Monday, October 25, 2010

My breastfeeding relationships: Hospital vs. Homebirth

Welcome to the October Carnival of Breastfeeding! Don't forget to scroll down to the bottom for links to the other participants' posts.

My older daughter, Suzi, was born in the hospital. My younger daughter, Ivey, was born at home. I definitely have opinions on how each experience affected the breastfeeding relationship, but instead of going through the stories (you can read my hospital story and homebirth story for that) I'd like to offer a point-by-point comparison. I won't try to assign fault to each difference; I'm sure some things made a huge difference and some things, at least directly, did not. It's difficult to know for sure which are which, but let's just say I won't be repeating any of the items from my hospital birth in the future.

1) Hospital: Epidural. Homebirth: A warm tub of water and a whole lot of good hormones. Although I didn't want one, in the hospital I ended up with an epidural. I don't think this helped at all with my breastfeeding experience. Most obstetricians will deny this (mine did), but I truly believe an epidural interrupts natural processes and interferes with a number of things. I shivered. I couldn't feel things I should have felt. However, by the time I opted for the epidural--around 7 cm--I felt I had no other choice. At my homebirth I didn't even think about an epidural (not that I could have had one at home, anyway) because I was so relaxed and things were perfectly under control.

2) Hospital: Baby was placed on my chest for a hot second, then whisked away. Homebirth: Baby was placed on my chest. I held her until I remembered Daddy might want to hold her for a minute, too. I quite honestly forgot about anyone and anything but the baby during this amazing hormone rush. I just fell deeper and deeper in love as I held her and looked into her eyes. Tests and weighing were done a little later, right there in front of us. In the hospital, it was upsetting to have my baby taken way across the room for all the hospital procedures. Things felt incomplete in several ways. I had to twist my head around nearly backward to try to see her, while a mean old nurse tried to squish me to get my placenta out. Again, natural processes being interrupted. Big time.

3) Hospital: Baby was quickly swaddled and had a hat pulled down to just above her eyes. Homebirth: Baby was totally naked, but covered with a towel. When I was pregnant with my first and the lactation consultant (and my friend) at the hospital told me to have skin-to-skin contact with the baby immediately following birth, I thought it was a little weird. This is something you have to specifically request in most hospitals, and I didn't. I thought maybe we'd do it at home later. I figured it was some emotional lovey-dovey thing that I didn't necessarily need. I was wrong. It's hard to objectively explain but, having experienced it both ways, there is a big difference.

4) Hospital: Baby was taken for a bath while I got settled in our room. Homebirth: Baby stayed "dirty" and we got settled in our very own bedroom together. The bath was one of the biggest after-birth mistakes we made in the hospital. Suzi had long, thick hair, and it took a long time to dry after her bath. I had been in the mom-baby room a few minutes when I started to wonder what they were doing with my baby, since they were supposed to bring her right back. Jordan nagged the nurses for over an hour, but they said her hair had to dry so she wouldn't get cold. It was around 3 AM and I had been awake for over 24 hours, but I felt wired and panicky. I should have been nursing my baby. She should have been there in my arms. I am still angry over it to this day! At the homebirth, Ivey was born in the water and our midwife rubbed her with a towel as I held her. She wasn't dirty, and really, you'll never convince me that any newborn baby is "dirty" in the conventional sense of the word. In a way, they are cleaner than they'll ever be again! We just dressed our homebirth baby in a little gown and put the bath on hold for a day or two. I remember saying how good she smelled to me. This bath postponement is totally doable in the hospital, as well. A friend of mine recently had a repeat cesarean after trying for a VBAC. She declined the bath until the next day when she and her husband were able to bathe their baby together. I think this is a beautiful family bonding experience, and it gets the baby into mom's (or dad's) arms or onto the breast faster.

5) Hospital: I was given a nipple shield by a nurse. Homebirth: I was given breastfeeding support and detailed information by the midwife I'd spent the past nine months getting to know. Oh, the nipple shield. Nobody told me to stop using it ASAP because it could lead to nipple confusion. Nobody told me it could hurt my milk supply. The lactation consultant would have told me but Suzi was born while she was on vacation. There is only one part-time LC at our local hospital. Several days after Suzi's birth our pediatrician clued me in to the truth about the nipple shield, and I struggled to wean Suzi from it. I still wonder if the stupid thing did us any good in the first place. The morning after Ivey's homebirth, my midwife was back at our house helping me and the baby get a deeper latch. She knew what had happened during my hospital birth and continued to work with us until things were going well. The lesson I learned? For goodness sake, find yourself a maternity care provider who is devoted to lactation support. One guaranteed visit with a lactation expert during your hospital stay is not too much to ask. No, your nurse doesn't count. She'll be busy with lots of other things besides breastfeeding support and she may or may not be experienced with it, anyway. Some nurses are a great help, but don't bank on it. It was a really sweet nurse who gave me that nipple shield with absolutely no instructions. Visit websites and call around to see what level of support is available at different places. There's a hospital about an hour from here with a lactation center and multiple consultants right there on the mom-baby floor! If you can't get reliable lactation support at a hospital you like, seek out an independent breastfeeding guru. Check on rates and add this into your baby budget. It'll be worth the money.

So what happened? Suzi and I worked things out, but it was a rocky start. We ended up having to supplement--not just because of things that happened in the hospital, but I do think the birth experience contributed. It was so hard on me emotionally. In the end, thanks to the help of the hospital lactation consultant (whom I went back to see and talked with at length over the phone) and some hard work, we had a long and happy nursing relationship. We weaned a few months into my pregnancy with her sister when Suzi was 21 months old. With Ivey I was much wiser in general, knowing which things to do and which things to avoid. With the exception of one or two minor issues, breastfeeding came naturally with her. We never had to worry about weight gain or whether she was getting enough milk. We practiced exclusive ecological breastfeeding for seven or eight months, at which time she started solids. She still nurses quite frequently at 14 months old, and I am currently about four months pregnant. This time we are hoping to try tandem nursing once the baby is born.

I think it's important for pregnant women to know, especially for a first birth, that these and other seemingly irrelevant factors can make a huge difference in giving the breastfeeding relationship the best possible start. More importantly, the mother usually has some degree of control over these things no matter what type of birth she has. Take a good childbirth class, hire a doula, and do your best to avoid interventions in the hospital if you can't have or don't want a homebirth. Insist upon skin-to-skin contact as soon as possible. Decline the bath and anything you don't want and delay everything else until you've had a chance to properly greet your baby. Perhaps most importantly, get professional breastfeeding support even if you have to spend a little extra money for it. I couldn't believe the difference these things made for us!

What made a big difference for you in your breastfeeding experience?

Be sure to check out these posts from the other participants in the Breastfeeding Carnival (links will be added as they become available):

Crib Keeper @ Tales from the Crib: On Not Being Discouraged
Suchada @ Mama Eve: Breastfeeding & Birth
Christina @ Massachusetts Friends of Midwives: Early Intervention Lactation Help
Jenny @ Chronicles of a nursing mom: Birth Experiences and Its Effect on Breastfeeding
Michelle @ Mama Bear: Long, wide shadow of bad births
Sarah @ Reproductive Rites: Fighting for Breastfeeding
Tanya @ Motherwear Blog: The Birth/Breastfeeding Continuum
Kate @ Tumbling Boobs: Nursing after Surrogacy or Adoption

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Christmas Morning Dilemma: Finding true joy at Christmas

Last night I wrote a different post about this same subject, and then slept on it before hitting publish. Jordan and I discussed. We discovered some things about our children and ourselves and Christmas morning.

When I was a little girl, I remember lying in bed on Christmas Eve unable to sleep, imagining Santa sneaking into my living room and leaving gifts for me. Would I get what I asked for? What surprises would be under the tree? In my stocking? And every Christmas morning I would drag my parents out of bed and run into the living room and I was always amazed at the treasures. I didn't always get what I asked for, but I was never disappointed. Never. I remember telling my mom as an adult how big and impressive Christmas had seemed each year, and she told me they actually didn't spend that much. Most popular Christmas toys only cost $10 or $15 back then. Now, though, toys are much more expensive, and it's the natural, beautiful, durable open-ended ones we want. Those cost even more.

Our three-year-old receives so many "just because" gifts all year round from grandparents and sometimes us that Christmas morning is not as exciting for her. We were disappointed last year when she was underwhelmed with her gifts on Christmas morning. Last night I sat and tried to figure out what we'd have to do to get that wowee, so excited you can't sleep, amazingly magical Christmas morning. Obviously the answer is to spend more and more money to top what Suzi is already accustomed to. We aren't willing or able to do that. It didn't take us long to realize that it would be wrong and probably harmful to do so. When I tried to type one last paragraph onto my post last night explaining why this tradition is important to me, I realized I couldn't justify what we were planning to do. It was very uncomfortable. I couldn't find one good reason for piling up a bunch of gifts in the most tantalizing way possible to impress my children at Christmas!

Not when there are children in this would who would never dream of coveting a frivolous toy for Christmas. Not when there are people without food or even clean drinking water. When I think about it, it's incredibly selfish of me to want some sort of "magical" Christmas even if the gifts are for my children and not me directly.

And it's not just selfish. It won't work, either. You cannot "make" anyone happy, especially not with things. True joy at Christmas is something children must find for themselves. I would even go so far as to say excessive gifts on Christmas morning are detrimental. I think that as gifts become a bigger and bigger part of Christmas, it becomes harder and harder to find true happiness in years when they are not plentiful.

Sometimes, even with loads of presents, I feel disconnected and sad around Christmastime. I asked Jordan if he had ever felt this way. I said, "I've thought I just needed to bake some Christmas cookies, or wrap some presents, or..." And he interjected, "direct a Christmas play?" Ha ha. Yes, Charles Schultz already figured this out. And Dr. Seuss. Loads of people. What can I say? I'm still happy I figured it out at 26 because there seem to be plenty of people who die of old age not truly understanding it. Jordan went on to tell me he feels uncomfortable unwrapping a huge stack of presents, because he doesn't "feel like he really deserves all that." Because, well, there are people who don't have anything. Two or three gifts would be better.

While Jordan and I don't have any desire to overspend our way to giddy children, we still want to do Santa for our kids. This year we are adopting something that's been suggested to me before: a three-gift policy based on the three kings' gifts to the baby Jesus. We are thinking of doing three gifts from Santa--perhaps counting the stocking as one--and then a gift from me and Jordan as well. I think this limit on quantity will encourage a focus on quality and meaning in the gifts that are given. I'm not going to worry about how bountiful the spread of gifts looks. There are only going to be a handful of them. Period. We will wrap them and the girls will open them. Hopefully they will love them. If not, there are more important things to think about on Christmas morning anyway.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

15 weeks pregnant!

15 weeks, 5 days. This picture looks foggy. Dangit! Which one of the girls stuck her finger in the camera lens this time?

I am 15 weeks pregnant, 16 on Saturday, and since Ivey is asleep right now (on me, by the way) I thought I'd take the opportunity to do a pregnancy update post. I went to see Carey and Jackie Robins (CNM) at Carey's office Monday. It's nice to have prenatals with sweet ladies like these! I had blood drawn; glad to have that over with. Carey talked me into doing a blood sugar check (the finger prick kind) later on. At least I won't have to drink oversweetened orange soda and get stuck with big needles twice. Hated that with Suzi! I'm not really worried about gestational diabetes after it wasn't an issue in my first two pregnancies, and my diet has actually been better this time anyway.

I haven't gained much weight. My weight at the appointment was 134.8, and I might've started this pregnancy a pound or two under that. I attribute this relatively small weight gain to eating hardly any fast food these days and having two kids to chase, but mostly to Ivey breastfeeding all the time! She's nursing as I type. I think she must know she's going to have to share soon.

I told Jackie how I didn't really feel pregnant, and she said she could definitely see that I was, which is what others have told me too, and yes, I am starting to really show. My uterus measures up where it should be. The heartbeat is always there when we check. I think this will feel more real to me when I get my ultrasound or start feeling the baby move. I have thought at least ten times that I've felt Robin moving, but I always talk myself out of saying I officially felt quickening. In a week or two surely I'll be able to say it was the baby.

I've thought it's a boy. Then, no, it's a girl. But, probably it's a boy. I don't know. I have never once been right on a guess, for anyone, and I don't really care either way but we do want to know. We were going to get a free ultrasound at Greenville Tech, but apparently they are booked solid through December. Since I will be ready for my ultrasound in about a month, and since we've met our insurance deductible, it looks as though we won't be going back to get a free one this time. Bummer. The ladies who do the free ultrasounds are always so sweet.

I've had the song "Rantin' Rovin' Robin" as performed by Coyote Run stuck in my head sooo bad. Love this song and this band. And it kind of, all by itself, makes me hope this is a boy. If it is a boy, maybe we will go ahead and name him Robert like Jordan wants, but I will call him Robin. The song was written by Robert Burns in honor of himself. Funny, huh?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dear AnMed Health: Breastfeeding support is important!

I recently heard that Jennie G's, the mom-baby boutique of the Women's and Children's Center of AnMed Health, will soon be closing its doors. I worked in this shop for several years and loved it. Mostly, I loved the ladies I worked with and I loved those times when a mother came in needing help and we were able to give it.

You see, this mom-baby boutique is not just a collection of baby clothes and knick-knacks. The ladies of Jennie G's--the ones who work in the shop every day and see the customers--have a common desire to help others, especially new moms. What deeply concerns me is the fate of the breastfeeding support that is available in Jennie G's. I don't think everyone is aware of all that is offered, so here is a detailed list of what I consider to be most important.

1) Hospital-grade breast pump rentals. When I was pregnant with my first daughter, a woman with tear-stained eyes and her husband came into our shop. They sat down at the table and as I prepared breast pump rental papers, she asked when my baby was due. I told her May 21, but that I hoped she might come a little early. "Don't say that," the mom told me. Her baby had come too early and because of this she and her husband were forced to go home with empty arms while he stayed in the hospital. She would have slept on the floor if they had allowed it. Going home without one's baby, for however short a time, is heartbreaking. It goes against nature and no one should have to experience it. But when a mother must experience it, shouldn't she at least be able to easily rent a breast pump so she can maintain the breastfeeding relationship she wanted? I don't see how a hospital can expect to gain a woman's trust for helping her to bring a baby into this world if they can't even be counted on for a breast pump if she needs one.

2) Nursing bras that fit. Some pregnant and nursing women require bras well outside of the size range available in most retail shops. Jennie G's carries nursing bras at least up to an H cup. Even in average sizes, Jennie G's carries bras and nursing wear which are extremely hard to find in our area. Bras are one of those items which must be tried on, so it is difficult to order them online. Also, a supportive bra is not something a breastfeeding mother should have to wait several days to receive. She may be uncomfortable, and possibly even in pain (mothers have come into the shop crying over this). She may not feel comfortable going out in public. She needs it as soon as possible, and over the past few years the ladies at Jennie G's have done their best to meet this need. Bra fittings are sometimes even done in the hospital rooms at the woman's request.

3) Breastfeeding supplies and accessories. Many things can be purchased at Target, but some things can't. There are certain obscure items that some women require to maintain their nursing relationships, and they can get these items quickly and easily at Jennie G's. Quiz: An adoptive mother is working to develop a milk supply for her newborn. Before welcoming her precious new arrival, she takes supplements and medicine to bring in a milk supply without having given birth, and she pumps frequently with a hospital grade pump. Finally, her baby is here! She desperately wants to nurse the baby, but she still doesn't have enough milk. How does she nurse the baby, get necessary nipple stimulation to increase her supply, and see that baby gets enough milk? Answer: A supplemental nursing system. You can't find these just anywhere. Jennie G's not only has them, they also have someone to explain how they are used--which leads me to number four.

4) A kind, compassionate certified lactation educator. Vicky Corbett of Jennie G's saw a need and wrote a letter explaining why she felt extra education in this area would benefit AnMed Health. She went to classes, read books, and received her certification, which has helped her help women with a wide range of breastfeeding issues. Yes, AnMed Health does employ a lactation consultant (IBCLC) and she is wonderful. She is a friend I met while working in the shop and her help was so valuable to me as I learned to breastfeed my first daughter. However, she is just one lactation consultant and she only works part-time. She happened to be on a well-deserved vacation with her family when my first child was born, so I didn't get the benefit of an immediate consult. I have friends whose babies were born on weekends or holidays and they did not get to see her either. AnMed Health is getting a super deal with Vicky Corbett and they don't even realize it. She takes care of Jennie G's and helps women with breastfeeding issues when the lactation consultant is not available. Sometimes the lactation consultant even calls Vicky to ask questions about pumping, because she's become an expert. She makes the hospital look, in my opinion, much better than it actually is. AnMed Health has not made breastfeeding support a high priority, but women come looking for help and they find it anyway. Taking Vicky's help away from women will send the message that AnMed Health is not interested in supporting a woman's breastfeeding relationship with her baby--and breastfeeding is a huge factor in preventing illness in babies. Since patient safety is something the hospital claims to be gravely concerned with, it has no excuse not to get on board with lactation support.

5) A safe, caring place for the new nursing mom. It's not always easy to be a new breastfeeding mother. The fitting room at Jennie G's has a comfortable rocking chair and offers the peace and quiet that some moms and babies need. Sometimes mothers are found nursing their babies in the restroom across the hall from Jennie G's and they are welcomed into the shop. Perhaps a mother has come to the hospital for a postpartum appointment and stops by the shop to chat about her breastfeeding experience. Within Jennie G's, stories are told, tears are even occasionally shed, and help is given. I realize no money is made off of this--not directly, at least--but it is impossible to place a price tag on it. AnMed Health should be grateful for this feeling of community that is fostered within its walls. This aspect of Jennie G's boutique exemplifies AnMed's tagline of "we're in this together" perfectly. You are hurting and I care. You are having problems nursing your baby and if I can't help you, I'm going to get you in touch with someone who can. I think this is about as close to the "art of caring" as one can get.

Jennie Gilmer, for whom Jennie G's is named, took a risk and pushed for AnMed Health to be opened so that women would have a safe place to have their babies. Important men laughed at her but she persevered to get women in our community something she felt they needed. She didn't do it to make money or to make herself famous. She did it because she made a promise to God to help women and their babies. Closing Jennie G's and depriving women of the support it offered is an insult to her memory.

So what do I think should be done? Jennie G's closing forever is sad, but taking away lactation support from women is inexcusable. There are some things you do not cut no matter how grim things get financially. This should be one of them. Keep the breastpumps and the supplies and a minimal selection of bras in the Women's and Children's Center. These few items will not take up much space; Jennie G's is mostly full of just-for-fun unnecessary stuff the managers pick up or order at market. If there absolutely isn't space inside the Women's and Children's, space should be made at the pharmacy on Greenville Street. Last time I visited, there were plenty of unimportant items on display there (candles, women's fashion accessories, other items that can be picked up at the mall). Space can be found if you look hard enough. It would be much better, of course, to have these things at the Women's and Children's Center for the mothers' convenience. If you've ever had to carry a fussy newborn across numerous parking lots while suffering from an episiotomy or c-section incision that throbs painfully with every step you take, you understand why.

Perhaps most importantly, Vicky should be asked to continue offering lactation support at the Women's and Children's Center. She has a passion for it, and AnMed Health has a shortage of it. This is one of those important things you make time and money for. Your patients--that is, your paying customers--count on it. A second lactation consultant should have been hired years ago, but Vicky's expertise in not only breastfeeding but also pumping and usage of breastfeeding accessories has done a great job of camouflaging this shortcoming. I believe women will notice a difference in quality of care when she is gone. Losing her to another location would be a waste.

I really don't think this is too much to ask, and I would be willing to bet a lot of women in our community will agree with me. It's not too much to ask at AnMed Health. Not of the hospital which wants to be "recognized and celebrated as the gold standard for healthcare quality and community health improvement." Do you think it is? I sincerely hope that soon I will have some good news to share about AnMed Health. I hope the sad loss of Jennie G's is met with a plan to create something new to benefit mothers. I hope there will be arrangements made for services that truly do exceed expectations. I know in my heart that this is possible, and I anxiously await the news. Until then, I hope you who are in a position to change things take the above listed needs of mothers to heart.


Former employee, mother to one baby born in the W&C, and concerned community member

If you are a local mom who has or may in the future seek care at AnMed Health, please join me in spreading the word and letting them know a removal of these benefits from the W&C is unacceptable. I would suggest sending an email or letter with your concerns to the patient advocate and asking to have it forwarded to a manager/director of home care and the Women's and Children's Hospital, as this affects both. Contact information can be found here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hurting others does NOT make you a better Christian

I realized this morning I have to write about this.

I am ashamed to say that up through high school and part of college I possessed ignorant beliefs about sexual orientation. It didn't help that my ninth grade sex ed teacher, on the first day of class, told us that he "didn't believe in" homosexuality, because he thought God created manly women for feminine men, or something like that. Yes, I know. It makes even less sense now than it did 12 years ago. This is the environment in which I tried to make sense of things. I remember having a conversation with one particularly pious friend about whether or not people could choose to be straight. I said I thought they couldn't. She was quick to disagree and send me the lyrics of a Christian rock band whose song went something like "it's okay gay guy, you can like girls again!" My parents didn't talk about it much. They never demonstrated hate towards gay people, but they never specifically told me to love and accept others regardless of their sexual orientation, either. So I just wandered along confused, thinking it was weird and maybe wrong. I hate that I quite possibly contributed to, or at least did nothing to lessen, the hurt and confusion experienced by people around me who were struggling at that time to understand and accept themselves.

College was better. It was the same general location but a bigger, more diverse pond, and I met all kinds of people. Once at an organizations fair, a girl came up and handed me a bag of Skittles with a note on it asking me to join the gay-straight alliance. I didn't join but now I wish I had. At some point in my first couple of years there, probably gradually, I came to see how wrong I had been. From then to now, classes, people, events, even movies (Saved, The Family Stone) have helped me develop a better understanding and acceptance of others.

Now I have two daughters, and when I read about young people being tormented for being gay until they commit suicide, I can't help but imagine this situation happening to one of them. I imagine my precious Suzi realizing and trying to accept that she is a lesbian, and some idiot playing pranks and saying hateful things and invading her privacy until finally she calls me from college, crying and alone and hopeless. Thinking she has no way out. Thinking she might just end her life to make the hurt stop... I can't stop myself from crying when I think of it, because I know that in this world we live in, it could happen. How can I describe this emotion I feel? Battle rage. That's it.

Please take a moment to imagine this happening to your own child or, if you're not a parent, someone you love. If you let this run through your head and think you'd do anything other than dash up to your child's dorm room on the spot, tell that roommate or whomever to leave her the hell alone, give your baby a big hug and tell her you love her always, then I don't know what's wrong with you. I know there are parents who tell their children to pretend to be someone they aren't. I know there are parents who tell their children to leave and not come back when they find out they are gay. I don't understand it. I want my girls to know that our home is a safe place for them and that they will always be accepted and loved here. I want them to know they can always call mom and dad and tell us anything. That we will listen and understand and try to help. That we, if no one else, will stand up for them.

If you read about young people being tormented until they are suicidal for being gay and don't feel this is wrong and that we should take a stand against it, I don't know what to say other than I'll pray for you. If you are a Christian and don't feel you can stand up for those who are losing their lives over this, you should pray for yourself. Pray for truth and wisdom and the courage to stand up for what is right in God's eyes despite your friends and possibly even your church telling you otherwise. I'm pretty sure Jesus never wanted us to hurt anyone. I'm pretty sure He wanted us to love one another, which to me includes standing up for others when we see they are being hurt. If we claim to be Christians but can't even do that, we are just making a bunch of noise for nothing.

So to start, I am going to hit publish on this post so people will know what I think. Jordan and I are doing our best to raise our children to respect and love those who are different from them. We hold onto the hope that as more parents raise their children to love, those who love will greatly outnumber those who hate. And we will be wearing purple on October 20th. Will you?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

How to blow your grocery budget in five easy steps

Jordan and I have gotten serious lately about grocery shopping. A few weeks ago we ordered a copy of Family Feasts and Jordan, being the better cook, read through it for ideas. (Jordan is fabulously frugal and I love that, although I do think I deserve a little of the credit--I introduced him to yard sales!) He also started taking an accounting class this fall. When he came home he went on and on about how some of the principles he was learning could help us manage our household budget. He started using a free computer program to track spending and see where our money was going. That's when he discovered we were spending, oh, at least twice what we thought we were at the grocery store in a month.

That explained a lot. We had never blown money on the usual things like lattes, manicures, and fast food, but there was obviously a leak somewhere in our budget because, despite our best intentions, we weren't where we expected to be at the end of the month. We are still learning how to tangle with the tricky grocery store and come out on top, but here are a few things we've figured out so far.

How to blow your grocery budget in five easy steps:

1) Don't plan meals or make a list. Just peruse the shelves and let the items you see jog your memory about some of your favorite recipes. Do the best you can to remember all the ingredients. You can always run back to the store later if you forget one.

It's embarrassing to admit we did this because it seems like such an obviously bad idea, but it's not like we did it on purpose. We'd be driving past the store and decide to take the opportunity to stop, desperate to quickly get in and out with our whiny children and have something halfway nutritious to feed them for the next few days. We ended up with nearly all the things we needed to make several different meals. Some of the perishable stuff would go to waste because we never got around to making it.

2) Don't worry about the dollar amount you want to spend on a particular shopping trip. Just buy only what you think you really need and it'll work itself out.

We meant well. We'd go through the produce section, for example, and pick out a bunch of different stuff. It's not that our choices were bad, it's just that we overestimated the amount of fruits and vegetables we could possibly prepare and eat before they rotted. Our eyes (well, mostly my eyes) were bigger than our stomachs. Now we select one or two things from the produce section to eat, plus whatever we know we are going to use for a recipe. If we need more, we can buy more on our get-us-through-to-the-next-big-shopping-day return trip.

Last night was our best shopping trip yet. Before we went, I thought through what I'd like to make for the upcoming week and what we could make to use up things we already had in the kitchen. I estimated prices on the list as well, and came up with a dollar amount we should be able to stay under. We went to the store, got everything on the list plus several things we saw that were on sale, and only spent around $50--a major accomplishment for us!

3) Go through your cookbooks and find at least four recipes you'd like to use for the coming week. Stock all the necessary ingredients during your big shopping trip so you'll be ready.

This one sounds okay at first, but we've proven it's not! Several times we've gotten all "we're responsible now too, just look at our groceries" and done this. It always backfires. We end up with more food than we can use and throw a lot of it out. Often when you're cooking with fresh food, the way we do for pizzas, you don't use up all the ingredients you buy. Those leftover fresh foods could be used to make another recipe. Last week we made our favorite pizza: alfredo sauce, feta cheese, spinach, mushrooms, and black olives. We had alfredo sauce, spinach, and mushrooms left over, so a couple of days later I threw all that plus some carrots in with some pasta and made a cheesy pasta bake. And I was way, way too proud of myself.

4) Let your desire for soda and ice cream justify your irrational urge to take advantage of the "meal deal."

We used to buy Bi-Lo meal deals. They usually consisted of a frozen pizza or two which you paid full price for, and then, for example, you'd get ice cream, soda, microwaveable cheesesticks and perhaps one other thing for free. If you add up the cost of all those items and factor in that you are only paying $10 or so for all of it, then yes, you might have "saved" $10 or more. However, once we realized that we did not need ice cream, soda, or cheesesticks, that with the exception of the ice cream we never buy those things, and that we can make our own (bigger, fresher, better) pizza from scratch for $3 or so per pizza, we saw were actually wasting a few dollars on the meal deal. And yeah, we love soda and ice cream. But we can get the ice cream on sale all by itself, and an occasional off-brand soda, and keep our grocery bill down where it should be.

5) Get all excited about the amount the grocery store tells you you've "saved," and take that as a measurement of how well you've shopped on each trip.

At the bottom of the receipt, below the line that tells you how much you spent, there is usually a number telling you how much you saved. The truth is--for us, at least--the less the grocery store says we saved, the better. We used to go to the store and buy a bunch of BOGO deals and things that were a dollar or two cheaper than usual without keeping in mind overall value. Sometimes we even used coupons. We thought, we like it, it's cheap--let's buy it! A few $5 or $10 impulse buys (hello, meal deal!) that you only get because they seem like such a bargain can lead to a sobering total at the checkout. Deals such as these seem to apply almost exclusively to junk food, convenience food and novelty items--not staples that you can be counted on to buy no matter what. Now when we are tempted we ask ourselves: Is the store brand item a better deal than the pricey sale one? Can we make a decent meal out of this? If this is a treat, is there already a treat or two in our cart and do we really need all of them? Are sneaky marketing tricks working on us?

When we'd picked out all we needed, we strolled up to the checkout with confidence, knowing that our planning (and my OCD, which it turns out is sometimes functional) was going to save us money. We knew what we were going to pay before the lady scanned our items, and it felt good. The best part is, we only spent a little over $50 and are now set for groceries for a while. I know there are others who are way better at this than we are and could probably spend less than that, but we're still learning. We walked happily out to our van and laughed at the low amount ($12 or so) that the store says we saved. Ha. They won't trick us again.

What is your favorite way to save money on groceries?