bead more. worry less.

Life is happening. It’s been crazy but so great. I’ve been shuffling around many hats and I’ve been trying to do it all.  I haven’t been up on the Tea and Bannock blog for weeks because I simply couldn’t keep up. I needed to take a break or learn to let go of some of my workload. Slowly I’ve learned to say no to a few things, loose control a little bit and to RELAX. Chill out. Just to be ok with doing nothing, sometimes.

I’m a photographer, a girlfriend, a full time stepmother of three, a traditional games manager with ASCNWT, a blogger for Tea & Bannock and a Chef de Mission for Team NWT at 2017 North American Indigenous Games. My life has been moving so quickly that I often forget to stop and smell the flowers. 

While trying to do it all and run a photography business on top of it, my computer happened to crash back in January 2017. Boom! Done-zo! This has caused a lot of frustration in my world as a blogger and photographer. However I took it for what it is and decided it wasn’t all chaos.  It was a good excuse to kickback and take a step away from my own art. Give it time and just let it breathe.

Taking a step back has lead to other creative outlets and fresh ideas. I’ve always been a creative person and I have my mom to thank for that. My mind is busy coming up with new projects to execute. Any other artist would know exactly what I mean. It’s a constant process. My hands always have to be busy creating.  So instead of putting all my energy into a computer that crashed (which I tend to do), I decided to shift my focus on to another art of mine – beading and sewing. 

I never really was exposed to beading while I was growing up. I would find my mom on her sewing machine altering clothes and creating costumes. My slavey class with Maragret Vandell and Angie Matto often consists of working on mini culturally focused projects to take home but that was the extent of it.

One day in my teenage years, I decided I needed to learn. I wanted to learn. And I want to be a really good beader. (Dene Goals!)

So I dug out all of my mother’s beads that have been stashed away for some time. I claimed them for myself and she was happy to share any knowledge and tricks she had.

My mother is also a very creative person; she could take anything and make it into something bigger and better. Anyone that has been close to our family over the years knows that Joyce can take an idea and make it happen. From when I was a preteen she encouraged me to sew, bead, embroider, create, be good and do good.  But it wasn’t until this year that I really picked it up consistently.

In her teenage years, my mom would use a loom to bead and would create beaded belts, guitar straps, headbands, wallets, etc. If it wasn’t for her encouragement, I probably wouldn’t be where I’m at today (in all aspects of life). She would often travel to other communities and pick up patterns, material, beads, looms, fur, etc. for me to use to practice and keep me intrigued.

I figured if I wanted to pass that tradition down to my children and be good at it then it’s best that I start beading when I had the time. The beginning was a frustrating process, the lines weren’t completely straight and the control freak in me had a hard time accepting that I wasn’t good at it right away… but I persevered anyway.

I developed a huge bin of beading supplies and it quickly became the bin of unfinished projects. They just kept piling up. I had unfinished key chains, change purses, and many uppers. (Projects that didn’t make the cut.) I’m sure many of you would agree that it’s hard to work on a project you don’t completely love. 

 

So the moment that I decided I wanted to take on a large beaded project – dedicate time, put some effort into it and make sure that I finish it – was the moment my lifelong best friend told me she was pregnant. I knew I wanted to create something special for her and my soon to be niece. Right off the bat I knew what I was going to do. I was going to make her a baby belt. I didn’t tell her what I was doing, it was going to be a surprise. 

I got a friend to cut out and draw up a baby belt. (Thank you Tanya!) I started on this baby belt in December 2016 and gave it to my best friend soon after her sweet baby girl arrived in February 2017. I worked many late nights on it; lay the beads down, tac it down with two needles… and then take it all apart in frustration. The hardest thing about it was choosing the colour combinations… and having all the pink and purple bead colours rub off. I would often sigh out loud because I would become so mad. This went on for weeks but I absolutely loved that my mind and hands were kept busy during the very cold Yellowknife winter nights. As I progressed on this project, it all started to come to life. I couldn’t believe that I could bead a large project like a baby belt!

During this time I turned out to be that girl who would pick up everyone’s bead work and examine it. If you beadwork on your table, I would sit there and watch you sew or better yet, join you. If you were wearing moccasins, I would kneel down to look at your feet. I would look at the knots. I would touch the beads. I would even pick it up to smell it if it was sewn on moose hide. I was determined.

I finished the baby belt in record time and delivered it to my best friend. She was shocked. I was shocked that I actually finished it. There was no words just pure excitement between both of us. Then I was hooked! I couldn’t stop nor did I want to stop.

I knew if I wanted to be an amazing beader then I would have to practice, practice and practice some more. I convinced my sister (who has gone to school for fashion design) shortly after I was done the baby belt to figure out a way to make graduation stole for my mother. Like I’ve said, my mother is driven and can do anything she puts her mind to. Two years ago, she decided to take a Language Revitalization Diploma program to learn Dene Zhatie, to revive the dene language of the Deh Cho. We are all so proud of her for  sticking through the tough times and finishing this program. Next week she’ll be walking the stage in an honour ceremony in our hometown surrounded by people who love her. I knew she needed something special to wear to this ceremony, it was a no brainer – she needed a traditional garment sewn with love to proudly wear when she receives her diploma. 

It took me about 4 weeks to bead her graduation stole. Every bead tacked down with positive thoughts and well wishes. I took it everywhere I went in a small tupperware bin with many tubes of delica beads and bended beading needles. It came with me on work trips From Yellowknife to Toronto and everywhere in between; it has seen many airports, hotel rooms, ferry rides, road trips and campsites. I guess you can say I take after my mom – if I want to accomplish anything, you bet I’ll get it done.

Last week my sister and I surprised her with the graduation stole. It took my sister about 2 hours to sew it together; she whipped it up like nobodies business. My mom opened it up and gasped for air – again almost no words, just pure excitement. 

I will forever consider myself a beginner when it comes to beading, embroidery or any traditional art. There is still so much to learn! This art has taught me to be patient, especially when you’re blue in the face from frustration, and to be supportive, by teaching others what you know and to encourage them to pick up their unfinished projects or to begin new ones. These projects have given me so much pride, I feel connected to my ancestors and grounded as an indigenous person.

I’ve learned to see the good in my computer failing on me. I would have never picked up the needle and thread otherwise. I’m back to capturing moments with my family and shooting photography for myself. Always choose to see the good in every bad situation. Hopefully one day I’ll be back to creating scenes with models and capturing families but in the meantime, you can find me beading!

Shawna McLeod

seven years

It is a special day of reflection for myself and my husband. Another year has passed and we have survived another year together. You have no idea how difficult it really is being married to me, or being married to my handsome and smart husband for that matter. Seven years ago we were married in front of a quince tree where later I learned that my father put down tobacco and said a prayer for us on our wedding day. My parents marriage ended when I was in grade 7. My mother fled from my father while he was working up in Northern Saskatchewan. She left him for many good reasons but the most important one was to protect my sisters and I. And there we were, twenty years later, my mother, my father and my two younger sisters together to celebrate the union between my husband and I with our 16 month old son by our side. Both of our families and friends were there to witness us, well pretty much growing up.

Around this time last year I shared a post about how my husband and I met. You can read more here https://teaandbannock.com/2016/06/06/kisakihitin-you-are-loved-by-me/

Honestly, I don’t write very much about him on social media or on here because of his profession and out of respect because he is a private man. I still take a lot of photos of him though because I’ve been doing so for nearly 12 years. The thought makes me blush. As a young girl I knew who I was going to marry one day and it happened, even after years of making out with guys from around the world (yessss…. I have an international record and only two of them were indigenous), heartbreaks and just dating baaaad dudes. Oh and I must mention the English lad named Mike Hunt. No joke.

My husband and I are still learning how to be together. I wanted to share with everyone a few questions that I gave my husband for you the readers to get to know me a bit more. And it is a chance for me to see how well he knows me.

Which of my achievements am I most proud of?

  – I am worried about answering this question, as I feel that my response may be used to judge me at some future point. But I think that it may be our two sons, because they are pretty amazing and I am proud of them too.

Later in my adult life, I had an epiphany. Which comic book character from my youth did I realize strongly influenced my style?

  Veronica. Totally Veronica. I know this one.

What is my least favourite housework task?

  Hmmmm… taking out the garbage? or is it dishes? or is it vacuuming? or it is perhaps washing the floors?

What type of music do I secretly like?

  – Terrible late nineties house.

Which song do I sing when we argue?

  – Witney Houston’s “I will always love you”.

What was yelled at us by total strangers while we where out on our first date at Jericho Beach? Is this too personal sweetheart?

  – No, its not too personal. It was: “Hey look, there are some indians making out in the bushes!”

How did I spend my summers as a child?

  – Uhhhh… going to Batoche? 

*Note: this is the ONLY question that he didn’t answer correct. Yes, every year we went to the Back to Batoche Days but my fondest memories are of spending time with my mom’s family in Melfort and camping & fishing with my dad’s family in Northern Saskatchewan.

What kind of footwear was I wearing at our wedding during our first dance?

  – Moccasins.

When shouldn’t you talk to me?

  – Anytime in the morning, before you have had a coffee.

Which of your shirts do I dislike?

  – You dislike one of my shirts?

What kind of food makes me drool? Note: I considered leaving you and Elijah because neither of you like it but quickly realized it meant more for me.

  – Dried moose meat.

Why do I take so much time to get ready?

  – Because you have a double XX chromosome.

What song can always make me dance, especially when no one’s around?

  – I have no idea. I obviously am not around when you are dancing to it.

What’s a personality trait I dislike about myself, and I share with a parent?

  – Anything that your mother does that annoys you.

Am I related to Louise Riel?

  – Sure, why not.

Are you related to Louis Riel?

  – Again, for sure.

When we hug what do our kids and dogs do?

  – Try to get in the middle and break up our hug.

What made me fall in love with you?

  – Uhhh…hmmm… my cowboy boots? or my sweet personality? No, it was totally the cowboy boots.

You did good my  husband. xox

-Amanda Laliberte

thirty-three

I turned thirty-three earlier this year, and I celebrated at my nephew’s birthday party (he was turning five). I drank a few beers as the million and one kids bowled, screamed, ran around and caused chaos. I ate cake, telling everyone that he had high-jacked my birthday celebrations, and we laughed.

My birthday has never caused me stress, or made me freak out. I love celebrating me (note: I also love celebrating other people’s birthdays) and I love being able to justify the day spent on buying makeup, clothes, eating fancy food and being a diva. I’m one of those people who want birthday months. Love me, spoil me. Be my friend, eeeee.

Anyways, I was going through some digital archives, and was just giggling to myself. Some of these… cringe-worthy.

Let’s go through memory lane.

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March 2008. 24 yrs old. Charleston, SC. This was my first trip to Charleston, to visit my brother Trent. It was hot. Crazy hot. I had bangs, and reddish hair. I know, styling. But I went with my parents and my fiancé, at the time. We went to hockey games, the local aquarium, and I touched the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.

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March 2009. 25 years old. UBC Campus, Vancouver, BC.  I am attending UBC for my MFA in Creative Writing and I am so overwhelmed. But it’s good. I am student-poor. I splurge on a coffee I cannot afford, and I smile. The sun is shining. The mountains are outside the window. I write poetry. I am loved. All is well.

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March 2010. 26 yrs old. Jericho Beach, Vancouver, BC. It is one of our first picnics of the season, sitting on the bench and sipping local craft ale and homemade wine with friends. They take my picture, as I am always the one behind the camera. I hate it, but appreciate it now, years later.

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March 2011. 27 yrs old + 6 months pregnant. Lac La Plonge, SK. I am pregnant with my daughter, Aerie. I am newly married. I am terrified, but content. We are living downstairs in my parents house on the Rez, and while I feel like I should be ‘doing more,’ I am often reminded that I am making a human. And that’s enough.

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March 2012. 28 years old + 8 month old daughter. Saskatchewan. I have a daughter. I am often in the backseat, just watching her as she watched me. I did that. I made that. She made me.

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March 2013. 29 yrs old +  20 month old daughter. Somewhere on the way to Charleston, SC. My mom, my not-yet-two-year-old child and myself are on a road trip to Charleston again. This is my third visit. Mom and I had always planned to travel coast to coast together.

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March 2014. Dirty-Thirty. Saskatoon, SK. We drink too much, eat too fast, and laugh too loudly. No longer married, and adjusting to that single mom life, my friends and family come out to celebrate and I am given shots and stories, and I remember again – I am loved.

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March 2015. 31 years old. University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK. I am guest-lecturing a class. This is insane. I am in my second year in my PhD program and I’m still wondering why anyone would trust me to teach anyone anything. I have also discovered the joys of makeup, which is nice.

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March 2016. 32. Regina, SK. I was asked to model in NDN Supermaidens by JT Arcand, and I am so freaking honoured. Surrounded by inspiring, Indigenous women, being as extra as I want to be – this is a good feeling. My friends and I travel to Regina to see the opening show, and I side-eye myself on a massive poster. I recognize myself in her, and I grin. Supermaiden, indeed.

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March 2017. 33 yrs old + 5 yrs old. Saskatoon, SK. We go out for macarons and hot chocolate, a big girl date, as she calls it. We sit and chat about kindergarten, university, and our favourite dessert. She holds my hand and leans against me.

“I love you,” she says quietly.

“I love you too,” I tell her, kissing the top of her head.

“Can you buy me another macaron then?” She smiles at me, her eyes crinkling up like her dad’s do, and I burst out laughing.

Yep, that’s my kid.

Blessed.

 – tenille  campbell 

My Jijuu

Today is just one day shy of my Jijuu (grandmother) Mary Effie’s birthday. Tomorrow, she will be turning 78 years old. I would just like to share a little bit about my Jijuu because this beautiful woman deserves to shine bright, not only on her birthday, but every damn day of the year.

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My Jijuu is the most respectful and humble woman I know. She carries herself with dignity, grace, and resilience. She’s a hunter, a fisher, a sewer, a teacher, a mother, a Jijuu, and my best friend. She is a strong believer in God, she likes to smoke cigarettes. and she’s crazy as hell. Although my Jijuu is an elder, she’s a little bit of a daredevil. I have some crazy stories of her and I travelling on white caps to get back to our family at fish camp, or crossing the melting ice road too close to it breaking up and her going along with just about any idea that I can conjure up. One of my favorite things about her is that she is always down to come on road trips with me.
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My Jijuu has given birth to eight children, two of whom have unfortunately passed away. She lost a daughter who was only a few months old and then her youngest son who passed away twenty-five years ago at the age of nineteen. Today, I want to tell you a little bit about my uncle Geejam and how even though he passed away, he is still close to her heart and binding her and I together.

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My Uncle Geejam was buried on October 19, 1991 and it just so happened that I was the first baby born on October 19, 1992. On the day that I was born, my Jijuu Christie Thompson gave me my Gwich’in name, “Gwikitch’ihkh’eh”, which means “In Return” because, as she said, I was the life given after his life was taken.

When my Jijuu talks about my Uncle Geejam, she speaks so fondly as she describes his love for the game of hockey, for his family – especially his siblings and cousins, and for her. He was a crazy guy who was always happy and everybody loved to tease. As she tells me about my Uncle, I can hear the pain in her voice as if it happened just yesterday.

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This one time, my Jijuu and I were driving the Dempster Highway on the way to our very first Moosehide Gathering in 2014. She was telling me about how my uncle would drive her wherever she wanted to go – all over the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. And then she looked at me with the sweetest look that only a Jijuu can give, and said “and now look at my Gwikich’ihkh’eh driving me around, just like my Geejam did”.

Oh my Jijuu, I hope and pray that I can drive you around for many many years to come.

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Gwiintl’oo Nahtinithan & Nidrin dagoonch’uu gwiinzii srigoojanhch’uu.

 – shayla snowshoe

Becoming a Maker

Last year, while I was pregnant with my daughter, I had specific things that I envisioned her having, and one of those was bonnets. I just loved seeing babies in bonnets. Unfortunately, I could only every find bonnets for $25-$50 CAD in the style that I liked. To put it simply, they were something I couldn’t afford (especially since I wanted her to have one for every outfit – ha!). Finally I couldn’t stand not having any for her so I bought myself a sewing machine and taught myself how to use it. I figured if I could learn how to sew then I could save some money. I am so glad that I bought that sewing machine because it has become a small part of me.

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Now, I can’t even count how many bonnets I’ve made (okay, I probably could, if I took some time to). I’ve altered the pattern (what feels like) a million times to get the fit I like on my daughter’s round head. When she was newborn I had to redo the pattern to get a small enough bonnet for her little head and as she grows I continue altering. Recently I gave away five of Alba’s bonnets to someone who needed them more than her, the great part is I am easily making more for her to replace the five that we gave away. It’s not costing me much financially as a lot of the fabrics I use are given to me in the form of old sheets (thanks mama!).

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Crocheted pixie hats and mittens for my daughter.

Recently I’ve also started delving into other projects. I’ve sewn some skirts/dresses for my daughter and myself, as well as taught myself to crochet. I can make things. A lot of these are beginner projects but I hope to make her some heirloom pieces that she can give to her children or that I can keep for any other children I may have.

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A pinafore dress and bunny bonnet I made for Alba’s first Easter.

 

The best part of all of this isn’t the money I am saving learning how to make things (instead of buy), nor is it the possibility that my grand-children will get to wear these clothes, instead it’s that I am spending time on me. Myself. While I was pregnant, one of the things I worried about was my identity. Who would I be after my daughter was born? Mother is such a beautiful title, and it is a part of my core, I was made to be Alba’s Mother, but I am more than her Mother. I am still Claudine, someone who wasn’t a mom for the past 27 years and as I navigate through my motherhood story I am trying to keep a grasp on that.  I’ve read and heard about drowning in parenthood and that hasn’t happened to me (yet, I’m sure it will come at some point). I’ve heard that the days are long, that it’s monotonous, and I think (for me) that hasn’t happened because (when I can) I take the time to just do “me” things. It’s therapeutic. I love being a Mom, and I think one of the reasons I love it is because I try to have balance and spend time on myself, especially in these wonderful early days when I’m with her literally 24/7. So, when Alba sleeps, I like to make things (or do something that I enjoy). I think this makes me a better mama, a happier mama, and I truly wish I could stay home with her forever because I am enjoying every single day.

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It’s not always easy. Sometimes I have to sew on the floor because she’s napping on the couch and I want to be in the same room as her. Another time I sewed on the floor in the basement because everywhere else in the house someone was sleeping and I didn’t want to wake anyone up but I really wanted to finish my project. To say I love it is a little bit of an understatement.

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Alba wearing the same bonnet in both images. On the right image we are bother wearing skirts that I made. 

 

Since Alba joined my life just a short 5 months ago, I have become slightly terrified of becoming an empty nester in the future (yes, I think about things like that), but at least I’ll have my sewing machine with me (*insert laughing emoticon).

Yellowknife known as Sǫ̀mbak’è (money place)

I daydream a lot about the North.

Perhaps it is because of all the stories my dad has told me about when he worked up there in his twenties. My dad still has a beautiful hand-made parka which he bought when he was up North. It has got to be at least 40 years old. From what I can remember, he worked on a ship, spending time in Tuktoyaktuk, Inuvik, Yellowknife, Hay River, and many other places in the territories. Even though my dad denies it, I’m pretty sure that I’ve got some half-siblings somewhere up North (good thing my dad doesn’t do the internet and to my aunties out there who read this – shhhh). It was a time in his youth when he had money, no wife, and their was lots of work up in the territories during the 60s. For example, the mining industry near Yellowknife was thriving.

It looks as though someone took their finger and dug it into the earth and drew that river.

It could be that I am drawn to the North because of the stories my friend Elaine shared with me during our time at the University of Victoria. She’s from Fort McPherson. She told me about the caribou, geese, and life on the Peel River. And for a short while, my son and her nephew were pen pals. Adorable. We need to start that up again.

Images of life up there were almost entirely conceivable after watching Ice Lake Rebels, Arctic Air and Ice Road Truckers. Ha. Joking. No, it was Shawna, Caroline, and Shayla’s images from their home communities which drew me to take my family to Yellowknife for Spring Break. I know – even Shawna’s mom thought we were a bit strange spending our Spring Break up North. But with friends and family living up there and the chance to show my West Coast babies a REAL winter, we did it. And all of us southerners fell in love with the North. We fell hard. Honestly, how could you not? So much sunshine and no need to worry about slathering the kids with sunscreen because you are layered upon layer with clothing to stay warm. No heat stroke. It was wonderful.

-10C is better for my family than 30C.

We got to stay on a houseboat with a couple of those Ice Lake Rebels, Stephan and Allyce, at Vee Lake. What’s up with all these reality shows? We drove on ice roads. We went snowmobiling. We made snow forts and demolished snow forts, we saw the Aurora Borealis while we felt our hands and feet freezing. My sons adopted a new uncle.  We got snowed in, learned a bit about kite skiing and we learned our most valuable lesson – you must remember to plug in your vehicle when it is -30C overnight. Whoops. Wait, the valuable lesson I took from staying on their houseboat was how much we waste water and electricity in our homes on the grid. My kids loved not having to wash their hands after every time they used the compost toilet with the pee and poo hole. Don’t worry, I was there reminding them about the hand sanitizer.

Houseboat at Vee Lake.

Isn’t that snow so pretty?

This kid isn’t tired of me taking his photos all the time, yet.

He loves having a mom as a photographer.

I googled how to take photos of Northern Lights and this was my first image. I was so excited that I forgot to lower my ISO and adjust my shutter speed.

We woke up around 1am to see the Aurora Borealis and let me tell you it was freeeezing cold. I couldn’t stop clicking my shutter release because the lights were moving quickly. It was beautiful.

Meet Dora the dog.

Afterwards, we stayed with my husband’s cousin and his lovely family. They invited us into their home and we are will be forever grateful for their hospitality. I gave them the option to throw us out if we were out of hand but they actually kept us around. At their home, we got to watch the cousins bond with each other which was a memorable experience for all. I also earned my aunty pin: sent kid out into freezing temperature with rubber boots and those silly stretchy mittens (she had me convinced that all her other gear was wet and she’d be okay), woke toddler up from afternoon nap by walking into her room and banging open the door and abruptly turning on the lights, forgot to change toddlers poopy bum, listened to the kids talk non stop about poo, took lots of pictures, bruised up my knees crawling after baby in the kid tunnels at the ice castle and tried to earn trust from the sweet & spicy niece who wouldn’t have anything to do with me until I came home with a beaded pink necklace. Then she told me we were best friends. I knew the pink beads would work. Our family took us to see the Northern Heritage Centre where the kids ran through and spent most of the visit trying on homemade “Northern style” clothing. I went shopping for some Northern wear for myself at Weaver & Devore and Just Furs. Let me just mention here that I can still smell the smoked moose hide and feel the soft seal skin on my skin. My husband and I went on a date to the Salvation Army Thrift Store where I saw an old man wearing beautiful beaded moccasins with galoshes as he spoke to his wife in their language. I found a stylish mustard coloured sweater vest and my husband bought some Stephen King books. We then went for a walk though the mall which was a good representation of the changes in the North. Afterwards we walked holding mittened hands to do some t-shirt shopping at the family owned Erasmus Apparel. Best date yet because honestly we don’t get many (dates, that is). Our last couple of days were spent going to Aurora Village where we did touristy things like being instructed on how to roast a marshmallow by an Australian tour guide, drank hot chocolate in a teepee, tobogganed down a man made hill, and went for a lovely dog sled ride while listening to my kids complain about the dogs farting.

Our cousins and Brody’s wall of drawings.

Those moccasins with all that moose hair tufting!

Look there is a moose and you can even see the drool.

Astum, Astum!

My husband never gets tired of me asking him to pose for another photo.

This snowcastle was impressive. To see more photos you can read Caroline’s blog post from last year’s Snowking’s festival. They change the design every year.

We loved every moment about our trip up North. It went by so quickly that Shawna and I had the good intentions of collaborating on something but the only thing we collaborated on was attending a Booty exercise class (yassss did we ever burn it while looking like monkeys) and then talking about parenting and photography over a cup of hot cocoa with a peppermint tea bag. Shawna and I hadn’t seen each other since we finished our diplomas in photography at Western Academy in Victoria, BC. Back then she was fresh out of high school (perhaps not that fresh) and I was already pregnant with my second son. Over the years, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing her grow as a photographer but also as a young woman and now mother. All these connections are so important for the growth of my young family and for me, as an artist, friend, mother and aunty.

Look – it’s the talented and lovely Shawna McLeod.

These are a few more stories about the North, that I can add to my daydreams for years to come. While my children can share their own stories about that time we went to Yellowknife for Spring Break.

We miss you.

*In the Dogrib language, the city is known as Sǫ̀mbak’è (Sawm-ba Kay) (money place)

-Amanda Laliberte

Journey to Motherhood (with a Birth Story)

Mid-February. We are curled up on the couch with comforters and coffee. By “we,” I mean my daughter and I. She is napping and I am writing. Surreal, I have a daughter. I am a mother.

In June, I did a blog post discussing me being pregnant (and my various thoughts on it), and announced that my husband and I were expecting our first child after Christmas. My baby arrived over a month early. I want to share why she arrived early and my experience with having the healthiest pregnancy turn high-risk (with me getting hospitalized at 35 weeks and having baby a week later), in hopes that others can relate to or just learn something from our story.

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The majority of my pregnancy was “quiet”, or as quiet as a pregnancy can be. I had next to no symptoms. No nausea, Braxton Hicks contractions, heartburn (yup, I have a bald baby!), or much swelling. I had an anterior placenta so kicks were even harder to feel. If I didn’t have a baby bump and get a positive pregnancy test so early I could have been one of those ladies who doesn’t even know she’s pregnant until she was 5 or 6 months. I did feel tired and get occasional headaches and leg cramps but, up until the end, it was a pretty uneventful pregnancy. I was grateful, because I didn’t exactly enjoy being pregnant.

Do not mistake my lack of loving the experience the wrong way. I was so happy to be pregnant, and that I was having a baby, but I really wanted it to be over already, and to be on the other side of pregnancy. And now that I am on the other side, I have to say I don’t feel any differently. I’m not one of those ladies that misses my bump or can’t wait to be pregnant again. It was an anxious, long eight months for me. Maybe it was the lack of kicks, maybe it’s just my slightly neurotic personality (ha), or maybe it’s just normal and people don’t talk about it often, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of that “something is wrong.” It was such a mental battle throughout my pregnancy. Despite gaining weight right on track, feeling pretty good, and having normal healthy OB appointments, I was so worried all the time that I would miscarry or have a stillbirth. It happens. I felt so guilty for not revelling in my experience, especially since I wanted to be pregnant for so long, and I know so many women who suffer from infertility. I kept thinking, “how dare I not enjoy this experience 100%.”

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Like I said above, I had an anterior placenta. I didn’t feel my baby kick until I was 23-24 weeks pregnant. I remember being at work when I was around 22 weeks pregnant, with my little bump, and a coworker asked “so you must feel her kick all the time.” Um, no. When finding out that I didn’t feel anything, not even a flutter she got this super worried look on her face and notified me that I should feel something by now. Cue panicked call to my OB to notify them that I hadn’t felt a kick yet. The nurse assured me that it could be awhile before I feel any kicks and that my placenta was in the front so it wasn’t anything to worry about until I was 28 weeks.  I even got an ultrasound the next day and sure enough, baby was kicking away and I didn’t feel a thing.

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Pregnancy isn’t a set in stone, must follow “this template” experience. Every pregnancy is different, as I was learning. My anterior placenta acted like a squishy cushion between me and my baby. It made it really hard to feel (and see) movement from her throughout my pregnancy. It caused me to visit the ER in a panic a couple of times in my third trimester because she didn’t kick x amount of times in x hours. I felt like a crazy lady! Was I normal? Everyone talks so much about the physical discomforts of pregnancy. That was what I was expecting (which didn’t really happen for me). The throwing up, the swelling, the waddling (okay, I definitely waddled). Women talk about that. What isn’t talked about is the mental health aspect of it which made me feel so much more isolated and wrong. I felt guilty for my unborn baby that I was worrying so much. Because I didn’t feel normal I didn’t talk about it much with anyone. Even when I was hospitalized with health complications I STILL didn’t talk about how worried sick I was.

On Monday November 7, 2016, (I was 33 weeks pregnant*) I went to my regular OB appointment and my healthy pregnancy started to take another turn. I had borderline high blood pressure which the doctors informed me is a symptom of pre-eclampsia. They ordered for blood tests and urine tests to see how my organs were functioning. They wanted me to know that I was high-risk for developing pre-eclampsia. Pre-eclampsia is a “pregnancy disease.” The only way to “cure” it is to get the baby out ASAP. It is characterized by high blood pressure which can affect the mom’s organs as well as the baby’s placenta. If left untreated, it can turn into eclampsia which can result in death. My mom had pre-eclampsia with all four of her pregnancies. I was born at 31 weeks gestation, my brother at 33 weeks. She almost died. We weren’t taking this lightly and I went home with a blood pressure monitor and religiously checked my blood pressure. My OB appointments were increased. I was terrified.

*Just a quick aside. My doctors and I went with different due dates. They had my official due date as January 2, 2017, based on my first ultrasound. I went with December 24 as I felt this was more accurate, based on LMP, conception, and my gut mama feeling. That, and baby was always measuring really big at the rest of my (many) ultrasounds. This matters, as it affects induction schedules, and the “premieness” of a baby.*

IMG_9067.JPGI got a call from my OB office on Thursday asking me to come in the next day. They wanted to see how I was progressing, and to check my blood pressure. If everything looked good they would post-pone my next appointment. I was feeling positive that everything must be looking good on my blood tests.

Friday, November 18, 2016. I drove myself to my appointment (50 mins), I thought it would be a quick in and out and then my plans were to head over to my mom’s house to prepare for my baby shower that was the next day. My husband was at work. All I could think about was getting out of my 9:00 am appointment quickly so I could go decorate. I was excited. I was also excited to take my 35 week bump picture the next day, what would I wear?  My bump was getting big and my clothing options were limited. Was baby kicking enough? I wonder who will all come to the shower. I was itchy last night, I should tell my doctor. My mind kept going back and forth between my appointment and the baby shower.

My blood pressure was higher than ever at this appointment. We also did a test because of my itchiness for another pregnancy disease called cholestasis (which has itchiness as one of the only symptom). I was disappointed. The doctor ordered more blood tests, and an ultrasound for that day at 2:00 pm to do a biophysical profile  and NST (non-stress test) on the baby and make sure she was doing good in there. Okay, I guess I’ll have to decorate in the evening. I did my blood tests and waited around for my ultrasound. The ultrasound was neat, baby looked great, and we got a 3D look. Baby was measuring at about 6lbs.

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The nurse informed me that the doctor would come talk to be about my results and that I could wait in the hospital room that my non-stress test was in. The doctor didn’t make it in until after 6 pm. She came in, informed me that my urine and blood pressure indicate that I do indeed have pre-eclampsia. I may need to be induced that night and they were transferring me to the Royal Alexandra Hospital 3 hours away via ambulance to be admitted there, as they did not have the proper NICU facilities to handle a 33 week premie (as they thought I wasn’t as far along as I thought I was). We got steroid shots to get the baby’s lungs to develop more. I was shocked, scared, nervous, unprepared. I guess we were postponing the baby shower! All my “plans” for the birth were thrown out the window. I wouldn’t know what it would be like to have contractions start at home, or have my water break and rush to the hospital.  I was terrified but also excited to meet my baby.

New doctors, another ultrasound, and a new hospital. My new doctors agreed with me that my original due date was wrong and instead I was given a due date of December 21, 2016. This is almost 2 weeks further along than my previous doctors thought! They also decided that because my blood pressure went down and baby was doing great that I would just stay there to be monitored until it was time to have baby. That was good news. The bad news was that my tests came back for cholestasis and I did indeed have it. Another reason to monitor me and baby throughout each day.

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I had a team of liver specialists visit me daily. The goal was to keep baby in as long as possible until it became too hostile for baby. They informed me that because I had cholestasis there was a chance that my baby could be stillborn. I was heartbroken. Terrified. All my greatest fears. Stillborn. Every day I had multiple blood tests, and urine tests to check my bile acid levels (the liver does not function properly because of the cholestasis). Multiple medications (which increased a tri-fold in the time I was there) to keep my bile acids down and keep the baby in me as long as possible. My arms were bruised from so many needles. Non-stress tests every morning and before bed to make sure the baby was doing well. Non-stress tests if she doesn’t kick enough. During a non-stress test they strap on monitors to my belly that show if there are contractions and also record the baby’s heart rate. It tells us how much she’s moving. They have expectations for what a baby should be doing in utero. Too high of a heart rate, too low of a heart rate, or not enough movement (heart rate accelerations) and they may make the decision that the baby is too “stressed” and would preform an emergency C-section. Some non-stress tests would take a bit longer because the baby would be sleeping and I would have to drink some really ice cold water to get her to wake up. Mostly they were all good and reassuring. I wished that I could be strapped to the monitor the entire time, to ease my anxiety.

Despite it being a fairly quiet stay, and grateful that I was so far along, I couldn’t shake my fear. Every night I cried. I wanted my baby out now. I know inside is good but I didn’t want her to die in me. Every morning when my OB would visit me I’d hope that it would be induction day. My sister Nicole visited me every day and kept me sane. We watched Grey’s Anatomy and she brought me junk food. She is amazing.

November 23, 2016. My 27th birthday. Still in the hospital. I did get a pass to go out for supper with my family. It was exhausting. I bought some tiny newborn clothes for my little baby that I would be meeting soon. I felt so unprepared! I had nothing that would fit a 6 pound baby. I was expecting a 10 pounder (like my husband was). The next day before bed my nurse informed me that my acid levels were really high. I may get induced really soon! My doctor would decide in the morning. I was so excited (but also scared of what the high acid levels meant).

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November 25, 2016. Possibly induction day! I woke up feeling so positive. Usually my doctor visits at 9:00 am, after breakfast. I waited, and waited. Finally at noon another doctor visited me. I didn’t recognize her. She informed me that my doctor was sick but that I would be getting induced that day anyway. We just had to wait for some space to clear up. I was elated! I messaged my husband that it was almost baby time and to get to Edmonton after work. The doctor said induction can take days so I told him to finish his shift and to not rush.

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Right after finding out I was being induced I took a shower and took my last mirror bump selfie.

Finally at 5:00pm I was induced (using foley bulb and cervidil). My mom was with me. She brought me food and we waited. Still so excited. The nurses informed me (again) that it could be days, and it could take 36 hours for the cervidil to get me to start dilating and contractions started. Husband arrived. It got late and I tried to convince him to go sleep at the hotel. Nothing would be happening that night. He insisted on staying with me.

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November 26, 2016.

1:00 am. I woke up. I had a back ache. Annoying. I wanted to try get rest before my contractions started. Back ache kept coming (and going). I decided to go walk, maybe that would help. I noticed a rhythm to my back ache and started timing it. The nurse noticed me walking around and asked me what was wrong. I told her I had a back ache and that it kept coming every two minutes. She informed me that I very well might be contracting and they hooked me up to the machine and sure enough the contractions were lasting about 30 seconds every two minutes. 2:30 am, they checked and I was 3 cm dilated. The pain started to really be (what I thought was) painful. I cried. They gave me a little morphine and that took the edge off and I slept until the pain woke me up again at 5:00 am. I texted family member and gave them updates.

6:00 am I felt a huge POP. I knew my water broke, but there was no water. I sat up, called for my nurse. Shifted a bit, and then there was water flowing out. A LOT of water. How exciting! This show was finally moving! They checked me again and I was still only 3 cm. How disappointing. But still, water! I thought it would take days! Lucky my husband stayed with me.

This is when things really started to get painful. Right after my water broke the contractions were faster, lasting longer, and more painful. I moaned and groaned and cried through them. No more texting or looking at my phone. I asked for the epidural almost immediately. They moved me upstairs to wait for a delivery room.

7:30 am. The pain was unbelievable. Breathe. Where is my epidural? The anesthesiologist was in surgery so it would be awhile before he could get to me. They checked me and I was 5cm dilated.

8:00 am. I finally arrived in my delivery room. The pain is making me crazy. I shake the bed, I cry. I don’t want to be talked to or touched. Where is my epidural? I want relief. I screamed. I’m sure the entire floor could hear me. I was one of those ladies from the movies. My nurse informed me that it could take hours to get to 10 cm. I tried to mentally prepare myself for a marathon, but the pain was very overwhelming. All in my back. Wasn’t my uterus in the front? I kept thinking.

8:30am. 2 hours after my water broke they finally checked me again. 9 cm. I couldn’t believe it. Wasn’t this supposed to take hours? The nurse then informed me it was too late for an epidural. My heart sunk. The pain was so unbearable. She gave me fentonyl to take the edge off. It helped a little, but made me feel so loopy.

9:00 am. Epidural man came! The relief was almost immediate. I could breathe. I could talk to my mom and husband without snapping at them.

10:00 am. I was 10 cm! But, the epidural was too strong. I couldn’t feel anything and they wanted it to wear off a little so I could push.

10:53 am. Finally, time to start pushing. My nurse again informed me that it could be a few hours of pushing. Every contraction I had to attempt to push for 10 seconds, 3 times. My husband and mom were the counters. They didn’t count in sync. At the time it wasn’t very funny but looking back I can’t help but giggle. Pushing was exhausting in its own way. Branden would wipe my brow and leave a cool cloth on it (which would fall and cover my eyes while I pushed, again, not funny at the time, hilarious now). My sister arrived to help coach me to push. “I can see her head, Claudine! She has black hair,” Nicole told me excitedly. Doctors flooded in because she was almost here. NICU came in on standby because she was a 36 week premature baby.

11:23 am. With the loudest, most indignant cry – my daughter was born. NICU left immediately because her lungs were so strong. Her papa cut the cord and up she came to my chest. What a gift. Surreal.

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Alba Mae Bull weighed 6lb 3oz and was 19.5 inches long. Perfect. Healthy. She is mine and I am hers. I am a Mother.

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Alba is now 3 months old. I am so excited to share my experiences as a mother in my future posts. It’s wonderful, messy, terrifying, and the best role I’ve ever had.

 – claudine bull