Mona Lisa Smile, Signs that Your Child May Have Bell's Palsy

Intuition is defined as: the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference. It also goes by many different descriptions, including, inkling, hunch, "a feeling," or that little voice in your head that alerts you to something.

Whatever name you choose to call it, we have it for a reason.

Motherhood bestows you with many things. Some good, some not so glamourous, some you wish you could take back (lack of sleep, the decrease in your grey matter). Perhaps the most handy thing that we receive as mothers is Momtuition.

Momtuition is that special power that brings with it eyes in the back of your head, and the ability to know that your child is up to something. It also alerts you when something is not right. Even when you are not entirely sure, always listen to your momtuition. I say this because mine is quite possibly responsible for saving further nerve damage to J's cranial nerve.

Let me back up a bit.

Yesterday morning I left to run some errands and work on some school related things. When I saw J in the morning, things appeared normal. Nothing out of the ordinary. When I returned late in the day, I noticed while speaking with her that something was slightly peculiar about the left side of her face. It was ever so slight, but that little voice kept nagging at me. So I questioned her. "Does your face feel okay?" "How are you feeling today?" "Is anything bothering you?" She assured me everything was fine aside from a bump on her tongue, which we thought might just be an swollen taste bud.

An hour passed by and J came to help me with dinner. She started talking about how she thought the bump on her tongue was causing her not to be able to taste her food properly. As she was talking I noticed her eye and half of her mouth as she spoke was disproportionate to the other side of her face. Something was not right. I could feel it. I couldn't put my finger on what it was though, and in order not to create panicdemic as a result of my own fear, I opted to stand calmly and let her continue speaking while trying not to lose my shit. Then she smiled, and there it was. My feeling had been confirmed. Her eye and face were drooping on one side entirely, the other half of her face- paralyzed.

Some people don't believe in fate. I do. I am a firm believer that every person we come into contact throughout the course of our lives is there for a particular reason. Whether it be to learn a lesson, to offer us lifelong companionship, or just impart a piece of knowledge that will become indispensable at a later time. A piece of knowledge that might not be clear at that instant, but will reveal itself eventually.

I was fortunate to have met a very wise, very kind woman who came in the form of a prenatal yoga instructor. A woman who also happens to have a severe and resistant form of Bell's Palsy. A woman who, had I not met and learned her story, I may not have recognized the same symptoms in my daughter the moment she smiled. For this I feel fortunate. Some people are not so lucky. As such, I would like to pay it forward and relay what I know and have learned of Bell's Palsy for those who may be faced with a similar situation.

See, the thing about Bell's Palsy is - its a weird and baffling disease that a lot of people are unaware of. It can strike at any time, though generally happens overnight, and if undetected or left for too long untreated, can turn severe and irreversible. It presents the same facial paralysis and drooping of the face that is indicative of strokes, but is not a stroke. It is caused by inflammation or damage to the facial nerve also referred to as cranial nerve 7. The real kicker is, this disease most commonly affects adults starting around age 50. Extremely rarely do cases appear in children under the age of fifteen- J is twelve....

It is also referred to as "Mona Lisa Syndrome," as its thought by some in the medical community that her enigmatic smile is in fact a result of Bell's Palsy.

(Mona Lisa)

Other famous people have had Bell's Palsy and recovered fully, including:

George Clooney (in high school)

Perhaps the most famous case for Canadians, is former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien

Even James Bond has been touched by the disease. And today appears neither shaken nor stirred by it...

Pierce Brosnan (In his dressing room before an appearance on the "Tonight Show")

The most immediate and noticeable symptoms include:

  • Loss of taste,
  • Irritated eyes
  • Inability to properly close eye
  • Drooping eye or corner of mouth (or both)
  • Inability to smile properly on both sides of the mouth
  • Inability to raise eyebrow on paralyzed side,
  • Distorted features (usually more present on one side of the face)

The good news is, that if caught early enough and treated immediately, there is a very good prognosis. Most people fully regain facial function.

After 7 and a half hours at the Children's Hospital it was indeed confirmed, this is what J has. She has begun her round of medication and the doctors are confident the treatment will result in a positive recovery in a few weeks to a couple months. She remains in good spirits. She is not in pain and in the meantime, has gained a new appreciation for staring contests - using her open, non-blinking eye to her advantage and dominating the playing field.....

On Speeding Up Time

ME: I wish I could make this go faster. Unfortunately I can't.

J: That's okay. You only have Mommy powers, not super powers. Mommy powers are a whole other set of powers...

First Class, Baby

I always wondered what it's like to travel first class. I've done a lot of traveling spending as little money as possible. Well, not exactly. I've done a lot of traveling spending as little money on extraneous things like plane tickets and breakfast as possible. In Sweden I pitched my tent in a city park and stole food off someone's reject cafeteria plate. I also bought this gorgeous canvas coat and took weekly trips to Copenhagen. Anyway.

I got upgraded one time after spending the night in the foetal position under a desk in the Colombo airport (take pity on a poor white girl). There was someone working for an international aid agency in the seat beside me. She had nice hair and a perfectly modulated voice. I had so many questions to ask her but instead I slept through the flight -- a full nine hours. I still have the complimentary eye-mask.

I've most certainly never traveled first class with a baby. Now that I'm on the road with Sweet Baby James, hitting up all my favourite cities on a Last Hurrah/Give Me My Green Card, Bitch cross-Canada tour, I'm willing to give it a try.

Our introduction to the Executive Experience happens on Air Canada flight 758 to Montréal. It's an early morning flight and I begin the day exhausted, tripping over my own two feet which is kind of obscene when you're carrying a baby. I've always felt I should dress up for air travel but today my hair is still damp from the shower, pulled back into a drooping bun. You could say 'drooping' is kind of the unifying theme here: bleary eyes, sagging jeans, and somehow also the once-trusty ring sling which Sweet Baby James has learned how to wriggle loose.

I am constantly readjusting it, tightening it around him for some semblance of safety as we go through baggage check, security, washroom pit-stop, airplane boarding, minuscule airplane washroom pit-stop... It's driving me crazy. And my pants are falling down. I am that mom. That harried mom with frizzy hair and a kid who looks like trouble. The passenger no one wants to sit beside.

What nobody knows is that the last time we took a flight, I kept this baby quiet like my life dependend on it. I walked him up and down the aisles. I took him for a poop in the bathroom. I comfort nursed him whenever he looked a little peevish. I sat paralyzed, staring straight ahead as he slept because I couldn't quite reach my magazine. I tied disposable cups to strings and hung them from different parts of the plane, creating a beverage-themed mobile for his batting convenience.

God dammit, I kept him so content and entertained, no one had cause to complain. No, instead they complimented my husband when he came to pick us up at the gate. "He was so quiet the whole flight! What a good baby!" I don't know why they congratulated him when they should have been thanking me. Anyway.

This flight starts off well with Sweet Baby James relaxing into my arms in our Economy Class seat during take off. I'm a bit on edge because although I took him to the washroom a few minutes before, he hasn't had his morning poop. And he didn't have one yesterday.

For the first ten minutes, it's clear sailing. The man with the aisle seat has begrudgingly consented to switch with me if the baby starts crying and I have to walk the aisle at some point. I'm thirsty. We hit some minor turbulence and the captain turns the seatbelt sign on. I put Sweet Baby James back in his sling and wait for the sign to be turned off. He fusses a bit so I sing him some ants.

The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah.
The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah. The ants go marching one by one, the little one stops to suck his thumb --
and they all go marching down, to the ground, to get out of the rain.

(bum ba-bum bum)

And then I sing him some more. And some more. We're up to ten ants (the little one stops to pet a hen) and still the seatbelt sign has not been turned off. There hasn't been any turbulence for at least fifteen minutes. I'm not the only one getting antsy. Poopageddon seems also to be nigh for several middle-aged men, who jump out of their seats in a desperate bid for the washroom, only to be turned back by a sour-faced stewardess. She comes onto the intercom. "Ladies and gentlemen, the Captain has left the seatbelt sign on. Please return to your seats and fasten your seatbelt, for your own safety and that of others around you, or I will publicly humiliate you in ways only I know how. Thank you."

Sweet Baby James is looking at me like, "Mom, I really have to go..." 

He's a little disturbed by all this. Not so much the seatbelt sign, which I have now come to believe El Capitan has forgotten to turn off, but the accusatory voice emanating from the ceiling. She clicks off loudly and that's when I hear it: the unmistakable sound, the sound I would know anywhere. It is the sound of a pooptrastrophe in the making. Sweet Baby James looks at me, not altogether displeased with himself. I check his diaper and see the tide rising. I quickly snap it back and press down, not wanting to invite our new friend to further explore the terrain of his lower back.

I should take a little time-out here and explain something. Some of you may be wondering what the big deal is, because I have a baby and babies poop their diapers all the time, whatevs. The thing is, we practice 'Elimination Communication' (or Natural Infant Hygiene, as Isabelle Bauer calls it in her inspiring book, Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene). Most of Sweet Baby James' poops actually happen on the toilet when we cue him to go. I'll write more about this in another post, but for now I'll say that I do not feel good about letting my baby sit in his own crap. I also prefer not to be its intermediary processor, especially not in confined spaces 30,000 feet above sea level.

So we subsist for a while, me singing more ants and trying to keep Sweet Baby James in a standing position, his twists, turns and dives reduced to a minimum. He complains greatly at this new restriction, lunging for the earbuds of the woman sitting next to us who is watching an old Seinfeld episode and politely ignoring the aroma wafting out of my baby's pants.

At long last, the captain remembers us and pushes his benevolent finger on the off-button. Cue the sound of 300 seatbelts unbuckling. This is my chance. I should be the first in line. I should be running down the aisle as fast as those pudgy middle-aged guys, I should be -- there is no way. Fifteen people line up on each side. In my sleep-addled brain I do the calculation. If they all take an average of three minutes in there (and let's be honest, some of them are going to take a lot longer than that), we're looking at 45 minutes of waiting.

A stewardess approaches me. She must have seen the desperation on my face because she's smiling and suggesting I use the washroom "up there." I can hardly believe my ears: where? In First Class? You want me to take my poopy baby up there into the dimly lit foreskin of the plane, where men in business suits are drinking Sake and... watching old Seinfeld episodes?

I saunter up the aisle, baby on my arm. Apparently people in First Class don't have to pee quite so often because, Hurrah, hurrah, I'm at the head of the line. I slip into the washroom, eager to unclip the changing table and get the baby out of his padded fecal bag when my hand grazes against... nothing. Nothing at all, save the bare beige wall, mottled airplane plastic. There's no changing table.


I do my best. We do our best, Sweet Baby James and I. He cries as I set him down on the toilet seat, perhaps out of surprise at the cold metal on his back, perhaps out of fear at the precarious nature of his position. I can't protect him from rolling off, though I try by straddling the seat with my legs, my hands busy with the task of un-sticking the diaper from his bum. And how the hell am I going to get a fresh diaper out of the case without getting poop on his pants, which are also in my hand? I do it, we do it, and when we exit the washroom to walk back to our seat, not a few of the passengers are smiling at us.

I smile back. No poop to be seen here, folks. Just your average mama with your average adorable baby.


Is there something inappropriate about having a baby in First Class? Or is it just that no one does it, and that's why there are no changing tables in those washrooms? Could it be that most First Class passengers are male, and therefore much less likely to be traveling with a baby? I don't know. I took a picture of the changing situation for the 'I've changed my baby...' project. Next time I'll be putting up a sticker.

In a few days we're taking the train to Toronto. I just booked the ticket, a five hour trip. First Class, baby.

Sunday Brunch with Anne Celila, Mama of Two

I met Anne at the alternative elementary school I attended for eight formative years. She was my teacher, though I never called her that. At Wondertree all 'teachers' are Learning Consultants and if someone asks you to call them by their last name, you ask them to call you by yours – even if you're seven years old.

Anne was a wonderful mentor. She was ever-kind, generous, compassionate, and exuded warmth with a twinkle in her eye. I remember long walks through the woods by the school and her loving tolerance of the special needs boy who demanded most of her attention. She also had two soft-spoken teenage daughters, one of whom has recently had her first child. I reconnected with Anne through facebook just around the time I was pregnant with Sweet Baby James. I knew she was someone whose story, especially now that I could relate to her as an adult and a mother, I needed to hear.

I always saw Anne as a 'natural' or 'born' mother. As she says herself, early-years parenting was a breeze for her. I've never really heard anyone say this before. We have this assumption that parenting is tough and watch out your kids will take over your life; it's easy to forget that it doesn't have to be that way. To me, Anne is a beautiful example of surrendering to the journey: embracing motherhood as a teaching and her children as her teachers. In sharing her voice here, and in her current work as a 'Village Granny' in small-town British Columbia, she continues to be a Learning Consultant extraordinaire.

– Svea Boyda-Vikander

*                 *                 *

How old were you when you first started having kids?
In some ways I've always had children.  I was 6 when my youngest sibling was born and there are a lot of pictures of the 4 children in my family (I was the oldest) with me holding my little brother.  I began babysitting as soon as I could and always wanted a family.  I was 30 when my first daughter was born, and my other daughter was born 19 months later.  "My girls" K&K are 31 and 29 now, in the fall of 2011.  I would have loved to have a larger family, but my husband only wanted two.

What was your household like during your kids' younger years?
From when K&K were born until they were 9 and 10 years old, we homeschooled. I tried to have other children around as much as possible.  It was challenging to be doing this in the suburbs - hardly anyone around us was home during the day and the culture of the community was pretty traditional.  I gotta confess that often felt like it was me alone with K&K…   My husband was supportive of all this, but wasn't really a "little kid" dad and was away during virtually all of their weekday waking hours. While my heart was definitely in my parenting and being with my children during their young years, my spirit got battered a lot. 
I was an educated left-leaning hippie earth mother who was more informed than many about pregnancy, childbirth, parenting, and educational choices.  I had a bachelor's degree which I never used after moving to Canada.  Before marriage, I worked in offices, retail and direct sales (Tupperware).  I did extensive volunteer work with Planned Parenthood and in fact, have spent most of my working life as a volunteer. 
So.  When my daughters were pre-schoolers, I was involved (a few hours a week at most) in a local home birth support group and later, in the home schooling support group.  Later, when the youngest was 5, I became an active (10-15 hours per week) member of my chanting and meditation group and served in many capacities within this organization, both locally and nationally.
When K&K and I finally were ready (they were 9 and 10 years old) for more traditional schooling, we found a very alternative system that revolved around empowering the children to be in charge of their own learning, facilitated by "learning consultants". During this time, I re-entered the paid work force working at different retail jobs and eventually within the "school" system of my daughters as a learning consultant.

Have you since become a single parent?
I finally divorced when my daughters were 15 and 17 years old.  But I'd emotionally been isolated and alone for most of their lives.

What are your best memories from raising children?
(1) Birthday parties with lots and lots of children and parents around (community).

(2) Watching talents crystallize in my daughters -
  • SEWING from playing with paper dolls (at 5&6) to making paper doll clothes 2 or 3 years later, to sewing or crocheting clothing and household items these days
  • COOKING from sandbox cooking at 4&5 to making "5 Cup Peanut Butter balls" at 6&7, to making a surprise birthday cake for me when they were 9 and 10, to master-level cooking (older daughter)
  • SINGING off key with me at 3&4 to taking voice lessons and learning a couple of instruments beginning at 6&7, to hearing their beautiful and intricate harmonies today
  • BUSINESS SKILLS from writing stories and newspapers and making their own library system at ages 6&7, to informally developing system analysis and behind-the-scenes assistant skills (younger daughter) and being a co-business owner specializing in the financial management (older daughter).

(3) Another best memory is figuring out how to manage 3 preschool aged children (I was doing part time childcare for another young girl).  I still laugh when I remember how I figured out where I could walk with three very different little girls who wanted to walk in different directions while I wanted to enable them to do so safely.  (we walked down the back alley) 

(4) I also recall fondly co-breast feeding my second daughter and my friend's little girl who was the same age… as one or the other of us had a husband & wife night out.

If you could summarize your parenting philosophy into one word, phrase, or sentence, what would that be?
My operating philosophy is probably best summarized as Laissez-faire.  Laissez-faire and TRUST.   As much as possible, watch and enjoy.  Our children - even the very youngest ones - know so much more about what they need and want than we do.  As much as possible, support their wisdom.

What do you wish you had known before you had your first child?
Mostly, I would like to go back and tell my younger self,

"Anne, you can't do it alone.  You can't.  It takes a Village.  And you need time off or else your work, your self-image, and your ability to be the person you want to will suffer.  Get the help you need.  And be gentle on yourself for any "mistakes" you feel you made.

What is the absolute worst advice anyone has given you about parenting?
"Let her cry" when my older daughter was 6 months old, was waking me up 6 times at night and I was so sleep deprived I was at the end of my rope.   What I'd tell my younger self today?  (1) Give up the idea of sleeping with your husband for a while and sleep with your daugher… if you feel you can't reconsider co-sleeping in a family bed. (2) Give up the idea that you don't need help, and look for a La Leche League meeting.  Do it!

And the best advice?
Well just about anything I read in Mothering Magazine was advice worth taking.  I really didn't know anyone doing parenting in the gentle style I was.  I'm sure they were there, I just didn't know them.
What are your relationships with your kids like now?
My daughters are loving, generous young women who don’t seek out my advice (who does? these days in our society?).  They do let me tell my stories though, we spend quit a bit of time together…  My older daughter just became a mother herself a few months ago.  She watches what I do with her son, and she shows me her own style and competencies… we do this without speaking about it.  My younger daughter lives in another town, and she calls me several times a week and we visit back and forth when we can…
What is your relationship with their father like now?
My former husband, their dad, and I have been separated and then divorced for more than a decade.  We get together when we're in the same town for family events.  We sometimes do things together, we have a good relationship.  We acknowledge that we're still each other's longest friends and we know more about each other than most anyone else knows about us.  We have our children and grandson in common, some strong shared interests and we have similar intellectual, political, educational, and ideological beliefs.  We respect each other.

What were your births like, and were you happy with the care you received?
The childbirths of my two daughters happened in 1980 and 1982. 

The one in 1980 was a planned home birth attended by two midwives and a couple of other people. It was a great experience, although I'd say it fell short of my "spiritual midwifery ala Ina May Gaskin" dream.  My husband is not a very spiritual person, my main midwife was a compassionate, trained professional, and my dream remained a private one… 

Active labor was about 10 hours long and I was well-attended.  I remember it pretty clearly 30 years later with the help of pictures and some notes I made.  I had a second-stage complication: a retained placenta and I was transported to hospital for it's manual extraction (very sharply painful but only seconds long.  I stayed overnight and came home the next morning.  I loved my pregnancy, I was fully present for the birth process, and was immediately in love with my daughter at first sight…  My husband cut her umbilical cord, we followed the Laboyer birth process to a great extent, even having a memorable Laboyer bath for my baby, where, her dad said she was doing the backstroke.  I was still waiting for my placenta to come out and couldn't watch.   She was 9 lbs 10 oz.

The early motherhood period was a breeze for me.  Really and truly.  I loved the breast feeding, the diaper changes… everything. 

My second childbirth was virtually painless and very quick - maybe 4 hours in total.  A breeze.  My daughter was born in the car on the way to the hospital (we'd planned a hospital birth due to the second-stage complication of #1).  She was 9 lbs big.  We went home a couple of hours after the placental came out nicely all by itself and in one piece.    

I was happy with the care I received during both births - it was the kind of care that allowed me and my husband to be the decision makers. Supportive.

Can you share with us some of your tricks and tips about staying sane as a new mother?
 Well, as I mentioned, I was a bit isolated and it was definitely a sanity-challenging period.  I had no car access and didn't choose to bus around with small ones.  Here's what I'd do.  I knew about 5 women who were staying home with their little ones.  I called a different one every day and ask, "teething yet?" or "how's the colic?" or whatever I knew was going on with them and their children.  I just wanted to talk to an adult who was experiencing similar things.  It worked for me!  Oh and (this was before home computers) I read Parenting Magazine.  The magazine was cheap - i.e. I could afford it, the articles were only one page long (I could read them between "crises") and they covered topics that were interesting to me (although not in any depth that would have deeply satisfied, but I didn't have time for depth anyway.)

If I could give my younger self some advice, I'd say, "give up on the idea that you don't do buses.  Take the kids and go somewhere on a field trip every day or two.  Get outside and do SOMEthing --- ANYTHING."

How did having kids affect your relationship? 
Our challenge was this: we didn't have good communication skills.  Our one and only technique was to talk until it felt done.  This was compromised with the time demands of children, and never really resolved.   
What kind of sleeping arrangements did you have?
My first choice was family bed.  My husband was a chronically poor sleeper and so I compromised.  My newborn was in a little bassinet by my bedside for a short while.  It became clear that that was still to hard for him, so she moved into a <painful to say this> crib in an adjacent room.  I believe this was my worst parenting choice.

What mistakes did you make as the mother of small children? What did you learn?
Well these are mentioned in a number of other places in this interview, but I'll summarize some of them here.
  1. Not sleeping with my daughter.
  2. Thinking I could do it all.  Baby-parenting was possibly easier for me than it was for other mothers, but it still is an incredibly demanding job and I really needed help. 
  3. Not taking care of my own personal and relationship needs.  My priorities were
    1. Kids - always. 
    2. Self - maybe a walk sometimes. 
    3. Relationship - How do I do this even if I had time?

In terms of what I learned... I am still figuring out the answer to this one.

Were you able to and interested in breastfeeding? At what ages did you wean?
Yes for both daughters.  They seemed to wean themselves at about one year.  (I got pregnant with my second  when the first one was 10 months old.)  Here is where La Leche League could have helped me.  I would have loved to feed them longer.

How did you feel about your changing body as a pregnant woman/new mother?
I absolutely loved being a hugely pregnant woman…

It's fascinating to me that you're collecting Elder Wisdom, Svea.  First of all, I had virtually no elder wisdom to go by.  My mom died about a month after my first daughter was born, but she wasn't someone who was involved in my life anyway, and certainly my extended family (German Catholic - stand on your own two feet and don't complain about anything) were not forthcoming either.  Plus, I lived 3000 miles from the nearest relative. 

So part of me is very sad not to have experienced any of this wisdom sharing when I was younger.

On the other hand, I'm very conscious of the idea from First Nations community in my area of Elder Wisdom, and I'm very aware that I DO have some life experience that is valuable.  I'm so touched to have been asked these questions and to have been given time to reflect on them.

Love to all of us who love our children…
 – Anne