Thursday 6 December 2012

Why HypnoBirthing Works

I knew about HypnoBirthing from an unexpected source.  My colleague and I were pregnant at the same time.  She was seriously considering elective caesarean, traumatized by a graphic birth video back in school of a laboring woman screaming in extreme agony.  I was already blogging about natural birth at that time and of course I tried to impart the opposite.  I reassured her that a woman’s body was designed intuitively to give birth and  has the capacity to manage pain.  If that did not work, I outlined how studies have shown anything but good.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I received a call from her one day saying she was going for natural birth.  Knowledge is indeed power!  She did her own research and was convinced that drug-free is the best and safest way to give birth to her baby.  To help her prepare, she is taking HypnoBirthing® classes at ParentLink.  It is a method that helps create a relaxed, safer and easier birthing using hypnosis techniques.

That certainly perked my interest.  I was not a stranger to hypnosis.  Back in college, I was suffering from chronic migraines triggered by endless and sleepless nights that architecture is notoriously known for.   Worried from taking regular painkillers (with dosage getting stronger by the day), I was very eager to try an alternative when I chanced upon a book entitled “The Complete Book of Self-Hypnosis” by John M. Yates, M.D., and Elizabeth S. Wallace, which has this to offer:

“Learn how to make your body and mind work for you and not against you. Free yourself of those nagging ailments, fears, and problems that take up too much time and pain in your life.”

While some might be skeptic about self-hypnosis, which conjures an unsuspecting patient being manipulated by a hypnotist, I was not.  Contrary to popular belief, all hypnosis are SELF-hypnosis.  Hypnosis can only work with the person’s consent.  In short, it is self-induced.  You need to be able to concentrate and visualize well in order to be effective.  And thank goodness for that, I survived those mind throbbing and throwing up days.

Although I already gave drug-free birth to our firstborn, I really felt I could improve on the pain management part.  To be honest, I was sort of dreading the labor again now that I knew what to expect.  So to learn about hypnosis on birthing is like a prodigal daughter returning to her place of comfort.  Why did I never think of that?!

My savior in college.
HypnoBirthing at ParentLink runs 5 classes of 2 hours each for S$495, about the same cost of getting an epidural at Mt. Alvernia or more at other hospitals.  But of course, you get much more out of natural birth.  Nothing can ever replace the empowering, adrenaline-rush, raw and a miracle beyond words when you and your baby are fully alert and can instantly bond - face to face, skin to skin, smell to smell, mouth to a nipple and spend night to day.
The classes were taught by a lovely teacher, Ms. Di Bustamante.  She will be featured separately though as that alone is enough to cover another post =)  Anyway,  I have to say that I was initially disappointed since I expected the classes to focus on hypnosis techniques and drills after drills.  Instead, only half of the time was spent on that while approximately half of the other time, we were watching birth videos and getting into the inner workings of a body in labor.

What I didn’t realize then that conditioning of the mind is more important than knowing a skill.  What the mind thinks pretty much dictate how the body reacts.  And when fear of pain knocks and the mind accommodates, as I would know from experience, all breathing and visualization practice go out the window.  And that is why HypnoBirthing®  - The Mongan Method is as much a philosophy as it is a technique.

They delivered as promised when they say on their website:

“You will gain an understanding of how the birthing muscles work in perfect harmony - as they were designed to--when your body is sufficiently relaxed. You will learn how to achieve this kind of relaxation, free of the resistance that fear creates, and you will learn to use your natural birthing instincts for a calm, serene and comfortable birthing”

A book that will change how you think about birthing.

Indeed, the absence of fear could have not been emphasized more in class.  Coupled with the book “HypnoBirthing®  - The Mongan Method” to read and the relaxation CD to practice positive imagery at home - have truly prepared me mentally and watching all those women giving peaceful and natural births have engaged me emotionally.   So much so that I was actually looking forward to giving birth again.
Enough said, a picture paints a thousand words.  This is how I labored with my firstborn at 6-7cm dilation (deliberating if I should post this photo - for the sake of illustrating a point):
Yes, I also think my hubby is so mean to take this photo when I am clearly in pain.

And this is how I was on my second labor at 7-8cm dilation, deep in hypnosis:
So much the better!
It is also worthy to note that there were five (including my colleague) of us who were pregnant almost at the same time.  Three took Hypnobirthing class and went to give successful natural births while the other two who didn’t end up birthing under the knife.  Is there a correlation or purely coincidence?

Wednesday 31 October 2012

From SAHM to WAHM!

We are one month shy away from Ally’s 1st birthday - which means, it’s been almost a year since I stopped work as an Architect and turned stay-at-home mom.  This brings to recall a recent conversation I overheard in a coffee shop between two corporate-dressed women. “Can you believe it?  She’s taking care of her baby day in and day out.  I could not imagine it!” I almost choked sipping my decaf latte.  They could be talking about me for all I know!

Stopping work may seem implausible for some career-oriented moms.  Well, it is not completely unfounded.  Giving up or putting on hold years of hard work and not to mention a big cut on household salary are not easy decisions.  When I had my first baby, I also could not bear the thought of staying home and losing the “outside” world.  Part-time work was a good compromise between a career and family life - albeit frustrations of juggling both.  But still it worked.  

Then came baby number two.  The part-time set-up would have worked too if we were not living abroad and far from family support.  With just one caretaker who doubled as household help and daycare being not a solution for us, staying at home became inevitable.  But honestly speaking, I was already looking forward to the change.  I knew deep inside that I would end up hating my profession if it takes too much of my time away from my girls.  And Architecture, fraught with impossible deadlines and endless meetings is going to do just that. 

The priority is the girls.  Once I have established that, all else revolves around it.  I guess I am lucky in a way that I have always BELIEVED that things will work out by themselves when you MAKE that important decision.  I KNEW what I wanted – to set up my own business so I can look after my girls at the same time.  Many work-at-home moms have successfully done it, so why can’t I?  Yes, I believed it when Paulo Coelho in his book, The Alchemist, said “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.”

I did not know when it will happen and what business it would be but I was OPEN.  I was open to ideas, to my new life as a stay-at-home mom, open to just enjoying lazy days with my girls, open to what life has in store for me and basically - open to CHANGE.  And that’s the thing that still amazes me till know.  Like finding the right person - it naturally happens.  Nothing feels contrite or forced.  A light bulb flickers, something clicks inside and you have your AHA! moment.

One serendipitous vacation back to our hometown in Davao City, Philippines, I visited my sister’s developmental toy store Oak & Acorn, and I noticed a new shop - Human Nature opened beside it.  So of course I checked it out.  I was so happy to find all natural products that were so affordable!  I was already using natural and organic products for my girls because of Ava’s sensitive skin and I was feeding them organic food since day one. Our grocery bills almost doubled but after learning about harmful chemicals found in our daily products and food, there is simply no going back.   I bought the baby and kids care line as well as shampoos to bring back to Singapore with us.

So there I was, looking at the back label while showering and giving the kids their baths every day.  Ava did not get any dry skin like she usually does from new products and her hair really shone.  Ally too smelled good and her skin soft.  My husband and I also liked how our hair felt so silky from the shampoos.  This prompted us to take a closer look and check out the website.  Knowing about the advocacy behind Human Nature – the commitment to help the poor farmers and communities together with Gawad Kalinga (a world renowned foundation on converting slums to sustainable communities) sealed the deal. This is exactly what we have been looking for.

After a month of email correspondences with Human Nature, we flew to Manila with the girls (thanks to my parents who flew from Davao to Manila to look after them in the hotel) and met with Dylan Wilk, one of Human Nature’s founders.  It’s amazing how you always believe in something and someone comes along believing the same principles and values and putting it into ACTION effortlessly.  Just look him up in Google and you will find out how inspiring and trailblazing his story is.  Anyway, we could not secure the exclusive distributorship just yet (with many others interested in getting it too) but we came out from that meeting even more charged and wanting it more.

Only with Human Nature's Dylan Wilk can you probably bring a baby to an important meeting!

We worked day in and day out, set up an online shop, designed and printed thousands of fliers and drafted a 40-page business plan when the girls were asleep at night.  On a second trip back to Manila, we got it!  And here I am – a bona fide work-at-home-mom!   Though I have dark circles around my eyes now (when sleep is the solution and Human Nature’s bestselling Sunflower Beauty Oil could not fix anymore), have lost more than 10 kilos, dropped to a 25-inch waistline (a good thing right?) and basically have lost “me” time altogether, I knew and expected it.  This is what I had envisioned – a business I can run at home, a product that I really love and most importantly, it has a purpose of helping the less fortunate.  It could not get better than that.

A friend who wanted to quit work for the longest time said to me “Now you have a business and can spend time with your girls… You are so lucky”.  Oprah Winfrey best defined luck as “preparation meets opportunity”.  I made that BIG LEAP to stop work (having no idea where to get the extra income), opened myself to CHANGE, on the LOOKOUT and sent my ENERGY to the universe, and guess what?  The right opportunity came at the right time when I was prepared =)

Wednesday 18 July 2012

On Being A Mom

It’s always nice to hear from my readers.  So I was really glad when a journalist found my blog engaging and emailed me some questions for her upcoming book “The Global Parenting”, which will be published soon.  I will definitely be on the look-out for it!  So sharing with you my thoughts...

1.  What do you think is most challenging being a mother in modern times?

I think the most challenging on being a modern mom is finding the elusive balance between work and quality family time.  Since women actively joined the workforce in the 1960’s, moms have been juggling pregnancies, raising kids, running a household, kindling a married life and pursuing a successful career. So much so that this generation has coined the term supermom - proving that the modern mom wants to have her cake and eat it too.
From an urban designer’s point of view, the physical divide between the public and private realms, between work and home, has long disappeared.   Technology definitely has allowed us that.  No longer confined to the office desks, tele-conferences and emails can be accessed via blackberrys and iPhones - from virtually anywhere.  Stay-at-home-moms are now work-at-home-moms and mom-preneurs are doing global business online.  
This is where the challenge I believe becomes more pronounced.  As a stay-at-home mom myself trying to set up my own business, working at home means no “office hours” and can easily get out of hand (and the frustration of accomplishing so little from multi-tasking).  That is why prioritizing my girls is a continuous and deliberate decision I have to make everyday.

2.  How would you define your parenting style?
Basically, my husband and I believe in positive parenting and we don’t spank our kids.  Attachment parenting comes naturally to me.  In fact, I have been practicing its principles long before I have read about it.  Although attachment parenting is known for advocating breastfeeding, baby-wearing and co-sleeping, these are just some of the many tools for fostering a closer bond between mom and baby.  More to it are the everyday little things that we do - communicating with positive language, nurturing love and trust, that makes all the difference.
One of the more challenging ways is using positive discipline to our strong-willed and defiant toddler (aren’t they all?).  It’s very tempting to resort to bribery or punishment to get her to follow but we believe it is not healthy in the long run.  Not to mention that you can only do it for a limited time.  The best way we avoid disciplining is by preventing situations that are catalysts for misbehavior in the first place.  
One example is giving her advance notice of the things to come and managing her expectations.  Like when she wakes up in the morning, I would excitedly tell her that after we eat our breakfast, we will have Little Gym class and we can go buy a book afterwards, eat lunch and come back home so she could play more.  It’s a lot manageable if the stage is set too by making sure she had a good night’s rest and giving her plenty of time to eat.  Rushing would mean pressuring her to chew faster and getting all frustrated when she wants to play at the same time.  This is a sure recipe for a meltdown!  
Distraction and substitution or giving choices are other creative ways of getting her to cooperate.  I genuinely believe children inherently would like to please mommy and daddy, but easily get sidetracked out of pure curiosity and the quest for independence on their part (as oppose to believing they are always up to mischief).  Getting their attention in playful manner is equally if not more effective than reprimanding.  
It’s a lot of work I know but scolding and threatening are also stressful, aside from creating a gloomy environment where everyone is up on their toes.  And because mommy gets angry only once in awhile, it definitely gets her attention and knows it is not to be trifled with.

3.  What do you think is a good mother?
This is a tough one.  For one thing, we know that there isn’t a parenting manual on how to raise our kids.  Yes, there are a lot of parenting styles and ways to guide us but for the most part, we learn and make up things as we go.  
After a lot of thinking and stripping things to bare essentials, personally, I think a good mother is someone who really listens.  The value of listening certainly goes beyond the premise of motherhood, but it becomes more imperative for children to be heard - since they are still trying to comprehend the world around them.  Not just listening and answering when they ask their 1001 questions everyday, but most especially when they are upset. 
I have actually been to a preschool where a child was crying and the teacher assured me not to mind him as he was just trying to get attention.  Yes, maybe he was but still that didn’t solve the root cause of why he was crying in the first place.  Crying is communication and I do not believe children have enough experience to use it for manipulation as others would paint it to be.  Even if he was (for discussion sake), the more I thought he needed to be heard.  
I think listening starts on day one when babies are in our wombs.  As an advocate of natural birth, letting labor start on its own means listening when the baby is ready to come out.  That’s why I am a skeptic when it comes to induced labor of any kind especially when the reason is highly debatable (e.g. past estimated date of delivery, low amniotic fluid, etc.).  When the baby is ready, the body is ready and everything works in harmony.  Having this mindset, breastfeeding and keeping baby close (vs leaving them in the hospital nursery) naturally happens.  I truly believe that if newborns could talk and we listen, these are the things they hold dear the most.
Now that my girls are growing and distinct personalities emerge, I try my best to listen (in fact I pray for it every night) and tailor my parenting styles individually.  What works for Ava might not work for Ally and it is a continuous learning everyday.  And really listening to them is actually closely linked to how I feel about myself.  Being aware when I am tired or stressed means I won't be taking out my frustration on them.  So taking good care of myself - proper nutrition and enough rest, equate to patience and listening more =)

I am reminded of a quote that my sister have posted on Facebook:

Tuesday 19 June 2012

A Father's Day Thank You Letter

As a mom to two girls, one of my biggest concerns is that when they become adults they will find a man who knows what it means to love.  If I had to pick a quote on men, one of my all-time favorites comes from the late Randy Pausch, former professor at Carnegie Mellon and Dad to 3 kids.   He was given a terminal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer with 3-6 months of good health left.  He gave an upbeat lecture titled Last Lecture: Achieving your Childhood Dreams, which went viral on YouTube and his advice to his baby girl when she grows up was:

“When it comes to men who are romantically interested in you, it’s really simple. Just ignore everything they say and only pay attention to what they do.”

This pretty much sums up my husband and dad to our two young girls.  He is not big on words and over the top romantic gestures, but he more than makes up for it on things that truly matter.  Every morning and when he comes home from work, he sweeps his girls in his arms, dances with them, plays hide-and-seek and peek-a-boo, kisses every booboos, cuddles them to sleep, drops whatever he is doing at one call, and basically, spoils them to a fault. 

He is a hands-on Dad for sure. He knows Ava well enough that milk and reading books are things that make her tick.  I think his 4-step regimen with her before bedtime is absolutely brilliant!  Step 1: Drink milk.  Step 2: Brush teeth.  Step 3: Change diaper.  Step 4: Read books.  By slotting in the unfavorables in between the first and the last, everything finishes in a zip.  It is so effective that I’m doing it before our afternoon naps too! 

Another idea of his, feeding Ava while letting her watch video.  This time, I’m still figuring out if it’s another stroke of genius (since we can stuff her with as much vegetables as we can without her complaining) or just plain bribery at work.  Or probably both!  One thing for sure, he does his piece of the pie in day-to-day rearing.  In fact, my multi-tasking skills have seemed to rub off on him.  He now ‘babywears’ baby Ally for a walk around the neighborhood to get some exercise and buys some groceries while he is at it too!  The girls, without a doubt, feel the love.

Ready for a walk around the neighborhood

Most important above all, he loves their mommy like a true gentleman would.  Not because I still get the best seat in the house, the remote control and the last word (haha!), but in calm, consistent and reassuring ways.  His strength is not the proud, protective, I’m-the-man-of-this-house type, but as a sturdy guidepost that quietly says “I will always be here no matter what”.  

So on this Father's month of June, thank you Daddy for giving us a hundred and one reasons to smile!  Here are some random thank you’s more from the top of my head:

-  Thank you for giving up golf games over going to the parks and zoos.  Ava especially loves your shoulder rides to catch a better glimpse of the lion. 

Where's the lion Daddy?

-  Thank you for trading your sumptuous meal with me.  I don’t know why I always end up ordering the wrong dish and you would have the more appetizing one. 

-  Thank you for reading the humongous 1,336-page pulitzer-prized book “The Powerbroker” and doing my report when I was already overwhelmed with too many assignments getting my Master’s Degree (oops, sorry professor!).  I guess reading birth and nursing books after THAT become easy-peasy.

-  Thank you for knowing that being a stay-at-home mom is difficult too.  It is indeed the hardest job of all.  You enthusiastically take over when you get home from work and bonds with them every night.

-  Thank you for refusing to eat shark’s fin soup - to the amusement of your colleagues, knowing how deeply I feel against it.  We had the last laugh, now that Singapore has banned it from all supermarkets.

-  Thank you for being a don’t-need-to-fix-it-all Martian, for patiently listening to a Venus who just wants to rant and lets out air, even if most of it probably sounded gibberish to you.

-  Thank you for passing your good-looking genes (which have been mistaken for Malay, Indian, Japanese, Italian, except Chinese!) to our beautiful girls (at least half of it! hahaha!).

-  Thank you for being my birth doula.  For reminding me that I don’t need epidural when I thought I could not make it on my first labor.  You knew me well enough that I would have regretted it afterwards.

-  Thank you for not letting me win on our chess and tennis matches, even when I would not quit and dragged us both to mental and physical exhaustion.  I know I am such a sore loser but I would have hated winning anyway if I knew you just let me. 

-  Thank you for continuously giving me intellectual stimulation all these years.  Our skin may wrinkle and sag, but I hope our minds will be at least half as sharp as Lee Kuan Yew when we reach 89.

-  Last but not the least, thank you for being that kind of man - of honest convictions and a believer of great love. 

They say girls draw conclusions about what men are like from the men in their life.  The father becomes her role model for what to expect of men and what to expect of men’s attitude toward women.  Then I guess it should not come as a surprise why I ended up with a good man.  My dad definitely set the bar high! (I shall write a separate father’s day article on him) and maybe I should not worry too much on my girls too.  After all, they have a good Dad to look up to =)  

Happy father’s day to all dads!  We live in a great time when fathers are getting more and more involved, not just in birthing, but in raising our kids too.

Daddy with her girls =)

Friday 15 June 2012

Sixth-month Milestone

We have finally reached the 6-month milestone.  Of all the milestones, this one is big for me.  Not because baby Ally can sit upright unassisted for awhile or that she rolls over on both directions, but because she has started to wean or eat solids.  That means only one thing for me - my exclusive breastfeeding days are over.

6-month old Baby Ally

Although breast milk continues to be her primary nourishment (this is still what they need the most), I still go sentimental over it.  I felt the same way or worse with my firstborn.  My husband could not figure out why I was crying when we introduced bottle-feeding (my expressed milk) after our latch was established.  Even when baby Ava was non-complaining, it was difficult watching her latch to a silicone pseudo-nipple.  I was only appeased in knowing that at least she could bond with her Daddy too.

I think we all know by now that breast milk is best for babies.  It is complete in nutrition and more.  To this day, scientists continue to uncover benefits after benefits (this would warrant an article of its own).  For now, I would like to share some of my favorites:

It bonds mother and a newborn like nothing else.

It is one of those rare moments in life that you will only truly know when you experience it.  When I nursed my firstborn for the first time, it was very surreal and profound at the same time.   I remember thinking to myself “such a miracle to hold this tiny life being in my arms and I still cannot believe that Daddy and I made her”, followed by a heartened grin as she opened her tiny mouth and started to nurse, with her rosy cheeks inflating and deflating like a goldfish.

For baby Ally, it was truly amazing to witness her self-latched when she was brought to my chest for our skin-to-skin.  She was very alert (owing to natural birth) and we held gazes for the longest time.  Words will always fail to describe those poignant moments.  All I can say, whatever pain I may have experienced in giving drug-free birth and from engorged breasts and clogged ducts, the bond we have shared more than made up for it.

One of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite authors of birth books:

A newborn baby has only three demands. They are: warmth in the arms of its mother, food from her breasts, and security in the knowledge of her presence. Breastfeeding satisfies all three. ~Grantly Dick-Read

It is mother’s best band-aid

When we see our baby sick or in pain, we yearn to trade places with them and take whatever discomfort away.  When a 3-day old baby Ally had to go for multiple jabs to ascertain jaundice level in her blood, I was at her side with a nursing cover over my open shirt, waiting to breastfeed.  Her squeals of pain instantly dissolved once she found that nipple in her mouth.  Same goes for Ava, well up to 15 months (when my doctor advised me to stop for health reasons, after getting pregnant with our second), nothing comforted and healed her fever or colds like nursing does.

This is why I find breastfeeding so valuable.  I don’t feel helpless, knowing I can offer some help and find comfort that each drop of my milk is alive with millions of tiny white blood cells.  It goes throughout the baby’s intestines ingesting and destroying harmful bacteria.  What’s more, a mom’s milk contains immunoglobulins - infection-fighting proteins that circulate, like natural antibiotics, throughout the body and destroy germs as well.  It’s no wonder that breast milk is revered as white blood in ancient times.

It is for these reasons that they hardly get sick in the first place.  Both Ava and Ally did not get sick even once when they were exclusively breastfed for 6 months.  When they get feverish after a vaccine shot, I breastfeed them more than usual and temperature goes back to normal after a day.  Speaking of vaccines, breastfeeding is actually giving them immunization every day.  It is a custom-made infection repellant that fights off germs.  When a germ enters a mother’s body, she produces antibodies to that germ.  This new army of infection fighters then enters the baby via mom’s milk.  This dynamic process of milk immunization constantly adapts to the every-changing germs in the environment, protecting both mother and baby.

It calms them anytime, anywhere.

My husband always complains it’s more difficult for him to soothe a crying baby since he does not possess my breast power. 

Ok.  I confess.  I breastfeed to soothe - if only I could not pacify my baby after a few minutes (after checking if her diaper needed some changing or entertaining a possible lack of stimulation, etc.).  I know this concerns some moms thinking they might spoil the baby and create a clingy and dependent child.  I remember a colleague of mine said she never nurse her wailing baby at night because it’s only comfort feeding.  But according to my parenting manual, when the baby cries miserably and nursing does the trick, why not?!

In fact, a lot of old cultures do exactly just that.  I have read so many amazing stories of African and Mongolian moms for example, how they wrap newborns like a cocoon to replicate a mother’s womb and sling them everywhere with them.  The first 3 months is supposedly the 4th trimester - a transition stage earthbound.  The baby needs and craves the mother.  Any sound heard from the baby will be straight away unbundled and nursed. I can just imagine how content the baby must be.

Attachment parenting, which my husband and I practice, also believes that responding to cries and breastfeeding on cues allow babies to develop secure attachment with their mothers.  A child goes through a stage of healthy dependence in order to become securely independent later. 

It relaxes me every time.

Mothers with young kids are always sleep-deprived.  What makes it worse for me is that I am an insomniac.  Even when I am physically fatigued, my mind remains very active - incessantly thinking, imagining and planning.  Breastfeeding comes as an unexpected blessing.  I finally found a safe sleeping pill or a natural tranquilizer.  Breast milk contains a natural-sleep-inducing protein that puts not only my baby to sleep, but the hormones induced by sucking mellow me down too. 

It acts as a timer for very busy, multi-tasking moms whose errands and lists of things to do are never-ending.  When baby Ally needs to nurse, I have no choice but to stop and take a break.  And because she nurses for a very long time, it relaxes me and puts me to blissful slumber.  Nothing can get better than that.

Or perhaps there is...

It keeps me in shape.

Aside from keeping my girls healthy, this is probably the next best thing.  I just love food!  It’s my favorite pastime and nothing keeps guilt away than knowing that the extra munch goes to my baby.  Oh!  Did I mention that it prevents osteoporosis, breast, uterine and ovarian cancer too?!

Breastfeeding is indeed best for both babies and mommies.  Beyond that, Jennifer Garner captures it well when she said “"All I ever heard was everyone bitch about it, nobody ever said, 'You are not going to believe how emotional this is.' 

Our happy and healthy girls

Thursday 31 May 2012

Biting the Bullet on Vaccines

*Please note that this is no substitute for medical advice given by a board certified doctor of your particular case. This post is for informational purposes only.

My readings and my husband’s usually don’t mix.  So I was a tad surprised when he emailed me a link to The Economist.  The article talks about the trend away on vaccines and how some states in the US are now below the herd-immunity level, posing a risk to public health.  I have been meaning to write about vaccination for sometime now but honestly, I don’t know where to start.  Embarking on a discourse about it is a daunting task and entirely overwhelming.
It seems that there is a great divide between the conformist – those who religiously follow pediatrician recommended vaccines, and the nonconformist, or perceived ‘rebels’ who home-school their children so they can get away with mandated vaccines.  Both sides make convincing and valid points, which make it all the more difficult for parents like me who wish to make an informed decision.
The skepticism with vaccination has been around for awhile especially in the circles of naturalists to organic-yoga enthusiasts but it received international limelight when Jenny McCarthy guested in Oprah Show a few years back (which I have seen).  She vehemently claimed her once bubbly son suddenly withdrew and eventually developed autism, days after his MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) shot.  This claim is supported mainly from a study by Dr. Wakefield which was published in the British medical journal “The Lancet”.  However, this was entirely discredited and Dr. Wakefield censured.  Scientific studies consistently conclude otherwise and the medical community has since rallied against this unfounded link. 
On the other hand, I have read heartbreaking stories from parents whose babies changed dramatically after receiving the shots.  There is still that small percentage of a severe reaction, enough to make a parent think twice.  Furthermore, knowing what goes into these shots can make anyone totally against it.  Take for example vitamin K shot which is given immediately after birth.  It contains castor oil- Phenol (carbolic acid – a poisonous substance derived from coal tar), Benzyl alcohol (preservative), Propylene glycol (better known as antifreeze and a hydraulic in brake fluid), to name a few.  As an adult, I wouldn’t even want any of these inside my body!  
Looking back, I definitely regretted agreeing to vitamin K shot for both Ava and Ally, which was given right after birth. I was too focused on giving natural birth that I missed this one in my birth plan.  Same goes for Hepatitis B shot.  What are the chances that my newborns will get it when they were both exclusively breastfed and I don’t have Hepatitis B and neither anyone in our household.  That could have waited 6 months later or so.  The liver of a newborn does not begin to function until 3 or 4 days after birth. As a result, this little being has very limited to no ability to detoxify the large dose of synthetic vitamin K and all other dangerous ingredients in the injection buffet.
In any case, parents have to make the tough decision whether to forego or go for vaccination.  At the end of the day, if I had to pick my poison, I’d go for the one I can contend with.  As much as I feel guilty for allowing chemical junks inside their little bodies and gets all nervous every after shots, I am equally aware of the diseases that are debilitating and fatal.  It was only half a century ago that babies and children have been maimed or have died from polio, tetanus, diphtheria or measles.  The risk of getting the disease is still higher than a possible adverse effect from vaccines.  
Having said that, it is not a ‘take it or leave it’ approach.  I am very lucky that we have a pediatrician who understands and validates my concerns and is willing to work with me (I have heard stories of parents who have been shunned away after refusing vaccination for their kids).  We have taken steps to allay fears and risks.  
For the most part, I have delayed their shots from recommended timetable.  Although doctors see no difference in doing so and actually leave infants vulnerable to diseases longer, it makes complete common sense to me (as well as the psychological comfort it provides).  The older they get, livers function better and body mass bigger in accepting these foreign and potentially harmful substances.  
Secondly, we try to separate shots as much as possible.  Again, some doctors say combined shots contain weakened viruses at different incubation periods and will not invade the body at the same time.  However, I agree with the rationale that one never knows how the little body reacts to the vaccine.  If it doesn’t take it too well the first round, another wave of virus comes in, overwhelming the body.  Separate shots (taken at least a month apart as recommended by our pediatrician) is just gentler to the body.  It doesn’t need scientific evidence to make sense.
Lastly, we simply avoided vaccines that are truly unnecessary and not mandated to start with.  It was our pediatrician who suggested Ava can forego rotavirus (since he reckon we live in a first world country where food and sanitation are closely monitored) and because I was actively breastfeeding her (chances of severe diarrhea from happening is slim).  Rotavirus has been pulled out from the market before after a number of hospitalization cases for intussusception (one part of intestine slides inside the other).  
Also, we don’t get flu shots.  The flu shot is the only one of the many vaccines given to young children that has more than a trace amount of thimerosal, a preservative that contains mercury, which can be poisonous in high concentrations.  While there's a preservative-free version of the flu shot on the market, it's not widely available yet. Research indicates that an inhaled version of the flu shot, FluMist - which doesn't contain thimerosal, is safe for babies and may be more effective than the shot. However, the findings are so new that the US Food and Drug Administration hasn't yet approved FluMist for children under the age of 5.
Currently, I am still deliberating if I’d go for the varicella (chickenpox) shot for Ava.  It is one of those shots that I have requested to be separated - from the usual MMRV.  I have come across journals from American Academy of Pediatrics and even from Center for Disease Control that those who receive MMRV are twice as likely to have febrile seizures—fever and shaking—7 to 10 days after the vaccine than children who receive MMR and a separate varicella vaccine.  Recently, AAP stated that MMRV is generally preferred over MMR and varicella for first dose in children 48 months or older.  Anyway, with regards to varicella, we belong to the generation where it was normal to get it.  In fact, some countries like Germany, holds chickenpox kids party so everyone has them at the same time (albeit criticisms for morality issues).  The good news is, those who got it will be assured they won’t get it again versus vaccinated children who are not 100% out of the woods yet.
I have spent sleepless nights especially prior to every vaccine appointment, learning as much as I could.  I guess what I’m trying to drive at is - it really pays to know more.  As parents, we make decisions on behalf of our children and we owe it to them to make it an informed one.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

A Gift of Time

On this mother’s month of May, I salute my mom, my mother-in-law, and all the other full-time moms who have given so much of their time to make a house into a home.  They are called homemakers for a reason.  I also thank my husband who has worked so hard to give me this opportunity to stop work and be with our girls.  It’s the best gift I can receive on mother’s day. 

Making the decision to stop work and be a stay-at-home-mom was not a hard thing to do.  It definitely had its roots.  My mom was also a full-time homemaker.  She chose not to pursue of what could be a promising career - a corp commander and an honor student back in high school (while working part-time as radio deejay to support her studies) and a student body president graduating top of her class in college.  She put it all aside and instead concentrated on us growing up.  She truly gave us one of the greatest gifts - the gift of her time.
Now that I am officially a stay-at-home mom, a lot of friends have asked me how my life has been so far.  Technically speaking, being at home and taking care of the girls full time is not really new to me.  I have had 4 months of maternity leave doing just that - staying home, breastfeeding round the clock, changing diapers (round the clock too!), playing, reading, giving baths, the whole nine yards.  The only thing that is different now, in a very pleasant way is that I don’t dread the pressure-pack and rushed life of a working mom anymore.  
When you have been working like there was no tomorrow for more than 10 years, the sudden change of pace definitely need some getting used to.   I can still remember working on a masterplan project in China which almost brought me to a breaking point.  I was going home very late everyday, without weekends for almost a month.  It culminated on a 6-hour midnight flight to Shanghai arriving there at around 7am, going straight to office and working the whole day.  That night, we travelled a 4-hour road trip to Yangzhou and arrived at around 11pm only to continue finalizing the designs, which was to be discussed on a breakfast meeting at 7am the very next day!  Whew!  No wonder I was popping pills for migraine like they were vitamins!

In Shanghai office, after an overnight flight
In Yangzhou, still managed a smile after 2 days of no sleep.

So I am sure you’ll know what I mean when I say I am a lot happier now.  I am certain the girls feel that too, which is very important.  I believe having quality time with the kids without your mind wandering to work is one of the biggest challenges.  Now that work is out of the equation, we can truly take our time and genuinely enjoy the play at hand.   Our hours and imagination stretch, bringing characters to life beyond “they lived happily ever after”.  Our play is no longer interrupted by constant clock-checking and you-have-5-more-minutes-to-go warnings. On the flip side however, the bad news for Ava is - mommy also has unlimited time to enforce time-outs!
One time, Ava kept on bugging me to watch cartoons again.  I normally let her watch for a maximum of 30 minutes, just enough to get my sanity back.  The usual all-knowing parenting spiel would be (which of course I have inherited) “there is time for everything and now is the time to eat, or sleep, etc... After you have finished eating your vegetables (slide in delayed gratification too!) then you can watch”.  Depending on which side of the bed she woke up from, my reprimands were sometimes met with bouts of crying and squealing, worthy of a “terrific” two.  Since we have pretty much established who the boss is (I have all the time now remember?), she figured the cows are never coming home.
So as I was watching her eat, an inspiration suddenly lit.  There is indeed a time for everything.  If you look at life in its entirety, 3-5 years of being with our children at their tender and formative years is nothing when you live a life of, God-willing, 80 fruitful years.  And when you do in fact live that long, I’m pretty sure reliving those 3-5 years back will bring so much pleasure and contentment.  Yes, I am happy I made the time.  Work?  That can definitely wait.  My girls?  I don’t think so.

My thirsty cyclist.

Who couldn't resist staying at home with an adorable face like this!

Tuesday 1 May 2012

The Day I Decided to be a Stay-at-Home Mom

As my maternity leave was coming to an end, my husband and I came up with a game plan.  We would drop-off our firstborn, Ava, to childcare for half a day while I was at work and leave baby Ally at home with our ‘yaya’.   Then I will pick up Ava on the way home for lunch.  This sounded like a great idea.  So we narrowed down to two childcare/pre-schools that were closest to our house.  Since I sometimes get stuck on long meetings, it has to be a walkable distance so our ‘yaya’ can pick up Ava on the tandem stroller with baby Ally in tow.  We finally chose one over the other for the reason that they allow parents to sit in the class for the first few days.  This was very important to me. 

First of all, kindergarten is different from a child care.  The former normally has a duration of 2-3 hours whereas the latter ranges from 7:30am-12:30pm (half-day) to as much as 12 hours for whole day.  The childcare is meant to be a place where working parents can drop-off their children.  That means kids were having their breakfast, snacks, lunch, nap and showers in the center.  It literally becomes their second home.
A lot of childcares or pre-schools have the policy to leave the child behind on the first day.  The rationale behind is that if mommy stays, other kids will start to look for their mommies too.  I found this not necessarily true, after having sat down with Ava for almost a week on two different pre-schools.  The toddlers were happily busy with the play at hand to notice.  And it actually hinges more on how the teachers create a lively and exciting atmosphere, enough for them to be deeply involved or distracted.   
While in class observing the children, I could not help but feel a tug in my heart.  Seeing the toddlers (some as young as 18 months) comforting themselves with a favorite blanket or toy, feeding themselves with rice, lulling themselves to sleep - all seemed remarkable given the high level of independence at such a young age, but I was more surprised to feel a tinge of sadness. There was something unnatural about it.  
Probably because I practice ‘attachment parenting’ which encourages a strong early attachment and consistent parental responsiveness.   I strongly advocated natural birth for the reason that my baby and I will be alert and not drugged to initiate bonding, further sealed with breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babywearing and so on.  As a result, I became highly sensitive and attuned to Ava’s cues and behavioral patterns and she in turns, knew me so well too.  I felt I was breaking this mutual trust prematurely - at a very young age of 2.
In fact, theory on attachment and human bonding dates back to the 1900’s, pioneered by the British psychiatrist John Bowlby.  He suggested that a child would initially form only one attachment, which is normally the mother, acted as a secure base for exploring the world.  A child should receive this continuous care for approximately the first two years of life and at best should remain undisrupted until the age of 5.  The attachment relationship acts as a prototype for all future social relationships and disrupting it can affect long term cognitive, social and emotional development. 
Although these were discounted with subsequent studies which noted that by 18 months very few (13%) were attached to only one person, some had five or more attachments.  However, with a statutory requirement of 1:8 teacher-student ratio for playgroups (18-30 months) which significantly increases to 1:15 for nursery 1 (30months-3 years old), there is hardly time to form attachments with the caregiver.  It even takes awhile, if not unnoticed, to attend to the needs of every child.  Some end up wailing to get attention, others retreat into themselves and self-soothes, others become aggressive and some bear lonely faces and faraway gazes. It really made me question the whole thing.
It is not surprising that a few years ago, a massive research was conducted from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's Study of Early Child Care, which found that cognitive skills in pre-reading and math were strongest when children entered a center-based program from age 2 to 3.  But it also found that youngsters who spent more than 30 hours a week in center-based care had the weakest social skills - including diminished levels of cooperation, sharing and motivated engagement in classroom tasks, along with greater aggression - compared with similar children who remained at home with a parent. 
These studies validated my empirical observations.  I knew in my gut that I had to stop work and concentrate on my girls at their tender years.  The next question was, could we afford it?    Especially since we live in Singapore, one of the most expensive cities in the world.  It all boils down to finances - the quintessential predicament of the modern mother.  
We did our math.  I am lucky that we could still live on my hubby’s salary alone.  More importantly, he supports the idea of me stopping work, even if it could mean tightening our belts.  Affordability is relative.  It reminded me of Einstein on his theory of relativity when he said, “an hour sitting with a pretty girl on a park bench passes like a minute, but a minute sitting on a hot stove seems like an hour.  That is relativity.”  Indeed, I may have to curb some shopping and traveling for now but as the cliche goes, “when one door closes, another one opens”.  So here’s to exciting opportunities ahead and a crazy, fun-filled, tear-jerking, love and laughter abound with my girls!

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