Nikki Bergen

Belle Talk

How to Sleep Better

By: Nikki   ,

The following is a guest post by Belle Nutritionist Laura De Sanctis who has learned firsthand how to improve sleep for better health, digestion and vitality. Mom was right – sleep is the best beauty medicine too! Thanks Laura! 

Counting Sheep?  Here’s how to fix it

 

Feeling exhausted and frustrated because you can’t get some shut eye? Have you lost track as to how many sheep you’ve counted over the week?  I know many people turn to an over-the-counter sleep aid or even medication to help fall asleep.  During stressful events in my life, especially when studying for exams in university, I also turned to over-the-counter sleep aids. Upon waking I found I had severe brain fog (similar to what happens when I eat gluten) and was slow to start my day.

When it comes to lack of sleep and insomnia, one of the biggest issues we overlook is determining what the root of the problem is. While an over-the-counter sleep aid is a band-aid solution, dealing with insomnia or sleeplessness (the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep) can be what’s ailing you, and can be a culprit to weight gain.

Sleep is necessary for hormone balancing, cellular rejuvenation, stress management and brain health.  Ideally, health and wellness practitioners suggest getting seven to nine hours of sleep.  Anything less will interrupt your sleep cycle and imbalance your hormones.  Lack of sleep can also inhibit your body’s efficiency to rest, repair and eliminate wastes.

As a holistic nutritionist, I strive to treat the problem not the symptom.  I recommend my clients re-set their sleep patterns.  If you feel you are experiencing sleepless nights, assess how you are feeling.  Increased levels of  pain, anxiety, stimulants and your bedroom environment can be major culprits. Stress (high levels of the hormone cortisol), depression, hypoglycemia and sleep apnea (interrupted breathing) can also lead to insomnia.

To help get a better night’s sleep, and have a relaxed and restful night, try incorporating these tips:

1.Exercise early into your day.  This helps give you an outlet to release tension and running thoughts that are going through your mind.  Plus it also releases endorphins, so you can mellow out your nerves and anxiety.  A great way to incorporate exercise into your day is trying an early morning Pilates or Yoga class.

2. Avoid coffee and stimulants.  Learn to wean yourself off of coffee, caffeinated beverages and sugar. These are big NO-NOs.  Change your habit of drinking warm coffee or tea in the morning by substituting it with warm water and lemon. You’ll feel better and have a little mini cleanse every morning.  Now that’s a win-win!

3. Don’t drink and eat a big meal late a night.  Alcohol combined with a big meal late and night may initially make you feel bloated, stuffed like a turkey and sleepy. Plus it leads to indigestion or heart burn (even weight gain) and can cause you to wake up during the night.

4. Reduce your exposure to electronics – including laptops and your cell phone before bed.  Exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) can lead to sleepless nights.  Instead, make it a habit to shut off all electronics and unwind at least an hour before bed.

5. Add a few drops of organic lavender oil to your pillow before bed.

6. Create a wind-down routine at night, so your body has a natural rhythm.

7. Try a few yoga poses in the evening like viparita karani pose (legs up the wall). Place your gluts right up against the wall with a rolled up towel or pillow behind your lower back. This will slow down your heart rate and calm your nervous system. 

8. Meditate.  Close your eyes and sit in stillness for a few minutes before going to bed. Download the Headspace app for free easy guided meditations.

9. Do a brain dump.  Got so many thoughts, ideas and feelings going through your head? Write it all out on a piece of paper or notebook then go to bed.  Upon waking, look at the notebook.

10. Try taking a Magnesium supplement at night. Magnesium is a natural relaxant and tranquilizer.  It relaxes skeletal muscles and smooth muscles of the blood vessels and GI tract. A recommended dosage per day ranges from 310 – 400 mg.

Assess your diet and sleep patterns.  Do you usually eat your meals late at night? Do you frequently have coffee and or other stimulants mid to late day?  Do you wake up every night at the same time?  Track your patterns for a week or two.  You may be surprised at what culprits in your diet and lifestyle can be preventing you from getting better sleep.

Did these simple sleep strategies work for you? Sweet dreams!

 

Our Struggle With Infertility: Part 1

By: Nikki   ,

This might be the most personal I’ve ever gotten online. I can remember shaking with nerves when this video interview was first posted to YouTube. See, I’m supposed to be the one inspiring others with health and wellness – sharing pictures of perfect kale smoothies and video tips on how to get strong flat abs. I never imagined I’d be posting Instagram selfies in pre-surgery hospital scrubs and a video interview with a psychologist about the very real struggles with infertility.

But here we are.

We are in the middle of our first IVF cycle after three failed IUI cycles, one miscarriage and almost 2 years trying to conceive. Through this journey I have met so many women who have also walked this path – some for as long as a decade. And they are still resilient, positive and hopeful at one day growing their families.  If this journey has taught me anything, it is the breathtaking strength of women and the powerful community that forms when we open up and share our most vulnerable moments with each other.  These women are my inspiration and give me strength to keep going.

The fact is, no matter how much acupuncture you do, or how pristine your paleo/gluten/dairy-free organic diet is, or how many Naturopath recommended supplements you take – infertility still happens. Miscarriages still happen.

There should be NO shame in this. But it still exists. Women often don’t openly share their struggles precisely because of this outrageous notion that they’ve done something wrong to deserve it – that they are somehow inadequate. Shame around this topic breeds silence, and silence is so, so isolating for the 1 in 8 couples experiencing infertility.

The fact is, women’s bodies bear the double burden of invasive medical interventions and society’s judgement when it comes to infertility, regardless of the cause. I’m sharing my story to let others know they are not alone. There is no more room for shame in this conversation of infertility.

Please watch part 1 of this conversation as I talk about the struggle of infertility with my friend, psychologist Dr. Stacy Thomas 

 

When Breastfeeding is a Struggle

By: Nikki   , , ,

The following is a piece written by long time Belle student Julie Holder. Julie first joined our BelleFusion Pilates classes about 5 years ago, switching to the Bump Prenatal classes when she became pregnant after several years of trying to conceive. I’m thrilled to say that she welcomed a beautiful baby boy 5 months ago! Julie is an incredibly warm, caring person (not to mention an incredible fashion designer – she might be the coolest, most creative chick I know!) She is bravely sharing her story of breastfeeding struggles. Julie, you are awesome. Thank you for helping so many other women know that they are NOT alone. 

WHEN BOOBS BECOME FOOD

I sat awake the night our baby was born, staring at him with amazement. Our birthing story was one of ease. We were lucky to birth him at home with a smooth and relatively short labour. In the 9 months of being pregnant I learned from friends and even strangers what I thought was every detail surrounding pregnancy and birth. I learned that if you play music they can hear it. I learned that the weekly size of the fetus can be compared to fruit. This makes zero sense really. How can a baby be the size of a leek? I learned about the hospital bag essentials. Particularly how embarrassing it can be to run into your partner’s friend while stocking up on adult diapers for said bag. I learned about the love you can feel for something that is only the size of a peppercorn yet has a heartbeat. And most importantly I learned that no, wearing spanks during pregnancy can not harm the baby. We had waited for this baby for over four years but, while being no stranger to hard work, I wasn’t prepared for the struggles that came after the ring of fire.

Following the birth, the midwives tucked us into bed and snuck off into the night leaving us with this new human staring back at us–his big blue eyes channeling the plant in The Little Shop of Horrors saying “Feed me Seymour”. The next day during our visit from the midwife she told us our baby had a tongue tie which needed to be released so that he could feed properly. The earliest appointment for this was a month out. Although he was already precious, patient and calm, I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to be understanding about waiting a month to eat. So we attempted to figure out this feeding thing while our midwife stood overhead until her phone rang and she rushed to the many other babies waiting to be birthed. We struggled for the next few days through nipple shields, hospital–grade breast pumps, numerous books, cracked nipples, bottles, two types of formula, lots of tears and many hours of what I have learned to be the biggest new mother no no….the dreaded deep hole of the internet…Google.

Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 9.08.08 PM

Photo cred: @SummerandStorm

I am pretty sure I have read every possible website advocating how wonderful breastfeeding is with supporting glamorous Instagram photos of women sipping heart-shaped foam lattes while casually feeding their babies with hashtags sporting “#the breast is best”. I sat sobbing in a sports bra with holes cut out so I could pump hands free. This was far from the images on my Pinterest board of half–naked women feeding their babies on beaches displaying what we are told our bodies are naturally made to do. It was during this time that I wished I had spent even just a little bit of time prepping for this so I didn’t feel so absolutely helpless.

What I now realize is the best thing to come out of my extensive research was the term Lactation Consultant. I called the first number my close friend Google gave me, Lynda Kirby. The voice on the other end of the phone was so magical that for the first time I felt relaxed knowing that my boobs would be in good hands, literally. Lynda arrived at our door with a bag full of tricks including a doll she used to show different breastfeeding positions whose name is Flow…get it?! I loved that she found humour in something which seemed so painful at the time. She came over almost every day for the next three weeks for what she called Booby Camp. The power sessions involved football holds, tubes, cups, bruised boobs, more and more tears but most importantly emotional support. Lynda amazed me with her selflessness and dedication to her work of helping others. Her compassion and warmth are something I think about daily. I thought back to our struggles to conceive him and how I never thought we would be able to make him. I told myself that as with those struggles, this too shall pass and that like all worthwhile things in life, they take practice and perseverance. It was with her support and the hard work of all of us that we made tiny baby steps each day to perfect the delicate dance of breastfeeding. Each day we lay together for hours, baby and I, making small progress until one day everything fell into place and he lay sucking away happily while I rubbed his feet as smooth as silk.

While breastfeeding isn’t everyone’s choice, and sometimes not possible at all – we must do what works for us in this crazy world of new parenting. What I pictured to be the most natural thing in the world didn’t start off that way. However, with help and perseverance it has paid off in the form of a chubby boob-loving baby who enjoys spending his days at the cafe eating while his mom sips her heart-shaped foam latte dropping croissant crumbs into his hair.

10 Tips for Better Gut Health

By: Nikki   , ,

I started struggling with digestion in my late-twenties, and it finally got to a point that I could no longer accept a diagnosis of IBS as good enough. The bloat was horrible, my skin was breaking out and I lacked energy and vitality. There didn’t seem to be any answers, and I was eating “so clean”: spinach smoothies, veggie stir fries, protein bars and lots of hard boiled eggs. Turns out, there is a lot to know about gut health, and I had to learn what to eat and how to heal my inflamed tummy after years of consuming “healthy” foods that my body couldn’t properly digest. The following is written by Belle Holistic Nutritionist Laura De Sanctis, a true expert on this topic who has helped so many people reclaim their gut health. Thank you Laura! 
digestive health - photo via tumblr
Restoring balance to your body takes time, but with a clean diet and proper supplementation, you can dramatically improve your digestive system.  It is important to remember that if we are unable to digest and absorb fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, poor health will definitely follow.  From an energetic standpoint, if we are unable to digest our food, our reality on the outside, then we are unable to digest our reality on the inside.
As a Digestive Health Coach and Holistic Nutritionist, I’ve met so many women who struggle with IBS, Crohn’s disease, constipation, excessive gas, heartburn and reflux.  While there is no quick fix for curing these issues, there are several holistic remedies that can help heal your gut.
Through years of struggling with IBS, I’ve found that changes to both my lifestyle and food choices worked in synergy to help me heal.
Below are my top 10 tips to help keep your gut in good health:
  1. First thing in the morning, drink at least 8 oz of warm water with lemon juice in the morning.  This allows the liver to begin dumping toxins accumulated during the night and will help produce a bowel movement in the morning.
  2. Eat breakfast 20-30 minutes after drinking lemon water.
  3. Incorporate 1 tbsp of Omega 3, flax seed or borage oil in your morning smoothie or shake.  Oils help lubricate the colon, heart and joints.  They also help reduce inflammation in the body.
  4. Take a probiotic!  Multiple strains of probiotics help restore proper micro-flora in the small intestine.
  5. Avoid eating raw foods, as they are hard for the body to breakdown, and can lead to excess gas and bloating.
  6. Drink water at least 20 minutes before a meal, and again 1 hour after a meal.  I caution my clients to avoid drinking with their food, to prevent them from diluting digestive enzymes which are needed to breakdown food.
  7. Avoid sugar and high glycemic foods as these foods are nutrient void, raise blood sugar and cause inflammation.
  8. Drink a minimum of 2-3 litres of water a day!  Add a few tablespoons of liquid chlorophyll, lemon or cucumber to your water. This will help alkalize yoru body, cleanse your body of toxins and reduce acidity in your body.
  9.  Follow proper food combining rules.  A good rule of thumb is to remember that vegetables and salads should be eaten with meats, or vegetables and salads should be eaten with carbohydrates.
  10. Get a food allergy/food sensitivity test.  We are usually allergic to the foods we constantly crave.  In Energy Medicine, and in many spiritual healing modalities, food allergies are connected to fear, while food intolerances are connected to judgement or inadequacy.  Food allergies and food sensitives contribute to many diseases including high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease and hypertension.  Known as “silent inflammation,” food allergies and food intolerances can damage your immune system.
Eating clean, wholesome foods, managing stress, exercising and embodying a powerful mind-body connection will help lead you to a path of gut bliss. Be mindful of what you eat,  how you eat and take the time to chew your food.  Savor every bite – as you truly are what you eat.  Most importantly,  extend gratitude and kindness to yourself.  Be kind to your body and be kind to your gut.
xoxo

How Prenatal Pilates Empowers Women

By: Nikki   , ,

When I took my doula certification course several years ago, we learned about the pain-fear-tension cycle during child birth. This is hugely powerful concept that illustrates the spiral that can happen when women experience fear surrounding birth.  For most of our lives, we have been bombarded with negative stories of other women’s birth experiences and seen dramatic depictions in movies and on television. We have been conditioned to believe that excruciating pain is associated with labour; and because of this, most women I know fear giving birth. This fear can create a cycle of increased tension and pain. fear-tension-pain-cycle

Here’s how it works: Fear creates muscle tension, and tension increases perceived levels of pain, which of course leads to more fear.  This creates a cycle that inhibits the body from performing a normal physiological function.  The result is exactly what’s feared most – long, painful birthing or unnecessary intervention.

Fear comes from both misinformation and the unknown – from cultural myths and questions never asked.  Knowledge is power, and feeling powerful will reduce feelings of fear. Prenatal Pilates is an opportunity for women to receive the knowledge they need. They’ll learn how to trust in themselves and their bodies so they are prepared no matter what happens during their birth. Here’s a little bit of what we cover in The Bump Method Prenatal Pilates classes, both in person and on video. 

Posture: learning how to position your body during pregnancy to reduce back and hip pain. Tip: ensure your pelvis is stacked under your rib cage instead of thrusted forward (very common as your growing belly can pull you out of good posture).

Breathing: learning how to connect your exhale to the contraction of your pelvic floor and your inhale to the release of your pelvic floor. The inhale is key for the pushing stage of labour. Tip: picture your pelvic floor gently dropping and opening as you inhale into your diaphragm, then initiate the push at the very end of your inhale.

Birth Positions: learning the best body movements and poses for encouraging the baby to descend during labour and delivery. Tip: being on hands and knees and gently rocking OR using 2 pool noodles ( yes, pool noodles) vertically under each of your pelvic bones while seated can be a good for helping baby get “unstuck” and descend into the birth canal.

Diastasis Recti: learning how to avoid separated or “over-stretched” abs from pregnancy. Tip: avoid positions in your pregnancy and postpartum that will increase pressure in your abdomen. So no planks, crunches, or even curling up as you get out of bed. Roll onto your side first. If you see a ridge or dome pop up in your tummy during certain movements, that’s a sign your abs are stretching apart and you should get out of that position asap. Instead, learn to prevent diastasis recti through targeted “belly pumps” that work your pelvic floor and core at the same time, minimizing the pressure on your abdominal wall.

Bump Method Prenatal Pilates

Pregnancy and birth is the ultimate act of surrender. Surrendering to the unknown can be a pretty scary thing for most of us, but arming yourself with knowledge, support and a caring community of women is a sure fire way of making the journey more comfortable. You are never, ever alone!

xoxo

 

Healthy Hot Chocolate

By: Nikki   ,

Here’s a great little recipe compliments of Belle Nutritionist Laura De Sanctis! 
Cold weather in Toronto got you craving hot chocolate?  When the weather gets cold and it’s a snow storm outside (think #snowTO), nothing feels better than curling up with some hot “healthy” cocoa, staying inside and watching Netflix.
Instead of having a conventional hot chocolate made with cow’s milk, here’s a healthy alternative that won’t make you feel guilty, bloated or gassy, especially for the lactose intolerant people. I promise!healthy-hot-chocolate-photo-2-via-tumblr
Ingredients
1 cup of unsweetened almond milk
1 tsp of maca powder
1/2 tsp of ground chia seeds (optional)
2 tbsp of cacao powder
1-2 tsp of coconut sugar
Directions
Heat up almond milk and bring to a boil.
Pour almond milk in a cup, stir in maca powder, cacao powder and coconut sugar.
Enjoy!
Nutritional tip – Maca powder is a healthy root grown in Peru.  It helps boost energy and balances hormones. Also, try making your own almond milk, free of nasty additives like carrageenan. It’s easier and cheaper than you think. Here’s a homemade all natural almond milk recipe to try! 
*I’ve also swapped out conventional white sugar (simple sugar) for coconut sugar, which is low on the glycemic index – meaning it won’t create such a high spike in blood sugar. This keeps insulin levels stable, which is key for a healthy metabolism and weight.
Stay warm out there! For more info on Belle Nutrition programs, click here! 

The Only New Year’s Resolution You Need to Keep

By: Nikki   ,

‘Tis the season of starting fresh, seeking motivation and getting pumped up by phrases like “New Year, New You!” The majority of us have New Year’s resolutions for 2017 – whether or not we actually write them down or say them out loud.

I’m a big fan of goal setting, and do honestly believe in the power of writing down your intentions for the year ahead. That said, the past year taught me that even the most organized of plans can go awry.  Some things are truly beyond our control. We cannot control all our circumstances, but we can decide how we react.  Instead of looking back at 2016 feeling defeated or doubting in our ability – remember this: embrace resistance.

That’s it. The only New Year’s resolution you need to keep is a promise to yourself that you will embrace resistance, you will keep moving, you will start on your journey and continue to push through those difficult moments when you’d probably prefer to throw up your hands and crawl back into bed.

Because resistance is normal. It does not mean you have failed, or are destined to fail. Because the hardest part of any new project is getting started. The energy is takes to set a big boulder in motion is massive. Once that boulder picks up speed and starts rolling along – life gets much lighter. So remember, when you’re pushing hard against something that feels like it won’t budge – embrace resistance. It won’t always be as difficult as it is in the beginning. You’re making progress, even if you can’t see it right away.

girl power...it was rolling down the hill, she stopped it, I grabbed the camera, what can I say?

There is no perfect set of circumstances waiting for you.  There is no perfect time. You already have everything you need to start. The pursuit of perfection is a big fat lie we tell ourselves when we are afraid to take a risk.

The process of growth, it seems, is the process of falling down. Growth is measured by the gentleness and awareness with which we pick ourselves back up, the lightness with which we dust ourselves off and the openness with which continue to take the next unknown step, beyond our edge.

Wishing you a 2017 filled with health, light, love, and truly powerful growth.  We are in this together!New Year

Why You Should Make a Vision Board

By: Nikki   , ,

The following is a guest post written by Holistic Nutritionist Laura De Sanctis who heads up Belle Nutrition, among many other amazing things! She’s getting personal talking about her experience of moving past self-doubt and manifesting the life of her dreams.  Starting with a vision board made a radical difference, and she explains how. Laura, you’re inspiring me to get my bristol board, scissors and glue and make this happen! 

 

Heart-to-heart I want to share something with you. I used to really struggle with holding a vision of what I wanted. I tried meditating, I tried writing things down (although I wasn’t diligent), I tried holding a vision of myself, but felt there was a constant battle in my head. During this time, my inner circle doubted me and never acknowledged my small wins.  On top of that, I used to have a lot of self-doubt and negative self-talk.  When things didn’t go my way, I used to wallow in the sadness.  Trust me, wallowing and feeling sorry for yourself won’t get you anywhere – especially if you have a specific vision of what you want and what goal(s) you have in mind.

I kept making excuses as to why I wasn’t reaching my goals and visions. I even remember making an excuse to myself saying I didn’t have time to make a vision board of what I wanted (how crazy is that?).  When things weren’t going my way, and I began to see these negative patterns develop over and over again, I realized I had to switch my mind-set.  I had to change my story, ditch the negative friends and circle, and stop focusing on all the things that were wrong or could go wrong.  I needed to be my own cheerleader and step it up.

I began to realize that I had to shift my focus.  I had to adjust my attitude.  I believe in the Law of Attraction and as an Energy Medicine practitioner and holistic nutritionist, I also believe the Universe is always listening.  Knowing this, I had to make some real hard changes, but I had to shift my focus.  Sure things didn’t happen over night, but I really delved deep into personal development, creating a vision of my ideal life, creating my vision board, and reading the likes of Napolean Hill, Bob Proctor, Tony Robbins  and Leanne Jacobs- all my favs!

vision-board-image-image-via-adenorah

*photo courtesy of Adenorah

I realized, if I really wanted something bad enough, I had to eliminate the b.s. excuses I kept telling myself, put in the effort and work for it. Creating a vision board was just a baby step as to how I put in the effort, but it was and still is my daily reminder and declaration to the universe as to what I wanted.  It’s my reminder of what’s my why and how I want my future. Creating my vision board was a small action step that reminded me every day as to why I should strive to reach my goals, no matter how tough it gets some days.

I encourage my clients to create a health and wellness vision board for themselves.  It helps them stay on track, establish healthy eating habits and acts as a daily reminder to shift their focus, especially when fear and negativity creeps up on them.

Here are my top reasons as to why everyone should have a vision board:

1. Seeing your vision helps lead you to the path to create what you want.

2. It acts as a daily reminder to reconnect and reestablish your WHY.

3. In the process of creating your vision board, it helps you get super clear on what you want and declares to the universe what you want.

4. It can lead you on a path to create meaningful change in your life.

5. You can have a dream big or small – and your vision board can help deem yourself worthy of your dream.

6. These images, words and phrases represent what your life will be like when you step into your highest form of self.

Dedicate a day, or a week, looking at books, magazines and art for inspiration.  I love going to art galleries and museums and walking in nature to get inspiration. Cut out photos and images of inspirational quotes, foods, personalities and/or celebrities.  Focus on one thing you want in your life, like career, love or several areas of your life where you want abundance and positive growth.  It’s your vision board, so feel free to create your board with visions and dreams you want in your life.  Your vision board is your new story, where you include your inner most wants and desires.

Place your vision board in a prominent place and/or high traffic area that you see each day.  Some people keep their vision board in their bedroom or bathroom. I keep mine on my fridge, this way, if I’m ever tempted to eat something bad, the first thing I see is healthy food and a beach.

Creating a vision board is one helpful way to keep your health and wellness resolutions fresh in your mind and in check each and every day.  All you need is some magazines or a printer and some scissors, glue and bristle board. You can take the time to search online for specific images you want (Pinterest or Instagram are both helpful for inspiration) and add these images to your Bristol board.

I love working on vision boards and create one every year.  When people come over and they see my vision board on my fridge, it’s always a conversation starter. It’s nice to show people my visions, goals and what I aspire to be.

This year, take some time solo, invite your partner or your besties, and schedule in time to create your vision board.  Even better, make it a date night or small group activity. Remember, pictures and images hold meaning, so take the time to select and surround yourself with images of who you want to be, what you want to have, where you want to live, or where you want to travel.  Choose images and photos that you are energetically pulled to.

Let’s cheers to new year filled with visions, goals and achieving your dreams!

xo

Laura

*Warning – creating a vision board may leave you with feelings of happiness, motivation and may even feel therapeutic. : )

Have you created a vision board?  If so, share with us your thoughts!

Connect with Laura on social media:

Twitter 

Instagram

Facebook

In a Heartbeat: A Story of Miscarriage

By: Nikki   ,

Originally published in Healthy Moms TO, By: Julie Persofsky

The following is a very personal post written by Belle student Julie. I am truly honoured and grateful to Julie for sharing her story of recent pregnancy loss. I hope this story may help start a more open dialogue about miscarriage – something that happens to about 25% of women, yet is a topic that remains covered in shame. Above all, I hope that this post will help women realize they are not alone, they have support, and that it is not their fault.

miscarriage

The news about the baby not having a heartbeat at the ultrasound clinic wasn’t a surprise. I had known something was wrong for a few weeks in my core.

I knew, as friends would tell me how good I looked, and I kept thinking, at 4 months pregnant I shouldn’t look this good. My belly should be bigger. When every woman recalled how big they got with their third child I just kept thinking, what’s wrong with me?  My husband and I would justify it. I was way more active in this pregnancy biking to work, doing Pilates twice a week. But, something still didn’t seem right.
When, at our 16-week appointment with my midwife we couldn’t get a clear sound of the baby’s heartbeat, we justified it. The placenta is in the front and muffling the sound. Leaving without hearing that quick beat left me feeling unsettled. And unsettled I felt until the morning of my 20-week ultrasound.

Maybe all the justifications were right and things were okay. So we went as planned, brought my two boys to the clinic so they could help see if the baby was a boy or a girl. I felt relief as the technician proceeded with the ultra sound. I figured the longer she did her thing, the greater chance everything was fine. She left and said she was going to get my husband.  I assumed she wanted to bring him in for the fun part.  But when the technician came back she was alone. She handed me the phone awkwardly and said my midwife needed to talk to me. And then I really knew.

My husband came in with the kids. As my midwife spoke to me through the phone, I repeated the words she said to me by mouthing then to my husband so my kids wouldn’t hear. “The baby has no heartbeat. There was a complication. Something about the brain. It hasn’t grown in weeks.”

I hung up the phone and had to explain to my kids why they wouldn’t be seeing their little brother or sister today. I wanted to just shut down and walk out of there and mark it as one of the worst days of my life. But then I looked at my little 5 year old and his tearful eyes as he asked in his sweet innocent voice “Why? What’s wrong?”
So I got out of my own head, bent down and looked him in the eye and said. “Charlie, we aren’t going to see the baby today. Growing a baby is really hard and lots of things can happen while the baby is growing and sometimes things go wrong and the baby dies.” His eyes opened wide and he said almost in a whisper “the baby is dead?”  “Yes” I nodded and gave him a big hug. My 3 year old was thankfully pretty oblivious to the situation couldn’t really grasp what was happening.
My 5 year old was not done yet and burst out “but that’s not fair. I wanted a sister!”  Holding back my desire to shout with him, in a calm slow voice I said “I did too, but if the baby was so sick, we wouldn’t have wanted him or her to be born sick and she or he wasn’t strong enough to make it into this world.”

At that moment I realized that having to explain this to my son was the most therapeutic thing I could have done. It forced me to think about the situation in rational and simple terms. It is sad. We don’t want this to happen. But, this is what nature intended and it wasn’t meant to be this time

“We are so lucky that you and Jack are strong and healthy boys. You may still get a sister but she needs to be healthy and strong enough to get big enough to grow. And this time it didn’t happen.”

I then said to Charlie “we are so lucky that you and Jack are strong and healthy boys. You may still get a sister but she needs to be healthy and strong enough to get big enough to grow. And this time it didn’t happen.”

And then we left the clinic. Distraught, confused, drained and disappointed.

We drove up to Charlie’s school. Despite the news, we thought, being in his routine would be best. Quickly pulling aside the teacher I let her know what had happened so that she could be considerate of his emotions that day and keep me in the loop.

And then the reality sunk in that I have to tell everyone. I was coming up on 20 weeks. Everyone knew and asked me about the pregnancy. This was going to be horrible having to tell all these people who have shared in my excitement for the past few weeks.  I ran out of the schoolyard and hid in the car. I did not want to see anyone else that morning. I needed to process this on my own.

I sent my family a few texts and said I didn’t want to talk. One family member who had gone through this said that he’d really like to talk if I was up for it. I called him immediately. Speaking to someone who knew what I was feeling was comforting, and helped me get clarity around the ‘what happens next’. He said “there are no words that help in this situation” and he couldn’t be more right.

A few hours later we spoke to the midwife and made a plan. I was going to have a D&C next week. “Could anything be done sooner before the weekend?” The following week was the earliest.

Jon and I decided to go on our pre-planned trip to New York. It was my birthday present that had been booked since August. We figured why be sad in Toronto when we can be distracted in one of my favourite cities.

In the back of my mind there was a constant worry I would go into labour and have to rush home. Every cramp, every time I went to the bathroom, I was nervous as to be in a situation that I didn’t want to be in. But we made it through the weekend slowly, carefully and being kind to ourselves.

New York turned out to be the perfect way to pass the weekend. We managed to find distraction in the bustle of the city and find an inner calm against the backdrop of the noise. We were able to feel some of the most intense emotions we have ever felt and talk about it. I wasn’t yet overwhelmed by sadness. I wasn’t grossed out by the dead baby still inside of me. It gave me more time to get ready to say goodbye in a way. Indulging at delicious restaurants, visiting ‘our’ spots, seeing a few friends.  Mostly though, we kept to ourselves. It felt as though we were in negative time, just passing moments until day 0 when we would actually get to deal with the situation and not just let time pass over us.

During this time, many people have said some incredible things to help me mourn, understand and stay appreciative and grateful. Jon said “To feel joy, you must experience sadness.”

My life is filled with moments of joy. Just saying the word conjures images of the most incredible moments and memories. And yet, now, there are also stabbing impulses of pure sadness that make me feel there is no light in this world. To feel joy, you must experience sadness. I will continue to remember the moments of joy while honouring the moments of sadness and the role they play in life.

Time to face reality. 

Hospitals have a way of turning everything emotional into a scientific process. It was the Monday after we returned from New York. Here were the facts. Here’s what we needed to know. What to do, what not to do, and when to show up. We went home to more waiting, and a lot of anxiety. I gave my kids extra long snuggles that night and never wanted to let them go.

Tuesday morning we got up quicker than usual. We both just wanted this to be over. The doctor asked if I had any questions. Of course I did. I was paralyzed. I couldn’t think of any. Another woman was waiting for the same thing. We smiled in compassion. I said “it looks like we are both here for one of the worst days of our lives”.

More waiting. Another visit from the surgery team, this time with my husband. I wanted to know more about the recovery process and what to expect. Could I have other children? It felt wrong asking that question. Selfish almost. I still had a dead child inside me and I was thinking about my next. I have two amazing kids at home why do I feel the need to have more?

Surgical rooms are nothing short of chaos. Everyone has their role, but to the quiet patient, it’s a whirlwind. I’m hooked up to monitors, and IV. A few deep breaths and then I was out …

My eyes slowly opened. I looked around, I was in recovery. It was over and suddenly I was swept with emotion. It was real. I would never hold this child. I was empty. The baby I was once growing inside me was gone as was the excitement and anticipation of meeting this child.

 It feels strange to mourn someone I’ve never met.

After the surgery, it’s time for the healing process to begin. It’s unknown territory. I know the devastation and overwhelming sadness that comes when someone you love dies. I know the feelings of mourning and talking about memories of the person. How they made you feel, different moments in time that you had together. But, this child never came to be. So how do I mourn? What do I remember? And where is this heavy sadness coming from?

There are two parts of this healing process, physical and emotional. The physical part is easy. But the emotional side is hidden, secretive, and if you don’t seek support on your own, you are left alone and in isolation. I reached out. I wrote to my friends and family, telling them what happened and tried to express my feelings, and letting them know that while I appreciated their support I wasn’t ready to talk about it.

Time does make it easier, but the pain remains. It hibernates. It latches on to a feeling or a thought and grows. I had a flashing thought that I failed at being a mother because my body couldn’t grow a child like it was supposed to. My sadness hung to that feeling for a while, but then let it go. It wasn’t true. My body did what it was supposed to do by not letting a sick child continue to grow.

I’m doing okay until a mom at my kids swim class is chatting with me and pulls a hair off my shoulder and says “sorry, you are shedding, but how is that possible, you are pregnant?” I couldn’t even speak, tears came and I said in the loudest voice I could muster, barely a whisper “not anymore”.

Women are superheroes in disguise.

Throughout this journey, some incredible people have shown up in ways that have been loving, supportive and wise. Especially women. And, so, so many had a similar story to share. They know the pain that I feel. They comfort me. These women are strong, compassionate and have moved forward with their lives. I know I will too.

The pain doesn’t end. I felt an incredible feeling of isolation and loneliness. I’m thankful to the amazing women who continued to be in touch in gentle ways, and understood I didn’t want to talk. I was about to embark on a journey of adding to my family, and now that’s gone, so please show me your love and that you are there for me over and over.

There has been unconditional love without any expectations.  People who dropped off food and left, met me and didn’t comment, didn’t push. Those who understood that I didn’t want to talk about nonsense, but didn’t want to belabour over my sadness, so we climbed up slides to the happy squeals of my son, gave me nanny advice and called doctors for me when I couldn’t. Notes saying, “no need to write back, but sending my love”. All of this made me feel that I had a community of people but I didn’t feel burdened or guilty by not responding.

This overwhelming feeling of gratitude for all that I have in my life has helped me through this time. I am thankful to those who built me up, reminding me that I am a strong woman and a wonderful mother. I needed to hear that. I am grateful for the trip to New York with my husband, and how it allowed us to grow closer together. We so often forget about the father, and this gave us time to explore our emotions and support one another. I am grateful for my son’s teacher who gave him extra kindness on that morning. I am even grateful for losing my voice as a side effect of the anesthesia. It forced me to choose my words carefully, calm down, and let others around me do things their way. And most of all, I am incredibly grateful for my two children whose innocence, big eyes, strong hugs, soft kisses, and boisterous laughter remind me of the joys in life.

There are still incredibly dark moments, especially in the middle of the night, when you wake up and the house is silent and the only thing moving is your mind and your thoughts at warp speed. These are the times of loneliness and pain that are hard to escape.

So hold onto the moments of joy and let them lift your sadness.

julie

Is Almond Milk a Scam?

By: Nikki  

Everyone seems to be on the non-dairy milk train right now.   Including yours truly.  I’ve had a hate-on for cows milk since 2003, when my first naturopath explained the results of a food sensitivity test, saying “cows milk is for baby cows, and your body can’t digest it since you’re not a baby cow.”  

You don’t say. Well, that stuck with me and since then I’ve preferred rice milk, hemp milk, soy milk, and now, my favourite of all: organic almond milk. We’re talking 3 cartons a week from Costco kind of love.  Smoothies, chia pudding, baking, granola topper, coffee creamer; almond milk  is used for it all in our house.

I’ve come to realize this is rather excessive, and not nearly as healthy or “organic” as originally intended.

See, commercially processed almond milks contain added thickeners and stabilizers. Most commonly used in the food manufacturing business is carrageenan, which is a type of polysaccharide obtained from red algae. Carrageenan’s known side effects include digestive distress characterized by excessive gas, bloating, diarrhea and fatigue.

Carrageenan is a controversial additive.

Although it is considered safe by the FDA, some scientists have raised questions about the potentially harmful effects of widespread carrageenan consumption. (You can read a review of the research, published in 2001, here.) The FDA denied a petition to re-examine the safety of carrageenan and it is still an approved ingredient in organic products. 

Some brands have now put a big “carrageenan free” label on their cartons, so you buy those brands thinking you’re a savvy informed shopper. BUT, it turns out you’re still getting scammed.

A handful of almonds in a carton…

The problem is that most almond milk contains hardly any almonds. As Business Insider put it, If almond milk closely resembles any beverage, it’s a glass of water and a multivitamin.” If you’ve ever wondered how almond milk can be so low in calories – about 30 calories in a cup, compared to 160 calories in a serving of almonds – it’s because it’s mostly water… not almonds.  This leaves almond milk almost completely devoid of the most beneficial part of almonds  — protein.
Almond Milk

Ok so we now know commercially processed almond milk sucks. However, if you can’t digest dairy, or just don’t like consuming it for ethical reasons, you still need a non dairy milk option. The good news is that homemade almond milk is super easy to make, much healthier, richer in real nutrients, additive-free AND a fraction of the price.

Now I’m buying big bags of raw natural organic almonds instead of the processed stuff.

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Making almond milk at our recent Elevate Retreat in Muskoka!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup raw all natural almonds (soaked in water overnight, or at least 8 hours)
  • 4 cups water (or 3 cups if you like thicker consistency)
  • 1 -2 dates (depending on the sweetness you prefer)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • pinch of sea salt

DIRECTIONS

First discard the water that the almonds were soaking in overnight. Then blend all ingredients in a high powered blender. Vita-mix or BlendTech works great. A regular blender just might not pulverize them as much. Then strain the frothy mixture through a cheesecloth, or nut-milk bag. Your almond milk will keep in the fridge for about three days (give it a stir before drinking). Also, don’t throw away the leftover pulp; it can be added to smoothies or even baked goods for added nutrition. One benefit to consuming almonds this way is that they’ll be soaked before you eat them. Soaking helps to get rid of the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors, which can interfere with the function of your own digestive and metabolic enzymes.

Phytic acid, which is found in the coatings of nuts, is an “anti-nutrient” responsible for leeching vital nutrients from your body. Phytic acid also blocks the uptake of essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc.

So, happy homemade almond milk drinking! Here’s to your health.

xo