Geranium seeds

Seeds of wellness for body, mind and spirit

Life is a gift… with an ode to joy

I’ve said this on this blog before, but after this week it bears saying again. Most nights when I rock Lucas to sleep it is a mostly sweet but still bittersweet moment for me. Having him snuggle up to me and run his fingers through my hair while I sing to him (sometimes he joins in, which is oh so sweet), or rocking this precious baby (toddler) in silence, then watching him fall asleep with that angelic face — that is very, very sweet. The bitter part comes with my full awareness that he will grow up too soon and be out of my arms, the knowledge that one day he will get hurt and I won’t be able to protect him from everything, and worse — my full awareness that we are not promised tomorrow and I simply do not know how many more times I will get to rock this precious child to sleep.

That may seem a little morbid but I can’t help it — I’m a hospice chaplain and I see people dying everyday. Young and old, people of every kind. People like me. Babies like my baby. It doesn’t depress me like many people think it might; knowing this has taught me the value of life and to appreciate it to its fullest.

This week the bittersweet moments have been even more bittersweet due to several events: first, a dear friend died on Monday. She was a happy, hardworking, active, wonderful person, mother, and friend. She had a nine year-old daughter who will miss her dearly. Then, a couple of friends experienced similar losses when two other parents of young children died this week. Finally, the shooting in Connecticut left us all numb and wild with grief at the thought of losing our own children.

A really great seminary professor of mine — John Claypool — used to say that “life is a gift.” His very young daughter died of cancer and he was later diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma — a nasty cancer that eventually took his life. And his response was this: life is a gift. It helped him to appreciate the time he was able to spend with his daughter, and the life he shared with his wife, family and friends.

That has always, always stayed with me. Life is a gift. Appreciate life.

By the way — here’s the back of our Christmas card this year!

cardback2012

And the front:

cardfront2012

And to finish up I have to share this with you… someone shared this on facebook today and I thought it was perfect timing since tomorrow we light the Advent candle of Joy… amidst all the grief! Flash mobs are awesome and this one is really special. Made me tear up! I hope it gives you some joy.

Peace, love and joy this season and always!! XOXO, Alice.

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I’m really doing it!! Transitioning to working part time…

I’m giving heed to my inner voice to “slow down”
*Image by Kelly Rae Roberts

Holy Cow, it’s really happening. In just a couple of weeks I will be changing from regular full-time job status to a 24-hour work week. I will be working 3 days per week (Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays) and will be a stay-at-home mom for the rest of the week. Craaazy, right??

I know, it’s really not a crazy or innovative idea. Lots of people do this. Lots of people are stay at home moms all week long. But it’s craaazy to me! To me, the one who has (privately, to no one) sworn to always hold a full-time job even after becoming a mommy. To me, the one who has (privately) scorned the idea of ever being other than a professional working woman.

I know, I know. Being a mom is my most important work right now, and if I were to quit my job altogether in order to raise my child at home, that would be a fine choice. Intellectually I know this. Emotionally, it’s not so simple.

I have been and still am a strong supporter of mommies who work outside the home. I know that, for a lot of women, it’s not a matter of choice but of necessity. For me, I have to say, it has been a choice. My husband and I could surely have made accomodations in our living expenses if I had decided to stay at home. To be honest, the thought of staying at home never even entered my mind. It wasn’t even a consideration.

You see, since I was a little girl I knew I wanted to be two things: a mother, and a professional career woman. I daydreamed about both of these roles and knew inspiring women who did both well. My own mother was a school principal while I grew up. My career plans have changed a lot throughout the years, but my inner identity as a professional woman has not. It has taken me a long time to finally find myself in a professional position. First I was an undergrad, then a masters student, then a chaplain intern, then a chaplain resident (and with jobs in between), then finally a staff chaplain! Let me just say, chaplain jobs aren’t that easy to find — especially in a small town. So, the thought of leaving my job was just out of the question.

Like many women, I underestimated how difficult it is to balance work and family. Still, I was doing fine, I thought. Then one day while discussing this with a friend, she said, “Working part-time would be perfect.” Until she said this, I hadn’t even considered part-time work. But I thought, she is right. A few months later, I pitched the idea to my organization after coming up with what I thought was a good plan. They said no, and that was that. Or so I thought.

For the next several months, I have heard this voice inside of me telling me to “slow down.” I have felt so rushed. And the voice has been getting louder and louder. But, would I be happy working part-time? What about my career ambitions? (Yes, even as a chaplain I do entertain career ambitions such as moving into a leadership role in the future). And what about the pay cut? It’s not pretty, my friends, but the truth is that having a pay cut is a big blow to my ego. You see, just like it took me so long to reach a professional position, it has taken me this long to finally earn decent pay. When you go to school for so many years it’s kind of demoralizing to not make much money (like the kind I made during my first couple of years post-masters degree). Truth is, I like the money, but mostly I like what it represents. As in, my education was worth something. As in, my working skills are worth something.

So anyway. I had to get over all of that and say YES, voice, YES, I will listen. I will slow down. So I kept coming to my supervisors with new ideas for going part-time. And it really seemed as if it wasn’t going to happen. I had started looking for part-time work elsewhere, and I grieved the fact that I was probably going to leave my hospice work. And then it happened. It was almost out of the blue. I had a meeting with a couple of supervisors on Tuesday, when I was given the OK to work a 32-hour week. Then, on Friday, my supervisor told me I can make that a 24-hour week. Unbelievable!

So here I am. Nervous, and excited. Mostly excited.

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Distractions in Brazil

My dear readers:
First of all, my heartfelt apologies for neglecting this blog. Summer was busy, and before I knew it I felt out of the habit of writing. You know how it goes. Here´s to a rebirthing of this blog with the beginning of Fall. *Cheers*

The busyness of last Summer started with a trip to Brazil to see family. It was a real family affair since my husband and little boy went with me, and the trip was a success. Little did I know I would be in Brazil again in a couple of months, this time by myself. My dad was hospitalized with pneumonia, and when I heard he had been intubated, I decided to book a last minute flight.

I grew up in a beautiful city on the coast of Brazil. At seventeen, I was ready to spread my wings and explore different sceneries. I didn´t really think that it would be a permanent move or that I would be raising a family in a different country. But, that is how it turned out. I love my life but sometimes I wonder if I would have left if I had understood how difficult it would be to live away from parents who get sick, to raise children away from my family, and to live away from the ocean. Ah, the ocean. My beloved.

It is wonderful to be here but also bittersweet. It´s hard to enjoy my hometown while also caring for my dad and missing my little boy and my husband terribly. Every mamma knows it´s not easy to have a good time when you´re away from your little one for an extended period of time. And even though it´s only been a week, I had never been away from Lucas for more than one night!

So, this has not been the usual leisure vacation in Brazil. But, I am still making the most of it and have certainly made use of wonderful distractions and self-care rituals in this wonderful place called home.

1) Toes in the Ocean

Praia da Costa Beach, in my hometown

I love the ocean. I always have, but now that I live away from it, I really appreciate it. Something about standing in it and watching waves crash on the beach makes everything alright. Nearly everyday since I´ve arrived I´ve come for a short jog on the beach, which ends with my toes in the water for a few minutes. Ultimate self-care.

2) Desserts, desserts, desserts!!

Brazil has the best yogurt. That seems random, but it´s true. I stocked up on my first day. But I´ve also been sampling some of my old favorite chocolates and everything sweet.

The intensive care unit where my dad is hospitalized has very strict rules in regards to visitation. Only one person can stay with him from 11:30 am to 7 pm, and two people can visit for 30 min in the morning and 30 min in the afternoon. I have been alternating with my sisters and stepmother.
One afternoon I was killing time at the mall until visitation time, and saw a bakery named “The best chocolate cake in the world.” Of course, I had to try it! It was good: layers of merengue with real chocolate in between. But, I still wouldn´t say it was the best in the world. So, I am going to have to continue on my mission to find the very best, which means sampling many more different kinds. I´ll let you know how it goes.

The self-titled “Best chocolate cake in the world”

This leads to the 3rd great distraction and self-care goodie in Brazil:

3) Coffee!!

I have had cappucinos or otherwise good coffee everyday. Doesn´t get much better than that.

By the way, this is what the McDonald´s McCafe looks like in my hometown:

Life is sweeter in Brazil.

Not too shabby, huh?

Here´s one more picture of the beach in case you are in the unfortunate situation of being away from the ocean. Picturing yourself here works too.

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So, are you ready to be a parent?

Lately I’ve been thinking about what little I knew a couple of years ago when I was considering trying to conceive and wondering what it would be like to be a parent. If I could write a letter to my 29 year-old self, this is what I would say…

Lucas and I

You will understand just how closely related love and grief are. You will look at your child as you hold him close on the first night you bring him home from the hospital and you will cry. You will cry because you love him so much and your heart is filled with such gratitude. And you will cry because you know that you can’t protect him from every hurt, and that one  day soon enough, he will not be in your arms anymore.

You will also cry whenever you see or hear about terrible things done to children or when you meet a mother who has lost a child. You will feel the hurt a little deeper, and it will be more difficult to distance yourself from the pain.

You will smile and laugh more. That’s because while you used to go about your business immersed in your thoughts much of the time, now you have a little companion who demands your attention… and boy is he cute. Your face will light up and you will think everything he does is hilarious… luckily he thinks the same about you.

You will be mad. On days when you are extremely sleep deprived and are running late for work, and he is screaming and running from you and just being difficult. And you will be madly in love. Just as quickly as you get mad you will also lean over and kiss him even though he continues to scream and throw a tantrum.

There will come a time when you desperately need a break from being a mommy and you wonder how anyone can do this all of the time. You will miss those days when you could decide on a moment’s notice to drive over an hour to a Bikram yoga class, when you could jump at the chance to register for an overnight relay race without a second thought, or when you could sleep in on Saturdays.

And you will miss him. You will miss him while you are at work, or when you see another mother with a young child somewhere. You will surprise yourself by wanting to cut down on your work hours and to spend more time at home, even though you have always vowed to be a professional working woman all of your life.

There will be nights, like last night, when he sweetly and quietly curls up in your lap at bedtime and lets his fingers run through your hair as you sing him to sleep. And there are other nights, like tonight, when he screams and fights to get out of your arms and you feel like a bad mommy. But you will know that he is just very tired, and so you will hold him a little tighter until he collapses from exhaustion and you place him gently on the crib.

You will marvel at what a wonderful father your husband is and will find another good reason to love him. You will love your child and your new family. You will hurt. You will find bliss. You will change, and you will also be the same.

So… are you ready to be a parent?

PS… if you could only see him, you would say yes!

Lucas and
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Mini Marathon Mommies!

Training for a half marathon with a stroller is no easy feat, but it can be done!

A few months ago, I wrote a post about my running partner, Jocelyn (read the post here.) We started running together while training for our first half-marathon in 2010. At that time, Jocelyn was the only one of us who was a mommy, and all of our runs were sans kids. Now, she’s got two little munchkins and I have a sweet boy of my own. Jogging strollers have definitely become part of our lives!

When we decided to train for another half-marathon together, we knew we would have to incorporate the strollers into our training. Both of our husbands are super busy with work stuff and trips this summer and we can’t find babysitters for all of our runs. We know it will be challenging to get our training done with full-time jobs and kids, but we’re determined to get it done and looking forward to it! We have signed up for a mini marathon in September and officially started our training this week.

If you are a not an experienced runner, a half-marathon may seem like a pretty intimidating feat… but I’m here to tell you it is not as dauting as it seems! It’s all about being consistent with your training.

When I started training for my first mini marathon, the most I had ever run at one time was 6 miles. Once. Our running guru devised an easy 15-week plan for Jocelyn and I that consisted of running only 3 times per week. I was 17 weeks pregnant on race day, and felt great. Our finishing time was 2:32 I believe. We could have pushed ourselves much harder but were trying to be conservative since I was pregnant and this was our first big race.

Since I’ve had Lucas my runs have become shorter but I also think I’ve had more efficient workouts — especially in my hilly neighborhood. Try pushing a stroller uphill… it’s quite a workout! Here are some tips if you are planning on taking your baby for a ride:

Be prepared for interruptions. Checking on baby, replenishing a snack, grabbing the bottle the baby just threw out of the stroller. It does help to keep snacks on hand. Lucas loves the big old rice chips/cakes like “Kim’s Magic Pops” (he’s holding one in the photo above) and it takes him a while to finish one. Perfect for the stroller ride. Also: invest in a stroller with a good canopy or purchase additional sun shade. Despite the canopy on my jeep stroller and my incessant tries to get Lucas to wear his hat and/or sunglasses, sun would always get in his eyes and he would be very uncomfortable (read: more interruptions). Getting extra sun shade has really helped. I have also purchased a weather shield for rainy (not stormy) days and have yet to try it.

Since runs with strollers tend to be shorter, we have decided to adapt the plan that worked so well for us in 2010. We do plan on enlisting child care for our long runs and maybe some of our weekday runs as well. But most of our short mile days will be with our kiddos. So, we tweeked our plan to stretch out our miles into 4 days per week (rather than 3 x week). I will share the plan here in case someone wants to give it a try.

By the way: seasoned runners may be surprised that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of miles to be logged during week days. But, this is the exact amount of miles we logged per week during our first training and were more than ready for 13.1 by week 15!

Week Day1 Day2 Day3 Day4
1 miles 3 2 2 5
2 2 3 2 6
3 2 4 2 7
4 2 4 2 7
5 2.5 4 2.5 6
6 2 3 2 8
7 2 4 2 9
8 2.5 4 2.5 8
9 2 4 2 10
10 2.5 4 2.5 8
11 2 5 2 10
12 2.5 4 2.5 8
13 2 4 2 12
14 2 2 2 6
15 3 2 13.1
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I just might have a problem that you understand

Image

Bill Withers had it right. We all need someone to lean on sometimes.

Every now and then I need a reminder that I can’t do it all alone. I have this tendency to keep my thoughts and issues to myself, and to believe myself capable of handling multiple things without asking for help. Invariably I find myself overwhelmed and disappointed (maybe even surprised) at my not being able to somehow be superwoman. Then something or someone comes along to remind me that I am not supposed to do it all by myself and that relying on others and on God is part of the blessing and journey.

It has been one of these times lately. It’s not been anything big or out of the ordinary; I just found myself wandering again into the land of self-reliance or the fantasy of it.

I know it’s not just me because I run into this at work all the time. As some of you know, I work with people who are terminally ill. There are many painful things about being seriously ill at the end of life. But the one thing I seem to hear most of the time is how painful it is to lose one’s independence. People become very distraught at the thought of having to depend on others (whether loved ones or strangers) for regular functions of daily living.

It’s understandable. None of us would relish the loss of our ability to care for ourselves, or to walk unassisted, or even to drive. But it seems to me that at this particular time in history we have really come to worship self-reliance as if it is something to be most proud of. And the irony is that our sense of total independence is really just an illusion. We all do depend on each other whether we choose to acknowledge this or not. And who says dependence on others is really such a terrible thing? Just the opposite, it can and should be a gift.

I’ve been reminded these past few days that I am not alone and don’t have to try to do it all alone. Have you been there too?

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Post-Lactation Depression?!

Bringing Lucas home for the first time

Warning: this blog is about to get extremely personal.

I apologize to my male readers for the rather feminine subject. But, keep reading… maybe it will help you understand your sister, wife, friend… 🙂

I did not experience post-partum depression. Sure, that first night after we brought Lucas home from the hospital, I was a tearful mess. But, soon enough I was back to my normal self (albeit sleep deprived). In a way, I felt like I had dodged the bullet when I didn’t present the PPD symptoms I had read about or heard from friends. So, imagine my surprise when very recently I started feeling like I had fallen off the deep end: irritable, tearful, exhausted, and just plain weird. At first I thought I was having a major case of PMS, but it just didn’t let up and seemed to be getting worse. After talking with friends, consulting with my doctor, and (of course) googling like crazy, I think I know what has been wrong with me: post-lactation depression. Yes, people, I swear this exists, although it is not a “real” medical condition.

Here’s my whole confessional story:

It was important to me to breastfeed Lucas his first year of life. When he completed 12 months, I stopped pumping and introduced whole milk during the day. Eventually I did away with the morning nursing session and gradually decreased the amount he nursed at bedtime. When he was a little over 14 mos. (almost two months ago), I stopped breastfeeding altogether. It was a very gradual and natural process, and there was very little change to our bedtime ritual or relationship. I was happy to have breastfed and happy to have stopped when I did. Mission accomplished, and I thought everything was just peachy.

Except that, about 3 months ago I started having night sweats (which I had never had before). Then, a few weeks ago I started feeling extremely tired and irritable. One some days I even had crying spells. I thought maybe something was wrong with my thyroid or that I was somehow hormonally off. It definitely fet like a physiological thing. There was no apparent reason for the changes in my mood or energy level. I’m all for talk therapy, but the kind of feelings I was having seemed to call for a different kind of therapy. The symptoms were not exactly severe, but enough to be bothersome — and bothersome enough that I did not feel like myself.

While out for a run with a girlfriend, she helped me make the connection for the first time between my symptoms and the fact that I had just stopped breastfeeding. I still thought something else might be wrong, so I went to my doctor to have my hormone levels and thyroid functioning checked. Everything checked out OK, and my doc agreed that the symptoms might be related to weaning Lucas. He said that maybe my body was simply adjusting to this change.

What has been really frustrating is that I had no warning that my body might respond this way. There is no mention of this in my breastfeeding book — just a brief paragraph stating that women might feel some sadness about ending the breastfeeding relationship. I consulted other breastfeeding books in the bookstore and found no more information. In fact, another book said that the weaning effects on the mother — especially if done gradually — are “minimal.” So off to the internet I went, and found no more information from reputable medical websites. This is frustrating to someone like me who deals with stressful situations by gathering as much information as I can.

Luckily, I found plenty of anecdotal information from other women who described having had very similar symptoms after they stopped breastfeeding. They all described it as I had: feeling as if this were PMS on steroids. Some women called it “post-lactation depression,” which I thought was pretty clever. Others suggested that weaning might prompt a late-onset of PPD in some. This I guess is controversial, since most medical websites I searched stated that PPD happens within the first year post-partum.

At any rate, it does seem like there is something to this. And here we finally get to my happy ending. In one helpful entry from askmoxie.org, I found several suggestions for dealing with this. The author of the blog suggested a “trifecta” of daily massage, exercise, and Omega 3 supplementation. Several of her readers left comments with further suggestions, one of them being to supplement with a B-vitamin complex. I was already taking Omega 3s (I take a fish oil capsule at night) and exercising, and taking B vitamins seemed easy enough. It also made sense to me that it might help, at least with my energy level. (Here is the thread if you want to check it out for yourself.)

Lo and behold, that has made all the difference for me! I started feeling much, much better (pretty much back to my regular self) after the very first day of taking it. You might call it a placebo effect. But I don’t think so. First, I really didn’t expect it to help that quickly. Second, I didn’t expect the B vitamins to help with ALL my symptoms. People, not only is my mood back to normal, but my night sweats have stopped as well. It turns out B vitamins help synthetize and balance hormones (which I didn’t know).

I must also say that, before taking the vitamins, relaxation exercises and easy listening music also helped (for me, that meant the Frank Sinatra station on my satellite radio). And definitely talking about it — with my husband, girlfriend, sister, and doctor. I bet a lot of women under-report these symptoms to their doctors. Maybe there would be much more information out there if more of us actually discussed this with our docs.

Has this happened to anyone else out there? What has helped you?
If you are going through something similar to this right now, let me encourage you to discuss this with your doctor before diagnosing yourself with “post-lactation depression” or trying anything out. But definitely talk about it with someone. And good luck!

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