Tag Archives: queer family

The people in our neighbourhood

4 Jun
Neighbourhood slide showdown with her BFF

Neighbourhood slide showdown with her BFF

I grew up in the suburbs and didn’t really know our neighbours. For some reason, the street we lived on in Thornhill, Ontario was rather transient in nature. We lived in our house until I moved away and went to university, but many other families only stayed for a year or two and then moved deeper into the 905 regions of Markham and Richmond Hill.

I vaguely remember hanging out with a few other kids when I was really young — ex-pat Jewish South Africans who didn’t stick around into the mid-1980s. But I didn’t have much connection with my street, because I always went to schools that were out of our neighbourhood. At first, my parents sent us in taxis to a private Jewish school, and then I attended specialized arts public schools that required me to take at least two public transit buses. I received an excellent education, but my friends never lived within walking distance.

My parents moved to a new house when I was away at university, so I rarely go back to the street where I grew up. My sense of family isn’t rooted in a particular community or geographic place. So I never randomly bump into people I went to high school with when I go home to visit family.

My roommate in first year university was the child of a single mother and grew up in the heart of Toronto’s Little Italy. She was the quintessential downtown kid — comfortable riding the street car at 2am, quietly street smart and cultured in a way that I envied. My family was never really suburban in the traditional sense of the word. We went downtown often, attended lots of theatre and ate in interesting restaurants. But it was always a long schlep to get anywhere. We needed to leave the house an hour before any dinner reservation. And I always had to make sure to catch the last TTC ride home, curbing late-night teenage adventures. I hated walking across the deserted parking lot of Finch subway station to retrieve the family car and drive the rest of the way home. It was too quiet. I always preferred the noise and bustle of downtown to the eery silence of deserted suburbia.

I am delighted to be raising a baby in an inner city neighbourhood. Our house cost a lot more than an equivalent property would have in the suburbs, but the trade-offs are so worth it for us. I have never felt isolated as a new parent, not even for a second. The coffee shop down the street is a magnet for young families, and the baby drop-in at the elementary school nearby is always bursting at the seams. The neighbours across the street with 3-year-old twins routinely drop off boxes of hand-me-downs. The family members living on a fixed income down the street are the first to assist elderly neighbours with snow shovelling and other physical tasks. A woman I met at a breastfeeding drop-in at the community health centre recognized me eight months later and invited us to a block party. Daphne has five close friends who live within a ten-minute walk away.

We live near a busy intersection and our nearest pharmacy is home to a methadone clinic. When we put our recycling out at night, all of the beer bottles are removed by morning by people who could use the spare change. I occasionally see a couple of sex workers on Gladstone street, discreetly conducting their business. None of these things bother me. They are part of the fabric of a city. I want my child to grow up knowing that not everyone grows up in a privileged environment and that our neighbourhoods have room for all sorts of people.

Luckily, Daphne is too young to discriminate. She enthusiastically waves “hi” to everyone we see. The people in our neighbourhood.

Tips for travelling with a baby

26 Feb
d in swing

D harnessing the power of the two super heroes behind her

Caitlyn and I just got back from 10 days away in sunny California. We stayed at my cousin’s sprawling and beautiful house in Camarillo, and Baby D was surrounded by seven cousins under the age of eight. In just a week, she learned how to sit up solidly on her own, suddenly became excited about solid food and started blowing raspberries (usually with a mouthful of food). We managed to have a great time, even though I got hit with the triple whammy of a gastro bug, a head cold and an extremely heavy post-partum period (sorry for the overshare, but we keep it real over here). Daphne also started the trip with a nasty chest cold that soon settled into an intermittent dry cough. Not enough to make her seriously ill, but irritating enough to wake her up several times throughout the night.

I also learned a few lessons about what works and what doesn’t when travelling with an eight-month old baby. Let this be a lesson to you:

1. Pack heavy

I have never been good at packing light, but when it comes to travelling with a baby, I bring everything I think we could possibly need. This includes a white noise machine, a baby monitor, multiple medications, several changes of clothes and a bag full of toys. This all came in handy when we had to put the baby to sleep in unfamiliar environments and keep her entertained during a 12-hour day of travelling. Unfortunately, this meant that we had to pay extra for additional luggage, but it was worth it.

2. Bring more diapers than you think you need

If you can believe it, I somehow forgot to refill the diaper bag for our journey home. So just as we hit the Toronto airport for our connecting flight (and a long delay), we ran out. Luckily, we were able to procure over-priced, too-big emergency diaper rations at the airport. But don’t make the same mistake I did. Seriously.

3. Strollers are for luggage (or: Wear your baby!)

Once again, I was so grateful for modern baby-wearing technology on this trip. We recently stopped using our believed Beco Gemini, as 20-pound Daphne was getting a little big for it. We are now using the amazing Manduca — a buckle baby carrier that is super ergonomic and easy-to use. While we did put her in the umbrella stroller a couple of times in the airport and at the zoo, D spent most of the time in the Manduca and was happy as a clam. We popped her in there at the first sign of fuss, and she usually fell asleep within five minutes. We had strangers in airports approaching us to tell us how “good” our baby was, especially when we were into hour 15 of a hellish commute home. While it’s true that we have been blessed with a baby with a lovely temperament, much of this has to do with the fact that we work hard to meet her needs. Baby-wearing allows her to have the closeness and cuddles she craves, while giving our arms a rest. It means we can dash across a busy airport, while bottle feeding and/or bouncing her at the same time.

4. There will be vomit (or: Pack three extra shirts)

Perhaps the most glamourous moment of our travels was when I stood up to depart our flight from Ottawa to Toronto, clipped Daphne into the baby carrier, and was quickly covered head-to-toe in vomit. She puked directly into my cleavage, soaking both of us with regurgitated formula. While I had packed several changes of clothing for her, I had only tossed one extra shirt for me into my bag at the last minute. Thank goodness. I bought another one in the airport as an extra insurance policy. Do as I say, not as I did. Bring extra clothes for both of you.

5. Be flexible about sleeping arrangements

Daphne has been sleeping in her own crib in her own room for three months now and until last week had never spent any significant amount of time sleeping in our bed with us. When she was tiny, I was too scared I would crush her. And as she got older, she associated our bed with playtime, not sleep. But after a disorienting day of travel, our sick baby needed comfort. We pulled her into bed with us, and she slept peacefully between us, with her arms outstretched to maintain contact with both moms. For the rest of the trip, she spent the early morning hours snuggled up with us. It was blissful. And when we got home, she slept soundly in her crib once again. I am happy that occasional co-sleeping can work for us now. I hope this helps all of us get through her next significant teething episode.

6. At borders, prepare for the worst and hope for the best

Anticipating an argument over our family status and DOMA with a US border official, I prepared a baggie with all of our passports, D’s long form birth certificate and our marriage license. We dutifully filled out two customs forms as we crossed the border (because America doesn’t recognize our family and won’t allow us to be included on one form). But to our surprise, the female border official accepted one card from Caitlyn, and welcomed us to the US without any interrogation about Daphne’s parentage. Win!

We had a great time, despite the hellish travel delays, sickness and jet lag. Spending time in the sun with family is so worth it.

Almost nine weeks!

24 Aug

Apologies for the long delay in posting. After the initial euphoria of the first couple of weeks of parenthood, I lost the desire to write. This seems symptomatic of early parenthood to me — moving from an intellectual existence to an almost exclusively physical one. The priorities are to feed the baby, feed myself, get some sleep and try to get some exercise. I have also been connecting with lots of other queer and feminist moms in my community, so I am not searching for them online.

A good portion of my day is spent dealing with bodily fluids — mostly breast milk, urine and vomit. But it all seems worth it when I think of how short a time this is in my life and in my daughter’s. I feel privileged to be able to feed her with my body and to see that she is thriving into a smiley, bright-eyed and chubby-cheeked little wonder. But I do struggle with being her sole food source. I can’t be away from her for more than an hour, because her feeding patterns are still so unpredictable. My wife tried giving her a bottle of pumped milk this afternoon and Daphne was having none of it. On one hand, it’s awesome that she is now solidly devoted to the boob. This is what we worked so hard to achieve. But this devotion comes at the expense of my personal freedom. It would be nice to be able to go to a yoga class without worrying that she’ll get hungry and upset in my absence.

I’m also still struggling with nursing. Daphne is totally dependent on the darn nipple shield and gets absolutely hysterical if I try to remove it. The shield is not inhibiting my milk supply or her ability to eat (she is gaining weight at an excellent rate). But it is making it difficult to get her to latch in any other position that me sitting up, with her balanced on a pillow. She can’t latch with me lying down and she is resistant to being held in any other position. So I end up schlepping a pillow with me everywhere I go. She also gets fussy and frustrated before latching, meaning that many nursing sessions are preceded by a blue-faced screamfest. Which makes nursing in public exhausting and mildly mortifying.

I see mild improvements every day, though. Sometimes I am able to trick her and remove the pillow. This allows me to cradle her in my arms and actually stand up. She has been screaming at the boob for less and less nursing sessions, especially when I can read her cues before she gets agitated. I keep reminding myself that she is only two months old. But I do wish that our nursing relationship was a little more flexible and portable — or that she would agree to take the occasional bottle either from me or from Caitlyn.

That being said, this baby is delightful and I am grateful for her existence every day. I mean seriously, how could you resist this face?


My doula, my hero

9 Jul

This woman looks radiant after providing 20 straight hours of labour support. Seriously!

I would like to introduce you to our friend Caro and tell you why she has been our super hero over the last two weeks. Caro is a student midwife, our closest friend and acted as our volunteer doula when Daphne was born. Since then, she has been the fiercest advocate for our tiny baby and she deserves some sort of major award. Instead, I will let this post serve as a public record of her sheer awesomeness.

When I first started thinking about how our childbirth experience might play out, it didn’t occur to me that we would want or need a doula. We were receiving excellent care from a team of talented and compassionate midwives. Caitlyn has always been a rock of support and tenderness. I figured that we had a good team in place and wouldn’t want or need any extra people at the birth. When Caro offered to act as our doula, I was thrilled, but also a bit skeptical. As the sole parent to an adorable, active and very attached 8-month old, I figured that she would perhaps be able to provide telephone counsel and drop in for a spell. I never expected that she would be by our side for our entire labour and delivery experience.

Somehow, miraculously, only days before Daphne was born, Caro found an amazing babysitter that her discerning daughter fell head over heels for. And when I went into early labour, Caro counseled us by phone and text, until her sitter arrived in the morning. Then she pretty much spent 20 hours by our side, providing comfort measures and documenting Daphne’s birth. Here is a short and by no-means exhaustive list of all of the amazing things she did for us and for our baby. I am quite sure that most doulas wouldn’t provide all of these services, but many will provide some of them. If you can afford to hire a doula, I would say it’s well worth it (though I understand that this is not an option for many people).

  • She supervised and provided hands-on comfort measures, taking over for Caitlyn, who had been up all night with me. This allowed my wife to get a couple of hours of sleep and be in better shape for the marathon of labour.
  • She timed contractions and called the midwife when things really picked up.
  • She coached me through the most painful contractions and helped me make the decision about when to head to the hospital. If it wasn’t for her, I am fairly sure I would have ended up there much sooner.
  • She gave me sips of apple juice and helped coach me through the pushing stage (which lasted almost three hours!)
  • She took photos and videos of Daphne’s delivery.
  • She and a friend went to our house the morning we were getting out of the hospital and washed our sheets, made our bed and set up the portable crib in our bedroom.
  • When Daphne was becoming lethargic and at risk of jaundice on day #3, she arrived at 10 pm with bags of frozen breast milk, a pump, and her own daughter. She put her baby to bed in our guest room and stayed up all night with us, as we bottle-fed her back to health. She also put Daphne to her own breast, to help test her suck reflex.
  • She arranged for a chiropractor to do a home visit on her day off, to provide some cranial sacral therapy. She also convinced the one dentist in town who does laser surgery for tongue ties to stay late on his last day before his vacation, so Daphne could have the procedure done without delay.
  • She helped us connect with lactation consultants and other community resources.
  • She calls daily to check in and serves as our number one cheerleader.

Conclusion? Doulas are amazing, but ours is a super hero. Daphne is so lucky to have her Auntie Caro in her corner and so are we.

Daphne’s birth story

2 Jul

Meeting our daughter Daphne for the first time

Our daughter Daphne was born at 12:08 on June 25th, making all of our dreams come true. For those interested in the nitty gritty of childbirth, here’s a short account of her birth story.

I started having mild contractions last Saturday night. By 10:00 pm, they were painful enough that I knew the real deal was about to begin. I took my midwife’s advice to take a combination of Gr.avol and Ty.lenol to try and take the edge off and sleep. No such luck. Every time I laid down to rest, another contraction began. They were sporadically spaced out, but painful enough that I needed to change position and get Caitlyn to press on pressure points and push on my lower back. I was up all night. We called the midwife at 4 am and she suggested more Gr.avol in another attempt to rest. Cait ran out to a 24 hour pharmacy, because it turns out that the stuff I had taken earlier had expired in 2009.

Once again, the drugs had no effect. By 7 am, we called the midwife to come to our house, as well as Caro, our amazing doula/student midwife (more on her heroism in my next post). She sent Caitlyn to sleep for a couple of hours and quickly took over administering comfort measures. She encouraged me to moan, bounce on a yoga ball, and shift position periodically. When our midwife Sarah arrived, contractions were roughly five minutes apart, but I I still had a sense of humour and could maintain a conversation in between. After listening to the baby’s heartbeat a couple of times and observing me for a couple of hours, she told me that I was on the cusp of active labour and had quite a while to go. She left to do a post-natal visit with another client and told Caro to call her when things picked up.

And boy did things pick up. By the time the midwife returned at 11am, I was in the bathtub, moaning incomprehensibly. My contractions were closer together and I started to feel pressure on my bottom. The midwife measured me in the bath and she told me I was at eight centimetres — when she had checked me three hours before, I had only been at three. It was time to make a critical decision — to go to the hospital as planned, or stay put and give birth at home. At that point, I couldn’t imagine moving, so we decided to stay at home. Caro and Sarah snapped into gear, setting up our bedroom with various delivery items, towels, and bed pads. It all swirled around me as I moaned through contractions.

But after a while, I got out of the bath and something changed. The contractions were suddenly sharp and much more painful, mainly focused in my back. Our theory now is that the baby flipped posterior at that point, so the excruciating pain I experienced was due to back labour. We made the decision to have the midwife break my waters (which was agonizing). She also did another examination … and announced that I was only at seven centimetres — her bath-time examination was somewhat inaccurate. At that point (about 3:00 pm), I decided to invoke the safe word and request an epidural. I had reached the limit of my pain threshold, and the knowledge that transition was far away was enough to convince me that I needed a break.

So in a split second, Caitlyn threw last-minute items in the hospital bag, I waddled out the door (mid contraction) and we made it to the hospital in eight minutes flat (with the doula driving, thank goodness). And then we waited over an hour for the anesthesiologist to administer the epidural. I kept praying, “please let this be the last contraction that I have to feel.” I was not so lucky. But once the needle was in my back, I finally relaxed and slept for a couple of hours. The midwife administered a drug to augment my labour and open my cervix. Caitlyn went out to pick up Chinese food for our birth team. I sipped ginger ale and rested.

By 9:00 pm, the midwife declared that I was fully dilated and I started pushing around 9:45 pm. After a much-needed break, I suddenly got so excited. I was going to meet our baby! But the pushing was physically taxing and started to take a long time. Our midwife became concerned that the baby’s heart rate was fluctuating, so she brought in two OBs for a consult. They told me that we needed to get her out soon, but that they much preferred that she be delivered vaginally. I was so relieved. We agreed to a brief transfer of care to the OBs, so they could administer forceps or suction if necessary. But everyone agreed to allow me to push for as long as possible, as I was making good progress getting her to descend into my pelvis.

The next hour was a blur of breathing, pushing and taking sips of apple juice. The midwives and a labour and delivery nurse got me to change positions and talked me through each contraction. As the clock struck midnight , I was starting to lose stamina. The OBs came in and told me that it was time to meet my baby. One Herculean push and a little help from a vacuum brought our daughter into the world.

Our sweet baby Daphne was born at 12:08 am on Monday morning. I started sobbing hysterically, asking “is she okay?” Caitlyn got to cut the cord, but the doctors whisked the baby away to be suctioned. I was disappointed that they didn’t put her on my chest right away. But Caitlyn and our doula followed her and kept calling out to tell me how beautiful she was. “A full head of red hair … she’s cute, we swear …” A few minutes later, they brought her over to me. She was wide-eyed and alert, staring right into my eyes. And our whole world changed in an instant.

The first week has been a challenging one. I’ll write more about it soon, but we have been having some significant problems establishing nursing. Still, Daphne is thriving on my pumped milk and is almost back to her birth weight, a week later. We are learning to function on little sleep as we pinch ourselves and stare at the beautiful creature we created — from scratch! Life is pretty sweet right now.

Hello bright eyes! We’ve been waiting for you.

Okay, we’re ready

19 Jun

I am 39 weeks pregnant as of today. That means I am in my 40th week of pregnancy. I could go into labour anytime. This reality set in on Sunday night, when I felt a little crampy. I kept getting up to go to the bathroom and Caitlyn kept asking me if I was having contractions. I couldn’t really tell. Though anyone who has given birth tells me that I will absolutely know when I start experiencing them. Last night I wondered downstairs at midnight to grab a snack. “I just need some crackers,” I called downstairs to her. “You’re having contractions?” she asked. Great hilarity ensured.

I have washed every tiny piece of clothing. The nursery is assembled and it’s darling (photos to follow). I have watched TV with my feet up, weeded the garden, filled the deep freeze with food. I have thanked everyone for their lovely shower gifts. My replacement has been hired at work. I have napped and gone for two massages and a pedicure. We are about to be hit with a crazy heat wave, so I am mostly staying close to home these days. Which means I am quickly starting to get bored. Yes, bored. Delighted to have been able to spend this last part of my pregnancy with my feet up, but ready to get the party started.

It makes me imagine what my grandmother’s life must have been like. Going from working in the family business to suddenly getting married, quitting her job and basically waiting around until she got pregnant. I have no doubt that child-rearing will be a life-changing and profound experience. But the waiting is hard. I find it difficult to imagine what it would have been like for women who were expected to quit their jobs the moment they got pregnant — or even started trying to get knocked up.

I do know once I get through the fog of the first few sleepless weeks, I will need to introduce some structure to my days and weeks at home with the baby. I hope to write, get more involved in community/politics and get back to a regular exercise schedule. I want to find joy and meaning in parenthood, but I also want to take the opportunity to connect more deeply with myself and learn how to function outside of the 9-5 working world. It’s a profound adjustment and one that I don’t take likely.

In the meantime, I am sending subtle and loving eviction notices to the baby currently occupying every inch of my expanded uterus. I know that Caitlyn and I will become Mamas any day now. I can’t wait!

The waiting game

11 Jun

I will admit that I am incredibly lucky. I am being paid to stay home and wait for this baby to arrive. I can eat what I want and when I want. I can put my feet up or not at all. I have time to fill the freezer with food and catch up with friends. But after two weeks off, I’m getting a little impatient with the anticipation of what’s to come. I am also making Caitlyn a little nuts. You see, our tried and true bed time routine relies on me going upstairs at about 10 pm or so, reading for an hour and falling asleep alone. Caitlyn then gets a couple of hours to read art books and play with music on the computer before going up to sleep around midnight. I am generally asleep by then, so it means she can toss and turn without waking me up.

All of this has changed since I started my leave. My bedtime has crept later and later. Now I am sleeping from about midnight to 8:30 am (with frequent pee breaks, of course). This means that I am still “active” in the house during Cait’s usual chill-out-alone time. This will all change of course when the baby arrives and we throw all schedules out the door. But it represents the beginning of a very different time in our lives, where we will have to learn to adjust to new patterns (or none at all). We are also both getting a bit antsy. As of tomorrow, I will be 38 weeks pregnant. I am secretly hoping that this baby arrives a week early. I think that another week of this lounging/nesting would be great, but two or three more weeks would be a little much. We have everything ready and can’t wait to meet this new little person. I just want her to be here and okay. And then it all begins.