Monday, November 28, 2011

Busy with mommy-hood

Hey there everyone,

I will have to take a break from blogging this week as I have my hands full today (ummm, maybe that's every day). Please check back next week.

Hope you had a good Thanksgiving,

Monday, November 21, 2011

Turning perfectionism into optimalism

I’ve always been a bit of an idealist and a dreamer, and now my daughter is teaching me that what I thought was dreamy and romantic has always been perfectionism in disguise.

My perfectionism permeates every part of my life. And when it comes to health and living with diabetes, I have grand expectations of myself. I will go to great lengths to cure my body, live in perfect health, and have amazing blood sugars. But then, I get completely frustrated after pricking my finger and seeing a high or low sugar. I think about how I exercised and ate just right, counted my carbs and yet my sugars don’t always hit the perfect mark. And then whatever joy I had in what I was doing or whomever I was with at the time disappears and turns to stress and anxiety. And well, unhappiness.

I didn’t really think that I was such a big-time perfectionist though until I was watching my baby daughter Aria play, and I saw some of my own traits in her. That’s when the light bulb went off.

I was trying to figure out her frustrations. Babies nowadays are given tummy time since they sleep on their backs all night. And they sleep for something like sixteen hours a day. That’s a lot of time on your back! Time on their tummies is precious as it helps them learn a bunch of things like crawling and rolling over. Sounds nice huh? Yeah, well, because they spend much of their time on the backs, they don’t really like being on their tummies. And boy do they complain about it.

Aria has slowly gotten used to being on her tummy as she’s gotten stronger. And she has been rolling from her back to her tummy for over a month now. But after a few minutes on her tummy, she gets very frustrated and starts to scream. I figured she just didn’t like it, and so I showed her how to roll back. But then she’d roll back to her tummy again five seconds later. An automatic reflex? Probably. Babies tend to try to do things until they’ve mastered it. But then my husband noticed that she would make motions with her hands on the floor, kick her legs, and that she was staring straight ahead as though on a quest to get somewhere else. My husband realized immediately that she was trying to crawl.

I was amazed that she was even trying to crawl because she’s only six and a half months old. Actually she’s five and a half months old if you calculate her corrected age (which you do when a baby is born premature). And crawling is a nine-month old baby milestone. And then I realized – she was trying really hard to do something unrealistic for her age. It could very well be normal baby behavior, although my son doesn’t act that way. Each baby does develop differently. But what gets me is how frustrated she gets that she can’t do it yet. Where did she learn that from? Of course I first assumed that she had learned it from my husband. But then I realized: Had she learned to be a perfectionist like me?

I wasn’t searching for an answer when I found it. I was randomly reading a selection entitled “Perfectionism and Optimalism” from Even Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar, positive psychologist and the teacher of the most popular course at Harvard.

“The key difference,” between the perfectionist and optimalist, Ben-Shahar writes, is that “the former essentially rejects reality while the latter accepts it.” He says that the perfectionist expects “her path toward any goal – and indeed, her entire journey through life-to be direct, smooth, and free of obstacles.” And when things don’t turn out as a perfectionist had planned, she is extremely frustrated and has difficulty coping. And that could describe my daughter’s bout with trying to crawl at five and a half months of age – and my, well, entire approach to life - to a tee.

An even happier way to approach life is as an optimalist – a person who accepts obstacles as a natural part of life’s journey. “She understands that failure to get the job she wanted or getting into a fight with her spouse is part and parcel of a full and fulfilling life; she learns what she can from these experiences and emerges stronger and more resilient.”

Ben-Shahar tells us that perfectionists pay a high emotional price. Their rejection of failure leads to anxiety. They tend to set unrealistic standards for success. And because they never meet these standards, they “are constantly plagued by feelings of frustration and inadequacy.”

Optimalists on the other hand derive great emotional benefit, according to Ben-Shahar, and are able to lead rich and very fulfilling lives by accepting that failure is natural. “They experience less performance anxiety and derive more enjoyment from their activities.” They set goals they can actually attain because they are aware of their limitations.

I would like to learn to be more like an optimalist. Not only for my daughter’s sake, but for mine as well. Ben-Shahar suggests a mindful approach to turning perfectionism into optimalism, such as journaling on areas where you are a perfectionist and areas where you tend to be more like an optimalist.

I can say that I’m a perfectionist when it comes to art and design, and I am an optimalist when I write. Which may be why I write, but don’t paint or draw even though I want to. I can’t help but wonder: What would I be doing if perfectionism – or fear of failure – wasn’t holding me back?

I heard myself saying to Aria the other day, “You can do it. Keep practicing. Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Perhaps I should take the words I use to encourage my daughter – for myself.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Fall detox gone....bad?

I have been looking for ways to clear the inflammation and pain in my right hip (I lost range of motion after a c-section in May), and I got my inspiration to try an Ayurvedic fall detox from wellness coach and stage 4 breast cancer survivor Kris Carr last week while reading the October edition of Yoga Journal.

“Inflammation is stress that comes from what you’re eating, drinking, and thinking, and it’s a root cause of chronic disease.” She promotes plant-based diets in her interview to balance your body’s pH, while decreasing acidic foods like animal products, processed sugars, and starches. “But it’s not just what we’re eating that affects our health; it’s also what’s eating us – how well we sleep, sweat, and love, and whether or not we’re committing to our Down Dogs.”

I grappled. I couldn’t see myself adopting a plant-based, vegan diet as a lifestyle. I like steak, yogurt, cakes, and cookies. Oh yeah, she also says to ditch the dairy (animal product). I have no problem with doing yoga, meditating, or loving. I never had a problem with sleep until I got pregnant, but I’m sure I can get that back again once the kids sleep through the night without a peep – hopefully that’ll be some time soon. But no animal products or starches? Yikes.

I thought I’d do a detox instead since it might bring me the peace and balance that I am looking for, and hopefully reduce the inflammation in my hip. But it’s not a permanent life change, although could inspire some changes.

The Ayurvedic fall detox, also found in the October edition, has a few steps: 1. Slowing down – purposefully; 2. The Detox diet; 3. Cleansing daily yoga; 4. Self-study/reflection.

I didn’t have any appointments scheduled last week, and so I thought it was the perfect time to give it a go. The diet consists of ginger tea, carrot-ginger soup, beans, and a dish called Kitchari, made of rice and mung beans made throughout Asia to purify the body. I asked my husband, a great cook, to make enough for four days, and I bought organic brands of the rest. Yoga Journal provides daily yoga videos on-line, and I scheduled a babysitter so that I could sit for an hour on Wednesday and meditate in nature and journal on finding peace and balance.

Determined to find “the answer” to everything that is challenging me these days, I set out on the detox religiously. I ate the kitchari twice a day as advised and drank unsweetened ginger tea and did the yoga videos. At first I didn’t notice any difference, but by the end of the first day, I noticed that my day flowed so easily. I was, dare I say, happy. I felt less encumbered by silly mind ramblings and rants. The kids were happier too. They were eating well, sleeping hard, and playing happily. I was writing better and finding time to do everything I had in mind for the day without stressing about it. I began to organize things around the house and even cleaned a bit. By the second day, I set out to conquer a fear of mine. This may sound silly, but I took my six month old twins out all on my own to run some errands despite some really, really bad experiences doing so in the past.

By the third day, I was more focused on how hungry I was than on peace and a flexible hip. And the kitchari, well to be polite, is not my taste. Okay, let’s just be blunt: It’s really nasty and bland. I added salt. Not very mindfully detox of me. But I added salt, and it still tasted nasty and bland. I reflected by the river that morning, and got the answers I was looking for. I felt like I had done what I needed to do. And so by the end of day three, I made myself eggs and toast for dinner. By day four, I had re-introduced yogurt and had salmon for dinner. By day five, I was eating meat again and didn’t even do yoga that morning. By day six, my hip was bothering me again. I even had a bad episode over the weekend and started complaining again about stress.

How did my fall detox go...bad? Well, you could just say that the kitchari was nasty and I was hungry. But I’m pretty sure there’s more to it than that. Perhaps a bit of self-sabotage? What would I do with my life...what would I think about....if I was actually happy, at peace, and balanced? Bottom line: I bolted. And there's always a reason, a lesson, when we self-sabotage. When we reach for a cookie when we're on a diet, or when we don't finish a project we know will be good for us and others.

So what’s a girl to do? Accept that life is not all roses. Challenges are a part of life. And to be mindful that sometimes we stray. And learn the lesson.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Keeping up with the milestones

Does your baby roll over yet? Sleep through the night? Eat solids? How much does your kid weigh? How much tummy time do you give your baby?

I have been thinking a lot about weight gain and milestones lately. Mainly because just about every pediatric doctor, specialist, and physical therapist that I have encountered has made a point of me thinking about it. And, to be totally honest, because a few friends of mine have given birth to healthy babies, full term ones, around the same time that Ethan and Aria were born. And so I’ve been stressing about catching up my kids to the other full-term babies. On top of that, the doctors give me homework to do with my almost six month old kids and instructions and follow-up appointments. And not to divulge too much, but we see quite a number of doctors and physical therapists as a result of Ethan’s pre-maturity and being born very small.

So now I’m constantly tracking their corrected age in relation to their developmental stages, and then calculating it in relation to their chronological age. And plotting their weights on growth charts. And waiting for a doctor not to say, “We need to catch him up.” But rather, “He’s exactly where he should be.” Let alone, "Wow, your child is a genius. You better start saving for Harvard now!"

I do not take E’s and A’s development lightly. At all. I appreciate modern medicine – A LOT. And I appreciate the experience that our children’s healthcare team bring to the table. But won’t my children learn to sit even if I don’t buy some special sitter? Does it really matter if they roll over at seven months instead of at six months?

We’re in this constant state of playing catch up that I eagerly want to resolve itself. I'm sick of the doctors, as helpful and supportive as they are. I'm sick of the pressure, the worry, the stress. I'm sick of fretting before each appointment over what they will say and have me do this time.

I'd much rather prefer allowing the journey to unfold naturally, going with the flow, but it’s really hard to do when you have a slew of people checking in with you on your child’s development a few times a week.

Here's the lesson I'm grappling with: I am learning to accept the journey - all of it.

Acceptance doesn't mean resigning yourself to your life situation, according to author of Power of Now Eckhart Tolle. You obviously need to do something about it when faced with challenging situations. Acceptance means facing whatever is happening to you - internally and externally. This can apply to any of life's situations - career, relationships, health/diabetes.

And in my case these days, it's about allowing my children to develop at their own pace. When they’re ready to move to the next step (which happens so fast anyway). And I suppose the doctors are a part of that journey too. As are the moms of full-term babies. The appointments, the homework, the activities, and the letting them be who they are.

There's a lesson in all of it. On living life to the fullest. On not resisting what life hands you and your loved ones. On facing what happens to you, accepting it, and doing something about it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ending the war on feeding issues

Ethan and Aria were born five and a half months ago, and food and feeding issues have re-arisen to the top of my things to think about. And conquer.

Feeding takes on an entirely new meaning when you have two little people totally dependent on you for sustenance. And along with the obvious – meaning feed them - comes how to help them feel better when they have feeding issues like gas or needs a diaper change or bigger concerns.

Aria has taught me quite a bit about eating healthy. She knows exactly what she needs to eat to gain exactly the right amount of weight. While with Ethan, we have gone through an incredibly frustrating and grueling five or so months of trying to figure out why he isn’t eating what he needs to gain a healthy weight and catch up to others his age (he was born premature and very small). We are pretty sure that we’ve figured it out: Turns out that he’s a lactose intolerant foodie who likes to snack sometimes.

But ending the war on feeding issues isn’t only about the kids. My relationship with food has long been an issue for me, as I believe it has been for just about everyone on the planet whether they’re aware of it or not. The babies’ relationship with food, and the need to think about it more than I ever would for myself, has brought to light my own relationship with food. And I’m the better for it. Because now I can declare, I have ended my own war with feeding issues and my body.

Geneen Roth, author of Women, Food, and God says it best. We all have a relationship with food and eating that is reflective of how we approach life and our values.

I’ll share with you a smidgen of my own saga. Food has been the bane of my existence and also my savior, a source for strength and comfort, and a passion. I love food, especially really good food, and I also feel guilty because of food, like I’m never quite eating just right. Diabetes and celiac comes with restrictions and rules. You need to eat just the right amounts and right kinds or your body goes haywire. I know this, and I want to be fit and healthy. I feel better when I am. But when I see a beautiful meal, I can’t help but indulge a bit. And like many people, I also see food as love and family. I socialize around it. Holiday dinners revolve around food. I try to be conscious of what I’m eating, and yet somehow, it never turns out quite right. A sugar goes high, the weight doesn’t go down, but I also want to sit around the table with family and friends and enjoy. And then the guilt enters, the feeling bad about myself, the perfectionist that is me.

Alright, so how did I get from there to now? The end of my own personal war with food?

I was obsessing over Ethan’s feeding issues. I cannot even begin to describe to you how difficult dealing with an infant’s feeding issues is. Babies can’t really tell you what’s bothering them, and days are filled with crying and discomfort. So you have to observe closely, read the signs and symptoms, and try things out. We tried a lot of things out – from gas drops to tests and medications for reflux. But I’ll talk more about that another time. The point is: We needed it to be resolved. For his health. And for our health. And all of our sanity. Bottom line: He wasn’t reaching his potential because he wasn’t getting the proper nutrition, and it weighed down on all of us.

I would pray, meditate, journal, talk about it, talk about it again, then cry about it, pray some more, do some yoga, journal. And then I asked for spiritual guidance. Which I tend to do under these kinds of circumstances. And I got it.

First, his feeding issues are his journey, and I can’t control it. I need to go with the flow, and listen closely to my intuition.

And, I can use the opportunity to learn what I can about my own issues with food. I decided to re-visit Geneen Roth’s book in audio form.

Then the answers started coming regarding Ethan. We tried a lactose free formula. There are a number of them, and quite frankly they really stink. I mean they smell really bad. And he didn’t like them. We tried three until we found one that he likes. And bingo, he’s eating like a champ.

And as the answers were coming to us about Ethan, the answers were coming to me as well. I went to the mall one day for a break.

I was so tired from the sleepless nights and very long, tiring days. I asked for spiritual guidance again. Not about me or my own feeding issues. Just a general, I need help. Please. Now. I begged for a cleaner and two live-in nannies. To win the lottery. To have a house large enough for the live-in nannies. To have my life back again.

I was wandering aimlessly around Barnes and Noble thinking about these two amazing kids, but not really figuring out where I should go or what I should do. And I remembered something my doctor said to me, the OB/GYN who delivered the twins. He told me that we had been through so much, and it’s my job now to transform all of the fear of losing him and everything we went through with him at the NICU for three and a half months - to joy. He said, "What's the point of having kids if you aren't going to feel joy?"

That statement stuck with me. Why was I having such trouble transforming it to joy? And I realized that I’ve always been like this though, haven’t I? Never quite satisfied, always looking for trouble and obsessing over fixing it.

I walked out into the main part of the mall and sat on a bench for a moment to rest. And then I looked up and saw a large sign in one of the store windows: Get over it.

Those words stuck with me, but still didn’t quite penetrate. The hint hadn’t quite sunk in yet. Not until I left the mall and went out to my car to go home. I put on the audio CD of Geneen Roth’s Women, Food, and God, and sure enough, the first words I heard were, “Chapter Two: Ending the war.”

I didn’t need to hear anything else. What am I fighting for? I can choose my own battles with myself. And I choose peace of mind. I had been searching for some magical antidote. A message like: Go to five sessions of reiki and all of your problems will be solved. It doesn’t quite work like that though. And to be honest, I wasn’t even thinking about my relationship with food or my body, even though I was listening to a book about Women, Food, and God. I was actually listening to it more for an epiphany regarding Ethan – not me.

I decided that day to end the war. I wasn’t sure exactly which war. But it was going to end. I decided to stop battling with myself.

A few days later, I realized that I actually love my body. I hadn’t been searching for that. And I realized that it felt really good to feel that way for the first time in my life. Alas, the war has ended.