Birth Photography: Reclaiming our story

Having pictures taken of my daughter’s birth was the last thing on my mind when I was preparing for the big day. I concerned myself with all the details – which sheets I would use on the bed, what I wanted to eat and drink, and how I was going to manage the intensity of the contractions.

It was later, after the excitement had subsided and I had a tiny newborn nestled in my arms, that I asked my husband to see the pictures. 

There weren’t very many; a few shots of my labour support team and some postpartum procedures, taken by my amazing doula. Several that had been taken of the actual birth were deleted, as my mother worried they were too graphic. I felt sad about the lack of documentation, and wished I’d been more explicit about pictures that I wanted. 

I’m not alone in this, as many women report feeling regret over lack of pictures during childbirth. “We had so savoured the grainy photos of the birth of our daughter that had been captured by my husband and our birth doula,” says Ottawa resident Julia Nichol. Julia knew she wanted to document her second child’s birth, and hired a birth photographer to do a more professional job. 

More parents are choosing to invite birth photographers into the labour room, to capture a moment in time when intense emotions make it hard to remember certain details. Labouring mothers are in their own world, intensely focused on the waves of contractions; hours can go by in a blur.

“I also believe in, and hope to support, normalizing birth and offering visuals for women to hold something true in their mind when preparing for their own labours,” says Julia. “I find it so unfortunate how labour and birth are sensationalized on television, and hope to replace it with different, truer images.”

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Depicting birth in a positive light is an essential part of normalizing a largely medicalized time in women’s lives. Childbirth, after all, is the number one reason why women are admitted to hospital. We tend to associate hospitals with illness and death, so it can sometimes be hard for women to find comfort and safety while laboring in a maternity ward.

Greg and Julie Linton struggled to find that kind of comfort in the days and weeks following the birth of their son Henry. While Julie’s labour progressed very well at home, the moment of birth presented a significant challenge – Henry’s shoulders became stuck (a condition called “shoulder dystocia.”) Henry was transferred to hospital with the help of emergency services, and thus followed many days of waiting and worrying while Henry spent time at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (Henry is a now a happy and healthy one year-old.)

“I couldn't imagine getting through those first few days and months without our photographer and her photos," says Julie. "She held us up and celebrated with us afterwards. These beautiful photographs have reminded me time and time again to remember the whole birth story, and not to just focus on the one part that went wrong.” Even in the stressful moments, there was so much strength and beauty to be found.

With the popularity of birth photography on the rise, many parents-to-be are wondering if hiring a photographer for the big day is right for them.

“Some people likely believe birth to be too intimate to want to share it with the world,” says Julia Nichol. “I see that as a personal choice and completely respect both points of view. In my case, I did not feel this way at all.”

Greg Linton agrees. “People might think the photographer is going to ask you to do certain things during the birth, like trying to pose,” he says. “Being the dad, I was aware of our photographer, but at no time did I change my actions because of it. I did what I had to do for my wife and baby, and our photographer worked around us.”

Other worries women have are related to their bodies and privacy. Some women struggle with body image issues, or believe that birth photography is focused on capturing the moment when the head is being born. “It’s so not about that one shot,” says Kim Cameron from Breathe In Photography. “Of course we will get those shots if that’s what the woman has asked for. But there is so much more to a birth than that – there is an entire story to tell.”

And what a story it can be. I’ve created my own version of “on the night you were born” with both my girls. We scroll through the pictures, and marvel at the intensity of my expression, or laugh at the picture of the dog snoozing in the corner. Every child is fascinated by the story of their birth, and I love showing them how it all unfolded.

As my girls grow into women, I know that their birth pictures will show them the positive side of birth – the strength and beauty that we can witness as a new child comes into this world. I hope that this reduces any fears they may have about childbirth, and overrides what I see to be society’s negative understanding of birth. 

The message we receive is that women are to fear childbirth; we are told to distance ourselves from this process by removing our “selves” from the picture. By checking out of the labour, both physically or emotionally, there is the possibility we miss a key transformative moment in our lives.

Birth photographers are working to put women back in the picture, as the navigators of their own journey. Through these pictures, women are reclaiming their role at the centre of the story - one un-posed moment at a time. 
 

Activities to Celebrate National Flag of Canada Day

On February 15, 1965 the Canadian flag, as we know it, was raised for the first time on Parliament Hill, and in 1996, February 15th was declared National Flag of Canada Day.

If you’re looking to get your kids involved in National Flag Day here are six fun and educational Canadian flag-inspired activities:

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Dress in Red and White

This is a great way to teach younger children what the colours of our national flag are and is an easy activity for everyone in the family to participate in. You can even break out any old Canada Day shirts you may have.

Create a Trivia Game

The Government of Canada website is a great source for flag facts. Write down some trivia about the flag on index cards and create a game out of it.  Depending on the age of your children you can make the questions as simple as what are the colours of the flag, to what year was the flag created, to what do the colours on the flag symbolize.

Host a "Fold a Flag" Contest

Although I still cannot properly fold a flag, there are many demonstrations online and this could be a fun challenge for kids of all ages. From how many folds does it take to properly fold a flag to who can fold it properly the fastest, this activity is a great way to learn the proper protocol for handling and folding the national flag.

Make Your Own Flag

From construction paper to felt, there are many ways to create your very own Canadian Flag. And you only need red and white! Break out the paints, pompoms, clay or Play Doh–whatever red and white crafty materials you may have on hand.

Bake an Edible Flag Cake

Bake a vanilla cake in a rectangular-shaped baking pan. Cover completely with white icing, and then add strawberries or raspberries for the sides and maple leaf. This dessert is super fun to create together and a delicious way to teach the shapes that make up the the Canadian flag.

Count Flags

Take a walk or drive around the city or neighbourhood. While out and about, ask the children to count as many Canadian flags as they can—you can find them on schools, businesses, city, provincial and national buildings, etc. The kids will be excited when they spot the Canadian flag and you can even use this opportunity to teach them about provincial flags and other national flags.

Do you celebrate National Flag day with any educational and fun activities? If you have one to add to our list, leave a comment and let us know.

No TV Week

I don't know about you, but my kids get a little crazy after they've watched a lot of television. I notice an increase in tears, a lack of cooperation and sleep troubles.

television

Overall, we're pretty conservative when it comes to screen time. I was recently listening to Rhonda McEwan, a communications expert from the University of Toronto on the CBC show Fresh Air.

What she has seen in her research is that screens are able to draw and hold our children's attention (I think we all know that, right?) The problem with this is that TV takes time away from the person-to-person communication skills that are so important for children's development. Some people can manage these attention deficits, but for other people it can be really difficult to break the habit.

The host asked Rhonda how much screen time her kids are allotted each week. She said that she veers to a very conservative amount - six hours per week. Her children are allowed to use those six hours whenever they want, and her 9 year-old son tends to hoard his hours for the weekend.

I was so interested in this piece on CBC because we just starting a "no TV week" in our house. We do this periodically, when we feel like television is starting to take over our lives. Here's what our kids' TV viewing looks like for a typical week:

  • Weekday Mornings: 15 minutes before it's time to head out the door
  • Weekday Evenings: 45 minutes before dinner
  • Weekends: I haven't timed this, but I'm guessing at least 2 hours each weekend day (sometimes more if we're having a special movie night)

Total: 9 hours

And I haven't even included what they may get at school (yes, there are screens at our school.)

It was time for a break, so No TV Week was implemented. We can't control what they get at school, but it's the occasional computer time and special movie days - so not a lot. And we're not gamers in our house, so we have no other games that the girls use.

We are always surprised at how well our girls do without television. They spend extra time in the mornings playing or doing crafts, and after school they work on homework (if necessary) or have free playtime. They seem to get along a lot better, and there are less tantrums. I will say, though, that I don't get a lot of work done. My kids are still at the age that they want to show me everything and talk to me All The Time. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, but it would be hard for a parent who needs to work from home (outside of school hours!)

My oldest declared No TV Week a huge success, and asked if we could do it again! I'm not ready to turn off the TV forever - I really enjoy my own occasional shows, and I think some television is OK. I'm one of those people who can easily handle the "attention deficit" that is associated with TV. I love the idea of a weekly "allotment," and the freedom to decide how to use it. My 4 year-old will need a lot more help with this, as she can't tell time yet.

This week we're saving our time for a family movie night, and the girls have asked for TV after school for one day. 

I'm curious how you manage screen time in your house? Leave your ideas, tips and strategies in the comments!

Valentine’s Day Crafts for Kids

Valentine’s Day is more than just a holiday for lovers. It’s the holiday for showing love and appreciation to those near and dear to our hearts. For kids, it’s the perfect holiday for homemade crafts to give to the special people in their lives.

Try out some of these Valentine’s Day craft ideas for kids to give to their parents, siblings, teachers, babysitters, or whoever else makes a big impact in their lives. They’ll have fun with hearts, bows, reds, and pinks, and their recipients will love the thought behind them. You can even use them for fun decorations to spread a little love in your home!

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Handprint Lovebugs

Handprint crafts are always fun for kids, especially when making homemade gifts for family members who love to watch your little ones, and their adorable hands, grow.

For Valentine’s Day, turn your kids’ handprints into little Love Bugs, a Valentine’s Day version of a butterfly. Paint one of your child’s hands a desired colour using washable paint. Help her gently place her hand on a sheet of construction paper, gently pressing her hand and fingers into the paper to ensure her whole handprint stamps well.

Turn her hand print upside-down, so her fingers are pointing downward. Then, have your child cut out two large hearts for the “wings” of her Love Bug. Have her finish the creation with wiggle eyes, construction paper antennas, foam hearts or stickers to decorate the wings.

Design a T-Shirt

Have your child design a piece of Valentine’s Day art for someone special. Whatever makes your child think of Valentine’s day is fair game: a portrait of your family, hearts, or even red and pink scribbles, depending on his age.

Then, look for cheap shirts to transfer his one-of-a-kind design to! He will love seeing his art come to life on a real shirt. This is the perfect gift for a grandparent who would be proud to showcase a personal, handmade design on a t-shirt from a loved grandchild.

Ceiling Hearts

If you’re looking for a fun, and easy, way to get your family into the spirit of Valentine’s Day this year, start with a simple craft to decorate your home. These Valentine’s Day ceiling hearts are good for even the smallest hands to create.

Using red, white, purple, and pink construction paper, cut out several sizes of hearts. Then, attach some ribbon to your hearts with tape. You can use a simple, white curling ribbon, or get more creative with a variety of ribbons in different widths and festive designs.

Attach your ribbons to the ceiling with tape or thumb tacks, and you have fun craft that instantly puts you and your family in the mood for love!

Foam Love Bracelets

Use craft foam in pretty Valentine’s Day colours to create homemade bracelets with your kids for them to share with their friends. This is a good craft idea for them to make something special to hand out to their friends in class, along with their Valentine’s Day cards during the class exchange.

Cut strips of foam long enough to encircle a child’s wrist (use your own child for a good measurement!). Place adhesive Velcro strips on each end for an easy clasp. Then, let your child decorate each bracelet with foam hearts, glitter, or Valentine’s Day stickers.

If he or she is old enough, he or she can even write her friends’ names on the bracelets, or a sweet message for the holiday.

Candle Holder

This craft can instantly make a room feel the spirit of Valentine’s Day, and is an excellent gift for a babysitter or teacher.

Find a large, empty glass jar, like a pickle or sauce jar. Make sure it’s completely clean, inside and out, and remove any paper and sticky residue from the outside.

Cut out hearts in a variety of sizes and colours from tissue paper. Let your child paint some glue onto the jar and stick the hearts wherever he desires. Leaving some space between hearts for light to shine through creates a cool effect, but it’s just as pretty if your child wants to cover the whole jar!

Place a small votive candle inside, and you have a beautiful, handmade Valentine’s Day gift that your child created on his own.

Recycled Seed Paper Valentines

One of the most unique Valentine’s Day crafts for kids is also one of the most educational and eco-friendly! You can use recycled paper to make adorable hearts that hold seeds that will grow once you place the heart in a container with water.

To make recycled seed paper Valentines, like these beautiful ones from jamonkey.com, you’ll need some thin seeds, paper, water, food colouring, a heart-shaped cookie cutter, and some sort of screen, like a window screen, to dry the hearts on.

Your child will have fun tearing up the paper and mixing it with water and food colouring! She can even use a blender, with your help, to shred and blend the paper. Once you drain off the excess water after the mixture sits for several hours, let your child sprinkle the seeds into the mixture and stir.

Shape the mixture into hearts with a cookie cutter and place on the screen to dry in the sun. When they’re fully dry, you can attach them to your child’s Valentine’s Day cards, or put them in a festive baggy, for her to hand out to friends.

How do you get crafty with the kids for Valentine's Day?

Amy is a former preschool teacher turned freelance writer living with her two children and two cats. Amy graduated college in 2014 with an A.A. in Elementary Education and a B.A. in English. When she's not playing "super heroes" with her son or toting her daughter to sports practices, Amy writes for Babygaga, AdvisoryHQ, and several other blogs, including her own mom-business blog: theworkathome-mom.com.

What is an Instant Pot? And why I (finally) bought one.

Before Black Friday 2016 I had never heard of an Instant Pot. But that day my newsfeed was filled with posts about how great the Instant Pot is and how it saves people time and money—and how Amazon often puts it on sale. I didn’t buy my Instant Pot that day. I thought it was a trend like so many other kitchen gadgets out there, and I’m not one for fads.

Fast-forward to Boxing Day and once again, my newsfeed was filled with posts about Amazon’s great price on this product. I am an avid slow cooker user, and read that the Instant Pot could replace a slow cooker—this intrigued me. I was growing tired of how heavy my slow cooker is, and my tendency to overcook things in it. It was because of this that I decided to do some research on the Instant Pot. I quickly learned it is a slow cooker, pressure cooker, rice cooker and so much more—all in one.

Needless to say, 1.5 months ago I bought an Instant Pot IP-DUO60 7-in-1 Multi-Functional Pressure Cooker, 6Qt/1000W and I haven’t used my slow cooker since.

Why I love the Instant Pot

1)   Quick meals

If you have a busy household, then you will appreciate the ability to have homemade chili on the table within one hour of your first onion chop (and it will taste as though it was cooking all day long—see below).

2)   Flavourful food

I have yet to make anything in my Instant Pot that isn’t flavourful and tasty; just as it would taste had it simmered in a slow cooker all day long.

3)   Healthy cooking

Just as a slow cooker encourages home cooking, so does the Instant Pot. I love being able to cook real food and having it ready in a minimal amount of time. The Instant Pot allows you to serve healthy meals without having to rely on packaged convenience food.

4)   The sauté feature

To be completely honest, I was sold on the Instant Pot from the moment I realized I could brown the meat and caramelize the onions in the same pot as I cook the chili—one pot cooking. This convenient feature saves time and dishwater!

The Instant Pot’s learning curve

Before I owned an Instant Pot I had never used a pressure cooker, so the functionality and capabilities of this feature confuse me. I am still not sure as to when I should let the Instant Pot “naturally release” the steam versus letting the steam out myself. I usually underestimate the time it takes the Instant Pot to naturally release the steam and the lid will not open (for safety reasons) until all the steam is released from the pot.

Also, the heat and pressure of the manual steam release is quite loud and forceful, so I advise against trying to have a conversation while doing this. I also suggest moving the Instant Pot away from kitchen cupboards since the hot steam can do damage. I have heard of some Instant Pot owners buying PVC piping to redirect the steam away from the cupboards—this is on my to do list.

Knowing how long to cook some meats and meals can be difficult to determine—also knowing it takes 5 to 10 minutes for the Instant Pot to heat up is helpful when planning to have supper on the table by a certain time. Luckily, the Internet is a great resource for timing, recipes as well as cleaning tips for the Instant Pot. There are many bloggers (my favourite is This Old Girl) as well as Facebook Groups devoted to the Instant Pot.

Tried and tasted Instant Pot recipes

With the exceptions of modern additions or changes, I have made the following Instant Pot recipes with great success! My daughter loved all of them. She prefers one pot spaghetti to the traditional kind now.

Chili
Hearty hamburger soup
One pot spaghetti
Apple spice steel cut oatmeal
Whole chicken

Instant pot steel cut oats

Instant pot steel cut oats

The recipe below is one of my own. I like my pork chops tender and this recipe makes them as tender as they get and my daughter likes her pork chops sweet—so this recipe is our go to when it comes to pork chops.

Kid Friendly Sweet Pineapple Pork Chops

4 pork chops, boneless
Salt & pepper

1 cup of fresh pineapple; cut into widgets
2 tbsp. of soya sauce
¼ cup of honey
2 tbsp. maple syurp
3 tbsp. Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon freshly grated ginger
½ teaspoon of cinnamon
¼ teaspoon of ground cloves

  1. Set Instant Pot to sauté and drizzle with olive oil to prevent pork chops from sticking.
  2. Season both sides of the pork chops with salt and pepper and place in the inner pot.
  3. Brown pork chops on both sides/
  4. In a small bowl, combine soya sauce, honey, Dijon mustard, maple syrup, ginger, cinnamon and cloves.
  5. Pour sauce over pork chops, covering them as much as possible.
  6. Lock cover into place; seal steam nozzle.
  7. Set to manual setting for 15 minutes.
  8. Naturally release pressure for about 5 minutes.

Serve with rice and your favourite vegetable. This recipe is at is says–sweet, so kids will like it. 

Many slow cooker recipes can be modified for the Instant Pot. Its pressure cooker capabilities are phenomenal and not as intimidating as your traditional pressure cooker. If you are unsure how your cooking skills will transfer over to the Instant Pot start with something simple like hard boiled eggs, which seems to be a popular stepping stone into the Instant Pot world.

Do you own an Instant Pot? What are some of your favourite recipes? I’m always looking for more recipes, so please share them in the comments below.