Know Your Body

I’m feeling particularly reflective this week on the more serious aspects of life and while I have the time, I’ve decided to get it all down.

Earlier today, I posted about being an advocate for your child (or children’s) health.  It’s extremely important that as parents, we are vigilant and we speak up on behalf of those in our care.  But equally important, is the idea of taking care of ourselves.  I’m reminded of the flight attendant’s speech on airline safety.  “In the event of an emergency, please secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.”  If our own health and well-being is failing, it is impossible for us to care for another.

I’ve alluded to it in past posts, but tonight I’d like to share a very personal story.  It is in this story that I learned about being an advocate for my own health and well-being and it is from this experience that I’ve grown into the strong and outspoken woman I am today when it comes to health care.  I wrote this cathartic essay last year as a way to cope with a very traumatic experience, but also to shed light on a serious condition that is very unknown.  It’s an honest account of a difficult time in my life.  I hope after reading about my experience, you can walk away feeling empowered to know your own body and to advocate for your healthcare needs, even when met with resistance (or dismissal or crazy stares or or or or…).

And in an effort to show your own self-appreciation, please join in the Milk Free Mama Challenge.

xo,

Cimberly

BORDERLINE

 

Spread out, my back firmly planted against the mattress, I lay crying.  I felt exposed, vulnerable, afraid.  Even though I felt isolated, I knew I wasn’t alone.  The tears were mounting and I reached out for someone, anyone, to hold my hand and tell me everything would be alright.

But the truth was, even though someone did reach out, I knew her words were false.  She didn’t know anymore than anyone else – my mom, my husband, my doctor.  But I knew.  I knew in my gut that things were not alright.  I tried my best to smile through the tears, to put on a brave face as they wheeled me into the operating room.

*****

Newly married, I felt on top of the world.  My husband and I dated for five years before we tied the knot, and even though I was only in my second year of teaching, we were discussing starting a family.  We were excited and hopeful at the idea of raising our own brood.  As I prepped my students, in March of 2008, for their upcoming English Regents Exam and SATs, my husband I and started trying.  The trying and the pressures of a new job put me into full-stress overload, not conducive for a peaceful internal baby-home.  I started getting recurrent infections and the doctors wrote them off as normal female issues.

A couple of months passed by – more infections, more doctor appointments, more co-pays, and no baby.  I sought out doctor after doctor in my OBGYN practice and I still got no concrete answer as to why I was suffering from re-current infections.  None of the doctors thought there was anything drastically wrong with me.  None of the doctors thought these infections were inhibiting me from getting pregnant, except for the fact that I was abstaining from sex so the infections would clear up.  I solemnly trudged on and finished out the school year.

At the end of June 2008, I decided to reach out to the high-risk doctor in my practice.  I knew that the high-risk related to pregnancy and that the chance of him diagnosing something different than the last five doctors in the practice was slim to none, but at least he might have some encouraging words to offer on the pregnancy front.  This was the first time I would meet my hero face to face, my savior in scrubs.

Dr. B decided to do a sonogram to see if that could shed any light onto the situation.  Sure enough, it did.  There was a small cyst-like obstruction near my right ovary.  I would need more tests in a few days to confirm its nature.  So my first meeting with Dr. B at least offered some answers as to why I had discomfort, but to this day, the doctors do not believe the infections had anything to do with the cyst.  I however, wholeheartedly disagree and I believe that my body’s rebellion against itself began with those infections.   I called my husband with the news and then I called my mother.  She assured me that cysts and fibroids were often nothing to worry about.  But for some reason, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach.  Something just wasn’t right.

Three days later, my husband drove me early in the morning to the radiological group that would perform the sonogram.  I sat on the edge of my seat, a painful ache in my lower back which I equated with the overwhelming urge to pee out the 32oz. of water I was instructed to hold in my bladder for the sonogram.  In hindsight, I know the pain was caused by more than that.  My appointment was early in the morning and I remember skipping breakfast before we left because my husband and I were going to go out to our favorite local diner afterwards.  My husband sat with me in the waiting room, somewhat detached, and I suddenly felt isolated.  When they called me in for the test, my husband said he was going to wait in the car and I could meet him downstairs when I was done.  Clearly, he didn’t think the test would show anything horrific and clearly he hadn’t yet been trained in Husband –Ettiquette 101 – stay with your nervous new wife during medical testing.  He later learned how to let me lean on him when I needed to.  As I lay on the table and the technician prodded me with her probe, I could feel the tension mounting in the room.  I was in pain and the radiologist was called in.  He prodded too and instructed me to get dressed while he called my doctor.  None of this sounded good.

When he returned, the radiologist explained that my doctor wanted me to go for more tests.  They needed me to go right away to the CAT Scan/MRI office across the street for further testing.  Questions ensued – “Is someone with you?” “Yes – husband in the car.”  “Did you eat yet?” “No.”  “Great, head across the street.”

I ran out of the office, trying to force the tears back into my eyes, but they just tumbled out.  When I reached the car, my husband was on his phone and when he looked at my tear-stained face, he thought I was just angry that he hadn’t waited with me in the office.  I yelled, “Next time don’t leave me.  It isn’t nothing.  Something is wrong and I think it’s serious.  I need to go for more testing – NOW!”  I cried. He hugged me, apologized, and held my hand.   I called my mom, I cried.  I walked into the waiting room of the next office, I cried.  I had to drink some disgusting dye-drink and I cried.  And then I threw up.  My husband rubbed my back and told me I would be okay.  It wasn’t pretty.  I went into the test anxious and I walked out feeling just as worried.  I wish I could say I “ladied-up” and stood bravely, tear-free, throughout all the tests, but the truth is, this stuff was just plain scary.

My husband and I headed home to our two-bedroom apartment and we tried to relax.  We ate, we talked, we watched TV and then the telephone rang.  I almost threw up again.  It was Dr. B.  “Where are you?” – “Home.” – “Where’s home?”  “Great Neck.”  “Good sweetie, I’m in the Great Neck office  – you and your husband come in so we can talk.”  Was this really happening?  It couldn’t be good news if we needed to go right into the doctor’s office.  I knew the tests indicated something bad.

When we arrived at Dr. B’s office, we were taken right into his office and he started explaining.  His words rang in my ears as I tried to process what he was saying.  I gripped my husband’s hand so tightly as tears streamed down my face.  He gripped back.  I asked Dr. B to get my mother on speaker-phone.  And so the words poured out of his mouth, echoing a staccato in my ear.  “Mass the size of a grapefruit. Ten centimeters.  Has cancer-like properties.  Needs to be removed.  Prepare for the worst case scenario – possible hysterectomy.”  What?  I blinked unsure that I heard him correctly.  We were trying to get pregnant.  Hysterectomy?  Seriously?  “Can we extract eggs?” – “Not enough time.  If it’s cancer we need to move on it now.  I’m calling my associate, the head of Gynecological Oncology at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset.” Suddenly, the words cancer danced away from my mind and I zoned in on the hysterectomy.  No babies?  Ever? I was twenty-five years old and I wanted a family damn-it!

As we left the doctor’s office, my hero-in-scrubs hugged me tightly and whispered kind, supportive words in my ears.  He handed me a tissue and we left the doctor’s office, our heads swirling.  We took the dog for a long walk.  In that moment, I wasn’t afraid of the possibility of cancer.  I was afraid I would never have a baby.  “Eric, promise me something.” My husband gripped my hand.  “Promise me if the doctor says I needed a hysterectomy that you will immediately get us on any and all adoption lists.  I want a family.”  He smiled and nodded.  It was a promise I made him repeat over and over again in the days leading up to surgery.  It obviously wasn’t an entirely rational response to what I had just heard, but it was what my mind was willing to process at the time.

While we walked, I called my parents.  We called my in-laws and told them too.  Then I called my grandparents and asked if we could come over.  We loaded our beloved pup into the car and took the twenty minute drive to my grandparent’s house.  We talked, we cried, we laughed, we ate dinner.

The next morning, my mom and I headed to the hospital and we met with Dr.  M.  He was wonderful and understanding and he took his time explaining everything as we both cried.  The right ovary would almost definitely need to be removed and depending on what biopsies showed once they went in, a hysterectomy might be needed too.  I repeated over and over, “I want to have a baby.”  He promised to be as conservative as possible and to try to preserve as much of my fertility system as possible.  We left his office, my mother feeling hopeful and optimistic that things wouldn’t be as bad as we initially thought, and I left once again with the sinking pit in my stomach.

Two days later, the first week of July passing by, I was in the hospital pre-op, my family flanked at my side. My parents, grandparents, aunt, and husband were at the hospital with me and I was texting funny photos to my brother from my cubicle.  I got my Heparin shot in the belly.  And then it was time.  I was loaded onto the gurney and wheeled to the operating room, my family trailing behind me with words of encouragement.  We pit-stopped outside the actual operating room and I was left alone in the hallway, crying on the gurney, isolated and afraid.

In the operating room, they anesthesiologist tried to no avail to get an IV running into my arms.  My small, shifty veins were retreating in fear.  He tried nitrous gas to calm my nerves and bring my veins forward, but I started to panic because I could no longer feel my feet.  The nitrous mask was quickly ripped off and the warming salt cloths began.  Forty-minutes later, the IV was in, the sedative was administered, and the surgery was underway.

I awoke in recovery to visits from my family and I was in and out of consciousness.  Over the course of the next day, I learned that the doctor had cut an incision tracing from above my belly-button down to my pubic bone.  I was hacked open, my right ovary and tube removed, my bladder, stomach, and surrounding organs and tissue biopsied.  I was in extreme pain, I felt like half of a woman, and I still had no definite answer as to whether or not I had cancer.  So despite the fact that I had my left ovary and my uterus, I didn’t feel confident that I would be able to use them for baby-making, because I could still be facing the big C.   I felt guilty for not being more grateful.

Over the eight days of my hospital stay, my family and friends visited or tried to visit. I had bad reactions to the pain medication and I was hallucinating, depressed, and I felt like I was suffocating. The catheter came out and was forced back in again when I couldn’t pee on my own.  I was in a lot of pain, but I was pulled out of bed to walk circles around the hospital floor so that my incision and muscles would heal faster and the giant pockets of gas that were pumped into my body while I lay open and exposed on the operating table could expel faster.  My mother dragged me around the floor with words of encouragement.  My dad held my hand.  My brother tried to visit and I begged my parents not to let him come because I didn’t want him to see me the way I was.  At twenty-two years old he was not a child, but my younger brother nonetheless, and I wanted to protect him.

I couldn’t shower because of the incision and I was afraid to stay alone at night because it was difficult for me to move around on my own.  My husband sat with me after work.  My parents hired a night-nurse, my nurse-goddess, Phyllis, and she took care of me from 8pm-8am.  I fell in love with her sweet voice, her kind words, and how she tucked me in at night.  She washed my hair and gave me sponge-baths.  As demoralizing as it was to be a grown woman being bathed by another, I felt so safe and loved in her care.  Years later, I still had her sweet voice saved in my voicemail messages to listen to on a rough day.

During my hospital stay, there were a few bright moments of laughter.  The corn muffin my parents brought me that looked like a bird’s head and beak had us hysterical laughing.  My mother-in-law’s attempt to be helpful by bringing me a bagel with butter  has us still laughing years later.  I hadn’t eaten in days and the doctor insisted I start somewhere.  I agreed to a bagel with butter and my mom asked my mother-in-law to get it for me.  Happy to help, she arrived with my bagel.  I took one bite and nearly threw up.  “This doesn’t taste right.”  Everyone in the room agreed it was just that my taste buds were off because of the medication and the fact that I hadn’t eaten in days.  “Have another bite.”  Another bite, another sour taste.  “Seriously, this butter doesn’t taste right.”  Turns out, I wasn’t crazy after-all.  It was mayonnaise.

There were also scary moments.  Like the Steel Magnolias moment when my mother raged her mother love and protection and went full-blown mad screaming psychotic on an intern for explaining that the large red rash growing on my leg was a staph-infection.   Antibiotics needed.  Intern scared.  My mom angry that I contracted another problem while I was recovering.  Her love was strong and powerful.

On the sixth morning of my hospital stay, the resident doctor arrived before I was finished using the bathroom, a ritual that Phyllis and I perfected so the doctors would only assess me in bed and not in the bathroom.  This time though, she burst into the bathroom to check my incision.  I tried to explain that I hadn’t looked at my belly yet, swollen and swathed beneath bandages and gauze, but the words wouldn’t come out fast enough and facing the mirror at 6am, I saw what was left of my stomach.  It looked like a train track from hell.  It was swollen, red and black, and the staples that were holding me together protruded angrily.  I was horrified.

I went home to my parent’s house to recover. I needed constant help and care and my husband had to work.  I spent many of my days crying, the hormonal imbalance of losing one ovary taking full control over my body and my emotions.  I ached, I walked, I cried, I laughed a little.  My parents forced me to get out of bed, to travel up to our summer home for some fresh-country air.  I healed slowly and my mom allowed me five minutes a day to wallow in my own misery.  Then it was back to eating, walking, healing, recovering.  I waited three weeks for pathology to come in and I hoped and prayed that I didn’t have cancer.

When the news arrived that the mass was what they called a borderline ovarian tumor – borderline cancer, I was told that I would not need further treatment.  I was instructed to see a medical oncologist to firm up the diagnosis.  She agreed that removing the mass with cancer like properties would suffice without chemotherapy and she reminded me to see my surgeon on his strict schedule to make sure I stayed healthy.  I was told my recovery from the surgery should take approximately six months and then we could discuss starting to build a family.  The doctors suggested cancer support groups in the hospital if I needed to talk through my experience, but I didn’t feel like I belonged in those groups.  My tumor was only borderline cancer.  I lost a part of my reproductive system way too early in life, but I didn’t need my ovary to live.  I would survive.  It was hard for healthy people to grasp the scope of my fear and worry and it was hard for those suffering through chemo to take my scare seriously.  I walked the borderline alone.   As far as I know, they don’t make support groups for women with half their reproductive organs and I certainly never heard of a support group for women with borderline ovarian tumors.

My life drastically changed that summer.  I lost my innocence.  I learned that bad things could happen to me – I was not immortal.  I learned that although it’s not commonly discussed or heard of, Borderline-Ovarian tumors do exist.   I learned that when my doctor does an intake at my appointments, he always writes, “History of Ovarian Cancer.”   I learned to be grateful for close-calls and miracles and the power of family strength, love, and support.  Without the fierce love and prayer directed my way, I wouldn’t have been laughing and smiling as quickly as I was.  Most importantly, I learned to be an advocate for my own health, an attribute of my post-cancer-scare self that makes me extremely proud.  I don’t second guess my intuition anymore.  I am highly in-tuned to my body, my health.  I feel transformed.  I often encourage my family and my friends to listen closely to their bodies and to not ignore the power of inner intuition.

Four months, post-op, I found out I was pregnant.  Because I was hyper in-tuned to my body, I was certain a week prior to a confirmed pregnancy test.  We wasted no time trying once my incision healed and the scar stopped itching.  I joked that my body just needed a good cleansing before it was ready to be home to a baby for nine months.  I baked my doctors cookies to say thank you.  Nine months later, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy, the first of my three little boy miracles.  It was years later, after my first baby was two years old that my family accidentally told me that when the doctor came out of the operating room, he felt confident that the mass was cancerous.  Those weeks where I waited and prayed, my family all thought the worst.  But to keep me positive and focused on healing despite the outcome, no one let on.  They smiled, joked, laughed with me, and we went about regular daily life.

So now, three babies and years later, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t look at my scar, think about the surgery, mull over the what-ifs and face the fear of it all happening again.  When I get sick, I get scared.  I’m afraid of germs.  I try to eat organic whenever possible.  I cut out Parabens from my shampoos.  I know a hysterectomy near age forty is an almost certain preventative possibility.  But also, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t feel thankful for my health, thankful for the body that in one moment betrayed, in the next, gave me three healthy, happy little boys.  Although there was a time that I felt like less of a woman with only half of my reproductive system, I know that I am more a woman now than I was before.  I have the strength to believe in my own instincts, to trust my gut, and to advocate for my health and the health of those I love.

 

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Mother Knows Best

I’m feeling a bit serious this week and I wanted to touch upon the subject, “Mother Knows Best,” when it comes to the health and well-being of our children.

New mothers are bombarded with a barrage of information on how to keep little ones healthy, safe, and happy.  The information is readily available in a wide array of publications.  Googling WebMD when a child has a fever is sometimes easier than waiting for a call-back from the pediatrician.  As mothers we have so much information available to us that sometimes we feel like we can just diagnose our children (or ourselves for that matter).  And in some cases we can…

Years ago, sleeping a baby on his belly was the way to go.  Babies suffered less cases of acid reflux.  In an effort to reduce the SIDs epidemic, babies are now only to be put to bed on their backs.  SIDs rates are down, but many more babies have uncomfortable bellies and acid reflux.  Armed with the fear of SIDs, parents are told never to sleep with their infants, not to use bumpers, not to smoke around their children (okay, that’s a no brainer and let’s not even get me started on the idiocy that exists amongst parents who think that is acceptable!), no blankets, pillows, etc.

Parents are told not to feed their babies solid food until four to six months old, differing from years ago, when baby bottles were filled with rice cereal early on to thicken the milk, hence making babies less hungry through the night, and often times, producing chunkier babies.  Mother’s are encouraged to breastfeed for a year, where as years ago, breastfeeding was definitely considered taboo and formula was the way to go.

Years ago, children weren’t medicated for every problem they encountered.  Now, all across America, ADHD medicine is being prescribed at a young age for hyper children in an effort to keep them calm and focused.  However, these medications deliver unappealing side effects, some of which stifle a child’s ability to actually be the person he thinks he should be.  I know firsthand, as a HS teacher, that many of my students diagnosed with ADD/ADHD were actually much better students and happier individuals when they were no longer on their medication and receiving services (FYI – I am by no means advocating against proper medications/protocols for children and adults alike when needed.  I live with someone that suffers from ADD and I know that medication can do wonders when properly prescribed).

As new parents, we refer to our pediatricians for knowledge on how to handle everything from breastfeeding issues, fevers, sleep-training, toilet-training, speech problems, physical ailments, etc.  Many times, we take what our pediatricians say at face-value and we try to adhere to their advice.  However, through experience, I’ve learned that it’s okay to take all that we learn from our doctors and our reading materials with a grain of salt.  It’s okay to ask questions and seek out more information.  It’s actually smarter to make fully-informed decisions that work for your particular child (or yourself) than to take base information applicable to all children.

I’ll give you a few personal examples.  When J was starting solids, I cooked and pureed all of his foods for him.  He loved his fruits and a few vegetables.  However, when he hit a year and stopped nursing, got teeth, didn’t love the tastes of all of his foods, and refused whole milk, I was a bit panicked.  I consulted my pediatrician and his advise was, “Don’t offer him anything else to drink.  When he’s thirsty enough, he’ll eventually drink the whole milk.  No kid ever died from a day or two without drinking.  At the most he’ll get a little dehydrated.”  I was shocked.  But my doctor gave his advice and as a “rule-follower,” I considered it, even though my gut told me this wasn’t the right choice for my child.  I consulted another doctor in the practice for an additional perspective and I consulted message boards online.  The other doctor suggested calcium alternatives such as extra cheeses, vanilla ice cream daily, calcium fortified orange juice.  Those options sounded more appealing to me and I took her advice.  To this day, J refuses milk, but he meets his calcium requirements through vitamins, OJ, and cheese.

Another example, J was an amazing sleeper, sleeping through the night from two to five months old.  At five months old, he got an ear infection that wreaked havoc on his sleep patterns.  He was night-waking again.  Being my first and only child at the time, I had no problem with him waking up once or twice a night to nurse because he would fall back to sleep and sleep well.  My doctors said I was going to create an individual with sleep problems.  I didn’t feel like the cry-it-out method that they suggested was appropriate for my child at his age.  It felt unnatural to hold a baby so close to my chest nursing throughout the day to let him lay in his crib screaming for me and for milk all night.  At a year old, I had a change of heart and felt he was ready to learn to sleep on his own.  I let him cry-it-out and after a few days of heartbreak, he was sleeping on his own again. It worked, but it worked on my time-frame, not the one set by the doctors.

When J was three, he suffered chronic sinus infections and was on an abundance of antibiotics.  There was maybe one week out of every month that he was not on medication and he actually sounded normal and not nasal.  It continued to get worse and the pediatricians suggested seeing an ENT.  The ENT was quick to recommend surgery, but I was not comfortable with that outcome.  I did research, tried herbal teas from acupuncture, and sought out an immunologist.  The immunologist found immunological issues and suggested holding off on surgery until we figured out the other pressing issues.  Why was his iron low?  Why was his body rejecting vaccines he received as an infant?  There had to be more to the story.  I liked his philosophy and invested in his course of action/treatment, admonishing the ENT’s quick surgical solution.  It took a year of re-vaccinating and re-evaluating before E and I considered surgery again for J.  This time, we had come to the table with more knowledge, a healthier child, and we were ready.  The surgery went well and we couldn’t be more thrilled with the outcome.  But again, the outcome was on our terms.

Our middle, suffers terrible eczema.  I noticed a direct correlation when I breastfed him and ate any orange food (sweet potatoes, carrots, etc.).  The doctors said that it was absolutely unrelated.  I disagreed.  For the months that I stayed away from the orange foods, he suffered very mildly.  Whenever I slipped or reintroduced the orange foods, the eczema worsened.

Now I have little M, with his gastro issues and his sleeping problems and the pressure from my pediatricians to get him out of my bed, sleeping through the night without nursing, on his back, in his crib.  It all sounds amazing, right?  Of course, I would love him to be sleeping through the night so that I could actually be sleeping through the night again too.  But right now, it’s just not working for him.  He is still hungry.  He still seems to need the comfort too.  He still has an upset belly and writhes around in agony when I leave him flat on his back for too long.  I almost feel like a failure at motherhood by not having him sleeping through the night as the pediatricians deem I should.  I spoke to another breastfeeding mama and she suggested I reach out to La Leche League for guidance.  Here’s the response I got:

“It is VERY common for babies that young to need contact with their parents at night.  Not all babies do, but most do more often than not (your first two were the easy ones!).  Both of mine did, and lots of moms I help have babies that only sleep well when they are with their mothers.  And 3-4 hour stretches are wonderful at this age!  The idea that a four month old should sleep through the night is a myth.  All babies will get their when they are ready.  It’s like walking and talking — all on their own schedule.” – WW @ La Leche League

So I decided that for now, I am just going to go with the flow of things and let the chips fall where they may.  As I’ve said before, M won’t be sleeping with me until he’s in college.  For now, if he needs the extra comfort, so be it.  He’s got a bum rap with the belly issues and I am willing to afford him a little extra TLC.  I’ll deal with the sleep issues a little later on.

So again, this all leads back to the idea that Mother Knows Best is an important way for all new moms to lead their lives.  We are the ones that know our children.  We are the ones that have to deal with the issues our children face.  We are the ones there for the scrapes and bad dreams and bullies and new foods, etc.  We should be advocates for our children and for their health and well being.  We should come to the table armed with all the knowledge we get from our doctors, from reading, from our personal experiences.  Even recently, one pediatrician in my practice said to me that her advice was simply that, ADVICE.  It wasn’t the end all be all and it wasn’t necessarily what she would do with her own child (she may or may not).  It was the advice she received in her medical training and after all, she is my doctor and I came to her for medical advice.  So she gave it and told me to take it at face-value and work with it the way that it works best for my family.

So I extend a hand of support to all the mamas young and old out there that advocate for their child/children and I am here to join you in the journey of discovering what works best for your family.  I’m always here to toss around ideas and to listen if you ever need to reach out…

I’ll be posting soon about the importance of advocating for our own health-care and well-being too.  Stay tuned…

And for now, go break all the rules – cuddle with your sleeping newborn throughout the night.  Give your child OJ instead of whole milk… It will all work out in the end 🙂

 

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Love is in the air (thanks to a wedding and some shots!)

This past Sunday evening, I watched one of my dearest friends of over fifteen years marry the woman he loves in a beautiful Jewish wedding ceremony.  The evening was perfect, filled with an abundance of love between the beautiful couple, but also emanating from all the family and friends surrounding them.  Despite all that it took for them to get to the altar, their walk down the aisle was everything it was meant to be – spiritual and filled with love.  As I sat watching my friend’s eyes as his bride walked towards him, I started to tear up.  I was so proud of him.  But the tears were also happy tears of nostalgia as I thought back to my own trip down the aisle and what it took for E and I to get there.  And what it took for us to get to where we are now in our love and in our relationship.

Wedding ready

Wedding ready

This is certainly one of the most intimate posts I will ever write, but I think it’s necessary.  Too often, young couples feel isolated in their marital ups and downs, especially once children are added to the equation.  It’s taboo to share the hard times, but seems superficial to only share the wonderful moments.  When we look on Facebook, everyone’s lives look so perfect – happy smiling faces on vacation, at the park, out to dinner, holding hands… But there’s more to a relationship than only perfect moments.  There are hard times.  There are trying times.  There are times you thought you couldn’t love each other any more than already do, and then your heart bursts with appreciation.  Over time, I’ve realized, love is not stationary.  It’s constantly evolving.

When I met my husband, I would characterize myself as a smart, but naïve nineteen-year old enthralled with the idea that an “older” guy was interested in her.  Our relationship progressed gradually and easily.  I was away at college and E was home working and we would travel back and forth between Binghamton and Long Island for weekends with each other.  Every time he arrived, my heart would literally skip a beat and every time he left, I cried for hours (literally hours).  The nature of our relationship was centered around the comings and goings and the moments in between we could fill with calls and cards and emails.  E was romantic and sweet and I was in love.  We shared an “I love you” several months after we started dating.  Like most first “I love yous” it was awkward, but meaningful.

E was romantic and I liked that about him, even if half of his romantic gestures went unnoticed until years later.  Let me explain… When I met E, he was obsessed with making CDs.  I have so many CDs from him.  At nineteen, I listened to the music and thought, “this guy is old – he’s giving me all CDs with 70s music!”  It was only years later, when our love was stronger and I was more confident in our relationship that I sat down to listen to the music and realized that every song on the CD was a romantic ballad – a testament to our love.  Oh how I wish I had realized it in the moment, but the sentiment traveled beyond those years and when I need a reminder of the strong foundation of our love, I whip one out and listen.

We met each other’s families, took vacations together.  E watched me graduate college.  We moved in together.  I graduated graduate school.  We both had careers. We got a dog.  We were having fun and we were in love and happy.  We were building the foundations of a happy life together.

But not all moments were perfect, nor are they perfect now.  We fought because of distance.  We fought over E’s continuing to smoke cigarettes even when I vehemently put my foot down (he’s since quit – smoke free for many years – great work!).  We argued about money, about family.  We argued about whose work was more important and we argued about keeping up the romance, we argued about being there for each other when it counted (I needed more from E than he was able to give at times… no one’s fault, but the reality of the situation).  The usual suspects – all very normal, but in the moment, life-shaking.

We decided to start trying for a baby and I fell ill (as I’ve said before, more on that when we have the time and a bottle of wine).  I spent most of my recovery period with my parents. My mom was available to take care of me 24/7 emotionally and physically.  At the time, my husband was not.  The stress of the illness took a toll on our relationship.  When I was well, we decided to take a short trip to DC together and we rekindled the romance and some of the trust lost.  It was a perfect transition to start our next transition – parenthood.

Pregnant with J at E's work party

Pregnant with J at E’s work party

When I found out I was pregnant, we were elated and we spent the months of my pregnancy enjoying good food, long walks, trips to the pool, a rainy, but beautiful babymoon to Aruba.  We also shared anxiety over delivery, child-rearing, family problems.  We were a ball of different emotions, but we were both excited and in love with each other and the idea of having a baby.

I suffered a traumatic delivery with J (have a second bottle of wine? I’ll tell you that story), which kind of shook us both up.  We went home from the hospital with a beautiful and healthy baby boy, but we were both shaken by the trauma, along with our newfound roles and responsibilities.  We were sleepless and we were struggling to stay awake, let alone make time for each other.  E went back to work and I found solace in my quiet days spent walking with J and our late-night cuddle sessions.  We did a lot of things as a threesome and tried our best to keep up a healthy relationship with each other, but it was hard.  Not many people will admit to that.  I’m here to tell all new parents out there – it is normal to struggle.  It is normal to love your spouse so much for giving you a beautiful baby, but to equally hate him/her for waking a sleeping baby after you just get him/her down.  The love-hate line is very fine in those early months of parenthood.

Celebrating our anniversary at Serendipty (kid free)

Celebrating our anniversary at Serendipty (kid free)

Over the course of two years, we worked hard to solidify our relationship and we worked hard to maintain an open dialogue.  We smiled and fought and laughed and cried and played together.  Despite it all, we were having fun.  We traveled.  We made new friends.  We bought a house.  We got pregnant again.

When B was born, money was tight, which meant relationship problems resurfaced.  There wasn’t money to spend on date nights.  We had to create our own at home fun, which wasn’t always easy when we had two children demanding our attention.  We pushed through it all, got the help we needed when we needed it and we came through even stronger.  We learned to put each other and our children first, above everyone else, which is really a very valuable lesson.  We supported each other.

Two months before we found out we were pregnant with baby M, I would have to say we were at an all-time peak of happiness in our relationship.  We were a strong unit.  We were having a great time together.  We were healthy and happy.  Our kids were great.  We won a trip to Hawaii.  I turned thirty and we got pregnant.  We had a wonderful nine months of happy times and fun family outings, and we made sure to plan lots of quality “E & C” time away from the kids so that we could focus on the importance of being a couple, not just parents.

M was born and the sleep went away again and the pressures of being a family of five mounted and we’ve found ourselves once again in a position where we are unsure where we stand as a couple.  There seems to be literally no time for just us.  The difference now though, is that we know we are fundamentally strong enough to weather through it all.  We work together even when it feels like we are 1000 miles apart.  We fight to get back to each other and we fight for our love.

The truth is, I’ve never stopped loving E, but the love has evolved.  It’s changed over the years.  When we first met, it was young, new, exciting.  I loved the fun of it all.  When we stood together under the Chuppah and recited traditional Jewish marriage vows, our love felt spiritual, strong, eternal.  When we had our children, our love felt all-encompassing, but sometimes spread thin.

Kissing under the chuppah

Kissing under the chuppah

We’ve also changed as individuals over the years.  I am no longer a nineteen year old college girl.  I worked hard for my degrees and battled with a life-altering illness and gave birth to three beautiful boys that I choose to stay home to raise.  My husband is no longer a man trying to figure out who he wants to be (well for the most part – he still has visions of owning a restaurant or taking over the world – and he has my full support!).  He’s a great provider, a wonderful father, a hard worker.  And we’ve changed as a couple too… And I believe that is all normal.  I’m an honest person and I believe in being honest about my relationship.  Sometimes it sucks.  Sometimes it is so amazing.  And sometimes it’s just what it is – getting through the day and making sure everyone is still breathing!

I don’t know if all couples fight the way that E and I do.  I don’t know if all couples love as passionately as we do when we are at our best.  After long conversations with many friends with children, I suspect we are not alone in the ups and downs and in the “how-to’s” of maintaining a relationship with each other separate from household chores, jobs, and the children…. But, what I do know, is that this is all normal for us and it’s how we make it work.  I couldn’t imagine a moment in my life without his love and his hand to hold (even when he makes me madder than mad!).  Not long after we met, E called me his girlfriend and I was elated.  But what has stayed with me all these years even more in the forefront of my mind and heart is that E told me that I was more than just his girlfriend.  I was his best friend.  I had always reserved the title best friend for my dearest bungalow girlfriends or my college roommate, but to hear my boyfriend turned husband say that I was his best friend was truly a profound and life-altering moment for me… Because the truth is, despite it all, he is my best friend and he probably always will be, no matter where life leads us.  He’s been a part of my life for a very long time and he’s shared so many of my “life’s greatest moments.”

As we danced the night away at my friend’s wedding, E recanted how much he loves me and how lucky he is to have me as a wife and how thankful he is that I put up with him when he’s being a pain.  I laughed and blamed his outpouring of love on the tequila shots.  I think those shots gave him the liquid courage to say what his heart needed to say, when sometimes life (and 3 kids) gets in the way.  So I want to say thank you to the tequila for making the love-song singable for my husband.  And I want to say thank you to my friends’ wedding ceremony for reminding me what it felt like to stand under the chuppah with my husband, so filled with love.  It’s in these moments that I remember what it is we are fighting so hard for – to keep the love and romance alive, no matter what obstacles come our way…

So cheers to love & tequila!

Post shots and lots of "I love yous"

Post shots and lots of “I love yous”

 

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Baking, Dinner, & Bedtime Cheer (or Madness?)

Just a quick post to share a few fun, funny, crazy happenings in the M household this evening.

Let’s start with my bright idea to bake Guilt Free Cookies (check them out here https://milkfreemama.com/?page_id=16) in the middle of the afternoon while my toddler and four year old ran wild.  I eventually put them both in  their room, with a child gate up and figured they might as well stick to trashing just one room instead of the whole house.  At least baby M got in on the baking (and the bumbo seat!).

I was not intentionally implying he's a "mega chunk," although M is my chunkiest baby!

I was not intentionally implying he’s a “mega chunk,” although M is my chunkiest baby!

We sat down to dinner and since I took a night off from “real” cooking, I defrosted a piece of chicken and topped it with hearts of palm, cooked up some frozen sweet fries, fresh zucchini roasted with coconut oil spray and sea salt and chowed down.  Delicious.

Yummy dinner.  Grilled chicken, hearts of palm, sweet fries, and roasted zucchini

Yummy dinner. Grilled chicken, hearts of palm, sweet fries, and roasted zucchini

After dinner, the kids were allowed a small snack and B tried the Guilt Free Cookies.  He was sort-of into them, but ultimately just smushed the chocolate all over himself.  At least he had fun.

Chocolate mess with Guilt Free Cookies

Chocolate mess with Guilt Free Cookies

We then moved onto bath and bedtime.  Bedtime has been sheer madness lately, (see “When the house is actually quiet, I reflect…”).  J decided to repurpose his tall-standing laundry basket into, “the greatest bed invention ever.”  He stuffed it with his favorite night-time items and put his blanket over the top and pillows at the opening.  He insisted he get to sleep inside.  I didn’t have the strength to argue.  B figured out how to climb over the first child-gate (OMG!) and scared the crap out of me by barging into the bathroom while I was in the shower.  He stayed a minute to coo at a crying baby M in his bouncy seat on the bathroom floor, and then ran back to his room, climbed over the gate, and sat down on a sleeping J’s head.  That went on for a while until I wised up and put a second gate up.  He tried to climb that, but when he realized he couldn’t, he ran around his room like a crazy-man and eventually passed out fast asleep on the floor next to his older brother.  Apparently, the floor is more comfortable (and fun) than their expensive mattresses (could’ve saved a bundle had I known!).

the double gate

the double gate

J & B sleeping on the floor together

J & B sleeping on the floor together

And there you have it folks.  Time for me to put the computer away and sit down to binge eat some So Delicious soy and dairy free ice cream and watch some Grey’s Anatomy (if I can find it on my DVR in between Octonauts, Bubble Guppies, and Caillou).

 

 

 

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MILK FREE MAMA CHALLENGE

Happy Spring everyone!  The Milk Free Mama Challenge is here… Check it out, get involved, share it 🙂

https://milkfreemama.com/?page_id=18

self worth 1

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When the house is actually quiet, I reflect…and binge watch Scandal

Lately, the M household has been beyond chaotic and rowdy at bedtime.  It amazes me how quickly everything can go from completely calm to pure chaos, but I am here to tell you it is possible.  My household is living proof.

I pride myself on being a very scheduled mom.  It works for my kids.  Or let me say, it worked for my kids.  Now they seem to think they are in charge of the bedtime schedule.  We’re still working on the same routine frame-work — dinner, pick out pjs, bath/shower, books, goodnight kisses.  Except now after the kisses, comes the chaos.  Since J & B started sharing a room, my two amazing sleepers have started keeping each other awake.  It’s adorable how much they love each other that they literally want to play all night long, but that’s not working out so well for my night routine nor for their day routines (J has bags under his eyes and he’s walking around school like a zombie!).

I’m not quite sure how we are going to get the boys to start sleeping better together.  We’ve tried rotating the bunk bed order so that they each get a turn on the top.  No dice.  We’ve tried letting them just exhaust themselves playing.  No dice.  They unscrewed light-bulbs and took picture frames off the wall (see my post about them being adorable little terrorists!).  There are tears, there are laughs, there are big bangs.  Part of me wants to laugh and a big part of me wants to cry!  The days are becoming too long – starting with early risers at 5:30/6am and having them laughing and crying and trashing their room until 9:30 at night!  Not working for anyone.  We tried separating them.  We let J have a special “couch” sleepover and then we moved him back to his bed.  Once separated, they both fell asleep nicely.  But that’s not too cohesive with our boys sharing a room.  I told E it’s time to upgrade to a 4 bedroom house.  He told me it’s time to move B back to the nursery since M refuses to sleep in his crib anyway.  Stalemate.

Then I have baby M who is almost 4 months old and is an attachment sleeper.  Yes, I am partly to blame because I let it go on for so long, but I also blame his gastro issues for making him so darn fussy and uncomfortable sleeping flat on his back that he wound up in my arms in my bed…The only way either of us could get any sleep.  Now it’s a matter of teaching him to sleep on his own and it’s time for me to cut the chord.  I am not sure either of us are quite ready yet.  More on that at a later date…

It’s only when the kids are asleep, wherever they are sleeping, and the house quiets down that I am able to reflect on just how blessed I feel and just how much I love my boys.  During the day, it’s sometimes hard to remember when one is crying, one is whining, one is throwing a tantrum, and I am stepping over toys on the floor like they are mines.  In those moments I want wine or a tranquilizer or a vacation away from my life.  But as quickly as those moments come, is just as quickly as they pass.  And it’s when the house is still that I recount the day’s events and laugh.  I think about how smart J is and I mull over the 1,000 questions he asked me throughout the day.  Or I think about how strong and funny B is for such a little boy.  Or how adorable and advanced M is for a baby.  It all amazes me.  I sit and I think about how I got to this point in my life.  All that it took to get here and where I want it all to go from here.  I think about my future aspirations beyond motherhood and I think about all that it takes to be a good mother and what that means to me.  And then when that’s all done, I sit down to watch Scandal (or any other amazing mindless television that will transport me to another world).  And I fall asleep dreaming about my kids (and having an affair with President Grant – thank you Kerry Washington!).

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Gastro Update

Little M and I went to the gastro on Monday and he was fully impressed with M’s progress.  He’s gaining weight fantastically (23 oz in 2 weeks – wow wow!) and he’s all smiles.  Since I’ve been avoiding nuts and eggs along with dairy and soy after a bad diaper, the dr. suggested I add nuts back into my diet for one week (slowly) and then the following week to add back baked eggs (like in a cake – yummy!).  We’ll see how it goes… Being dairy and soy free is doing wonders for his belly and he’s truly the happiest little baby.  Next adventure – getting M to sleep peacefully (and on his own!).  Thanks for following our journey.  More posts to come soon 🙂

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Recipe Update

It’s been just under two months of a completely dairy and soy free diet and I must say, I am doing pretty well.  I’ve found lots of suitable substitutes for some of my must-haves (like fro-yo) and eating out has become less tedious since I started planning ahead.  Last night, we went out for Mexican food and I called the restaurant a week ahead of time to go over the menu with the manager to make sure there were suitable options.  I also asked if I could bring my own chips (since the ones they have are fried in vegetable/soy-bean oil) and the manager made sure the waitress was aware of my allergy before I even sat down at the table and they even brought me a basket to put my very own chips in so I didn’t feel like the odd-person out during guacamole time.  For those of you that live on Long Island, you should definitely give Cara Cara Mexican in Farmingdale a try.  The food is delicious and they are very accommodating to people with allergies (well at least they were with me!).  But I digress…

Cara Cara Chicken Tacos with jicama

Cara Cara Chicken Tacos with jicama

I’m posting today to remind everyone to check out my recipe page.  I recently added a delicious slow-cooked Korean Beef.  Last week, I made a yummy meatloaf dish.  Tonight, I am making Moroccan Chicken again and my house smells delicious.  Yesterday, I was so in the mood for pancakes.  I bought the Bisquick Healthy Start mix, which only contains wheat.  Since I am trying to avoid eggs and nuts now after a bad diaper last week, I wasn’t sure how to make the pancakes without the eggs.  I decided to use coconut milk as a substitute for the regular skim milk and instead of the egg whites, I used organic apple sauce.  I jazzed the mix up a bit by adding a dash of vanilla and a pinch of cinnamon.  I let my kids top theirs with colored sprinkles and I made my batch with blueberries.  Delicious!

pancakes

 

Lunch-time seems to be my most difficult meal of the day since I am always at a loss of what to eat.  If I can’t eat nut butter and I already ate granola for breakfast and I plan to eat pasta or chicken for dinner, what’s left for lunch?!  I’ve been pounding chicken breasts and grilling them with coconut oil spray, a dash of garlic powder, pepper, and sea salt.  I cook and freeze the chicken and pull it out when I need a lunch or dinner option.  I pair the chicken with kale salad or a corn tortilla and avocado or even with sweet potatoes.

I’m thinking of adding some non-allergy friendly recipes to the blog as well.  Thoughts?

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Birthday Love

I recently celebrated my birthday and I have to share two cards that I received because they both literally sum up my existence at this very moment in time:

A perfect card from my cousin TP.

A perfect card from my cousin TP.

Just in case you can’t read exactly what it says, the topless party animal on the top corner says, “I wanna dance!!! And sing drunken karaoke!!! And get some tattoos!! And do belly shots off a stranger!!! And rob a Bank!!! And…”  The man asks, “What’s up with her?” and the friend comments, “She’s got three kids… Doesn’t get out much…”

I don’t know what it is about having a third kid, but after having my third, I did suddenly have the urge to be wilder.  I have the urge to party, to drink, to dance, to sing, to be crazy, & more!  I didn’t make a NYE resolution this year, but I think now that I just celebrated my birthday, it’s the perfect time to resolve to go with the instinct to step outside of my comfort zone and take back a little bit of my inner-wild child and to push myself to be even more adventurous and outrageous (with all things – clothing, activities, foods, parenting).  After all, when E met me, I did own a leather bustier and leopard pants!  So far, I bought neon-colored sneakers instead of the same old black and gray variations I usually go for and I added some auburn coloring to my hair (completely temporary, but a big step for me nonetheless!)

Another perfect card & note from my "lil sis" EJ.

Another perfect card & note from my “lil sis” EJ.

I also received this winning card for my little sister in my sorority.  She knows me so well.  I love the commentary, “Or Mandel bread/Leggings!”

So here’s to a year of adventures and stepping outside of my comfort zone in more ways than one.  Who’s with me?!

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Breastfeeding in Public?

breastfeeding

I recently saw this photo posted on Facebook with the caption “Breastfeeding in public – what’s the stigma where you live?”  I literally laughed out loud.  Like I’ve said in previous posts, I am all for a mama’s right to choose how to nourish her baby.  I choose to breastfeed because that’s what I choose.  I don’t need to explain my reasons publicly any more than a  bottle-feeding mom needs to explain her reasons (but if you want my reason, feel free to contact me and I will be happy to chat all about it!) 

With that all being said, as a nursing mom, here’s my take on the stigma:  In American culture, breasts are considered hyper-sexualized and it is not acceptable for women to walk around topless.  I’m fine with that.  What I’m not fine with is that a nursing mother is made to feel like she needs to hide herself behind a shroud to feed her infant.  Personally, I was never comfortable bearing it all in public while nursing.  I always covered myself with a thin blanket.  However, more power to the mamas that don’t feel the need.  I think as long as nursing is done tastefully and not in a way that the mom is purposely making a spectacle of herself, there should be no stigma to doing something natural.  If it’s acceptable to see breasts blown up on billboards and in magazines, why is it unacceptable to see a mother feeding her infant?

So I am throwing the question back out there – What’s the stigma about nursing in public in your area or even in your own household?

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