Becoming a mother is the one and only thing I've always known I wanted. Hearing it may not be possible for me was devastating, to put it lightly. But as a single sophomore in college, I was able to push it out of my mind--until I started dating and quickly fell in love with one of my best friends the next summer. I told him what I had learned about myself a few months before, he said he was open to adoption so it was no big deal, and we moved forward from there.
I continued getting sick after every meal--it was just a routine part of my life at this point. But after Daniel proposed, I started to picture our wedding day and fear I'd end up spending it in the restroom. I had suspected I was dairy intolerant for a while, so I began cutting it out of my diet. I started to hear more about the whole gluten free idea, too, and I figured that couldn't hurt. I cheated once or twice a week (Daniel and I were big Braum's fans), but tried to avoid gluten and dairy most days, and I saw an immediate improvement in my digestion as well as weight loss. I became more committed to it as we approached our wedding day, but I planned to go completely off and just enjoy myself on our honeymoon. I did just that, but got sick to my stomach every day again, which was the confirmation I needed to go all in when we returned home.
Six weeks into marriage, I went to a new gynecologist here in NWA. My original doctor out of Tulsa had put me on a hormonal birth control pill a few months before our wedding, but I wanted a different opinion on it. My new doctor reviewed my chart and asked if we eventually wanted children. I, again, said, "Yes, definitely." He said with my complications, I might want to go off of birth control up to a year before we start trying to give my body time to regulate as well as it could. I went home and really researched what I was putting in my body daily for the first time. I never took another pill.
A few weeks later, we found out I was pregnant with Edie!
This was when I first started viewing food as medicine, and it has only evolved from there. Edie was born and immediately had health issues, which pushed me to dig further into our lifestyle and make major changes quickly. We went all organic, I changed all of our cleaning and laundry products, threw out our candles, threw out my Covergirl makeup, completed my first Whole30. My body and skin completely changed, we fixed Edie's tongue tie and she began gaining weight, but I was still deep in the overwhelm of trauma. For an intense, postpartum hormone-filled season, I thought my baby was dying of some horrible disease the doctors couldn't pinpoint. I had to work through that, so I started counseling.
In the thick of regular panic attacks, I became pregnant again. I felt more urgency to heal--Edie was getting older and understanding more of my feelings. My anxiety was rubbing off on her and it killed me. I trialed and errored herbs for depression and anxiety and became more dedicated to my yoga practice, which included me actually attending classes three times a week without Edie. Being in my own body, listening to my breath without interruption changed something. I visualized breathing out fear and breathing in joy. Self care became a real thing for me for the first time, and I made a plan to continue it after baby was born.
Reed came to us in the most peaceful way, a total contrast to her sister's chaotic, long birth. I focused on breathing and nothing else, and it taught me to trust and LOVE my body for the first time in my life. And then, for six weeks, I stayed in bed. I didn't cook, I didn't schedule, I didn't work out. I rested. I held my baby. I ate lots of vegetables and good, clean meats. I drank huge superfood smoothies in bed and nursed and read books and took naps. I told myself, "You did well. You are enough. This is enough." And again, something major shifted inside of me. I started to believe these things. Life felt light instead of terrifying.
It felt good, so, so incredibly good.
This last year has been more or less an evolution of all of these things. I've weaned off of many of the supplements I once took, eaten more salads, and learned more about my body and what it likes and doesn't like. I'm approaching a year without a panic attack, praise the Lord. I'm looking back at my journey thus far and feeling so thankful I stuck with it back when I found out the whole gut-healing concept was not an overnight thing. I'm an immediate results kind of girl, so this process has humbled me to my core. Or my gut, I guess I should say :)
1. Cut out inflammatory foods.
Eliminating gluten and dairy was just the beginning for me, but a huge step in the right direction. Cow's milk is for baby cows--it is very hard for us to digest! And gluten is super tough, too, especially in the amounts I was eating. I've also basically just eliminated processed food in general, and after several Whole30s and sugar fasts, I cut out refined sugar as well. I've had several seasons without coffee, too, to speed up healing, promote rest and lower my anxiety levels. I don't eat grains at all most days and if I have to label it, I basically try to stick to a Paleo-based diet.
For a while I thought I was too cool for the popular programs out there, but that's me being a dumb dumb. I encourage anyone in any phase of their quest for health to utilize the many resources we have available to us on programs like Whole30 and the 21 Day Sugar Detox. Having a starting place that doesn't require you to change your life all on your own is super helpful in breaking food addictions. I've done both of the above several times, and after completing these programs and feeling SO MUCH BETTER, it's hard to just totally go back to eating crap.
Family members have asked, "What CAN you eat, then?" And after almost five years of this lifestyle I am tempted to laugh, but then I'm humbled when I remember my old eating habits and how high school me would have been totally weirded out by current me. But, REAL FOOD! I can eat real food. Look at the ingredient list on your bag of chips or box of cereal and think for two minutes about the human body and how it has functioned since the beginning of time. HOW are we putting this garbage in and expecting happy thoughts to come out? Happy skin? Happy poops? Seriously. Eating whole foods just makes sense.
2. Give your gut a friend (or several billion).
I could do a whole separate post on probiotics and supplements and my ever-changing views on them, but for now I will try to concisely share a few things I think have played big roles in my healing. I try to take a shot of apple cider vinegar before every meal to help my stomach acid break down food--usually mixed in a glass of water (but it does get easier and more palatable!). I take a quality multi-strain dose of probiotics every morning on an empty stomach, drink water kefir most days and eat sauerkraut with at least one meal. We are planning to start fermenting our own veggies soon, too. L Glutamine has been super helpful in healing my gut and I still take it daily, as well as cod liver oil, vitamin c, magnesium threonate, milk thistle, and turmeric for inflammation. I have taken papaya enzymes with every meal to aid digestion during my seasons of heavy healing. When I was deep in my depression and anxiety, I took ashwaghanda, SAMe, and a stress B complex daily and worked to up my vitamin D levels. I did a lot of research on breastfeeding safe yeast and parasite cleansing and dedicated a lot of energy to that concept. I won't overhwhelm you with those details, because there is a lot of info out there. And please remember--this has been a five year process for me. It's a marathon, not a sprint.
3. Consider intermittent fasting.
Because I do my girls' bedtime routine and lie down with them and then typically don't eat breakfast until I've gotten them fed and happy, I usually go 14-16 hours without eating. I didn't even know this had a name until a few months back, but apparently it is becoming a pretty popular concept for gut regeneration and overall health. Giving your body a regular prolonged period to digest and then rests promotes quick healing, and I really believe it has played an important role for me. I used to be a nightime sweets snacker, but now I am usually done with dinner by 6pm and I don't eat breakfast until 9 or 10 am, after probiotics and half to a ful liter of room temperature water. Which brings me to my next point.
4. Drink lots of clean room temperature water.
In the last few years, Daniel and I have explored almost every option out there for filtering our water--sink contraptions to reverse osmosis full systems to pitchers to purchasing jugs of spring water and back again. Spring water is ideal because of its mineral content and lack of added chlorine and fluoride (which kill the good gut bacteria we are working so hard to build). Reverse osmosis with added fluoride filtration can be great, but minerals need to be added back in to prevent deficiencies. Either way, my research has convinced me that cold water can be hard on the body, and room temperature water is much friendlier for digestion. I leave our jug/pitcher out on the counter and drink from it all day--I never put it in the fridge.
If I've learned anything about myself, it's that I don't feel like my day is complete until I've moved my body to the point of sweating. This has changed a lot for me over the years--I used to think I needed to work out for hours or go for many-mile runs to feel satisfied. For the last year I've been focusing much more on short spurt cardio or HIIT (high intensity interval training) work outs with one hot yoga class a week and I am loving it! In 30-40 minutes I get much sweatier than I did in two hours doing whatever I used to do, and it fits in so much better with my stay-at-home mama job. I'm not sure what I believe about it in general, but according to the Blood Type Diet, different blood types require certain types of exercise. I am blood type O, and high intensity work outs seem to fit the bill here. I haven't been on a run since Reed was born and I don't miss it one bit.
6. Take a deep breath/Practice yoga/meditation.
Practicing deep, audible breathing in yoga class has given me a priceless gift for my everyday life. I've learned that no matter what is going on, I can always come back to my breath. I can stop, breathe deep down in my throat to the point where I can hear it, and turn my focus there. This carried me through the pain of childbirth, looming panic attacks, and extremely frustrating moments with my children. It controls my stress every day, and it's no secret that stress levels greatly impact our overall health.
7. Detox your home.
There is SO MUCH information out there right now about this topic, I don't want to beat a dead horse. So, to make a long story short--your dryer sheets may be making you sick. Those Bath and Bodyworks candles and sugar scrubs and whatever else they carry now--those are terrible for you. This goes for household cleaners and personal care soaps and shampoos and makeup, too. The ThinkDirty app has been really helpful for me in choosing what I bring into my home, and I make most of our cleaners at this point. And if you are a candle lover, beeswax is wonderful!
8. Don't be afraid to get dirty.
For the first year plus of Edie's life, I oversanitized everything. Us, our house, my car, everything. I was terrified of exposing her to germs (to be fair, I thought she had a terrible disease or something for the first five months), so I went crazy with the clorox and hand sanitizer. I believe this seriously hurt my physical and mental health by killing off any good bacteria I may have had. Once I learned more about the different types of bacteria, I switched household products like I discussed above and we started playing in the dirt outside every day. I worked out barefoot in our backyard and added organic soil to Edie's sandbox. I let hide in store shopping carts for the first time. And Reed's babyhood was COMPLETELY different than Edie's. In the last year, I've focused more on boosting their immune systems with healthy food and herbs instead of shielding them from the outside world.
9. Talk to someone who won't judge you.
I went to therapy every week for two years, and then every other week for another year plus. My counselor has seen and heard me in my ugliest season and provided me with unbiased support. Sometimes that just meant listening to me weep at the hopelessness I felt in adequately protecting my children from the world. Sometimes it included my husband, and provided us with tools on finding one another in the dark. I literally felt weight leave my body at the end of these hours. I believe I needed to work through emotional trauma to heal--all of our systems are intimately connected. I was never going to get better under the stress I felt.
Seeking help is NOT a weakness. I think it's quite the opposite. Everyone has room to grow--we are human. I foresee myself utilizing counseling in all types of seasons for the rest of my life.
10. When it comes to sleep, think maximum, not minimum.
This one should probably be first, but since it is currently my weakest area in this season of motherhood, I had to be honest and put it at the bottom of my list. But seriously, for the majority of my young adult life I have tried to avoid sleep at all costs--there always seemed to be something better to do. In highschool I stayed up way too late on the phone with boyfriends and in college I was at IHOP half-writing papers with classmates at 2am most nights. Since I became a mama, I've gone through seasons of the poorest sleep and seasons of lots of sleep (which I believe contributed greatly to my overall healing--I recently read that the immune system needs a consistent NINE hours of sleep nightly to regenerate). A couple of months after my first daughter was born, I gave in to the fact that she would not nap or sleep without me, so I began taking the whole, "Sleep when the baby sleeps" idea seriously. I napped with her every day and went to bed with her at night, and on the nights I opted out of Netflix, that meant I had a 12-13 hour window to get at least 8-9 hours of sleep between nursing sessions. Now, this all changed with the birth of my second. Early on, Edie still took naps and I did nap with both girls when it lined up, but that only lasted the first couple of months. Most nights I do still lie down with them and lately I am trying to turn off the TV by 9 (10 at the latest) so I give myself a 10-11 hour window before wake up in the morning. But, Reed has been nursing every 20-30 minutes through the night for the last couple of months now and Edie has night terrors multiple times a night as well, so I still wake up feeling pretty crappy most days. I cling to the idea that this is only a season, and health is not a concrete achievement but a never-ending journey. It helps! I also have a no phone rule in the bedroom and have been consistent with it for over a year now. I fall asleep SO much quicker than I used to when I filled my head with worries and comparisons and new tempting toys or outfits right before I tried to close my eyes. I highly recommend this practice.
And wow, do I feel like I need a little nap after writing all of this out.
Happy health to you!