Want to have more of yourself to give? Set boundaries

Want to have more of yourself to give? Set boundaries

I wanted to do all the things this weekend. Maybe you can relate to the feeling.

I signed up for an afternoon yoga class, and I also wanted to take my son to a free morning outdoor boot camp. But then I also wanted to do a family bike ride to the library. Plus there was Buster Days. And I wanted to plant flowers and our garden! Oh, and then there was the Children’s Festival.

It’s easy to get pulled in a bunch of different directions, especially when friends are going and invite you to join them. I could have tried to squeeze in all the things, but let’s be real: it’s not realistic! Nor would it have been fun. I’d end up feeling overwhelmed, probably resentful, and cranky. So I had to set some boundaries for myself and pick what was really important to me. In this case, bike ride over boot camp, family time over Children’s Festival, and flowers and garden have to wait: little by little, they will get planted.

It would have been easy to try and do it all, but you know what the result would have been? I would have been exhausted, and I wouldn’t have been very fun to be around if you were my husband or child. I also wouldn’t have had much patience when it came to bedtime, which is often when you need patience the most!

A few weeks ago I had to make the tough decision to cancel one of my support groups. When I went to schedule posts about the breastfeeding support group, I looked in my calendar, and saw multiple things that day. I *could* have kept the support group, but I opted to cancel it. (I also cancelled an appointment for my son.) If I had kept the support group, I wouldn’t have been my best self, and then the experience for moms wouldn’t have been very good. I can’t support moms if I’m not my best self. See where I’m going with this?

As a mom, you are pulled in all directions constantly, and some of it is beyond your control, and you do have to learn to roll with it. But there are always opportunities to set boundaries and put yourself first, and this isn’t selfish. As I always tell moms, the best way you can take care of your baby is by taking care of yourself. There’s a reason you’re supposed to put the oxygen mask on yourself first: if you pass out, you can’t help your child or anyone else.

Take time for yourself

Tea with an afternoon yoga session: a little time for myself so I can fill my cup, literally and figuratively.

Maybe you’re a better mom if you carve out time to exercise a few times a week. Then you need to speak to your spouse to make sure you can do this while s/he is with the children, or find a class with childcare. Maybe you hate or don’t have time for cleaning, so you find room in your budget for a housekeeper. This might mean fewer coffee dates, so you have to be confident to tell your friends to come over for coffee instead of meeting somewhere. Maybe you are pumping for your baby, but it’s taking up huge amounts of time and negatively affecting your mental health: then it’s time to give yourself permission to stop if this is what would bring you peace and joy. No guilt. No apologies.

If you set boundaries, you will be a happier person, and a happier person is able to give more of themselves to other people. So it’s actually the opposite of being selfish. And, if you respect yourself and set boundaries, other people will respect you, your boundaries, and your time more as well. We all win.

So I encourage you to take a look around you and ask yourself what doesn’t bring you joy, and what can you do to change it? Speak up! Because no one else will do it for you. And then don’t be afraid to take steps to make it happen. I’d love to hear what boundaries you plan to set – leave a comment below here or on social media!

Why everything’s better through the eyes of a child

Why everything’s better through the eyes of a child

Many months back, a mom who attends the moms group I facilitate, made a comment about the upcoming holidays that has stuck with me all this time probably because I loved it. I’m pretty sure I asked something like, “What are you most looking forward to or anxious about with your baby for the holidays?” She said, “Everything is just better with him.”

We get so caught up in the hard moments, and we all know there are HARD moments, that sometimes we forget to be grateful for all that we have (and how quickly they go by!). Lately, I’ve been reminded of how awesome my life is because of my little man in it. Here are just a few examples.

Encouragement. When was the last time you said something positive or encouraging to yourself? Often our self-talk is negative. Kids lift us up. I take my now four-and-a-half-year-old son to business meetings with me now. After one meeting, I told him, “You’re my badass business partner, thank you for coming.” He replied, “You’re a badass also.” It made me FEEL like a badass! And reminded me that I should say those words to myself more often. And when we went on a nearly 24-kilometre bike ride in the mountains, I kept telling him how great he was doing, and he’d shoot back, “You’re doing great, too!” Try talking to yourself the way your little talks to you, and you’ll feel infinitely better, stronger, like you can take on the world.

Unadultered joy in anything and everything. We recently flew to Kelowna, BC for a vacation (hence the 24-km bike ride in the mountains!). Our son found joy in EVERYTHING: takeoff and landing while flying, the views out the windows, the airplane window coverings. He literally shouted, “Whoa!” as we were taking off, and “Hold on!” as we were landing. The other passengers got a kick out of his shouts of glee. But it was a good reminder: when was the last time you flew and it was all ho-hum? Did you really appreciate how quickly that plane was getting you somewhere, how awesome that is, how beautiful the view was of the world beneath you? If you stop and think about it, it really is mind-blowing. Also, when you ask our son what he liked most about vacation? The pool. Kids are so easy to please! And it’s because they find the fun and joy everywhere.

Creativity. Our son likes the game Subway Surf. If you haven’t played it, it’s basically a kid running through subways in various locations around the world, collecting coins, with someone (a police officer?) chasing him, until he goes “smack like a pancake” against a subway. Well, anywhere we went on vacation became my son’s Subway Surf. Running down the boardwalk, we had to jump on every metal grate because it was a “power up.” Every concrete beam for parking, we had to climb on it. Swimming around the pool was dubbed “Subway Surf Delta Hotels.”

Dancing like no one is watching. So this literally happened yesterday, as we went to SoulPower for mom and child yoga. At the very end, in the dim lighting after we had done shavasana, we had a dance party. Those kids GOT DOWN! And they didn’t care who was watching. We need to be more like that in our lives! And not just with the literal dancing, just like for kids, it doesn’t just apply to dancing. They are true to themselves no matter the situation and they don’t feel bad about it at all. We need to be who we are, as moms, women, wives, friends, business people, whatever you want to be, and not apologize for who we are. I love the quote “Someone else’s opinion of you is none of your business.” Kids embrace that; we should, too!

Mom and child yoga

One of the ways I celebrated Mother’s Day was going to mom and child yoga with my son.

We need to encourage and love ourselves unconditionally, we need to find the joy and gratitude in the little things, we need to be creative and be the truest version of ourselves, and we need to go for it, whatever “it” may be, with all our hearts, without apology.

We could learn a lot from our little people. Before we danced our butts off, we were listening to a sweet song while lying down (best part of yoga, my son told me, was the sleeping part!), and I began to cry. Yoga doesn’t normally make me cry, but I’m definitely an emotional person. I took a page from children and decided I didn’t care if anyone saw me being vulnerable because it’s through that vulnerability we find connection, plus I was being true to myself. In that moment, I couldn’t help but think how much I have to be grateful for, how fun my life is, all because of this little guy. He really does make everything better. Have a wonderful Mother’s Day.

All the feels: I’m a finalist!

All the feels: I’m a finalist!

I have exciting news to share!

Perhaps you already saw on social media, but last month I was named a finalist for the Prairie Sky Chamber of Commerce Warman, Martensville & Region Business Excellence Awards (WMBEXA) for New Business of the Year!! (Say that 3x fast, record yourself, and send it to me!)

To say I am excited is an understatement. I’ve already shared some of my reaction on social media, and now wanted to dive a little deeper into what this means to me.

I found out I was nominated in three WMBEXA categories in December. I remember the day so clearly: we were having our last moms group before Christmas at my house. My husband texted me, asking if I was home and if the moms were still there, replying, “Perfect” when I said yes.

He shows up, hands me the cards congratulating me on being nominated in the Customer Service, Community Involvement, and New Business of the Year categories. Cue the tears. Why? Well, one, because I’m a pretty emotional person. Two, because we were in the midst of some really hard bedtimes and we felt so drained emotionally, mentally, and physically. That exhaustion made this recognition That. Much. Sweeter. And three, I’ve been busting my butt these past few months (heck, past couple years, but really extra recently) to grow my business.

For those not familiar with these business awards, you then have to apply to be chosen as a finalist. You fill out an application that takes hours, and I mean HOURS. Those applications (you can apply in two categories, so I chose Community Involvement and New Business) consumed my life in January. I don’t even want to say how many hours it took me to do them. We are at least in double digits…

Not only did they consume my life, but I had incredible amounts of help from two people in particular: my husband (who cried with me when I was nominated – he knows how hard I work and that’s how proud he was) and a dear friend, Erin Francais. I need to write an entire blog post about her at some point, and I will (this is me getting you to hold me accountable). She read and reread and edited and took photos and helped me choose photos and responded to messages without exasperation. I messaged her every day for a month. Probably multiple times. And she still talks to me!

I also had to ask people (all women actually – talk about #womensupportingwomen) for letters of support, and I was overwhelmed not only by women’s eagerness to help me, but by their kind words. More tears, lots of them. I’m basically constantly crying.

To be completely honest, when I tackled the New Business application, part of me wanted to quit. It felt so hard. But it’s supposed to!! You are reflecting on how far you have come, what is your plan, what are your goals, what skills do you have to make that happen, what have you achieved so far. It took a great amount of introspection, but (wo)man, was it worth it. I got to see just how far I have come, and then I had a clear plan of where I was going and how I was going to get there.

So how far have I come? I won’t share everything I wrote in those 15 PAGES, but in a nutshell, when I first completed my training as a postpartum doula, I didn’t have a clear direction, but I ploughed forward anyway.  I started by creating an online, social media presence and a blog. I did weekly live Facebook chats to create a virtual, online moms group (because I really wanted the in-person moms group!). I started speaking to expectant moms or new moms, I attended trade shows. I landed my first client! And then another and another. And then in the midst of planning to move our family to Brandon and my husband already gone, I said, F*** it, and started the moms group I dreamed of with the support of Haylie Lashta out of Warman Physio. This replaced the live chats. Thank goodness I went forward with this group: we didn’t end up moving, but more importantly, it was a hit. By creating community for other women in the area, I created the community I was lacking. Their letters of support were testimony to what that group means to them.

I connected with local businesses in the area so there was coffee at the moms groups and giveaway prizes. Everybody wins when we businesses promote each other and work together!

Along the way, I added programming workshops to help women deal with the emotional load of becoming a mom and also to help find peace after a traumatic birth. Then I took the birth stories I was writing and upped the ante and now create stunning birth story books that you really won’t find anywhere else, and I’m so busy with these, and know I’m going to only get busier. I’m a damn good writer from all these years as a journalist (16+! Where did the time go?!), and I am creative and have a knack for design (that is always improving, thanks to the very particular eye of my friend, Erin!).

Erin, oh Erin. She sat me down in the fall, told me my prices were bullshit, designed a gorgeous logo for me, helped me revamp my price guide and make it gorgeous, and then not-so-subtly convinced me to redesign my website that looked more blog and turn it into the beautiful masterpiece it is now (I mean, bounce around my website, it’s gorgeous!). She helped me rewrite my packages and services. She has taken photos upon photos: all the beautiful, professional photos on my website are from her. She is so talented and a true friend. She has helped me more than she realizes. Or maybe she does realize. She’s smart like that. Either way, she helped me take my business to the next level.

Did I mention I did all this while being a full-time mom, wife, and friend, and a part-time web and social media editor?!

I have to add: I have made a very conscious decision a few months ago to only follow people and groups on social media that inspire me, to only be friends with people who lift me up, and to only collaborate with other strong, fierce, but kind women. I am the sum of all the strong, amazing, badass women in my life, and that is on purpose. I don’t waste my time with negativity or drama. You shouldn’t either.

So that brings us to the WMBEXA gala on May 3rd. It took me about an hour to fill a table of 8 with women who have been my greatest supporters, and I am so grateful and SO EXCITED to share this evening with them. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am. Thank you, fellow badass, beautiful women.

And guess what?! There is more to come. Stay tuned.

The birth story of Stella as told to me by her mama, Kristin

To see the birth story book, watch the slideshow. Read the full story below.

I was due on October 5th. That day, I had asked Hazel what she wanted to do. I wanted to have a day of mommy-daughter time, and just let her pick. So we spent the day at the park, and we went to Tim Hortons and got some Timbits and had lunch together.

“We just enjoyed each other because I knew that time was short at that point, and soon it wouldn’t be just me and her.”

I came home, and I was very tired and uncomfortable. We had supper, and I just rested. All night long I had to pee: I kept getting up to pee, and I just couldn’t get comfortable. I was in pain, not with contractions, but just with a full bladder. I’d pee and the pain and discomfort would go away. I was getting up probably every hour and a half to go to the bathroom.

Chris was normally off on Fridays, but that day he had been asked to work overtime. He was getting up to go to work at about quarter to five. I was up at 4:30 to go pee. He asked if he should go, and I said yes, I figured I just had to pee lots, and that if something changed, I’d get someone to drive me to the hospital. I was saying this going into the bathroom. I went pee and came out and suddenly had a bad back pain and bent over the bed. He looked at me quite sceptically, like ‘Should I be going?’ I thought I was fine.

We were trying to talk quietly so we wouldn’t wake up Hazel, who had joined us for snuggles at around 4 a.m.

“Are you sure that wasn’t a contraction?”

“No, it didn’t feel like a contraction.”

A little time went by and another hit, and I admitted to myself, ‘Okay, maybe this is a contraction.’

Then another one came. I was much louder getting through that one.
Hazel woke up. At that point, I thought, ‘Oh yeah, this might be labour pain’, and I was trying to get dressed, trying to get my pants on but having a lot of trouble doing it because I was nine months pregnant and in pain!

I remember thinking to myself, “Well, fuck…I thought I had more time!” For whatever reason, I had been certain I was going to be way over due.

Chris tried to put my pants on, and I got mad at him: “Don’t touch me, I can do it myself!”

He said, “I don’t think we have a lot of time.” He called his mom, and by then Hazel was quite concerned as mommy was making some odd sounds. I think I was quite snarky with Chris multiple times. He was trying to rush me into the kitchen and somewhere around there (around 5 a.m.), his mom showed up.

By then I had made it out to the living room, but it was still 5:30 or 5:45 by the time we got out of there. Chris was so panicked. For whatever reason, he knew it was happening faster than I did.

Unbeknownst to me, every time I had to pee may have been labour pains, but I slept between each time, so this didn’t occur to me until later.

I had to have two more strong contractions before I made it to the car.

If he could have picked me up and put me in the car, he would have.

“We need to go!”

“I cannot stand up right now, therefore I cannot walk to the car. If that means I’m going to have a baby in the porch, then I’m going to have a baby in the porch.”

We made a very mad dash to the city and had a couple really good contractions in the car. Then we got to the maternity ward and didn’t realize ahead of time that no one would be in the old building on the main floor, so we went to Emergency. They got me in right away and wheeled me along.

I remember getting into the wheelchair and thinking, ‘Oh, thank God.’ They wheeled me all over the place, and I didn’t have to walk. They wheeled me up to Labour & Delivery and did my assessment. They wanted to check how far dilated I was, and I didn’t want them to touch me. It must have been about 6:15 at that point.

I was 9 cm dilated, but they were having trouble getting the heart rate from the baby, and they wanted to do an internal fetal heart check with the electrode through the uterus to the baby’s scalp. I said, “Nope, you’re not doing that to me, she is fine, I know she is in there.” I just wanted to sit on the birth ball and labour there because that’s where it felt good.

I remember being both simultaneously terrified but also knowing that I could do this, that I knew what I was doing this time, and I was prepared. I was going to have a better birth than the first time, and I was ready to fight for the things I wanted this time. Which is why there was only a nurse and a doctor in the room when I delivered: I didn’t want ANYONE there. No extra fluff or distraction. Though I didn’t realize I was gonna be done in 45 minutes. But having soooo many people in my room with Hazel when I was labouring was so distracting and annoying and frustrating and unnecessary. So I was ready to fight anyone who didn’t listen to me.

I remember telling the nurse and doctor,“Fuck off, there’s no way you’re making me labour on that bed,” when they asked me to get up there so they could check me.

The on-call doctor came in, and it wasn’t even a doctor from my clinic, because the doctor on-call from my clinic couldn’t make it in time. The nurses told her how far along I was and the doctor wanted to check me. I finally said yes, she could look, mostly because Chris was persistent and worried.

I got back up on the table, she said she wanted to break my water, and I said no, because with Hazel it made it hurt more and didn’t help. She said, “We need to put the electrode in (for fetal heart monitoring), and we can’t do that unless we break your water.” I said no again, and she replied, “I can almost 99% guarantee you that if we break your water, this baby will be here in 5 minutes.” Chris convinced me, so I let them do it.

She broke my water, and they put the probe in and found the heartbeat, and she was fine, just like I said she was. Three real good pushes, and she was out. She was born at 6:55 a.m. I think we got to the hospital at 6:15 a.m. They didn’t have enough time to admit me or put an IV in. She was in a hurry.

They put her on my chest right away and I got to cuddle her and hold her. That feeling. I don’t have words for that feeling. Does anyone? But I can say that I knew her. I knew my baby and I knew she was mine and that she belonged to me. (When I had Hazel, I felt like someone had placed a stranger on me. There was no instant bond or love at first sight. It took me a year to get that bond.)

That feeling, it never gets old. She was all squishy and covered in white and adorable. We asked for delayed cord clamping, so we probably sat there for a good five minutes.

They asked Chris if they wanted to cut the cord and he said no. I gave him hell.

“I shoved a baby out my vagina, you can cut the damn cord.” So he did.

They took her and weighed her. She was 7 lbs 8 oz and 21 ¼ inches long and healthy and happy. We were in there for probably half hour, maybe even longer, skin to skin. They were stitching me up. My legs wouldn’t stop shaking, coming down from the adrenaline, and they brought me toast.

They gave her back to me. We got the placenta packaged up and our gal came and picked that up for us.

I got to just lay there and hold her and cuddle her. She slept tucked in against me. I just got to sit there and get to know her a little bit and soak it all in. Chris got to stare at her and hold her and cry. After half hour or 45 minutes, they had a room ready, so I showered, and they wheeled me up to my room and just spent the day recovering and getting to know each other.

When Hazel was born, we had around 30 people in our private room, people coming and going all day. I remember being exhausted, so this time around, I wanted a lot less chaos. We had a lot of time to ourselves, getting to know the new baby who remained nameless until the next day. It took us 24 hours to name her.

We had a list of names and just kept going through until we had one that we felt was hers. I knew that I wanted Esther in there for my great grandma, but other than that we had lots of names that we liked but couldn’t agree on. Eventually we agreed on Stella Rose Esther. She felt like a Stella.
Stella is funny – like has a sense of humour already at one-year-old. She is goofy and fun and has no fear. She is fierce and adventuresome and smart and crafty and even a little bit manipulative. She knows how to get what she wants! She’s perfect. I love watching her and her sister together: no one can make Stella laugh like her big sister.

This time around my postpartum experience has been totally different than the first time around. I suffered postpartum depression with my first, who was also a hard baby with colic and reflux. We also had breastfeeding challenges. Wanting this experience to be different, I surrounded myself with support. It certainly helped that I had an easier baby this time, but it also helped knowing I had family to help me, friends, a nanny, and a postpartum doula.

I didn’t realize the first time around how isolating motherhood could be, and I wanted to make sure I was well prepared this time. One of the best baby gifts I gave myself was hiring my postpartum doula, Darla, from Postpartum Darla. Having her come once or twice a week was amazing. It gave me someone that I could leave Stella with while I took Hazel for some much needed Mom and daughter time, someone to ask questions about breastfeeding or baby carrying, make sure I got fed or got a shower or a nap if I needed it! She encouraged me and gave me confidence, supported me no matter what, and just held space for me when I needed it. I can’t say enough good things about her; best gift to myself ever!

Liberian trip highlights why breastfeeding education important

Liberian trip highlights why breastfeeding education important

A Warman mom and doula recently saw first-hand the contrast and importance of available birth education, especially around breastfeeding, when she supported new moms in another continent.

This past spring, Lindsay Bitner travelled to a town near Monrovia, Liberia for missionary work. She and five other members of the Awakening Church in Warman joined two others from Winnipeg, and formed a team with a medical doctor, three nurses, and two support people from British Columbia.

The team set up a clinic that was based out of an orphanage, using the school on the compound. There were separate rooms for registration, nurses, treatment, the doctor to see patients, prayer, and then one set aside for long-term care. Many people who needed IVs stayed in that room, but it was also where Lindsay did breastfeeding education.

“Once they (the team) found out I was a doula, they were like, ‘OK, all the pregnant moms, all the newborns, are coming to you.’”

Lindsay, who is a mom herself with three young children, saw any new mom that came through, offering her breastfeeding tips and education, including checking their latch. A big part of education was talking about mom’s nutrition. She says many moms were only eating once a day and often only drinking two cups of water a day, so we had to see if they could eat or drink more.

The struggle there, says Lindsay, is that the country has 80 per cent unemployment, so sometimes eating more food just isn’t an option.

Many moms asked for formula or hinted about it (at least 80 per cent, but she says it could have been almost 100), noting the baby would cry after a feed and worrying they weren’t getting enough, and if a baby was malnourished, they were given a bottle of formula.

“There were maybe 2 or 3 moms who were confident they were feeding their baby well. I did see ads for formula, which really broke my heart, because there’s no advertising for breastfeeding.”

Lindsay says the work was

As a mom and doula, Lindsay ended up providing a great deal of breastfeeding training to moms on a recent mission to Liberia.

Given the unemployment situation and concerns around safe drinking water, the big concern is formula isn’t a sustainable option for many.

“I did make sure to tell every one of them that what they were eating was really important to make the best milk for their baby. I made sure to emphasize that if you keep nursing and if you’re eating and drinking enough, your body is gong to make exactly what your baby needs, and formula can’t do it. And also making sure they understood that as soon as you stop nursing, it’s really hard to get it going again.

I explained it as a vitamin for them versus a dependency on it for all of their meals in hopes that it would last.”

“Trying to educate them that if you only do this, then you won’t have milk left, and you won’t be able to afford formula,” explains Lindsay.

“I taught a lot of moms that: if a baby looked malnourished, we would give formula, but encouraged them to keep breastfeeding and more often, because it is clean and affordable. The hygiene of it and affordability of it are the important factors, whereas here it’s not as big of a deal.”

A couple stories really stood out for Lindsay. The first woman she saw had her seventh baby with her, who looked undernourished.

“The mom said, ‘I can’t feed her because it’s so painful.’ Her nipples still looked really raw and awful even though the baby was four weeks old. I showed her how to get a wider latch.”

And even though many patients spoke English, the team often had a translator – a 22-year-old guy.

“By the end, he had a breastfeeding education and could tell the moms what to do without me explaining first for him to translate,” laughs Lindsay.

“Once this particular baby got a good latch, the mom exclaimed, ‘Wow, that doesn’t hurt as much,’ and that felt really good because I was helping one mom.”

Anyone I taught, I said, ‘Make sure you tell everyone you know that you need to have the areola in the mouth!”

A heartbreaking story that stood out was an auntie who brought in her three-month-old niece, whose mother had passed away two weeks ago. The baby was being fed water and glucose.

“We made up formula for baby, who took the bottle well. In the hour that she was there, she brightened up a lot. We sent that auntie home with four cans of formula in hopes that that would tide them over until they could get some money to get some formula.”

One of the interesting parts of her experience was hearing the moms talk about their birth experiences. She noted many aren’t afraid to have a home birth, and was fascinated because their rates of epidurals versus not were the exact opposite as here.

“I talked to a midwife and we were talking about the differences, and she said they have a 15% epidural rate (only for emergencies), whereas I heard a nurse say with a client of mine that there is an 85% epidural rate here.”

Lindsay says some of the teen moms who came through the clinic were afraid of birth and labour, so she did a mini prenatal prep class for them, but she says any mom who had had a baby wasn’t as worried.

Lindsay admits that while the experience was enriching and rewarding, it was also heartbreaking.

“We had seen the community Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and it got pretty overwhelming because by Wednesday, it was the people who were pretty desperate. I had to take a longer lunch, I just wanted to do more. ‘Can I not eat today so they can eat?’ I asked.  Our team leader said, we are doing the best we can, we have to help the one person in front of us, we have to love the one person in front of us, and hope that it goes beyond that.’

“I clinged to that because what else can you do? There is nothing else you can do.”

Why staying is the right family decision

Why staying is the right family decision

By now you’ve likely heard the news that we are not leaving. And if you haven’t, you can take a peek at the video below!

Phew! It was a relief to be able to share it with our friends, family, and community, and we have been overwhelmed by the kindness of people, even those in Manitoba or with connections there, who have said, “I’m so happy for you guys!”

I’ve written before what it was like being a solo parent when my husband moved to Manitoba for a career opportunity. I found the first few months difficult. Something clicked after Christmas, where I realized I am a lot stronger than I first thought, and it didn’t seem so hard.

But we also hit a point where we knew this couldn’t go on indefinitely. Our house has been on the market since September, and while we have had multiple showings, we hadn’t even received a low-ball offer. It became clear to us our house was not going to sell any time soon, or if we did get an offer, it would be so low that it wouldn’t be worth it to us. The expenses of paying rent in another province and driving back here to visit were adding up.

That was our logistical reason for not moving to Brandon. There are also many personal reasons for not moving, and to understand those reasons, I need to back up and tell a long story that began nearly a year ago.

About 10 months ago, we began seeing a speech language pathologist. We weren’t super concerned that our son wasn’t talking as much as his peers, as I have always felt he learned at his own pace, but we mentioned it to our doc and agreed to just check it out, no harm done.

Word searches are one of the many games Cub enjoys playing.

Shortly after Christmas, Cub began doing word searches. Here he is finding the word ‘equality.’ At the top he found ‘I have a dream.’ This one was a Martin Luther King-themed word search!

 

 

 

The monthly appointments have mostly been a source of stress for me, as there weren’t really any ideas that worked to “make” or encourage Cub speak more, and the SLP was puzzled by why he wouldn’t speak and would choose a more difficult route to communicate what he wants (as an example, find a banana or glass of water in a book and then show it to us). He was also puzzled because he noted Cub made eye contact with him, waved to him, was eager to play games with him, so didn’t think he was on the autism spectrum.

While these appointments didn’t show signs of helping, Cub loved seeing this particular SLP (one time when I mentioned his name, he high-tailed to the door so we could go see him!), so we kept going.

We were sad for us, happy for him, when this SLP got a new job and moved on. We then saw another SLP in his place. By this time, Cub was 3 and he was obviously reading and spelling. He would take foam letters and spell words on his own. Some of his earliest words were snowy owl, bald eagle, scorpion, elk (from his love of going to the zoo), hat, mom, kiss, cub. He kept adding to his repertoire. We weren’t sure, but felt this was pretty cool and remarkable for a 3 year old! When we told the SLP this, she looked me straight in the eye and said, “I’m sure your son is very bright, but he should be speaking more words by now.” I got the impression she didn’t believe me. We granted her permission to refer us to the Alvin Buckwold Child Development Program.

Our file was given to a third SLP, who we began seeing in the fall, after Doug moved to Brandon. She had ideas to try and sent me home with resources: most of these ideas were things we had been always doing. I mean, we’ve read to Cub since he was born. I’ve tried the whole temptation thing to try and get him to say what he wants. Every appointment, she would bring up daycare or preschool and say how much she thought he would benefit from this. This rankled me. On one hand, we have some moms who feel like people shame them for going back to work while putting their children in daycare. Here I felt she was suggesting I wasn’t good enough or stimulating enough for my child, which I knew wasn’t true and that up until recently, he wasn’t ready or interested in something like preschool (which was also something I hadn’t thought of as necessary but I see now how much he loves it and it can only benefit). She assured me I was a good mom, but that just irritated me more: I don’t need to be told that. I know I’m a good mom and that I know my child best (and I hope if you are a mom, you know this, too).

During our last appointment, she told me she strongly believed Cub was on the autism spectrum and asked if we had considered that. I think I responded that most parents of my generation, if they had ever googled anything (which I tend to avoid), have probably considered it, but that we didn’t think so based on our discussions with our previous SLP and from taking a questionnaire sent to us from a friend whose son is autistic. She outlined why she felt he was, which in short was because he is behind in speech compared to his peers but is so far beyond in other areas such as reading and memorizing. Some examples include that Cub has memorized flags to many countries, particularly African, although Asian, South American, etc. (a friend asked him the other day whose flag that was, and he correctly proclaimed, “Bhutan!”); he can point out countries on unlabelled maps – this started out with Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Congo, Nigeria, Niger, Paraguay, and I think the latest was Equatorial Guinea, Chad (he also knows Canada!); in the same game, he can identify with country the capital belongs to such as Riyadh, Kathmandu; he can place the bones of a human skeleton in the correct places (with some mistakes along the way, but he gets better each time), and then he can place the correct names of the bones [and now if he hurts himself, he tells me he hurt his cranium, patella, or humorus]; and I have seen him more than once sort 12 items into their correct state of solid, liquid, or gas. There is no doubt he can read: part of the reason he knows the flags is he plays a geography game and sometimes I need to help. If I tell him the answer is Khazakstan, he can find the word no problem. (He also knows its flag…and the flag of Uzbekistan…he may even be able to find them on a map…) He can count forwards and backwards; as I write this, he is counting down from 5 to 0 minutes until we go to the Co-op because he loves to grocery shop.

The SLP also gently chastised me for the amount of time Cub spends on an iPad. “You do know the recommended amount of screen time is no more than an hour a day?” I just smiled and said yes. Is using an iPad always ideal? Some would argue not. How do you think Cub knows all of his geography or the states of matter or the abbreviations to American states? It’s mostly from an educational app he plays on it. We didn’t teach him any of the above stuff I listed. He taught himself. I didn’t bother telling her any of this. She later sent me a website that contained tons of articles around kids with autism and there was one about screen time and possibly being linked to delayed speech, so of course I had the moment all parents have at some point: is this somehow my fault?

I left this appointment feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. Is my child on the spectrum? Is she the right person to say so? What difference does it make? Isn’t the point of a diagnosis to get more resources if you have concerns? But what if we don’t have any concerns because we have seen so much improvement and increased speech over the past few months? I had so many questions and wasn’t sure where to go for answers. I turned to friends for support and I messaged my husband, saying something along the lines of, “Doug, no matter what happens with a diagnosis or not, I don’t want to be in a new place. I want to be here with our friends and family and support network.” He later told me he knew how serious I was because I called him by his first name.

He didn’t hesitate. He agreed and began looking for a job back home. He encouraged me to discontinue the speech path appointments because they weren’t helping. We agreed to make an appointment with our family doctor to hear his opinion, express our concerns, see what answers we could get.

We felt huge relief after seeing him, and it was a reminder yet again of why I didn’t want to leave: I did not want to try and find a new doctor when we already had one who meshed so well with all three of us. And let me tell you, it was not that long ago where Cub would cry and cry going to the clinic. One particular appointment was for my check-up, including pap. Cub wouldn’t let me put him down and it took many minutes for him to stop crying, and I mean many: we slowly progressed from the waiting room to the office, from standing and me holding him to sitting and holding him, to him being willing to sit beside me, to him being willing to sit with the nurse, while my doc did the world’s fastest pap ever.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago when he hurt his arm on a weekend. I told him we could see a nice doctor at RUH because his doctor didn’t work on the weekend. He refused and said our doctor’s name through his tears. We were lucky enough to get in to see him that Monday, and Cub was a completely different kid after seeing him. Like went from needing his arm propped up on a pillow to bending it and putting pressure on it as soon as we were in his office to running around the kitchen island when we got home. It takes time to build that kind of relationship. (By the way, we brought up screen time with him, and the article I had read, and after reassuring me, he joked, “Yeah, Darla, your son has autism because you let him use an iPad.” His off-colour sense of humour is one of the reasons we dig him.)

We now have an appointment at the Alvin Buckwold Child Development Program, and I look forward to hearing what these specialists think and what kind of resources they suggest because it’s clear our son learns in his own unique way. It has taken some time for me to reach this point. I have so many thoughts and emotions bouncing around my head, but I know this will be the place, in conjunction with our family doctor, where I will find the answers and support I crave.

No matter what happens, I want to be near my friends and community. I have leaned heavily on so many of them these past few months, and even once my husband is back, I will continue to do so. I am so grateful for them. I am so grateful for my family, particularly my mom. My mom comes to see us once a week, staying overnight, to spend time with Cub so I can get work done or run errands. When we have a house showing, she is the one who cleans it top to bottom. She does this all willingly (the housework not as much, but she doesn’t view spending time with Cub as work – they are precious moments for both of them). We wouldn’t have this if we moved to Brandon, not nearly as often, and I know it broke her heart to think of it, and I dreaded having to explain it to Cub as well.

Cub now attends preschool, and he loves it. He was all smiles the first day I took him. He walked away from me no problem, and as I sat in the classroom watching, it was clear he was ready: he was right in there following along and playing with the other kids. I left the room to read in the hallway and he didn’t care. His teacher is amazing, and she and the preschool are yet another reason we don’t want to leave. She is a part of the support network. Cub comes home from preschool and rattles off the names of kids he played with. His first day was Valentine’s Day, and that night he went through his valentines from classmates four times.

Has there ever been a happier kid on their first day of preschool?

So happy at his first day of preschool!

Could we find friends and supports in Brandon or any other city? Of course. I know first-hand there are lovely people in Brandon because we’ve connected with some of them already (and even though we are not moving, they have all expressed how happy they are for us that we will be together again). However, we have amazing family, friends, and health and educational supports here already, and it is where we need to be right now.

My husband did end up finding a job, another exciting career opportunity for him, and I have to hand it to him: there have been moments were it has driven me crazy with him being an adult student and then furthering his education when he started working (he would go to Vancouver every few months for a few days at a time). I see now, though, what a great job he has done at setting himself a part from others in his field. His skills are in demand, and he had no problem finding work. And I was touched when he told me what he has been telling people: that his wife supported him through school and as he began his career, and that now it’s his turn to support the family and do what is best for all of us.

Thank you so much to everyone for reading and for all of your support. I know this isn’t the end of the story. There is so much more to come. It will be emotional, but I have no doubt we will get through it because we will be together as a family, and we will have you behind us every step of the way. For that I am forever grateful. Stay tuned!

 

 

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