Monday, March 13, 2017

What a cochlear implant is NOT, what it IS, WHY we chose to implant our daughter, and our expectations for Heidi

As mentioned previously, our youngest daughter, Heidi, was born deaf. She is almost 15 months old, and received bilateral cochlear implants last week. I first heard of cochlear implants (CI's) a few years ago, but really didn't understand what they were, how they were used, or what they can or cannot accomplish until recently. And even now, I only have a rudimentary knowledge as to the range of outcomes for CI's and some of the pros and cons. We're still novices at this!

But given how little I used to know about CI's and given that I receive many many questions from friends and family that reflect a similar basic gap in understanding, I thought I'd write out some info that can hopefully clear up many of the questions people have regarding Heidi. I don't mind questions and always appreciate people caring enough about Heidi's journey to ask questions. . . even if they are very basic questions or questions based on a misunderstanding. That's okay! And for my friends-and-also-professionals who read this, feel free to make any corrections on my explanations :-D.

First of all, what a cochlear implant is NOT. This honestly is a really important thing to understand. CI's are absolutely NOT a cure for deafness. When I first heard of cochlear implant surgery (we had a deaf neighbor when we lived in Texas, who had CI surgery around age 6) it was explained to me as a way to correct deafness and let someone hear. Um, no. No, no, no. This is not like repairing a torn ligament or even like something such as corrective eye surgery. Cochlear implant surgery does not fix deafness. And I'm not mincing words here, or trying to hold onto a label of "deafness" that I somehow don't want to let go.

So what IS a cochlear implant? Basically, CI surgery implants a device into a person's cochlea (in the inner ear) that allows the auditory nerve to be stimulated through electronic means, to bypass the usual sound pathway of ear canal, eardrum, middle ear bones, etc. For whatever reason, one of the main causes of deafness (by no means the only cause) is insufficient hair cells in the cochlea. These hair cells are extremely crucial to hearing and the stimulation of them through the usual means are exactly HOW a person hears. Without these hair cells (or other possible reasons why hearing is absent), sometimes a CI can be used to stimulate the cochlea in a mimicry way.

What was actually inserted into Heidi's head last week was two sets (one for each side) of electrode arrays that were slid into her cochleas and naturally coil up into the snail shell shape of a cochlea. Different pitches of sound in normal hearing stimulate different areas of this snail shell shape (and transmit this info to the auditory nerve, and in turn, the brain). In a similar way, with the technology of a CI, sound transmitted through an external microphone and processor then sends a signal to trigger electrodes along the inserted electrode array, which in turn stimulate the area of the cochlea corresponding to that sound.

In theory. Actually, it doesn't work out so perfectly in actuality. The sounds perceived by a CI recipient APPROXIMATE actual sounds, but can be "off" in pitch by quite a bit, which matters some in learning to listen and/or speak, and even more in learning to listen to music, as pitch is more important in musical settings. A CI recipient goes through gradual therapy over several months, that introduces the brain to more and more of a range of sounds, as the brain accustoms to sound and perception of sound. And even after initial auditory-verbal therapy, most CI recipients will need additional speech therapy to groom their speech.

Some CI recipients never develop enough sound discrimination to develop speech, while others are indistinguishable in speech from a "hearing" person. Some CI candidates are very accustomed to sound and speech, and prefer using sound v. choosing silence and signing. Other CI candidates find their strength in sign language, visual perception and expression, and other non-auditory methods of exploring, communicating with, and viewing the world, and either benefit from a CI in more general ways (awareness of environmental noises, but not speech) or don't benefit from CI's at all. More on the varied "success" of CI's later. . .

But back to what a CI is not. Remember that I said CI surgery is not a cure for deafness? One of the very real reasons it is not is because a CI does absolutely nothing unless the outer processor is attached (with working batteries). If the outer processor is not being worn, no electrodes are stimulating the cochlea, the auditory nerve is not being stimulated, and no hearing is taking place. In other words, the person is still deaf. Cochlear implants are battery operated devices that can be turned on and off at will.

Post-surgery, one of the most common questions I've gotten is if we've noticed Heidi responding to sound yet. We haven't yet, for the very simple reason that she hasn't even been given her outer processor yet. In order to not associate the new experience of sound with potential pain, the surgery site has to fully heal before she's given her initial sound stimulation in a few weeks. In addition to the electrode array, also implanted directly under her skin is a magnet that will be used to attach her external processor in place when she's using her CI's to access sound.

Even when she's "turned on" at the end of March, her processors are programmed very low, to only stimulate a select range of sounds. As the months progress, the idea is to slowly program her to receive more and more sound input, as she becomes accustomed to sound and as her brain learns to process sound. Remember, as far as we can tell, she has probably never heard anything, so this is all new stuff for her brain! I've met one mom with a deaf daughter who was implanted about a decade ago, and the mom told me that her daughter didn't even respond to sound at the initial stimulation, because the program was turned so low initially. So it'll be interesting to see if Heidi even visibly "notices" her initial program, or if that'll wait until future programs that add more to the spectrum.

Okay, so here's the million dollar question and the most controversial: why did we choose to implant Heidi? For many people we have met, the assumption was that OF COURSE we'd implant her, because why wouldn't we want to use this amazing technology, and for other people we've met, they've been very leary of the use of cochlear implants and counseled us against or counseled us to wait and let Heidi decide. Why or why not?

Well, I'll start off with saying I totally "get" why someone would choose either path. We wrestled with a lot of pros and cons, and while we felt confident in the end with wanting to explore cochlear implants for Heidi, we also understand the concerns with CI's and why others might choose other paths. Here is what it boiled down to for us:

On the con side, it really really gave us pause to consider allowing our child to go "under the knife" for a non-life-threatening reason. We didn't take this lightly. We know every surgical procedure has risks, and drilling into the skull (to be quite frank) certainly has some. So does having a permanently-implanted device in your body. We're okay with Heidi just the way she is. She doesn't NEED hearing, she can have a full life without it, and we believe that she could be just as content in her deafness as we are with it. Not just "okay" with deafness, but thrive with deafness.

Hearing loss is just that: a loss of hearing. Heidi's brain is fully functioning, she is in excellent health, and is poised to take on life to the fullest. As long as we pack language into her, she's fine. And we truly believe that. This is exactly why we've poured so much of our time and energy into sign language this past year, and why we will continue to make sign language part of our family culture and part of our means of communicating with Heidi.

The two major objections to CI's, especially to those in the Deaf community, as far as I can tell, revolve around concern with (1) neglect of sign language in order to focus on listening and speech and (2) perception of deafness as a "disability" that needs to be fixed.

As I already said, we don't plan to neglect sign language, as we simply don't know what Heidi's success with a cochlear implant will be. If a child is not given a full language by age 5, this language deprivation can have permanent repercussions on their mental and cognitive function, even if they're given language later. Because we don't know NOW if Heidi will have full access to language through a cochlear implant EVENTUALLY, we don't want to wait and wait and then find out after she's already language-deprived that she needed sign language and that we should have been learning it sooner.

To address the more controversial topic of deafness as a disability, one must understand that a culturally Deaf person not only is fine with their Deafness, but is happy they're Deaf, and offended by terms such as "hearing disabled." This is why I use the term deaf to describe Heidi, because it simply isn't an offensive term. It's a perfectly acceptable label. A person who is culturally Deaf doesn't need or want pity, and is quite happy in a soundless world. For hearing parents to have the chutzpah to "fix" their deaf child without consulting the child is potentially offensive to many who consider themselves "capital D" culturally Deaf.

From the beginning of our journey with Heidi's deafness, I've sought to be very sensitive to the Deaf community, Deaf beliefs, and a Deaf perspective on what Heidi needs, listening to the voices of the Deaf community as well as medical professionals. I think both worlds have much to offer us, as hearing parents of a deaf child. I absolutely will not tolerate comments to this post that mock the Deaf community or Deaf beliefs. Period. I find their language beautiful and their love of who they are AS they are (rather than a discontent in who they are not) to be inspiring and comforting.

But that being said, yes, I consider hearing to be the normal way that God created man to communicate, and we believe God's promise in the Bible that He came to make the deaf man hear and the lame man leap for joy. Deafness is not a blessing to us (except in so much that we believe that God redeems everything for Himself and brings good for His people out of all circumstances), it is not something we sought, it is not something we would pray for in another child. But we would welcome another child who is deaf! And we wouldn't choose to prevent more biological children if we discovered Heidi's deafness is genetic. Our deaf child is a blessing! However we also do not have an objection to adding sound to our deaf child's world, if we think it could give her advantages.

And to address a side issue, why did we choose to implant Heidi NOW, v. waiting until she's older and letting her choose that herself? The biggest recommendation I've heard from the Deaf community is not to NEVER implant Heidi, but instead to wait until she's a bit older (anywhere from elementary age or older) and let HER decide if she wants to experience sound. This is her world, her body, and her experience. Let her decide.

And we considered that. But ultimately it boiled down to, for us, a realization that either way - whether we chose to implant her now or waited and let her decide - we already were deciding a major decision for her. We had to choose whether or not to give her that chance for sound access during her most crucial period of language development. She doesn't NEED that sound access, to be clear, but we did have to make the choice either way, to give it or to decline the option.

Getting a cochlear implant at age 7 or age 10 or adulthood - especially for someone like Heidi who is prelingually deaf - is simply NOT the same experience as for someone who is a baby or toddler. There are crucial developmental windows for developing speech that would be missed. Yes, a CI recipient who receives one later can often still get some use out of a CI, but not in the same way that an earlier recipient would. The longer the human brain does not have access to sound, the more the brain rewires itself (how cool is that?) and is "taken over" by the other senses, to compensate. If we waited until Heidi was older and let her decide, she would not have the option to go back and recapture that crucial developmental window for speech and language.

We do NOT believe that a family who doesn't choose early implantation is "depriving" their deaf child of sound or speech. Absolutely not. They are simply choosing a different emphasis and a different option for their child. But we also do not believe that by choosing implantation for Heidi, we are "depriving" her of her deafness. Our intentions, rather, are to give her the fullest opportunity to experience both the hearing and deaf worlds. In order to truly experience the closest that she can to the hearing world, she can best do that by early access to sound stimulation. Should she choose at an older age to "turn off" sound, she can simply stop wearing her outer processor. We would totally support that decision at an appropriate age. Yet another reason to have a sign language base of communication!

We live in a hearing world, and we live in an English-speaking world. And like most deaf children, Heidi was born into a hearing family. If possible, and according to Heidi's abilities, we feel that it will benefit Heidi over time to have tools that allow her to access both the hearing/spoken aspect of our family culture and especially (since the outside world cannot adapt in the same way our family can) to access spoken language and sound in the outside world.

Having access to sound, even electronic stimulated sound - and potentially having access to speech -might allow Heidi to be a much more independent communicator than if her main method of communication was sign language. This in no way is disparaging the use of sign language, either as A means of communication or the ONLY means of communication for her. This is simply recognizing that while living, communicating, and working in modern-day America, not having need of a sign language interpreter to go about daily business can be a huge asset to a deaf individual.

If Heidi was born into a fluently-signing deaf family, this would be completely different. Her language access would be complete and accessible from day one, and her family culture and her built-in close community of friends would already have her language and her culture. (Talking through walls and talking while doing eye-intensive tasks is a major part of our family habits! That's been really difficult to slowly adapt! We are a "hearing culture" family, for sure!)

But Heidi wasn't born into a fluent signing family. And her family, while trying to learn sign, will not be fluent anytime soon! If we choose a signing-only environment for Heidi, realistically she will have limited communication with most of our acquaintances, friends, and family. Yes, we plan to seek out deaf friends in the Deaf community, but we also have a very large foot in the hearing world. We and she don't NEED her to be part of our hearing world, but we'd like her to have as many ways as possible to feel that she belongs in our family and our world in every way. This means developing sign language so that we can communicate with her effectively, but it also means considering ways that we can include her in our inevitable hearing activities, as her ability allows.

There are SO many factors that affect the "success" of a CI, including if a person is deafened pre- or post-lingually, if they have multiple-challenges rather than "just deafness," if they receive adequate follow-up therapy, if they get appropriate language input, if their auditory nerve is fully-functioning, etc. And honestly, there are just a lot of mysteries and questions in medical research as to how to best predict the success of a cochlear implant, for the purpose of accessing sound and developing speech. It might work, it might not.

Our general expectation for Heidi is that she will soar. In her time, in her way. We expect LANGUAGE for her, not because language is automatic, but because it is so essential. We don't know what else to expect, and we're not sure what form that language will take - spoken, signed, written. . . some combination?

Honestly, this is really new ground for us. With our other 3 kids, they became extremely fluent talkers at a young age with ginormous vocabularies simply because their mother never shuts up, tele-commentates EVERYTHING to her babies, and because they were blessed with no communication barriers. With Heidi, language will take a lot more purposeful input than just her mother constantly talking. Factors like background noise, effectiveness of her CI's, therapy, how quickly her family learns sign language and how faithfully they sign with her and around her (it has to be in her field of vision!). . . so much more at play and so much more one-on-one attention needed!

We honestly don't know what to expect as far as what communication mode will work best for her, both short-term and long-term. We've been told by well-meaning people that she will definitely prefer sign language over sound and speech, and that might be what happens. We're okay with that! We've also been told by equally-well-meaning people that she will likely prefer sound and speech, because for most children implanted at her age, it comes easier for them than sign language. That might be true. We're okay with that!

We do not expect that she will be a fluent English speaker, though we are poised for that possibility and it is in the realm of realistic results. We also do not expect she will choose sign language as her primary means of communication, but we are okay if she does, and are working towards greater sign language fluency. We expect God's grace in the craziness and His direction each step of the way. We expect we'll make a lot of mistakes, learn a lot, pray a lot. We expect our whole family will continue to learn a lot and grow a lot through this whole process. And our prayer is that Heidi will thrive and learn to effectively communicate with us, with others, and with her Creator. That's quite enough for us. Anything else is icing on the cake.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

2016 Keister Year in Review

I think this may have been the first time I've gone a whole year between postings on this blog, but it has been a doozy of a year. The best one-sentence summary of our year is my niece's comment to my mom that "it always seems to be something with Aunt Susan's family." Yes, Madeleine. Yes, indeed.

A much longer update? See below. (I am long-winded; you have been warned.)

We bid adieu to 2015 after welcoming Heidi into our family. Heidi was the sweetest newborn ever, and I spent 99% of my time in January snuggling with her on the couch, not because she demanded it (easiest baby ever), but because I could not get enough of her sweetness (she still is a really sweet little one). We'd been in Wichita for 6 months and started to settle in, loving the area, our church, the people, Adrian's job.

Then 2016 took off like a jack rabbit.

Since Heidi was a homebirth, my midwife gave me the contact info for a local audiologist and told me to get her newborn hearing test done "in the first month after birth." (For a hospital birth, it's usually done before discharge.) Heidi was only a week and a half old when Adrian asked me if I'd scheduled the test yet, and asked me if I'd noticed if Heidi had a startle reflex. "Oh, definitely," I replied. "She startles if I touch her sometimes." Then he asked, "But does she startle to SOUND?" Hmm, I had to think about that. Then I started experimenting. She didn't care if the vacuum was on right beside her, she didn't alter her suck pattern if I started talking while she was nursing, and she didn't get distracted by her rambunctious siblings bursting into the room and yelling while she was drifting off to sleep. Hmm, new territory, this.

Less than a week later, she failed her initial hearing test (but many children do and still have perfect hearing), and more notably, a month after that she had a more extensive hearing test with a diagnosis of "severe to profound deafness." Well, that was definitely a different beginning to 2016 than we'd anticipated! This was a whole new world to consider, so many options to look at, so many professionals who offered advice (conflicting advice, just to make it more confusing).

But God. God gave us such peace. I cried for just one evening a few days BEFORE Heidi's first hearing test. As soon as Adrian mentioned his suspicions and all of our "well, try this and see if she startles" home tests didn't stimulate a hearing response from Heidi, I knew. I knew she was deaf. I told the audiologist before the first test, and again before the second. I cried that one evening before the first test, because I had to lay aside MY dreams for my daughter. Every parent has an image of their relationship with their child, and my image involved lots of talking, listening, laughing, and. . . hearing. Language, and specifically SPOKEN language, is so important to me. Treasured by me. So I wrestled with God that one night as I laid aside those dreams. Then I took up the gift He gave me and have been so thankful for who Heidi IS, not who she's NOT.

God is so gracious. He gave me such peace and He gave Adrian such peace. That was the one time I cried about Heidi's deafness. I've been fine with it since. Like, really fine. Like, weirded-people-out-with-how-fine-I-am-with-it sort of fine. I can't even explain it. But after that night, I was "over" her deafness.

This is Heidi, and now we know more about her, and we're going to find out the best way to nurture Heidi. Okay, well. . . her middle ear doesn't function "correctly." So what? That's all that's wrong? What great news! We can work with that.

Deafness is part of who Heidi is, but it isn't all she is. Heidi is a bubbly, exuberant one-year-old with everything in her little head working just right. . . except the middle ear. She's just as mischievous, fun-loving, and bright as her siblings. Keeps me on my toes, can cause trouble right here in Raleigh-city (because yes, we moved again. . . more on that in a bit). She has definitely earned her nickname "rotten stinker" with her antics. Walking, climbing, addicted to nursing and Mommy snuggles. Stubborn. Has the most gorgeous peals of laughter. The apple of her sister's eye, and feared by her oldest brother because of her spit-up powers. And her 3yo brother just thinks she's a live teddy bear. She lights up every time Daddy comes in the room, but thinks she needs to fight him for bed rights next to Mommy each night.

We enrolled in a sign language class the week after Heidi was diagnosed. Our plan was to pick up Latin in 2016, for homeschooling. Instead, we've been learning sign language. Latin will have to wait a bit! And Heidi is signing back! She doesn't have fluent signers at home, as she would if she was born into a deaf family, so her sign language progress will not be as rapid, but we're signing to her, and she's signing a few words back, and that's pretty dang exciting, I must say. We have a private deaf tutor, which has been a challenge and a great experience.

A deaf child born to hearing parents is at a huge risk for language deprivation. The brain is ready for language, but language doesn't just happen without input, and for hearing parents, that input is naturally primarily talking and listening! So we've been learning a whole new world and way of thinking about language. We've learned SO much about language acquisition, sign language, alternate forms of communication, and surgical options for deafness. There is so much info out there! And everywhere you turn, everyone has a different idea. You basically can't have a deaf child and not offend someone with your choices. And that's just kind of the way it's going to be, we've realized.

We believe strongly in giving Heidi a visual full language that does not rely on technology, and have invested a lot of our free time and money into making that happen. We still have a long way to go, as we learn and use sign language. But as we've studied different options and prayed over the last year, we're also excited about the possibility of cochlear implant surgery as a way to give Heidi electronic hearing which could potentially open up a lot of possibilities to Heidi, and allow her greater independence and give her listening experiences.

Results for cochlear implants for deaf children are mixed. They can be amazing miracles for some children, and they do not work as well for others. And they're only a tool, a battery-operated device that is not a permanent surgical "fix" for hearing loss. But as we've looked into cochlear implant options, it has become evident to us that for many children, they are a really incredible tool that opens up their world to sound. We want to give that option and that opportunity to Heidi, so we are planning to pursue cochlear implant surgery for her in the next few months. Since cochlear implants are a huge subject of controversy within the Deaf community, maybe I'll save that issue as a whole for a separate post, in which I explain why we came to that decision.

But back to our life in 2016. So Heidi is diagnosed as deaf. We start learning sign language. La-di-da. Oh, hmm, let's move, to keep things lively. So off to Raleigh, North Carolina we go in June. My oldest child has spent homeschooling in a different home for each of his first 5 years of schooling (preK-3rd). Someday, I hope to not be a nomad. We do think choosing to move was the right decision yet again, but we were also sad to say goodbye to Wichita and our wonderful community there.. Adrian chose to go back into engineering (after a few years in private teaching). A good career move, but another transition in 2016. . . a busy year. He loves his new job here in Raleigh, and it seems a good fit for him.

Prior to our move in the summer, our seven-year-old Hans (now eight) started his own drama, not to be outdone by Heidi. As some may remember, our time in Texas from 2013-2015 was really really difficult on Hans' health (and my own). Texas was a valley for us, and a large part of that valley was the pervasive and toxic effects that mold wreaked on Hans' young body. Mold had debilitating psychiatric effects on Hans that were truly frightening and paralyzing for our whole family. When we moved to Wichita, he started to heal and unfurl and blossom. Then in March many of his symptoms started to reappear, though our rental home in Wichita was mold-free. It took quite a bit of sleuthing, but it was finally evident that he was having a PANDAS reaction to strep. (Google that if you want to be happy that all strep gave you was a sore throat - ha!) But just as we finally realized WHAT was triggering his health struggles (after a month of doctor consultations and head scratching), everything cleared up overnight. Instantaneously. GONE. Physical symptoms, psychiatric symptoms, emotional symptoms. Boom, over.

But then PANDAS came back in full force a few months later in June, right as we were in transit from Wichita to our new home in Raleigh, NC. If you take a look at our (many!) medical bills over the summer, they basically follow us eastward, as we stopped on the way and visited doctors. We were all treated for strep (because we were all positive asymptomatic carriers, except Heidi), and Hans started feeling better. But then boom, back again. This was something more. He was clearly reacting to strep, but that wasn't all. We'd even managed to confound his PANDAS specialist. He wasn't responding to treatment anymore, after a brief initial improvement. It was truly scary and completely debilitating for him and for us all.

Did I mention we'd just moved across country? And were learning a new language for our deaf daughter, finding professionals to help Heidi, establishing new relationships in Raleigh, trying to start back up homeschooling, get involved in our local church?

Among Hans' incredibly-extensive battery of blood tests he had over the summer was a Western Blot test for Lyme. You must understand that he'd been tested a few times before for Lyme, by multiple doctors, always with a negative test result. But you also must understand that Lyme tests are incredibly poorly-designed and yield beaucoup false negatives. I'd suspected he had Lyme back in Texas, but his tests came back negative and all his symptoms seemed to be able to be explained by the pervasive mold we had, so we moved on and didn't pursue further. But one key to the puzzle is that mold sensitivity and PANDAS can both be caused by the underlying issue of a chronic Lyme infection. And yes, good guess: his test this past summer (finally) came back positive for Lyme.

We flew out to Seattle in August (me, alone on a plane with 4 kids, one of whom was completely psychotic at the time - an experience), combining a trip to my parents and brother and family with a visit to a Lyme specialist. And then we entered the complicated, expensive, lengthy, and time-consuming world of chronic Lyme treatment.

It's a long road. Lyme is not an easy thing to conquer. Having friends who have walked this road before us, I knew it was a long journey, and honestly, chronic Lyme is one of those things I've feared. One of those "Dear Lord, please just don't give me THAT trial" sorts of fears.

But God doesn't promise to keep us or our loved ones from trial or physical suffering. He does promise to walk with us through it, though. He walks through the fire with us, and He promises that the flood waters will not overcome us. Scriptural promises like these have been very dear to me this year. Texas felt like a valley of dry bones. I KNEW God was there, but it was so hard to feel His gentle touch. Texas felt like a very severe mercy, but He brought us through that. Wichita was an interim period of green meadows, spiritual refreshment, nourishment, and refocusing. Then we were led into another valley. But He has been there too.

If I could sum up Hans's experience when strep and Lyme are attacking him full-force, I would use three fictitious characters: he is Kay in the Snow Queen (pierced in the eye by a sliver of mirror that causes him to see the evil in the world and not the good), he is Peeta in The Hunger Games (hijacked by Tracker Jacker venom, unable to distinguish truth from fiction), and lastly, he is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Hans is not all those things all the time. He was all those things this past summer, and the old Kay/Peeta/Hyde comes back to visit periodically, as his body flushes out Lyme. Lyme is a very cyclical treatment, where you start to feel better, then tons worse as you clear toxins, then some better, then worse, etc.

Chronic Lyme manifests in different ways for different people. For some, it's primarily chronic pain, for others it may be heart or thyroid issues, for others fatigue, autism, early-onset Alzheimer's, fibromyalgia, etc. Basically, Lyme is the great imitator. Which is another reason (besides poor diagnostic testing) that it can be hard to diagnose.

For Hans, he continues to struggle with fatigue, intermittent aches and pains, and periodic psychotic episodes (that have thankfully lessened and spaced out dramatically with treatment). We have Jekyll for several days, and then Hyde comes to visit. We have to watch what Hans eats and drinks, monitor his meds, make sure he gets rest and sleep, but also plenty of exercise, mind refreshment, the whole nine yards.

And somewhere in all this, school is still supposed to happen. This has been quite the year of adventure for homeschooling. By some miracle, we did get our goal for schooling done by the Christmas break, and the kids have learned so much, but it has been quite the year of innovative educational options. alternate scheduling, adaptations, and sometimes just hair-pulling :-). Ha!

2016 was a hard year full of trials, but it was also a good year. Hans has grown so much spiritually through his struggles. I really treasure so many deep spiritual conversations we've been able to have with him, and the insights he's shared not in spite of his trials, but because of his trials. If you're familiar with the Hunger Games and Peeta's slow recovery from hijacking, Hans' story has so many eery parallels, and the real/not-real games that helped Peeta sort out fact from fiction have helped Hans as well. I will always think of Lyme as tracker jacker venom. And I will always think of the Gospel and scripture as the antidote, because we've seen that in Hans' own life. Yes, he needs physical remedies, but he also needs the balm of scripture.

We're all starting to settle into Raleigh life and a new welcoming church. We've enjoyed living just a few hours from my sister and her husband, and enjoyed many visits back and forth with them before they head overseas again in early 2017. We enjoyed a week-long visit from Adrian's brother and his family in November, before heading to Charlotte to spend a week with my whole family for Thanksgiving. My parents flew here for Christmas and Heidi's 1st birthday. And now boom, a whole year is gone, and we're into 2017. Hans' treatment will continue for quite some time, and we go back out to Seattle for another check-up in February. Heidi will hopefully have cochlear implant surgery sometime in the next few months.

My own health was up and down for a good portion of the summer and fall (in a more stable place the last 6 weeks or so), but pales in comparison to Hans'. When I couldn't get out of bed myself for several hours at a whack on random days, and we're already working around Hans' treatment, it can make homeschooling even more challenging. I'd love to write a post soon about homeschooling through chronic illness (either child or parent). It's been a unique experience.

Gretchen and Martin have barely received a mention in this post! Gretchen is 6 and my creative, crafty one. She is my non-squeaky wheel. She is a good help, and loves to spend most of her time doing crafts: origami, cross-stitch, drawing, beading. . . anything she can get her hands on. She joined an American Heritage Girls troop this year and loves it. She, Hans, and Adrian all are doing Tae Kwon Do too, through a local TKD school.

Martin is 3 and all boy. My aunt got him a tiger shirt this summer that said "Life is an adventure" and "It's a jungle out there," and that pretty much sums up Martin perfectly. Rambunctious, fearless, exuberant. . . and also can be a perfect crank if he's over-tired or his blood-sugar has crashed ;-). He's a prolific talker, and can wax eloquently(?) for long periods of time about Octonauts or Wild Kratts, should a victim arise who will listen ;-).

Life is full. Challenging, but still good. God works all together for good for those He has called, and I count myself blessed to be of His number.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Heidi Annaliese's Birth

Short G-rated version:

Our fourth-born child and second daughter, Heidi Annaliese, was born on December 30th at 12:16am weighing 8 lbs even. We are grateful to God for a swift and uncomplicated labor and birth, and a healthy baby and mommy.


The longer version, for the dedicated among you who can outlast my ramblings:

My due date for this baby came and went. I was due Christmas Eve, though this was a "best guess" by an early ultrasound, as I could not remember my LMP for the life of me. Finalizing repairs on our house in Texas, a whirlwind of house showings, and a gradual return of health from our mold exposure can do that to a person ;-). Keeping track of dates was just not super-important to me ;-). I was vaguely aware of when I was pretty sure I'd ovulated and remember thinking "I should probably record my estimated ovulation, just in case I need it," but I never acted on that. The Christmas Eve due date did line up perfectly with my first positive test (and my negative test a few days earlier), so I'd say it was a reasonably accurate date.

I had really hoped to have this baby by Christmas, for no good reason except it fit my timeline. ;-) Up to that point, the baby had been in perfect LOA position for a few weeks, very low in the pelvis, and I felt pretty well physically, and aligned and ready for labor. My chiropractor had really helped with my tailbone alignment and core strength exercises the previous few months, and I'd had zero pubic bone pain or tenderness for the first pregnancy in my experience. Usually I spend the last month of pregnancy in pain when walking, because of the tenderness of the pressure of the baby on the pubic bone - even in Martin's pregnancy that overall had so much less chiropractic discomfort. So I was really feeling optimistic about my alignment and baby's chance of exiting without a huge deal.

Then I fell on our basement stairs and whacked my tailbone on Sunday, 5 days before Christmas, which set me back some in physical preparation for labor. My midwife's main concern (since the baby seemed fine and still plenty active, and I hadn't fallen on my front side) at this point was that my tailbone get a chance to heal some before going into labor, as laboring with an injured tailbone could be excruciatingly painful, particularly the pushing phase. So I went from poised-and-eager-to-go-into-labor to kind of in limbo, while waiting and wanting to have this baby, but really wanting to let my tailbone recover in the meantime.

In the 3 days after falling, I visited the chiropractor every day, which really helped. The baby had shifted its head sideways a bit after the fall and the head was no longer firmly engaged in the pelvis, but by Wednesday the 23rd, my tailbone and the rest of my skeletal system was holding alignment well, my tailbone tenderness was almost non-existent, and the baby's head was back in a nice location and sloped correctly. *phew* So we were back to the waiting game and thankful that I'd had the time I needed to get my rear back in gear, quite literally.

I was starting to get pretty discouraged a few days after Christmas, though, watching Adrian's school vacation tick slowly by and knowing when my dad and sister and brother-in-law were slated to leave (my mom had bought a one-way ticket and was able to be more flexible), and wondering if we'd spend all of Christmas break waiting and waiting. . . and I kept hoping I wouldn't have another super-late arrival like Martin.

I woke up Tuesday the 29th feeling like all the hypothetical ills of pregnancy, both physical and emotional, had descended on me. I knew this wasn't true, but it was really hard to fight off the discouragement and the intense grogginess (even after a good night's sleep) that about bowled me over and persisted throughout the day. I kept repeating to myself everything I KNEW, which is so much more true than what I FELT. I reminded myself how blessed I have been this pregnancy physically, how normal and totally within range it was to only be 5 days "late," etc., but I felt like I was fighting off demons of doubt all day. I hated it! I'd been hot-natured a lot the last month in pregnancy, but I was getting flushed and hot especially easily that day, and my fingers also were suddenly barely swollen enough to make my rings hard to get on and off. I was dragging physically and my brain was fogged, I kept messing up my words when talking. I was kind of a wreck.

It was so weird and sudden, and I had just been re-reading Baby Catcher, in which the author had the same thing happen with her pregnancies, where she would sail along just fine, loving being pregnant, and then BAM, the day before she went into labor, something happened and she felt physically and emotionally horrible, as if the weight of the world was on her, and then she woke up the next morning in labor. Anyway, I struggled through Tuesday, doing a lot of resting, and finally felt much more normal after a long late nap that afternoon.

I was feeling a lot more like myself at dinner and enjoyed playing Apples to Apples for a while after the kids went to bed. We started playing around 8pm and I had light contractions all through the game. I wasn't timing them and they weren't intense, but they were pretty often and definitely a bit more "real" feeling than all the painless Braxton-Hix contractions I'd had for weeks and weeks. But still extremely light cramping, nothing major.

After finishing our game we sat around and discussed other ideas for the evening, and we settled on watching a Poirot episode. We didn't start watching until about quarter of ten, which is rather late for me, but I said that I'd had a long good nap and knew I'd be wakeful for a while longer even if I tried to sleep, and "besides, I've been having a lot of light contractions the last couple of hours, so I'm wondering if I'm in labor."

That got everyone's attention! Adrian asked what he could do to help, and I told him the best thing he could do was leave me alone. Ha! This is so classically me in labor :-). I'm not mean or rude, but just don't want attention and certainly don't want the stroking and coaching and massaging, etc. I don't even want hand-holding or touching - from anyone. Which is why I've never invited friends or family  (except Adrian, of course!) to my births or had a doula. I want Adrian there, but he knows his main job is just to BE there, or help by getting me a drink or something. And everyone else (midwives, etc.) is there for strictly safety and other physical support reasons.

So we all sat down and got about an hour into a Poirot episode (Death on the Nile - great, calming birth episode, hehe). At some point past 10pm, I let Adrian "do something," meaning, I let him time several contractions, and then he called my midwife Kathy to let her know I was probably in labor. I was having to start concentrating some during contractions (though still wasn't noticeably acting differently and just sitting there calmly watching the movie) and they were about 5 minutes apart or so, and over a minute long. Kathy said they'd start heading our way.

One thing that was very different about how I mentally processed contractions with both this labor and with Martin's (v. Hans and Gretchen's labors) was in visualizing my cervix opening. With Hans and Gretchen, I tried (semi-successfully) to relax during each contraction, but I still had a mindset of that intense cramping being a somehow foreign thing happening to my body. (This was especially true with Hans' labor.) I really tried to recalibrate myself during Martin's pregnancy to think of the contractions as serving a very useful purpose. Not just a random collection of birth pangs that eventually ended in complete dilation, but as individual steps that were actively opening my cervix little by little. With each contraction I visually pictured the baby's head bearing down and slowly opening my cervix, and it really helped me to see each contraction as a means to an end and as a positive thing (although discomfortable and eventually painful, as labor progressed), not just something to endure.

Claire, one of the assistants, arrived maybe 30-45 minutes after Adrian called Kathy, and started getting stuff set up and getting out birth supplies - which was reassuring, as things were starting to pick up and I liked having someone on the premises who could catch a baby, if necessary. I'd offered that job to my brother-in-law, but he wasn't eager, go figure ;-). And actually, with about 30 minutes to go in the Poirot episode, with me getting up more frequently to head to the bathroom or such, Hannah and Justin just turned off the episode (we finished it the next day) and headed down to bed, without even asking us! The nerve ;-).

My parents and the kids were already settled down in the basement to sleep too, so we had the main floor to ourselves. We had vacated Martin's room, which is next to ours and has very little furniture in it, and moved the birth pool (which had been inflated but upright in our room for a few weeks) in there. I was still mainly in our bedroom for contractions, leaning a lot on the birth ball while kneeling, sometimes standing or swaying, and I was having to breathe deeply through each contraction now.

Our midwives, Kathy and Brandi, arrived before too much longer, maybe about 11:30? Not sure. And Adrian filled up the birth pool, but we quickly discovered that even our very HOT hot water heater (which we had turned on very high for the last few weeks to be ready, and had been burning our hands with for this purpose :-P) was just not enough to fill up our pool, so we ended up with a half-filled pool with tepid water at best. Kathy and Adrian started boiling water in our large stockpots to supplement, as my contractions got more intense and closer together.

I got in the water just a bit (to my waist) to get a feel for the temp, but quickly decided that I couldn't possibly relax through contractions in there, and Kathy had just checked me when she arrived, and I was at 8cm, and I didn't want to be in cold water when it came time to push. (With Martin, I went from 7cm to complete in a few minutes, and this birth was feeling like de ja vu in how it was progressing.) So I got out and moved to the bed, using the birth ball to kneel for a few more contractions. At this point they were really intense, I was having to vocalize/moan pretty loudly through them, and then I could feel the baby's head start to descend. Yep, I was definitely going to be having another land birth, not a water birth ;-).

Honestly, I still haven't figured out the best way for me to push in labor when on land. I delivered Hans in a big jacuzzi, and I didn't even have to think about positioning, which was the advantage of being buoyed up by the water. With Gretchen, I moved to the pool at 10cm, and although her birth pool dimensions and height weren't ideal and made for some positioning challenges, it was still easier than pushing out of the water. And for Martin's birth, he came so fast that I had the odd experience of not pushing at all. My body did all the work and he was out in a few pushes, and my job was basically to not add to the already-quick delivery. So I didn't know what to expect this time around.

This labor was definitely a bit different than previous ones, in that I could definitely tell that with the contractions, they stayed more productive and intense (even in transition) while I was upright, whereas with Martin's, for example, I labored on my side for most of the (short) labor, and birthed on my back, because there was no time to think about positioning and he just flew out before I could get up and get to the birth pool. I know some women like delivering in a side-lying position, but I quickly discovered with Heidi's birth that my legs were completely clamped together in that position when a contraction hit, and it would have taken a vise to get them apart during a contraction in that position. At least on my back, I had gravity to help open my pelvis, even if from many perspectives, back-delivery isn't ideal.

So when it became evident that this baby was coming NOW and the pool was not happening, I quickly settled into a back-lying position, for no other reason than the thought of increasing the intensity of pushing by squatting was NOT attractive. I did fine, though, but much like my contractions being stronger while upright, being on my back just wasn't producing very productive pushes. The baby wasn't stuck and was gradually descending, but it just wasn't as fast as it could be. After a few pushes Kathy said the baby would come either way, no worries, but it would be quicker and easier overall for me if we could just get me tilted up a bit. After my previous experience of not having to push with Martin, I had to re-calibrate the expectation that yes, I'd have to put forth some effort to push this baby out ;-).

I said I couldn't lean myself forward to be propped up so Adrian and Claire (I think?) leaned me forward and shoved some pillows behind me. It's amazing what just a little extra angle can do, and the next few pushes were definitely more efficacious, but Kathy suggested that it would be even better if I could grab my knees and lean forward, which I did. The baby's head quickly crowned after a few pushes and at that point the sensation was so intense that I couldn't hold onto my knees and asked the others to keep them in place (the only time I asked anyone to touch me the whole labor, I think!), which definitely helped. There is nothing quite like the relief of feeling a baby's head slip out, followed by the body!

Heidi immediately started wailing on exit, so we knew she had a good set of lungs! She was born at 12:16 am, and my parents and sister and brother-in-law could hear her healthy cries from the basement. They came up after a bit and waited in the living room to hear more news. We hadn't found out the gender beforehand, but as soon as she was lifted to rest on my abdomen, I could tell she was a girl. When she was weighed later, after placenta delivery and nursing and such, she was 8lbs even, which kind of cracked me up since she had measured so low in fundal height the last 6 weeks of pregnancy, for some unknown reason. Apparently she was just really low and really curled up or something! Martin was my next biggest baby at 7lbs 8oz.

The cord was a bit short, so I had to wait for the delivery of the placenta to latch her on, but then she nursed eagerly while we both got examined. I had a few minor skid marks, but didn't need stitching. I basically have had minor tears in the exact same place with all 4 deliveries. I've been stitched the other 3 times, but this time my midwife suggested letting it heal on its own and lessening the scarring as a result. So it was kind of nice not to have to pause for stitching up, and I've had very little tenderness and no swelling this time around.

For the first delivery in my experience, my midwives were also able to offer some easing and support with pushing. That's not as possible in a water birth (but the water can help with that), and Martin flew out too quickly, but this time as I started to push and as the baby's head crowned, our midwife Brandi gently stretched my perineum and massaged it with some arnica oil, which definitely was not a pleasant sensation, but I could definitely tell it helped, along with the hot compresses they used.

We are so grateful to God for an easy birth, and once again, I really enjoyed being able to stay at home and not worry about birthing in a car or anything. It's nice to settle into your own bed to rest after the birth. I've also birthed in a birth center (for Hans) and a hospital (for Gretchen), and they weren't horrid experiences and great options to have. I think a woman should pick a birth option with providers that are skilled and respectful of them, but that doesn't have to exclude non-homebirth options :-). But it's also nice that so many non-American nations ;-) recognize the safety and even benefits of homebirth for low-risk women. I'm grateful for the option for myself!

And for handy reference, my other birth stories:

Hans Friedrich

Gretchen Liesl

Martin Wilhelm

Sunday, November 08, 2015

My Favorite Things (Baby Edition)

Prepping for Baby #4, and it's so fun to pull out baby items and clothes and remember using them with our previous kids, and anticipating using them again with this new little one :-). It reminds me of some of the things I've loved using the most over the years. And it reminds me of some of the things I used to love, but don't find as essential anymore. Or things I didn't used to own, that I'm glad I do now! My preferences change a bit with each baby.

I find it fun to find out what other moms use the most, what they don't use at all, and which things they consider optional. The point in this post is NOT to draw a line in the sand, act like someone is crazy for purchasing "unnecessary items," or is a bad mom if they use x, y, or z, or if they DON'T own and use t, u, or v. Good grief, we can be more mature, I think. This is purely for informational and interest purposes. No name calling, no "camps" that we need to place ourselves into, k? I just find the subject interesting :-).

So anyway, here are a few lists that I made, and I'm curious what you would put in each list. Feel free to share in comments.

My "If I Was Re-Acquiring All My Baby Stuff, This Is What I'd Get Again" List
  • onesies, 2 dozen in the newborn size and 1 dozen in bigger sizes. All other clothes are optional, seriously. Fun, but optional. 
  • burp rags, 1-2 dozen. Two of my babies did a lot of spitting up. 
  • drool bibs, 2+ dozen. Because one of my babies was prolific in drooling, and one could go through up to a dozen bibs in a few hours from her spit-up. 
  • a baby bath tub or baby bath holder. Because, yes, I can use the sink or larger tub, but babies are slippery and I don't have a good grip ;-D. Also 1-2 small baby towels, because newborns become engulfed in a full-size towel!  
  • a carrier like an Ergo. We use ours many hours daily from about 5 months onward. LOVE. This is my #1 essential after onesies and diapers, seriously. 
  • a newborn wrap, for the pre-Ergo stage. (Not a huge fan of the Ergo infant insert.) We own a Boba Wrap
  • a stroller. We currently own a Sit 'n Stand. I prefer to hold/wear my babies, but it's also nice to have a stroller option, especially as they get older. 
  • a baby bed. We co-sleep for the most part, but find that something like a co-sleeper or pack 'n play is still really nice to have, and gets used as well - currently we plan to use a pack 'n play for a back-up option with this baby. 
  • a baby holder like a bouncer. I don't use it much, but it's nice to have one on hand :-). 
  • cloth diapers. It's kind of an obsession; I like a mix of prefolds with covers, fitteds with covers, and a few pocket diapers for outings. Most of my stash is homemade, so I don't have particular brand recommendations, though I've tried a few "store-bought" types. 
  • disposable diapers. Because I'm just not hard-core enough to care if I use some newborn diapers to help ease the transition with a new baby, for those nasty meconium poops, or when my baby gets a yeast rash, and also sometimes for outings. And for vacations. 
  • large waterproof pads that work for diaper changes, crib liners, bed pads, and all manner of things. I have about 10 hospital-grade ones that a nursing home was getting rid of as they switched brands. These are in great condition after constant use by us for over 5 years! 
  • a few warm blankets, and also a few thin woven cotton blankets for swaddling 
  • nasal aspirator. Invaluable for one of my kids who cried a lot as a baby and was constantly stuffing up his nose! I get a new one with each baby, use for a few months and then TOSS. They do not get saved indefinitely. ICK. And people think the Nose Frida is unhygienic - ha! 
  • a decent thermometer. I let low-grade fevers run their course, and my favorite thermometer is a kiss on the forehead, but it's really nice to know an exact temp sometimes, to gauge if intervention is needed! 
  • a diaper cream. Because although I've found most rashes are prevented with frequent changes, sometimes it happens. I mainly use Butt Paste because it seriously works and it's easy to find and is relatively cheap. Sometimes I make my own salve with herbs. 
  • basic mild baby soap. We use Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild for both body wash and shampoo. 
  • nursing pads. I leak a lot the first 6 months or so. I have about 1 dozen pairs, most of which I made, A layer of waterproof fabric, a layer or two of absorbent, and a layer of suede or micro-fleece. 
  • a carseat. We're using a convertible this time. But as long as it's rear-facing, properly installed, and your baby is over the minimum weight and under the maximum height, there are lots of safe options :-). 
  • chocolate, always chocolate. And other food. Because I laugh when people say Mommy's Milk is "free." They've never seen the increase in my grocery budget because my metabolism doubles while nursing! 

My "I Really Like Having This, But Wouldn't Prioritize a Re-Purchase if I Had Limited Resources" List
  • Baby Legs. I admit this was something I thought was SO silly with my first baby. But they've grown on me and I really love how easy they are to warm legs but not have to take off for diaper changes. I especially love them for little baby girls, but even used them for my younger boy. (They are WAY over-priced, though, and I'd never pay full price. They're actually easy to make from adult knee socks!) 
  • A few headbands for a baby girl. Totally unnecessary, but adorable. 
  • Aden + Anais blankets. The feel of these is just superior, they are breathable, lightweight, large, and great for so many things, from swaddling to a quick nursing cover. 
  • Nose Frida. It's nice to have an alternative option to the bulb, but I wouldn't rate it up with super-important. 
  • a few extra babywearing options. We currently own a mei tai and a woven ring sling, and both get some use, but not as much as our other options. 

My "I Can't Decide If I Like Or Hate This Item" List 
  • nursing cover. Controversy aside, my babies kick, they flash me, and they're active. And depending on the stage they're in, the nursing cover can be more or less helpful. My aim is to nurse as discreetly as reasonable, and sometimes that means using a cover. But I don't nurse in bathrooms, and have been known to find a quiet room or hallway, or nurse in a worship service, depending on what works that day. I usually use this more for the itty bitty stage and use it less and less as they get older. Nursing a toddler with a cover has NEVER worked for me. 
  • infant carrier seat. We've used one for our first 3, but are not for our fourth, for various reasons. They've gotten less convenient with each baby, as each has gotten fatter more quickly than the previous ones, and there are just more and more safety precautions (by the manufacturers and by the AAP) coming out that restrict many of the versatile ways we've used them in the past. They CAN be used safely, but there are a lot of unsafe ways to use them too! They are also an incredible expense for something that is only used for a few months and then expires after 6 years. And bulky to store for 2+ years between babies. 
  • infant safety gates. We've owned them at times and not at others; they seem like they simultaneously create and solve safety issues - ha! 
  • baby monitor. Basic sound-only option. Useful, and I've owned them for one baby and not two others, and we currently have one someone handed-us-down for this baby - but it's a not-oft-used item here, and just one more thing we own that takes up room. My babies often sleep in a wrap or the Ergo, so it's not even always helpful. But when we're in a multi-level house and they're napping on a bed/crib, it is sometimes nice to have. 
  • breast pump. My babies have never taken bottles and it seems like a total waste of space to own a breast pump, but it's also been handy a handful of times to have a manual one around to help clear a really bad clog. So I keep it. *shrugs* 
  • sippy cup. We've owned ONE sippy cup over the years and it's gotten very little use, but it's also nice to have for the rare occasion like a car trip. *shrugs* 
  • nursing bras. Helpful, but kind of superfluous and regular ones adapt just fine ;-). 
  • baby hats. My babies rarely need them, and they tend to fall off, but there are rare occasions when they're helpful. I'd honestly rather keep them warm by snuggling and kissing their head ;-). 
  • I have similar sentiments regarding baby socks, and prefer baby booties (which are more likely to stay on) or footed onesies. 
  • baby swing. Sort of useful, especially for babies who like motion, and those times when Mommy really does need some extra hands, but SUCH a short-lived use before baby outgrows, and takes up a lot of space on the floor. 

My "I Used to Own This, But Choose Not to Anymore" List 
  • exersaucer. Someone passed me on a used one and I used it for a while, but it was SUCH a large footprint and didn't wow me, so I passed it on to someone else. 
  • nursing stool. Can you say "tripping hazard"? And once I had a toddler, the toddler thought it was his own personal-sized stool, so who ended up using it? ;-P 
  • nursing pillow. Invaluable for my first baby, and I'd recommend it for a first-time mom or a mom who had a baby with latch issues, multiples, etc. Virtually unused for my other two kids and just one more item to store. 
  • single stroller. Very helpful for a single child! Semi-useful for a second child. Not so much after that. 
  • velcro swaddle blanket. They never fit tightly enough (and isn't that the point of the swaddle?), and my first was our "Houdini" who always got out of them anyway. 
  • diaper bag. A backpack serves the purpose and is more versatile. It also fits my babywearing contraptions better ;-). 
  • crib. This never got much use and took up SO much room. 
  • scratch mitts. Socks are so versatile and can be used for the same purpose. And they are already hard enough to keep track of. Why do I need to keep track of TWO types of tiny objects that need matches?! 
  • plastic teether things. My first two babies never liked them, and I'd rather them not chew on plastic anyway ;-). They get enough plastic chewing with Duplos, without me encouraging the practice. Hehe. 
  • baby powder 
  • shopping cart cover. My oldest promptly pulled it aside and chewed on the cart handle, and I gave up. I just wear my babies while shopping until they're about 18 months old. They're happier (I get so many comments about my cheerful tag-alongs when they're worn!) and by 18 months, I figure their immune system can handle the cart germs. 
  • Hyland's teething tablets. Never worked for my kids AT ALL. 
  • an exercise ball. I actually really liked this and it was very helpful for my fussy first baby, and I'd kind of like another one. But I haven't replaced my old one (which had a good life), partially because I'm too cheap, and partly because it would just become a very large projectile toy with a 2, 5, and 7yo in the house. I try to pick my battles :-P. 

My "Popular Things I've Never Owned/Used" List 
  • changing table. They make me nervous, and are another piece of furniture, and a bed works just fine. The floor and couch also work in a pinch. 
  • pacifiers 
  • formula. Blessed with a good milk supply! 
  • baby food. My plate is available to them, and forks are handy mashers. 
  • wipes warmer  
  • crib mobile 
  • Bumbo 
  • baby shoes 
  • Johnny-jump-up. I try to avoid crotch danglers because of chiro cautions. 
  • Baby Bjorn, for the same reason :-). 
  • nursing-specific tops/dresses. Because I nurse all the time. I really don't want to re-vamp my entire wardrobe, but would rather just adapt what I have. That's what 2-piece outfits are for :-). 
  • amber teething necklace 
  • baby oil and baby lotion. My babies haven't been rashy, and I don't bathe them over-much, so their skin doesn't get dry. 
  • a nursery. Yeah, one of those special rooms for baby that is ADORABLE and has awesome decorations. My babies have all slept in our room for well over a year and they have yet to be in therapy for the general (non-baby) decor on the master bedroom walls ;-). My 2yo is actually my first toddler who has even had decorations on his wall. Oops. 

My "Trying Something New This Time" List 
  • a pack 'n play with a bassinet insert. This option replaces our basic pack 'n play and our co-sleeper; less to store, and will hopefully still fit our needs well :-). 
  • nursing camis 
  • a slightly different kind of baby bath holder 
  • maple teething ring. This was given to me by my chiropractor. Maple is supposed to be non-splintery. Any opinions or advice on using this? I haven't researched it yet. 

My "Items I Would Like to Try In The Future, But Don't Currently Own" List 
  • a stretchy lightweight wrap 
  • a good-quality strong-but-light woven wrap 
  • a post-partum belly wrap 
  • rubber teething toy like Sophie the Giraffe 

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Fall 2015 School Plans

(Oh, btw, we live in Kansas now. We're so happy to be living in not-Texas. We're also expecting #4 in December. We're happy about that too.)

Short version: we're still homeschooling and Hans is in 2nd grade and Gretchen is preschool-age. Martin is still mischievous (and we love him dearly ;-D).


Long version: for those who, like me, get some sort of thrill out of reading the why's and wherefore's of curriculum choices and such.

Hans turned 7 over the summer and is in 2nd grade. He is my reader and philosopher and generally prefers the humanities to anything else :-). Give him a book on history or science to read, and he's engrossed. Or give him super heroes :-P. He's really into super heroes too. Agh. He is definitely a first child when in comes to dictating how imaginary play should happen among siblings ;-).

Gretchen will be 5 at the beginning of October and is in grade level I-don't-know-what-to-call-her. And this is why homeschooling is cool. Because it doesn't matter what grade or non-grade she's in and we'll just keep carrying-on, thankyouverymuch. She's sort of in kindergarten and sort of in preschool, though honestly, I've done so little formal schooling with her. But somehow we're over half way through phonics and most of the way done with a kindergarten math book set. And she knows how to handwrite. She picks up a lot of stuff herself. And we'll just see how much more schooling gets done this year.

I'm hoping to be done with phonics and the math book (which is really basic - like all K math should be!) before Baby is born in December. We could do this at a leisurely pace, and whether or not it gets done mainly depends on me remembering to do work with her :-D. But she also gets a lot of "trickle-down effect" in learning from participating in some of Hans' school, at her own choosing, and from plenty of oral reading.

I actually have a lot of thoughts on preschool and kindergarten and how it can look SO different for different children and still net similar results, and why we chose different "types" of preschool/kindergarten work for Hans and Gretchen, based on their own styles of learning and our own life circumstances, and the pros and cons of both approaches. I might type that up into a separate post on preschool. . .

Martin turned 2 in June and cracks us up with his mischief. The kids call him "Trouble," and it's a very accurate moniker. In Hans' spelling today, we were discussing homophones, and I asked Hans to give me two sentences, one with the word "no" and one with the word "know." Without hesitation he blurted out "No, Martin!" as his first sentence. Yep, that about sums Martin up. Haha. He's cost us more in gray hairs and doctor's and chiropractor bills than the other two, and keeps us on our toes. He's also such a good cuddler and finally weaned (per Mommy's initiation) recently. He's been our most prolific early talker and cracks us up with what he comes up with to say. He is a very enthusiastic casual user of the large porcelain object, and we're hoping to yank diapers before too long.

But back to school. . . We took May off from school while Mommy packed and threw up. Then our house closed in late May and as part of our move transition, since our house sold so quickly, the kids and I spent 6 weeks in Oklahoma in limbo, while Adrian stayed back in Houston finishing up his summer job. So we got a little ahead in school. Whee! We only did math, spelling, geography, catechism, and zoology over the summer, though, to keep it light (and not every subject every day), and so I could leave some of our books in storage and not haul them all to Oklahoma :-D. We then took July off from school, and dove back in the first week of August after a few weeks of settling into Kansas life.

Right now an ideal school day for us looks like:

Start around 8:30 or 9:00.

History first. We're doing Veritas again and delving into Ancient Greece and Rome, mixed in chronologically with Bible events. Fun stuff. We review our history timeline song, do some readings from the week's particular history topic (this week is on Homer and Greek Mythology; we just did the division of Israel), and Hans might do a worksheet or we'll all do a project together.

Geography next. We're using Classical Conversations geography table again as our backbone, for Hans to do each week. We don't do CC and never have, but I still love some things about their curriculum. One thing I like is how simple their geography grammar is to incorporate. The link above has a simple video that explains how to use the table - which is just a laminated folded map with geography locations to learn and trace each week.

We're doing cycle 2 geography this year, which focuses mainly on Europe and works well into our Greece and Rome study, because of similar geography. Last year the cycle 1 table fit in perfectly with our Ancient Egypt Veritas study initially, but the towards the end of the year it deviated some, which is fine for the most part, as I'm just trying to give exposure to major geographical features. Gretchen is just getting basic exposure to the globe and maps and such, nothing formal. She loves tracing, so has been doing some tracing of maps.

Also, we still have our set of 6 Geopuzzles, and try to pull those out periodically. We've been mainly focusing on the Europe one, but mix it up and do different ones also.

Math after geography. We're still using Singapore math and Hans should be done with the level 2 books in the next few weeks (note to self: order the next books!). I love how simple Singapore is, without extra fluff. But still does a great job teaching a solid set of topics and I LOVE how many word problems they incorporate seamlessly, so it's not the "extra hard, scary type of problem."

We use the U.S. editions of the books, because we don't live in Singapore and therefore don't use metric primarily (but the U.S. does incorporate plenty of metric units into the books too). And we're not using the alternate editions written for the U.S. - the Standards edition and the Common Core edition - because I don't trust curricula that are arbitrarily written to conform to national standards. Ha! If the U.S. edition isn't broke, don't fix it!

English is level 2 Shurley English for Hans. Hans really does well with this curriculum, and I like the structure of it. It's not overwhelming so far. I know Shurley has a reputation of being "rigorous," but so far (we did Level 1 last year and are one week 6 of level 2 this year) I feel like it's been very step-by-step doable for us. He's come a long way on his willingness and ability to express thoughts in written sentence form (the child has never had trouble verbally expressing himself!), and has learned a good deal about classifying sentences for part of speech, etc. And Martin loves the Jingles CD with all the rhymes for definitions and begs for "Tingles" whenever he sees me get it out.

After English we sometimes break for a snack and some play time. We live across the street from a park, so sometimes we go over there if it's nice, or just play in our backyard, which is awesome because it isn't overrun with fire ants and is not a swamp. Kansasforthewin.

Hans often just wants to plow through subjects, though, so we often do Spelling next without a break. We've taken a rather unusual, non-coordinated path to spelling. Hans was reading fluently before he was 5, but we delayed and delayed formal spelling with him, contrary to the advice of all the experts, who say you don't want to do that and want to start spelling at completion of phonics, so "bad spelling habits" aren't formed.

But Hans is Hans and we really felt like this was right for him. He is one who WANTS to spell correctly and would always ask how to spell something correctly, so bad habits weren't forming ;-). Plus, he was reading constantly, often at high grade levels, so was constantly exposed to great vocabulary and proper spelling. I toyed with starting him in spelling last year, but we felt like the school work he was doing at the time was enough of a "stretch" for him in terms of handwriting commitment. Until recently he has seen any kind of letter formation writing activity as a mild form of torture. :-D He's come a long way in his attention span and his willingness to do extra writing in the past 6 months, and now spelling is not a stress and he is doing great with it! He was NOT ready before, and now he is. That's why I love homeschooling. Plus, the funny thing is that the spelling curriculum we're using, The Grammar of Spelling by Logos Press, starts at 2nd grade level anyway, so I guess it all worked out. ha!

Next we do Catechism, using Catechism for Young Children. Last year we keyed questions and answers into a free online flashcard program called Anki, and then used Anki to keep up on review and cycling through everything evenly and introducing new material. That was fine, but honestly, I'm enjoying just doing it the "old-fashioned" way right now, by asking them questions and answers (and corresponding Bible memory verses) straight from our little 'ole catechism book. While we were without a computer in Oklahoma for the summer, we reverted back to not using Anki, and I'm liking it.

At this point, school is usually done for the morning. Unless we catch a grasshopper and the kids stare at it and shriek in delight for a solid hour or something. But usually, done.

In the afternoon, while Martin naps Hans and Gretchen either read quietly together or apart or play in the basement together. After naps and snack, a few times a week we read from our Zoology 1 book about flying creatures. Sometimes Gretchen listens in, but usually it's Hans and I reading alone. We are pretty casual with science, and I like that. I'm just trying to interest the kids in various aspects of science and nature at this age. With our botany book, we were really consistent with keeping up with botany journals and stuff, and we haven't been as much this time. It's a lot easier to sketch a flower than a hopping grasshopper, let's just say :-P. Plus, I feel like the botany book had a lot more journaling ideas. We have snatched many random opportunities to watch/study/catch insects while outside, but haven't journaled about them much.

We have really enjoyed the Apologia elementary books we've done. (We did botany last year, before the Zoology 1 book) The books are so accessible and conversational, but are packed with great science. Most elementary science books are PAINFUL to read because of how random the topics are arranged, but I love how Apologia takes a topic and studies it in detail, at an appropriate and accessible level.

I'm trying to decide if we're going to deviate and do the astronomy book next (we will finish Zoology 1 sometime in the fall, probably - we're starting and stopping at odd times of the year) or if we'll go straight into Zoology 2 on swimming creatures. But before either Apologia option, I told the kids after we finished the Zoology book we'd do a 10-week cycle for anatomy again. A few years ago when Hans was preschool age, we used the My Body book to make life-size body posters for Hans and Gretchen, as we studied each of the body systems (at simple, age-appropriate levels - a few great books to supplement are The Human Body or First Human Body Encyclopedia), and since then they've been asking me when we get to do it again. Martin will love to participate this time - fun!

Adrian also recently started teaching piano lessons to both Hans and Gretchen - recorder too for Gretchen because she was interested! So on most school days, they have short lessons with him when he gets home from school. Also at bedtime, Adrian reads out loud to them. The kids had a ton of fun reading up on Greek myths with Adrian (he  read them D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths and also just finished Black Ships Before Troy). They are now reading The Lost Princess by George MacDonald. Gretchen is more excited about the latter than Hans is ;-).

And that's how our school year is looking so far. Ideal days almost never happen, so this is just a rough mock-up of how a day is SUPPOSED to go ;-). Ha! I make a high priority of doing history, math, English, and spelling virtually every day, and geography most days. Catechism usually happens 3-5 days a week, and zoology is anywhere from 1-4 days a week. And after our new baby arrives around Christmas, things will have to be even more creative to get school done.

So because I'm a curriculum nerd, I would love to know what others are using in homeschooling :-). I love all the options out there today, and hearing what other families find works for them, even if very different from my own choices. So please share!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

House Rules v. Universal Laws

This concept has been rummaging around in my head for a year or two, but I've never managed to actually type out a post on it until now. I find it very interesting how much the category of house rules is confused with the category of moral or "universal" laws.

Now, let me make it clear that I think boundaries are INCREDIBLY helpful for young kids. This is what I mean by "house rules." By house rules, I merely mean basic rules and/or principles and/or patterns of behavior that are deemed acceptable for a given household. Many of these rules relate specifically to behavior literally "in the family's house" (such as whether or not children can climb on furniture) and some are a bit more general and just relate to how the family expects children (and hopefully adults too!) to behave in most circumstances (whether a child is allowed to "ask" for something at a grocery store, for example, or the typical term of respect a child uses for an adult, such as "ma'am" or "Mrs. Smith.")

These "house rules" - expectations and behaviors - vary quite a bit among households. And that's not a bad thing. After all, I don't remember treatment of furniture having detailed guidelines in the Old Testament, outside of extenuating circumstances like guidelines related to mold :-D. We have a very general principle in the Old Testament of treating our neighbor's property well and just a few specific examples. But for one family, protection of another's property might mean "don't cut holes in the furniture, but feel free to romp and play on the couches," while another family might prefer a "couches and upholstered chairs are for sitting only, and no shoes on the furniture" type of rule. There's nothing wrong with either approach.

What I find frustrating is when house rules are confused with moral or universal laws, though.

(By moral law, I mean the summation of right and wrong found in the 10 commandments and expounded upon in many other laws in the Old Testament. But regardless if you have an absolute view of the authority of scripture, each person has SOME idea of what they consider right and wrong, so whatever that is, that's YOUR "moral law." If you see someone murder someone and are shocked, that's your moral law. I'll try to refer to this category as "universal rules" to avoid confusion and recognize that we don't all start with the same set of moral laws, but that we have some general "this is wrong" ideas, among families.)

And I see confusion happening a lot. Sometimes in daily life, while interacting with friends and relations, and often on blog posts and other online venues.

We have the "when I was a child, I didn't speak at the dinner table unless spoken to," as if children are somehow born innately with a moral compass that pricks their conscience if they speak at the dinner table, rather than treating such a rule as something that the adult in question was taught and was expected IN THEIR HOUSEHOLD. How on earth can we expect or care if a child talks at the dinner table, unless they have been instructed not to do so?!

We also have the "that mom sure is strict with her kids and doesn't even let them run around in the house." As if, you know, running inside is an inalienable right that all children should have in all circumstances.

Both of the above comments are judging a child or parent's conduct and/or rules based on the a confusion of the moral law and a house rule. And when this most perplexes me is when people feel the need to address the CHILD and correct the CHILD for a non-moral "failing," when the correcting adult in question is totally removed from the situation, or is at least removed from the situation enough to not have a foggy clue if the rule in question is one that has ever been taught to the child. Please don't fault a child for something they were never taught!

Before I go on, an important clarification: I have always always ALWAYS, from the time my oldest was very young, made it very clear to friends and relations that I appreciate it when they aid me in correcting my child or cluing me in to my child's behavior. I make a point of THANKING someone (not being offended) if a friend informs me that my child X is hitting another child, and I quickly go deal with the situation. But that applies in moral situations. Few parents would think it's okay for one child to hit another.

Another clarification, even in non-universal situations, I welcome concerned people who see my children doing something and WONDER if they are allowed to do it, and then ask me. I consider that a favor they are doing for me, to look out for my children and myself, and then ask me if behavior X is okay. That is a totally cool way to clue in a parent without confusing house rules and UNIVERSAL rules. If an adult sees my children outside whacking a baseball bat against a tree (in my yard) and ask me "do you want them doing that?," that's a cool way to deal with the situation! They understand that it's my tree, my child, my bat, my yard. No one is currently getting harmed. They realize there are two sides to the situation and in case I don't want the event to occur (because many people would not want it), they are cluing me in. But if they are the adult outside and suddenly freak out at my child that they are hitting the tree, that honestly just leaves me scratching my head.

UNLESS IT'S THEIR YARD. (Well, the freaking is still a bit petty, but the immediate correction is not.) Which brings me to an important subset of house rules: the house rules of other people. It's all well and good to have expectations in your house that differ from others, as long as your children are able to transition to the rules of others at their house, or you are able to help them be clued in and respond accordingly. If we owned our own yard (we currently don't), I honestly wouldn't care if my son was beating the tree with a bat, but you better believe that if we are at someone else's house, if he was doing so, I would immediately ask him to stop "because it's not our tree, and we wouldn't want to accidentally hurt it."

Same with furniture. I let my children stand on our couch (but they can't jump), even with shoes sometimes, and use cushions and stuff for "playing horses," but I wouldn't let them do that at someone else's house unless we checked on house rules there first. That obviously gets tricky because young children are not always going to realize "oh this is a house rule, not a UNIVERSAL rule," and know to ask. That's why adult supervision (within reason) is a good idea when friends come or go to play ;).

So let's do some categorization:

"Jumping on furniture is okay." HOUSE RULE
"Do not cut up cushions with scissors." Technically, it isn't in itself a moral problem without more information, can we all just agree that it's a UNIVERSAL RULE, barring extending circumstances?! And that an adult can legitimately leap in and tell someone to stop (even looking horrified) before asking questions?

"No fighting." HOUSE RULE (some households are totally cool with vigorous playing and wrestling)
"Don't hit people in anger." I hope it's a UNIVERSAL RULE to everyone.

"Finish all your food on your plate before getting down." HOUSE RULE
"Don't eat food that has been on the floor." HOUSE RULE
"No one is allowed to say they don't like the food." HOUSE RULE.
"Whining or yelling that you won't eat the food is not allowed." Technically not a UNIVERSAL RULE, but awfully close.

"No rough housing in the house." HOUSE RULE
"Do not bowl over small children while rushing through hallways at breakneck speed." UNIVERSAL RULE (I hope?)

"Brush your teeth after every meal." HOUSE RULE
"Wipe dribbling yuck off your mouth and chin as you eat." UNIVERSAL RULE, generally. I guess there could be exceptions ;-).
"Bathe every night before bed." HOUSE RULE
"Children have to be totally clothed at all times, unless bathing." HOUSE RULE

"One dessert per day." HOUSE RULE
"No snacking between meals." HOUSE RULE
"Children need to ask before getting food to eat." HOUSE RULE
"Do not throw food all over the kitchen." I think we can call this a UNIVERSAL RULE

So summary to all my meandering:

I like help watching my kids. I have three (going on four) and the boys are a handful, at the very least :-D. If you see them doing something that is an obvious universal rule, please feel free to leap in and correct them. If it is remotely possible that my children's behavior might be inappropriate or violating a rule they have been taught, please feel free to either

(a) ask me if they should be doing X, or
(b) ask THEM if they should be doing X.

I honestly don't mind if you address my children directly if I'm not around or if I'm not right there or if it just seems easier, assuming you're not saying something to them (or me) in a certain tone that might undermine my authority and my rules in front of or to my child. I just think it makes sense sometimes to address the child directly, and other times it makes more sense to address the mom. The adult doing the questioning can normally figure out which works better, given proximity to both parties, attention of both parties, etc.

I have to admit I don't "get" moms who rail about "that idiot stranger who dared to correct or question her child." What I DO "get" is moms who feel frustrated that an adult (stranger or not) freaks out at their child for doing something that either the child might have been told they CAN do, or for doing something that the child shouldn't do (at someone else's house, eg) but might have no idea they shouldn't. Children are not born with a lot of common sense. If their parent allows them to jump on couches, why should we fault them if they start jumping on someone else's couch? This is not the 11th commandment. Don't freak out, just calmly ask them not to jump on YOUR couch, and I will totally back you :-D.

Kids need to learn to respect other people's property and follow the house rules of other people. But adults also need to learn to respect the house rules of other parents and not fault a child for what they've never been taught or mock another parent's rules in the presence of the parent's child. Common sense, folks.

So now I'm curious: what are some "different" house rules you have that might not be typical? We're kind of a mixed household with rules, and some of our rules are considered more strict than necessary, while others are considered more lax than is common.