Monday, April 7, 2014

Our homeschooling life

I've never written about the fact that we've chosen to be a homeschooling family here because it didn't seem particularly relevant to the focus of the blog, which is about our journey with food and allergies. But I had the opportunity to write about homeschooling for a blog being organized by my awesome homeschooling group here in Portland. I thought it would be fun to share a link.

Ellie has taken me on all kinds of unexpected journeys since she was born. Homeschooling is just the latest example of that :)

Check it out here:

Our morning walk

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Colic is an invitation

I have been thinking about colic a lot lately and what it means for a family to experience it. What does it do to us to hold our own crying baby and not be able to fix the problem? Is there anything in the world that makes someone feel more powerless than this? Becoming a parent is a surrender in many ways. We have so little say over who this little person becomes - both of my children have exhibited such strong and distinct personalities from such an early age. It is humbling, and puts me in my place as their guide, grateful that I have been entrusted with these spirits.

I was encouraged by my doctor to wean August at six months because he was struggling so much with tummy pain and sleep disturbances, seemingly because he was not tolerating my milk (or, more specifically, the foods I was eating, and how they were translated in my milk). This recommendation did not feel right. But instead of outrightly rejecting it, I worried over it, seriously considered it, researched homemade formula, tried homemade formula, etc. etc. I exerted a tremendous amount of effort toward something just because my doctor said it was important, not because it felt right to me.

Ultimately I came to the conclusion that I didn't want to wean August just because returning to a very restrictive diet felt impossible to me. It didn't feel right to take nursing away from him just because it was hard for me. (And, honestly, from a practical viewpoint, I looked at making homemade baby formula and it looked like a tremendous amount of work and not something I was willing to take on.)

So I circle back to the spiritual work that must happen when I decide to do something difficult. I remember reading "When Things Fall Apart" by Pema Chodron when Ellie was little and not doing well. In it, Chodron talks about when life is difficult people tend to run away from whatever is challenging them. But the thing we really should do is run right toward the challenge, she says. Immerse ourselves in it. Let it break us and let it built us back again, into a new form. I wrote a bit about the beautiful things that can happen when we open ourselves up to that kind of transformation here:

And let me be honest, when I decided to have another baby I was really not interested in taking on another difficult situation, no matter how transformative. But love can get us through some pretty tough spots.

I am reading a book right now called Lifeways: Working with family questions and it has a wonderful passage about colic and the transformative effects it can have on a parent:
"But infancy is not only peace and joy. Babies get things like colic, and their distress turns the whole house upside down. When we first meet such situations, we seem to have no ground under our feet. I had a baby whose digestive system was thrown into acute disorder by some wonder drugs given for an infection (which may nevertheless have saved his life). During his first weeks he would often cry for six hours at a stretch and those cries were ones of real distress. My husband would hear them still ringing in his ears while riding in the underground train to work. At the time, I was so distraught and involved in the child's misery that I believed I would never smile again.
"In such experiences, there is a schooling too. A baby in turmoil has such power that it can rob us of sleep and drive distraught mothers into post-natal depressions, breakdowns and even baby-battering. Yet, if we take the challenge seriously, as an opportunity to learn how to take the helm of our small boat, and to practise the art of keeping our balance and hanging onto our identity, then a new courage for the voyage may be found. Each mother's voyage is unique. But to understand its challenges is the first step in meeting them. And perhaps all will meet in one way or another these questions I have tried to describe - the need to re-form our identities, and to find a centre of balance and peace."

Our culture right now seems so focused on the quick fix. It seems there is always a way to dull the pain or lessen the discomfort. To take a shortcut. But is the easier way the right way? I've found that the answer is often no. And this is never more true than when it involves questions around my small children's well being.

Would it be easier for me have weaned my babies and not nursed them through difficult digestive troubles? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. Would it have been easier for me to say "I can't do this. I shouldn't have to do this."? Yes that sounds quiet appealing today, actually. But this is what it is to be a parent. We choose to carry our children through good times and bad. We don't get to walk away when it gets "too hard."

And the beautiful thing about going to that dark place and really feeling scared and thinking "maybe I really can't do this" is that we discover that we are capable of so much more than we think. We can move mountains when we are motivated by love for our children. 

I have started thinking of colic as an invitation to go deeper. An invitation to ask myself what's most essential in this brief season of my life. An invitation to live with imperfection. There are all of the practical elements of course to nursing a baby who is reacting to foods like food journaling, religious adherence to your dietary restrictions and self-care, but there is also space in this experience for real, mystical transformation. I would never trade this experience because in so many ways it has made me who I am. I have truly found a new center and a sense of peace that can only come when I act in harmony with my conscience.

I am immensely happy with my little boat these days. It carries two beautiful children and a wonderful husband. Even though our journey started out on rough seas, I know it's going to be a fantastic voyage.

Friday, January 10, 2014

What causes colic?

As much as I hoped and dreamed that things with my second baby would work out differently than my first, unfortunately our little guy, August, has really struggled with tummy pain just like his sister did as a baby. The difference this time around is that I figured out the cause of this terrible pain. (Hey! It only took me four years!)

When August was teeny tiny it was apparent immediately that he was struggling with something. He had good days and bad days and when he cried he wasn't just making little baby whimpers - he had a full-throttle "I am in some serious pain" cry. I knew that cry all too well.

Doctors put this type of stuff in a pretty crappy category known as colic which to me just says, we have no idea what is wrong. Some of the literature on colic is infuriating. Here's what the Mayo Clinc has to say about it:
The cause of colic is unknown. Researchers have explored a number of possibilities, including allergies, lactose intolerance, an immature digestive system, maternal anxiety, and differences in the way a baby is fed or comforted. Yet it's still unclear why some babies have colic and others don't.
Maternal anxiety! Yes, it is 2014 and doctors are still blaming mothers for their baby's discomfort. Bullshit. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Allergies schmallergies

So much has changed since I last wrote an update about Ellie’s health. It’s absolutely amazing how dynamic the immune system is. I think a lot of people believe that if a child has an allergy, that allergy will be there for life. Or there are people who ask whether Ellie will grow out of her allergies. And my belief is that neither of those things are true. Food allergies are a living, breathing thing just like any illness. We can help heal them, or we can be complacent and live with them. Thankfully, our latest strategy has made huge strides in healing Ellie’s allergies.

First of all, we have made a ton of changes to Ellie’s treatment protocol.
  • In May we doubled Ellie’s Ketotifen dose and we also switched from using Ketotifen tablets which we were getting from Canada to capsules of powder that we are able to get from a local compounding pharmacy. The Canadian tablets contained a tiny amount of lactose, and the new Ketotifen does not have any fillers, so I believe that change alone made a big difference. Ellie can’t do dairy, and a tiny amount of lactose twice a day builds up over time.
  • In June we switched Ellie’s probiotic, on the theory that perhaps her gut was overpopulated with too few strains of good bacteria. 
  • We also started an herbal protocol intended to support her immune system. 
  • We added some other supplements to support her gut health and her immune system, including l-glutamine and bovine colostrum and I re-committed to actually giving her her fish oil and Vitamin D every day.
Somewhere in the mix of all of those changes, magic happened. Ellie is now eating most foods she’s had positive allergy tests for. She has had positive skin prick results for carrot, celery, parsley, bananas, walnuts, spinach and she is eating them all with no mention of tummy aches. No rash ... no nothing. Remember cinnamon? Yep, she’s eating cinnamon with no problem at all. That one really floored me.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Worth the wait

There were so many days during our journey with Ellie's allergies and health that I shed tears over the worry that we'd never be able to have another child. I felt that she needed so much from us that there was no room to nurture another child (many days there wasn't even enough room to nurture the parents!). I worried about conceiving a child who would share her perplexing health issues and that that would simply be too much. And I worried about having a child who had even more severe issues than her, or different issues, and the idea of navigating a different realm of this brave new world of expanding chronic childhood disorders would be impossible. And, like any mother, I wondered how I could possibly love another little person as much as I loved Ellie.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Finding our way home

We have returned to Portland. Initially the plan was to make a four-month trip up here for the summer and to have our second baby surrounded by our network of family and friends. But this spring it became more and more obvious that LA was not a good fit for Ellie and probably never would be. I never imagined a three-year-old could be so vocal about her needs and opinions, but ours is, and just as we have been doing since her first day on Earth, we listened.

Ellie would say things like, “this is not my country. Portland is my country.” And, “California is too crazy. I don’t want to live in California.” Every day.

So when a promotion came up in Ian’s company, which would require being in the Portland office, he jumped at it and he got it. Suddenly our trip became a move and I, at eight months pregnant, packed us up and off we went.

But as with any story there are a hundred ways to tell it, and another version of the story is that we returned to Portland for Ellie’s health.

Friday, February 1, 2013

What two months without Ketotifen taught us (all over again)

So, here’s what happened. In my nauseous, pregnant daze in November, I did not order Ellie’s Ketotifen refill in time. By the time I did call to place the order, I realized it wouldn’t arrive before we were set to leave for our holiday travels. So I had the medication shipped to my parents’ house, in the hopes that it would arrive in the window we were in the Pacific Northwest, and not later, after we had moved on to visit family in Colorado. All told, we were without Ellie’s Keotifen for about three weeks in December and we were definitely feeling the pain with daily tummy aches and foods that had been working that weren’t working anymore. But we got it back, just before Christmas, and we were so relieved.

Then, we flew from Portland to Colorado and somewhere in transit we lost it. We lost $200 in medication and we could not find it to save ourselves. Ian and Ellie and I all had terrible colds and I know I was in a major fog, and all I could do was get through the next week of travel. I had no capacity for tracking down the Ketotifen (which is also called Zaditen). We had left two boxes of gifts at my parents’ for them to ship to us, and we hoped that maybe we had put the Ketotifen in there. So we spent a week in Colorado, and then spent another week at home in LA waiting for the boxes to arrive and when they did arrive – no Ketotifen. That’s when I really realized we were completely screwed. So I called and placed a new order and was told it would take the customary 14-21 days of shipping, but it could be toward the long end of that spectrum, because they had changed the country they were sourcing from.

By this point, things were really looking bad. Ellie had only had Ketotifen for one week out of about six. She was having tummy aches daily. In the morning the first thing she would say was, “Mama, I have a tummy ache.” She complained of her tummy hurting all the time and I had no idea what to do. I tried pulling back on her diet, but it had been so long (about nine months) since this magic pill entered our lives that I didn’t even really know where to start. I re-researched salicylate sensitivity, referred to this online food list daily, and seriously restricted any form of her allergic foods, even though small quantities of, say, cooked celery, had been fine in the recent past. I learned by trial and error – again. I made too many mistakes, and Ellie suffered. I hated it. I hated that we were back in that place. I think enough time had passed that I really started to wonder if that bad time had ever even happened.