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From Ultimate Tragedy to Chasing the Gold: One Mom’s Olympic Journey

Monday, February 10th, 2014

noelle pikus pace olympic skeletonWhat with the Russian Deputy Prime minister telling gay Olympians that they’re welcome in Sochi—as long as they don’t touch any children while they’re there (seriously, that happened); reports of polluted water in Sochi hotel rooms; bizarre bathroom surveillance; and possibly unsafe sporting venues, the 2014 Sochi Olympics haven’t exactly been the feel-good, fuzzy-feeling event that the world was hoping for. So, if you’re like me, and are feeling a little grouchy about the games, I’ve got the one story will get you all turned around on the matter.

This Thursday and Friday, American athlete Noelle Pikus-Pace will be hurtling down the Olympic skeleton course in Sochi, face-first, at roughly 90 miles per hour. You heard me. Face-first. That’s pretty captivating stuff, but when you hear Noelle’s story, you’ll be ready to hand the woman a gold medal.

Back in 2010, already a world champion in skeleton, Noelle retired from her sport so she could spend more time with her husband and two small children. “It had been me saying goodbye, getting on an airplane, and taking off. There was no way we could afford to pay for everyone to travel with me, so I missed so many family milestones when I was training or on the road—I’d come home, and my daughter was already walking. I missed her first birthday. Something had to change.”

Roughly two years after calling it quits, Noelle and her family got big news: they were expecting another baby. “We were so excited to have a new little baby girl in our home. We started thinking about names and decorations, picking out cute little outfits and things. But when I was 18 weeks pregnant, that time when you think everything’s fine, I miscarried.”

“I just remember bawling and bawling. I had just gone in for an ultrasound. They’d told me the heart looked fine. The baby looked fine. I had nothing to worry about. But here I was, so utterly heartbroken,” she told me. “After my miscarriage, anytime I’d see a pregnant woman, up until my due date, I’d just think that’s supposed to be me right now. I was still counting down the weeks of pregnancy—which is strange, maybe, but I couldn’t help it. I just kept thinking about how I was supposed to be ‘this far along’ by now, or ‘I’m supposed to have a baby now.’ It was really, really difficult.”

Noelle’s husband, Janson, wanted to do anything he could to help Noelle through the grief and depression she was experiencing. For a while, they thought maybe getting pregnant again would help, that they could get back to where they’d been. But Janson had another idea in mind.

“He came to me one day and said, ‘What if you go back to skeleton?’”, she recalled. “I was like, no way. I’m done. Not unless the whole family can come. I’m not doing that again. I’m not being separated from you.”

Janson, willing to do just about anything to get his wife back on track, started crowd-sourcing donations so he and the kids could travel with Noelle during the upcoming competitive season. Before they knew it, Pampers and Babies “R” Us came onboard with sponsorships that have allowed Noelle to get back up to her crazy fast speeds without leaving her family behind.

Noelle’s six-year-old daughter, Lacee, still asks about the baby sister she’d been expecting, suggesting cute outfits she should wear when she arrives, but Noelle takes it all in stride. “Lacee’s not old enough to really understand what happened, but we’ve told her that her baby sister’s in heaven, and that she might come see us soon, or that she might wait to see us later. We definitely want more kids, so who knows, maybe she’ll get that baby sister, after all.”

In the meantime, the Pikus-Pace crew will be there (and we’ll all be watching!) as Noelle zooms past the finish line later this week—hopefully on her way to the podium and a well-earned medal.

TELL US: Have you ever experienced a miscarriage, or do you know someone who has? How did you work through the grief?

NEXT: Healing After a Miscarriage

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Baby Ban at Fancy Restaurants? Why I Can Get Behind That

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Imagine this: You and your partner decide to go all out for a date night and book dinner for two at one of the fanciest restaurants in America. I know, I know, most of our bank accounts won’t allow for this–but just pretend! The restaurant is so exclusive that you have to pay in advance (roughly $500 per couple, and that’s without drinks!) and there are no refunds allowed. At the last minute, the sitter you had arranged for that night cancels. What do you do? Do you call an emergency sitter—heck, what’s an extra $100 when you’re already spending so much on a meal!? Or do you pack up the baby and hope her sweet face will just add to the fine dining ambience?

Last weekend, a Chicago couple faced this exact dilemma, and opted for the second option—but when their baby started to loudly scream and cry through dinner at hot-spot Alinea, it wasn’t just other diners who became annoyed. Alinea chef and co-owner Grant Achatz could hear the ruckus from the kitchen and tweeted:

I know this might be an unpopular opinion, but I wouldn’t blame Achatz if he instituted something like a no kids under 7 after 7 pm policy or banned babies altogether from Alinea. Now, it’s one thing if you’re at TGIFriday’s or The Olive Garden and your own son or a kid at the next table gets a bit loud. That’s absolutely to be expected. Even I, a woman without children of my own, but with plenty of pint-sized besties in my crew, know that kids are kids and sometimes kids make noise! But there are places that babies and kids are really too young for—places that demand more of the people who go there than little ones can muster.

When you take a small child or baby to a place like a fancy restaurant or theater that’s clearly out of their realm, they will be uncomfortable, they will be upset, they will make a fuss. And when that child acts out, he’ll likely get yelled at or at least get dirty looks from other people, even though it’s really the parents’ fault for putting their son or daughter in a situation they weren’t ready for. Or in the case of what happened at Alinea, your baby will be fussy, and you probably won’t fully enjoy the experience anyway—not to mention how your babe affects everyone else trying to have a nice night out.

In these situations, I really think we simply need to use common sense and think about what’s age-appropriate for our children, even if it’s inconvenient for us as adults in the moment. It’s so important to introduce kids to the “real world,” and to resist taking them to only the most “kid friendly” of places. But when parents wait until kids are a little older and more mature to take them to their first movie, their first music concert, and yes, even to their first nice restaurant, those events become precious milestones that everyone can enjoy. Rushing that process and putting kids in very adult settings too early just isn’t fun or fair to anyone—least of all, your little one.

Child Care: Tips for Choosing a Good Nanny
Child Care: Tips for Choosing a Good Nanny
Child Care: Tips for Choosing a Good Nanny

TELL US: Should fancy restaurants like Alinea ask parents to leave their kids at home, or do you think your kiddos should be allowed anywhere you go?

NEXT: Great tips from real moms for eating out with your baby

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Needy Kids Asking for Xbox This Christmas?!

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

operation santa letters often include requests for XboxChristmas is a time of giving and a time of magic, which is why I’ve made it a tradition to participate in the U.S. Post Office’s Operation Santa program where everyday people can help fulfill the holiday wishes of less-fortunate local kids. As far as I’ve been told, the letters that qualify for the program are selected by postal workers based on the return address on the envelope (think the projects, really poor neighborhoods)–so they really are coming from kids and families in need.

My favorite part of Operation Santa is that you get to read through as many kids’ letters as you like before choosing the ones you want to “adopt.” Some of these letters are flat-out funny. For instance, one little boy admitted to Santa that he actually hadn’t been good all year, and that he’d done a few naughty things, but that he tries to be good, and that he’d help out an old sick man “if his dad said yes.” Many are sweet and come from little ones wanting things like “doctor sets” so they can practice to be a doctor when they grow up. Others—the biggest tear-jerkers—come from older kids not asking for anything for themselves, but hoping that Santa can bring a toy or a warm coat for their little brother or sister.

And then . . . there are the Xbox letters—or, to be more accurate, they’re the Xbox Live, iPhone 5, iPad mini, laptop letters. As you can imagine, they go something like this: “Dear Santa, Please bring me an Xbox Live with these four games. I’ve been good all year.” Or, “Dear Santa, Please bring me an iPhone 5. I’ll leave cookies by the fireplace.”

If you’re like a lot of people, you’re probably rolling your eyes and thinking these big-ticket letters are coming more from a place of greed than a place of need. But the truth is, that these kids aren’t asking for expensive things to try to work the system—they’re asking for them because they want to feel normal.

Most young kids—especially kids who have little to nothing at home—really don’t understand the difference in price between, say, a playset or doll that might cost $40 and the latest tablet that can cost hundreds of dollars. Why? Because their family likely can’t afford either. To that child, both are equally out of reach.

Plus, it’s only natural for a kid to want the things other kids at school have and talk about–and right now, a lot of those things (not all of them, though, thank heavens for Rainbow Loom, right?!) are seriously expensive. In a needy kid’s world, getting an Xbox Live or an iPhone 5 would take a work of magic—the kind of magic kids think only Santa Claus can provide.

TELL US: Do you give gifts to needy kids at the holidays? Would you be upset if an underprivileged kid asked for an expensive toy or gadget?

To learn more about Operation Santa (you don’t have to choose an Xbox letter unless you want to!) click here.

NEXT: Great last-minute gifts for kids

Christmas Crafts: Polar Bear Ornaments
Christmas Crafts: Polar Bear Ornaments
Christmas Crafts: Polar Bear Ornaments

Image of Santa via Shutterstock.

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When Big Families Are Illegal: China’s More Relaxed One-Child Policy Still Horrific

Friday, November 15th, 2013

China is relaxing its one child policy Big news today: The Chinese government has announced plans to relax the rules of their infamous one-child policy, which has limited most women in that country (with few exceptions) to having only one child. Under the new mandate, parents will be eligible to have two children if either parent is an only child themselves. Since the one-child policy has been in effect since 1979, a whole lot of men and women of child-bearing age are only children–so this change will affect a lot of families.

Although I’ll admit this is a step in the right direction, I’m not exactly celebrating. Why? Because the very notion of “allowing” a woman to have one child, two children, or even ten children is a horrific insult to her human rights. I’d hope we’d all agree that a world in which normal reproduction is a crime is a very scary world. Each woman’s body is her own, and the decision of how many (if any!) children to have should be a personal one based on her family’s situation.

Denying women the right to control their own reproductive health in any way is not only bad for women, it’s bad for families. Limiting women’s access to birth control and information about reproductive health, as we’ve been seeing happen here in the U.S., causes more and more unintended pregnancies—nobody’s going to stop having sex, it’s a natural act, people!—which results in more parents who can’t afford or who don’t have the time to properly care for all of their children. Meanwhile, when you go to the other extreme and mandate that families are only allowed to have one child each, as they have in China, you see very different problems. Sex-selective abortions, in which more and more families choose to continue pregnancies with boys and end those with girls—have become quite common in China as a result of the one-child policy. The results of this practice are staggering: In 2012, there were 18 million more boys under the age of 15 in China than girls in that age range. As those men come of age, there aren’t enough women to pair them with, which has lead to human trafficking, forced prostitution, and all kinds of other evils.

With looser guidelines that allow more families to have two children instead of just one, there are hopes that China’s gender imbalance will even out a bit, but we’re still left with the problem of the government trying to control women’s bodies, instead of trusting them to make the best decisions for themselves.

I understand that the Chinese government originally implemented the policy to slow the growth of their population (it’s the largest in the world), but there are better ways to achieve the same result without stomping on the reproductive rights and health of women and their families (and screwing up society as a whole in the process). More often than not, when women are given access to affordable family planning tools, they end up choosing to have fewer children, and they space their children’s births in a way that benefits both the children and the family as a whole. It’s time for China to nix the one-child policy altogether, and for the world to start trusting moms to build families when and how they see fit.

TELL US: Could you imagine living in a country where it was illegal to have more than one or two children? Do you agree that women and families should have more control over when and how to create their families?

NEXT: Are you ready for another child? Take this quiz to find out!

Image of pregnant woman via Shutterstock.

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Meet the Mechanic Who’s Saving Moms’ and Babies’ Lives

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

I’ve never given up on my stubborn belief that anybody can change the world. I think that’s why I find this story of a 59-year-old car mechanic who’s about to save thousands, if not millions, of moms’ and babies’ lives so flat-out awesome.

Seven years ago, Argentinian car mechanic Jorge Odón was hanging out with his co-workers when some of them started talking about a YouTube video showing how you can use a plastic grocery bag to retrieve a cork from the inside of an empty wine bottle. You essentially insert the plastic bag, blow air into it until the bag envelops the cork, then you pull it out. Cool party trick, but Odón realized this concept could be used for much bigger things.

If this simple inflate-and-retrieve method can pull a cork out of a bottle, couldn’t it also be used to help deliver babies stuck in their mother’s birth canal? Obstructed labor is not only responsible for large numbers of neonatal deaths worldwide, but also for roughly eight percent the maternal deaths that occur each year—that’s over 20,000 women we’re talking about. This could be a real game-changer.

Excited by his idea, Odón woke his wife up in the middle of the night to tell her about it. She thought he was crazy (and was probably so annoyed at being woken up!) but Odón didn’t give up on his idea. In fact, the very next morning, he met with an obstetrician and asked about the feasibility of using an inflatable plastic bag-type device to help with cases of obstructed labor. The doctor had a very different reaction from Odón’s wife, so Odón set to work in making his idea a lifesaving reality.

Flash forward to today: The Odón Device has been backed by the World Health Organization, and a U.S. tech company is putting it into production. Doctors see it as a safer alternative to the forceps and suction cups that are currently used in cases of obstructed labor, and the New York Times reports “it has enormous potential to save babies in poor countries, and perhaps to reduce cesarean section births in rich ones.”

Obviously, this is fantastic news—and when it comes to my feelings on hero mechanic Jorge Odón, I’ve got to borrow from the lyrical genius of Salt-n-Pepa: “Whatta man, whatta man, whatta mighty good man.” Amirite?

Giving Birth: What To Bring to the Hospital
Giving Birth: What To Bring to the Hospital
Giving Birth: What To Bring to the Hospital

TELL US: Did you have a difficult labor? Are you as in awe of Jorge Odón as we are?

Next: Track Your Pregnancy With Our Free Week-By-Week App!

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