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Today I feel completely drained. It’s due to the months/years of sleep-deprivation, plus the ongoing 3-year-old tantrums and arguments. My daughter throws tantrums pretty much every morning for various reasons, but usually to do with food or clothing.

This morning she was mad that I mixed her fruit-on-top yogurt, which I always do — because otherwise she won’t eat the yogurt and will only eat the fruit. Yesterday morning she threw a fit because she didn’t want the lemon yogurt mixed with maple syrup that she asked for. So she asked her dad for a peach yogurt, which he gave her, and then she decided she didn’t want to eat that either and continued having a tantrum. Ultimately I ended up spoon-feeding her the peach yogurt because that’s what she insisted on (because baby brother is spoon-fed). On Monday morning she threw a giant, foaming-at-the-mouth tantrum because her shirt got a little bit wet when she brushed her teeth and Spencer told her she couldn’t change it because it was already time to leave for school. And ultimately I did let her pick a new shirt after she took off the (very slightly) wet one. You must choose your battles wisely.

As you can imagine, the constant tantrums are exhausting for me to deal with. It makes me fantasize a bit about having a full-time job so that I can put her in full-time daycare and have a bit more of a break. Thank goodness for the 9 hours a week of preschool. But even when my daughter is at school, I am still taking care of my baby, and trying to fit in my meal planning and grocery shopping, cleaning, and part-time publicity job.

So, today I feel emotionally and physically exhausted and it’s not a big surprise. Until my baby starts sleeping through the night, (which will probably not happen until he is weaned, or until I start sleeping in the living room and wearing earplugs) I am a round-the-clock caregiver. There is little time for self-care.

But there has to be. Self-care is essential for everyone, and I think it is especially important for moms of tiny kids. My prenatal yoga teacher used to read a quote that was something like, “You cannot pour your life into others unless you first fill your own cup.” Tiny kids need a lot of love, and we want to give it to them, but we can’t if we don’t also take care of ourselves.

Sometimes self-care can mean saying yes to things. For me, saying yes to having my daughter in preschool has helped me a lot, as I mentioned. I also try to make time for exercise – I do yoga videos at home, and I found a fun Saturday morning zumba class. I also say yes to taking my kids on lots of fun outings because it’s not just for them. It is super important for me to get out, be around other people, and have fun.

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Parenting is no Day at the Beach. But sometimes a day at the beach is just what I need. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

Self-care can also mean setting appropriate boundaries and saying no to things that drain your energy. I’ve learned to set better boundaries over the years. For one, I only have limited energy and most of it is taken up by my tinies.

For me, self-care also means letting go of perfectionism and lowering my expectations of myself a little bit. I am not a perfect mom. I don’t have a perfectly clean house or make gourmet meals every night. Are those the ingredients that would create a perfect mom anyway?

How about this more honest assessment. I am not a perfect mom. I don’t know how to deal with every tantrum. I don’t know how to find the perfect balance of positive discipline and love. I often forget to make my daughter clean up her messes. I am usually late to things. Sometimes I yell at my daughter, and sometimes I have to apologize for getting mad at her when she’s just being a normal 3-year-old.

I can’t ever be the perfect mom because the perfect mom does not exist. That is okay. I am doing the best I can, and making time to take care of myself makes me a better mom than I would be otherwise.

Thanks for reading. What do you do to take care of yourself?

 

 

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Hello reader. It’s been awhile since I’ve updated. Tonight I’m tempted to write a rant about flame retardants, which are carcinogenic, linked to neurological disorders, and can be found in such items as children’s pajamas, changing pads, car seats, and strollers. You know, because babies often fall asleep while smoking in their strollers. Oh, and since we’ve all been exposed to them in mattresses and sofas since the 1970s, they’re stored in our body tissues and can even be found in our breastmilk. Ugh. (Still, and I think the medical community would back me up here, breastmilk is much preferable to formula if you’re able to breastfeed!).

But, I will take a tip from my preschooler – I will take a deep breath and count to four. There is not much point in getting too upset about things I can’t control – which covers pretty much everything in life. Whew! I’ve learned at this point that I can only control my own choices. I cannot control your choices, or my daughter’s choices, or the choices of those who put toxic chemicals in our furniture (and food, and air, and water).

Actually there is good news regarding flame retardants. As of 2014, they were no longer required to be in furniture in the state of California (the only place where they were ever actually required), and as a result flame-retardant-free furniture is becoming more widely available. Although my husband and I are certainly not in a position to discard all of our old furniture and buy all new furniture, we can and will phase it out over time, as it becomes more available and affordable. Also, flame-retardant-free crib mattresses are and have been widely available, and are not too expensive. We got ours at Target. And there are lots of kids jammies that don’t contain them – just check the label.

So when I get upset about this and other issues, I will remember to take a deep breath and count to four. Because I’m pretty sure that stress is carcinogenic, too.

Today I present to you my very own editorial endorsement for Oregon’s upcoming election. This measure is being fiercely battled, and with quite a lopsided amount of money (the No campaign is bringing in double the donations), so I thought I’d throw in my two cents. This measure is also important to me as a mom — as I’ll explain.

Yes on Measure 92, GMO Labeling. It’s hard to believe that this is such a battle. Why wouldn’t we want the right to know what’s in our food? However, with millions of dollars coming in from Monsanto for the No on 92 campaign, it’s become a David vs. Goliath situation. Money buys elections. In case you’re unfamiliar with Monsanto, it is a multi-billion dollar chemical company.  (Here’s an interesting article about them). They’re bent out of shape because if this measure passes then Oregon will be the first state in the U.S. to require GMO labeling. Some pertinent info about this ballet measure, pulled from the Yes on 92 website:

Who else labels? 64 countries around the world require labeling of all GMO food, including all of the European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia, and China.

Will labeling raise the cost of food? Labeling will cost about $2.30 per consumer per year.

Why do I care if GMOs are in my food? Most GMO food is designed to be resistant to pesticides. Some even manufacture their own pesticides — in which case, no amount of washing your produce can remove that pesticide residue. We also don’t know the long-term health effects of eating genetically modified foods — we are the guinea pigs to discover if they cause cancer or other health problems.

As a mom, I want to avoid feeding my child GMO food as much as possible, because I’m wary of the long-term health repercussions. I don’t trust food that was made in a chemistry lab. And even if it is safe — we still have the right to know what’s in our food.

Are doctors the best advocates for our wellbeing?

Are doctors always the best advocates for our wellbeing?

I’ve found that doctors generally don’t like to be questioned. And it would be easier if I could just unquestioningly follow their advice, but over the years I’ve discovered that I am the best advocate for my health and my child’s health. For example, a doctor once tried to prescribe me an anti-malaria medication that included psychosis as a potential side effect — and then belittled me when I asked him to instead prescribe me a different medication that had only minor side effects. Or, when I told my ob/gyn that I didn’t want to be induced (unless absolutely necessary) because Pitocin is known to cause more painful contractions — he blatantly lied to me and said that wasn’t true.

That being said, I would have gone ahead and vaccinated my daughter on the regular schedule, but my husband and I took a newborn care class where some parents were raising questions about vaccinations. For example, why is the Hep B vaccine given to all newborns? Babies need it if mom is Hep B positive, and it’s a good idea if any other close family is Hep B positive, but it’s a fairly rare, bloodborne disease. Our newborn care teacher recommended The Vaccine Book by Dr. Sears for more information on vaccines.

I ended up following Dr. Sears suggested alternative vaccine schedule, with a few variations. I felt more comfortable with this than the recommended schedule because it spaces out the vaccines, so my daughter didn’t have to get as many shots at once. I was concerned that giving her so many shots at one time might be hard on her immune system. The official CDC schedule gives a 2-month-old 6 vaccines in one visit.

Here are the first few months of the Dr. Sears Alternative Schedule:

2 months (well-child visit)  DTaP, Rotavirus
3 months (shot-only visit)  Pc, HIB
4 months (well-child)  DTaP, Rotavirus
5 months (shot-only) Pc, HIB
6 months (well) DTaP, Rotavirus
7 months (shot) Pc, HIB

Some challenges I found with the alternative vaccination schedule are that:

It’s confusing. You will have to tell the pediatrician which shots you want at each visit. You have to know the schedule you are following and advocate for it. If you’re not paying close attention, your child may end up missing some vaccines for longer than you’d planned.

It’s time-consuming. Breaking the vaccine schedule up means more visits to the doctor. I took my daughter to the pediatrician once a month for shots for her first 7 months.

Some doctors really don’t like it. I chose a pediatrician who was comfortable with an alternative schedule, and he even suggested delaying MMR further until my daughter’s immune system was more mature. However some pediatricians are unwilling to deter from the official vaccine schedule.

So, will I follow an alternative vaccine schedule with our next child? Probably. Here’s why:

It feels safer to me.* I do realize that most children follow the official schedule without ramifications. I also think that if I were a doctor or public health official I would advocate for people to follow the official schedule. It’s in the best interest of public health for vaccination rates to be as high as possible — and the easiest way for that to happen is for people to follow the official vaccine schedule. But I don’t want to take risks with my child. So for me that means making sure she gets all the required vaccines, yet spacing them out. One of my reasons for being extra cautious is that I have a lot of allergies, some of them life-threatening, which means my daughter has a higher chance of developing allergies. She might be at a higher risk of having an allergic reaction to a vaccine, or perhaps too many vaccines at once might mess with her immune system and increase her risk of allergies. Who knows? I think the immune system is pretty complicated and we don’t understand it very well.

I also know that the vaccine-autism link is basically considered an urban legend by many. But after reading the Dr. Sears book, he says there have been court cases where families received settlements after evidence was found that a vaccination did trigger autism in their child. The catch? They were not allowed to use the word “autism.” I also have a close friend whose brother has autism — and the family has always been convinced that it was triggered by a vaccine.

If you want more information on alternative vaccine schedules, I recommend reading The Vaccine Book and talking with your child’s pediatrician. We did make some changes to Dr. Sears Alternative Schedule, such as delaying MMR further and giving Hep A much sooner.

*Please don’t sue me, this is just my opinion. The CDC and most pediatricians will tell you that the official vaccine schedule is perfectly safe.

Have you followed an alternative vaccine schedule with your child? Would you do the same again?

Photo credit: x-ray delta one via photopin cc

Depression is lonely and scary.

Depression is lonely and scary.

Mental health issues carry a stigma, but when we break the silence and talk about them openly they become less scary. I may be wrong, but I think if we’re honest, most people struggle with mental health issues to some degree at some point in their lives.

So, what’s the deal with postpartum depression? Why would a new mom, who has just welcomed a bundle of joy into the world, get depressed?

Perhaps because:

a) postpartum and nursing hormones have thrown her emotions out of whack

b) she hasn’t had more than a 90 minute stretch of sleep in several weeks/months

c) she is socially isolated

d) she has not yet formed an attachment to her newborn, and wonders “who is this helpless creature I’m now spending all my time with?”

e) she spends the vast majority of her day sitting on the couch breastfeeding

f) her body has been severely injured in the process of giving birth

e) she wonders what the f***k has happened to her life

In sum, postpartum depression is understandable. In fact, given all the above, it’s rather remarkable when a new mom doesn’t experience some degree of postpartum depression or anxiety.

For my part, I really struggled with depression and anxiety when my daughter was about 3-5 months old. I think I was coping rather well until then, despite the extreme challenges of caring for a newborn. I won’t go into the details in this post, but you can read my post about it here. Or just read the poem if you prefer.

Around three months I no longer felt like I was coping. In retrospect, several things collided to make things a giant awful mess:

1) I lost my job

2) I lost my health insurance

3) my husband started working longer hours

4) I started taking birth control

Although I had told my doctor that I was concerned about postpartum depression (because I have a history of depression) he told me I’d be fine and prescribed me birth control without warning me that it was associated with postpartum depression. Birth control never seemed to affect my moods in the past, so I thought it would be fine. I had also looked forward to going back to work part-time and reconnecting with the outside world, but I lost my job and with it lost my main link to the world beyond my apartment walls. Losing my health insurance made me feel like I wasn’t allowed to have mental health issues because I couldn’t afford access to treatment. So, it was a hard and scary time — I really began to feel like I was losing my grip.

I got through it by becoming involved in as many activities as possible. The first time I took my four- month-old to a library storytime, I almost broke down in tears because it felt so good to be outside of my apartment and around other moms and babies. That fall we also took baby sign language class, mom and baby yoga, and signed up for MOPS. Mom and baby yoga was a lifeline because it was basically a group therapy session for new moms, followed by some yoga. My husband and I also occasionally invited people over for dinners so I could still feel like I had some sort of social life.

Some facets of attachment parenting really helped me as well. One of the scariest aspects of the depression for me was not feeling much attachment to my child. Wearing her in the Ergo carrier during daily walks was incredibly comforting and helped ease my anxiety. Eventually we ended up co-sleeping too, which we still do (I wouldn’t necessarily endorse it but it definitely helps with attachment).

So that’s an abridged version of my story. Slowly I started feeling better, and at this point life feels pretty normal again. Postpartum depression and anxiety can easily happen to anyone, even if you don’t have a history of depression/anxiety. I strongly recommend all new moms join some sort of support group whether it’s MOPS, postpartum yoga, or a new moms group at the local hospital. Just being able to talk to other women who are going through a similar experience as you should be extremely helpful. Also it’s probably wise to avoid any hormonal forms of birth control.

Did you struggle with depression or anxiety after becoming a mom? How did you cope?

photo credit: Helga Weber via photopin cc

Just filter your tap water!

Just filter your tap water!

 

 

Last week I watched the documentary Tapped, which taught me some disturbing things about the bottled water industry. I don’t normally drink bottled water (see reason #1), and after watching this documentary I don’t think you should either. I’m not alone in thinking this — communities around the country are starting to ban the sale of single-use bottled water. And in December, city supervisor David Chiu introduced a proposal to limit the sale of bottled water in San Francisco — making SF the first major city to tinker with a ban. Why all the fuss?:

1) Bottled water is expensive. Okay this is rather obvious, but why pay for bottled water when you can drink water from your tap that is virtually free? If you don’t like the flavor of your tap water, or you’re concerned about chlorine or metal contaminants, then filter it.

2) Tap water is safer to drink. Yes it’s true! Tap water is highly regulated and tested multiple times per day for safety. Bottled water is rarely, if ever, tested for safety (thanks Food and Drug Administration!). Oh, but here’s a silver lining: if you’re drinking Aquafina or Dasani water, it’s just filtered tap water, so those brands should be pretty safe.

3) The bottles may not be safe to drink from. The plastic bottles contain harmful chemicals, that may leach into your water if stored at warm temperatures. Drinking bottled water is a relatively new phenomenon, so we don’t really know the long-term safety effects (i.e. is there a link to cancer?)

4) Plastic water bottles are a waste of oil. The bottles themselves are made from oil, a non-renewable resource. It takes more than 17 million barrels of oil each year just to make enough bottles to meet America’s demand for bottled water. That’s enough oil to 1.3 million cars for a year. Furthermore, the process of turning oil into plastic bottles releases toxic chemicals into the air and water around the manufacturing plants, causing health problems in individuals who live in those areas.

5) Plastic water bottles are killing our oceans. Americans are recycling plastic at an abysmal rate of 24 percent. So, when the average U.S. citizen uses 167 disposable water bottles per year, he only recycles 38 of them. The rest end up in landfills and tragically our lakes, rivers and oceans — where they take 500-1000 years to fully degrade. There’s a large floating plastic island twice the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean! Marine life and seabirds are frequently killed from eating or becoming entangled in plastic. Sad.

These are all good reasons to stop buying bottled water in and of themselves, but here’s another disturbing question. In an era of climate change and increased drought, do we trust large, profit-driven corporations to have such unregulated access to our water supply?

For further reading, check out these sources:

Bottled Water vs. Tap Water: Rethink What You Drink

Ban the Bottle

Oceans: Plastic Pollution

The festive busyness of the holiday season is over. A bone-chilling fog, evocative of a dementor infestation, has enshrouded Eugene for the past week. And I have just been informed by Target that the Russian mafia may now be in possession of my personal contact information and credit card number. My instinctive reaction is to sit on the couch with a warm blanket and microwaved popcorn and binge-watch old Parks & Recreation episodes on Netflix. But, this may not be the best way to combat the January Blahs.

Sometimes it take a little effort to climb out of the fog.

Sometimes it takes a little effort to climb out of the fog.

Here are a few of my strategies for boosting my happiness level in this dark and dreary time of year:

1 ) Invest in my spiritual practice

Going to church regularly, reading the Bible and seeking God through prayer are my most important tools for maintaining a positive outlook on life. And the research backs me up on this — religious people tend to consider themselves happier than the nonreligious.

2 ) Keep exercising

Though I don’t feel much like running when the whether is cold and gray, I feel so much happier and relaxed when I do. If you’re not a runner you might try walking, biking, swimming or taking a dance class.

3) Focus on healthy eating

What’s good for your body is also good for your brain. Amidst the craziness of caring for my toddler, I need to remember to fuel my body with fresh fruit, veggies and lean protein — and limit my sugar intake. I also increase my Vitamin D intake in the winter, and take care to continue taking Omega 3 supplements.

4) Plan fun activities

I’ve realized that having something fun to look forward to is important. I used to look forward to weekends, but now that I’m a mom I don’t really have weekends “off.” Also my husband works long stretches of 12 days on and 2 days off. So I’m trying to make the effort to plan little things to look forward to. Last weekend we went to the movies for the first time since before our daughter was born, and in a few months we’re going on an actual vacation. Participating in fun activities also gives the added benefit of having positive memories to look back on. Win-win.

5)  Laugh

Like exercise, laughing releases endorphins and boosts mood. So maybe it’s okay to snuggle up on the couch and watch Parks & Recreation episodes from time to time.

6) Give thanks

It’s easy to take for granted the blessings I do have and instead focus on what I don’t have. Practicing gratitude helps me re-frame my perspective to view my life in a more positive light. Even simple things can be worth expressing thanks for. Some things I’m thankful for today are my morning into the sunshine, my dishwasher, and the lavender latte and pastries my husband brought home for breakfast.

7) Call a friend

Even though I’m rarely alone, I still get lonely from time to time. I mean, conversations with my 1.5-year-old can only go so deep. When I start feeling lonely, I know that it’s on me to reach out to others, rather than wishing that others would reach out to me.

What are some strategies you use to boost your mood when you’re battling the blahs?