Confessions of a first-time BlogHer attendee

My first BlogHer experience is over with and I’m left wondering how it can already be done. While at times it seemed like the weekend would never end (or rather that I would never sleep again), it also seemed to go by in a blur. I already miss the women I got to know better over the weekend – women who are more than just blogging buddies, but who are friends. I decided to compile a list of sorts with some of the things from the conference that surprised me, made me smile, had me laughing out loud, saddened me and even made me cry. Without further ado, here are my BlogHer confessions.

Once my husband and kids dropped me off at the Denver airport Thursday afternoon for my trip to BlogHer ’09 in Chicago, I didn’t really have any anxiety the whole weekend. I did take 1/2 Xanax Thursday night, but only because, after lying in bed for hours, I could not fall asleep and I was hoping it would make me tired enough to finally crash. It did.

I don’t usually dress the way I did at BlogHer. I rarely accessorize, but I wore a necklace every day I was there – sometimes two different necklaces in one day. I bought nearly everything I wore there new (or second-hand) before the trip. I definitely used BlogHer as an excuse to get myself some new duds.

Thanks to Twitter, I found another BlogHer attendee to share a cab with to the Sheraton and, during the drive, discovered we had quite a bit in common.

Annie from PhDinParenting and me
Annie from PhDinParenting and me

My roommate Annie was much taller than I expected her to be. She was also very nice, considerate and quiet as a mouse when she woke up in the morning before me.

Allie from No Time for Flash Cards, Casey from The Beautiful Letdown and Jenni from Zrecommends
Allie from No Time for Flash Cards, Casey from The Beautiful Letdown and Jenni from Zrecommends

Three of the women I hung out with the most (other than my roomie) were Jenni, Allie and Melissa, although there were so many others that I met up with for a couple seconds, to a few minutes, to several hours. In other words, way too many names/blogs to list. Just know I enjoyed meeting every single one of you. I have no complaints!

I often felt torn on who I should spend my time with. There were so many fabulous women and so many places to go and only so many hours in the day/night that it was hard to pick where to go and who to hang with.

When “they” tell you you don’t have to go to every session and you should take time to just chill and relax during the conference, believe it. The weekend, while amazing, was incredibly exhausting and I wish I would have purposefully scheduled in a nap or two.

I confess I didn’t recognize some people who introduced themselves to me. However, upon going home and seeing their Twitter avatar or going to their blog, it then clicked who they were. A-ha! I think everyone should have their Twitter avatar on their name badge. It would make identification so much easier. 🙂

I approached a few women thinking I knew them, but it turned out I did not. It was fine though. I’d rather say, “Hi, do I know you?” than regret never asking.

I didn’t take nearly enough pictures, but I’m happy with the ones I did take.

Katja from Skimbaco Lifestyle and me at Bowlher
Katja from Skimbaco Lifestyle and me at Bowlher

I teared up after running into Katja on the elevator and then having a chat about our past struggles with anxiety in the hallway (after she teared up). Chatting with her was one of the highlights of my trip.

I dripped “juice” from my chicken sandwich down my shirt and into my cleavage while enjoying room service on my bed Friday night. Even though my bra had dried “juice” on it, I wore it on Saturday too.

I woke up with a killer headache and threw up once twice Saturday morning and didn’t emerge from my room until noon. I don’t see how I could have been hungover (since I only drank two and a half glasses of wine the night before), but I think the combination of getting very little sleep for several days, not eating the kinds of food I’m used to, and having so much going on just all caught up with me. Thankfully, once I got a little food to stay in my belly, I was fine the rest of the time.

Sommer from Green and Clean Mom and me
Sommer from Green and Clean Mom and me

I was surprised by how much fun I had with Sommer and Jennifer Friday night. They were both a riot! I laughed so hard my face hurt.

I was kind of disappointed by some of the breakout sessions I attended. I walked out of one of them (I felt the content was seriously lacking) and felt another one I went to was rather lacking too.

Inspiring green bloggers - Maryanne from MCMilker, Beth from Fake Plastic Fish, Lisa from Condo Blues, and Lynn from Organic Mania
Inspiring green bloggers - Maryanne from MCMilker, Beth from Fake Plastic Fish, Lisa from Condo Blues, and Lynn from Organic Mania

I surprised myself by raising my hand to talk into the microphone during the Green Blogging session. Public speaking didn’t kill me! (Though it did make my heart race for a few minutes.) I hope to write more about the green blogging session (which was easily my favorite) at a later time.

I packed way more clothes than I wore, but forgot to pack my toothbrush and razor. Thankfully, the front desk had both.

I didn’t have to pump the entire weekend, but I did manually express milk a couple times. Never got engorged – thank goodness.

I didn’t make it to either of the BlogHer sponsored cocktail parties.

I watched too much HGTV on the plane ride home and have all kinds of projects in mind for myself (and ones we will need to spend good $ on) on how to stage our home for selling next year. Just what I need – more projects!

I was surprised by how excited and crazed some women seemed to get about swag (free stuff). The consumption and waste I witnessed at times throughout the weekend saddened and frustrated me.

Although I rarely drink soda (pop), I had a Pepsi at lunch on Saturday to help me recovery from my headache and upset stomach. It was one of the only things that sounded good.

I was pleasantly surprised that a few women deliberately checked in on me to see how I was doing (with my anxiety and all). I thought that was super sweet of them.

I was also surprised that The Blog Frog wanted to do a short video interview with me.

I didn’t really truly miss my kids until I was on the plane ride home. Then I missed them terribly and couldn’t get home fast enough. (For the record, Jody and the kids did great without me.)

A small piece of me hoped my 2.5 year old son Julian might forget how to nurse while I was gone. He remembered and I was honestly relieved.

Jenni from Zrecommends, me, Ivy, Steph from Adventures in Babywearing, and Tara from Feels Like Home
Jenni from Zrecommends, me, Ivy, Steph from Adventures in Babywearing, and Tara from Feels Like Home

I was surprised by how many amazing, talented, funny, inspiring, sweet, eco-conscious, adorable blogging women (including several local bloggers from Colorado) I kept running into and yet I still left the conference with a long list (in my head) of more I never got to meet. (Next year, right?)

Annie - PhDinParenting, Jenni - Zrecommends, and I on the red carpet at Bowlher
Annie - PhDinParenting, Jenni - Zrecommends, and me on the red carpet at Bowlher

Someone told me that as soon as BlogHer ended this year, I would already be looking forward to doing it all over again next year. She was right. BlogHer ’10 is in New York City (be sure to register early so you get in before it’s sold out) and I’m already planning on being there.

For those of you looking for more pictures, check out my BlogHer09 flickr stream.

Lastly, thank you sooooo much to my sponsor Stonyfield Farm and their organic Oikos Greek Yogurt for helping me with my trip expenses. I really appreciate it! (And everyone I gave an Oikos Greek Yogurt coupon to was thrilled.) 🙂

Edited to add: Oops! One last thing! I got so many compliments on my photo cuff bracelet at BlogHer and I wanted to tell anyone who’s interested in getting one where you can buy them – Check out Smoy.net. Wonder if I can get them to sponsor me next year. Ya think? 🙂

Don’t miss a single post from CDG, subscribe to my blog.

Future vaccine may prevent ear infections

A new vaccine that may someday prevent ear infections (otitis media) in children is currently in the works. The vaccine is still a ways out from being tested on children, but the results on chinchillas have been promising so far.

Photo courtesy Tandem Racer
Photo courtesy Tandem Racer

The needleless vaccine, developed by Dr. Lauren Bakaletz, a researcher at Nationwide Children’s hospital, is administered by way of a drop of liquid rubbed into the skin on the outside of the ear.

Dr. Bakaletz says it works by activating cells just under the surface of the skin, called dendritic cells. When this liquid touches the skin, it touches off a response throughout the body.

“These cells deliver it to the lymphoid organs where it can generate an immune response. So really harnessing a power that’s there all the time, but you’re doing it in a way that’s now directed toward a specific disease,” says Dr. Bakaletz.

It seems only natural that moms, especially those of young children, are having some strong reactions to the news of this possible future vaccine. Some of the those I’ve seen from moms thus far include excitement and curiosity, as well as disbelief, frustration and cynicism.

An anonymous commenter on News Anchor Mom said, “Don’t you think we should be looking into the CAUSES of these ear infections rather than just adding yet ANOTHER vaccine to the list? Neither one of my children have ever had an ear infection. They are now 4 and 2.”

Karissa, another commenter, said, “Wow! What an ingenious idea! I am always leery of giving more vaccines but ear infections are the worst! It seemed like for years one of my three kids always had one. The kids were miserable, and couldn’t sleep or eat. … I’m interested to see what happens with this.”

Yet another commenter, Emily from Randomability said, “This sounds promising and it doesn’t go into the ear either. My only concern would be long term side effects.”

Catherine Morgan shares a lot of the same thoughts and concerns that I have regarding this vaccine and vaccines in general and wonders how many is too many.

I wonder how many pharmaceutical companies are bothering to invest in research to actually cure diseases that kill children? Because, why should they bother wasting money on cures for drugs that only a small fraction of children will ever need (buy), when they can make billions on new vaccines for non-life threatening illnesses that can be sold to every child?

Regardless of how you feel about autism, food allergies, or processed foods…When it comes right down to it, pharmaceutical companies are making vaccines that they believe can be most profitable for their companies. I think there comes a time when we (the parents and the consumers) need to decide that we don’t need to vaccinate every child for every illness that they may or may not get.

The thing is our immune systems need to develop by actually fighting off these infections, viruses and diseases on their own. We are already becoming a society with more and more people suffering with auto-immune diseases (like MS, Lupus, Diabetes, Crohn’s Disease, Arthritis, Celiac Disease, just to name a few). Personally, I would rather risk my child coming down with the flu, the chicken pox or an ear infection and fighting it off now, than risk their immune system failing them when they really need it later.

Is there a vaccine that we would ever say no to?

A vaccine to end conjunctivitis (pink eye)?
A vaccine to prevent poison ivy?
A vaccine to prevent runny noses or sore throats?
A vaccine to end diaper rash?

Where do we draw the line? How many vaccines is too many?

Interestingly enough, I first learned about this vaccine via an email that was sent to me from a media relations specialist (MRS). She mentioned that she could put me in touch with Dr. Bakaletz so I took her up on her offer and sent her a list of questions that I and other women (both bloggers and non-bloggers) came up with. Some of the questions included:

  • What are the possible side effects of the vaccine? – asked by Beth of The Natural Mommy
  • Who will be the manufacturer of this vaccine?
  • What are the ingredients?
  • Could this vaccine create resistant strains like antibiotics do? – also asked by Beth of The Natural Mommy
  • What are you trying to prevent with the ear infection vaccine – ear infections, the number of children who need tubes in their ears or deafness? – asked by Kayris of Great Walls of Baltimore and Kate

The response I got from the MRS was that the questions were “a bit too detailed for Dr. Bakaletz to answer given where she’s at in the development of her vaccine at this point.” However, she encouraged me to submit some more general questions, so I said:

  • I’d love to know how long the vaccine will be tested (on animals and humans) before it is deemed safe for public use and/or if she knows what the possible side effects are.
  • What prompted her to pursue making an ear infection vaccine?

Again, I was told, “Unfortunately Dr. Bakaletz couldn’t answer your specific questions.” However, she did forward on to me some general information from Dr. Bakaletz. This response left me a bit frustrated and wondering why I was told I could be put in touch with the doctor in the first place.

Whether you are excited about the prospect of this vaccine or not, it will not likely be available any time soon. Dr. Bakaletz notes, “most vaccines have taken 25-30 years from discovery to development, so I can’t really predict how soon the transcutaneous vaccine would be available since we’re still so early in terms of our experience with this vaccination approach.”

In the meantime, children will continue to get ear infections and treating them with antibiotics is not always (in fact, not usually) the best course of treatment. According to this recent Health News article, “Repeated use of antibiotics to treat acute ear infections in young children increases the risk of recurrent ear infections by 20 percent, according to researchers in the Netherlands who called for more prudent use of antibiotics in young children. … Antibiotics may reduce the length and severity of the initial ear infection, but may also result in a higher number of recurrent infections and antibiotic resistance, the researchers stated. Because of this, they said, doctors need to be careful in their use of antibiotics in children with ear infections.” You can read the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for treating ear infections here, which include:

  • Minimize antibiotic side effects by giving parents of select children the option of fighting the infection on their own for 48-72 hours, then starting antibiotics if they do not improve.
  • Encourage families to prevent AOM (acute otitis media) by reducing risk factors. For babies and infants these include breastfeeding for at least six months, avoiding “bottle propping,” and eliminating exposure to passive tobacco smoke.

SafBaby also suggests parents of children who suffer from ear infections might want to look into chiropractic care as an alternative to antibiotics.

Cross-posted at BlogHer.

Like. Dislike*. Love.

I dislike that I resort to putting my daughter in front of the TV whenever I’m trying to get my son down for a nap.

I dislike being around smokers when I have my kids in tow.

I dislike muddy paw prints in my house.

I dislike that I haven’t been the blogger that I want to be lately.

I like the smell of autumn.

I like the sound of a gentle rain.

I love seeing and hearing my kids laugh hysterically at each other.

I dislike it when I yell at my kids.

I love growing food in my backyard.

I dislike that my backyard doesn’t get enough sun to have a big garden.

I like that my backyard has so much shade I don’t have to worry about my kids getting sunburned.

I love the looks on my kids’ faces when they discover something for the first time.

I like the feeling of sand between my toes.

I like that now (after more than 11 years) I have a bike to ride again.

I dislike that sometimes marriage seems like so much work.

I dislike not having the answers to all of my questions.

I love living in Colorado.

I love Michigan (my home state), but only in the summer and fall.

I love that my sister and I have such a close relationship.

I dislike that talking to my parents isn’t easy.

I like that my parents and I are slowly but surely working on our relationships.

I like that I know how to make my kids laugh.

I like educating others.

I like writing.

I dislike that I don’t always feel motivated to write.

I dislike blatant consumerism.

I love watching my kids play.

I dislike early mornings.

I love to sleep.

I love that I’ve been able to breastfeed both of my kids.

I dislike ignorance.

I dislike that sometimes I am ignorant.

*I dislike the word hate, which is why I used “dislike” instead of it.

I love that my husband believes in parenting the same way that I do.

I love that my husband is a wonderful father.

I dislike my cluttered house.

I dislike addiction.

I love feeling like I’ve made a difference.

I love that I have a supportive group of friends.

I dislike that there’s so much suffering in the world.

I love that my children willingly eat so many foods that I was never exposed to until I was an adult.

I like that I’m allowing myself to feel for the first time in a while.

I dislike the way that those feelings sometimes make me feel.

I dislike fear.

I love that I’m learning to overcome my fears.

And I love that my kids make everything that seems difficult, or even impossible, worth the effort.

This feels rather meme-like, so I invite you to feel free to do this on your own blog if you feel so inclined. I found it to be a very enlightening, fun, and educational exercise. It’s especially interesting to see how many likes, dislikes and loves you come up with at the end. If you do this on your blog and want to link back to me, I’d appreciate it, but please don’t feel obligated. 🙂

Reducing BlogHer separation anxiety for mom and kids

After taking part in a recent discussion on Twitter with @NTFFC, @feelslikehome and @phdinparenting regarding the fact that we all were experiencing various degrees of separation anxiety about leaving our kids to go to BlogHer, I felt certain that we weren’t the only moms feeling this way. Moms and children alike have dealt with separation in the past, but I began wondering what ways there were to get through it that would make it easier on everyone involved.

I should first note that I’m writing this article from the perspective of a mom who practices Attachment Parenting (AP) with her children. It’s what I know, it’s what I do, so it makes the most sense that I write from that angle. That said, every mom knows their child’s and their own needs better than anyone else. I’m not trying to tell anyone how to parent, just offer suggestions for those who are looking for help.

Although I really wanted to go to BlogHer last year, I didn’t feel the timing was right. My youngest, Julian, was a little over a year old at the time I would’ve needed to commit to the conference. He was still nursing (and never took a bottle), and I knew that several days apart wouldn’t go well for either of us. Although I whined about it plenty on Twitter, I knew I made the right decision for us to stay home. As it was I was still able to virtually attend BlogHer in Second Life from my own house, where I met some new people and had a great time. Not the same thing, but it allowed me to experience a small bit of the awesomeness that is BlogHer.

Fast-forward to this year. Julian is a year older, night weaned (though still nursing during the day), no longer co-sleeping (with me, though he shares a room with his sister Ava), will go to sleep for someone other than me (if I’m not home), and can comprehend that mommy is leaving for a few days (just like daddy sometimes does for work) and that I will be back. I feel it will go much more smoothly. And so, after four and a half years of blogging, I am attending my very first BlogHer(!!) and leaving my kids for an extended period of time for the very first time as well. The only other time I’ve been away overnight from my kids in five years (yes, five years!) was when my husband and I went to Boulder for a night away two weeks ago while the kids were with my parents and my sister. My kids (ages 2.5 and 5) did really well, but we were gone for less than 24 hours. My BlogHer Chicago trip will require me to be gone for three nights and yes, I’m a little nervous about it.

However, I was much more nervous about it before Jody and I had our night away. I think of that getaway as kind of a trial run for the kids. They did great with my parents and sis here and I feel quite confident that they will do just as well, if not better, when it is daddy taking care of them while I’m away. I’m sure I will be OK too, but I have a feeling that for me and many other moms it will be harder on us to be away from our kids than it will for our kids to be away from us.

Photo courtesy of D Sharon Pruitt
Photo courtesy of D Sharon Pruitt

That said, I believe that there are ways to make the separation easier on the children and, if they are old enough to comprehend what’s going on, they should be prepared in advance for mom’s departure. I also believe that moms know their children best and can likely tell if leaving them in the care of another for a few days will be minimally disruptive to them or if it will cause more difficulty than its worth. If the separation would be too much, there’s also always the option of bringing little ones with you either to keep with you (in a sling or carrier) during the conference (perhaps have a relative or friend stay with you to allow you some time sans child or, if your child is up for it, take advantage of BlogHer’s childcare option) or bringing the whole family and letting your partner and the kids enjoy a little vacation too, but still have the opportunity to hook up with you during the conference as needed.

Annie at PhdinParenting (who will be my BlogHer roomie) has some great suggestions for minimizing the separation anxiety for the children and for mom.

  • Having an attached dad helps. If your partner is more than just a “babysitter” then the kids will feel comfortable with him.
  • Waiting until the kids are old enough to understand that Mommy is going away for a few days and will be back soon (rather than just being distressed that she isn’t there). My first time away from my son was when he was almost 2 years old. I wouldn’t have considered it before that. My daughter is now over 2 years old and I think she is ready.
  • Getting help while you are away from another relative or friend that the kids trust to take some of the stress/pressure off of your partner. My mother-in-law will be here while I’m away at BlogHer, so my husband will have help and the kids will be distracted by her being there.
  • Take photos with you to look at and show others.
  • Set up a time to call your kids and check in with them. Having a time set in advance ensures that you are both available and there for the call and no one is disappointed.
  • Give them something to look forward to. Promise a special gift from your trip or a special activity upon your return.
  • Have your partner plan some fun activities while you are away. Special outings or play dates or special foods.

Alison at GreenMe jokingly said that mommy BlogHers should update their kids via Twitter and perhaps do some Skyped bedtime stories during their absence, but is that really that far off the mark? Others don’t seem to think so. Even Alison admits that her friend Skyped her 18-month-old every night when she was away for a recent trip and the child barely noticed mom was gone!

Maria from A Piece of my Mind said when she has to leave her son for an extended period of time, “I talk to my son about my leaving, how long I will be gone, if he will visit, what I am doing, etc. I also call/video conference with him.”

Ally from In the Middle of Somewhere said the longest she’s been away from her one-year-old daughter is five hours and they were “not easy” on her. Her daughter, on the other hand, didn’t notice she was gone until she returned. Ally said taking a picture of her daughter with her would’ve helped her separation anxiety and if she was gone longer than five hours she thinks Skype would have come in very handy.

Sandy from Between Lightning suggests making some recordings of you reading their favorite books. And for babies, “I’ve also heard it helps to give them your shirt for scent.”

Bits of Myself, who is currently battling cancer for the second time, offered up what she does for her daughter when they have to be apart. “When Nugget (age 2) and I have to be apart for chemo or hospitalization, we talk about what will happen, what she can expect, visiting, who will be helping to care for her, etc. We also make a special Build-a-Bear together for her to hold when mama’s away.”

Lynn from Organic Mania has this AP approach:

Explain to them that you’re taking a trip, show them on the map where you are going, talk to them about the plane (so fascinating!), promise to call from the plane, tell them what type of plane, call when you land, call every night for night-night routine, and promise to bring back a present (eco-friendly, of course). Begin talking to them about a week prior…then remind them the day before, tell them when you’ll be back, what you’ll do….I think the message here, as with Attachment Parenting, is that you want them to KNOW what you are doing, and to be ENGAGED and INVOLVED. NO hiding. No sneaking around.

Angela from Breastfeeding 1-2-3 suggested some tips she gleamed from a friend.

When a friend of mine needed to be apart from her children for several days while she recovered from a planned surgery, she made a book of photographs for each of her children. That could be done like a scrapbook or photo album, but she used an online photo site to print and bind an actual book. The book included photos of the child, the mother, and the family, and it was meant to be read both before and during the separation.

It could also help to have a calendar — possibly made together as a craft — to count down the days apart. Another idea is to make a construction paper chain to count down the days, just like many children do before Christmas. The mother could take the idea one step further and write a little note on each of the ‘rings’ so that there would be a special message from Mom for the child to read each day.

Lisa from Crazy Adventures in Parenting said:

When I went to Disney Mom Bloggers Mixer two months ago, only bringing my breastfeeding infant, I called throughout the day to my husband and children, and they were told to call me if they missed me. I had the phone on me constantly. We had good practice with mommy being away with the birth of our youngest, luckily she latched to sleeping with just hubby pretty well while I was in the hospital delivering. My toddler is definitely more of a daddy’s girl now. We reiterated his putting her to sleep just before we left, and now it’s his job because, as I said, she’s a daddy’s girl and she loves him and prefers him now! My older children coped well because I called a lot and emailed them pictures.

Books are a good thing to turn to when you need help with a new situation. One that is great for kids who are facing an upcoming separation from mom is “The Kissing Hand” which was recommended both by my mom and by Angela from mommy bytes in her post Separation Anxiety and Mommy Guilt. Another helpful book is Mama Always Comes Home recommended by Katherine.

Amy at Resourceful Mommy offers up a good reminder that we need to take care of our own needs as well as those of our children, and she views attending BlogHer as a way of recharging her batteries. “Breathing new life into ourselves will leave us ready to face the challenges of caring for our children.”

So what am I personally going to do to make this separation easier on all of us? I think a little bit of everything. I plan to:

  • Talk to my kids about my trip about a week before I go, and then remind them a few more times as the day gets closer.
  • Leave them some special notes to find while I am gone. (I will likely have my husband place a few around the house each day.)
  • Call them at least once a day and tell them they can call me too.
  • Email them pictures and ask them to email me pics of them too (with daddy’s help).
  • Help my husband plan out their days with a few special activities before I go so the kids have some things to look forward to.
  • Get the book “The Kissing Hand” to read before I go.
  • Bring them both home a present.
  • And I will definitely have some pictures of my kids with me.

Do you have any suggestions on how you have or will reduce separation anxiety for your children or yourself? Leave a comment and share your tips.

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

My road to recovery from Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety. It’s something that we all experience from time to time. Usually it’s a healthy response, a normal bodily reaction to stress. But for some of us anxiety becomes a way of life, a never-ending cycle of fear. One fear begets another fear begets another fear and it continues in a vicious circle, wearing us down, making us feel unable to cope or exist in a “normal” way.

Photo courtesy of BLW Photography
Photo courtesy of BLW Photography

Anxiety did that to me. I can say “did that” now because I am (finally) in recovery from generalized anxiety disorder. Notice I did not say I am recovered from it, but I am actively working on my recovery.

The thing about anxiety that I’ve come to accept is that it really is all about fear. People with an anxiety disorder often fear a lot of things, including that they are going to die. After all, this seems like a perfectly natural response when you are dealing with very real, often very frightening physical symptoms on a regular basis. There were a handful of occasions where my symptoms – heart racing, dizziness, tightness in my throat, tingling/numbness in my hands, feeling like I was going crazy or about to die (just to name a few) – were so severe that I seriously considered going to the nearest emergency room (and I know many people with anxiety disorder who do), but instead settled for calling the doctor on-call (after office hours).

I am very tuned into my body and any little (or big) thing I’ve felt over the past several months that was not “right” would lead me to believe there was something very, very wrong and if I didn’t find out what it was, I could die. This is why I’ve been on a quest having literally thousands of dollars of medical tests done (thank God for insurance) to prove to myself that I’m healthy. Because without that proof, I would always have some doubt in the back of my mind and play that most detrimental game of “what if” (a favorite of those of us with anxiety disorder) and the cycle of fear continue.

Does this make me a hypochondriac? I don’t know. It kind of feels to me like anxiety begets hypochondria or at least it has in my case.

Does the threat of being labeled a hypochondriac make people less likely to talk about their anxiety disorder? I would guess yes. Although I’ve had people comment on my anxiety-related blog posts stating they’ve dealt with anxiety too, it doesn’t seem like that many people are “out there” blogging about it. At least I had a hard time finding people writing about it. I think that’s due largely to the stigma attached to it and the worry of, “What will people think of me if they find out?”

The road to “wellville” for me (which has been a very slow process over many months) has been a mix of many things. I initially swore off medication, thinking “it’s great for other people, but not something *I* need.” I had planned to get better “naturally.” Medication didn’t fall into the “natural” category in my book. I worried about what kind of example I would be setting for my kids if I took the “easy” way out. Yes, that is kind of how I viewed it. However, after a couple of months of crippling anxiety and being at the point where I could barely function, let alone take care of my kids, I accepted that at THIS time in MY life, medication was/IS what I NEED. It took me a while to come to grips with that- that I needed a chemical substance to allow me to heal, but I’ve made my peace with it. I’d much rather be taking a medication and able to take care of my kids, than be stuck in bed or afraid to leave my house literally frozen with fear, wondering and waiting for the next panic attack to hit.

In addition to medication (Zoloft and very occasionally 1/2 of a Xanax), the laundry list of things that are helping me recover (in no particular order) includes: sleep, finding more time for myself, yoga, exercise, abdominal breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, educating myself by reading books and web sites about anxiety disorder – what causes it, who it often affects, how to deal with it, etc., seeing a therapist on a regular basis, reiki, taking vitamins and supplements, and reducing my commitments. It is my hope that by doing all of these things as needed on a regular, continued basis, I will eventually be able to go off the medication and live an anxiety-free life once again. The medication is just one of many tools in my recovery toolbox.

Recovering from anxiety has been the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced – far harder than going away to college or giving birth unmedicated to a 9 1/2 lb baby at home. And I don’t know that I will ever be fully recovered. I think it will be an on-going process for the rest of my life. If I slip back into old habits, I feel quite sure the anxiety would return.

Will this experience make me a stronger person? I don’t know about a stronger person, but I think it will make me a wiser person. When I am able to better realize my limitations and better care for myself, I am a happier person which can only make those around me happier too. And by knowing my limitations, I can better realize my potentials. The cycle of fear can be broken. Not effortlessly, not overnight, but it can be broken and there is hope.

I initially worried that by taking medication I would be setting a bad example for my children, but I now know that by taking care of myself (including taking medication), I am setting a good example for them. I am showing them that I believe I am important, that I value myself and my health. Nowadays I can have fun with them and laugh again and I think they find that matters far more than anything else.

Related posts:

Cross-posted on BlogHer

If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to my mailing list.

* indicates required



Bit by the gardening bug

I’ve been working on honing my gardening skills for the past four years. In 2005, I participated in a couple community garden plots with a group of friends. That’s where Ava and I got our first taste of gardening. We liked it and we wanted more. 🙂

How’s this for a blast to the past?

In 2006 and 2007, not yet ready to commit to my own garden plot either in a community garden or my own backyard, I did some container gardening on my patio.

By 2008, I could stand it no longer and had to put in a “real” garden, so Jody and I cleared out a patch of grass in the backyard and I got to plant my first real garden on my own. I grew strawberries, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, and green beans, as well as feverfew, sunflowers and chamomile. I planted everything way too close together because I was working with a very limited amount of space and totally underestimated how big everything would get. Still I got quite a bit of produce and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

This year, once again feeling the next to expand, I was hoping to find another patch of space in my yard that gets a decent amount of sunlight to convert into another garden. (It’s both a blessing and a curse that most of our backyard is shaded by the large trees that grow back there. It’s great because I don’t have to worry about the kids getting sun burned, but it’s a pain because there’s very little space to grow anything that requires sunlight.) After much deliberation (and cursing as we kept running into large tree roots), Jody and I decided on putting in two raised garden beds. Jody built the beds for me using both new and used wood. It would’ve been nice and significantly cheaper to get all used wood, but we didn’t have time to search for it for that long.

As of tonight, I have three little gardens in my yard (woohoo!) – the one that was already in place, and two raised beds, as well as some potted plants. So far I have planted seven varieties of tomatoes and two varieties of eggplant (all started by my friend Julie), basil, strawberries, five raspberry plants (but only 2 are currently growing), as well as cucumbers, yellow crookneck squash and zucchini that I planted from seed. I’m still itching to plant more (like green beans, carrots, greens, and watermelon at the very least), but I’m not sure I’m going to find the space for them this year, though I may be able to figure something out to sneak of few of them in. 😉

Today while Jody and Ava wheeled dirt to fill up the second garden bed, Julian and I collected worms (as I had done with both kids earlier in the week) to add to the dirt. My kids love worms and had no qualms about retrieving them from the compost bin (where hundreds, if not thousands, live).

Digging out worms: Yes, the kids are saying “Ewwww,” but only because I told them to. 😉

And now, for those of you who are curious, here’s a little tour of my garden. 🙂 (FYI – These pics were taken with my iPhone so they aren’t the best quality.)

A view of my first garden (that we made in 2008), as well as the clothes line and compost bin.

Inside the garden this year: strawberries and feverfew (and raspberry plants growing in the pots outside the garden)

Inside the garden this year: more strawberries and cucumbers

The new raised garden bed: tomatoes and basil

The second raised garden bed: eggplant, tomatoes and squash

More pots on the patio with raspberries, volunteer dill and a yellow pear tomato.

I’m quite pleased with all that we’ve managed to get in this year and am thankful to Jody for building my raised beds for me. All of this digging in the dirt has been really good for me. I remember having this feeling last spring/summer too – gardening is very therapeutic. Now that the gardens are in we can again focus on finishing up redoing the backyard – a project we started about a month ago and still have a fair bit of work to do. It will be wonderful when it’s completed and I can sit back and enjoy it, of course while still getting my hands dirty as I dig out weeds.

Gardening is one of those things that seems to be in my blood. My mom always had a garden when I was growing up and I remember helping her pick green beans and eating some of them right off the plant. I hope my kids have fond memories of gardening with me (and playing with worms) someday too and decide that gardening is something they want to pursue and share with their kids as well.

Babies’ foreskins used to make cosmetics. Is this ethical?

The question of whether or not to circumcise their newborn baby boy is often the first of many life-altering decisions parents makes on behalf of their baby. Whether you find yourself for or against circumcision is not the subject of this article (though it could be a subset of it). The issue in question is whether or not it’s ethical to use babies’ foreskins in the making of cosmetics.

What happens to a baby boy’s foreskin after it’s removed in the hospital? Naturally, you might think that it is disposed of with other “medical waste,” but as I recently learned, that’s not always the case. There is, in fact, big money to be made in the foreskin business, not just the money gained from the removal, but from what becomes of the foreskin after the fact. Laura Hopper, a midwife who blogs at Alternative Birth Services recently wrote that wrinkle treatments are being made using American babies’ foreskins. Hopper quotes two articles, both detailing the use of baby foreskin in the cosmetic industry. From Acroposthion:

The most disturbing and alarming [controversy] is in the unethical trafficking of neonate foreskins. Not only do parents of North American baby boys have to pay between $200 to $300 to obstetricians to circumcise their boys that no sooner are the circumcised foreskins cut off that they are sold on to bio-engineering and cosmetics companies by the hospitals.

The resale value of neonate foreskins is astronomically dizzying in that from one boy’s foreskin can be grown bio-engineered skin in a lab to the size of a football field. That’s 4 acres of new skin or around 200,000 units of manufactured skin, which is enough skin to cover about 250 people and sells at $3,000 a square foot. Considering that there are 1.25 million neonate foreskins circumcised each year in the U.S alone this translates to one of the most lucrative trades, if not THE most lucrative trade in human body parts ever in the history of humanity.

Hopper ends her post saying, “Wake up people, your children are being exploited for profit.”

I have to believe that many parents wouldn’t stand for such a thing if they knew it was going on. Although I chose to leave my son’s penis intact, I would never think to ask my doctor, “What is going to happen with my son’s foreskin after it’s removed?” But surely parents have to consent to this sort of thing, don’t they? Is it listed in the fine print somewhere on the parental surgical consent form? If it’s not, is this ethical?

Jennifer Lance at Eco Child’s Play seemed shocked herself at the news when she wrote WTF? Baby Boys’ Circumcised Foreskins Used for Wrinkle Treatments and said, “Glad my son’s foreskin is still where it belongs on his penis and not injected into some old woman’s face looking for the fountain of youth.”

According to Summer Minor who blogs at Wired for Noise, the use of baby foreskin to make cosmetics isn’t anything new. Back in 2007, she wrote Human Foreskins are Big Business for Cosmetics.

Foreskin fibroblasts are used to grow and cultivate new cells that are then used for a variety of purposes. From the fibroblasts new skin for burn victims can be grown, skin to cover diabetic ulcers, and controversially it is also used to make cosmetic creams and collagens. One foreskin can be used for decades to grow $100,000 worth of fibroblasts.

Minor reports that back in 2007 concern was growing over the ethics behind using human foreskin for cosmetic purposes. “One such cosmetic company, SkinMedica is raising a stir over their use of the growth hormone left over from growing artificial skin from foreskin fibroblasts.”

SkinMedica, which sells for over $100 for a 63-oz. bottle, was made famous by Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Walters. Winfrey in fact has promoted SkinMedica several times on her show and website. Discussions about the ethics of using human foreskins for vanity have been circulating on the web but there has not been a response from Winfrey on this debate.

According to an article by Amanda Euringer on The Tyee, “in a discussion on Mothering.com, one querent asked, ‘If the cream was made from the bi-product of baby afro-American clitoral skin, would Oprah still be promoting it?’ There’s no answer to that question on Mothering or Winfrey’s site, and Winfrey declined The Tyee’s request for an interview.” Go figure.

There are uses for removed foreskin that may seem slightly less controversial like using it to create bio-engineered skin for burns, persistent leg ulcers, bed sores, reconstructive surgery and other skin problems. The Foreskin Mafia writes, “Now, circumcision really does have health benefits, only it’s not the baby boys who are losing parts of their penises who benefit.”

In case you are wondering if your cosmetics were made from foreskins, it’s not as easy as looking for the word “foreskin” in the ingredients. After all the foreskin is not actually an ingredient, but is used as a culture to grow other cells which are then used in the cosmetic. The ingredient you are looking for is likely called Tissue Nutrient Solution or TNS™, human collagen or human fibroblast.

What do you think? If you circumcised your son, do you care what happened to his foreskin after it was removed? Is it ethical to use babies’ foreskins for cosmetic purposes? Is this money maker part of a conspiracy to encourage Americans to continue circumcising their sons?

Thanks to Heather Farley who blogs at It’s All About the Hat for bringing this issue to my attention in the first place.

Cross-posted on BlogHer

If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to my mailing list.

* indicates required



Home birth advocate’s baby dies during free birth, prompts questions

Janet Fraser, a home birth advocate and founder of the site Joyous Birth, recently experienced a personal tragedy when her baby died at her home in Australia on March 27 during her free birth or unassisted childbirth (where a woman gives birth at home without the aid of a midwife or doctor).

When a tragedy like this occurs, people are often left scratching their heads wondering how something like this could happen, what went wrong, and lastly, who’s to blame? I don’t know if we need to point a finger to make ourselves feel better, but it seems to be human nature to ask, “why did this happen?”

While I did not consider giving birth at home without a midwife in attendance for my home birth, I know a handful of women who chose an unassisted birth and I respect them for it. I believe these women did a great deal of research in advance, knew what they were doing, trusted their bodies and their babies and were prepared to go to the hospital if any issues arose. Although I don’t know her, I trust that Janet Fraser would fall into this category as well. Not everyone agrees with me though and some, like Amber Watson-Tardiff, are suggesting that what Fraser did by having her baby unassisted was “reckless, neglectful and borderline criminal.”

Jessica Gottlieb of Eco Child’s Play says, “I support women who chose a home birth. But a free birth? I cannot see the wisdom in it. Neither can Ms. Fraser’s baby.”

Watson-Tardiff goes on to say, “I hope she is at least subject to an investigation for child endangerment.”

Ronda Kaysen of MomLogic says she sees the value of home birth as a way of reducing medical intervention, but believes giving birth without medical assistance is “absurd.”

Fraser’s “free birth” argument, which on the surface appears feminist, is actually the opposite. It doesn’t empower women to take control of their own bodies. It sends them and their babies into the dark ages of medical care – where women give birth with no medical care at all and face the very real possibility of death as a consequence.

For the record the police are investigating the death and have said “it was not clear whether the baby was stillborn or died after delivery. If a baby is stillborn, there is no autopsy. If a baby is alive at birth and dies soon after, it is considered a matter for the coroner.”

I guess I give Fraser the benefit of the doubt and assume that like most mothers she was doing what she thought was in the best interest of her baby. Although she coined the term birth rape (birth interventions done against the woman’s wishes), I don’t believe she would put her child in harm’s way rather than accept a potentially life-saving intervention. Then again I don’t know Fraser and have not spoken to her, so I can only speculate just as others are doing, but I prefer to give her the benefit of the doubt. However, I do believe that whenever a child dies, there should be an investigation into the death.

While many are blaming Fraser for her baby’s death since she did not have a doctor or midwife in attendance, no one seems to mention the fact that babies die in the hospital, where doctors are present, all the time.

Laura Shanley, author of the book Unassisted Childbirth and owner of the Bornfree! website who blogs at Letters from Laura – Thoughts on Unassisted Childbirth, brought up that point and shared another perspective many of us may not have thought of when she shared the following statement with me:

I don’t know Janet, but of course my heart goes out to her. An Australian friend of mine has told me that despite what the media is saying, Janet’s baby was stillborn and the outcome wouldn’t have been different had the baby been born in the hospital. Regardless of whether or not this is true, I find it sad that so many people are blaming Janet for her baby’s death. A baby is stillborn in an American hospital every fifteen to twenty minutes. According to a story on my local newscast, this is double what it was ten years ago. Yet almost no one blames hospital birth mothers (nor should they) for these babies’ deaths. This is because it’s assumed that if a baby dies or is stillborn in the hospital, everything possible was done to save the baby’s life. The possibility that at least some of these deaths might have been caused by early inductions, c-sections and other interventions is rarely discussed.

I can tell you, however, that as a homebirth advocate I have received numerous letters over the years from grieving mothers who wonder if their hospital born baby might have survived (or avoided injury) had they been born at home. The fact is, in most cases we may never know. Sometimes medical intervention saves lives, and sometimes it takes them. This is why I encourage parents to do their own research and decide for themselves where and with whom they want to give birth. In my case, I chose to give birth at home unassisted because from the research I had done I felt that the majority of problems in birth – both now and in the past – could be traced to three main causes: poverty, unnecessary medical intervention, and fear which triggers the fight/flight response and shuts down labor. Despite what most people believe, the act of birth itself is not dangerous. But our cultural beliefs and practices can make it so. In the end, it’s a personal decision. And just as the death of a hospital-born baby doesn’t mean that no baby should ever be born in the hospital, the same should be said for babies born at home. Regardless of the outcome of this case, I will continue to speak out about unassisted childbirth as I believe that in most cases it’s the safest and most satisfying way to give birth.

Genie, an Australian blogger who writes at Home Is Where the Heart Is, blogged extensively about her thoughts regarding Janet Fraser and defends her choice to have her baby unassisted at home. She feels the insinuation that women who birth at home do it to feed their own ego at the expense of their child is “a crock.”

Women choose to homebirth with their baby’s best interest at heart. They do it FOR the baby, not in spite of the baby. Yes they want to feel empowered and blissed out, but the lack of trauma and the satisfaction a mother gets after a natural birth all benefits the baby too. A mother’s health and well being has a HUGE impact on the baby. So why should we ignore the interest and well-being of the mother?

In the wake of this tragedy and surrounding media coverage, some feel the need to point out that there is a difference between home birth and free birth. Dr. Meredith Nash of The Baby Bump Project says homebirth and freebirth are not the same.

The media has failed to differentiate between freebirth or unassisted birth (no midwife or doctor) and homebirth (a birth at home, usually with a midwife or homebirth doctor). For the most part, for low-risk births that are attended properly, homebirth has been proven to be a safe alternative to hospital birth. Freebirthing is significantly more risky (sorry, I’m a supporter but also a realist). It is essential to make this differentiation. Now that homebirth is on the precipice of being banned given that independent midwives are likely going to be denied indemnity insurance from next year, the suggestion that all women who homebirth are crazy radicals or that homebirth represents the majority of birthing women in Australia (only about 2%) is ridiculous. If anything, midwives and their ability to attend homebirths will be the saving grace of the Australian maternity system. Rather than convincing the small proportion of women who avoid a medicalized birth, why not support these women in their choices by making homebirth safe and easy?

Summer Minor, who blogs at Wired for Noise and gave birth to her daughter at home a little over a week ago, references the recent Nederlands study that says home birth is as safe as hospital birth. “A new study is out from the Netherlands that gives us home birthing mothers a nice little pat on the back. Despite the labels of ‘dangerous’ and ‘unsafe’ by some, once again it’s been found to be just as safe as giving birth in a hospital.” From the BBC:

The largest study of its kind has found that for low-risk women, giving birth at home is as safe as doing so in hospital with a midwife.

Research from the Netherlands – which has a high rate of home births – found no difference in death rates of either mothers or babies in 530,000 births.

I think that Shanley said it best when she said, “In the end, it’s a personal decision. And just as the death of a hospital-born baby doesn’t mean that no baby should ever be born in the hospital, the same should be said for babies born at home.” We all must do our research and make the choices that we feel are the best for ourselves and our babies and then, find peace with our decisions.

I offer Janet Fraser and her family my deepest sympathy. My thoughts are with them.

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to my mailing list.

* indicates required



National Healthy Schools Day – April 27

National Healthy Schools Day – What you can do to make sure no child’s health is left behind

A Guest Post by Janelle Sorensen

When my husband and I first toured schools to find the one we wanted to enroll our daughter in, I’m sure I was silently voted one of the strangest parents ever. Why do I feel I was secretly endowed with this title? Because every room and hallway we were taken through, I sniffed. A lot. And, according to my husband, I wasn’t terribly discreet.

I didn’t have a cold or postnasal drip. And, I’m not part bloodhound. I was simply concerned about the indoor air quality. My daughter was (and still is) prone to respiratory illnesses and I wanted to be sure the school she would be attending would support and protect her growing lungs (in addition to her brain). For many air quality issues, your nose knows, so I was using the easiest tool I had to gauge how healthy the environment was.

While air quality is a significant issue in schools (the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that at least half of our nation’s 120,000 schools have problems), parents are also increasingly concerned about other school health issues like nutrition and the use of toxic pesticides. Many schools are making the switch to healthier and more sustainable practices like green cleaning, least toxic pest management, and even school gardening. What they’re finding is that greening their school improves the health and performance of students and personnel, saves money (from using less energy, buying fewer products, and having fewer worker injuries among other things), and also helps protect the planet. It’s truly win, win, win.

To highlight the issue, the Healthy Schools Network (http://www.healthyschools.org/index.html) coordinates National Healthy Schools Day. (http://www.nationalhealthyschoolsday.org/) This year, over three dozen events will be held across the country (and more in Canada) on April 27th to promote and celebrate healthy school environments.

What can you do? Healthy Schools Network recommends simple activities such as:

You can also help support the efforts of states trying to pass policies requiring schools to use safer cleaners. (Or, initiate your own effort!) There are good bills pending in Connecticut, Minnesota, California, Massachusetts, and Oregon. According to Claire Barnett, Executive Director of the Healthy Schools Network, the key pieces to promote on green cleaning in schools are:

  • Not being fooled by ‘green washing’ claims—commercial products must be third-party certified as green (to verify claims);
  • Understanding that green products are cost-neutral and they work; and,
  • Learning that “Clean doesn’t have an odor.”

She encourages parents and personnel to tune into one of the archived webinars on green cleaning (like the first module for general audiences) at www.cleaningforhealthyschools.org.

The fact of the matter is that whether you’re concerned about the quality of food, cleaning chemicals, recycling, or energy use – schools need our help and support. Instead of complaining about what’s wrong, it’s time to help do what’s right – for our children, our schools, and our planet.

What are you going to do? There are so many ideas and resources. Find your passion and get active on April 27th – National Healthy Schools Day.

Additional Resources:

Janelle Sorensen is the Senior Writer and Health Consultant for Healthy Child Healthy World (www.healthychild.org). You can also find her on Twitter as @greenandhealthy.

Getting kids on the bottle – water bottle, that is

Just as it is important that we as adults drink our water from refillable, reusable water bottles, it is equally important that our children do as well. The habits and values we instill in them when they are young are the habits and values they are likely to carry with them throughout their lives and eventually pass on to their children.

If you are already drinking from a reusable water bottle yourself, you are on the right track towards teaching your children good habits by leading by example. Educating your kids about why you’ve chosen the reusable route is important too. I think children as young as 3 or 4 are already receptive to having simple conversations about why living green is a good choice for their family and the earth. Getting the kids involved and excited about using a reusable water bottle can be as easy as letting them help pick one out and giving them the “job” of remembering it (and reminding all other family members to bring theirs) whenever you go somewhere.

Just as there is a wide variety of water bottles on the market for adults, there are just as many water bottles and sippy cups marketed to children. What appeals to one child, may not appeal to the next (or to the parent), so it can be a wise and money-saving decision to research your bottles and cups before you buy.

An important thing to remember when looking for a water bottle for your child is that you want it to be BPA-free. Go Green Design writes about Bisphenol A in The Problem with Plastic.

During the first few years of life, when babies’ cells continue to undergo “programming,” exposure to certain toxic chemicals can disrupt the delicate process. Bisphenol A, a compound in hard, clear polycarbonate plastics that mimics the effects of estrogen, has raised particular concern because it interferes with hormone levels and cell signaling systems. Several dozen scientists issued a review of 700 studies on BPA warning that the levels most people are exposed to put them at elevated risk of uterine fibroids, endometriosis, breast cancer, decreased sperm counts, and prostate cancer. Infants, the report said, are most vulnerable to BPA.

While the above is specifically with regard to baby bottles, it certainly applies to toddlers and children as well.

Now onto a few different water bottle types.

Thermos makes both a straw bottle and sippy cup. Victoria from Vdog and Little Man commented to me that the “sippy has a lot of parts for the spout – membranes, etc., but it is LOVED by every kid I know.” And the straw cup “leaks horribly when turned on it’s side or upside down, so parental monitoring with that one is required (once ended up at home with a soaked tush and carseat!).”

Psychmamma also wrote about her experiences with the Thermos Foogo and the 16 oz. BPA-free Camelbak bottle.

Victoria also commented that she personally likes “the playtex straw cups because they have few parts, and the straw is covered when closed, and they are made out of polypropylene #5 (not #7 the ‘bad’ plastic).” However, she notes that the water can take on a plastic-y taste when left in the bottle overnight and says she changes the water very frequently in the #5 cups “to be on the safe side.”

A Little Greener Everyday wrote a review of the CynerGreen CGKidz 350ml Bottles.

Other popular children’s water bottles include the SIGG and KleanKanteen.

Beyond using your refillable water bottle at home and on outings, don’t forget about school lunches. For school-aged children, you can incorporate having a reusable water bottle with having an entire reusable lunch system. There are a lot of fun lunch kits available. Non-toxic Kids writes about the Kids Konserve waste-free lunch kits that includes a stainless steel water bottle. Really Natural writes about the BPA-free Laptop Lunch System that includes a BPA-free water bottle. There are many other waste-free lunch systems on the market as well.

Do your kids use reusable water bottles and/or sippy cups? What are their favorites?

Related links:

Cross-posted on BlogHer