Emotions for Lunch

My willpower and strength wavered since Noah died, but it was still there somewhere. Sometimes it just gets misplaced amongst all the stresses of life.

Lox, bagels, cream cheese, and sliced cucumbers. I remember thinking how Noah would’ve loved all this food, and being confused at the platters being there and him not. We had just come from the cemetery. My two-year-old son, Noah, had died in a swimming pool accident three days before.

It felt like I didn’t eat for months after he died. I couldn’t stand thinking about him never eating that béchamel and mushroom pizza we used to get at Trader Joe’s. Or him never ever again eating an apple in the shopping cart at Shoprite, then throwing that apple on the floor in the third aisle (which was the candy aisle). We would share a bag of chocolate licorice as we shopped and I would pay for the empty bag.

The stage of depriving myself food, especially anything that Noah loved, lasted a long time. I lost a lot of weight. By the time we began fertility treatments about nine months after the accident, I was eating so little. The pleasure of food was lost. At some point, I went from the need to deprive myself to not being able to stop eating. I don’t remember exactly when or how that shift occurred.

The stress of fertility treatments, money troubles, and the overwhelming brokenness of our lives made me look for something that gave some pleasure. Writing was too difficult at the time. The introspection that it required was impossible. Food binges became the easy way to squash my thoughts for a little while. I found myself constantly in the kitchen, eating anything. No food was safe. I didn’t even know what being hungry felt like anymore.

I never weighed myself but I knew I’d ballooned to the highest weight I’d ever been. I was out of breath and out of my mind. I never looked at my body anymore.

We switched fertility doctors after not having any success or options. At our new clinic, there were kinder doctors and nurses, and a medical study was being conducted! If we qualified, it would save us many thousands of dollars in our next fertility cycle attempt. We told the doctor we would do anything to get another chance. He smiled, “The nurse will call.”

I got that phone call in an Ulta Beauty store. Shopping for lipstick probably.

I answered my cell and went off to a quiet corner of the vanity-lit store. I was told in the most sensitive way possible that, based on my current weight, I needed to lose 55 pounds to qualify. And I needed to do it in about two months to stay within the deadline of the study. The nurse then said that she didn’t want me to hurt myself and that it would be practically impossible and she was so sorry. I remember crying amongst the lighted mirrors displayed on the shelf. I saw myself over and over, magnified in the shiny silver circles and ovals. I told her I would do it. I would be safe about it and I would do it. “Put us on the list,” I begged.

I had to willingly go back to the days of no appetite. No desire to taste or enjoy. I had to burn off this fat to have a baby again. To be a family again.

I started the very next day. I told my boss at my wine sales job that morning what I needed to do. We had a wine luncheon to go to that day (we had them often). Great restaurants and great wine, but I needed to start immediately. I remember telling him what I was going to order: a salad and beef carpaccio, and I would spit all the wine instead of drinking a glass or two of the one I liked best. He gently but firmly encouraged me to keep my eye on the prize. This was the last chance. We had to qualify.

I started walking every night after work. With a borrowed flashlight from my neighbor Kim, at first walking up any slight hill was impossible. My knees hurt. My feet hurt. I was so far from my goal. I talked to God while I walked, and Noah, and myself. The inner dialogue never stopped.

I walked and starved and walked and cried and starved and then started to walk a little faster. I was so hungry. So that’s what hunger feels like! It had been so long. I had nights when I reached my breaking point. I cried for so many reasons. I was hungry. I was tired. I wanted my son back. I was angry at my body for not getting pregnant. I was angry I’d let my gluttony get so out of hand that I may cause us to lose this chance at having a baby again.

Within the first few days of my new regimen, I went to see my regular medical doctor. This was the doctor who had to go out into the hallway when we told her about the accident a week after it happened. She didn’t want to cry in front of us. I remember she was out there for a while.

This visit, I sat down in her office and told her what I needed to do. I asked her if there was anything she could do to help me. I started a medication that would boost my metabolism and eliminate my appetite.

I tried a colonic. It was awful. The water flows in so strongly that it creates spasms in your stomach. It ironically felt like being in labor. I had hoped it would be an easy bonus to the exercise, starvation, meal replacement shakes, and pills, but it wasn’t. It was not only a pain in the ass but also an unbearable pain in the gut.

Then I started to lose weight. Numbers on the scale started dropping. I was now addicted to the empty feeling in my stomach. In a way, I was back to punishing myself for losing Noah. I was punished through gluttony and through hunger. That’s how much losing a child changes you. Basic functions to survive became skewed challenges. You’re not even sure you want to survive.

I’ve never been a woman who talks about dieting. I’m more likely to talk about the latest commercial for whatever bastardized version of Mexican food Taco Bell is featuring. It always looks so good on TV, with a catchy name like BurritoChiladaGordoDelicioso.

But now my body was about pure function, not form. Scientifically, there was a better chance of pregnancy occurring at a healthy BMI versus the form of a chips, bagels, cookies, and canisters of Pringles body I’d been inhabiting.

I did it. I made it to the weight I needed to be! The nurses and doctors were shocked and thrilled. I just kept smiling. My body was going to do it. I was giving it my all. Onto the blood tests, injections, and medications again, but this time it had to work.

We scrounged for the money we needed. Nothing was impossible. We would figure out a way.

December 26th, 2012, Miriam Phoenix was born.

When my husband or our daughter misplaces something in our apartment, and I know the item hasn’t left the confines of our home, I always say “It has to be here somewhere!” Miriam has started saying that too now. My willpower and strength wavered since Noah died, but it was still there somewhere. Sometimes it just gets misplaced amongst all the stresses of life. You shake out that blanket or move the decorative pillows around and you will always find it somewhere.

Questions Not to Ask a Woman Who Has Passed Her Due Date

If you hope not to piss off a woman who has passed her due date, never ask the following

I’ve carried four babies to full-term and passed my due date twice. Those last few weeks with each were brutally long and miserable. Unfortunately, the constant checking-in by well-meaning family and friends didn’t really help my mood or my patience level.
But it wasn’t the well-wishes that drove me crazy after I’d passed my due date. It was the ridiculous questions people constantly asked.
While I know each family member and dear friend had good intentions, their constant prodding left me feeling more judged than loved and supported: Am I doing enough? Do they think I don’t want this baby to come?!
If you hope not to piss off a woman who has passed her due date, never ask the following:

Still no baby?

It seems like an innocent enough question, and you’ll probably get a polite smile and short, sweet response, but really, it’s a silly question with no good answer.
Unless you’re dealing with an unusually cheerful pregnant woman (which is a rare thing after 40+ weeks), she’ll probably be running through a lengthy list of snarky responses in her mind, such as “Are you blind?!” and “Would I be here or doing this if the baby was here already?!”

Weren’t you due…?

Seriously, people, stop with the “due date is a blood oath” idea. Less than five percent of babies are born on their due date. Medical professionals refer to an “EDD” (estimated due date) because babies can come any time.
Full-term is a range, generally accepted as between 39 and 42 weeks. Most first-time moms welcome their babies after their due date, so let’s stop assuming the baby will arrive on or before that “magic” day. It’s not a package delivery and there are no guarantees.

Have you tried…?

There are a thousand ways one can try to induce labor “naturally,” and chances are, the pregnant woman you’re talking to has tried one or all of them already.
From walking to eating pineapple to ripen the cervix to “what got the baby in there,” most pregnant women who have passed their due dates have already explored the options. Unless they specifically ask for your advice, it’s probably best to just leave it alone.

Are you going to be induced?

Induction is so common these days that it may seem like a harmless question. A third of births that reach 41 to 42 weeks result in induction.
Despite this frequency, however, induction is a pretty serious medical intervention that involves risks for both mother (increased risk of postpartum depression and up to six times higher chance of a c-section) and baby (oxygen desaturation and significantly more occurrences of non-reassuring fetal heart rates).
Induction is a decision that really only needs to be discussed between a woman and her healthcare provider, not every acquaintance she runs into at the grocery store.

Are you ready?

I’ll venture to guess that nearly all women are ready for their baby’s arrival by their due date, at the latest. By the time the due date has come and gone, most women have prepared, and re-prepared, and re-prepared again.
Constantly doing all the tasks that she wants done before baby arrives, like having the house clean or the laundry done, can make an expectant mother go crazy as she spends her days wondering how much more cleaning and laundry she will have to do before the baby actually gets here.

What are you doing here?

Clearly, every pregnant woman who is waiting for her baby to arrive should be at home doing…I’m not exactly sure what. Waiting? Driving herself crazy waiting? Wondering when it’s going to happen? Wondering if it’s happening and she doesn’t realize it? Wondering why the hell it isn’t happening?
Yeah, no. The best thing a pregnant woman can do while waiting is to keep busy. It not only keeps her mind off the waiting, but normal human activity can also get the baby to actually come.

Are you going to try to have the baby before the storm?

Three of my babies came during hurricane season in South Florida, so I’m no stranger to preparing for delivery and a major storm at the same time. While not being able to get to a hospital during labor because of a natural disaster is certainly a terrifying prospect, bringing it up to a hugely pregnant woman who has probably been thinking about it non-stop is less than helpful.
Plus, babies are much safer and easier to manage during a natural disaster when they’re still in utero than after they’re born. So no, I will not “try” to have the baby before the storm.
So what should you say? Instead of prodding too much or drawing attention to the obvious, it’s best to stick with a simple “How you feeling?” or “I’m thinking of you” or, most helpful of all, “Is there anything I can do?

Peace and Love During Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month

It’s 2017 and I have learned to smile again. I have two amazing “rainbow babies.” Still, I do not forget where I came from.

“Mommy, I wish it was just the three of us,” my five-year-old son Owen said suddenly.
I sighed and mentally prepared myself for what was coming. My little boy adored his father, so I assumed that he meant Daddy, himself, and his big sister, Julia. Instead, he uttered these names: Julia, Owen, and Liam.
My heart sank.
Although still young, my youngest child was beginning to understand. Physically, it was just Owen and Julia. But they also had a big brother whom they never met. Liam was our firstborn son and died at only nine days old.
My husband Brian and I found out we were expecting our first child on January 1, 2008. Everything was going along perfectly – until that day. I was just over 20 weeks and due to have my anatomy scan.
“I found a problem with the baby’s heart,” the doctor said.
Our joy turned to devastation with those words.
It’s 2017 and I have learned to smile again. I have two amazing “rainbow babies. Still, I do not forget where I came from.
On October 25, 1988, President Ronald Reagan declared the entire month of October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Prior to our tragedy, we had never heard of it. We had never imagined this would be our fate.
Liam had been gone for a few weeks when Brian and I headed down those steps to the church basement in October of 2009. It was dark, quiet, and somber. Everyone was getting ready to light their candles in honor of all our babies.
Until then, Brian and I lived in complete isolation. The bereavement support group and cemetery became the only places where we felt solace. I remember being a “newbie” amongst all those who had experienced loss.
“The pain does soften,” they would say.
At the time, I absolutely refused to believe them. I do now. I have been writing about neonatal loss for several years. It still feels raw and painful, but it’s different somehow. Many of us liken it to a scar – something that will never go away.
Nine years ago, I was a very angry and bitter person. I lashed out at friends and family. I refused to attend events. My own despair was so great, I could barely think at all. I couldn’t see anything beyond my pain. I didn’t want to. I had no idea on how to move forward. The decision to try for a second child was made mostly by my husband.
After Julia’s birth, I felt guilt. I felt as if moving on was a betrayal to Liam. I also felt comfort and joy, which was both scary and beautiful at the same time. I had similar feelings after the birth of Owen.
Slowly, I realized that I was allowed to have both emotions. My sadness for my first baby would always be there. So would the happiness for my living children. They could co-exist.
Today, I still light my candle. I do so, not only for my Liam, but for other angels that we have lost along the way. On October 15th, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness day, I joined countless others who have experienced this unbearable pain. The candle lighting forms a “wave of light” across the world. In this way, all of our babies will be remembered.
I often wonder what I would say to someone suffering a recent loss. I am not sure any words would suffice. I feel their anguish. Our baby’s lives, no matter how brief, leave footprints on our hearts forever.
They are loved.
They will never ever be forgotten.

Moms-To-Be, You Should Still Get Flu Vaccines

A clickbait article is spreading like, well, the flu, and is likely to significantly impact pregnant women’s behavior at doctors’ offices this flu season.

A study published in the journal Vaccine has identified an association between the flu vaccine and miscarriage. The finding of the study is quite narrow: women who had a spontaneous abortion (SAB) were more likely to have received flu vaccinations during the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 flu seasons. The study’s authors are cautious about their conclusions: “This study does not and cannot establish a causal relationship between repeated influenza vaccination and SAB, but further research is warranted.”

That disclaimer isn’t stopping needless panic in pregnant women as this is a finding tailor-made for clickbait. This article is spreading like, well, the flu, and is likely to significantly impact pregnant women’s behavior at doctors’ offices this flu season.

Some analysts have already offered good reasons not to panic. Emily Ramirez at Pregnant Chicken suggests that the 2010-2012 flu vaccine, which was developed in response to H1N1, was a unique vaccine, so findings based on miscarriages during that period might not be applicable to other years. Lena H. Sun at the Washington Post notes that the median age of miscarriage recorded in the study was seven weeks, a time when the risk of miscarriage is high and when many women don’t even know they are pregnant. Sun hypothesizes that the flu vaccine-miscarriage link could be explained by some women’s overall use of health care. The women in the study who had miscarriages were enrolled after seeking medical treatment for their miscarriages. Women who seek treatment for miscarriage are also more likely to pursue other preventive health measures (like flu shots), which might explain the association discovered by the researchers.

One more reason not to panic has nothing to do with the specific study findings, or with the particular time period that was studied. It’s where the article was published.

What does a journal say about its articles?

When a scientific finding gets reported in the news, the title of the journal is often an afterthought. In sparse Associated Press Style, the journal isn’t italicized or underlined, so it often doesn’t even stick out to readers. But the journal titles often offer helpful clues to readers trying to interpret a study’s findings.

One of those hints is a journal’s “impact factor,” a number that shows its importance relative to other journals in its field. A journal’s impact factor is calculated by totaling all the citations of articles from the previous two years and dividing it by the total number of articles published in the journal during that time. The result is the average number of citations each article in the journal receives.

Impact factors are not without controversy. Averaging the citations for a journal’s article makes it appear as though all articles are equally influential, when of course there is often great variety of impact. Furthermore, practices like publishing literature reviews (summaries of the known scientific literature about a topic), tend to up a publication’s impact factor because they are widely cited.

Although it is an imperfect measurement, a journal’s impact factor offers a sense for the journal’s prestige. The higher the impact factor, the more prestigious the journal. The 2016 impact factor of the Journal of the American Medical Association is 44. For The New England Journal of Medicine, it’s 72.

The 2016 impact factor of Vaccine is three.

Does this mean the articles in Vaccine are not credible? Not at all. It just means that they are not frequently cited by other medical researchers.

There could be many reasons for lower citation rates. A low impact factor could be an indicator that the journal’s articles are not considered credible by other researchers. But a low impact factor could also indicate that the topics studied by the journal are for a narrow audience of specialists.

Although an impact factor can’t tell you whether an article in a journal is good or even true, it does tell you that it is expected to be a field-transforming article. Both the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association frequently run articles about vaccines. You can bet that if the authors of this article had identified a causal link between the flu vaccine and miscarriage, they would have published in one of those journals.

The New York Times interviewed Vaccine’s editor-in-chief Gregory Poland about his decision to publish these findings. Poland asserted that the piece was well-designed and raised an important question. But when asked if he thought the flu vaccines caused the miscarriages, he answered “Not at all.” The Times piece also mentions that this article was rejected at two other publications before being accepted at Vaccine, but that fact should not be taken as a marker of quality. Scientific researchers regularly submit multiple times before receiving an acceptance.

Who is vaccine research for?

The authors of the study assert that the findings should not change vaccine policy. The editor of the journal that published the study thinks that the flu vaccines were not the cause of the miscarriages. And yet, the reporting of this article is leaving readers with exactly that interpretation.

This brings us to an important question. Who are the results of scientific research for? Should the public be reading the tentative conclusions of scientific journal articles? Should journalists be reporting on them?

This study does not suggest any behavioral change for pregnant women. Instead, it poses an interesting question for future research: is there something different about that 2011-2012 vaccine that is not yet understood? Could further study of that vaccine contribute to increased vaccine safety?

These are great questions for “the pre-eminent journal for those interested in vaccines and vaccination.” These are terrible questions for pregnant women, or soon-to-be-pregnant women, or women who experienced miscarriages who are now blaming themselves for getting vaccinated.

Perhaps that’s why, ahead of Vaccine’s publication of this article, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a preemptive “warning” to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, not about any dangers posed by flu vaccines, but to “help them prepare for a potential wave of worry from expectant moms.”

It would be unfair to expect scientific journals not to release their results to the public; in fact, doing so would slow the pace of scientific discovery. It would likewise be unfair to expect journalists not to report on those findings. But it’s even more unfair to drop such findings in front of readers – readers who will make health choices based on those findings – without providing appropriate context for interpretation.

Open Letter to Preeclampsia

Sure, I would’ve preferred a nice hotel and massage, but three weeks on an intermittently-inflating bed and five AM blood draws were a close approximation.

Dear Preeclampsia,

You’ve been the friend every woman longs for during the exhausting final months of pregnancy. Your thoughtfulness was extraordinary – you clearly saw my need for rest and relaxation during such a stressful time.

Sure, I would’ve preferred a nice hotel and massage, but three weeks on an intermittently-inflating bed and five AM blood draws were a close approximation. While not having to get out of bed to pee was a nice touch, I have to say that I would’ve liked a chance to look into what other spa services were available. The staff was a little pushy, checking on me every three hours, but they refilled my water as needed.

Please don’t think me ungrateful. I know you were looking out for my best interests, making sure I was taken care of with food delivered moderately warm and unsalted right to my bed. At least, when I was able to eat at all. That was one of your most creative gifts, a nice magnesium cleanse to help me get a head start on losing the baby weight.

You know I support the arts, so you arranged for the IV pump to sing me the song of its people at unpredictable intervals. You went out of your way to help me avoid stretch marks and torn lady bits, and outdid yourself in your commitment to avoiding the woes of the third trimester. No way would I have gotten my body back as quickly if I’d carried the pregnancy to term!

Whereas many pregnancy illnesses are nothing more than an annoyance, you helped me meet my dear son two months earlier than I expected. I was then relieved of the burden that comes with a screaming baby in the middle of the night since you arranged for him to stay right there in the hospital for five weeks.

You thought of everything!

But did you have to try to kill me? It really sends a person mixed signals.

Sincerely,

Rhiannon Giles

This post originally appeared on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

The Surprising Science of Dads in Pregnancy and Postpartum

Science has something to say about just how much influence dad has, whether he wants to or not, from the very beginning.

What comes to mind when you think about pregnancy, prenatal care, birth, and newborns?
It’s a blur of frequent checkups, peeing in a cup, peeing a lot in general, nausea, heartburn, crazy hormones, baby care, I’m so tired, and wow, why are diapers so expensive?
Most of these thoughts are centered on mom and baby. Rightfully so, as women are the actual vessels housing the little energy-sucking bundles of ever-loving joy and sacrificing body, brain, boobs, and bubbly drinks to grow them and care for them.
But where is dad in all this? His role goes way beyond being just a sperm donor and side spectator throughout the process.
Although we may recognize the importance of a father’s presence in raising kids, we often isolate the pregnancy and newborn time period as mom’s job. But science has something to say about just how much influence dad has, whether he wants to or not, from the very beginning.

Before pregnancy

Age

It’s no secret: Today’s women are waiting longer to start families, due to factors like personal and career goals and advancements in reproductive medicine. So it would make sense that dads are getting older, too. Indeed, the typical man with a newborn is 3.5 years older than his counterpart four decades ago. The rate of new dads over 40 in particular has more than doubled.
Along with increasing age comes unexpected impacts on the family. It can take longer to get pregnant, and the risk of miscarriage is higher. There is also a higher chance of birth defects, genetic disorders, and psychological conditions in offspring. But there are big benefits, too, like financial stability and emotional preparedness, plus the possibility of producing smarter kids and the extended effect of increased lifespan for future generations.

Lifestyle

We’ve also focused responsibility for smoking and drinking during pregnancy solely on the woman, but a man’s lifestyle habits have a surprising impact as well.
A study in International Journal of Epidemiology showed that children with a father who smoked earlier in life (but had quit prior to conception) had a more than three times higher chance of early-onset asthma than children whose father had never smoked.
A review by National Drug Research Institute found that men who drank 10 or more alcoholic drinks per week during preconception carried a two to five times increased risk of miscarriage. Additionally, paternal alcohol consumption was associated with a greater risk of negative outcomes for infants, including ventricle malformation, low birth weight, low gestational age, and even acute lymphoblastic leukaemia at high-level use.

During pregnancy

Symptoms and hormones and emotions, oh my!

Women may be the ones doing all the “hard work” but aren’t the only ones who suffer through a pregnancy.
Ever heard of sympathy pregnancy symptoms? Yeah, this is a real thing. It’s called couvade syndrome, defined as a phenomenon in which a male experiences symptoms of pregnancy during the time his partner or another woman he is particularly close to is pregnant. They may have weight gain, nausea, mood swings, fatigue, sleep loss, and other telltale symptoms.
Many men also have real hormonal changes during this time with a drop in testosterone and estradiol levels, as evidenced by a study published in American Journal of Human Biology.
So women aren’t the only hormonal hippos in the house! (Not sure if this is good or bad?)
Add to that all the pressure and stress associated with a new baby, and you have a recipe for a male version of prenatal depression. A study published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology reported that new depression in fathers was linked to a 38 percent increased risk of very preterm birth. That’s quite a significant number and indicates that a father’s health is important because it has spillover effects on the rest of the family.

After pregnancy

Dad depression

The underlying changes dads go through don’t end when the baby is born. The postpartum period, although supposedly a joyful new chapter in life, brings new challenges and stressors for both parents.
Postpartum depression is a hot topic these days, with an estimated one in seven new moms affected. Increased awareness is a good thing, as more moms are getting the help they need. But most don’t realize dads can feel the baby blues, too. Up to 10 percent of new fathers experience symptoms of depression, according to researchers at the University of Southern California.
An interesting study published in Hormones and Behavior revealed a link between a drop in testosterone and increased risk of paternal depression. On the other hand, men with high testosterone weren’t affected by depressive symptoms, but there was still an important family implication: Their mama partners were more likely to be depressed and reported more aggressive behavior coming from their man.
Clearly, dad’s hormones and emotional state affect mom and the family’s overall well-being. This is all very eye-opening in light of our current social views of pregnancy and medical care protocols focusing solely on mother and baby.
“We often think of motherhood as biologically driven because many mothers have biological connections to their babies through breastfeeding and pregnancy,” said Darby Saxbe, lead researcher. “We don’t usually think of fatherhood in the same biological terms.”

Remember the father factor

It’s clear that fathers have a huge impact biologically and emotionally through conception, pregnancy, and the postpartum period, but they are unfortunately very underserved in the medical community. Shouldn’t paternal education and care be part of the process?
We often expect men to just support their partners, but they may not have adequate support themselves even while suffering from hormonal imbalances. That is certainly something to think about!
The real question is, would the supposed-to-be-strong, nothing’s-wrong-with-me, manly man admit that he might need help?
What do you think? Share your thoughts below.

What Can My Baby Hear? A Breakdown From Conception to Toddlerhood

Hearing is one sense that connects babies to us while they are still womb-side. So how exactly does their hearing develop?

From conception until birth, babies do not waste a single second in the construction of their squishy little bodies. Babies are amazing when you stop and think about it: Their whole being is literally formed from two cells, and parents celebrate that fact by counting 10 little toes and 10 little fingers.
As expectant parents, we wait (impatiently) for 40 long weeks to be able to tell our little bundle that they are loved, but the truth is they can hear those words long before we can hear any noise our babe makes. Hearing is one sense that connects them to us while they are still womb-side. So how exactly does a baby’s hearing develop?

In Utero

Before a baby can first hear, his entire hearing structure must first be created, and that process starts at the very beginning of pregnancy.

Week four of pregnancy

Even though mom-to-be may not even know she’s got a baby on board, baby is already busy at work. Baby is about the size of the period at the end of this sentence and the cells are beginning to assemble into their intended body parts. The cells that will form baby’s ears are printing up their blueprints.
If baby could hear this week, he’d hear your whoops of joy as you receive your BFP.

Week nine of pregnancy

Mama may be in the midst of morning all day sickness, but that doesn’t hamper baby’s development. Although the ears themselves have not sprouted, there are now visible indentations, which signify the groundbreaking – so to speak – for baby’s ears.
If baby could hear this week, he’d hear you tiredly ask “Pass the Saltines, please?”

Week 16-18 of pregnancy

Congratulations! Baby’s ears are officially working. His inner ear and all those accompanying bones are developed enough to hear those first few sounds. To be fair, your voice will sound more like an underwater megaphone than a crisp Bose speaker. As baby matures, however, his hearing will improve.

Week 24 of pregnancy

Some researchers note that babies’ heart rates increase when they hear their mother’s voice, which means baby is already paying attention to what you have to say.

Week 30+ of pregnancy

Studies indicate that babies who frequently hear the same lullaby during this time are later soothed by that same lullaby once they are born. Pretty cool!
Common phrases baby will hear during the third trimester: “When will he be here” and “I love you.”
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baby hearing sounds of their cry

Birth

Birth is many things and “loud” can be one of them. From the constant beeping of monitors to the incessant chatter between doctor and nurses to the moaning (okay, yelling) during the ring of fire, the world can be noisy when a baby first enters it. Two particular noises stand out among the rest.

1 | Baby’s own first cry

Not only do mothers everywhere rejoice at this cry, it is also the first time baby hears himself cry. Does it scare him? Or does it make him proud? We’ll never know but I like to think it’s a cry of relief that labor is over. Although, interestingly, some researchers connect that first cry to musical ability later in life.

2 | Mother’s voice

Studies show that the maternal voice is very soothing to baby – after all, it’s been his lullaby since, well, the very first second he could hear. Don’t feel bad, Dads. Dads come in a close second.
Popular phrases a baby hears at birth: “It’s a boy/girl!” “You’re beautiful!” and last but not least “I love you.”
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EMS baby earmuffs for protection from loud noise

Parent Co. partnered with Ems for Kids because they believe every parent should understand the intricacies of hearing development (and not be concerned when their kid starts flat out ignoring them).

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Newborn

Just like a newborn’s eyesight, the hearing is working, but not at full power. After spending 40+ weeks floating in fluid, there’s still some residual fluid inside of a newborn’s middle ear, which can slightly – but temporarily – affect hearing. This is not unlike the hearing fuzziness we experience as adults when there’s pool water stuck in our ear. Add this to a brand new and slightly undeveloped hearing system and you begin to understand why “baby talk” is so popular: Babies respond better to sounds that are high pitched and exaggerated because they can hear those sounds better.
Other hearing milestones

  • Soothed by a familiar voice (two months)
  • Looks for the source of a noise (four months)
  • Imitates sounds they hear (six months)

Popular phrases a newborn hears: “Shhhh,” “Why aren’t you going to sleep,” “Please go to sleep,” and of course “I love you.”
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Baby hearing development water sounds

Toddlerhood

Welcome to toddlerhood – the land where having ears doesn’t mean they are actually used! Parents tend to focus on teaching busy tots to work on their listening skills. (Easier said than done, I know.) Dealing with a toddler who tunes you out can be infuriating, but it is a smidge easier to handle when you understand the reason for the tune out. Toddlers – who still have poor impulse control – are slowly developing their autonomy, and for some kids, that autonomy is manifests as ignorance to whatever you’re saying.
Common phrases a toddler might hear: “No,” “Don’t climb on that,” “I said no already,” “Come back here,” “Don’t eat that,” and of course “I love you.”

How to keep a toddler’s ears healthy

While the terrible twos may force us to focus on the listening aspect of ears, there are many other ways to help keep a tot’s ears physically healthy:

  • Prevent ear infections with extra hand washing during cold season
  • Protect your toddler from loud noises. Toddlers love exploring their big beautiful world. Part of those explorations may include concerts on the green and Fourth of July fireworks. But since their ears are susceptible to damage – and over a third of hearing loss cases are due to loud noises – be sure to bring Ems to functions where loud noises are anticipated. Have a baby in tow? Grab the Bubs Baby earmuffs.
  • Teach him not to stick objects like crayons and beans into his ears.

Whether your baby is still in utero building those budding ears or working hard to hold a conversation with you, the most important thing those little ears will ever hear are the sweet words of a parent: “I love you.”
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Parent Co. partnered with Ems for Kids because they believe every parent should understand the intricacies of hearing development (and not be concerned when their kid starts flat out ignoring them).

What Happened When I Had the Kind of Birth I Thought I Wanted

I wanted to believe – don’t we all – that there was a perfect birth for me and, if I played my cards right, such an experience was mine for the taking.

Two weeks before I gave birth to my second son, I was wrapped up under a blanket on my couch – eyelids heavy and a beleaguered throw pillow between my knees – listening to a guided meditation track specifically designed for those of us terrified by surgery. I took slow breaths. I did not think about needles or internal organs. My heart beat at a steady rhythm. Everything was going to be great.
For my entire pregnancy, I’d had a low-lying placenta stubbornly situated 1.4 centimeters from my cervix. According to my doctor/midwife practice, and approximately one million Internet message boards (yes, I read them all), such a placenta would make a vaginal birth too risky to attempt. After several weeks – er, months – of denial and terror, I’d made a kind of peace with the situation, downloaded Peggy Huddleston’s surgery prep MP3s, ordered those really soft C-section recovery underwear, pored over an Instagram account featuring harrowing yet beautiful pictures of gentle cesareans, and decided I wanted Johnny Cash playing in the operating room when the surgeons got down to business.
A week later, an ultrasound technician took one last measurement of my jerk of a placenta. I dubiously watched the TV screen in the cramped exam room, scraping ultrasound jelly off the edge of my t-shirt. Then, I noticed a number. Two. Then another. 2.14. 2.05. Things, I realized, had shifted. My placenta had somehow moved the requisite two centimeters away (though the tech betrayed not an ounce of surprise or hopefulness, well-trained tech that she was). Four days later, my OB popped breezily into another exam room, where I braced myself for the news that I had grossly misread the ultrasound or that two centimeters was still too close for comfort or that now there was some other good reason for me to not give birth the way I had the first time. “So I saw the scans,” the doctor said, waving a folder at me excitedly. “They looked great. Looks like you’re good to go for a vaginal birth!”
“Okay!” I said to my grinning doctor. Okay. Okay. That was when I yanked those invisible strings you yank when you know you’re supposed to be smiling but it just isn’t happening naturally. “Great! What a relief!”
It was then that I realized how I’d not only accepted what had originally been a bewildering twist in my birth plan, I’d gotten profoundly attached to the idea.
Okay, I’ll just say it: I wanted a C-section. I wanted a medicated surgical birth. I was told I had to have it and so I had subconsciously figured out a way to want it with every fiber of my being. I couldn’t say this out loud though, not yet, I couldn’t even acknowledge it to my self. So instead, when the “good news” about my placenta came up with friends and family, I’d quickly add in, “You never know, I might need an emergency C-section! So, we’ll see, right?”
A week later, I was at last able to articulate the truth, to put into words what I really wanted this birth to be. Of course I happened to be lying sideways on a hospital bed, having rapidly dilated to 9.5 centimeters and also having halfheartedly turned down the epidural just a few hours earlier. But I said it. I finally said it.
“I WANT THE C-SECTION! I CAN’T DO THIS! GIVE ME THE C-SECTION!”
My first birth, three and a half years earlier, involved 24 hours of labor and concluded with some dramatic fanfare: the vacuum extraction of my baby after three hours of pushing. I’d opted not to have an epidural, as my overwhelming fear of needles beat out my fear of pain. And yeah, it hurt, but the whole thing moved like a car in midtown Manhattan around 5 p.m. (nice and slow), so I never felt out of my depth, never cursed out the universe, never imagined being anywhere but exactly where I was. At the end, even before my placenta had cleared the decks, I was making jokes. I felt a thousand pounds lighter, figuratively and literally. I couldn’t stop grinning. And it turns out that the elation I felt seeing my swollen son on the examining table across from me was a birth high that for me wouldn’t be replicated.
My second birth was, on paper, exactly what I wanted – before my low-lying placenta scrambled my brain. Again, I perhaps foolishly turned down the drugs. I went from four centimeters cm to 10 centimeters in less than four hours. I pushed for just 20 minutes. I left my apartment at 7:30 a.m. with manageable cramps and had a slippery baby on my chest by noon.
It was fast and straightforward and nearly without injury, but ultimately the whole thing felt to me like a rickety rollercoaster I had not wanted to get on and could not get off of. Turns out that what looks good on paper is not necessarily relevant when you’re on hands and knees on the floor of the triage room, barking at the nurse “No, there is simply no way I will be able to stand up and be wheeled to the delivery room. SORRY.”
I wanted to believe – don’t we all – that there was a perfect birth for me and, if I played my cards right, such an experience was mine for the taking. But even if that’s true, which I doubt, what does a perfect birth ultimately mean? Does it ensure a perfect baby, a perfect toddler, a perfect mother child relationship, a perfect life? Seems unlikely!
As I write this, I wait for my nearly four-week-old to wake up at any moment, obliterating this perfect chunk of writing time I’d so carved out so carefully for myself. I wait, too, for him to start sleeping more than two hours at a time. I wait for my breasts to stop leaking milk at inopportune moments (like every time I leave the house without those bra pads in). I wait for the shape of my new life with two children to emerge in front of me so that I may know what to call it, as though by saying its a square or a triangle, it will suddenly make sense and be manageable.
It is my most recent birth that reminds me that while I wait for things to sort themselves out into what I want them to be, my older son is telling me a weird and incredible story about how to hide graham crackers in pieces of chocolate and my younger son is not screaming and my husband has procured dinner and we are all okay and together and that is in fact exactly and all I want.

How to Prepare for Adoption Like an Olympic Gymnast

Approaching adoption with the mindset that you cannot fail is what will make you the kind of parent who triumphs, no matter what anyone else may tell you.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
My childhood idol was Mary Lou Retton. I still get goosebumps when I watch the final vault of the routine that earned her an Olympic Gold Medal.
It isn’t so much the sprightliness and symmetry of her flights and handsprings that thrill me, but what is penned in her expression: pristine delight, bubbling-over pride, and, most of all, glory. She knew what she had won before she won it.
Approaching adoption with the mindset that you cannot fail is what will make you the kind of parent who triumphs, no matter what anyone else may tell you. Here are some tips for preparing while you wait and pray:

Train strategically

You don’t need to read every parenting book out there and, frankly, it is confusing to listen to too many different philosophies. I talked to many adoptive parents who hadn’t read any books, and their ignorance-is-bliss attitude bore them away on an international flight with very little of the what-if-they-do-this stress that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But having some sort of game plan is wise, especially if, like me, you have never been a parent before. “The Connected Child,” by Karyn Purvis, came recommended, and I was glad that I had been expecting the defiance and wildness that the children exhibited at the beginning. Although I couldn’t see it right away, the book gave me confidence that gentle correction, consequences, and compromises would yield gradual but lasting improvements.
When the kids began to get ready for outings without being told and eagerly paraded their school projects in front of me, I knew that I was on the right track. Additional accomplishments would soon follow.

Use your team

Plenty of folks will have opinions about your parenting style, and it is crucial to ignore the negative ones. But there are times when a comment or suggestion from an experienced parent can quickly illuminate your path.
Adopted children grow exponentially during their first year. I remember my mother remarking that the kids needed longer pants. At that point, I was just glad they were putting on clothes in the morning and would never have thought about ankle insurance. Many moms and dads have been constructing sandwiches, harmonizing outfits, and kissing boo-boos for years, and their veteran advice can save you a lot of aggravation.
It’s also important to share with those who will reassure you that your struggles are not uncommon. I was glad to know I wasn’t the only mother who gave her son a pack of mini-muffins on the way out the door because breakfast was often a battle.

Employ the power of your springboard

I was a little overpowered by the magnitude of energy radiating from my kids at first, and it may have just been because it had been so long since I was their age. Endeavoring to domesticate them right away is frustrating for everybody. It is much more fun to make good use of their intensity.
Chase each other around the yard until neither one of you can speak. Skip and sing all the way to the grocery store, or scrub all the windows in the house together. It is great bonding time, and it takes your own inner free spirit out for a drive.

Learn what you can from each routine

Instead of stressing over the results of each attempt to develop my kids’ behavior, I started connecting with what I learned that would help me the next time. For example, If I wanted my son to retrieve his own cleats for soccer practice, I figured out the battle would be easier to win if I told him exactly where to find them.
If I wanted my daughter to be more confident and less contentious about her homework, I learned to praise her more while she was working. There is nothing wrong with admitting you could have done something better, and small upgrades can go a long way toward increasing your success.

Raise your hands and wave on the dismount

The only thing you can be sure of at the onset of your journey is that you will make mistakes. Forgive yourself immediately, knowing that you have done a delectable thing by giving a warm and affectionate home to an orphaned child.
Celebrate every achievement, if only with a cup of tea and a good paperback. And remember that you, too, are a sneakered, chocolate-cheeked, pint-sized person’s superstar.

Pregnant With Number 3: the Week by Week Narrative

And sister, I gotta be honest: this ain’t your first rodeo. So you need a new calendar. A give-it-to-you-straight calendar.

You peed on the stick and when that little positive sign appeared it took you a hot second to sign up for those “your baby is this many weeks old and is the size of this vegetable” emails.
At least, that was your first baby. Maybe even your second baby. It was cute, you know, imagining your baby as the size of a plum, a rutabaga, or a watermelon as you passed them in the produce aisle.
Well, welcome to the world of third babies. Congratulations to you – no, really. Everyone else might be looking at you like you’ve gone overboard with the kid thing, but I’m with you – babies are awesome, and you’re gonna be a great momma. All. Over. Again.
But first you have to get through this pregnancy. And sister, I gotta be honest: this ain’t your first rodeo. So you need a new calendar. A give-it-to-you-straight calendar. Vegetable and fruit sizes are, well, they are vegetable and fruit sizes. You need to know what’s going to be going on in your very real pregnancy life this time around.
Week One: Oh hey there, lady who has no idea she is pregnant.
Week Two: You’re still enjoying occasional glasses of wine.
Week Three: Sour gummy worms sound so good right now. Weird.
Week Four: That pregnancy test stick at CVS looks like it’s judging you.
Week Five: You casually tell your husband that you are pregnant one evening as you both lay exhausted in the living room after putting your ex-utero kids to bed. Ain’t nobody got time for a meticulously planned breakfast in bed with a pregnancy test laid casually next to the glass of orange juice.
Week Six: Morning sickness. Right.
Week Seven: Donuts for breakfast. Because wine has been suddenly eliminated from the list of available beverages to drink, and life must still be lived.
Week Eight: You should probably get around to scheduling that visit at the OB/GYN office. Sometime between now and, you know, week 25 ought to be good.
Week Nine: Crap. Did you give all those maternity pants away?
Week 10: You tell your friends because, um, you really are going to need maternity pants. Like, yesterday. Even that hair tie method isn’t going to hold out for much longer.
Week 11: You tell your older kids over dinner one night. Your oldest will swear she can feel the baby move in your tummy already.
Week 12: People start holding doors open for you because the third baby poochy belly is not kidding around. That thing popped out around week 8.
Week 13: Morning sickness.
Week 14: Morning sickness.
Week 15: Oh hey! Your baby is about as long as those sour gummy worms that you’re still craving. Also, morning sickness.
Week 16: Morning sickness.
Week 17: Morning sickness.
Week 18: Morning sickness.
Week 19: Morning sickness.
Week 20: You know you’re at 20 weeks because this is sonogram week. Now when people ask you how many weeks you are you can proudly give them a firm number. In another week or two, you’re back to having no idea exactly how many weeks or days pregnant you are.
Week 21: You gave up vegetables and healthy eating weeks ago. My advice? LIVE. IT. UP. This is your last pregnancy (or so you keep telling people). You will never be able to feel this guiltless about that second bowl of ice cream again. The gestational diabetes test is still a full five weeks away, sister. If you’re gonna pound the carbs, time is of the essence.
Week 22: Also known as the week that you start feeding your two ex-utero children crackers, string cheese, and bagged popcorn for lunch. You know they count as grains, dairy, and vegetables, right?
Week 23: It’s totally normal to wake up in a panic thinking about the fact that you will need to endure labor and delivery again. Because you will need to endure it. Again.
Week 24: You sigh as you pull into your driveway in your minivan, and then pause as you reach for the garage door button. Nope. This is the week you start parking in the driveway because you are tired of having to squeeze between the sliding doors and the children’s toys taking up space in your garage.
Week 25: Place those antacid bottles in the bathroom, in the car, on the kitchen counter, and next to your side of the bed. You’re welcome.
Week 26: The week of “don’t touch me.” Anybody. Hormones have flipped the switch and mama and her growing belly need their space.
Week 27: The week you log on to Facebook asking for any and all suggestions to ease the pain that has crept into your right posterior hip region any time you try to walk. Maybe for the first time in your life, you visit a chiropractor.
Week 28: God bless chiropractors.
Week 29: Did you just feed your family Little Caesar’s $5 Hot-n-Readies for dinner three times this week? Yes, yes you did. Own it.
Week 30: All-you-can-eat sushi sound so good right now … except that it’s sushi and your stomach will hold about five grapes worth of food before you start getting acid reflux. And except for those sour gummy worms, everything gives you acid reflux.
Week 31: Your husband brings home a three pound bag of sour gummy worms. Bless him. He may stay.
Week 32: Underboob chafing week!
Week 33: Your second child is finally be comfortable enough to keep his hand on your belly as legs and elbows and butt protrude in all directions. You try to hold onto the memory of this.
Week 34: Your oldest starts siding with her dad this week on what this baby should be named. Conveniently, the name starts with the same letter as hers.
Week 35: You haven’t even spent a second thinking about a nursery, but for whatever reason this is the week you regain enough energy to clean the leaves and dirt off of the back patio so your older kids have space to play.
Week 36: You don’t have the space in your house for a nursery anyway. It’s okay. The pack-n-play at the foot of your bed is a perfectly fine place for a baby to sleep.
Week 37: You stuff a dress, leggings, water bottle, and a baby outfit in your beach bag and start calling it the hospital bag.
Week 38: Any day now!
Week 39: Seriously, it’ll probably be tonight.
Week 40: Maybe you will be the world’s first eternally pregnant woman.
Week 41: Your friend who, bless her, offered to put a meal calendar together for you when the baby arrived asks if it’s okay to start bringing meals now even though the baby is not here yet and you almost break down in tears of as you think about kissing her feet.
Week 41 and one day: She comes fast. You don’t trust the contractions at first – this baby will never come, right? They get stronger. Your doula comes and within half an hour you’re be off to the hospital. You resist pushing because you remember the pain so clearly and you’re afraid this baby is too big. No matter how many times you’ve done it before, pushing is scary. But you won’t push long before she is out and screaming and beautiful. And every second of those 41 long weeks fades into foggy memories as you snuggle her to your chest.
It will be worth 42.