Operation Self-Care is Go

Earlier this year, I posted about how close I’d been getting to burnout. I promised myself I would figure out how to reestablish the balance in my life. So I’ve decided to launch an initiative I call Operation Self-Care.

Even though actually achieving a reaffirmed life balance has proven exceptionally hard, by recognizing the signs that my body, my mind, and really the whole universe has been sending me for a very long time, I believe I’m moving in the right direction.

Operation Self-Care will – sort of – happen in phases. This is partly because a) there’s something to be said for taking baby steps, and b) I admit that I kind of have no idea what the hell I’m doing. There are probably people out there who would take my money to create a self-care plan for me. But since I’m winging it, here’s what I’ve come up with.

Areas of Focus

To begin, I’ve identified five specific areas that, if targeted, should put me on a path to my end game, which is that life-work-motherhood-writerly balance.

  • Nutrition. I’ve never been that good at eating a “perfect” diet. I have an incredibly strong sweet tooth that I swear was genetically inherited from both my grandfathers, who could smell sweets a mile away. But while I was pregnant and breastfeeding, I became hyper-aware of what I was putting in my body, since all of it would be passed on to Babycakes in one way or another. I’m still very conscientious about what I feed her, though it seems that she, too, has inherited the sweet tooth gene. Since going back to work in the fall of 2015, however, I have started to eat my feelings. Plus, I cannot seem to get through a day of work without a can of Coke at lunchtime. This school year, I have already started making some minor headway in better food choices. But it’s hard. Really, really hard.
  • Fitness. Normally fitness and nutrition go hand in hand, but I’ve separated them because, at present, I can’t think of them as a whole. I’ve never been particularly athletic, and I honestly hate working out. But from the time I was in pre-wedding shape-up mode in 2009 until I got pregnant, I was pretty committed to working out. I made my way through several Beachbody programs, though admittedly never actually followed one to completion before either restarting or trying something new. But fear of miscarriage kept me from doing more than walking during my pregnancy, and I just never got back on the bandwagon.
  • Sleep. I don’t get enough sleep. Sleep is so important. It’s when both your brain and your body heal from the day. People who sleep well, and get enough sleep, find it easier to lose weight, have energy to actually make it through the day, and are generally more pleasant to be around.
  • Stress Management. This is commonly referred to as finding “me time”. I used to have this in spades. Now I kind of suck at it. Somewhere along the past two and a half years, I convinced myself that I didn’t need to take time to myself – or maybe that I didn’t deserve it or wasn’t supposed to take it anymore. The things I always did that helped me recenter – reading a book, playing piano for a couple of hours, vegging out with a favorite movie – have gone away. I still find time to read, but it’s sporadic. Ask the stack of two months’ worth of magazines on the end table beside me.
  • Mental Health. I was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety in the spring of 2016. Technically, I was diagnosed with currently having generalized anxiety, but because it came on during the second half of Babycakes’s first year of life (postpartum depression and anxiety disorders can manifest any time during the first year after you give birth), it started off as undiagnosed PPA. I only went to one counselling session, where I got confirmation that I was not actually losing my mind, and my anxiety is fortunately not severe enough to require medication. There are other interventions I can and do use, and I’ve learned to recognize flare ups. But I don’t always manage it well. This, I think is an ongoing thing, but maybe if I can figure out the other areas of focus, this will better fall into place.

So what will this look like? I’m going to try tackling one area at a time. Baby steps are important, I think, to making this work.

It’s time I do this for me.

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The Perils of Ignoring Self-Care

So it turns out burning the candle at both ends is really, really, REALLY bad for your well-being. We’re talking physical, mental, emotional burnout.

I thought summer break would be a chance to recharge, as it always has in the past, but it’s turning out not to be the case. You see, I recognized around mid-March that I was dangerously close to hitting the proverbial wall. At some point shortly thereafter, I apparently decided to haul myself and the metaphorical 50-pound pack-of-everything over that wall, instead of admitting to myself that it was time to take a true break.

In years past, I always made a point of doing little things for myself. Having a mini-spa day. Sleeping in. Watching a movie or seven that I’ve seen a billion times over. Reading a book in close to one sitting. Playing the piano. Wandering around the house singing at the top of my lungs. Exercising, even if I hated every second of it and only kept going because, yes, there is that euphoria when you finish.

Now, working full time and having a small child, I realize that a lot of that stuff isn’t going to happen much anymore, and I have an amazing support system. But the problem is that, in the past couple years, it’s not even so much that I don’t do the things that replenish me, it’s that I, somewhere along the line, apparently convinced myself that it wasn’t necessary for me to do them anymore.

There’s a lot of research out there on the importance of self-care.  Self-care is, in fact, so important and so often ignored that Ted-Ed actually has a whole series of TedTalks about it! I need to start figuring out a way to build it back into my life. Without it, I’m finding myself short-tempered, easily irritated, overly sensitive, constantly exhausted, and continually struggling to remain focused and effective in my work (both the teaching and the writing).

Ignoring self-care has affected my relationships, how I behave as a wife and a mother. It has affected me physically, as I haven’t managed to get myself back into an effective workout routine to maintain my weight and fitness. I’ve become a stress eater for the first time EVER, when stress used to make me lose my appetite. My skin has gone crazy in ways it hasn’t since I was a teenager, and even then I’m not sure it went this crazy. I continue to have flare ups of postpartum anxiety (something I struggled to identify at all for months before finally seeing a therapist).

And I’ll be perfectly honest – the current events we’ve seen since the start of 2017 have not helped. It’s been a real challenge to not only maintain a sense of sanity as I try to keep up with those current events – being a world history teacher to students who also see this stuff and constantly ask “WHY?”, I don’t have the luxury of ignoring them or even just perusing a shortlist of what’s happening around our planet. I actually ended up taking an unintentional media fast during the last couple weeks of school, and when I finally resurfaced I felt like I’d missed a boatload of imperative information that just stressed me out more. The kicker with keeping up with those current events is that needing to know, and the inundation of constant “what NOW?” moments, almost kept me from completing the first draft of HE TAKES THE CAKE.

It’s incredibly hard to write lighthearted romantic comedy when you feel like the country and the world is falling down around your ears, and your anxiety is on overdrive because of stuff you have absolutely no control over.

I digress – a little – but the point in this ever-lengthening venting session is that one day, I looked in the mirror and realized how ignoring my own self-care has slowly whittled me down. My willpower, my self-image, my confidence, my energy level, my ability to be present to the people who need me to be present.

Now to come up with a plan…

Holiday Hiatus (sorta)

So this has been me lately:

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Which is why I haven’t posted anything in almost a month.

I wouldn’t say I’m approaching burnout levels, but given everything going on nationwide, statewide, city-wide, and just right here in my little sphere of existence… It’s time to take a little break and focus on my family.

You know, the things that mean most to me.

That said, I’ve decided the next month or so will be spent baking:

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Reading:

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Enjoying Christmas with my family:

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And, of course, writing Sweet Somethings Book 4:

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I’ll still be popping in on my social media accounts here and there, and of course, if you’re receiving my email newsletter, you’ll still get some updates about upcoming fun stuff and announcements in mid- to late December.

Everyone, please enjoy your holidays, whatever it is that you celebrate, and I’ll see you all in 2017!

School’s Out For Summer!

Friday was my last day of work for the school year, which, weekend not withstanding, means today is the first official day of summer vacation.

Ahhhh….

Of course, though our neighborhood does have a community pool, I don’t exactly envision myself spending the next two months relaxing by or in it. Wading around the kiddie pool trying to keep my toddler from falling and smashing her head into the concrete edge of said kiddie pool? Maybe that’s a bit more realistic.

(I jest. The kiddie pool is actually pretty sweet, and Babycakes totally loves it.)

In any case, it’s been quite a whirlwind of a year. Starting a new teaching job, putting Babycakes in daycare, taking Babycakes out of daycare and into Gramma-care, moving to our permanent home, releasing two novels (remember that Better Than Chocolate and When In Rome are both available for Kindle, and Better Than Chocolate is now in print!), and of course surviving my first year teaching fourth grade.

So what does the summer hold? Some training for work. Getting ready to change schools and grade levels. Writing Sweet Somethings Book #3, of course (and hopefully Book #4 as well). And a trip back to my old stomping grounds in July to visit friends and family.

And my first book signing! Details on that for those local to my old stomping grounds will be forthcoming once everything is completely finalized. Stay tuned to my Facebook page for the event announcement.

And the best is spending lots of time with Babycakes, who is now almost 2 and entering the “I won’t eat anything in the fruit or vegetable groups except carrots and asparagus and maybe some apple if you’re lucky” stage.

She also wants soup every day for lunch.

If it’s not one thing, it’s another, right? 🙂

This Thanksgiving, I’m Counting My Blessings

Let’s face it. Our entire world seems to be heading to hell in a handbasket.

That’s an unusually pessimistic statement from me, someone who is generally a perpetual optimist. But given the events in recent weeks and months, both in the US and abroad, it seems true.

Humanity is in trouble.

And it’s not just the terror attacks overseas. It’s violence right here in America against our fellow citizens. It’s individuals and groups who are calling for increasingly intolerant measures to label, track, and not-quite-but-almost persecute people who should be protected under the laws of this nation. (I would argue that most of them don’t actually understand the Constitution and Bill of Rights, based on comments they’ve made. But that’s another post.)

It’s easy for us, as we go into the holiday season, to obsess, worry, and otherwise feel like there is nothing good left in our world for which to be thankful.

But even as those terrible, nightmarish things are happening across the world and even just across my city, I actually have an easier time being thankful.

My family has had more than our share of tragedy and struggle over the past five years. I’d like to think we’ve managed to triumph over all of it – but again, I’m the perpetual optimist. Even if I’m leaning to the “rose-colored” side of things, I can still find so much to be thankful for today.

I can count my blessings, and they are the simple things.

Seeing the joy in my daughter’s eyes as she toddles to meet me at the front door each afternoon, arms outstretched for “Mama.”

Falling asleep each night next to my own Romantic Hero of a husband, even if he does sometimes steal the covers.

A solid roof over our heads, good food on our table, warm clothes on our backs.

Good jobs with good pay.

Knowing family and good friends are only a phone call away, even if it takes a plane ticket to see many of them.

It’s the little things. The simple blessings. In a world seemingly gone mad, it’s important to keep things in perspective. We can’t control what happens outside the circle of our lives. We can only be grateful for what blessings we have.

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The Bittersweet Moments We Cherish

Today is Infant and Pregnancy Loss Remembrance Day, and this year, as last year, is a bittersweet day of remembrance for me.

Those of you who’ve followed my blog over the past few years know our story, but for those who don’t, here it is.

The hubs and I started trying for a baby in June of 2010, but never saw the “two pink lines” we hoped for until a full year had passed.

Joy is an understatement of what we felt.

We shared with a select few friends and family members, and started making our plans for a nursery, for names, for baby furniture, and everything else that goes with it.

Then, it ended.

On August 4, 2011, my early missed miscarriage was confirmed by an ultrasound. My body had not recognized that our baby had died in utero, so we opted to have a D&C procedure. I remember asking my husband the night before if we should request another ultrasound, just to be sure. But in the end, we knew it would be useless and would just confirm what we already  knew.

Our prayed for, hoped for baby was now an angel.

It took several months for me to even begin feeling like myself again, but so much had changed. I was a mother, but I would never be able to hold my first baby. I would never know the color of that baby’s eyes or hair, or hear that baby’s laughs or cries. I would never watch that baby learn to roll, crawl, stand, and walk, and never pace the floors at night when that baby couldn’t sleep for teething, sickness, or because it was Tuesday.

We went on to undergo round after round of fertility treatments, but to no avail. We were losing hope, and each year when March 4th rolled around – the date our first angel would have been born, would have celebrated a birthday – my heart broke all over again. On the outside, few people knew how much we were hurting, but the truth of our loss was always there – in the panted and recarpeted bedroom that should have been the nursery, in the one early ultrasound picture that, once upon a time, confirmed for me that our baby had a heartbeat, and was now hidden away to prevent further pain.

In March 2013, two pink lines again appeared. We dared to be joyful again, but it wasn’t to last. In fact, it lasted only a week before the numbers from my blood draws confirmed it.

This second baby was also an angel.

In some ways, this second pregnancy was less real, because I never reached the point of feeling exhausted or nauseous, as I had during my first pregnancy. We started talking about our options. We decided to apply to begin the process to adopt. At the same time, we continued a few rounds of fertility treatments, both medical and homeopathic, as well as tests to try and determine why I couldn’t get pregnant, or if I did, why I couldn’t hold the pregnancy.

There were no answers. Just empty arms.

We’d finally given up on having a biological child. We were accepted into a home study program for domestic infant adoption, and were a week away from beginning.

And then…

Two pink lines.

We were actually at my in-laws for Thanksgiving when we learned of our third pregnancy. I was terrified, certain this one, too, would end in miscarriage. My doctor put me on a medical regimen to prevent miscarriage, which included the use of progesterone supplements, hormone shots, baby aspirin, and injections of a blood thinner. My lower abdomen was a patchwork of bruises from the daily injections, but it was also a reminder that we were doing all we could to hold onto this baby.

Nausea set in. It wasn’t just morning sickness. It was all-day sickness. If I was awake, I was on the verge of puking. I was exhausted. My sense of smell went crazy, and I could barely eat for weeks, let alone cook anything for myself or my husband. We didn’t travel at Christmas to visit family like we normally did, for fear of being too far from my doctor. I had ultrasounds and blood draws every two weeks, and my doctor promised that, if it made me feel better, I could have ultrasounds done in between just to see my baby.

We made it to the end of the first trimester. The “morning” sickness ebbed away. My belly began to become a bump.

I felt the flutters, then the little kicks, that told us Babycakes was there.

Alive.

Growing.

Safe.

I never let go of the fear of losing her, even to the very moment she was born by c-section, following 12 hours of labor, on August 14, 2014. In the back of my mind, shadowing my entire pregnancy, was the knowledge that I’d hoped twice before, and lost twice before.

Even as I labored at the hospital to bring Babycakes into the world, I thought of my angel babies.

The first, who would have been a two-and-almost-a-half year old toddler, overjoyed at the prospect of a baby sister.

And the second, whose brief time with me imprinted on my heart but is even more bittersweet because, without that loss, there would be no Babycakes.

The first time I held Babycakes, the first time I nursed her, I felt the aching, missing weight of the two babies I never got to hold, and never will in this lifetime.

The first time Babycakes cried out in the night, I remembered the two babies whose cries I never got to hear or comfort.

The first time Babycakes looked at me and recognized me, smiled at me, laughed at me, I heard the voices of the babies whose voices I will never hear and whose smiles I will never see.

Babycakes has been the most amazing, unexpected blessing. She is a gift, a miracle, a joy we never thought we’d knew. At times I feel guilty when she has to be left to cry in her crib because I have to use the bathroom, or I feel like I’m being ungrateful when my frustration over her lack of uninterrupted night sleep has me drained, frustrated, and failing as a parent. I end up holding her and crying as she nurses back to oblivion, whispering how sorry I am for not being perfect, and feeling in my heart that I will always be trying to make up, with her, for the things I will never get to do with my two angel babies.

I still cry for my angel babies, the first who would be three and a half, the other not quite two years old. I hope someday I’ll be able to explain to Babycakes about them, how someday we will all be together again.

I still wish for them.

I hope they know how much I still love them.

In Which I Lament My Toddler’s Sleep Patterns, Beg for Advice, & Giveaway a Kindle Book

I’m going to apologize ahead of time for the length of today’s post, but if you’re willing to listen to me whine a little, please read to the bottom. I have an incentive for anyone who’ll help me out and share any wisdom you have when it comes to tackling toddler sleep.

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know that I’ve been a little obsessed with Babycakes’s sleep patterns.

Okay, a lot obsessed.

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I’ve read many books and websites that all supposedly contain the key, the magic formula, to perfect night sleep (naps are a different beast which I admit I have passed on to her daycare teachers to battle – and luckily they have had surprising success). We have implemented many routines and tried many strategies to help her fall asleep on her own, stay asleep, and/or go back to sleep on her own if she wakes in the night.

Here’s my conclusion: It’s all bollocks.

There is no magic formula. There really isn’t even a consensus as to what a magic formula might look like because NOT ONE PERSON ON THE FACE OF THIS PLANET KNOWS HOW TO GET BABIES TO SLEEP CONSISTENTLY.

There, I said it.

Here’s the thing. The hubs and I worked for literally months to get Babycakes to fall asleep on her own at bedtime. We have had a solid bedtime routine in place since she was like three months old. I gradually shifted the final steps around so she went from nursing to comatose to nursing to really sleepy, to putting her down awake enough that she fussed a few minutes after I left the room. Then we did the big leap of putting nursing BEFORE books and the goodnight songs, and she got to the point in short order where I could lay her down while singing the final verse of her goodnight song, she’d look at me, roll on her side, and I’d walk out of the room. The first couple weeks, it took 5-10 minutes of fussing before she’d fall asleep (and on the occasional night when it took longer, the hubs went in and worked his Daddy magic to get her down). Every now and then, she’d have a crap nap day and would fall asleep while nursing, but it didn’t seem to do any damage to bedtime overall.

But beyond that, we could never get consistent with her nighttime sleep habits. Sometimes she’d go like a week or more when she’d sleep from bedtime (which has been between 7 and 7:30 for a long, long time) until 4 or 5am, at which point she’d nurse and go back to sleep for a couple hours. And then she all of a sudden would start a stretch of waking every two hours and sometimes having a cryfest in the middle of the night for two hours straight. We were sort of on survival mode for a while, but I wasn’t back to work so at least I wasn’t blerging my way through the day.

Aaaand then I went back to work and we started daycare and the onslaught of Constant Sickness.

Between the ridiculously slow and apparently painful teething, the separation anxiety (my mom’s theory) of going from “always home with Mommy” to “with Not-Mommy all day” in the span of a week, constant colds and post-nasal drip that have resulted in numerous puke-in-her-sleep episodes that we don’t discover until 3am when I go in and get hit with the smell of vomit, and last week’s double ear infection (from said constant congestion), survival mode hit Critical Mass.

It became a game of “Let’s just do anything to get her back to sleep.”

Sadly, many of the habits we’d broken (namely nursing to sleep) have become crutches to eek out just a couple more hours. Our lofty plans to night wean have been put on the back burner until such a time as we can get her healthy enough to not need the extra soothing and/or she sleeps a consistent enough stretch that we can rest up for the certain nightly battles of a strong-willed 13 month old who quite clearly indicated to me this morning, through baby sign language and baby babble, that she wanted “more nursing” when the hubs brought her to our room at 5:45.

(You can tell how wiped out I am because I just wrote, like, four paragraphs that are actually crazy long run-on sentences. And I kinda don’t care.)

In some respects, I think we’re content to function in survival mode for another month, at which point my mother will have retired and moved to Charlotte to live with us. We will then be able to pull Babycakes out of full-time daycare, which should do wonders for her overall health. I will probably relax, which should help Babycakes relax, and maybe we’ll all start sleeping better. But most of all, my mom is a veteran mom, and among other things, she is planning on making a solid, consistent, long afternoon nap that Babycakes falls asleep for on her own a reality. In turn, that should help night sleep.

Or so all those “experts” tell me.

But survival mode – which basically means we go to bed at 9:00 every night like we did when Babycakes was a newborn, we bargain with each other in the middle of the night over who gets to try and put her back down when she wakes at 2:00, and I guzzle Coke through the day like it’s my job – will only get us so far. Because a couple other weird problems have surfaced in the past few weeks.

We don’t know if it’s the fact that four or five teeth are imminently about to erupt, if it’s because of the double ear infection, one of the dreaded “sleep regressions” that you basically have to suffer through every other month, if she’s waking at the wrong point in a sleep cycle, or what. But two things are happening.

First, her morning wake time has gotten stupid early. Like “you should only be getting up this early for the day if you’re catching a flight to Disney World” early. Sometimes it’s before 5am. It’s ridiculous, especially since she doesn’t get a nap at daycare until after 11:00 (despite needing one at 8 or 9). What use to be her “snooze button feed” is now “I’m up for the day.”

Second, she’s not waking happy. For the most part since we moved her to her own room, she’d wake up happy and we’d hear her babbling to her loveys. She’d play for up to 45 minutes before starting to complain. Now, all of a sudden, she wakes up crying like she’s been abandoned. The hubs thinks she’s starting to be scared of the dark, but she’s always had a dim nightlight in her room, so she’s never even slept in a pitch-dark room.

We’re stumped. Nothing we’ve tried is getting her back to sleep at that point. All that helps anything is bringing her to our bed (which use to be a weekend morning treat to play after she woke at 7:30 or 8) and letting her nurse for 45 minutes or more.

I’m asking – no, BEGGING – for advice and help from the veteran moms out there. How do I get Babycakes to sleep longer in the morning again? How to we get her to wake up happy? And for the love of all that is holy, HOW do we even start planning to night wean?

Fair warning – we are not cry-it-out parents. Do not tell us to just turn off the monitor and let her cry herself back to sleep. We’ve tried that a few times and it does not work. She will cry at the top of her lungs for an hour or more until I go in and let her nurse. I can’t take it. I lie awake knowing she’s in there crying her eyes out, and I’m laying there crying MY eyes out in turn. Plus, given the post-nasal drip, her sensitive gag reflex, and the aforementioned puke parties, CIO is not a road I wish to trod.

CIO aside, I will open-mindedly listen to any and all advice anyone may have. In fact, I am so willing to take and try anything, and so desperate for more than 3 consecutive hours of sleep in a single night, that I will give one commenter the Kindle book of their choice.

That’s right.

Leave me a comment with your advice, and on Wednesday, September 30th (that’s one week from today), one commenter will be selected through a random integer generator, and I will giveaway to that person any Kindle book you want from Amazon.

And GO!