She makes me better

I have not been blessed with the virtue of patience; it’s never been a strong suit of mine. And while I’m much more patient with my kids than I am about most anything else, I still tend to blow a gasket far more often than I’m ok with. Especially when I’m tired. And these days, I feel like I’m most always tired.

The one who bears the brunt of this is my daughter. That amazing little person who’s just being a normal kid, a normal (actually, to be honest, much better than normal) three-year-old. I’m not proud of it and I regularly tell myself that, “Enough is enough, I’m going to be better about this.” And then I’m not.

Editing our annual family photo album today, I came across pictures of Linnea helping her Pappa and Uncle change the tires on our car. And I wonder, how did I get so lucky? She’s such an amazing kid. And once more, I wish I was better. I wish I was more patient. I wish her constant barrage of “Why?” didn’t drive me up the fucking wall. Because she’s a kid. She’s supposed to ask all these maddening questions, it’s how she learns about the world. Still drives me nuts.

When I start to feel guilty about these sorts of things, it’s easy to fall into the trap of tallying up all the things I’ve done wrong; the things I could do better. And that list is long. But then I look at those pictures again. I look at that happy face – that truly HAPPY kid. And I know we’re doing ok. I know I’m doing ok. Yeah, I screw up on the regular, but I’m raising a couple of awesome little people and I’m not doing half bad (if I do say so myself). And here’s the best part: they make me a better person. Those little people. They drive me crazy and, yeah, I lose my shit far more often than I’d like. But more often than not, I reel myself in. Or, at the very least, I apologise. And my kids see a human. And when my girl listens seriously as I explain that Mum messed up and “I’m sorry,” and then tells me “S’ok, Mamma!” and gives me a hug, a part of me I didn’t even know was broken heals a bit more.

munchkin

If the trailer’s a rockin’…

…don’t come a knockin’

No, seriously. Don’t knock. We’re probably rocking the baby to sleep and if you wake him, well, to quote Russell Peters’ dad, “Somebody gonna get a hurt reeeeeal bad!”

Combining my maternity leave with the generous Norwegian vacation time, we had planned on taking a long holiday in Canada this summer. We made the plans, signed Linnea out of barnehage (preschool) for several weeks and started dreaming about dumping the kids off with my parents for a couple of night and spending our five year wedding anniversary holed up at a winery. And then life happened.

Given certain family circumstances, a long trip to the other side of the world just wasn’t in the cards for us this summer, particularly not for Arne-Morten. So we resigned ourselves to the idea of a staycation. Three weeks straight at home with the kids. Day in and day out. In the Norwegian summer (ie, rain. Lots of rain.) Oh joy.

While hanging out at home with my mom and my fussy baby one afternoon, I got a message from my husband: “I bought this.” This being a camper with an add-on tent (the “we can’t afford a cabin, so here’s the next best thing” option for would-be cabin owners) permanently stationed at a campground a couple hours south of us. Oh. Umm… hmm… ok. So it seems my husband’s going through an early midlife crisis. Good to know. Kinda wish he would’ve talked to me before acting on it, but alrighty, let’s roll with this. I don’t recall exactly how I responded, but it was tentatively positive. Turns out, however, that he was just kidding. Phew! We had a good laugh about it and then moved on. Sort of.

The more I looked at the ad, the more I liked the idea of a trailer by the sea.

Long story short, we joked about it a bit more and then came to the realisation that we were both interested in such a vacation home. Initially, we thought that it might be something for “next year” or “when the kids are a bit older” (seriously, who goes camping – or even glamping, let’s be real here – with a baby?!?! Crazy people, that’s who.) But the more we joked about it, the more we searched Finn (Norway’s version of Craigslist, but better) for “our” vacation home. And soon, it was very real. A week or two later, we were the proud new owners of a camper-with-tent-glamping-extravaganza vacation place in Sweden!

So here we are. Glamping in Sweden with a toddler and a baby. (Crazy people, I’m telling you). In many ways, it’s awesome. We’re at a camping resort of sorts that’s absolutely made for families. It’s pirate themed (kitschy, I know, but it’s brilliant for young kids) with all kinds of entertainment: outdoor swimming pools, mini golf, several playgrounds, a mini train that you can ride for free every day, and even a small amusement park. Plus, there are a lot of other families with young children here, so there are built-in buddies for our kids. (Arik just doesn’t know it yet.) Within our first weekend stay, Linnea became good friends with a slightly older girl, Selma, whose family has the spot right across from us. We send them toodling off to the playground together and there is actually peace to be found in life once more!

There is, however, a downside to all this. Yeah, that’d be the camping (ahem, glamping) with the baby. The baby, I might add, who sucks at sleeping. Granted, it’s not all his fault; he had a rough first few months and it’s made him extra needy and super clingy to his mum. This kid fights naps like nobody’s business unless he strapped into the carrier and smooshed up against my chest. (Then, he sleeps like a champ.) And although he sleeps a bit better at night, he’s still waking up every 2-3 hours to be nursed. (Which, given our struggle to get him breastfeeding at all, I’m actually thankful for, even if I’d reeeeeally like to get a full night’s sleep again one of these days.)

I can handle the fairly frequent nursing – even though it entails wiggling myself into the bottom bunk of a camper bunk bed not made for adults – but this needy kid has decided to step it up a notch. The other night, he decided that 2-3 hours would just not do. Nope. No, sir. Every hour, thank you, Mum. And if that wasn’t rough enough on my needs-sleep-grumpy-as-all-get-out self, he decided that HE would no longer accommodate me in the slightest, including not turning his head to nurse. I had to prop myself up so I was literally hanging over him, my nipple dead centre over his mouth. Slightly to the side and that kid screamed bloody murder. And the little shit had me up NINE times that night. Needless to say, my shoulder is shot. And I was the grumpiest jerk you ever did see the next day.

Something had to give. I was leaning towards cutting our vacation short, heading home and spending the next couple of weeks sleep training. But as Arne-Morten pointed out, we could just as well do the sleep training here… You’re welcome, fellow campers!

So last night, we embarked on our sleep training journey. (Side note: if you are adamantly anti-sleep training, go ahead and stop reading. Do not bother lecturing me about it; I really don’t give two shits if you think I’m a horrible person. Really. You raise your brats, I’ll raise mine, MmmK?) Thankfully, I have a really supportive husband who’s not afraid to be “the mean dad,” when necessary. (He makes up for it by being the world’s best dad on the regular. Seriously. That man was born to be a parent; he makes it look easy.) We got Arik and Linnea to bed at their normal time. Linnea, that little rockstar, quickly fell asleep. Arik fussed a bit more and seemed more than a little bit put-out that I was sitting on the floor beside him rather than lying next to him, but eventually, he, too, nodded off. Enter a few hours of precious Mum ‘n Pappa time! Several hours later, as we were getting ready to call it a night ourselves, Arik began his usual “it’s been three hours, woman, where is that boob?!?!” song and scream. I got him out of bed (my shoulder was NOT up for any more of that hovering nipple shenanigans!), nursed him, and then put him in the bassinet part of his stroller, beside the camper table. (We decided to spare Linnea as much of the grief as possible and engage in the sleep training on the other end of the camper from her. Cuz, you know, those paper-thin walls really keep things quiet…)

At first, it seemed like it was actually going to go alright. Arik chirped to himself for a bit and then went quiet. We foolishly thought we had won. The cries started small at first, as if he was warming up his vocal cords for the big show. Gradually, he amped them up. “Don’t go to him. Give him five minutes, at least.” My husband is more immune to those cries than I. After a few minutes, I whispered, “Maybe I should talk to him so he knows he’s not alone?” We agreed I should try that. “Arik, baby, I’m right here. Mamma’s here.” Rookie move, mom, rookie move. Full. On. Wails. That kid was never worried he was alone, he was testing the waters, seeing if I’d take his bait. The second he heard my voice, it was anger time. He started caterwauling as only a pissed off baby can. Arne-Morten dutifully got up and “plugged the baby.” (Gave him his soother.) That only pissed him off more.

And so began our hour of “ok, another five more minutes.”
We let him holler for five minutes at a time before Arne-Morten would go and re-plug him. If he still had his soother and was howling around it, Arne-Morten would take it away and give him three minutes to find his thumb instead, before giving the soother back for another five minutes. This went on for a little over an hour before Angry Baby finally decided he was done with our nonsense and went to sleep.

Arik woke up four hours (!!!) later for another feed and then fell asleep fairly easily again. Three hours after that, he was ready for more. I was hoping to get another couple hours in (greedy, I know!) but ‘twas not to be. Big Sister had woken up from a nightmare at this point – a little before 6am – and needed to climb in with us. Of course, “climb in with us” does not mean more sleep. It means whispers that are louder than “inside voice” and a constant barrage of chatter. Soon, we had two little punks in our bed and ain’t nobody sleepin’ at that point. So our day started – a little earlier than planned, but a helluva lot better than the one before. Bring on night two of sleep training!

Breastfeeding’s great. Until it isn’t.

I have been successfully nursing my baby for just over a month now. That probably doesn’t sound like much but, as of today, Arik is already five months old. The first four months of his life were fraught with shoddy medical advice, struggles to feed – by both boob and bottle – poor weight gain and immense frustration.

As far as nursing goes, this isn’t my first kick at the can. I nursed my daughter for nearly two years and, in all honesty, I hadn’t realised just how good I had it. It was easy. Sure, it was an adjustment at first – we jokingly referred to Linnea as a shark for the gusto she employed when latching on – but it happened naturally, easily. There was nothing easy about nursing Arik.

With Arik, I noticed early on that things weren’t right. When he was born, it was about five hours before he tried to nurse, in spite of me offering him the breast right away. When he finally started nursing, it wasn’t an easy latch. He’d try, seem to be on for a moment, then slip off again. But at least he seemed interested. I assumed it was just him adjusting to “life on the outside” and that he would get better as the days went on. The nurses I spoke to thought the same.

We were released early from the hospital on my request; everything seemed to be going well and I was keen to be home with the rest of my crew. On our first full day home, Arik seemed a bit lethargic and still wasn’t nursing well, so we brought him back to the hospital to make sure things were ok. They ran a bunch of blood tests and checked to make sure he didn’t have jaundice; everything came up clear. I told the health nurse on duty that we were still having trouble nursing, so she watched as I tried to nurse him and gave some suggestions of positions, etc., that I could try, but agreed that he probably just needed some time to figure it out; nothing to worry about.

When Arik was 10 days old, we had a home visit from our health nurse. We felt things were going fairly well by that point. Arik was nursing, although it was definitely more of an ordeal than it had ever been with Linnea, but I figured he was just a bit of a fussy baby. When it came time to weigh him, however, we had a new indication that not all was well. He had barely gained any weight up from the initial drop after birth. The health nurse was a bit concerned and wanted us to come into the clinic two days later to see if it was maybe just her scale that was the issue. She mentioned the weight thing so many times, it started to make me nervous. If only we’d known…

The weigh-in at the clinic confirmed that he wasn’t gaining weight as quickly as we’d hoped. We had a different health nurse this time. Tove was more relaxed about it than the other health nurse had been. She agreed that he wasn’t gaining as quickly as we might hope, but didn’t feel it was anything to worry about just yet; we’d continue to follow-up on it and hopefully things would soon turn around. She told us that some babies – including both of her own – take a bit longer than others to get back up to their birth weight. We liked how calm this health nurse was and asked to be switched to Tove going forward. By this point, Arik was 12 days old and still not very good at nursing. I told Tove how he would try to latch and then angrily pull off, thrashing his head about and howling in frustration. She watched me nurse him but, go figure, he seemed to do well with an audience. She didn’t think I needed to worry about it. I asked if he might possibly have a tongue tie, as I’d read up a bit on it and he seemed to have many of the symptoms (poor weight gain, trouble latching, thrashing head, etc.) Tove admitted she wasn’t particularly familiar with tongue ties, but looked in his mouth and said he didn’t have the tell-tale “heart shaped” tongue, so she didn’t think it was a tongue tie. I let it go.

In Norway, there is a group called “Ammehjelpen,” with women who give advice and support on breastfeeding. One particularly frustrating middle-of-the-night attempted feed, I sent a text to one of the Ammehjelper in Drammen to see if she could pay us a visit to possibly help me figure out what was going wrong with nursing. We messaged back and forth for a few days, with her telling me that she could call me to give advice, but that they don’t generally do home visits unless the situation was dire. I didn’t see how a phone call could help me much and, eventually, she just stopped responding to me. So that was a dead end.

As the days stretched into weeks, Arik still wasn’t gaining weight well. He was nearly a month old before he was back up at his birth weight. Tove assured us again that some babies just take longer, though, and said we’d continue to keep an eye on things. Pat, the doctor at the health clinic, was a bit more concerned about the slow weight gain and advised us to bottle feed Arik for a few days, so we could monitor how much he was taking in. We started off with a combination of bottle feeding him pumped breast milk a couple times per day and nursing the other times, but his weight gain still wasn’t great, so we tried exclusively bottle feeding him over a weekend. Fantastic weight gain! (And I breathed a sigh of relief that it clearly wasn’t my milk then, as it had been almost completely pumped breast milk). We went back to a combination of nursing and bottle feeding, at the advice of yet another health nurse we met with. She also gave me tips on nursing, as I was still really struggling with Arik’s latch, and showed me how to properly use a nipple shield, as I’d been struggling with those, too. Pat figured Arik was still trying to learn how to nurse properly and said it might just happen on its own once he was strong enough, with 5kg seeming to be the magical number, if only we could reach it… In the meantime, I had to simply keep trying to get him to latch and supplement with bottles of pumped milk in between.

Another week later and Arik’s weight gain had basically flat-lined. At this point, Pat stated with no uncertainty that we had to exclusively bottle feed him in order to get his weight up. Frustrating, but we were willing to do what needed to be done. I pumped about six times per day in order to have enough milk to feed him; it was exhausting. And I was still suspicious of a tongue tie. Several of my friends back home had been through it with their little ones and encouraged me to keep looking into it, so I put out a post on an “international moms in Oslo” Facebook page to see if there were any lactation consultants who would do home visits. Mhairi, a lactation consultant from Scotland who recently moved to Norway, came highly recommended and responded to me almost immediately. She said she could come out for a home visit the next day.

Within a few minutes of having looked Arik over, Mhairi told me definitively that he had a tongue tie, and quite a severe one at that. She checked multiple times to be sure and was very confident that that was our main problem. Unfortunately, having not been long in the country, she didn’t personally know of any doctors in the area who did the revisions and said that, as she understood it, few doctors in Norway were well versed in tongue ties. I called Drammen Hospital that afternoon to see about making an appointment to have the tongue tie revised and was told that it was a very simple procedure, so to just bring the baby in the next morning. I thought that was surprisingly easy, given how uncertain Mhairi had been about finding a doctor who could help, but I was relieved to see an end in sight. Mhairi had also put me in touch with a Facebook support group for tongue ties in Norway, but I didn’t think I’d be needing that, given we were going to have the problem solved the next day. Finally, I thought, there was a light at the end of this frustrating tunnel!

We showed up at Drammen Hospital bright and early the next day, April 9th. When it was our turn to see the doctor on duty, she checked Arik over and announced that he did not, in fact, have a tongue tie. Blank stares. What do you mean he doesn’t have a tongue tie? She stated it again. I had apparently gotten my hopes up a little too high that our nursing troubles were at an end, as I promptly burst into tears. I asked what else the problem could possibly be then, since the lactation consultant had been so sure Arik’s tongue was restricted. Rather than answer, the doctor instead asked me how we’d come across Mhairi and clearly wasn’t impressed that I’d “found her on the internet.” She told me again that Arik did not have a tongue tie and said that she couldn’t cut under his tongue since, if he was her own child, she would not do it. Obviously, I didn’t want her cutting into my baby’s mouth just for the hell of it if she didn’t think she was fixing anything, but I asked again what could be causing the nursing problems if it wasn’t a tongue tie. Was there something else we were missing? She shrugged it off and told me that some babies just don’t learn to nurse. As I soon learned, this would be a common conclusion from medical professionals in the weeks to come. I asked for a second opinion.

Over the four months we struggled with Arik’s nursing and weight gain issues, at the very least, most people were at least pleasant with us. Not so, the doctor who provided us with a second opinion during our visit to Drammen Hospital that day. We had to wait a couple hours for her to make an appearance and, when she did, it was clear that she wasn’t happy about it. She stormed into the room as if we had severely disrupted her day, obviously irritated at having to be there. She didn’t introduce herself to us or even look me in the eye when instructing me to “put the baby on the table.” I stood alongside while she checked Arik. After the briefest peek into his mouth and the slight flick of his tongue with the tongue depressor, she announced there was no tongue tie and started towards the door.

 

“Excuse me,” I cut in hesitantly, “do you speak English?” (Up to this point, everything had been in Norwegian).

“Obviously,” she sneered at me.

Her tone took me by surprise, but I persisted. “Ok,” I started, as politely as I could, “are you familiar with posterior tongue ties? We’ve been told that’s what this is.”

She narrowed her eyes and snapped, “THAT is what I looked for.” She turned to go again. I persevered.

“From what I know…” I stopped, corrected myself and tried again, “From what I have been told and read about it, a posterior tongue tie can’t necessarily be diagnosed by only looking in the mouth. You have to feel under the tongue.”

The doctor quite literally rolled her eyes at me and huffed in irritation. “That’s what I did. He does NOT have a tongue tie.” I asked what else it might be as she continued to edge towards the door. She basically spat her response at me, “Some babies just don’t want to nurse.” At this, she turned on her heel and stomped out, clearly done with the conversation.

 

I felt my eyes well up again.

I had been standing right there. Her finger had never been in Arik’s mouth and she had not felt under his tongue. I stood there, helplessly, unsure what to do next. I was exhausted from the frequent pumping, attempts to nurse, bottle feeding and frustration over the lack of weight gain in spite of all our efforts. And I felt defeated by the lack of interest in helping us solve this.

The nurse who had been helping us since our arrival was at least kind. She settled me in to try to nurse him again and told me I was doing a great job. She asked if maybe I didn’t have enough milk? I stopped my nursing attempts to squirt some milk into the air. Milk production was not the issue, clearly. “Well,” she proceeded cheerily, “unfortunately, some babies don’t learn how to nurse properly. It’s not your fault. But you can always use Nan.” She meant well, but everything about that sentence set me on edge. First of all, how could it possibly be an explanation that babies just don’t “learn” to nurse? (Or, worse, not “want” to nurse?!?) Arik clearly tries to nurse, but it just wasn’t working. I found it maddening that rather than look further into the problem, the health professionals were just writing it off. And then IF we had to use formula, why do they have to push a particular brand of formula, and Nestlé at that? (For anyone who knows me, they could tell you that Nestlé, for many reasons, is not welcome in my home). I sat in sullen silence. Arne-Morten had recovered a bit from the shock of that last doctor and made a point about how horrible she’d been. The nurse agreed. She said she’d been taken aback by how terribly that doctor had treated us – me in particular – and promised to take it up with her supervisor. No idea if anything ever came of that, but I’d really like to follow-up on it. If that is her typical way of treating patients, her superiors need to hear about it and call her out on it. As if we weren’t going through a hard enough time already; to be treated like we didn’t matter – like our BABY didn’t matter – is unacceptable.

So we were back at square one. The next few weeks were filled with ups and downs. Sometimes, it seemed like we had the weight situation solved, and then the next week, we’d be back at poor weight gain. The days, too, were difficult, with an increasingly fussy baby. Arik could not be set down, even for a moment, lest he dissolve into hysterics. Mhairi, at least, was still trying to help us. She had heard of a doctor in Bergen – the other side of the country from us – who dealt with tongue ties. I tried to get through on the phone to Dr. Nordahl. We were willing to make the trip to his clinic and pay the fees ourselves (he’s a private practitioner) but I wanted to be sure he revises posterior tongue ties before making the trip. After several times of leaving messages and being promised he would call me back, I was finally told to send him an email. So I did. I poured my heart out to him about our struggles which, in retrospect, probably felt to him like an irritating waste of his time, but I was pretty desperate. Two (long!) days later, he finally responded. The response was impersonal and cold. He said he only deals with anterior tongue ties and lip ties, and then proceeded to tell me the prices of an appointment – NOK 2000 just to see him and NOK 3000 if any surgery took place. (Honestly, what is the point in telling me how expensive you are when you just stated you can’t help me?) Disappointed, I emailed back, thanking him for his time and asked if he knew of another doctor in Norway – anywhere in Norway – who dealt with posterior ties. His response? Simply, “Nope.” Well, thanks for absolutely nothing. One more disappointing medical professional in Norway. I was beginning to sense a trend.

In spite of all the pushback, I was still not ready to let go of the possibility of a tongue tie. Through the Facebook support group Mhairi had put me in touch with, I heard that the Ear/Nose/Throat department at the Fredrikstad Hospital apparently was really knowledgeable on tongue ties. I told Tove (our health nurse) and she and Pat agreed it was worth a try. Pat referred us there and they were quick to fit us in. We made the nearly two hour trip out there on April 26th.

Mhairi came with us, as she was trying to establish a network of health professionals in the Oslo area who knew about tongue ties. It was another disappointing failure. First of all, the doctor we initially saw had no idea why we would have been told the Fredrikstad Hospital knew anything more about tongue ties than any other hospital. He personally didn’t know much about them at all and had never dealt with a posterior tie. We ended up seeing five different doctors that visit. They all agreed that there was no tongue tie, in spite of none of them having dealt with a posterior tongue tie before. Again, we were presented with the idea that some babies just don’t ever learn how to nurse. One of the doctors dealing with us said it was unlikely we’d be able to get Arik nursing at this point, since he was already two months old and suggested Arik had possibly become “nipple confused” from using soothers. More conflicting information (or, let’s be honest, opinion,) as I’d asked in Drammen hospital when Arik was born if it was ok to use soothers and was told it was fine. Of all the doctors who saw us that day, the last one, a paediatric specialist, was the most helpful. She agreed with the others that Arik’s tongue was not restricted, although she said he was not using his tongue properly. She suggested getting help from a paediatric physical therapist to perhaps encourage him to use his tongue properly, although she wasn’t very hopeful of establishing breastfeeding either and suggested moving to formula. Overall, it was a disappointing day.

At this point, we had seen seven doctors and all were adamant that Arik did NOT have a tongue tie. I wasn’t sure what to do. I could accept that maybe it wasn’t a tongue tie, but what I couldn’t accept was that none of the doctors had any reasonable suggestions for what it could otherwise be. My husband was convinced at this point that it was NOT a tongue tie and was frustrated with the goose chase he felt we’d be sent on. I asked Mhairi the next day if she still stood by her diagnosis. The Fredrikstad trip had been rough on her, too, as the doctors, although outwardly polite, clearly didn’t consider her to be a medical professional. She was treated with thinly veiled disdain and told me later that it had really shaken her. It took her some time to answer me, as she didn’t want to further confuse us when the doctors were so adamant that no tongue tie existed. I asked her again to tell me what she thought. She maintained her original diagnosis that Arik had a tongue tie.

I continued pumping and we continued bottle feeding Arik. Beyond just me being frustrated at having to rely on the bottle when I so desperately wanted to nurse my baby, Arik was often struggling with the bottle, too. He would frequently lose milk out the sides of his mouth. Sometimes, it went well and the burp rags were mainly dry. Other times, they’d be sopping wet, no matter how hard I tried to keep the milk from spilling out. Arik was nearly two months old by this point, yet we were still having to use newborn bottle nipples with him, as anything else was simply too fast flowing for him to handle. I was extremely stressed out and utterly exhausted. I hated pumping – it was becoming brutally painful and I had to amp myself up each time to just turn the damn thing on, fighting back tears as it started up and continued to shred my breasts.

At around this time, we were reaching a breaking point. Between the pumping, feeding and then sterilizing the pump gear, I already felt like that was all my life consisted of. But Arik still wasn’t gaining weight. We thought perhaps it was because of the energy he spent trying to bottle feed and, worse, the calories he burnt off whenever he was in hysterics… which was pretty much whenever I put him down. In an effort to help him gain weight, I basically held him for a week straight. Throughout the day, I would hold him, rocking him to keep him calm. I became a pro at feeding him with one hand while he sat in his little newborn seat, feeding myself with the other hand, while simultaneously pumping milk for the next feed, and then one-handed sterilizing pump gear or prepping a bottle (I got good at doing everything one-handed) as I once more held the baby. So with all that effort, you can probably imagine my reaction when, at the next weigh-in on May 3rd, Arik had only gained 55g over the course of a week. To put it into perspective, he was supposed to gain a minimum of 150g per week, and ideally upwards of 200g. All my efforts had been for naught and I was on the verge of collapse. Tove asked if my husband could come to collect us and Pat put a call into the hospital. It was time to check us in.

We spent the next few days in the hospital, with Arik being run through a gamut of tests. Thankfully, Arne-Morten was able to stay with us, as I desperately needed the help at that point. I was mentally and physically exhausted and it was all I could do to keep pumping. We had a lovely health nurse, Bente, who tried to help with the breastfeeding. She watched me try to nurse Arik and gave suggestions for what I could try. We would weight Arik before feeding, breastfeed him for 10 minutes and then weight him again to see how much he was taking in. It wasn’t very promising. He was taking in an average of 20ml per attempted breastfeed; not nearly enough. And it was getting progressively worse. It was so stressful and seemingly pointless that we eventually agreed to just give up on the breastfeeding/weighing drama for a time. It was too stressful on Arik and we had to focus on his weight gain.

Over the following days, Arik had numerous blood tests, an ultrasound (head and stomach), and a brain scan. In spite of all the tests, nothing was conclusive. The only thing that was “off” had to do with Arik’s liver. His ferritin and liver enzyme levels were alarmingly high. However, his liver appeared perfectly normal otherwise. There was no swelling or bleeding, and Arik didn’t have any other symptoms of what those high levels might mean. We met with a really fantastic doctor who walked us through everything so far. In conclusion, they still weren’t sure what the problem was; it could be something that would simply clear up on its own. Or it could be a rare metabolic disease. Or leukemia. Thankfully, they were fairly certain it wasn’t leukemia, as there should have been other indicators in that case. But they weren’t yet able to definitively rule it out, so it remained a worry. They wanted to do an MRI to check into more.

We were being released from the hospital on temporary leave, since there wasn’t much more they could do at that point. Before leaving, we met with a nutritionist for further advice on how we might help Arik gain weight. She suggested we add some formula powder to the breast milk to give him an extra calorie boost. She also suggested I try avoiding dairy for a while to see if it was simply a dairy allergy (that seems to be the go-to suggestion in Norway…) After meeting with the nutritionist, we met with another doctor. I was beginning to worry that I was getting a breast infection and had flagged it with the nurses earlier that day. They said there was nothing that department could do, as it was the paediatric ward, so I would have to go to another unit of the hospital to get help. (Which, frankly, was an absurd suggestion, given I was already so busy dealing with a really needy infant!) I brought it up with the doctor. He took a look at the breast in question but wasn’t really sure if it was mastitis or not. He suggested I take some Paracet (Tylenol) and then released us from the hospital.

So we went home. Stressed. Still with no answers. Home with a baby who still couldn’t nurse and increasingly struggled to bottle feed. That night, I came down with raging mastitis. I spiked a fever and was so sick, I could barely stand. Arne-Morten insisted on taking me to emergency. They put me on antibiotics for the mastitis. In spite of that, I got it in my other breast just two days later. Lot of fun… The day after that, we found out that my mother-in-law has cancer. The day after that, we found out she not only has cancer, she has two types.

I’m not sure how much more our family could take…

The following days were a blur of trying to get me healthy again, trying to keep Arik happy (he was still really fussy, although the formula powder in his milk seemed to make him a bit happier), and trying not to lose ourselves to worry for Arne-Morten’s mom. The one shining light in all of this is the amazing support network we have. In that respect, we are well and truly blessed. Over that weekend home, my brother took the helm in our home and handled everything, including doting on his niece who was feeling a bit forgotten in all of this. My parents arranged for an emergency flight out for my mom (who had only just gone back to Canada) and managed to get her out to Norway four days later. I put a plea out to my “English speaking ladies in Buskerud” group and was amazed at how many people stepped in to provide us with dairy-free meals so we could focus on our family and not worry about cooking (especially not worry about the new diet of no dairy for me). And a girlfriend of mine came over and cleaned our house top to bottom while I got in a much needed nap with Arik. The amazing people in our life are what got us through.

On May 11th, we were checked back into the hospital to prepare for the MRI the following day. The MRI was, bar none, the worst experience of my life thus far. Arik had to be put under for it, which is scary enough on its own (there is always a risk with anesthesia, and the first time is always a bit nerve wracking, especially when you’re talking about a baby!) I held Arik as they tried to get an IV into one of his tiny veins. They tried both arms and even his feet… no dice. So to put him under, they had to use gas. Just thinking about it makes me feel sick. I held my baby down as they put a mask over his face and he screamed and gasped for air. I’ll never forget his screams.

Ironically, although going in for the MRI was so horrible, the waking up part, while traumatic, actually encouraged me to keep trying to find a solution to our breastfeeding woes. When Arik started waking up from the anesthesia, he was disoriented and stressed. The only thing that seemed to help was being put to my breast. I’m not sure how much milk he actually got, and at one moment, he made a terrifying choking/puking sound, as if he was struggling to breathe. But he wanted to nurse! It encouraged me to keep looking for answers.

The MRI didn’t tell us anything new and we were once more sent home. My mom had, by this point, arrived to help us out. The next couple of weeks were spent trying to get Arik’s weight up. The formula in his milk seemed to help a bit, although he was still just barely gaining the minimum. His ferritin and liver enzyme levels were also steadily going down, but still a lot higher than they should be, so we were referred to a paediatric liver specialist at Rikshospitalet in Oslo.

One of the most frustrating aspects of this whole ordeal has been the conflicting messages and the extreme lack of communication between the various health professionals. Our first point of contact has generally been the health clinic and Tove, our health nurse. But more often than not, she hasn’t been provided with the results of any tests or doctor visits unless I’ve brought them in myself. And the Fredrikstad hospital didn’t send much information on to Drammen hospital. Arne-Morten looked into it and learned that the main point of contact was supposed to be our family doctor, so I made an appointment with her to update her on the situation. (I had told her about the initial weight gain and nursing problems). Arik and I had an appointment with her on May 24th. She agreed that we needed to get this sorted and that we needed to try to establish breastfeeding. She got in touch with a contact at Ullevål hospital and got us in for an appointment the very next day.

On May 25th, we had an appointment with a midwife, Mari, at Ullevål hospital, who specializes in breastfeeding issues. She said we were an unusual case for her, as she usually saw babies in their first two weeks of life. Believe me, if we’d known about her before, we would have been there! I brought up the potential tongue tie again, as I still felt there was something to that. As we’d encountered almost every other time, she said she wasn’t very familiar with tongue ties. She looked more into the technique on how we were nursing and gave more suggestions. She said she would continue to look into it. While that appointment didn’t give us much in the way of answers, it at least made me feel a bit better: Mari asked if she could give me a hug (which, outgoing Canadian that I am, I happily accepted). She told me I was doing an amazing job with the pumping; that there was nothing more important that I could be doing for my baby right now. She told me to keep up the good work and that we would find a solution! I left there feeling more optimistic than I had in months.

On May 26th, we were once more in Oslo, this time at Rikshospitalet to meet with the liver specialist. She was nice enough, but didn’t have any more answers for us yet. She said that we might need to do a liver biopsy (which would mean more anesthesia…) We had more blood tests, which was another traumatizing experience. The woman who attempted to draw Arik’s blood seemed completely inept. I realise that it is tricky to find a vein on a baby, but Arik has had a lot of blood tests in his short little life and everyone else who has drawn blood has managed without too much fuss. This woman should get a new job. She completely failed with his arms and left him absolutely squalling. They ended up having to resort to drawing blood from a vein in Arik’s head! I was horrified and furious at the unnecessary trauma that woman’s ineptitude inflicted on my baby. As if the poor guy hasn’t already been through enough! The blood tests told us nothing new.

On June 1st, we had another weigh-in at the health clinic. Arik finally went up a good amount over the past week (225g!) but the joy was short-lived as we had to subject him to his first vaccines. He ran a fever that night and everyone was uncomfortable in the summer heat.

June 6th was a turning point for us. I was never able to fully let go of the idea that the nursing problems could be attributed to a tongue tie. Having spoken with numerous other moms who had been through the tongue tie ordeal, the symptoms just sounded so familiar. Since we weren’t getting answers from doctors in Norway, I started looking into specialists in the UK. A new friend I had met through the tongue tie group and been encouraged to get in touch with by Mhairi was also instrumental in me continuing to follow-up on tongue tie leads. Rachel had been through it with her own son and gently encouraged me to keep looking. I reached out to a handful of doctors and lactation consultants in London to see about taking Arik there. One of the lactation consultants I had messaged was Katherine Fisher who co-runs the London Tongue-tie Clinic. She got back to me really quickly and actually happened to be taking a personal trip to Norway soon. Katherine kindly offered to take some time out of her vacation to assess Arik.

Arne-Morten, Arik and I met with Katherine at my doctor’s office in Sandvika on the 6th. She walked us through her assessment and confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that Arik did, indeed, have a posterior tongue tie. A severe posterior tongue tie. While a baby should have about 16mm of “useable” tongue, Arik had a mere 6mm. No wonder he couldn’t nurse! Katherine showed my doctor how she did the assessment and my doctor agreed that it was clear the tongue tie was an issue. Katherine also watched as I tried to nurse Arik and, much to my relief, said there was still hope to salvage the breastfeeding relationship, as he was clearly not “breast adverse” and still showed an interest in nursing.

After the appointment at the doctor’s office, we met with Tine from the “Nasjonal kompetansetjeneste for amming” (national competence centre for nursing). I had earlier been in touch with Tine’s colleague, Ina, who had been very supportive of following up on the tongue tie, but had been unable to put me in touch with anyone in Norway who could help me. Tine and her colleagues have been trying to get tongue ties better recognized in Norway and had jumped at the chance to have Katherine here with her expertise. The meeting, however, was not particularly helpful. We still didn’t know of any doctors in Norway who could revise Arik’s tongue tie and, although Katherine said she was open to coming back to Norway to revise Arik’s tie (she hadn’t brought the tools for revising tongue ties with her on vacation), Tine wasn’t certain when we could make that happen. July is holiday time in Norway and, for whatever reason, most of June seems to be a write-off, too. She said we would likely have to arrange for something after the summer. Having waited for several months already, that simply wasn’t good enough for us.

Through Rachel and Mhairi, Tine had heard of another doctor who *might* be able to help us with Arik’s tongue tie. So at her suggestion, I booked us in for an appointment with Dr. Oscar Asante at another private clinic in Oslo. On June 14th, we had a third confirmation of Arik’s tongue tie. Dr. Asante walked us through his assessment as well. Unfortunately, the oldest baby he’d ever done a tongue tie revision on was 2 months old, and Arik was already over 3 months old by this point. He seemed a bit uncertain about doing the revision himself. It was agreed that we would converse with Katherine to see what the best way forward was.

Katherine confirmed that she would be willing to come back to Norway to perform the frenulotomy (tongue tie revision) so long as it would be covered by her insurance. Rachel was instrumental in arranging things with Katherine. In order to have Katherine perform a frenulotomy in Norway (given her insurance for medical practice is in the UK), she needed to be “supervised” by a local doctor. Rachel found us a doctor, Cecilie Revhaug, who was interested in learning more about tongue ties, having had two of her own three children who were afflicted by it. Cecilie agreed to be the supervising doctor.

While all this had been going on, we were still continuing to follow-up with the paediatric liver specialist unit at Rikshospitalet. We had another appointment there a little while after Katherine had confirmed the tongue tie. During this visit, we met with yet another doctor. He went over the latest results with us, letting us know, to our relief, that the levels continued to decrease. Although it was not this doctor’s area of expertise, we were both quite comfortable with this doctor, so Arne-Morten brought up the tongue tie diagnosis and how much trouble we’d had getting it recognised in Norway. The doctor wasn’t surprised and reconfirmed what Tine from the competence centre had said to us about how it used to be routine in Norway, but there were questions as to the necessity of revising tongue ties, so it was stopped. Arne-Morten asked why there were so few doctors in Norway who would do anything about tongue ties. The doctor responded with, “Why would they?” and made mention of the lack of long term benefits. No long term benefits? My baby struggled to eat and therefore struggled to gain weight. I would think allowing him to eat would be benefit enough! And studies have shown that nursing can have a huge impact on the avoidance of post-partum depression in mothers, particularly those pre-disposed to it. There are also concerns that untreated tongue ties can lead to problems eating solids, increased occurrence of reflux (which Katherine said Arik was showing symptoms of), speech impediments and even problems with jaw formation. Unfortunately, it seems the research in this area is extremely lacking; almost all evidence of long term problems associated with tongue ties is anecdotal. This has been one of our major struggles with coming to terms with Arik’s tongue tie. We, however, were convinced enough that we needed to do something.

June 27th, 2016, will forever be an amazing day in my mind. Frenulotomy day. We took Arik into Cecilie’s office in Oslo to finally have his tongue tie revised. Rachel and Mhairi were there to support. The procedure itself was incredibly minor; so minor, in fact, that I missed the actual clip of the frenulum, as I was focused on getting myself set-up to (hopefully) nurse Arik once it was done. A simple clip to the membrane under his tongue and it was done. Mhairi helped me get Arik latched on through a bit of trickery with offering him a bottle and casually switching the nipple of the bottle out for my nipple. I nursed my baby. For the first time in the whole nearly four months of his life, I was able to nurse my baby. That first nursing session wasn’t completely smooth – we had to trick him with the bottle a couple of times – but it was worlds better than any of us had expected it would be so shortly after the frenulotomy. And things just continued to get better from there. I fed Arik his last bottle later that night after successfully nursing him before bed.

I had to use nipple shields for a few more feeds in the following 24hrs, but already by the next morning, Arik wasn’t interested in a bottle. He was finally breastfed.

The baby who “didn’t want to nurse” was fully breastfed!

The first weigh-in after a week of breastfeeding wasn’t all that great, but Arik was clearly more content. Since being able to nurse, he has been a MUCH happier baby (not to mention how much happier his mom has been…) And the weigh-in the week after that was fantastic; our best one yet! Since the frenulotomy, life has been a lot better. We have a happier, clearly healthier baby. He continues to put on weight, his little cheeks have finally filled out a bit and he is happy. The baby who could not be put down is happy.

It concerns me immensely that so little is known in Norway about tongue ties. Further to that, I am horrified by the number of health professionals who told me they were absolutely SURE my baby didn’t have a tongue tie when they had no idea what they were talking about. I understand that doctors are only human; they can’t possibly know everything there is to know about the human body and medical conditions, and all humans make mistakes sometimes. But the number of medical professionals who confidently told us our baby did not have a tongue tie is astounding. Doctors make an oath to “do no harm” and yet, through their misplaced confidence in ruling out a tongue tie without actually knowing about tongue ties, numerous doctors inadvertently caused harm to a baby and his mother. Arik was called a “failure to thrive” baby. He was struggling to get the nutrition he so desperately needed – yes, even with bottles – because the egos of doctors caused them to not admit when they didn’t know something. Had I backed down, had Mhairi second-guessed herself, had I not had the encouragement from Rachel, my baby would have continued to struggle. And it likely wouldn’t have ended with nursing. He might have had trouble with solids. He might have developed speech issues. He probably would have continued to struggle with weight gain and been officially written off as a “failure to thrive” baby. That’s not good enough. That’s not ok.

In the grand scheme of things, Norway has a very good medical system. It’s not perfect, of course, but in comparison to many other medical systems globally, it’s quite good. And I know there are many amazing doctors and other health professionals in Norway. I personally have had very good experiences with the Norwegian medical system previously, and I am grateful for it. But in this case, the Norwegian medical system let us down. The system and nearly all the people we dealt with in it failed a baby.

I have heard so many times that Norway is a “breastfeeding nation;” some even go so far as to say it’s the “breastfeeding capital of the world.” And yet, it seems the moment breastfeeding isn’t easy (which, let’s face it, for many people, it’s not), you’re abandoned. And simply telling mothers to switch to formula is not ok. I am immensely grateful that there is such an option as formula for those who need it and I absolutely support those who choose it, but it should not be the go-to “solution” for moms struggling to nurse until all other options have been exhausted or the mom herself wishes to make the switch. For me, having medical professionals ignore my struggles and push me to use formula when I was so keen to nurse was a really painful experience. It pushed me to the brink of depression and affected not only how I felt about myself, but the energy I had for my baby, my daughter and my husband. All because rather than actually look into the problem, doctors told me to “just use formula.”

Thankfully, Arik is doing well now. But it could easily have turned out otherwise and it might not be ok for the next family struggling with a tongue tied baby. I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what we did. Changes MUST be made and I hope that perhaps Arik’s story can be a catalyst for change in Norway. Tongue ties are a real issue. It’s important that doctors learn about them, know how to diagnose them, and know how to revise them when necessary. Our babies are worth it.

 

The Disenfranchised Canadian

Once more, I and over 1.4 million other Canadians have been stripped of our constitutional right to have a say in how our country is governed. In mid-July, the government (using more than $1.3 million of YOUR tax dollars, I should point out) won their appeal to have Canadians residing abroad denied the right to vote in Canadian federal elections.

Perhaps one of the most disheartening parts about it is the number of Canadians who are ok with their fellow citizens being denied their constitutional right to vote. I’ve heard from several people who say to me something along the lines of, “Well, it would be ok for YOU to vote, you’re still closely tied to Canada. It’s others I wouldn’t want to be able to vote.” Which others? Why is it ok to discriminate against other citizens? What makes my (or your) citizenship more “worthy” than someone else’s?

 

Who we are
There seems a prevalent fear of so-called “citizens of convenience;” those only interested in maintaining their Canadian citizenship so that Canada will rescue them if they get caught in a bind abroad. I’m sure there are some people who have a Canadian passport for that reason alone, but they are few and most likely, they’re not voting. Friend, there is nothing “convenient” about voting abroad. Trust me, if someone is jumping through the numerous (and ever-changing) hoops in order to vote from abroad, they care about Canada and what’s happening there. And perhaps they have even learned valuable lessons during their time abroad that could benefit Canada and Canadians.

That brings me to my next point. Have you ever stopped to consider why a Canadian might live abroad? Canada is arguably one of the best countries on earth in which to reside (depending, of course, on who you are; but that is a discussion for another post.) So why would a Canadian choose to live somewhere else? I can’t speak for all of us living abroad, obviously. For some, they go where the work is. For others, they move for love. In my case, I like to say I have the honour of one foot in each of the two best countries on earth: Canada and Norway. I won the lottery of life by being born in Canada and I am – and always will be – first and foremost Canadian. But speaking frankly, Norway is a better country in which to raise a family. My family and I have it better in Norway than we would in Canada. I sense some of you signing out at this point. “If Norway’s so much better than Canada, why don’t you just become a Norwegian, live out your life there and shut up about it already?” Because I am Canadian. Because I passionately LOVE my country. Because I believe Canada has the possibility to be THE best country on earth. And I want to help make it that way.

 

Am I really affected?
There is a lot of rhetoric about decisions made in Canada not affecting Canadians living abroad. To be blunt: that’s bullshit. I’ve already outlined above how it affects me in terms of where I’ll raise my family (as much as I would truly love to live together with my family in Canada.) Further to that, laws that are passed in Canada still absolutely affect me and others living abroad. How familiar are you with Bill C-24, which came into effect in June 2015? Under that, a Canadian citizen who has dual citizenship with another nation – or even just the possibility of citizenship with another nation, such as through a parent, grandparent or spouse – can have their Canadian citizenship stripped. Now, this doesn’t only affect Canadians living abroad. There are some of you who have never lived abroad who could still have your citizenship stripped and find yourself extradited. But it affects me only because I live abroad. I was born and raised in Canada. I only hold Canadian citizenship (as will be the case for as long as Norway does not allow dual citizenship, as I will never willingly give up my Canadian citizenship. See above.) Since I have lived in Norway for a certain length of time, however, I have the possibility to apply for citizenship. And in spite of the fact that I don’t intend to apply for Norwegian citizenship, that’s enough to dump me into the second-class citizen category as far as Canada is concerned. That’s enough to make me a candidate for losing my Canadian citizenship should I “step out of line” – the boundaries of which have also been expanded. You can read more about the concerns surrounding this bill from the Canadian Bar Association.

So how does one “step out of line” enough to potentially lose one’s citizenship? Well, if you engage in “treachery or terrorism,” you could lose your citizenship. That probably sounds reasonable, right? Conveniently, however, the government has also passed a bill (Bill C-51) expanding what is considered “terrorism.” Environmental activism, even non-violent, could potentially get your name jotted down on a terrorist watch list. Under this bill, engaging in activities that are “contrary to Canada’s economic interests” could get you convicted under this bill. Disagree with Canada’s petroleum expansion? Terrorist. Along with others, Amnesty International has voiced concern about this bill’s lack of adherence to international human rights requirements, yet it still passed.

 

Yeah, but you’re not affected by ALL the decisions made here
It’s true, a Canadian citizen living abroad isn’t affected by all the decisions the federal government makes. Then again, neither is a citizen actually residing in Canada. Mark MacKinnon said it well in his “I am Canadian – but not as much as I used to be” post when he stated:

“Given that our electoral system is designed in such a way that voters in, for instance, Prince Edward Island send representatives to the House of Commons, who then vote on their behalf on issues as distant and unrelated to daily life in P.E.I. as fisheries policy in the Fraser River, it seems an odd complaint.”

None of us – not one, single Canadian residing in either Canada or abroad – is affected by every single decision made at the federal level. And yet, when Canada makes foreign policy decisions, or when Canadian politicians simply comment on foreign affairs, it often more acutely affects those of us living abroad than it does Canadians residing within Canada. Russia, anyone? Canada’s official stance on the Israel/Palestine situation? Or how about how up until recently, a Canadian travelling to the United Arab Emirates for work (myself included) paid extra, particularly steep visa fees because of a federal level spat between the two nations? And when the Canadian government fails to meet it’s climate action agreements, it’s those of us living abroad who hear about it regularly (in spite of us not being able to vote for change…) More importantly, though, for those of us who travel frequently, Canada’s foreign policy can literally make a life-altering difference. Decisions the federal government makes can cause those of us traveling with Canadian passports to become targets. I’d say that’s a pretty big deal.

 

If you just paid taxes…
For some, the issue is about taxation. “No representation without taxation!” Aside from the fact that voting is not (and should not!) be contingent on whether one pays income tax or not (given there are many Canadians residing in Canada who don’t pay income tax yet can – and should be permitted to – vote), many Canadians living abroad ARE paying taxes. Personally, I don’t have to pay income tax in Canada at the moment, because of the tax agreement between Canada and Norway, put in place to avoid double taxation (and believe me, I’m paying a good deal more in taxes in Norway than I would in Canada!) But nor do I take advantage of the social benefits covered by Canadian taxes such as healthcare. All that said, many Canadians abroad DO pay taxes to Canada – to the tune of some $6 billion annually – and yet are not able to vote. In my case, I would happily (ok, not so happily, given it would be a pointless and costly – wasting YOUR tax dollars – exercise) file tax papers to Canada each year, if it gave me the right to vote. Taxation is not a guarantee of the right to vote, nor is lack of taxation a valid reason to deny a citizen of legal voting age their constitutional right to vote.

 

So what’s this really about?
The Conservatives would have you believe they are denying 1.4 million Canadians the right to vote because it protects YOU as a Canadian residing in Canada, that it protects the value of your vote. That’s not what this is truly about. Those of us being denied the right to vote because we live abroad are part of a larger push to deny as many citizens as possible the right to vote. Why? Power. Control. Even within Canadian borders, the Conservatives are bringing in laws – for example, the voter identification provisions of the ironically named “Fair Elections Act” (Bill C-24 again) – that make voting more difficult, particularly for certain minority groups such as First Nations people living on reserve. It’s not an accident.

If I were permitted to vote this coming election, the riding in which I’d cast my vote is one in which the party I vote for is a shoe-in already. So in that sense, whether or not I am able to vote doesn’t really matter. But the bigger picture DOES matter. The disenfranchising of millions of Canadians – both in Canada and abroad – DOES matter. I love my country and I, for one, want better for it.

Do you know where your clothes come from?

It’s becoming really trendy to buy ethically. That coffee you sip each morning? Fair Trade, obvs! The apple you had after lunch? Well, local-grown, pesticide-free just tastes better! That t-shirt you’re sporting? Organic cotton, baby!

On the one hand, I love that society seems to be more concerned with what they consume. But the cynical side of me worries it’s just a trend. Having spent a number of years living in Vancouver, I’m very familiar with the hipster, go-green trend. Don’t get me wrong, some people truly live it and truly mean it. A lot of people. And that really is awesome. But for some, it’s more a case of “green is the new black.” And that’s not sustainable. (Yeah, that was intentional.)

Admittedly, I’ve been trying to “go green” myself for a while now. And, while I really do have the best of intentions, sometimes I’m not as diligent as I perhaps could or should be when it comes to my research. It’s not a trend for me, but sometimes, I embrace the “ignorance is bliss” opportunities for as long as possible. And worse, I’m sure I often allow myself to fall victim to “greenwashing“.

Worse than turning a blind eye where the environment is concerned, however, is turning a blind eye when it comes to the suffering of other people. This is a topic that makes me incredibly uncomfortable, because I know that as a typical consumer, I add to the problem. And I don’t know how to fix it.

Have you seen this video? It’s an awesome campaign. I love that they’re getting people to think, if only for a moment, about who is behind the clothing that we all wear. But it’s not enough. So you’re “aware” of the problem; that’s great. What can you do about it? That seems to be where the momentum stops. And not just slows down. Full-on stops. Period.

I have been trying for a while (and not just half-assed, either) to find ethical clothing brands. Ones who are fair to everyone along the supply chain, even those at the very bottom. Yes, I know, I could (and do!) buy from sites such as Etsy, where you can get handmade, quality items. But that’s not always practical when it comes to clothing. I like to have the opportunity to try the clothing on and make sure I actually feel good in it before I make a purchase. Plus, I live in Norway. I have no problem paying a higher price for quality, ethical clothing, but if it’s coming from outside the country, I’m facing some seriously hefty import taxes and, worse, a ridiculous “processing fee” for someone to send me an invoice about that tax. It gets pricey fast and there have been a couple occasions where I pay more in taxes/fees than I paid for the actual item. Absurdity at its finest. I would happily pay more to ensure the people who make the clothing I purchase make a decent living wage, but I don’t see how paying exorbitant fees here in Norway is helping anyone who actually needs it.

Ironically, buying more expensive clothing doesn’t guarantee the person at the bottom of that ladder is actually making a decent (or even liveable) wage, either. A lot of the top high-end brands source their clothing from the same places as the cheap brands. So while you’re paying top-dollar for a name on a tag, you’re likely getting something that came from the same sweatshop as that $8 tank top from the no-name brand. (Possibly the same quality too…)

I wish I could say I have solutions. So far, I don’t really. For one thing, I don’t think a “perfect brand” exists at this point. But if you’d like to learn more about where your clothing is coming from and start making “mindful” choices about it, here are a few good resources to get you started:

  • The Clean Clothes Campaign gives advice on what to look for when looking into your favourite brands. Their main focus is on workers’ rights.
  • Ethical Consumer is one of my go-to sites for advice on “going green” in Europe (it’s UK-based.) On this page, they address ethical clothing. (If you want to extend your ethical shopping to other areas of your consumer life, I recommend snooping around their site even further!)
  • In North America, there’s an awesome product review site that I generally refer to for info about personal care items such as shampoo, toothpaste, etc. They don’t have anything about adult clothing, but the GoodGuide has some children’s apparel information for a few companies.

And most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask. The more companies are questioned by their customers, the more likely they are to make a change for the better.

If you have tips or advice about shopping ethically, please feel free to share!

Lizards are for girls, too

Lindex is a large, Scandinavian clothing line, originally from Sweden and boasting hundreds of stores across Europe. It’s affordable and, when I was just shopping for myself, seemed to have a good selection. And then I became a mom. Not only that, I became a mom of a girl.

Initially, shopping for my daughter was reasonably easy. We’re trying to go “gender neutral” as much as possible, in order to let her choose her own preferences and styles when she’s old enough to care about such things. But the older she gets, the harder that is. Lindex doesn’t help. For the first month or so of a child’s life, there are “neutral” clothing options featured at Lindex. However, even from a month or so on, the clothing is very clearly sorted into what is “for boys” and what is “for girls.” And, you probably guessed it, the boys stuff is blue, greys, greens and browns, while the items in the girl section are almost exclusively pink or purple, with a lot of frills and fluff. The boys clothing features trucks, bugs, dinosaurs and planes, while the girls clothing is adorned with puppies, kittens, tiaras and pom-poms.

Contrary to seemingly popular belief, I actually don’t have a problem with pink. I just don’t want my daughter to be completely inundated with it simply because she was born with a vagina. (Yep, I said the “v” word. Scary…) And, personally, I have pretty much zero interest in cars. But I don’t think my daughter should grow up thinking cars are only for boys. If she loves cars and trucks and wants them on her clothes, fantastic. Don’t tell her she can’t because she’s female. Likewise, if a little boy happens to think frilly, pink tutus are the best thing ever, why should he be made to feel that they’re only for girls? Why is society so obsessed with categorizing us, even from the earliest of ages?

Back to Lindex
Over the past (almost) two years of my daughter’s life, I’ve grown gradually more disenchanted with the chain. Currently based in Scandinavia, I’m lucky to live in a place where true gender equality is tangibly close to reality. Not quite there yet, but I don’t know of any place on earth where the gap is smaller. Sweden even came up with a gender neutral pronoun a few years back and officially added it to the dictionary this year. They’re literally leading the charge on this topic! Which, perhaps unfairly on my part, makes me even more disappointed with a Swedish brand like Lindex being so backward-facing about gender equality. I find they’re one of the biggest offenders when it comes to segregating girls and boys on clothing preferences. The last few times I’ve been in there, I’ve been distinctly uncomfortable with it – and the messages I am potentially sending to my impressionable child by shopping there.

Alright, so they’ve got clearly labelled “girl” clothing and “boy” clothing. No big deal, right? Just choose the clothing you like, regardless of whether Lindex deems it for the opposite gender. No harm done! Well…

Yesterday, I took the opportunity of a particularly early start on our Saturday to bring my daughter into town to run errands. One of those errands was to get some new clothing for her. (Kids seriously grow too quickly.) A Lindex store happened to be in the area. I admit, I was a bit hesitant to go in there, knowing as I do, how stereotype-heavy their clothing is. But, try as I might to find clothing companies for children that don’t engage in that kind of thing, I have yet to come up with a significantly better option. (H&M sometimes does better, but they’re not great, either.)

We needed to get a few things: shirts, pants and PJs, topping the list. My daughter has been obsessed with ladybugs recently, so I added some fun ladybug capri tights to the pile (yep, from the “girls” section.) And there was a “buy 3, pay for 2” sale on shirts, so I stocked up on three “goes with everything” (read: plain white or plain black) tops. I also got her some jeans (they were from the girls section, so all the options had at least some degree of pink on them, much to my chagrin, even if it was just the stitching.) I couldn’t, for the life of me, find the PJ section, unless the flimsy “Frozen” dresses, of which there were three options, were what Lindex counts as pyjamas. And then I came across the socks selection. I had been meandering back and forth between the “boys” and “girls” sections and I guess I was in the “boys” section at that point. (You can always tell because there’s actually more of a variety to choose from.) My daughter was busy ducking in and out of the clothing racks, trying to tempt me to chase her, but I called her over to see some cool little lizard socks I’d stumbled across. “Ooooh!” she exclaimed in excitement, “Mine…?” More statement than politely phrased request, but I pretended she’d asked nicely and added them to the pile. Yep, she could have the socks.

We headed up to the counter (ok, I headed up to the counter, she pirouetted away to check out something else that had caught her eye.) When it was my turn, I unloaded the various items onto the counter, looking over my shoulder to ensure my kid was still in sight. The woman at the till started ringing my purchase through, smiling when she scanned in the ladybug capris. Then she came across the socks. “These are for boys,” she helpfully informed me. If looks could kill, she would’ve been a goner before she even knew she’d erred. I shot a glance at my daughter to ensure she hadn’t heard that unthinking line. My daughter isn’t old enough to understand the concept of “gender” yet, but I fear it’s not too far down the road. “They’re socks,” I pointed out (far more politely than I felt), turning back to the woman, “there’s no such thing as ‘boy’ socks.” She looked at me for a moment before simply stating, “Oh” in a bored tone, shrugging her shoulders and tossing them into my bag.

Part of me wanted to launch into a lecture. Normally, I probably would. But this person clearly didn’t care about why the weird lady standing across the counter from her wanted to buy lizard socks for her little girl. Another part of me wanted to just leave all the clothing at the counter, grab my baby’s hand and march out of there. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t. Instead, I stood there in frustration, occasionally looking over at my wonderful little person, blissfully innocent of a world that will discriminate against her simply because of her genitalia.

“It’s just socks,” you might say. “What’s the big deal?” This time, it’s just socks. But think about it for a moment. Those socks had lizards on them… what on earth makes that something “for boys” as opposed to “for kids, regardless of gender?” As a friend pointed out: last time I checked, there are both male and female lizards in nature. Why is a lizard a “boy” animal and a kitten a “girl” animal? And it goes beyond that. This time, my girl is being told (yes, even if it’s only being implied) she shouldn’t like lizards because she’s a girl. Tomorrow, she might be told she can’t be good at science because of the same reason. No. NO! I won’t stand idly by when someone tries to limit my kid, even if it’s just socks.

Something’s gotta give.

When we got home from our errands and I put my daughter down for her nap, I sat down and composed a letter to Lindex about the incident. If you haven’t already, and are so inclined, you can read it on Facebook. (Yep, I posted it there in the hopes that a little more publicity will urge them to do something). I’ve sent it off to their customer service department and am currently waiting for a reply. How they handle it will determine whether or not they keep me as a customer. And I’m going to keep looking for better options. For one thing, their gender segregation isn’t the only thing that bugs me about Lindex and other big chains; I’ll post about ethical clothing another time. But for now, I’m going to keep working at supporting whatever it is my daughter shows an interest in, and encouraging her to be true to what SHE likes – regardless of whether it’s to my tastes or fits within the stereotype society has assigned to her. I just hope it’s enough.

Mom’s the word

Dear Diary…
I kid, I kid!  This won’t really be a diary entry.  It’ll be a blog post, or at least, I’ll try to make it a blog post.  Seriously though, does anyone else struggle with that?  I find I need to constantly remind myself that I’m writing something that potentially (unlikely, yes, but potentially!) the whole world could see and I need to write accordingly.  I struggle with my “voice” when blogging.  It’s all too easy to forget there’s an audience and that writing as if only to my diary is not doing anyone any favours, least of all me.  Especially on posts like this, as there’s the risk they could go all teenage angst sob story.

You see, my mom heads home today.  And, as grateful as I am for the three weeks we just spent together, I tend to get a little emotional at the end of it.  I feel that half a world of distance all the more keenly when she goes, especially now that I’m a mom myself.  It’s hard building a family on the other side of the world from the one I grew up with.  Don’t get me wrong, I am well aware of just how blessed I am.  The opportunities I have here in Norway are nothing to scoff at.  I live a pretty charmed life, and this is definitely a country to raise a kid in.  My little one is lucky to have been born here and I’m grateful that she was.  But sometimes (often), I miss what I had back in Canada.  Particularly the people.  So every once in a while, I allow myself a brief moment to feel sorry for my not-so-hard-done-by self.

Aright, moment over.  Let’s focus on the things I’m grateful for instead, specifically when it comes to my mom who, let’s face it, is pretty awesome.

If I were to name one person who most inspires me to do better by this planet, it would have to be my mom.  Her influence is the main reason I want to live a healthier, greener, cleaner more sustainable life.  Her passion for nature and this world is unrivalled and she instilled a lot of that in my brother and me.  My mom has a great respect for the entire animal kingdom.  (Ok, mosquitos are free to piss off ’n die, but pretty much everything else is welcome as far as mom’s concerned.)  The reason I rescue those wayward spiders that I discover in my home?  My mom.  (She’s also the voice in my head that guilted me for weeks after I vacuumed up one particularly intimidating spider.  Won’t do that again!)  And I’m convinced that my insistence on live traps (which my fantastic hubby, as usual, takes in stride) – for the wayward mouse that took up residence between our floorboards – can be attributed to my mother’s influence.  Why kill when you can relocate?  Exactly.

Mom was early on the natural cleaning supplies bandwagon.  She was suspicious (and rightfully so, it seems) of a lot of the household cleaning products, distrusting of the harsh chemicals.  I grew up in a house cleaned with things such as vinegar, baking soda and lemon – all of which tend to be the go-to cleaners in my home now.  I am SO grateful for that!  The more I research into these “miracle” cleaners, the more relieved I am that they are – for the most part, at least – not part of my life.

And yes, mom can probably take credit for a good deal of my environmental activism, too.  I’m really proud of her for attending the Enbridge protests a few months back, doing what she can to protect BC’s coast.  Granted, this is probably one aspect many people wish she hadn’t passed on to the next generation, but I’m glad she did.

For someone who has lived comfortably all her life, my mom is really great about reusing and up-cycling.  She doesn’t need to.  She could fairly easily buy in (pun intended?) to the disposable culture.  But she doesn’t.  It’s something my family and I tease her about more than we should… when she holds on to something 99% of the rest of the western world would toss out in favour of something new… But she does it because it’s right.  Like when I was clearing out some of my stuff from my parents’ basement.  I came across a bunch of old toys.  Sorting through them, I decided which ones were in good enough shape to go to second hand – as is – and which should be tossed.  An old doll stroller was in the toss pile and I groaned as mom “rescued” it.  More junk.  Well, mom cleaned it, mended some torn fabric, fixed it up and made it good as new again… just in time for Christmas.  Some little girl got a better Christmas because my mom lovingly restored something most the rest of the world – myself included – would have been too lazy to bother with.  I think that’s pretty great.

I could go on about my mom for ages; these examples just scratch the surface, but it probably gives you a better idea of where my interests come from.  I love how passionate she is and I don’t tell her often enough how awesome she is.  I’m so glad my little girl has such a good roll-model to look up to.  I know I’m the better for it.

Nana and her favourite girl

Nana and her favourite girl

No milk, no eggs, no problem

I promise this blog isn’t going to be all about food.  I’m not qualified to write about food expertise, nor am I interested enough.  But I’m pretty proud of my latest food-related accomplishment, so I’m going to brag about it a bit.

Two of my husband’s cousins live relatively close to us and yet, in spite of that, we have never visited with them.  It’s something I bug hubby about on and off as, coming from a big, chaotic and yet close-knit family, I like to keep in touch with family.  My husband claims it’s just another one of my “collections.”  (He also accuses me of trying to collect rooms, just because when we were house-hunting, I insisted whatever we bought had to have at least 4 rooms and got ridiculously over-excited about one we considered that had 7.  Seven bedrooms…. imagine!)  I digress.  At any rate, we finally got around to inviting the cousins over for a visit.

As it turns out, one of the cousins is a vegan.  Begin panic mode!  What the heck were we going to feed her?  Now, I’m no Martha Stewart, happy hostess.  My home, although comfortable and something I’m proud of, does not look like it came right out of the pages of a magazine.  And I don’t set a table fit for entertaining the queen.  But it’s his family and the first time they’re visiting our home.  I want to make a good impression and I generally aim for at least half-decent-hostess status.  Vegetarian, I can work with, but vegan is intimidating.  Plus, it throws a kink in my world-famous (hah!  I’d like to think) banana bread plans.  I found – on Pinterest, of course – a really awesome recipe for banana bread.  It’s easy to make and has turned out great each time I’ve tried it.  However, it also contains milk and eggs.  Dilemma.

Since I don’t drink cow milk, I already had a substitute (rice milk) on hand.  Eggs are trickier though.  Back to Google I go.  (Seriously, what did people do before Google?)  After a very brief search, I came across a pretty amazing post: a beginners guide to replacing eggs.  Absolutely brilliant!  The second option – 3 tablespoons of mashed banana and 1/2 tsp baking powder per egg – seemed like the best fit for my needs.  The author warned that banana gives a bit of a taste… I would hope so in banana bread!

A little more than an hour before our guests were set to arrive, I started my witch’s brew.  Banana bread makes the house smell absolutely delicious – part of the reason why it’s my favourite show-off dish (happy hostess, remember?)  So I was a bit nervous when hubby wanted to boil some eggs to add to the buffet we were serving for lunch.  When I pointed out that it would be a weird smell combo with the banana bread he gave me his patented (or at least it should be) “Woman, you are crazy” look.  Fine, fine, boil your eggs.  Stupid eggs were really messing with my hostessing abilities here.

Finally, the guests had arrived and settled in, my little one had enjoyed her opportunity to squeal at hubby’s cousins’ kids (she’s at that age where she’s stoked about meeting other kids) and it was time to tuck into the table for lunch.  The banana bread cooling on the kitchen counter looked pretty promising, but would it taste as good?  I wasn’t sure which of the two cousins was the vegan, so I asked and was met with blank stares.  Maybe “vegan” is a different word in Norwegian?  I had figured it was a fairly new term, relatively speaking, so Norwegian had probably just yanked it directly from English.  No?  Ok… I tried to explain what I meant asking who here didn’t eat meat or eggs or milk…  Again, the blank looks.  “I don’t eat red meat, but everything else is fine,” explained one cousin.  “I’m not a vegan.”

Not a vegan?!?!  Not a VEGAN?!?!  (Picture it yelled – in my head, at least – like the “Not a woman” line from Willow.  Haven’t seen that movie?  You’re missing out.)  I tried to stay calm, visions of unnecessarily terrible banana bread dancing in my head.  “You’re not?  Oh.  Hubby said one of you was a vegan.”  (Turn to glare in the general direction I’d last seen my husband.)  “Nope.  I wonder why people keep thinking that?”

Turns out, her fiancé is vegan, but she’s not.  Well, drat.  I explained about the banana bread then, apologizing profusely in advance should it taste wonky.  This was my first foray into vegan cooking, after all.  (All for naught!)

The lunch went off without a hitch.  Hubby’s aunt, cousins and their kids are all really nice.  (We really should spend more time with them.)  And finally, the banana bread tasting began.  (Admittedly after some prompting from me.  “Don’t forget to try the banana bread.  Sorry if it’s terrible!”)  I attempted to focus on feeding my baby while people dug in, not wanting to put more pressure on them to “like” the banana bread than I already had.  “Hey, this is really good!”  I cautiously look around.  One cousin is even giving some to her little daughter.  Let’s face it, a kid under the age of two, as this little sweetie is, will not pretend something is good to spare my delicate feelings.  She loved it!  My mom turned to me and confirmed, “It actually IS good!”  I had to try it.  Huh.  Who’da thunk?  It WAS good!

Alright, so it’s a little ironic that I’d gone to all that trouble for no good reason.  And banana bread – being more like a cake than bread, as my husband points out – is not exactly a health food.  But I was pretty excited I could make a vegan recipe work.  It might even challenge me to look into some other vegan recipes.  Maybe even some that are actually about “healthier living.”  (That is, after all, what this blog is supposed to be about, right?)  I’ll make an honest effort to have a non-foodie post next time.

Oh, and I didn’t take pictures of the banana bread.  It looks just like a normal banana bread.  Google it.  In the meantime, here’s the fruit plate I put together.  (Pinterest, obviously.)  See?  Hostessing at its best.  Hah!

Fancy fruit

Fancy fruit

The wonders of home cooking

I love a good slow-cooked meal.  Growing up, the slow cooker – or crockpot, as we called it – was a staple of my dad’s (yep, dad was the cook in our household) kitchen.  The main recipe he employed it for was chilli and it was delicious!  I have yet to find a meal better suited to a cold, winter evening than a big bowl of steaming chili.  Yum!

When I first moved out on my own, there was no way I was going to spend my precious few expendable dollars on a slow cooker, so I made do without for a few years.  But when I settled down with my now husband and we started setting up house, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t really claim to have a “real” home without a slow cooker.  (Yes, I know I’m ridiculous.)  Well, slow cookers aren’t particularly commonplace in Norway.  If you were willing to shell out the big bucks – and here, I’m talking around $300 – you could get a pretty basic one, but it was no great shakes and I was NOT dropping that kind of cash on it even if it was.  When hubby and I got married, we had a slow cooker on our wish list and friends of ours were generous enough to actually get it for us.  (Yes, we’re spoiled.)  Unfortunately, the crockpot came from North America.  So, while we were able to get an adaptor for it that was supposed to convert voltage, etc., it was not a fan of Norwegian electricity, apparently.  The first time we used it, smoke came out from behind the control panel.  Yikes!  I get nervous leaving the crockpot (yes, I’m going to use the two terms interchangeably throughout this post, get used to it) on while we’re out of the house at the best of times.  Not gonna happen with one that’s smoking…

We packed the crockpot away with the intention of bringing it to Canada for my brother later (tried that… the lid shattered into a million pieces in my suitcase.  THAT was fun to clean up!)  Eventually, when Norway got a bit more adventuresome in the slow cooker department, we purchased one here.  It was still more expensive than I’d like to pay, but manageable.  And our home was finally filled with the glorious smells of a slowly perfected, home-cooked meals.

You’d think my (thus far kinda boring) story would end there, right?  Nope!  A while back, I stumbled across an interesting post on my Facebook newsfeed.  It was an electricity-free crockpot.  Say whaaat?!?!  This magical device is called a “Wonderbag.”  Basically, it’s a big, insulated bag, topped with a puffy little hat, closing in at the top.  All ingredients are brought to a boil on conventional stovetop.  Boil for about 20 minutes (this varies a bit,depending on the recipe) and then seal the pot into the Wonderbag.  The food continues to slowly cook as the hours pass.

I admit, I was a bit skeptical at first.  But the reviews looked good and I was intrigued.  Plus, I like the history of the company and that for every Wonderbag purchased, another is sent to a family in Africa.  I decided to try it out.  Checking out the various options available on the website, I was stoked to see one of the options not only provided a “sister bag” to a family in Africa, but that it was actually handmade by a woman in Africa (job creation), using recycled materials and part of the proceeds go to the World Wildlife Fund.  Sold!  I went for the purple one, of course.

A short wait later and my package arrived.  It was sent in a clear, plastic wrap, so I got a few questioning looks at the post office.  But this is Norway; they didn’t ask.  I excitedly brought my new kitchen toy home.  My husband snorted, “You know you can get the same result with a duvet, right?”  Hey, no raining on my parade, buddy!  So, what recipe to try first?  Chili, of course!

With help from my mom, visiting from Canada, I got all the ingredients prepped and thrown together and brought it all to a boil.  We let it boil for about 20 minutes, I put everything into a smaller pot (there’s supposed to be as little extra room in the pot as possible) and put it into the Wonderbag, sealing up the top.  Now, to wait.  7 hours later, it was time toeat.  Finally, the moment of truth.  Hubby opened up the bag, skeptical it’d still be warm enough, and out whooshed the scrumptious smelling steam.  Definitely warm enough.  And, oh, was it tasty!

Final verdict?  This one’s a winner.  The food turned out great, I love that it’s electricity-free so it saves energy and there’s no risk of a fire, and I feel good about supporting several great causes.  Yum all around!