A Journey of Hope

14 months for Aidan and 8 weeks for new baby

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Baby, Life, Parenthood

Aidan is 14 months old now, and he just keeps becoming more and more like a big kid. He has gotten sick a few more times since getting his ear tubes put in and adenoids taken out, but he has recovered well from the operation. His upper molar teeth have broken through, and he chews little pieces of food like peas and cut up chicken.

He is developing more of a stubborn but sweet little personality. When he was a younger baby, he was always very impatient and wanted what he wanted immediately. He is even more impatient now, and he will whine loudly when he wants to reach something but cannot, or if something he’s not supposed to be playing with gets taken away from him. But he also knows actions and consequences, and he will listen to our “no,” albeit reluctantly.

I’m a little bit worried about his speech development, though he is still well within the normal range. He speaks a few words like dada, that, yeah and random babbles that sound complicated and like an alien baby language. One time the lady at daycare reported that he said “outside!” when they announced that they would be going outside to play, which surprised her because she didn’t think he was talking. It surprised me, too, but he hasn’t said anything out of the ordinary since then.

The new baby seems to be doing well. I had a prenatal appointment and ultrasound at 6 weeks. It went very well, and all of my urine and blood test results came back fine. The baby was measuring around 5 weeks 6 days and had a healthy heartbeat of 95 beats per minute. That is generally a good sign, although I’m still nervously counting down until the next appointment at a little over 10 weeks.

I’ve been exhausted from being in the first trimester. Like clockwork, the nausea, food aversions, bloating and fatigue started right around 6 weeks. As with every other time I got pregnant, I also stopped liking my own cooking and preferred to eat takeout or food prepared by other people. It gets expensive doing that, although it is probably no worse than when I try to cook and end up wasting all of the ingredients.

I often crash to bed around 8pm because I’m so tired, and I sleep until 8am. I have to get up multiple times in the middle of the night due to needing to pee frequently and feeding Aidan once, so between the disrupted sleep I’m probably getting barely enough. I try to keep reminding myself that it’s a sign that everything is going well. It’s all worth it for a healthy and adorable little baby, and that is what we hope for toward the end of June next year.

13 months and surgery

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Baby, Life, Parenthood

Aidan is 13 months old and got ear tubes today. He has had four ear infections in the last four months, and has had both eardrums rupture twice each.  The pediatrician referred us to the ENT specialist, who recommended ear tubes.

He got the last ear infection just before he was scheduled to have the ear tubes put in. I got to talking with one of the medical doctors at work, and I mentioned that Aidan has been having congested breathing and some snoring. She said that we may want to look into getting his adenoids taken out as well.

The ENT had mentioned it as an option at the same time as the surgery, but we had decided against it because we thought it was unnecessary. But doing some more research and realizing that the adenoids may be at the root of Aidan’s frequent illnesses and ear infections, we asked the doctor to also take out the adenoids at the same time as putting in the ear tubes.

It increased the length of the surgery, but it turned out that it was the right decision. When the doctor came out to tell us that everything went well, he said that Aidan’s adenoids were “huge” and “almost covered the entire back of his nose.”

The recovery will be a little tougher, but hopefully this will mean that Aidan will be sick less frequently. He was out of it for quite a while after he woke up from the general anesthesia, and when we saw him in the recovery room, he looked sad and was quite distraught. He was obviously in a lot of pain, but after some acetaminophen and a long nap, he was more or less back to his cheerful and sweet self.

In other news, I got a positive home pregnancy test yesterday, the day that my period was supposed to arrive. It’s possible that Aidan might have a little brother or sister. It’s both exciting and scary, though nothing is for certain in the first trimester. We didn’t plan for it, but we also didn’t try very hard to prevent it. We’ll see what happens.

Aidan’s first birthday

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Baby, Life, Parenthood

Aidan turned one on September 9. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year already. Aidan started walking on his own around his first birthday, and shortly thereafter, he also started to be able to stand up from a sitting position on his own.

Everything has been happening like crazy. He got some nasty colds, which turned into sinus infections. He got two different ear drum ruptures within two weeks due to undetected ear infections. He was prescribed different antibiotics for his ear infections, since he is allergic to amoxicillin. The culture from his last ear rupture indicated that he had a stubborn and resistant case of the haemophilus influenzae bacteria, so he switched antibiotics twice.

The strong antibiotic he was put on most recently is one that could potentially be allergenic. He also had his MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccination shot just after his first birthday. So now that it’s been about ten days after the shot, he started having small rashes on his face and torso yesterday, which today became worse, redder, and spread to his arms and legs.

Aside from all that, he has been teething very badly, with several teeth erupting and visible near the gumline. He has also had very poor appetite, not drinking much milk and not sleeping well. It’s really tough seeing him like this, and I feel bad that he is so unhappy. I am taking him to the pediatrician to see about everything, and I’m very stressed and worried. Hopefully this is just another phase, and soon I’ll be worrying about something else.

Parenting tips

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Baby, Parenthood

Some good tips I’ve read along the way, written by other parents:

Babies

  • Crying is the only way the baby can properly communicate for a while. The baby is not aware of wants or anything, so it’s not choosing to cry — it is crying out of necessity, because “I am uncomfortable!” or “I’m hungry!” or “I’m tired!”, etc, rather than “I want ______!” Babies don’t become aware of “wants” until around the 6+ month mark.
  • Babies don’t become aware that they are a separate entity from you until around 2 months of age. From the moment they are born to around the 8 week mark, they are still thinking they’re in the womb.
  • Around that time that they realize they’re a separate entity, they start becoming more fussy when you put them down, because it takes a long time (more than 6 months of age) to acquire “object permanency” (when an object or a person moves out of line of view, they don’t realize it’s still there — they think it’s gone forever). So their response to suddenly being alone isn’t “I want attention” but “I am uncomfortable with the fact that I am alone and I think I will be alone forever because not a single soul is in my line of view right now so they must be gone forever.” No amount of talking to them will make them realize this. No amount of “baby training” will make them realize this. Just takes some time for them to effectively grow out of it.
  • Baby likes to rip up paper? Give her/him a soft tortilla and let them go to town, they are edible, fun to rip up like paper, and easy to clean up.
  • Baby learning how to drink from a cup without a lid, but the cups are all too big? Buy a jar of baby food, clean it out, and use it with water in it. Yes water will get spilled, but it is a much smaller amount, and the jar is the perfect size for little hands. Don’t do this over hard floors though as the glass jars shatter. Also when cup training only use water so there is no stickiness or anything.
  • Baby afraid of loud noises like the blender/garbage disposal/coffee grinder? Hold them while you do it, a few times, don’t let them push buttons or anything, they will associate the noise as safe and you will not have to deal with random loud noise freak outs.
  • Babies learn by doing, when you flip a light switch, show them how to do it, say on and off, when you pick them up, say up, when you put them down, say down, make habits of saying what things are and where they are early on, they comprehend a lot more than you think and they hold on to things, and will eventually say them, and will say them a lot earlier when they know what they are. Bella sees a tree, she says tree, she knows where a window is, she knows the difference between a window and a door, she knows signs, and I didn’t even do a lot, I just talk to her. Talk to your babies.
  • If your baby is sleepy but fighting it, often just softly tracing your fingertip down their nose will cause them to blink and their tiny, heavy eyelids won’t be able to open again.
  • If your baby is screaming, blow air in their face.  It will startle them and make them pause.
  • The “Indian sound” trick. It can be used for babies of all ages. When the baby/child is crying or screaming for no reason, lightly pat their mouth repeatedly, covering it enough so that it distorts the sound. The change/distortion is usually enough to get their attention and stop them from crying.
  • When they are just learning to feed themselves or drink out of a cup, strip them down naked, put in high chair to eat on the deck. Can just hose down the mess afterwards. Obviously only works when warm enough.

Children

  • Make getting dressed fun, so that it is not a chore later on. Smile and say stretch when you put their arms in their sleeves, same with legs, point out that they have toes. All things like that are really easy and believe me you do not want a child that hates getting dressed.
  • If you head out with young kids to an amusement park or the beach, or generally any crowded area, take a picture of your kids at the start of the day. If you then get separated or one of your kids wander off, you can then show people exactly what they look like instead of a vague description.

  • Children love (whether they admit it or not) structure. They thrive with it. So, use this to your parental advantage. Maintain it, no matter how old they are. Set rules. As they get into those teen years, talk “to” them — NOT “down to them”. Huge difference. Listen to them. Share your own experiences from those years — good & bad. Let them have a voice. We always allowed ours to speak (but it had to be done w/respect). From the beginning, we said: You can voice your opinion, but [as parents] the final decision is ours. It made for a great relationship. The worst year was the first year (age 13). After that, it was pretty smooth sailing. Patience is key in parenthood. If you exercise it, you learn a lot about yourself & your child. You also create a positive growth experience, for him/her.
  • Does your kid act so terribly in public that you don’t want to take him anywhere? Threaten to take him home if he acts up “one more time” and then follow through when he does. He’ll remember the embarrassing scene of being dragged out of a store and taken home and sent to his room and he won’t call your bluff again. Do what you have to do to train your kid to be someone you like being around.
  • Losing it and yelling or crying along with your kid just makes everything worse. If your kid is being so evil, bratty and ill behaved that you are at the end of your rope and nothing seems to be working… pick the kid up, rock him and sing to him. The child isn’t possessed, he’s probably just over stimulated and over tired. An unscheduled nap or some quiet cuddling will do you both some good.
  • Toddlers and older children should learn to go with the flow. Toddlers should learn that sometimes they have to wait until Mommy and Daddy get done with what they are in the middle of before they get a snack or milk refill.
  • Tell your kid that you aren’t in the mood to play with cars but he can help you with what you are doing. Even a two year old can be given a damp rag to dust with while you clean or a pen to draw on the back of an envelope with while you go over your bills.
  • Let your kid help you cook even if all he can do is stand on a chair, ask a million questions and steal bits of chopped veggies off of the cutting board. You don’t always have to drop what you are doing to go play with your kid. Sometimes they enjoy “helping” you far more than playing with their own toys.
  • Go out of your way to find things you and your kid love to do together. I don’t feel bad about telling my kid that if he wants me to play with him that we’ll need to do something else. One of the most valuable things a kid can learn is the art of negotiation and compromise.
  • Teach about manners early and often. Say please, thank you and you’re welcome to your kid even as a baby. They will also say “please” and “thank you” a lot easier if they see you doing it all the time. Start prompting please and thank yous as soon as your kid starts talking. A “yes sir” or yes ma’am” here and there doesn’t hurt either. Especially if you use it as a replacement for whatever snarky backtalk your kid likes to throw in as a response to a lecture. Please and thank you really soften the blow of a little kid’s constant demands for help and keep you smiling and pleasant. It also really impresses the hell out of little old ladies in the grocery store.
  • Raising kids (at least until they’re ~2 or so) is just like raising puppies. Constant reinforcement, reward the good, punish the bad, give them a good solid chew toy or two, and realize that at some point, someone is going to piss on the carpet.

Infographics:

 

A mind to heal

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Hope, Life, Spirituality

This is an awesome TED talk about how your beliefs can affect your body, and how your mindset about stress can make it either deadly or helpful to your health.

As I’ve written previously on the power of thoughts and beliefs, I feel that we can heal ourselves and each other with a change in attitude.

Watch this; it’s definitely an idea worth spreading.

Transcript:

I have a confession to make, but first, I want you to make a little confession to me. In the past year, I want you to just raise your hand

if you’ve experienced relatively little stress. Anyone?

How about a moderate amount of stress?

Who has experienced a lot of stress? Yeah. Me too.

But that is not my confession. My confession is this: I am a health psychologist, and my mission is to help people be happier and healthier. But I fear that something I’ve been teaching for the last 10 years is doing more harm than good, and it has to do with stress. For years I’ve been telling people, stress makes you sick. It increases the risk of everything from the common cold to cardiovascular disease. Basically, I’ve turned stress into the enemy. But I have changed my mind about stress, and today, I want to change yours.

Let me start with the study that made me rethink my whole approach to stress. This study tracked 30,000 adults in the United States for eight years, and they started by asking people, “How much stress have you experienced in the last year?” They also asked, “Do you believe that stress is harmful for your health?” And then they used public death records to find out who died.

(Laughter)

Okay. Some bad news first. People who experienced a lot of stress in the previous year had a 43 percent increased risk of dying. But that was only true for the people who also believed that stress is harmful for your health. (Laughter) People who experienced a lot of stress but did not view stress as harmful were no more likely to die. In fact, they had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study, including people who had relatively little stress.

Now the researchers estimated that over the eight years they were tracking deaths, 182,000 Americans died prematurely, not from stress, but from the belief that stress is bad for you. (Laughter) That is over 20,000 deaths a year. Now, if that estimate is correct, that would make believing stress is bad for you the 15th largest cause of death in the United States last year, killing more people than skin cancer, HIV/AIDS and homicide.

(Laughter)

You can see why this study freaked me out. Here I’ve been spending so much energy telling people stress is bad for your health.

So this study got me wondering: Can changing how you think about stress make you healthier? And here the science says yes. When you change your mind about stress, you can change your body’s response to stress.

Now to explain how this works, I want you all to pretend that you are participants in a study designed to stress you out. It’s called the social stress test. You come into the laboratory, and you’re told you have to give a five-minute impromptu speech on your personal weaknesses to a panel of expert evaluators sitting right in front of you, and to make sure you feel the pressure, there are bright lights and a camera in your face, kind of like this. And the evaluators have been trained to give you discouraging, non-verbal feedback like this.

(Laughter)

Now that you’re sufficiently demoralized, time for part two: a math test. And unbeknownst to you, the experimenter has been trained to harass you during it. Now we’re going to all do this together. It’s going to be fun. For me.

Okay. I want you all to count backwards from 996 in increments of seven. You’re going to do this out loud as fast as you can, starting with 996. Go! Audience: (Counting) Go faster. Faster please. You’re going too slow. Stop. Stop, stop, stop. That guy made a mistake. We are going to have to start all over again. (Laughter) You’re not very good at this, are you? Okay, so you get the idea. Now, if you were actually in this study, you’d probably be a little stressed out. Your heart might be pounding, you might be breathing faster, maybe breaking out into a sweat. And normally, we interpret these physical changes as anxiety or signs that we aren’t coping very well with the pressure.

But what if you viewed them instead as signs that your body was energized, was preparing you to meet this challenge? Now that is exactly what participants were told in a study conducted at Harvard University. Before they went through the social stress test, they were taught to rethink their stress response as helpful. That pounding heart is preparing you for action. If you’re breathing faster, it’s no problem. It’s getting more oxygen to your brain. And participants who learned to view the stress response as helpful for their performance, well, they were less stressed out, less anxious, more confident, but the most fascinating finding to me was how their physical stress response changed. Now, in a typical stress response, your heart rate goes up, and your blood vessels constrict like this. And this is one of the reasons that chronic stress is sometimes associated with cardiovascular disease. It’s not really healthy to be in this state all the time. But in the study, when participants viewed their stress response as helpful, their blood vessels stayed relaxed like this. Their heart was still pounding, but this is a much healthier cardiovascular profile. It actually looks a lot like what happens in moments of joy and courage. Over a lifetime of stressful experiences, this one biological change could be the difference between a stress-induced heart attack at age 50 and living well into your 90s. And this is really what the new science of stress reveals, that how you think about stress matters.

So my goal as a health psychologist has changed. I no longer want to get rid of your stress. I want to make you better at stress. And we just did a little intervention. If you raised your hand and said you’d had a lot of stress in the last year, we could have saved your life, because hopefully the next time your heart is pounding from stress, you’re going to remember this talk and you’re going to think to yourself, this is my body helping me rise to this challenge. And when you view stress in that way, your body believes you, and your stress response becomes healthier.

Now I said I have over a decade of demonizing stress to redeem myself from, so we are going to do one more intervention. I want to tell you about one of the most under-appreciated aspects of the stress response, and the idea is this: Stress makes you social.

To understand this side of stress, we need to talk about a hormone, oxytocin, and I know oxytocin has already gotten as much hype as a hormone can get. It even has its own cute nickname, the cuddle hormone, because it’s released when you hug someone. But this is a very small part of what oxytocin is involved in. Oxytocin is a neuro-hormone. It fine-tunes your brain’s social instincts. It primes you to do things that strengthen close relationships. Oxytocin makes you crave physical contact with your friends and family. It enhances your empathy. It even makes you more willing to help and support the people you care about. Some people have even suggested we should snort oxytocin to become more compassionate and caring. But here’s what most people don’t understand about oxytocin. It’s a stress hormone. Your pituitary gland pumps this stuff out as part of the stress response. It’s as much a part of your stress response as the adrenaline that makes your heart pound. And when oxytocin is released in the stress response, it is motivating you to seek support. Your biological stress response is nudging you to tell someone how you feel instead of bottling it up. Your stress response wants to make sure you notice when someone else in your life is struggling so that you can support each other. When life is difficult, your stress response wants you to be surrounded by people who care about you.

Okay, so how is knowing this side of stress going to make you healthier? Well, oxytocin doesn’t only act on your brain. It also acts on your body, and one of its main roles in your body is to protect your cardiovascular system from the effects of stress. It’s a natural anti-inflammatory. It also helps your blood vessels stay relaxed during stress. But my favorite effect on the body is actually on the heart. Your heart has receptors for this hormone, and oxytocin helps heart cells regenerate and heal from any stress-induced damage. This stress hormone strengthens your heart, and the cool thing is that all of these physical benefits of oxytocin are enhanced by social contact and social support, so when you reach out to others under stress, either to seek support or to help someone else, you release more of this hormone, your stress response becomes healthier, and you actually recover faster from stress. I find this amazing, that your stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection.

I want to finish by telling you about one more study. And listen up, because this study could also save a life. This study tracked about 1,000 adults in the United States, and they ranged in age from 34 to 93, and they started the study by asking, “How much stress have you experienced in the last year?” They also asked, “How much time have you spent helping out friends, neighbors, people in your community?” And then they used public records for the next five years to find out who died.

Okay, so the bad news first: For every major stressful life experience, like financial difficulties or family crisis, that increased the risk of dying by 30 percent. But — and I hope you are expecting a but by now — but that wasn’t true for everyone. People who spent time caring for others showed absolutely no stress-related increase in dying. Zero. Caring created resilience. And so we see once again that the harmful effects of stress on your health are not inevitable. How you think and how you act can transform your experience of stress. When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage. And when you choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience. Now I wouldn’t necessarily ask for more stressful experiences in my life, but this science has given me a whole new appreciation for stress. Stress gives us access to our hearts. The compassionate heart that finds joy and meaning in connecting with others, and yes, your pounding physical heart, working so hard to give you strength and energy, and when you choose to view stress in this way, you’re not just getting better at stress, you’re actually making a pretty profound statement. You’re saying that you can trust yourself to handle life’s challenges, and you’re remembering that you don’t have to face them alone.

Thank you.

(Applause)

Chris Anderson: This is kind of amazing, what you’re telling us. It seems amazing to me that a belief about stress can make so much difference to someone’s life expectancy. How would that extend to advice, like, if someone is making a lifestyle choice between, say, a stressful job and a non-stressful job, does it matter which way they go? It’s equally wise to go for the stressful job so long as you believe that you can handle it, in some sense?

Kelly McGonigal: Yeah, and one thing we know for certain is that chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort. And so I would say that’s really the best way to make decisions, is go after what it is that creates meaning in your life and then trust yourself to handle the stress that follows.

CA: Thank you so much, Kelly. It’s pretty cool. KM: Thank you.

(Applause)

Articles about chemicals

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Baby, Life, Parenthood

These are some links that I came across in my research and bookmarking for later:

Wikipedia

ScienceDaily articles

National Library of Medicine

Change what’s within my control

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Life

Aidan had an undetected ear infection which ruptured his ear drums. The poor little guy was so stoic that none of us knew it until two days after it had already happened. We went to an after-hours pediatrician who said that she was surprised she could mess with his ears without him screaming and crying. He was just taking it like a champ. Due to his previous symptoms of an allergic reaction to amoxicillin, he was put on cefdinir, which is very harsh on his tummy. But at least his infection will be cleared.

I can’t do much about the common colds that keep getting him, but I can do something about other toxins. I threw out all of the soaps, shampoos, cleaners and dish detergents that we had, and we are now free from the SLS, sulfates, parabens, phthalates, fragrances, dyes, and petrochemicals generally put into those products. I will single out phthalates, because studies (one and two) have linked it to detrimental effects on boys such as “smaller penis size, incomplete descent of testes, and a shorter, less typically masculine distance between the anus and genitals in baby boys.”

Although prenatal exposure is most damaging, exposure during youth and development is also problematic, especially for testosterone levels. Even though the stuff is ubiquitous, at least there are things within our control, and I intend to minimize Aidan’s exposure to these endocrine disruptors as best as I can.

We have already made our own moisturizer out of shea butter, cocoa butter, coconut oil, and sweet almond oil. Yesterday I also made sunscreen by double-boiling the shea butter (put inside glass pyrex container in boiling water to melt) and whipping it with zinc oxide powder, which helps to minimize oil production, reduces skin irritation and inflammation and block UV light. I added a few drops of jojoba oil, but not enough to significantly affect the texture. The result was a nice solid chunk that is creamy in color and rubs clear into skin with a bit of lightening effect.

When I told one of my coworker friends about it, she said, well now you know what to get us for Christmas. I said, yep! I’ll probably make enough to last us years, so I’ll certainly be giving some of it away to family and friends.

After using natural oils

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Life

In just a few days of using shea butter, coconut oil, jojoba oil and sweet almond oil as my primary skin care routine, I’ve noticed that my skin is softer than ever, my complexion clearer, and even coworkers were noting that I looked “radiant.” I also gave my husband an all-body massage with the oils yesterday, and today when we had brunch with his father, he mentioned that my husband was looking “good.” Such a statement has never been said by this man previously, according to my husband. They don’t usually compliment each other, and this was a spontaneous and voluntary compliment that caught him off-guard.

My regimen is still being refined as I am still getting more stuff (the lavender oil still hasn’t arrived yet, and I’m curious about it).

This is what I do in the morning:

  • Splash face with water only, wipe dry.
  • Use shea butter and zinc oxide mixture on face, neck and body (acts as moisturizer and sunscreen).

In the evening

  • Wash face in shower with a very gentle soap (I use Honest shampoo and body wash which is safe for babies), dry.
  • Massage a few drops of jojoba oil mixed with one drop of frankincense essential oil onto the face.
  • Use shea butter and zinc oxide mixture on face and neck.
  • Use a mixture of coconut oil, shea butter, cocoa butter and sweet almond oil as intense moisturizer on the body (this last step is still being refined, but my husband came up with this mixture and it leaves both of our body skins very soft).

I tried coconut oil on my face, but it made me break out, but the shea butter has been amazing since it is not comedogenic at all and keeps skin soft, and the zinc oxide also has anti-acne properties and helps to heal acne scars.  I broke out a ton when I was in high school and college, and I have quite a few acne scars on my cheeks and temples. I would over-dry my face during the winter, which made my skin freak out more and get very large and deep cystic acne. Those were the ones that caused the pock scars.  Their appearance is actually being reduced now for the first time ever, reducing in redness, size and depth, and changing more in line with the rest of my skin.

Frankly I’m so excited about these successes that I wanted to share with everyone. But I probably should have kept quiet, because whenever I would mention it to anyone other than my husband and the subreddit, I received mostly resistance and ridicule. I can understand, because it has taken me a long time to be willing to part with my normal routine of washing my face with liquid soap containing sodium lauryl sulfate, applying scented lotion containing artificial fragrances and mineral oil all over my body, and never putting anything that had anything close to “oil” on my face. I don’t like to change my routines at all, as my husband can attest. I also generally “trust” labels of products — if they say they do one thing, then I’ll buy it and assume it does that thing.

When Aidan had eczema, we tried every conventional method, sought advice from the pediatrician, looked all over online for information, and purchased tons of different lotions and eczema washes from the grocery store isles. His skin got worse and worse until there were flaky, yellow and often oozing crusts on top of his head, giant, angry-looking and red bumps all over his torso, and his face looked like he was going through some sort of awful premature puberty. The poor boy was very itchy and upset. Looking back on it, I realized that we had been using conventional soaps like Johnson’s baby shampoo in his baths since he was born, and his skin was drying out big-time around winter time. He likely also developed an allergic reaction to the chemicals in those soaps, and using other harsh chemicals on him only made it worse. We were bathing him too frequently to keep the open sores clean, and his little tiny body’s natural oils were stripped.

What finally worked for us was a “home remedy” that was a bit scary for us to try, but it worked. We began to put a small amount of bleach into his bath water, and within two weeks his skin became clear, smooth and baby soft again. Perhaps the bleach solution killed off the bacteria that thrived on his skin, and the moisturizers we put on him finally had a chance to work. When we told our pediatrician about what we did, he shrugged and said that household bleach is quite safe and already diluted, and that if it works, then great.

That’s how I feel about these oils. After a week, my skin has become so soft and smooth that I can hardly believe it myself. I never thought I would have this great of skin, and I had thought that I would only continue to have worse and worse skin as I got older. Sun exposure is damaging, so I will be making my own sunscreen with zinc oxide, because the chemicals in off-the-shelf sunscreen, even baby sunscreen, are terrible. For example, the baby sunscreen that I threw out the other day has BHT and retinyl palmitate, which thins the skin and actually makes the sun damage worse.

Science isn’t always right, and scientists aren’t always right. My mother-in-law fought an uphill battle against doctors who told her breastfeeding was worse, back when people thought formula was superior. There was no support for breastfeeding, but she managed to stick it out for months. Science is ever changing based on evidence, and the evidence is accumulating against certain things. Clearly modern science has done a lot of good things, and I appreciate that and don’t mind that at all. What I do mind are the ingredients that have been shown in clinical research to cause harm, and which are present in numerous common products that we use. When it comes to my health and the health of my husband and baby boy, I don’t want to take any chances.

The chemicals in our lives

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Baby, Life

When I was growing up in China in the 1980s and early 1990s, I was exposed to a lot of things, mostly dirt and bacteria — but also lead. Yes, I liked eating paint chips as a kid, and lead paint is a major source of lead exposure for children. Looking back, I guess I was lucky that it didn’t affect me too adversely.

Even though I was fond of makeup and lipstick as a little girl, I had heard my relatives talk about how there were poisons in them. Maybe because that stuck with me, or maybe it’s because makeup always made me feel gross and uncomfortable, but I never liked wearing makeup. I didn’t use many cosmetic products, and I still don’t to this day. No foundation, no powder, no eyeliner, no mascara, no hair sprays, no hair dyes, and no perfume. I don’t even wear deodorants, because I don’t sweat much and don’t get stinky. The ex liked for me to wear nail polish, but after some time, I stopped doing that, too.

After doing some research, I have come to realize that this was a good thing. The beauty and cosmetic industry is rather ugly. There is plenty of evidence showing that low-dose exposures to toxic chemicals cause serious long term health effects. Unlike food and drugs, cosmetics can make it to the counter without pre-approval, and existing regulations don’t do that much. Many chemicals are unstudied and unregulated, and there are lots of ingredients that are legal in the US but banned elsewhere. And, as it turns out, there is lead in lipstick!

It’s not just cosmetics, but many household products like air fresheners, cleaning solutions, and mattresses, particularly memory foam. The first toxic ingredient listed for memory foam, Tributyltin, has been shown to lead to obesity for multiple generations. Any time “fragrance” is listed in the ingredient list, it should set off alarm bells. Fragrance can mean any number of chemicals, which can be endocrine disrupting, allergenic, neurotoxic, carcinogenic, obesogenic, and cause a host of health issues.

It now makes total sense to me why when I was pregnant, everything smelled horrible to me and gave me such nauseating headaches. As a pregnant woman, I was smelling chemicals in ways that I never could before. Furniture stores were the worst, but everything from car exhaust fumes (which have been linked to premature births, behavior problems and childhood cancers) to other people’s perfumes would have me covering my nose and trying to breathe shallowly through the hopelessly useless filter of tissue paper. When we had bought a memory foam mattress, I hated the smell of it, and I would refuse to sleep on it. It made me feel sick, even though it was long past the time of morning sickness. Now I see that those things really were poisonous, and my body was desperately trying to tell me that I needed to get away from them.

So it is not enough that we have gone BPA-free (BPA is associated with cancer, insulin resistance, and birth defects) and can-free (the linings of cans, such as canned soda and canned foods, is made up of BPA) in our household. I now intend to switch our soaps, lotions, shampoos and other personal care products to ones that are free of fragrances and other nasty chemicals. The only way this seems to be possible is to go natural.

Natural has become almost a passé word, associated with hippies and worthy of derision. But the more I research into this subject, the more that I realize going natural is safer and better. There’s also no reason to even buy the expensive products from companies that claim to be all-natural and organic. Just buy the raw ingredients and either mix or apply directly. For the longest time I was afraid of oil on my face because I was prone to acne, but now I’m putting extra virgin olive oil and sweet almond oil on my skin, and my skin is loving it. I also got shea butter, coconut oil, and frankincense essential oil. These oils contain essential fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins that the body loves, both inside and out.

On the subject of acne, something that has plagued me for a long time, and would come back when I was going through hormone changes such as in pregnancy, I have discovered more than I have known in years. Apparently, all of the acne “solutions” use salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. These chemicals dry the crap out of skin, which leads to the skin freaking out and producing more oil. On and on the cycle goes, inducing people to buy more of these chemical-filled products to dry out the skin even more. The solution is not less oil, but more oil — shea butter and other less comedogenic oils mixed with zinc oxide would be far more effective.

I am still learning a ton in this transition to more raw and natural personal care products. I find that many of the pre-packaged “natural” products, which often still contain numerous artificial chemicals, are marked up to insane prices, so it’s much better and cheaper to just get the raw ingredients. If nothing else, changing from products that are filled with chemicals and substances to ingredients that are safe enough to eat like olive oil and baking soda makes me feel better about the things that I’m letting near our baby boy.

Thoughts on thoughts

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Hope, Life

I have been in a bit of a slump lately. I have been harboring this deep sense of boredom or dissatisfaction, and I know it is all internal.

Externally and objectively, everything is great. Aidan is no longer sick all the time, he is growing and developing well, and he is almost a year old. My husband is awesome, we love each other, and we connect with each other often. I can’t complain about my life, really, and I know that I should be grateful for all that we have.

So what could be wrong? As Aidan turns one, I will be turning 30 shortly thereafter. I will be leaving my 20s behind, and despite what my logical side tells me, despite the fact that I’m eating well, exercising plenty and sleeping enough again, I feel like I’m aging, which makes me more vain and wishing to hold onto my youth.

Being Asian and petite, I’ve always looked younger than my age. I was an ugly duckling, a late bloomer. When I was a teenager, I looked childish. When I was 25, I was mistaken for being in my teens. But lately I notice every little thing, from frown lines to less elastic skin. I started researching anti-aging serums, buying essential oils, and even wearing sunscreen all the time, something that I never did before despite knowing the benefits. Taking better care of myself is a good thing, but I still feel silly.

Today my husband sent me this article, and I realize that I’ve been going about this all wrong. Not only can my thoughts affect my desires, emotional states, motivations and goals, thoughts can shape my physical states as well, in affect creating my “reality.”

I began thinking about how I’ve been trying to get back to my art project again, and how I haven’t been motivated to do much because I believe I’m not very good at it. But when I was taking art classes in high school, my teachers thought I was amazing, and so I liked the art I produced back then and thought I was pretty good. My husband points out that I have lived most of my life being told that I was worthless and having my self-esteem driven into the ground, so I hold on to any excuse I can to make myself feel bad, even though I’m actually quite good.

I am my own worst critic, and even my perfectionistic streak is self-referential — I wish I was more perfect and less perfectionist. When I copy a picture, I don’t feel like that’s being creative. But my husband points out that creativity is mostly building on top of what has come before; the innovation is in the context and details. I suppose in a way, we’re all copying “reality.”

Another thing I took away from the article is that thoughts are powerful:

Expectancies, such as expecting that one’s work will bring about health benefits, are capable of producing physiological outcomes. Learned associations, such as the association between being an Air Force pilot and having good vision, can alter other cognitive processes, such as visual perception. Meanwhile, placebo effects observed in clinical research work via expectancies and learned associations created by fake operations, sham drugs, etc. Such expectancies and learned associations have been shown to change the chemistry and circuitry of the brain. These changes may result in such physiological and cognitive outcomes as less fatigue, less immune system reaction, elevated hormone levels, and less anxiety.

I know this from my own life. For example, I’ve trained myself to “believe” that I don’t need caffeine, as I haven’t consumed caffeinated drinks in almost a decade, not even when I was incredibly sleep-deprived after Aidan was born. Therefore my body literally does not need it. I also “believe” that I am living healthily, by choosing homecooked meals, exercising frequently, forgoing junk food and harsh chemicals, and having a good daily routine. So I generally feel physically balanced.

As the article said, “If mindsets can change us, maybe we can deliberately choose our mindsets to improve our abilities.” In other words, negative thinking is unproductive, and I need to take my own advice to choose positivity more often. I am strong and capable, and I have the ability to do what I put my mind to do. Besides, I still have 7 or so opportunities to accomplish something.