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I got pregnant with my first child at 21, during the summer following my first year of law-school. I remember walking to the pharmacy in a daze. The pharmacy ran pregnancy tests for $7. That was half the price of the home pregnancy kits!! I soon understood why anyone would prefer paying the extra $7 to get a pregnancy result in the privacy of their bathroom. The pharmacist said: “It’s positive.” I said: “Positive means I’m not pregnant right?” But I knew. I had seen my busty profile in the window of the pharmacy walking-in. I knew for sure.
Despite a few tell-all signs of pregnancy, I had visited a walk-in clinic a few weeks earlier asking for a throat swab. I thought I had strep throat because I was craving popsicles and I was always on the verge of throwing up. I told the doctor: “I have cramps, my periods are 2 weeks late, I’m nauseous all the time. Could this be strep throat?” So he did what any doctor with a clue about the birds and the bees would do: he took a throat swab. That test was negative.
As I was walking out of the pharmacy, I was counting the months on my fingers to see if I could finish my second year of law school. I was due April 17th, during exam week. Well, it wasn’t that bad I thought, I’ll be able to finish my year and write my exams.
I went through my second year of law school pregnant. I was sick as a dog. I have two vivid memories of doing law school pregnant: one where I am uncomfortable, sitting in the lecture hall’s plastic chairs. My regular pants are getting too small. They are riding up my legs and digging into my waist. This is after Christmas, I am almost 20 weeks pregnant and thinking I will either buy pregnancy clothes or kill someone. In the other memory, I am wriggling my way across an entire row of plastic chairs during a lecture on civil proof to go throw-up. I made it.
I made arrangements with the Dean to write my exams after my due-date. I thought that writing exams 3 weeks postpartum would be better than 40 weeks pregnant (pro-tip: it’s not). On my last day of classes, I took the bus back home and someone asked me: “When are you due?” I said “Next week.” That evening, I went to the hospital in labour. My daughter was born with the sunrise the next morning.
What would I say to the young woman finding herself pregnant in the middle of her university education? First, you can do it. It won’t be easy but you can do it. Don’t expect understanding, a red carpet or a special parking pass. You will be facing harsh judgement coming from your peers, your teachers and the administration. Few people will give you favours unless they have to by statute or regulation. Remember those who go the extra mile for you: someday, you will extend the same generosity to someone else.
You are pregnant now, soon you will deliver. Delivering a child will give you a sense of perspective, a new understanding of what truly matters. Being a mother will empower you. This feeling of empowerment will seep through every aspect of your life and give thrust to your studies as you face the challenges at hand. You will take that Queenship of the Universe with you back to University and beat the crap out of your degree.
You will face harsh and underserved judgement. Some people think that getting knocked-up is never an accident, that you should have known better. Some people will not know what to say in the face of an unplanned pregnancy. Many people will look at you with a mix of contempt and pity and ask: “You’re not keeping it are you?” as if you would be announcing a pregnancy you were about to end. Some women, and that’s what took me the longest time to accept and understand, will be angry at you. They will shun you for putting a face on something they thought was impossible. In hindsight, I have accepted that these women were suffering more than I was. But it was so hurtful at the time, feeling like pregnancy made me a leper, an uncool, an outcast. Know that this will not last. For the community of cool that you are losing, there is an equally sleep-deprived — if less fashionable — community of parents ready to embrace you.
You will come out smarter on the other side. You will be working harder when it’s no longer just your ass on the line. You think you will have less time with a baby on your hip but don’t underestimate the time it takes your peers to manage their social life. Motherhood will focus you and give you a new appreciation for what matters: both in small and in big things. You will focus on the essential and perform with surgical precision. You will start your end-term papers as soon as you get the course outline and write 2 pages a day until it’s done. End-term all-nighter cramming sessions are a thing of the past. You will work around it and discover a better, more mature way. Baby will force you to take breaks, sometimes entire days off, and your brain will thank you in your report card.
You and your priorities will change. Don’t sweat the student stuff. I wasted so much mental energy worrying about my inability to take part in moot-court competitions, out-of-town placements, student exchanges and fancy articling jobs in the best Montreal firms. In the end, I graduated with no desire to join the law firm rat race. I oriented my career on a different path. And that’s ok.
Try not to get caught-up in the latest baby gear must-have and other parenting fads. They are costly and unnecessary. A baby’s needs are simple: babies need care and affection. Breastfeed, sleep in the same room, buy a second-hand stroller and a good baby carrier. At some point you will need a second-hand high chair. Financially-speaking, I was fortunate to have a boyfriend-now-husband who had a stable job as a junior military officer: our income was small but reliable and my parents were taking care of my tuition. It will be difficult enough to make ends meet without trying to keep-up with the older, richer, Joneses.
Finally, don’t get angry if academia doesn’t give you any freebies. Just deal. Be a honey badger. The workplace won’t give you any freebies, so you might as well get used to it early.
Two of my girls — the first girl I gave birth to and our nanny — embarked on a Whole 30 challenge at the beginning of March and successfully completed it today. As the family cook and principal grocery shopper, I am equally proud and relieved that it is finally over.
I’m proud of them because it’s one thing to do the Whole 30 in all its restrictive goodness when you are fat, middle-aged, and suffering from a host of chronic conditions; it’s another thing to do it when you are young, healthy and beautiful with not a single pound to lose.
I have to bear some responsibility for switching my family on to the Whole 30. In December 2014 I hit the proverbial wall and on a friend’s recommendation, with my husband’s support, I went for it.
I have always been able to lose most of my baby weight — slowly — in between pregnancies. I am the proud owner of a metabolism that doesn’t gain weight easily and doesn’t lose it easily. For my first 7 pregnancies, I would gain 30 lbs while pregnant, lose 10 giving birth, gain another 10 while breastfeeding and eventually shed it after weaning. After the twins were born, I went on Weight Watcher to lose that pesky 20lbs because it wasn’t coming off on its own and that’s when my health went pear-shaped. As soon as I restricted calories, I started gaining weight. That spurred me into more restrictions, believing — as I was told all my life — that the only reason one gains weight is because more calories go in than come out. So I cut back, and I gained weight. I ran longer distances, and I gained weight. I became anemic, and I gained weight. I counted how many carrots I ate with my tablespoon of hummus and I gained weight. I realized that an avocado was as many calories as a double chocolate chip muffin. I stopped eating avocados and I gained weight. I replaced sugar by Splenda in all my baking and I gained weight. And every week, the Weight Watcher app would tell me:
“Ooops, you gained. You’ll try harder next week.”
I tried some more and I gained some more. I had my thyroid checked and was told it was normal (it wasn’t but that’s a whole other post). I was discouraged and overwhelmed. I felt guilty every time I ate something I enjoyed.
Then I got pregnant with Damien. And I gained A LOT of weight. A month after he was born, I weighed as much as I did when I was 38 weeks pregnant with the twins. I went back on Weight Watchers when he was 7 months-old. I gained 11 lbs in 6 weeks. My husband, who is really the most supportive husband I have, told me: “There is something weird happening with your body.” Seeing myself in pictures at Christmas made me cry. I lost sleep over my ballooning body. I was always on my feet, I ate well, I was making breast milk for two children, one of them exclusively breastfed. Then I saw my You Tube babywearing video, with my size 8 jeans, and I almost broke down.
I told my husband: “I am almost 200 lbs! I just need to stop gaining! I know I won’t lose much while breastfeeding but the gain must stop!” I was no longer fitting in my pyjamas. I had gone from a size 6-8 to a size 14 while doing Weight Watchers and the best my doctor had to offer was:
“Maybe you’re cheating on your food journaling.”
You went to med school for how long so you could tell me that? It was clear to me that the problem was not “how much” I ate but “what” I ate. I didn’t eat too much; I knew that from years of food journaling. The story couldn’t only be about my caloric intake. I watched this video about the effect of sugar on our metabolism and I reduced my sugar intake. That’s when I stumbled upon a friend’s testimony about the Whole 30: 30 days of strict no added sugar, no grains, no legumes and no dairy. I thought: “No way!” but the idea kept nagging at me. I knew that I couldn’t moderate my refined carbohydrate intake: I needed to punch my carb demon in the throat.The Whole 30 is not a lifetime commitment to never taste a brownie again, it’s a chance to reset your eating habits, to give more emphasis to good food and keep the less healthy stuff in proper proportion within your entire diet. It is not presented as a weight loss diet or a cleanse, but as a tabula rasa, a baseline from which to start eating well again.
On January 1st 2015, I started my Whole 30 and completed it successfully 30 days later. Other than accidentally licking a spoon of oatmeal I was making for my children, I didn’t slip. After my Whole 30, I didn’t return to my old eating habits. I still eat 80% paleo and 100% gluten-free. I allow myself milk chocolate treats, milk in my lattes when I’m not at home and occasional gluten-free baked items. I have since been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition that explains a lot of my weight gain, fatigue, and depression issues.
Since doing the Whole 30 and switching to a sort-of Paleo diet, I have noticed some positive changes in my overall health. On the whole, It has made my autoimmune condition easier to manage. Here is a bullet-list of my observations, in no particular order:
– I am much more alert during the day, especially when driving. I used to have a major slump mid-afternoon which caused me to fall asleep at the wheel. I no longer suffer from these attacks of daytime sleep. As someone who spends a fair amount of time driving young children on lonely country roads in winter, this is a welcome improvement.
– I am awake in the morning (but this might be due to a switch in my migraine meds). Still. My 5 youngest children hit the ground running at 6am sharp. It used to take me an hour or two to catch-up with them. Now I wake-up awake. I don’t want to get out of bed at 6:00am but I can.
– My night sleep is still crappy. I only ever sleep with one eye open. I am never deeply asleep. I had great hopes that the Whole 30 would address this but it hasn’t.
– My sugar and refined carbs craving are gone. At least they don’t control my life anymore.
– I have discovered the natural sweetness of food. I find almond butter sweet. I find the taste of blueberries to be an explosion in my mouth. I really appreciate the food that I eat.
– I rediscovered the sense of smell. When my friend came over with her award-winning brownies, I found that having a deep smell of them was satisfying. The smell fills your nose and mouth and your brain gets a little kick, just enough to be able to walk past them without having to eat them at all cost. My husband thinks I have a problem sniffing croissants but I think it’s awesome that I don’t feel compelled to EAT ALL THE PASTRIES (ALL THE TIME).
– I don’t feel like the pastries in front of me are the last ones I will ever have. That’s a big one. I always indulged in whatever pretty sweet things were in front of me because I had a scarcity mindset about food, even though I have never gone lacking. I think it was due to the addictive nature of sugar and refined carbs. I felt driven to indulge. And if I didn’t indulge, my mind would stay stuck on the food items. Now I feel in much better control of my eating.
– I don’t want to eat all the time. I can easily go between breakfast and lunch without a snack. I don’t even think about eating unless I am really hungry.
– When I am tired in the evening, I want to go to bed, not eat a gallon of ice cream. My body is better able to read its own signals without reverting to “EAT” automatically when it needs rest, exercise, fresh air, water or relaxation.
– Because I’m not always lusting after food or ravenously hungry, it’s easy to skip meals or snacks. I don’t get irrationally grouchy when I have to go without food.
– And from the TMI files: it really helped with my menstrual cycle, making my periods less debilitating. Although PMS perfection has come from properly diagnosing and treating my thyroid condition.
– I drink my coffee black and it no longer tastes like death warmed over.
– I have been struggling with generalized pain all my life. Tests performed in childhood and as an adult were always inconclusive and the pain remained. The Whole 30 helped a lot with pain but didn’t make it go away completely. A food intolerance panel ordered by the doctor who was investigating my thyroid dysfunction revealed that I had an intolerance to eggs and corn (among other things). Cutting the right foods from my diet has made a huge difference in my generalized pain. I saw a physician specialized in body mechanics (a physiatrist) who told me that while there was little scientific evidence linking generalized pain with diet, she saw it all the time in her practice. Especially as it concerns dairy and gluten.
– And the big question: did I lose weight? Not a whole lot. I lost 12 lbs doing the Whole 30 but I was still firmly a size 14 until I started weightlifting in summer 2016. I lost another 10 lbs when I started training. Now I’m somewhere between a size 12 and a size 10 and I haven’t lost a single pound in a year despite eating well and exercising with a personal trainer. At 180 lbs I’m still ways away from my personal “normal” of 135-140lbs but honestly, I have (almost) accepted the fact that I have done everything humanly possible to lose this wretched weight. Thanks for nothing, thyroid jerky.
My new podcast is up and ready to listen. In episode 10 of The Véro Show, I reflect on giving away things we still (think we) need, how my children are doing in school, and knowing when to say yes and when to say no to commitments.
0:00:30 – Intro and new patrons shout-out
0:07:30 – Giving until it hurts
0:18:00 – How my children are doing in school
0:34:00 – The Lumineers show and standing up for oneself by literally standing up.
0:43:00 – What if I don’t want a mediocre life?
0:52:00 – Prioritizing our commitments to get out of the “tyranny of the urgent.”
This week’s podcast is a hodge-podge of topics, from why I went with crowdfunding as opposed to advertising to support my website and podcast, where my novel is at and how we can keep our dreams and fears in check.
0:00:00 to 0:08:00 – Why I’m using crowdfunding as opposed to ad revenues to support my website and podcast.
0:08:00 to 0:30:31 – My novel: what it’s about, where it’s at and my current struggles
0:30:31 to 0:33:41 – On the blog: what I’m currently writing.
0:33:40 to 0:46:02 – Keeping our dreams alive even when they don’t make sense
0:46:02 to 0:51:00 – Fear as a measure of the importance of our projects
0:51:00 to 1:05:05 – Confidence in ourselves as a gift to others
Originally posted on Vie de Cirque on February 22, 2012
As a working mother — aren’t we all? Ok, let me try this again… As a mother who happens to work outside the home in exchange for a paycheque albeit not nearly as hard as I work inside the home for no pay and a lot more stress… I feel like I owe the universe a post on the baby-in-the House-of-Commons kerfuffle. Then my friend Andrea from Cardus sent me this link and asked if I would be interested in sharing my opinion on the topic… Well, since you asked!
The issue has been handled in the media as one of mothers in the workplace, and rightfully so, although there is the narrower issue of whether babies belong in the House of Commons. I am not only an employed mother, I am incidentally employed by the House of Commons. For more on my somewhat-less-than-glamourous political career, you can read this post (in French): Je travaille pour un député à la Chambre des communes.
Do babies belong in the House of Commons? Frankly, I don’t see why not. For all the hand-wringing about proper decorum I must ask two questions: “What decorum?” and “Is a baby the worst offense to proper House decorum than, say, Pat Martin? If you yearn for proper House decorum, why not start with Question Period and questioners who don’t ask real questions? (a Liberal specialty: “Is the Minister lying or simply too stupid to see what’s going on?” You expect the Minister to answer that?) or with members of government reading from prepared statements instead of answering genuine questions about policy or governance? You must see the House as it really is, with people coming and going, thumbing their berries, writing greeting cards, excusing themselves to the lobby for a quick bite or a meeting with staff. The House is a happenin’ place. Throw-in a baby during a vote, it would have been a regular day at the office if it hadn’t been for MPs taking pictures and causing a commotion.
To the question do babies belong in the House of Commons my answer is “Why not?” I agree with the Globe’s editorial:
Mr. Scheer’s ruling is a clear demonstration that, even in the most august settings, mothers must always be able to bring their babies to work with them when emergencies arise. It is not a legal precedent, but it is certainly a moral one.
Which leads us to the wider issue of women in the workplace and whether or not giving them leeway to manage their family obligations while working is indeed a moral precedent. Naomi Lakritz from the Calgary Herald certainly thinks it is not:
Ladies, the world isn’t going to hand itself to you on a silver platter. It may offer you some things and may make some concessions to your status as mothers, but you’ve got to rise to meet the world halfway. You’ve got to do the rest. And you’ve got to understand and respect the idea that there are some places where babies simply don’t belong.
According to Lakritz (read the entire piece here), by asking for accommodations working mothers are acting like whiny wusses. This is a widespread view among some women. A few years ago I wrote a post for ProWomanProLife where I lamented the absence of creative thinking when it came to accommodating working mothers. A reader wrote back something along the lines of “I never thought of you as whiny and high maintenance…” Others believe that women “want it all on Thursday”: for everything there is a season and you can have it all but not on the same day. And let’s not forget the childless — by choice or otherwise — who wonder why, for the same pay, they have to pick-up the slack from their procreative peers. And all the other mothers who were not given any breaks and wonder — almost jealously — why others should get one.
All this to me is almost irrelevant. As are the reasons why women work, whether they are seeking parity with men, self-fulfillment or a paycheque. Do we have a societal obligation to make it easier for women, as Naomi Lakritz suggests? I don’t know. But what I do know is that if we don’t owe anything to Sana Hassaini, we owe the world to her son Skander-Jack. We fail children when we look at women in the workplace in isolation. We should be encouraging parents to develop strong bonds with their infants. And in our government-supported healthcare system, we should be pulling all the stops to make sure that infants are breastfed and spend the least amount of time in institutionalized daycare. (If you think I’m making too much out of the common cold go ask any healthcare provider at the Children Hospital of Eastern Ontario how their month of February has been so far.) And maybe your point is that mothers of young infants — and possibly mothers writ large — shouldn’t be working. But I would answer that this horse has left the barn some time ago. And while you are chasing it, may I ask what you suggest we do about the children?
Skander-Jack’s place is with his mother, regardless of where his mother thinks her place is. I’m glad that Skander-Jack was with his mom in the House rather than a nanny in Verchere-Les Patriotes. What are we supposed to tell him, all 3-month-old cutie? Suck it up, it’s not our problem that your mom wanted to change the world during your formative years? I work for a MP and I can guarantee you that his mom will miss plenty of his most important milestones over the next 4 years. Why don’t we let him have this one?
In this episode, I share my experience with sleep training my children and I rant about the inadequacy of healthcare for mothers of large families.
In this podcast, I share my thoughts on my failed Kickstarter campaign, my writing workshop in New-York City, meeting Seth Godin and not expecting my creative work to pay-off. You can find the podcast show notes and links to stuff I talk about in the podcast show notes by clicking on the earphones.