A Tale of Two Runners

When it comes to pregnancy, fertility, and life in general, there are lots of surprises. Some of us our surprised by how difficult it is to get or stay pregnant, others come up against the opposite. Sarah Brown, an elite runner in the midst of training for the Rio Olympics, found out she was expecting unexpectedly. She and her coach-husband, Darren Brown had been trying to prevent pregnancy with an IUD, hoping to plan starting a family around a more convenient time in the Olympic training cycles.

What are the odds? Around 1% of women with an IUD will get pregnant. For this reason, Brown assumed it was unlikely that she was pregnant. A home pregnancy test was negative. But when she was feeling exhausted for weeks on end, a doctor confirmed that was false negative, she was indeed pregnant.

Brown ran through her pregnancy and competed in the Olympic Trials just 4 months after after giving birth in 2016. When she came up short of making the Olympic team, she posted on Instagram, “Today wasn’t the fairytale ending you dream about. But then again, this journey never really was about an ending, it’s a beginning. A new chapter as a family of three. Thanks for all the support ❤️ & you can bet you will continue to see this mama run”

For another runner, Tina Muir, the journey to that new chapter as a family of three had to start with a very tough decision. For nine years, Tina had suffered from amenorrhea, the lack of a menstrual cycle. In an essay for Runner’s World in April 2017, she says speaks to how this was possible:

It’s possible because my body perceived it was in too much of a threat to allow for a pregnancy to happen.

So it shut my reproductive system down, for nine years.

It’s a strange evolutionary defense, but it makes sense. My body does not have the resources and energy to look after a baby, it is far too busy repairing the damage from training as a professional runner.

Doctors explained that my body is living in fear, thinking I am being chased by an animal so scary, that I had to run almost 100 miles to stay alive.

For Muir, unlike Brown, infertility was an occupational hazard of being a professional runner. Doctors told her to quit running and her period would return. But quitting running wasn’t that simple. “I’m a runner representing Great Britain, sponsored by Saucony. How am I supposed to just give up running cold turkey?”

I’ve written before about my own experiences leaving competitive running at a Division I college. It wasn’t a decision I made lightly. One of my all time favorite books, What Made Maddy Run describes in detail the agony that can accompany a decision like this. Author Kate Fagan writes, “I was terrified of the word “quit”….What was the difference between quitting and stopping, or quitting and retiring, or quitting and making the conscious decision that continuing was something that was genuinely unhealthy?”

Muir decided that at this point in her life, with motherhood as goal, running was indeed genuinely unhealthy for her. She refers to amenorrhea as a thorn in the side and tells Women’s Running Magazine, “When my niece was born, that made me aware that there are more things in life than running.”

Within just months of stopping, she was able to conceive and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy this January. She’s back to running, and here’s wishing both Muir and Brown and the beginning of many great fairy tales.

As for me, I’m more of a jogger these days and am continuing to run, with my doctor’s blessing and the motivation of post race barbecues, while trying to conceive. My doctor’s advice? “Listen to your body, you know it the best.” Muir and Brown’s stories truly exemplify just how unique each of our bodies are.

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Arts and Crafts and Other Ways to Tame Insomnia Like a Camp Counselor

I consider myself a professional at putting other people’s kids to sleep. For an entire school year, I worked at the most amazing magnet school of the Houston public school district, the Outdoor Education Center at Camp Olympia. Every week, Tuesday- Friday night, I would sleep in a cabin full of 10-12 fifth grade girls. A new group of students would arrive every Tuesday and be assigned to a cabin with girls from a mixture of sending schools- the program was founded on a social mission of integrating the neighborhoods of Houston. The little cabin in the woods we’d share was 90 miles from downtown, but felt worlds away to many of them. Anxiety and homesickness were the Tuesday night special.IMG_5107

It turns out, some of the exact same things I did to calm these kids would later help me with my own insomnia. I follow several pregnancy loss support groups online and over and over again the topic of dealing with insomnia after loss comes up. I know I’m not the only one to struggle with this so I wanted to share what has helped me.

  1. Music. At the first camp I ever went to as a kid, we sang simple gifts every night before bedtime. When I had my first inconclusive ultrasound during a pregnancy I’d later miscarry, my mind whirled with worry. Desperate to tune out these thoughts as I lay in bed, I found myself repeating the lyrics of Simple Gifts over and over and over and over until eventually I passed out.  I’m also a fan of the Brandi Carlile Pandora station. Back in my days in Texas, “Cabin Music” mix CDs for bedtime were hot commodity.
  2. So, if you’re going to play music you’re going to want headphones. If you struggle with falling back to sleep after waking and you share a bed, you know the difficulty of tying to avoid waking them up. Even if you don’t having to worry about waking a partner up, you might not want to turn on bright lights in the middle of the night to find the. Enter the glow in the dark, tangle resistant headphones, an arts and crafts project to make any camp counselor proud. Here’s a tutorial and here’s the glow in the dark floss. I have ear buds with a different right and left, so I made some glow in the dark stripes on the right side, but not the left, so I know even in the dark which is which.
  3. Meditation. Get these headphones on and listen to these. There are five million and one different ways to access recorded meditations. But I’m going to clue you in to some that worked for me.   http://marc.ucla.edu/mindful-meditations
    https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/loving_kindness_meditation 
    https://www.doyogawithme.com/content/yoga-nidra-sleep
    http://heatherstang.com/guided-meditations/

    Others to try:
    https://health.ucsd.edu/specialties/mindfulness/programs/mbsr/Pages/audio.aspx
    http://keltymentalhealth.ca/mindfulness-recordings
  4. Yoga with Adrienne. She has some excellent pre-bedtime practice videos on youtube.
  5. Children’s books. Every night in Texas, I would sit on my cabin floor with my red headlamp light glowing and read and read and read until not a soul was stirring (I sometimes refereed to this practice as filibustering) ….Now, on my worst nights, I would read and re-read Byrd Baylor books to myself. Any children’s book would work. The repetition, the familiarity all helped put my mind at ease. Youtube has recordings of children’s books if you want someone else to read aloud to you. You’re never too old, I promise. (If you were wondering, red lights are less disruptive to night vision than white/yellow ones, so the red headlamp was key. One of the best I’ve found was just $7 at a local hardware store, check out more camping tips at Ten Essentials You Won’t Find at an Outdoor Store)
  6. Camping really is my jam. Any insomnia advice worth it’s weight will tell you if you can’t fall asleep (or back asleep) within 30 minutes or so, GET OUT OF BED. But where to go? An LL Bean Flannel sleeping bag on the floor was my preference. It’s a car camping (not backpacking) classic so it’s heavy and comforting. Being in a sleeping bag to me is like a cozy cocoon of comfort. I put the bag on the floor so I could still be close to my husband instead of leaving him for the coach, but still not disturbing him. My husband called it my “nest.” If I woke up hot, escaping to the floor would cool me and help me sleep, too. (See hyperthyroidism in my previous post).
  7. Insomnia advice? I read (ok, skimmed) Say Good Night to Isomnia by Gregg D. Jacobs and found it very helpful and well researched. I also saw my PCP and a counselor for advice.
  8. Sleep tracking? The amount of apps out there is overwhelming but Jacobs really convinced me to give it a shot. I used the CBT i-Coach developed by the VA to help veterans because it was very simple and free. Sleep tracking helped me set a bed time and stuck with it. Having input from my husband on the time so we’d both adhere to it and not disturb each other was helpful.
  9. And on that note, and perhaps most obvious but easy to ignore…routine. This is what made signing Simple Gifts at camp such a wonderful memory. We humans function best on routine, whether we are 10 year olds at summer camp or 29 year olds starting a new job.
  10. Breathing. Can’t live without it. There are lots of breathing exercises that can aid relaxation from simply taking deep breaths to these three that I like (and don’t find too weird!):
    http://www.sweetescapeyoga.com/simple-stress-relief-wsquare-breathing/
    https://www.smallfootprintfamily.com/4-7-8-breathing-stress-relief-techniques
    http://braingymnelson.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Lazy-8-breathing.pdf

How I bomb proofed my immune system, beat insomnia, lowered my blood pressure, normalized my thyroid…and didn’t get pregnant

I work with small children who are full of snot so germs are flying and my husband is always complaining about the sniffles he believes I’m the carrier of. I may be about to jinx myself, but I haven’t had so much as a cold all winter, while most years I’ve experienced at least a few days of misery during the shortest days when the air is driest and my throat just wants to scream. This year? Not once. What was different? I’ll get there.

And the real moral of the story is: being healthy (and stress free!) doesn’t automatically get you pregnant (or help you stay pregnant). Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like there is a real stigma that being infertile means you are unhealthy. I probably once even believed this myself. Exercise more, exercise less, whatever you are doing, sources lead you to believe are probably doing it wrong if you’re not pregnant (and want to be). There is so much literature out there about “fertility cleanses,” juice fasts, diets and ways to “get pregnant fast” that seem to imply that all you need to do to get pregnant is get healthy. And you know what, I am healthy. I’m just not pregnant.

The flip side of that story of course is that plenty of people get pregnant who aren’t in ideal health, and sometimes that is sadly the reality of their circumstances, no fault of their own. I heard a heartbreaking story this morning on NPR, Yemen’s Civil War Places Heavy Burden on Ordinary Citizens. They mention women with newborns who are suffering from malnutrition, and have been for years. And yet, they were able to conceive and carry their children. I hope their miracle babies bring them hope in the darkness of their situation the way only new life can.

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Speaking of new life, here’s how I got my new sickness-free life. I’ll be honest here, some of these things I started to do solely because I thought they would get me pregnant (and help me stay pregnant). Multivitamin? I’d always had good intentions here but never could remember. Until I thought it would help me conceive and carry a healthy pregnancy. This is not a how-to guide, because in fact, I have no clue which of these things helped me acquire my new found super-health, and this is an anecdote, not statistical evidence. This is a very uncontrolled experiment as the variables are many and there is no control (though control is something I very much long for!). Who’s to say it’s not just coincidence that I feel healthier? Or plain good luck, like it sometimes takes to win the fertility game. I don’t want to take for granted my good health or assume that everyone else can achieve the same. I know my privilege affords me good healthcare and my health brings with it privilege (chicken or egg?). Point is, I’m grateful and I hope that I can inspire you to at least consider trying a new healthy habit, including things not listed that might be better suited to your own individual needs.

  1. I take a multivitamin and 500mg of vitamin C daily. I know, I know, the jury is out on if vitamin C actually does anything to prevent colds but I may now be a believer.
  2. Acupuncture. I’m all about evidence-based medicine (see this is not statistical evidence about). So Eastern Medicine seemed a little hooey to me, however there are actually some scientific studies demonstrating the benefits of acupuncture. I am incredibly fortunate that my insurance covers treatment. If nothing else, it’s a nice nap and some scheduled down time. When I started going over a year ago, down time was anxiety producing for me and I talked to my practitioner and we agreed to shorter sessions initially, and now I love even the longer ones!
  3. Meditation. No, I don’t just sit there and bliss out, as I just said down time, at least previously makes me anxious. I started by listening to recordings as I fell asleep. Again, as new-agey as it may sound, there’s actually research backing it up. A couple of my favorite recordings can be found at UCLA and Berkley, both schools have conducting studies on the benefits of mindfulness. Spoiler alert: it’s beneficial.
  4. Quitting my job. And yes, I started a new one, so this isn’t a privileged story of hey I just stopped working and life got better, because that isn’t always realistic. This is a story of taking risks and seeking new opportunities.
  5. Working multiple jobs, taking a college class. For me, I’m a creature of habit and routine and having structure (as in, I wake up at the same time every day, because I work 7 days a week) is actually helpful. A lot of the research on insomnia really suggests establishing a sleep schedule, and for me having to get up is the only way to do it. Plus, my second job involves fresh air and physical activity which I’m sure helps, too. Taking a class gave me something productive to do with my “free” time.
  6. Having a supportive husband who doesn’t complain too much when I bring home the germs. Again, this is not a how-to list because I know I am just freaking lucky here. But I think the relationships we have, romantic or otherwise, really do support our health.
  7. Having a set bed time. This helped that relationship part, too because we both just got in the routine of going to bed at the same time. There are sleep tracking apps that can help you figure out the best time to go to bed, too, based on your wake up time. I used the CBT-i Coach app designed by the VA to help veterans suffering from insomnia and PTSD.
  8. Modern medicine and having a PCP who knows me. I was comfortable asking her to check my thyroid when I realized I had symptoms of hyperthyroidism. Turns out, my blood tests a year and a half ago came back showing sub-clinical hyperthyroidism. Not enough to treat with medication. But enough that I had symptoms, like high blood pressure and insomnia. No idea what the chicken and egg here was, but after three tests in a 6 month period confirming the same hyper result, a year later, my thyroid levels are now smack dab in the middle of where they should be. It’s tangible proof that something is different.
  9. Counseling. See #8. Before a career change, my counselor had been my PCP’s son’s first grade teacher. My PCP pointed me in that direction. Counseling, like acupuncture made me anxious at first (telling my feelings to a stranger!) but in the long run has been very helpful! My PCP normalized that experience for me or else I probably would’ve given up.
  10. Naturopathy. I ultimately am much more of a modern medicine type person, and I didn’t mesh with the provider I used, but I do still take a magnesium supplement she recommended and I’m glad I gave it a shot.
  11. Gained weight. Yup, my BMI was just wavering on side of increased risk for miscarriage when we lost our first pregnancy and with my thyroid being no longer in overdrive this was much easier to accomplish.
  12. Yoga with Adrienne. Look up her you tube videos!
  13. Biathlons.
  14. Getting a pet rabbit. Obviously.
  15. “Stopped” stressing. Ok, its not actually possible to full out stop stress. In fact positive stressors are good! See #4 a #5. Here’s how I reduced stress- 2,3,4,9, 12, 13, 14! The cliche is “stop stressing and you’ll get pregnant,” and I’m really happy for anyone that is true for. I’m also really happy to be less stressed, even though it didn’t equate to pregnancy for me.

Now it’s not all perfect. Sometimes I still have insomnia. Sometimes my blood pressure is high, like the other day when I was stuck in traffic on the way to an appointment (my lovely PCP took it again at the end of the appointment and it was just fine). Sometimes I still forget to take my multi-vitamin. But something has changed for the better. And it didn’t make me pregnant. Happy National Infertility Awareness Week!

**You may have noticed I didn’t say “how I bomb proofed my immune system, beat insomnia, lowered my blood pressure, normalized my thyroid…BUT didn’t get pregnant.” I said AND. My friend Rachel Whalen wrote a beautiful piece about “The Power of And” AND I encourage you to check it out. The difference of “but” vs “and” was first pointed out to me in a training for supervisors at a job. We were encouraged, when giving feedback that was a mix of positive and so-called constructive, to never connect the two with the world “but” because it is dismissive of the everything before it. “You are great at “x” BUT you stink at “y”. How about “you are great at x AND  you stink at y.” (Obviously, that was just an example because you’ve got other things to work at in your feedback giving if you tell people they stink:)). It did leave an impression on me.

The Best Chinese Food in Central Vermont

The results are in, and China Town in Barre, VT has the best vegetable lo mein and crab ragoon. Upon discovering this I felt like it was too good of a secret to share. You see, for a while we lived in Waterbury, home of not one but two chinese take-out spots. One had incredible lo mein but pathetic crab ragoon (China Star) and the other had incredible crab ragoon (Hong Kong) but pathetic lo mein. On one occasion, I even placed orders at each in the same night just to get all my favorites. But the struggle was real living in a town where neither Chinese place could satisfy all my needs, so we bought a house elsewhere. I would also like to note that for a while we did not visit Hong Kong as it has a run down appearance that intimidated my husband, only to find that most of their food was quality.

Also sampled on the quest for the best: China Star in Montpelier, House of Tang in Montpelier, and Asian Gourmet. True, I haven’t hit ALL of the options in the area but I’m closing in on it. And to be honest, now that I’ve been to China Town I may never venture anywhere else.

If you like your ragoon crispy and plump, you lo mein veggie laden and salty, China Town is the place for you. Happy feasting!

Ten Essentials You Won’t Find at an Outdoor Store

I take camping and backpacking pretty seriously. Like, sometimes it’s actually my job! Right now, I’m getting stoked for summer, and if you are, too, take a look.

1. Sketcher’s GO Step Shoes. Lighter than Chacos, pack smaller than Crocs, warmer and more protective than either for firewood-gathering bushwhacks around camp. I have taken them on every backpacking and canoeing trip since I got a pair at a second hand store and my feet always thank me when I get out of my boots after a long day on the trail. I never knew athletes wore Sketcher’s until Meb won the Boston Marathon wearing them.

2. Plastic sheeting painter’s drop cloth. Make sure you get 4 mil or thicker. So much cheaper than a ground cloth. We cut ours bigger than the floor of our tent, stick it inside and bathtub it up the sides. Never be wet again.

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3. Cutting board. Go to Wal-mart or a kitchen store and get a thin, flexible cutting board (sometimes sold in sets). Cut to fit inside your pan for ease of packing. Keep it inside the pan while cutting, then pull it out from under your veggies (don’t forget this step!) and your veggies are ready to saute with no risk of dropped food in transit.

4. Paring knife with sheath. This cost $1. Yup. $1. Kitchen Collection stores, found at outlet centers (including in North Conway if you’re hitting the Whites), has them up front by the register in a rainbow of colors for impulse buy. Impulsively buy as many as you can, then you can keep one in your car for emergency snacks, one at your office for the same, one in your car camping kitchen box, and one in your backpacking. Plus grab a few for your friends and maybe they’ll even invite you camping sometime. Not near a Kitchen Collection? Usually kitchen stores have some version of this for less than $10. Easier to clean than a pocket knife, safer than a handmade cardboard sheath.

5. Car camping plates, backpacking bowls- Plastic in rainbow colors strikes again as you hit up the Christmas Tree shops during picnic season! Big Lots or a dollar store are a good bet, too.

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Heading to Bear Country?

6. Bear ropes– 3 pieces of 50 foot cord, one metal pulley from the hardware store. Braided rope stretches less than twisted. Here’s a case where you don’t want stretch. Check weight limits and plan appropriately. One piece of ropes goes through the pulley, each of the other two gets thrown over a tree branch and secured.

7. Onion sack. Pack your food in this before you hang it for the night. Why? It dries fast and if a critter does try to chew it, you won’t have sacrificed a spendy stuff sack. Weighs next to nothing.

IMG_37788. Otter box light– Keep your valuables dry with a snap-lid food storage container from the grocery or dollar store. Check that the lid has a rubber seal (showm here in blue) to keep things tight. Buy a pack of sponges and cut to size to pad the inside when traveling with electronics.

9. Folding toothbrush. Game changer. Wal-Mart or Bed Bath and Beyond are good places to look. Never deal with toothpaste smeared ziplocks again.

10. Apple juice, seltzer, Gatorade bottle, etc. Why buy a Nalgene that’ll weigh you down when these lighter alternatives are practically free? Gatorade bottles are some of the most durable of the options listed here, and depending on the size can have a fairly wide mouth which can make filling easier. If it’s easier to pump into a Nalgene, bring one of each and you can fill one from the other!

BONUS- Metal travel mug. Sure, you can find these at a gear store, but the free give-away variety with some logo on it is sure better. In the picture at the top of the post, we had filled the mug with home dehydrated veggies and some water so they could soak while we hiked and make dinner quicker to cook! Strapping it on the pack in an upright position meant it didn’t matter if it was fully water tight.

JUST FOR THOSE OF US WHO MENSTRUATE- Thinx or other brand period underwear and diva cup. If you use disposables- rubber gloves, ziplock and duct tape for the tidiest trash bag ever (see my post here for the deets).

Can We Stop Saying “Good Kids”?

Each year, literally hundreds of thousands of hours are spent in writing classrooms all across the country with a teacher drilling their students on using synonyms of the word “good.” We despise seeing that in student’s writing. We know there are much better ways to describe a positive situation in writing. Why then, do I hear educators referring to their students as “good kids”?

What on earth is that meant to mean? Let’s be real here. The group of kids I was recently assigned to ski with on a weekly basis were described to me as “good kids.” My principal described the students at my school this way when I interviewed. I’ve also even repeated this phrase back to others who’ve inquired how it’s going. It’s a a short, concise way to answer. The real answer about my ski class? They are five year olds. They have lots of energy until they have absolutely none. They chew with their mouth closed- until a joke is so funny they spit their food out laughing, They follow directions most of the time, until they are out of energy. Why do they follow directions? Probably because they were raised in a family, and sent to a school where this is the norm and the expectation. Sure, every teacher expects their students to listen in class but for those facing other hardships- food insecurity, unstable housing, parental conflict, poverty- focusing on the task at hand can be nearly impossible.

How did my kids get to be “good kids”? Part nature, part nurture, part forces of the universe. When I imagined my future, my biggest fear used to be that I would draw the short straw and end up giving birth to a child who, for whatever reason, despite my best parenting efforts, struggled with social norms, got into fights with their peers, couldn’t keep up academically. I didn’t want to be the parent of “that kid.” I had seen the exhausted and exasperated faces of parents raising the kids who don’t fit the “good kid” bill. Now my biggest fear is that I’ll never give birth to a kid period. Perhaps in my struggle to grow my family, I’ve developed a new outlook on just how precious each one of us is, even those who fail to keep up with the so-called “good kids.” I’d happily parent any kid. My kid. I can see how narrow-minded these fears had been. I’d give anything to be that exasperated parent, just to be a parent. My kid would be my world. And to the parent of each kid, they are the world. Who is anyone to say if they are “good” or not?

Fortunately, we seldom hear people referring to students as “bad kids.” But by not explicitly referring to them as good kids, while we use that term for others, we are implying that “bad kids” do exist. There are no bad kids. Simply kids who need a little extra guidance along the way. We as adults are tasked with giving that to all kids.

Will you join me in my effort to stop saying “good kids” so we can eliminate this lens of judging our youth?

That Ibex Vest, Part II

This is a(nother) post about trying not to judge. Remember those women who walked by me as I perused a sale rack, debating the merits of an impulse buy? They were complaining about a friend who spent $65 on some unknown [to me] item that they thought certainly wasn’t worth that much. Their next words out of their mouths made me decide I was for sure purchasing that Ibex vest:

“Well, she doesn’t have kids, of course she can spend money like that.”

Nothing will make a childless-not-by choice woman (or at least this childless-not-by-choice) woman indulge in retail therapy quicker than words like those. I don’t have kids, of course I can buy whatever I want!

These woman, it seemed were envying their childess friend. Or at least her financial situation. My goodness, I thought, I hope that friend is child-free by choice. I hope her friends are not envying her for a situation she is desperate to get out of, desperate to have a child, desperate to NOT be able to afford that $65 item.

The problem with judging? You never know the full story. We have to trust the full story has the best of intentions, we have to give each other the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she’d been saving up for a while for that splurge; maybe she’d recently received a gift that made purchasing it possible; maybe she really wanted to support a small business and purchase a higher cost product made locally instead of a lower cost one on Amazon.

The full story is always more complex. Yours, mine, that woman’s, her friends, Maddy Holleran’s [of What Made Maddy Run]. If you took my advice and read What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan, you’ll recall that Maddy had a world of wonderfully uplifting social media posts that masked her underlying turmoil. I’ve thought long and hard about weather or not to cater this blog to one particular audience or another. To have one blog be wonderfully uplifting and another blog wonderfully honest. I know there are writers who keep up multiple blogs for this reason. Sure, I’ll loose readers who are only interested in posts about summer camp if I only post about pregnancy loss and visa versa.

But, I’ve decided that just as I had six jobs the year I started this blog (I think I’m down to 4 this year), I can have 6 (or more!) topics that cross my mind and fill this blog. I’m asking you not to judge me for my honesty on any of them. Feel free to skip over the posts that don’t speak to you, and forgive me if my mind seems “wrapped in a negativity I’ve never seen before.”  Trust me, I’m working on it, and this blog and your support are one of the ways I do that. Thanks for reading!