Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Congratulations! You Are America's Next Top Birther!

If you or someone you know has ever given birth, then you have likely either heard, or even said, the following: "All that matters is a healthy baby. You don't win any awards for giving birth."

 I cannot even begin to express how much I hate hearing that. There is so much judgment in that little phrase. Sure, it may be well-intentioned. It's just an incredibly dumb thing to say. It supposes that women only care about their own personal birth experience and couldn't give two shits about whether the little baby makes it.

This is simply not true.

I recently ran across a posting on The Feminist Breeder Facebook Fan Page. TFB posted a link to what is perhaps one of the most poorly-written articles I have ever seen. I'm not just saying that because I disagree with the author's points. It's just badly written. The article in question was an odd discombobulated stringing together of various ranty thoughts about birth. The author made the following statement:

"That’s worth trumpeting, at a time when the birth experience itself is more fetishized then ever, owing as much to demographics as to celebrity examples. Women are putting off childrearing for longer and having fewer kids, Cassidy points out. Some are treating the long-anticipated day of birth like prom-plus-wedding-squared.

It’s great to have control over the birth experience - that hasn’t always been the case - but there’s also a danger in over-thinking it all. For some women, a healthy child isn’t an adequate goal; the birth has to be “empowering,’’ too. And if it falls short of expectations, for reasons beyond anyone’s control, that can lead to unnecessary guilt or regret." - Joanna Weiss 

I'm sorry, what? The birth experience is a fetish? No dear, wanting to lick some stranger's leather-clad feet is a fetish. Wanting to give birth with RESPECT and with as little medical and psychological bullshit to ensure that my baby is born safely and comfortably is not. It should be a basic human right. And "prom-plus-wedding-squared?" So we're equating the 9 month nourishment of a human life and the following birth of said human life - one of the biggest events in any person's life - to days when we play dress up with formal wear, make-up and flowers? And why the need for the quotation marks around the word empowerment? Is she seriously mocking the fact that many of us would like an empowered birth? Someone needs to clue her in to the fact that women are all about empowered birth because it leads to a better outcome for the baby. DUH.

Why are we so quick to brush off the experience of the mother as if it's something that is so unimportant? God forbid you actual have any sort of emotion that's not all sunshine and unicorn farts when a baby is born.

A commenter on TFB's post said the following:

"As a l&d nurse, I believe birth should be empowering, but so should everything else in life. Birth is an important thing, but a healthy baby/mom should honestly be more important than mode of delivery. If you don't enjoy your birth, enjoy your child. Women having babies for the experience is like women getting married for the wedding. Look at the long-term outcome. Just sayin."

Grrrrr. It's attitudes like those of the author and the commenter above that actually cause new mothers to have emotional issues after the birth. After all, if the L&D nurse who is entrusted to your care can't see past the fact that birth is a very emotional experience then who will? Here you are, in the throes of one of the most important moments of your life and you are being told by someone who should advocate FOR you that you need to suck it up like a big girl and not complain about a single goddamn thing. Really, you're just as annoying as those women who scream during the birth.  

We've become so accepting of the attitude that we should be so detached from our bodies and our experiences. You are not a woman who is giving birth. You are merely the vessel for the uterus that's holding the baby - a baby who, despite being made up of your own cells, fed from your own blood and protected by your own body - has no emotional attachment or awareness of you whatsoever. Everyone knows babies are kinda dumb and don't know much of anything. They certainly aren't emotional creatures until they are much, much older. Birth does not matter. These attitudes hurt. 

The fact is, women are affected by their births, whether it's in a positive manner or negative. Of course mothers are ultimately the most concerned about the well-being of their babies, but that doesn't negate the experiences and feelings that led up to that moment. You can't expect a woman who had planned for nine months to have something go a certain way, but was then laughed at, pressured, ignored and cut open to just brush it off. Yes, not everything goes as planned. To use the example of a wedding, let's say a bride planned her big day for nine months. All the dresses were picked out and ordered. The flowers were arranged. The cake was baked. The songs and verses were carefully selected. Then, she arrives at the church only to find out the groom has left her at the altar. The congregation wouldn't tell her to just shush now and don't speak of it. Would anyone say, "At least you still had fun trying on dresses. At least you still get to eat the cake?" No! Everyone would rally around the poor bride. They'd expect her to be sad and they would comfort her. Or what about prom. I'll tell you something - I was stood up for a prom. I was supposed to go to my boyfriend's prom in high school. The dress, shoes and accessories were bought. I had meticulously cut out pictures of hairstyles to bring to my stylist for the big day. The night before, I called him and he said he wasn't going. No explanation. I was so sad. Two days later, a friend called and said he had taken another girl to the prom. I was devastated. Looking back, it's small beans compared to kinks in pregnancy and birth. Yet, someone had the audacity to compare proms and weddings to childbirth. Bull. 

Sending this message to women hurts more than it helps. Here she is, feeling down because her birth didn't go as she hoped. Perhaps it was a true emergency c-section and she feels her body failed her. Perhaps it was one too many interventions and she feels her birth team didn't advocate enough for her. Perhaps it was a home birth transfer and she feels like she failed herself. There are many reasons that women are dissatisfied with their birth experiences. Some have the very real trauma of fighting the birth team for the simple human right to make choices about her own body. Some have had medical personnel laugh directly in their faces when they discussed the birth plan. They have physical battle wounds to go along with the emotions. Yet, they get a message from society that is loud and clear - do not talk about your feelings lest you be seen as selfish. After all, at least you have a healthy baby. These mamas are 100% thankful for their healthy babies and they begin to feel guilty. The question themselves. How could I ever be so selfish as to worry about the birth. At least baby is healthy. Oh, I'm so stupid to get angry with my doctor for not listening to me. At least my baby is healthy. And so they push down their feelings out of guilt and embarrassment. They go about their new lives despite that small nagging voice in the back of their head. We all know what happens with repressed emotions. Eventually, that nagging voice gets louder and meaner. You wonder where the depression came from. You thought the baby blues would be quick and easy to get over, but it's staying. You can't think of anything wrong. Yeah, you still think back to the birth and how you were unhappy with certain events, but it's over now and you've got your baby. Besides, you'd be a terrible mother if you even worried about silly things right now. It's a viscous cycle. 

People need to understand that we are not competing for an award in birth. Our decisions are based on research, experience and the hope that we can have the best outcome. I know that when I gave birth, I was not thinking, "Oh wow. This is totally going to earn me some crunchy hippie granola earth mama natural birth cred. I'm going to be a birth superstar for sure! I feel intellectually and morally superior to any other woman who has ever given birth." Nope, not at all. I was actually thinking, "holy fuck this is painful and I just might die." I chose a natural unmedicated birth because I didn't want any drugs getting into my babies' systems. Yes, there are times when those drugs are used safely and are needed. However, all medications have risks and I wanted to avoid risks as much as possible. I had healthy pregnancies and was low risk. There was no need for interventions, so natural birth was the best for me and my babies. There was nothing in my mind pointing to feeling superior to anyone else or wanting some sort of gold medal.

Please, please, please do not discount the feelings of postpartum women. They are not ashamed of their babies. The are not ungrateful for those babies. They are human. They have human emotions. They need other humans to understand them and show them compassion. 

Let me share what I wrote on The Feminist Breeder's page:

 "I am so sick and tired of that crap argument that the only thing that matters is a healthy baby. It implies that women who go against the grain are selfish and would sacrifice even their own babies to get the experience of their dreams. People need to look within themselves and try to understand why they would even entertain such a thought and fix it, because it's certainly not true.

Women DIE as a result of interventions and unnecessary c-sections. Yeah, you have a healthy baby, but that baby is now left without a mama. That kinda matters. Women end up with PPD and PTSD as a direct result of pretty bad birth experiences. The baby may be healthy, but he or she may have a mama who is unable to care for baby, who is detached, who doesn't want to hold or touch or nurse the baby. That's not ideal. Birth IS powerful. Humans are highly emotional creatures and something like bringing a life into the world via your own body is kinda important - and way more important than a prom or a wedding (seriously, WTF?). But, if you want to talk weddings, let's say you spent nine months planning for your wedding. You had your list of guests, you knew what you would where, you knew where it would be held - you had an ideal event planned our in your mind and you were expecting a great day. Then, your fiancé leaves you. Who wouldn't expect a bride to be upset? For Pete's sake, there is a whole reality industry fashioned around brides who don't get what they want. Hello, Bridezillas. And you expect a woman who nurtured a life, had a birth plan, had hopes for the birth and planned for the best outcome to just wave a white flag when things go wrong? Anyone thinking so must be off their rocker.

 I gave birth to my first child in a hospital. It was a natural birth, attended by a midwife and I rocked it. What I rarely talk about is how much I hated it. I was walking out the door to go to the birth center when the midwife called and told me the birth center would be closed for a few days because the other midwife who owned it was not available. As per the law in their area/their policy, two RNs/CNMs had to be present for a birth in the birth center. There was nothing the other midwife could do. Maybe someone stronger would have said, "fuck you, get your ass over here and let's do a homebirth," but that wasn't me at the time. I was an hour from home (had gone to my parents during labor because they lived really close to the birth center) and I had not prepared for or entertained the thought of a homebirth. You know why I had to go to the hospital? Because the midwife I trusted and who knew how much a peaceful birth center birth meant to me (she had been my midwife for well women care for 8 years!) decided she wanted to go to a fancy fucking horse show the next day and didn't want her sleep disturbed. She figured I'd be up all night in labor since I was a first time mom and she just wanted to go watch fucking horsies (no disrespect to the fucking horsies). My other midwife, who is now one of my best friends and attended my homebirth this past summer, did EVERYTHING she could to keep the hospital staff away from me and make it as much like a birth center birth as possible. Still, I was distressed. I had to call my two friends, who I desperately wanted to be at my birth, and tell them they weren't allowed to call because of the hospital's two person rule. My midwife bent the rules a little so my dad could be there by claiming my mom as a doula (we were allowed two regular people and one labor support person). My mom had made a ton of food to bring to the birth center that now we couldn't take. We smuggled cheese-its, recharge and raisins. I stalled my labor. I broke down. I was so angry about my experience and so distressed I was there with lights on my vagina and a hospital nurse screaming, "pushpushpushpushpushpush" (I ended up "accidentally" kicking her) that I pushed too hard and ripped myself and ended up with a third degree. My midwife, who had been up for at least 36 hours (for office hours and delivering another baby before me) and was pregnant herself was bleary-eyed and exhausted and had a hard time stitching up my bitch of a tear. I was in so, so much pain from the tear because my vulva and perineum would not numb no matter how much lidocaine they used (and they used the maximum dosage). I felt every single fucking stitch. They called in an OB to come stitch me and she was a nasty bitch. She didn't even acknowledge my presence. She roughly rubbed at my vulva with DRY guaze pads. She put the needle to me and I screamed in pain and accidentally kicked her arm. She said, "She's out of control. I'm not touching her unless you take her to the OR and knock her out." She said that, with her hand on my vulva - talking about me in third person. A hospital staff midwife came in an was able to get me stitched quickly and as gently as possible. I tried to get up to pee and the pushpushpushpushpushpush labor nurse kept saying, in a panic, "are you going to faint? You look like you're going to faint. You are REALLY pale. Do you think you will faint?" So, guess what? I fainted on the toilet. Then I couldn't pee. So they pulled me to the bed and the nurse ripped off my beautiful bathrobe from home and put me in a hospital gown. The put in an IV and a urinary catheter. And the entire time I had to fight tooth and nail to get them to allow my husband to go down to the nursery with my son while they did his exam. The pushpushpushpushpushpush nurse tried to use all these scare tactics on me to get me to relinquish my son alone no matter how much I yelled NO. Finally, my dad spoke up and got nasty with her, telling her that he is a respiratory therapist who works in a level III NICU and he knows all the hospital bullshit and that she was lying out of her ass to me. My midwife HAD to leave eventually and I was wheeled to the maternity recovery ward where the hospital staff FORGOT I was there. No food for hours. No lactation consultant (which was fine, because my mom IS a lactation consultant and I'd been very educated on the subject my whole life). The food I did get was cold and was thrown at me because I had bitched about being forgotten and starving. They tried to take my son away from me again...saying his temp (which they took while he was naked and in air conditioning) was 97.5 and they'd have to take him to the nursery and feed him formula to warm him up. Yeah right. They wouldn't treat me for my PUPPS rash which had spread like wildfire after the birth (I asked for a mere benedryl). They lost my bloodwork and had to re-sitck me. It was a pretty crappy experience. I did end up with PPD, half due to the experience and half due to the prospect of going back to work (where one of my co-workers made it a point to laugh and make "Told you so" comments because I was such an ardent natural birth advocate). I kept quiet about my birth experience for years. I felt like I didn't have a right to complain because I DID end up with a midwife-attended natural birth and my boy was perfect. I felt like I had no room to complain in comparison to women who had highly managed births that ended in surgery. So I kept it in like a good girl as it ATE at me. It took me years to finally open up about it, with some trepidation. Obviously, it bothered me because what was supposed to be a single paragraph response has turned into a novel.

And you know what? I hate pain. I think birth is painful. I wanted to be the type who would smile and laugh her baby out, but that isn't me and never will be. I'm a wimp with pain. I HATE pushing. I say that after a mere 15 minutes of pushing with my homebirth. I hate it. It would be REALLY easy for me to just get some drugs to make myself comfortable. Really easy. However, I refrain because I feel it's not the best for MY children. I don't want to pump their bodies full of chemicals if I can help it. For me, giving birth naturally has nothing to do with getting myself a fucking gold star and EVERYTHING to do with providing the best experience possible for the little lives entrusted to my body and my care. If anyone wants to take issue with me and tell me that women need to get over it, or just enjoy their healthy baby and be glad I wasn't planning a wedding because that'd be so much more important, I would be happy to "accidentally" kick them, too.

And that's all I have to say about that."

As you can see, I was one of those women. I held my feelings down. I felt so ashamed for mourning my birth experience, especially since I did have a natural birth. Thankfully, the midwife who delivered my son talked to me about it years later and I finally felt validated. I no longer felt selfish and ashamed. My heart breaks for mothers who feel they must suffer in silence.

Mamas, don't feel ashamed. Don't feel guilty. There is nothing wrong with you for hurting over your birth experience. Those feelings don't make you a bad mother. Please, accept those emotions as natural and find a way to acknowledge them and share them with others so that you can heal yourself.  

P.S. Now that you've read this, you may feel free to laugh hysterically at the graphic. I won't even tell you how long it took me to "craft" that in Paint.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Toxoplasmosis: Don't Pussyfoot Around the Kitties

  Who doesn't love a good pussy? Get your minds out of the gutter! I'm talking about kitty cats. God's four-footed furry feline friends. They're sweet (ha!). They are loveable (ha!). They are excellent companions (ha!). I'm allowed to be sarcastic about cats - I have five of them. We'll do a psychological evaluation of me in the future so we can determine why, In God's name, I would ever think 5 cats were a good idea.

Cats are all fine and good...until you're pregnant. If you've been a preggo who also harbors felines, then no doubt you've heard the constant warnings about how bad cats are for pregnant women. A lot of the fuss centers around a little parasite called toxoplasma gondii, which causes toxoplasmosis. Women are told many different things about handling cats during pregnancy - most of which are incorrect. The top "advice" is usually this:
  • Don't ever touch your cat or breathe the same air as your cat when pregnant.
  • Don't ever, ever change a litter box when you're pregnant. 
  • Get rid of all cats now that you're pregnant. 
 It's hogwash. Now, there is definite reason to fear toxoplasmosis It can cause miscarriage or stillbirth or it can cause birth abnormalities such as hydrocephalus or blindness. It is certainly dangerous if a pregnant woman is exposed. My issue is with the perceived risk and method of exposure when it concerns cats. If you listen to the mainstream advice, you would think that cats are the only way that you can become infected and that it's nearly certain that all cats carry this. Simply.Not.True.

 Before I get into some parasite particulars, I want to give you some background so you don't think I'm just someone with a bug up her butt about, well, butt bugs. In my real life, I am a Certified Veterinary Technician. No, I don't hold and cuddle puppies and kittens all day. I went through a 2.5 year college program, completed 15 weeks of externships, earned my Associates in Veterinary Technology, sat for a national board exam and passed and earned my license as a veterinary technician. I complete 16 hours of continuing education every two years in order to keep my license legal and up to date. I have twelve years of experience in veterinary medicine - 10 of those years licensed. I do get to pet puppies and kitties now and then, but I also take radiographs, draw blood, place IV catheters, administer medications and treatments, educate clients and the community, run laboratory tests such as routine and non-routine chemistries, urinalysis and other bloodwork such as CBCs. I administer and monitor anesthesia as well as assist doctors in surgery. Oh, there is so much more that we do.  Veterinary technicians are unsung heroes of the veterinary world. Anyway, one of my specialties is laboratory medicine. That is, I'm a wiz with things involving blood, pee, poop and other goodies from the body. I'm great friends with the microscope. Parasitology is one of my favorite things and, ahem, I'm dang good at it. What is it? It's the study of parasites. In my day to day life in the vet tech world, I obtain fecal samples, prepare them and look at them under the microscope where I identify all sorts of little buggers that shouldn't be there. Toxoplasma gondii is just one of those little bastards.

 T.gondii can infect any warm-blooded animal - including us humanfolk - and birds. The big fuss about cats comes from the fact that they are the only primary hosts. That is, they are the only animal that sheds the oocysts (zygotes wrapped in a comfy and protective shell) in their feces. Any mammal or bird can carry the oocysts, but those oocysts will only bump uglies with one another in the intestines of cats. It's a fun cycle. Little oocysts are hanging out in the soil or nature. An animal comes in contact with the oocyst and ingests it. Kitty eats the animal that ingested the oocyst. Or, baby kitty gets it from mama's milk. From there, the oocysts "hatch" in the kitty's intestine. They proceed to make love sweet parasite love and give birth to, you guessed it, more oocysts that are then passed into the cats poop. These little bastards are resilient. Cats will only pass them in their feces for a few weeks after their initial infection. In most cases, their bodies eventually get rid of the T. gondii invaders after those first few weeks. However, the oocysts can survive in soil for an average of 18 months, with many making it for several years. This brings us to the methods of infection for people...

It is understandable to assume that cats are your biggest risk since they are the primary host. This is incorrect. More than half of toxoplasmosis infection occur after handling raw meat. As I said, any mammal or bird can acquire toxoplasmosis. This includes the wide variety of animals that end up on our plates at the dinner table, especially lamb, venison and pork. Handling or consuming raw or undercooked meat is the biggest culprit in toxoplasmosis infections. To be safe, all meat should be cooked to 160 degrees (180 in poultry). I like jerky and I'm an advocate for raw milk, but both should be avoided during pregnancy due to the risk of transmission. Jerky is a risk because of the low heat typically used to create it. Raw milk, especially goat, is a risk as T. gondii is passed through mama milk. Most people won't even notice if they've become infected. Symptoms resemble a mild flu or even mononucleosis. Those most at risk are people with immuno-compromising conditions, including pregnancy. In those folks, the oocysts eventually settle in the tissues, especially the eyes and the brain in humans and the muscles in animals. In pregnant women, the oocysts can be transmitted to the baby via the placenta.

 Another method of transmission is contaminated soil. This is where the oocysts hang out after being passed through the cat's feces. Adults and children who dig around, garden or play in the dirt are susceptible. T. gondii can survive the harshest weather conditions, so the risk is still present even during a snowy winter. Their presence in the soil can also lead to contaminated water (more of an issue in developing countries) or fruits and vegetables. Thoroughly washing any fruits and vegetables is key to preventing transmission this way. It can also be present in children's sandboxes - your friendly neighborhood stray may enjoy using the sandbox as a litter box. Sandboxes - oh, having a parasitology background can just skeeve you - are a prime habitat for parasites like T. gondii and it's friends - roundworm and hookworm.

 Now it's time to talk about kitties. I've heard it all - I've heard people telling pregnant women that you can get it from petting cats, getting bit or being scratched. This is false. The primary source of infection is the cat's feces. You can't get it from bites, scratches or handling their urine or blood. This is the part where people tell you that if you're pregnant and you scoop litter you will just die right there on the spot. Seriously, I heard that once. Again, this is incorrect. When an infected cat poops, the oocysts are present in the poop. However, it takes anywhere from 24 hours to 5 days for those oocysts to sporulate - that is, they become infective to humans. If you're practicing proper kitty hygiene and scooping the litter box at least once a day then your chances of acquiring toxoplasmosis are about nil. If you let the poop sit in their for a few days until it gets to the point of being a bit dry then you up your chances of infection. Even then, you practically have to lick the poop to get it. There's no definitive research stating that you can get it through litter dust as you're scooping, so wearing a mask would be fine if it makes you comfortable.

But wait, is your cat even at risk? Cats at highest risk of carrying T. gondii are outdoor cats (that is, any cat who goes outside for any period of time - even if it's just to sit outside on the porch for 10 minutes)  as they hunt and eat little rodents and birds and they come in contact with infested soil. New kittens are also high risk as they could have gotten it from mama. Most of the time, new kittens come to us from shelters or rescues, so we don't know if mom was a street cat. Cats who spend all of their time indoors are at the lowest risk. Very low. Now, if you have little mice sharing your home and your cat eats them, his risk increases slightly. There is also a slight risk that you could track T. gondii into your home on your shoes and kitty could become infected if he licks your shoes or the carpet where you walked. This is so rare, but I'm putting it out there as many people assume their indoor only cats aren't at risk for anything (you can also track in coccidia, giardia, roundworm, whipworm and hookworm - in case you already weren't feeling icky. Tell that to Flylady next time she insists you wear your shoes in the house from sun up to sun down).

How do you know if your cat has toxoplasmosis? In general, you don't. If your cat is healthy, he or she likely won't show any signs and will eventually rid their body of the toxoplasma. Young kittens and those with weaker immune systems are more susceptible. The most common signs would be a lack of appetite, lethargy and a fever. In severe cases, cats will show neurologic signs (changes in personality, dizziness, blindness, seizures...). You can test for toxoplasmosis. It takes from 3 days up to 2 weeks for it to show up in fecal and blood tests. Fecal tests are okay, but not preferred. While the cat sheds millions of the oocysts in their feces, they are often missed during fecal examinations. The oocysts look a lot like little air bubbles and even coccidia or giardia. Staff that isn't adequately trained or those using poor equipment may miss these little guys on the microscope. In addition, cats only shed the oocysts for a brief time during the infection, so they may not be present in the feces. The best test is a blood test that looks for antibodies - IgG and IgM. This test will indicate if your kitty has acquired toxoplasmosis and if he or she has an active infection or was exposed in the past and is now immune. If your kitty has it, the vet may tell you that he doesn't need treatment as most cats get through it just fine. However, as a preggo, you may opt for treatment. Treatment can include a few different drugs, the most common being the antibiotic Clindamycin, which acts as an anti-protozoan in this case.

So, to recap, you are most likely - here in America and in other developed nations - to acquire toxoplasmosis via the handling or consumption of raw and undercooked meats. Gardening or handling soil also puts you at risk. The hype about cats being a giant risk is just one big overinflated myth that has led to the unnecessary deaths of many cats (being put in shelters and then euthanized after owners become pregnant). Good hygiene is key to keeping yourself safe.

  • Always wash anything that comes into contact with raw and undercooked meats - your hands, all utensils and cookware, cutting surfaces and counters. 
  • Freezing your meats for 2 to 3 days before use can reduce, but not eliminate, your risk of toxoplasmosis.
  • Cook meats thoroughly to 160 F (180 F if it's poultry). Experts recommend letting the meat sit for three minutes after cooking to insure proper temperature distribution.
  • Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands. 
  • Wear gloves when working in the garden. Wash hands afterwards.
  • Wash hands after handling soil.
  • Thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables, including those that you grown on your own.
  • Use caution when handling kiddie sandboxes. If you own it, keep it covered when not in use in order to prevent neighborhood kitties from using it as a litter box.
  • Scoop cat litter daily. <------will also help eliminate kitty bathroom behavior problems.
  • Be careful not to touch your face while scooping the litter. Wash your hands after scooping the litter.
  • Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands.
  • Do not lick the cat poop.
  • It's fine to wear gloves and/or a mask while scooping cat litter if that makes you feel more comfortable.
  • Keep your kitties indoors to lower their risk of infection. Be mindful of tracking soil through the house on your shoes.
  • Don't feed kitty an raw or undercooked meat.
  • Make sure kitty has a check up once a year at the veterinarian and ask for a fecal test. If you are extra concerned about toxoplasmosis, request an antibody test. 
  • Your midwife, family doctor, or OB can perform an antibody blood test for toxoplasmosis when you go in for your first check up. This will let you know if you've been exposed and if it's an older exposure or if it's an active infection. And older exposure would mean, in most cases, that you are immune.
  • Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands. (with NON antibacterial soap)

 Finally, take my experience. I have worked in veterinary medicine for 12 years and have had 6 kitties in that time - 5 of whom are living today. I have changed and cleaned thousands of litter boxes. I have handled thousands of kitty poop samples. I have only seen toxoplasmosis (and I do know how to distinguish it from other parasites) three times in 12 years. Twice in cats and once in a monkey (yeah, monkey shit it the most vile substance on the planet, fyi). I get myself tested for toxoplasmosis during pregnancy and in between. I've never tested positive for it. That's been the experience of many of my fellow veterinary colleagues.

  I hope this takes away some of the fear regarding cats in pregnancy. I mean it when I say that a lot of cats have been given up and/or just plain euthanized when an owner becomes pregnant because there is so much misinformation out there. Now go hug your kitty.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

2012 Items to Declutter in 2012 - Can I do it?

 In November, I wrote a post called Accountability, in which I noted my desire to remove clutter and take back my home. I detailed some of the things that allowed all of this clutter to happen. I failed to mention that my mind helps me hold onto clutter. I am an extremely sentimental person and I hold on to things because they remind me of happy times or people I love. Part of it stems from my childhood. As I mentioned in my post about rage issues  , I was bullied a lot in school. I would hold on to items that I friend gave me because it reminded me that someone did like me or that someone was actually nice to me. Obviously, I have some things to work out there. I'm really trying. I'm learning how to let go. I'm learning that the stuff isn't as valuable as the memory.

 I got side-tracked in November and December due to everything surrounding the treatment for my daughter's hemangiomas. I wasn't able to complete the goal I had set for myself in November. We were able to start getting the ball rolling towards the end of December. I told my husband that Santa was not welcome unless we got rid of a few things first. We did pretty good. We cleared out a lot of things from our spare bedroom. I was proud of myself for being able to let go. One of the things I do that helps me is take pictures of all the items I donate. It serves a few purposes. It helps me remember exactly what I donated. This is good for tax reasons if you like to deduct your donations. It also helps me preserve memories. Do I need to keep a shirt that doesn't fit just because I wore it on some happy day? No, not really. It could serve someone else. So, I take a picture. If I miss it that bad I can always look at the picture. It's been a really helpful and simple method to allow me to let go.

There was a moment where our decluttering fervor backfired. In December, we went through a lot of stuff and purged a good deal of junk. There was one night where the hubby and I worked in the spare room while the kiddies slept. I emptied and consolidated boxes/bins. I put all of the boxes into our hallway and our living room for hubby to take outside and leave on the front step for Purple Heart to pick up. I managed to get about 7 boxes into one big storage bin and one small cardboard box that night. There is still a way to go, but it's a start. I put a lot of sentimental things that are important into one small cardboard box - my wedding album, pictures of my husbands family dating back to the early 1900's (my husband's parents, grandparents and most family members are dead - he only has about 5 living relatives), cards from when my hubby was born, an Israel Tree Memorial thing from his father's death, pictures of my sweet, sweet kitty, Abigael, who is in Heaven, the little bracelets that my son wore in the hospital when he was born. Things like that. I put that box aside from the other boxes and went to bed. The next day, I walked into the room to appreciate the work we had done the night before. I noticed the box was gone. I looked all over for it. Gone. Purple heart had picked up our stuff about 8 hours earlier. I frantically called my husband who frantically called Purple Heart. The lady on the line was sad to hear our story and said she would try to help, but it's over a month later and they pretty much told us to give up hope. I'm devastated, but trying to move on. That brings us to the here and now.

My son is 5 and says he wants his own room. He told me he needs privacy. I respect that. We are a co-sleeping family and he has been in our room since birth. Our apartment is small and we planned to milk the co-sleeping thing until at least 5 so we could avoid space issues. Our spare bedroom is the catch-all for our crap. It's where I keep my computer desk. The plan is to keep getting rid of the clutter and to get a new desk. My desk is huge and takes up a lot of space. It's not necessary to have such a big desk. My parents need to replace a desk in their basement, so I'm thinking of giving them this one and getting a much smaller and simpler one for myself at Ikea. It'll free up space in the room. We're going to get the Little Dude a bed and do up the room like a regular kids room.

 That bedroom is one of our goals. I would like to have it completed by the middle of this year. There is still a lot to be done around the house. I'm not proud of my home at all. I hate it, really. I hate what it's become and it feels so overwhelming. I never invite people over because I'm embarrassed with this place. After I had the baby, I didn't invite people to see her because I didn't want to show off my clutter. It was okay because most people who had made a fuss when I was pregnant forgot about me the day after my baby was born, so I never pushed the issue. Still, I want to be proud of my apartment. I want it to feel like a home. Right now, it feels like a place that I have to put up with. Just a place to sleep at night. It's not homey or personal. It's not comfortable to me. My son is a little on the hyper side and needs structure and focus. I know that I am doing damage to his sweet little mind with all the chaos of clutter around him. A cluttered home leads to a cluttered mind.

 So, I told my husband that my goal is to get rid of 2012 items in 2012. I am throwing myself into it and committing. There is a forum on that is devoted to de-cluttering and organizing your home. There is a thread specifically for people who want to get rid of 2012 items in 2012. I joined that thread for the support, motivation and the accountability. I also downloaded two apps to help things along - Cozi and Chore Checklist Lite. They are both free. They aren't specific to decluttering, but you can customize them to make lists of things you want to accomplish. I like to check things off of lists. For me, it's highly motivating. I also found a website called My Simpler Life. She has a calendar that lists daily tasks for getting your home simplified, organized and decluttered. The point is to do small things each day and not try to overwhelm yourself with a complete overhaul of your home in one day. I find the calendar to be helpful in guiding me along. Honestly - it's another thing I can check off and say, "I did it!"

 Anyone with me? I'll post along with updates every few days. Join me in simplifying your home, your life and your spirit. You'll find that you are happier for it!

Eggs are a symbol of resurrection and rebirth, which is why I chose that picture. Also, because it's pretty. They were our breakfast this morning. 

Note: You can find an update on my challenge HERE. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Somewhere Around the Rainbow

 I am a master of being fake.

 Not a fake friend. Not even a fake person. I mean, I usually tell it like it is. But, I faked so much when I was recovering - mentally, spiritually and physically - from my miscarriage. 

 I've written a bit on it and how it made me feel. I had a lot to process. I was so depressed. So angry. I was writing to let it out. And then, I stopped. Not because I was healed. Not because anyone told me to stop. I just wanted the thoughts to stop. I was turning into a different person, someone I didn't ever want to be.

You could say that I have rage issues. As a child, I was bullied and tormented in school. No, really tormented. Things happened that would shape my psyche forever. As a result of what I went through, I lost my ability to trust other people. I became insecure and unable to have confidence in anything about myself. I felt rage. I was never able to feel like I got any justice for what was done to me in school. I wanted so badly to hurt the people who hurt me, but I kept it in. I didn't want to worry my parents and I didn't want my friends to know the truth about what I was going through. My rage has always been on the back burner, just waiting. If you watch Dexter, he talks about his "dark passenger." That's rage for me ... a dark passenger, riding along in my cerebral depths, waiting for just the right time to stop the car, get out and make a grand entrance. I was able to suppress it for years. I acknowledged it, knew it was there and told myself it would always stay buried. In my heart of hearts, I'm a pacifist. I don't believe in wishing harm. I believe our thoughts eventually lead to reality and I didn't want to open that box. Until my miscarriage. Every restraint I had placed upon my rage just snapped. Broken. Unleashed. It was here and it wasn't leaving.

  Losing a child - there are no words to describe the pain. No one can understand what you are going through. Our society has made it a stigma, keeping grieving parents quietly tucked away in a corner lest our grief cause anyone to become uncomfortable. I have a wonderful family and wonderful friends who were my rock during that time. They read my woeful status updates, they talked to me, they acknowledged me. My friend Lauren heard the brunt of it. She took frantic phone calls from my husband, who was worried I was going to harm myself. She listened to me ramble psychotically. She stayed on that rocking boat with me in my sea of fear and wild emotions, dropping her anchor and steadying me when I needed it. Who knows where I'd be without my hubby, my little boy, Lauren and my other friends and family. It wouldn't be a good place.

I had never felt anger like that before. As I've written before, anything would set me off. Work was especially hard on me. Things were said that really hurt me, even if it wasn't meant to be that way. I felt so caged up, like I was going to crack at any moment. I raged on in status updates, on this blog and on online forums. That was only the tip. No one saw the real me. The once gentle mother who screamed at her little boy every hour of every day. The mother who believed so much in gentle discipline spanking her little boy. The mother who believed too much TV was bad for her child's brain letting that little boy watch TV for 4 or 5 hours straight while she lay catatonic on the couch. The mother who was gung-ho about a natural and organic diet for her family giving in to buying fast food and allowing more junk food in the home. The mother who would go outside and play and hike and run with her little boy just laying on the couch while he watched TV and destroyed the house. The wife who would listen to her husband and support him now cut him down. The wife who used to be loving and playful became verbally abusive and hateful. The wife who wanted to keep a happy and semi-neat home just letting the house go to shit. The woman who loved peace and non-violence punching and denting the car of a stranger. The employee who cared about her job and her co-workers would violently snap at them at random moments. I was nothing. I became so absorbed in my hatred of this world and all the happy things in it. Friends were announcing pregnancies and I wanted to punch them. How dare they have what was taken from me. I was more apt to spew venom at cashiers with attitude or strangers who looked at me the wrong way. My fuse was short and ablaze with all of my sorrowful anger. I wanted people to hurt. I wanted people to feel my pain. I was suffering and I needed the world to suffer, too. I didn't care who or what I hurt. I didn't care if I hurt myself. I need to feel that rage and let it burn.

  Is this the part where I tell you that the clouds parted, the sun shone through and the angels sang? Not exactly. There is a little sunlight, but it's a mostly cloudy day and the only angel singing is tone deaf - worse, he only knows one Justin Bieber song. Yes, the rage subsided somewhat, but allowing it to come out has made it harder to stuff back in. Kinda like those old gag "snakes in a can." You'll eventually get that bastard back into the can, but it takes a lot of pushing and shoving and the snake springs back out at you from time to time before you finally stuff it back in. I'm working on it. I became pregnant in November of 2010, 7 months after River died. Pregnancy kept the anxiety flowing. I never had a moment where I relaxed. Loss was always in the back of my mind. I had a few moments where I snapped. I had a health issue here and there and the fear of loss would slap me in the face and I'd flip out. And then I would get anxious about flipping out, worrying that I would hurt my little baby girl. It was a viscous cycle. I didn't relax until the moment she slipped out of my womb and into my arms.

  Why am I writing this? I've been reading comments here and there on Facebook. I won't get into specifics, but they involve judging a mother for the angry way she has been dealing with the loss of her baby. I understand  that the anger must eventually subside for the sanity and health of the mother and all involved. You don't want to use hate and anger for your baby's legacy. I get that. But, I get the pain. I get the rage. I get needing to lash out at people and make them feel as bad as you. Not everyone grieves that way, but I certainly understand those that do. My heart breaks for mothers who lose their sweet babies. It breaks when I see them judged in their grief. While their emotional outpourings may be hurtful towards others, it's still no excuse to berate them. These mamas need support so they can make through the rage and work on putting their peace puzzle back together. If we feed into their hate - and there are those who do - then we don't do the mama or her sweet baby's memory justice. I know I needed to feel that anger, but I didn't want it to become River's legacy forever.

  I'm trying to climb my way out of this fog. The sun is beginning to shine through the rain and I can make out the faint colors of my own symbolic prism. I am ashamed that I lost myself so badly in the last year and a half. I am ashamed that I disrupted my son's happy childhood because I could not adequately deal with my emotions around him. I'm trying to pick up all of those broken little pieces and put them back together again and I can only pray that the damage isn't permanent. I need myself back. I know I'm out there and I'm getting closer to finding me again. I'm waiting for myself.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

I Don't Want to See Your Biebs in Public

People, I am offended. I am so, so offended. There is something out there that I see every single day when I am in the mall, the grocery store, the bank, the YMCA, my son's school and even Church! It's something that bothers me and could potentially harm the psyches of my children and yours. It definitely shouldn't be seen in public.

I was originally going to post a picture of this offensive subject, but I thought better of it. You and your children will thank me later. Deep breath. I'm trying to think of how to word this so it won't offend others. Here we go.

It's Justin Bieber.

Oh dear! I see him all the time, wherever I go. His pouting face, half-hidden under a hoodie, is painted across many t-shirts.

Listen. I understand that you like Justin Bieber and he makes you happy. I know that Justin Bieber is what's best for you. But, do you have to flaunt him in my face with your t-shirts? Not everyone likes Justin Bieber. That doesn't mean we have a problem with him, but he just isn't for us. Personally, I tried Justin Bieber, but I found I couldn't like him. My ears and my brain were unable to enjoy his vocalizations. So, I had to switch back to David Bowie, because that was all I could take. But, it's hard to find David Bowie t-shirts. Don't you think I might feel bad because you're flaunting your Justin Bieber t-shirt in public? That's pretty insensitive of you.

Furthermore, what about when I'm out with my children? We're walking along and BAM! there you are with your Justin Bieber t-shirt flappin' in the breeze. We don't need to see that while we're walking down the aisle in Target buying band-aids or Annie's Bunny Snacks. So what am I supposed to do? How am supposed to explain to my children what Justin Bieber is? Because they see your shirt, I have to have a conversation with my children about Justin Bieber and how some people like him. That's not right. I have a very curious 5 year old and now I'll have to sit down with him and explain Justin Bieber. What's worse, he might go home and ask to listen to Justin Bieber. Even worse, he might tell the other students in his Kindergarten class about the Justin Bieber shirt he saw you wearing in public. Then I'll have to deal with phone calls from his teacher, the principal and angry parents. Please, have some respect for the children. The CHILDREN!

Once again, no one is denying your right to listen to Justin Bieber and to wear a t-shirt with his pouting face on it. It's just that it may not be best to wear that shirt in public. Think of your own safety. There are a lot of 12 and 13 year old girls out there who might look at your shirt and start having fantasies. They may even come up to you and ask you where you bought it. Doesn't that make you uncomfortable? Sick!

And, please, don't wear your Justin Bieber t-shirt in Church. Listen, I completely understand that God created Justin Bieber for a purpose. I get that. But that doesn't mean you can just whip off your jacket and go flashing your Justin Bieber shirt in His sanctuary. Modesty is key.

Maybe you can cover up your Justin Bieber t-shirt. That way you can still wear your shirt, but the rest of the public won't have to see it. That's pretty respectful. In fact, they make lots of really nice cardigans that you can wear over your Justin Bieber t-shirt. Or - get this! - you can get a purple hoodie to wear over your shirt! Justin Bieber LOVES purple hoodies. See? Compromise. If you really feel the need to look at your Justin Bieber then perhaps you can find a dressing room or a restroom stall where you can sit down, open your cardigan (or purple hoodie!)and look at yourself in the mirror. You'll still have your Justin Bieber t-shirt. You just won't be offending the general public. You can also go out to your car and wear your shirt openly in there (as long as your not parked next to my mini-van full of children) and even listen to one of his CDs (windows up, please). Maybe you can just stay home and wear your Justin Bieber shirt there. No need to cover up in your own home and you'll probably be more comfortable there because you can wear your Justin Bieber pajama bottoms, too.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope you know that I don't mean any harm towards Justin Bieber t-shirts. I just don't want to see them in public.
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