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#Oneanddone

I have exciting news! I am 0 weeks, 0 days pregnant! And hope to stay that way. For the rest of my life. Aka: I consider myself an unofficial "one and done" type of gal. I do suppose it's only natural that I've been asked "Are you planning another?" with increasing frequency over the last few months...though it sometimes takes me by surprise (my mouth is full of tapas or whatever and someone essentially busts out with, "Hey are you guys having lots of unprotected sex with the aim of procreating yet again?? Oh, and how're the hors d'oeuvres anyway?"). But really, I get it. Our daughter turned one this summer and I hit 35 next year. For many people that means the final countdown in terms of spawning. For me it means that I've come to terms with my one-and-done status.

No particular philosophy influences my decision--neither carbon footprint conscientious objection nor ideological tiger mother leanings nor the notion that America in general is not necessarily as pro-maternity as some pundits may lead to believe. It is also not out of a desire to particularly spoil my one child. I've read a lot of the research out there and while it informs me of some of the benefits and drawbacks B. may face as an "only" it doesn't draw me in any one direction. My choice is more of a personal "know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em" thing. By the time B. joined us I had experienced three pregnancies, three losses and discovered that I'm the carrier of a rare, fatal genetic disease (B. is just fine and has no risk factors). It's enough already.

In many respects, I feel great relief that I'll never have to risk another pregnancy loss nor go through the work of being pregnant again. It's an emancipation of sorts and I celebrate it in my own way. I also feel grateful that I not only love--but *like*--my daughter very, very much and probably learn more from her than she does from me. Plus I'm lucky that some of my oldest, closest friends happen to be "onlies" (you know who you are and you know that I love ya!), meaning that I have multiple generations of sage women to talk to and learn from. After all the Sturm und Drang of the last few years it's a good position to be in. So through my mouthful of appetizers I can comfortably reply that yes, my uterus has indeed hung up her tiara--thank you very much:-).

ObGyn-Figure3

Parenting in Ghostland

The past few months I've been in a boot camp of the mind. Once a week a sensitive and highly educated therapist comes to my house for two hours. We usually begin by chatting about my daughter's growth milestones, or good books, or the weather. These are subjects I'm "good" at, that I can skate through comfortably and with a dose of humor.

Then my therapist's smile will become more sympathetic and I will know that it is time. Time to talk about what psychoanalyst Selma Fraiberg calls "The Ghosts in the Nursery." The phrase--as I've come to understand it--symbolizes the beliefs, patterns and fears that parents transfer from their past into their present. Basically it describes the imprinted psychic baggage that you carry, often without your knowledge--until you begin to parent. And then the haunting begins. Annoying, chattering phantoms--and a few terrifying ones, dogging even your most mundane parenting tasks. That's what got me--I had broken away from toxic individuals years before TTC and thought that my "work" was all done. Ha! (Okay, taking a more generous and loving approach to myself here--yes, a lot of the self-as-healthy-adult-work was all done.) Then I entered into a whole new territory. Parenting. Or Ghostland, if you will.

"Ghosts in the Nursery" intimates that you'll probably parent in large part how you were parented yourself...especially when under stress. Looking at the situation, I realized that I'd been living with several big stressors that I could control--and that once controlled would improve my ability to parent. The first step was to go through Ferber-style "sleep training" in order to cure the crushing physical fatigue that plagued both me and DH (I'm happy to post more about that or PM if there are any requests). The second step was to (finally) take the plunge, combine our finances and make a joint monthly budget. Both changes helped monumentally.

Once those things were out of the way, I was able to take note of the sheer mental drain I was living under--and touch upon the notion that maybe, just maybe it kinda sorta wasn't normal to agonize three ways from Sunday about Every. Single. Decision. It wasn't OCD or any quickly categorized or coded pathology (yes, I've been evaluated). It was just those dratted ghosts whom I felt like I was fighting at every turn. And not just over food stuff. (For instance, if you want to peek into the freaky, cobwebbed-recesses of my cortex: "OMG I just made an angry face in front of my daughter because I'm thinking of something that pissed me off years ago and I just happen to have a very expressive face--do I need to do damage control? Or: I have a migraine today...is it okay if I don't respond to her every single cue to play and just kind of lie on the bed--or will it damage her cognitive and emotional development if she doesn't have a consistently receptive primary caregiver??") Okay, okay a bit of reductio ad absurdum there--but you get the point.

All I can say is that living with that kind of high daily anxiety lead me to realize that I can't count on intuition alone to parent, because that "intuition" was working me so hard I was falling asleep in my clothes at 8p. I had to admit that somewhere along the way some very crucial wiring got very crucially crossed, which was leading to my current analysis paralysis exhaustion. I'm not going to go through facts or figures from my formative years here and now, nor will I name names from my past. What matters most is that I realized that I needed another way--and I sought it out. Boy oh boy has it been a lot of work. The first few weeks of therapy were a mind-muck of exhausting emotions, disappointing revelations and sheer, brutal honesty. In retrospect, I realize that it was the kind of dynamic initiation that allowed me to look at myself and say "Whoa--there's some stuff I don't like here. Some stuff that needs to change."

I am grateful to have a guide for the process and I can see that I'm making progress. I intend to blog here about the process and be forthright about any setbacks. The most important thing I've learned so far? Working on myself is, ironically, the very best way I can advance my goal of raising a healthy kid with a strong mind. Though wonderful in its simplicity, the idea has only been easily accessible to me as of late. One unexpected gift of the work I've been doing is a new-found empathy for people who struggle with harmful yet unidentified patterns. I also have a better-developed understanding of why people repeat damaging behaviors. Understanding is not the same thing as condoning, but it has gone a long way toward helping me make sense of the world I live in and of the past that haunts me (the song "Human Behavior" by Bjork comes to mind here). Go figure!

Oh, and in other news--if you aren't on fb, we welcomed a new sous-chef to the team. :-)
1233485_10201376834816134_1517804223_n

Complex, size 24m?

Saw this T-shirt at a big box store the other day. All I have to say is whoa.

20130506_144036

Actually, a few more choice words are in order. Like dude? Seriously? I've seen the spoiled/rotten/diva shirts for girls and the "lock up your daughters" shirts for boys but this...wow. The freakiest thing? It's for a 24 month old.

I say if a kid is old enough to choose their own clothes and actually *wants* to wear something like this, more power to 'em. Back when I was in college girls proudly proclaimed that their butts were "Juicy" (if you've ever been stuck on a stationary bike behind a couture-loving co-ed on a treadmill, ya know what I mean). And let's not forget the myriad of slogan emblazoned T-shirts that helped kick off the 90s cultural assertiveness wave that continues today. Or those that simply offered a bright spot of humor on otherwise drab, rushed city streets (the Kiss-sanctioned "we can kick your a** without smearing our eyeliner" comes to mind here). But there's something totally different about choosing an "I'm Chubby and Proud of It" shirt for a barely verbal kiddo.

Just so I'm not jumping on the blame-the-parent bandwagon, let me spread the judge-y vibe around here--there is also something inherently creepy about fabricating and marketing this kind of onesie. I'm talking to you, Faded Glory. I mean the colors are kind of cool in a retro way and mini body suits are awesome if you're into dressing your offspring like Freddy Mercury (I am, please feel free to judge all you want). But dude, seriously? Whoa.
Just a quick post about some great body/health/food centered events going on in New Orleans in the next few weeks and months.

Erin Reho Pelias of the local natural parenting boutique Zuka Baby is offering a free series of nutrition education classes for moms. She's a certified Holistic Health Counselor and boy does she know her stuff! Whether you're just starting out on a journey towards healthy cooking or you consider yourself fair to middlin' in the kitchen this series will have something for you. We've been looking at the work of the Weston A. Price Foundation and talking about eating a diet based on animal proteins, fruits, vegetables and grains. We've also touched on community gardening, gardening at home and where to get the best local produce (I'm a big fan of the Crescent City Farmer's Markets, especially the one Tuesdays at Uptown Square).

Tulane University is hosting a free talk by Dr. Renee Englen, a professor of psychology who runs The Body and Media lab at Northwestern University. The talk is on April 19th, and the title says it all: "OMG. I’m so fat!” How Fat Talk Hurts Women and What You Can Do to Stop It.

The Eating Disorders Treatment Center at River Oaks Hospital is hosting a breakfast workshop the morning of May 29th. Registration is $10. They have an extensive list of workshops and conferences here.

And that's all the news that's fit to print for today. If you're on my timezone and are beginning to think about dinner plans like I am then I wish you bon appetit!
About six weeks ago my husband and I got a copy of Jenny Rosenstrach's "Dinner: A Love Story." The book is a culmination of her devotion to writing down every meal she cooked for her family for months and months. It's the kind of book geared toward folks who have good intentions that often get lost between work, childcare and the just-get-some-fuel-in and get on with things kind of lifestyle. I'd imagine this applies to most Western families out there (in terms of marketing you can safely say she's thought this project through). It fits us to a T, and though we cook several nights a week we were really stuck in a chicken-pizza-pasta rut. Enter DALS.

We leafed through the recipes looking for one or two inspirational meals, and that's when her philosophy hit us. Have one family meal together. Every single day, or as many days a week as you can. She doesn't promise that it'll solve the world's problems or give you everlasting health--part of the beauty of the book is that she doesn't beat the idea over the head. She just shows you how to do it, one week at a time. Drawing from her empirically tested ideas, Todd and I sat down and came up with one week of meals. Our planning also took inspiration from Karen Le Billon's "French Kids Eat Everything"--try to go as long as you can without repeating a meal, go heavy on the vegetables and don't serve the same protein source more than once a week. It has been a big challenge, but it has been fun. We're proud to say that we've been doing it for more than four weeks now and the vast majority of our meals are made from scratch (which allows us to stay within budget and splurge on some gourmet items now and again:-). If anyone is interested in my own fanatical meal recording, here it is! About half of the meal ideas are our own, and many of them draw on the local culinary "Holy Trinity" of peppers, onions and celery (plus liberal does of Tony Chachere's and Tabasco). The rest of the recipes are directly from DALS:

4+ weeks of family mealsCollapse )

Looking back, I am flabbergasted that we have been able to do this every day. And yes, I'm also a bit daunted by the thought that we will continue on this path for the next five weeks and beyond. But even though most days have been far from twee (hah!) we make it happen by planning strategically, organizing food shopping and preparation around work and other errands and hardcore stocking up on the staples so that we could save money and cut down on what we actually need to get every week. I have a great app on my phone called "Mighty Grocery" that lets me organize my shopping by store and even by aisle, so anytime I'm near one of the stores I can pop in and never forget that crucial item I need (the basic version is free!). Plus we keep it simple and don't try a brand new thing more than once or twice a week. It also helps that I ride my bike past a wonderful southern grocery on the way to work several days a week, and Berlin loves to pass out the moment I wheel her travel system into the farmer's market. Believe me, I'm counting my blessings.

Overall? The very best thing (aside from having healthy, restorative meals every day) is that this lifestyle imparts structure and a slower, more liveable routine to our week. That said, my husband and I will be the first to admit that we've had some stressful days when we've thought about throwing in the apron and ordering out. And you know what? We did (see "TAKEOUT" listed once a week). In fact, weekly restaurant meals are included in "Dinner: A Love Story." If anything, you've gotta take a break. The type B part of me thinks that is awesome and loves the chance to relax with a glass of wine and no dishes to do. The type A part of me (ahem) makes sure to try something new every week, which will help diversify our future meal planning;-)

I'll keep you posted--and if you have any tips or tricks I'm all ears!
Holy Trinity

Parenting: It gets easier, right?

While I started this blog without a specific goal for how often I would post, I admit that I’ve been posting less than I expected. A big reason is that I've been picking up more hours at work as well as following the Dinner: A Love Story plan (aiming for at least one major sit-down hot meal a day as a family). We've been successful and despite the effort involved it has definitely upgraded our quality of life (more on that later)! But…I’ve also been shying away from posting because I only want to post when everything is perfect. You know, those golden days when I’ve mastered some concept or feel that I have a Thoreau-worthy nugget of wow to share.

Hah!

Yes, I realize that if this remains my motive for blogging not much will get written. So here it goes. I have been struggling with the internal drive to get everything “right” for my daughter. Of course I know that limiting her exposure to certain things will help foster lasting mental and physical health. That big-picture stuff is “relatively” easy. But what about all of the little in-between things that make up daily life? Nagging questions pop up all the time…am I feeding her to fast? Too slow? With the wrong spoon? I catch myself worrying that any “misstep” will be a teeny-tiny building block in…

What, exactly?

I can’t say that I’m sure, but find myself constantly asking these kinds of questions. Then I take a deep breath and try to let go of anxiety and attachment. I remind myself that she’s only seven months and--as you can see in the picture--she is perfectly happy and healthy. I focus on this and feel good. And then the next worry appears. It’s a linear process that keeps pace with me throughout the day. I am fortunate to have a fantastic team that includes a pediatrician, a pediatric nurse and a place called The Parenting Center (a veritable coaching squad in and of itself)--not to mention friends and my husband’s family. Most of them are aware of my challenges, and a couple of them have pointed out that they can see how much work this is for me some days. One of them, speaking from personal experience, told me that it won’t always be this tough. Like Mulder said, I want to believe--but somehow the fact that I’ll eventually be able to do this intuitively feels kind of like science fiction.

It’s true that once in awhile something will feel just right. But most days it takes a lot of brainpower for me to get there. So I've chalked it up to this: for the time being the best I can do is be aware and equanimous. And move forward. I’ll keep you posted….

Berlin Crib 7months

Influences

Eating disorders usually aren't suspected until a child shows physical manifestations, but the truth is that every pound dropped or meal purged has a psychological backlog of months or years. My quest to raise a healthy girl has me focusing more and more on those particular roots of my past struggles. I clearly remember that the thoughts, perceptions and intentions developed long before I started refusing food. I can trace some of it to messages that came from trusted elders at seemingly innocuous times. A comment about the size of my legs during a field trip, or a glare when I would ask for the next size up when shopping. If I close my eyes, I can remember how it made me feel. At times hollow, at times irritated. Whatever it was, it usually went deep inside to metamorphose into something dark and vicious. I don't think any single comment sent me into the land of disordered eating, but the territory was probably fertile (I grew up in the classic ED petri dish--a high-pressure, media-saturated "superzip" where women typically put a lot of effort and money into how they appear). In the end, I'm not looking to blame--I only want a deeper structural understanding so that I can empower my daughter. I think that living in a different environment with a supportive community will go a long way. New Orleans has its own challenges when it comes to the body--but unlike the area in which I came of age it is a highly accepting, it's-your-thing-do-whatchu-wanna-do type of place. I hope that seeing all colors, shapes and sizes shaking it in the streets (as we did this past Mardi Gras) will help my daughter sidestep the kind of thought police that dogged me as a tween and teenager.

To that end, I'm also not above a little libertarian maternalism. The other day B., her father and I were at a family-friendly place when out of the blue this random guy starts dropping the FBJB (female-body-judgement bomb). He's giving a very detailed assessment of his own personal idea of the perfect female body type (and not to drop the judgement bomb myself, but let's just say that in this dude's case opposites attract). Meanwhile, my six month old daughter is blinking up at him and cooing. My mind runs through several half-baked snarky comments (for him) and several empowering mantras (for her). In the end, I roll her stroller out of there. When we are out in the fresh air and sunshine, I lean down and whisper just loud enough for her to hear,

"You are wonderful just how you are." She smiles back as if to say "Yeah mom, I've got this."

Phew.
I don't breastfeed. And if I were ever to have another kid (which I'm 99.9% certain I won't), I won't breastfeed them either. In fact, I won't even attempt to--like I did with B.

But why?
Don't you know breast is best?


The above is a (rough) transcription of a conversation I've had many, many times. And not with my pediatrician or nurse. Nope, with wonderfully inquisitive strangers who apparently feel comfortable asking me what I'm doing with parts of my anatomy that are usually covered by clothing. Or quizzing my on what my baby ingests in a given day. Boundaries, people!

I usually take the opportunity to exercise my sarcasm muscles educate them on the wide variety of bodies out there and the fact that some women are physiologically unable to successfully breastfeed. And that's the key word--successfully. There is a huge difference between being "able" to breastfeed, and being able to do so successfully. This was never explained to me when I signed the consent forms for a breast reduction surgery when I was 18, and I wish this seemingly minute designation had been clarified. The knowledge may have affected my decision to go through with the procedure--but then again I may have ended up opting for formula anyway for any number of reasons. I can say that had I known what I know now, I would never have attempted breastfeeding. I also feel strongly that there is a real need for more education about BFAR (breast feeding after reduction) in the post-partum support community. I had too many well-meaning professionals urge me to keep going and not "give up" despite some detrimental consequences (more on that later).

The first week of my daughter's life, I produced enough milk but not enough came out due to poor (read: totally predictable) post-surgical recanalization. This meant that the multifold vessels which normally conduct milk were blocked so I became engorged yet could never become "unengorged". And it hurt. A lot. If you've ever had a sinus infection, a pulled muscle and a fever all at once, well, you get the idea. That first week ended with an emergency trip to the doctor because my little girl was showing signs of severe dehydration and was so lethargic she wouldn't rouse for feedings. Oh, and due to the fact that mom, who was spending up to 9 hours a day feeding around the clock--and consequently not sleeping--was literally beginning to hallucinate (there's nothing quite like waking up to "see" your baby's head on your cat's body to let you know that something's really not working).

My daughter's pediatrician, who is as pro-breastfeeding as they come, lay a gentle hand on mine and let me know that for whatever reason many women choose not to breastfeed. She followed up with some of the most liberating advice I've heard as a mother--as long as you're meeting your child's nutritional needs it's perfectly okay to choose your own feeding method. Boy did I relax. She also helped me let go of the notion that transitioning to formula amounted to giving up. My husband and I headed to the store, bought a can of formula, and gave my daughter the first full meal of her life. My heart soared as I heard her taking those big, messy slurps. Just as her pediatrician predicted, 24 hours later we had a new baby on our hands. She was squirmy, vocal and downright demanding. It was wonderful. Within a month she was right back where she needed to be in terms of her growth and we were able to move on.

I say "move on" because there was a mourning period of sorts when I stopped breastfeeding. I had been looking forward to it, and I had attached certain values to the ability to give my child breastmilk. I've since discovered that for me there are many positive aspects to formula feeding. I loved the fact that my husband could take part in feedings when our daughter was so young. I really loved that he could do most of the night feedings (it isn't, but this *should* be an admissible criteria for sainthood). It was also a lot easier to arrange care for my daughter and to return to work part time at 5 weeks postpartum. Yes, our society *should* be better structured to facilitate breastfeeding, but I had to operate with what I was dealing with at that particular moment in history. Another great thing was that the insane around-the clock hunger simply stopped. That's when my post-partum weight really began to melt off. Last but not least--hallelujah!--the bottle didn't hurt at all (the pain went away after a few days of icing and breast-binding). On a side note, I never felt uncomfortable breastfeeding in public--New Orleans is pretty open-minded (we have men running around in red dresses and a marching band called the Camel Toe Steppers, so go figure). But I respect how breastfeeding in public might be a deterrent for some ladies.

Please understand that I'm not proscribing any particular approach--I am not necessarily "pro" formula in the same way that I'm not "anti" breastfeeding. Even though formula was best for me, I am all in favor of continued awareness and support of breastfeeding so that more women are able to have the time, space and comfort level they need to feed or pump. Likewise, I support calling off the breastfeeding National Socialists if a woman really feels that formula or supplementation is what works best for her and her baby. Through my experience, I was able to talk to women from many walks of life (women with a wide scale of incomes, body types, work schedules and family demands). Successful breastfeeding can be virtually free, or it may end up being as expensive as feeding some formulas (factor in the accoutrements that make life easier, the specialty clothing that makes modesty possible, and a high-end pump which is a must if you return to work for more than a few hours a day). Some breastfeeding women may experience more pain than others, or, as in my case, be unable to provide their babies with the required nutrition. Some women may need to take medications, like anti-depressants, that they would rather not pass on in breastmilk. So many times in an eating disorder, the suffer gets locked into a "thou must" feedback loop. I felt this at moments during my brief stint with breastfeeding, but in the end it was a flexible mindset that let me make what was truly the best choice for nourishing my child. And in the end, that's what really matters.

bottle

Locks of love

Wow...a super-healthy diet during pregnancy/postpartum, plus prenatal vitamins, plus not having had time to get a haircut in months = the longest, healthiest hair I think I've ever had.

Locksoflove

Over the years, my husband has sent various ponytails to Locks of Love, an organization that collects donated hair to make hairpieces for children suffering from long-term medical hair loss. I've wanted to but I've never had the simultaneous combo of required growth and healthy condition for donation (you have to donate a minimum of 10" of healthy hair in a ponytail). Even though my hair has been long in the past, it wasn't the best condition--I imagine due in large part to unhealthy eating habits. But this time I had hope! I pulled out one of these:
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If you've struggled with an eating disorder you might recognize this as a prime implement of torture. I used to travel with a seamstress tape measure and a digital scale so that I could weigh and measure myself multiple times a day (at one point I also traveled with cups and spoons to measure food). It has taken a lot of work, and I'm very glad I no longer need to live that way. Today, it felt liberating to use a tape measure to size up the length of my hair--and nothing else. I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed (it came in at 8" with a ponytail). But unlike in the past I didn't punish myself with hours of exercise because my hair wasn't the length I thought it should be at that very moment. ;-)

Instead I decided that I'm going to "try" to grow my hair long enough to be able to donate. Though I've been reading all about influences on the anagen (growth), catagen (degradation) and telogen (resting) phases of hair growth, and though most stats say you can hope for about .5"/month, I know that some folks' hair just grows longer than others (my husband can grow crazy long hair if he wants). So it seems that my best bet here is to continue a healthy diet with lots of good, plant-based fats and plenty of protein--things I can share with my daughter as she begins to explore the world of eating solid foods. And maybe one day soon I can show her just one more of the very cool things our bodies can do. Wish me luck!

Origins

When I was diagnosed at age 12 with anorexia nervosa, I had the impression that the adults around me (medical practitioners included) assumed that it was an idiopathic affliction--something that arose seemingly out of nowhere. Then came a series of finger pointing-style explanations: the media did it, it had to do with something at school, I was just being rebellious. I would like to believe that nowadays our understanding of eating disorders is a lot better than it was back in the 90s. We now know that most full-fledged eating disorders will probably not arise just because a girl or boy reads fashion magazines, or has diet conscious friends, or hears a judgmental comment about his or her weight. Throw in all the above, stress in school or at home, perhaps add a dash of certain personality traits, then...maybe. But even though eating disorders are serious and sometimes life-threatening, most young girls do not develop one--and the stats are even less likely for boys. I hope that is as reassuring to other parents as it is to me.

I believe that we parents have a lot of power to influence the ways our children relate to food and their bodies. And we have the ability to impact social constructions of "beauty". To that end, a big part of my focus in raising my daughter will be on providing the kind of home environment that helps to counter any negative influences she might encounter as she grows. This blog will be a regular reminder of that commitment. Second, I'll do my very best to lead by example. Even on days when old thoughts surface and nothing feels right...and I've completely forgotten to make dinner plans on top of it all. And third--perhaps most important--as a parent, I'll open myself up to criticism and suggestions from knowledgeable others, including my daughter. I may not be able to honor every idea, but I will keep in mind that I don't know it all and that I'm charting a somewhat new path here. And I need loving help to do so.

Because I want this girl to grow up strong, and to know that her body is an amazing thing.

Berlin mouth

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