Layia’s Birth Story, Part 2: The NICU   1 comment

Transporting immediately after Layia’s birth was a very odd experience for me. My head was practically spinning, seeing as how 2 hours earlier I had been turning out the light, expecting to spend the night sleeping a few minutes at a time between contractions. I was very focused on the basics. I got dressed in just a long sleeved t-shirt and a short skirt. I grabbed the electrolyte water that was next to the bed, and then walked to the kitchen to grab a snack. We never even dressed or diapered Layia. She was just wrapped in a blanket. I remembered my insurance card, but forgot my phone.

Rachel called the ER while we were on the road to let them know we were coming. When we pulled up, she grabbed a wheelchair for me (holding Layia). We went in, and were ushered almost immediately back to the the Ped ER. Mike and Martine had to park the cars, but I don’t remember how long it took for either of them to join us. We were led to a bay in the Ped ER where there were several nurses, residents, and an attending physician, I think. Layia was taken from me so they could examine her. That was the hardest thing. I wanted to protest and hold her in my lap while they examined her, not see her in the little infant hospital bed across the bay, and hear her crying but not be able to do anything. There were lots of questions that I had to answer, and I couldn’t tell you what they were or what I said because life was still a blur at that point. I do remember that we realized it had been so long since we picked her name (3 years – it’s the name Conan would have had if he had been a girl), that I wasn’t 100% certain how to spell it! Thankfully Mike remembered.

After a fairly brief exam the doctors and nurses agreed with Rachel that the noise seemed to be coming just from the nasal passages and not the lungs, but it was so noisy and there seemed to be an echo in the lungs so they couldn’t be certain. Then it was up to the NICU. Rachel wanted to try to check me in to Labor & Delivery so that I would have a bed and not be sitting in a chair all night, so once Layia was settled in the NICU, Rachel, Martine, and I went down to L&D. We were told that all beds were full, but they checked me in we waited in the reception area to be seen in triage where I would be able to lay down for a bit. And we waited. And waited. Got some water and waited. It was a busy night in L&D. Then I finally needed to pee, and thankfully they let me use the bathroom in the triage area. After that I decided that this just wasn’t worth the wait. I was starting to feel downright wrong about being away from Layia, and also figured that if I was going to spend the night sitting anyway it made no sense to do it two floors down from my newborn. So we gave up and went back up to the NICU.

I spent the night sitting on the hard rocking chair, with my legs propped up on the wheel chair, nursing Layia and holding her on my chest as near to skin-to-skin as I deemed possible what with there being leads on her chest. I didn’t really sleep much that night, but idly watched her monitor (heart rate, respirator rate, and oxygen saturation). I did doze off occasionally, but it wasn’t until morning that I started to crash. Of course the resident caught me sleeping with Layia on my chest as she did her rounds and wanted me to put Layia in the infant bed as they have had cases in the past of parents dozing off while holding their baby and dropping the baby. But as soon as Layia was in the bed she woke up and started crying, so came right back to my lap to nurse. During the night they had had to come back to draw blood twice, as the blood had clotted before the lab processed it the first two times. It was good to find out in the morning that the third blood draw had been successful, because I wasn’t planning to let them draw any more blood from her.

Friday morning was fairly quiet. Mike came to see us and got me some food. (Which I had to eat in the reception area since food is not allowed in the NICU. The medical team did rounds (and I mean “team” since there was the lead physician, two residents, and two more people whose roles I don’t remember; later the social worker came by and then someone else whose role I don’t remember), and since I was there I got to listen in. At the time I was hoping to be able to get her discharged before the initial 48 hours that we’d been told, since that was based on when the culture would be done to tell us if she needed antibiotics (because I had been GBS positive). When I came back from the bathroom one time there was a sleep chair waiting for me (much more comfortable on the behind!). Layia and I did a lot of sleeping – with her in my lap mostly. Throughout our stay she did not care for the crib at all. I’d always let the nurses know when I left the room so they’d be prepared to have to attend to her a bit in addition to the other babies in the room, but sometimes she’d start crying before I even managed to get out the door. And she didn’t really take a pacifier.

Friday afternoon was not quiet. At some point (apparently while I was down at L&D, using the bathroom, or eating) they had put a catheter down Layia’s nasal passages to determine if there was physical blockage (I did know this was the plan, just not when it was actually done). A 10 French catheter could not go through, but a 5 could. So the initial theory was that she just had very narrow nasal passages, causing very slow draining. By early afternoon her breathing sounded completely normal. The ENT residents came by to scope her nasal passages. They determined that there was nothing clinically wrong, and her passages would grow as she’d grow so there was nothing to do or worry about. But they wanted the pediatric specialist to come by and confirm that it wasn’t choanal atresia (a congenital narrow nasal passage that requires surgery). A while later the pediatric specialist came and attempted to scope Layia’s nasal passages again, but she had difficulty getting a clear view so she stopped. During all of this, the doctors and nurses confirmed what Rachel had experienced at home: suctioning did nothing. Rachel had been using a Delee suction catheter, and the nurses tried the wall suction with the normal tip and using a couple different sized small catheters, but they couldn’t get much of anything out and it made no difference to the sound of her breathing. In order to finish the scoping they used a decongestant spray, and then scoped her a third time.

Friday evening was as pleasant as a stay in the hospital can be. Lesley (midwife) came by to see us, and Mike came back and got me food before the cafe closed for the evening (that cafe has some strange night hours).

Friday night was pretty miserable (but at least I was in a comfortable chair and could put my feet up). All night long Layia would try to nurse about every half hour. Her breathing was horrible and while she tried to nurse her oxygen saturation would drop. When it dropped below 85% an alarm would go off, and the nurse would have to come over and silence it. This happened every half hour, all night long. It became part of the routine of the night. When her saturation dropped below 60% (I think that was the second level anyway), a more insistent alarm would go off and the nurse would have to come silence that and would usually stay and watch the monitor until Layia finished nursing and her heart rate, respirator rate, and O2 saturation came back to normal. A couple times during the night her saturation levels dropped to the 30’s and I could visibly see her skin going from pink to grey even in the dim light. The cherry on the miserable was spending the whole night staring at my own swollen ankles. My ankles hadn’t ever swelled up during pregnancy, and it worried me that they were swollen now.

After that miserable night, I couldn’t argue when the medical team did rounds and Dr. Rottkamp said that she wanted Layia to stay another night to make sure that the problems of the previous night were just due to swelling as a result of the scoping during the previous day. It was no longer an arguable issue of whether she needed antibiotics. So instead of arguing, I asked about the requirements for discharge and the nurse wrote down the checklist for me to work through in advance so that when we did get discharged there wouldn’t be a hold up.

Saturday was almost pleasant. I started actually taking care of myself and making sure I got enough water to drink and food to eat. I felt good enough to walk myself down to the cafe for food. Layia and I slept plenty. Mike’s mom and sister came to visit, bringing Conan, so I got to spend a few minutes in the reception area with him. My mom arrived in town and spent the afternoon with us. Mike came in the early evening after managing a booth at the gun show and we all got dinner before they went home. I learned how to recline the seat back, so I could adjust my position more. And Layia’s breathing was perfectly normal all day and all night. So Sunday morning she got discharged and we went home.

The experience of sitting for over two days in the NICU with a healthy baby (Friday night  was the only time when she was less than healthy, really) was very different. I’m extremely appreciative of the health of myself and my family, and the support that I have from family, midwives, and friends. And I’m very grateful that there’s nothing wrong with my daughter that a little time and growth won’t cure. (I just need to remember that when she gets her first baby cold.) I was sitting in my little bubble while hearing about women seizing during labor (and then I think later that baby was in the same NICU room as us), listening to a lumbar puncture being done on a baby, hearing the nurses celebrate a weight gain in one of the premies (and trying to picture a 2 lb baby in my mind), trying to imagine myself as one of the mothers or fathers who I heard visiting their babies every night or morning, trying to imagine setting an alarm to wake up and pump every couple hours all night long like one of the mothers of a premie, and hearing the various alarms going off throughout the night and day. Neonatal nurses are amazing people!

(If you missed it, here’s the link to Part 1: The Birth)

Posted November 3, 2015 by mayakey in pregnancy

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Layia’s Birth Story, Part 1: The Birth   1 comment

“They” kept telling me that subsequent children “always” come earlier than their siblings. However, I had I discounted such “information”, right along with all the “Are you actually going to make it to October?” questions. We did occasionally ask Baby #2 to wait until Grandma Key arrived, but we didn’t emphasize it like we had with Conan. (I was too concerned with asking Baby #2 to be a sleeper, or at least a napper.) Whoops. At least I went on maternity leave two weeks before the due date so that I could give Conan some focused parent time before Baby #2 arrived . I had neglected to realize that sibling rivalry can start in the womb. Since Baby #2 couldn’t have a cooler birthdate than her brother (12/12/12), she had to go for dramatic entry!

Thursday, 24 September 2015, shortly before 18:00
I was helping Conan to put away toys in the play room before dinner. Sitting on the futon, I leaned over to pick up a toy from the floor and felt a rush of fluid. My first thought was “I hope that was just pee. That better have been pee!” So I went to the bathroom, changed clothes, and went back into the play room to continue helping Conan pick up. When I walked into the play room I looked down to see drips down my legs. Back to the bathroom I went to change clothes again. When I walked into the dining room I told Mike “My water may or may not have just broken. It’s possible that I just peed myself twice.” Mike looked at me with a completely pole-axed facial expression. We were not exactly ready to have Baby #2 yet (yes I was full term, but still a week and a half from the estimated due date). My biggest worry, though, was that I was GBS (group B strep, a common bacteria that can cause problems in newborns) positive so if my water had just broken then baby had to be out within 18 hrs.

18:15 – Just in case, according to plan, I tucked into dinner. (I couldn’t keep food down during labor last time, so the extent of my birth plan this time was: #1 Conan to go to Grandma Sheldon’s house and #2 eat early and frequently.) During dinner I had a contraction. Since I was GBS positive, I decided it was time to call one of the midwives for advice. Since I had seen Rachel F-T just the day before, I called her and left a message. Then I called my mom and left a message for her, since her flight to Sacramento wasn’t for several days yet. I continued having mild contractions approximately 15 minutes apart.

19:00 – Rachel called back and we discussed what I needed to be doing since I was GBS positive. She needed to check with the other midwives about schedule to find out exactly what time Rachel K was going off-call that night and when Lesley was coming on-call for the next day. At that point, Mike and I decided that Conan needed to go to grandma’s house. Baby #2 was not being very considerate of grandma, since Thursday is bingo night. Between 19:00 and 19:45 I had no contractions while I finished packing Conan’s overnight bag, brushed his teeth, and put on his pajamas. As he walked down the front walkway holding grandma’s hand and his stuffed friend Bunny, and looking like a confident little boy, he turned to wave and say “bye” and I had a contraction.

19:45 – Now that Conan was gone it was time for post-dinner snack #1, and then Mike and I frantically tried to finish getting things ready (all of the final things that I had planned to do over the subsequent week). The play room had to be cleaned up to where it would function as a guest room again, the bassinet had to be set up and co-sleeper harness attached to the bed, chest moved into our bedroom to serve as a second diaper changing station, and birth kit/supplies set out. My mom also called back and I told her what was going on. Throughout this time I continued to have mild contractions 15-20 minutes apart. Rachel F-T checked back with me at 20:15 and gave me the specific call schedule.

Shortly before 22:00 – Once the last minute prep stuff was done it was time for post-dinner snack #2. By now I was finally slowing down and felt like it wouldn’t be pointless to go to bed. So I got ready for bed and laid down to journal before sleep. The contractions were still 15-20 minutes apart, but seemed stronger than what I recalled from this point in labor for Conan.

Around 22:15 – After lying down to journal it seemed like contractions started coming every 10 minutes, and were strong enough that I was not sure I’d be able to get much sleep at all.

22:45 – I finished journalling at 22:45 and turned out the light, hoping that when I rested the contractions would slow down. I checked my phone at the next contraction: 10:51. And the next one: 10:56. I thought to myself that if the next one came in 5 minutes, for three in a row, I would call Rachel K. Next contraction was 11:01, had me rocking back and forth in a half kneeling/half prone position, and left me too spent afterwards to pick up the phone right away. (Mike was in the office trying to relax for a bit during this time, before coming to bed himself in case it was an early morning birth.)

23:05 – At 11:06, I groaned and moaned through the next contraction, which brought Mike running. I managed to gasp out that he needed to call Rachel K, which he did. Then he unlocked the door, and jumped into the shower for a quick wash. As soon as Mike was out of the shower I got in to rinse off (from using the toilet). The warm water felt so good on my belly and I think I went a bit longer without a contraction, or so it seemed. Then the warm water didn’t feel so good any more as a contraction came on. I shut off the shower, grabbed my towel, walked out of the bathroom, dropped the towel on the floor next to the sofa, and dropped to my knees on top. After the contraction Mike helped spread out the towel so I could sit on it and rest. He asked if I wanted the tub and I said I did, since my legs felt like jelly, the warm water of the shower had felt so good, and I was hoping it would slow down contractions. So for the next few minutes Mike was running back and forth between the dining room where the tub was and the bedroom where I was. At some point my cloudy mind remembered that we needed to plug in the heating pad for the blankets, which was thankfully sitting next to the outlet that I was sitting next to. And at some point, I also realized (sometimes I’m a little slow) that this was fast labor: in just a few minutes I had gone from “resting” in bed to kneeling against the sofa in the bedroom, unable to move anywhere else. A voice in the back of my head reminded me that if this was fast labor, then we needed to spread out chux pads underneath me to protect the carpet. I didn’t have the mental power to actually voice that to Mike as he tried to be in two places at once.

Shortly before 23:30, Mike texted Rachel “Hurry, bitte (German for please)”.

23:30 – I don’t remember if I heard the front door open, but I heard voices, then Mike came back to let me know that Rachel K was here and I heard footsteps in the hall. How I heard these things I’m not sure, because I’m pretty sure I was screaming at the time (this was the first screaming contraction). I felt Rachel push the lined blanket under me on her way past to wash her hands. While she was washing her hands I felt things moving: fluids and a large something. I gasped something like “there’s something between my legs”. For whatever reason I didn’t want to say “is that a head between my legs?”. I just couldn’t believe that it had happened so fast, and without that “ring of pain!” But indeed, seconds later I heard Rachel say that the head was out and the shoulders would come out with the next contraction. She had arrived just in time to catch the baby! (and save Mike from having to do it, something he really didn’t want to have to do.) Layia Celeste Sheldon was born at 23:32.

It took several seconds for me to be able to look down and see her, and several more before Mike and Rachel could lower me down to sit and I could pick her up. Then they lined a path to the bed with plastic sheets and layered chux pads on half of the bed. After a couple of minutes, with their help I was able to stand up and walk to the bed. Layia and I got a little skin time, but her breathing was really noisy and her mucous was not draining at a normal rate. So Rachel did suctioning and postural drainage a couple times.

23:50 – I cut the cord and Rachel took Layia to the steamy bathroom to continue suctioning and doing postural drainage, in hopes of clearing her nasal passages. She was pretty sure the lungs were clear, and Layia had a strong cry, but the breathing was so noisy it was hard to tell. While Mike and Rachel were in the shower I could hear Rachel K on the phone with Rachel F-T, and could tell from her voice that she was concerned. Everything had happened so fast, though, and I was trying to catch up mentally, so it didn’t make me worry. I trust my midwives, and at that moment I needed to focus on myself.

Around midnight – The student midwife, Martine, arrived shortly after Rachel and Layia went into the bathroom. Martine stayed with me and helped me to get into a better position to push out the placenta. I was still feeling weak so I really had to lean on her.

00:20 – Within minutes after the placenta was born, Rachel suggested that we transport to the hospital. She was concerned that while the extremely slow drainage of Layia’s nasal passages might not be a problem, she couldn’t say for certain and didn’t want to risk us having a blue baby later in the night. For the next few minutes Rachel and Martine did a rough clean-up, Mike helped me get dressed, and I (carrying Layia) went to the kitchen to fuel up with crackers, dried cranberries, and the rest of my electrolyte water. I was HUNGRY!

00:45 – Just over an hour after Layia was born we were in the car on the way to the ER. Oddly enough, my only regret about transporting is that Layia and I didn’t get “birthday cake”, so Layia doesn’t have a birth day candle like Conan does. (A candle that was lit on the actual birth day, and that can be part of subsequent birthday celebrations.)

Continued in Part 2: The NICU

Posted November 2, 2015 by mayakey in pregnancy

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Highlights from Laudato Si   Leave a comment

I took advantage of my recent road trip vacation to read the new encyclical written by Pope Francis, Laudato Si’. I have to say that it is a very well written document. To say it is a climate change encyclical is selling it short as it addresses environmental and social declines in general, discussing social and environmental justice issues and philosophical attitudes for environmental preservation. Having read a number of textbooks/books on environmental topics, I think this is a more sound document than most.

While I personally did not find anything controversial in the document, and only had slight disagreements with a bare handful of statements, I can understand why some people will be challenged by it. That’s kind of the point. For me it was a very supporting, encouraging, refreshing, and inspirational read.

The encyclical is a long document: 246 paragraphs, which in the English version is 72 pages, plus 11 pages of references. So I’ve just cherry-picked some of the passages that struck me the most. (It’s still long, but it is so hard to pick just a few passages!)

“…Technology, which, linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others.” (¶ 20)

“Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” (¶ 49)

“Moreover, when our hearts are authentically open to universal communion, this sense of fraternity excludes nothing and no one. …” (¶ 92)

“…The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property. Saint John Paul II forcefully reaffirmed this teaching, stating that ‘God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone’. These are strong words. He noted that ‘a type of development which did not respect and promote human rights – personal and social, economic and political, including the rights of nations and of peoples – would not be really worthy of man’. He clearly explained that ‘the Church does indeed defend the legitimate right to private property, but she also teaches no less clearly that there is always a social mortgage on all private property, in order that goods may serve the general purpose that God gave them’. Consequently, he maintained, ‘it is not in accord with God’s plan that this gift be used in such a way that its benefits favour only a few’. This calls into serious question the unjust habits of a part of humanity.” (¶ 93)

“…[Jesus’] appearance was not that of an ascetic set apart from the world, nor of an enemy to the pleasant things of life. Of himself he said: ‘The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard!’’ (Mt 11:19). He was far removed from philosophies which despised the body, matter and the things of the world. Such unhealthy dualisms, nonetheless, left a mark on certain Christian thinkers in the course of history and disfigured the Gospel. Jesus worked with his hands, in daily contact with the matter created by God, to which he gave form by his craftsmanship. It is striking that most of his life was dedicated to this task in a simple life which awakened no admiration at all: ‘Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?’ (Mk 6:3). In this way he sanctified human labour and endowed it with a special significance for our development. …” (¶ 98)

“There is a tendency to believe that every increase in power means ‘an increase of ‘progress’ itself’, an advance in ‘security, usefulness, welfare and vigour; …an assimilation of new values into the stream of culture’, as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such. The fact is that ‘contemporary man has not been trained to use power well’, because our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience. …” (¶ 105)

“… Finance overwhelms the real economy. …” (¶ 109)

“…According to the biblical account of creation, God placed man and woman in the garden he had created (cf. Gen 2:15) not only to preserve it (‘keep’) but also to make it fruitful (’till’). Labourers and craftsmen thus ‘maintain the fabric of the world’ (Sir 38:34). Developing the created world in a prudent way is the best way of caring for it, as this means that we ourselves become the instrument used by God to bring out the potential which he himself inscribed in things: ‘The Lord created medicines out of the earth, and a sensible man will not despise them’ (Sir 38:4).” (¶ 124)

“Civil authorities have the right and duty to adopt clear and firm measures in support of small producers and differentiated production. To ensure economic freedom from which all can effectively benefit, restraints occasionally have to be imposed on those possessing greater resources and financial power. To claim economic freedom while real conditions bar many people from actual access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practise a doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute. Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.” (¶ 129)

“Time and space are not independent of one another, and not even atoms or subatomic particles can be considered in isolation. Just as the different aspects of the planet – physical, chemical and biological – are interrelated, so too living species are part of a network which we will never fully explore and understand. A good part of our genetic code is shared by many living beings. It follows that the fragmentation of knowledge and the isolation of bits of information can actually become a form of ignorance, unless they are integrated into a broader vision of reality.” (¶ 138)

“In this sense, it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed. For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values. …” (¶ 146)

“…It is enough to recognize that our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings. The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. …” (¶ 155)

“…Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us. …” (¶ 160)

“… Global regulatory norms are needed to impose obligations and prevent unacceptable actions, for example, when powerful companies or countries dump contaminated waste or offshore polluting industries in other countries.” (¶ 173)

“…The twenty-first century, while maintaining systems of governance inherited from the past, is witnessing a weakening of the power of nation states, chiefly because the economic and financial sectors, being transnational, tends to prevail over the political. Given this situation, it is essential to devise stronger and more efficiently organized international institutions, with functionaries who are appointed fairly by agreement among national governments, and empowered to impose sanctions. …” (¶ 175)

“…The limits which a healthy, mature and sovereign society must impose are those related to foresight and security, regulatory norms, timely enforcement, the elimination of corruption, effective responses to undesired side-effects of production processes, and appropriate intervention where potential or uncertain risks are involved. There is a growing jurisprudence dealing with the reduction of pollution by business activities. But political and institutional frameworks do not exist simply to avoid bad practice, but also to promote best practice, to stimulate creativity in seeking new solutions and to encourage individual or group initiatives.” (¶ 177)

“A politics concerned with immediate results, supported by consumerist sectors of the population, is driven to produce short-term growth. In response to electoral interests, governments are reluctant to upset the public with measures which could affect the level of consumption or create risks for foreign investment. The myopia of power politics delays the inclusion of a far-sighted environmental agenda within the overall agenda of governments. Thus we forget that ‘time is greater than space’, that we are always more effective when we generate processes rather than holding on to positions of power. True statecraft is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good. Political powers do not find it easy to assume this duty in the work of nation-building.” (¶ 178)

“There are no uniform recipes, because each country or region has its own problems and limitations. It is also true that political realism may call for transitional measures and technologies, so long as these are accompanied by the gradual framing and acceptance of binding commitments. …” (¶ 180)

“The Rio Declaration of 1992 states that ‘where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a pretext for postponing cost-effective measures’ which prevent environmental degradation. This precautionary principle makes it possible to protect those who are most vulnerable and whose ability to defend their interests and to assemble incontrovertible evidence is limited. If objective information suggests that serious and irreversible damage may result, a project should be halted or modified, even in the absence of indisputable proof. Here the burden of proof is effectively reversed, since in such cases objective and conclusive demonstrations will have to be brought forward to demonstrate that the proposed activity will not cause serious harm to the environment or to those who inhabit it.” (¶ 186)

“This does not mean being opposed to any technological innovations which can bring about an improvement in the quality of life. But it does mean that profit cannot be the sole criterion to be taken into account, and that, when significant new information comes to light, a reassessment should be made, with the involvement of all interested parties. …” (¶ 187)

“Whenever these questions are raised, some react by accusing others of irrationally attempting to stand in the way of progress and human development. But we need to grow in the conviction that a decrease in the pace of production and consumption can at times give rise to another form of progress and development. Efforts to promote a sustainable use of natural resources are not a waste of money, but rather an investment capable of providing other economic benefits in the medium term. If we look at the larger picture, we can see that more diversified and innovative forms of production which impact less on the environment can prove very profitable. It is a matter of openness to different possibilities which do not involve stifling human creativity and its ideals of progress, but rather directing that energy along new channels.” (¶  191)

“…It is not enough to balance, in the medium term, the protection of nature with financial gain, or the preservation of the environment with progress. Halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster. Put simply, it is a matter of redefining our notion of progress. A technological and economic development which does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life cannot be considered progress. …” (¶ 194)

“Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending. Compulsive consumerism is one example of how the techno-economic paradigm affects individuals. … This paradigm leads people to believe that they are free as long as they have the supposed freedom to consume.” (¶ 203)

“…When social pressure affects their earnings, businesses clearly have to find ways to produce differently. This shows us the great need for a sense of social responsibility on the part of consumers. ‘Purchasing is always a moral – and not simply economic – act’. …” (¶ 206)

“…The existence of laws and regulations is insufficient in the long run to curb bad conduct, even when effective means of enforcement are present. If the laws are to bring about significant, long-lasting effects, the majority of the members of society must be adequately motivated to accept them, and personally transformed to respond. Only by cultivating sound virtues will people be able to make a selfless ecological commitment. …” (¶ 211)

“…Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.” (¶ 217)

“…An adequate understanding of spirituality consists in filling out what we mean by peace, which is much more than the absence of war. Inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good because, lived out authentically, it is reflected in a balanced lifestyle together with a capacity for wonder which takes us to a deeper understanding of life. …” (¶ 225)


So What Exactly Is Toilet Bowl Cleaner Supposed to DO?   Leave a comment

It’s not a rhetorical question, but something that I really want to figure out. Why? So that I can replace store-bought cleaner with something homemade and get the same results. My success at homemade cleaners over the last 15 years has been entirely hit-or-miss. Well, the only real success has been glass cleaner, actually.

As a kid I would have answered that the job of the toilet bowl cleaner is disinfection, duh. But that seems silly now. Why would I want to disinfect the toilet bowl? No one drinks or even touches the water, and I’m not about to advocate scrubbing the bowl after every use.  If/when Conan were to/does reach into the toilet water he’d get a good washing after regardless of whether it was dirty or freshly cleaned. So, disinfection isn’t the answer.

How about gunk removal? But isn’t that the job of the scrub brush? As an experiment, for a few weeks I’ve tried using nothing but the scrub brush. One thing that I’ve learned is that there is a reason toilet bowl cleaners are so heavily scented. (I HATE scented cleaners and soaps.) It’s not that there’s an offensive smell, it’s really just kind of watery smelling, but in our perfumed world I can see others disliking it. But the other thing is that the brush alone just doesn’t cut it. The brush does a fine job of gunk removal, but apparently toilet bowl cleaner does actually do something.

So now I’m on to film removal on the theory that toilet bowl cleaner is really just fancy scented-up soap. I think I’ll try a few different things for a while and see what I like. This week I started with a sprinkling of washing soda. I’ll try that for a bit, then maybe I’ll try baking soda, vinegar, or a simple squirt of plan liquid soap. So far, based on one trial, washing soda seems better than nothing, which lends credence to the idea that toilet bowl cleaner really doesn’t have to be some magical brew of ingredients concocted for an impossible task.

I have looked around the internet a bit at alternative cleaners. Can’t say I’m impressed. Partly because I’m an engineer so I want to know how/why they work. That’s why I washed dishes with nothing but baking soda before I washed my hair with baking soda. I needed to actually see that baking soda cuts grease. But also the most popular alternative seems to be baking soda and vinegar and then let it sit. Um, explain to me how a little fizz around the water line will do anything to help clean the rest of the bowl. Individually these are great cleaning agents, but together won’t the chemical reaction eliminate the individual cleaning powers? It also seems that there lots of people who are obsessed with needing to disinfect the toilet bowl, but as previously discussed, that seems silly to me.

My follow-up question in case it turns out that commercial toilet bowl cleaner can actually be replaced with a single simple household ingredient (ok, two for those who need to add a drop or two of essential oils for scenting purposes): If you can clean your toilet bowl just as well with a scrub brush and a squirt of the hand soap on the sink next to the toilet, then how did we let marketing people convince us that a cocktail of fancy-named compounds is necessary?

Posted April 12, 2015 by mayakey in cleaning, frugal living, home, unshopping

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A Weird New Goal of Zero Bottles in the Shower   Leave a comment

Not very long ago I was looking at my bottles on the shelf in the shower and realized that I don’t actually think I need any of them. For a long time I’ve been on a slow progression of simplifying my personal care routines (not that I was ever the stereotypical 20-bottles in the shower/over an hour to get ready in the morning woman), and it seems like I’ve reached a point where most of the rest of my products just seem pointless.

When I say slow progression, I do mean that. This story starts over a decade and a half ago, when I stopped shampooing my hair every day and switched to every other day. Over the years that became more like a couple times a week, then once a week. Then a few years ago I decided to try going shampoo free, using the baking soda and apple cider vinegar method. I had to switch back to washing my hair every time I showered (which was so hard as I had gotten so lazy about washing my hair!). Then gradually I was able to BS/ACV my hair only a couple times a week, and then weekly, while just rinsing with water in between. I’ve now reached a point where I don’t actually remember when I last used the BS/ACV, so I’m guessing I use it a couple times a year or so. When I last cleaned the shelf in the shower I realized that there’s really no reason for me to be keeping bottles of the baking soda and apple cider vinegar solutions in the shower, as I can easily mix up “single serve” batches when I feel like using them. Plus then I can customize the essential oil blends mixed in if I feel I need anything. I’ve also got a bottle of conditioner from back in my shampooing days, which I only use after getting a hair cut to make it up to my hair and restore a coating on the follicles. It’s going to take me another decade to finish that bottle, but there’s no reason it can’t join the extra bottle of shampoo for guests in the hall bathroom. So hair care: 0 bottles, 1 natural bristle brush.

The next simplification was a couple years ago when Conan was born. In the days/weeks after his birth I could find the time to splash my face with cold water every day, but not to use the cream cleanser that I’ve been using for years. After a while I realized that not using a cleanser and/or warm water on my face was not causing any breakouts. So why keep buying/using a cleanser? Then I started wondering if I really needed a moisturizer, and found that even my dry skin doesn’t generally demand a moisturizer if I’m only rinsing with cold water. At that point I started wondering about using oil, not a commercial moisturizer. Shockingly, when I switched to using grape seed oil on my face after showers (i.e. rinsing my face with warm water), I didn’t start breaking out. So facial care: 1 small jar of grape seed oil (the bottle lives in the kitchen for cooking), 1 facial brush.

The only thing left in the shower is the shave gel. I wax my legs, so it’s just for my underarms. Now I want to find out if we really do need special shave products as opposed to soap to shave. I suspect that it may be true for those who shave daily, and for legs, but for underarms that get shaved 2-3 times a week I suspect soap will be fine long term. If true that would mean shaving: 0 bottles, 1 razor.

Don’t worry, I’m keeping the soap.

Posted February 21, 2015 by mayakey in frugal living, goals, personal care, simple living, unshopping

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When a Dream/Plan Dies and It’s OK   Leave a comment

In 2014 I learned one big lesson (among plenty of small and medium-sized ones): adoption is expensive. In fact, out of our budget. So for all those who have heard me say we planned on “having one and adopting one”, there’s been a change in plans and I’ll have to suck it up for a second pregnancy (hopefully).

Back story: Way back when I was around age 10, I was reading my mom’s Ligourian magazines, which included lots of stories about couples trying to start families and the ensuing emotional struggles. I decided then that if I had trouble conceiving I would not feel like less of a woman, and that I wouldn’t get so obsessed with conceiving as to completely drain my finances and ruin my marriage. I also decided that I wanted to experience pregnancy and labor, God willing, but I also wanted to adopt a child. That idea has stuck around for 25 years, amazingly enough, and Mike and I had planned to go through one pregnancy and one adopted kid.

Fast forward to this past year, Conan’s second year of life. Our plan was to start looking into adoption and start the process sometime during the year. But we immediately hit a major roadblock: adoption is EXPENSIVE! A domestic adoption costs well over $10,000, what with all the fees, classes, and whatnot. I had not know that the adopting parents have to pay for the biological mother’s medical expenses, without insurance, and her maternity leave. (And if she changes her mind and takes the baby back, the adopting parents are back to square one with much lighter bank accounts.) In all my years of having this “plan” to adopt I had never even looked at the most basic information about adoption and didn’t know this in advance. So we could have adopted our first kid, and used almost all of our savings, but now we have no way to swing it.

There is fos-adopt (aka foster adoption), which is actually affordable. That is what is really pushed nowadays apparently. But, and I feel horrible saying this, I just don’t think that we could do it. And it’s not something I’m willing to gamble on.

So after 25 years of having an idea/plan/dream, it’s gone. As someone who is a planner, it has sometimes been difficult to adjust when situations change. But not in this case. I was feeling a little weird about following through on an idea first developed as a kid. The adoption process with it’s classes and waiting and counseling requirements is quite daunting. Most of all, though, is just the gut sense that it wasn’t meant to be, and satisfaction that I didn’t give up the dream on a whim but based on a confrontation with reality.

Posted January 25, 2015 by mayakey in parenting, pre-pregnancy

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A Plug for EWG, and the Stepwise Approach to Less Toxic Products   Leave a comment

This year’s summer eco-audit was exposure. For the audit I’ve focussed on personal care products, and this year also looked at cleaning products. Previously it has been a bit of a challenge to do this audit as it was hard to find information about safety of the various ingredients in the products I was using. And what resources I did find didn’t really help with the questions “how much should I be concerned about this?”, or “what’s in this product that doesn’t list ingredients?”. But thanks to Environmental Working Group, I was actually able to do a comprehensive audit of every personal care product that Conan and I use this year because if the product itself isn’t in their Skin Deep database, I could search by ingredients. (I only had one bottle from a gift set that didn’t have ingredients listed, and I ended up tossing it anyway because the rest of the set turned out to be unacceptable.) Since Skin Deep includes a 0 to 10 ranking for each product and ingredient, as well as an indication of how much data there was on which to base the ranking, it is a great tool for getting a sense of where to focus my concerns. The Guide to Healthy Cleaning isn’t as comprehensive, but I still found the rankings to be really helpful since I otherwise have no idea if some complicated chemical name is something inert or harmful.

Overall I found that my products are generally pretty well ranked (it helped that I just tossed all my conventional makeup when Conan became tall enough to reach into that drawer, and tossed a couple other things that I had laying around when I found out the ingredients). That made me realize that my “stepwise” approach to reducing exposure to potentially harmful compounds in personal care products works better than I had expected. When I first did this I was completely overwhelmed by the list of compounds that “they” say are “bad” and not to use. Most of those compounds are also things that I would never be able to keep in my mind between shopping trips and I’m not willing to keep a bunch of wallet cards. So I focussed on a couple things at a time. Turns out you reach a point where the products that don’t contain the easy-to-remember chemicals-to-avoid, also don’t contain many of the hard-to-remember chemicals! (It might also help that I’ve all but stopped shopping for personal care products at conventional grocery stores and drug stores.)

My personal path started back in college when I decided that I wanted to avoid mineral oil and petrolatum (aka petroleum jelly) as they are petroleum products not plant products. As time went on I started to avoid D&C and FD&C colors (not necessarily an exposure thing but based on the desire to avoid compounds derived from coal tar), BHT, parabens, and “fragrance” (which is an issue because it can include anything and often includes some very toxic compounds). Lots of “natural” brands do still use the term “fragrance” on their ingredient lists, but for some of those brands I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt since they do explicitly say that they don’t use any toxic compounds (like Aveda, Dr. Bronner’s, and Toms of Maine).

My next step? Aside from “fragrance” in a handful of my products, most of which are companies that I’ll take the gamble with, the only red-flag compound in my list was retinol (vitamin A). Since I need to go to the dermatologist soon anyway, I’ll talk with her about Vitamin A. Apparently, it’s a cancer hazard when exposed to sunlight, and can bioaccumulate to the point of being a developmental toxin. I sort of knew this already from a dietary standpoint: too much vitamin A is bad since it can build up in the body, but eat all the beta carotene that you want (it won’t build up but is easily converted into vitamin A). I’m guessing that the little amount in my lipstick and under-eye concealer isn’t really a concern but I’ll follow up anyway.

I will also add that this is why we need a Safe Chemicals Act! No one should have to worry about whether the personal care products they are using contain carcinogenic or toxic compounds, and we shouldn’t be the guinea pigs used to find out.


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