Most of our SSP families know that Dr. Cao and Matteo are the very proud fathers to their beautiful daughter Isabella...what many don’t know is the story behind her adoption. Not only was it an extremely emotional journey for them, but it is actually historic as you will soon find out. In honor of Father’s Day and Pride Month, let’s talk to Dr. Hai Cao and Matteo Trisolini in this month’s interview and learn a bit more about their fascinating adoption story and how they became a family of 3!
SSP: Let’s rewind to 2008, when you were married. Did you know at the time that you wanted to start a family together?
Matteo: We knew right away, in our first year. It was one of the questions that we needed an answer to in the first year we met. This was back in 2004.
Hai: We lived in the same building, so we talked a lot. Both of us came out of disappointing relationships.
Matteo: I had promised myself that I would be clear, frank and that I wouldn’t settle and so one of my questions was “do you see yourself having kids one day”?... he had the same question as well. And you know what's so funny? We already decided her name already (it would have been Luca if we adopted a boy)!
SSP: How did your adoption search begin, and how did it lead you to find Isabella?
Hai: We had planned a trip to Italy, and we were already in the process of doing adoption paperwork, and we had plans to finish it when we got back in September. Matteo got hopping on it, got all the paperwork done and had our website online and ready to go. We finished with the social work visit and by September 30th we were online and approved and ready to go.
Matteo: And… a week later we got our first call.
Hai: We were upstate, doing our bathroom remodel.
Matteo: We had given ourselves projects to keep us busy as we thought it would take some time, a couple of years. We wanted to keep busy so we didn’t think about it all of the time. A week later, we got that phone call.
Hai: 6 days into it we got a phone call.
Matteo: That website and ad campaign I created was my most successful marketing project to date!
Hai: We had been told by the adoption agency to post ads in the Pennysaver, go to the newspapers…
Matteo: My eyes just rolled back.
Hai: He knew that our target audience would be looking at their phones and not reading the pennysaver.
Matteo: Advertising in such an old fashioned way didn’t make any sense in 2010. The adoption agency didn’t even have the time to put our profiles on their website by the time we were approved to be on the adoptive parents list. So I did my own marketing and within those 6 days we got our phone call and it was the right one. And that's how we started the relationship with Isabella’s birth mother’s family. When I got that first voicemail, my heart was beating so fast I couldn’t even understand the voicemail and what they were saying, my heart was beating so very fast. Hai had to listen with me to hear what they were saying and what was happening here. We called and spoke to Isabella’s birth grandmother.
Hai: And the birth mother...and set up a time to meet the birth family.
Matteo: So we came down to SC to meet the birth family. We just got on a flight and got there, met at a restaurant...it was a mutual place. They were very sweet. All they really wanted was the best for the baby. And for us, if you think about it (this was almost 8 years ago), the fact that they choose us - a same sex couple - was awesome and at the same time was kind of like, “why”? We asked this to each other. They found us online, they found our website and decided this was the right family. We were honored and at the same time, we were puzzled.
SSP: How would you describe the adoption process for you, being in South Carolina - not exactly known to be as open and accepting overall as the NYC area?
Matteo: 8 years ago, we didn’t have laws, it was a lot more difficult.
Hai: We expected to go down, go to the hospital, say hello, give our best to the birth mother and then go and adopt through the pre-adoption 2 days later and come back to Brooklyn where Matteo’s family had just flown in. At our pre-adoption hearing in SC the judge recused himself (judges are appointed in SC and aren’t elected). It is a conservative state...so he recused himself, he didn't want a career suicide and sign off on a same sex adoption. We were the first same sex married couple in the state of SC to adopt.
Matteo: We are in the courthouse, and had Isabella with us. We thought it was hugs, say goodbye, leave with the baby in 3 minutes with smiles and photos. It’s our turn and the lawyer says we’re not going in. And we were like “what”? He announced he had a meeting with the judge who recused himself, who said “don’t put this on my desk”. Here we are, now with the baby, and we are told that we have to wait for another judge after the holidays, so another 2 more weeks, to get a hearing. At that point, we had the baby. We were legally the custodians until the judge would sign off or say no...and we were responsible for the baby. Imagine: we have the baby, and we think that we might be able to adopt - but we don’t know if we after the 2 weeks if we are taking the baby back or not. In the meantime we fly in my family.
Hai: So we rented a house in Charleston on the beach and we flew his family of 6 to SC to be with us. Imagine, those first days are stressful enough. Added to that is the stress to think what if she does not go home with us?
Matteo: The birth mother had signed off her rights. If the baby doesn't go home with us she is back in the system. All of this, add Christmas time and my family witnessing the situation … And right then and there, that is our parenting lesson #1.
Hai: We realized during that waiting period that we were both parenting at 80% - we thought what if we have to leave her? It was holding us back. And I called it out...and we decided: If we only have 2 weeks with this kid, we want her to have everything we have. We want her to know we did everything we could. From then on it was much easier. I think it’s much harder to keep at arm’s length than showing real affection. We threw ourselves into it fully.
Matteo: And we were contacted by other political associations who wanted it to be a thing, to make it a story - well meaning organizations, but we wanted to keep it private.
Hai: Good or bad, political associations wanted to contact us to make it a thing. We just didn’t want to. This is a private situation.
Matteo: At that time also, it was a very different situation because there were no laws protecting us.
Hai: Our marriage wasn’t recognized, and SC had DOMA in their constitution. They didn’t have to recognize our relationship, so our application was questionable. Throughout the whole process the most loyal and faithful person to the process was her birth mother. She wanted the baby with us. Even up to the point where she was in elevator to meet us, her social worker was trying to talk her out of it….saying are you sure you want her to go with two men.
Matteo: I would say though, the experiences that we had with the people in Charleston, when we went to a restaurant with the baby or anywhere else - they were very sweet overall. Now we were the obvious Benetton family. It was me, Hai and Isabella.
Hai: Even in the hospital, they were all very happy that she was coming home to us, in capable hands. It’s the politics that were difficult, not the people.
SSP: And so what happened next? How did you bring her home?
Matteo: We got the notice on December 31st that they signed off on the paperwork, and we drove that morning off to the very edge of SC before NC and got a motel room. A trucker motel.
We were just waiting for the state of SC to communicate to the state of NY that we had permission to leave the state with a baby. Now this is happening on December 31st...but somehow after numerous phone calls with the agency and pushing here and there, we got permission from the state. We got into the car, drove 13 hours and got home right after midnight. My family was back in NY, and was waiting for us.
Hai: And while we were doing the adoption, while we were in the motel we were selling our old place, buying our new place...all at once.
Professionally I tell parents especially parents with NICU kids, very colicy kids, kids that have problem gaining weight issues - this stress will be with you, and you have to do something to process or otherwise it stays with you. I didn’t have that insight, and it stayed with me. I didn’t do anything with that stress. My blood pressure still rises when I talk about this. Anytime initial parenting stress stays with you, you need to deal with it.
SSP: What has been the most challenging part of becoming same-sex adoptive parents? What do you find to be the biggest misconception about gay dads?
Hai: I think the initial part is the politics.The biggest misconception is that a) it’s different or that b) we’re smug and that we have all the answers. Because we don’t .
Matteo: The hardest part was definitely the politics and having anyone’s opinion valuable somehow. The biggest misconception we encountered was coming from some members of our own families, believe it or not. Everyone has questions and deserves answers. But I am tired of hearing people asking “don’t you think she needs a mother”? I’m tired of that question. I feel like it’s not even my turn to answer that question. If you can’t answer that question yourself, do your homework and then come back to me. This is disrespectful to people with one parent, one mother or one father. A widow, who is a perfect parent. I haven’t asked my mom “why don’t I have 2 moms” or “why did you marry my father”? I have the parents I have and you don’t decide your family. That is hard when you‘re going through all of what we were facing and have to educate your own family. You know?
Hai: I think the good thing is that we didn’t have the energy to deal with this. We had other more important focuses.
SSP: How lucky that you were able to show off your gorgeous family in a recent J. Crew ad this past holiday. How did that come to be and why was it important for you to do that?
Matteo: It happened just by fate. A friend of ours who is a family at SSP reached out because one of his friends is a producer for J.Crew and I think that initially his family was asked to be in the photo shoot (he also has a partner and a little boy). I believe they were asked, but they were out of town. He thought about us, showed this producer our picture on FB and thankfully we had been on a diet that year - and of course Isabella is gorgeous. It all happened in 3 weeks. Hai should really answer this question as it’s closer to his heart.
Hai: As a young student (of asian descent) I was in a male dorm, in Indiana...and I would get the J.Crew catalogs every 3 or 4 months.. I’d appreciate the clothes, but I couldn’t relate to these people. To see a LGBT family in this catalog would have given me so much hope back then. I was a smart kid, a great student, a great leader - but a part of me needed that and didn’t get that. So that would have been such a catapult for me.
SSP: Do you have any advice for other gay couples considering adoption?
Hai: Do it. If you have the inclination to be a parent and the want and yearning to be a parent, do it. There are so many ways to do it - you can do surrogacy, you can do adoption, you can do foster to adoption. We have friends that did foster to adoption and have a beautiful child. The state helps fund for their development and progress. For example, if you are a foster kid in NY you will receive a paid college education through the state.
Matteo: Parenting is a journey. Obviously you know if you want to be a parent or not. You know it. At one point in your 20’s you know if you want to be a parent or not. So if you hear that voice, then you should do it.
Hai: If you have that inclination and you're writing yourself off because you’re LGBTQA, that’s not a reason. That is not a reason.
Matteo: Politics are not awesome at this time in history but laws are still standing at the moment. Take advantage of the laws while we have them. This is the thing, most of our friends don’t even have to think about the laws. For us, if we are going through adoption process, we have to be aware of what’s possible. And right now it’s still possible.
We’ve all been there. Trying to talk to our child while they are within close proximity but they magically cannot hear us. Repeat, repeat, repeat...and then after several attempts they FINALLY respond. It’s interesting...this might happen only when I’m asking my child to clean up her mess or to get her shoes on so we can head off to school in the morning. Amazingly enough, I’ve never experienced this when asking what ice cream flavor she wants at the ice cream truck or what TV show she wants me to put on at night time. Super selective hearing. Or what about when I ask her to please stop whining….and it just goes on and on. How can we NOT be ignored and really get them to start listening?
So I decided to do some research. Here is what I think are the top 10 most meaningful ways we can encourage better listening:
I am personally obsessed with this topic. Sleep. I wish I wasn’t so obsessed, but I am because I am the lucky mother of a toddler who is a terrible sleeper. How do I get my child to self-soothe? How do I keep our 2.5YO from keeping big sister, mommy and daddy having sleepless nights without “rescuing” said screaming child from his crib at 3am? Listen, I’m drinking way too much coffee and blowing through way too much undereye concealer to get through my day. I know I’m not alone. Let’s meet Brooke Nalle, a sleep consultant, mother of 3 and founder of “Sleepy on Hudson”...perhaps she can provide a little advice and offer us hope to a better night of z’s in the future!
SSP: Brooke, please tell us a little about yourself and how you became the sleep expert that you are!
When I was expecting my first child, I prepared for breastfeeding and birth, but I had no idea how to handle sleep and the lack thereof. Sleep deprivation hit hard, and I really struggled personally and professionally for the first year of my son's life. Quite frankly, it was hard to enjoy being a new parent because I was tired and stressed about sleep for most of this time. I read book after book and took in any nugget of sleep advice I could gather at the playground; but in the end, I didn't really find my answer until I switched up my point of view on sleep and looked at my situation as an educator (my training and background) rather than as a defeated parent. I decided to choose an approach that was right for my son developmentally, tailored to his temperament, and supportive of our parenting style. I could finally be consistent this way, and it worked. I helped friends and their friends until my personal hobby became my professional calling. I trained with Kim West and am one of her first 50 sleep consultants. I expanded my training with work in medical sleep issues such as GERD and sleep apnea as well as work with Lynn Lyons, an anxiety expert.
SSP: How did “Sleepy on Hudson” come to be? What is it specifically that you offer families facing sleeping issues?
When I started Sleepy on Hudson, I envisioned helping local families here in the Rivertowns (a series of towns just north of the city on the Hudson River), but I soon ended up helping families down river in Manhattan and then Brooklyn... and now I have clients across the country and even as far away as Uganda and Israel. At Sleepy on Hudson, we drill down to the individual sleeper, focusing on his developmental picture, temperament, and family style. We ignore the chatter and various advice streams out there and focus on a family's unique situation. I have trained our consultants individually and make sure that we offer the right fit for each family looking for help. We meet in home or virtually, and we also offer overnight support.
SSP: Let’s start with little babies. How do we instill positive sleep practices and get started on the right foot at a very young age?
I think it can be really hard to do the right thing right away when your baby is very young. In fact, some babies really do need the 4th trimester and have to be held more often than not. However beginning around three months, most families can begin to slowly transfer sleep independence by shaping schedules, routines, and sleep behaviors that form the foundations of a good sleeper. I see a lot of families who still parent like they have a newborn when now they have a more capable baby. We can help a family navigate this transition. That said, don't stress, it is never too late to get a good sleeper. We help 3 month olds and 3 year olds learn to sleep well for the first time.
SSP: Is there an age when our babies should be on a set sleep routine? Speaking of “routine” - how important is it that we stick to one for sleep schedules?
You can begin a sleep routine right away and certainly between 2 and 3 months you can solidify a sleep routine and bedtime. At Sleepy, we like to say shape a schedule rather than set a schedule especially when working with young babies. However I do find that my best sleepers come from days that follow a good schedule with clear feeding and nap times. If you go off schedule, it's ok! Just try to get back on track as soon as you can - or wait to sleep train when you can nail down 2-3 weeks of home time to define and set a good schedule.
SSP: It’s not always easy to get our children to self-soothe. Do you have any advice to share? It’s SO easy in the middle of the night to just take the child to bed with us so that we can all go back to sleep as quickly as possible. Is that the right solution?
You have a few options here. If you like just bringing them to bed and going back to sleep, and that is working for you and your child (and you are doing if safely) then that's great. However if you know that you don't want to have a baby in your bed forever, then you do need to be proactive and teach your child to love his crib. You can also do some self soothing work at bedtime and at naps if you are too exhausted in the middle of the night. However to be honest, sleep training is not as miserable as you might think, and if you have the right plan for your baby and you, then you can see positive changes in under a week - so perhaps worth a few tough nights?
SSP: Not to get too personal here (but I am)...when my husband is around for bedtime, he often rocks our 2.5 YO toddler until he falls asleep on him, then puts him to bed. I’m convinced this is not helping a child who already has issues self-soothing. What is the right approach to bedtime?
Yes, this is tricky! I often work with parents who approach bedtime/sleep differently. However rocking an older child to sleep can be problematic especially as they get older, smarter (more aware) and get more independence. I think when you guide a child to learn how to soothe himself you are giving your child the gift of sleep - it is so empowering to give your child the space to learn how to do this his way. Just like riding a bike or reading, learning to sleep is hard at first but it quickly becomes natural and liberating.
SSP: A question we’ve all discussed a million times. When do we know it’s the right time to drop the nap?
For an older child, it is good to shorten it and then drop it when it interferes with night sleep. For example, if your three year old naps from 1-3pm but then only sleeps from 9pm to 5am. Understand though that dropping a nap is a bit of a tricky transition, and there will be rocky days.
SSP: For those of us puffy-eyed moms and dads who have been struggling with sleep issues, what is your best piece of advice?
Get a plan together, mark your days on the calendar, and get someone to cheer for you and hold you to it. You should not have to do this alone. You can work with a sleep professional or a good friend - but if you are at your limit personally then tap out and get some help!
To learn more about Sleepy on Hudson and the programs they provide, go to http://www.sleepyonhudson.com/
Buckle up folks and get ready for an exciting month ahead!!! There is a kite festival, a Pete Sinjin concert, the AMAZING Touch a Truck Event at PS 295 (which SSP is a proud sponsor of), the 5th Ave Street Fair, lots of fun farm activities in Prospect Park...and so much more. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to start filling up my calendar now so I don’t miss out!
May 12th: Touch a Truck
At this unique street fair, NYC kids and their families get up close and personal with a wide variety of emergency vehicles, construction equipment, vintage vehicles, and other cool rigs! But that's not all! Don't miss the amazing food trucks, bouncy houses, music, crafts, free activities, and much more! 11am-5pm, PS 295 at 18th St between 6th and 7th Ave.
May 5th: Lift Off, A Waterfront Kite Festival
Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy is launching its 2018 programming season with a kite festival. Visitors have an opportunity to watch their kites soar above the Manhattan skyline and enjoy special hands on activities exploring the science of flight. The Pier 1 Harbor View Lawn in Brooklyn Bridge Park will be open for anyone to bring their own kites to fly and new kites will also be sold at the event. 12pm- 2:30 pm at the Brooklyn Bridge Pier Park, Pier One in Dumbo.
May 12th and 13th: Mother’s Day Pop-up
Discover local designers and shop handcrafted goods at FAD Market—a roving Fashion, Art and Design pop-up marketplace that travels seasonally to unique venues in the vibrant borough of Brooklyn. This Mother’s Day, FAD Market presents a specially curated selection of over 55 independent designer makers at the newly opened City Point in Downtown Brooklyn. Browse art, jewelry, apparel, bath and body care, tableware and home furnishings; pick out a gift for mom or make a day of it with the whole family. Afterwards, grab a bite at the famed DeKalb Market Hall or head to the nearby Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) for a spot of culture. 11am-6pm, City Point at 445 Albee Square West in Downtown Brooklyn.
May 12th: Holi Hai Color Festival
It's finally time: Governor's Island is opening to the public again in May. And what better way to ring in a new season of fun events on the island than with a literal explosion of color? Visit the island for the Holi Hai Festival, where visitors will be given colorful packets of powder for throwing into the air (and at each other — wear white for an extra-colorful experience). Live music, lots of food, and a special area just for kids will be on display. The event is free but it gets crowded so book your ticket today. Governors Island, 12pm-7pm.
Saturdays and Sundays through June 3rd: Family Discovery Weekends
Experiment, learn, and play together in the Discovery Garden. Hands-on stations throughout the garden’s meadow, woodland, and marsh habitats, and in the vegetable garden encourage families to explore nature together. Create a nature-based craft, artwork, or invention with Discovery Docents. Saturdays 10am-12pm, Sundays 1pm-3pm at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.
May 20th: The Small But Mighty Hootenanny with Pete Sinjin and Friends
Featuring Pete Sinjin and Special Guests: Nikolai Moderbacher, Mary Spencer Knapp and more. Plus Art Making, local Food and special surprises! Profits go to Moms Demand Action. This sing-along is all ages and kids under 1 are free. Bell House, 11am - 1pm. $15 per ticket.
May 20th: Learn to Ride
Bring a bike, a child, and a helmet for this free, fun event! Show your child, 5 years of age or older, how to ride a 2-wheeler using the "balance first" method. Please pre-register at https://www.bike.nyc/education/programs/learn-to-ride-kids/ . For more information, please visit nyc.gov/parks or bikenewyork.org. 12pm-3pm, Kaiser Park in Coney Island Neptune Ave and 31st St.
May 20th: Fun on the Farm
Join Prospect Park Alliance at Lefferts Historic House to learn how sheep's fleece is transformed into wool!
May 20th: Fun on the Farm - An Event for Children with ASD
Join Prospect Park Alliance at Lefferts Historic House for an exclusive event for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The museum will open an hour early and you and your family can learn how wool was used on a Flatbush Farm. Brush the wool with carding paddles, spin yarn using a drop spindle, and make a felt rag doll stuffed with wool to take home with you. Have a fun day of interactive learning experiences with sensory-based exhibits and activities! Attendance is limited and advance registration is required. 11am - 12pm, Lefferts Historic House in Prospect Park.
May 20th: Fabulous 5th Avenue Street Fair!
Come enjoy our wonder fair full of places to eat, drink, shop and have fun! Sterling to 12th Street, 11am-6pm.
May 28th: Memorial Day in Prospect Park
*Join Prospect Park Alliance for nature education programs at the Prospect Park Audubon Center, the first urban Audubon Center in the nation.
Meet Cara Kantrowitz, an Occupational Therapist for the DOE who specializes in childhood feeding issues and happens to be a patient of SSP. Surely this is someone we’d all like to learn from, and we are so very excited that South Slope Pediatrics will be holding a seminar with her on April 29th! As parents I think we have ALL been there, dealing with different variations of picky eaters. This might actually be the most popular topic of discussion between parents of small children. Why does my child suddenly hate the food they once loved? Why is he always “grazing” verses having a full meal? Why can’t she sit down at the dinner table for more than 3 minutes? The questions and concerns are endless. Not only is Cara a licensed therapist, she is also a mother of a 1 YO and 4.5 YO - so she inevitably has experience first hand!
SSP: We are so lucky to be interviewing a beloved member of the SSP community, who happens to be a renown Occupational Therapist! Can you please tell us about Occupational Therapy, and what it means?
April is OT month so it’s a great time for me to share a little about what Occupational Therapy is! A lot of people hear “occupation” and assume we do some kind of job training or return to work therapy. Occupational Therapy refers to “occupation” in the broader sense though, as in the meaningful things you do to fill your time. OTs work in many practice areas across the life span; pediatrics through geriatrics. Some areas of specialization and focus include: home modifications, rehabilitation for orthopedic or neurological conditions, developmental delays and disabilities, mental health, and ergonomics.
I’m a Pediatric Occupational Therapist so I use the occupations of childhood, especially play, to help children improve their skills for participation in their Activities of Daily Living at school, at home, or in the community. These ADLs include fine motor and handwriting skills, social interaction skills, sensory processing and self-care such as dressing, & feeding.
SSP: I understand you specialize in Childhood Feeding Issues. Can you please expand on that, and what it is specifically that you do?
Sure! As an OT my favorite practice area is working with children with feeding issues. I work hands-on providing therapy to children with limited diets to increase tolerance of a wider variety of nutritious foods. For many children this means working to increase the repertoire of sensory experiences they can tolerating relating to food such as flavor, temperature, texture, smell and visual presentation. Feeding therapy also addresses the developmental motor skills needed for safe eating and self-feeding. The goal of feeding therapy is to promote a safe, balanced and healthful diet and enjoyable mealtime experiences to support growth, nutrition and learning. I use a variety of strategies including food play activities, modeling and desensitization to decrease stress around eating and increase joyful mealtime participation.
Since 2013 I have been the OT for the NYC Department of Education Citywide Feeding Team. I give workshops (together with a physical therapist and speech therapist) to OTs, PTs, SLPs, teachers, paraprofessionals, families and others on how to address limited diets related to medical, sensory, motor, and behavioral issues. I also consult with schools and therapist to identify and assess individual student's feeding issues and design appropriate intervention plans.
SSP: How did you find your passion in this field?
When I was still a brand new OT I attended a workshop on assessing and addressing feeding concerns and I loved it! So I attended another and another and began implementing strategies into my own treatment sessions. I saw such positive results, after that I was hooked!
SSP: How has being a mother of 2 affected how you assess and treat children?
Being a parent has, I hope, made me more sensitive to the wide variety of stressors and prioritization that all families must deal with on a daily basis. Raising small humans to be the best people they can be is not easy, and patience and sensitivity for children and their families is key. Being a parent constantly reinforces for me that therapy can't be entirely deficit focused because it impedes your ability to see the whole child, which is such an important tenet of my field. Being a parent has also exposed to me so many on-line and in person parent communities. Interacting with other parents in these communities I have come to realize how much conflicting, or inaccurate information is out there for families struggling with "picky eating", and true feeding issues.
SSP: How do you define “picky eating” and what are the more common reasons behind this behavior?
First off let’s just say that some amount of “picky eating” is totally normal, especially in toddlers. That’s part of why it’s such a problematic term. There are kids who are “picky” and it’s a phase, and it’s normal, and we just want to support them and encourage food exploration. There are lots of fun and simple strategies we can use to address this type of picky eating. Then there are kids who are extremely selective eaters and their diets are not varied enough to support their growth or their nutritional and developmental needs. Extremely selective eaters frequently have multi-factorial feeding issues. There is often an underlying medical factor such as reflux, allergies or frequent illnesses. Many of these kids have underlying motor or sensory processing deficits that affect feeding as well. Finally, layered on top of that, may be maladaptive habits, that can't even be addressed until the underlying issues are remedied. These kids often need therapeutic intervention to address their feeding concerns.
SSP: As a mother of 2, one being a 2.5 YO, I am experiencing this first hand on a daily basis, and it is a little stressful. Snacking all day seems to be the norm, and sitting for a full meal seems close to impossible (meaning both parts of this statement - the actual sitting, and eating a full meal)! Is this normal and do you have any advice?
Yes, its common, and yes, I have some advice.
1. Try not to stress, your stress level around mealtime and feeding can have a pretty major effect on your kids feelings about eating and mealtime. Take a deep breath, smile, count to 10. Do whatever you need to do to help yourself feel calm, it will help your kids too!
2. Remember that kids' tummies are small (about the size of their fist) so the actual amount they need in a given meal isn't nearly as much as you or I.
3. If the SITTING part of sitting for a meal is problematic in your household be sure to start off with proper supportive seating for mealtime. For many kids, if they are sitting in a grown up size chair with their feet dangling, they are using all their energy to stay upright in that chair and reach and they just don't have anything left for actually eating. This can be especially true at dinner time (or just before a nap) when kids are already tired from their day. Be sure to position kids in an appropriate size chair or use a foot rest so that their feet can be firmly and securely planted during meals with hips, knees and ankles at approximately 90 degrees.
4. All day snacking can be a really hard habit to break. I'm a big fan of carrying water bottle for those times when kids need "something", but aren't actually hungry. 3 meals and 2-3 snacks a day should really be enough. One way to work on this is by separating mealtime and play time. This way during mealtime the focus is on eating and not on TV, iPad or toys etc. I don't let me kids walk around the house with snacks; if they are eating its at the table. Feeling hunger is NOT the end of the world. If your kiddos are healthy, and growing along their growth curve its ok for them to be hungry sometimes, and to hear, "Ok, but dinner is in 30 minutes so we are not going to have a right snack now". Getting hunger and satiety cycles back on track will help with having more successful mealtimes as well.
SSP: Are there certain goals we should shoot for every day or week? How do we measure “success” in regards to feeding our children?
To me success means that your family is able to enjoy happy stress-free mealtimes full of nutritious foods. It means raising kids who are willing to try new foods, even if they don't like them all. Above all, it means having kids who's food intake supports their growth, nutrition and development so they are as prepared as possible for learning and engaging with the world around them.
SSP: What is your number one piece of advice for mothers who are worried about their children’s eating habits?
Try not to stress! That doesn't help anyone, and for many kids, this too shall pass. That and ask for help. If you are concerned, seek out advice from knowledgeable professionals. Also, know that not all medical professionals have a strong knowledge base regarding feeding, so if you don't feel like you got the help you needed don't be afraid to keep looking for the supports you need.
Guys, we made it through another winter. So get out of your apartment, leave the routine at home and let’s go explore the outdoors and all that NYC has to offer! Here are a few ideas that will surely help you break away from those winter blues and SPRING into new adventures!
Let your kids explore in the cities’ many children’s gardens, including the South Brooklyn Children’s Garden, where they can explore the onsite butterfly garden, strawberry patch, herb boxes and greenhouse - and more!
What can both parents and kids enjoy with the same level of enthusiasm….FOOD!!!!! And here it is….right in Prospect Park at Smorgasburg. There are 12 new vendors added to the line-up this year, including Dashi Fried Chicken (Korean fried chicken fried to order)...and Lobsterdamus, who grills whole lobsters and garlic butter, lemon and parsley, and served over noodles. They’ll also have lobster truffle fries and lobster nachos! Drooling yet?
Speaking of food - go find the city’s best ice cream. Ample Hills is right here in Gowanus, where you can indulge in the yummiest of yummy ice creams and kids can even watch the ice cream get made.
Celebrate Earth Day in Union Square on April 15th, and educate our children about how to best take care of our planet while enjoying kids activities and live performances.
Not motivated to schlep across town? The most incredible park is right in your backyard. Don’t forget: family bike rides, roller skating, boating, the carousel, the zoo and 7 playgrounds including my absolute favorite, the Zucker Natural Exploration Area. Just across the street from the zoo - check out the amazing cherry blossoms at BBG!!!!
Celebrate culture at the spring fling at Lincoln Center. Every year, Lincoln Center celebrates longer, sunny days and the fresh blooms with its annual Spring Fling for kids. Families descend upon the plazas at in Lincoln Center for a free full day of programming, which includes storytellers, short films presented by the Film Society and special performances by the world-renowned musical artists who call LC home.
Check out the Brooklyn Waterfront in Red Hook, admire views of the statue of liberty, get some seafood and sit outside at Brooklyn Crab (Its massive backyard features an eight-hole miniature golf course, a beanbag toss and shuffleboard)! And don’t forget to take the IKEA ferry for a ride.
Battery Park is just over the river and there is SO much fun to be had! The Seaglass Carousel is a favorite, and hop over to one of the many waterfront restaurants after for a lazy Sunday brunch. Rockefeller Park is one of the coolest playgrounds you’ll see, with a pedal-powered merry-go-round and multiple sandboxes, including a handicapped accessible sand-table.
Yankee stadium of course! The seats are roomier, there’s legroom (and cup holders), the food options are more diverse, and (yipee) there are more bathrooms. There's now a private space for nursing mothers with seats and outlets for electric pumps (amazing). And for you Mets fans, you’ve got to check out Citifield with your little ones if you haven’t yet. Changing tables in all bathrooms.. And they often hold cool themes like “Star Wars Night” where Chewbaca throws the first pitch!
Millions of women suffer from postpartum depression, yet an overwhelming majority of them do not receive the care they so desperately need. A couple of the key factors are lack of awareness and the unfortunate stigma that surrounds maternal mental illness. One woman who has devoted herself to tackling this very issue and to giving the much needed help to those suffering is Paige Bellenbaum, the Program Director at The Motherhood Center in Manhattan. Her intimate battle has led her to educate, screen and treat others for postpartum depression (PPD).
SSP: It's truly an honor to interview someone so deeply committed to helping women with postpartum depression, and making sure this serious condition is getting the attention it deserves. Can you please tell us a little about yourself, and how you became such a critical advocate for the cause?
11 years ago, I suffered from severe postpartum depression and anxiety after the birth of my son, Max. In retrospect, my anxiety started early on in the pregnancy, but not having been pregnant before, I didn't know what was "normal." During pregnancy I was constantly worried that something was wrong with him, if he wasn't moving I imagined the worst, I thought that it was impossible for him to be born OK. Immediately after a physically and emotionally traumatic birth, I wanted to be left alone and sleep for a year. When they put him on my chest to hold for the first time, I didn't feel anything - no connection - nothing.
As the days and weeks went on, my anxiety skyrocketed. I had milk supply issues, he was losing weight, I was convinced still something horrible was going to happen to him. He wasn't eating enough, he was sleeping too much, I worried about EVERYTHING. The anxiety kept me up at night, I couldn't sleep even when he was asleep because I was ruminating about all the things that I thought were wrong or could go wrong, and soon I found myself in a deep dark spiral of depression. I felt that I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I was hopeless, helpless, and felt totally alone. I didn't like Max at all, I wished I had never had him. I would fantasize about buying a one way ticket far away and never coming back - because surely he and my husband would be better off without me. It got worse - I then began to fantasize about how I might take my own life and relieve them both of my failure as a mother.
One day I was walking Max outside in the stroller - it was the first time I had been out with him in weeks. As we approached the corner, a bus was driving down the street and in that moment - it was all I could do not to throw us both in front of the bus and end it all. And it was at that moment I knew I needed help - and fast. I hopped in a cab and went to a psychiatric clinic. I started therapy and went on medication and slowly but surely, I got better and started to love my son.
When I got better, I found myself extremely angry that for 6 months I was in this state and never did anyone say to me - "You have postpartum depression, it's common, and it's treatable and here is where you go for treatment." Nobody was talking about it although the more I shared with other mothers that I felt miserable, the more they said "me too."
I began to research local and state policies addressing postpartum depression and drafted a model bill for New York State. I took it to a dear friend of mine who was a State Senator and said "This is my story, it happened to me and so many other women and it doesn't have to be like this - let's change it." After 4 years of numerous roundtables and revisions, the bill was signed into law in 2014, strongly encouraging screening for all pregnant and new mothers and requiring literature be given to women before they are discharged from the hospital explaining the difference between baby blues and PPD as well as providing local treatment resources.
For a few years after that, I went on a public awareness rampage, sharing my story with any reporter, journalist, policy maker or person that would listen. I used it as a tool for change. In the Winter of 2015, I shared my story at a press conference with the Mayor's wife who was unveiling a huge mental health package for New York City, and one of the initiatives was screening for postpartum depression. When I exited the stage, I was approached by a friend and colleague, Dr. Catherine Birndorf, and her business partner Billy Ingram. She stared to tell me about this exciting new program they were starting to treat women with PPD and ask if I would I like to join the team. I couldn't say no - it was a dream come true- and fast forward to the one year anniversary of The Motherhood Center!
SSP: As Program Director of the Motherhood Center, can you inform us about the services you offer to new and expecting moms?
At The Motherhood Center, we provide multiple levels of clinical treatment for pregnant and new mothers suffering from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) otherwise known as postpartum depression. This includes anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, psychosis and bipolar disorder - all during the perinatal period. For women struggling with acute symptoms, who are really having a hard time making it through the day and caring for their baby, we have a day program. The day program is for 5 hours a day, with an on site nursery for babies. We offer therapeutic support groups, expressive therapies like yoga, meditation and art therapy, individual therapy, dyadic therapy and medication management with our Reproductive Psychiatrists. For women that have more mild to moderate symptoms, we offer outpatient therapy and medication management, and support groups. We also have a partners group to offer support to dad's and partners. And finally we have a whole host of classes and education for all pregnant and expecting parents ranging from childbirth education, newborn care, infant CPR, breastfeeding support and more.
SSP: Do you have a certain method or approach to counseling and the treatment plan you follow?
At The Motherhood Center, we use a number of empirically proven best therapeutic practices including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Interpersonal Therapy. We also use non-traditional modalities as well including mindfulness and meditation, art therapy, yoga and more.
SSP: There is a certain stigma with maternal mental illness. Why do you think this is so, and why do so many cases go misdiagnosed or undiagnosed?
Sadly, in our society there is enormous stigma around mental health period, let alone maternal mental health. When it comes to becoming a mother, everywhere you look are beautiful pictures of mommies and babies on pampers ads, smiling, happy, in love. Nowhere do we see pictures or ads of sleep deprived new moms that may not have had time to take a shower in a few days, or of babies projectile vomiting, or breast milk leaking through a woman’s shirt after being hooked up to a pump for what feels like forever. The dearth of these less than desirable yet truthful images of motherhood make many new mothers feel like they are doing a horrible job because they aren’t living the story they see on the pampers ad. And if you throw in anxiety or depression to the mix, including scary or intrusive thoughts or feelings of hopelessness, it’s incredibly hard to share this sense of failure with anyone. New and expecting moms feel an enormous sense of guilt and fear of judgement.
And in extreme cases, as we saw recently with the story of Jessica Porten, she told a nurse she was suffering from postpartum depression, and they called the police on her:
There is a real fear that if a woman tells the truth about how she feels, she will have her baby taken away. In many instances, when a pregnant or new mother is screened for depression at an OBGYN or pediatric visit, she will not answer the questions honestly out of fear and shame. Research suggests that 1 in 5 women suffer from a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder. Those of us who do this work know that the number is closer to 1 in 3 due to the stigma.
SSP: I think many of us characterize symptoms as an overall feeling of sadness, but I understand there are other symptoms that are often overlooked. What are the warning signs we should be looking for?
Depression and anxiety in the Perinatal period can look very different than generalized anxiety and depression that appears at other times in a woman’s life. Some common symptoms for a pregnant or new mother include:
- irritability and rage
- inability to sleep or stay asleep
- decrease in appetite
- scary or intrusive thoughts of harm coming to the baby
- helplessness and hopelessness
- catastrophizing or jumping to conclusions
SSP: How incredible, to give hope and offer support to all of these women who so desperately need it. You are literally saving lives. Do you have one case or story that you can share, which impacted you greatly?
One story that will stand out forever is the story of one of our very first patients in the Day Program. As a brand new mother, she first came to us as a potential outpatient client, but we quickly realized her symptoms were more acute and she needed a higher level of care. She herself was a psychiatrist running a fast paced psychiatric ER department. She presented with anxiety and depression which escalated rapidly. She would walk up and down the halls of The Motherhood Center asking everyone when she was going to get better. She was convinced the answer was “never” and that she was the exception to the rule. Despite our best efforts, her symptoms became more intense and led to an inpatient hospital stay. She returned to us after her hospitalization, and ever so gradually we noticed improvement. Today she is 100% better, she went back to work and got promoted. From time to time she comes back to speak to patients that are currently in the day program to share her story and provide hope that with treatment, everyone gets better.
SSP: How can we, as parents, be the best advocates we can be for those suffering from PPD and related illnesses?
If you are a pregnant or new mother, and are suffering from any of these symptoms, reach out to The Motherhood Center at 212-335-0034 or visit us to learn more at: www.themotherhoodcenter.com.
We will conduct a brief phone screen to assess your symptoms and get you in as quickly as possible for an evaluation to determine your best course of treatment. If you suspect someone you know might be suffering, asking the simple question “How are YOU doing?” can sometimes be all it takes for a new mom to open up and tell you how she is feeling. Normalize her feelings, tell her how common it is to have them, and let her know what we tell everyone who walks through our door, with treatment - everyone gets better.
I can’t stop repeating myself - I’m so totally over this winter! Aren’t we all? What fun activities can we plan to help us get through this last stretch here….wait, I know! How about a Drag Queen Story and Party Hour? Yes please! A live performance of “The Snowy Day” & other stories by Ezra Jack Keats at St. Luke’s Theater in midtown? Love it! Or rocking out to “The Women of Soul”, a family event at Brooklyn Bowl, featuring the music of Aretha Franklin and more. YESSSS!!! Here are some of the fun activities we are so very, very lucky to be exposed to living here in NYC.
March 3rd, Drag Queen Party Time (Park Slope United Methodist Church): From 3-5pm enjoy all things FUN like face painting, kid-friendly performances, storytime, arts & crafts and of course a dance party! Celebrate diversity and help encourage our children to look beyond stereotypes while having the time of your life. Tickets start at $20 per family.
Saturdays & Sundays, The Prince & The Magic Flute (Puppetworks):12:30 & 2pm showings, adapted for Marionettes by Nicolas Coppola (suggested for ages 4 and up). Child: $10, Adult: $11. Reservations suggested.
March 17th, Math Through Art Workshop (Jnana Wellness Center in Boerum Hill): 2:30-4pm, These workshops are for your child to learn math by expressing themselves creatively. The goal is to explore math concepts in a hands-on way! $20/session.
March 18th, Story Time with Authors of Ladybug Girl, David Soman & Jacky Davis (Powerhouse on 8th): 11:30 - 12:30pm, Come to storytime and listen to the adventures of Ladybug Girl read by the husband and wife who wrote this beloved series! In Ladybug Girl and the Rescue Dogs, Lulu comes up with a plan to help all of the rescue dogs get adopted and find a home. RSVP suggested.
March 18th, The Rock & Roll Playhouse Presents Women of Soul (Brooklyn Bowl): Featuring the music of Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and Whitney Houston. Doors open 11am, all ages. These shows allow kids to “move, play and sing while listening to works from the classic-rock canon” (NY Times). Using the songs created by the most iconic musicians in rock history, The Rock and Roll Playhouse offers its core audience of babies and kids games, movement, and stories and an opportunity to rock out.
Saturdays & Sundays, NYTM Train Operators Workshop (NY Transit Museum): 3:30-4:30pm, Drop by the Computer Lab to take control of a NYC Subway car and operate it over virtual miles of track, using some incredibly realistic software! Suggested for ages 10+.
Through June 10th, Block Party (Brooklyn Children’s Museum): BLOCK PARTY brings together the elements of the iconic Brooklyn block party all under one roof, including a series of dimensional stoops set against a backdrop of artistic facades of residential buildings, and different ”street” and green spaces to play games, meet friends, relax, and have fun. Large-scale photographs by Brooklyn-based artist Anderson Zaca, who has long documented block parties in Brooklyn, will be featured and invoke the joy, action, and diversity of block parties celebrated annually across neighborhoods in New York City. Families will be invited to add to the photographs, and record their own images and experiences in the city among those of their neighbors.
March 24th and 25th, A Fool’s Errand (BAM Theater): In this physical comedy about the transformative power of friendship, an adventure unfolds from the moment clowning virtuoso Jamie Adkins falls onstage. Tuba player and composer Julie Houle provides an innovative soundtrack that ranges from fanfare to experimental, as Adkins crawls, sways, and stumbles with acrobatic skill and expertly timed comedic despair, finding a delicate balance between chaos and control, loneliness and companionship. A Fool’s Errand tests the laws of gravity, reminding us that the path to success is sometimes a wobbly rope. Ages 5+. Tickets: $16.
Saturdays through March 31st, The Snowy day and Other Stories by Ezra Jack Keats (St. Luke’s Theater, Midtown West): 11am, Celebrate the wonder of childhood in the city: the excitement of a fresh snowfall, the delight of whistling for the first time, the awe in finding a special treasure. Four of Ezra Jack Keats’ best stories are brought to life, including The Snowy Day, Whistle for Willie, Goggles!, and Letter to Amy. Tickets: $35, recommended for kids 3+.
Saturdays, Family Tours (Whitney Museum): 10:45- 1:20, Short, interactive family tours of kid-friendly works on view! Learn about art together through lively discussion and fun gallery activities. Ages 5+.
And don’t forget, Sunday mornings at 10am and 11am at Lark Cafe (Prospect Park South), come sing and dance with the incredibly talented Amy Miles, who we interviewed back in November. You may have seen Amy on PBS kids Lomax the Hound of Music, Amy Poehler's Smart Girls, or Amy's own web series Meow Meow Music. Amy is a working composer and performer for adults and children. From performing with They Might Be Giants, writing music for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and being a full time Momma herself, Amy stays busy. Playing original and well known songs on guitar, ukulele, and percussive things, singing stories with puppets and bubbles, Amy brings her quirky, country rock and casual style to the sing along arena. $10 per family.
It’s impossible to avoid the topic of sexual abuse on the news. The personal stories those brave young women shared about Larry Nassar go just so far beyond words, and I know many of us cannot watch these women speak without tears rolling down our cheeks. It’s incomprehensible. This story in particular has tore the face off of a subject that traditionally gets buried beneath the surface of society. As a mother of 2 small children, I need to know...how do I create the most open and honest dialogue with my little ones? How do I ensure that our relationship is built on trust and honesty, where they know that they can share anything and everything with me? How do I teach them that they must speak up and that their voices need to be heard? How do I even begin to address these topics when they are old enough to understand.
So many questions...so I started researching and have found some articles that might help all of us.
Bottom line: they must learn that it’s always OK to speak up if something doesn't feel right.
UGH! I’ve had enough of the yucky slush and icy sidewalks. Enough of taking what feels like a half hour every time I need to bundle the kids to get out of the house (or for that matter, coming back in and trudging slushy boot marks all over before feverishly reminding them that they take off their shoes)! Enough of feeling like blah with these layers and puffy winter jackets...Enough of the constant runny noses and this cough that has taken a liking to me for the last month! Enough of not being able to run outdoors because it’s below zero with the wind chill...ENOUGH. Just, ENOUGH.
I’m quite aware that I’m going through my annual winter blues. I’m making light of it here, but for many it is an actual condition known as SAD (seasonal affective disorder), a depression caused by changing seasons. Kids can suffer from this as well. So...let’s talk about some ways we can combat some of these sad feelings and make it to….the Spring!!!
Here are 10 ideas:
If your feelings of sadness are super intense, you should seek help. Hopefully, by practicing some of these things and whatever else makes you happy - you can beat the winter doldrums and rest assured, Spring is on the way!!! Just 2 more months left….