Sadie’s Story

Two weeks ago today, life was completely normal. I had two beautiful, seemingly healthy little girls, stressed out only over little things like keeping the house clean, and had just made the decision to quit my part-time job to be at home full time with my babies. Even though I  had a three year old and a newborn, life wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be.

Sadie was proving herself to be the perfect baby. She’s a great sleeper, only fusses when she really needs something, gives out smiles constantly, is extremely laid back, and just has the sweetest little personality. All babies are sweet, but there’s just something special about her- it’s as if God gave her a little extra sprinkling of sugar when He made her. If all babies were as easy as she is, I wouldn’t be able to stop having them!

pure sugar

A few weeks ago I started to notice that Sadie had a really exaggerated startle reflex. At times, she would do it over and over again, even if there was nothing around to give her a reason to. Her eyes would get really wide when her arms went out, almost like she was scared of something. Carli never did anything like that, but I just figured Sadie was really sensitive. Babies have such an underdeveloped nervous system anyways and make weird movements all the time. I didn’t think anything of it.

My mom visited a couple weeks ago, and she also noticed Sadie making these movements. She also thought she was just doing the startle reflex all newborns do, but thought it was odd that she would do it numerous times before she stopped. Again, we just blamed it on an underdeveloped nervous system and normal reflexes.

Not long after my mom left I noticed that before Sadie started these weird jerky reflexes, she would squint her eyes, then would go cross-eyed for a few seconds before being able to re-open them. New babies have a hard time focusing, but it struck me as odd. I asked a group of girlfriends about all these weird things she was doing, telling them it was as if she was having little seizures. I didn’t actually think they were seizures, but it was the only word I could think of to describe it. A friend of mine (who is a nurse) told me that a seizure wouldn’t stop if I pick her up. I thought surely she would stop flailing her arms if I picked her up, so I tried the next day when she started doing it after waking from a nap. I held her tight and her arms wouldn’t stop making those movements. That’s when I knew something was wrong.

So I did what all worried moms do. I googled. Somehow my google search led me to a condition called “Infantile Spasms.” The more I read, the more I was trying to convince myself that she didn’t have it. There was no way my baby could have something this horribly wrong with her. It’s a rare type of seizure disorder, found only in infants, that causes significant brain damage. Most babies who have this (90%) go on to have severe developmental and cognitive delays. More than 50% of babies with Infantile Spasms will suffer from some other sort of epilepsy later in life.

After I found this scary diagnosis, I do what I always do when I’m worried one of my kids has something horribly wrong with them. Look for a reason she wouldn’t have this- so I kept googling. The description of the spasms didn’t sound like the movements she made. However, when I found YouTube videos of babies with infantile spasms, my heart sank. Their movements were almost identical to Sadie’s.

I showed Nick, and he agreed that our daughter could most definitely have this. I made an appointment with her pediatrician the next day, who set us up with an EEG and referred us to a neurologist. Unfortunately, as with most specialists, we weren’t able to get her seen by a pediatric neurologist for another 3 weeks. Our pediatrician thought the movements might be caused by silent reflux, and prescribed Zantec. I was hopeful she was right, but my gut just told me differently.

24 hours after our pediatrician appointment, Sadie had several more episodes. I didn’t feel like we could wait three more weeks for answers, so I took her to the emergency room at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. My husband and I both decided it was worth the $100 copay just to give us a peace of mind that nothing was horribly wrong with her. As soon as the ER physician saw a video that I took of Sadie having one of her episodes, he brought a neurology team in to look at her. Within an hour she was admitted and hooked up to an EEG.

That whole evening was a blur. I hadn’t prepared myself at all to be admitted, and I definitely hadn’t prepared myself for the worried looks on the doctors faces and the sense of urgency they had. I had fully expected to be sent home, feeling silly that I drove my baby to an emergency room an hour away just to be told she has really bad reflux. I called Nick, and he left work to come be with us at the hospital. His parents just so happened to be in town that weekend, so Carli was taken care of. My good friend Holli brought me clothes, my toothbrush and a few other things at home to get me through the night. I remember sitting in the hospital room with her, eating Chickfila and trying to talk  about anything but what was actually happening. I had no idea what the tests that were being run on Sadie would find, and I didn’t want to even think about it.

I got about 30 minutes of sleep that night. Sadie had several seizures, and my heart was breaking every time. It was so hard to see her, lying in a hospital bed with electrodes glued to her head and wires connecting her to a machine. I wanted to be able to make everything better, just like I do with my older daughter. Clean it, kiss it, and put a band-aid on it. But this was a boo boo I couldn’t fix.

The next morning she had an MRI, and that moment was one of the hardest moments to get through. The doctor warned me that I may not want to be with her while she was being sedated because it can be a pretty big shock. There was no way I was going to let her be sedated without me in there with her. Right before the doctor injected the propofol into her IV, she started getting fussy- poor thing was so hungry! It had been almost 10 hours since she was last able to eat. Within a matter of seconds of the getting the propofol, she immediately stopped fussing and became pale and completely limp. It broke me to see her that way. As I watched her tiny little body be placed into the big MRI machine I wanted so bad to take her away from that room and just run as fast as I could with her out of the hospital.

I called my mom as soon as I got back to our little waiting room. I remember crying so hard I could barely speak. I didn’t want them to find anything on the MRI, but at the same time I was slightly hopeful they would. I had gone through different diagnoses in my head, and a part of me hoped it was an easily treatable brain tumor. Anything involving the brain is scary, and that seemed like the best option out of everything else.

After several more tests were taken, including an x-ray, we were finally able to speak with the neurologist about her diagnosis. He showed us the EEG and confirmed what I was fearing the most- Sadie had an extremely rare and catastrophic form of epilepsy- infantile spasms (West’s Syndrome). Her brain was a mess of high voltage chaotic patterns. Patterns which prevent progression and cause regression. Patterns that would cause irreversible brain damage. At first I felt relief in knowing that we finally had answers. Then I felt as if I’d been kicked in the stomach. The neurologist was very blunt with us and did not sugarcoat her diagnosis. I felt as if I was losing my beautiful, perfect baby girl. What did this mean for her? I never pictured her not having a life like her sister.  I never imagined raising a kid with special needs. It was so much to take in. I kept probing the doctor, trying to get him to say that our case was different. Sadie would beat the odds and be okay. He didn’t. He couldn’t.

With infantile spasms, you treat it very aggressively. Each day having spasms is a day lost. We chose the medication Vigabatrin (Sabril) because Sadie was also having partial seizures before her spasm episodes and this type of medication would treat both the seizures and the spasms. We were warned that this medication could cause irreversible vision damage, but that seemed like a better option than irreversible brain damage. Sadie didn’t respond right away to the medication, and it was very discouraging. She would start the day off well, then have several episodes in the afternoon. Some days she would have long episodes (the longest being 16 minutes long) and some days her episodes would only last 2-3 minutes. It seemed that we would take two steps forward, then one step back. We were finally discharged six days after she was admitted, and she still wasn’t responding to the medication like we wanted her to. But everything that was being done for her at the hospital we could do for her at home. We were still slowly increasing her dose every three days, so we were hopeful that we just hadn’t reached her therapeutic dose yet.

Now we have been home for 4 days, and Sadie is doing much better. We have finally seen a huge improvement and she seems to be responding to the Sabril. We are also extremely hopeful that Sadie will be okay once we maintain full control of these little seizures. We haven’t seen any regression in her development (a really good sign) and she is continuing to meet her milestones. She actually rolled over this weekend! That’s a milestone she really isn’t expected to hit until another month from now. She’s her same sweet self, fully engaged when we talk to her and gives us nonstop gummy smiles. Gosh she’s just amazing. I’ve been blown away by what a little fighter she is. I know God gave her the personality and the strength to be able to handle whatever this condition throws at her.

Looking back at everything, we’ve been able to see God’s hand in all of this. We didn’t have to worry once about Carli- Nick’s parents happened to be here when Sadie was admitted, and my mom was able to be here to take over once we knew we would be staying awhile. We are in the best place we can be for this kind of diagnosis. Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital receives the most infants with this condition than any other hospital in the country- so I felt that she had the best care she could get. There is even a clinic in Atlanta that specifically treats and follows kids with infantile spasms- which is crazy to me because this condition is so rare. We will be making the drive up there regularly now, but I feel blessed that our drive is only an hour away to get such dedicated care. The support we’ve had since this happened has been overwhelming. So many of our great friends came up to see us, bring us groceries, clothes from home, and anything else we needed. Just having them in that little hospital room with us was helpful and made us feel less alone. Three of my good friends visited right after we received her diagnosis- having them with me helped to numb the sting a little bit. Our pastor happened to be in the room with us when Sadie had to have a Vitamin B6 test done. During this test she had Vitamin B6 injected into her veins- and it burns! She was screaming and so uncomfortable- it was pretty traumatic. Just having the extra support in the room provided a sense of peace.

We don’t know how Sadie’s story is going to be written, this is something that is fully out of our control. That’s hard as a parent- I just want everything to be okay for her. I don’t want her to ever struggle. I don’t want kids to make fun of her if she has disabilities. I know that whatever God’s plan is for her life, it’s beautiful. No matter how this impacts her, I know she’ll bring joy wherever she goes. She’ll handle any challenges life throws at her with dignity and grace. She’ll be perfect no matter what.

Life isn’t perfect, and it certainly isn’t easy. Trials like this can break us, or they can make us stronger, better people in the end. I’m at peace knowing that God’s plan always wins in the end. I’m already seeing that at work. I’m holding onto these verses that happened to be a part of my devotions the week I was in the hospital with Sadie:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. -Romans 8:18

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. – 2 corinthians 4:8-9

And just as if God knew I needed the comfort when we were leaving the hospital, this came on the radio as soon as we got in the car to leave. His plan is always better. Always.

They say it only takes a little faith
To move a mountain
Well good thing
A little faith is all I have, right now
But God, when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Oh give me the strength to be able to sing
It is well with my soul
I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt
Would all go away if You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
-“Even If” by Mercy Me
And lastly, here is a video of Sadie having one of her episodes. This is what we showed the doctor in the emergency room, and is a classic clinical sign of infantile spasms. This usually goes misdiagnosed for months as colic or reflux because most pediatricians never see it in their practice. Only 1200 babies get diagnosed each year! Because we caught it so early, we are hoping there will be very little impact to her development.
My advice to other mothers? Always trust your gut when you think something may be wrong with your child. And google isn’t always bad! It’s what I found on google that scared me, and encouraged me to bring her in to get checked out. I’m so thankful we brought her in when we did and didn’t wait. Otherwise, things could have ended up much worse.

Glass Houses

Going into motherhood, I had quite a few expectations of what I thought parenting would be like. During my first pregnancy I read every book I could on raising kids (which I thought made me some sort of expert), I memorized sleep schedules, and basically expected my baby to conform to the ideal child who adapts perfectly to the textbook discipline, sleep training and potty training regimens that all the experts insist work. Because all kids respond the same, right?

Oh, and as much as I hate to admit it, I would even judge moms I didn’t even know who would be out in public with their kids, looking like a hot mess. I mean, how hard could it really be to prevent your kid from having a massive tantrum in the middle of the toy aisle at Target? And does that 2 year old really need a paci in their mouth? I thought they made it look harder than it really was.

Maybe I just got hit with really bad karma for judging in the first place. Or maybe I’m just raising a perfectly normal two year old who throws mega tantrums (the worst of course being in public places), refuses to sleep without a paci (a battle I’m too scared to fight right now- sleep is just too precious), and is constantly testing her limits. But I got a huge wake-up call when I started this journey called motherhood.

Haha you’re crazy mom if you think I’m going to smile and be cute for this picture

Parenting isn’t easy. It’s messy, it’s selfless, it’s exhausting, and on those days that you can have a sense of humor, it’s hilarious. It’s not the always smiling faces, stain-free and matched clothes, beautifully put-together households and imperfect kids we see on Facebook and Instagram. Real parenting is dealing with mega tantrums, poop (so so much poop),  living off of 5 hours of sleep, making compromises, lots of boo boo’s, bribery, huge messes, and the acceptance of chaos. Even though nothing about parenting is perfect, it comes attached with the greatest love imaginable. I love my daughter and everything about being her mom. The learning curve has definitely been tough, but full of so much adventure.

Over these past 2 (almost 3) years, I’ve accepted the need to give up those expectations I clung so dearly to, and just go along with reality. My expectations were SO stereotypical for a first time mom. And now I find most of them to be pretty humorous.

The Expectations

My baby will stick to a perfect sleep schedule- she will be a Baby Wise poster child.

No child of mine will EVER  act out in public.

No screen time until she’s three years old. Then strict monitoring of no more than 30 minutes per day.

I will NEVER bribe with food-especially not with sweets.

Potty training will be easy. I’ll just do that 3 day boot camp method.

I will never rely on a pacifier to soothe my toddler- it will be gone once she’s a year old.

Of course I will do all of the those Pinterest activities I pinned over the nine months I was pregnant. From DIY projects with toddlers to science experiments- no pin will go unused!

My child will always listen to me, because I’ve read all the books on how to talk and listen to children effectively. I’ll talk to her using toddler-ese when she’s upset (because that’s the best method for talking to toddlers- just read The Happiest Toddler on the Block) and it will work like a charm.

She will always think I’m the greatest mommy ever…no matter what.

The Reality

Sleep schedules are great, but we had to go along with what worked for us. From BabyWise to Moms on Call, Carli refused them all. I think she was almost 2 1/2 before she was consistently sleeping through the night.  I was too tired to listen to her cry it out for an hour (because that’s what she would do) and I really just couldn’t even stand the sound of it. So I let her snuggle in bed with me in the middle of the night and that was the only way any of us would get any sleep. It’s all about survival!

I would love to meet a toddler who has never thrown a tantrum in public. The best tantrums involve throwing and breaking things that I have to end up paying for- there’s a toy store in Peachtree City that I’m sure would love to never see me or my daughter again. The lesson? Never take an overly-tired or overly-hungry two year old to a store and expect them to behave.

I’m not even going to shame myself anymore for allowing screen time. It helps us survive long car rides and grocery shopping trips I can’t avoid taking her on. It allows me to have an uninterrupted run with her in the jogging stroller. It gives me 30 minutes to cook dinner. It allows me to finish a cup of coffee in the morning. Most importantly, it is my golden ticket for preventing the dreaded car nap.

You can bet I never have the toddler who is screaming the entire plane ride. Ipad for the win!

I know better, especially being a dietitian. I bribe with food often. I know, it’s terrible. But- it WORKS. It’s amazing how easy it is to get a toddler out the door when they know a gummy bear is waiting for them as soon as they get buckled into the car seat. Before you start judging- it’s an omega-3 filled gummy, thank you! Just to lessen my own guilt.

Potty training was the most frustrating experience of my life.  That 3 day method? It’s not a one size fits all. My kid wanted nothing to do with it. All that came out of that was the most severe UTI our pediatrician has ever seen. My method? I sat her on the toilet and ate a popsicle in front of her. I said she could have one too if she went. It worked, and after that there was no turning back.

At almost 3 years old, my kid is addicted to her paci. Even though she only has it at nap and bedtime (for the most part….sometimes I whip it out in desperation), I’m about as unwilling for her to part with it as she is. I’ve heard too many stories of kids giving up nap once that paci is gone. No way can either of us survive without nap. And it’s such magic! It transforms a cranky, fussy toddler into a sweet sleepy baby in a nanosecond.

New goal…weaned by kindergarten??

I’ve done maybe two Pinterest activities with her. They always fail miserably. I’m not a crafty DIY type mom- and I’ve stopped pretending to be.

I think I’ll stick to the break and bake cookies next Christmas

Hahahahaha that toddler-ese talk? I’ve tried it, and Carli just looks at me like I’ve lost my mind. Raising her has completely humbled me after reading all those books. She is no textbook child (thank goodness!) and has a mind of her own. I’ve had to get creative with my parenting techniques and usually I just go with my own motherly instincts. The advice I’ve received provides a good foundation, but I’ve had to figure things out on my own throughout the past couple of years.

I know my kid loves me. But she doesn’t always think I’m so great. She’s given me the stink eye on plenty occasions- it’s a look straight out of mean girls and she has perfected it.

How I balance the expectations with reality

I stopped reading and I take well-meaning advice with a grain of salt. I avoid judgmental people and focus on what works best for us. I scroll through my newsfeed knowing that real life isn’t so well put together. I give myself grace, and my daughter even more. I laugh at the chaos when it used to make me cry.

It can be so easy to fall into the infamous “mommy wars.” It’s hard to not aim for perfection and let everyone think that I don’t have any flaws as a mother. Shame is very real, and if I focus on what everyone else thinks I’m doing wrong, I’m doing harm to both me and my kid. My closest friendships with other moms involve the ones who can be just as transparent around me- there is something so liberating about wearing your imperfections with no shame or judgement. We are all doing the best we can to survive some of the toughest, yet most incredibly rewarding years of our lives. Why hold back?  Authenticity is so much better than trying to be perfect.

The best part about motherhood? It’s an adventure, never boring and full of learning curves. Even with all those messy, chaotic, and exhausting days- the snuggles, hearing the words “I love you mommy” for the first time, the sweet little giggles, the big grins on their faces when you see them after being gone for awhile, and the big bear hugs make it all so incredibly worth it.

Our kids after a friend and I came home from a long run- these little faces are the best!

 

And one more because….#blessed

Goodbye 20’s

I’ve officially reached the last week of my 20’s. For years I thought I would dread this moment- I thought the end of my 20’s would mean the end of having fun and the beginning of getting old. I only saw getting older as going to bed early, getting bad knees and dreading the month of March (my birthday month) for the rest of my life. I’m starting to see it’s so much more than that. I actually can’t wait to turn my back on my 20’s- it was fun, I’ve learned some life lessons, by the grace of God I’m still alive (I made some stupid decisions in my early 20’s), and my experiences have shaped me into the adult I am today. I’m ready for a new chapter, one that I hope will be filled more with grace, rest, and deep connections rather than the hustle, selfishness and surface-level relationships I was drawn to a decade ago.

My 21st birthday- this night did not end well.

I look back, and the experiences I’ve had over the past 10 years feels more like a lifetime. I graduated college, grew to be completely independent from my parents, met my husband- got engaged to my husband- and married my husband, overcame the challenges of struggling with an eating disorder, lived in four different states, became a registered dietitian, worked for two different companies, traveled all over North America, ran 6 marathons, and became a mother. I’ve gained some very meaningful relationships, but I’ve also lost some. I’ve gained a boatload of wisdom, and I’m a much stronger person than I was in my early 20’s. I’ve learned that I can’t let people walk all over me. I’ve found my voice- I’m not at timid as I once was.

I don’t have it all figured out. I don’t think I ever will! That’s the beautiful thing about getting older- you are continuously learning from experiences. Looking back, oh how I would have done things so much differently if I knew then what I  know now! I catch myself saying all the time- “If I only knew.” Even though there are so many things I could change about my past that would have made my life then (and even today) a little bit easier, I wouldn’t do it. Constantly falling and getting back up is what has made me a stronger person. It’s given me confidence and I’ve learned from my mistakes. The best part is, I can take those mistakes and help other young people who are struggling with the same thing. God never wastes a hurt. I believe that firmly now.

There are areas that I’m working on to make my 30’s more grace-filled, restful, and deeply connected than my 20’s. The past 10 years have worn me out, both physically and emotionally. I’m starting to learn- it’s just not worth it.

People-pleasing: NO MORE

If there was an award for pleasing other people and not ever letting others down, I would win it. It doesn’t matter who it is, it could be someone I met 30 minutes ago or someone I’ve known my whole life, I want to make people happy. Most would say this is a good quality. It can be, but not if you’re letting down the people who are closest to you in order to win over the approval from others. It’s good to be dependable and a hard-worker. Those are qualities I’ll always want to possess, but no longer at the expense of my own well-being and certainly not at the expense of my family. I’m tired of constantly letting my husband or daughter down just so others will praise me for being a good and dependable person. I’m learning to find balance here, and it’s been difficult to navigate. Not only because I feel guilty for saying the word “no,” but also because I feel that some of the value I place on myself comes from making other people happy, no matter what the cost. But I’m looking at my own family, and they want me to be present more. Not for other people, but for them. My husband and two girls will always come first, followed by my closest friends and the rest of my family, followed by everyone else.

Not everyone is going to like me

I want everyone to be my best friend. I don’t ever want to offend anyone, I don’t want to make people mad because my opinion is different from theirs, and I certainly want everyone to approve of me. I know this is all normal, especially for women. My husband could care less what other people think of him- I envy him for that! I also get envious of women, usually who are much older than I am (like my mom or some of my older friends), who say that they just don’t care what people think of them anymore. They are going to be their own person and not let people’s opinions get in the way of that. Gosh, what a burden would be lifted off of my shoulders if I felt that way! This is hard for me, but definitely a goal of mine. It’s difficult to form deep relationships with people if you are always at the surface level, just because you are worried about what they are going to think of you. The more I’ve come out of my shell and allowed myself to open up and just be me, the deeper some of my friendships have grown. And some have grown to be more distant. As hard as it is for me to be okay with that, I’m accepting it. I would much rather have close connections that allow me to be comfortable being myself, than just having surface-level relationships.

More rest

I spent my 20’s focused on being exhausted and shrinking. This is where I found most of my value. I think that’s part of the reason why I loved marathon training so much. After a 20 mile run my body would feel drained and small. This tired and thin body was everything to me, and if I didn’t feel as light as a I wanted to or if I didn’t wake up the next morning still feeling tired, I felt worthless. I hate that my mind has become so addicted to that feeling, and it’s been hard to erase. It’s different from getting a high after a good workout at the gym or feeling proud of yourself because you ate healthy that day. I was a slave to it. And now? My almost 30-year old body feels like it’s 60 sometimes. Everything still works well and my knees are still holding up great (thank you Jesus), but sometimes I feel as if the abuse I put my body through for so long has taken its toll. I know I can’t treat my body like this forever, I only have one! Gone are the 2-3 workouts a day, exercising even when I feel exhausted (I’m no longer afraid of lying on the couch if I need it), and 15 mile runs in the heat of the day. I want to take care of my body and give it some grace. I stay active as much as I can and do an actual workout 5 days per week. I rest when I need it, and am no longer finding value in how tired or small I feel.

I miss racing as much as a used to, but am definitely enjoying the quality time I get to spend with friends and family as a result of not training for such long hours!

More play

I want everything to be perfect and look perfect all the time. I am always looking for something to do- sweep the floors, fold laundry, load the dishwasher- it just stresses me out if these things pile up. I about have a panic attack if my kitchen floors are dirty! I promise you, I hate being late to anything, but cleaning up dirty floors always takes priority to getting out the door. This drives my husband (and even more recently Carli) absolutely crazy. I’m not sure what made me to be wired this way, but the past 10 years I have always felt as if I have to earn rest and playtime. Work hard, play hard is my motto. If everything is done, if the house looks perfect, if I got my workout in….then we can have fun. I don’t want my kids to look back and just remember a mom who was there, but not really there. Instead of rushing around making sure everything is in place all the time, I want to be certain that I am fully present in their lives. No, it won’t ever get it the point where I’m okay with living in a filthy house, and I want my kids to know that there is a time for doing chores and cleaning up our messes. But I no longer want to be a slave to a to-do list. Instead, I want to enjoy impromptu play with Carli more often, and fully allow myself to be a part of her little world.

My typical play 6 years ago. My motto for most of my 20’s was YOLO

More grace

I’m hard on myself, and this has gotten much worse after becoming a mom. I am quick to put blame on myself, especially if Carli is acting out. I compare myself to other moms and judge myself for things that are sometimes out of my control. I’ll call myself a pushover mom, fault myself for not being confident enough in my ability to raise her well, and make myself believe that I’m a bad parent because my own parenting and discipline style is different from someone else. I’m always questioning myself- am I doing this right? Maybe that mom is doing it better.   

I’ve had to step back from this and really look at the big picture. All kids are different and there are lots of different parenting styles. I’m doing what I believe is best for my two-year old. She is a lot like me and we both have very strong personalities- and are both very strong-willed! It’s going to be a challenge to raise her with her headstrong personality (now I truly believe in karma- sorry mom), but if I can help her channel all that energy and determination she has toward a positive direction, I have no doubt she’ll grow into a strong young woman. I just have to give both myself (and her- especially when she is a teenager) a lot more grace.

Nights used to always end like this…

 

….And now they end like this

What I feed my family

Usually when people find out that I’m a dietitian, they immediately think that my family’s meals consist of gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, all organic foods. Then the excuses pour in covering their own eating habits- as if I’m judging them because they happen to be holding a slice of pizza.

I’m not judging you, I promise. I eat pizza too! I also don’t eliminate any type of food from my family’s meals (yes, we even eat gluten) and have always been an advocate for balance. I work in a facility for kids with special needs, and ever since feeding my own child and working with kids professionally, I’ve developed a pretty big interest in child nutrition. I’ve changed the way my family eats because of it, but also try to be careful to not be too restrictive with food. I want my kids to have a healthy attitude around food, not label foods “good” or “bad” and to be able to make their own choices about healthy food as they get older. Having recovered from an eating disorder and having body image issues growing up, it’s also important for me to protect my own girls from thinking the only way they can eat healthy is by dieting or eliminating food groups. My goal for feeding my family is to create a positive environment around food, one that doesn’t cause my kids to feel guilty or deprived in any way.

We don’t have any food allergies in our family, which I consider to be a blessing. I know families with kids who have multiple food allergies and have to completely eliminate allergen-containing foods, which can make preparing and cooking meals quite difficult. Obviously in these situations, families have no choice but to follow diet restrictions. Typically this works best if the whole family is involved, instead of just making the child with the food allergy eliminate what is causing the flare-up. So for example, if a child has a gluten intolerance then it would be best for the whole family to be gluten-free. This would avoid issues with cross-contamination as well. Other than for food allergies and intolerances, I don’t recommend for families to follow diets that are highly restrictive. It’s just not necessary and it’s much easier for kids to get the nutrition they need by allowing them to eat a variety of (nutrient dense) foods. Not a variety of junk food though!

So here are the simple guidelines I follow when feeding my family. We stick with them 90% of the time.

Fruits and vegetables are big at every meal. I’ll admit, I’ve been struggling with this lately, especially with the vegetables. My first trimester this time around has been much worse than my last pregnancy- and still seems to be lingering! Vegetables have been tough for me to stomach lately, but thankfully as my symptoms are starting to fade I’m slowly starting to crave those veggies again. It’s interesting though, I’ve noticed that it was much harder to get my family to eat vegetables when I was doing a horrible job of eating them myself. Eating healthy really is a family effort! Kids do by example and I’ve seen this play out over the past few months.

Lean proteins are in every meal, but in smaller portions than the fruits and vegetables- unless my husband is making his own plate. I make a lot of salmon- I’ve been craving it lately, so sometimes  make it as often as 3-4 times per week! At least once a week I try to do a vegetable protein instead of an animal protein. When seasoning foods, I use as little salt as possible. Typically I find herbs and spices to season my meat so that my family’s salt intake is limited. It’s very easy to consume an adequate amount of salt without adding it to food, and most Americans get a lot more than is recommended. I want to train my kids’ palates while they are young to appreciate the natural flavor of foods- without doctoring it up with all the sugar, salt and fat that the food industry does.

 

I don’t leave anything out when it comes to carbohydrates. We eat bread, potatoes, rice, pasta- if it’s a carb, we aren’t afraid to eat it! I buy whole grains as much as possible for the added fiber (and less processing) and avoid foods that are “instant” (such as instant potatoes, etc). I read the ingredients carefully to avoid buying foods that are loaded with MSG, high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. As long as the carbohydrates we are eating aren’t heavily processed (and have an exorbitant amount of salt, sugar and fat), they are healthy for our bodies. We are an active family and our cells need the energy that only carbs can provide!

 

When it comes to dairy, my husband is the only one who will drink cow’s milk. I prefer almond milk, and so does Carli, so that is what we typically drink. She gets most of her calcium intake from organic yogurt and cheeses. Dairy is one food group that I will almost always buy organic- along with fruits and vegetables we eat the skin off of.

I don’t buy sugary drinks. No juice, no soda, no sweet tea. I’m a recovering diet coke addict (I still have slip-ups every now and then) and my husband is working on his diet soda intake and trying to replace with unsweetened tea. All Carli drinks is water because it’s all we’ve ever offered to her. If she is at a birthday party or a holiday party at school and juice is being served, I let her drink it there. I don’t want her to feel excluded and this doesn’t happen often. At home, it’s always water and it’s what she asks for. I grew up drinking kool-aid and it took me a long time to appreciate the taste of water. I’m glad my two year old already loves it!

I rarely serve dessert. At the end of a meal if we want something sweet, I always have some fruit cut up. If we are having friends over for dinner or it’s a special occasion like a birthday, I’ll have some sort of dessert available to serve. I try to limit our sugar intake like I do salt. The more sugar we eat, the more our brain craves to get the same sugar fix it did before- it’s literally like a drug! You can read more about that in an older blog post I’ve written here. I used to be super strict on my daughter’s sugar intake when she was younger, but then felt as if I should lighten up and let her enjoy more sweets like other kids do. I’ve seen the outcome- she’s a sugar monster now! Even though I let her enjoy treats at her preschool parties and when grandparents visit (I’ve learned it’s their love language, and no matter how hard I try I will never win that battle), I keep sugar out of our house as much as possible to limit her intake at home. It’s the one thing I guess I would say I “restrict” but I don’t label sugar as being “bad.” It’s just something we limit.

Generally speaking, limiting processed foods and consuming high quality “whole” foods is the best way to feed your family. Taking the focus off of calories and fat grams and putting it on the quality of food you are eating is best for feeding your body. From what research shows and what I’ve seen in my own professional practice, families who are active on an everyday basis are going to be healthier than those who follow crazy diets and are inactive. By active, I don’t mean going to the gym 5 days per week. That’s great to do, but you have to be continuously active. Get the family off the couch and go for a bike ride. Get your kids outside to play. Limit screen time for the entire family. If you are continuously moving your body, I guarantee it will be much easier to stay at a healthy weight and have a healthier body and mind.

Now enjoy that slice of pizza and get that body moving! 😉

 

 

Baby #2 arriving this summer!

We are so excited for the arrival of our second baby girl, due late July! As Carli puts it, she is going to be a “BIG BIG sister!!” This pregnancy has already been much different than my first, and I’m learning that I can’t compare the two. I’m also learning to give myself more grace, rest when I need it, and ask for help when I need it. Being pregnant with a very active two year old isn’t easy! I plan on doing some futures posts about what I eat while pregnant to keep myself and my baby healthy, and what I do for exercise while pregnant. Also will have updates on Stay tuned!

 

Choosing Today

I have been rushing through life for the past 12 years, ever since I graduated from high school.

Rushing to get through each semester of college. Rushing to get that cap and gown. Rushing to be done with school. Rushing through my internship so I could finally sit to take my dietitian board exam. Rushing to my wedding day. Rushing to get a job.

And finally, rushing to buy a house, get pets, get pregnant and to get to a stage a life where I felt content. No matter what, there was always something bigger and better I was rushing to get to. And once I got there, I always had a mourning period. Mourning the stage that I rushed to get through, without realizing how the busyness has distracted me from moments I will never get back.

I can barely even remember the events of the night my now-husband proposed to me, I was too busy thinking ahead to the wedding. College is a blur of a never-ending to-do list that I was a slave to. Our first year of marriage left me constantly distracted, wondering when and where we would finally settle down and buy and house, and if and when I would be able to get pregnant. When I did become pregnant, I couldn’t even enjoy my pregnancy. I let it fly by without stopping to enjoy the little amount of time I had left with just my husband and I. And as wonderful as it is to have her here, oh how I wish I would have savored those moments when I could feel her moving around inside of me!

Although for years my mentality has been “tomorrow will be better,” that has changed since becoming a mom. Time is a double-edged sword, both my friend and my enemy. It’s my friend when 7PM comes- when it’s finally time to start bath and getting ready for bed. Some days, 7PM cannot come soon enough. It’s my enemy when I’m constantly reminded how fast my baby is growing. She’s not a baby anymore. She’s become independent and is growing into a little person with her own opinion. I’ve heard the saying so many times- The days are long but the years are short. It’s so true.

Even though I desperately want time to stop, each day feels like a marathon that I’m just trying to get through.

The first mile is getting breakfast ready- it’s slow and steady because it’s the one time of the day that we can take it nice and easy- although my mind has the whole race planned out in my head and my entire day has already been strategized. Miles 2-8 are quick- get dressed, teeth brushed, bags packed, in the car, then out the door as quickly as possible to wherever we’re going- preschool drop-off, music class, the gym, grocery store. Miles 8-13- these are painful to get through but I know once I’m through them I’m halfway there to one of the best parts of the day: naptime. Lunch, cleanup, laundry, planning dinner and doing a couple phone consults with patients is something I try to get through quickly because I want at least one mile of rest, where I can take it nice and easy before she wakes up. Miles 14-22 are always the toughest mentally- that time between nap and dinner. By miles 22-26 I’m tired but encouraged because (most days) I have my cheerleader with me (my husband) who can help me to the finish line. Bedtime- after about 60 minutes of reading, singing the same song over and over and saying a prayer for everyone we know plus anything stuffed that’s in her room- the marathon is finally over.

Don’t get me wrong, I love every part of it. But I am so guilty of being stuck in the “just finish the race” mentality. Haven’t I learned?! I have. But I can’t seem to stop myself from wishing away today and longing for tomorrow.

I have a lot to look forward to, just like I always have. I look forward to watching my daughter grow up to be an independent young woman. I can’t wait to see what her interests and hobbies will be, and where her passions will lead her to. I’m excited to take her shopping for new school clothes, her prom dress, her wedding dress. I can’t wait to see her start a family and have babies of her own. But I don’t want to rush to get there. I don’t want to miss out anymore.

This stage of life- it’s hard. I’m okay with admitting that. Even though it’s hard, I wouldn’t trade it for any other season right now. It’s exactly where I want to be.

Today, Carli wanted me to play blocks with her before she napped. I had an afternoon planned with things we needed to do, so I wanted her down for a nap at a certain time. Instead of fighting it, I sat with her and helped her build a tower. We built the same tower over and over again. It fell down, we picked it back up and started over. Even though this is an activity that would typically so easily lose my attention, I couldn’t help but notice how fascinated she was with it all. I can’t even explain the joy it brought to her eyes- to have my full and undivided attention. It’s hard for me to just sit and play without a thousand things going through my head, or picking up things around me, or running upstairs for “just a minute” to throw in some laundry. She had my full presence. That’s what she needed and we both soaked up every minute.

 

 

Tomorrow is full of new adventures and milestones. I look forward to that. But today’s opportunities will be gone if I continue racing through them. Today I’m going to choose to be present and soak up each moment slowly and with intention. Because tomorrow, those blocks will be replaced with a completely new interest. Tomorrow, bedtime will be shorter and she won’t want me to read her the same book 20 times.  Tomorrow, she’ll be one day closer to fixing breakfast on her own. Tomorrow, while it may be easier, isn’t always better. So today, I’m here.

 

 

Dads Are Just As Awesome

When I was pregnant with my daughter 3 years ago, I remember getting emotional over anything I saw that highlighted the special bond a mother has with her child. Baby commercials, blog posts, pregnancy books, videos of mothers holding their baby for the first time- my overly hormonal pregnancy brain just couldn’t handle the anticipation of becoming a mother, something that is such a miracle and the most wonderful journey I could ever imagine embarking on. I couldn’t wait to form that special bond with my own child, and I envisioned being there for her in every way that a mother is supposed to be- doing mommy and me classes, comforting her in the middle of the night when she can’t sleep, rubbing her back when she’s sick, tucking her into bed, picking her up and dropping her off at school- I wanted to be the parent who is supposed to do all of those things. Because I’m the mom, and that’s what moms do.

Society puts both moms and dads in certain roles. Or at least it used to. Moms take care of sick kids. Moms console a hurting child. Moms get up in the middle of the night. Moms are more involved in activities and school. Moms get praised relentlessly for all we do because….moms do it all. 

Partly out of my motherly instincts and partly because I’m selfish, ever since my daughter was born I felt as if I needed to do it all too. Not because I felt I had to, but I wanted to and I didn’t want to be labeled a bad mom for letting my husband step into what was supposed to be MY role. But he wanted to be in my role. He wanted to have a bigger part in the parenting pendulum. This annoyed me to such a deep level that I started to resent him for it. Not that I wanted our daughter to have a deadbeat dad, but I wanted him to just butt out of my job. Dads just aren’t supposed to take that special role away from mothers. It’s easy to play the martyr. It’s also more rewarding to feel as if you are doing everything for your kids- I wanted the self-satisfaction in knowing that I could do it all. I was super mom.

Last week our little girl was sick and it was a Tuesday night. If this kid gets sick, it’s ALWAYS on Tuesday night. I work on Wednesdays only (my husband is off on Wednesdays), and there is nothing I hate more than leaving her when she doesn’t feel good. Sick kids only want their mom, right? I remember telling him that I was just going to go in later that week- maybe Thursday or Friday. She needed me. He accused me of calling him an incompetent parent which annoyed me even more. I thought- but what if she needs to go to the doctor? I need to be there for that!

The next morning, after a long night staying up with a toddler who was having horrible tummy pains, I was driving to Atlanta on about 3 hours of sleep. I had threatened my husband all night that I was going to quit my job that I love, just so I could always be around for times like this. I had the radio tuned to my favorite morning station and they happened to be talking about the new Chickfila drive thru service for moms. This caters to moms with small children who don’t want the hassle of standing in line with them, but still want to sit in the dining room. They can take the kids through the drive thru while they are still restrained in their car seats to place their order, then park and go inside where a table with their food will be waiting for him. People were calling in to the station asking “what about dads? Why don’t dads get this kind of service? Why is everything catered to moms?”

I’m sure if my husband really wanted to use this service while he’s home with our daughter on a Wednesday, Chickfila would cater to him and not put up a fight. But it’s just the concept of it- our society is catered to allowing moms to have the primary parenting role, and dads are always coming in second. It’s terribly difficult to find a men’s room with a changing table- my husband could never change our daughter’s diaper when we’re eating out even if he wanted to. Most companies don’t offer any type of paternity leave for dads- my husband had to save up sick leave so that he could have a week off when our baby was born. I won’t even go into the role that the media, advertisement and our culture play into, that put moms on the parenting pedestal while dads are sitting on the couch, drinking a beer and watching football.

While I was listening to this radio show last Wednesday, the message I got was that dads want to be more involved. And women want the fathers of their children to be able to step into that “mom” role more often. Not because women are getting whiny and don’t want the responsibility, or because the millennials are now becoming parents and we’re all lazy, but because  dads are just as capable at doing the things that moms have always done. We should want our children to have an equal relationship with both parents. How selfish of me for wanting to get all the snuggles, all the bedtime kisses and all the bonding time.

My husband is a champ and such an amazing father. That day he called the doctor, took her in and explained her symptoms just as I would have. He got peed on, didn’t get a shower, and most importantly gave our 2 year old all the love and snuggles she needed. She was perfectly fine staying home with her dad and he handled the day like a pro- just like he always has.

 

I’m grateful that my little girl has such an amazing male role model in her life. It takes some of the pressure off of me, to know that when I’m gone she’s getting the equal quality of care that she would if I were there. I feel less guilty for wanting to work outside of the home a little bit. I feel less of a burden on the nights I’m out doing other commitments and can’t be home to tuck her into bed.

Her daddy wants to spend as much quality time as possible with her. He doesn’t mind rocking her in the middle of the night. He wants to comfort her when she’s hurt. I want him to have these opportunities. And I’m no longer taking it as a threat that she’s just as happy to be with her daddy as she is me. I just consider us both to be incredibly lucky to have him.

Monday Meals with Carli

Mondays are tough for us. My husband works an early morning shift, comes home to sleep for a few hours, and then has to go back into work around 10PM to work through the evening. This is after he has been working all weekend. The nice part about it all is that he gets almost 4 whole days off until Friday evening, but by Monday afternoon I’m going crazy trying to find ways to keep our toddler entertained.

Carli is only two, but is fascinated with cooking and loves to be with me in the kitchen. She even goes to the extent of finding cooking shows on Amazon Prime to watch, and can’t get enough of them. I’ve tried to get her into Mickey Mouse and the other typical shows toddlers are attracted to, but the kid isn’t interested! She has always been a great eater, but is at the age where she is starting to form an opinion about what she wants to eat and is getting picky. Not terribly picky, but enough that we are having to find creative ways to get her to sit down and eat a meal with us. One of the best ways to get little kids to eat a variety of foods and to eat healthy is to let them be involved. Carli likes to know (along with most other toddlers I’m sure) that she is somewhat in control of whatever the task at hand is- whether is be eating, playing, or learning something new. I thought I would start putting her interest in cooking to good use and let her be a part of making dinner on Monday nights. It’s been a win-win for both of us. She is learning about new foods and is getting to be more involved with the meal she is about to eat, and I get to test and try out new recipes. We sample the dishes together, add and take away ingredients to make it better and the end result is a dish that both of us have created that’s healthy and full of fun new flavors.

I’ll try to post our Monday meals each week. This has been a fun experience so far and something we both look forward to. Tonight our recipe tonight involved chicken, mango (a fruit Carli has had but not often), whole grains, broccoli (her favorite vegetable) and kale (a new vegetable for her). I’m trying to introduce new foods to her through this experience and it’s grown her interest in trying new foods. I look forward to sharing our Monday meals with everyone!

Mango Chicken with Whole Grains, Kale and Roasted Broccoli

**This recipe serves 2 people (or 2 adults and a toddler). You may want to double or triple the recipe**

First we started with the sauce. If you like your foods to be spicy I would add the crushed red pepper. To make it more kid-friendly I would remove the crushed red pepper- Carli doesn’t like spicy foods so I had to re-make the entire sauce recipe once she tried it so that she would eat it. Both versions are good!

 

For the sauce:

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 mango (chopped into cubes)
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3 T brown sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground ginger

Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for about 2 min, until brown. Add the remaining ingredients. Turn the heat down to low and let simmer.

While the sauce is simmering, cut 2 chicken breasts into cubes. Heat 2 tsp of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook until brown. Add the chicken to the sauce mixture and continue to let simmer.

Next, prepare the grains. I used 1/3 cup quinoa, 1/3 cup millet and 1/3 cup buckwheat. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add the grains and reduce heat to simmer. Cover and let simmer for 15-20 minutes or until all of the water is absorbed.

While the grains are cooking, prepare the broccoli and kale.

For the broccoli:

  • 1 broccoli head, chopped
  • 1 tbsp melted coconut oil (you can use any oil you have)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl mix all the ingredients together. Place mixture on baking pan and bake for 15 minutes.

For the kale:

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups fresh kale, broken into small pieces
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (omit if you don’t want it to be spicy)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in pan, add garlic. Saute for 2 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir. Cover and let simmer for about 5 minutes.

When everything is ready, place a scoop of the chicken with sauce on a plate, along with a spoonful of broccoli and kale. I tossed the grains with a little bit of olive oil and added about 1/2 cup of cranberries to it. I would recommend mixing everything together so the sauce covers the veggies and grains- it’s delicious! Aim for making 1/2 of each plate broccoli and kale, 1/4 of each plate grains, and 1/4 of each plate chicken. The nutrient density and color in this meal is amazing! Carli enjoyed the cranberries and and mangoes the most- “It’s candy Mommy!”

I hope everyone has a great week!