All The Gory Details I can Think Of, and Then Some

February 28, 2013

Dear Family,

"I don't know whether I believe in God or not. I think, really, I'm some sort of Buddhist. But the essential thing is to put oneself in a frame of mind which is close to that of prayer."




"[I made] a teeny candle, in case you want a teeny bit of light…an' this one is even _tinier_, for those times when you need an even tinier light."

"[The snow] is so pretty, 'cause it's not falling super fast or super slow."

"How does a so-tiny baby neck hold up a so-big baby head?"

"…ARGUING! That's what we're doing over here."

The other day, Jem was kind of looking reflectively out the window, and I wondered what he was thinking. A moment later he said that he was "making up a pretend country," and I imagined him imagining a fairyland similar to Oz, and then my imaginings raced ahead to…My Little Future Novelist! He'll be a Famous Fiction Writer! How Cool, That He's Creating Imaginary Countries! "…It's a pretend country," Jem continued, "where the word for 'baby', an' everything else, an' how they talk, is ALL swear words!" (So much for the Pulitzer.)



"How did you decide to marry Papa? You must have seen LOTS of other people, so how did you decide to marry him?"



Since Eliza doesn't talk yet, the inaugural entries in her new Column are all description. This week:

--Eliza laughs and is totally thrilled when Jeff comes home--she crawls right up to the door if she can, and lifts her arms adorably to be picked up. When I come home after being out for awhile, on the other hand, she's so happy to see me that she immediately starts to cry. (I think this is sort of a metaphor for the universal difference between mamas and papas, but I can't actually figure out why.) The thing is, if Jeff and I have BOTH been out--on a date, for example--Eliza doesn't know whether to laugh OR cry when we walk in at the same time.

--Every couple of days Eliza has a "good" nursing session, during which she stops acting like a caffeinated rabbit and _relaxes_, unclenches her tiny fists, closes her eyes, makes baby noises…and suckles. She's eating, with no pumping or cooking or bottle-feeding required. AMAZING! At these moments my body feels like it is releasing huge and copious amounts of Madonna-and-baby-type endorphins, and my eyes get heavy-lidded, and I just want to purr. (I think I get to feeling kinda pent-up between these moments.)

--This third time around, "elimination communication" is great for bonding and all that--but my main motivation is how I know about the lack of toilet training that's necessary later on, and the fact that right now Eliza often poops in the toilet. Pooping and Peeing in the toilet are SUCH Great Skills to Have, and this keeps me mumbling "pss pss pss" on a many-times-daily basis. Plus, we all know how great it is for Bonding and all that…


Miscellaneous Events of Note:

--We've been playing cards with good friends on weekend evenings, after our boys have gone to bed. This is super fun and really great, even though half the time Jeff and/or I are really not on top of our games due to Crazy Sleep Deprivation. (Makes for a good excuse when I lose, though, anyhow.) (And sometimes it's important to have fun even when you feel like puking with tiredness.) (The desire-to-puke feeling is definitely not contagious, at least as long as our guests leave prior to going-to-sleep-and-being-waked-up by Eliza.)

--Thanks to two Alert Readers, I have learned the origin of "fell swoop", which I can now share with you: Fell is an adjective, meaning "fierce; cruel; dreadful; savage" and "destructive; deadly." Same root as "felon." Therefore, in the play "Macbeth", Macduff says, upon hearing that his family have all been killed: "All my pretty ones? Did you say all? Oh, hell-kite, all? What, all my pretty chickens and their dam at one fell swoop?"

--Jeff and I had ANOTHER date on Sunday! I am having a hard time reconciling my extreme wish to Fix our current Sleep and Child-Health and Caretaking Situation, with this extreme feeling of Luck concerning our Getting-To-Have-Dates-and Downtime situation. How can I complain when I'm so lucky?? (It turns out that life is full of boundless luck, along with infinite opportunities to complain. This paradox must be covered in basic philosophy texts that I somehow missed.) This time we went to see another movie, the BBC documentary "One Life" , which has incredibly incredible footage of all sorts of other Animals And How They Live. The narrator offered nice strokes to the parenting/grandparenting egos in the audience: the point of life is not just to survive, Daniel Craig explained, but also: to Successfully Raise Babies, and pass on your genetic material before you die. It was pointed out that most babies' survival depends on the exhaustive efforts of mamas and papas, which goes along with my theory that evolution does not select for the fittest individual, but the fittest parents.

--The Sleep Update: Eliza's sleeping, with the aid of constantly pouring white-noise rain, has gone--as Jeff will tell you--from Really Horrible to Bad. After all, I keep reminding myself, she's only been drinking fairly successfully for not even two months. And sucking is the foundation for all higher-level human skills. So…she's technically only about eight weeks old--something like that. And everyone knows that newborns don't sleep too great. And the fact that she wakes up every couple of hours at night in a screaming, stiff-as-a-board, inconsolable state, does NOT indicate impending autism…right? It just means that perhaps her vestibular system is still adjusting to her newly able-to-eat, less-in-pain-due-to-reflux-et-al state of being, and once neuroplasticity allows her to learn basic, newborn-style self-soothing skills, she will once again sleep like a baby. Or an adult. Or something. It certainly seems hard for her to soothe without aural/visual input. (Sleep is a Higher-Level skill, after all.) Anyway, hopefully soon she won't scream and howl like a banshee in the night; keep on keeping your fingers crossed for us, and perhaps we'll be sleeping through the night again within the next decade. (Oh, and I also frequently remind myself (i.e. create an elaborate scaffolding network to bolster up a sense of Hope) that autism really _isn't_ "caused" by any ONE developmental delay, even one that appears as marked as Eliza's terrible sleep/wake behavior. "Autism" is a spectrum and a syndrome, after all, not a lab testable diagnosis, and it develops after a _pileup_ of _multiple_ delays and pains and issues emerge, that finally overwhelm the brain's neuroplasticity to the point where the best it can do is constantly compensate for challenges and attacks. So Eliza will not become autistic MUCH, if I have any say in the matter.)

--Not-pumping-eight-times-per-day has been going well. People occasionally comment that I "must feel like a new woman!" with this reduced schedule, or that I must feel as though I've "gotten a life back!" Actually, I now feel a little less like I'm going to die. Which is something to be grateful for!


My GAPS-After-Three-Years Update

The last time I wrote details concerning my own symptoms relating to GAPS was, I think, back a Long Time Ago:… . So it's high time for an update, since I truly believe that facts concerning an individual's digestion and farts and body odor should be shared freely when usefully conferring on the vastly complicated topic of Healing. So, dear brothers of mine, you are now forewarned: what follows is a nearly-no-holds-barred report on my personal health…

During the past three years, there were many, many times when I wanted to drown my sorrows by eating my weight in Crappy, non-GAPS-legal Food. Which wasn't in the house, so I couldn't eat it. And then feelings of great distress would wash over my soul. At the same time, even with the extreme challenges of implementing GAPS for Ben, and even though eating meat is still slightly traumatic at times for me, I'm definitely well on my way to becoming a Recovered Vegetarian and a Traditional-Foods-Foodie to boot. I have to admit that it's vanity that partly keeps me going, and keeps me from "cheating," because a lot of my own health improvements due to this crazy diet are in the realm of Things That Other People Might Notice.

First, some history, just to put everything in perspective...

Birth until 2010:

--Consumed strict lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, with two years of veganism as a teenager. Lots of soy, whole-grain starches, and vegetable oils, along with lots of veggies and fruits and legumes and nuts.

--Had increasingly severe symptoms of hypoglycemia as a child, worsening in adolescence and early adulthood. Sometimes I felt like I might faint if I didn't eat Right Now, which required eating many times per day (at least every two hours).

--In my 2011 GAPS update, I wrote: "…For as long as I can remember, I've listened to people yammer and joke and discuss the weaknesses of Females, as noted by the crazy behaviors they display during their Monthly Cycles. As a youthful feminist, I used to bristle and say, Hey! Watch Your Chauvinistic Mouth--These are Qualities to Be Understood and Appreciated! Now, I bristle because people accept that these symptoms are Normal to such an extent that it's uncommon that you meet a woman who _doesn't_ suffer from cyclical symptoms, ranging from annoying to debilitating. Record numbers of young girls are being put on synthetic hormones (birth control pills) to deal with these issues. Many women take serious drugs to try to ameliorate the pain and misery. And this just doesn't make sense: why would humans have evolved so that one of every two in the species would be fully or semi-incapacitated for one or more days each month?? (That women used to get pregnant early and often does not answer this question to my satisfaction, because there's actually quite a bit of evidence that humans have been practicing intentional child spacing for a REALLY long time, meaning that women did indeed have long stretches during which they had many menstrual cycles.)"

Anyway, my symptoms. Ever since I started getting my period at around age 14, I experienced:
--Heavy periods that lasted for five days.
--Extremely irregular and usually long (35-45 days) cycles.
--Irregular luteal phases ranging from 7-14 days.
--Moodiness/PMS/Cyclical anxiety/depression before my period, and skin breakouts.
--Anxious depression and sometimes severe abdominal pain around ovulation.
--Lower-than-normal basal body temperatures.
--Often, a temporary temperature drop after ovulation.
--And, really really really awful, debilitating period cramps, which were worse than childbirth since no babies arrived as a reward, and the pains came back month after month.

--"Needed lots of sleep" (about 10 hours per night).

--Severe post-partum-depression after Ben's birth (2004), including two years of undiagnosed pelvic pain, breastfeeding issues (pain, oversupply), "vulvodynia," exhaustion.

--Less-intense post-partum-depression after Jem's birth (2008), although I had some strange gastro symptoms, and some exhaustion (but less severe). I experienced various soft-tissue/muscular problems that were acutely painful and slow-to-resolve after both births.

--Based on a bit of googling, I could self-diagnose myself as having been “estrogen dominant,” or suffering from either excess estrogen, too little progesterone, or both. The one hormonal symptom I definitely didn't suffer from: infertility.


Spring 2010: We Started GAPS

--My hypoglycemia got a LOT better.

--My monthly bleeding shortened from five days to 2-3, was much lighter and less "clumpy," my cycle shortened from 35-45 to 28-30 days, and my basal body temps became both more even and 1 degree higher overall (even though they were still about 1 degree lower than normal).

--My depression/anxiety got WAY way way better, and my PMS pretty much disappeared.

--I only needed 7-8 hours of sleep, the rest was better and more sound, and I woke up feeling great, with lots of energy to take a walk before everyone else got up...

...despite the absolute and complete craziness that we were plunging into, with Ben's anorexic symptoms et al, that (we didn't know then) would take over a year to fully resolve, and his tantrums, which would take over two years to subside.

I can now see, what with the stunning accuracy of hindsight and all, exactly the ways that I neglected to notice the buildup of chronic stress in our family life. And yet, I didn't have much chance to take stock and practice stress-reduction at the time, because I could _finally_ see a way we might heal Ben, and it felt like both his and my future depended in large part on whether we could succeed at least partway in healing him, and because the whole thing (Life!) was all SO crazy and chaotic and complicated and all-consuming. And there was nobody stepping forward to implement this protocol for Ben, besides Jeff and me, and something had to be done absolutely immediately. This stress played a huge role in Last Winter's Adventures ; I sometimes wonder if I could have gone for as long as I did without cracking if I had been existing in my previous hypoglycemic, vegetarian state. This will forever remain an unresolved question...


Spring 2013 - Here's what I eat now:

--Soups and Stews made with bone broth, veggies, meats, soft tissues/cartilage/etc.

--Lots of (exclusively non-starchy, so all but parsnips, potatoes, and sweet potatoes/yams) veggies, cooked, raw, especially fermented, and occasionally juiced. (I made us green juice every day, for a year and a half, but it turns out that I don't do that anymore. I still think it's a really important, and gentle way, to chelate heavy metals, etc.--but right now I am definitely taking a break from juicing.) I love salad, and feel like it's a Great Thing for Me, but interestingly, raw vegetables in all but juiced and fermented states do not do good things for the rest of the family.

--Lots of long-fermented raw dairy yogurt and kefir and butter, and some raw cream, and occasionally, raw cheese. I recently took a two-month break from dairy to see if it would help Eliza's reflux, but it didn't seem to--and my nails got all brittle and white-spotty, and I felt like I was somehow lacking…in nutrients? Fat? I don't know. I feel better eating it again, and my nails already seem to be breaking less.

--About 1 serving or less of fruit per day, eaten with ferments; occasional garnishes of soaked nuts.

--Meats and fish of every type we can find, and I'm still trying to increase my consumption of organ meats.

--Eggs from our chickens, several every day (I try to eat many of the yolks still-runny).

--I currently eat a tiny bit (about 1 tsp.) of honey on some days, and after all these years of not eating fruit/honey/etc., I am also having fun with occasional coconut-based "baked goods." I still feel strongly that these items should not be used to recreate the Standard American Diet, or even consumed daily, but I am aware of this wide world out there, and sometimes greatly desire to bake blueberry muffins.

--Raw liver, once per week or so.

--Fermented cod liver oil as a supplemental source of Vitamins D and A, etc.

--And...I eat incredibly large quantities of fat, probably many tablespoons per meal. I don't cook with any vegetable oil at all besides coconut (and I try to eat extra coconut oil every day); I eat as much animal fat as I can; and I use olive oil as a dressing (unheated).


And now…
Here are large and small reasons why _I_ plan to keep on eating this way (besides the obvious, which is that I never want to go back to living with Ben the way he was, prior to implementing this diet):

--My hair seems to be thicker than it used to be, and less wispy. I also don't need shampoo anymore--just regular rinsing and an occasionally a baking soda scrub.

--Another fantastic improvement in my health: I no longer reek terribly. I used to think that I had unlucky genetics in the Body Odor department, and since I tried every kind of "natural" deodorant out there with no success, and I didn't want to coat my underarms with aluminum…well, I pretty much gave up on ever not stinking. And then, after about a year of GAPS, I noticed that I was stinking slightly less. And then I discovered that I could dab on a pinhead-sized amount of baking-soda-with-coconut-oil paste…and that I could then sometimes go through an entire hot summer day without grossing myself out! Now you know: I can be superficial, vain, and possibly vapid, when you get right down to it--this health improvement is something that truly tops my gratitude list! But seriously, my new, less-stinky existence is a self-esteem boost, and (I hope) pleasanter for those around me. And we live in a somewhat superficial, vain, and possibly vapid culture, so you'll have to let me enjoy these small pleasures.)

--My teeth and gums still maintain their slight but definite improvements, although I tend to grind my teeth more when I get waked up multiple times per night, so my jaw isn't feeling fantastic right now. In general, my gums are slightly less recessive, and my teeth shift around less and feel more solidly rooted (mostly as determined by how much food gets stuck between them after meals).

--The persistent toenail fungus that I've had since childhood is gradually clearing up--a toenail that has ALWAYS grown in two pieces now mostly grows as a single unit.

--After having Ben, it seemed like I got sick every month or so--sometimes severely and for weeks on end, other times just an annoying cold. On GAPS, I have had only five or six mild illnesses (the worst of which were quite recent, and I'm honestly surprised I didn't come down with something worse, considering sleep deprivation- and otherwise-induced levels of stress). I'm crossing my fingers on this.

--For a long time, every winter I would get the driest, sandpaperiest skin ever, especially on my hands. This has continued to come and go over the past years, but mostly it's gone, even with no moisturizer. I suspect this may have to do with thyroid/metabolic issues/STRESS: my heel callouses nearly disappeared at the beginning of GAPS also, reappeared during the past year, and are now gradually going away again. My lips are much less dry than they used to be, as gauged by my less frequent need to apply lip balm. I get a LOT fewer herpes cold sores on my lips since GAPS (only one or two in the past three years).

--My eyes are still much less dry, as gauged by contact lense comfort. I used to be able to wear my lenses for an average of 8-10 hours before I'd have to remove them. Now (even though I try not to wear them this long), I can comfortably wear them for twelve hours or longer.

--At the beginning of GAPS, I got these interesting patches of darker skin (mostly on my arms) that seemed to come and stay for awhile before disappearing--like bruises that didn't hurt. Then they stopped--plus, my facial pimples cleared up, and my skin, with few exceptions, has been clearer ever since. I wonder, although I have not delved into researching it, about iron storage disorders...

--I am much less thirsty than I used to be, prior to GAPS. Since Eliza was born, and I have been lactating again, I'm definitely drinking more, but it's still not like how I used to be, needing to bring water everywhere I go.

--My digestion is WAY way way better. I never even thought it was bad before, either. But man, I used to be a farting machine, and I thought this was normal! Except that now I know that it doesn't have to be, because I no longer contribute so much methane to my immediate atmosphere, and I only really notice any flatulence when I experiment with GAPS-legal beans, or eat more than a couple of nuts.

--Before GAPS, I craved fruit and other sugary items like mad. I "solved" this problem by not keeping certain food items in the house if I didn't want myself to eat them, but it _didn't_ solve the craving part, which led a fairly addictive existence (non-drinking alcoholics must feel slightly similar), cravings always at the edge of my conscious appetite. I can honestly say that eliminating fruit, honey, and other sweet things effectively got rid of this loathsome feeling of bad-for-me Desire. I eat a small amount of fruit/honey now, and the times when I crave sweetness are almost always during times of stress, when old habits (eating out of boredom, and because I'm in the kitchen cooking anyway and "deserve" a reward) die hard. But the nicest glimmer of hope is that, after three years of starting to eat meat (the single most stressful event of my life to date), I am beginning to have faint bouts of dietary intuition, and a little bit more trust that when I desire salmon, or fatty beef, or carrot and lemon salad, or sardines, or a mango, that I can TRUST my desires.

--For the first two years of GAPS, I slept much better than I had in a looooong time. For many years, I had blamed my chronic exhaustion on my children's wakefulness, but now I think this was only part of the picture (especially because they were never nearly as wakeful as Eliza is now). For the past year, I have slept exceptionally horribly, but this is due to circumstances waaaaay out of my control, as I've discussed at length, and while the epigenetic factors involved in Eliza's issues probably bear further discussion, I will skip that for now). Point is, back when I "required" 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, I would have been utterly incapacitated by my current sleep levels, rather than merely Completely Exhausted.

--While eating this way, I have navigated the three most stressful years of my life to date. Again, it's impossible to know whether I could have made it through as a vegetarian, but I am inclined to believe that it would have been harder if I was still dealing with hourly bouts of hypoglycemia.

--After a year of GAPS, I noted that I felt increased athletic stamina, less soreness after exercising, and seemingly greater cardiovascular capacity. Over the past year, however, I have done less exercising than ever before in my life, due to stressors previously described. It may be that my formerly athletic inclinations have been channeled into Dealing With Stress and Lack of Sleep; it may be that I'm dealing with these things better than I would have Before. It also may be that I am heading for an Early Death Due to Sleep Deprivation Coupled with Not Exercising--one can never tell with these things. I'll have to report back in a few more years.

--About a year into GAPS, as general stress due to Ben's challenges was piling up, etc., I got constipated for the first time ever in my life. I suspect this has to do with stress hormones/thyroid/adrenal stuff, because the constipation totally resolved during pregnancy. And although it came back somewhat after Eliza was born, pooping is gradually improving now as various other stressors decline. (I am heartily glad for this, because I got freaking tired of enemas!) Incidentally, constipation has so incredibly much less to do with fiber consumption than everyone is always talking about--if a person is stressed out and/or has other negative things to deal with in their guts, pooping is impacted for sure. And don't get me started on the ways that our gut flora is the most impactful way to impact elimination...

--Before GAPS, I weighed between 130-135 pounds. I used to think that it was normal and inevitable for my “speedy metabolism” to make me feel starving if I hadn't eaten in two hours, and to have regular blood sugar crashes, and to crave sweets (and crave food in general), and to feel really Overfull and bloated after eating (due, I thought, to overeating). My jeans would fit me before breakfast, and then by the time breakfast was over, they would feel tight and I would look down at my "gross" belly with distaste. This happened after every meal, pretty much. Now, I continue to be amazed to report, I can go many hours between meals and maintain an even keel. I rarely have hypoglycemic “attacks” during which I feel as though the world might end if I don't eat IMMEDIATELY. I rarely feel tempted to overeat (except when I'm not hungry but just want to Comfort Eat), because my body easily stops when I'm full, as long as my meals are fatty enough. I used to think I had an eating disorder, when I had those feelings of not being able to stop eating. Now, if it's even possible, I feel like my body image has improved on GAPS (healthier levels of neurotransmitters?? Who knows). Either way, incidentally, after having eaten tons of fat for nearly three years now (and gestated and birthed another baby!), I weigh between 130-135 pounds. And my jeans almost always fit, unless I've eaten lentils or more than a couple of nuts.

--Back after the first year of GAPS, I noted that "I am much, much less depressed. I wasn't always depressed before, or even chronically so, but the Black Cloud was definitely subject to descend, without warning, at nearly any point in my day, and not because of any particular life even, but just...Because. I can't pretend I'm Pollyanna now, but even despite the absolute craziness of this past year, complete with our super-challenging kid and his screaming fits et al, I am possibly happier (with fewer depressive episodes) than I have ever been." I'm thinking about the last year now, and wondering what to say…after having experienced my Breakthrough, and all the craziness that followed Eliza's birth. But you know what? Despite the craziness, and despite Ben's continuing issues, and despite Eliza's super-challenging-feeding and bad-sleeping, and despite the breakthrough last winter…I would say that I'm still steadier and less-depressed, on average, than I was before GAPS. Especially when you consider all the stress… I'll have to report back again in another few years with more data.

--My "vulvodynia" is gone--more specifically, I no longer have searing pain Down There. (The vulvodynia diagnosis was the most ridiculous one I have ever received: "…a chronic pain syndrome that affects the vulvar area and often occurs without an identifiable cause or visible pathology." (Why thaaank you! And where in that description is something I couldn't figure out for myself?!) I healed very quickly after Eliza's birth (and had no tearing). Incidentally, pretty much everything else in that realm is now fine and dandy. :)


I have not had a whole lot of menstruation happening lately, but prior to getting pregnant with Eliza, there were marked changes to my monthly cycle:

--My basal body temperature was, on average, nearly a full degree higher than it was before.
--My luteal phases seemed to be stabilizing and lengthening (more like 13 days than 9).
--I had several cycles of 27-28 days (before GAPS, I only once in my life had a cycle that short).
--My cramps were WAY better, and I had some periods that were entirely pain-free--so much so that I could actually exercise during them.
--My cyclical skin breakouts, with few exceptions, got much less noticeable.
--I was bleeding for two full days fewer each month (a total of 3 rather than 5), with less clotting and less blood overall.
--I was getting _much_ less PMS, although I was experiencing a mid-cycle bout of pain and moodiness in the six or so cycles leading up to my pregnancy with Eliza.


"And there you have it"--as I wrote two years ago--"all you ever wanted to know about my health, and then some. But if you're still reading, I hope you're as fascinated by all this as I am, and I hope you'll share your stories as well, if and when you are moved. The more we talk about taboo topics like these, the closer we might get to a collective understanding of What's Going On in our bodies, and how we can help them be as healthy and thriving as possible…"


Okay, laundry-washing time, and Eliza is done with me typing.