Last night, I did something that scared me. As part of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, my lovely and talented friend Jordana Green asked me to join her on her show to tell “my story” of my battle with anorexia nervosa that plagued me during my late teens. I had one goal in mind: Tell my story of survival to offer hope to those struggling with the disease and to those who have family members or loved ones who are struggling. I had discussed the details of my story with Jordana over lunch the week prior but chatting with her privately was much different than talking about it on live radio. But what I discovered as Jordana interviewed me on her show (with my incredible friend of 35 years, Laura, at my side for moral support) was that while I have battled with feelings of shame about my disease and have only shared the details of it with trusted friends, there was a sense of freedom and empowerment in sharing it with others.
Brene’ Brown truly has it right when she says,
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
We all have our stories. Many of which we hide away from others, and even from ourselves. But if you have a story that you think could give someone a glimmer of hope, I would encourage you to allow yourself to be vulnerable, open your heart and let yourself be seen and heard. For me, although it has been 30 years since I found myself strangled by the powerful grip of an eating disorder, which could have taken my life, sharing this dark and troubling piece of my history combined with the message that recovery is always an option was a way for me to offer comfort, hope and light to others.
As discussed in the interview, I recently joined The Emily Program as a Friends and Family Support Group facilitator. Volunteering once a month to co-lead a support group for those family and friends of those suffering from an eating disorder has given me another opportunity to give back and provide support for those in need. If you or someone you love is struggling, please know that help is readily available at the The Emily Program. Do not hesitate to take action. You can also feel free to comment or send me a private email if you have any reflections that you would like to share about this issue that effects nearly one out of every five women.
Reiterating the message I gave on the radio when Jordana asked me what advice I have for anyone struggling with an eating disorder, please remember:
Never give up. On yourself or on someone you love.
To listen to the podcast, go here (podcast date: 2/25/15, 10 pm).
There is a new trend in the blogging world. Blog posts and even books that mark moments or periods of time like, “This is Childhood,” “This is Adolescence,” and “This is (My) 39.” They make time stand still by describing the real, raw aspects of the designated age or stage. As I inch closer to 50, I find myself stepping back and looking at my life, potentially about half-way over, or half way lived, or have way begun, depending on your vantage point. I have grappled with my feelings about getting older and realize that while I get ready to add a 48th candle to my birthday cake, I feel the need to do what all writers do: analyze and reflect. Forty-eight means something different to everyone, but this is what 48 is to me: It is NOSTALGIA. The nostalgia of the days when I could pick up my son, now a man/child, and hold him in my arms and tell him that I can make it all better; the days when all four of my children lived in my house with me. It is the nostalgia of my childhood memories, before husband, before children—the prehistoric days when all of the neighborhood kids played kick the can until dark and my parents didn’t know where I was; when phones were attached to walls, and there were no ipods, ipads, internet, social media, or botox; and there were vinyl records, 8-track and cassette tapes, the Grateful Dead, Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Charlie’s Angels, and Starsky and Hutch, and my sister and me fighting for the best TV viewing spot on our green couch.
It is COVER-UP. Watching women around me tighten, plump, nip and tuck and wondering if I should too. It is spending too many dollars on “age-defying” products that are marketed to ME because I am the age that society wants to defy. It is knowing that in trying to cover up the wrinkles and the sagging, I am desperately trying to hang onto something that is slipping away, and no matter how much healthy food, water and vitamins I ingest, how much exercise I do, what clothes I wear or how I color and style my hair, the “something” that is inevitably leaving me is called—YOUTH! And there is no stopping its exit.
It is SEARCHING. Searching for the meaning of life. For the meaning of my life. Searching for my roots, for spirituality, for Judaism. It is studying with an Orthodox rabbi and joining a Reform synagogue. It is grappling with my identity, as a woman, a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a Jew, a writer, a reader, a yogi, a volunteer, a teacher and a student.
It is DISORIENTING. With four kids at very different life stages: college, high school, junior high and grade school. Disorienting with the reality that I on a given day, I can be managing a play date for one daughter and listening to details about a sorority date party from the other. Disorienting to have just celebrated one son's Bar Mitzvah and to soon be celebrating my other son's high school graduation. Disorienting to think that my oldest daughter will graduate college within a month of my youngest daughter's Bat Mitzvah, and that I could potentially be a grandma at my youngest child’s high school graduation. Disorienting to be planning for my 30-year high school reunion when I can so easily access vivid details (many of them embarrassing) of those powerful high school years, as if they happened yesterday.
It is UNCERTAINTY. Uncertainty about whether I made the right choice to leave my career and stay home with my kids (I am pretty sure I did). Uncertainty about whether I should go back to work. Uncertainty about who would even hire me now. Uncertainty about decisions, big and small, that I made and make for my kids and myself every day. Uncertainty about why bad things happen to good people, why I have lost friends and family members too soon. Uncertainty about the future; about being empty nester; about getting old, as in really old; uncertainty about death and how I will go down—will my mind go first or will my body fail me, or will I die in a plane crash (um, yes, one of my biggest fears in life...)?
It is PERIMENOPAUSE. It is crazy! It is crying and swearing and not remembering why I walked into the living room or where I was driving to, or why I was even mad at my husband this morning. It is exhausted…for no good reason. It is worry and obsessing, and worrying and obsessing some more. It is Prozac and Lexapro and the allure of taking the “happy pill” to calm the crazies, but opting instead for a weekly writing group, meditation, yoga and an available-when-needed therapist.
It is WORK. My work: writing, teaching yoga, and serving the community, which makes very little money but keeps me somewhat sane. My husband’s work that he does too much of to be able to support all of the kids and me so I that I can make sure that everyone in the family has clean underwear, decent meals, and some structure and fun in their lives, which happens most of the time, but definitely not all of the time.
It is LETTING GO. Letting go of what I think I should have been—an author of six successful books, a renowned public relations guru (my occupation before kids), a psychologist (my "I should have been/wish I would have been" career), and trying, trying, trying to accept who I am. It is letting my kids go, off to junior high, high school, off to drive a car, off to college. Letting go of the idea that I can control the outcome of their lives, and maybe even the outcome of my own life.
It is TRANSITION. Transition from being not yet old but not young either; from being a young parent with my oldest child to an older parent with my youngest. Transition of caring for aging parents. Transition of my own aging process, which blurs my thinking, my vision and my hearing, and yet, has prompted me to become more patient, more intentional, more compassionate and more present, with myself and with others. Transition of walking mindfully through my life, instead of running through or from it.
It is GRATITUDE. Gratitude for my blessed life and the amazing people in it. Gratitude that I stuck it out and continue to stick it out with my husband, in spite of many extremely trying times. Gratitude for my health, and for the health of those I love and care about. Gratitude that after years of sleepless nights, changing diapers, taming tantrums, tween angst and teenage drama, and the pain, panic and exhilaration of sending one off to college, I can now offer my voice of experience for newer moms.
It is ACCEPTANCE. Acceptance of childhood scars, anxiety, depression, addiction, fear and loneliness; being able to stare down my demons and tell them to go to hell, and accepting that sometimes they listen and sometimes they don’t; and looking honestly at dysfunction—mine, my family’s, and my friends’, and finding compassion in all of it. Acceptance of my imperfect self that struggles with time management, organization and taking direction from others, but is driven and caring, and loves to give, and loves to love. Acceptance of dreams fulfilled, unfulfilled, and dreams that remain. Acceptance that life is really, really amazing and fun, and really, really hard and painful.
It is FREEDOM. Freedom to invest more energy in people, work and causes that ground, comfort and inspire me. Freedom to exit relationships that drain me. Freedom to be me, to practice self-care and self-compassion, to trust myself and others, to confidently use my voice, written and spoken, to tell my truth, to be vulnerable, and to encourage others to do the same.
It is THE MOMENT. Slowing down enough to understand that it is this moment that really matters, and believing that we are all exactly where we are supposed to be right now. It is taking time on my yoga mat or in meditation to quiet down the mind chatter and focus on the power of now. It is watching my kids, truly watching them, and listening to them, and seeing them for who they really are, with their struggles, with their attitudes, and with their independent, creative minds and their loving hearts. It is no longer rushing to get to the next phase of their lives or mine, but wanting time to stand still. Really. Just to be able to press pause. For a moment. So I can take it all in and cherish it.
It is LOVE. Love for my husband of 23 years, love for each one of my very unique, and very lovable kids, who have taught me more about life and love in the past 20 years of being a mother than I ever imagined possible. Love for my parents and mother-in-law who have shown me what it means to age gracefully, and that love, giving and receiving, is the most important thing in this life; and for my extended family and friends, both old and new, who continue to enrich my life each day, as each day becomes more and more precious.
It is knowing that every single day is a gift.
This is my 48.
“Show it who’s boss. No pain, no gain. Muscle through it. Just do It. Quitters never win” are some of the many messages that the majority of type-A, driven, perfectionistic people like myself tell ourselves on a very regular basis. For better or worse, this is the approach we often take in our jobs, relationships, parenting and often times, in our approach to physical fitness. We want to be strong, to be fit. We want to stay young, vital, mobile and maybe even flexible.
As we get older, many of us, out of habit or necessity, desperately cling onto this forceful drive and continue to fuel it even when it may not always serve us well: “This is what I do, this is what I have always done, and nothing is going to stop me.” Or, quite possibly, it is fear that propels us to keep pushing past our limits—fear of losing our shape, fear of letting go of activities that we have always enjoyed, or fear that we are inching closer to the inevitable time when our body will refuse to do what our minds ask it to do.
Throughout my life, I haven't met many sports or physical activities that I didn’t like: gymnastics, tennis, golf, running, biking, hiking, skiing, basketball and softball. I loved the sense of thrill and accomplishment I felt in completing a marathon, triathalon and biathalon and in summiting Pikes Peak. The desire to share my passion for fitness and movement with others led me to become an aerobics, spinning, pilates and yoga sculpt instructor, and I have loved teaching all of these classes periodically over the past 25 years. Being physically fit and helping others keep their bodies and minds strong have been a big part of my identity. "This is what I do..."
Over the past few years, however, my body has begun to raise some red flags that have signaled to me that, much to my dismay, it is time for me to make some necessary adjustments, physically and mentally.
The above-mentioned, “muscle through it” theory has allowed me to chase many aches and pains away over the years, and even more recently has worked to fake out this 40-something body into thinking it was 20-something. But now, as I am knee deep in discovering the true meaning of self-care for my upcoming book, I find it harder to ignore the sizzling pain that begins in my lower back, shoots down my leg, prevents me from sitting for more than an hour and sometimes keeps me up at night.
It is becoming clear that I must grapple with the following question: What happens to me if I do indeed listen my body’s plea for me to back off?
Who am I if I can’t still jump in the lake on a whim and pop up on a slalom ski? Who am I if I can’t swoosh down the double black runs on the ski mountain? Who am I if I am no longer able to teach my high energy yoga sculpt class or lace up my running shoes and head out for a long run on a beautiful summer day, let alone train for a marathon or a 14,000-foot mountain hike?
My self-critical brain tries to persuade me of this:
I am washed up. A has-been. A former. An “I used to be…”
But then I decide that is pretty harsh so I tone it down a bit:
I am a middle aged, peri-menopausal, color-my-grays, can’t remember where I put my keys (or my cell phone or my readers…) mother of four children, two of whom are almost adults and believe only half of what I told them I’ve done. I am woman of 47 years and a wife of 21, who sometimes yearns for the “what was” and is slightly terrified of the “what’s to come.” I swim in a sea of ambiguity— neither young nor old. But if forced to pick one, I would have to pick old, because it’s tough to categorize inching closer to 50 as young.
I continually remind myself that getting older is definitely better than the alternative (yes!), and that aging is an "I've earned my stripes (in the form of wrinkles and age spots)" privilege, not a curse. "Embrace it,” I say aloud to myself, as I decide to go out for a walk instead of a run.
On my walk, I wrestle with feelings of frustration, nostalgia and fear, and nudge myself to open up to gratitude and compassion. I ask myself the truly important questions—questions about self-love, self-care and self-acceptance. I find answers when I flip some of my initial questions on their sides: Who am I if I do not take care of myself? What will I become if I continue to ignore my body’s signals?
I find answers in the realization that my body is guiding me right now and I am listening—really listening. And by letting go of what was and accepting what is, I am allowing my body to heal, and am creating new, exciting pathways for my body, mind and spirit.
This is my new mountain to climb.
Parenting your teen inevitably stirs up a lot of memories of your own teen years. As you stare in awe at your 15-year-old driving a car for the first time, it can feel like yesterday that you first excitedly and nervously grasped onto the stirring wheel and told your foot to push on the gas pedal. When you catch your teen doing something “teen-like,” you may be reminded of the time you snuck out of parents’ house in the middle of the night and the dog started barking and gave you away (or maybe...hold breath...you didn’t get caught). As you help your teen navigate his or her teen joys and challenges, you will decide how much and what you want to share about your teen self. I have always been cautious with how much of my past I shared with my teens. I would imagine that most of us determine that some (or many) of our teen experiences should never be shared with our children. What we may not be aware of, however, is that some of the “secrets” we bury could be effecting how we parent our teens. “A Mother’s Seventeen-Year-Old-Secret” explores the how and why I decided to reveal a piece of my hidden past to my 17-year-old daughter. I am honored and thrilled to have this piece running in one of my favorite motherhood publications/blogs Brain, Child Magazine.
As I delve further into the rewrite process of my book on self-care for moms, a friend introduced me to the work of Renee Trudeau, who has devoted much of her career to helping moms find fulfillment and balance. In the spirit of honoring mothers this month, she is offering a-year-of-self-care retreat giveaway at Omega Institute ($2,700 value) that I could not pass up sharing with you. As I reflect on how I have struggled at various times to incorporate self-care in my life, I realized that the only true obstacle I face in my effort to take care of myself physically, mentally, emotionally and relationally...is me.
This admission is not a way of being hard on myself, which I so often am (and self-blame is NOT self-care!). But the truth is, all moms have a multitude of valid reasons for not carving out time in our busy schedules to prioritize our needs. Some of the biggest stumbling blocks for prioritizing self-care are:
Guilt: I can’t go for a walk with a friend after work because I haven’t seen my kids all day and that would be really selfish of me.
Money: Self-care involves spending money: purchasing a gym membership, getting a massage, manicure or pedicure, or hiring a babysitter to have a date night with my husband. I can’t afford these things.
Time: I can barely find time to go to the bathroom while taking care of two young children full time, when am I going to find time to do something for myself?
Yes, yes and yes. We all certainly subscribe to some or all of these beliefs at various time, and they all may have some truth to them. However, instead of accepting these obstacles and allowing them to control our actions, it is our job to challenge them and to find creative ways in which to weave in self-care so we are better able to love and nurture ourselves and those who need us. There is no getting around it, as challenging as it is to make self-care a daily habit, it is truly an essential element to living fully and being able to be the person and mother that most of us strive to be.
My achilles heel, and real barrier to practicing self-care (specifically mentally and emotionally) is GUILT. I am GUILTY of stockpiling my children’s feelings. When they are stressed, I am even more stressed. I subconsciously subscribe to the idea that if I energetically take on their stress, then they won’t feel it. I am GULITY of telling myself (and my girlfriends) that I must miss a fun gathering because one of my kids has a project due the next day and I must be available to help him.
I neglect to ask myself the imperative boundary securing question, “Wait, whose project is due— mine or his?”
Much of my work in the self-care arena has been to draw better boundaries around myself, to understand that I am a separate entity from my children and to trust that they will be just fine (maybe even better sometimes) without me. This work is ongoing…
The first and most important step for moms to take on their self-care journey is to make an honest (but not overly critical) assessment of where they are at on the self-care spectrum and where they want to be: what ways are you practicing self-care, and what areas could use a little more attention? And then to determine your plan of action?
In order for most of us to make lasting changes in our lives, we have to find value in what we are doing. So, in the spirit of Mother’s Day and bringing awareness to the importance of moms practicing self-care, please describe below (or in Facebook comments) what self-care means to you. Of the respondents, I will draw one name that will be submitted to Renee’s giveaway drawing, which will take place on Mother's Day.
Look forward to reading what self-care means to you and good luck with the retreat giveaway! And most importantly, Happy Mother’s Day!
This Friday Fave is an excerpt from Book #1 and deals with gaining a better understanding of why your teen acts the way she does.
“Troublesome traits like idiocy and haste don’t really characterized adolescence. They’re just what we notice most because they annoy us or put our children in danger.” (National Geographic, October 2011, Beautiful Brains by David Dobbs)
In a November 28, 2010, article in the Star Tribune’s Parade section entitled “What’s Really Going on Inside Your Teen’s Head,” the author, Judith Newman reveals “When my friend’s son—a straight-A student and all-around sweetheart—recently ended up in the hospital getting his stomach pumped because he went out drinking with friends for the first time and had now clue how much was too much, that is when I realized: There is just no predicting. Even for the most responsible kids, there is always that combustible combination of youth, opportunity and one bad night.” Newman goes on to explain, “Truth is, the teenage brain is like a Ferrari: It’s sleek, shiny, sexy, fast, and it corners really well. But it also has really crappy brakes.”
Researchers and scholars have been studying and writing about the adolescent and teen years for centuries. Aristotle characterized adolescents as lacking in sexual self-restraint, fickle in their desires, passionate and impulsive, fonder of honor and of victory than of money, and prone to excess and exaggeration (AC Petersen, BA Hamburg - Behavior Therapy, 1986 - Elsevier). More recently scientists and researchers have been analyzing the teenage brain in an attempt to find a scientific basis for teens’ frequent unpredictability, moodiness, carelessness, and an almost frantic desire to take risks.
Currently, there are some conflicting theories about the teenage brain. One theory states that a young adult’s brain is not fully developed until the age 25. However, Dobbs looks at recent research that sheds a slightly different view of the teenage brain. Instead of looking at the adolescent brain as an immature of a work in progress, Dobbs discusses a theory that closely resembles the principle of natural selection. The “adaptive-adolescent story,” as Dobbs calls it, “casts the teen less as a rough draft than as an exquisitely sensitive, highly adaptable creature wired almost perfectly for the job of moving from the safety of home into the complicated world outside.” B.J. Casey, neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College concurs, “We’re so used to seeing adolescence as a problem. But the more we learn about what really makes this period unique, the more adolescence starts to seem like a highly functional, even adaptive period. It’s exactly what you’d need to do the things you have to do then.”
Research reveals that the when a child is six years old, her brain is already at 90 percent of its full size by and that most of the subsequent growth is the thickening of her head skull. However, between the ages of 12 and 25, ”the brain undergoes extensive remodeling, resembling a network and wiring upgrade,” according to Dobbs. During this time, the main difference between and adult and teen brain is that teens value rewards more than consequences and are thus more apt to make riskier decisions.
In a study that compared brain scans of 10-year-olds, teens and adults, while the participants played a sort of video game with their eyes, that involved stopping yourself from looking at a flickering light or “response inhibition.” It turns out that 10-year-olds fail at this almost half the time but teens, by the age of 15 could score as well as adults if they are motivated, resisting temptation 70 to 80 percent of the time. The most interesting part of this study, however, was in looking at the brain scans, the teens brains were virtually the same size as the adults but “teens tended to make less use of brain regions that monitor performance, spot errors, plan, and stay focused—areas the adults seemed to bring online automatically.” So, as it turns out, teens do understand risk, but value risk versus reward differently than adults. “In situations where risk can get them something they want, they value the reward more heavily than adults do.”
So the next time your teen does something really “stupid,” remind yourself that he is flexing his adaptive muscles. You can certainly set rules and limits on what behaviors are acceptable, appropriate and safe but know that there is more going on his brain than we may think. He will continue to push his boundaries, and according to this research, this is exactly what he should be doing.
Even though the above-mentioned principals make sense on paper, the reality of living through the adolescent and teen years with your children can be terrifying and maddening at times.
Here are a few pieces of tried and true advice that the moms I surveyed offered about managing the adolescent/teen years:
“We did (and still do) our fair share of "biting our tongue." There are so many times I want to tell them what they should do, or offer suggestions, but I think the times that we have sat back and let them make mistakes on their own have been good and have helped prepare them for the real world. I'm glad they made those mistakes while they were home with us and we could help support them.” (Mother of three children, ages 24, 22,18, married 26 years)
“My key strategy is TRUST! Trust your teenager until they prove other wise. They will respect you a lot more! I have seen parents who hover and get really involved. I have trusted my teenagers and when they get off track we re-direct, but I think they value my trust and genuinely want to hear what I have to say. It's the ‘I'm on your side’ kind of attitude.” (Mother of four children, ages 18, 16, 14, 12, married 19 years)
"I tried to allow them as much privacy as possible while also encouraging them to share as much of their lives as they were comfortable sharing. That was the only strategy I had. Fortunately, it worked. Of course, there were many difficult moments, or maybe I should say months, but generally I felt they knew what they were doing and I supported them as best I could. When the anger level rose to red, we walked away from each other, but never for too long." (Mother of two adult children, ages 42 and 40, grandmother of four, divorced)
As I look back at my last post about preparing for my trip to Peru, I notice that much of my focus was about the anxiety I felt in leaving my family for nearly two weeks. I am extremely grateful to have returned home safely and to realize that most of my nervousness about leaving was, of course, completely unnecessary. My kids didn’t miss a beat in my absence, and my experience in Peru was everything I hoped for and more, impacting the deepest parts of my soul.
No one can prepare you for how you are going to feel when you are immersed in a place where you see so clearly the fragility of life, and yet see how incredibly strong the power of love is. A place where you feel that you are making a difference and yet there is so much more you want to do to help.
I was immersed in a world so far from my own. A world in which, despite my Rosetta Stone lessons, I struggled to communicate with the Spanish-speaking Peruvians. And yet, through my broken Spanish and their broken English, we often found that we could understand one another. I was in awe of how most of the Peruvians I met lived with so little, and yet they did not complain.
Many of the “life-altering” aspects of my journey are buried deep in my heart, however, I am going to try to give you a glimpse of how the Smile Network mission prompted me to access parts of myself that I didn’t even know existed. Thus, this blog post is longer than most, as I attempt to make some sense of, to process and to share with you some of the ways in which this experience has enriched my life and has significantly opened my heart and mind.
The Universal Language of Mothers=Love
Sixty-plus mothers (and several fathers) arrived with their children at the Children’s Hospital in Lima last week. Perhaps they had seen a flyer, or were informed by a doctor or friend that Smile Network International was to arrive at the Children’s Hospital in Lima on Feb. 1st. Some traveled for days by bus, with little or no money to support themselves. One mom explained that she had been staying in Lima with relatives for two weeks because she did not want to miss the opportunity for her child to have surgery.
On intake day, Nan and Dawn (friends who accompanied me on the mission) and I handled medical records, and gave each patient and their parent/s a number. At the end of the long day, the doctors (two plastic surgeons from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and one from Cook Children’s Hospital in Texas, along with two residents from Mayo, and the chief of plastic surgery at the Lima Children’s Hospital) provided Gina, our mission coordinator and Kim Valentini, founder of Smile Network, the surgery schedule for the week. In turn, Gina and Kim, (with the help of the mission’s co-lead, Peruvian born, Ronnie, and Mira, another translator) alerted the families of their child’s surgery date and time,.
In the days that followed, however, we would soon realize that schedule changes were more the norm than the exception. Variables that were out of our control like prolonged surgeries and striking hospital workers (which occurred two of the 6 days we were there) made it nearly impossible to stick to the original schedule. The schedule changes were agonizing to some of the patients and their families (and the volunteers felt their pain as well).
Mothers and their children waited at the hospital from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., with no comfortable place to sit, no air conditioning (temps in the 80s) and no toilet paper in the bathrooms, in hopes that their child would be called for surgery. And most of them were...eventually. The patients, ranging in age from 2 months to 10 years, needed to fast for 12 hours before surgery, and their cries of hunger could be heard well beyond the 3rd floor, where dozens of families crowded together to wait, and to hope.
Eight-year-old Lisbeth, was scheduled for a palette surgery on Monday (surgery day 1). After fasting all day, she was sent home Monday evening because the doctors were held up in another surgery. Volunteers assured her that her surgery would be on Tuesday and to come back the next morning fasting. When our mission coordinator had to break the news to her Tuesday evening that she would not have the operation that day either, she dropped her head into her hands, and said, “Oh my G-d.” Most of the volunteers cried with her and her devoted mother.
By Wednesday afternoon, Lisbeth was finally called for surgery. The nurses placed her on the gurney and led her to the elevator that would take her up to the operating room floor. Her mother looked at me with pleading eyes and motioned with a head tilt that said, “Please go with her.” I bolted up to the 7th floor and made it in time to meet Lisbeth at the elevator. Her eyes were filled with fear. All the waiting and the anticipation, and now the time had come for her to have her second operation to close her cleft palette. (Even when palette surgery is performed once, as patients grow, their palettes can open again, and a subsequent surgery can be necessary. Smile Network did not perform Lisbeth’s first surgery.)
Closing her palette meant that food and liquid would not pour out of her nose when she ate and drank, and that her speech would become more understandable.
I stayed with her as she waited in the hall outside the operating rooms. I hugged her and held her hand as tears dripped down her face, and tried to tell her in my broken Spanish that she was going to be okay. As the nurses rolled her into OR #2, my hand stayed connected to hers. I could sense her fear growing as she took in the machines, sharp instruments and needles present in the operating room. “Mama,” she cried, and I squeezed her hand tighter. I could no longer stop my own tears as I looked at her and thought of my youngest daughter, about the same age as Lisbeth. Despite her attempts to fight him off, the anesthesiologist secured the mask over her mouth. As she breathed in the sedating gas, she soon fell into a deep sleep. It was time for me to let go of her hand so I could step out into the hall and regain my composure.
“This is my girl,” I said to the doctor as he whisked past me to enter the operating room. “Take good care of her.” He nodded.
Lizbeth’s surgery was successful.
Fabriano is a beautiful 5-year-old boy who had a severe cleft palette. His mother is a single mother whose deep love for and devotion to her son is transparent. Fabriano’s surgery was extremely complicated and our amazing team of doctors worked for more than five hours to close up the gaping hole in his palette. Fabriano did not fair well after the surgery and needed to remain on a ventilator. There were no available rooms in the ICU and so for two days, Fabriano remained in the OR, because it held the only available ventilator. This meant that his mother was not allowed to see him. Our mission photographer took pictures of Fabriano to show his mother, which brought her some comfort. On day three, an ICU room opened up and the last I heard, Fabriano was improving, and that he is going to be okay.
Fabriano and his mother are continually in my prayers.
There is a story for each of the patients that Smile Network treated throughout the week, and I experienced many more “world stands still” moments. As I banded and gowned patients, rocked crying babies, played with older children waiting for surgery, distributed, toys, blankets and care kits that were donated to Smile Network, visited with other (non-Smile Network) patients on the ward (some whom have been there or will be there for months for various surgeries, recoveries and/or treatments), comforted mothers, chatted with fathers, fed and held babies after surgery, observed cleft lip and palette surgeries and transported messages from the OR to anxious mothers, and witnessed the elation and relief of mothers seeing their baby’s transformed smile for the first time after surgery, my heart was continually bursting with love and compassion for the patients and their families.
With Love, There is Sometimes Pain
There is an inevitable and unavoidable sadness that occurs when spending a week at a children’s hospital. Sadness in witnessing the sheer anguish of parents who had just received the news that their 4-year-old son did not make it through the brain surgery performed by Peruvian surgeons in an OR adjacent to the designated Smile Network’s operating rooms. My heart continues to ache for these parents. I can still see their faces.
Sadness in seeing the haunted, blank stare of a 16-year-old girl holding her 2-month-old baby after he was unable to undergo the cleft lip and palette surgery because the anesthesiologists could not stabilize him under sedation. And then later, when I saw her eyes filled with tears as she tried to console her crying baby and asked her if she had eaten all day, if she had any money, or if anyone was coming to the hospital to see her and her baby. Her answer to all three questions was a simple, empty, “no.” I gave her a sandwich, and put some cash in her hand, and hugged her—a child, all alone, with a two-month-old baby to care for.
I wanted to tell her it was going to be okay but I couldn’t.
As I zigzagged between the sadness of some mothers and the elation of others, I tried to keep my own feelings in check. I was grateful that I could offer a smile, a hug or my arms to hold a baby. I loved to hear a mother’s sigh of relief and see her eyes fill up with tears of happiness when I delivered the messages from the OR. “I saw your baby. He’s doing great. The doctors said that the surgery is going really well. It won’t be much longer.”
I am grateful that I was able to be a part of an incredible team of doctors, residents, translators, a doctors' assistant, and a photographer who, in following Kim’s lead, volunteered their time, expertise and their hearts to practiced Tikun Olam (repairing the world) and reshape the lives of those helped at the Children’s Hospital in Lima.
I love knowing that each one of the families will walk away from the hospital, not only with a child whose smile is hopefully brighter, but also with the notion that there are people in this world who care about them deeply, and are willing to provide help. Kim Valentini formed the Smile Network from a place of love and compassion. Her daughter, when once asked if it was hard for her to have her mom gone so much simply stated, “If my mom isn’t taking care of these people, I don’t know who would.”
And the people who Kim touches with her work feel her commitment to them. The love and appreciation expressed by the Peruvian children and the families we served was immense. Parents and grandparents brought hand made gifts and small bottles of wine to the volunteers. They told us through their tears that they understood how much we are doing for them and that are eternally grateful.
What these people probably do not realize, however, is what a tremendous impact they have had on me; how grateful I am for the way they shared their love and trust with me; and that they have expanded my heart in more ways than I could have ever imagined.
As I said my emotional goodbyes to my new amigos in Peru, I hugged each one and told them, “Yo no te olvidaré.”
I will never forget you.
I was late (per usual) for my writer friend's book launch. I had debated about whether or not to brave the sub-zero Minnesota temperatures that night but something inside me told me that I really needed to be there. I walked into the Melrose Center and took in the hospital smell. Christmas decorations adorned the walls and the greeters were cheery but I noticed a sinking feeling in my stomach. A woman directed me to the room where Lee Wolfe Blum was reading from her memoir and I gingerly opened the door, hoping it wouldn’t squeak and that no attention would be drawn to me and my lateness. I sat down in the back row and took in the scene. Lee was reading a powerful excerpt from her book (which I read in two days and put it down only when I had to) to a room full of people. I turned and within two seconds I recognized her husband Chris from Lee’s Facebook page. To me, he was somewhat of a hero in her book and I wondered what was going through his head as he sat and watched his healthy, confident, beautiful wife and mother of their three children recount her nearly fatal struggle with an eating disorder.
Then I noticed the two rows of young girls/women sitting in the front rows listening or not listening to Lee share some excerpts from her book. My attention veered slightly from Lee’s words to these girls, whose scrawny wrists held their hospital wrist bands, and I knew at that moment why I didn’t feel so cheery. As happy as I was for Lee and her success with her book, walking into Lee’s place of employment, a hospital/treatment center for children and teens struggling with eating disorders where Lee is a Health Educator, triggered some very uncomfortable memories in me.
I found myself studying the patients in the room. The faraway look in their eyes was all too familiar. I knew first-hand that this detached, empty, fearful look was the result of a combination of starvation, and the need and desire to disconnect from reality and from the self—the desperate attempt to escape inner pain. Lee’s book, A Table in the Darkness, explores Lee’s pain and her path of self-destruction, and ultimately her healing journey to recovery. She does this with such articulation and honesty that I felt like I was right there with her. Lee’s book also allowed me to take a closer look at my story and my memories without feeling shame. Lee told her truth—she exposed her soul and her imperfections. She revealed the gritty details of a person who fought a heart-wrenching, yet inspiring battle with depression and anorexia; wherein food became her vice to mask her pain and to “control” and her demons.
My 17-year-old self was very familiar with this method of demon fighting. Like Lee and the patients sitting a few rows in front of me, I used food to try to numb, control and expunge the self-loathing and perfectionism that plagued my psyche. Thirty years have passed since my three-year battle with the disease began, and although it seems like a life time ago (and I find myself wanting to go back and talk to and comfort that 17-year-old girl), I remember so vividly what it felt like to be one of those patients, sitting in a hospital, trying desperately to hold on to my control over food and my emotions. I thought this control was the key to my survival, and yet, in actuality, the desire to control was pulling life out of me, and pulling me away from the people I loved and who loved me.
My heart ached for the patients in front of me as the memories of my long, difficult road to recovery flooded back to me, but I also felt hope for them and wanted to share with them how much I learned and grew in the process. I wanted to hug them all and tell them to choose life, to do what it takes to recover—to allow themselves to let go, open up, be vulnerable and imperfect, to trust the people around them; to believe that they can and will be helped and healed, and that they are loved and are worthy of happiness and self-love.
But I didn’t have to. Lee, with her strength, conviction, powerful connection with G-d and her faith, and her willingness to document and share her story of sickness and recovery, did that and is doing that for all of us. Her book allows readers to fully immerse themselves in Lee’s world of darkness, and to root for her as she finds her light. Lee bravely marches the reader through the agony of living (or barely living) with depression and anorexia, and the havoc it creates for her, her family, her friends and for all of those who care for her. She does not shy away from exposing herself in a way that most people, myself included, would have a very difficult time doing. She then pulls the reader into her courageous and inspiring recovery process. As a Jewish person reading this book, in which Lee's strong connection to her Christian faith is woven into the fabric of her life story, I was moved by how pivotal her belief in G-d was to her recovery and how her faith continues to guide her and her family. Her journey inspired me to look more deeply into my own faith and connection with G-d.
After Lee signed my book (“You’re next” as I recently completed a manuscript for a book on self-care for mothers) and I hugged her tightly and told her how much I appreciated her book and how proud of her I was, I walked out of the hospital and back out into the cold. Tears began to fall and by the time I got to my car, I felt myself release all the uneasiness that began the moment I walked into the hospital.
I, like Lee, am a survivor. I survived the terror of anorexia—and trust me when I tell you, it truly is a terrifying disease—terrifying for the diseased person and terrifying for those who care about and love her or him. Like Lee, the battle with the disease and the victory over it is something that will always be with me, but it does not define who I am.
I sat in my car and prayed for those girls who sat in the front rows and who would not go home to their families but would spend the night (and probably many nights) in a hospital bed feeling lonely and afraid. I prayed that they would find their light, and would let go, stop fighting and allow themselves to heal.
Then I went home, hugged my husband and kids, and found an even deeper feeling of acceptance of and compassion for my 17-year-old self, and my 47-year-old self.
Lee’s book is a truly a gift for anyone who has suffered or is suffering from an eating disorder, or any kind of addiction, or for someone who loves and cares for someone who has battled or is battling an eating disorder or addiction. It is a valuable tool that can provide healing and hope for every reader.
“There’s a buzz happening in Beverly Hills over a group of women who call themselves the “Marijuana Moms.” says a recent Huffington post article. These women make no bones about the fact that they smoke pot, regularly. One mom admits to smoking five times a day.
Read the full article on SheTaxi.Com.
February 12, 2013 By Julie Burton
As I’ve heard people talk about the latest diet trend, the Paleo diet, it got me thinking about going back in time to find other methodologies that can lead us to a more healthy and balanced way of living. As a full time mom of four, a part time writer, yoga instructor and active community volunteer, I understand the challenge that so many women face as we try to find time to incorporate exercise and just plain old movement (other than turning the steering wheel) into our daily routines.
See the full article on SheTaxi.Com.
Julie's article published on Chris Freytag.com appears below: Taking care of yourself is one of the most important gifts you can give to your child/ren, and of course, yourself. As a mother, taking care of your children is one of your highest priorities, and sometimes, taking care of yourself gets put on the back burner. Putting others’ needs in front of your own may work for a while, but eventually, it won’t, and most likely will carry negative consequences. The hazards of neglecting yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally can include health problems, anxiety, depression, and relationship issues. These issues will not only have an adverse effect on you, but your children will feel them and most likely be affected by them as well. Therefore, taking care of yourself is an integral part of taking care of your children.
Self-care is a daily struggle for so many busy moms today. Some moms develop the habit early on in their motherhood journey, and intrinsically understand that self-care is an essential component of being a competent mom. Other moms are more apt to become swallowed up by the pressures of motherhood and find that taking care of themselves continues to slip down on their priority list. It is essential to realize that securing the sacred time you need to nurture yourself will take effort, planning and even some creativity.
Many moms feel that they have to fight too hard to carve out time for themselves. Between jobs, spouses, children and other commitments, it is not easy to find spare moments in the day. Sometimes you may have to miss a baseball scrimmage or leave the house even when your toddler is crying for you to stay with her. But the importance of establishing “me time” is as important as spending time with and nurturing your children. As one mother of two children recently shared with me, “I’ve had to realize that sacrifice is a normal part of parenting, but there has to be a limit. I must set boundaries and set apart time that is just for me in order to be a healthy enough person to parent well.”
To be a clear-headed, strong mom, who can be a good role model for your children, you need to be healthy in mind, body and spirit. The only way that is going to happen is by making sure you are nurturing all aspects of yourself, which involves carving out necessary time for YOU.
The zillion-dollar question that so many moms ask is, “How in the world am I going to take care of myself when there are some days that I barely have time to go to the bathroom?!” There is no clear-cut, fail-proof way to do this. Yet very single day, you must simply ask yourself, “What am I going to do to take care of myself TODAY?”
Here are some helpful tips for you moms struggling to carve out time for yourself:
1. Figure what kind of self care you need most today. Do you need exercise (would be great if you could do some kind of movement every day), extra sleep, time alone, with a girl friend or with your partner?
2. Figure out how you are going to make at least one of the above ideas happen.
3. You may need to be creative:
• Ask for help. Call grandma, a neighbor, a friend to come over to watch your child/ren so you can sleep, workout, meet your husband for lunch, or do whatever you need for you (not run errands for the kids!)
• If you work outside the home, plan a walk with a girlfriend over your lunch hour or during a break.
• Take the kids to the childcare facility at your gym to so you can workout and/or enjoy a nice long, hot shower without the fear of a child interrupting you.
• Go for a jog or walk when your spouse gets home from work, or get up early to meditate or get to an exercise or yoga class.
• If you have young kids and it is too difficult to leave the house, make sure you have a few good meditation or exercise dvds for you to do when your baby or toddler is napping.
• Do you have a flight of stairs in your home or apartment building? Use them!
• Keep some hand held weights by your desk at your office.
• For additional tips on exercise, nutrition and overall self-care, check out Chris Freytag’s Live Fit: 101 Tips for Your Fitness.
There is no doubt that as a mother, taking good care of yourself requires you to be intentional in making sure you will have that time to do so. And even with good planning, you still may encounter grumbles from your spouse or tears from your child when you leave to go do something just for you. The big picture? There is no question that doing so will make you a happier, healthy woman and mother, and a wonderful role model for your children.
With Angelina Jolie’s recent disclosure of her decision to have a double mastectomy due to her discovery that she carries the BRCA 1 gene mutation, many women may be taking a closer look at their genetic history. I uncovered mine several years ago as I sought to trace the trail of breast and ovarian cancer, which killed my paternal aunt at the age of 47, two great aunts and had struck two cousins, who are currently survivors. I made a phone call to a cousin (who was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30), and we discussed our lineage and how this gene mutation seemed to have been passed down through the generations on our paternal side of the family. I hung up the phone and concluded that if we were right, then that gene mutation could have also landed…in me. As a wife and a mother of four children, two daughters and two sons, I knew I wanted and needed some concrete answers.
I called a genetic counselor and we talked at length about the cancer present in my family. She explained that because I am of Ashkenazi Jewish decent, my risk of carrying the BRCA1 or the BRCA2 gene mutation is five times higher than that of the general population, and 60% of women who do carry the BRCA 1 or 2 gene mutation develop breast cancer. She also mentioned that it might make sense to talk with my father about being tested because this gene mutation would have come from his lineage and it would be helpful to know whether or not he was a carrier, whereby determining if my sister and I were truly at risk. My immediate thought was, “My dad, undergo genetic testing to find out if he passed a breast cancer gene mutation to his daughters when he had recently buried his beloved 47-year-old baby sister who died from this disease— how in the world can I ask him to do that?!”
But I did—and without hesitation, he said that he said he would do this for me and for my sister (a mother of two daughters), who was more ambivalent about undergoing this process. Soon after, my dad and I met with the genetic counselor, and it was determined that he would have the blood test to find out if he carried either of the BRCA gene mutations.
I left the office and he went to the lab for the test. We were told we should expect a call in about four weeks. I worried—for myself and for my sister. I made a plan that I would be proactive and have a mastectomy and a hysterectomy if I carried the gene. I was determined to stay ahead of the bullet.
A little over a month later, my dad got the call that the results were back from the lab but that no results, positive or negative, would ever be given over the phone. The next day, my mom, my dad, my sister and I sat down in the counselor’s office and the counselor divulged the results to my father,
“You have the BRCA 1 gene mutation.”
“There is a 50/50 chance that each of your daughters could have it.”
My mom cried. My sister and I were in shock.
As we all walked slowly out of the office, my dad mumbled, “I’m sorry.” “It’s not your fault, dad,” was all I could say as my heart pounded so hard I thought it would jump out of my chest.
We stopped at the front desk to schedule a date for my sister and I to have our blood test. “Is there any way we could have it done now,” I asked as my hands shook and my mind raced. “I can take you and your sister back one at a time in 15 minutes, does that work?” “Yes,” I said without even looking to my sister for approval. She hadn’t said a word.
We left our blood samples and left the office feeling completely depleted. I glanced over at the University of Minnesota hospital where my paternal aunt, who was not much older than I was now, had taken her last painful breath, leaving her two young sons motherless and her husband a widower. The feeling of pain and loss resurfaced, and was now mixed with terror.
Three weeks later, we got the call to come in for the results. I got to the office and my sister and her husband were at the desk. “They can’t see us together, we have to go in one at a time,” she said to me in almost a whisper. “Okay, well David (my husband) isn’t here yet so you go first,” I told her.
It was fast. She was in and out of the consultation room in less than five minutes. She walked over to me as I paced the waiting room. She looked at me, but kept her eyes slightly averted from mine, and she shook her head, “I don’t have it.” “Oh thank g-d,” I said as I hugged her. But she still couldn’t look me in the eyes.
I knew why.
Still no sign of my husband. Both my sister and brother-in-law offered to go in with me. “No, I am okay.” I couldn’t wait another second so the front desk person escorted me to the tiny consultation room and I waited for the counselor.
“All I can say is that you two are very lucky,” she said as she walked into the room and took a seat across from me. “I often see cases where the gene gets passed down to one daughter and not the other/s but I rarely see cases where none of the children inherit the gene mutation from a parent who has it.”
“So I don’t have the BRCA 1 gene either?”
“No, you don’t.”
I don’t remember what I said to her. Maybe I hugged her. I came rushing out of the room to find my husband right outside the door on the verge of tears. “You gave me the wrong address. Are you okay,” he asked eagerly. I told him the news and when we got out to the waiting room, my sister was not sure what to make of our teary eyes. “I don’t have it either,” I assured her. As we embraced each other, we fully exhaled, as we had not done for over a month. We immediately called our parents who were out of town and anxiously awaiting our call.
“I prayed and prayed for this, I told g-d that nothing else mattered,” my father said, his voice quivering with emotion.
Since this ordeal, several of my close friends have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Some have lost their breasts and their ovaries to this horrible disease, and this week I attended a funeral for a friend (a mother, a wife and a daughter), in her early 50s, who battled breast cancer for 20 years. I have other friends who have tested positive for the BRCA gene mutation. Some of them, like Angelina Jolie, have made changes to their bodies to try to increase their odds, and some have chosen not to and are being proactive by having frequent mammograms.
It is essential that if there is a history of breast and/or ovarian cancer in your family, especially if you are of Ashkenazi Jewish decent, you must not be afraid to ask questions, and dig into your family’s health history. Contrary to an old belief (one that even my OB told me many years ago), that breast cancer can only be “passed on” through the mother’s side of the family. Well, as we know now, this could not be further from the truth. Men can carry this gene mutation, and although their risk of breast (yes, men can get breast cancer) and prostate cancer is still relatively low, early detection is key for them as well. Furthermore, fathers can pass this the gene mutation to their daughters, putting them at a much higher risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer.
Whether you see a pattern in your father’s, mother’s or spouse’s side of the family, do not be afraid to ask your loved ones to be tested so that everyone in the family can be better equipped to protect themselves from the cancer bullet and alert any offspring who may need to be tested. And please do not let fear stop you from being tested yourself.
This information could be a matter of life and death.