Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Take the Flats and Handwashing Challenge

The most common question I get asked about cloth diapering is, "Isn't it hard to do with the pins?" and I always say, "Oh no one uses pins anymore! Cloth diapering is super modern now with velcro or snaps, the diapers look just like disposables and go on just as easily only you toss them in the washer instead of the garbage". Yes, I admit that the selling point I tend to push is the one where I say how much like a disposable the new cloth is. It worked with my partner, he was very aprehensive at first, until he saw how "like a disposable" they were. The only downside to these super modern, funky, cute and easy to use diapers is the price. My personal fave- BumGenius by Cotton Babies runs a very steep $24 per diaper.

Recently, I was checking out my favourite cloth diapering blog Dirty Diaper Laundry and she was discussing how although using cloth is great for saving money, the up-front expense (about $500-$900) is just not an option for struggling families. Additionally, many struggling families don't have their own washer and dryer and so the multiple layers of fabric in pocket inserts, all-in-ones and even prefolds make for a lot of work in handwashing and even longer to hang-dry. So what is the solution here for families who are having a hard time affording disposable diapers but don't have the up-front cash to get started in cloth diapering? Well, according to Dirty Diaper Laundry- the solution is flats. Yep, just as I mentioned in my last post, people are beginning to realize that going back to the way our great grandmothers did things (breastfeeding, making their own baby food, gardening, cloth diapering and using clothes lines) is really the most sensible. Flat diapers are truly economical. They consist of one single layer of cotton that can be folding in many different ways to create a diaper. You secure them with either pins or Snappis and add a diaper cover to keep baby's clothes dry. As they are but a single layer, you can easily wash them and hang them out to dry- they are excellent candidates for that fabulous sun bleaching that I recently blogged about and even in winter, they will dry indoors in a few short hours. As Dirty Diaper Laundry pointed out, flats are the most intimidating of the cloth diapering options, mostly because when you look at a big square chunk of fabric, it's not immediately obvious how to get it to look like a diaper and so there is some learning and acquiring of skill that is required.

Dirty Diaper Laundry has decided to challenge herself to one week (May 23-30) of using flat diapers ONLY and handwashing/hang-drying them ONLY to prove that it is a viable and economical option for struggling families, a BETTER option for them than expensive disposables. She has also proposed that we cloth mamas take up the challenge with her. Head to her blog post here to sign yourself up for the challenge and read over the rules for participation.

For those of you living in the realm of my favourite cloth diaper retailer Re-Diaper, Anj is offering 15% off of her Osocozy Birdseye Cotton Flats (which regularly retail for $15 per 6pk) especially for the flats challenge. So head on over to the store or website and get yourself a couple packs of flat diapers, roll up your sleeves and get in on the challenge!

Diadima xo

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother nature knows best

Every cloth diapering mama knows that her best accessory is a clothes line. You just can't beat the fresh air smell on crisp, clean clothes that have been hung out to dry on a clothes line. Of course, in our part of the world, the icy, cold, dark days of winter are an inevitability and during those months, the clothes line doesn't have much dangling from it except for a few icicles. Yes, winter can be tough on cloth diapers. So can prunes. Put those two elements together and you can imagine the state of my microfiber inserts right now.

All winter long, I've been soaking my diapers in RLR Washing Soda, Rockin' Green Funk Rock, baking soda, you name it. My once beautiful, bright, white diapers and inserts have become dingy, stained and there is a faint odour that clings to them no matter what. I have found the RLR to be very effective, and yet... my dipes, they be yellow. After a while, nothing seems to work. Lucky for us, spring comes around at least once a year and with it comes sunshine. With sunshine comes the natural bleaching power of Mother Nature. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, will get your diapers whiter, cleaner or fresher than hanging them out in the sun. I have heard from cloth mamas who don't have clothes lines that they hang them out on their balconies, out their windows and one savvy chick even takes hers to the beach!

This past weekend has been absolutely gorgeous here in Southern Ontario, and so I decided to take some photos of my dingiest, darkest stained diapers and inserts for a little before and after extravaganza. Seeing is believing, and I am sure that once this week is through, the super powers of the sun will have returned my diapers to their former glory.

Oh, and get yourself a clothes line. Aside from the wonders it will do for your diapers, the money that you save by not running your dryer constantly will amaze you. I grew up in the country, and they say every country girl needs a clothes line- though they are popping up all over cities now. Apparently they're very chic and green. I love how everything that is a part of the Green trend is really just the old-fashioned stuff our grandmothers used to do that people got away from, and now are coming back home to. Live in an apartment or condo? No problem- there are kits available for small lines, too. Really, all you need is a cord and a bag of clothes pins which you can buy at the dollar store.

Stay tuned for pics of my before and after sun bleaching science project.

Happy hanging!

Diadima xo

Friday, May 6, 2011

A mother's love knows no bounds

This year I will be celebrating my first Mother's Day as a mother. My dear baby boy was born in September and has been lighting up the world ever since. This year, perhaps more than any other year of my adult life, I have truly needed my own mother in all ways. During pregnancy, I just assumed that my mothering qualities would burst into full bloom as soon as my baby arrived, that my intuition would appear, fully matured, all on it's own. Motherhood is natural, after all, isn't it?
Well it turns out there are a few tricks to the trade that must be learned and my own mother was by my side for the first four weeks of my son's life, teaching them to me one by one. The birth of my son has changed me in every way I can imagine. I am more emotional than ever- things that make me happy send me over the moon and things that I find sad sometimes turn devastating or move me to tears in a flash. I feel a sense of empathy and protectiveness for every child that I see, which has me making funny faces at crying babies in the grocery store check-out or rolling down my window to scream "Hey! Zip up your damn coat!" to bewildered neighbourhood children who are otherwise trying to look cool in February. I am more careful of what I eat as I know it will turn up in my breastmilk later on making for either sweet sleep or a crying, gassy baby. I am more careful of my lifestyle in general, my full-time smoking, drinking and going out days are long behind me. In fact, going out at all can be a bit of a challenge since my exclusively breastfed son refuses to take a bottle. There are the more obvious changes as well, such as the 60lbs gained during pregnancy and the 35 that are still hanging on. It's funny how, although it does bother me sometimes, I used to get so much more worked up over five or ten pounds gained over the holidays than I have over the four dress sizes I've gained. Motherhood has changed me in many ways and while I owe most of it to dear baby, I owe much to my own mother as well.
My mother. There is no one like her. When I told her I was pregnant, she was thrilled for me. I cried on her shoulder about how I hadn't finished school, we lived in an apartment, we weren't even married, it just wasn't the plan! I knew she was empathetic, having had two "surprises" herself and raising my sister and I as a single mother. I'm sure she was also holding back a giggle or two, especially when I cried out, "I'm too young to have a baby!", given that I was 27 years old on the day of dear baby's birth and by that time in her life, she had a six year old and a three year old that she was raising on her own. Looking back at that afternoon, I can't help laughing at myself. At the time, I had thought my life was ending, but in reality, it was just beginning. Of course my mother knew this, but I'm sure she also knew it was the sort of thing a woman has to find out for herself.
When it comes to my mother, I am often at a loss for words. It's hard to sum her up in the way that I feel she deserves. The word that always comes to mind is sacrifice. The word itself sometimes conjures up a negative sense for people, but for me, it is the word I use to describe the series of loving acts done by my mother that made up my childhood. She was young when my sister was born in 1981, but she kissed her early 20's goodbye without looking back. Many young mothers try to hold onto their night life, leaving their babies with grandma, ignoring the disappointed frowns and heading off to "have it both ways". I'm sure she has her secrets, but as far as I know, my mother didn't date for eight years until she met my stepfather, whom she didn't even tell us about until he had proposed. My mother believed in protecting her children and in setting examples. Our neighbourhood was full of women who lived on welfare cheques and were somehow able to have brand new furniture, nintendo systems for their kids and a revolving door of "uncle joe's". I'm sure there were times when my mother glanced across the street and thought about going the easy route, but instead, she worked two jobs tirelessly to support my sister and myself and teach us the value of a work ethic. Our house may not have been full of new things (or even nice things), but even as a young child, I knew what my mother was made of. I looked at the other mothers and I felt that they didn't measure up. I'm sure those women loved their children, but, even at a tender age, it was clear to me that they were still putting themselves first. They were not the type to sacrifice for their children. While they were out "finding fathers" for their kids, my mother went to work teaching us about confidence, self-respect, self-assurance and the value of good education. She valued reading and artistry. She nurtured our imagination with books of children's poetry, she taught us to cook traditional Italian food and extolled the virtues of good manners. We went to seafood restaurants where we ate plate after plate of marinated squid and crab legs while the servers looked on in amazement at these little girls with tentacles hanging out of their mouths and we felt very sophisticated and privileged. We went to late night ice skating shows and stayed up well past bedtime. We went to the circus and the movies. We went camping and although it rained every single time, we sat in our soggy tent and no one complained because we knew how many extra shifts my mother had to work to get the weekend off. My mother loved us with her whole heart. She never felt sorry for herself that other young women were out experiencing the world, taking university courses abroad or staying out all night having the time of their life. She went to the school of life and it taught her that there was nothing she could find out in the world that would make her feel as whole or as relevant as motherhood had.
There were times, in elementary school, that other children would ask if I felt bad about not having a father. Children will ask you anything, as they lack diplomacy, and I remember being asked if I felt sad that I didn't have a "real family". I often think of that now, and what the idea of a "real family" means. My family, which consisted of my mother, my sister and myself, was always complete. From the day I was born, it was always the three of us. I never suffered the losses that children of divorced homes suffered. I never "lost" a parent, split my time between two homes, had two Christmases or felt myself being pulled in different directions through a custody battle. For me, family was three girls eating fresh pasta at a round dinner table and that is as real as the rain. Having a single mother, I was sometimes put in the "broken home" category. Truly, there was nothing broken about my home. There were three in the beginning, and we are still three. We have each added on a partner and my sister and I now have baby boys, but we are as three as ever.
After the birth of my son, my mother moved in with me for what was supposed to be two weeks but turned into a month. She was at my side all throughout my labour, supporting and encouraging me. She delivered both my sister and myself naturally, without drugs, and I knew that when she held onto my hand and said, "I know it hurts, baby", she really did know. In the first days of his life, it became clear that the battle had not ended with labour and that breastfeeding was proving to be an even more treacherous mountain to climb. Night after night, I handed my newborn son to her as I sank back against the rocking chair, tears streaming down my face and full of shame at my inability to nurse my son. My sister and I had taken to breastfeeding like little ducks to water, and so although she had no way to relate to the pain, the guilt and the terrible feelings of failure, she quietly assured me that motherhood is full of little heartaches and that this too shall pass. It wasn't until much later that she confessed to me that on the nights when she went out to get me some miracle nipple cream, breast shield, cooling compress or whatever new thing we thought might help, she would first sit in her car and cry into the steering wheel , wishing that there was something she could do to fix my problem. As every mother knows, and I now know, it is the most excruciating thing to watch your child suffer. Of course she never let on, she was by my side all the while, cool as a cucumber. She has taught me that motherhood is about making sacrifices for love. The pain of natural labour was the first sacrifice, sticking with breastfeeding was the second and I know there are many more to come, but I have big shoes to fill, so I welcome these challenges because I see them as an opportunity to prove to my mother and myself that she raised me extraordinarily well. She has taught me to nurture, to be stern but also kind, to stop and watch my baby before all these little moments pass and make way for toddlerhood, childhood and eventually adulthood. I will never forget the time that she spent with me when dear baby arrived. Waking up for every night feeding, telling me how some little face my son made reminded her of me as a baby, helping me get the impossible burps out and praising me when my red-faced little bundle finally quieted down to sleep. My mother has a little saying that she heard in a poem and she would often remind me of it whenever I stressed about the state of the house or the fact that I'd been in the same pyjamas for three days...
"Settle down cobwebs, dust go to sleep. I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep"
and so...
To my mother, who is an angel on earth. If I lived over one hundred lifetimes, I could never thank you enough for what you have done for me in this one. Everything I have, you gave me. Everything I know, you taught me. Everything I am, you made me. Thank you for teaching me what it means to be a mother and for truly meaning it when you told me your love knew no bounds.
Diadima xo

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Milk Sharing: When you care enough to send the very best

Hello mamas! It's been a while...again. I do apologize, but I've been very busy goo goo-ing over my brand new nephew that was brought into the world by my dear sister on April 14- so I know you'll excuse my absence :-)

All throughout pregnancy, a woman can't turn her head without hearing about the benefits of breastfeeding her baby. Everywhere you go there are signs up: in the doctor's office, the hospital, the midwife's waiting room, baby shows, pamphlets, registration packages, bottle packaging and even in the advertisements for infant formula. We know that breast milk is the best thing for our babies, of course we know it, it's been indoctrinated from conception. Thanks to the tireless work of doctors, lactation consultants, midwives, doulas and North American marketing, the majority of women breast feed their babies for an average of six months. It's no wonder then that when a woman experiences great difficulty with breastfeeding- whether it's because of low supply, damaged nipples, poor latch, no latch or downright unbearable, excruciating pain- she completely falls to pieces.

I personally knew that I would breast feed long before my dear baby was even a twinkle in my eye, and- as you all know mamas- I had a hell of a time establishing my breastfeeding routine. It took me twelve weeks to even be able to get through a breastfeeding session and four more to coax dear baby back to the laborious task of drinking from the breast after he'd been spoiled with continuous bottle flow for four months. Lucky for me, I was able to pump unbelievable amounts (we're talking up to 14oz) and so my son received my breast milk the entire time.

Now with all this touting of the benefits of breast milk, and with all of these beautiful nursing mothers around, why is it that people still can't help but cringe when they hear the expression "milk sharing"?

I admit, when I first heard on the radio that women in the US are selling their excess breast milk online for $5 an ounce, my reaction was "ewwwwwwww, GROSS!". Of course, at that time I was six months pregnant and swore I'd never bare a breast in public. I always thought back to that episode of Sex and The City when Miranda couldn't get her son to latch. She was wearing a robe and a nursing bra and had both boobs hanging out as she tried, frustrated, to get her son to latch onto one of them. I'll never forget the look on Carrie's face as she sat in front of her, partly embarrassed for her friend, partly looking around for an exit. During pregnancy, I related a lot more to Carrie in that situation, but as soon as my son was born, I was putting Miranda to shame, not even bothering with the robe and bra and just walked around my whole house with no top on for about two months.

At one point, I mentioned what I had heard about selling your milk online to my Midwife and what I thought of it. She chuckled a bit, but then told me that it's illegal to sell milk in Canada, and then very earnestly told me that, here, women have "milk shares", where they are linked up to one another online and one woman can give her breast milk to another if she needs some help. I was still put off by this, and my midwife explained to me the order of what's best for baby:

1. Mother's milk
2. Mother's milk, expressed and bottle fed, cup fed, finger fed or some other variation.
3. Another mother's milk
4. Formula

She kindly reminded me of the long-used practice of wet-nurses and how, in many cultures today, if a new mother becomes ill, has too little milk or- worst of all- her milk never comes in at all, the other nursing mothers in the community all take on the responsibility of nourishing the baby. We've all heard the expression "it takes a village", and in these cases, it's literal.

It was after this conversation that I realized my ignorance and childishness. A mother is a mother is a mother. Of course, one's own mother is best, but what I began to realize was that if I held a baby in my arms who was in need and I was in a position to help them, then I would. I felt that I could relate to those village mothers who take on the task of helping to nurse infants who were not thriving. Thirteen days after my son was born, my very dear friend S gave birth in her home to her own beautiful baby boy. When I went to visit them for the first time, I looked down at him and I thought to myself that if anything ever happened, I would help this child. I would nurse this child. I would keep this child safe. My own child is and always will be the most important, but this child, I thought, is special too. This is the basic empathy that comes with being a mother and a woman, the desire to nurture.

A couple of weeks ago, a mama who is very close to me was struggling with breastfeeding. She had been home with her dear baby for several days and her milk had not come in. There was some milk, and it was the watery white consistency of early milk, but it was scarce. She was nursing her dear baby tirelessly, around the clock, trying to get him up to his birth weight. When the midwife first mentioned that he was not gaining according to percentage and may need a supplement, his mama was worried. She wanted her baby to be exclusively breastfed, but of course, a full-bellied, thriving baby was the most important thing. She was given 24hrs to get his weight up before a supplement would be introduced. I stayed with her for the day as she nursed every hour and a half, all through the day and into the night. The next morning, everyone was certain he would have put on at least three ounces and when they scale revealed that, not only had he not gained, but he had lost another three ounces, his dear mama was devastated. I thought back to the horrible, heartbreaking time that I had with nursing in the beginning. I was the first of my group of mommy friends to deliver and, at times, felt quite alone during the ordeal. Every time I gave my dear baby a bottle of breast milk instead of nursing him, I felt ashamed, defeated and detached from him. My heart went out to this new mama who was torturing herself with the thought of having starved her baby. She hadn't wanted to give formula because she wanted to give her milk a chance to come in fully, which was supported by the midwife, and now she was being told that he was "too light".

I went home that evening feeling very strongly that I should help this mother. I knew that I had milk stored in the freezer. I knew that I had domperidone stashed in the cupboard to boost my milk supply. At seven months post-pardem, my milk is fully-established and mature, with a higher fat content than any formula you could buy in a store. I knew that my milk would help this dear baby gain weight quickly and that it would ease his mother's guilt about giving anything other than breast milk to her newborn son. I wanted to help her, but I wasn't totally sure how to offer my help. I didn't want to seem that I was bragging about having all this extra milk when she was struggling to create supply and I didn't want to assume that she would agree. A new mother is a very sensitive creature and a new mother who is having difficulty nourishing her baby on her own is all the more fragile. I decided to make the offer and she happily agreed. Her dear baby is happy to accept this new milk and his dear mother is supplementing with a lactation aid- probably the most natural way to supplement an infant (a thin tube is placed alongside the breast during nursing, one end is in a bottle of breast milk and the other end delivers extra nourishment to baby as he suckles away). Dear mama requires between 10 and 15oz of extra breast milk per day, which I am unfortunately not able to supply on my own, and so our dear mutual friend S (whom I mentioned earlier in the post) is also contributing milk to the cause. This beautiful, lucky dear baby is being nourished by three mothers, all of whom love him unconditionally.

After ten days of breast milk supplementation, I am happy to report that dear baby is pretty much at his birth weight and growing every day. On top of that, his dear mother is noticing and increase in her own supply and therefore a decrease in the use of supplement every single day. Her Midwife and O.B are beyond thrilled for her as well. They both agree that she has the very best of a bad situation in that she has people close to her who are also nursing and are willing to donate milk, and more importantly, that she has been willing to accept the donations. Both have remarked how exceptional and wonderful it is for women to band together to care for their infants and how great it would be if more women were able to participate in milk sharing and the use of lactation aid when supplementing their newborns.

When I think back to my pre-natal self, I can't help but laugh at my pettiness, my lack of understanding. I see now that there is no child I could hold in my arms that I would not help if I could. Nursing mothers work hard to prevent the stigma of breastfeeding in public. There are many nursing groups and mother's groups (La Leche, for example), that advocate nursing any time, any place. If only there were more groups advocating for milk sharing. As I said at the beginning of this post, we all KNOW that breast milk is what's best for our babies. Knowing this, we should all be more willing to participate in the village community of nursing mothers. It is a mother's instinct to care for, nurture and nourish babies, so let's extend that nurturing instinct to the mothers who wish to keep their babies exclusively breastfed but need a little assistance while their milk strengthens. People often see breast milk as a bodily fluid and therefore something personal, like saliva, that shouldn't be shared. I would say, as politely as possible, that those people are fools.

And I would know, I used to be one of them.

Diadima xo