Wednesday, November 26, 2014

MTHFR and salicylate sensitivity

A few months ago our whole family (minus the toddler) got tested for MTHFR mutations. Before that, I had never heard of MTHFR and knew nothing about how genetic polymorphism could affect our health. It has turned out to be absolutely crucial to understanding Ellie's health and her struggle with food sensitivities.

Initially we did the test for Ellie and myself. I tested positive for one mutation, and she tested positive for the other. Later, we tested my husband and he was positive for Ellie's, which means he passed it on to her. Now I know who to blame ;)

My mutation is quite minor, but hers can be more serious. The testing results showed that her enzymatic activity is only 60% of a normal person. What does that all mean? It took me a lot of reading and absorbing to sort out not just the basic science of it, but also, what this means specifically for Ellie.

Friday, July 18, 2014

My imperfect love

Six months ago - when Ellie was four and a half - I decided to make her a doll for her fifth birthday. I didn’t know how to sew and I had certainly never made a doll before. But turning five felt like such a big milestone and I wanted to give her something really special.

I started researching doll making and looking at patterns online and even emailed a total stranger who had blogged about making her daughter a doll. I quickly realized not knowing how to sew a stitch was going to be an impediment, so I sought out a teacher who specialized in making Waldorf dolls.

During my first lesson I felt silly as I struggled to thread the needle and tie a knot. I really should have taken home economics, instead of skipping it to be the yearbook editor, I thought. I thought by this age I would be the editor of a newspaper, not sewing dolls. Funny the paths our children lead us down.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

If you are a nursing mama with Hashimoto's - don't drink this tea

I am transitioning off the Autoimmune Protocol. It was an amazing and very healing experience. I saw all of my Hashimoto's symptoms fall away and felt my energy return, my emotions stabilize and my resiliency improve. In an ideal world, maybe I would have stayed on the protocol longer, but as our summer started ramping up and we are spending more time away from the house, it became a serious stress to prep AIP-approved foods for outings.

The first time I ventured off the AIP I actually didn't mean to. I was stuck in some massive afternoon traffic and hadn't eaten for hours and was feeling my blood sugar start to crash. All I had in my bag was a container of almonds and suprisingly I felt totally fine after eating them. After that I gave myself a little leeway and have generally been feeling quite good. It's possible I've overdone it in the chocolate department, which always impacts my sleep quality and then my energy the next day.

I am not following the re-introduction of foods as recommended in The Paleo Approach because it makes me nervous to introduce egg yolks as the first food, since I know clearly that eggs are a problem for me. It's possible the yolks are fine - I just didn't want my first try to be a fail. So I've added back in limited nuts and chocolate and that alone makes the diet work for my needs at the moment. Some people are able to follow an 80/20 rule when doing the Paleo diet - meaning 80% of the food they eat is Paleo-approved and for 20% of the time they give themselves a little flexiblity to eat standard American food. Well I am taking the same approach for AIP - about 80% of the time or more I'm eating AIP-approved foods and 20% of the time I'm eating just Paleo food (like nuts). It's working for right now.

Anyway, all of that was a very long-winded lead up to what happened today.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Hashimoto's during the postpartum time, and tackling the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol

A few weeks ago it became apparent that I needed to make some big changes. Somewhere around 9 or 10 months after August's birth I started having a major Hashimoto's flare. I was exhausted. Bone-deep exhaustion that just wasn't explainable by having to get up and nurse a couple of times in the night. Foods that had felt fine a couple of months earlier were suddenly not fine at all.

Ian and I were discussing the book "Grain Brain," which makes the case that consuming grains (even "healthy" whole grains) can cause myriad problems like dementia, anxiety, depression and ADHD. I asked Ian if he thought I was depressed.

"Yes, of course you're depressed," he said.

"How long do you think I've been depressed for?" I asked.

"Since you got pregnant," he answered.

Sometimes it takes someone who has known you forever, who is walking the path with you, to see what's right in front of you. I needed to make a change, and I needed to make it yesterday.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Lemon Ice Cream (Paleo, Vegan, Sugar-Free)

I spent some time this morning making these lemon cups (amaaaazing!) and had the idea for some lemon ice cream. I Googled vegan lemon ice cream and all the recipes I found contained cornstarch, which wouldn't work since I've gone grain-free again. The recipes I found also used a lot more natural sweetener then I can tolerate. So I tweaked the recipes I found and came up with this one. It is SO good!

 I have no idea how to photograph food :)

  • Zest and juice of two lemons
  • Two cans full-fat coconut milk (I use Native Forest - the cans are BPA-free)
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla stevia
  • 1/2 tsp. guar gum
The guar gum makes the ice cream creamy. I got this idea from Kelly Brozyna's cookbook Dairy Free Ice Cream, which is wonderful. Her lemon-lime ice cream called for homemade dairy-free yogurt, which I didn't have, so I had to improvise.

Blend in a blender and pour into an ice cream maker. Run until ice cream is frozen and transfer to freezer (or eat right away!)

So yummy.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Allergy-friendly Easter basket

I always struggle with how to handle food during the holidays. It wasn't until I had Ellie and we struggled so much with food intolerances and allergies that I realized how holidays really revolve around food. Like if you subtracted food, there's really no scaffolding to hold up a holiday.

When you don't eat gluten, dairy, sugar, or eggs holidays get tricky.  When you add in a salicylate sensitivity and Oral Allergy Syndrome, things get darn near impossible.

Over the years I feel like I've found a good balance of choosing one big food to highlight and celebrate, and then really focusing on the non-food aspects of the holiday, like family, tradition, connection, stories, faith, etc. At Thanksgiving Ellie and I made two pies together. At Christmastime we made cut-out cookies.

When Ellie was younger I could get away with skipping the food entirely. We've had treat-free Easters for several years in a row and it was no problem - Ellie didn't know any different and had lots of fun with her Easter baskets filled with new toys and books. But Ellie is almost five (what?!?) and is much more aware these days of how things work in the world and I knew she would be delighted to find some treats in her Easter basket this year.

And so that question comes up every year: what to put in the Easter basket? When I grew up I ate so. much. candy. on Easter. Obscene. Chocolate bunnies. Chocolate eggs. Those chocolate malt ball thingies. So much sugar. Whatever else came in the basket was secondary to the chocolate.

I wanted to echo those experiences - fun chocolate in Easter-y shapes, but avoid the sugar, the dairy and the chocolate itself, because chocolate is high in salicylates. I lucked upon a fantastic recipe for white chocolates on the Whole Life Nutrition blog (this site and their cookbooks are such great resources). Then I lucked upon these adorable chocolate molds on Amazon. Here's how they turned out:

Ellie was so delighted to find a bowlful of chocolates in her Easter basket in the morning. It was so worth the work of making them (at the 11th hour the night before, of course). And I was especially glad we made them when we were at an Easter brunch later in the day and Ellie couldn't eat the candy hidden in the eggs at the Easter egg hunt, but she could eat the candies I had brought along.

The rest of Ellie's Easter basket was a sweet collection of springtime finds I just have to share because they have been loved so much:

The Story of the Root Children by Sibylle Von Olfers 
Spring by Gerda Muller 
Little Butterflies Stained Glass Coloring Book

I also have started needle felting, so I made Ellie this sweet bunny egg:

It was so great to make an Easter basket that felt like a celebration and a special treat. I want to create warm memories for her and for holidays to feel like they are bursting full with love and happiness, not times where our dietary differences stand out more than anything else.

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.