Growing up, being a mom was always a dream of mine. When people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, it was always “a mommy.” Maybe a marine biologist… and a mommy. Or maybe a teacher… and a mommy. But I hadn’t planned on having children as young as I did. I was still in my last year of college when I became pregnant with my first son. His dad (now my husband) and I were 21 and 22 years old, respectively (I’m the older woman!). At the time, having children didn’t mesh well with our carefree, late-night rendezvous in his parents’ basement. I had plans to finish my English degree and find a job as a writer or an editor. Then I would get married. Buy a house. Have a baby. Become a mom. Maybe when I was 30.
Life doesn’t always work as planned (especially when you don’t use birth control), but I’m so thankful that in this case, it didn’t. My son may not have been in my plans at the time, but being a mother always had been. And because of that–scared though we were–abortion wasn’t an option. Adoption wasn’t an option. Somehow, we would find a way to care for this unexpected baby boy.
Flash forward through a lot of hardships and struggles to getting married to my son’s father, picking out our first house as a family, and making plans for another child. But this time, it didn’t seem like having another child was going to happen as we had planned. It took nearly two years of on-purpose trying to get pregnant before my second son was finally a reality. And although this child was planned and desperately longed and prayed for, finding out that I was pregnant a second time gave me that same, scared feeling that I had the first time.
My story of becoming a mom, twice, leads me to believe that there is no “right time” when it comes to having children. While I do recommend using birth control until you’re “ready” to have children, I am also writing to say that whether it’s a part of your plans or not, becoming a mom is elating, terrifying, and rewarding in ways I could have never imagined. And in the 6 1/2 years of being a mother, I know that the only thing that you really need to make a decision to become a mom, whether the pregnancy was planned or unplanned, is the ability to love.
Although being a mom was always in my plans, I am blessed by both of my children beyond anything I could have ever dreamed. And I wouldn’t trade either of my unique and drastically different experiences of becoming a mom for any other dream I’ve had.
I have a powerful story to share with you today. I have a guest post from an incredibly inspiring woman named Heather Von St James. Heather contacted me earlier this week, asking so genuinely and graciously if I could share her story on Close Families. She needs to tell it. She needs you to hear it. I could not wait to share with you the story of this woman, her supportive husband, and their beautiful daughter. Please visit Heather’s website, www.mesothelioma.com/blog/authors/heather, to learn more about her family, her life, her courage, and the cancer that she has beat all odds against today. You won’t regret your time spent over there; it’s a beautiful blog. And here’s her story:
The Power of Hope in Treating Cancer
When someone asks my daughter about my cancer, she always tells people that she saved my life. This is my 7-year-old’s automatic response. It is as natural for her as it is to say that she feels sick or tired. People may not understand what she says, but I will be the first one to explain how true it is.
My husband Cameron and I were married for seven years until we thought about having children. At the time, I was 35 years old and nervous that my age would cause issues. Luckily, we became pregnant within three months and my pregnancy progressed wonderfully. After having an emergency C-section, I was finally able to hold my daughter for the first time and the experience was unmatched by any I have ever felt. In my arms was this perfect, beautiful creature. All I could think of was loving and nurturing the adorable child in my arms.
Within a few months, my life changed for the worse. A few months after my daughter’s birth, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. This type of cancer is especially dangerous and kills 95 percent of the people who are diagnosed. According to my doctor, I would die in 15 months if I did not immediately start treatment. I knew I had to decide what to do, but I could not. I was paralyzed with fear as I sat absorbing the news. My husband decided for us and we began to travel to Boston for treatment.
The treatment process began with a risky surgery called an extrapleural pneumonectomy. In it, they removed my left lung, and part of the lining of my heart and my diaphragm. The surgery was so traumatic that I had to spend a month recuperating at the hospital and in an outpatient facility. Afterward, I spent another two months at my parents’ house in South Dakota where my daughter was being taken care of throughout the entire ordeal. Due to all the time spent in treatment, I was forced to spend a month without seeing my newborn daughter. The only thing that helped me get through it was the thought of Lily growing up without a mother.
Once I had recovered enough, I returned to our home in Minnesota. At home I started chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Through all of the pain and suffering, I kept strong because I knew my daughter needed me. She needed a mother to take care of her and guide her as she grew up. I could not allow myself to give into cancer no matter how painful or long my recovery was. Today, my daughter tells people that she saved my life and that couldn’t be more true.
Chugging along with our Baby Tips for First Time Parents series, today’s topic is a personal favorite. Being a writer with an English degree, a baby’s language development is close to my heart. There are many tools that we as parents can use to help our babies get off to a good start in their language skills. Here are some of my best tips!
-Read. From birth. Every day. There is no better way to encourage a good vocabulary and an early desire to read than by reading to your baby on a daily basis. Take some time each day, whether it’s in the morning or before bedtime, to snuggle up with a few books.
-Have books accessible on your baby’s level. Whether it’s a low (sturdy) bookshelf or a basket or bin on the floor, having cloth books and board books available for your baby to grab, turn the pages, and look at the pictures on his or her own is also a great way to let them have early exposure to language in print form.
-Give them a constant play-by-play of daily activities. Babies are so curious about this world that is brand new to them. And as parents, we are their first tour guide. When we take the time to talk them through daily activities, a play-by-play of the day, (i.e. “Let’s change your diaper! Here are the wipes. Here is the diaper.”) it gives them an opportunity to hear a variety of words and to let them begin to make connections between the words you say and how those words relate to their daily life.
-Ask open-ended questions. This makes you feel a bit like you’re talking to yourself all day long (as an infant teacher, I was often in a room for 8 hours a day with only four babies to talk to… talk about one-sided conversations!), but it is key to encouraging your baby to respond and to develop the back and forth rhythm of conversational language. Listen for cues that your baby might be trying to attempt words or conversation. For example, here is a conversation I had this morning with my 8-month-old while he was playing with a soft ball:
“What is that?” I asked.
“Oh, is that a ball?”
Silence as he concentrated on picking up the ball.
“What does the ball feel like?”
“A ga da ba da.” (or some sort of baby babble!)
“Does that feel soft?”
“What can you do with that ball?”
“Can you throw the ball?”
(more baby babble as he chews on the ball)
“I see that you can taste the ball too! What does the ball taste like?”
-Repetition. Notice in the previous example that I repeated the word “ball” several times, since that was the toy he was playing with. Repeating the same simple words over and over again helps a baby learn to recognize words before they can even speak them. This is called their receptive language. Also, the words you repeat most often usually become some of the first words that your baby can speak, such as Mama, Dada, dog, ball, eat, etc. Generally speaking, the more often they hear a word, the faster they will attempt to repeat them back to you.
-Minimize the use of baby talk. Babies learn their behaviors through both their own curious exploration and through modeling that they see from their parents. It makes sense that if a baby is hearing proper language as opposed to baby talk, that they will learn to pronounce words correctly faster than if they are hearing them pronounced incorrectly. (Consequently, I need to work on this one! I have a bad habit of using the word “tweepy” instead of “sleepy.” Don’t ask where it came from, it just comes out! I’m working on this one right along with you!!) Babies do love a high-pitched voice, so it’s okay to use baby-friendly tones and inflections, as long as you are pronouncing words correctly and clearly for them!
-Finally, consider using baby sign-language. Some parents feel like using sign-language with their baby might delay their baby’s speech development, but it actually enhances it! Think of language development just like motor skills development. You need to learn to stand before you can walk, right? So I like to think of sign language as giving your baby “legs to stand on” before their speech can take off. If they can communicate with you clearly with signs (typically age 7-9 months) before they might be able to communicate using words (10-12 months), it may help them feel confident in themselves and their own ability to get their needs met. Also, imagine being in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. How would you get the things you need? If you’re looking for a place to buy a drink, you might ask a local using sign the universal sign for “drink” by cupping your hand and putting it to your mouth. The local will understand what you need, and they can point you in the right direction. They might even repeat the sign and say the word “drink” in their own language for you, so that you can hear it and hopefully remember it the next time you need a drink! Using sign language would help you feel more at ease in the unfamiliar environment and it would help you in making early connections with other people while you are learning their spoken language. These are some of the same benefits that sign language can give your baby. Click here for a short list of starter words for baby sign language!
I hope this list will help to strengthen your communication with your baby as she is developing her language skills!
Be sure to check back next Tuesday for Part 4 of this series where we will have some tips for your baby’s motor skill development!
Continuing my Baby Tips for First-Time Parents series from last week, part two covers cleaning (at home and away) and hygiene. Especially this time of year when the flu and other viruses are rampant, this is such an important topic to discuss. I hope you find some helpful hints here. Feel free to share some of your own tips in the comments below!
Cleaning and Hygiene
-Babies don’t need a bath every day. Typically, babies only need a bath every 2-3 days. Any more than that, and it actually dries out their skin! We tend to bathe our baby boy MWF or even only MTh if it seems like three times a week is too often for his skin. If this is a new concept for you, you might have two questions:
- Q: What if we use bath time as part of his nightly routine? A: Everything you do with your baby post-bath time (lotion, putting on pjs, nursing/bottle, rocking, reading, singing lullabies, etc) is your baby’s “bedtime routine.” A bath can be done right before your baby’s bedtime routine, but only 2-3 times/week instead of every day. In fact, it’s a misconception that bath time is relaxing to all babies. For some, it can be. For others, it is exciting! For example, bath time has the opposite effect on our little eight-month-old. He loves splashing, scooting, slipping, sliding, playing with toys, chewing on the washcloth… bath time is anything BUT relaxing for him, because he loves playing in water so much! I give him a bath during the day when he is active and playful, because that’s when he enjoys it most.
- Q: Won’t my baby get dirty? A: Yes! However, your baby’s body will stay relatively clean. Exceptions to this which might require an impromptu bath time might include a super messy sensory/art activity, an exceptionally messy meal (spaghetti!), or a leaky BM diaper (I’ve changed many diapers where it went all down the legs or straight up the back! A bath was a must!). Beyond those kinds of exceptions, the only parts of your baby that get messy daily are the diaper area (which is cleaned each diaper change), face, and hands. For the face, wash your baby’s face after meals and before bed with a warm, wet washcloth to keep it clean daily. As for the hands, that brings me to my next tip!
-Wash your babies hands often! For some reason, many parents tend to forget about washing their baby’s hands. To me, it is essential. Before and after they eat. After diapering (particularly when they start getting grabby with their little hands during diaper changes!). After playing outside. After petting an animal. And generally, anytime their hands look dirty. A lot of parents use a baby wipe to clean their baby’s hands, which is okay to get some dirt off when on the go, but it doesn’t take the place of good old soap and water. Not only will hand-washing help keep your baby clean and healthy, but you’re beginning a lifelong habit that is the number one way to help prevent the spreading germs and illnesses!
-Another way to prevent illnesses is through cleaning. However, not all cleaning products are baby-friendly. When you’re cleaning your home, keep in mind that most babies put everything in their mouths. You wouldn’t want your baby to put Lysol in his mouth, so you wouldn’t want to clean his toys with that either! That’s a good visual to keep in mind, but there are other potentially harmful effects of the chemicals in many cleaning products including eczema, allergies, irritating the airways, and eye irritation. Here are my favorite baby-safe products for cleaning at home:
- Dishwasher. I love tossing pacifiers, bottles, teethers, and any other small toys that can be washed in the dishwasher. It cleans and sanitizes all at once, and it’s super convenient!
- Washing machine. I wash all of the little stuffed animal toys, favorite blankets, and fabric books in the washing machine once a week or more often if needed.
- Soap and water. For toys that can not be submersed in water, I like to fill the sink with warm water and dish soap, use a clean washcloth to wipe off the toys with the soapy water, and then rinse them using another clean, wet washcloth. Let the toys air dry.
- Free and Clear detergents. While baby-specific laundry detergents like Dreft are unnecessary, if your baby seems to have problems with skin rashes, dry skin, or eczema, try switching laundry detergents to one that is free of harsh chemicals or dyes.
- Steam mop. I love the shiny, clean look of freshly steam-mopped hardwood or tile floors. I use the Shark steam mop on our floors rather than a traditional mop and bucket or the Swiffer mop, because it cleans and sanitizes the floor without leaving behind any chemicals! With a baby crawling around on the floor (and sometimes our little guy even LICKS the floor!) all day long, this is a must for me!
-If you do use spray products to clean, avoid using them when your baby is in the same room. When I need to clean the bathrooms, for instance, I clean with the bathroom door closed and/or the fan on during my little guy’s nap or after his bedtime at night. That way he is not being directly exposed to the chemicals in the air.
-I saved my favorite hygiene tip for last because it’s our biggest life-saver right now! Our little guy has a runny nose from a little cold virus right now, and his absolute least favorite thing is getting his nose wiped. Even the softest, gentlest dry tissue product will still make a baby’s sensitive skin around the nose red and irritated when you have to wipe it 10+ times a day! The best way to remove nasal congestion is by squeezing a couple drops of saline solution up your baby’s nostrils and then sucking it out with a nose bulb (keep the one they give you in the hospital! It’s the best one you can get!!). However, my little guy absolutely hates that and will fight and scream and I can barely do it without fear of hurting him. So the next best thing is a product called Boogie Wipes! They are small, wet wipes with saline already in them. They are so gentle that even wiping his nose with them all day long, his nose never gets red or irritated! It also cleans up any little dried bits of snot around the nose all in the same swipe, so it’s quick, convenient, gentle, and even our tissue-loathing little guy rarely puts up a fight with Boogie Wipes!
I hope you’ve found some of this information helpful, or that you can pass it on to some new parents who might!
Be sure to come back next Tuesday for Part 3 of this series where I will talk about some tips for helping your baby reach those first developmental milestones!
What are your favorite cleaning and hygiene tips for babies?
I got out of bed at 6:30 this morning. I went to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, only realizing in the absence of the familiar smell of Folger’s that I hadn’t set the coffee maker the night before. Drat. I poured a glass of Cherry Pepsi instead and sat at the dining room table for my daily Bible reading. When I finished reading, I ended my morning quiet time with a prayer, asking God to wrap his protective arms around the schools throughout the country today.
I made a couple of frozen whole-grain waffles and a glass of orange juice for my six-year-old son. I took it into the bedroom and gently woke him up.
“Hey, Mister Sleepyhead, it’s time to get up. I made some syrupy-sweet waffles for my sweet big boy,” I said. I stroked his soft, blonde hair and kissed his cheek.
He opened his eyes and asked excitedly, “Waffles?”
“Yep, get up and out of bed so you can eat them!”
He jumped out of bed and sat on the floor with his waffles. I left him and went back to the kitchen to put his lunch together. A Lunchable and a Fruit Roll-Up, two of his favorite treats. I set his lunch bag next to his backpack and went to check on him. His eyes were glued to the TV with an empty plate at his feet.
“Wow, that was fast!” I said. “Okay, get yourself dressed now, please. I’m going to go get your brother.”
As I headed out of the room, our dog started jumping and dancing at the front door. “Okay, okay,” I said. I opened the door, and she bolted past me. The click-clack of her toenails on our hardwood floors woke up the baby boy, and he started to fuss but ended it with an abrupt smile when he saw my face. “Good morning, baby boy,” I said as I picked him up and snuggled him close. “Let’s go see Bubby.”
I carried him back into the room where my oldest son should have been getting dressed, only to find him snuggled under the covers again and watching cartoons. “Son, please get dressed,” I said.
He stared at me. I stared back at him. No one moved. “Let’s go! You need to get dressed for school!” I said.
“Okay! I am!” he said, making his way slowly down to the edge of his bed where his empty clothes rested in a heap.
I left the baby boy to play on the floor and went to get myself dressed. I threw on a sweatshirt and a pair of flats, brushed my hair and teeth, and went back to check on my son’s progress.
Still wearing his PJs. Clothes still in a heap. The only change in the entire scene was bare feet instead of socked feet. I turned off the TV. “Let’s. Go. Get dressed. Now you need to hurry, or you’re going to be late for school.” I picked up the baby boy, stopped at the front door to call the dog back into the house, and got the baby boy dressed and his diaper changed. I hurried back to the room. No shirt. PJ pants. No socks.
“SON! Seriously, this is getting ridiculous! Why does it take you so long to get dressed in the mornings? I hate starting our day with me getting angry with you!” I said. Don’t do this. Don’t let this be the last conversation you have with him. I offered more gently, “Can you please just hurry and get dressed so that I can get you to school on time today?”
He finished getting dressed (somewhat) quickly, brushed his teeth in a reasonable amount of time, and then gave the dog food and water before we headed out the door.
“I love you,” I said on our way to his school.
“I love you too.”
We pulled up next to the sidewalk leading to the entrance to his school, and I asked him for a hug and kiss. I squeezed his little body tight and gave him a quick peck on the lips.
“Have a great day, buddy. I love you so much.”
“I will. Love you too.” He slammed the door shut, and I watched every one of his steps toward the school building. His gym teacher greeted him at the door, opened it for him, and when it closed, I lost sight of my son. Tears that I hadn’t known were forming started to flow down my cheeks in long, fast-moving streams. My heart ached. Even as I drove away, I wanted him in the car with me again. I hadn’t been sad the day I dropped him off in Kindergarten for the first time, but I was sad this morning. Sad for the world.
I shouldn’t need to pray for God to protect our children at school. I shouldn’t feel guilty about yelling at my son for taking an insane amount of time to get dressed in the morning, fearful that those might be the last words that I say to him. I shouldn’t feel terrified as I watch my son walk through the doors of his school. But I do. And if I do, I can not even imagine what a school morning feels like now to the families of Sandy Hook Elementary.
As I talked on the phone to a good friend this morning, we compared and contrasted our children. Her daughter is a few weeks younger than our baby boy, and they have a lot in common. They also have a lot of differences. My friend and I determined that there are probably two main reasons for the differences in a baby’s development, and how two babies of the same age can be on two different wavelengths as far as their interests and capabilities. I think it’s good to introduce your baby to a variety of skills to practice as well as lots of different things for their senses to explore, but it’s also important to keep in mind that like everyone else, babies have a personality too, and it’s important to be respectful of and nurture their own interests.
For example, my baby is six months old today, and one of his favorite activities is scooting around on his little belly. Backwards and in circles mostly. With a little bit of rolling back and forth. He can get where he wants to go, just not in a direct forward-crawling sort of way yet. He has mastered the ability to get his top half completely off the ground, and to get up on his knees… Just not both simultaneously. But for now, his way of being mobile is working for him, so until he decides that’s not doing it for him anymore, we’re okay with the scooting/rolling method of self-transportation.
With his newfound mobility, he’s also started a few brotherly quarrels…
His fine-motor skills also seems to be developing quite well, along with this hand-eye coordination. He can now easily grasp at whatever object is within his reach, and he can hold onto and manuver objects pretty well in his hands. He doesn’t take a pacifier often, but when he does, he likes to pull it out and put it back in himself. He’s got to be teething, because he also chomps on everything. Hard! And yet no teeth in sight.
He also has a pretty good self-awareness. He is aware of his hands, and he loves to grab his toes (and eat them… babies are so flexible!). He loves to look at himself in the mirror, and he gives himself (and other people he loves) big, open-mouth, slobbery kisses that are just to die for.
He is also now responding to his own name, and he has a good start on his receptive language skills, in that if we ask him, “Where is Mama?” or “Dada” or “Bubby” or “the dog” or “the kitty,” he will turn and find whoever you are asking about. We are starting to add more things to his language knowledge like book, ball, toes, etc.
Speaking of language skills, he has always been quite a little chatterbox, mostly in coos and vowel sounds. And lots of high-pitched squealing. But guess what his first “word” was………. MA-MA! YES!! He’s also started working on “Buh” probably the beginning sound of Bubby, which is how we refer to his older brother. Poor Dada… 😉
It seems like he’s doing something new, making a new sound, or a new face every day. They really mean it when they say that they grow up fast. And the way that they grow up, has much to do with their personality, and the opportunities that they are given.
Happy 6 months of age, baby boy!
There is something very powerful, very moving in those four words: “I’m proud of you.” It means so much to hear those words come from someone whom you look up to, admire, love, and respect. And sometimes, you don’t have to hear those exact words, but simply a message that implies as much. Like the e-mail that I saved from my mom, after she read my blog for the first time:
LOVE your blog. Oh my goodness you are such a good writer. It is amazing.
You couldn’t have slapped the smile off of my face when I read this. My mom is proud of me.
I will admit that I can be a bit of a people-pleaser. But besides my husband, no one’s opinion means more to me than the opinion of my parents. They shaped me into who I am today. They did everything they could to ensure that I would become a kind, responsible, talented human being, and it feels so nice to hear that I didn’t let them down. That they were successful. That I am successful.
And yet, we shouldn’t live our lives to please others, and we shouldn’t make decisions based on what others might think. We should live our lives the way we see best, to use our God-given talents, to help others, to be the kind of person that we want to be. It’s just the cherry on top of the sundae when it happens to meet the approval of others. It’s that last bit of sweetness that we can savor at the end. It feels good.
I love telling my son that I’m proud of him, but I don’t say those words to him very often. I don’t tell him that I’m proud of him when he beats a new level at a Wii game. Or when he gets a star on a paper at school. Or when he makes a new friend. Or feeds the dog without being reminded. Or throws a football farther than he’s ever thrown. Or reads a whole chapter in a book by himself. I’m proud of all of those little things, absolutely, but I don’t want him to think that I’m only proud of his achievements. I want him to learn that I’m proud of who he is. Perhaps that’s why when he read this birthday card last week, he broke down into tears. (And so did I.)
After he read the birthday card out loud, he embraced me a big, long hug, crying quietly into my shoulder. It brought tears to my eyes immediately.
“What’s with the tears?” I asked him gently.
He squeezed me tighter.
“Are they happy tears or sad tears?”
He sniffled, burying his eyes into the dip of my collarbone.
I leaned back far enough to look into his eyes, and I asked, “Does it feel good to know that Mommy and Daddy are proud of you?”
He nodded and replied with a very quiet, “Yes.” And we hugged each other again.
I tell my son that I love him everyday. I tell my son “good job!” or “that’s great!” or “good thinking!” or “I like that idea!” all the time.
But there just seems to be something so powerful in the words, “I’m proud of you.”