25 Nice Things for the Holidays

25 nice things

Regardless of how you feel about the holiday season — no matter if you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Mawlid, Bohdi Day, Yule, the Birthday of Guru Nanak, nothing or anything else — most people at least agree that we should be nice.

Every year I’ve set up an advent calendar for my daughter, even though I’m not a believer in the background of Christmas. Hey, even atheists love a good party. Plus, if the party has a lot of decorations, presents, food and niceness… come on now. I even made a magnetic fridge advent calendar after my grandma passed away as an homage to her, and told my daughter that Great-Grandma watched over her and gave her the treats. Well, she figured me out this year.

Rather than making 25 treats during a season already saturated by sugars, I thought about the stellar values my super awesome Grandma had, and how I could turn the calendar into something actually magical. So we sat down and I cut up 25 pieces of paper and asked my now seven year old daughter what we could do each day leading up to Santa that would be kind and nice, but not necessarily cost any or much money. Folks, she has come up with a brilliant list of Nice Things.

We folded up the papers and put them in a bag, shook it around then placed them in our advent calendar so each day would be a surprise. I will post the Nice Things we do each day on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram with the tag #25NiceThings and then follow up with how it all turned out. I challenge you to follow along and do a Nice Thing with us! Or make your own Nice Things list and tag #25NiceThings so my daughter and I can follow you and have more ideas for next year. You don’t have to believe in any holiday or religion to want be nice and do Nice Things. You just have to be thoughtful. So be thoughtful with us this year. I have a good feeling about you.

School safe gluten free vegan snacks

Rows of glorious cookies

Rows of glorious cookies

I found out that gluten was an issue when my daughter was reacting to my breast milk. She had terrible sleep and digestion issues until I took gluten, dairy and soy out of my diet. We thought that was the end, but our digestion problems continued. Through stool samples, testing and the mother of all elimination diets we know we have a lot of food intolerances due to gut bacteria and missing digestive enzymes. We still don’t know the whole story yet, but we are well on our way.

Based on the combination of our food issues, it became impossible to find pre-made snacks for my son to take to school that were also nut free. We tried every pill for dairy and they do not help. We can’t eat most grains, mostly everything has to be cooked, whole vegetable and legume groups are out and it’s boiling down to being an issue digesting cellulose. So, yeah… shopping became difficult. This was not my first time at the adversity-rodeo however, so I promptly developed delicious recipes so that my son will not feel left out and still get to eat his favourite things. On top of that, these are school safe so that other kids with severe nut allergies will not have to be concerned. With great gut bacteria you need to cut out foods that feed it, so I make my foods low glycemic. 

Get ready to eat some amazing cost effective snacks!

Savoury crackers

Browned crackers with a sprig of dill beside them.

I love crackers and I used to adore crackers and cheese. Having issues with a lot of grains and seeds doesn't leave many store bought cracker options, however. I've found that on the whole, the flour of any grain or legume, after baking, isn't as difficult to digest as the whole cooked grain. So if you need that for any reason, more processed is the way to go.

These are super delicious and look gorgeous on top. Perfectly decorated with pickled veggies and cheeses you can eat. They are also hardy too, so great for scooping up your favourite thick dips.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup tapioca flour
  • 1 cup quinoa flour
  • 1 cup tigernut flour (this is a tuber, not a nut and school safe)
  • 6 tsp xanthan gum (This can be derived from wheat, corn or soy glucose, so if you have an issue with any of those, you can find a version that works for you or use guar gum in a 1–1. If you only have issues with gluten, the proteins are not used in production so this should be safe for you.)
  • 4 tbsp avocado oil
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup water

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 450F. Combine dry ingredients and mix until even. If you're using a stand mixer, you can put your dried ingredients in and grab your dough hook. If you're using human power, set 3/4 cups of water to the side.
  2. Add wet ingredients and stir until it's evenly wet. Use your hands to make the dough into a ball. It will be a bit sticky. Use tapioca flour lightly dusted on a surface and cut your dough in half.
  3. Knead in your alternate ingredients to make cheese crackers vs tomato basil, or ignore and make your own flavour.
  4. Form your dough into a square and roll out to 1/8 inch thick. Lightly brush with water and top with a bit of salt before cutting into squares, rectangles, or whatever. We used cookie cutters to theme some of ours.
  5. Place crackers on an unbleached parchment lined sheet. Prick the tops with a fork to avoid crackers being too chewy.
  6. Cook for 7–15 minutes on a parchment lined baking sheet depending on thickness.

Notes:

Alternates: basil, tomato powder, dried onion flakes, dulse flakes and salt to taste OR 1/2 cup nutritional yeast (or whatever cheese you can eat — a lot of vegan cheeses have peas or corn in them, so if be sure to read ingredients for anything that bothers you) and dulse flakes to taste.

Chocolate crackers

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup tapioca flour
  • 1 cup quinoa flour
  • 1 cup millet grits
  • 1/2 cup dairy free cocoa
  • 6 tsp xanthan gum (This can be derived from wheat, corn or soy glucose, so if you have an issue with any of those, you can find a version that works for you or use guar gum in a 1–1. If you only have issues with gluten, the proteins are not used in production so this should be safe for you.)
  • 4 tbsp avocado oil
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 handful cocoa nibs to sprinkle
  • 1 cup water

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 450F. Combine dry ingredients and mix until even. Add wet ingredients and stir until it’s evenly wet. Use your hands to make the dough into a ball. It will be a bit sticky. Use tapioca flour lightly dusted on a surface and cut your dough in half. Knead in your alternate ingredients to make cheese crackers vs tomato basil, or ignore and make your own flavour. Form your dough into a square and roll out to 1/8 inch thick. Lightly brush with water and top with a bit of salt before cutting into squares, rectangles, or whatever. We used cookie cutters to theme some of ours. Prick the tops with a fork to avoid crackers being too chewy. Cook for 7–15 minutes on a parchment lined baking sheet depending on thickness.

Chocolate coconut bites

With limited ingredients, it's important to have a variety of textures as well as flavours in your pantry. I love these coconut bites because they are more dense than a muffin and more chewy than a cookie. Also they give you a lot of chocolate flavour without a lot of sweetness.

Ingredients:

  • 2 bananas, medium sized and ripe
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar
  • 6 tbsp aquafaba
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup coconut flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 375F.
  2. Combine dry ingredients and mix until even. Combine wet ingredients in a bowl and beat until even.
  3. Mix the wet with the dry until combined and add the chocolate chips. Dairy and sugar free chocolate chips exist!
  4. Fill muffin cups to the top of the paper. These rise but not a lot. If you do tiny muffins cups (which we do), bake for 20 minutes.
  5. If you do larger muffin cups, bake for 30–35 minutes. Let rest to cool on a baking rack.

Notes:

Aquafaba can be substituted with eggs, or other starchy egg replacers. 3 tbsp of aquafaba is basically one egg. Depending on your egg substitute you may need to prepare your ‘eggs’ separately. Lots of egg replacers use potato or corn starch, so if you have issues with those, be sure to read labels.

Cereal Bars

If you are doing a plant-based diet, it's important to get your protein. Millet is a full protein grain, and having it puffed makes it easier to digest then the hydrated version as some starches are broken down by dehydration.

My son loves his cereal bars and I need to make him some more and get a good glam shot of them, as we go through them fairly quick. It's a nice feeling to not have to guard the treats, because they are all very good for you. That's a nice upside to having digestive issues. Lol.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups puffed cereal (quinoa/millet/rice, depending on your allergies and intolerances)
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seed butter
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup

Directions:

  1. In a small pot, boil the pumpkin seed butter and maple syrup for 3 minutes, stirring every 20 seconds until the mixture starts to thicken and ‘cracks’.
  2. In a medium bowl, put 3 cups of your chosen puff. Mix in the sauce and add the additional 1 cup of left over puff until they’re evenly lightly coated.
  3. Squish into a parchment lined 12x12 pan and put in the fridge for an hour. Cut into bars or however you’d like.

Notes:

Buy the puffed millet and quinoa. I tried making this at home and it doesn’t work. I couldn’t find any in stores, but found a lot online. You can sub out agave for the maple syrup or any other butter/nut butter for pumpkin seed if you don’t care about school safe or don’t have issues with sunflower butter.

Millet Pizza

This delicious pizza is easy to make with the kids, or for yourself and is happily formed into other shapes to make thin flat breads to use with appetizers.

A lot of gluten-free recipes rely heavily on similarly hard to digest grains. I like to use sorghum and millet flours as they are full protein grains and they don’t mess with my gut. Tapioca adds in a bit of the stretch you miss with the other two.

My son really loves this crust and you can use your fingers to shape your pie. If you or kids are sticky-adverse, dust your hands in tapioca flour as well as the dough ball when forming.

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cups flour (4/5 millet, 1/5 tapioca)
  • 2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp turbinado sugar
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce (or oil, or pesto, mashed beets… whatever you can eat)
  • 1 tsp packet quick rise pizza yeast
  • 2/3 cup warm water (110F is best)
  • 1 cup vegan cheese of your choice

Directions:

  1. 1. Set oven to 450F.
  2. 2. Combine 1 cup of flour, undissolved yeast, sugar and salt in a bowl.
  3. 3. Add water and oil mix until blended. Gradually add the 3/4 cup until it is a soft ball. The dough will be a bit sticky.
  4. 4. Knead on tapioca floured surface, adding in more tapioca if required until smooth and elastic. About 4–6 minutes. Or put in a stand mixer and save yourself some work. Split dough in 2 if doing thin crust.
  5. 5. Roll out to fit a pizza pan. Cook crust for 10 minutes. Lower oven to 400F. Top pizza with your sauce and cheese or whatever. Cook for 10 more minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Notes:

Flour your hands with tapioca if you are working with your hands instead of a stand mixer with a dough hook. Less sticky, much faster!

Chickpea cookies

Chickpea flour is the best. After processing or cooking, the FODmap value goes down for most things. As chickpeas are high protein and have one of the lowest amounts of insoluble fiber in the legume family, they are my go-to when creating easy to digest baked goods for my son and me. Sorghum is a full protein grain and I do quite well with that one in flour form too.

One of the better parts of having a low sugar diet is that you don't have feel bad about having cookies for breakfast. Using coconut sugar, which is lower glycemic, enables a lot of tasty cookie meals.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup chickpea flour
  • 1 cup white sorghum flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup dairy free chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 4 tbsp aquafaba

Directions:

  1. Set oven to 350F.
  2. Mix dry ingredients until combined. Add wet ingredients and stir until dough is formed. Add in chocolate chips and stir some more! Form cookies in sizes and shapes that you love, and place on a parchment lined baking sheet.
  3. Cook at 25 minutes for small cookies and 35 minutes for larger ones. If you like your cookies soft, cook for 5–7 minutes less. Cool on a baking rack. Feel smug while eating high protein cookies.

Notes:

I always choose a non-bleached parchment sheet as we are sensitive to that. They are all available in a variety of prices.

 

When Your Baby Dies

Little boy wearing green fairy wings and a grey hoodie blowing bubbles over a lake with evergreen trees in the distance.
Little boy wearing green fairy wings and a grey hoodie blowing bubbles over a lake with evergreen trees in the distance.
Big sister blowing bubbles for her little sister

Content Warning: Photos of a deceased infant.

Aside from your heart spontaneously combusting, there are a lot of other unpleasant things to do when your baby dies. As with any death planning, it’s gut wrenchingly awful and each step feels like twisting the dagger in deeper and deeper. In the North American customs that I’m used to, there are very little conventions to follow and lots of whispered stigmas around child deaths (rightly so, as they are the most sad). So that makes trying to find ways to honour your child’s existence very difficult. As my daughter never got to have a life, I wanted her death to be an expression of all the things I had hoped for her. I wanted to remember her with joy as well as sadness. I wanted my son and I to have some experiences with her. These are some suggestions that helped me, and maybe they’ll help you or someone you know.

Stroller procession.
Saddest walk to the park ever.

Have a baby funeral

When my baby was still born at 39.5 weeks, I knew I wanted to have a funeral. I didn’t know then, that a lot of people don’t have funerals for their babies, but I can imagine why you might not want to. I had spent the whole year making up her stroller kit and researching skateboard attachments for my daughter. Talking about how Rook and he would roll to school and we’d drop her off and roll him back at the end of the day. How we’d all go to the park, and throw snacks to the ducks on the lake. It was a vividly pictured story that I told us both over and over with great excitement. As our baby was in a surrogate in another State, we had lots to imagine together.

Friends floating lanterns into the lake.
Friends floating lanterns into the lake.

Planning things makes me feel better. Planning nice things for my daughter makes me feel immeasurably better. So I planned a stroller parade from the house to the lake with all our baby owning friends and their kids, Rook and my daughter at the top of the line. Everyone was asked to wear bright colours and the kids all had faery wings and bubbles. A friend played guitar and sang as we paraded down the street.

I had created a eulogy about Rook’s likes and dislikes based on stories about my surrogate’s pregnancy. Her husband and daughters all told me about different foods she couldn’t eat (eggs were top — and my daughter and I found out we are intolerant to eggs recently) and the ones she loved (melons). How she was not a morning person, but liked to kick all night. My then-partner created a sci-fi tale of how her DNA gets found in space and she starts a rebellion uprising, which seemed on brand for our combined personalities.

Then we lit environmentally safe candles in biodegradable floating lanterns and set them on the lake while people thought about their wishes for Rook. We all sang you are my sunshine to her as her sole lullaby. Then head back to the house for drinking, Irish wake style. I had photos of myself, my then-partner and my daughter as infants on poster boards next to Rook, so people could imagine what she would have looked like.

Sweetest Tiny to never take a breath.
Sweetest Tiny to never take a breath.

Bring your baby home

After embalming, your loved one is okay to be in your home for up to 72 hours. They can be home. They can be in their bed. You can go and see them all you’d like. You do not have to pay for a funeral home showing. The earlier you get them after death, the better however. My poor little girl took a while to travel from California and babies are mostly water, so they do not take as well to embalming as adults do. Their skin gets dark and they need a lot of makeup. I did not know this initially, but you may want to know before you make this choice. As our baby was never alive outside in the world, I wanted her to be in her crib and get to rock her in the same glider I rocked my daughter. Lots of cultures have their loved ones in their home and plenty of people do open casket funerals. This gave the family a lot of time with Rook to make peace and I’m glad we did it.

Family portrait

Take a family portrait

There is a lot of slack put on ‘younger people’ taking selfies at funerals. I don’t think it has the flippancy that is being put on the act. I selfie like a tornado snatching up cows on a farm. Selfie attack! I’m a single mom and if I don’t selfie, then my daughter will have no memories of me existing in his childhood. If no one else is going to take the photo you want, then you selfie. If you want a reminder of how you felt, or what someone looked like after the life went out of them, then do that. It is literally not harming anyone. We would not have any family portraits if we didn’t take one after Rook died, and I have had two kids. I wanted a memory of all of us together. My daughter was thrilled to take shots with his sister and was only mad that she got to wear make-up and she did not get to. So, don’t harsh on people who do this. Just because it’s not *your* thing, doesn’t make it a *bad* thing.

My tattoo of Rook

Get creative with ashes

There are a lot of things you can do with ashes. There are little urn necklaces (my friend got me a rocket one for Rook), you can turn them into diamonds, they can be used to make glass art pieces, or hosted in teddy bears. You can even send your baby to space, which is one of the plans we have for some of Rook’s ashes. You can use ashes to plant in your home, or in pods meant for outside. You can also get them put into ink and have yourself tattoo’d. Both my then-partner and I got tattoos with Rook’s ashes in them. The rest have gone on piles of adventures with us, and have been sent to various friends and family. I like to think of each scattering of her ashes as a trip she’s gone on. Celebrating the life she didn’t get to have.

The end is not the end.

If grief ended within a certain amount of days post death, how great would that be? Alas, no such luck. But… that does give you a lot of time to process that grief and many opportunities to come back to it when you have more mental fortitude. Directly after your baby or child, or anyone’s death might not be when you have all the strength to have a funeral, make a scrap book, or blast their ashes into space. You give yourself space instead. When you’ve had a chance to regroup, you can always chose to do something to honour them in your own time. The loss is timely, the love endures.

Each container is an adventure.
Each container is an adventure.

The movie ‘no’ is a lie

Woman holding her hand to her face, crying into a tissue.
Woman holding her hand to her face, crying into a tissue.

Content warning: Photos of a deceased infant and grief.

Hands in the air, often on knees, glaring skyward, as if to rage against a deity or aliens (or whomever might be in charge of unfortunate events). That’s how our cinematic downtrodden are dealing with death and grief. Arms thrown back, chest open to the world, they scream, “NOOOOOOO!” They scream like this, because someone thought that’s what you do when you grieve. Then a bunch of other writers and directors thought that was cool and now it’s everywhere. Mostly it doesn’t happen that way, and just like anything we do that’s not reflected back at us in the media, we can feel bad about how we react. Sometimes, people think they are doing sad wrong and that’s upsetting. There is no wrong way to grieve.

Well, let’s add on a caveat that harming others is wrong (unless in self defence) and if you want to harm yourself, please tell someone and seek help. Those use cases aside, bereavement and other forms of grief are really a free for all to process your emotions and loss. You don’t see a lot of people crying in public, so it doesn’t seem okay to cry in public. The bereaved are like sci-fi mole people, hiding in the dark trying not to make other people upset by their totally normal emotions.

A photo frame with a sonogram from pregnancy sits in a frame that reads R is for Rook.

One year ago today I got a call from my surrogate’s husband. I had cervical cancer previously, went through IVF to get my eggs removed and created embryos with my then-partner. We had our top genetically approved embryo, a girl, implanted in a fabulous woman who impregnated like a champ. She was 39.5 weeks along when I got the call. I thought this was go-time, and I was going to fly like the wind to California from Seattle to pick up my little girl, Rook. I was having a playdate with a great friend and her kids and my daughter at the time.

“Erin, she went to the doctor for her check-up for the induction and the baby has no heart beat.” I felt like I had no heart beat. I didn’t really know what was happening. For a few minutes I wasn’t sure if she could still be saved and I was just trying not to react around my daughter. My friend saw my face figuratively peel off and land on the floor and crumple into dust. I managed to tell her in small gasps what had happened and she immediately offered to take my daughter to her house for the evening and feed her dinner. Once I had no Tinies as an audience, I began frantically calling my partner, my mother and because I’m a fairly open person on social media who had been live media-ing ‘all the things’ I posted that my baby had died. I bought a ticket online to go to California to meet my daughter, they were waiting for me to get there to induce my surrogate.

An iphone is plugged into a socket and sits on a hospital room table.

After all the house keeping of death was in order, I had my movie ‘no’. I did not throw my hands to the air. I did not say ‘no’. It felt more like an exorcism. Chest closing in on me, hard to breathe. Stomach clenched like a metal fist was punching me over and over in the gut. Churning a toxic sludge that if I kept it down, would consume me. So I threw up. Then, on the floor, crying and shaking, I started alternating yelling and whispering. I yelled, “Why? Why is this happening?” I yelled it to no one in particular. I just desperately wanted to understand how after all the struggles I had been through, that in an instant, my baby was dead. Then I just straight up rage screamed. For a long time. After I whispered, “Oh baby girl, my little baby girl… I hope it didn’t hurt.” Followed by a lot more rage screaming. I think that grief is a little too real for a lot of movies, but it’s normal and if it happens to you, you’re still okay.

Another great woman and friend saw my post on Facebook and came over to my house. She asked if I wanted her to come with me for Rook’s birth. After a bunch of, “No, it’s too expensive…” type comments, she got it out of me that I would appreciate the hell out of her company and booked herself on a flight. My partner got home, my mom was on the way from Canada to watch my daughter and my friends husband raced us to the airport to make our last minute flight. I had a bag packed with all the things I needed to retrieve my daughter, I had to unpack all the formula and diapers but left in some clothes for her.

A gorgeous stillborn baby girl in a blue honeycomb printed onesie, rests in a basket in a multi-coloured pink and red blanket.
Rook Nova Aria Caton  - prettiest Tiny to never take a breath

The labour was a comedy of horrors. My poor surrogate, who was stoically waiting for me to fly in, was very tired, pregnant with a still born and trying to be a rock for me. Her family was all there and everyone was attempting their nicest selves. We all cracked jokes, because that’s another very normal thing a lot of people do when they are sad. Hours and hours they tried to induce her with various means. As any woman who has gone through induction before knows, stress and fatigue do not help the situation and there was no way to get her body to go into labour properly under those conditions. So we were all sent out of the hospital to ‘get rest’ for the night and scheduled to come back in the morning and try again.

My friend and I had to find a hotel for the evening and they were all booked. The small town we were in did not have a reliable taxi service and we ended up walking for over an hour trying to find a place to sleep. I cried all over the place. I cried in the coffee shop, I cried in the diner, I cried down the street and yelled at nothing because there were no people out. My friend was amazing and supportive and cried with me. If you cry in public, it’s okay. People will get over it and just maybe, you’ll meet a good one who will ask you if you’re okay or need help. It’s also okay to tell someone the truth when you’re sad and say, “My baby just died, I’m waiting for her to be delivered right now. I never got to feel her inside me, I never got to know her while she was alive, and now I will never get to. It feels awful.” I don’t think there’s anyone who I told since it happened who also didn’t cry. Totally normal.

The next day, my mother and a swarm of friends from Canada had descended on my house and were watching my son, cleaning my place and tending my garden. One friend from the UK even decided to get my eaves fixed and had my couch cleaned. My partner was able to fly down and try to make it for the labour.

A woman who hasn't slept in two days is holding the hand of a woman in labour. She is crying.

My friend, who is a nurse, was amazingly helpful to both myself and my surrogate. Advocating with the hospital staff, making sure I didn’t have to have my ID checked each time I left the area, being the one to explain that we were ‘those people’ with the still born inside another person.

Labour began and I asked my friend, who is also a photographer (as well as nurse and badass moral support), to take shots of the labour. My surrogate’s husband asked if she wanted his hand, she said no. I asked if she minded if I held her hand and she said of course. So I held her hand, thinking of how brave she was. How womanly she was to grow someone’s child and not want to bother anyone with her pain. Trying to tough it out on her own, but still be there for me. My friend, destroyed with her own pain, but trying to capture the moment honestly, so I would have a memory — at least one, with my daughter. This is always how I have seen women in grief. Solid and soft, all in one. An earthquake proof hug.

A woman holds a still born baby girl in her arms. She is crying and trying to get the baby's hand inside her blanket.

The doctor looked up, delighted, (I’m sure this was a reflex) and said, “Oh, she has so much hair!” I knew she would have hair. Just like I did, just like her brother did. I cried. As she was delivered, we all saw that she had the cord wrapped around her neck twice, just like her sister did, which is how I ended up in a c-section with her. Tiny Dancers, twirling in the warm sauna, enjoying the thump, thump, thump of the heartbeat rave.

My then-partner arrived shortly after labour had completed and we were in a private room at that point. It’s also important to note, that while screaming and crying in public are acceptable, not doing that and not crying are also acceptable. Some people can’t and won’t and that’s okay too.

There we were. With so much effort and a dead little girl. A perfect little girl who had been in the warm sauna too long. Some skin peeled. She had blood pooled in parts of her face. She was gorgeous and I refuse to photoshop her now. There are groups that go in and take photographs of your babies that are still born or pass after birth. I did not know, but I was offered this service at the hospital. I also do photography so it was my goal to take all her shots myself. My friend bathed her for us, we dressed her in the outfit I was going to take her home in. She was larger than her sister, and the outfits were a little small. We had been moved to the post-partum ward where there was a little courtyard and I wanted to have photos of her with the sunlight on her face. She would never get to see the sun.

A woman and a man hold each other and cry. They are holding a stillborn baby girl in between them.

Now again, I am a public person, and my method of grief is not for everyone. I have always found great strength from telling my stories, and have amassed a stellar community of helpful, strong people with more empathy than the universe has stars. I now know several other parents who have lost a child and we talk regularly. However, I posted my photos on twitter and had Child Protective Services called on me as though I had ‘gone off the deep end’. It was deeply intrusive and insulting and I can’t even imagine the type of broken thought processes that go through the brain of someone like that. It was a non-issue for CPS, to their credit, but still on top of losing a child, that happened.

I only got one day and then the funeral to be with my sweet little baby girl. My tiny little Rook. I took as many photos as I could, because that’s all I get. I speak about my grief, because my love for her extends well past her death. My arms will not raise to the sky, with an open chest, but my heart is not closed. My words will never be the movie ‘no’. I am reminded daily of all the amazing people who helped me through this hard time and all the times before it, and I will always ask strangers crying in public, “Are you okay? How can I help?”

A woman sits in a window and types on her phone.

How to invite your dead grandma to Christmas

Hand made advent calendar with beads and ribbons glued to make holiday scenes.
Hand made advent calendar with beads and ribbons glued to make holiday scenes.
A fridge magnet of possibility

Reminders of people whom you cared deeply for, but now are dead, are never easy to experience. That game you used to play together, their favourite holiday, a gift they gave you… little flutters in the back of your mind initially make you happy, then a little wistful, ending in ‘there’s-something-in-my-eye’ sad.

My Grandma, who died just about a year and a half ago, did everything when we were little. She made my whole highland dance troop kilts (yes I highland danced – shut up), sewed Halloween costumes, baked, hiked, camped, made all the grandkids their own stockings, dyed a wedding dress black for me in the start of my goth phase (again, yes and also shut up), taught me to sew and basically crafted like a crazed, bedazzling motherfucker. So, there are very few times that I go through daily life without being reminded of her.

This christmas, I wanted a happy reminder that she was totally kick-ass when she was alive, without the sad aftertaste.

A gold partridge with a mohawk hairdo made out of beads. The number 23 is on it in green sparkly paint.
Partridge in a pear tree

My family grew up fairly low income (for many generations) and have learned to be very creative. My Grandma had continued the tradition of making “jumble jar art” out of covering various items with modge podge and sticking interesting found ‘art’ to it. Grandma was so into this that she had an almost hoarder level of craft supplies when she passed and not much else. So, much to my delight, my inheritance was a couple of bags of miscellaneous beads, buttons and broken pieces of interesting looking crap. (Note: This was real delight.)

Crap craft pile in hand, a two year old who I wanted to impress, and some nap times I’d rather not fill with laundry left me with the question: How do you invite your dead Grandma over for Christmas?

Christmas tree tear drop from a hideous necklace and random beads.
Christmas tree tear drop from a hideous necklace and random beads

I decided to make a Grandma advent calendar. I’d fill it with little toys and snacks that I thought Grandma would approve of, and I’d tell my daughter the story of how awesome my Grandma, her Great Grandma, was. I’d tell her how she lived, how she died and that now her ghost gives her treats in containers stuck to the fridge, every day for the month before Christmas. Boosh.

Disclaimer: I’m an Atheist, and I don’t believe in a god or ghosts at all. I kind of believe in Santa… but I firmly believe that childhood should be filled with magic, so lying to kids about things like fairies and dead Grandma ghosts is totally acceptable.

Frosty the jazz-hands snowman created with vintage buttons.
Frosty the jazz-hands snowman

I gave myself constraints, which I love for art projects. You always end up being intensely creative when you’re working with limited supplies. I only used the inherited craft junk and the traditional jumble jar methods, aside from some scrap book paper and puff paints, as Grandma only had ribbons and lace. I’m sentimental and all, but I have standards too. For the containers, I shelled out $53 for magnetic spice containers from the Container Store. Not the cheapest option, but good for space challenges and food safe for snack storage.

Santa Claus made from two earrings no one should ever have worn. The number 24 is painted.
Santa Claus made from two earrings no one should ever have worn.

Making the calendar was time consuming and required proper use of modge podge. For those who actually want to make one, the trick is to paint it on thick and let it dry for a while or else you will be holding it while it dries, screaming the whole time about why-the-fuck your relatives loved using modge podge and not hot glue guns.

Then it’s all about what could you possibly make given a pile of random shiny things and channeling a dead Grandma, so that you can make your kids’ Christmas as magical as she made yours. When your child is thanking her “Great-Magga” for almonds on the 2nd day of December, the memories of her stay happy.

Happy holidays, from me and my dead Grandma.

The stay at home Mominatrix

Woman in a business dress, tied to a chair with her eyes blindfolded with a stuffie. It appears as though the toys have captured her. On the floor to her left, a toddler is holding on to his blankie, upset.
Woman in a business dress, tied to a chair with her eyes blindfolded with a stuffie. It appears as though the toys have captured her. On the floor to her left, a toddler is holding on to his blankie, upset.
we’ve got you surrounded

So, you (this is about me and my situation so your results may vary) waited until after you had your career fully established before adding to global overpopulation — both to avoid poverty and because you enjoy working. Kids cost a lot of money and it’s expensive to live in your urban metropolis, rife with multi-thousand dollar rents for a tiny box in the sky. Medical care doesn’t grow on trees (unless you count money being made of paper, linen, cotton or whatever — but semantics won’t pay for that pediatrician who doesn’t take insurance, so shut the hell up) and the birth alone could set you back five thousand dollars or more. Plus, you had the crazy idea that you wanted to raise your child yourself, from home, so you needed to save up. Whatever you were before, you’re a mominatrix now, and there are a million ways to feel about that.

First, I’m well aware that there are some dads and parents who stay home with the kids. Vag-high-five to those folks. But I’m a woman, and this is about me, so I may ‘gender bias this bitch up’. Don’t get your penis in a knot, and just sub in your preferred pronoun while you read, as I’m sure you might have some of these feelings too. Regardless of your genitals and how hard your job was in the ‘before-time’, there are a few critical variables that will dictate just how much punishment you will endure as a mominatrix, and whether or not you will find it relaxing compared to your prior career.

Have you slept in the last week?

If your brand new alien-hamster does not sleep, has allergies, has colic or anything medical going on, you are likely in love with a bundle of hellish wonderment. I didn’t sleep a full night for an entire year, so I feel your pain. In this situation, going back to work might seem fun just so you can nap during your lunch hour. But in reality, I have no idea how someone could be up all night and then actually think during the day too. I have pretty good chaos-tolerance and even I was fairly close to random stranger stabbing in the street as I strolled my kid for six to eight hours a day, trying to get him to nap. Meanwhile, attending weekly medical appointments to diagnose his particular brand of madness.

Is anyone really helping you?

Support will be critical in the success of your mominatrix career. If your partner does nothing domestic, or only the bare minimum (like my ex-husband) then you might go insane. At work, you at least had a team of people who were working together towards a common goal. In the Mom-sphere, it is baby/toddler/child versus you a lot of the time, and no matter how cute and cuddly they are, you are on your own in terms of task management. I remember in my daughter’s first year, pleading with my then-husband to tell me that I was doing a good job (or acknowledge my effort at all). If you’ve managed to get a horror child to nap, cleaned the house, did any errands, showered, made a meal and still have energy for sex, then you should be put on a pedestal and fed grapes by hand by nubile infertile young men at the end of the day. Partner: be helpful, it’s hard work. And at the very least, if you can’t bring yourself to be helpful, be grateful and appreciative.

I have since initiated a divorce and miraculously procured a nice and helpful boyfriend. Having a partner who actually helps with child rearing and housework is the difference between zen parenting and sniping people from a rooftop. If you have no partner, I empathize — been there, done that, don’t want to do it again. I wish you the tastiest and strongest of scotches at the end of your day

Is your child a tiny energy-filled monster?

The energy level of your child matters. I hear from mom friends who have mellow, introverted kids, who are content playing by themselves and want little interaction. This is not my child. She is a giant pile of screamy fun who pulls you off the couch to go be dinosaurs, or robots, or trucks with her. A seemingly endless source of energy and imagination, I would trade her for no other child, but I have considered selling her on eBay for the ability to sit down for a fucking hour during the day.

I have recently begun feeling that going back to work would be relaxing after two years as a professional mother. I was a project/product manager when I was working full-time so there are a lot of parallels. Life with my toddler is the equivalent of being in argumentative product meetings for ten hours a day, seven days a week, with a two hour break where you get to write documentation in the middle of the day. Then at the end of each day you get to reorganize your product plan because everything has changed on you. So, you have about three hours a day (should you only sleep for six) while trapped in the house, to do anything for yourself.

My then-boyfriend, who worked a minimum of six days a week (with at least twelve hour days), and co-ran a successful technology start-up, felt that my job took a lot of effort.

Do you have a fuck-ton of disposable income?

I stockpiled a year’s worth of baby clothes over two years, bought all the furniture for the nursery, and purchased all the initial baby gear by myself. I also saved up forty-thousand dollars for my maternity leave fund. All this said and done, the money only lasted me until my child was one and then I had to start relying on my then-husband for financial support. It might be cheap to raise a kid in other locales, but San Francisco is stupid expensive, and my kid was medically challenged. If you have a massive cash pile, you can get house cleaners, day nannies, night nannies, personal chefs and all sorts of things to make your life that much nicer. I want to go back in time and punch childless-Erin in the face for being snarky about stay-at-home parents getting house cleaners. Anything you can afford to do, do that. I endorse it and am jealous. Go team you!

Do you feel guilty for everything you do?

I feel incredibly bad for parents who want to stay home during the initial years but can’t afford it. I’m running into that issue right now because the outcome of my divorce is that combined child support and alimony in my situation is not enough to cover my expenses, yet I have full physical custody. The idea that my kid will be out of my parenting hold for fifty hours a week makes me want to throw up. Working sounds amazing, really, but the trade-off for me feels like a mini-death (and not in the French-euphemism-for-orgasm sense). I recently had cancer, so maybe I’m a little over-sensitive about spending time with her, but I know she is as awesome as she is because I really go to town on being a mominatrix.

On the flip side, if stay-at-home parenting is not your thing, I’m sure there is a lot of guilt in that direction too. Welcome to there not being a good answer or a definitive approach that will result in a perfect child. Anyone who tells you they have the best way to do anything parenting related is a liar. Fuck those guys.

Then cut yourself some slack

If all countries allowed for government funded maternity leave until kids were in school, or corporations accepted that people have kids (so that society will continue) and had in-office daycare, then we’d all have a lot less angst about all these things. I know these exist in small numbers — little utopias sprinkled throughout the Earth, where people have fulfilling careers and still see their kids during the day. But they’re not prevalent enough to be an option for everyone. The goal is to not beat yourself up for what you have to do, choose to do, or feel you must do in order to stay sane. Stay at home, go back to work, put your kid in daycare, put them in early preschool, get a nanny, or ship them to your parents during the day. Whichever route gets you to feeling like a happy person and puts food in your kid’s belly is the correct path for you. Just don’t put on your judgy-pants when you look at another parent’s situation, because you don’t know the whole story, and you don’t live in their skin. Most people are simply trying to make it to the next day without their lives turning into Lord of the Flies. Let’s bond together, have a little empathy for each other, and please remember to bring martini fixings (and a virgin option) to all the play-dates.

Battle tactics for toddlers and engineers

Toddler in a pink shirt making a very sad face.
saddest girl in the universe

The scene begins with dramatically rolled eyes. Eyes rolled with such intense inner turmoil that surely the head they live in is an angst-bomb that’s about to explode. Then the almighty “No!” violently escapes her sullen, pouty mouth, spoken in a booming ‘screw-you-lady-you’re-not-the-boss-of-me’ tone of voice. The drama-eyes look off into a fantasy world, dismissing me completely. A mouse is slammed to the table and all of a sudden, someone is not talking to me anymore.

This could either be my toddler after I tell her we are not watching yet another episode of Ruby and Max on iTunes (why does their Grandma not let them live with her?), or an engineer’s response to having to support an older version of Internet Explorer (or any version of IE, really). While not allengineers have the emotional maturity of a two-year-old, there are enough of them who are so terminally passionate about their chosen detailed-code-obsession that easygoing compromise isn’t always their go-to communication style. Fortunately, years of working in tech with strong-willed engineers has completely prepared me for “momming” a standard-issue toddler, so I have some wisdom to impart for anyone attempting to deal with either of these charming archetypes.

Put some food in their cry hole

Generally a lot of bad attitude and unreasonable behaviour for both toddlers and engineers can be avoided if kept well fed. But you want to avoid fast food or sugars because of hyperactivity and heart attacks, respectively. Plus, neither toddler nor engineer is much fun on a sugar-induced mood swing. Greasy foods end up on the fingers, which ends up on your walls, or in hard to reach crevices of keyboards. So the key is to have many easily accessible healthy finger foods (veggies and dips, fruits, nuts, healthy crackers and cheeses) so they can snack to their heart’s content and be less cranky when you need to ask them to do something they don’t want to do — which is almost anything.

Reward good behaviour

Toddler coddling with stickers, sugar-free candies or play time is nothing new or revolutionary. If you want one of the tiny human monsters to do something for you, then offer up these tokens with ease. It’s a harder thing to internalize as a tactic with grown-ups though. Yet, inexplicably, it super works. It is a lot easier to get grumpy people to do what you want if you give them fun little things to cheer them up or dangle a carrot on a stick in front of them (to be redeemed when the job is done). I’ve had many a conversation with other Project Managers who wanted to go with the “just do your fucking job” approach, but there are enough tech jobs out there that you may end up with a retention problem. Embrace your inner parent and suck it up.

Survive the tantrums

I’ve had many an engineer have a full on tantrum in front of me. No lie. “You can’t tell me what to do,” was my personal favourite line from a developer when I was the project manager at an ad agency, seconded by “You can’t say I’m not good at my job.” While you may want to shout, “It’s my job to own what you do!” that rarely gets you the desired outcome.

There are many theories as to what to do with the tantrum heavy toddler, including: time-outs, hug restraints, or completely ignoring them. These don’t usually work with engineers though. I like the approach of empathizing with their plight (no matter how unreasonable it seems to you), offering up a little distraction and then letting them sort themselves out. For a toddler it looks like this: “Yes, it is sad that you can’t have another cookie. Mommy is sorry that you’re upset, but you can play with Legos right now if you’d like.” Then you allow the fit to continue if that doesn’t work. With an engineer it looks like this: “Yes, it is sad that half of our user base is on IE6, but they work in offices where they have no control over upgrading their browsers and if we don’t support them, we will not have pay cheques. You do have to fix that log in screen by tomorrow, but for right now you can play with Legos if you’d like.” As with the toddler, the fit might continue and you go off to drink in the dark.

Define a hostage negotiation approach

“We do not negotiate with terrorists” is fine and dandy when you’re just dealing with peoples’ lives, but what if someone is holding your code hostage near launch day? Or your ability to get some groceries and you are out of milk and diapers…or worse — out of tea? These are the things that really matter, people! Sometimes you do not have time to wait out a tantrum and just need action. This is when giving in is almost the only option. But you’re not reallygiving in, you’re just giving in…for now. Full scale placation is the only approach when you just need to take Screamy McScreamerson and affix her, bondage style, to the front of your bike (in a regulation child bike seat) so that you can get the food you need to live. There is no reasoning with the toddler-monster, and the return policy on children is spotty at best.

Here is where dealing with the toddler-engineer is a little better. You can (at the very least) fire an engineer. They know it, you know it, and presumably, they kind of like their job. So, the above approaches should be all you need to handle any toddler-style unreasonable behaviour. Holding code hostage is a complete dick move. Anything above and beyond general grumpiness should really lead to dismissal after a few warnings. You are, after all, not their parent and people should be expected to behave with a little decorum at work. However, do try to placate them until after you’ve launched (eye on the prize), then you can feel free to send their ungrateful ass off to unemployment-military-school.

This too shall pass

As cumbersome as it may feel while navigating the tumultuous waters of the toddler/engineer tidal waves of misunderstood emotion, it is all working towards a common good. You love your child, who is in the process of learning how to be human and will eventually get over this stage of life. Plus, your kid is mostly awesome and these are transient traits heavily punctuated by regular kisses and cuteness. Your engineer (who may or may not be cute) is very good at their job, which is why they were hired. They are mostly great and helpful, plus they’re usually only grumpy about things that are, at heart, valid concerns. Addressing potential issues at the onset of projects generally nullifies toddler-engineer tantrums, so start there and hopefully you’ll never have to give anyone another time-out at the office.

Things my mother taught me

Pretty blond woman with bangs in a coral coloured t-shirt, smiling while trying to hold onto a cranky toddler.
my Mom crocodile wrestling my daughter

Mother’s Day is a paltry slip of a day, heavily laden with overcrowded brunches and poorly molded hand print ceramics — but that’s why they made mimosas an acceptable breakfast drink. Really though, society? A single day for having manufactured a human? Or for raising and civilizing a tiny monster you otherwise procured? Seems like weak-sauce (this is a bad thing) to me. One should celebrate their amazing Mom on a daily basis. Showering her with praise and candy, so long as it doesn’t result in a concussion.

On this Mother’s Day, I would like to impart some amazing things that my Mom taught me. Things that inspired me to become the person who I am, and have heavily influenced the type of mom that I’m trying to be.

A grocery store is a good place for a water fight

Twelve-year-old-Erin and Mom were actively groping vegetables, as one does before you commit to taking something home. In the produce section of the grocery store, they occasionally “shower” all the vegetables that can benefit from a postmortem wet t-shirt contest . My Mom gave me a sneaky look, picked up a bunch of parsley and with the skill of a frat boy in a locker room armed with a wet towel, whipped a fairly sizable torrent of water at me — right in my face. After screaming and finding proper produce with which to retaliate (leafy ones are better — they hold the most water), the tradition of grocery store water fights was born. We weren’t kicked out of as many grocery stores as we should have been. However, I look forward to being banned from many stores when continuing this tradition with my daughter.

You can never have enough free condoms

I waited until I was eighteen years old to have sex for the first time, and by today’s standards that makes me an honorary nun. As my Mom and I had always talked openly about everything, especially sex, I told her that I was planning on bumping uglies with my boyfriend. She responded, “It’s about time, I would have done him a long time ago!”, attempting to horrify me. To which I replied, “I’ll take photos so you can give me tips afterwards.” It’s okay if you are all now jealous that you do not have sarcastic sex talks with your moms. I was already on the pill for two years because Mom put me on them when my little sisters started having sex (“Better safe than pregnant!”), but I did not yet have condoms. We didn’t have condom money (we saved that for things like food and rent), so Mom marched me over to the free clinic to pick some up. At the free clinic, they had a fish bowl full of condoms up for grabs. The assumption was that you would take two or three and be on your merry way. My Mom charged up to the front desk, the waiting room full, eyes burning holes into the back of my head, as she gleefully started putting handfuls of condoms into her purse. Like, more than twenty condoms. “Mooooooooommmm…” I protested in my best embarrassed teenager voice, trying to get her to stop. She looked up, elbowed me in the rib and drawled, “Well, we don’t want to have to come back tomorrow!” Then my head exploded and I died. I’m totally doing this to my kid.

Feel bad for bullies…their parents are stupid

I have always had opinions and have never been shy about expressing them. In elementary school, my opinions included: being an atheist at ten years old in a town full of Catholics; carrying a briefcase of books around school was an amazing thing to do; foraging for clover on the school ground to add to my lunch sandwich was wise; and it would have been better to have been born a druid so that you could train trees to eat your enemies. Also, I had unique fashion sense, got straight A’s, had thick glasses, a bad perm, braces and head gear. So, yeah — I was bully bait. I used to come home from school crying all the time because I was teased so badly. Sensitive Erin was sensitive. People couldn’t call me stupid, so they went with the traditional “ugly”, “weird” and variations thereof. Not a very creative bunch. Still, words hurt, and my Mom did not like to see me upset every day. So she sat me down and very earnestly told me, “Erin, people are going to be mean to you. It’s not because what they’re saying is true, it’s because they’re jerks and they were raised improperly. You need to feel bad for the bullies because their parents are jerks. Think of how awful it must be to have jerk parents.” While I understand this is not 100% true in all cases, I super loved this as a response. I did feel bad for those kids and their exceptionally jerky parents. I even told a few kids how I felt bad for them in the midst of some bullying sessions, which was met with entertaining reactions. The bullying did not stop, but I stopped caring what they said, and for that, my Mom will always be my hero. I hope I never have to use this line with my daughter, but it’s logged in my brain just in case.

So, I submit that we ramp this up and expand Mother’s Day to a full week! Seven days to celebrate the lady who raised you is hardly a chore, children of the world. And if you happen to have a terrible mom, you can use this time to reflect on what she did that you absolutely will not do to your kids, should you choose to have some. Those brunch mimosas, they work everyday of the year after all. To my Mom, who could most certainly beat up your mom, I want to say, “Happy Mom Day!” and give her virtual hugs all the way up in Canada. I’m here all Mother’s week… ba-dum-tish!

Escape from the uterus

tiny cuddles
tiny cuddles
tiny cuddles

My daughter Agent (yep, I named her that) is turning two in two weeks, and at this stage, lot of moms tend to start thinking about adding another human to their collection. The memory of labour has faded, your child is able to run about on their own, and your body has felt normal for awhile. I am currently husband- and uterus-free (I had cervical cancer). but instead of feeling sad that I cannot reproduce, I decided to vividly re-live my epic labour to remind myself that one is a fine number of children to own.

Pre-labour is the best part

I started labour at midnight on May 5th, 2011 with the baby face-up (yay for back labour!) and had contractions every thirty minutes, moving up to twenty minutes until 8am. I woke up my then-husband and told him that we were likely having a baby that day. I decided to live-tweet my labour, which I highly recommend, because now that Twitter allows you to download your archive, you can re-hash your specific insanity.

twitter text

Then I called my sister-in-law/doula Lex, who was supposed to come to San Francisco from Calgary, Alberta, Canada two days later. She suggested I have a glass of wine to see if the contractions would stop because I was hoping she’d be here. I opened a bottle of South African wine we had been saving for the day of, because that’s where Agent was conceived. Sadly, the wine did nothing but taste awesome at 8:30am and make me slightly tipsy while ginormously pregnant. I watched cartoons with my then-husband during the morning to try and distract myself from the pains, while we did the countdown until we were supposed to leave for the hospital.

Just got called by state disability insurance: "Have you delivered yet?" Me: "No, I'm in labour right now." SDI: "Oh, well carry on then."

Get your ass to the hospital

My contractions were five minutes apart at 11:15am, then moved to two minutes apart at 11:42am, so we called an Uber Taxi (the driver of which was a little terrified) to take us to the birth center at the hospital. The midwife and nurse didn’t think I was reacting enough to the contractions and almost sent me home, until they noticed a drop in the baby’s heart rate when I was on my back. Later they praised me for my calmness during the contractions and realized that I just dealt with it all in agony-induced-silence.

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They decided to put me on monitoring and checked me in. At 3:10pm, I was 4cm dilated. At 7:08pm I was 6cm dilated. The baby’s heart rate continued to dip every time I had a contraction, and twice an hour they would rush into the room and have me change positions from the birthing ball to the bed and back, flipping my belly to different sides and so on until her heart rate came back up. A few times I was on oxygen to help her get through the contraction faster. They thought at the time that she was pushing on the cord in an awkward position, causing her heart rate to drop. It was all very frantic and scary.

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I had made a snazzily designed birth plan which was heavily geared towards a natural birth, and I was trying to tough it out without medication.

Screenshot of highly over designed birth plan.

Take all the drugs

At 9pm, I had not eaten, hadn’t slept, and just needed to rest so I requested a dose of Fentanyl, which just dulls the peaks (but not the sensations) of the contractions and allows you to rest. I had one shot at 9pm, then another at 10:15pm. At 11:15pm, I was 7cm dilated and had been able to have some rest between contractions, which had stayed at about two minutes apart.

Drugs. Just say yes.

All the while, my then-husband and wicked friend Ashley (who was standing in for my doula/sister-in-law Lex) were doing back compresses and kept a heating pad on me while I contracted. My friends John and Robert were also there entertaining me for a good portion of the hospital labour. Robert brought burritos, which I immediately decided needed to leave the room due to smell and John was aiding my iPad cartoon-watching. Then I had a final shot of Fentanyl at midnight, which didn’t do anything for me but give me a headache — not ideal. My then-husband was sleeping and Ashley and John were at home resting. I was by myself in the room awake on a birthing ball with contractions, now every minute, wondering if it would ever end. I was checked again and I hadn’t progressed in dilation at all, so I decided to ask for an epidural at 1:30am. Spinal needles for the win, yo.

Photo of an IV bag.

Just take this baby out of me now

By 2:30am I was 8.5cm dilated, but the baby was still having distress. By 6:13am, I still hadn’t progressed at all and the baby was still in distress, so we decided to break my water manually and try to induce with Pitocin. The baby seemed unimpressed, and it didn’t make me dilate any further. They injected me with something to stop the contractions, which made me shake like I was having a seizure, but it didn’t really stop the contractions. They then wheeled me to the emergency surgery area, and the OB came in to talk to me about the options. We decided to continue with a low level of Pitocin to see if it would do anything before opting for a c-section. It just dropped the baby’s heart rate more, so they prepped me for surgery.

C-sections are spooky-cool

As I headed into the surgery, my then-husband nearly passed out. But he managed to recover and get some sweet-ass photos of our baby being torn out of my body. They lowered “the veil” so we could see her being taken out of me, clawing her goo-covered self into the world, and my then-husband went with the nurses as they checked her out.

At 8:32am I delivered a lovely 6lbs baby girl, who had the cord wrapped around her neck twice. She was 19.75 inches long, and had pooped my uterus as a result of her distress, so it’s good that we just got her out of there. She pooped all over everyone, apparently (over-achiever like her mom), and then they brought her to me and put her by my head for a while so I could nuzzle her before they took her to pediatrics to see if she had suffered any trauma from the blood flow issues she had been having.

By 9:30am I was done with surgery, and at 11:30am I got to leave recovery and was able to meet Agent properly. I wound up with a fantastic baby, a nice scar that looks not-unlike a smile right above my vagina, and a spectacular war story to tell at my kid’s wedding.

Barnacle baby & the year of no sleep

Sleep addled woman with lip piercing laying in bed beside a sleeping baby with it's bum (covered by a diaper)
 beside her head.

For her first eight months, my daughter Agent would wake up every forty minutes to every hour or so in pain with gas. After that, up until she was one year old, she slept no more than three to four hours in a row, so neither did I. This is the sort of thing you subject people to for actual torture, to tell you secrets. If I didn’t just tell anyone everything all the time, I would have been ready to talk by the end of that year.

I realized after the first three months that she had a food allergy through my breast milk. I knew this because they say that if the baby has colic that they will magically get better, and Agent did not. She kept getting worse. The poor little hamster would wriggle in agony all day long. I would pump her legs to ‘fart’ her, gave her all the gas medications that exist on the open market, and went through all the homeopathic remedies I could get my hands on. Google was my weapon. All cultures were considered, all options used, nothing worked. So I began to work on the non-standard plans to get Agent well and both of us sleeping.

The usual suspects elimination diet plan

I went off the regular things first, cow’s milk, soy products, carbonation and caffeine. She got a little better and we narrowed it down to the carbonation and the cow’s milk. This meant that I couldn’t try to put her on formula to make her better, because most of them were based off cow’s milk. The soy formula, my pediatrician and I decided, was too close to milk protein for baby intestines, and she didn’t want to drink it at any rate (I tried it out, just to make sure).

The co-sleeping plan

In the mean time, I had worked out sleeping strategies to make life more sane. Agent was sleeping in my bed so I could snuggle, breast feed and calm her down without having to actually move nine times a night. During the day, I bounced her on my lap so that she would nap. This meant being trapped under a baby for six hours during the day and attached to her pretty much all night by the nipple. My then-husband would not help with any night wakings, so I was doing all this solo.

The alternative medicine plan

Then she got worse again. The ex-husband and I had taken a trip to Europe and Agent was in pain all night long, plus jet lag, plus babies just aren’t that into travel so far as I can tell. So screamy madness for two weeks was the norm. When we got back, she was almost six months old and I was now ready to do anything to get her to sleep, even if it meant eating almost nothing. It meant eating almost nothing. Boo.

I took her to a Cranial Sacral Therapist, which sounded, to be honest, like a pile of bullshit. Healing touches for babies…okay, suspicious. However, I was ready for leaches at this point, so go ahead and squish my baby! The people I went to were also Chiropractors so they started working on knots he had on her neck from having the cord wrapped around her neck twice during labour. They said that the vagus nerve in her neck was inflamed and it wraps around your intestines, so it could be causing impaction, not allowing the gas to pass through. I was impressed. These hippies had some science behind them!

The no food elimination diet plan

I started telling the Cranial Sacral Therapists (who I had nick named “Baby Squishers”) about my elimination diets and they had a list of things to try out that hadn’t been suggested by the pediatrician. Then I couldn’t eat dairy, soy, carbonation, lectins, gluten, eggs and foods that are cross contaminants for people with latex allergies (which I have). I could eat meat, a couple of veggies and a few fruit. I did six weeks of the full elimination diet and there was no change in Agent. My personal doctor, who I had brought in on it, said that it must be the gluten, because that’s the only thing that takes that long to detox from. Agent had a bout of getting worse too, and the doctors realized that the gluten was detoxing through my breast milk, so she was getting an extra dose. Two weeks later, she stopped having the gas pains. We were all thrilled!

At eight months old, she started sleeping for three to four hours in a row, which after my previous lack of sleep, seemed like luxury. But she still wanted to sleep with me. Once she crawled herself off the bed, I had to move her to his crib though, which proved an unpopular decision. She was waking up every two to three hours, still required lap napping and I was starting to go a little squirrely. Okay, a lot squirrely. I forced my then-husband to start taking on the mornings from 6am-7:30am so that I could have some baby monitor free sleep, which helped but, damn, a woman needs more sleep!

The sleep training plan

After Agent turned one, my paediatrician’s nurse recommended Dawn Fry to me. She had a non-cry-it out sleep training method that I might like. We had already tried to cry-it-out, but Agent has staying power and cried for five hours straight, convincing me that I hated that method. Dawn came over, gave me a training session and within four weeks Agent was sleeping in her crib for all naps and all night, for the entire night. She now even sleeps through teething at night (for the most part — teething plus colds sometimes will cause her to wake and need re-settling). Naps, not so much. But I love the hell out of this method. There is some crying, but you always come to the baby when they do cry. The key is not to do anything in the room during sleep time that they can’t reproduce on their own. No talking, or shushing. You set up a loud white noise machine and keep the room really dark. While the white noise machine is on and the lights are off, you do not pick them up or talk. You can give them reassuring little squishes to simulate them rolling around in bed and you get them attached to a “blankie”. You teach them that they can sort themselves out with toys and sippy cups of water unless they have a real issue, and they learn it! Dawn was writing a book when I met her, I recommend buying it if it’s out.

The victory dance plan

I’ve had many months of sleep now and I don’t know how I survived that first year without killing several people. The up side to elimination diets is that you easily lose all your pregnancy weight, the down side is that you hate everything. There is no up side to not getting to sleep. None. People need to give new parents more cred for just being able to cope with things like lukewarm tea, figuring out how to turn a shirt right side out and not leaving their baby on the counter beside the garbage disposal.Those who go back to work and are up all night too get my intense sympathy. For now, I’m just going to victory dance every morning I feel well rested.