August 31, 2011

Breast is Best

Today is the last day of National Breastfeeding Month.

This post is not meant to disparage those women who don't nurse. Many mothers choose not to nurse for various reasons: they don't have a good milk supply, they need to go back on medications that would taint the breastmilk, or they are not able to nurse for a variety of reasons. And some women choose to bottle-feed (with formula) simply because that is their preference, with no other reason. And that's ok!

I nursed (or pumped) for quite a few reasons. Research shows that, among other benefits, breastfeeding provides health benefits for the mother and provides numerous health benefits for the baby, including being less susceptible to SIDS, asthma, allergies, etc. Breastfed babies have also been shown to have higher IQs. Besides, I loved that bonding time I had with my son, that one-on-one skin time, and the knowledge that I alone was providing for him nutritionally.

I loved nursing my son, D. When he was born, almost 7 1/2 years ago now, I attempted to breastfeed just a few hours after he was born. He nursed like a pro from the very beginning. We never had any issues: he latched on immediately, I never had any chafing or other issues that hurt women, and my milk supply was great. My memories of nursing him are very tender. I loved that closeness with him. I nursed him until he was 13 months old (for the first 6 months he was nursed exclusively, then introduced to baby food). I did pump my milk once a day so that my husband, J, could feed him a night bottle. I wanted D to be able to use the bottle so that not only could J participate in feeding him once a day, but so that I would be able to get out of the house alone once in a while.

When my daughter, A, was born 5 years ago, I assumed I would nurse her too. Of course, unbeknownst to me until the moment she arrived in the world, she had a tons of medical issues. She was not able to nurse. Not only did she have a cleft lip, making it hard for her to get a seal, but she had breathing difficulties and couldn't nurse and breathe at the same time. I spent the first two days of her life desperately trying to get her to nurse, but she couldn't. She lost 2 pounds in the first 2 days of her life, and then was whisked off to the NICU.

A first got an ng tube (a feeding tube that went in her nose), and later got a g-tube (a feeding tube inserted into her stomach). As we all know by now, she eventually did learn how to eat and in fact got the feeding tube removed last summer, at the age of 4 (she used it for 3 years; the last year it was still in her tummy but unused).

Even though A was a on a feeding tube, I still wanted to breastfeed her. I wanted her to get the benefits of my milk. I also wanted to feel like I was doing SOMETHING to help her; I felt so helpless with her hooked up to all those machines. So I did the next best thing: I pumped. I got a new pump (which we got insurance to pay for as part of her feeding cost) and I pumped several times a day, even waking up in the middle of the night to pump. All of her feeds through the tubes were done with my milk. Sure, we had to add a little powdered formula in the milk in order to boost the caloric intake (she really needed to gain weight) but the liquid was all mine, just a bit of powder mixed in.

Very soon, the bottles of milk that I would pump overtook our kitchen freezer, and we had to buy another freezer for the garage. Soon enough, that freezer was full. I had an amazing milk supply, and while I was pumping so much, my daughter only needed a little at a time.

Yes, that is all milk. Nothing but milk was in the freezer, and as you can see it was stacked to the top!

I was running out of room to store the milk. I still wanted to pump (I wanted to feed my daughter for as long as I could) but didn't know where to store the milk! The lactation consultant in the NICU told me about milk banks, where you could donate breastmilk to different NICUs. There are babies who desperately need breastmilk, but their mothers can't provide it. It seemed like a perfect solution; I could keep pumping, have room in the freezer to store for A, and help needy babies at the same time.

There was a big screening process before I could donate. First, I had a phone interview, then had to fill out a written application. My doctor had to sign the form, vouching that I was healthy. Finally, I had to have a blood screening. Since breastmilk is a mode for viruses to travel, they had to make sure I wasn't sick. After a trip to the San Diego Blood Bank for a blood draw, I was cleared.

The process was simple. Once I had enough milk to donate, I would call the milk bank to set up a pickup. They would send me a cooler and I would pack the bottles (each one labeled with the date I pumped it) tightly in, then insulate with paper towels or newspaper (there was explicit directions given to me on how to pack the milk safely). I would then call FedEx, who would pick it up and deliver the milk that day.

I pumped my milk for a year. Not only did I pump enough to feed my daughter for a full 12 months, but I also was able to donate roughly 56 liters of milk! That's a lot of milk! I felt really good about it. I am glad I got to help other babies in the NICU, and I'm thrilled I got to provide my daughter with my breastmilk. I wish she could have actually nursed, but at least she got the next best thing.

August 24, 2011

Smiling Under My Tears

Today was the first day of school! D started second grade, and A began kindergarten. I have been somewhat dreading this day, as I have truly enjoyed having the kids at home this summer. Save for a few days here and there where I almost pulled my hair out in frustration or boredom, we really had a good time. It was nice to have relaxed mornings, not have to worry about schlepping off to yet another therapy appointment, and recharge after a jam-packed school year. And I have been trying to savor each day with my kids, getting all the kisses and snuggles I could get.

Dropping D off at his second grade was a breeze. A few years ago, when he started kindergarten, I cried as I left him. I was sad that he was growing up so fast, that time was flying by, that he was in elementary school. But last year, and now this year, I'm just so proud of the young man he is becoming that it's a pleasure to drop him off. When I picked him up he was happy and said he had a great day. Whew!

My daughter, however, was a different story. She is now in kindergarten. Actually, she is in the first year of a tw0-year kindergarten. I am fortunate that that I live in a school district that offers this. It's a special program for kids who are born June-November, who would otherwise be the youngest kids in their class. For example, if a child is born in October, and started kindergarten, they wouldn't turn 5 until October, and would be in a class with kids who are almost turning 6! This is a great program, and is perfect for kids who need that extra year of social and emotional growth. Since A's birthday is in June, she qualified, which was a relief because I didn't think she was ready for "real" kindergarten yet with all of her delays. So, she'll be at this program for the year, then transfer to our home school next year for her second year of kindergarten (not every school in the district offers this class; our home school is one that doesn't, so she's now at a school different than our home school.)

In contrast to my feelings of sadness when D went to kindergarten two years ago, I was feeling excited for her. Most of my friends whose youngest kids are now in kindergarten were sad, but I was too proud of her to be sad. You see, today was a dream come true for me. Five years ago, when A was in the NICU struggling for her life, this was nothing but a pipe dream. As the years went on, and she had delay after delay after delay, I would hardly dare to hope that one day she would overcome all that she has.

Last spring, when we had her IEP and she tested into a regular, mainstream kindergarten class, I felt like my prayers had been answered. Yes, she will still be receiving all of her services (speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, adapted physical education and deaf/hard-of-hearing therapy) but she is in a regular, non-special ed class. It's all I ever wanted for her.

My biggest challenge this summer has been potty training. Last month I wrote that at age 5, A was still not trained (which is not unusual for kids with issues similar to hers). I'm proud to write that, only a month later, she is now trained! She still has a few accidents here and there, of course, but she is trained. Because of her balance issues, she has trouble getting on and off the toilet by herself, so I put her on at home. Yesterday, we were able to go in to her classroom and let A practice going on the potty all by herself. Luckily, the toilet there is so low that she had no trouble getting on it.

When I dropped her off today, I was in tears as I left. Not because I was sad...but because I was so proud. She's come so far. WE'VE come so far. She walked right in the classroom and didn't look back. When I peeked in the window, she was already sitting on the rug with the other kids. That's when I lost it and burst into tears: because she was one of the kids. I can't explain it in words, but anyone who has ever had a child with special needs will know exactly what I'm trying to say.

I am proud to write that when I picked her up from school, she was still in the same clothes I had sent her in. She had no potty accidents, and told me that she went to the bathroom there twice. I expect an accident here and there, of course, but now I KNOW she can do it! She loved school, and can't wait to go back tomorrow.

Here's hoping for a smooth school year for both my children!

August 21, 2011

I Was A Race Volunteer!

I had the most wonderful experience this morning: I volunteered at a local half marathon! I'd never volunteered at a race before, and since I wasn't running this particular one, I thought it would be fun to give back. I mean, I do lots of half marathons and triathlons and there are always tons of people volunteering their time to help me; I wanted to return the favor.

This particular race was the America's Finest City Half Marathon. I have done this particular race twice before: it was my first ever half marathon, back in 1999, and it was the first half marathon I did last year when I re-entered the world of running after taking a 7 year hiatus! (You can read a recap of last year's race here). It was so interesting to be on the other side of things! My chosen assignment was to hand out medals at the finish line, which I was excited to do not only because of the sheer joy of being able to give the runners medals, but also because I had tons of friends running the race and I wanted to be able to personally give them theirs!

I thought I might be jealous of the runners, since I wasn't running it myself, but I wasn't jealous whatsoever. I spend the entire time with a smile on my face, enjoying every second. I've mentioned before about how I love to be around a large group of runners, and this was yet another example when I felt I was in the perfect milieu. Sure, I can feel at home with other women, with other moms, and especially with other moms with kids with special needs. But give me a group of runners and I'll spend hours talking about races, training, injuries and gear. Runners are my peeps.

A few highlights and observations from my 3 1/2 hour stint (2 1/2 hours of which were standing at finish passing out medals; the first hour was spend unloading medals from boxes!)

  • We runners are often not a great looking bunch when we finish. I can't tell you how many people crossed the finish line with snot literally dripping from their noses or dripping down their chins. I wanted to tell them to either wipe their noses or learn how to blow a decent and perfectly aimed snot rocket!
  • On the other hand, we runners can be gorgeous when finishing. The number of people beaming, glowing and smiling made me happy over and over.
  • Men who think they might have bleeding nipples should either cover them with band-aids or not wear white shirts. I handed medals to two separate men with blood on their white shirts where their nipples were. Not only is that yucky, but it looks painful!
  • Most of the people just took their medals as I handed it to them. But two people wanted me to actually place the medal around their neck. The first person said she wanted me to do it because it made her feel "like a winner" (I told her she WAS a winner!). The second person said he wanted me to do it because it was his first ever half marathon. I was touched by both requests.
  • I gave medals to many of my own friends who crossed the finish line, and gave each a hug. Each person warned me how sweaty they would be. Each was a hot, sweaty mess....and I didn't care. I was so proud of my friends and wanted to hug them, sweat and all!
  • One couple crossed the finish line together. I handed the woman her medal first. Her husband snatched it out of her hand and put it over her neck for her. They then shared a tender and very sweaty kiss. I then gave the woman another medal and she placed it on her husband's neck. It was so romantic!
  • Another man finished the race and waited by the finish line. After a while, he told me, "there's my wife!" and asked me for a medal so that he could be the one to place it over her neck. Again, it was so romantic!
  • There was a 5k race before the half marathon. The medals were only for the half marathoners, not the 5k folks. In fact, we were still unpacking the medals when the 5k was going on. One woman finished the 5k and came by the table and grabbed a medal. When another volunteer told her that they medal was for the half marathoners (in fact, they SAID "half marathon" on it!) she demanded to talk to a race official. When the race official came by, she refused to give the medal back, saying that she "paid for it". The race official let it go, but I really wonder about that woman's integrity.
  • Seeing my friends cross the finish line was an awesome experience.
  • I noticed that the fastest and slowest the runners tended to look the most beat-up after finishing. The people finishing in the 1 1/2 hour range, as well as the 3+ hour range, for example, tended to limp more, look more dazed and had less smiles compared to the people who ran a more middling pace.
I am definitely going to volunteer again. In fact, it is now my goal to volunteer at least once a year at a half marathon or triathlon. What a fun way to spend a morning....and now I am more inspired than ever to run my next one, which is in October!

August 16, 2011

I Can Because I Did

For me, when it comes to racing, whether it's a half marathon or a triathlon, it all comes down to the training. Did I train enough? Did I put in the time? Did I exert the right amount of effort? Did I have enough rest days in for recovery? If I can honestly say that I've trained enough, then really, ultimately, it doesn't matter how I perform on race day. I will know that I arrived at the starting line as prepared as I could be. So many factors that are out of my control can affect race day performance--weather, injury, a migraine--that I like to be able to do what I can to ensure that I arrive as prepared as possible. Whether I come in first (a joke, because as a back-of-the-packer that would never happen) or last (not a joke, as I once came in third-to-last) I can only do the best I can on race day, with the tools that I've been building up. I know there are people who train much harder than I do, and people who train much less, but I need to feel good about the training that I do, for myself.

In one month, I have this monster race coming up: the San Diego Triathlon Classic. It's my first Oly (Olympic-distance triathlon) which is roughly double the length of the sprints I've done in the past. I know many of my readers do much longer distances, and an Oly is no big deal, but for me this is huge. It's a 1500 meter swim, a hilly 40k bike (about 25 miles) and a 10k run (6.2 miles). I signed up for it several months ago thinking that I wanted a challenge. Doing all of these distances back-to-back-to-back is daunting.

The hardest part, and therefore most rewarding, has been training for the bike. I can cover the swim distance (I regularly swim 2000-2500 yards, or more, twice a week in the pool) and I can, of course, do a 10k run. But since taking up triathlon last year, the bike has been my nemesis. It's hard for me. Hills are not my friend. However, in the last few months I've had a breakthrough. Hills that used to kill me, that I used to have to stop in the middle of and rest before continuing on, I can now ride up nonstop. I may be only going 5 mph, but I'm riding them! I feel so much stronger and confident on the bike. In fact, the bike is slowly becoming my favorite part of training. The past few weeks I've regularly been doing a hilly 26 mile bike ride on the weekends. I feel like a warrior. (Don't tell anyone, but I'm even considering signing up for my first century next year, which is a 100 mile bike ride. I may not end up doing it, but just the fact that I'm considering it is a big deal for me).

Last weekend, I did my longest brick ever. A brick is a back-to-back workout, typically a bike-run, but it can also be a swim-run, run-swim, swim-bike, etc. My previous longest bricks have been during actual races---maybe a 10 mile bike and a 3 mile run. But on Saturday, I did a brick consisting of what I will have to do in next month's triathlon: a hilly 26+ mile bike ride, immediately followed by a 10k run.

The bike ride was glorious. I rode with a friend that I met on dailymile; she and I have been riding together recently, which is great because not only are we at the same pace, but she's wonderful company! The weather was cool, with lots of cloud coverage. As I was nearing home, however, I was exhausted (the way back on this out-and-back is mostly uphill). I couldn't imagine running 6.2 miles. I told myself I had to run at least 3, but to try for 6. I rode home, put my bike away and started to run. I ran 3.1 miles, ensuring that I would get my 6.2 miles total on the out-and-back. The first four miles were great, but at mile 5 the sun came out from behind the cloud cover. I was hot, tired, and done....yet I kept going (maybe I took more walk breaks than I wanted to, but I didn't quit). I arrived home after 6.2 miles feeling like I had a truck run over me, yet feeling exhilarated at the same time.

I can do this thing.

When I am doing my big Oly next month, and feel tired and overwhelmed, I will remember that I can do it. I've already done it. I can, and will, do it again.

I can't wait to write THAT race recap!

August 12, 2011

Running While Traveling

Last night I returned from an awesome family vacation in San Francisco. We drove, which was fun on the way there (we stopped several places and split the long drive pretty evenly over two days) and not-so-fun on the way home (we drove straight from Monterey to San Diego, hitting LA rush hour traffic and resulting in a 9 1/2 hour drive. Ugh.) But we had amazing quality time as a family, and made a lot of memories that I hope my kids will always have. San Francisco has long been one of my favorite cities, and it was amazing to be there as a mother, showing my kids Lombard Street, riding the cable car, experiencing Pier 39.

One of the highlights of the trip, for me, was running! On the way up north, we stayed overnight in Pismo Beach. Before we left in the morning, I had a nice run there. And while in San Francicso, I had TWO runs that loved.....I ran the Embarcadero (by Fisherman's Wharf), and I ran across the Golden Gate Bridge (which was a bucket-list run for me). Actually, I had had no intention of running the Embarcadero, but while on a bus tour (ok, a Duck Tour, which was SO FUN!) we drove by it and I saw tons of runners out there and I got very jealous. I wanted to be one of them! So the next morning I got up and did a short run there, and then later that morning did the Golden Gate Bridge. Running among lots of runners on the Embarcadero gave me that feeling of being in the running community that I love so much (which is why I love races), and being on the Bridge was just exhilarating. I actually teared up during my run!

Doing these runs got me thinking about how I've recently wanted to run in new places, especially while traveling. Like many runners, I have an ultimate goal of running in every state. I'd love to do a half marathon in each one (only 49 more to go!) But really, more than that, I love exploring a new area on a run, even if it's just around some new neighborhood. That's one reason I ran in Pismo Beach; I'd never run there before!

On the drive back home to San Diego, I compiled a list of places I've run. I can't wait to add to it over the years!

Tigard, Oregon
Scottsdale, Arizona
Conifer, Colorado
Boston, Massachusetts
Gaithersburg, Maryland
Houston, Texas

And, of course, several places in California, my home state, including:
San Diego (many, many places)
San Francisco
Pismo Beach
Walnut Creek
Thousand Oaks
Palm Springs
La Jolla

I will be adding more in the next few months with races I've signed up for or plan to sign up for: Long Beach, Las Vegas, Hollywood, Huntington Beach, Orange County, and Portland. I am so sad that I only recently got so into running; I've been many places and can cry at the lost opportunities I've had to run in places like Rome, New York, and Chicago. Hopefully I'll get to run in all of these places someday. More "bucket-list" runs include Central Park in New York City, Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, and around the monuments in Washington, D.C. among others. I can't wait to run more of this world!

August 1, 2011

What Oprah Taught Me

Last month The Oprah Winfrey Show ended it's 25 year run with a lot of fanfare. I have watched Oprah from the beginning, and was sad to see it end. I never watched it every day, but over the years would more of often than not turn it on at 4:00. In more recent years I would tape it daily and watch it if the show's theme appealed to me.

As the countdown to the last show started, there was a lot of talk about what the Oprah show taught people (I also listen to Oprah sometimes on XM radio, so a lot of this was on the radio). People wrote or called in saying the lessons they learned over the years from watching the shows. This got me thinking, because I have certainly learned a lot myself. Some things I learned were from the experts that she had on the show, but more often than not I learned things from everyday people she had on as guests. Two of my favorite sayings that I heard on the show was "How's that working for you?" (a good life quote from Dr. Phil) and "When people show you who they are, believe them" (by Maya Angelou).

However, one of the most poignant things I learned on the show was to be grateful while making my kids' lunches. Gratitude is a theme in my life; heck, even my blog is titled "Grateful Mama" (and here is why). But even I sometimes forget to be grateful for the little things.

A few years ago, I was watching Oprah. I am embarrassed to say I don't even remember what the show was about. I *think* it was about a mother with cancer, and a friend of hers was helping her with her kids when she was so sick with the effects of chemotherapy. I may have gotten the story wrong, but at any rate, the friend was saying something to the effect that her friend, the one with cancer, tried her hardest to make her kid's lunches every day, as it meant so much to her.

That one phrase, a casual toss-away sentence, really grabbed me. It made me realize that I, too, should be grateful that I have the opportunity to make my kid's lunches:

  • There are mothers who are dead, who have lost battles with diseases or have had tragic accidents, who would have have loved to be around to make their kids' lunches.
  • There are grieving mothers who have lost their children, whether to death or kidnapping or other unthinkable happenings, who have no one to make a lunch for.
  • There are children (like my own daughter up until a few years ago) who can't eat, who depend on feeding tubes for their meals. I know when my daughter, A, had her feeding tube I would have given anything, ANYTHING, for her to eat orally.
  • There are families who don't have enough money to make their kids' lunches (or even have a home to do so in), who depend on public assistance at school to feed their kids.
  • There are mothers who are never home, who work all day and night to support their families, and have to depend on others, like nannies, to care for their children.
  • One day, maybe sooner than I would like, my kids will be grown and I will have no one to make lunches for.
Don't get me wrong; I don't jump up and down every night when it's time for me to prepare lunches for the next day. It's tedious, and hard for me to pack a lunch for my son as he is a picky eater. But I welcome it every night. I am here, I am alive, I have two precious children and a pantry and fridge full of food. It's one of the many, many ways I nurture them every day.

Thank you, Oprah.