Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Self preservation

This Saturday, folks all across southwest Virginia will gather in support, memory, and/or recognition of the fight against heart disease, stroke, congenital heart defects, and life-saving researc funded by the American Heart Association. Those of you who have known me for a long time know my story, and the abbreviated version is posted on my personal fundraising page for the heart walk here: I welcome you to donate $5 or more if you feel so inclined. Every year I try to attend the local walk and volunteer in whatever capacity they need me, and last year I missed the walk because I was QUALIFYING FOR THE BOSTON MARATHON :):):):):) Fast forward to one year later, I am now a qualifier and officially registered for the race, we have a beautiful and healthy baby girl, and life is busy but oh so full of joy. I am honored to have been asked to serve as the "featured survivor" for the regional Heart Walk this year, and in prep for a very short speech I will give at the beginning of the walk, I wanted to type it out here because it's a message I repeat to myself on a daily basis right now. So, let me know what you think. I only get a few minutes to talk (I actually love public speaking now that I've done it enough to feel comfortable with it), so I want to keep my message short, sweet, and memorable. 


Having fun with Rory (2 months) in the Kroger parking lot :)
Family selfie
We all experience some form of stress in our daily personal and professional lives. Some stress is good, like giving birth for the first (or second, or third...) time, or finishing a 5k that you never felt possible, or getting married! Some stress is bad, like losing a job or learning of the death of a loved one. No matter whether you experience a little or a lot of good or bad stress, it still boils down to the same hormones being produced and metabolized by your body in higher proportion than it would without the presence of stress. You could say- stress (at least some form of it) is inevitable. To complicate things further, a lot of the stresses we encounter are outside our control. Some people experience more stress and anxiety trying to control situations and circumstances for which the outcome cannot be changed. Some people experience "first world" stresses like forgetting to set their fantasy football roster or being served a lukewarm meal at a fine dining restaurant. Again, we will all experience stress, but how you deal with this stress is what ultimately harms or helps your overall health. 

If you are a woman, I feel for you. You are at greater risk from suffering a heart attack or stroke simply because you have a lot going on and you are less likely to acknowledge the symptoms or seek medical attention at their presentation. My message is this: who will be "you" if you are hospitalized or worse? As women and, in particular, as mothers, we tend to put the needs of our family before our own and sometimes at our own expense. Obviously there are responsibilities that must be met, like feeding your infant or changing a diaper, but will your kids hate you forever if you spend 30 minutes practicing yoga in your basement? Will your kids' brains turn to mush if you stash them at gym daycare for an hour while you join a cycle class with friends? Chances are you will be a better ::insert title here:: by taking time for yourself and, in return, investing in the one thing you can control- yourself. 

Granted, there is no guarantee that the investment in your health every day will protect against disease. People who don't smoke do die from lung cancer. People who eat a healthy diet and exercise daily die from heart attacks. There are always unknowns, but the only way to say for sure that you've done everything you can to prevent something from happening to you is to invest in yourself every day. Again, as a mother of two young children (one of which is very fresh as you can see), you can lose sight of yourself very quickly if you don't make the conscious choice to carve out time for your health. Notice that I didn't say "time for yourself" because that implies selfishness, and often I think moms in particular are overloaded with guilt if they don't spend every waking moment on their many hats and responsibilities. I am giving you permission to invest in self preservation every day because it is VITAL for you, your family, your spouse, and your little ecosystem of things swirling around you and involving YOU. Without you, that piece of your system is missing and cannot be replaced. Only you are you and all the things YOU do. 

You can invest time in your children, time in your marriage, your job, your home, your church, all the pieces of your ecosystem that make your life whole, but you cannot control the outcome of those investments. You certainly hope they pay the dividends you want, but there is no guarantee. The only investment you can control and, from which, reap both immediate and long-term benefits, is in yourself. I encourage you to use today as the starting point for letting go of any guilt you may espouse with making healthy choices for yourself. You never know what variable outside of your control may creep in and disrupt your zen, so be prepared by preserving your self (and your mind) every day. 
Benched 105lbs at 9 weeks postpartum thanks to daily investment in myself throughout pregnancy #2

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The drawbacks of being fit and pregnant

While this second pregnancy has been virtually nothing like the first, the common thread has been my effort to be active and healthy throughout the process. With my first pregnancy, I was able to run/jog until the very end, but I did not lift nearly as heavy or as frequently as I have with this pregnancy (which forced me to stop running around 30 weeks due to discomfort not advisement to avoid it). I have enjoyed the 50-60 minute cycle classes at my gym at least two days/week and various cardio machines on other days as tolerated, but I have felt my best and most energetic on days that I lift weights during this pregnancy. Some of this is due to increased confidence in knowing what I am doing is both safe and beneficial (I felt more guilty/uncertain with the first pregnancy- running felt better and safer at the time), but overall I am happy to have found something that helped minimize my back pain and maintain some semblance of muscle mass throughout the duration of this pregnancy. 

8/1/2016: 37 weeks, 27lbs gained
So let's get down to business- if you follow me on social media, you've seen my incessant posts about the importance of being healthy before, during, and after pregnancy. Why the hell would I write a blog post suggesting fit pregnancies have drawbacks? This is my way of paying it forward for all you active women who are pregnant or want to get pregnant and who may also be working toward various fitness goals or want to pursue them postpartum. There are some issues which may arise during and/or after your pregnancy which A- are not talked about much and/or B- are not heavily referenced in the literature because being fit and pregnant means you are an outlier. Norms and standards by which doctors base their care are based on these norms and outcomes compared to them- by being fit during pregnancy, you may likely fall outside of some of these norms, and you should be prepared for some "bumps" along the pregnancy road (HA.HA.HA.). Here are a few of my "heads up" warnings if you, like me, want to be healthy and fit at all stages of pregnancy:

1- Start pelvic floor PT. Like, now. 
 If you are a runner or some type of endurance athlete, but especially a runner, heed this advice! Many moms experience stress urinary incontinence (SUI) after any form of delivery, not just difficult vaginal deliveries like my first, but the degree to which you may experience this depends largely on how well you cared for the muscles of your pelvic floor at all stages of the pregnancy. What does this mean? In short- you will pee yourself. You may just pee yourself when sprinting or doing high-intensity plyometric exercises- congrats to you if this is your degree of incontinence. Some of us, myself included, pee in those instances as well as when we cough, sneeze, laugh, or change position (sitting-to-standing, for example). Yeah, it really sucks. It's embarassing, it's frustrating as hell, and you feel like a prisoner in your own body because you can't get through a day without carrying multiple pads or changes of underwear, even planning the outfits you wear based on who you will be with and what you will be doing, to salvage your dignity. 
   You may be thinking- I do Kegels, I do lots of core work, I have it covered. Are you sure? How can you be sure? I was certain that doing core stability exercises like Pilates and certain yoga poses facilitated strengthening the pelvic floor as well. HELL TO THE NO my friends. These are very different exercises entirely, and you can actually do pelvic floor exercises while doing yoga or Pilates, but they are not the same! Rather than reading a two-dimensional description of how to do these exercises, I HIGHLY encourage you to talk with your OBGYN or PCP and get a referral for pelvic floor PT or a women's health PT for consultation if you even experience a light amount of incontinence. I am a strong proponent of now saying that while incontinence may be common among female mother athletes, this does not make it acceptable for your quality of life. You should not have to tolerate peeing yourself to any degree. 
          For me, my degree of SUI was interfering with my quality of life to the extent that I was, for the first time in my life, truly depressed. I can see this in hindsight, the pinnacle of my SUI complications came in first trimester of this (second) pregnancy. I had a cold that seemed to last the entire duration of the trimester, so not only was I exhausted and nauseous from the pregnancy, but every time I did anything other than sit quietly, I would leak. I eventually stopped running despite my physical ability to do so, I was just too embarrassed to continue to try. Black spandex pants only get you so far when you have no control of the flow of your urine. I finally mentioned it to one of the OB docs in the practice I visit (not my "regular" OB) and she recommended a series of anti-depressant medications safe for pregnancy. That was my breaking point, and I decided to seek a second opinion. I finally reached out to my regular OB and described my symptoms, he was the one to suggest that I go to pelvic floor PT while pregnant and ask about being fitted for a pessary (Google it). Truly, this little donut-shaped device saved my sanity until I was too uncomfortable to run around 30 weeks. We will resume PFPT after I delivery and explore the timeline for the sling surgery to permanently fix the damage "down there", but I can't say it enough- don't tolerate leakage if it makes you uncomfortable. There are treatment options for you. Better yet, start PFPT before you realize you need it! 

2- Don't freak out if you are told you are "measuring small". 

36 weeks
First, I would like credit a few of my mama friends who helped support me when I was told this same info on multiple occasions with this pregnancy. I won't share your names, but you know who you are. Thank you :):) I started getting the "you're measuring small" feedback around 34 weeks when most women start to change shape somewhat drastically and quickly. Even with my first pregnancy, I gained 12lbs in the last month and while much of it was due to a growing baby boy, some of it was also due to decreased activity levels (and I didn't have a toddler to chase, so I could nap and rest more!). At the first mention, I didn't panic. The doc at that particular visit even advised me to not panic, but that I should have changed measurements by the next appointment.  So, next appointment rolls around- no change in fundal length or my bodyweight. By the next appointment, at this point 36 weeks, I had not gained any weight from 34 weeks and fundal length was considered 5cm below gestational age. In other words, the norms suggested I should be around 34-36cm in fundal length, and I'm assuming based on the numbers that I was measuring 31cm. My doc at this appointment, who is my usual doc and I do trust very much, advised that it was medically necessary to be referred for an ultrasound to check my fluid levels and to ensure the baby's development was normal to this point. He did mention that it was likely due to my fitness and activity levels that I was measuring small, nevertheless I needed to follow through this time as he would order it per medical necessity. Commence freak out. 

Turns out, thankfully, baby girl is healthy and growing and "average" for this point in pregnancy. Also turns out this was a blessing in disguise as we learned she had flipped from head-down presentation to breech... ugh. I will be sure to document my recovery-from-c-section journey in many blog posts to come, but at least we know now we are likely headed for surgical removal of our daughter. I digress. 

At my 37-week appointment yesterday, I had a long conversation with my OB about our options with breech presentation. He reiterated several times that because I am "so small", the likelihood that she will flip or that a procedure known as ECV would be likely unsuccessful, I'm fairly limited in options. Who knew? We have crappy luck of the draw that she decided to flip and will likely stay that way because, in so many words, my strong abdominal muscles have created a tight cage around the placenta and there's little room for her to change position at this point. 

Chances are you won't encounter these crappy odds, and I certainly don't regret doing core work and strength training throughout this pregnancy despite the ironic likelihood that we will have to slice through my abs to remove the baby. 

3- People can be just as nasty about gaining too little weight (in their opinion) as gaining too much. 

You know, I hope there are people out there who make a point of showing such disdain for women who smoke and drink and do other ellicit and recreational drugs while pregnant as they do for women who eat healthy and stay active. Holy crap. I don't know what it is about pregnancy that suggests to strangers hey sure, if you have the audacity to touch my protruding belly, you sure as hell are allowed to make a comment about the size of said protrusion. Um, what? This phenomenon is incredibly frustrating for someone who tries to teach empathy in healthcare settings for a living, you know, we don't judge obese people just because they're obese, right? Yes, I am lifting what you consider to be heavy weights in the effort to slowly drain the oxygen from my placenta. You are exactly right. Oh, that's not what you meant by your comment? Well what outcome would you have that I offer to you when you ask such an insensitive question. WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?! "Are you sure that's safe?" No, actually, I'm not sure. You should ask that man eating a double bacon cheeseburger and supersize soft drink with a Rx for an insulin pump if what he's doing is safe, then you can get back to me. 

If you plan to exercise while pregnant, heaven forbid you are/were an athlete before becoming pregnant, be prepared for some truly idiotic comments. As a teacher, it is true: there are no dumb questions. There are, however, plenty of dumb people in this world, and I recommend you prepare yourself for some of the craziest and most personal questions you will ever receive in your lifetime as when you are trying to be both healthy and pregnant. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Mom Guilt, Time, and Strength

This image is from my morning off with little man exploring the local mall-walking mall. We had a great morning! Can I tell you, though, 48 hours prior, I thought my head was going to explode. I let time slip away from me, I had not been feeling great, and I did not take "me" time. You guys know for me, usually "me" time is the gym. I just needed a break from some toddler tantrums and being inside too much with a sick toddler (he had pink eye late last week). Anyway, my mood has greatly improved since I got some much-needed me time at the gym yesterday. Thanks to my fellow strong-mom friend Kristin who helped motivate me to go lift even when I didn't feel like going :) It wasn't a long time away, but enough to get some blood pumping and prove to myself it was worth the time away.

"Mom guilt" is likely a familiar phrase to many of you, whether you feel as though you have experienced it or you know someone who is unwilling to carve out "me" time despite the many demands we all juggle any given day. I say 'unwilling' not to offend but to send a strong message that there IS time for you each day. It may not be the long stretches of uninterrupted quiet time or alone time to which you were once accustomed, but it is there.  You have to be willing to let go of the guilt that is for some reason attributed to women who spend time on themselves.

Anyway, we sometimes use an activity with our students where we have them keep a "time log" of everything they do for one week in terms of hours each day. The days are listed out by the hour, and you record everything you do down to the hour for the week. While this is not the exact form, it is very similar: Time Log Sheet. Anyway, usually our students are surprised to find how much time they waste on watching television or otherwise killing time with no real purpose. This can be an effective first step in being honest with yourself as to how your time is used each day. Then you can determine that you do have time, but how do you spend it? 

Previous posts have reflected on the limited amount of time (in comparison to BK- before kids) I have to invest in "me" time, so I try to spend it wisely. I have found since having a baby that one of my favorite ways to invest in myself is physical activity, but specifically, lifting weights. I feel so fortunate that I've had a series of mentors who have helped develop my confidence in the weight room so that I feel much satisfaction from this element of my workouts. While I do still feel like, in many ways, a novice runner and triathlete, the strength training piece is my comfort zone. 

So, why mention strength training with time management and mom guilt? I can't say it enough- all women should be strength training. There are so many benefits, but when it comes to time-crunch, strength training is the best of all worlds! There should be NO guilt in knowing you are not only doing your body good, but you are also keeping your bones strong, and building lean muscle tissue which helps improve stability and coordination (read: injury prevention), improves integrity of connective tissue and joints, improves metabolism (read: burn more calories at rest, who doesn't want that??), and the list continues.

Given the understanding that many people are not comfortable in the weight room or starting a strength training program, so I will be sharing videos and links for my favorite exercises and resources for all things strength training for general health and wellness. Perhaps rather than simply recommending strength training to you, showing you the exercises and links I recommend would be more beneficial. While I'm reviving our Bowersock Wellness website, I've created a public Instagram account called "BWellandStrong". Pinterest account soon to follow. I hope this "platform" will help alleviate some mom-guilt by showing you some of my videos and links, the time-factor is removed because you have a go-to spot for workout ideas. You should never regret investing in your health, but it doesn't have to be hours every day. Something is better than nothing, but nothing is just that, so go do something for yourself. I hope these links and resources will help give you some "somethings" to do without the guilt. Remember, exercise is medicine :) 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Happiness Variable

I pirated this picture from our local newspaper on Thanksgiving weekend after Tyler, TJ, and I ran the Drumstick Dash, a local 5k raising money for the Rescue Mission of the Roanoke Valley. This picture constitutes a number of my happiness variables-family, running, being outside, community involvement, and spending time with friends. Many other things make me happy, but these are among the top variables that on any given day bring me joy. 

So, I participate in several public speaking engagements each year for various organizations, some for my employer, some for a speaker's bureau I contract with out of New York who sends me referrals from mostly corporate wellness speaking requests. Anyway, all of my presentations have to do with some permutation of, you guessed it, fitness and physical activity. My two largest presentation audiences (150+) were in 2011 for a regional medical conference of mostly physicians, nurses, and other allied healthcare professionals, the other the Virginia Banker's Association state conference (one of my contracted presentations). While the presentation content varied given to whom I was speaking, some of the qualitative feedback I received from both was virtually identical. People made comments like 'wow, very profound, I am so thankful for you' and 'you have inspired me to make a change in my life, thank you', and other similar comments.

Now, I'm by no means a perfect public speaker, nor do I know everything there is to know about health and wellness. What I do know is that I led both presentation with the same question to the audience and the presentation flowed from there. Again, the directions were somewhat different based on my medical vs. banking audiences, but the lead-off question went like this:

Are you happy? Did you wake up this morning excited about something in your life or some part of your day? 

I think it is important that you remember you deserve to be happy. You don't have to be enthusiastic necessarily, or in cases of acute sleep deprivation or illness, etc. there will be an ebb and flow in overall mood. But in general, are you happy? When you answer, where do your answers take you? In relationship to the pursuit of health, I think it is vital that we reflect on this question before moving forward on other behavioral changes. To answer this question is to address the underlying current of what moves you or what keeps you standing still, as it were.

I felt compelled to my experiences with these groups because I see so many people making efforts toward healthier lives when ultimately they do not seem happy. While some people find happiness in this pursuit of health, many others fall further in despair and frustration when their efforts turn futile. The 'yo-yo' of up and down, perhaps multiple times in succession, certainly takes a toll on your willpower as well as your metabolism. Some succumb to the lures of quick-fixes and gimmicks, spending money on top of time and effort again for a distraction from meaningful change.

While I love to tout the benefits of physical activity as a cure-all for many woes, ultimately the happiness variable is the key element of choices made with consistency. I am oversimplifying a very complex "equation", but in my observations, the folks who choose to find daily joy are the ones who maintain the most consistent health and healthy lifestyles. So, for what it's worth, you should you know you deserve happiness and joy. Every person is deserving of joy. Remember this and hopefully it will help you in your wellness journey :)

Thursday, December 31, 2015

For 2016- "make it count"

Killing two birds with one stone on this one- A- race report (finally) from my October 2015 BQ at the Columbus marathon, and B- starting my 2016 resolution- write every day. Also, I gotta pump this out quickly because naptime is almost over ;)

I've already seen so many posts about wanting to lose weight, get stronger, improve eating habits, the usual gamut of health-related resolutions for the new year. Some experience success, others do not, even year after year resolving to make the same changes with no result. You try the shakes, the pills, the fad diets, you buy the diet books, you hire a personal trainer, you have seemingly done it all and still feel like you're barely holding it all together. Sound familiar?

So, I'm sharing my race recap NOW because I have learned a lot not only about myself but about the human body after having had a baby. I will say, I do not consider myself "postpartum" at this point (20 months out seems a little excessive to me), but I am still very much learning how to balance my training habits before baby...and after. The one difference between then and now that has changed my fitness for the better is an emphasis on quality in every workout.

Why should you care how I go about my workouts? You should care because of the aforementioned tactics you may have taken to achieve your goals. What is it about a personal trainer that helps you reach your goals? Perhaps he or she helps motivate you to increase the intensity of your workouts beyond what you feel capable of doing on your own. What is it about diets that (sometimes) lead to successful weight loss? Usually, it is because you have exchanged low-quality calories for high-quality ones, and your body really likes those high-quality kcals.

My point is this- my BQ success this year is the perfect of example of how quality can equal quantity, or, in some cases, surpass it. Short and sweet run-down of my "plan" vs. my training partner- Dee. Dee and I shared the same goal (qualifying for Boston) so we started our long runs together late in the summer. The only time Dee and I ran together was on Sunday mornings for long runs. Otherwise, our training plans could not have been more different. Dee used what I would consider a moderate-to-high volume training plan capping at 55 miles a week at its highest. I think the week I ran my 22-mile long run (only once), I ran one 6-mile tempo run three days prior. That's it. I did not have a formal training plan. Having studied the physiology of all this stuff, and given this was my seventh full marathon, I've picked up some ideas along the way.

Anyway, the basic gist of Dee's plan vs. my plan was this- she was running most days/week, and I ran maybe three times/week. On the days I did not run, I was lifting, and compared to marathon training seasons prior, I was lifting pretty heavy. Before I wrecked my bike over the summer during a cross-training ride, I was able to bench my bodyweight one time (135lbs). Let me tell you, should injuries really suck, and even being married to a stellar PT, it has taken this long to inch my way closer to that strength. I'm able to do several reps of 115lbs, but man, what a long road to recovery! Anyway, I was lifting for strength during my marathon training. No 4 sets of 20 for this girl!

Final result for me and Dee- Dee beat me by three minutes. We both qualified for Boston. She ran virtually double the training miles per week that I ran and yet we ran almost exactly the same times. So, can you train for a marathon if you only run a few times a week? Sure. I shaved ten minutes off my last marathon time running less than half the weekly mileage. Aaaaaand the running haters are going to say "well okay, I could give a shit about running, what about us normal people who hate running and want to lose weight?". The take-home message is the same- make it count. Make your workouts count! Make what you feed your body and your family count. Make the time that you spend count toward something. Having a baby has forever changed my concept of time management and prioritizing everything that needs to happen in a day, and sometimes not everything does get done, but the priorities find a way to get in there. Make your health count in 2016, whatever that looks like for you.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Another "Allison" for Alison

The spectrum of emotions in Roanoke is palpable driving down the road, walking in the grocery store, pumping gas, and going to work. Our community is strong, but it is shaken. We have endured much hardship in the short nine years I have lived here. We are resilient, but we are weary from sadness.

I didn't know Alison well, but we had interacted briefly on several professional engagements and her smile is infectious. I refuse to say "was" because it IS infectious and always will be. Her enthusiasm for her work was both refreshing and engaging, and I always enjoyed watching to see where Alison would next be sent to cover a story in our region.

Alison was a JMU graduate. Anyone who went to or knows anyone who went to JMU knows that the JMU community is a unique one with strong bonds to an incredible family of students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Though I went to three schools along the 81 corridor and actually spent the least amount of time at JMU compared to the other two, I consider JMU my most meaningful social connection to a university because of this unparalleled bond of belonging and friendship that campus cultivates.  

Alison had a passion for her career and her family and friends. You can tell from the myriad posts, stories, interviews, and pictures, Alison loved the people in her life and beamed this light of love to those around her, not just friends, but her TV viewer community as well.

All of this passion, love, and promise- shortened by the actions of a very sick man with a very powerful weapon. Without knowing the intricate details of what caused this man so much pain to deem murder an acceptable means to some end predetermined in his diseased mind, it is difficult to process yesterday's events without looking to place blame with someone or something. I don't have the answers, and even if we had "an answer", it would not right the wrongs committed. It would not reverse the killings at Sandy Hook, or the Aurora movie theater, or the Santa Barbara college campus, or the Gabby Giffords press event...sadly, there are so many events like these that there are too many to wish we could undo. These victims no longer have a voice. Though they have passionate champions keeping their memories alive and fighting for what they hope to become some semblance of justice, their individual voices have been silenced.

My point is that while Alison and all the other victims of these senseless acts no longer have a voice, I do. I am still alive, but I could easily have been "this" Alison. I have remained silent on this topic because I was scared for my own safety. I have lived in fear MY. ENTIRE. LIFE. I know what it's like to know someone so emotionally unstable that you take what others may consider ridiculous precautions to protect yourself "just in case" the camel's back is finally broken. I feel compelled to speak out for Alison and all the "other" Alison's of the world because that person, emotionally unstable, physically capable, and with 100% legal access to any firearm he so chose, was my father.

Do you know what it's like to fear for your safety every moment of every day before you've hit double digits? To not trust the law enforcement in your own hometown because they're all part of the "good ol' boys" network of brothers looking out for each other in ANY. WAY. POSSIBLE?! To ensure your safety by volunteering, at 12 years old, to help clean disassembled hunting rifles knowing a gun in pieces is a gun you can't shoot. To be left alone for hours in a cold, dirty pickup truck in the middle of nowhere on a Saturday morning because "you're not old enough to make you hunt with me but by goddamned I'm not missing another day of hunting season because of you". To be told your mom and stepfather would be killed if I told them what was said to me or how I was treated because I'm a whiny girl and, if I were a boy, "I wouldn't be a bother in the first place"? Then, to be surrounded by enough guns to outfit an infantry, and to know the owner of those weapons not only was a skilled marksman but also a man authorized by law to carry multiple weapons as an officer of the law? Changes to gun ownership would not have impacted my father's access to guns for a time, but how is it that people of such immoral character are hired in positions of public safety and able to use it against the citizens they take a vow to protect?

I am not famous. I am not rich. I am not special other than being my own individual person. But, I am a survivor by all accounts because I could have been this Alison. All of the pieces were in place for this to happen to me before August 27, 2015, and it did not. I was not shot or injured, but he was capable of much more. Unfortunately, other people close to me were further witness of this capacity. The fear of knowing and understanding such a person could and may break at any time, so angry at the world and his own daughter, every week was a tightrope of anxiety. My point is that it does not take USE of a gun to invoke fear, and that fear of unabashed hate and rage overtaking reason and common sense was just as real as looking in a loaded barrel. I was in therapy for years. YEARS. But, my scars are emotional ones. There is a lot more to this story, and I have always said I would write a book. I said this after Sandy Hook, when I was pregnant with our son, and time passed. I said this to myself after the California campus shooting. Time passed. Yesterday, another Alison lost her life looking into the barrel of a gun. Tonight, I wrote this post, and I'm on Chapter 2 of the story that could have been "another" Alison.

 Ever since I learned of Alison and Adam's deaths, I have been overwhelmed with the kind of emotion that I imagine overcomes people who are able to lift cars or break down doors. I know I am only one person, one Allison, but I am a surviving one. More of "me" are out there and you need to share your experiences. Guns did not cause these deaths, but guns are causes of death and like any other risk to public safety, should be treated with utmost caution in reviewed and regulating how they are procured and who is permitted to own them. I do not object to the Second Amendment, I object to lack of respect for the carnage they may create inferred by rendering gun ownership as the inalienable right in and of itself. In my opinion, that is how gun ownership is treated in this country, and that line of thinking is wrong and deadly. My father died two weeks ago. I didn't visit him. I told virtually no one because I wanted no pity. I have survived him. Let's help others survive.

-Another Allison for Alison

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"F" words

Most weeknights in our house look something like this: we're either eating dinner or finishing up, then TJ sits in my lap or lays on the rug and we watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy (or "Peppy" in TJ-speak). Yes, watching TV was one of those things BC (before children) that I had sworn never to do, but I'm somewhat convinced that this weekly ritual is helping teach TJ letters and words because he can already recognize several, pick them out of his magnet letter bin, and identify them in words. Or, in the case of Wheel of Fortune, if the letters he recognizes are selected, he points to them and says the letter. What's up, Sesame Street? You got nothin' on Vanna White's moves for this guy. 

I've been thinking about writing this post for a very, very long time. I've hesitated in part because I don't like to sound whiny or bitchy. But, after some serendipitous private messages and texts I've received recently, I think more Mom's need to know that they're not alone in their struggles to keep things afloat. Several women have shared how much my pregnancy posts have meant to them and shared with their friends, and that they value my fitness expertise in combination with healthy living and healthy parenting, but let's face it: being healthy is not just physical. NOT. AT. ALL. In fact, there are some days now when, despite my much improved physical fitness (not to mention my fastest ever 5K times), I feel like I'm drowning on dry land. I hope sharing a few of my thoughts on parenting-related "F" words help some of you feel like we're all in this village together, raising each others' children and what not, but the interwebs can help keep us connected even if not in person to give a much-needed hug or share a bottle (or two) of pinot. Here's a virtual ::cheers:: to my fellow mama's keeping afloat everyday despite the daily obstacles or learning experiences we encouter, and I will share a few of mine, beginning with the letter "F". 

Father's Day
I could, quite literally, write a book about my father. One day I hope to do so. In the meantime, let me just say this: until we had our own beautiful son and I am able to enjoy what a father CAN mean for a child, I loathed Father's Day to the extent that I felt I would wake up and every capillary in my body would rupture. Social media can be great for keeping people connected, but it can also remind you what you may have missed out on or, in my case, what years of therapy took to help me learn is not my fault (see "Facebook" below). I haven't spoken to my father since I was 23; he was not invited to our wedding; he has not, and will not (as far as I'm concerned) ever meet TJ or future grandchildren birthed by me. If I learned anything from my father, it was how to not be a parent. Despite having other positive male role models in my life, it was (and admittedly still is) hard to accept having a biological parent who never loved you and wasn't afraid to tell you as such. So, I have an even greater appreciation for my husband who is a wonderful, loving, involved, caring father and who will help show our son what it means to be a responsible man.

Hmm, here I am carrying on about what a crappy father I had and how Father's Day still has that nails-to-chalkboard effect on me, but don't get me wrong. I have forgiven him for how I was treated. However, you cannot forget certain things said, certain actions taken, certain decisions made... a domino effect of circumstances all leading to where things are now and ultimately, can you completely forgive someone if you cannot forget what happened? However, my mom helped me realize several years ago that allowing my history with him to control me today is his victory over me, and I refuse to allow that to happen. So, my guard comes down once a year in June, otherwise I'm fairly well-adjusted (I think) to the fact that my amazing mom had to carry the load of the traditional parental unit. 

That said, as a parent myself, I find that forgiving and forgetting mistakes I make with my own son are much, much harder. Guilt is a powerful motivator, a toxic web of regret and reflection, what-if's and I-should-have's, but at the end of the day, you just can't go backwards. When you're accustomed to the school model of studying for a subject, taking a test, passing (or failing) the test based on your preparation for said test, and moving on, it's quite the challenging paradigm to then NOT have a study guide and NOT be prepared for a test, of sorts, and then not pass the test, not sure how you went wrong... you get my drift. Parenting is truly the blind leading the blind, but no one ever tells you this. You google "night-time routine" or "increasing milk supply", for example, and you can generate 100 webpages of parenting experts, medical professionals, all these people who make it seem like you're a fucking moron for not getting it right the first time. Well let me tell you something folks- NO ONE is an expert on your child. No one. No two people are the same, we as health professionals understand this, so why is it that it's some kind of secret lie we opt to not tell each other that hey, this shit is hard and you've got to go it alone sometimes? Maybe we do share this with each other and just not emphasize the HARD part or the LONELY part, but man, it's both very hard and very lonely sometimes. 

Oh, Facebook, how we all love you, then hate you, then love you and love-to-hate you, the saga continues but in reality you're still going strong. I have been within seconds, several times, from deleting my Facebook account, and then opt out ultimately because I like feeling connected to and staying in touch with friends and family from high school, college, grad school, etc. I like the "visual" aspect of seeing travel pictures or family pictures, sharing articles, just connecting with people who I don't get to see as often as I would like. Here's the rub: sometimes, when you're dry-land drowning, seeing all these pretty, happy, puppy and rainbow pictures of bliss and perfection just make you want to vomit. Before you say well hey, what about all the cute kid pictures and travel photos etc. you post, you look so happy, you have a beautiful family, yadda yadda... well sure, who posts pictures on the regular of their kids having a tantrum in the middle of the Barnes and Noble cookbook section (us, yesterday), or my emotional meltdown while pumping in my office when my supply was low toward the end of my breastfeeding days, or the ripples on my thighs where bounce-a-quarter taught skin used to reside? NO.ONE. Well, there are some... there's an IG feed called "Women IRL" and it's amazing. Sometimes it's fluff, but sometimes it's like wow, you are having a much worse day than me, I'm going to just not complain about XYZ today. But, even then, you don't see raw emotions of mom's dealing with the tantrum or the ripply skin or the saggy boobs. You see what is shown to you, so you draw certain conclusions. Again, just like with my own IG or FB feed, you see (mostly) what is pretty and happy and worth the brag (or keeping forever, at least the internet is good for that...). What is real when we feel lonely and drowning? Reaching out to someone, in real life, who will listen and let you bitch, to share your concerns and let you cry or give you feedback (if you want it), real interaction with a real breathing human being on the phone or at your house, someone who loves you and cares about only you in that moment, tossing you that lifeboat when you need it most. 

During pregnancy I had this fear that I would lose touch with my friends who are not yet parents or who do not want kids. I was afraid I wouldn't have any mom-friends because we are SO busy ALL the time and I wouldn't have the chance to really connect with anyone. I was afraid because I read these shitty articles on FACEBOOK about how being a parent is detrimental to your social life, etc. Yes, time demands are tight and it is very difficult sometimes to stay connected with ANYONE, kid-less or with-kids, but in my personal experience I have found that friendship can and will blossom, especially with people whose kids are a similar age. Enrolling TJ in a montessori school was such a blessing not only for him but for me as well, I have met so many wonderful parents whose support was invaluable in surviving those first few months of returning to full-time work not to mention the multitude of random parenting questions I didn't have the balls to ask anyone else. As a tomboy, my network of close girlfriends with children is relatively small, so I only have a few girls I would consider "best" friends with young children with whom I can entrust my roller coaster of parenting experiences. But, to my pleasant surprise, online parenting groups are also a great source of support and reassurance as well as relevant information or general FYI's when needed. I find it so ironic that given all the negative feedback and unsolicited advice I was given while pregnant, I assumed raising a young child would be no different, but in reality it has been the total opposite. I have made so many MORE friends now that I am a parent, and if I didn't love my son enough as it is, he has helped me connect with other women when I have felt incapable of doing so to a large extent until now. 

Shew, I have to wipe away the tears to get this one out. I will end with "failure" because this word is all-encompassing when it comes to being a parent, right? FEAR...FRUSTRATION.... FALLING... so many "f" words that relate to what it means to fail as a parent in some way. I'm not a perfectionist by any means, but if you love your child, letting them down in some way is most definitely a form of failure. In any other aspect of life, making a mistake means you learn from it and move on. In my experience, this dynamic is not as simple when it's your child because he or she is YOUR responsibility. He or she depends on you, only you, for survival and safety and love and learning and all those other things we are parents are entrusted to do for our kids. Sure, other people are afforded this trust, but that is not without some serious reservations no matter who you are or what kind of resources you have. Dropping TJ off at school on August 13, 2014 was one of the most difficult days of my life, and ALL DAY I felt like a failure as a mom that I did not decide beforehand that I would want to stay home with him. You have no idea until you're in it that is what you will want. I felt like a failure for not anticipating those feelings. Eventually those feelings subsided and now I realize it was a great and safe decision, but that is only months later and after many nights sobbing behind my closed office door while pumping into a machine to feed my son the next day by a relative stranger. The whole process was so COLD and IMPERSONAL at first, and it was slowly killing me at the time. Now, hindsight and experience has demonstrated it was a great environment for him, and he is thriving in part due to their care and love for him. 

Fast forward to present day when I know his care circumstances at the school are fantastic, but I am failing in other aspects of my various "roles" outside of parenthood. Juggling... you drop one ball, you scramble to pick it up, you get back to rolling, and another one falls. It's a cheesy cliche but it's true, so painfully true sometimes you feel like you're drowning. So again, I say, for anyone out there who feels like this right now or next week or a year from now, know that you're not alone. Someone loves you and is there for you, wants the best for you, and you just need to reach out for help because you can't throw the lifesaver to yourself. Fear of judgement shouldn't overtake the fact that you're falling... friends are there, waiting to save you from yourself.