated cost is as well. Remember, our first IVF which did not work set us back $20,000!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

My First Mother's Day

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. 
But the greatest of these is love.

I Corinthians 13:13

Last Mother's Day, I was 9 months pregnant. It was my very first Mother's Day without my Mom, who was also my very best friend. I spent the day with my husband, crying at different locations, though that was not the plan when I woke up that morning and cried in the shower. I'm going to "get it all out" and "enjoy the day, like she would want me to" I naively thought, as I then found myself crying over breakfast at Mimi's, Mom's favorite restaurant. I cried as he drove me east on the 91 freeway, to put flowers on her grave, I cried at her grave, and cried again, as we headed home for the 45 minute drive. Then, once we were home, you guessed it: I cried some more. 

Somewhere in all of that, I knew I did not want future Mother's Days to be spent in any way like that one. It was truly horrible, and I felt like there was no way around it, only through it. While telling myself over and over again 'Mom would want to see me happy and celebrating her, not bawling my eyes out, all day' was most certainly true, it did nothing to affect the outcome. 'Next year will be different' I thought, and knew.

And different it was; indescribably different. While the pain of missing my Mom is still very real and poignant, there is this new little being that I am responsible for and connected to. While my baby girl has not "replaced" my Mom in any way, the special relationship that I had with my Mom is born anew. 
Beyond measure
All of the amazing moments that have happened this past year have served to bring me closer to Mom because in sharing them, I am experiencing what she felt as a new Mom who was watching her baby grow. I am feeling what she must have felt as I gave birth to her and heard her first cry; changed that first diaper and then 1000 more; rocked her to sleep; saw her first smile and heard her first giggle; marveled at her natural reflex to curl her tiny hand around my finger and then, when she did it by choice; watched her sleep and watched her crawl out of her nursery and down the hall; use her walker back and forth through the living room; take her first bite of pureed food and then eventually feed herself; pat me on the back and give me open-mouthed kisses because she does not yet know how to pucker; squeal with excitement at her dog and say her first word.

While the sadness and longing to spend just one day or even one hour with Mom is still there, so is the love that she gave me; enough love to last a lifetime. The love we shared is still real and tangible and if I try hard enough, I can still feel her arms around my waist and mine around hers, as we so often did in those last days for balance, until she couldn't walk anymore. I can feel the smallness of her hand in mine, hear her laugh and I can feel the warmth of her hug and her kiss. I can hear her saying "Oh Meggie..."

And while I cannot help but feel the regret that my baby girl will not "know" her Nana in the traditional sense and the excitement that a visit from her would bring, I am steadfast in my commitment to help my girl know what a truly amazing woman she was, and always will be. Our little baby A will not just know her Nana through the stories and the photographs, but through the love and patience and grace and of course humor and giggles that I shower her with. Because all of those qualities are given to her because they were given to me. 

My husband is the keeper and curator of these stories about Autumn's Nana, along with me. That evening, he handed me three cards: One from him, one from Autumn, and a third. Tears started flowing as I realized that it was a card to my Mom, from Autumn. 



My Mom had a way about her in which she was never stressed out or worried, and acted as if she always knew that everything would be alright in the end. Knowing what I do now, I realize that things were far from easy for her. But, she never let on, and was always 100% present with my brother and I.

With her around, it was always sweetness and light, in the most genuine sense. She was never faking it, but was truly grateful and happy with what she had, though at times that may have not seemed like a lot to others. But to her, it was everything.

It's still hard for me to adjust to being the mom on Mother's Day. The Friday before, my girl gave me some things she made me at daycare and I treasure them like the finest jewelry, just as Mom must have done. I remember that Mom was so proud of a hand-print my brother made for her when he was in kindergarten. She would often tell the story of how the teacher told him he was in the wrong line because he was a boy, and lined up with all of the girls. "I want to give my Mom a pink hand, because that is her favorite color" he said. By realizing how much I already treasure what Autumn made me, I now know that although my family went through difficult financial times and were technically "in poverty" Mom felt rich because she truly did have everything that she wanted or needed in her family. 

Not only was she devoted to my Dad, but she knew that he was devoted to her. This was where her sense of pride and worth came from, not from the brand of her pocketbook or the car that she didn't drive. I remember her telling me "We may not be wealthy but look at all the people who are and yet they aren't happy." 

When you loose someone you love so dearly, you have guilt. Still today, 19 months later, things pop in my head that I feel guilty about. Although I counter them with reason and facts, they remain. I have periodically wished that Mom had more. Not just material things, but trips and vacations. But after this first Mother's Day as a Mom, I finally can let go of at least that part of my guilt. "Oh Meggie, that's not what is important in life. We may not have had a lot, but we traveled and lived in wonderful cities. I have everything I need and more. Because I have your father and you and your brother, I am truly rich" she would tell me. I hope she's not just saying that to make me feel better, I thought. But now, I know that she was telling the truth.

This Mother's Day left me with a renewed commitment to honor Mom by being the most devoted wife and mother that I can possibly be. Because nothing in my life is quite as important as my family and giving them all of the love that Mom gave ours.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

April, 10 Month Update

Our little girl turned 11 months on the 26th, so for the majority of the month, she was 10 months old.

We spent the first week of April at her grandparent's place in Oregon. Once again, she was wonderful on the flight. Since we boarded before the other passengers, she was a one-person welcoming committee, smiling and waving to anyone who made eye contact with her. It is usually rainy this time of year in Oregon, but we had a lot of sun and warm weather.

Being in Oregon is so relaxing and low-key. They live 30 minutes from town, so most days all we had on our agenda was walking her pony around the lake and helping cook dinner. I am very fortunate to love spending time with my mother and father-in-law, and we left wishing our trip could be longer, already planning our return.


Her personality continues to blossom. She has started imitating our sounds, including a new laugh that sounds more like she is imitating us instead of really laughing. As we were leaving church and Nathan laughed, we heard a "He he he he" from under her stroller canopy. She follows some simple directions now, such as "Put the giraffe in the box" or "Give Daddy his wallet" and will kiss on command, though it is still adorably, with an open mouth.

Returning to daycare was surprisingly easy even after a week off. She had a great first day and week back. But, on Friday of that first week back to daycare, there was an outbreak of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD). Although the CDC describes it as "a common viral illness that affects children younger than five years old" is sounds like a horrible affliction that you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. I mean, it has the word disease in it! She had one tiny spot by her mouth that looked like a pimple, but we took her to her pediatrician anyway, because 1) they have same day openings, 2) it's cheaper than extended care, and 3) we're first time parents. He took a look in her mouth and confirmed that it was HFMD, confirmed that there is no treatment for it other than to control her temperature with infant Tylenol or Mortin (because it is viral) and stated she must have a very mild case of it.

It was really mild, until Saturday afternoon. Poor thing! She was super fussy and needy, but still inconsolable at times especially during the night. I can't complain because this was the very first time I was pacing the house, holding her, at 1 am. On Sunday, I came down with a fever myself (102) and sore throat. She was better by Tuesday morning, but not allowed to return to daycare for the entire week. She returned on that Thursday and passed "inspection" but then we were called and told that two blisters were found on her foot that had not dried so she needed to be picked up. While leaving work with nearly no notice is frustrating, it is good that they take preventing the spread so seriously.

She said her first word, dog, although at the time we weren't really sure it "counted." We were in the bedroom and I pointed to a big black lab on the cover of the "Dog Breed Selector" book I bought my husband. I said "dog!" and she repeated "da!" I turned the page, to a different looking dog and we both repeated the words. This went on close to twenty times! But it wasn't until the next day, on a hike, that I realized she knows what she's saying.

Baby A and I joined a friend (and her friends) and hiked Top of the World in Laguna. We were finished with the almost 6 mile hike, and posing for some pictures at the trail head.Two women with two dogs walked by and again she exclaimed "Da! Da!" That's when I realized that she was not simply repeating what I said as I turned the pages of the book, but actually knew what she was looking at. "Da" is now what she also calls our cat, and anything that looks similar to a dog.

Catalina Island is visible behind us
I try to view everything we do as an adventure together. It doesn't need to be a hike with an ocean view or the zoo. One of her current favorite places is PetSmart. Even if I'm just stopping in for a bag of food, I take her around to look at the fish, the birds and the dogs being groomed. We also have a great time at Hobby Lobby, where I will let her touch the fabrics, or will tickle her with a feather or other decoration. Our backyard is also a place now filled with adventures. She loves playing in her house and will now open the door when we knock! She goes out the sliding glass door at every opportunity, and loves to stand and pick at the dirt in the potted plants that are at her level.

We went over to a friend's for dinner toward the end of the month and she was fascinated by a parrot that they had. She really seems to love animals and was fascinated by it the whole night. Before we left, she "kissed" each person bye, shown by leaning forward with an open mouth. I guess the next thing we need to teach her is how to blow kisses instead. She also kissed Sebastian at daycare and our dog, Trevi. Already showing her nurturing side, she will pat her baby's back and also put my hand on it's back so that I pat it.

For Mother's Day, and for my birthday, we had our first professional photos together since her newborn session.



She continues to love going outside, and is in the backyard at every opportunity. She spends some time now on the back patio when we're getting ready in the morning, and loves going out when there's afternoon shade.

While we were having dinner at our neighbor's we realized that she can climb up on things. We were eating on their back patio and she was playing with their 4 year old. Before we knew it, she was up on the bench of the toddler-size picnic table. She took a tumble before we could reach her, but was brave enough to go on their enclosed trampoline by herself just a little while later.

I've been planning her first birthday for a long time and it is fast-approaching. I've already started putting up some decorations, even though we're a month out! I'm trying to crochet favors for every child that comes and need to complete one a day in order to have enough! They take almost an hour. Thankfully, my husband's cousin Cassandra is helping by stitching the 6 points on the sun together, allowing me more time to crochet more.

Milestones:
  • FIRST WORD 4/19: Dog, which sounds more like "Da"
  • Kissed a boy
  • Sits in her baby chair at daycare
  • Climbs on things
  • Drops objects for me to pick up. Again and again
  • Solo play
  • Uses sippy cup
  • Learned "If You're Happy and You Know it" and will clap at appropriate time 
  • Learned how to flush the toilet
  • Can squat down and back up while holding on
Things I don't want to forget about this month:
  • Patting my back - especially when I pick her up in the morning
  • Giggling when she toots
  • Knocking on her playhouse door and asking "Is A home?" While she comes to the door.
  • Seeing her rough-house with daddy
  • Saturday walks for breakfast at John's place and stopping by the little library for books
  • How she loves Trevi's water dish and will make a beeline for it at every opportunity
  • That she loves standing and touching the dirt in the potted plants
  • She loves water, and will try and drink from the hose, bathtub and sink when I wash her hands
Routines we're continuing:
  • Singing to her: You Are My Sunshine, Amazing Grace (bedtime)
  • Reading children's books to her
  • Evening walks
  • Crocheting
  • Nightly prayers
  • Morning snuggle time - she now sleeps in the crook of my left arm.
  • This little piggy. She now anticipates the "Wee, wee, wee all the way home" part and will smile and scrunch her shoulders.
  • Asking "Where's Daddy?" or "Where's Trevi?" and cheering when she looks
  • Lunch visits - every day!
  • Peak-a-boo 
  • Listening to the same record at every feeding. I have it on the floor, by her high chair, and she loves watching it spin. Its an old Disney record, "Mother Goose."
  • Brushing her teeth
  • Playing with items in the cupboards, taking items out of the diaper bag or refrigerator. We always thank her for "organizing." 
Routines we're establishing:
  • "Chasing" her around the house
New Foods This Month:
  • Too many to list! She's joining in on the lunch that daycare provides, and finally eating finger foods. Some favorites: Ground turkey, string cheese, butternut squash, spiral whole wheat pasta, carrots, peas, brown rice, yogurt, cottage cheese, strawberries, blueberries, bananas.
Thick as thieves, these two!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

IVF #3 - in Prague

Right after our little girl was born, my husband booked our flights to Vienna, Prague and Budapest. He is amazing at the mileage game, and scored our business class tickets, valued around $7,000 each, for just $150. It was a huge leap of faith for first-time parents with a newborn to take, and we wondered if we bit off more than we could chew. We didn't yet know what a trip to the grocery store with a little one would entail, let alone spending three weeks trekking around three different cities.

As we started researching the three cities, we realized that the US dollar goes very far Prague. We wondered how much IVF would cost there, and were amazed to find out that it was well under $5,000, including medication. In the United States, medication alone costs $4,000! What about doing IVF while we're there, we wondered? Was their standard of care as good as the states and would it be safe for me?


I did not know what data to look at, or even where to begin in researching clinics abroad. In the US, we now know to look at the SART data, something we did not find out until after we had financially committed to our first (failed) IVF, which cost $20,000. Imagine paying that amount for ... nothing! We paid for the hope of becoming parents, and didn't even have any left to freeze. 

Luckily, my husband has a cousin who is a doctor, and I was able to get her more-informed opinion. I sent her an email with a list of the clinics we were considering. She was able to get a list of "approved" clinics from her attending physician at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, who happened to know a doctor in the Czech Republic. Armed with this knowledge, we felt safe proceeding.

Initially, we were considering clinics in Brno (Reprofit and Unica), not realizing how far it was from Prague. Since I will have multiple appointments, we don't want to be traveling back and forth, almost 130 miles, one way. Currently, we are deciding between the Prague Fertility Centre and GYNEM Fertility Clinic.

It has been tough with the language barrier. Even though their employees speak English, a typical email reads something like this:

Dear Mrs Megan Swanek.
Thank you very much for your confidence in turning our clinic.We are also pleased to hear that you have learned about Unica via a great references. Our clinic has been engaged in the IVF treatment since 1994; making us the IVF centre with the longest tradition in the Czech Republic.  We always strive to emphasize quality; we will very gladly help you.
We fly in 68 days, and I am a bit behind in setting all of this up. When we thought I had melanoma, I obviously could not proceed with any fertility treatments, so everything came to a grinding halt. Besides missing my second month of IUI treatments (which are covered under my current insurance), I stopped exploring the option of IVF all together.

But now, I am excited to move forward. We are thrilled about the possibility of giving baby A a sibling, but remain cautiously optimistic, since my fertility has naturally declined in the two years since my first failed IVF.

Next steps: sending the doctors my hormonal profile so that they can work up my treatment protocol, which my primary care physician ordered yesterday. I'm hoping to have consultation via skype soon, and will keep you updated on the process! 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

No TV Under Three

(The policy is actually "No TV Under Two" but three rhymes...)
Getty Images
I told myself when I as pregnant that I wasn't going to let Baby A watch TV until she was three, one year more than the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. I am happy to report that so far, I have stuck to it, even though some people said it would be tough. Others said it would be impossible, and my husband was indifferent. 

There are not a lot of things when it comes to parenting that I am rigid about (except, not being rigid!), but no television viewing is definitely one. Please know that I am not being judgmental or trying to sway anyone with this posting! If you've read this far, you're probably doing so because it is of interest to you. Or maybe you're reading because you disagree. 


We all have parenting ideas and ideals that are important to us; this just happens to be mine. For you, it might be germs, and you may shudder when I pick up her Sophie the giraffe that dropped on the floor and hand it back to her, without a second thought.


For some reason, before ever reading any of the studies, I was against television viewing for our daughter. Even though I love watching TV myself, especially murder-mysteries on Investigation Discovery. When I was pregnant, this was the one parenting thing that my husband and I disagreed on because he didn't see it as a big deal, and it was so important to me. 


Intuitively, a baby watching TV just didn't seem right to me. I've seen babies turn into what I call zombabies because they're watching TV. Sometimes, they don't even look up when addressed by name, and will instead keep their eyes fixated on the screen while they say hello or goodbye, when prompted. I have been at restaurants when parents give their baby who can't walk or talk yet an iPad to watch videos on so that they can "eat in peace" (read: without interacting). 

But why shouldn't my baby watch TV? What do the studies say? And can something that the majority of people do really be that bad? After-all, 40% of infants are watching some sort of video by 5 months, and 90% of parents said their children under 2 watch some form of electronic media. 



Early brain development

According to healthychildren.org, kids' brains grow profoundly during the first 3 years of life, with the brain tripling in mass in just the first 12 months. The stimuli children experience during this period profoundly influence brain development. 
Infants may stare at the bright colors and motion on a screen, but their brains are incapable of making sense or meaning out of all those bizarre pictures. It takes 2 full years for a baby’s brain to develop to the point where the symbols on a screen come to represent their equivalents in the real world.
Exposure to TV (or iPads, videos on smart phones, etc.) while their brain is in the formative stages of developing, and developing at such a rapid rate, can cause speech, motor and developmental delays.

The American Academy of Pedatrics (AAP) feels so strongly that it is detrimental to little ones for a multitude of reasons, that they implemented a "No TV Under Two" policy.



Where's the harm?

Okay, so babies don't really know what's happening on the screen, but can't they learn language from TV? After-all, there are a ton of "educational" shows geared toward infants, babies and toddlers. Baby Einstein comes to mind. But 'educational TV' for babies doesn't exist, according to the AAP. 

Dozens of studies affirming this led to the policy change in 2011 in which they recommend no TV or screen time at all for children until they are at least 2. 

The policy statement published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that not only do children under age two probably learn nothing from the television, but that watching too much can actually delay language development and cause attentional problems.
One of the major manufacturers of baby "educational" videos, Baby Einstein, (owned by Disney) was threatened with a class action lawsuit in 2009, after they were forced to drop the word "educational" from their marketing in 2006 (read more HERE). Not only did they drop that word from their marketing, but they offered full refunds to anyone who had purchased the videos. When you visit their website today, there is no longer a mention of the videos. 
Lawyers threatened a class-action lawsuit for unfair and deceptive practices unless Disney agreed to refund the full purchase price to all who bought the videos since 2004. “The Walt Disney Company’s entire Baby Einstein marketing regime is based on express and implied claims that their videos are educational and beneficial for early childhood development,” a letter from the lawyers said, calling those claims “false because research shows that television viewing is potentially harmful for very young children.”  
The letter also described studies showing that television exposure at ages 1 through 3 is associated with attention problems at age 7. 
Even Sesame Street, which I grew up with, can have negative effects on language development when children under the age of 2 view it


What children are not doing when watching TV

The problem lies not only with what toddlers are doing while they’re watching TV; it’s what they aren’t doing. Specifically, children are programmed to learn from interacting with other people. 
The dance of facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language between a toddler and parent is not only beautiful, it’s so complex that researchers have to record these interactions on video and slow them down just to see everything that’s going on. Whenever one party in this dance, child or parent, is watching TV, the exchange comes to a halt. A toddler learns a lot more from banging pans on the floor while you cook dinner than he does from watching a screen for the same amount of time, because every now and then the 2 of you look at each other. (Read more here).

  • Asking questions
  • Solving problems
  • Being creative
  • Exercising initiative
  • Practicing eye-hand coordination
  • Scanning (useful in reading)
  • Practicing motor skills
  • Thinking critically, logically, and analytically
  • Practicing communication skills
  • Playing interactive games with other children or adults (helpful for developing patience, self-control cooperation, sportsmanship)

How we make it work

We are not people who are against, or don't watch TV. We watch it every day. We have been known to binge-watch Breaking Bad. My husband loves watching the news or Archer, I'm addicted to murder-mysteries, and we both love watching home-improvement shows and dreaming about buying a 4,000+ square foot home for a fraction of the cost of ours, when it's in any other state than California. The difference is that now, we just wait until she's asleep to watch. 

Okay, not all the time - my husband likes to watch the news when he eats dinner - but, we are watching it a lot less than we used to. If she is awake when he watches, I'm usually giving her a bottle and I put a blanket up as a make-shift shield, similar to what women do when breast-feeding. As soon as he finishes eating, he (surprisingly) now turns off the TV without me asking and moves over to the computer. When she's asleep, we come together to watch one of our shows, like Better Call Saul or, if I'm lucky, more murder-mysteries.

We have some adjusting to do, because when she's older I want us all to sit down together to eat at the table and have conversation. Right now, she eats her "meal" much earlier than us, around 4 or 5pm. But it's an improvement over what I feared (back when I was pregnant) would happen when he watched her. I generally don't do things without her, and even took her with me to extended care the other night, but he will watch her while I shower after a run, or need to do laundry. I feared I would come back to find her propped up in front of our 60 inch TV, both of them sitting in complete silence. Instead, I find him down on the floor with her, helping her play with her toys, teaching her to put items in her bucket or, most recently, starting to rough-house with her. 

All studies and research aside, I will take hearing her belly-laughs and squeals, or his "Yay!" followed by applause over the mindless din of the TV any day.


Friday, April 1, 2016

March, 9 Month Update

Our little Bean turned 10 months old on March 26th, so for the majority of the month, she was 9 months.
She's more Irish than any other nationality
Through the beginning of this month, the fear of leaving her too soon was my greatest concern (I was told I had cancer, when I did not). But I was buoyed by her ever-happy nature, and cute stories from her interactions at daycare. She has started to make friends there, and her best friend is a boy named Sebastian. They are as thick as thieves. One of the ladies in the infant room told me that they often play nicely together and when one crawls away, the other will follow. They take turns with toys, and if he takes one of her toys, she doesn't seem to mind, and reaches for another. The other day, they were both taking a nap and our girl woke up first and was put in the play area. When her surveillance of the area did not turn up a Sebastian, she marched (okay, crawled) right back over to the plexi-glass gate separating that area from the area with the cribs. She got up on her knees and started banging on the plexi-glass! This was exciting to me for three reasons: 1) She is forming attachments to babies her own age 2) She is learning that they go away and where they go 3) She has the determination and drive to go after what she wants.

We laid low for the beginning of the month, and fell a little bit out of our nightly walking routine. We did take her to see the Easter Bunny at the Irvine Railroad and by looking at our family photo, you would have no idea what we were going through. Everything seems normal, but in this photo is a Mom afraid of dying, a husband afraid of loosing her, and a little girl who doesn't deserve either. But, none of it was true - it was all a mistake.

Around the middle of the month we started to have some freedom from the fear that being told you have cancer brings. Although it turned out not to be true, it was our reality for three weeks (my husband lost 15 pounds, and a whole lot of sleep). Baby A and I returned to our "Babies Love Music" class on Saturday mornings, our walks, gardening and crafting for her first birthday. The flower girls from our wedding (and their parents) stopped by and the girls loved "playing" with her. More importantly, she loved playing with them, and was not concerned at all about being away from me as they pushed her around the house in her tricycle, and took her into the back yard. She seemed confident and curious and the girls were so good with her.

It was the day after this visit that we were told that a mistake had been made, and I do not have melanoma. My biopsy results were somehow mixed up with another woman.


Just as it took me three weeks to adjust to the fact I had cancer and a 67%-86% chance of being alive in 10 years (depending on which doctor you asked), it also took us awhile to adjust to the news that I did not. My husband remained unconvinced that I was magically cancer-free. He does have a point: If this doctor's office made a mistake one time, what is to say that the melanoma biopsy was really from another person and not one of the three areas on me that were taken that day. We are still in the process of getting genetic testing done on the samples to prove that it was really a mistake, but it has been an arduous process with many calls and still no results.

She learned to use her walker around the middle of the month, a few days after our flower girls visited and showed her how. One day, she looked at her walker, crawled to it, and stood up and took a step. She slowly lowered herself down, and then repeated it. The third time, she was off, taking at least ten consecutive steps, until the walker ran into the wall. We turned her and the walker around, and she went the length of the living room. "Shouldn't we be recording this?" my husband asked, and we both took out our cell phones.

Bean can pull herself up on almost anything now, even my skirt. She roams freely around the house, and slowly squats to a sitting position when she is tired of standing. She enjoys our shopping trips and even all of the doctor's appointments that I had. We were shopping for a new light fixture at Home Depo. and "taught" her to kiss. First, she watches us with a huge grin, then we try to kiss her and she leans in, with her mouth agape. It's pretty much the cutest thing ever. She will often clap when she's done, like she does in the video below.



Saturday the 19th was the first day of Spring. We booked a Christmas trip to Italy (Venice, Lake Como and Milan) and applied for her passport. We had to do this in person, at the post office, and raise our right hands and solemnly swear that she was our daughter. This made it all seem very official, and I cannot wait to get her passport (they should make the tiny-sized for her little hands and pockets) and start earning stamps from different countries!

She knows what clapping means now, and will clap for herself after she does something that we ask, like when she leans her forehead in for a kiss, or gives me a kiss. She will also way bye. Around the end of the month, she started kissing our dog, Trevi and laughing. I feel this way every month, but this is by far my favorite age. I just cannot get enough of her, and never want to do anything that I can't take her to.

She continues to be the happiest baby I have ever been around, and is not even fussy when she's sick. We took her to the emergency room for croup and even though she had a fever of 101, she was cuddly and sweet. We had never experienced the barking seal-like sound of croup, and we were so frightened as we rushed her to CHOC, worried it could be whooping cough. They gave her the very first dose of medicine she has ever received when they gave her ibuprofen. She was then given a steroid, dexamethazone, which she threw up. We had to wait longer for a shot to be ordered, and she was given a breathing treatment while we waited. Her temperature was back to normal before we left around 2am. I thought for sure she would fall right asleep when we got home, but apparently steroids are like crack for babies. She was babbling and standing up looking out the window which we had opened to let in the cool night air for close to an hour before she fell asleep. I was afraid that I would fall asleep before her and she would be on her own, roaming around the bed.

I went to work the next morning on 3 hours of sleep. Since this was my very first sleep-deprived night since the first few weeks of her life, I can't complain. Both her and my husband were sleeping when I got home, and I watched her while he rested until about 6:30pm when I just had to lay down. He took over baby duty and I fell asleep at 7pm, telling him to wake me if she was fussy or I was needed. When I woke up at 11pm to a dark, quiet house and the baby monitor on beside me, I figured that all went well and fell back to sleep until morning.

Me: "So, everything went well last night" I said in the morning, as more of a statement than an inquiry. 

Husband: "Not really, she was up until 10:30 pm just staring at the monitor." 

Me: "What?? Poor thing! You know I always hold her until she falls asleep! Alone in the dark and looking at the monitor?? How sad!"

Husband: "Actually, it was kind of scary with those beady little eyes staring at me."


From Jeri & Mitch Hammock. Jeri sends her special gifts in honor of my Mom.
Her lack of complaining and high tolerance for pain were evident the following week when she had an ear infection, but we didn't know it. Her cough was much better and assuming that she was on the mend, we had no idea it had traveled to her ear. Daycare told us she was crying when she sucked on her bottle and I took her straight to the doctor after work that same day. It must have been bothering her for quite awhile already, because by the time we arrived at the doctor's office, her ear drum had burst from the pressure. Pobrecita! I felt horrible! She was given her first prescription for the (bubblegum flavored) antibiotic amoxicillin and by the end of the month was (finally) all better.

I had a few night events at work toward the end of the month. One night, I returned to work for a parent group and left after my short talk. My husband and baby A had walked to El Torrito and just sat down to eat, so I joined them. It was the best feeling to walk up to the table and see her sitting in her highchair, happy and babbling away to Daddy, not a care in the world. She tried a few pieces of rice and a mashed-up bean as he told me how wonderful she had been, just enjoying her time with him. As we walked home (he came back for the car later), she fell asleep. Even though she was tired, she wasn't fussy at all! I know it sounds trite, but seeing what an amazing father he is to her causes me to fall in love with him more and more.

Baby A loves dancing, and one song I play frequently for her is "Dancing Queen" by Abba. We change the lyrics to Dancing Bean. She still does her little head bob, but now will also bend her knees if she's standing and sometimes move her arms back and forth. Not knowing this, daycare commented on how much she loves music and dancing.

She continues to love daycare, which is so comforting to me. As I was leaving the other day, one of the workers was returning from her car and walked toward us. As she approached us, Baby A leaned forward, and stretched out her arms to be held. This says everything that her words cannot say, and assures me that she loves it there! Joan took her into her arms and kissed her cheeks. She told her "I love you too! You just made my day." 

Milestones:
  • Pulling herself up to standing, and staying for awhile 
  • SIX teeth
  • Walking using walker (March 15th)
  • "Kissing" both of us, and Trevi, with her mouth agape
  • Pushing items while crawling
  • Pulling items toward her
  • Giving me things
  • Turning pages in a book (I have to hold the ones I don't want her to turn)
  • Walking while holding on to couch or coffee table
  • Uses thumb and finger to pick up small objects
  • Looks for partially hidden objects (like my phone!)
  • Drinking from a cup (with assistance)
  • Sitting in a little chair at the table at daycare and trying finger foods
  • Lifting her arms up when she wants to be picked up (this just happened at the very end of the month)
Things I don't want to forget about this month:
Scrunchie nose!
  • Squealing when she gets excited - sometimes, several short squeals in a row
  • Brushing her teeth, with a huge grin
  • Nicknames: Bun Snuggler, Autonomous, Baby A, Bean, Choochee Face
  • Giving me kisses
  • Playing in the bathroom in the mornings when I get ready
  • How she scrunches up her nose 
Routines we're continuing:
  • Singing to her: You Are My Sunshine, Amazing Grace (bedtime)
  • Reading children's books to her. She has started to look at the pictures and turn the pages. She loves Madeline (thanks Ivy-Curwen clan!)
  • Evening walks
  • Crocheting
  • Nightly prayers
  • Morning snuggle time - she now sleeps in the crook of my left arm.
  • This little piggy. She now anticipates the "Wee, wee, wee all the way home" part and will smile and scrunch her shoulders.
  • Asking "Where's Daddy?" or "Where's Trevi?" and cheering when she looks
  • Lunch visits - every day!
  • Peak-a-boo - she recently started using the bed sheets to hide herself while playing.
  • Listening to the same record at every feeding. I have it on the floor, by her high chair, and she loves watching it spin. Its an old Disney record, "Mother Goose."
  • Brushing her teeth
Routines we're establishing:
  • Playing with items in the cupboards, taking items out of the diaper bag or refrigerator. We always thank her for "organizing." 
  • Practicing kissing. She doesn't know how to pucker up yet.
  • Brushing her teeth
  • Clicking noises with her tongue 
New Foods This Month:
  • Strawberries (real) 
  • Butternut squash (real - still too solid for her liking)
  • Egg (just the yoke, mixed with oatmeal)
  • Cottage cheese
  • Pumpkin
  • Prunes
  • Lemon!
  • Cheery-O's
  • Cheese
  • Rice