Sunday, January 3, 2016

Meet the Cleftie

I told people that all I wanted for Christmas was not to be pregnant any more. I got my Christmas wish! My second daughter, whose blog name will be The Cleftie, was born on Christmas Day 2015.

She has a bilateral cleft of the lip and palate:

The tape over her top lip is to flatten the little bit of flesh called the prolabium so as to facilitate the surgery on her lip that will probably happen when she is 3-4 months old. The cleft in her palate is one of the most severe kinds you can get, and as a result she will have to undergo multiple surgeries, lest she have trouble with eating and speaking for the rest of her life. Luckily, thanks to modern medicine, great strides have been made in how they treat clefts. A couple decades ago a child with this kind of cleft could expect literally dozens of surgeries. That number has decreased to four or five. Other parents of children with this same deformity report excellent outcomes.

Obviously, the cleft is one of the first things you'll notice about my daughter, but she is not defined solely by her birth defect. In spite of the cleft, she looks remarkably like our other children. She clearly fits right in with our family. She is a sweet and gentle soul and is adored without reservation by her brothers and sister.

The process of her birth was very special to me, and I will probably write more about that later. Her birth was a gift that I will carry with me as we navigate this next year, which will be full of doctor's appointments, nasal alveolar molding, surgery, and who knows how many trips to Primary Children's Hospital. My little Cleftie was born in the caul, which I take as a good omen.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Open Letter To Kid #4

Dear Baby,

If you are anything like your brothers and sister, I know that you are jolly well going to come when you feel like it and not when I tell you to. All the same, I thought you ought to know that I would see it as a personal favor to me if, instead of coming a week late on Jan 1, you could come a few days early. Not too early. Just like, five days or so. Dec 20 is looking like a really good day. But no pressure.

I expect you'll want to fit in with your older siblings and turn into a posterior position so as to be one of the "cool kids." I know I won't be able to control what you do, and you can do what you want, but it will be easier on both of us if you stick to an anterior position, and slightly to the left. If you're cool with that.

In 2008 when I miscarried, someone told me that it was actually a blessing because I "wouldn't want a deformed baby." I wasn't pleased to hear it then, and you can just imagine how I feel about that comment, now. You're mine, and I am glad you're coming to our family. I know you have your cleft and as you get older you might become self-conscious about it. If anyone gives you any trouble about your face, I'll wreck theirs.*

As a final note, you are, after all, my fourth kid. I plan on putting a lot of time and energy into raising you. You'd better not put me in a home after I retire. Or else.

Lots of love,

*Not kidding.

Monday, November 30, 2015

My Kids and How They Handle Violence in Books vs. Movies

You will laugh, but my kids' favorite book these days is Beowulf. As in, the Anglo-Saxon epic poem. Yes, that one. We got a simplified version from the library that was quite good, and they enjoyed it so much my mom caused Seamus Heaney's translation to magically appear at my house.

I have been pleasantly surprised by how much my kids seem to genuinely enjoy it. I was reading the introduction quietly to myself when my two-year-old crawled onto the couch next to me and asked me to "wead." I read her a paragraph, then fell silent. She looked up at me with her blue, blue eyes and demanded in her tiniest, sweetest, toddlerest voice that I "wead wead wead wead!" You never know what will appeal to the masses, I suppose. Incredulous, I asked The Engineer if he just liked listening to the sound of my voice or something, but he insisted that he liked the actual poem because of how the words sounded. *Shrug.* Ok, if that's what you really want, I'll read it to you.

The thing is, Beowulf is really violent - it's most certainly not on any list of what would be considered "appropriate for children." I thought my kids would have difficulty with the part where Grendel eats a guy in peices (it's pretty graphic), or the part where Beowulf rips Grendel's arm right out of the socket. Nope. They were totally fine with all those bits. Later I read The Hobbit to the Engineer. I was sure he would have nightmare issues with Gollum wanting to eat Bilbo, or the part with the giant spiders. Nope. Totally fine. He ate it all up.

Just a few days ago, The Husband and I thought it would be fun to have the kids watch Night at the Museum. This was a big mistake. We had to turn it off after less than thirty minutes because it was "too scary." The Cookie begged us to skip past the part where Ben Stiller is being chased by Attila the Hun, and the Engineer was shaking so hard I wondered at first if he was having some sort of seizure. (The Sheildmaiden didn't seem to have an opinion.)

That's not the first time we've had to turn off a movie or skip past scary parts. The climax in Up with the dogs in airplanes was also too scary for our kids, as was the bit with the pirates in Swiss Family Robinson. As a result, there are many, many films I enjoyed as a 4-year-old that my children have not even heard of. The upshot is, of course, that Frozen Fever has largely bypassed our house. I'm not sad about that!

I've read a lot of research that says that books are often less frightening than films, because your imagination won't lead you into places that you can't handle. I'm not sure if I quite agree with that, though - I read Reviving Ophelia as a teenager and I really wished I hadn't. Jurassic Park and The Mummy were sunny afternoon picnics  compared to Reviving Ophelia.

I'm not sure what it means that my kids are cool with graphic blood and guts in books but have difficulty handling even mild cartoon dramatic tension. On a practical level, it probably means that I could read all seven Harry Potter books to them and they'd be ok with everything. But metaphysically? Philosophically? I dunno.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bilateral Clefts Part II: Frequently Asked Questions

My baby is due in five weeks. We've gotten a lot of questions and answering them over and over again has begun to wear on me a little, so I decided to write them all down in a blog post.

When are you due?
My due date is Christmas Day. Yeah, I know. My other three were born one week late, so it's more likely that we're looking at January 1. That's not really better. What with one thing and another, it would be exceedingly less convenient to go early, so I am hoping that the earliest I go into labor is Dec 20.

Does this mean your pregnancy is high risk?
Nope. Apart from the cleft, the baby is really strong and healthy, and so am I. Nothing to report. My pregnancies tend to be pretty unexciting.

How bad is the cleft? 
Not sure. We have a definite diagnosis of a bilateral cleft of the lip, but ultrasounds have been inconclusive in regards to the palate. We have had the option of getting a more detailed ultrasound, but chose not to, as it would not fundamentally change anything and would just be an extra hassle. Thus, we won't find out the extent of the cleft until after the baby is born.

They can fix that, right? 
Yes. While clefts are one of the most common of birth defects, depending upon the severity a treatment plan can include the following: repair of the lip/ hard/ soft palate, bone grafts, extensive orthodontia, tympanostomy tubes, corrective surgery of the upper and/ or lower jaw, and speech therapy. We won't know how many of these will be required for our child until after he or she is born. Many adults who were born with clefts report that the most difficult part was not the surgeries, but the bullying. Needless to say, any punk kid who attempts anything of the sort on my baby will get the black belt treatment.

How soon is the first surgery? 
In Utah, lip repair occurs between 3-4 months of age. The soft palate repair is at 9-12 months, and the hard palate repair is between 3-4 years. This schedule is different from what you find at other cleft palate clinics, but the surgical team at Primary Children's has found that they get better speech results with this schedule, and that this usually requires less, more invasive, surgery later on. 

Are you having a boy or a girl? 
We  chose not to find out. We haven't found out with any of our kids until birth and we like it that way.

At which hospital are you delivering?
Ah. Well....I'm actually going for an out-of-hospital birth this time. I've had two unmedicated births already, so I know what I'm in for, and I know I'm tough enough to take it. The birth center I've chosen is very professional and is staffed by highly qualified personnel. The midwives I'm seeing still do all the blood work and can administer pitocin and all that. I have my reasons for wanting to avoid a hospital birth this time around. We asked the baby's surgeon specifically about the safety of delivering a cleft baby at a birth center and he answered very plainly that this was perfectly all right.

Are you going to have trouble breastfeeding? 
Yes. Cleft babies have difficulty creating suction, so breastfeeding is a known challenge. It is still highly encouraged to try, with the understanding that the baby will need to be primarily bottle fed with special bottles. I plan to do a lot of pumping, because that is something that is important to me. Yes, I already have an electric pump.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Blessings and Benefits of Emergency Preparedness

You've probably noticed that I haven't been writing on my blog as much as I used to. Part of it is because, hello, I have three kids and I'm homeschooling a first-grader. But a big chunk of it is because I've been writing for since January.

If you haven't ever heard of Lisa the original Survival Mom, you really should check out her site. A lot of emergency preparedness (aka "prepper") sites tend to be a little more extreme, and some encourage some degree of fear-mongering. The Survival Mom, however, trends toward being moderate and family-friendly with a lot of emphasis on preparing for emergencies when you have children.

I first came across her site in 2012 when my state was experiencing a large number of forest fires. We never had to evacuate or anything, but many other people did in nearby towns. There was one day when ashes were falling from the sky like rain - that was a little bit of a wake-up call. We already had 72 hour kits, but they hadn't been updated in ages. We had food storage, but it was haphazard and we weren't really committed to having it or rotating it.

Needless to say, that changed and now I'm the Emergency Preparedness Specialist for my ward. 

Now with all the stuff that has been going on in the world, I've thought even more about preparedness and what it has meant for me and my family. My great-grandparents were preppers before it was even a "thing." In 1939, my great-grandpa was on the Welfare Committee for the whole church. Harold B. Lee, who would alter become the Prophet of the Church but who at the time was merely the Committee Chair, looked my grandpa in the eye and told him that he needed to have food storage.

In 1939, the proverbial poop had hit the fan but as far as America was concerned, it wasn't anything that would directly affect us. It was "over there." Rationing hadn't started in Britain. There wasn't any logical reason why food storage would be something to seriously consider.

Fast forward to 1942, when the US was at war and lots of people were feeling the pinch of rationing. My family was insulated from a lot of that hardship because they had heeded the wise counsel to store food, and they never went hungry at any point during the war.

The events in Paris have shocked a lot of people because it didn't occur to them that something like that could happen in a Western country; now we know it can. Who knows what the next few years will bring?

But I don't feel that this is cause for alarm. Terrible things happen in the world, but being prepared can give you great peace of mind.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Great Pumpkin, 2015 edition

-Or- How To Tell that the Shieldmaiden is the Third Child

Confession: I wasn't actually planning on having the Great Pumpkin come this year. This is another manifestation of that phenomenon known as "Third Child Syndrome."

I used to care a lot about the amount of sugar my children ate. I think I've written about it on my blog quite a lot. "No sugar! Sugar is evil!" Maybe it's because I'm pregnant with my fourth, but I am way a lot more relaxed about it now. "Go ahead and eat that donut, my love. Let's drown ourselves in chocolate milk while we're at it."

I could give you lots of examples. Once when the Engineer was a baby I came home to find that "someone" had given him french fries. I don't exactly remember what I said but it was something like, "What infidel gave this chiIld french fries?!" (It was Daddy and Grandma.) Now I'm like, "Sure, give 'em all french fries. They won't die from it. Let's do onion rings, too."

My kids ended up eating ALL of the candy that they got from our ward's Trunk-or-Treat party, and I gotta tell you, the Shieldmaiden was acting all day on Friday like she was living outside of her body. I never would have let either of the boys do something like that when they were two. I knew I didn't really want them to eat all their Trick-or-Treating candy, but I didn't want to take it away from them, either. (Mostly because then I wouldn't be able to pillage their stash.) The Great Pumpkin, that magical creature who whisks away Halloween candy to leave books behind, was going to pass us by this year.

So last night after we came home from Trick-or-Treating I was a little taken aback when the Engineer turned to me and said, "We need to pick out the small number of candy pieces we can keep so we can give the rest to the Great Pumpkin."

"Ah," I said, "All right then." Inwardly I thought to myself, "Oh, dangit. He actually cares about the Great Pumpkin!" In the 1/2 hour or so surrounding bedtime while the kids brushed their teeth etc etc I sneaked around trying to find a couple of fun books that the kids didn't realize we already had. The plan worked well. That pop-up book about beetles was actually given to us several years ago by my grandmother, but was lying on a shelf collecting dust. They had no idea. To them it was brand new. Success!

If I had thought ahead of time, I would have chosen different items (probably Harry Potter), but oh, well. I'm a dang good mom, anyway. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What is Conversion?

This topic probably deserves to be a very long and scholarly post, but it's not going to be. Still, I wanted to share some of my thoughts on a topic that I've been thinking on for a while.

I've noticed that there is a large degree of misunderstanding between people of faith and those who choose a more secular path. It's usually the ol' "science vs. religion" stuff - if you believe in science, how can you believe in God? That one question has been debated so much that it's gotten quite old and I don't wish to go into it today. (Hint: science and religion are quite compatible)

But there is one thing that I wish the non-religious understood about the religious. We're not sheep, blindly following the strongest personality in the room. Nor have we found that being told to think is easier than thinking for yourself. That idea is laughable, given that it has become so unpopular to believe in God in our current culture.

Here it is: We believe in God because we've had experiences with the divine that have profoundly affected us in ways that nothing else can. Sometimes we are reticent to share these experiences with the world at large because of their sacred and personal nature. I, for one, am in no hurry to have something that is so important to me mocked, ridiculed, and dissected in the court of public opinion.

As much as I dislike actually attending church, I can promise you I would absolutely not kill myself over it if I didn't really believe with all my soul that there was something to be found in Mormonism that wasn't anywhere else. Instead of scoffing and rolling their eyes, I would hope that instead this would make others stop and wonder what there could possibly be about Mormonism that makes me stay. And not just stay, but really put forth effort to be active and devout.

This is conversion: those spiritual experiences where you have touched the cosmos, felt the fires of heaven burning in your eyes and in your heart. We, the God-fearing people of this world, cannot forget it, nor will we abandon it.


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