A miscarriage debrief on October 15th


If you are anywhere on pregnancy and parenting-related social media sites, you know that October 15th commemorates pregnancy and infant loss. It is the day when parents who have lost a child to miscarriage or stillbirth replace their profile pictures with a burning candle. It is also a month almost to the day from when I experienced my first significant miscarriage and ended-up in hospital as a result, without my fetus and without most of my blood supply. 

I’m not in a place where I can wax poetic and inspiring about the reality of pregnancy loss but I can wax brutally honest any day of the week so ready or not, here I come. 

How much have my husband and I learned through the last 5 weeks! Miscarriage packs quite the sucker punch. Leaving aside the medical fall-out, it’s like a post-partum hormonal crash minus the baby to cuddle. One minute you think you’re holding-up pretty well, thank you very much, and the next you’re sitting in a puddle. This post is an attempt at expressing the depth of conflicting emotions that grab you when you go through the experience of miscarriage. Maybe you will read it and learn something. But maybe someone will read it and feel normal, this is my hope. 

My new pregnancy happened in my new community and I had to debate whether I would seek the care of my usual midwifery team — which would involve driving into town to deliver in hospital or at the birth center — or to register with the midwifery practice for my area — which would allow me to give birth at home or at my local hospital. I really struggled with this decision. The safe course of action, given that I dilate more-or-less painlessly until 7-8cm, was to stay in my area rather than risk an hour long drive into town in transition. But despite being a rational and rather well-hinged individual, I couldn’t think rationally about it. I did get on a local midwife’s roster but when I miscarried, the lack of emotional support from my midwife was really difficult to cope with. It wasn’t her fault: we had only met once. The scope of practice of Ontario midwives is perfect for normal healthy pregnancies but it it grossly inadequate for not-so-normal pregnancies. When I started bleeding heavily, I paged a midwife I didn’t know, who didn’t know me, and directed me to the emergency department of my local hospital. I never heard again from my midwifery clinic. It’s not their fault: they have clients and jobs and no-longer-pregnant women are not part of it. I had to call to cancel lab appointments, midwifery follow-ups and ultrasounds appointments and never got a single call from my midwife to make sure I was ok. 

The same scenario was repeated the following week when my family doctor asked for an OBGYN referral to the specialist who was on call when I miscarried for an unrelated issue. My family doctor got a fax back from the specialist’s desk saying: “This Patient was seen last week for a miscarriage. Is this referral still needed?” I had to shake my head: why would anyone want to follow-up with a specialist about a miscarriage anyway (insert sarcasm)? You are no longer pregnant. Next caller. 

After all, an entire cast of characters saw you bleed from your private parts, stuck stuff up the same parts (u/s wand, many speculums and some pliers), washed you as if you were an infant and watched you use the bathroom at every bladder or bowel movement to make sure, in their words, that you didn’t “empty out.” I felt like I wanted to meet these people. Face to face. I wanted to show them my living children so they would know me for more than “that great grand multipara who had a miscarriage.” I received superlative and compassionate care from the doctors and nurses I met along the way, from my admittance until my transfusion and my final release from care. It still sits weird with me that these people hold such an important place in my life and memory but I’ll never be more than another patient to them. When I was the head of the students’ legal information clinic in university I used to tell my volunteers “Clients may be one in 20 people you will talk to today but their legal issue is probably occupying  almost 100% of their head space. The contact you have with them might feel like nothing to you but it could be everything to them if they are caught in a difficult situation. Be compassionate and mindful of that rapport.” Now I am living what it is to be at the vulnerable end of a relation of care, where saving your life is just another day at the office. It is a terrifying and humbling vulnerability that I will never forget. 

When I started bleeding more heavily, I called a friend who had had a miscarriage and asked her to tell me, no punch pulled, what to expect. I had to hang up to call my midwife and head to emerg. The last thing I told my oldest daughter as I left was “try to make my bathroom look not like a crime scene.” I lost so much blood that I was no longer able to inspect every blood clot for my fetus. When I finally had an ultrasound, I was still hoping that they would find a strong heartbeat. The hope that your baby might still be alive will just not die. But not only was my baby not alive, it was not even there. They never saw an embryo, let alone the 12 weeks fetus I was hoping to see and hold in my hand, to make it real. Being seen in a situation of emergency means that health care personnel don’t always have the time or opportunity  to slip-on their kid gloves. From the doctor to the u/s technician, nobody is taking the time to explain very slowly and clearly what is happening. I had to piece it together from things I overheard and caught flying. Just before I passed out from the blood loss I asked my husband to take pictures of anything that they pulled out of me. I have phone pictures of a tiny placenta and sac with a chord extending to nothing. To this day, I’m still unsure exactely how or when I lost my fetus and whether there was ever anything to see. Many women who have experienced miscarriage have asked me if I have named the baby but how can I ? As far as know, it might have been anembryonic. Was there ever someone? Am I only grieving the idea of a baby? Is this all in my head? I still cry when I see my friends’ ultrasound pictures thinking this could be my baby, then I want to slap myself back to reality. There was no baby. Or was there? I have not named my baby. I can’t. It just feels fake.

Friends cautioned me against trying to assign blame (to myself) or find a reason why. The doctor who saw me mentioned that my age and parity were probably the reason I miscarried. But this just makes me angry. I know why I miscarried. I’ve been complaining to my family doctor about hormonal imbalance, progesterone whackiness and thyroid shenanigans since 2012. Now I’m angry. I will be recovering from this miscarriage for the next year or two. I have problems absorbing iron (probably something else that is caused by age and parity — insert even more sarcasm) and now I’m stating from something less than scratch. This could have been prevented. When I asked for a full thyroid panel, I was begrudgingly given a requisition for TSH and thyroid antibodies. When I asked for T3 to be tested as well I was told that since my thyroid dysfunction was probably due to (DRINK!!!) my family size, it was not necessary. Every complaint I take to my doctor — and I moved clinics, saw specialists, this “doctor” is a compendium of several specimen — is explained by my family size. Nobody will listen when I say that I did my Master’s in law at McGill in Montreal, commuting 2 to 3 times a week, getting an A+ average, when I had 5 children, including a 5 month-old breastfed infant. I worked full time in active politics, on Parliament Hill, with 6 children. I trained for half-marathons when I had 6,7,8 children, running 20 to 30 km a week. Suddenly my health goes haywire, I’m depressed, I have no focus, i’m shuffling rather than running, I’m gaining 5-10 lbs a month while dieting, I’m losing my hair, I’m not sleeping even when my baby does, and it’s because I have 9 children? Are you actually kidding me? You went to med school for how long to tell me that? I’ve had a big family since 2006, Bucky! What is ok with 8 that is suddenly making me unhealthy because I have 9? Can someone with a medical background please explain that to me? Because to me it sounds a lot like someone wanted to call it in today and is trying to get me off their examining table before rush hour. Being a woman is such a convenient cop-out, still today. I know that with proper healthcare I might still be pregnant today. I know that if I didn’t have any children at 41 and experienced two losses back-to-back, my doctor would be investigating the causes of the miscarriages. But I have children already, so why should I care? Could it be because the underlying causes of the repeated losses impact my overall health? I’m not trying to catch-up with the Duggars here, I just want to be healthy again. Maybe this is a coping mechanism and yet another sign that I’m just another nutcase great grand multip. But now I’m kicking ass and I’m taking names. I have 9 kids, you can’t scare me. 

  

Large Family Eating


Thank you so much everyone for your love and support in the last few weeks since my miscarriage. I cannot adequately express what it means to me. Strangers have reached out and contacted me through this blog and through social media, shared their stories with me and kept my family in their thoughts and prayers. I know that there is a vulnerability in sharing our stories, often prefaced by “I hope you don’t find this creepy” or “feel free to delete this…” so I would like to speak to that before I dig into what we ate last week. The experience of a miscarriage, I am realizing, is a very unique one. I’m sure that every experience of trauma and loss has the same ring: we are suddenly very alone. Not alone as in lonely, but alone in that the circumstances surrounding a loss are as different as we are. Not two experiences are alike. Not only are circumstances different but our personalities and how we process these circumstances are also unique. We often feel either like no one understands or we feel like impostors. Many of us feel like we have no right to play the grief card. Maybe because we didn’t lose our baby as late as another. Maybe because we didn’t need surgery. Maybe because we were never in danger of death. Maybe because we didn’t even need medical attention. Whichever our circumstances were, we tend to look at someone who had it worst and trash talk our grief into a corner. The sharing of your stories has been immensely helpful to me because it has shown me that whatever your circumstances, you all experienced a similar trajectory of sadness and loss. You have helped me see what is coming next and helped me be better prepared to face it. I haven’t been as blindsided as I would have been without your stories. This is huge for me. As the mother of many, I need to maintain a certain level of functioning. Your stories and testimonies have helped me tremendously in managing my emotions by welcoming them, letting them wash over me and knowing that it is normal. Knowing that I have to get through a difficult passage to get to the other side has made me better able to take the passages instead of trying to get around them. Bridges can be scary, especially rope bridges way up high. But trying to walk down the valley, across the river and back up the other side might prove to be harder, longer and more treacherous. That’s why a bridge was built in the first place. You are the bridge builders. You are the people who have done the crossing before me and are encouraging me to go-ahead, don’t look down, we’ll see you on the other side. Thank you for being there, thank you for your willingness to share your stories and please don’t ever feel like this is creepy or useless. It is not. I’m an optimist and I may look like I am all better but to those who ask me how I am, all I can answer is : “I’m ok. But I’m not ok. And it’s ok.” 

We had a whirlwind week that ended-in two round trips to Kingston, ON where my son is studying. After the first day my father-in-law asked us why we were going home that evening only to come back the next morning (it’s a 130km trip each way.) A little bit of sleep in my bed is better than no sleep in a hotel room with twins and a toddler. Not only that but it’s a pretty drive through the Rideau Lakes area. Stop at the Vanilla Bean’s Cafe and Creamery on your way through Westport: between Kawartha Dairy ice cream and Equator coffee (both local-ish treats) you can’t go wrong. A few steps down toward the water will take you to a gazebo with picnic tables to enjoy your treats. My phone was dead as a doorknob so you’ll have to take my word for it. 

We were in Kingston for the traditional obstacle course that marks the official entry of the first year class into the Cadet Wing at the Royal Military College of Canada. You can see some pictures on my Flikr photostream on the right hand side of my blog. Maybe someday I’ll get around to posting a description of each obstacle. It was very impressive. My phone was still dead as a doorknob so you are spared pictures of the Boston Pizza/Dairy Queen feast that followed. Only one of us had run the obstacle course but we got hungry just watching them. 

 

My favorite Officer Cadet once he got cleaned-up from the obstacle course

 

Last week we continued to feast on the generosity of others but as can be expected of the second week of recovery, there is a sense of having been there, done that (the first week) and can we please get on with our lives already? Of course the reality is that I’m still running on hemoglobin light and need to sit my butt down every hour or so. We ate a lot of leftovers, had more than our share of “breakfast for supper” — by which we mean bagels and cream cheese, not crêpes Suzette flambé with maple buttercream — and was too run down to even grab my camera. On Sunday I decided to go whole hog and made pancakes…. Then I had to nap for 3 hours. 

   
 

What? Everyone doesn’t use two pans to make pancakes? These are the delicious apple oatmeal pancakes from Canadian Living. You can find the recipe here: http://m.canadianliving.com/#!/blog-food/apple-oatmeal-pancakes/5f7f8a1569c68f7aa516462f8d4e8dec We eat them topped with plain yogurt and maple syrup. This my friends, is the epitomy of comfort food in my books. 

In the absence of photo evidence, I thought I would share with you some of the meals and treats that friends have brought to us in the last two weeks. 

My friend Sue sent us this chorizo and sweet potatoes skillet and it was delicious. We had leftovers and it’s the kind of recipe that improves with age (until a certain point, don’t go and poison yourself on my account). I’m sure it would work with any kind of sausage meat that tickles your fancy. Or that happens to be on sale. 

My friend Sam brought us a whole bunch of things that are still in my freezer but one thing that didn’t bear to wait were those apple cinnamon muffins. Big hit. Big big hit. I may have eaten 3 in a row warmed-up and slathered with butter. 

(As an aside, if you decide to click on the apple muffins link, am I the only person who can’t stand recipe blog posts that have to post an ode to each ingredient before showing the recipe already? I promise that if I ever post my own recipes — which would involve writing them down and could actually be beneficial — it will only be with a short preamble. Like “this is what I make. My kids don’t hate it.” Bam!)

Sam also brought us some banana bread and we managed to improve on perfection by smothering it in Martha Stewart’s cream cheese frosting. I don’t have Sam’s banana bread recipe but here’s my personal favorite (in the non-chocolate-chipped category): Serious Eats Banana Oatmeal Bread. This one pairs exceptionally well with cream cheese frosting. When you find something that doesn’t, I’d like to hear about it. 

   

We buy cream cheese by the pallet at Costco, being bagel eaters of the first order. Sadly it means that I always have cream cheese on hand to make frosting. One thing that I never have on hand is confectioners sugar. Sadly, I discovered that sugar is sugar is sugar: put regular white sugar in the Nutribullet and in a whirl you have super fine sugar. Dang. 

  

Et voilà everyone, what we sort of ate last week.  Say cheese!

 

Answer me this: The superhero edition 


Answer Me This is the internet’s favorite virtual cocktail party where we all answer the same six random questions and get to know each other a little better. Originally hosted by Kendra at Catholic All Year, I invite you to post your answers in the comments or publish them on your own blog and post the link in the comments. Unless you just want to sit back, relax and read. That’s ok too. 
  
1. What’s currently on your To Do list?

I  not a list person. The only thing on my to-do list is to write a to-do list because the lack of sleep and exercise is finally getting to my brain. Sitting down to write a to-do list is the best way to obliterate any memory of what I need to do. Clean slate. If I manage to jot a few things down, I’ll forget I even have a to-do list. 

Would we still have time to discover new donut shops because a sign said “Donuts TODAY!” and go eat them by the side of a lake if i had a to-do list? I think not

2. Better type of superhero: magic/radioactive powers? Or trauma/gadgets/hard work?

I am not well-versed in the world of Superheroes. In fact, I don’t really know any. I don’t watch TV, I rarely go to the movies, it’s just not my cup of tea. But from what I heard, I think I prefer the magic/radioactive powers. There is a scene in the movie Frozen — I know, not a superhero movie but bear with me — when Elsa and Anna’s parents bring the girls to the trolls after their games with Elsa’s magical powers turn deadly. The chief troll asks the parents: “Born or cursed?” meaning “was she born with her powers or did they come as the result of a curse?” I think that we all have gifts that sometimes feel like curses. Or gifts that we misuse and turn into curses. I am an introvert who moves slowly. I process my feelings inwardly and I abhor conflict. My husband is the quintessential “type A” personality. He can do more in 5 hours that I can do in 5 days. He is driven, energetic and decisive. I am mellow, consciensous and ambivalent. For many years, I saw him as a model to emulate. I felt inferior, I didn’t see my phlegmatic personality as a gift but a liability. I was unable to appreciate what it brought to the equilibrium of our family. It took me a long time to see that my temperament was a complement to my husband’s. That slowing him down was not a bad thing. That tempering the drive with a little human touch was creating a much more pleasant mix than pure unadulterated energy. The born or cursed superhero has to learn to use his gifts wisely, for the service of the good. Like us, he didn’t choose to be that way. In that, his struggle is a lot more relatable than that of the whiz kid superhero who tinkers his way to greatness. I often encourage mothers who are feeling inadequate because they are not able to keep the children entertained while keeping the fridge stocked and the house clean on their way to a volunteer board meeting. I tell them: “What if your gift was not to be supermom? What if it was not to run a successful business with 7 kids dressed to the nines and a pitch perfect Instagram account? What if it was to curl-up on the couch, read stories, forage for wild berries and look for weird spiders in the backyard?” What if you have an illness or your children have special needs and you are showing the world fortitude and and perseverance just by getting up? Can you make way cheerfully to the needs of others? Are you able to put people before things or accomplishments? These abilities  are gifts. If you don’t believe me, just ask the grown children of successful entrepreneurs and neat freaks, they’ll tell you. The trauma/gadget/ hard work superhero personifies one of today’s most popular attitude: the idea that all your dreams are within your reach if you only dream hard enough. This not only false, it’s not even that good an idea. If we all followed our dreams, there would be only artists and organic farmers and no one to pick-up the trash. The magic/radioactive powers superhero must choose to put his powers to good use, regardless of his dreams and aspirations. How much suffering would not have been relieved had Robin Hood been working at dreaming to be Superman? Not everyone was made for great things. Some of us were made to achieve little things with great love. And that’s ok too. 

  

3. Finding out if baby is a boy or a girl before birth: Good idea? Bad idea?

As a rule, we don’t find out. With exceptions. When my first four were little, we had 3 girls and a boy. My son once asked me:

– I’d really like if God would make you pregnant. Because I really want a baby brother. 

I answered: “You know, if I got pregnant it could be another girl.” To which he replied, incredulous:

– Why would God do *that*? 

When I did get pregnant, Colin wanted to know so badly that we indulged and found out. It was a very happy moment and I didn’t regret finding out. But I still prefer the surprise at birth. 

 

Colin meeting his third brother
 
I also found out with the twins. The pregnancy was a big, shocking surprise. Finding out at 15 weeks that I was having twins was a big, shocking surprise. I was all surprised-out for 2011. I just wanted to know. 

With Damien, I found out by accident 2 days before he was born. I had an ultrasound and the technician, who knew I didn’t want to know, let it slip. She said: “He is going to be surrounded by so much love…” Then caught herself and said: “I mean he, like “the baby”…” I would never have noticed her slip had she not caught herself because the noun “baby” in French is a masculine noun (nouns have gender in French, did you know that?) but I left thinking “I think I’m having a boy.” I didn’t tell anyone else so my husband and children were still surprised. When Damien was born, my husband whispered “It’s a little boy!” in my ear and I thought “yup!” 

Two of my friends expecting twins kept the surprise. I really admired their self-control — because there are so many opportunities to ask when you have weekly ultrasounds! 

 

The moment we usually find out baby’s sex
 
4. Have you ever appeared on a stadium jumbotron?

I haven’t but my oldest son has. When he was about 8 we went to Parliament Hill on Canada Day and he got the idea of seeking out the Jumbotron camera dude. That’s when we realized that he had a bit of a showman personality. It was all downhill from there (in a good way!).

Parliament Hill, view from the Laurier street bridge.

5. Are you more book smart or more street smart?

That’s a funny question because I am a book-smartie who married a street-smartie. Almost 20 years later, I am more street-smart by association than I ever thought I could be. Still, my situational awareness is legendary, in the wrong sense. My husband recently moved the camping trailer we used as a base of operations during our house construction. It was located in the field immediately in front of our front door. I didn’t notice, even though I had been asking him to remove that eyesore from my field of view. I think I’m still more book-smartish. 

Would you notice if this was parked in front of your front door? me neither

6. Have you had that baby yet? (Feel free to skip this one if it’s not applicable to you.)

Well, no. I’m not even pregnant. We hope to have some good news to share soon but that old body of mine seems to be closing shop early after 20 very intense years. I was chatting with my healthcare provider after an early loss last month (what they call a chemical pregnancy: peed on a stick, saw a faint line, got my periods 2h later). She was asking me if I wanted to do anything about it, specifically look into supplemental progesterone. And upon thinking about it, I decided that accepting not conceiving was the flip side of accepting unplanned pregnancies. Also, being unable to conceive when you are 41 and tandem breastfeeding your 8th and 9th children might actually be a wise thing. As in: my body might be telling me something. And I’m willing to listen.

 

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Ya think getting pregnant could wait? 

Answer me this: Home Sweet Home


“Answer me this” is a bloggy cocktail party hosted by the lovely Kendra from Catholic All Year. We get to answer 6 random questions and chat about it. This is my first stab at it. I have to admit that not having to come-up with a writing topic is oddly linerating. Here I go!

1. How long have you lived in your current home?

6 months.

Last December, we moved to the boonies of the sticks after designing and building our own large family home. (Edited to clarify: by “large family home”, I mean that the family is large. I’m not bragging about the size of my house. Got it?) Our little piece of Canadian Shield sits somewhere in the Ottawa Valley, in Ontario, Canada. We are still learning to unlearn our city ways. Our children’s reaction to the move has been — ahem — mixed, with the old and the new being very excited and the middle being ambivalent, bordering on P.O.’d. There’s never a good time to move a 15 year-old and since we’ll have a 15 year-old for the next 20 years, we figured now was as good a time as any. 

 

Specimen of a teenager not happy to live in the country, plied with ice cream .

Living on the outskirts of light pollution has given our oldest son plenty of opportunities to dabble in low light photography. Here is the Milky Way over our house:

Hat tip to our oldest son Colin IG: @colin_deg

2. How do you find out about news and current events?

Mostly through social media (Facebook and Twitter) and CBC Radio 1 in the car. When I don’t have to listen to Taylor Swift. 

   

“NOT THE NEWS!!!'”

 

My husband is a great consumer of news and current events, especially when it concerns food, water and energy issues, and the unravelling of the European Union. He often sends me email links to articles he found interesting.

3. Would you be able to make change for a twenty right now? For a dollar?

Right now? No because I ran out of cash this week. But usually yes, for either. Our family had a run-in with excessive debt a few years ago that spurred a series of changes to the way we manage our life and our money. Those changes eventually led to our move to the country. We now operate on a cash-only basis and use money envelopes, like 8 year-olds. I can usually make change for a $20 but now my envelopes are empty until tomorrow. Sorry.

4. What’s the craziest food you’ve ever eaten?

I still don’t know! I think it was some kind of congee . We were traveling back from Niagara Falls and visiting the Toronto Zoo. We booked a hotel room in Markham and left the hotel to eat our evening meal. Everything was written in Chinese! All the strip mall signs. All the restaurants names. All the menus. We had no idea where to go and eat with our 6 children so we parked in the middle of a strip mall parking lot and kept our eyes peeled for a family going into a restaurant. As soon as we saw someone walk in a restaurant with a child, we made a beeline for the same restaurant. The menu was in Chinese and our waitress spoke as much English as we spoke Chinese. We were thrilled! We don’t really know what we ordered or how much but eventually the food started rolling-in and we started eating. At one point, we received this sort of gruel, wrapped in a large leaf and obviously containing some fish entrails and other delicacies. Even with our adventurous palate, we weren’t able to give it the honor it deserved. We had also ordered way too much food. There’s only so much chucking of unknown fishy gruel you can do on a very full stomach. 

Many years later, when my friend Johanne went to Viet-Nam to get her son Toan, he was so malnourished that getting food into his frail little body was a work of every instant. Johanne posted on her blog that Toan really liked congee and that the hotel chef was showing her how to make it for him. When I googled “congee” there it was!! My mystery dish! 

Sadly this was before phone cameras and Instagram and I don’t have a picture. Instead, here is a picture of Eve’s dish: blueberries and rice with Bragg’s. What??

  

5. Which of the commonly removed parts have you had removed? (tonsils, wisdom teeth, appendix, etc.)

For a blogger, I have this thing about sharing medical information on social media. You can get my kids’ faces but not their medical histories. Because who knows? Who knows when their insurance company in 25 years will unhearth that blog post and say “Here your mom writes that you spent 2 days in NICU as a newborn and you had trouble breathing, so we’re not covering you for any lung-related illnesses”. Know what I mean? Same goes for me. I blame the graduate studies in biomedical ethics. 

What I can tell you is that I lost 9 placentas over the years. Does that count? 

umbilical cord for miles following one of our home births

6. What’s your favorite sport to watch on TV? 

We don’t have cable so that takes care of sports watching on TV. We do watch a lot of gymnastics competitions on YouTube and Dancing with the Stars if there is a gymnast in one of the teams. 

My husband and I are not snobs about many things but I have to sheepishly admit that sports watching on TV is one of those things. We just don’t get it. 

We prefer doing sports to watching it. Sometimes we do both.

Hard


Re-blogging this beautiful post for my readers on Holy Week.

Kisses from The Cross

“In the world you will have trouble and suffering. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

Numerous times over the last month and a half, I’ve told myself to write. I’ve sat with a blank page in front of me, going nowhere. I told myself that people would get bored, they won’t stick around waiting for more posts. Hurry up and write something. But the problem is that I don’t know what to say any more that I haven’t already said over and over.

Watching Gemma suffer, living it daily, is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. It’s the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced. I often go back in my mind to the days, and the hours leading up to her birth, wondering if I had done anything differently, would things be different now? I see children her age, learning to walk and talk…

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A keepin’ it real post: How my children sleep 


Sleep. What can I say about it? We all need it. Nobody gets enough of it. If you are like me, your sleep deprived brain is running laps trying to figure out what you can do to get a better night of sleep. After all, isn’t everybody else getting great sleep? We buy the books, and the contraptions, we hire the consultants. Amber teething necklaces, woombies, and these special hammocks that are supposed to replicate life in utero. We stop eating dairy and gluten, we start eating dairy and gluten, it must be pork, eggs, or onions. Is cabbage supposed to be good or bad? Should I start or stop drinking? Once you’ve been eating nothing but water and plain mashed potatoes for a month, you start wondering if it couldn’t be the water… And all the while, your friends and families keep telling you about all the babies who sleep so well and you wonder where you went so wrong.

I get messages seeking sleep advice on a weekly basis. From these exchanges with harried parents, I have concluded two things: (1) People lie. All the time. And (2) People forget. Which is good news, no?

People lie when they describe their own child’s sleep. Or at least, they omit crucial details. Like saying that your “Baby slept through the night at 3 weeks” when what you mean is that your baby only woke-up to nurse and not to chat for 2h. Or that by “night” you mean from midnight until 5 am (which is still awesome in my books but can lead a tired parent to believe that you mean a real night, like 8pm until 6am). Or the most egregious lie of all, that your baby “just slept” when what you mean is that you sleep trained him with the 4 months sleep regression. Some babies do sleep solid nights from birth. Those are unicorn babies. Awesome but not normal.

People also forget. Those are usually the people in the “grand” category, whose own sleepless nights are 20 or 30 years removed. They just remember the sweet smell and the soft spots and firmly believe that their own children said please and thank you from birth, ate all their spinach, and of course, slept like angels.

And here you are tired parent, wondering how you are failing your baby, your marriage and yourself. Convinced that you are rowing alone, lost in the duldrums of sleep.

You’re in luck! Here I am. Tired mother of 9. I have the grown kids and the little kids and I haven’t slept well since 2009. I had the naturally good sleepers and the horrible sleepers and I’m here to tell you: how your baby sleeps (or not) has far less to do with your parenting skills than you think.

It always puzzles me how we like to Hum and Awe at birth weights, how they are all different, and don’t you dare send a birth announcement without that key piece of statistics and yet, when it comes to sleeping and eating, we expect our vastly different children to comply to some made-up matrix of when and how. Children are not machines (neither are you). They have different bodies, different personalities, different life experiences  — yes, pregnancy matters, as does their early days and weeks — that are reflected in their sleep patterns and attachment needs.

Babies’ sleep patterns often seem directly opposed to our welfare as parents. This doesn’t make much sense from an evolutionary perspective, does it? Since babies’ survival depends on their parents, one would think that their primary needs would be better aligned with ours. But are they? After all, we as adult often share our beds with another adult. And we wake-up at night to pee or even to snack sometimes. We often watch tv later than we should because we simply can’t go from up to down on a dime. Yet we expect our babies to sleep on cue, alone, and without waking-up. It often occurs to me that we demand better sleep from our babies than we can achieve ourselves. We’re funny that way.

Are our babies misadapted or are we? If you are not entitled to a maternity leave, you might be back at work within 3-6 weeks of giving birth, at a time when your baby needs several — sometimes cluster — small meals of breastmilk every 2-4 hours. Are babies broken or is expecting mothers back at work within 6 weeks delusional? If you have a maternity leave, you are probably hoping to work-out that baby fat, socialize and complete these projects you’ve been putting-off since you got pregnant. Or take a university class and start a business. Instead of seeing mat leave as allowing us to care for our infants, we see it as personal development months, free from the shackles of work. Well, about those shackles…

If you are a stay-at-home mom, you probably expect to be back in the swing of things, organizing and attending activities. The isolation of the modern homemaker is forcing us to be everything to everyone in our family, without the help of a village of older mothers, aunts and grandparents whose sleepless nights are far and gone. Our children can no longer busy themselves with little neighbours, they need us to entertain, stimulate and socialize them while the neighbours are in daycare and preschool from dawn until dusk.

Here’s the rub: we could align our primary needs with those of our infants but our modern lifestyle and expectations prevent us from doing so. The fitness classes, playgroups and doctors appointments run us ragged when we should be napping with our babies. Our expectations that babies should not “take over our lives” lead us to stubbornly insist that baby sleep in his own bed, in his own room rather than keeping him close. We live in fear of preventing maturation and individualizations, of waking-up one day with a nursing, co-sleeping, college student. We fight our babies every inch of the way and wonder why we are so tired. That’s why. Your life is the problem, not your baby. Try to manage your expectations rather than your infant and see if it helps (it should).

Today, I want to share with you how our babies sleep. So next time your spouse or your mom exclaims: “This is not normal!!”  you can say “actually, it is”.

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This is a picture of our master bedroom (in March 2015). The baby sleeps in a crib beside our bed. We have two crib mattresses for middle-of-the-night visitors. We push the crib mattresses under our bed during the day.

Our baby is almost 11 months-old and still wakes-up twice a night to nurse (sometimes more, never less). He slept through the night from birth until 4 months. At 4 months, he started waking-up once. Around 6-7 months, he started waking-up twice. Around 9 months (and cutting 6 teeth) he started waking-up all night. Now we’re back to nursing twice overnight. He goes to bed around 7pm, wakes-up to nurse around 11pm and again at some point in the night. I don’t know when because I don’t have a clock in my room. I ditched the clock when the twins were babies. Seeing how often I woke-up made me angry and resentful. Instead of managing my babies, I managed the clock. Believe me, it made it easier. When Damien wakes-up, I grab him from the crib and nurse him side lying in my bed. Then I plunk him back in his crib.

At some point during the night, the twins (3.5 years-old) come into our bedroom. Ève is usually grouchy. She needs to cuddle-up with us in bed. She will usually go back to sleep between my husband and I and I will put her on the cot on the floor when the baby wakes-up to nurse (a queen bed is crowded with 4). Lucas just stumbles into our room and crashes on a cot on the floor and goes back to sleep. 3-and-a-half is a tough sleep age here: Sarah just left our room at age 5 and now the twins are here. By the time they are done, Damien will probably be replacing them. Round and round we go.

I remember when my older kids were little, everybody was concerned about “returning the kids to their rooms” and “getting them used to sleep in their beds all night.” People discussed whether they should lock their bedroom door and let the children cry at the door. Anything but having a child in your room.

We tried all these things. Now, when someone suggests that I cut this crap out, I know that this person has sleep to spare. I don’t. Here’s a secret: If some parents tell you that they close their bedroom door or walk their child back to bed throughout the night, it means that they are not as tired as they say they are. You need to sacrifice sleep to listen to your child howl at your bedroom door or walk him back to his bed 200 times. I know, I used to do it. Now I need sleep. And sleep means letting my children do whatever they need to do to to go back to sleep.

That’s what our nights look like. Because I don’t have a clock, I don’t know how long a stretch of sleep I can get. My guess is 2-3h at the most. And you know what? I’m not as awesome as I would be on a full night. I move slowly. My writing is not brilliant. My house is never completly under control. I’ve been trying to host a house warming party since December and I just can’t, I’m too tired. We do barebones homeschooling. My husband does groceries on his way back from work because I don’t have the wherewithal to take 4 young kids shopping and remember what I’m supposed to buy. I have a lot of professional and personal ambitions sitting on the back-burner until I can focus on things beyond immediate care and feeding of myself and my family. I don’t sit on boards, I don’t volunteer. To everything there is a season.

This is the season for digging your head in and plowing through.

Des nouvelles de la famille


For my English readers: This is an update post about our family and our homeschooling adventures.

 

Depuis la naissance de Damien et particulièrement depuis le début de l’année scolaire, j’ai du mal à publier régulièrement sur mon blogue. Nos journées se passent à 2000 à l’heure de 5h du matin à 9h du soir puis nous avons une heure ou deux pour répondre aux courriels, flâner sur Facebook, remplir divers formulaires et préparer la journée du lendemain. Il y a un mois, j’ai enlevé l’application Facebook de mon portable car j’étais incapable de résister à la curiosité. J’ai immédiatement retrouvé quelques heures qui avaient disparu de ma journée, à coup de 30 secondes par ci et 5 minutes par là mais je me retrouve plutôt isolée. Lorsque je vais aux nouvelles en fin de journée, j’ai l’impression d’être une spectatrice un peu en retrait de la vie sociale qui se passe de l’autre côté de l’écran.

Voici donc un ramassis de nouvelles fraîches et moins fraîches, dans l’ordre désordonné de mes pensées, au gré de mes réflexions en un gris petit dimanche matin de septembre.

Il y a 3 semaines, nous nous sommes embarqué dans une nouvelle aventure d’éducation à domicile. En termes concrets, nous avons gardé 3 – bientôt 4 – enfants d’âge scolaire à la maison plutôt que de les livrer à l’autobus scolaire tous les matins. Lorsque les gens apprennent que nous faisons l’école à la maison, ils ont 3 questions (ou plus) : Pourquoi? Comment? Et qu’en-est-il du Français?

Le mouvement d’éducation à domicile (homeschooling) est particulièrement fort aux États-Unis et les anglophones ne manquent pas de ressources éducatives dédiées aux parents qui enseignent à leurs enfants. En français, nous devons utiliser les mêmes ressources que les salles de classe et ce n’est pas facile. Nous avons dû trouver une solution à mi-chemin entre une éducation à domicile strictement en français et les considérations pratiques qui me sont imposées par la taille de ma famille et les demandes d’une vie équilibrée. J’ai acheté des programmes en anglais pour les mathématiques et l’anglais (duh) et les sciences au secondaire. J’ai aussi un programme d’histoire ancienne qui est écrit en anglais mais pour lequel j’utilise des ressources primaires en français. Par exemple, Marie lit présentement une version simplifiée de l’Odyssée d’Homère en français, suivront d’autres textes sur la mythologie dans les beaux-arts (en français), la mythologie ancienne (L’épopée de Gilgamesh, L’Iliade) etc. qu’elle devra résumer et analyser en français. Pour l’enseignement du français, nous avons beaucoup de rattrapage à faire puisque mes enfants ont des problèmes de grammaire et d’orthographe assez prononcés. Bien qu’ils aient toujours fréquenté l’école française en Ontario, mon fils de troisième année écrit presque exclusivement à l’oreille (c’est-à-dire qu’il écrit les mots comme ils se prononcent) et ma fille de 8ième année écrit en français avec une structure de phrase presque exclusivement empruntée à l’anglais. Tous les deux ont déclaré que les livres en français « ça suce » et refusent de lire en français pour le plaisir. J’ai donc décidé de passer cette année à leur redonner le goût du français. Je leur fait lire des bons livres qu’ils doivent résumer en leurs mots. Nous révisons leurs phrases grâce à un Bescherelle de la grammaire de base. David doit apprendre par cœur une règle de grammaire par semaine (cette semaine par exemple c’était : « La phrase déclarative sert à raconter un évènement ou à donner une opinion. Elle commence par une majuscule et se termine par un point. ») David est en train de lire « Tistou les pouces verts » de Maurice Druon et doit trouver 3 phrases déclaratives par jour (il choisit généralement des phrase de type « Tistou était triste. » petit futé), les transcrire dans son cahier, souligner la lettre majuscule et encercler le point. Puisque son orthographe est trop pauvre pour que la dictée soit efficace, il doit copier les phrases directement du livre. Éventuellement, je lui donnerai des dictées tirées de son livre. Il doit également apprendre une poésie du Premier Larousse de la poésie. Marie doit apprendre une poésie de Victor Hugo tirée d’un recueil de poésie de Victor Hugo pour les jeunes publié par Bayard Presse. Et voilà. Pour l’instant, pas d’analyse grammaticale, pas d’examen, pas de vocabulaire à n’en plus finir. Seulement des bons livres et beaucoup de lecture.

Pourquoi l’éducation à domicile? Pourquoi pas? Ceux qui me connaissent depuis longtemps savent que j’ai essayé de garder ma plus vieille à la maison il y a environ 12 ans. J’ai toujours aimé l’idée de l’éducation à domicile mais j’ai toujours manqué de confiance en moi. J’ai toujours cru que mes enfants apprendraient mieux d’une autre personne. J’ai toujours cru que je n’avais pas l’autorité et la patience nécessaires pour que l’éducation à domicile soit un succès. Lorsque nous avons acheté le terrain en campagne sur lequel nous construisons présentement notre maison, nous avons décidé que nos enfants seraient éduqués à domicile plutôt que de se promener en autobus scolaire à travers la campagne pour plusieurs heures par jour. Je suis arrivée à un lieu d’acceptation et de confort avec moi-même, avec ma personnalité, ma patience et mon autorité. J’ai appris en vieillissant que mon tempérament flegmatique n’était pas un handicap à la discipline mais mon meilleur atout. Nous sommes encore en train de trouver notre air d’aller mais après trois semaines, je peux déjà vous dire avec confiance que l’éducation à domicile de sera pas facile mais qu’elle en vaudra la peine.

La première étape incontournable de l’éducation à domicile c’est le « repassage » des petits plis de discipline et l’établissement d’une routine familiale fonctionnelle. Cet automne, nous passons beaucoup de temps à jeter les assises d’une dynamique familiale positive et constructive. Vous pouvez suivre nos aventures au jour le jour via Instagram où je publie sous le nom Happy_Chaos_ Notre vie familiale est conviviale mais il y a beaucoup de travail à faire pour déprogrammer la mentalité scolaire (les enfants étudient et maman s’occupe de la maison) et la remplacer par une mentalité familiale où tout le monde apprend et tout le monde s’occupe de la famille. Au jour le jour, j’essaie de faire passer le caractère avant le curriculum. C’est difficile, surtout avec les jumeaux dans les pattes et la personnalité plutôt intense de Sarah. Je me sens parfois très isolée, comme en traversée de l’Atlantique en chaloupe solo, et j’espère que nous allons atteindre notre altitude de croisière avant que je change d’idée, ha! ha!
Souhaitez-nous bonne chance!