The Things I Said I’d Never Do

We have such high (and often unrealistic) hopes for ourselves when they’re freshly born, don’t we?

Just for fun, so we can all have a good hearty laugh together, these are the things I said I’d never do before I became a parent (in my infinite and knowing wisdom). Eye roll.

  • feed them sugar
  • let them ‘cry it out’
  • kiss them on the mouth
  • lose my patience (ya ummmm ok)
  • give them screen time
  • feel the urge to shake them (sorrrrryyy but if you’re a colic mama you’ll understand)
  • cater to them by making a separate meal at dinner (or breakfast… or lunch…)
  • let their nap schedule dictate my day
  • use food or TV as a reward
  • stress about taking them on a plane (ha. ha. HAAAAAAA)
  • miss being in the workforce
  • eat food my toddler has dropped on the floor
  • eat food my toddler has dropped out of her own mouth
  • talk about my kid’s poops in great detail with my spouse
  • skip a workout because I was too tired

…are you rolling on the floor laughing? You should be; I certainly am.

First Impressions of the Coast

Well it’s been a week since we moved to the Sunshine Coast and for the first time in what feels like weeks I’ve found a moment to reflect. The whole process of buying and selling homes is stressful and busy! Sure, it’s stressful and busy in a super exciting, where-will-we-end-up, holy-shit-we’ve-ended-up-here? kinda way, but at it’s core it’s still just stressful and busy. But now we’re in the midst of settling into life in a new home, new community, and tbh very new lifestyle and I wanted to share some of my initial impressions, if only to chronicle my thoughts for future me (who I can only assume will be a major Nature Girl) to look back and laugh about.

Nightlife There are some big animals out here, guys. Like bears and bobcats and cougars right in our yard. Like I could run into them while walking my kids to school one block over. Everyone has a gate at the end of their drive that they close at dusk to keep the bigger stuff out of the yard overnight (makes sense!) and the first night it totally felt like a Purge situation and really freaked me out. I’ll admit that I haven’t actually seen that movie because I got too scared from just the trailer, but seeing everyone in my neighbourhood shut up their houses at dinnertime that first day made me wonder if Gibsons was harbouring a very dark secret. It didn’t help that I then spent the first night in our new house alone while Tom returned the UHaul to the mainland (well the kids were there, but they’d be fairly useless in an emergency). I will never forget the moment when the midnight cacophony of our swamp frogs went dead silent and I heard something big thumping around the backyard. It was probably just the raccoons but half of our doors didn’t lock that first day and my imagination definitely got away from me.

Nature All things above considered, I can see myself becoming a little easier-going with nature already. I used to pretty much refuse to live in a home without screens on the window, but I’ve lightened up a little (mostly due to the fact that we can’t afford to fix everything at once and I don’t have a choice). I used to hate having a fly or a bee in the house buzzin’ around and irritatin’ me but now that I have a big beautiful window right over my kitchen sink I’m like “come on in, bees, I know you guys do some good work on the planet and I really want you to pollinate my shit, just don’t sting my kids okay? Actually if you gotta do it, just do it, they probably deserve it.” Spiders are another story though as I learned today when Wells was reaching for a big, weird, black thing with a pulsating red backend and I flew across the room, swept him into my arms, and stomped it to oblivion before vacuuming it up and then putting the vacuum outside just in case. Hennie looked at me like I was a total psycho. She’s probably right.

A Trade-Off of Waiting I don’t think that a secret utopia exists where everything is a pro and there are no cons. One thing I’ve realized is that we’ve swapped waits. What I mean by this is that we’re not longer waiting for the things that used to take time back in the city, and we’re waiting for things we never waited for before (lol I hope no one has read this far, I’ve had two pints). There haven’t been any lineups at the grocery store, no traffic, no fighting for parking spots, none of that anxiety-inducing urgency on the roads that you can feel palpably in a city; it’s a glorious small-town benefit that helps me breathe easier. But the tiny condo we just left behind was in the same city as the Amazon distribution warehouse, and that’s one area where the new wait catches up with us. I can no longer place an order over breakfast and have it in hand before bedtime on the same day. Hell it won’t even arrive the same week anymore! As a matter of fact our neighbourhood is so rural that no one will come to our house, not Amazon, not the recycling pickup (we have to bring it to the depot ourselves), not the compost collectors, not even the friggin’ mailman (our mail goes to a bank of letterboxes at the end of our street). And here’s the kicker: there’s no. grocery. delivery. Am I even a mom of two if I don’t get my groceries delivered?

Neighbourliness okay so maybe the services aren’t the best but the locals are just so gd accessible that it more than makes up for having to walk down a street filled with cougars and bears to pick up our mail. My Amazon packages may not come to the door but new friends and neighbours will pop by with baskets of beers, freshly baked cookies, and kids to introduce to your kids. We texted a local electrician to see if we could make an appt with him and he texted back that he could “pop by in 5”. So far everyone we’ve met is roughly our age and has kids around the ages of our kids too (**potential friend alert**) which means that we can finally live out our dreams as social homebodies who host lots of bomb parties and ply their company with tons of beer and good stories. Lol pls come over. There’s only a small chance we’ll put you to work in our yard.

The Wildlings it took less than a week for the kids to adapt to the new space, which has amazed me and made me jealous because it’s gonna take much longer for me to get used to it. At first they were a bit agitated by the lack of routine, constant unpacking, and unfamiliar environment. Wells wasn’t falling asleep as easily as he usually does and Hen was acting out during the day, becoming clingy and whiny with Tom. But Wells has quickly become accustomed to his new bedroom and Hen has realized that she has a whole house and yard to explore there haven’t been any more (moving-related) issues.

Going Coastal

I thought I’d sit down amidst the utter discombobulation that is packing with two small children to write a blog post about what led us to our decision to move to a small coastal community we’ve never been to. It might seem like it came out of nowhere but I’ll remind anyone who has known us for 3+ years that a surprise move is kind of… dare I say on-brand for Tom and I. I mean, we did elope and this feels pretty similar to that. In both instances we spoke at great length about what we thought was the right move for the future of our family, took it about as seriously as we needed to (that is to say… not very) and then took a leap of faith. The only difference is that getting married cost us like eight hundred bucks and was probably a smaller commitment than the current weight of our new mortgage and sprawling fixer-upper.

Our first home together was a cheery and bright one bedroom apartment in the city. We got married in that apartment and brought Hennie home to it a year later. When she was ten months old we bought our first home, a tiny but cozy two bedroom condo. A year later we brought Wells home from the hospital to that apartment; I guess we move fast! Even before he was born we were having the conversation most of our generation probably has when raising a young family: do we want to continue to live in a small space in the city or do we want to move further afield so our kids can have the stuff we took for granted, like a yard and their own bedrooms? Like many young families our age, we can’t afford to have it both ways. We had this conversation over and over and over again, never really deciding what we wanted.

A year ago this month I was reading this post on one of my favourite blogs and I started daydreaming, as I always do when I see a home tour of a whole house, about upsizing our home and downsizing our community. Though it had always been a bit of a dream in the back of my mind, something about that article made me think “why not?” and I began thinking more critically about the logistics of that move – whether it would be possible, what it would look like for us. It felt like a monumental decision for me but when I mentioned it more seriously to Tom he seemed game for a change; having lived in multiple countries throughout his twenties I don’t think moving outside of the Lower Mainland was too much of a stretch for him.

Soon I became pretty fixated on the idea of selling our tiny apartment and moving somewhere else, but the checklist of what we were looking for in a community made the move seem fairly improbable. Our non-negotiables included mild weather (well, for Canada), decent elementary schools, a young, liberal-minded (or at least open-minded) community, multiple breweries (if we’re being perfectly honest) and obviously a real estate market that would allow for a detached home to be within the realm of possibility for us. We wanted to stay in as close proximity as possible to family in the Lower Mainland but knew that this was asking a lot. Knowing that it might not be possible to check all of our  boxes, we didn’t pursue it too much.

When we became serious enough about selling our place to connect with our realtor, we focused on a move to another local city where we thought we could afford a decent townhouse. We hung out there and loved the area, even staying in an AirBnB for two weeks in the fall and viewing some properties. One evening as we were doing our usual nightly scouring of the real estate there, Tom entered our search parameters and just started cruising around the map to see what we could afford elsewhere. He ended up on the Sunshine Coast looking at the houses for sale in a little beachside town called Gibsons. We marvelled at some gorgeous ocean-view homes and went to bed. A few nights of real estate hunting later and we were still looking at houses in Gibsons. We had never been there before and knew nothing about the coast but within a week our search had shifted. Without even talking about it we had both stopped looking at townhouses in the lower mainland and completely redirected our house hunt to the coast. Rather than approaching our nightly real estate searches with our usual sense of tired obligation I could feel a palpable excitement in the way we talked about the possibility of this move. Just as I can remember the moment when we decided we were going to be together forever (me: “is this it!?” Tom: “…I think so!”), I can remember the moment when we decided to redirect our house hunt to this totally new, seemingly random community we had stumbled upon in our late-night, beer-fuelled deep-dives into the depths of REW (me: “should we tell our realtor!?” Tom: “…I think so!”).

And then we found the house. It checked all of our boxes: stunning natural light, all the windows I could imagine, bedrooms enough for guests (or more babies! or guests with babies!) and it was even a rancher, which we were kinda hoping for. It was on a huge property with a back and front yard, had a fire pit, a large deck, and a detached office for Tom to work out of. It even had fruit trees and space for an ample vegetable garden, which was a long-shot wish of mine. We could afford it because it needed a helluva lot of love, but we were game for the challenge. We told our realtor. He called to inquire. The house was sold.

To Tom’s credit, he stayed calm through the many ups-and-downs of house-hunting, a feat that I cannot say I was capable of. With my exemplary imagination and lingering postpartum hormones I was a maniac every time we found a place we loved and a much bigger maniac every time we found out that a place I was already picturing myself living in was unavailable. I took up meditation to try and handle myself and we continued to focus our search on Gibsons, a community we had still never been to. We moved out of our condo so we could stage and show it more easily, packing up all of our unsightly clutter and moving it to my dad’s house (lucky him!). Before we left we went for one last date night at a local pub. Over many cheap pints I found that my husband, who doesn’t get excited about much, was unable to stop talking about the renovations he’d do on that first house we had fallen in love with. Poor guy.

The next morning our realtor called. The sale on the house – that house – hadn’t gone through and it was on the market again. He wanted to know if we could hop on a ferry immediately to go view it. Tom booked the next morning off work and we loaded the kids into the car to take a look at the rustic rancher that had occupied his thoughts for so very long. On the way there we said “at least now we can see it for ourselves and if it’s terrible we can put it out of our minds forever.” The day felt easy and exciting. It was a clear and crisp day in early February and the views of the local islands during the ferry crossing were stunning. We docked, drove to the house and stepped inside. We viewed it for probably ten minutes, the backyard too covered in snow for us to even really know what we’d be getting. Shortly afterward we were back on the ferry on our way home for nap time, instructing our team to begin compiling our offer.

And it was accepted! But first we had to sell our own condo, and fast. We cleaned, staged, photographed, and showed it as well and as quickly as we were able to and received a really fantastic offer after only a few days. We accepted it (whoop!), but it fell through. We accepted another offer, but it fell through as well. On the brink of losing our DIY dream house, we accepted a third offer. My anxiety was through the roof waiting for the buyers to get their affairs in order but thankfully, it went through. Miraculously, it seems, everything happened at the last moment when it needed to, teaching me all kinds of lessons about trust and letting go of things I can’t control. You would think I would already know how to deal with those things, having a medically complicated toddler, but it appears I’m a work in progress.

So here we are. Getting possession this week of a home which needs repairs we probably won’t know the full scope of until we’re up to our eyeballs in asbestos-laden insulation and rotting cedar beams (jk, probs). We head into it with a meagre budget, an inspection report so long it has a table of contents, and, thankfully, a sense of humour, at least for now. We’ve had so many moments when we’ve looked at each other, laughed, and said “what if we don’t even like it there because we still haven’t actually been?” but we’re just so sure that this is the right move for us that it hasn’t even really been a question on our minds. At the risk of being excessively corny and barf-inducing, I think I could live anywhere in the whole wide world with Tom Procter and it would still be the most stupendous life, so moving to a scenic coastal town where we can slow down and enjoy our kids and each other just seems like the icing on an already delicious cake.

For so long I existed in awe of the people I saw who were able to take a leap of faith and step forward into the unknown of a big adventure. This feels like that moment for us.

Wells Hardy: Six Months Old

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If I wasn’t an intelligent, educated person who understands the irrefutable science behind the passage of time  I would swear to you that there was absolutely no friggin’ way that six months had passed since I brought this baby boy into the world. It feels like it happened so recently and it’s so fresh in my mind that I can’t really believe it. The only reason I do believe it is because I’ve been awake for almost all of the hours in those six months and have had ample opportunity to witness the passage of each blurry, chaotic day and each painful midnight hour.

But here we are, six months and many, many cups of coffee into his young life, and my relatively new life of a mother of two. After Hennie was born I documented her growth and development like clockwork on this blog. With my second born I am just now sitting down to think about his life thus far, and here is what I have learned about him, about myself, and about being a parent of two (!!) kiddos for half a year.

  • I still believe that Wells is a happy, amenable baby under his many (admittedly minor) ailments. Since he’s been born there has really always been something that has kept him from being a truly happy baby – first it was reflux and constipation, then he needed his tongue and lip ties revised (ouchie!), and now his ongoing teething misery and hyper-short catnaps are ensuring that he’s pretty much losing it by the end of each day. But in between each little thing that plagues him he is the loveliest boy with a smile that beams brightly for his mama. And damn, it’s nice.
  • He absolutely adores watching his big sister and I think she’s part of the reason that he’s so determined to do what she does. He watches her eat, his little mouth mimicking her chewing motions, and demands we give him food also. He watches her run down the hallway and his feet kick like crazy as he hangs in my arms. It really seems like he just can’t wait to be a boy. It’s super fun to watch and we think once he’s able to keep up to her and play on her level she’ll really love it, too.
  • Just because kids are siblings doesn’t mean they’ll be anything alike (duh!) and every parent has to “start over” learning how to parent each new child that comes along. Wells hasn’t been nearly as good of a sleeper as Hennie was but he has really been keeping us on our toes in terms of his motor skills – we can’t believe how early he became mobile! It’s fun and challenging to see and adjust to the personalities and skills that emerge with each child. We just wish that the skill of sleeping through the night didn’t seem so far away for this boy of ours.
  • After just one kid I quickly realized that it was so important for me to take time for myself to not be a mom, and it didn’t really matter what that time was spent doing. Yes, of course my home life is wonderful and I have a lot of support and the best family ever, but this doesn’t mean I never need a break or miss my old self and my old interests! Despite suspecting from the very beginning that I would be a better mom if I took time for myself I have never taken that time away. Ever. In fact, the only night I’ve ever been away from Hennie was the night I was in the hospital labouring her brother into this world (and even then I was back just after breakfast!). After two kids it quickly became clear that making time for self care wasn’t just an option or even a priority, it had to be a certainty. My mental health and wellness directly benefit from even a few small outings a month. I’m still exclusively breastfeeding Wells and he hasn’t taken to a bottle yet so I’m kinda tethered to the homestead for now, but I make a point of getting out for a solo run, walk, coffee, drinks with friends, even just to get groceries solo (who knew what a luxury that would become!). It took me two years of motherhood but I’ve learned the hard way that this is absolutely imperative to my mental survival.
  • With two kids I quickly learned that the potential for the day to go completely to shit is much higher than with just one. But the flipside of that is that the potential for an amazing, stars-have-aligned, everyone-is-in-a-good-mood-and-we’re-all-having-fun-day is also exponentially higher. The high of seeing these two sweet muffins playing together, laughing together, looking at books together, having tickle-fights, and racing across the living room (Hennie is undefeated) massively outweighs those tough days with two kids. I’m still learning not to hinge my mood on theirs; when one or both of them wake up cranky I often feel utterly defeated right from the start of my day. But with the help of a few new tools I’m trying to counteract that and stay positive even when my babies are miserable (spoiler alert: this is not always possible).

Having two has been such a big learning curve for us both but our Wellsy Boy feels like he fits into our family so seamlessly and I can’t wait to see his personality emerge a little more over the next half of his first year!

 

Sometimes Motherhood is Ugly

Can we talk for a minute about resentment and anger? Because postpartum hormones are a real bitch, let me tell ya. Instagram is chock full of those joyful, weepy moments and pleas for time to slow down and I’m guilty of sharing those moments as much as any other mama! But part of the reason those moments are so sweet and we exalt in them so deeply is because they offset the moments when we need to remember why we’re even doing this.

To me it seems like there’s a dark side to parenting emotions that nobody talks about: resentment, anger, exasperation, doubt, emotional fatigue, and omg the GUILT. As complex human beings we obviously have access to just as many negative emotions as positive emotions, so why can’t we talk about those, too? Are they too ugly for Instagram or is there just so much shame attached that we can’t acknowledge it? Or even more terrifying, am I the only one who feels this way sometimes?

I know damn well I’m in the “trenches” phase of motherhood with a fussy newborn and two kids under two, but it just feels as if everyone else’s days with their kids are so easy breezy and I’m weak for struggling where others do not. The motherhood community is so vast but I still feel isolated. I don’t ever want anyone else to feel guilty that they’re not loving every minute of it, so for the sake of total clarity, here are my mom confessions:

In my darkest moments I sometimes feel resentful towards my newborn for not being able to fall asleep on his own. For demanding so much of my energy that I feel utterly depleted at the end of each day (or more often by noon). I feel angry towards my body for not looking or feeling how I want it to. I feel defeated when I don’t have enough hands to make myself lunch. I feel resentful when I know I deserve to shower or sleep but circumstances don’t permit me to. I’m jealous that Tom gets to go to work each day and pursue projects that challenge and refresh him. I feel angry toward people who insinuate that being a stay at home mom is easy or that I “get to play all day”. I feel weak when my back aches from carrying this child all day long, even though I know I’m still recovering from carrying him inside me for even longer. I feel like a bad homemaker when I forget to prep a meal even though I still manage to get all the dishes and laundry clean done most days. I get upset when after all that I do, my daughter chooses her daddy over me over and over and over again, even though she’s a toddler experiencing a natural developmental phase. I feel angry that I have everything I have ever wanted and worked towards but sometimes I just want a day (okay a month) away from it all.

I know, it’s a lot to read, but it’s also a lot to feel all at once. Maybe you can relate or maybe you’re judging me. But because I don’t have a place for the negative emotions and I don’t know what to do with them and I feel so much shame about it that I can’t even talk about it out loud I’m just gonna leave it all here, acknowledge that it exists, and hope that it makes another parent feel a bit less alone in their journey. So if you’re in the trenches too, know you’ve got a friend down here, and there’s always an end to the fussiness, the teething, the regressions, cold and flu season, or whatever is bogging you down. Solidarity ✊🏻

Preparing for Our Second Baby

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Forget the gear. Everyone knows that you need the basics before baby: crib, stroller, freezer meals, diapers, duh. The Jess essentials (can we call them Jessentials? Probably not, right?) that I’m relying on to get through the Fourth Trimester this second time around are a little different from your standard pregnancy checklist. Last time I prepped so much for the baby that I forgot to take very good care of myself; I think that if I had put some tools in place for my own wellness, however little time I had to devote to it,  maaaaybe those colicky months wouldn’t have hit me so hard (but also they were just so freakin’ hard so I dunno, maybe nothing would have helped).

This time around it’s all about self-care; the baby is getting the basics and the rest will be for me because as any parent knows, when the mama is feeling good pretty much everything in the house runs more smoothly.

Basics for Baby. What the basics are will look different for every family. While most of Hennie’s clothes were pretty gender-neutral and I often shop for her in the boys section anyway, she was a newborn in the winter and Baby 2 is due in August so some lighter newborn-sized clothes were needed (tbh I picked up a few packs of plain white short-sleeved onesies and called it a day… #secondbabysyndrome ). Other than that we bought a mini crib, a Snuggle Me lounger, and invested in a really great double stroller and that was about it.

Catering to My Coziest Self. Obviously with the arrival of a new baby comes the arrival of those sleepless nights – so much time spent in bed without getting to sleep in it! This time I’ve resolved that if I’m going to be bed-bound for those long late night nursing sessions, I may as well make myself as comfortable as humanly possible (I mean, as comfortable as a mama recovering from childbirth with the postpartum sweats in August can really be). To all impending moms I would say this: whatever your cozy Saturday morning feel-good hangover jam is (or used to be), invest in that! Get some new pyjamas to cozy up those midnight feeds, some furry slippers if you’re due in the winter months, or plush new bedding to fall into for 45 minutes after being awake for three days. Whatever will add a bit of coziness for you is key. Obviously everything is going to revolve around your newborn for a time but it’s okay – and often crucial – to make a few tiny parts of your day about you. As you countdown those last few weeks go pick yourself up some small pleasures like some new shower products, a super soft shirt you can look forward to fitting into once that big ol’ bump is gone, a few pounds of fresh roasted espresso to look forward to each day, or a new shade of lipstick to throw on when you feel like a total postpartum dirtbag (it’s gonna happen some days, just embrace it)!

Sharpening My Coping Tools. Doing some “emotional work” is something I’ve been trying to make time for since I found out I was pregnant again in December. No one is at their best when their hormones are out of whack, they haven’t slept, and they’re trying to figure out what their brand new baby human wants. It’s a tough time for every family member as everyone adjusts to a new dynamic so the more tools you prep yourself with to help you cope with your stress the better off you’ll be able to handle that transition. Consider what usually helps you feel the most relaxed or focused; maybe it’s aromatherapy, listening to a favourite album, doing deep-breathing techniques, going through some favourite yoga poses, or having a chat with someone who always knows how to put things in perspective. Maybe it’s online shopping with a bottle of wine; I get it, but maybe try to find a few new tools before your due date. Keep a running list so that when you feel like things are getting to be too much you can take a few minutes (hopefully more if your new babe will allow!) and access these resources to find something to help you unwind or find a moment of peace. After my first baby was born I found that I felt much more capable and less anxious on days when I was able to leave the house even for a very short time. Every day I walked around the block a few times in the sunshine (alone!) and often stopped at the cafe on the corner to people-watch for a few minutes. These small moments were enough for me to regain some perspective and feel less isolated as I watched people live their lives around me. I suspect the caffeine boost didn’t hurt, either.

Becoming a Napper. There are two kinds of people: those who sleep easily and those who do not. I realize that to the types of people who can fall asleep anywhere, anytime, this advice is going to sound absolutely laughable. You freaks can fall asleep upright in an armchair at a toddler’s birthday party or under florescent lights in a waiting room or on an airplane, and I will forever be envious of that skill. But there are those of us who struggle to fall asleep even when conditions are optimal. I have never been able to nap  and quickly realized after my first baby was born that after sleeping only at night for thirty years, trying to grab a 45 minute catnap when my newborn was sleeping midday was next to impossible, no matter how exhausted I was. I wish that I had trained my body to fall asleep outside of it’s normal hours. I planned to spend the third trimester of this second pregnancy grabbing a midday nap when my toddler was down in an effort to teach myself this essential new skill, but so far it hasn’t happened and we’re now two weeks away from our due date. Kinda screwing over Future Jess but hey, can’t win ’em all!

Tom’s Preparation for Baby #2: I asked Tom what the number one thing is on his mind as we approach our boy’s due date and he answered that making the transition as easy as possible for Hennie is his top priority (assuming of course that I can take care of my own recovery). She’ll only be 21 months old when he’s born so we aren’t really able to explain the concept of a sibling to her in a way she can understand. Our plan has been to just attempt to stick to her routine as much as possible to avoid her feeling like the family is in upheaval. Or maybe she’ll be enthralled with her baby brother and won’t notice much else? We’re just as interested to see Hennie’s reactions to her brother as we are to meet him and see what he’s like!

If you have multiple kiddos, how did you prepare for baby #2 and what did you do differently than the first time? I’m so interested to hear, if you’d like to share.

 

Bump Update – 32 Weeks with Baby #2

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Sleep: sleep is not going super well anymore. It could definitely be worse so I appreciate what I am getting but between Hennie’s teething wake-ups, third trimester insomnia, my growing physical discomfort, and needing to pee every hour I can’t say I’m getting those deep sleeps that our bodies crave. Oh, well! It’ll probably be years before we’re getting good sleep again and I’ve resigned myself to that.

Movement: This baby is so interactive that I feel like we’re already hangin’ out together in the middle of the night! When I press against his feet at night he always kicks back. I don’t pay much attention to his movements during the day but once Hennie is in bed for the night I notice every little jab. His feet are tucked right up in my ribs in the same spot his big sister’s were last time.

Appreciating: this recent June-uary weather. I know the sun and heat will be back so I’m enjoying the cooler temps these days while I can. I expect July is going to be an uncomfortable month for me.

Craving: spicy chicken burgers, always! Not sure this counts as a craving since it was my favourite meal before pregnancy too, but it’s basically what I feel like eating at any given moment. Send me all the FatBurger gift certificates, please!

Nesting: I’ve been so funny lately – I can’t make a decision to save my life but when it comes to little jobs around the house I’m getting. shit. done. Organizing, re-organizing, making space for another crib, you name it! Still lots to do to get ready but I’ve got time left to do it.

How I’m Feeling: tired and slow, but all is well and I certainly can’t complain when I’m having a healthy pregnancy. Some days I feel like I don’t have the energy to even get out of bed but some days I can get a walk and a workout in no prob. I am listening to my body day to day and just responding according to what it needs. Unless it needs a nap…

Noonan Syndrome: Our Story

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I’d like to finally share something that has been on my heart and mind for the last year: the diagnosis of Noonan Syndrome that our daughter received at six months old.

What is Noonan Syndrome?

NS is a congenital disorder that was recognized by a paediatric cardiologist in the early 60s and is closely linked with certain congenital heart defects. It occurs in approx 1 out of 1000-2500 births and while most people have never heard of it, it occurs roughly as frequently as Downs. Roughly half of babies born with NS had it passed on from a parent while it develops spontaneously in the other half.

One of the most important things that we’ve learned about NS is how variable the symptoms and severity of health issues are. While some issues (like the presence of heart defects) are very closely linked to NS, every individual will present their own set of issues with varying degrees of severity. Because of this wide range, kiddos with NS are closely managed with multidisciplinary care.

How did Hennie get diagnosed?

For those who are curious about our particular family’s situation, Hennie was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect at three days old. Her paediatrician thought she heard an anomaly and sent us for an ECG and echocardiogram to confirm, hoping it was just a murmur. The cardiologist diagnosed her with Pulmonary Valve Stenosis, a heart defect that is very commonly associated with Noonan Syndrome. Because Hennie exhibited multiple other facial and physical characteristics associated with the syndrome we were referred to Medical Genetics at BC Children’s Hospital. While we waited several months for those appointments I researched NS and felt fairly certain that she had it based on what we already knew as well as some other symptoms I had noticed in pregnancy that had been tested and all fallen just outside the range of what was considered ‘normal’.

Hennie received her diagnosis at around six months old. At the same time it was ascertained that neither Tom nor I have NS and that Hennie’s case occurred spontaneously. All of the testing was done through a clinical diagnosis which means no bloodwork was done and we don’t know which “strain” of NS Hennie has (the bloodwork to confirm this is very expensive and not covered for us so we have chosen not to do it unless we need to know in order to better manage her health). Because Tom and I don’t have NS it is extremely unlikely that any subsequent children we have will have it, though our ultrasounds for upcoming baby no 2 were looked at closely by a pediatric cardiologist to make sure. We opted out of the more invasive testing for baby 2 as no soft or hard markers for any disorders were found in our 20week anatomy scan.

Why are we just talking about this now?

There are so many reasons, but here are the main ones:

I wasn’t ready. It has been way too emotional for me to think about all of this stuff until recently. Processing and managing a child’s health concerns is basically an ongoing part of life now, but for a very long time it felt too overwhelming to talk about. Despite all of the positive prognoses we’ve received, the first months of Hennie’s life were deeply traumatizing for me and greatly coloured my experience as a new mother. An extended hospital stay, tests on my colicky newborn at three days old, months of appointments and hospital visits after that finally leading to diagnoses and figuring out what it could all mean for my daughter and for our family… it has been a lot, and I only started to feel more at ease in my role as mother and advocate around Hennie’s first birthday. I have taken my time in putting my scattered thoughts into words and I’ll probably be continuing to work on it for a very long time.

I was afraid of speaking as a part of the NS community. For a long time I didn’t think it was my place to speak about being a NS parent because so far Hennie’s case has been so mild that we haven’t shared many of those other parents’ experiences. Others have had to deal with much more difficult health implications and diagnoses as well as critical, ongoing developmental issues. For a long time I have felt that while I am technically a part of the NS parent community the last thing I wanted to do was to co-opt an experience other parents were having that I clearly am not. I don’t identify as a special needs mama like some NS parents do because so far, Hennie hasn’t exhibited any special needs and we have been lucky enough to get to treat her like a “normal” toddler. We often forget she has a syndrome until an issue crops up that gives us a reason to pause and consider. But I do believe that as a fierce and vocal mama I am well positioned to be an ally to the NS community.

We weren’t sure it was our story to tell. …and to be honest I’m still not sure that it is. My worry has been that I’m making a choice on Hennie’s behalf that puts her in the position of being an advocate or spokesperson when she may not want to be in that role. When she is able to articulate her desires to us we will undoubtedly respect her decisions and comply with whatever her wishes are at the time. But for now I know too well how terrifying it can be to receive this diagnosis for your child and have no idea what it means for your family. My aim is to be an advocate for this community that has become such a permanent part of our family and to be accessible on social media to parents looking for information. It might seem surprising to non millennials (haha) but social media was actually the first place I looked when we received our diagnosis. While we were provided with plenty of access to clinical resources like medical studies and research we were given no “real-world” information about how our day-to-day lives might look. Of course I understand why that was the case, but searching through NS hashtags to find families on Instagram who were vocal about their struggles (there weren’t many!) was such a comfort to me in those very early days. Seeing even one or two families living normal (ish) lives with their little Nooneroo’s when I knew virtually nothing about how Hennie’s diagnosis would affect her gave me visual confirmation that this wasn’t a death sentence for us. That may sound morbid but no one mentioned life expectancy or quality of life to us when we sat through those appointments so we were left with some pretty big questions about the future. I still don’t know if it’s “fair” for us to talk about Hennie having NS when other families may not be as fortunate as we are to raise a Nooneroo who is (so far) so indistinguishable from a ‘normal’ kid, but admittedly I’m not really one to stay silent when an issue is close to my heart.

How do we expect this to affect Hennie’s future?

The bottom line is that there is just no way of knowing what will or won’t affect her later, so we mostly manage her care with a “wait and see” approach.

We were told when she was a baby that it’s common for the physical characteristics and facial features to become more subtle as kids grow up and we certainly have noticed that this has been true for Hennie, since it was quite obvious to us that she looked different as a newborn, but her doctors all agree that they would never think to refer her to Medical Genetics if they saw her now. Perhaps it sounds vain for us to talk about physical characteristics that don’t generally pose a health risk but any parent just wants their kid to be able to grow up feeling ‘normal,’ and we’re no exception. We know now that not having to think about your health is the biggest luxury a person can have and we hope that Hennie will be fortunate enough to grow up worrying about normal kid stuff like having cool shoes and getting Dunkaroos in her lunchbox!

As for her heart condition, at six months old her cardiologist said her PVS had gotten milder so our next cardiology appointment isn’t until she’s three years old or so. Like most individuals with NS, she will continue to be seen by cardiology until adulthood regardless of the severity of her heart condition, as a precaution.

There is a “guidebook” of sorts (a medical journal dictating Clinical Management Guidelines) and I’m part of a huge community of parents (on Facebook) whose knowledge and experience I can easily tap into whenever I have a question or concern. For now we are comfortable knowing that we have a cardiologist and a paediatrician who are familiar with our family and who we trust to give Hen the best care possible. We are also being followed by our local Infant Development Program who come to our home every 3 months for a short visit to check in on how Hennie’s development is progressing. We feel so lucky to live in a country where these things are all free for us.

What would I say to parents who have just received this diagnosis?

Knowing how much it goes against the nature of many parents to keep completely calm after receiving news that the current or future health of your child is unknown, I would never counsel another worried parent to not freak out. Some emotional processing is necessary and each family will need to navigate that period the best way they know how. BUT that’s not a place you want to stay, emotionally. After my initial panic and heartbreak I immediately sought out a small village. I was able to connect with a few other parents and immediately had the feeling that we weren’t alone in our journey. While an amazing Medical Genetics team and paediatrician are essential to galvanize yourself with information, it’s highly unlikely that any of those individuals are actually parenting a child with the same diagnosis as your own. There’s something bolstering about knowing that someone else understands your worries because they’re going through it, too.

Taking things one step/diagnosis at a time has been essential for me to manage my natural inclination toward anxiety, but I would say that it’s pretty essential to the management of NS in general. Worrying about the future has never done anyone any good and it can be an especially tough habit when faced with a variably expressed disordered like NS; there are so many uncertainties and potential minor and major risks that wondering which ones could impact your family will drive you crazy.

Here are a few things that have worked best for our family in our ongoing care for Hen, if you’re interested:

  1. Arming myself with formal medical knowledge: both my husband and I are big on academics and believe that knowledge is power, so the first thing I did was make sure that I was gaining the right kind of knowledge and not just reading about random people’s experiences. This meant that I read through a lot of medical journals, sometimes asking my two nurse besties for a little help deciphering the information I found. Knowing the basics made me feel much better and made her syndrome feel less rare and hard to deal with. Additionally, many professionals aren’t super familiar with NS and parents in more rural areas often have to explain the basics to their child’s healthcare practitioners and teachers. Becoming an advocate for your child is always important but it becomes much more important when your child isn’t in perfect health. Luckily in Vancouver we are in close proximity to BC Children’s Hospital and so far haven’t been met with this particular challenge.
  2. Deal first with all current issues: aka “one thing at a time” as I talked about above. How you deal emotionally with your child’s health issues will depend on your own parenting style and personality type, but compartmentalizing things helped me feel less overwhelmed. I do my best to focus on the biggest and most current issues before moving forward. Once we had received good news about Hen’s heart I did my best to let it go and not worry about the future until our next appointment. Easier said than done sometimes but it’s a habit worth cultivating.
  3. Being proactive about potential future issues: like I said, worrying about every future issue is not helpful, but familiarizing ourselves with the most common issues was still very important to me. Hennie has low muscle tone so I made sure we were referred to a physio who could show me how best to help her increase her core strength so she would have an easier time as her little body grows. Children with NS quite often require growth hormones after 2 yrs of age so we keep a close eye on her growth chart to watch for drastic plateaus. Eye issues are also common so I asked for a referral to a paediatric ophthalmologist the second I noticed anything unusual.
  4. It will always be a part of your story: even when the outcome seems mild and no issues are currently popping up it is always there in the back of my mind, a gaping “what if” that lives alongside all of the other what if’s that we deal with as worrisome parents. So basically, make your peace with this part of your life so you can give your little Nooneroo what every kiddo wants, just your love and attention.

If you’ve found this page because you’ve recently received a diagnosis and you’d like to chat, feel free to reach out! A great starting point for basic information can be found here: https://www.teamnoonan.org/general-information . You can email me directly through the contact info on this blog or pop over to my Instagram account and comment or Direct Message me there. I can connect you with the FB Support Group for families dealing with a Rasopathy, where you can also find a huge compilation of relevant and informative journal articles. If you’d like to check out another family living their own experience with NS go to Elisabeth Parker’s Instagram. Fun Fact: she’s the first NS mama I found after receiving our diagnosis and is a fierce advocate for NS research in the US as well as a wonderful resource and mentor to me this past year.

If you have any questions, please ask away! I’m open to receiving all forms of curiosity, concern, and of course encouragement 🙂

Mamas and Daughters

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It’s a big weekend around here – Canadian Mother’s Day and the start of my third and final trimester carrying our second child! I’ve never been a huge fan of holidays, admittedly; I’d much rather have a long weekend. Give me an extra day to spend with family without the plans or pressures that accompany most holidays! That said, Mother’s Day has caused a little introspection for me this year. This is my last Mother’s Day being a mom to just Hennie and I’m feeling so many feels! Rather than worrying like a normal mom about how she’ll handle all the change that’s coming to our family dynamic, I’ve been selfishly worried about her relationship with me.

Since her birth, Hennie and I have always had an interesting and complex relationship. I suspect that most mother-daughter relationships have these qualities, but having only one daughter (and being only one daughter) I don’t really have enough experience to know for sure. In the beginning I blamed the colic and high-needs attributes for her not wanting to co-sleep or cuddle, but as she grew into toddlerhood she continued to remain pretty indifferent to me, not unlike the beloved cat I had when I was twelve. I begged my parents my whole life for a cat and when I finally got one she completely ignored me and rebuffed all of my attempts to cuddle with or pet her. My response was to forcefully smother her with my affection even as she clawed her way out of my arms. I was never able to successfully convince her to acknowledge me when she wasn’t hungry and I quickly realized that tactic wouldn’t work on Hennie, either. So instead of smothering my daughter in love I have dutifully heeded my parenting instincts, which have instructed me to stand back and let her comfort zone blossom over time, offering attention and affection only when it is asked for. It friggin’ kills me, but she responds well to being given her space.

In time I’ve learned to see her independence not as a rejection of me but as a movement toward her own freedom. I’m happy for her that she self-soothes at such a young age and sleeps well in her own bedroom. I’m happy for her that when she falls her first instinct is not to look for me, but to pick herself up and continue determinedly forward on her own path. I’m not getting the cuddles I always dreamt I would receive from a child but hey, there’s always the next one. And I certainly cannot deny that the girl is unstoppably strong-willed; in fact I had hoped for this quality in spades for any daughter I might be lucky enough to raise.

Things have changed oh so slowly and Hen really seems to love it when we spend time together now. Our weekdays as a twosome are full of fun local adventures and my heart pretty much explodes every time she reaches for my hand or runs toward me with her arms raised. We snuggle a little more often and once in a while I even catch her looking at me with an expression that feels like the whole universe is shining it’s light on me. Maybe after the new baby gets here she’ll regress back to her “I don’t need no mama” attitude, but I’m secretly hoping she gets jealous and clingy and I become buried under babies that my body has made. The future remains a mystery until this baby comes so for now I’m gonna soak up three months of summertime park hangs, iced coffee dates, and hand-holding with my smart, strong-willed baby girl.