How to talk science to a non-scientist

On Friday I went in for a laser hair removal “consultation.” Before “approving” me for the process, the clinic needs to meet me, ask some health questions, and assess whether “laser is right for me.”
I sat in the fancy waiting area on the curved red sofa and filled in an information form. A few minutes later the effusive nurse came to greet me and show me into one of the rooms. We started with basic information (birthdate, health problems) and moved to current medications.

Me: None.

Nurse: Any multivitamins?

Me: I take a multivitamin and fenugreek – for milk production, though it doesn’t seem to help me. Oh, and D and omega 3s.

Nurse: Oh, I’ve never heard of the fenu … what is that?

Me: Fenugreek. It’s for increasing milk production. Because I’m breastfeeding.

Nurse. Oh, I see. [Puts down pen.] So you are breastfeeding right now?

Me: Yes. [Note: at this point, are you noticing one of the reasons why I don’t excel at writing fiction?]

Nurse: Now, with our treatments, our doctors have a very strict policy. We don’t perform these on women who are breastfeeding or pregnant.

Me: Oh! I didn’t know that.

Nurse: Yes. We just like to be as safe as possible, so as our policy, we don’t work on women who are breastfeeding.

Me: I can appreciate that. Can you tell me, I’m curious, what exactly is the risk from laser treatments?

Nurse: Well, let me see. How can I put this? We just want to be very, very careful. We don’t want to put anyone at risk, so we don’t work on breastfeeding women.

Me: Yes, I appreciate that you want to be cautious. I’m just wondering, how exactly could laser hair removal cause a risk? What is it about the procedure that could create problems?

Nurse: Yes, you see, let me see how to explain this. You see, just in case there might be a problem that was transmitted to your baby, it hasn’t happened yet but what if this was the first time it happened? We don’t want to run the risk that your baby would be harmed, and of course, you wouldn’t want that. We want to be as cautious as possible, just in case something happens.

Me: I understand you’re saying that the doctors want to be as careful as possible. That’s great. What I’m wondering is, what is the biology behind the concern? What are the biological mechanism by which the laser might create problems for someone who is breastfeeding?

Nurse (with unflagging patience, since this client is particularly slow in grasping the essential point): You see, how can I explain this … for women who are breastfeeding, or pregnant, or even just trying to get pregnant, we just have a policy that we don’t work on them just in case something from the treatment harms them. We don’t know that it would, but we want to be extra sure that we aren’t causing damage to the woman or the baby. Can you understand that?

Me: Okay. I see. You are very concerned that the laser might cause damage, so you don’t work on women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Nurse: Yes! That’s right.


Nurse: You see, the lasers penetrate the skin quite deeply, so because they go that far into the body, we don’t know if they might cause some damage. (At last!!! Some reference to a possible physical specificity of the laser that might have biological effects!)

Me: Aaah, I understand. The concern is that the laser penetrates the body, so it might cause some effects.

Nurse (relieved that at last the client is tuning into the same wavelength): Yes, that’s right! And we just don’t want to take that risk.

We ended our meeting with smiles on both sides, and her assurance that they would be there when I’m finished breastfeeding.

Still not sure what exactly I’ll do. Believe it or not, I’m not quite clear on how exactly lasers might be a risk while I’m breastfeeding. However, it did put some questions in my mind, and I don’t know if I have the motivation to figure out what the risks are and if I want to go ahead regardless.

PE Failed Me

So, to confirm, a bone density test had recently indicated that I’m approaching a low enough density to have osteoporosis. This is not good at all.
Guilt is an immediate response. Why haven’t I exercised more? Yes, I should have. But I’m not a complete lump. Reading more about factors associated with it removes some of the negative energy I was feeling about it. I’m small, don’t weigh a lot, and it runs in my family.

Plus, as I was reading somewhere else. bone density drops when you’re breastfeeding (though it goes back up within a few months of stopping). So, while I’m still taking this seriously, at least it might not be quite as bad as suggested.

Aside from mean kids and no friends (for a while, anyways), PE in high school was worst. A teacher who liked the jocks, which I wasn’t. The 12 minute run, which was AWFUL. Assorted sports which I couldn’t do well. My grades were saved by the meaningless written tests: memorize the mundane rules of yet another sport. Admittedly, I did enjoy soccer, even though my glasses broke when I caught a ball on my nose, and high jump, gymnastics and occasionally sprinting (100 m., who knows why??). Outside of school I was passionate about, first, ballet and then gymnastics (obsessed would be a better word).

Nonetheless, none of this transferred into fitness for life. If anything, PE left me with a severe distaste for anything athletic. It was uncomfortable, socially awkward, served no purpose but to torture me, and held me back from doing more important things. Nowhere in my 3 required years of PE did I internalize the health benefits of fitness, or participate in any activities that could have formed an ongoing fitness habit. The course was all about being a “course” – an old, dated curriculum requiring participation in standardized activities with no concern for their relevance beyond gaining course credits.

I look back on my 20s. Aside from walking and dancing at dances, I had no other fitness outlets. Work out at a gym?? Are you crazy? incredibly awkward, uncomfortable environment; I would have no idea what to do there. I did try a few yoga classes and a bit of Aikido, but nothing really caught on. I did walk, a lot, though. My 2nd year of grad school I walked to and from campus every day, 40 min. each way. Poverty has hidden benefits.

My 30s I lived in Virginia and had some fun opportunities for exercise. Being in a warmer climate kept me outdoors more. I took dance classes at the university and danced and choreographed on the side with some friends. Once in a while I even tried running – shocking! And then there was the ocean, where I learned how to body surf. After that was Mississippi where I took a few yoga classes at work, and walked a fair bit around the neighbourhood. Back in my hometown, I sometimes did not much and other times went dancing quite a bit.

Now, I’m nearly 40. My 40s are going to have to be about fitness. I’m integrating 1 or 2 yoga classes a week at work. I plan to go for walks at lunch pretty often. Walks with baby on my days off are a definite priority. And I hope to find something more – possibly a dance class or something else – that will keep me active and ward off physical decline. Or, more positively, build my strength, flexibility and ability to engage with the world.


Before I had a baby, my greatest worry (aside from birth itself) was exhaustion. I had heard so many mothers talk about how deeply and permanently tired they were for the first few years of their children’s lives. I knew my own love of sleep, need for it, in fact, and was concerned that I might not be able to function at all.
In fact, though I was definitely quite tired the first few months of baby’s life, it was much more bearable than I had expected. I often felt reasonably rested, even with baby’s frequent wakings. When I was wiped out, I was able to fit in a nap or two and feel caught up.

Now that I’m back at work, I’m noticing tiredness in a new way. The dark circles seem to be here to stay.

This past week was a good example. Long and stressful days at work. Baby up often at night. My own body run down and slightly sick, needing more sleep. By Friday, my day off, I’m wiped out. I want to plan fun with friends, but don’t have energy for more than childcare and chores. While nursing baby today in an attempt to get her to sleep I nearly fell asleep myself a few times. Looking at myself in the mirror at the end of the day I was slightly disturbed by how tired my eyes look.

Where am I going here? Well, one direction is acceptance. I remember a trip to Europe a few years ago where I was tired for a good portion of the trip. I ended staying up later than planned most nights and never really got over jet lag. I can get amazingly anxious and upset when I don’t get enough sleep: I see it as a right, responsibility and necessity and don’t think I can get through a day if I”m tired. I realized that this attitude, more than tiredness, could ruin my trip and I decided to accept that I was tired and recognize that many people continue to function and survive while tired. I was able to be okay with staying up too late and not let my negative thoughts wreck a great trip.

I accept that at this stage of life, I’m busy and tired. I will try and find ways to rest more. I will get through this time. For now, I’ll do my best to enjoy my activities even if I am tired. Even if baby wakes me up repeatedly at night or doesn’t nap during the day.

A rant about fashion, self-image and turning 40

I had an experience yesterday that made me stop and take stock of how I’m doing as a woman. Out running errands and getting some air with baby I stopped by my favourite shoe store. My primary goal was to check out the selection for mom so I could let her know if they had anything for her (probably not right now – sorry mom!). I’ve been resisting going in for months, though it’s on my regular walk route, because the shoes are so rich and beautifully edible. That’s right: I’ve been avoiding going in because I like the shoes. After all, I bought my pair of back-to-work shoes already in the fall. Basic black loafers. Who needs more than one pair? I am sensible and I save money.
Entering the store I realized that a woman I know from work was there with her family (husband and daughter – hello if you’re out there!). She was trying on shoes – gorgeous boots and shoes, ones I would LOOVE to own and wear. But: I already have lots of footwear. One whole pair of work shoes (that is, work shoes I can wear with socks). Plus winter boots!! But the selection was gorgeous, baby wanted to see the lovely red boots, and soon enough I let her hold one and tried on some myself.

My friend commented one an amazing red pair – knee high patent leather with buttons and stitch detailing – that they would look great on me and I should try them on. I said “no, I wouldn’t wear them.” “why not?” she persisted. “With leggings and a long shirt?” My reply, once out, shocked me: “I only have a few minutes in the morning anyways – I wouldn’t find the time to dress up.”

Wow. First of all: when did I become a kill-joy? Second: amazingly rudely dismissive of a friendly and encouraging suggestion. Third: why do I think I’m not worth the time and effort to dress nicely? I keep saying I want to look and feel better, yet when a suggestion is offered I shrug it off automatically.

My self-image, I realized, is at quite a low ebb. I have confidence in a fair number of areas, but fashion/appearance/presentation is decidedly not one of them. This also affects how I interact with people, apparently. I also end up feeling less worthy in some sort of broad way, thus not bringing everything I have to the table.

Looking through smudgy glasses also doesn’t help. In fact, I’d like to detail here some of the unique challenges of this stage of motherhood on my attempts to look and feel good. First, tiredness. I”m not exhausted usually, but at least a bit more tired than I’d like, and that never helps sense of well-being. Second, lack of time. Dressing well takes time. Maybe not a lot, but more than I seem to have. I really do race around the house in the morning and always leave later than planned. Adding in make-up, hair and jewelry often is more than I can do. Third: smudgy glasses. I could clean them all day, and baby will keep grabbing them. And contacts, well, I used to wear them all the time but that goes back to points 2 and 1 (when I’m tired my eyes are drier and less comfy). Fourth: personal hair styling by my baby! She twists and pulls it constantly, taking out curl and adding frizz. Fifth and finally for this particular list: all outfits are assessed in terms of ease of boob access. I need to either breastfeed or pump in any outfit I’m wearing. And then there’s bras. During mat leave I usually went without. Then I had a number of months of wearing too-big, don’t fit, not right hand-me-down bras. BLAH! All nice bras don’t seem to be accessible. So glad I finally decided to let that go and buy 3 attractive, fit well and pretty easy to access bras this week.

Having realized that all is not well in my sense of self, I’ve decided to get to work. I’m an attractive woman if I make some effort, so I am going to. That means: getting rid of lousy clothes, buying the good/right clothes (and spending money if need be!), and taking time to plan outfits so I can dress well with less effort. It also means following up on earlier plans to do a wardrobe inventory and really figure out what I wear and need.

Today saw some progress. After meeting an old friend at the mall we ended up at The Bay. I found a lovely red winter coat, a new cardigan (funky green dressyish) and a red fossil purse. YAY!! With the new winter coat I can now wear the awesome grey felt fedora-type hat husband picked up for me. I cannot believe enhancement in how I feel with these purchases – I can’t wait to get dressed! And I think I’m going to ask husband to pick up some boots I put on hold at the shoe store – winter booties in a taupey waterproof suede that are comfy and cool.

All this relates to my upcoming birthday. I’m turning 40. And while that doesn’t matter in lots of ways. I choose to turn 40 feeling confident in myself inside and out. 40 feels like a chance to be the grown-up I want to be.

Sick Bonus

Still sick. Head still throbbing. It’s not as bad as yesterday but still definitely there. I bend down slowly and take corners at a snail’s pace.
I am grateful, though. Time with my daughter continues to be wonderful, even if I sometimes crave a few minutes to myself. Which was provided by my husband today – with their walk and her nap, I had about 3 hours to MYSELF. And since I’m sick: I didn’t work. (okay, well, I did finish putting away my laundry and do a TINY TINY bit more work. But really, it was the tiniest of bits). Then I ate, drank tea, finished a novel (reading, not writing), and sorted through a pile of magazines, pulling inspiring decorating pictures (another bonus: since this is the stack that husband clipped through last night, we can now trash about 2 inches of magazines. Only 3 substantial stacks to go!). I haven’t had a chunk of time like that to myself to do just what I wanted since before baby was born. I would say that time like that, especially on weekends, is probably what I miss most since having a baby. I would occasionally hole up for an entire weekend and read 1 – 2 novels. And watch movies. And just do whatever I wanted. Not as possible now. But on the plus side, I get to cuddle the little sweet girl I love more than anything. So, compensation.

On the decluttering front: things have slowed with this weird illness and a crazy week, but items are still leaving our home. Latest is around 5 pieces of baby clothing. I also scanned & shredded an inch of paper this past week. I am looking forward to making more inroads into SOMETHING but am giving myself a pass this weekend. Enough to do with keeping myself together, caring for baby and prepping for next week.


On to something lighter: I’m currently obsessed with clothes. If you saw my wardrobe you might be surprised to learn this fact, but it’s true. I love reading about clothes, and building a wardrobe, and decluttering a wardrobe, and essential clothes to own, and on and on.
Some of my thoughts on clothes:

  1. The way we dress is a wonderful form of self-expression. I love having fun with clothes, putting together shapes, colours and accessories.
  2. Dressing well – whatever that means – adds joy, confidence and fun to life. When I am able to dress well and look good, life is simply more enjoyable.
  3. My style: colourful, comfortable, moderately fitted, veering from office semi-nice to granola crunchy. I like knits, cord, solid colours (esp. reds, blues & greens lately, matched with warm grays), scarves, long sleeves and cozy-feeling clothes. Layers are also great. I do love wearing earrings and necklaces, but with baby I haven’t had the time or personal safety zone to do this too often. Comfort is also very important to me. I now only wear comfortable shoes, with rare exceptions. Fabrics should feel warm for winter clothes, cool for summer, and fit closely enough to be cozy but loose enough not to bind.
  4. My wardrobe hopes: simple mix and match pieces for work and casual outings. A few dressy items but not too many. Well-made pieces that fit me well. No ironing or dry cleaning; minimal hand washing.
  5. Owning fewer clothes is often better. Any item of clothing in my wardrobe that I don’t love and wear is a physical barrier to identifying the clothes I DO love. I’m still working on eliminating clothes I don’t wear and hope to get there soon.

I hit VV’s 50% off sale today after work (husband picked up baby). I got 4 pieces for myself, and some undershirts & pants for baby. For me: two cardigans (yay for layers! I’ve wanted a few more), a sweet white t-shirt and a stretchy pink striped top. Fun and generally work appropriate. Not sure yet what if anything I’ll get rid of in their places. Maybe this grey t-shirt … we’ll see.

My plans for tomorrow: low-key day. I may make a chart of all my clothes :). This hasn’t seemed like a good idea until the last few days when I realized I still don’t have a handle on my clothes and what I need to actually feel well-dressed.

time for sleep. night!

Who I am

I went to a talk today at the university on story-telling and healing. I was expecting something uber-intellectual: any time the word “narrative” is used, things can tend to skew towards the unintelligible. In actuality, the presentation was a great example of getting real. The speaker was very down to earth. She let us connect with her as a person by sharing a some details about her last few days and poking fun at herself several times in the presentation. She was committed to her work and believed in the project (theatre for healing among Aboriginal youth) but didn’t take herself seriously. Her lack of self-consciousness and openness reminded me of an old friend of mine, sending me on a pleasant daydream that ended in plans for a winter vacation to visit.
I reentered the talk to hear more details about the project and see slides of some of the creative movement and games the youth engaged in. During the Q&A afterwards, one audience member (faculty, I think) asked if a particular move shown on her slides had been recreated since. The particular move was a 4-person table with each person leaning back from their knees onto the knees of the next person with their torso. After it popped up on the screen I found myself thinking about the move, wondering how they got into it, wanting to try it but not sure how or when. When the speaker said no, the audience member stood up and suggested we recreate it here. She and two friends got up from the back of the room, and I walked forward to the front as well. I didn’t really think about the audience; I just knew that making a table with my and 3 other bodies was something I had to do, right away. We talked through a method to get into position, got down onto the floor, and lifted up into the table. Did it! Then down, and back to our seats.

Who I am: I am a dancer. I need to do things with my body. It’s instinctive to use my body to experiment with space, shape, knowledge.

I am not who I was as a teenager. Back then you couldn’t drag me onto a dance floor – literally. I was so self-conscious and shy that it crippled me. Now, I’m almost 40. I have a child. I have an education. I really don’t care what people think. And though I don’t know it well enough or instinctively enough, I know I need to speak out and move. I’ll do what I want and need to. And sometimes it won’t be as great as I want it to be, and it will come across as less than what I’d like, but I’m okay with that.

And at the same time: I am also someone who still doesn’t quite fit in. I have a PhD but I’m not a faculty member. I get along well with others but I’m not part of a group or circle of friends on campus. I didn’t care whether people thought it was strange to get up and do acrobatics in front of an audience, but I did care if they thought it was cool.  I wish I didn’t, but it’s true.

But the truest part about who I am is that I knew I had to move. And those few minutes of shape-building with random others were the most invigorating I’ve had in possibly weeks.

Hair Beware

I am suffering from hair woes. I have great hair, but it rarely looks great. It usually is a big messy mess.
Again, my hair is awesome. Super-healthy, thick, curly, shiny. I love my hair. The difficulty is finding the time and enthusiasm to wash it and style it. It’s something I never learned how to do, and still don’t always find the time for. Especially with baby.

Washing now is with the no-poo method: baking soda to wash, apple cider vinegar to rinse. I have to say, it’s feeling better than ever with these two low-tech products, and the savings in cost and waste are also thrilling for me. The vinegar really brings out more shine. I have to confess, though, that I am finally beginning to notice the smell as it dries. My husband with his super-nose has never liked it, but he’s accepted my product choices.

Styling products have also gone low-tech, organic and natural: coconut oil. It moisturizes, takes down the frizz, adds some weight (for my coarse hair, necessary) and shine too. Plus, if there’s any left over on my hands I just rub it in, unlike the various petroleum products I’ve tried over the years. So so so much better from every angle!

Styling means rubbing coconut oil through my hair and shaping in the curls. Basic, but still hard to do sometimes.

When it’s freshly washed and styled, I love it. Curly and bouncy. After a few too many days between washes, yuck. Frizzy, shapeless. Choices are then scarves (which I haven’t pulled off well for years), barrettes, hats (also not tried in years), headbands (either the hard uncomfortable kind – no – or the elasticy round-the-head kind that feel great until you realize they’ve completely misshaped your hairline and bunched up the nape of your neck). Or just accept the mess, which is my position recently.

The frustration is that I am still trying to look professional at work. Hair tops everything else off. If my hair looks good, the rest of me is presentable.

I’m tempted to go short. Short-short, boy-short, or at least very-short-woman’s-cut short. Washing is easier, styling … ahh, there’s rub #1. My hair’s body and curl mean that styling is not necessarily easier as it’s shorter. It can go crazy wavy all over the place, and that’s just no, no good. I have to revert to the toque as styling tool, which is feasible but not my ideal. Plus, I will need re-cuts more often, which is a big cost and time-consumer.

Then what about long? Long is easy: ponytails. Ponytails are also the reason I’m going shorter, because they are – at least, the way I do them – incredibly non-professional-looking. Messy. But also the MOST comfortable hairstyle ever: all hair out of my face, out of the way, get to work, easy. I’ll often put my hair up in an elastic when I get up in the morning (we’re talking as I sit up in bed) and wear it like that half the day. Not professional. And then, the longer hair never looks as good on me as shorter. I look young and drawn out when my hair is too long.

Not sure where the solution lies. I would like to settle my hair issues before I turn 40. ha ha ha …


Figuring out the body

Well, tonight we decided that I would go off the elimination diet. Why? I really don’t know. But I was hungry, and tired of being hungry.
We went out for pizza for dinner. Baby thoroughly enjoyed herself. So did we. And after dinner … my stomach didn’t feel so great! This is the longest stretch I’ve gone without wheat or dairy. And admittedly, it didn’t feel great. It wasn’t like I had a sudden surge of energy, or improved digestion, or a better mood. In fact, I was hungry most of the time for weeks and exhausted. But that dinner, delicious though it was, didn’t settle well.

So who knows what I’ll learn out of this process. Maybe there are foods I’ll limit or take out of my diet. Or maybe not.

Regardless: it was nice to be able to eat what I wanted tonight, and to feel full after eating for a change.


Tonight was another long, unpredictable saga. I don’t know if I want to repeat it.
I went to yoga after work and actually enjoyed it. I found myself thinking how important it is to have balance and to take one hour a week for my body. The stretching etc. felt good and I felt more relaxed after class, though I still missed my baby.

I got to my mom’s by 6. And left a bit before 7. She wanted to play. She wanted to eat. She didn’t want to get into the car seat. She did want to stay with my mom and NOT with me. Fun fun fun! Really inspiring for a working mom!

Finally, my mom went and hid while I continued to feed her, and I was able to get her into the car seat and drive off. All went well until she started coughing. I stopped to give her some water and things degenerated. I drove a bit further then pulled over in the face of increasing crying.

That stop, at The Abbey (what is that place? I assume it’s a Catholic outreach centre, but I’m not sure), took 45 minutes. We looked at the “Abbyicap Parking” signs, running back and forth between the two as she poked them and laughed at their similarity. We looked at our reflections. We played with the stucco. We crawled on the roof of the car. We cried when mommy tried to put her into the car seat. We hung out in the dark, damp, cool night.

Husband was great enough to come and meet us, distract her with his bird noises, and keep her happy on the drive home. Where we arrived a bit after 8. She is currently playing on the floor in the office with husband, pulling pens and papers out of drawers and doing her first drawing.

I’m not doing this again. I know I need exercise, but the frustration of the long days, rough departures and unpleasant drives home are not working for me. I’ll need to figure out another way to take care of myself while optimizing drives home.