Monday, May 27, 2013

Mama Monday: Maternal Depression Awareness Month

Did you know that May is Maternal Depression Awareness Month? There are so many different "awareness months" that they become a bit of a joke sometimes. However, in the case of maternal depression, I think an awareness month is truly needed. Los Angeles County currently has a movement to increase awareness and treatment of these conditions, and they have put together a public service announcement about it.

I was hesitant to add anything other than the video to this post. I haven't spoken much about my experience with postpartum depression, and I'm not completely comfortable talking about it now. However, this video reminded me of one of the most difficult aspects of my experience with PPD -- I felt like I was the only person going through it. I'd never known anyone to talk about dealing with postpartum depression, and I felt that it was something shameful and unnatural -- that I was a failure as a woman and a mother for feeling anything but incandescent bliss after having my baby. I loved him instantly, but my love for my baby was fraught with fear -- fear that I couldn't take care of him, fear that he would die, fear that he would never love me. All of this was compounded by the trauma of my lengthy labor, C-section, an incident where Caleb's heart rate dropped dangerously low, my inability to exclusively breastfeed him, and his hospitalization with RSV. I felt that I was a failure as a woman -- I couldn't have him the natural way, and I couldn't feed him the natural way. Every time he cried, I saw it as my failure to provide for his needs.

I didn't want to consider that I might be suffering from postpartum depression because I was blessed to have an amazing support network. My mom was able to stay with me for more than two weeks, my husband is an amazing, involved father, and my neighbors and fellow churchmembers brought meals, helped me clean my house, and offered emotional support. I felt that I didn't "deserve" to have PPD -- I had so much help, so why was I still struggling? I also felt ashamed. I didn't want to admit that I was struggling. I was worried people would think I didn't love my baby, which was never true. I was ecstatic when I found out I was pregnant, and I loved Cal so much that it frequently brought me to tears, but everything terrified me once he was born, and it seemed that everything was going wrong, and I blamed it all on myself.

I'm not going through all of this to give a sob story. Even now I am hesitant to press the "Publish" button, worried about what people will think of me. Because I am sure there are people out there who see PPD as a failure to be a good mother. However, I want to share this for two reasons -- first, so that if you are going through a similar experience, you will know that you are not alone, and second, to motivate anyone who is suffering to seek help. I was so hesitant to tell my doctor that I thought I might have postpartum depression, and even after taking that initial step it took me a few weeks to pursue treatment. However, once I found some help -- as well as applying a lot of meditation and prayer -- the clouds suddenly began to lift. I want to make it clear that there were always moments of joy with Cal. The first time I held him was an amazing, beautiful experience. But in those first weeks, those moments of joy were fleeting and surrounded by exhaustion, self-doubt, and a darkness I could not lift.

It was gradual, but after a few weeks of treatment, I remember a specific moment when I knew the worst was over. I was sitting in the rocking chair, holding my sweet boy and playing with him, and I felt an overwhelming sensation of joy and contentment. I thought to myself, "I love being a mother!" A moment later I realized what a blessing and what a change that realization was -- and I thought about how wonderful it would have been to have reached that point earlier, if I had been able to "speak up when you're down" earlier. I am so grateful for the encouragement I received to get help when I did, and for the way it helped me to recover from PPD.

So please, please, if you are struggling with this, take the burden from yourself. There is light at the end of that tunnel, and you are a good mother. You will get through this, and you will love being a mother. You have done nothing to deserve this, and you deserve to get better -- for you, your baby, and your partner. It will get better, and there are so many resources to help you if you only ask for them.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Many people have asked me why my goal is to work with children who have cancer. They ask how I can handle it, especially having a son of my own now. I've never been able to put it into words. I have a few answers of course -- I've lost loved ones to cancer and it has inspired me to help others, I like working with patients long-term, I find working with cancer patients to be more challenging and rewarding than other forms of nursing -- but the real reason is this ineffable quality I've never been able to define.

Watch this video, and I think you'll understand. (It is long, but it is well worth twenty minutes of your day -- much more worth it than time spent on Facebook or watching a show. Trust me on this one).

I want to work with children who have cancer because I want to help people who are struggling with this vicious disease. But the truth is that they help me far more than I can ever help them. So far I have only worked with cancer patients and their families in school and volunteer capacities, and already so many of them have changed my life. I have seen teenage boys like the one in the video who are so willing to seize life despite the discomfort and fear their cancer brings them. I have seen a six-year-old girl confined in a hospital room for months at a time who still manages to smile every single day and live her life with a zest and passion I've rarely seen elsewhere. I have spent time with children bearing the burden of loss and disease as their parents suffer with cancer, and the way they still have so much joy and love in their souls.

People have asked me how I can leave my beautiful son and go to work. Part of me still wonders how I will do it. I would love to stay home with him always, and I am grateful that nursing doesn't take me from him every day. Part of the reason I am going to work is financial of course -- we need insurance and money to live in this expensive place. But another part of that reason is that multiple times I have felt the Spirit prompt me to do this work. I didn't want to be a nurse at first -- I had lofty career goals and prestigious degrees in mind. I resisted the prompting I felt to change my life, but it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Changing my carefully constructed plans made me available to marry my wonderful husband, gave me the freedom to have a child sooner than I had originally thought I would, allowed me to move to this city where I have already met so many wonderful people. At first I thought changing those plans was only to facilitate those results, but about a year ago, 7 months pregnant and wondering if I should continue in my plans to work, I felt it again -- the Spirit calling me to care for these children, better their lives in any way I can, and allow them to better me.

The courage of the young man in this video and his wonderful, supportive loved ones has moved me so much today. Death is a strange thing -- it is the thing people fear most, it is one of the only universal experiences, and yet it can also inspire us in such a beautiful way. I know that I will be less likely to complain when one of the many tiny things that inevitably go wrong falls upon me today. I will remember Zach and the other children who have touched my life and inspired me to live better.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Mama Monday: The Wonder Weeks

Have you heard of the book The Wonder Weeks by Frans X. Plooij and Hetty van de Rijt? I think it has been the most helpful parenting book I've read (and I've read quite a few).

The general idea of The Wonder Weeks is that there are ten age-specific periods of intense mental development in the first twenty months of life. During these periods of development, babies are fussier and often show regressions before new skills emerge.

I first picked up The Wonder Weeks when Cal, who is normally a pretty easy baby, was acting completely out-of-control, not sleeping, fussing all the time, and refusing to eat. I'd read about the book in passing on the blog Chronicles of a BabyWise Mom, and knew the gist of it. I started wondering if maybe Cal's odd behavior was related to these so-called "Wonder Weeks." I looked at the table of contents on Amazon and sure enough, Cal was right in the middle of one of these fussy periods. I knew I had to get my hands on the book as soon as possible.

A grumpy Cal around five weeks old (another "Wonder Week"

Now Cal is in week 26, another fussy period (the second for which I've had the book). Some of his "symptoms" have been night-waking, early morning waking, random fussiness and crying, and lack of social interaction (if you know my son, you know that ordinarily he is very social). Supposedly by the end of this week, he will be aware of "the world of relationships," and will be well on his way to developing skills like crawling, putting items in boxes, and sitting up.

So how does this book help? Honestly, it is mostly informative, but just knowing that there is a reason for the madness helps so much, as well as the fact that the fussy periods do end (although the one I'm in can last up to five weeks -- it's been three so far and I'm hoping we're about done). In addition, it cites other mothers' experiences and lists games and toys that will help the baby develop their newfound skills.

While I've definitely been known around my house to refer to the fussy periods of the wonder weeks as "Hell weeks," knowing more about them is so helpful -- I can't imagine how crazy I would be feeling without them. (And Cal is a really good, happy baby, so for those of you with colicky babies, I salute and admire you (and will probably join your ranks with one of my children someday)). I can't recommend the book enough! Apparently there is also an iPhone app. I don't have a smart phone so I haven't tried it out, but it might be more accessible than a thick parenting book. Have any of you heard of these wonder weeks and had experiences with them?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Foodie Friday: Rock'N Fish

Scott and I love seafood, so being out of landlocked Utah and near the sea is definitely a culinary advantage. Scott scouted out Rock'N Fish on Manhattan Beach for one of our first seafood adventures.

Right off Manhattan Beach, it is the perfect place to go when you are spending your day at the shore. It is very close to the pier, which houses a free aquarium, the beach, and the walking paths along the beach. There are also several other restaurants and shops nearby.

We parked in a garage several blocks away, but didn't mind the walk as we were heading to the beach anyway. The parking was $2.00 hourly and very tight -- it took some maneuvering to get the car seat out. 

We never entered the actual restaurant -- in the front is a screen that pulls up during business hours, leaving tables out in the open air, which was perfect for this beach adventure. The atmosphere is on the nicer side of casual -- there were definitely people in swimsuits, but it had a classy air (and prices to match).

I will say that the restaurant is not particularly kid friendly -- there wasn't a good place to put our stroller so we folded it up and left it outside. We put Cal's car seat under the table, where he blissfully snoozed through our lunch (ahh, those newborn days where they sleep everywhere), but we got a few irritated looks from patrons and waiters nonetheless.

The food was incredible. I don't remember what Scott ordered -- something with scallops and sweet potato fries. I had jambalaya, which was fantastic and very spicy. However, the real star for us was the clam chowder. We were only sharing a cup because someone had mentioned to us that it was good, but I honestly wish that it was all I had ordered. It was fantastic. Scott had to leave and put more money in the meter and I was tempted to devour the entire cup before he returned -- fortunately, I have some human kindness left in my heart. The bread was also excellent.

Cost: $$$ a little pricey ($15 for my lunch-size portion of jambalaya)
Hours: 11:30 am - 10 pm, Sunday through Monday
11:30 am - 10:30 pm, Thursday
11:30 am - 11:00 pm, Friday through Saturday
Address: 120 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach, CA 90266 (310) 379-9900
Reservations: Yes

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mama Monday: Breastfeeding

I have a confession to make. When I heard all the horror stories about breastfeeding and how challenging it was for so many people, I rolled my eyes. I thought to myself, "Women have been breastfeeding babies since humanity began. How could it possibly be that difficult?" My first experience feeding Cal seemed to validate my confidence -- he latched on and fed effortlessly. However, after that, everything seemed to go wrong.

First of all, everything became very painful. I won't go into too graphic details, but just think blisters. I spent hours asking every nurse I could find what I was doing wrong, but everyone seemed to have different answers. In addition, Cal was always hungry, up constantly demanding food (which was painful). The nurses kept assuring me that I had enough milk, that it just needed to come in, and that it was normal for my baby to want to eat so much in the beginning days. They tried to teach me the signs of Cal being satisfied, and ignored my comments that he never seemed satisfied. The pediatricians assured me that Cal's weight loss was not too much and that once my milk came in, he would be a happy baby.

However, the day after we left the hospital and took Cal to the pediatrician, he had lost too much weight -- he had gone from 9 lbs. 9 oz. to 8 lbs. 10 oz. The pediatrician recommended that I give Cal formula, but I so desperately wanted to breastfeed him that I refused. He acknowledged that perhaps my milk hadn't come in yet, and said to feed the baby every two hours and come back in two days to have him weighed again.

That night was horrible. Cal refused to nurse on one side but was screaming with hunger. I knew this wasn't just my milk coming in late from having a C-Section -- something was wrong. I called a lactation consultant the next day, who, after observing Cal attempting to nurse, solved the beginning of the puzzle -- I simply did not have enough milk-producing cells. Cal had lost more weight the second day and obviously needed to be fed a new way. He was refusing to nurse because he was frustrated with the low amount of milk he was getting, but I didn't want to give up breastfeeding him -- I knew it was the best food he could get, and I also loved the bonding time with him. So Elena introduced a bizarre contraption called the supplemental nursing system. Basically, it held formula that went through a tube that attached to my breast, so when Cal sucked he could receive breast milk and formula at the same time, thus motivating him to suck more.

It was a little complicated using the SNS at first, and for a while my plan was to use it until the risk of nipple confusion was over and then just nurse and give Cal a bottle afterward. However, as we used the SNS, I realized that he was not going to be happy nursing without it. He was too impatient and would just stop nursing if that extra formula wasn't there. So we kept using it, up until he was 4 and a half months old. At that point, he started refusing to nurse again. I tried for about two weeks, but he was now too impatient even for the SNS, and in addition he kept pulling off the tape. I now pump for him and give him the breastmilk in addition to the formula. I only get about 5 oz. a day from the pump, but I figure it is worth it. I am going to stop pumping once he is six months old -- it is so time intensive for such a small amount of milk -- but I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to nurse as long as I did and provide breastmilk for my baby.

I wanted to write this post because when I was having trouble, I felt incredibly alone. I felt like I was the only woman in the world who was incapable of providing for her baby. I was jealous when people would leave meetings at church to nurse their babies, and I worried that people were judging me when I bought formula in the store and mixed it up in public. I obsessed about my milk production -- I remember crying over the tiny amount of milk that I pumped one day. It took time to overcome the feelings of inadequacy and to not feel jealous of women who were able to nurse without having to think about it. One of the biggest comforts to me was stumbling across a blog post written by a college acquaintance who had experienced similar problems, as well as talking about the situation with people who had experienced similar problems.

I also wanted to list the problems we discovered that we had that led to my low milk supply and what I tried to improve the situation, in the off-chance that it could help someone else.  We discovered that not only did I have insufficient glandular tissue, but also several other factors that led to low milk production, including:

  • Induction
  • C-Section
  • Traumatic birth experience
  • PPD
  • Cleft soft palate
  • Tongue-tie
  • Thrush
Some of the things that we did to improve the situation were:
  • Use an SNS
  • Pump after feedings (I will say that this was incredibly difficult in the first few weeks. I could not put Cal down long enough to pump. However, it did help later.
  • Take a supplement -- the one that was most helpful for me was "More Milk Plus Special Blend," which contains goat's rue, fennel, fenugreek, blessed thistle, and nettle. (I used to make fun of people who took supplements like this, but it really did help).
  • I also read a very helpful book, The Breastfeeding Mother's Guide to Making More Milk by Diana West and Lisa Marasco. 
I was able to come to a point where I was at peace with myself for the decisions I made. I did the best I could, and while things didn't go the way I had envisioned them going while I was pregnant, they were fine. I'm grateful for the time that I was able to breastfeed, and the perspective that I now have for future children. I did so much research about this while I was trying to figure everything out that I've decided to certify as a lactation consultant in a few years. Despite the difficulties, I learned so much. So to those of you struggling -- don't worry! Do what is best for you and your baby, and don't worry about what other people think.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

To all the mamas...

I have been lucky enough to be influenced by some amazing mothers. Today I was thinking about all the wonderful women who have blessed my life, and I felt like I needed to say something to them.

:: To my wonderful friends, thank you for the good examples, the good advice, the hugs, the meals, and the breaks. Being a mom is hard work, much harder than I ever could have fathomed, but all of you have helped me to weather the hard times so I can enjoy the good ones. Thank you for making motherhood navigable, for adoring Cal, and for sharing your lovely children with me.

:: To the mothers of my patients: Thank you for your sacrifice, your endurance, your faith, and your trust. I have only had a tiny taste of what it is like to have a sick child in the hospital, and you live it every day for years. The love you have for your children is written on your faces, and I hope I can learn to emulate your strength.

:: To my beautiful sisters-in-law: Thank you for your amazing examples. You all have beautiful, sweet children and Cal is lucky to have such good role models for his cousins. Thank you for helping me to have a sense of humor, for your advice and perspective, and for your friendship.

:: To my sweet sister: I know you're not a mama yet, but you already touch the lives of so many children as you teach, and honestly, I've never met a kid who doesn't love you. Cal can't get enough of his Auntie Jenna, and I know that once you are a mama you are going to be amazing and I look forward to learning from you.

:: To my lovely grandmas: I am so lucky to have known so many of you. I miss my great-grandmas that passed away last year, and I feel so blessed that I still have three lovely grandmas to spend time with now. Thank you for teaching me to cook, for being interested in what I am passionate about, and for loving me unconditionally.

:: To my mother-in-law: I haven't had the opportunity to meet you in this life, but the stories the people who love you tell makes me excited for when we finally do get to meet in the next life. Thank you for raising the wonderful man I married -- he says you are the woman who has had the greatest influence on his life, and I know that without you he wouldn't be the man he is today. You are one of my greatest role models and I can't wait to give you a hug someday.

And of course...

:: To my mommy: I love you so much! Thank you first of all for birthing me, because now I know firsthand how awful that experience can be. :) Thank you for putting up with my tantrums and for getting up with me in the middle of the night when I was a baby; thank you for putting up with my drama when I was a teenager (and maybe a little bit still now). Thank you for loving Cal and being the best grandma to him. Thank you for teaching me about the Gospel and sharing your testimony. Thank you for asking me about books and learning about classical music, and paying for thousands of dollars worth of piano lessons. I love you so much and I am glad you come to visit me so often, even though I've taken your grandson further away from you than you would like. You are the best example and I hope I can be as good of a mom as you are.


Happy Mother's Day!

I was a little behind in getting my order in the mail, so my grandmothers' and mother's presents will be arriving late. Fortunately, I can show off the digital version here. :) Everyone's is slightly different, but for the most part they are the same.

Click here to view this photo book larger

Click here to create your own Shutterfly photo book.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

World's Best Birthday Present

I tried to post this a few weeks ago without success. Finally got it to work. :)

Friday, May 3, 2013

Foodie Friday: 800 Degrees

Guys, I love food. If I wasn't a nurse or a neuroscientist or a mama or an amateur blogger, maybe I would be a food critic. (Mm, better not). But lately I've been thinking that because I live in this fabulous city of unique and delicious food, I should highlight some of that excellent food each week. And what better restaurant to begin with than my favorite restaurant in LA, 800 Degrees?

Located on Lindbrook Drive in Westwood Village, there is frequently a long line snaking out of the doors of 800 degrees, which in a past life belonged to a theater. Don't be dissuaded by the queue, though -- the line moves quickly as chefs build your pizza before your eyes. 

There is little parking available on the street, but parking garages abound on nearby streets. One of them, on Gayley, is reputedly $6.00 after hours, but half the time there isn't an attendant present, in which case it is free (shh!). 

Nearby are several shops, dessert places, and a movie theater.

The long lines look intimidating, but I have never waited more than 20 minutes. The interior likewise is very crowded, but tables usually clear out by the time one gets through the line (although there have been a few instances where I had to wait a few minutes). 

The building itself is very interesting, having been a theater in its past life. There are a few lovely chandliers hanging. There is also a taxidermized water buffalo above the door, because, you know, why not?

Right, the important part. The first thing you need to know is that 800 Degrees serves Neapolitan pizza. This isn't the same as American pizza -- it has its own special little society "to promote and protect in Italy and worldwide the true Neapolitan pizza." (See the AVPN website). The crust is very thin, you are meant to eat the entire pizza yourself, and you are usually going to need a knife and fork. 

At 800 Degrees, diners have the option of selecting a pre-designed pizza or building their own from one of four bases -- the margherita, which has basil, tomato sauce, and mozzarella; the marinara, which is exactly what it sounds like; the verde, which is pesto and mozzarella; and the bianca, which has no sauce (not my favorite, if you want my opinion). Next, diners have the choice from an array of vegetables, cheeses, and meats. 

The variety of toppings are what really make 800 Degrees stand out among other Neapolitan pizzerias. While my usual standard Neapolitan pie is the traditional margherita, with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and fresh basil, at 800 Degrees I have to go all out. The toppings I find most tempting are the heirloom cherry tomatoes, the fromage du chevre (goat cheese), and the soppresata (a traditional, spicy Italian salami). The best combination I've tried so far is a verde pie with double cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, and pine nuts. 

800 Degrees also makes excellent salads, which complement the pizza very well. One of their simpler salads, consisting of greens, lemon juice, and shaved parmesan, has become a staple in our home. They also have a burrata bar (burrata is soft, creamy mozzarella cheese) and gelato, but I have not sampled either of these. To top it off, they have a soft drink machine. I know it sounds tacky, but it is really hard to find caffeine-free Diet Coke in LA, and not only do they have it, but I can get it with cherry, vanilla, lime, orange, or raspberry flavoring. Win

Cost: $ Very reasonable
Hours: 11 am - 2 am
Address: 10889 Lindbrook Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90024 (More locations soon to come). 
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