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, 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