Guest Post, Jaleen Vickerson: We are going Vegan (+ fish!)…

Jaleen Vickerson is a fellow Brand Ambassador for Wrapsody. I have offered her a guest post on my blog to discuss her parenting struggles to a baby with allergies and eczema.  I haven’t posted about it yet, but over the past 6 months I have been struggling with suspected allergies with Jack. It is nice to hear from another mom going through it as well. 

CarlosChronos

My youngest son, Carlos, has been an alert and active baby since day one. But over time, his sunny disposition started changing for the worse. At 2 weeks old, I noticed his cheeks were becoming mottled and red. At week 6, I realized that, instead of clearing up, his skin irritation was only becoming more serious, and—worst of all—it was affecting his mood.

He was screaming more than cooing. He was frowning more than smiling. My friends would joke with me that he looked like the famous painting “The Scream.”  This was not the easy, contented little dude I had met in the delivery room!

We knew that dairy was part of the issue, but even after cutting all lactose out of my diet, his skin problems persisted. At 6 months of age, he was finally old enough to be tested for more than one allergen at a time.  

CarlosEczema

I was surprised to learn that, not only did he react to milk, he is also allergic to:

  • peanuts,
  • Eggs,
  • Chicken,
  • Beef,
  • cats, and
  • dog fur.

The strangest discovery was that chicken and beef were irritants to his system; I had never heard of anyone having an allergy to either of these foods!

As we all know, parenting is not one-size-fits-all. For myself and my child, I believe strongly in the developmental benefits to be gained from breastfeeding. As a personal choice, I had already decided that I want to continue to breastfeed until my son detaches on his own.

With this in mind, Carlos’ dietary limitations have become mine.

The diet Carlos and I are now restricted to be largely a vegan one. Being Puerto Rican, veganism and vegetarianism are not practices I am used to in my life (until now, there have been no “Meatless Mondays” in my home, for example). The one big exception is that I still can eat fish and shellfish, as he is not allergic to them (little wins!).

During our visit, his allergist went on and on about how important is to moisturize his skin to help fight his eczema—but that, until I change my diet, we won’t see any significant progress with his skin. His allergies are so serious, I was told, that he will need to have an EpiPen on him at all times by the time he turns 1.

While trying to take in the flood of information from his doctor, reality sets in.

For the first time since his birth, I consider ending my breastfeeding journey. And yet, as the doctor is giving me all of these instructions, Carlos is latched on to me, just feeding and feeding and feeding. I take a step back, and realize that going the route of formula feeding is not right for us.

Though it was a lot to take in, my feeling is—this needs to change for my son’s sake, and it needs to change now. I don’t have time to be emotional about it. So I do what I do best: make a list!

  1. Call the husband & inform him
  2. Call my mom to get some much needed support
  3. Go shopping for veggies, fish, and other Carlos-friendly foods
  4. Make arrangements to give the family cat up for adoption
  5. Buy Lysol to disinfect and clean the ENTIRE house once the cat is gone…

A list is something I can work with. It’s factual, I can follow it step by step, and if I forget (because I will!) I can always check my iPhone, where I keep my amazing lists (phew!). Without an organized plan of attack, I know I will get overwhelmed and emotional.  I think to myself, I can focus on this list and it will help me deal.

So. The first step I take on is to review my entire food intake. Since we were already dairy-free at this point, I try to pick out the other irritants to Carlos that I have unknowingly been exposing him to. Looking through my food diary, I realize that nearly every time I sat down to a meal, I was taking in something that was basically poisoning my child. I feel responsible. I become hard on myself. This is not an easy thing to wrap my head around.

If I think about the next few years it seems like too much to handle. I feel like my normal lifestyle is about to be turned upside down, but I also know that being a good parent is about doing what is best for your kids, not what is convenient for you.  

On the way home from the doctor, I stop and get some fish and some salad ingredients, and we start with just that: simple.  One meal at a time.  One step at a time.  

Lobsters

Until…the next list!

-Jaleen Vickerson

Vegan Parenting

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I am a vegan.  I am a parent. Does that make me a vegan parent? It sure does! Hence the name of this blog.

Jack does not exclusively eat a vegan diet. This was a compromise between my husband and I (see here). But since I am his primary caregiver, he eats a lot of vegan meals with me. One of his favorite meals is my Dhal and Aloo Mattar. But veganism is a complete lifestyle, going vegan chances many aspects of your life besides just diet. So, the other day this lead me to think about just what does being a vegan parent mean? How does veganism affect they way I raise my son?

"Why do you keep telling me eggs from chickens?"
“Why do you keep telling me eggs from chickens?”

Before Jack was born, Michael and I discussed the major parenting choices like punishments and sex education. This lead me to think about what kind of parents we would be, so I looked up parenting styles.Oh boy, there are a lot! And there are some very strong opinions out there (the whole Tiger Mom controversy). I was overwhelmed and kind of turn off by the whole idea of defining the care of my child in such blunt terms.

So I asked myself what values that my husband and I both share do I want him to learn? After some soul searching, I came to that we want to teach him compassion, understanding, and patience. I also want encourage our love of science, nature, and education. Then I realized I kind of gave a broad definition of what vegans stand for overall. Compassion towards all living things! And to understand such ideas, you need to know science and nature—which is done through education.
After searching the web and reading a bunch of articles, I found this one from She  Knows Parenting the easiest to follow with great definitions. The article lists 5 main styles:

  • Instinctive: Based on the way you were bought up, following your parents’ example. Trusting your instincts that you know what is right for your child.
  • Attachment: Focused on creating a deep emotional  bond and encouraging them to express their feelings. Some see it as a holistic parenting approach.
  • Helicopter: Being deeply involved in every aspect of the child’s life. Overseeing and sometimes controlling their actions and experiences. Know to shielding and prevent all obstacles from ever even reaching their child.
  • Authoritative: Clear and direct rules and expectations. And if they are not obeyed, direct consequences will be enforced. However, the rules are usually fair and are in place to protect the child’s development. Are nurturing when need.
  • Permissive: Letting the child be who they are with little rules and expectations. Very open, non-confrontational, and nurturing. Based on the idea that children do not have the mental capacity to understand maturity and responsibility.

But without a baby, we had no idea what kind of parents we would be. Like I said, I was not going to pigeonhole myself, so I read read over those options with skepticism. Nothing clicked. Instrictive kind of sound nice, we both had nice childhoods, maybe just did what our parents did? Overall those were all just words and abstract idea. We needed a baby in front of us and to figure out what worked for us.

Once Jack arrived, I slowly fell more and more into attachment parenting without even realizing it. I just did what made sense for our family. I decided to exclusively breastfeeding for the health benefits and to save money. Then I bought a baby carrier (and later many more), since Jack wanted to be held all the time and I want free hands on occassion.This lead to me attending (and later becoming a member) of both La Leche League and Babywearing International meetings. Extended breastfeeding and babywearing are two huge aspects of attachment parenting, so these groups naturally led towards other attachment ideas. Now we embrace co-sleeping, baby-led weaning, gentle discipline. And last week we started on cloth diapers. So here I am one year in, an attachment parent by accident. Michael is on board with all of it too. He sees how happy and healthy Jack is, so he has no complaints

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Attached daddy wearing his son for a daytrip to Napa, melts my heart!. 

What does attachment parenting have to do with veganism? Well, it stresses compassion and understanding of your child. Hopefully one day he will spread this idea of ever-encompassing love towards every living thing on the planet.

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Jack LOVES animals so far. Especially our cats. This was the first time he pulled himself up, to pet Zoey!

I am trying very hard to explain veganism to him a simple and non-invasive way right now. Right now the greatest thing I can do is treat him animal compassion. I show him every animal we come across and explain why it matters to the planet. For example, “See the duck on the pond, Jack? It says quack quack. Ducky eats the plants and algae in the water to help keep the pond healthy. See her little ducklings following her? She takes care of them like I care for you.” That way the duck is something is way more than a restaurant menu item to him. I want him to understand why that duck and all over ducks matter.

"Yeah yeah, the dhal is made  from lentils that come from plants...thanks mom..."
“Yeah yeah, the dhal is made from lentils that come from plants…thanks mom…”

Then there is the dietary stuff as well. When he eats lentils, I tell him those came from a plant. When he eats cheese, I tell him that is made from a mama cow’s milk, like the milk you get from mommy. When he eats meat, I tell him that is from the body of an animal.

This is exclusive to being vegan or attachment parenting? No, you can meat-loving attached parent or a vegan tiger mom. Nothing wrong with either one! But overall, attachment parents and veganism share a lot of the same ideals.

Overtime I will explain more and more why I do not eat animals and why daddy does. I will never force him to be vegan, it will be his choice. I hope one day he does decide to go vegan. But overall I hope he always leads a life full of compassion and always seeks out knowledge, the true vegan spirit.

The Beginning Of Baby-Led Weaning

*Follow our BLW journey on Instagram @vegan_babymama

In my last post, I explained all my reasons for wanting to do baby-led weaning. I think it’s a natural way to introduce solids to an infant without all the stress and drama of spoon-feeding purees. Plus I get to continue to breastfeed Jack on demand for as long as he and I want. Win for everybody!

The key to successful baby-led weaning is to only start it when they meet all the milestones, which I will recap:

  • Sit up unassisted.
  • Reach out for objects and bring them to their mouth easily
  • Loss of the tongue-thrust reflect (when they automatically force something out of the back of their mouth)
  • Chewing on toys or mimicking you while eating
  • Reaching for and/or taking food to their mouths, if given the opportunity

Most babies do all these at 6+ months. In the book, many moms said they didn’t start until 7-8 months even. In most cases, feeding babies solids before 6 months can have major health consequences. Their tummies simply aren’t ready to handle anything other than milk. The saying is “When their outsides are ready, their insides are ready.” If they can do all these milestones, their tummy can handle solids.

So when I finished the Baby-Led Weaning book when Jack was 3.5 months, I had no plans on starting him anytime soon. At that time he could mouth objects and barely sit up assisted. Then a few weeks later he reached out for a toy and grabbed it. Just laying on his side, nonchalantly grabbed it and brought it to his mouth to suck on. Maybe a weeks after that, he sat up very well assisted. Another week later or so, I noticed his tongue thrust was gone. He has always loved suck on my finger, but this time he brought it to the back of his mouth with his tongue deliberately. No gagging or forcing it back to the front. Next came the curiosity. He would STARE at us while we ate. I mean like stop everything he is doing and focus on our food. Then he began to smack his lips together as he watched us. I started putting his swing next to the table when we ate. He’d munch on toy and stare the whole time. I knew was growing fast, but still thought the other milestones were months off.

At his 4-month check-up, she said we could start solids if we wanted to, but waiting 2 more months is ideal. I still wasn’t even considering it. The that week, he sat up unassisted. I let go of him and he didn’t fall in any direction. Granted he was leaning way over and cried 30 seconds later, but he did it. This really put me through a loop. He was only 4.5-months-old!

I still thought I could hold him off, then this started happening:

He tried to steal my food! At first it was just wanting to see what was on my plate. Then he wanted to be held or lay in front of me while I ate so he could watch more closely. This led to taking the plates and later sucking on them. Then he tried grabbing our food. If appropriate, we let him hold a piece, but he usually just dropped it.

Then the day came when I couldn’t ignore it anymore. He was super fussy and wanted to be held, but I was hungry. So I put him in the wrap and made some lentil soup. I sat down with him still wrapped to eat. I got a text and started to read it when I noticed my hand was moving… He grabbed the spoon (top right on the collage) and put it in his mouth! It was mostly just the broth, but he moved it around his mouth and swallowed. It had curry powder and red pepper flakes in it! What are you doing kid? You shouldn’t be ready for that! I told my husband and he said he’s still too little, but knew I couldn’t keep putting it off.

Then the next day I made a smoothie and he demanded it (center of the collage). I mean squealing and failing around on my lap to get it. So I gave him the straw and he quickly put it in his mouth. It took him a minute, but he did suck some down. He coughed, then smiled and took another little sip. I was stunned. After that he wanted to hold the cup while I drank and intently watched me. That was the last milestone. I couldn’t ignore it. He was telling me was ready, 4 days shy of being 5 months old.

I did some research. Other baby-led weaning moms said their babies were ready a month early and they ended up doing great. But I was still worried about his gut not being totally sealed up yet. I researched that too, recipes for bone broth came up. Apparently the natural gelatin in helps everything close up (even in adults with leaky guts). Plus the vitamins and minerals from the vegetables help replenish his stores (babies are born with a certain amount that they leached from mom that lasts them until they are to get them from food). It sounded like a good starting food. The only probably is it wasn’t vegan! I know I said that Jack will be raised eating both foods , but I didn’t exactly want his first food to be from an animal. But I knew it would be the best for him. And it wasn’t the end of the world, he might still end up a vegan. I got over the worry and decided to make some bone broth.

My house smelled like turkey for days,
not appealing to a vegan.

That’s right, I said make my own. The “broth” they sell in stores is not the same thing. It’s made from meat scraps and has a lot of sodium added for flavor. Real broth is made from roasted and boiled bones. If I was going to start my son on food, I was gonna do it right. So I bought a roasted turkey breast from the store (I was not in the mood to roast my own and turkey was all that was left when I got off work). I picked the meat off and gave it to Michael. Then put the carcass in with celery, onion, carrots and garlic. I let it simmer overnight. I added a touch of salt, pepper, and a sprig of rosemary for flavor. I let it cool and drained it.

Little man was very happy afterwards.
The large photo is him licking his lips.

I got my lunch ready and then put Jack in the highchair. He was so happy to be at the table for once and not next to it. I need to explain why this is the only thing I will spoon-feed Jack. Everything he will feed himself. The reason I am doing this is because I actually do want him to ingest some to seal up his gut. But I let him have all the control. He got to pick which spoon or to drink from the cup. He chose the Asian spoon. I let him open his mouth and lean forward to take it. He instantly started slurping. A lot of it went down his front, but he got some. He started hitting the tray asking for more. I gave him more and he took the spoon to lick up all he could. So I turned to my food, had a few bites then gave him another spoonful. I only poured maybe 3 tablespoon into the cup. He maybe had 1? It doesn’t matter with baby-led weaning. He had just nursed so he wasn’t hungry. It was just a little top off. He told me he was done when he turned his head away. But he wanted to play with the spoon so I let him while I finished my food. It was calm and happy. I had lunch with my son for the first time. So beautiful, proud momma moment. My husband had dinner with him that night and he loved it too.

Definitely more on him than in him.

We did only bone broth for 2 more days. Then I introduce the first real solid food: egg yolks. Again not vegan, but high in iron. Iron is the first mineral babies deplete. I hard-scrambled just the yolk. I let it cool and place it on his tray. We sat down for our first Sunday morning breakfast as a family. I put one piece of egg in his mouth just so he had a taste, he brought his hands up to hold it. He didn’t eat too much of the egg, mainly just played with it and licked his fingers. He got it everywhere, we even found some under his neck later on that afternoon. But it was still fun and I was proud he was learning.

My wrap ended up covered in lentils. But he was so happy.

That afternoon we went to Ikea to check-out this bed frame we are thinking about getting. We had lunch at the restaurant there and Jack wanted some too. I first offered him a piece of my tortilla wrap, he just held it. I offered him some lentil soup. He played with the spoon and ate a few (like seriously maybe 4 lentils in the end). He mostly made a mess. But it was still fun.

He kept making faces but going back for more.

The next day I gave him avocado slices for breakfast. I sliced them into strips. I left the skin on a few pieces and took it off on the others. The ones without were too slippery and he dropped them. He could pick up the ones with the skin, but couldn’t get his mouth around them. Then he did something amazing, he pulled off the skin and took that to his mouth. He licked off the bit of remaining flesh very easily. That is when I convinced I was doing the right thing. He was ready and this was the best way to introduce food to him. Even if he was all covered in green like a mini Hulk afterwards! We did bone broth for lunch and dinner again that day.

He LOVED the cucumber.

A few days later we stepped it up a notch. Cucumber stick, bell pepper stick, and some cold soba noodles. When I set the food, down he just stared. Then he realized I was eating the same thing and watched me for a minute. Then he slowly picked up the cucumber stick (I learned from the avocado and left the skin on and cut off most of the flesh) and he began to suck on it. He loved it! After a little while he reached for the bell pepper stick and sucked that too. He liked it, but not as much as the cucumber. He then threw both sticks on the floor, then he noticed the noodles. He grabbed the little pile with his hand took it to his mouth. Most fell in his lap, but a few made it in. His face lit up, this was his first experience with real flavor. He just sucked them and coughed a little. But overall was very happy.

Then came bananas. I cut off about an inch from the one I was going to put into my cereal. Then I cut it into quarters lengthwise and left the peel on for him to grab. He picked them up easily but instantly was not a fan. He kept making a major puss face. He did get one big bite in and spit it out very quickly. He played with them mostly, which is fine. We will try again another day. And if not, I won’t make him eat them if he doesn’t want to. He was much happier with the bone broth for lunch and dinner instead.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. As he continues to grow, we will try more and more things. And he will learn how to eat better and start telling me what he wants. I look forward to this journey with him!

My Concerns Once Baby Arrives

Now that Jack will be coming in about 2 months, I’ve had to start getting more things ready—including myself. I knew I wanted to be a mother since I was little girl. I am naturally good with most kids and have babysat since I was about 12. I love kids so much that I considered being a neonatal or an OB/GYN nurse. I am one of those naturally maternal women, I guess.

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However, I am still terrified about having a baby sometimes. Unlike babysitting, I cannot give the baby back to its mom when something goes wrong—because I will be the mom! My husband and I will be responsible for another person for the rest our lives now. Our lives will change dramatically once he arrives too. And our family’s lives. And you never know—maybe our son will grow up and change the world! So, in a sense, the choices we make might affect EVERYTHING. How can I not be terrified sometimes?

I know things will work out and life unfolds the way it’s supposed to in the end. So I am still very excited to have a baby. These are just normal concerns that every parent has in the beginning. I wanted to read how other moms dealt with these fears, but could not find much on it. So I decided to share my concerns so some other mom can relate and relax.

How am I supposed to have a baby when
these two already think they are my babies?
Lucky girls got to come in the house that day
because it was so cold…spoiled.
  • Not knowing what to do: I just said I have good natural maternal instincts, but that doesn’t mean they are correct or will prevail every time. There is not one specific thing I am afraid I will do wrong, more like everything. The basics like nursing, bathing, dressing, sleeping, and playing. And complex things like discipline, morals, and education. Also, arbitrary things like what if his hair isn’t curly like Michael’s like I want or he isn’t interested in science like us? What can I do to calm these fears? Get educated so I can make informed decisions, first of all. I can also ask for help from my family or a professional anytime I am overwhelmed. Other than that, there is nothing much I can do besides stay calm and wait them out.
  • Postpartum Depression: I have had some depression problems in the past, and worry if I will have depression again after Jack is born. I know that some baby blues after birth is normal because rapidly changing hormones. I know all the signs and will seek out help right away if feel it is more than the normal baby blues. But I worry how it will affect my ability to be a good mother. My friend from High School recently did a post on her blog Oregon Domesticated about her experience with postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis. I remember her as very bright and bubbly person. And her daughters are both beautiful. So I was shocked when I read the story, I would have never guessed it would happen to her. She is an example of how someone can look so happy but is actually struggling on the inside. I really applaud her getting help and sharing her story for other moms.
  • How My Cats Will React: Before I started dating Michael, I was pretty lonely. So what does a lonely single girl do? Get cats! They are both my babies. When I brought them from Hawaii after graduation, I had to leave them in Oregon for a year while I got settled in California. The day I left I told them the great Lilo and Stitch quote, “Ohana means family, and family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.” I meant that for life. I chose to take-in these cats, and that means I need to care for them no matter what. These girls are pretty spoiled and get a lot of snuggles every day. I know this will change when Jack comes. And for awhile, they might not get much attention at all while I establish a routine. I already feel bad about that 😦 And I worry how they will treat Jack. When I bring him home, I will show him to them so they know what that weird smell/sound is, but after than I plan to keep them pretty separate for awhile for his safety (not a problem because they live in a back room not attached to the main house). They are both nice cats, but you never know how an animal will react to a new person. Let alone one that is taking all their mommy’s attention. I will just have to keep on eye on them and see how they behave. And the picture above, that is actually how I woke-up from a nap, paw on my face and all.
  • Junk Food: I mentioned in my Will Your Baby Be Vegan? post that Michael and I compromised on what the baby will eat. In order to respect each other’s wishes, the baby will be allowed to try all types of healthy foods and make his own choice when he is old enough. I know Michael respects me and if I say do not feed our child that meat/dairy today, he will comply. And I will not get upset if Michael asks if Jack can share some of his ice cream cone on occasion. But I am worried about other people feeding him things I do not want. Like either grandma giving him non-vegan cookies on a day when I want all vegan food. Then them telling me something like “It’s just a treat, I hardly ever to see him. Do not deprive me of loving my grandson!” I don’t want to fight with them over it, but I need people to respect my wishes too. I don’t want him to get used to eating junk and turn into a picky eater. My husband and his sisters were, and his mom admits that she wishes she did not cave into their demands so easily. I will not let Jack become a picky eater, but it will be harder if people undermine me all the time. There is not much I can do to stop this (other than tell the grandmas they can’t see Jack if they only feed him junk, which is very mean). I will just have to be open and direct (while still polite) with people.