Thursday, September 27, 2018

How I lost the baby weight

I think pregnancy bumps are cute. There, I said it. I haven't met a bump I didn't love. Small, large, everything in between, I always wanted one from the time I was a little girl. I think pregnancy is one of the most beautiful and amazing things our bodies could ever do. We as women can grow a human inside of our bodies, deliver that baby, and feed that child through breastfeeding. How crazy is that? I told my husband in an awed whisper that when my daughter was forming in my womb, so were her eggs. "I am housing our grandchildren right now," I said teary eyed.

You could say I romanticized the entire thing. I truly didn't know what my body was going to get into when I first became pregnant. I didn't expect throwing up in my work bathroom every single morning for a few weeks without being able to tell anyone, having to go to physical therapy, and hormones turning me into an unpredictable mess. I would sometimes laugh so hard my body would get confused, and I would start sobbing. Even though it wasn't exactly what I expected, I respected my body for what it was going through. I was growing life inside me, and every (hard) kick my daughter delivered to my ribs was a reminder of that. Giving birth was the same for me. Very different than I expected, but helped me respect my body even more.

Why then, was I so hard on myself after I gave birth? I was embarrassed by my stretch marks. "Tiger stripes, my butt" I would grumble. I often compared myself to other pregnant women. "My bump was so large compared to her's, she lost the weight so fast, why isn't she crying every day like I am from my hormone dump?" I wasn't being fair to myself. I wasn't loving my body and giving it time to adjust back to normal. It's like I had forgotten that for the better half of a year, my body was the home of another life and needed time to heal.

At six months postpartum I decided I was going to make a change. I went on a diet and started working out several times a week. Turns out, it did a little too much. I lost weight and I felt great exercising again, but I overdid it and my milk supply tanked. I wasn't consuming enough calories. I was unwilling to let my health goals take priority over me feeding my daughter, and I had to rethink some things.

So I did. I took it easier. I began to be kinder to myself. I let myself eat a variety of foods, trying to make healthier choices along the way without restricting myself. I began to tell myself that I had just had a baby, and there was no rush for me to "bounce back". I took some walks with my stroller to get out of the house and enjoy the parks we live near rather than doing HIIT workouts. I lifted my daughter and blew raspberries on her tummy instead of lifting weights. The crazy thing is, over time I got those "mom arms" I desired. Climbing our stairs became easier and I wasn't as out of breath.

One day I went to weigh my daughter in between doctor visits. I tend to do that by holding her while stepping on a scale and then weighing myself without her, subtracting the difference. My eyes widened when I realized that in a few months I had lost twenty pounds from my pre-pregnancy weight. I couldn't believe it. I was just three pounds higher than the weight I was when I was married five years prior.

The moral of the story is, once I started enjoying life and being kinder to myself things changed for me. I am not knocking going to the gym or making dietary changes. I am simply making the case that I got a lot further with a healthy mindset of loving my body and enjoying being active with my daughter instead of punishing myself by depriving my body of what it needs, and overextending it.

People in my life have recently noticed the changes my body has gone through, and asked me what I have been doing. I have not fully reached my health goals, but am proud of the progress I have made. With all of that being said, here is what worked for me (NOTE: I am not a nutritionist or a dietitian, consult a doctor before making any changes):

Breastfeeding. Seriously. Breastfeeding can burn 300-500 calories a day. I am still breastfeeding, with plans to continue until my daughter is one year old. You need to drink a ton of water while breastfeeding so I was always hydrated too. Bonus!

Cutting out dairy. Turns out dairy, according to my lactation consultant, is one of the most common causes of fussiness in breastfed babies. This was an understatement with my daughter. Several nights in a row she would sleep for only 45 minutes at a time, and I couldn't seem to pinpoint the cause. The lactation consultant told me to try to eliminate dairy but I didn't want to part from my beloved cheese. Let's just say that one night when I was kept up until 6 am with no sleep, I dropped dairy out of my diet altogether. She didn't tolerate it again until 10 months, and I didn't crave it as often by that point. Turns out a lot of unhealthy foods that I craved included dairy: pasta, pizza, baked goods, heck even sandwiches. I usually had to eat at home or make healthier choices as a result. Everyone's body is different, but I noticed a huge change in my body from cutting down on my dairy intake - even clearer skin!

Make a healthier choice, without depriving yourself. I sit down and make a chart of all the meals we are going to eat throughout the week, and I try to stick to it as much as possible. Meal prep usually helps me stick to this because when I am hungry, I can grab something out of the refrigerator and eat within 20 minutes. Of course I eat out sometimes and things come up, so we freeze those meals and eat them the next week. When I plan what I am going to eat I don't tell myself I can't have something. Rather, I try to find a healthier alternative. If I am craving chips and salsa, I'll try to cut up cucumber and eat that with salsa instead. If I am craving pasta I'll make a lean bowl with lots of vegetables and sauce, but no noodles. The best part of spaghetti - to me - is the sauce anyway. When I really want something though, I have it. Life is too short. If I eat pizza for lunch, I'll just have a healthier dinner. If I have a few too many glasses of wine that week, I'll be a little more active on the weekend.

Playing with - and taking care of - your baby. I really had no idea how physical of a job being a mom of an infant can be. My daughter is an active 10 month old. I'm usually on the floor playing with her, climbing stairs to make diaper or clothes changes, picking her up to avoid her getting into something she isn't supposed to (despite my best baby-proofing efforts) or going on walks with her just to get us both out of the house. She is in a stage where she has separation anxiety, so oftentimes I am having to lug her around the house with me on my hip. She also prefers being worn over being in a stroller, so I babywear. Guess what? Doing all of those things burns more calories than sitting at a desk, like I used to.

Find an exercise partner. I love to get out and go for walks at parks. I've mentioned this before. I enjoy the scenery, and I simply prefer walking or hiking over most forms of exercise. I oftentimes ask a friend to go for a walk with me to keep me on track and for some company. When you don't feel like being active, it helps to have someone else hold you accountable.

Be patient. There is no reason for you to "bounce back" quickly. All of our bodies are different, and they all heal in different ways. I had a "bump" after having my baby for a while, and lived in leggings and maternity clothes. People didn't start commenting on my weight loss and body changes until about nine to ten months postpartum, even though I felt healthier before then! There will be plenty of time for you to "get your body back". Enjoy snuggling with your newborn and your time with them. In my experience those memories of my daughter's first few weeks are way more important than the number on a scale.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Weathering a season of waiting

I'm not a patient person. I do my grocery shopping online and pick them up to avoid waiting. I order most things on Prime so anything I purchase can be at my door in two days. I burn the roof of my mouth often because I can't seem to wait for my food to cool. Being a therapist and later a mom has helped me grow some in that department, but I still have a lot of learning to do. So as you can imagine, being in a season of waiting is difficult. 

I've been through a few seasons of waiting in my life - waiting to find love with someone, waiting for marriage, waiting for a child, waiting for a job - and each time felt as if they were never going to end. I would wonder why God wouldn't answer me already, what He wanted from me in those times. When those seasons of waiting would come to an end, I would often be able to look back and understand His timing or why He answered my prayers and questions the way He did. It would make sense why He told me "no" at times, and why He led me in certain directions. 

I never seem to learn, though. Here I am in another season of waiting, and I am going to confess I'm having a difficult time of it. I have been faithfully praying for over a year about it, wondering what direction I am supposed to take. I feel like I have been hitting a wall over and over again, and this past week I finally broke down and cried in between bursts of anxiety. How can I stay positive in this time? 

Being someone who externally processes things, I reached out to others. Unfortunately, I became frustrated. "Pray about it", "give over control", "stop asking God to just give you what you want instead of asking what He wants". As if I hadn't been doing that. I had been praying, I had been asking what His will was in this situation, I had been trying to listen. The unfortunate thing was, I wasn't getting any more clarity. Of course I wasn't giving up control, when I wasn't sure what to give up control over! Why do we guilt each other, instead of building one another up? I knew their hearts were in the right place, but it still hurt. Not everyone approached things this way, but it certainly didn't help.

If you are in a season of waiting - and confusion - like me, then I am here for you. Let's talk about it in a more positive and empathetic way. Some women I reached out to pointed out something important: we can learn a lot during a period of waiting. What is God trying to teach me in this moment? Of course patience, but what else? I know looking back at other times in my life, He was preparing something far better than I ever could have imagined. When I was denied acceptance into certain graduate schools, it was because there was a better fit for me - and He was right! I graduated with an MSW in one and a half years, and was able to even though we moved to a different state. When I was confused about dating, and if I would find the right person for me, He was shaping me into the woman I needed to be in order to accept the love offered to me. When I cried multiple times over a negative pregnancy test He knew that my daughter was the child I was meant to have. I may not be able to determine the why now, but I am sure someday I will.

I am the type of person who is always focused on what's next. What is the next goal I need to accomplish, or task I need to complete. Maybe my seasons of waiting are simply to teach me to rest. As some of those who I reached out to pointed out, this is an opportunity for gratitude. I can take this time in life to look around and appreciate what I have versus what I am waiting for. Goodness knows I am blessed beyond measure. 

Look, I promised to share the difficult moments in life as well as the happy. I can't tie this post up in a neat little bow, because I am still "in the trenches" so to speak. I am hoping to look back at this time and laugh, and know what was meant to be will be. Right now all I can say is: you aren't alone. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

What praying the rosary every day for two weeks taught me

I will be the first to admit to you, I have never felt a strong connection to the rosary in the past. I knew I should pray it more often, I knew that people had experienced great comfort and a closeness to God by praying it. Growing up I heard of many popes, saints, and laypeople declaring how powerful it can be. Being completely honest with you, I didn't get it. Sure, I love and have a devotion to Mary. She is our spiritual mother. But the idea of taking twenty to thirty minutes to repeat fifty Hail Mary's made my head spin. Why repeat prayers over and over? What benefit could this bring to an ordinary person, like me? I'm not a theologian. What exactly am I supposed to focus on? The mysteries, the gifts of the spirit, the prayers themselves? Can't I benefit from simply talking to God using my own words, versus an organized prayer? I'm not sure what led me then, to saying the rosary every day for two weeks.

I met a woman at a church gathering recently who had a traveling Fatima statue, and asked if anyone would like to take it home to use as a reminder of the message of Fatima and take some time to grow closer to Our Lady. The statue had traveled from family to family, and was up for grabs. My mom was coming into town for two weeks so I thought to myself, "sure, why not?". I'd been looking to make more time for prayer, and I knew my mom would encourage me. When she arrived the words spilled out of me, "we are going to say the rosary every day for our friend's intentions". This must have truly been from the Holy Spirit, because I had never volunteered to do such a thing before. So what did I learn from the experience?

I learned obedience. Anyone who knows me, knows I can be a bit of a wild spirit. I don't like to be told what to do. Taking time out of my day to say the rosary wasn't something I always wanted to do. This is pretty ironic, if you think about it. Mary obeyed God in all things with joy and without hesitation. I found myself reflecting on that throughout my time spent praying alongside her those two weeks. What was I fearful of losing control over in my life? What would it feel like, to have complete trust in God's will? Was God asking something of me, and I was hesitating? "Let it be done as You say," she told the Lord. I began to say, "yes" to God more often in my life as well.

I always learned or reflected on something new. There were some days I would reflect on the intentions that others had given me, some I would reflect on the mysteries, some on the virtues of Mary, some on the prayers themselves, and sometimes I would simply be. I would rest in the spirit, letting any thoughts float through my mind like a cloud in the sky. I would take time to listen to what God was trying to tell me that day. Even though I was saying the same prayers over and over, I always found a new message for me each time.

I noticed that things became more difficult. In my experience, when I draw closer to God I seem to always have something stressful or difficult pop up in my life. I wasn't perfect when I encountered those things, sometimes losing my patience or being uncharitable. When I began to say the rosary that day or even the next day, I'd almost always encounter a virtue that could have applied to that situation. I would reflect on how I could have and will apply that virtue in the future. I'd find myself smiling and shaking my head, knowing God was parenting me and giving me guidance.

I began to forgive and pray for those who have hurt me. Something you should know about me is I mess up, but I always apologize. I was raised to be honest no matter what, and that includes being honest with myself. When I hurt people I apologise for it. Unfortunately I sometimes have difficulty on the other end of things. Forgiveness may come, but I have trouble forgetting. Spending time in prayer - especially meditative prayer - gave me time to listen and to reflect. In that time, God would occasionally put a person on my heart. I would groan internally. You want me to pray for them? Why? The answer came: because you need to forgive them and love them as I forgive and love you. While difficult, I did it. And you know what? Some of my wounds were healed. I was able to not only forgive, but forget. I obtained peace in my heart.

I drew closer to God. Here's the thing I don't think a lot of people get, because I know I didn't: in spending time with Mary, I spent more time getting to know Jesus. As I mentioned previously, Mary's entire life pointed towards our Lord. Every action, every word, every breath. She wants nothing more than to draw us to Him. She is an example of how to live faithfully. In saying the Hail Mary we are asking her to pray for us and with us. Moreover Pope Pius XII once said, "the rosary is the compendium of the entire Gospel". Each decade is dedicated to a moment in Christ's life. I took the time each day to reflect on His life and the importance of each of those events, the mysteries they contained.

While these two weeks have drawn to a close, I know that I will take these lessons with me. Some amazing things happened in those two weeks. Certain prayers I have had on my mind and heart have been answered, or begun to be answered in that time. I thank God for that, and I thank Him for letting me get to know Him and Mary more.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

How to practice self care

Let's talk about one of my favorite topics: self care. I loved to work on this with my clients, but often had difficulty practicing self care in my own life. I struggle with it even more now that I am a mom. Between the endless loads of laundry, cleaning the kitchen for what feels like the twentieth time that week, and trying to spend time with my husband for a few minutes before crashing at night, when am I going to find the time for myself? That right there my friends, is the problem. When you give and give all day long and don't take anything for yourself, you run out of any give you have. You've depleted yourself, and are left empty. I know that I find myself in these moments worn out and frankly, not doing anything really well any more. I become forgetful, tearful, and all around unpleasant to be around. That is burn out. So what is a lady to do? Self care. Let's break it down.

What is self care? The answer is in the name. It is taking care of yourself. It is making time for you to take care of you. When I would tell clients this they would often roll their eyes, but stick with me here. It doesn't have to be big, very time consuming, or expensive. You can start out once a week and over time start carving out time every day for yourself. I like to break self care down into three categories outside of general hobbies: social, physical, and spiritual. Let's explore each of those.

Social: I'm not talking about throwing a party, but simply reaching out to others at least once a week. Think a phone call to a friend or family member (not a text, that's not personal enough), going to a play date held by a women or mom's group in your area, or going for a walk with a neighbor. "No man is an island", we all need social interactions. Take this as an opportunity to spend time with people who enrich you and make you feel good, not to feel obligated. This isn't the time for "I should's" such as "I should call so-and-so". When you fall into that trap, you are falling deeper into compassion fatigue. Who is someone who brings out the best in you? Who takes your mind off of things? Who can talk to you about what you are going through, and help you feel understood? Reach out to them. I practice this by doing exactly what I listed above. I go to a mom's group play date once a week for adult interaction, I call a friend during my daughter's nap time, and I go for walks with friends, strollers in tow.

Physical: I hate running, so don't get it twisted, I'm not telling you to run a marathon. Although if that's your thing, awesome! Do something good for your body once a week. It is our responsibility to care for our bodies, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies" (1 Cor 6:19-20). Personally, I don't feel great when I eat unhealthy for days on end and give into sloth. I start to feel self conscious, tired, and emotionally weighed down. A few times a week I go for a walk with the stroller, usually at a park, to do something nice for myself. I love to be surrounded by nature, so this works for me. For others this can mean going to the gym, training for a 5k, or yoga in the mornings. Find a physical activity you enjoy doing. Again, it's self care not self flagellation. Try out a few simple, healthy meals from Pinterest. I try to meal plan on the weekends but when I don't get around to it, I keep it simple by throwing something in the crock pot or having my husband grill a lot of meat for the week. We can talk more about meal prep another time.

Spiritual: "For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come" (1 Tim 4:8). I've mentioned this before but when I don't make time for my spiritual health it impacts every aspect of my life. I become uncharitable, impatient, anxious and pessimistic. I struggle the most with carving out time for my spiritual well being, so you are not alone. Yet developing structure into your faith routine is critical. I recently asked some of my friends how they make time daily, weekly or monthly to practice spiritual self care. Here are some of their responses:

- Subscribing to email devotions such as Bishop Barron's daily Gospel reflectionsBlessed Is She or the 1% Challenge
- Going to adoration once a week, scheduling it for the same time and day every week
- Reading a spiritual book such as "I Believe in Love"
- Listening to podcasts such as The Gathering Place or Daily Disconnect
- Reading and reflecting on the daily readings
- Subscribing to The Word Among Us or Living with Christ
- Saying a family rosary every Sunday after mass

Personally, I read the Blessed Is She devotion every day with the daily readings and try to reflect or journal if I have more time. I am going to work on getting more into the Word this year, and have set that goal for myself. I can never seem to wake up early enough to pray before my daughter wakes up so I take advantage of her independently playing or her morning nap. While cleaning I like to listen to a podcast in the background so I can multitask. Try to practice mindfulness and make every day tasks an offering to God. Even a simple, "hey God, thinking of you" is a good place to start. We can get more into mindfulness and how I practice it at a later date.

Start small! Read a chapter of a book, smell how nice your shampoo smells in the shower, or paint your nails. Starting small helps you feel accomplished and less overwhelmed. When first getting started with self care it is important to schedule it out. As in write it on your family or personal calendar, otherwise you won't do it. At the beginning of the week (or month) write down a specific time and day you will do each of those things, and check it off when you complete them. It will feel forced, but all new habits do. After a while you will notice that when you make time for yourself, you have more mental and emotional capacity to meet the other needs you have in your life. How do you practice self care? Let me know.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

"You should start a blog"

I feel like each of us has either heard or thought that very sentence over the years. I myself have started and stopped a blog several times. However, I often doubted myself. "Does anyone really care what I have to say?" I would compare myself to others, and ultimately chicken out. Lately though, it's been on my heart to start sharing more. Something that quite frankly terrifies me. You see, I write the way I talk. I am not grammatically correct, and I definitely don't have all the answers. I just enjoy writing. I love spilling out my thoughts and ramblings on the keyboard, and I love reading other people's as well.

My husband Eric and I moved to Cincinnati, Ohio from North Carolina about five years ago. While it was a difficult transition for me, over the years life became easier. I made friends, finished graduate school, and somehow started knowing my way around town without using GPS. Then the day after Valentine's day 2017 two little lines appeared on a test - I was pregnant! This was the most exciting time of my life, but also the most terrifying. My mom is an eleven hour drive from my current home. I found myself turning to friends for advice, but I also turned to the internet. I started reading blogs, watching Youtube videos, and following people on Instagram. It helped me feel less alone and as if I could do this whole motherhood thing.

The only problem was, people tend to only post the highlights. I would sometimes fall into the trap of comparison, which is a hole no one wants to fall into. I had several people tell me that they could tell I was loving motherhood and having a great time due to my own social media posts. That is true for me. Motherhood is without a doubt my vocation. I love every second of it. Yet I began to think about that. Am I portraying the realistic side of motherhood? The days where I am in my pajamas, rocking a cranky teething baby? The time I fell asleep face down on the floor for five minutes while my daughter crawled all over me, just to get some rest? I think the internet could use a space like that. A space where someone shares what they learn along the way, as well as the laugh out loud moments. The mom wins and fails.

I am also a young mother. A young Catholic mother, to be specific. My faith shapes every aspect of my life, and I want to share that with others. When I don't make time for God, I feel it in my heart, in my relationships, and in my day to day. I'm committed to learn more about Him and grow in relationship with Him - not just as a concept, which I am often tempted to do. I hope in sharing things that inspire me, help me grow, and brings my heart joy that we can grow together. So grab a glass of wine or a coffee, and let's chat.