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Happy 2013! With the start of the new year I’m rolling out my new baby related blog. I noticed that since becoming a mom, most of my posts on here centered around baby-related issues. Since the original aim of this blog was to discuss health and eating disorder related topics, I thought it would be appropriate to start a new blog dedicated solely to parenthood and steer this one back to its original focus.

For all those who are interested the new blog is called With A Baby In Tow and can be found HERE. I hope to see you all over there!

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One year ago today I wrote a blog called 27 Reasons in celebration of my 27th Birthday. It listed 27 reasons how overcoming anorexia changed my life. Reason #26 on that list was: “I can become a mom (this is a big one and has not always been a reality).” One day after writing this I found out I was pregnant with my now 15 week old son, Oliver. So this year on my Birthday, in keeping with tradition, I give you reasons #28. I am the mom to a beautiful baby boy.

 

While motherhood has had it’s fair share of struggles, when I think of everything I’ve already overcome to have him, I wouldn’t trade in my sleepless nights and spit-up stained shirts for anything.

But oh how easy it is to lose perspective in the moment. When Oliver is red-faced and screaming in my ear and my relief is hours away from coming home from work I find myself wondering if I’m really capable of being a mom. Am I strong enough? Compassionate enough? Patient enough? Do I have the fortitude to see this through? When I start to have my doubts all I have to do is think back on my past struggles. Overcoming anorexia required all those attributes that I am now calling into question. If I possessed them then, if I could do the seemingly impossible, what makes now different.

Most of us are capable of more than we think and it just takes a little reflection to realize it. Isn’t that what past trials are all about anyway? Building up a memory bank of successes and of exceeded expectations. What if I started to view motherhood in that way? Undoubtably there will be a day in the not so distant future when I find myself facing another challenge. With my back against the wall and my reserves almost on empty I will question if I am enough. And then I will think back to these past 15 weeks. I will remember that I survived and came out a stronger woman, and I will smile and move on.

 

Nothing could have prepared me for parenthood. Not the parenting classes my husband and I diligently attended at the local hospital. Not the hours I spent listening to advice from trusted friends and family members. Not even adopting the motto, “expect the unexpected,” could fully prepare me for how unexpectedly hard it has been.

I anticipated sleepless nights, and I braced myself for smelly diapers and vomit stained shirts. I expected a certain amount of crying and stocked my arsenal with endless tools to soothe a fussy baby. I was ready for all the trials and joys that go along with caring for a newborn, or so I thought.

When my 8lb 6oz son entered the world on July 20th at 11:20pm, and the doctor lifted him onto my chest I stared into his big blue eyes waiting for the influx of maternal warm and fuzzies that I’d heard so much about.

NOTHING

So I looked harder. I glared down at my son, squinting my eyes into focused laser beams of love. But still nothing. After a long labor, preceded by four sleepless nights, I was physically and emotionally exhausted. My birth plan had gone out the window about 20 hours into labor when, after having my water broke and experiencing continuous stabbing pain, I was still only 1cm dilated. When I first saw my son I was feeling defeated, overwhelmed, slightly traumatized, and upset that I didn’t have the “natural,” drug-free delivery I planned.

When we loaded our son into his car seat to go home, I was happy to be putting distance between the delivery experience and myself. Now I can move on, I thought. Now I can begin the bonding process. But the first few days home from the hospital were filled with conflicted emotions and uncontrollable crying spells more than tender moments and googly eyes.

As I stood hunched over in the shower with tears welling in my eyes and my chest tightening I couldn’t fathom what was wrong with me. This is what you always wanted, I told myself. This was a planned pregnancy, a decision my husband and I consciously made. Why was I suddenly feeling an intense regret? I couldn’t stop the deluge of unwanted thoughts.

Having a baby was the biggest mistake. My life is over. I wish I could take him back, give him away to someone more deserving. I don’t love this baby; I don’t feel connected to this baby; heck he doesn’t even feel like my son. I am a terrible person and I am going to be a terrible mother. This baby would be better off without me.

My husband, who was privy to a few of these crying episodes, raised a red flag and called my doctor. An appointment was scheduled for later that afternoon. As I walked into her office I tried desperately to compose myself, rubbing the desperation out of my puffy, blood-shot eyes and pulling a jacket over my shirt that was sporting a mix of baby vomit and my own snot. I was fine. I needed people to think I was fine. But the façade crumbled the moment the doctor entered the room.

I broke down and cried, muttering incoherently between gasps and sobs. My doctor diagnosed me with post partum depression, and along with a prescription for Zoloft, should I want it, she sent me on my way with a few words of wisdom.

First, bonding is not instantaneous for all women. Many times, the raging hormones from the baby blues or PPD make is difficult to establish a connection with the baby in those first few months. Additionally, the stress of being a new parent can be so overwhelming that it blunts a lot of the tender moments that lead to establishing a bond. Give yourself time to get to know your baby and build a relationship instead of expecting there to be one right away.

Most people carry certain expectations for parenthood throughout their pregnancy and are often upset when reality does not line up with those expectations. The disappointment can often leave the new parents questioning everything from their decision to have a baby to whether or not they will be able to cut it as parents. The best course of action is to mourn the loss of your unmet expectations, take stock of reality, and then set a new course based on your updated expectations.

Next, don’t compare your journey into parenthood with others because you’ll probably always find yourself feeling slighted on some level. At times, our son can be an incredibly fussy baby. It was a running joke the first month of his life that if he wasn’t sleeping or eating he was probably crying, screaming, screeching, whimpering, whining, or my favorite, making his high-pitched, ear-drum-breaking wail. It was one part car alarm and one part blaring smoke detector playing on repeat. I would look at other babies quietly sleeping in their car seats and think, why can’t my baby be like that? The simple answer is because I have a unique child, with his own temperament and personality and the sooner I accept him as he is the happier I will be. Babies don’t come in a one-size fits all mold. If you’re constantly comparing your baby to others, instead of working on appreciating your child as is, chances are you will overlook all the great attributes he does possess.

Lastly, acknowledge that being a parent, especially in those first few months, is one of the hardest things you will ever do. Expectant mothers are often inundated with stories about the joys of parenthood and are told repeatedly how having a child is the greatest gift there is. At the end of these feel-good tales, someone might casually throw in a “better enjoy your sleep now” as they look at you with sympathetic eyes, but the inherent struggles are merely an afterthought. From my perspective, it would be a lot more helpful, not to mention accurate, if people led with the sleepless nights and then proceeded to talk about the joys.

I liken parenthood to running a marathon. You eagerly sign up, spurred on by a friend’s story of glory and a glimpse at her shiny finisher’s medal. Training is hard but you persist. You think you’re ready, you’ve read all the books, put in the miles, and are rested and fueled. You show up at the starting line blissfully unaware of what is in store. It’s not until the race starts and you’re a couple miles in that you realize exactly what you’ve gotten yourself into and just how far you still have to go.  At this moment it’s easy to lose sight of the finish line and to forget why you set out on this adventure to begin with. Your feet are tired, your muscles start to ache, and you begin to question your resolve along with your sanity. You push on because you have no other choice and eventually fall into a rhythm. You cross the finish line exhausted but euphoric. You did it!

As the days and weeks and months pass, you begin to forget about all the pain, the fatigue, the blisters, and the bruises. The struggle becomes nothing more than a foggy memory.

And when the fog clears, all that is left is a story of triumph and your shiny finishers medal, gently encouraging you to sign up again.

My 26 week pregnant belly demands food! Lots of food! Okay, so more like an extra 300 calories or so per day, but it sure grumbles loudly with disapproval when it’s been too long in between meals.

I’d like to take you on a culinary adventure, aka, what did Dana eat today. The first thing my refined pregnant pallet got to enjoy today was 75g of pure, orange-flavored glucose. Yummy!

Between weeks 24-28, it is recommended that women take a glucose tolerance test to screen for gestational diabetes. Similar to snorting pixie stixs for breakfast, this test requires you to down 75 grams of sugar on an empty stomach and then just quietly sit around for an hour while you wait for your pancreas to explode release insulin and remove it from your bloodstream.

After that nutritious start to my day, I came home craving protein and promptly consume scrambled eggs with spinach, bell peppers, fresh Parmesan cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil. Protein is of particular importance when pregnant because the amino acids in protein form every cell in your growing baby’s body. Guidelines suggest consuming about 70 grams/day, especially during your second and third trimester when the baby grows the fastest.

My mid-morning snack of choice was a tall nonfat late from Starbucks and a petite vanilla scone. Coming in at 75mg of caffeine it fits nicely within the 200mg of caffeine permitted per a day during pregnancy and is a good start toward getting the recommended 1000-1300mg of calcium. And the scone…I swear I can’t go into Starbucks without getting one, 75 grams of glucose for breakfast or not.

Lunch consisted of whatever I could throw together quickly. A bowl of Trader Joe’s roasted red pepper and tomato soup, a broccoli cheddar lean pocket (because sometimes convenience takes precedence), and some dried mango slices.

Oh yea, and my favorite accompaniment to any meal: prenatal vitamins, DHA/fish oil, and calcium chews. When selecting a prenatal vitamin the two most important ingredients to look for are folic acid (at least 800mcg) for the prevention of neural tube defects and iron (at least 17mg)  for the production of red blood cells and subsequent transport of oxygen. Fish oil, specifically DHA and EPA, is crucial for the neurological development of the baby.

And what goes great with oodles of pills?

Water! Drinking enough water during pregnancy is very important. Besides preventing premature uterine contractions, a nasty side-effect of dehydration, it is needed to replenish your blood, which increases in volume by as much as 40% in some women. Additionally, it helps maintain adequate amounts of amniotic fluid for your baby to splash around in.

My post-workout out mid-afternoon snack for the day consisted of a yogurt and a handful of pistachio nuts. Normally I go for Greek yogurt, but with my digestive system faltering, I was hoping Activia would give it the jump start it needs. Results on that one are pending.

For my husband and me, dinners are always the most elaborate meal of the day. On tonight’s menu was salmon roasted with a dijon and horseradish topping (a recipe I had been wanting to try for awhile), garlic pea pods, red peppers, and potatoes, and a large spinach salad with peanut dressing. My husband isn’t much of a fish guy so whenever I cook salmon I make him an 8oz New York strip steak.

We finished off the meal with fresh, delicious kiwi fruit!

And because this pregnant girl can’t make it through the night without a bedtime snack… I chowed down on some graham crackers and Justins’s chocolate almond butter. Fair warning, Justin’s chocolate almond butter is addictive, and I dare you to try it without ending up spooning it directly from the jar to your mouth.

The key to my pregnancy diet: VARIETY! I try to not eat the same thing two days in a row. Also, eating smaller mini meals more frequently throughout the day has been very helpful in warding off hunger and fatigue and preventing first trimester morning sickness. Have any foods you really craved during pregnancy? Please share!

Worried your pregnancy eating habits are packing on more or less pounds than is considered normal? Here is a great tool from babycenter.com to ensure you are on track: http://www.babycenter.com/pregnancy-weight-gain-estimator. In the end, always talk with your doctor. Every woman’s body is different, as is every pregnancy.

“Expect to gain 25-30 lbs over the next 30 weeks,” the doctor said. “Really,” she paused to chuckle “after week 20 it’s going to be hard not to gain a pound a week.”

Those words sound eerily familiar. Almost eleven years ago, I was sitting inside another doctor’s office, albeit one filled with a plush “tell me all your problems” couch and a box of tissues instead of an exam table and lubricating gel, but the message was the same. “Our goal is for you to gain about 30 lbs over the next 3 months, say about 2 pounds a week.” My reaction eleven years ago: I burst into tears, hide my face in an oversized sweatshirt, and silently promise to myself that I will do no such thing. My reaction one week ago: the most nonchalant “okay, sounds good” you can imagine. My how far I’ve come.

Before my husband and I even discussed children, long before I even knew if I wanted kids at all, I was convinced I could not have them. With the slightest mention of babies or grandkids, I would ardently declare, much to mother’s dismay, “I’m never having children…EVER!” Even though I knew it was something I wanted, my fear that I would not be able to have them overtook any optimism and faith I could muster. After years of damaging my body and depriving it of the essentials it needed to develop, how would it have the energy or vitality to create another life? I viewed myself as damaged goods, as irreparable. I labeled my body as defective, and decided I deserved whatever was coming to me. My mind was ready to accept defeat; my body on the other hand, was not.

When I begrudgingly took the first home pregnancy test, I thought I was being paranoid. When the test came back positive I assumed it was defective. When the second came back positive, I believed the whole box to be defective. When, two months later, I looked at the ultrasound monitor and saw our baby for the first time, I was still in disbelief. I was convinced that the image on the screen would display an empty nothingness, but instead, I saw wiggling arms and legs, a defined head, a body, and a heart that was beating despite all my fears and doubts.

Now, I feel like the ambassador, like the protector of this new life growing inside me. I can’t officially claim the title of “mother” yet, but my maternal instincts have kicked into high gear. “What’s that ghost of an eating disorder? You don’t like the idea of gaining weight, of putting someone else’s health and well being above your desire to restrict, to binge, to purge? Well guess what, I don’t care.” It’s interesting how easy it is now to shut off the voices in my head that belittle and try to convince me my worth is only skin-deep. It was so difficult when I was only standing up for myself, but now I’m standing up for two, and like the saying goes, strength comes in numbers.

I’m not going to lie; I am terrified of becoming a mom. I’m terrified of the power I will soon wield over another person’s life. I’m terrified of the responsibility to nurture, strengthen, inspire, teach, motivate, and love and on the flip-side, the potential to destroy, letdown, scar, and demoralize. I instantly want to protect this baby from every future hardship, from scraped knees to broken hearts, but I know that those are the trials I can’t control once he or she enters the world. But right now, while he’s still just a small fig-sized** baby inside me, I do have the power to protect him. And protecting him from the backlash of my neglected, kicked-to-the-curb eating disorder voice is the least I can do.

Today, at eleven weeks 2 days pregnant, when I look at the small image of the baby hanging on our refrigerator, I’m truly amazed. My body has done what my mind perceived to be impossible: it has healed.

**Thank you babycenter.com for all your fruit and vegetable references. Although, I had to wait until week 11 to post this because normal people don’t know what your week 10 fruit, a kumquat, looks like.

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