Monday, April 16, 2012

Flying with the boy

Earlier this month I took Kaelen, who had just hit 3 months old, from Seattle to Boston by myself.  With a plane change each direction ranging from 45-60 mins.  And with cloth diapers.  It was a spur-of-the-moment decision based on the fact that my grandparents are in their 80s, Kaelen is their first great-grandson, flights were quite cheap, and I was still on maternity leave.  Gene's and my trip last summer brought my New England family and me much, much closer together and it was an honor to share our little boy with them. 

Kaelen's first airplane

The stars were aligned, and so I blindly jumped at the chance to spend 12 hours alone each way for door-to-door travel with a little baby. 

(screeching tire sounds)  Say what now?  Am I a crazy glutton for punishment?  Travel with an infant, cross-country, alone, with a flight change, and using cloth diapers. 

Full disclosure: we did have some problems but they were relatively minor.  Kaelen fussed a little as we descended into Boston.  I could see his eyes open wide and feel his little body go rigid as we landed, and I knew it was because his ears were popping.  Mine were, too. 

After we finally got to my aunt and uncle's house, Kaelen freaked the eff out.  And I do mean wake-the-entire-household-up screaming fit that lasted 30 minutes.  I felt awful because it was 1:30 a.m. and my cousin is a baker who has to leave the house by 3 a.m. to get to her job at an amazing bakery in Cambridge.  Not to mention my aunt and uncle who also get up at the buttcrack of dawn to start their jobs.  Hush, hush, baby!

After he relaxed a little I tried to put him down only to get his epic pouty mouth and signature lip quiver that happens microseconds prior to an ear-splitting eruption.  I was certain I was going to be forced to sleep in my travel clothes with him in my arms because I couldn't open a suitcase one-handed while holding a scared baby in the other.  He eventually allowed me to put him down long enough to change.  I let him sleep with me that night as reassurance that he was OK as long as I was there.

The start of our 6-hour snuggle fest

All in all, I had planned really carefully and the flights each way did go smoothly.  Hey, I'm a Virgo.  We're anal-retentive avid planners.

Here are my tips for taking an infant on a flight:
  • Preload bottles with formula but not water (unless BFing, which is awesome but since my boobs went on strike so it's formula for us).  Take way more than you think you'll need because if you're delayed you won't be able to buy more easily.
  • Slip-on shoes and pull-on pants for you are a must.
  • Use a front-carrier for baby, & a backpack (forget a diaper bag) for baby's stuff.  You'll feel like a pack mule but your hands will be free.
  • Take easy-to-eat, non-messy food for yourself on the plane: crackers, cold cuts, cheese, pre-cut apples, nuts, grapes, yogurt-covered pretzels, etc.
  • Be sure to have something for baby to suck on during take-off & landing: bottle, finger, pacifier, toy, anything.  Keep encouraging them to suck, even if they're sleepy.  Don't chew gum & only clear your own ears when you see baby sucking so that you can gauge what's going on with theirs.
  • As you board, ask flight attendants which lavatory has a changing table and let them know if you need water for bottles.  Based on my experience, they won't offer any info or aid unless you ask.  In fact, the post-flight survey Delta sent me got a diatribe about the lack of any courtesy shown to a mom who was clearly travelling alone with an infant.
  • If you can, keep baby in the carrier for the entire flight, including take-off & landing.  My air crews never challenged me on this but it *is* against airline policy.  You'll be sweaty by the time you reach your destination but you won't have to jostle your little one around.
  • I bought a kindle on craigslist for the trip.  It was lightweight and gave me something to read that I could quickly put down & pick up one-handed when my baby didn't need my attention.
  • Don't be afraid to seek out the family bathrooms in the airports.  They're roomy & quite clean.
Kaelen didn't need a toy in-flight b/c he was too little for them.  He slept most of the way and only cried a little when I had to wake him to change his diaper.

Did I mention I used cloth diapers the entire trip, including the flights?  I felt like such a mommy rock star for having managed it successfully.
Waiting to board at Logan Int'l

The flights weren't comfortable but they were manageable.  I had enough space to rock and comfort Kaelen when he needed it, to read when he slept, to relax when I needed it, and to eat a healthy snack when I got hungry.

Having grown up on separate coasts, I'd never seen my family - grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins - with babies.  On the way to the airport I looked into the backseat and saw something I'd never seen before.  It's a sight that is forever carved into my memory.

It was my gramp, aged 89, holding hands with my son, aged 3 months.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Whooping cough, aka pertussis

Washington State is the first in the nation on a rather dubious list: 5% of children in the public education system have not been vaccinated against deadly and preventable illnesses.  That's the highest in the nation.

Well guess what: Washington is experiencing an epidemic of whooping cough.  It's made national news.

Vaccines are not a government conspiracy.  They were developed to save lives.  They don't cause autism.   Do you know who has the highest vaccination compliance rates in the country?  Immigrants. Immigrants from countries where these diseases have not been eradicated and who have seen firsthand the deadly results.

As the mother of an infant who has not yet had his first vaccination against whooping cough, the fact that a preventable disease is running rampant scares the shit out of me.  Whooping cough kills babies.

Whooping cough has hit uncomfortably close to home for me: my 36-year-old, healthy-as-a-horse brother recently recovered from a 2-month bout with whooping cough.

We're not sure when Jason contracted whooping cough, but we know that he got it at work.  His employer doesn't offer health insurance or sick leave (ahhh... the joys of the American health care "system").  Many of his coworkers who do have access to health care were diagnosed and treated with a round of antibiotics.  Jason wasn't so lucky.  He eventually bought some black market antibiotics and treated himself.  The whooping cough cleared up and he was finally able to feel better.

The disease earns its name.  At times Jason coughed so hard and so uncontrollably that he saw stars.  This disease doesn't easily clear up; my brother is one of the healthiest people I know.

While he was sick, our 94-year-old grandmother passed away.  We had lots of notice that she was dying and we all got to say our good-byes... except for my brother.  Because of the compromised health of so many people at the nursing home, he could not visit her.  She held on for 6 days after stopping eating and drinking, perhaps in the hope of seeing him one last time.  But he never came.

I gave birth to a healthy baby boy in December.  Everyone in my family is vaccinated against pertussis... except my brother.  Everyone has been able to spend time and bond with my son... except my brother. 

Jason missed two months of my son's life.  Far worse, he didn't get to have a final goodbye with our grandmother (and let's be honest, he was always her favorite).  All because he wasn't vaccinated.

Right before his symptoms started he visited our grandmother in the hospital and held my son, who was just 6 weeks old at the time. Our story could have had a tragic end instead of just a sad one.

Many adults allow their vaccinations to lapse because they aren't aware that some vaccinations, such as whooping cough (pertussis), diphtheria, and tetanus wear off with time.  You need to re-up these vaccinations every 8-10 years and they're bundled in a single shot.  I got a tetanus shot about 3 years ago when I sliced my finger open on a food processor blade.  Frankly, the shot hurt worse than the cut (until it got infected), but it was worthwhile.

There are some diseases for which you probably can rely on herd immunity in the USA, such as polio.  I don't care what your beliefs about vaccinations are: when it comes to the public health good, you cannot rely on herd immunity with whooping cough.  It's out there and it kills.

There is no reason you should not get vaccinated.  Just do it.

UPDATED: A friend posted this on her fb page.  It's a must-read for new parents and parents-to-be, with suggestions on how to protect your newborn from pertussis.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

How long do chickens live

Gwen, our sex-link hen, died last week.

Gene found her in the coop on the floor one night.  There were no injuries or outward signs of trauma.  I was out of town when it happened but he told he she'd been running around the yard that day with the other girls and exhibited no signs of illness, such as a droopy head and tail.

Unlike our previous hens' deaths, one due to parasites and another due to a mysterious wound, we don't know why Gwen died. 

Gwen broke a toe a couple of years ago and subsequently developed an infection.  We caught and treated the infection successfully, but she never laid eggs reliably again.

Gwen was one of my favorites.  She was friendly, curious, and always at my feet.  Whenever I was gardening she was right there with me, looking for earthworms, cutworms, millipedes, and anything else I might unearth.  She'd come running any time she saw the shovel and was a frequent visitor to the house.  She was no dummy and knew that people = food.

One thing people often ask me is how long chickens live.  We got our first batch of girls in May 2008, starting with Gwen, Dumpling (Barred Plymouth Rock), and Nugget (Rhode Island Red).  Dumpling died the first year.  Nugget is not only healthy as a horse, she's still laying several large eggs each week. 

I've heard that chickens can live into their teens.  I used to know a woman whose teen-aged hen laid about an egg per month.  I suspect that chickens have about the same life expectancy as guinea pigs: perhaps 5-10 years.  We've had chickens for 4 years now and this is our first death by natural causes (to the best of our knowledge).

When you decide to start an urban flock, one consideration is what to do with unproductive and aging hens.  Gwen didn't lay eggs for the last 2 years of her life.  She was a pet, pure and simple.  We jokingly named our chickens food names - Nugget, Dumpling, Curry, Croquette - because we had considered eating them when they got older.  Of course, the cardinal rule of raising livestock is "don't play with your food", a dictum we've broken over and over again.  Our girls have a place in our yard until the natural end of their lives.

Gwen had a good 4 years with us.  We loved her and she us (in her own chicken way).  I'm glad we kept her, despite her lack of productivity, because she had such a good personality.  She was always gentle, attentive, and interested in our activities.

Rest in peace, girl.