No Sleep Til…

Nowadays, there are two questions everyone asks me no matter who they are or what the situation may be. These are: How are the twins? And:  How are you sleeping?

Ah, sleep deprivation. This was precisely the thing I’d been dreading the most about motherhood, because I’m not one of these high-stamina types who can bounce out of bed after 5 hours and go run marathons and operate on shock trauma patients. Getting enough sleep is key to my happiness and sense of well-being, but at the same time it’s also created a lot of anxiety in that I feel there must be something wrong with me that I need so very much of it just to function at a minimal level. But why? What’s even going on when I’m asleep that’s so damned important? Why must we humans spend almost half our time on earth conked out and oblivious? Yeah, yeah, I know all about our physical systems needing to recharge and replenish…but what really goes on when we sleep? Why is it so necessary that we actually shrivel up, become delusional, and die without it?

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Back when I used to work at the museum, I would spend many summer lunch hours cat napping in the Fairmount azalea garden, my purse as a pillow. On weekends, I could wake up at 9, then turn right around and fall back into bed before lunch. And when I have my druthers, I don’t take little 20-minute power naps, I crash into 4-hour-long marathon sessions of sleep with many REM cycles and many whacked out dreams.

Although now that the twins are here, I really shouldn’t be complaining. Both P (who shall be henceforth known on this blog as Wog) and M (who shall be henceforth known as Birdie) are excellent sleepers. But here’s the thing I never realized about parenthood: even when your kids are sleeping, you’re not necessarily sleeping. It’s completely counterintuitive, but the moment I crawl into bed I begin putting loads of pressure on myself to seize this crucial opportunity for shut-eye and OMG YOU HAVE TO FALL ASLEEP RIGHT NOW because if you don’t you will never have the chance AGAIN, EVER. Or I lie awake panicked that they’re not breathing. I worry that Tai, who often goes to bed later than me, is having his nerves irrevocably worked by one or both of them and will just up and leave. I worry about my health, my stress level, my mental sharpness. And then sometimes I just don’t feel like sleeping, I want to enjoy the me time rather than wasting it away unconscious. There are Vogues to catch up on and new age books to read.

But then insomnia turns into this weird kind of mania, and I’m likely to start rearranging the books on the shelves so that they are organized by color, or separating my clothes into keep/donate/tailor piles. When I do finally fall asleep, my thyroid issues mixed with whatever lingering post-partum hormonal chaos is happening inside me leads to night terrors, night sweats, and the familiar but no less evil bruxism.

After a night like this, I spend the next day clumsy at best, angry and sobbing at worst. The good news (I think) is that the anger is never directed at the twins. It’s inward, towards myself, or towards my parents, or towards Tai. It hurts and it consumes all the little energy I have left.

So I decided to spend one of my sleepless nights researching sleep deprivation. It’s more insidious than I ever dreamed (see what I did there?).

Lack of sleep can cause you to

- gain weight
- be more susceptible to diabetes, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, and twitching,
- look like shit

It manifests in different ways for different people too – Tai, for instance, gets paranoid and hyper-vigilant; I, when it’s really bad, get self-destructive.

Sleep deprivation can make you so incredibly depressed, which coupled with even the slightest bit of PPD, is horrific. Placenta pills, Prozac, Zoloft, Abilify, mindfulness meditation, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are no match for it. When it gets really severe, you might hallucinate and have distorted perceptions of people and events.

It causes aches and pains more severe than those caused by bending over to pick up two growing babies all day long. It’s actually used as a form of torture.

Eventually, the body can take no more. You inadvertently fall into what’s called a micro-sleep, which could last for anywhere from a split-second to several seconds and which you probably won’t even remember. Prolonged sleep deprivation can ultimately cause you to develop dementia, and/or die.

So, because I want to be around to watch the twinpops grow into happy, healthy, well-adjusted citizens of the world, I’ve had to get good at abandoning my notions of what is ideal and just embracing sleep whenever and wherever I happen to find it. I used to balk at 20-minute naps, now I savor 5-minute ones. Once the babies are in bed at 7:30, I scarf dinner with Tai and scurry off to bed no later than 9. I’ve given up on evening TV, so don’t ask me about the devious new hussy maid on Downton Abbey, whether I saw Miley twerking at the Golden Globes, or who Juan Pablo sent packing. When people come to visit, I’ve stopped feeling the need to hang out and am now comfortable saying “Not to be rude, but do you mind if I lie down?” My shut-eye mantra is “My children are breathing. My husband is happy. My health is freaking awesome.” My Vogues and new age lit are all in a pile for when my life returns to normal. I’m told it eventually will, and that someday I will miss this.

jlbs

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The Many Delights of Coconut Oil

The cleanse that I was all excited about starting for the new year is not happening at the moment. It’s because of my thyroid, but we’ll get to that later. Grrr. For now, in lieu of blabbing about my dietary shenanigans, I would like to take you on a tropical journey into the land of coconut oil!

Several years ago when I was single, bored, and cold, I embarked upon a health kick wherein I ditched my antidepressants, became vegan, and practiced Bikram yoga 5 times a week. It was sheer backfiring misery. Soon, I was visiting two different psychiatrists, wolfing down street meat, and falling asleep on my yoga mat while sinewy American Apparel models flung sweat across the room at me.

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But it was in the midst of this dreariness that coconut oil entered into my life. See, the changing room of the yoga studio was an 8×10 closet-slash-nudist colony where throngs of people sat and chatted in clouds of BO-scented humidity. Though revolting, it was there that I eavesdropped on many fascinating conversations while trying to lace up my sneakers. Conversations about things like water birth, vaginal rejuvenation procedures, and the then-revolutionary caveman diet. There was one especially golden-bronze woman, somehow clean and dry and bright looking in the dingy changing area. Someone asked if she’d just gotten back from the Caribbean, and she said no, she’d simply been putting coconut oil on her skin every day for the last 3 years.

Although that’s when coconut oil first crossed my radar, it wasn’t until 2011 that I rediscovered it in an effort to get glowy and healthy before my wedding. I used it externally, as a moisturizer, hair conditioner, eczema treatment, under-eye balm, lip gloss, and make-up remover. I consumed it internally, in cooking. It’s delicious instead of vegetable oil in baked goods, and it gives a sort of South Pacific flair to things when used instead of olive oil. It also has a very high smoking point, which means it won’t oxidize and create free radicals when it’s heated super high. Sometimes I’d just down a tablespoon or two in an attempt to up my immunities (coconut oil contains lauric acid, which has antimicrobial and antiviral properties) and rev my metabolism (lauric acid is a medium-chain fatty acid, which means that in addition to boosting metabolism, it aids in digestion and absorption of minerals, and can even increase good HDL cholesterol). It’s also great for oil pulling!

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Finally, when I was pregnant, I used 5 different types of oil on my belly at various times to prevent stretch marks. Almond oil from L’occitane, a delightful tonic from Clarins, Sugar oil from fresh, bio oil, and coconut oil. While you can use the regular coconut oil found in the grocery store (Spectrum is a popular brand, and Trader Joe’s makes a great one too), if you are using it for pure cosmetic purposes, a line called Organic Figi infuses the oil with scents like tangerine and lemongrass. This is what I used throughout my third trimester, twice and sometimes three times a day. And though my post-twins body causes me great consternation and anxiety for a number of reasons, stretch marks are not among them. Also baby-related: I used pure coconut oil when I was breastfeeding to prevent the seemingly inevitable cracked, bleeding nipples; I also use it on the twins’ bums in place of baby oil and to prevent diaper rash.

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Now we have just finished a polar vortex, and the days are short, and I don’t have a yoga retreat in Costa Rica planned like I did last year. So I make do with coconut oil. I cover myself in it from head to toe after showering, before bed, and randomly throughout the day. Now, whether coconut oil actually changes the pigmentation of the skin like it did for my exhibitionist yogini friend is dependent on your individual skin chemistry, but it imparts a glow no matter. I swear it has helped me stave off my old friend SAD by giving me a hopeful, summery, life-on-holiday sort of feeling.

So here are a few things to keep in mind should you want to acquire that for yourself:

Be sure you choose extra virgin coconut oil that has not been hydrogenated, bleached, refined, or deodorized. I can’t emphasize this enough: you want your coconut oil unrefined. Organic is best.

Also know that above 76 degrees, coconut oil has the consistency of any other oil. Below that, it solidifies. It is oddly satisfying, however, to rub a chunk of it over your skin and watch it liquefy before your very eyes.

Bon voyage,
jlbs

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For 2014…..

 

 

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Also, join me as I attempt a gluten free, vegan cleanse of my own devising this January. On the menu: Avocado! Kale! Coconut oil! More!

Happy New Year, peeps.
jlbs

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December 31, 2013 · 18:12

Amber Vision

P is starting to teethe, which is a tad unexpected considering he’s not even three months old yet, but there we have it. Neither my mom nor Tai’s can recall if either of us was an “early erupter,” but I’m guessing that someone somewhere had to have been because last week our little Vesuvius began wailing like an angry cat, running a low grade fever, and sporting creepy-looking swollen gums. So full of bumps and ridges and clusters, and everyone knows how I suffer from trypophobia. Just beneath the surface of these ridges he has these little – ughghghg it pains me just to type this – white caps. Apparently babies can have teething symptoms for a month before the first tooth is actually “cut,” but I’m prepared to wait it out homeopathically. With amber!

Amber has always been one of my favorite gemstones because it’s like wearing a warm, glowing sunset on your person. I especially love amber that has a prehistoric insect or a leaf or somesuch preserved in it, although it’s kinda sad to think of an insect being caught unawares by an onslaught of sticky tree resin and suffocating for the fossilized pleasure and admiration of future generations. Unless it’s a mosquito. Suffocate all those bastards with maple syrup and wear ‘em round your neck, I say.

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Anyway, Baltic amber has been prized since ancient times. There’s this intriguing Lithuanian legend about its origins that goes like this: the immortal ocean goddess Jūratė lived in a glorious palace, made entirely of amber, beneath the Baltic Sea. She fell in love with a lowly, but dashing, young fisherman named Kastyis. They frolicked about until the thunder god, Perkūnas, discovered their deep-sea trysts and, in his jealous fury, smashed her amber castle to smithereens. In some versions of the tale, Perkunas isn’t just some jealous god – he’s Jūratė’s father. WTF!? Some say he turned the poor gal into sea foam, others say he chained her to a rock at the bottom of the sea.

There's even an opera about her!

There’s even an opera about her!

Either way, the bits of amber that wash up on the Baltic shore are the fabled bits of Jūratė’s castle. They are revered not only for their beauty but also for their healing properties.

And this is where P comes in. For Baltic amber isn’t just a remnant of forbidden passion, it’s a substance that is full of succinic acid, which is considered an analgesic. A Baltic amber necklace, when worn against the skin 24/7, is said to release this acid when it’s activated by body heat. This, in turn, may boost immunity, calm the disposition, and reduce inflammation. For teething, it supposedly does all this plus stimulates the thyroid to help lessen drooling.

Is it all a big load of bullshit? Maybe. Then again I live in a world of magical thinking and I gobble down placenta pills, so I put P’s necklace on him earlier in the week after a lot of angry caterwauling. He was very pleasant the rest of the day. I took it off for bath time and left it off for his before-bed bottle, and the angry, red cheeks and pained screeching started up at just about the time he would usually be boarding the train to Snoozyland. I wasn’t about to put him to bed with something around his neck, however, so I wrapped the beads around his ankle a few times and tucked him into his sleep sack.

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[Haters: he’s 11 weeks old – he can’t unzip his sleep sack and choke on his amber anklet, so save it]

P slept from 10 o’clock till 6 a.m. He slept for 8 hours! My teething newborn son slept for eight hours. His sister slept like an angel too – and although she isn’t teething yet, I give her mad props because her gastrointestinal issues could warrant a whole blog of their own (don’t worry, Future M. I will not do that to you).

This was a few days ago, and since then I’ve noticed a marked difference in my P when he isn’t wearing his amber. I’ve only resorted to Tylenol once in this time, and I haven’t had to struggle when putting him down for naps or bedtime. Perhaps it’s a placebo effect, perhaps it’s random, perhaps it’s coincidental; don’t know, don’t care. P is calmer and happier and smiling a lot more, which he needs to do if he’s going to be getting a mouthful of pearly whites any second now.

Now Mommy needs an amber necklace for herself.

jlbs

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A Feast of Placental Proportions

Thanksgiving is over, and one thing I’ve wanted to write about for quite some time now has been my experience of placentophagia. That’s eating your placenta, or in my case, placentas, as I was carrying two of them around. Gross! Who would do such a nasty thing? Besides pretty much every land mammal around and January Jones?

It turns out, placenta consumption is not as uncommon or as revolting as you may think. It’s become increasingly popular in recent years along with home births, breastfeeding, and other methods of “natural” mothering. There are enough ways to prepare placenta that range from the tame (encapsulation into nice little pills) to the adventurous (placenta + fresh lime juice served in a chilled glass like a ceviche), so there’s no reason why anyone who wants to give it a try should be scared. I went the encapsulation route not because I’m unadventurous – honestly! – but because I didn’t want it to be a one-and-done thing. A placenta smoothie is finished in a half hour, but placenta pills can last almost a year. Hell, you can even freeze them for when you’re menopausal!

Of course, a lot of people think it’s all a lot of new age quackery, and it doesn’t work out very well for everyone. But I happen to love new age quackery – in fact, the only thing I love more than new age quackery is not being depressed. Among the many purported benefits of placenta consumption is a decrease in instances of the post-baby blues. This is because it allegedly helps ease the dramatic drop in hormones that a woman experiences right after birth; replenishing some of the minerals and nutrients lost during the process. For me, I can definitely say that while I haven’t warded off the monster that is post-partum depression entirely, I am leaps and bounds ahead of where I thought I would be. PPD is apparently more common in women who a.) have a history of depression and b.) have multiples, making me a prime candidate for weeks spent in bed refusing food and crying, but instead I’ve bonded with the twins beautifully and have kept my crying spells and fits of desperation to one or two per week. A team consisting of a therapist, a psychiatrist, a loving husband, and a night nurse help, and so do placenta pills. I believe it’s no coincidence that those sporadic crying jags always seem to happen on the days when I forget to take them.

Other plusses: placenta consumption helps the uterus shrink back to its regular size faster. I will never be fully happy with my abdominal region but I have to admit that going from carrying almost 11 pounds of baby to this in two weeks is impressive, even by my draconian standards of self-criticism:

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Similarly, women who consume their placenta report less post-partum bleeding and greater milk production. I can vouch for both, and even though breastfeeding carried a whole medley of unsavory issues for me, milk supply was never one of them.

Aside from this, the whole concept just made sense to me. I didn’t want the organs that nourished my sweet twins for all those months and helped them grow into strong, healthy babies to be tossed into an operating room biohazard bin. I felt that anything that gave them such a vibrant start in the world deserved more respect than that. And did you know that the veins of a placenta look like the branches of a tree of life, which is why some people opt to plant their placentas instead? Many then report lush, blooming, vibrant, ageless trees sprouting up.

At first I wasn’t sure I’d be able to pull it off. My therapist told me no way in hell did she support such a thing unless I produced a citation-heavy thesis paper worthy of JAMA outlining its proven benefits; my obstetrician looked at me as if I’d said I wanted to eat the actual babies. The hospital where I delivered said it would be up to whatever pathologist was on duty whether I could keep the placentas or not, as they usually liked to examine them to determine whether the kiddos were fraternal or identical. Right, because having one boy and one girl doesn’t answer that question beforehand? But my husband was really into the idea (so much so that I’m surprised he has yet to get into my stash o’ pills), and he promised that no matter how drugged up and delirious I was after delivery, by hook or by crook by God he’d get his hands on those placentas.

He didn’t have to struggle. The twins were delivered via C-section in the late afternoon and my OB was in a particularly punchy mood – in addition to high-fiving me and telling me that I was a pleasure to operate on, he called Tai “big guy” and told him the pathologists could go smoke a cigar. So while I was being stitched back up, Tai was putting the two placentas in Ziploc bags and running back and forth to the recovery room kitchen to fetch new ice for them.

We discovered a wonderful doula named Melissa to do the preparation. She swung by my hospital room two days after the birth to pick up Tai’s meticulously chilled cooler, and made the capsules the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) way: cleaned, steamed with ginger and myrrh, dehydrated, and ground. Another popular method is the raw method, which forgoes the steaming to preserve more nutrients – the same philosophy behind raw food preparation.

Not Chinese food!

Not Chinese food!

A few days later she dropped the pills off, along with a beautiful heart keepsake made from the twins’ two umbilical cords.

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I take one every morning along with my fruit and gluten-free museli, and sometimes it weirds me out but mostly it just makes me feel healthy, much the same way that eating salmon or avocado makes me feel healthy. Now, the FDA has not endorsed the consumption of placentas, but the FDA also allows rodent hair and anal secretions to make their way into our food so I could really give two hoots what the FDA says about anything. All I know is that I am totally high on placenta power, and it’s helped me realize myself as the best mother I can be. So who’s going to argue with that?

Bon appetit,

jlbs

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