It’s Not Really About Vaccination At All….

You might say I lean more toward the crunchy side of parenting, if labels are your thing. I breastfed 11 months but wondered if I stopped too soon. I research ingredients in her food, I buy organic, and I’ve been told I practice attachment parenting. We used Baby Led Weaning, we give our daughter daily probiotics, and we try to limit screen time as best as we can. My circle of mom friends are a lot like me, and like EVERY mom I know, my circle is my lifeline. Besides reminding me that it’s possible to have fun with baby in tow, these women are my sounding board and trusted go-to in the “help-me-I-have-no- idea-what –I’m-effing-doing” moments. But there is one very big topic that we rarely discuss, heeding the unspoken agreement to live and let live (or simply because we are just too exhausted to defend and debate).That issue is vaccination.

We vaccinate our daughter – not without some hesitation, but we do. But I’m not here to weigh the pros and cons of vaccination. I’m not here reiterate or regurgitate the throngs of op-ed pieces you’ve already seen. I’m simply writing because I don’t think this debate is really about vaccinations at all. There’s something bigger happening.

Like most moms I know, decisions about my child’s health and wellbeing are the ones that keep me up at night. Nothing I’ve experienced rivals the raw, innate, gut-wrenching concern that descends upon me when my daughter spikes a fever. It just might be one of the hardest parts of mommyhood – sitting in limbo (or a dark steamy bathroom, as the case may be), trying to figure out a way to ease your child’s pain as she screams out, consoled by nothing, while not fully understanding what has taken over her little body.

The pain and concern that a parent feels over a sick child is potent – it is a visceral feeling of anguish that remains deep in our souls long after the illness has moved on. It quietly roots itself in the pit of our being and blossoms into an urgent responsibility to do everything in our power to keep our kids healthy.  But this is where it gets tricky: how we choose to act on that responsibility differs greatly. Nowhere is this more obvious than the vaccination debate.

On both sides of this battle stand mothers, all passionate with the instinctive desire to give their children the best shot at a healthy life, and all wanting to be heard. You can’t blame anyone for that. But what makes this battle unique is that the stakes are changing faster than we may have anticipated. As recently as a year ago, this was a war fought on principle alone, our discussions often driven by hypotheticals. Now, with infectious disease outbreaks on the rise, it’s time for a real, open-minded and empathetic conversation about the risks vs. benefits of vaccines. And if that conversation is going to happen, we first need to change the culture of the doctor-parent relationship.

Many parents have grown to distrust our doctors and the health care machine standing behind themIt is a machine that operates on blind faith, requiring the trust of the patient, assuming they won’t ask the tough questions. It is a machine that assumes a mother will immediately concede her instincts are less viable and less relevant than the knowledge her doctor may have. After all, this machine works on a 15 minute schedule.

Yes, there are amazing healthcare professionals out there. We are lucky to have found a fantastic, compassionate, intelligent pediatrician that believes parents should be partners in the care plan for their children. I consider myself lucky; yet I also feel the mistrust that comes from too many bad experiences. I feel it every time we enter an emergency room, or speak to an insurance company. I feel it when I have to fight to be heard, when I tell them something is wrong and I am waved off. I feel it when I remember my brief stint in medical billing, witnessing things that appalled me. And I have certainly had to advocate for my daughter’s health – and my own – several times after being dismissed. Shoot, if it weren’t for my own stubborn persistence I would never have been treated for Lyme Disease.

Most mombattles are waged around parenting decisions that rarely affect or include the medical professional: To Breastfeed or To Formula Feed, To Cry It Out or To Soothe, the list goes on. It kills me when moms (or worse, non-moms) judge other moms for their decisions. Yet in this particular vaccine battle, we are not only judging each other, we are also being judged by our doctors, and judging them right back. Parents, tired of feeling powerless in the doctor’s office, are taking more ownership over the health decisions they can control. And the medical field, who have overlooked some viable natural health choices in the past (discrediting themselves in the eyes of some parents), are now being ignored when they rightfully declare this situation catastrophic. Still, I can tell you – there are a lot of moms out there like me, who don’t want to be told what to do based on protocol. They want to make the decision that they feel is best for their family… if ever there was a way to ask a question and not be dismissed, or to find helpful, objective information.

The media has made a lot of the fact that the anti-vaxxer demographic is mostly well-educated. This isn’t surprising, really. There are a lot of well-educated mothers who want to know the details surrounding their children’s health. They want to know what they are putting into those vulnerable little systems, they want to make informed decisions, they want to take an active role in deciding what is best for their most beloved. They don’t want to sit by passively, and they want their mother’s intuition to be respected and responded to.

Still, I am an eternal optimist. I am someone who believes that many of the world’s problems could be solved if we all took a moment to listen and show compassion. If we want to resolve the vaccination debate, and many of the other problems that plague our healthcare system today, we need to start with the basics. We need to re-develop trust in the doctor-patient relationship. We need to start an epic conversation.

Doctors, we ask you: please take a moment to understand that we are not numbers, or charts, or dollar signs. We are people, and we are trying to understand what we are up against. Please acknowledge and understand the value in natural health and other global medical traditions. Do your research. We are going to ask. Please advocate for the patient’s best interest when you go up against insurance companies or pharmaceutical companies. We know they wine and dine you, but please – be straightforward. Give us full disclosure. Tell us all of our options. When you don’t know the answer, please be honest and join us in the hunt for new information. Please don’t take the easy or quick way out. Give us alternative ideas when we don’t want a medication. Understand that to a mom with a sick kid, “let’s wait and see” are fighting words. Please encourage patients to seek out information, to take preventative measures, to eat well and to live well. Walk the walk. And please, for the love of humanity, take a moment to listen, not dismiss.

To the pharmaceutical companies: We beg you – please start humanizing treatment. Please use natural ingredients whenever possible. Please don’t give us toxic chemicals in the name of health. And better yet, give us a list of ingredients. There has to be a better way, and we challenge you to find it. Research the risks of your drugs and publish them for us to read. Research alternative vaccination schedules and publish them for us to read. Treat consumers the way you would treat a doctor.

And parents: Do your due diligence. Educate yourselves. Be polite and speak the facts. Don’t judge, and don’t scare each other – fear is a powerful means of manipulation. Support one another. Get a second opinion. In fact get multiple, and then trust yourself to make the best decision for your family. If you don’t like your doctor or you feel bad when you leave, find a new one. Be persistent, and kind. When you find a doctor you like, trust their experience, trust their knowledge, trust their intention. But also – trust your instincts. Become an educated consumer. Understand your health insurance. And remember that other parents feel the same way you do. Remember that your decisions may affect the health of those around you. Be considerate and use common sense. We must all raise our children together.

For us, there is no perfect answer when it comes to vaccination. I am skeptical of what goes into some of these vaccines. But my daughter, who is now almost 2, has been in daycare since she was 4 months old. In that time we have already fought pneumonia, the flu, croup 3 or 4 times, bronchiolitis, multiple ear infections, and who knows how many coughs and runny noses. That is our reality. And so we must make the decision that is going to keep her as healthy as possible for her daily life. We have to compare risking a high chance of measles (or god forbid something worse) against the small chance of an adverse side effect. And we must also consider the health of the rest of the children she interacts with every day. Whether or not I agree with their parents’ philosophies, our commonality is still greater than the sum of our differences: we want our kids safe and healthy.

Surely changing the culture of the doctor-parent relationship is a momentous task. But it’s necessary, if we are going to resolve the vaccination debate, and the public health battles to come. Healthcare is not a matter of policy and protocol; let’s make it an open forum, where compassion guides the dialogue.

Cheers to the post-baby body!

This week, I posted something on Facebook that clearly resonated with a lot of mamas. It wasn’t my intention to strike a chord, but I guess I did, and I couldn’t be happier. Here’s what I wrote:

“I have decided I really dislike the phrase ‘get your pre-baby body back.’  Partly because my body is different now, plain and simple. But mostly because a post-baby body can be pretty amazing too. What no one tells you is this: after giving birth, it’s like you have a required rest period and then a blank slate. You have a fresh start to make your body what you want it to be. Never in my life have I been able to do pull-ups, and now after working with some amazing trainers, I am *thisclose* to being able to do them unassisted. So do I have my pre-baby body back? Nope. But look at what my post-baby body can do!”

Eighteen months ago, when I was in the throws of pregnancy, I never could have imagined how I would look or feel at this point, almost one year exactly after giving birth. Looking back, this is what I would say to my pregnant self:

1)  Stop worrying. Easier said than done, of course. It’s hard to relinquish control over what is happening to your body as it grows to accommodate human life. But you need to take a deep breath and let go. Let go of your self-judgment. Let go of your comparison. Let go of your need to control your body. As long as you are making healthy choices, eating smart, and still moving, you will be fine. In the meantime, you must allow your body to do what it needs to do for your little one. If that means gaining 50 pounds- the healthy way- then so be it.

2) Let go of expectations.  And while you are at it, let go of timelines. You have not yet met your post-natal self, just as you haven’t yet met your baby. Becoming a mom will change you, and it will change your body. But how you change is not just chance. Part of it is up to you. Cross that bridge when you get there. For now, respect the wisdom of your body. It knows what it is doing.

3) Set yourself up for success. Start practicing now for an easier recovery later. Keep your body strong. Work on proper posture. Use your breath to strengthen your deep abdominals by pulling the baby to your spine with each exhale. Keep reminding your neuromuscular system how to hold yourself in space. Eat healthy food and avoid excess sugars. These things alone will jump start your postnatal routine.

4) It will all be ok. Sure, you will probably have to work to meet your goals. Sure, it could take a year before your feel like some semblance of yourself again. But you know what? You won’t be worried about it as much as you are now. You will have something (someone) else that will occupy your thoughts, heart and emotional space more than anything else you’ve ever experienced. Meanwhile, you will be on the downhill slope as pounds drop when you aren’t even looking. Take a deep breath. It’s not that bad, I promise. Before you know it, you’ll be doing pull-ups.

 

 

The journey from BURN! to Birth

Five months ago, I. Was. Killing it. By that I mean: I was a fitness fiend. A day without some type of workout was all but unheard of; some days I might have even doubled down. Now, I should mention that I work in fitness – I’ve worked at gyms since I was 16, taught Pilates and group fitness for 9 years, and certified new instructors for 6. A large part of the last 15 years of my life has been spent inside of gyms, studios, and clinics… so I’m lucky that “getting to the gym” isn’t usually that difficult. Even still, I was especially driven in the last few years to really push myself: to reach for new goals (running half marathons when I HATE running), to be more aware of what I was putting in my mouth (a pumpkin spice latte has HOW many calories?!), to add to my list of “tricks” (Peacock pose. Look it up.).

To a certain extent, I believe I was not only competing with myself, but with that omnipresent, addictive beast: the Facebook Newsfeed. Yes, that’s right. When you work in fitness, and if you are friends with your colleagues, your newsfeed is a log of incredible feats of super-human strength. Well, ok, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration. But there’s a lot of “I just crushed a 50 mile run!” and “Try this super amazing juice fast!” So, when you are eating an ice cream sundae in your sweats and checking Facebook, if you HAVEN’T worked out that day, you may feel a little…well, lazy.

Then, one week, things were completely different. Monday I set my alarm for my normal 5:15 am workout time… and slept right through it. Tuesday, I did the same. Wednesday came and I thought, ok, maybe afternoon hot yoga is a better option. And as I lay face down on my mat, dripping sweat, in a room heated to 97 degrees, I felt it coming… that moment when you KNOW you are about to puke…

That Saturday I bought a pregnancy test. And let me tell you, that little blue line did NOT need 3 minutes to process. It was there immediately. My husband and I had just decided to start trying that month… so we were both in a bit of disbelief. There’s no WAY it happened so quick! So I took the second test in the box. Same result. I even bought another brand of test, and still, the same result. I was pregnant.

There are very few things I’ve known with certainty in my life,  but knowing I wanted to be a mom was one of them. I have always wanted this, as far back as I can remember. Even as a toddler, I named my baby dolls after my newborn cousins, as a child I begged to go visit the newborn unit of the hospital, and as a teenager I spent my Friday nights babysitting. That’s probably why, in my head, I always thought getting pregnant would be nothing but rainbows and butterflies. But no one really tells you the not-so-shiny part, do they? The first trimester got underway, and though we were thrilled, I suddenly found myself feeling miserable, and freaking out.

Suddenly my workouts were much harder, if they existed at all.  I could barely find an ounce of energy. When I forced myself to work out and did my regular cardio, I started bleeding…. WHOA, that was scary (after visiting the doctor, I found out it was not the baby, thankfully). I felt so conflicted – I didn’t know what was safe or what was normal, when to push and when to back off. My doctor told me to do 15% less of what I was doing before… but even with that in mind, my body wasn’t having it.

So I did what every health and wellness geek does when she doesn’t have the answers. I started researching. As much as I could. And wow, was I disappointed. Everything I found seemed to be very generic, written for women who were not active before pregnancy. Most consumer articles approached pregnancy and exercise from an one-size-fits-all, overly-cautious standpoint; which makes sense, since it is a risky situation to write guidelines that apply to everyone when every woman- and every pregnancy- is so different. Even the scholarly articles – the very, very few that I found, were somewhat vague, and rarely discussed the woman who was fit and active before she was prego. Or, they addressed a broader subject than what I was seeking – like, does exercising while pregnant result in shorter labor times? But what I wanted to find was specific fitness information based in research: a what-to-expect-when-you’re-expecting for the fitness fiend who already had some basic knowledge. Of course I didn’t want to start anything new or push myself too hard. But, I had questions none of these articles seemed to answer. For example, what was it  about jumping rope that made my cervix bleed? Is it true that deep twisting is contraindicated even in the first trimester, and is it due to a risk of diastasis recti? Is a drop in testosterone levels the reason why my muscles feel soft all over, even though I’m still including resistance training? Is it normal that I have a little extra cushion-for-the-pushin’ even in my BACK?  These are the answers I was seeking.

I still continue to research, and would welcome any suggestions from any of you who may have answers. In the meantime, I decided to start this blog in an effort to share my own experiences, knowing that there are women out there like me who want to remain active and healthy during pregnancy, while making educated, smart decisions. Furthermore, I find it silly that women don’t talk about the not-so-good, the bad, and the sometimes ugly parts of being with child… sometimes, it’s laughable. And if we can all laugh about it together, then it will make it that much more enjoyable.

I hope you find something here that inspires you, motivates you, and makes you smile. I hope you join the conversation,  and tell your friends. And I hope that throughout your pregnancy, you remain Fit to Glow.