My “Mighty” Milk Mom

Breastmilk donation has brought some amazing people into my life. Dedicated, loving moms and families from various backgrounds, faiths, and lineages. Their stories have varied, their struggles differed, but their determination to nourish their children with breastmilk has remained a communal tie.

One of my remarkable recipients was recently featured on “The Mighty.” This woman is one of the funniest, most positive, most headstrong and determined people I know. I began donating to her just days before she woke up paralyzed one morning. I remember her recounting her story of sudden onset paralysis as I pumped that day at work.

My milk recipient prior to the sudden paralysis

My milk recipient prior to the sudden paralysis

Can you imagine waking up one day, hearing your infant crying in the other room — just like any other day — and then you realize your legs won’t move? Did she melt into a sobbing puddle on the bed? Nope. Did she lose her cool and not know what to do? Nope. That woman dragged herself down the hall, collected her son, and just did it. She conducted her whole day as best she could like a bad ass because she is strong, she is tough, she is hopeful, she is Mighty.

My milk recipient after the sudden paralysis

My milk recipient after the sudden paralysis

Please watch this brief video to get a glimpse of just how impressive this woman is. If it doesn’t give you goosebumps, check your pulse.

How fortunate I feel that our paths crossed.  Milk donation is a gift that goes both ways. This woman is a force, a light, a warrior. May we all be a bit more like her.

My Favorite Dairy-free Items

Looking for dairy-free grocery must-haves? These are mine.

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(Please note: I am not anaphylactic to dairy, so potential cross-contamination through shared equipment is acceptable for me. If that risk is unsuitable for you, please do not venture the gamble. As always, be sure to read the product labels thoroughly before ingesting; you never know when a recipe may get switched.)

Milk: Silk Cashewmilk

Heavy cream substitute: Thai Kitchen Coconut Cream

Butter substitute: Soy-Free Earth’s Balance Buttery Spread or Wegman’s Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, Unrefined

Parmesan cheese substitute: Red Star Nutritional Yeast

Chocolate chips: Enjoy Life Mini Chips

Sliced cheese substitute: Field Roast Creamy Original Chao Slices (for a provolone-like flavor), GoVeggie Vegan Cheddar Singles (for a melty, cheddar flavor)

Cream cheese substitute: Kite Hill Plain Cream Cheese Style Spread (only available at Whole Foods), or Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese (for a more widely available option… it’s not actually “better than cream cheese” but it’ll do.)

Brie substitute: Kite Hill Soft-Ripened Cheese (my dairy-eating husband actually prefers this to standard brie, do note that he’s a beer-burger-and-baseball kind of guy.)

Sour cream substitute: Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream

Bread: Wegmans Whole Grain White Bread for a kid-approved sliced option, Food for Life Ezekiel 4:9 7 Sprouted Grain Bread for an earthier variety, or Country White or Honey Whole Wheat Bread from Great Harvest for a fresh option

Yogurt substitute: So Delicious Cultured Coconut Milk Yogurt Alternative 

Ice Cream substitute: Luna & Larry’s Organic Coconut Bliss

Chicken, seafood, or beef stock: Kitchen Basics Stock (I use this in place of broth)

Dairy-free wine: (yep, there’s dairy used in wine manufacturing) Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc

Dairy-free cheesy crackers: Earth’s Balance Vegan Cheddar-Flavored Crackers

Pre-prepared soup: LAJ Foods’ soup varieties

Granola bars: Dark Chocolate Chunk KIND Bar

Cereal: Original Cheerios

Snacking chocolate: barkTHINS

Tortilla chips: UTZ Multigrain Tortillas

What other dairy-free products are you looking for? Let me know and I’ll do some product research.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

So often we feel judged or disappointed by others when really it is ourselves at the root of the negativity. If we choose to be upset, to feel failed by others, that will be our path. However — as irksome as it is to admit — the choice to experience those emotions is ours and we cannot rightfully blame others for those sentiments if we fostered an environment in which those feelings flourish.

This doesn’t mean others are blameless for their missteps, or that our own actions are without impact. It simply means that another’s transgressions — perceived or accurate — do not entirely dictate our emotional response. We control our emotions.

At times, we can project our insecurities onto others. This can lead us to make false assumptions about others. We may feel self-conscious and that sentiment can lead us to interpret another’s squint of questioning recognition or protective body language stemming from shyness as judgment or assumed superiority. This can lead us to assume others react negatively towards us when that is not the case. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy though, if we act on our projections and adopt a standoffish demeanor as a mode of self-preservation.

Even if a person is judging us, we have the power to rise above it. We can’t control how others behave, but we can control how we respond. We can choose how to react. We can be riled or we can be calm, we can feel persecuted or we can feel unaffected. It’s our decision, no one else’s.

Sometimes we can let our expectations of others become outlandish or inappropriate for the individual. “Set people up for success; manage people according to their strengths,” a wise supervisor once told me. It was brilliant advice that was widely applicable.

If someone is a wonderfully fun friend but does not have a mind for dates, we shouldn’t expect him or her to remember our birthday. We shouldn’t get offended, we shouldn’t get upset, just should set our expectations in accordance with the friend’s strengths. If we want to socialize with that friend on our birthday, we should initiate an activity with that friend for our birthday. If we want a big gathering, plan it. If we want an intimiate get-together, arrange it. We shouldn’t live our life expecting others to read our mind, unless we want drama and unhappiness in our life.

Also, we shouldn’t expect our friends to be any different than they are simply to suit our whims — that is a line of thinking bound for heartache. Instead, we should set expectations based on individuals’ strengths — not our own strengths or wishes — and communicate clearly, thereby choosing to be happy.

We can choose to be happy or unhappy. Life’s events and scenarios may sway us one way or another but we are, in the end, the ones choosing our emotional response. We control our feelings; they do not control us.

Taking hold of our emotional state takes practice. It takes effort. It takes self-control. It takes a willpower. It takes a sturdy ego because we need to be able to call ourselves out on our bullsh*t.

Rely on yourself to create your own happiness and you’re bound to be more content. Depend on others to make you happy and you’re likely to be perpetually unhappy.

 

 

 

 

Easy Dairy-free Kids Dinner

Yesterday was an I-donn’t-wanna-cook kind of day. However, I still wanted to give my kids a healthy, produce-heavy, dairy-free dinner.

Fortunately, LAJ Foods LLC had provided me with a few soups to sample and review. (Just to be clear, I am in no way being paid for my insights.) Creamy Cauliflower Soup to the resue!

I partnered the simple yet flavorful, dairy-free soup with Natural Sea’s Premium Cod Sticks and cherry tomatoes from a friend’s garden.

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LAJ Foods’ Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Natural Sea’s Premium Cod Sticks and Cherry Tomatoes

I was so excited to find these dairy-free, responsibly fished, simply made, tasty fish sticks at Wegmans. The kids polished them off!

The soup, though, that’s where my focus rested. My 5-year-old is open to some serious flavor so the vegan soup’s jalapeño kick didn’t bother her. I’m a total spice wuss — to an embarrassing degree — and it even struck me as no more than a comfortable heat. However, my 3-year-old found the soup spicy. A drizzle of honey and a splash of cashewmilk tamed the soup’s flame, and he readily slurped it down.

Verdict: LAJ Foods’ Creamy Cauliflower Soup was a win. Just add a little sweetness and creaminess for novice palates.

Retraining Myself to be Positive

So, I’ve been in a slump lately. I was fatigued, negative, edgy, and not very kind to myself. Something just felt out of alignment.

At first I thought I’d been indoors too much since my eldest two have been at summer camp during the day. So I got outside more, made sure I focused on hydration, got some exercise, socialized… the basics. No change.

I took some time to really listen to myself. To tend to that rattling in the back of my mind that often gets lost amidst the daily tantrums and skirmishes, to-do lists, and meal planning. I realized I was processing my eldest child’s progression into kindergarten, to her becoming a 5-year-old. Since her impending birthday was the anniversary of her birth, I was also revisiting her traumatic birth. Old wounds that had never fully healed but had been forgotten amidst the daily grind were calling out for attention.

Now that I knew the problem, I could seek resolution. I wrote my post about my traumatic birth experience. It was challenging to write but cathartic. However, it brought that back-of-mind swirling to the forefront and, let’s be honest, that sucks.

Knowing this was a healthy part of the healing process, I released my mind to circle the memories, to relive, to process. Without this allowance, I would have subconsciously stewed and remained in a lopsided, anxious state, unable to attain harmony. So, I sacrificed a few days to the cause.

This morning, while driving to the grocery store, I could feel the negativity within me. I’d allowed it sanctuary for long enough. As I drove up the tall slope of the exit ramp, I noted the blue of the sky, the sun, the trees, the beauty in the everyday. “Be light,” I thought, “breathe out darkness.” With that, I took a deep breath, held it, and released. Once more… inhaled, held, released. Then, I smiled. I felt the light within me grow. “Be positive. Feel positive. Experience positive.”

I remembered how a simple errand can be perceived entirely differently purely based on one’s mental state. I reminded myself of that as I entered the store. I focused on my vibe… on emitting positivity and acceptance. I knew my vibe would dictate my experience. I smiled, I nodded, I said, “hello.” It felt good.

I hit a minor stumbling block: a woman absent-mindedly stopped her cart in the center of the aisle and walked away. At first, I felt irritation brew within me. “No,” I thought, “be positive.” So, I backed up my own cart and went down another aisle. “I’m in no real rush. I can walk extra steps. It’s just more exercise,” I reframed the scenario. “Perhaps there’s a reason I should go this way.”

I maintained my mental exercise and the longer I did it the better I felt. The more natural it became. My comfortable rhythm was returning.

I’m still a work in progress and not universally positive — my kids would likely counter that I employ strict standards and a “mean mommy voice” regularly — but I am OK with being “mean mommy” because it is, at the very root, out of love. I want my children to known boundaries and to acknowledge that their actions have reprocussions. However, outside of maintaining structure and discipline, I try to stay positive. I strive to be harmonious. When I do, I feel better and more balanced. I thrive when I focus on appreciation, gratitude, exuding light, and being accepting. It’s a journey.

Five Years A Mother

My eldest child just turned 5-years old today. This means that, for five years I have been a mom, a caregiver, and a 24-hour concierge of sorts. What else does this milestone mean?

– For five years I’ve been perpetually concerned with the well-being of another person more so than my own.

– For five years someone else’s eating, toileting, emotional, and sleep needs have superceded my own.

– For five years I have wiped someone else’s butt multiple times daily.

– For five years I have not been able to quickly and easily leave the house on a whim.

– For five years washability has been a primary deciding factor in all clothing selections.

– For five years I have planned meals around someone else’s needs and/or tastes.

– For five years I have found mystery stains, spots, puddles, or crustiness in my home.

– For five years privacy has been a distant concept.

– For five years I have slept with my mind set to listen for sounds of my offspring in need.

– For five years any story regarding child victims has simultaneously made my heart drop and my eyes well.

– For five years I have not shopped for myself without thinking of, if not prioritizing or also buying for, my children.

– For five years I have not seen baby clothes displays without stopping to touch the fabric.

– For five years I have seen pregnant women and thought, “been there!”

– For five years my relationship with my husband has been entirely different — neither better nor worse, simply different — than before.

– For five years I have been a human tissue.

– For five years the future of our world has been a notable concern.

– For five years trips to the grocery store have been chaotic.

– For five years I have had to carefully consider wardrobe choices when at home.

– For five years solo trips to Target have seemed like a mini-vacation.

– For five years I have had to put away someone else’s laundry.

– For five years I have thought of my parents more as grandparents than as my own parents.

– For five years our home has not been quiet… unless we’re not in it.

– For five years I’ve signed my name as “Mom.”

– For five years people have often asked about how my child is doing before asking about me.

– For five years I’ve had the attention span of a goldfish

– For five years my pre-parenthood interests and concerns have seemed trivial.

– For five years I have tested the storage capacity of my cell phone with photos and videos of someone else.

– For five years each day my blood pressure has soared from frustration and my heart has swelled with love.

– For five years someone else’s sleep has dictated my own.

– For five years I have not been able to make a phone call, or answer a call, at any time I choose.

– For five years I have found experiences absolutely adorable, hilarious, and memorable that my childless self would have regarded as dull, disgusting, or inconsequential.

– For five years poop has been an acceptable and frequent topic of conversation.

– For five years I have had the most love-drenched, patience-testing, anxiety-inducing, exhausting, simultaneously unpredictable-yet-routine, absolutely most rewarding 24/7 no-days-off-ever job. And I adore it (even when I don’t.)

And, as a mother of three, this shocking realization surfaced:

– For six years I have been pregnant, nursing, pumping, or all three.

Motherhood… it changes you. For the better.

My Traumatic Birth Story

Today is the fifth anniversary of my traumatic birth experience. Only now am I able to see others’ birth photos without feeling lightheaded. Only now am I able to watch birth scenes without getting panicked. It’s been a long journey but a healing and strengthening one.

I no longer have the nightmares, the unexpected flashbacks, or the anxiety waves. I am releasing the anger for what my husband, child, and I endured. I am letting go of the swirling “what ifs?” I am coaching myself through dismissing the jealousy I feel when I hear of others’ smooth, healthy, uncomplicated births. I am denying the self-imposed guilt. I am healing.

Trauma of any kind is an emotional — and often physical — hurdle that takes time, self-awareness, willpower, and strength to overcome. Birth trauma is no different. However, it’s a trauma that’s rarely discussed and hardly acknowledged. As if birth being a natural, common event makes it benign. As if — if you have been so fortunate — the presence of your healthy child negates your entire experience.

I’m sharing my story so that others know they are not alone, that they are not broken, that they are not weak, that there is hope. That it is in their power to move forward. This is my story.

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With my first child I had a traumatic vaginal birth. I had been on bed rest for two weeks due to gestational hypertension. By a debated 36 or 37 weeks, I’d graduated to full on preeclampsia, which was even more concerning due to my congenital (stable and well-monitored) heart defect.

On the morning of July 18, 2011, I began exhibiting labor signs. By 1:00pm my husband and I were walking into the Labor and Delivery ward of our local hospital. I was probably earlier on in labor than I suspected when I arrived at the hospital, but I was a first-time-mom. What did I know?

The nurses checked my blood pressure. “Don’t you dare move,” one told me as I asked to visit the restroom, “you’re ‘this’ far away from a possible stroke!” I stayed in that bed until the evening. Catheterized, contracting, thirsty and hungry, awaiting an eventual epidural, I was told the doctor wanted to break my waters. If not that, we’d need to consider a c-section. My body wasn’t handling labor well.

I was terrified of a c-section, as I’d only ever heard horror stories. I opted for my waters being broken. It didn’t take much as I’d been 2 centimeters dialated and 90% effaced throughout my 2-week bed rest. Labor progressed.

It was 1:30am. The nurse held one foot and my husband held the other. I pushed and I pushed and I pushed. Blood vessels in my eyes popped at the pressure. The doctor came in and looked concerned. “Prep for a section.” She told the nurse and left the room. “No! No c-section. Please!” I implored the nurse. “I’ll talk to the doctor.” The nurse returned moments later. “Let’s get pushing. If we can get this baby far enough down, maybe we can avoid a c-section.” It was go time!

I pushed, we reconfigured stances, I pushed more. I tore. The doctor arrived. More pushing. More tearing. A cut. I pushed, they pulled, the ring of fire… then the monitors showed my baby was in distress.

Eight nurses came racing into the room, one jumped on top of me, told me not to scream as they pushed on my belly. I could feel my wounds burn with every push. The nurse on my chest looked at me with wild eyes and a stern voice, “This baby needs to come out NOW!” We all pushed, the doctor pulled, and out she came. 3:36am. We were all exhausted but it wasn’t over yet.

The nurses rushed my daughter to the exam table. The monitor blocked my view entirely. “Is she OK? Is my baby OK?” I kept asking, but no one answered, no one flinched . It was as if my voice evaporated as soon as it left my mouth.

I birthed the placenta. “Time to clean you up.” The doctor said, but I barely heard her. I was too focused on trying to see my daughter. Trying to glean some shred of information from the huddle of medical staff hovering over my daughter’s body.

I turned to my doctor, who was preparing to sew my torn and cut lower portions. “Is my baby OK?” I asked her. She looked toward the exam table and then to me, her eyes appearing concerned, “You may feel a pinch.” I felt everything.

Local anesthetics tend to be relatively ineffective on me but I couldn’t communicate that now because all I wanted was to know if my daughter was alive. Tears streamed down my exhausted face. I hurt in every possible way but I was stuck on an unfamiliar bed with an unheard voice while being sewn up like a torn shirt

I looked to my husband, who was standing in a mix of shock and terror beside me: “Is she OK?” He asked the nurse. The nurse quickly looked up from her efforts with our baby, “We don’t know.”

Moments later: baby cries. The nurse handed me my under-7lb baby. My daughter’s face was bruised and swollen, her head was elongated and pointed. “Shoulder dystocia,” they told me as I latched her onto my breast. “She choked on fluid.” I stroked her matted brown hair. “She ‘code pinked.'” I grasped her tiny purple hand. “We resuscitated her.”  I held her close as she nursed.

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We later learned that, due to an old injury, my tailbone impeded the exit route. There’s nothing we could have done besides opting for a cesarean section, but no one could have anticipated that precise impediment.

After my daughter unlatched, they wheeled her to the nursery for some assessments while the nurse helped me to the bathroom. It was 5:00am as the nurse wheeled me into my room in the Maternity ward. The sun was beginning to rise. My husband wearily pulled and tugged at the visitor chair to convert it into a bed. He flopped down to try to get some rest. “Your daughter will be in shortly,” the nurse told me as she checked my wires and monitors, “try to sleep.”

I closed my eyes but my mind was still racing. I looked out the window and watched as the sky turned from purple to pink. As the sun rose and the last few clouds were drained of their rosy hue, a nurse came in the room. “Your daughter experienced complications in the nursery, ” she told us. “The doctor will be in soon to tell you more.” My husband and I stared at one another, our traumatized minds hazy from two days without sleep.

An hour later, the pediatrician arrived. He sat down in the corner chair and told us that a nurse in the nursery found our daughter purple and not breathing. She cleared our baby’s airway and resuscitated her. It appeared to be a blockage of colostrum and fluid. They weren’t sure how long our daughter had been without oxygen, if there’d be permanent brain damage, or if she might choke again. She was in the NICU.

The doctor took my husband to see our daughter, as no wheelchairs were yet available for me and I could not dependably walk yet. In that empty room, I cried. I wailed. I mourned. Every bit of pain, exhaustion, and fear poured out of me. Then, drained, I stopped and stared at the white dry erase board on the wall in front of me. I was silent.

Five years later, our daughter is bright, highly verbal, perfectly able-bodied,  and healthy. My husband is healing, as am I, from our experience all those years ago. We’ve come a long way, but we’re still mending. Surviving and savoring our journey together.

 

We Only Get This Summer Once

Yesterday we were at our local summer concert, enjoying music and the evening sun. Then, a familiar sight that makes my heart thump and my smile grow wide: my eldest two children happily running toward me from across the concert lawn. Heavy breaths through broad smiles, arms outstretched to envelop me in their sweaty hugs, their sneakers pounding through the sun-warmed turf. I saw it.

I saw how different my middle son was from last year. The change from 2-year-old to 3-year-old was striking. He’d lengthened, his face was leaner, his body was taller. I looked to my daughter, bounding toward me, her face more beautiful now than cute, just days away from her 5th birthday. I felt the weight of my 1-year-old in the carrier, no longer the newborn peanut he was last summer. How much they’d changed in just a year! My eyes grew misty and my throat caught.

We have only one summer each year with our children, the next they will be older, bigger, more independent, less mommy-centric. Interests will be different, maturity and skills will have advanced, they’ll push further from us and deeper into the outside world.

As exhausting and tumultuous as the days can be, as wearing and patience-testing as this young stage is, it only happens once. We only get THIS summer once.

Soak it in. Commit it to memory. Smile. Laugh. Enjoy it. Next summer will be entirely different.

Hand-saving Breast Pump Part Washing Hack

You just milked yourself for 15-40 minutes. You’ve bagged and stored the extracted breastmilk. You need a break from anything pump-related for a while, but no. Now you need to wash your pump parts. Gah!

What if I told you you didn’t have to individually soap and scrub each and every piece of pump equipment? Yes, there’s a faster way to get clean pump parts! Better yet, it saves your hands from those hot, soapy, manicure-killing suds.

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First, get a big, sturdy plastic strainer and a big plastic bowl in which the strainer can easily sit. When you’re done pumping, put the strainer inside of the bowl and place the duo in your kitchen sink. Then, fill the bowl-strainer combo with scalding hot soapy water (be careful with the hot water please… no spilling or allowing children near the liquid), toss in the used pump parts, and allow them to soak (30 minutes is generally plenty of time.)

Once the parts have finished soaking, lift the strainer out of the water and either rinse off any remaining suds with hot water (simply spray the bubble-covered parts with water from the tap as they sit in the strainer) or fill the bowl with clean hot water, and resubmerge the strainer to allow the pump parts to rinse. Once the pump parts are rinsed, remove the strainer containing the freshly cleaned pump parts from the sink and place the pump parts on a drying rack to air dry.

As you move the parts to the drying rack see if any require a little love from the bottle brush. If so, put a dot of dish soap in the big bowl, add water, submerge the needy pump part, give it a quick once-over with the scrub brush, rinse the cleansed part under the tap, and pop it on the drying rack. Done!