A Name that Means Powerful

I am an English teacher.  This may explain my love for names and their meanings, or might just be an excuse for when I search for a connection between a character’s name and his or her role in a story. Read any Jodi Picoult novel or even my blog’s name-inspiration, To Kill a Mockingbird, and you may do the same.  This name-personality connection transcends literature, at least in my experience.

My husband and I believe that a name ties intrinsically to an individual’s personality, thanks to our two oldest children. Our daughter, Kayden, is stubborn and strong-willed and physically tough.  She stands up for herself and asserts her role in most situations.  She is smart, creative, and spiritual.  Her name, or its origin, Kaden, means “fighter.” Our second child, our son named Paxton, wears his heart on his sleeve.  He loves hard and fast and finds the most harmony through cuddles, sleep, and quiet. Pax, which means “peace,” fits him perfectly.  Of course our daughter has many tender moments while our son can flare a temper, but, at their cores, our children embody their names.

This weighed heavily on my mind as we searched for the perfect name for Baby Bus #3. I am the type

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Christmas Morning 2015

of pregnant woman who needs to know two things in order to mentally survive the last few months of pregnancy: I need to know the gender of the baby and I need to know his or her name.  I am not one willing to wait for that delivery room “It’s a [fill in the blank]!” surprise, nor am I content to simply tell “Baby” to stop kicking my ribs. I need to know this child, to imagine him or her fully–name and all–for my belly-bonding to really take shape. Skylar, meaning “scholar”, was a possible girl name. She would fit in to her big sister’s love of school. Or maybe Asher for a boy, which means “blessed and happy,” would make a fitting addition.

These thoughts left us completely after our anatomy scan.

About half way through this pregnancy, my husband and I ventured to the OB for an ultrasound and consultation with one of the doctors.  These scans had gone routinely with my first two pregnancies, so I wasn’t worried. I made two different envelopes–one for a girl and one for a boy–so we could have an immediate gender reveal with our two kids upon returning home, and off we went.  I wasn’t thinking about how different this pregnancy had been already, from on-going queasiness to slower weight gain to a consistently achy sciatic nerve. I wasn’t thinking that this appointment would be any different than the two anatomy scans we’d had before.  I wasn’t thinking we had anything to fear.

Our ultrasound tech was super social throughout most of the appointment.  She pointed out everything she could, hid the screen when confirming gender, and asked us sweet questions about our two other children.  With about 5 minutes of the scan remaining, though, that changed.  She became quiet and hyper-focused.  I assured myself she was merely concentrating on keeping the baby’s gender a surprise for our family reveal.  I smiled at my husband and enjoyed the little printout she gave us before she ushered us down to the exam room where we would meet with one of the OBs. Mike and I were so full of joy from seeing the baby and hearing the heartbeat that my husband and I didn’t expect the mood to so suddenly shift upon the doctor’s arrival.

When the doctor entered the exam room, the same doctor we had for our middle child’s anatomy scan, my husband and I could sense the tension.  She sat down on a stool beside the exam table and began listing all that was good: the baby’s skull is forming well, there is no cleft palate, the baby has ten fingers and ten toes, the fluid levels are strong, etc. She was being so specific to tick off every single success of our baby’s development, so careful to hit every positive base that we just knew we were bracing for a “but.”  And it finally came. “But the ultrasound tech noticed a shadowy area in the baby’s right lung,” she said. “We would like you to see maternal fetal specialists so they can use their big boy ultrasound machines and check it out. Maybe it is just a shadow. Do you have any questions?”

My husband and I looked at one another and I immediately said “no.”

She continued anyway. “What it could be is something called a CCAM, a lesion in the baby’s lung.  But MFM will check it out and let you know for sure.  These usually shrink and eventually disappear–if that’s what it is.” And then she sent Mike and me to reception to make our next appointment.

We drove home almost silently. We psyched ourselves up for the fun we were about to have: boy or girl? We pushed those 4 maybe-letters from our minds.

Kayden and Paxton greeted us at the door as soon as we pulled in the driveway.  When they opened the envelope revealing this baby, Baby Bus #3, was a boy, Kayden began a triumphant “yay!” and Pax repeatedly asked us what this meant. We smiled, then hugged one another and the kids and my mom and immediately retreated upstairs to do the dreaded Googling.  Google CCAM and, most likely, the first site you’ll come to is from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  You’ll learn that CCAM–or congenital cystic adenomatoid malformation–is the most common lung lesion found in fetuses and children and that the outcomes vary greatly. Depending on the size, positioning, and effect on the four chambers of the heart, each baby afflicted with CCAM takes his or her own path to recovery, if recovery is possible. One word came up again and again: cancer. This knowledge, this information is why I said “no” when the OB asked if I had questions. I didn’t want the worry of what might be wrong until we met with the specialists and had a true diagnosis.

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Baby Bus #3 says, “Don’t worry, Mom. I got this!”

The diagnosis was true, though. I could see it the second the ultrasound tech placed the wand to my belly. What normally looks like blank, black space in the baby’s chest cavity looked like cotton, like white smoke.  Like it didn’t belong.

We were at our first MFM appointment two weeks after the initial scan.  That doctor, who was caring and honest and paternal, told me not to get too emotional. “You worry about the baby, and I worry about you.  So don’t worry!”, he insisted. “We will see you in 4 weeks and check the size of the CCAM then. If it shrinks, which most do, you will have nothing to follow up with.  If it remains this size or, more unlikely, grows, we will refer you to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.” My husband and our families encouraged me to think positively.

Four weeks.  I hardly ate.  I tried my best to internalize my nerves and to enjoy my summer home with my 2-year old son and 4-year old daughter, but in the quiet moments–when one or both was napping or they were engaged in their own play–my mind went crazy.  When my mind went crazy, my fingers searched for answers. I read blogs and message board and the websites of countless hospitals. I began to learn more about fetal surgery and EXIT surgery and hydrops and lobechtomies than any woman creating life should learn about.

Four weeks–and the most upsetting doctor’s appointment yet.  “There,” I said to my husband, as I pointed out the snowy mass in the baby’s chest. “Can’t you see it?” He could.  It was still there, plain enough that we didn’t need the ultrasound tech or MFM specialist to confirm it.  I began to cry, silently, staring at the dropped ceiling so as to avoid eye contact with my husband or the tech. One sweaty hand clutched one of Mike’s while I kept the other tucked behind my head, fingers crossed. I focused on breathing deeply, keeping my tears away, being strong for this precious little baby who looked so much like his brother via ultrasound that it made my heart ache even more. When the scan was complete, the tech led my husband and me to a consultation room and immediately brought in a monitor to check my blood pressure. “They didn’t do that last time,” Mike said. “They are worried about my blood pressure,” I explained, “checking for hydrops.” I didn’t have hydrops, which was the only good news of the appointment.

“We have a problem” were the first four words that came out of the MFM specialist’s mouth as he entered the consultation room soon after.  Not “Hello, I’m Doctor So-and-so.” Not “How are you feeling, Mom?” Nope. We have a problem.  From there, I half-listened, half retreated into my own thoughts as he detailed that the CCAM grew quite a bit and that the baby was also measuring small, particularly in his femurs. More to Google. More bad stuff to read.  More worry.

Our next step was a visit to CHOP–after another 10 day wait.  At this point, I became so concerned with his size, I stopped exercising. I tried to eat more, but my stomach was so upset from my worries that I didn’t get much down.  My mindset and nerves cannot be providing the right environment for a healthy baby, I kept telling myself, and that guilt only made both worse.

We finally had a full day of appointments at CHOP: ultrasounds, fetal echo-cardiograms, an MRI, consultations with genetic counselors and nurse liaisons, and so on.  You name it, Baby Bus and I did it. It was a long, tiring, emotional day which ended with what I can only describe as a slice of comfort.  Mike and I met with a wonderful MFM specialist who confirmed the CCAM, ironically known as well as a CPAM, and explained to us that the baby’s lung is like a tree planted in a garage.  I am paraphrasing here, but he described to us that the roots don’t have room to spread out, so they’ll simply remove the garage–or, the bad tissue–and the roots will spread themselves out. He explained that this is done in one of three ways, depending on the severity of the lesion: through fetal surgery, EXIT surgery, or surgery at approximately 6 weeks old. The magic number was 1.0.  If the CVR (CCAM volume ratio) was greater than 1.0, fetal surgery was immediate.  If the CVR was close to 1, EXIT surgery was likely. If it was significantly smaller, infant surgery was necessary. Inside, I tried to mentally prepare for Baby Bus #3’s CVR.  I could see the lesions clearly and I was not medically trained. I knew it was going to be a number I did not like.

.21.

I was so wrong. With a CVR of .21 and the four chambers of the heart remaining in place and full, we could wait until we delivered our son at our own hospital, take him home, love him, and then bring him in for surgery weeks later. My heart swelled. Yes, his femurs were still measuring small, and his weight was a little below average, but his CVR was such a small fraction that those other issues failed to seem significant.

Mike and I drove over the bridge back to New Jersey with lighter minds and real smiles on our faces.  I could feel a sense of peace.  I also felt something break–a wall I had slowly built around me.  It seemed like almost from the start of this pregnancy, even before I knew of the CCAM, I was protecting myself and the baby from something.  I was more distant and more irritable, less patient and less open. For months, I hadn’t felt like me.  Now I did.  I knew we had a long road ahead, one that included weekly scans to check the baby’s growth and that eventually led to a lobechtomy on part of Baby Bus #3’s right lung, but I also knew that I was open to taking that road with my husband and my family and my friends.  I realized that I didn’t need my tears to stay silent and that I didn’t need to worry in my head. I could talk about it.  I could feel openly and honestly.

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Getting prepped for surgery

A few weeks later, Mike and I took our two oldest children to Disney World.  Aside from the 100 degree heat and my 7-month waddle, I enjoyed myself more than I could have a month before. Baby Bus #3 was strong.  He kept that CCAM from getting too big, I was sure of it. I continued to break down my wall.  I reconnected even more with my husband.  I laughed more genuinely with Kayden and Paxton. We had a brilliant, albeit exhausting, vacation as a family of 4.

School started, and our growth scans continued, but the CCAM had stabilized.  Before long, we didn’t even need the growth scans. Baby Bus #3 was suddenly in the 40th percentile for fetal size and I could enjoy the last 3 weeks of my pregnancy without visiting MFM. I must have made a pretty good home in there for him after all, because he overstayed his welcome and arrive on Veteran’s Day–4 days after his due date. A neonatalogist was on-call for the delivery, but this baby came out chubby and crying and ready to face the world, bum lung and all.

Within a week of that initial scan months earlier and the discovery that Baby Bus #3 was in fact a boy, I approached my husband as he paid bills online and told him we needed a name.  This baby needed a name.  I needed a name so my prayers were more real and my connection to him was more eternal. We started from scratch, throwing out all we had liked or loved or disagreed on before. We soon settled on it. A name that means powerful seemed most fitting, and Kellen sure lives up to it.

On January 8th, at 8 weeks old, Kellen had a lobechtomy.  The chief-of-surgery at CHOP removed the lower lobe of his right lung. He spent 24 hours in quite a bit of pain, unable to nurse, and connected to a chest tube.  By hour 25, however, he was nursing, smiling, powerful. Mike and I brought Kellen home for the second time on January 10th, one day shy of 2 months old. Many people said this type of journey is harder on the parents, especially on the moms, than it is for the babies. I believe them. I truly believe, though, that Kellen’s name embodies his essence–just like those of his sister and brother.

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Friday Favorites: Post-workout Snacks

Who doesn’t love a yummy snack after a good workout or a healthful but delicious dessert while catching up on your DVR?  I do!  And I’ve discovered a blog trend I am going to try: fun Friday favorites.  This week, I am going to share my favorite post-workout or after-dinner snacks.  These provide a nutritional boost and assist in recovery, plus each one contains protein and/or healthy fats that keep our metabolism revving while satisfying our hunger.

In yesterday’s post, I discussed the 6-week boot camp in which I am participating. I love it!  I’ve been focusing on HIIT training, which isn’t a new notion for me, but I am training in a way that targets my body more effectively. In addition to 20-30 minute HIIT workouts, I have been doing 20-30 minutes of cardio a few days a week.  I love to run (hoping to train for a 10k or half marathon this year!) and also love Turbo Fire!  This program is especially great for cold or snowy weather or when I am home with all three kids and can’t get out for a run. I haven’t had a gym membership in years; I don’t need it.  Don’t let a lack of membership be your excuse to ignore your health and fitness!  I’ll be sharing more specific fitness strategies and goals in the coming weeks, so please follow if that interests you.  I’d love to help you find the results I’m experiencing.

Back to my Friday Favorites. What are post-work out snacks or desserts I love? There are two easy choices that anyone interested in fitness already knows: protein shakes and protein bars.  I am currently nursing my 10-week old, so I stick with vegan chocolate protein powder, a cup of unsweetened almond milk, and a few ice cubes blended together. I’ll sometimes throw in a half a banana, a teaspoon of natural peanut butter, a few frozen strawberries, or even a 1/4 of an avocado.  Play around and find a combo you like! Protein bars are great to keep in your bag–or diaper bag–for those times when you have to run out for a school pick-up immediately after a workout or for when hunger hits on-the-go. But these are easy, common snacks.  My three favorites are more as follows:

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  1. Apples with protein peanut butter

Since I was a kid, I’ve loved having apples with peanut butter as a snack.  I can still picture my mom slicing the apples and smearing them perfectly with peanut butter while my brother and I sat at the kitchen table doing homework.  I could never quite distribute the PB as perfectly as my mom could. She could spread it so evenly over every surface of each apple slice; my attempts resulted in more PB on the plate or stuck to the knife than on the fruit. Moms are great that way, at creating food miracles, which is probably why I am finally a successful PB-apple spreader. My mom’s feat was especially skillful, though, since you couldn’t pay my mom to eat PB! Anyway, this snack was always the perfect pick-me-up after a few math worksheets and a vocabulary exercise.

As an adult, I’ve re-imagined this snack to better fit my workout and macronutrient needs. My husband and I love Shark Tank and discovered Nuts ‘N More after the company pitched on the show.  The high-protein chocolate peanut butter is delicious in my protein shakes, but I am obsessed with it smeared atop a few slices of apple.  This also works well as a late-night snack when cravings for chocolate can hit.  Remember, indulge once in a while!  There are many flavors to try, so see what works for you. Just make sure you give the peanut butter a good stir first.

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2. Nonfat plain Greek yogurt topped with berries…and mini chocolate chips

The average 8 oz. serving of organic nonfat plain Greek yogurt has 22 grams of protein.  That is a significant benefit to a person burning fat and building lean muscle. Top with berries and even a small sprinkle of mini dark chocolate chips (I add these on my cardio days as a little reward) and this is good enough for dessert.

I am an ice cream lover.  Thanks to my dad, I grew up having ice cream almost every night.  I can still see him standing at the microwave warming up a pint of Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream for a few seconds before settling on the coach to watch a Knicks game. I would often sit beside and have a scoop or two of something myself–a habit that followed me into adulthood and, especially, pregnancy.  I can now have a bowl of Greek yogurt instead to satisfy this childhood habit while staying on track.

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3. Apple Pie Oat Muffins 

The recipe for these muffins popped up on My Fitness Pal–the app I use to log my nutrition and fitness each day–and I immediately checked my kitchen for the ingredients.  I baked these yesterday with one substitution.  I used pumpkin pie spice instead of apple pie spice for two reasons: I happened to have it on-hand and I love it. I am a PSL girl, after all.  My 3-year old son helped me whip them up, which was fun and easy! East coast readers, this is a great recipe to try while you’re snowed in this weekend.  It will be the most delicious smell to come inside to after shoveling or sledding.

I had two for breakfast this morning (along with two slices of nitrate-free turkey bacon to make sure I reach my protein goal by the end of the day) and they were delicious.  I am keeping half of the batch in a storage bag in the fridge and the other half sealed well in the freezer.  My mother-in-law tried one last night and she approved as well! They are wholesome, clean, filling, and flavorful.

What are your favorite post-work out snacks? What clean desserts do you indulge in?  Let me know, and feel free to link to your own healthy snack posts so I can check them out as well!

 

Baked Chicken ala Yummy

I have a confession to make: I love chicken. That’s right, folks.  I am obsessed. This may seem like no big deal to you, but up until about a month ago I would have told you I don’t eat chicken.  I have never had the taste for it–unless if was processed and formed into a nugget and half-eaten by one of my kids and I snatched it up before scraping it into the garbage disposal.  When I’d make chicken parm for my family, I’d make eggplant for myself.  Chicken or fish at a wedding?  Fish, please.  This all changed at the start of 2016.

I am currently 2 1/2 weeks into an online fitness boot camp in an attempt to do the dreaded “lose the baby weight” thing.  I love working out and I love eating fruits and veggies, but I’ve also let being a mom–especially a working mom–break so many of my disciplined habits.  I became a perpetual snacker who hardly ate real meals, a woman who felt guilty leaving the house for even a 20 minute run, and a person who heard the slightest child-whine or baby-cry in the distance and immediately turned off any workout DVD I had managed to begin. Yes, I would have still considered myself fit and healthy, but I wasn’t as fit and healthy or happy as I could have been. I’d play outside with my kids and run with them in my double-jogger and enlist them to help me blend my morning green smoothie.  But, I was often tired. I lost my patience rather easily. I resented my husband’s longer hours at work. I was pretty normal.

This boot camp is changing all of that.  It allows me to find accountability, motivation, and mindfulness through a group of women all embarking on a virtual fitness journey.  It encourages me to workout and to invite others to join me, like my husband, sister-in-law, and my kids.  It inspires me to pay attention to my eating and to really make the most of it by eating clean.  I have lost 3 1/2 pounds since I started the boot camp, and I attribute this to a combination of regular workouts, a true support system, and smarter eating.

What does this have to do with chicken?  Just about everything.  My online fitness coach helped me realize that I was lacking protein in most of my meals. This caused me to feel hungry, to be sluggish, and to crave sweets. As I did my own research on foods rich in protein and lower in fat, chicken repeatedly appeared.  Turkey, beans, lentils, nonfat plain Greek yogurt–these were already favorites of mine.  But chicken? Bleh. I sucked it up, though, and found that when stripped down and incorporated into healthful, clean recipes, chicken may be my new favorite thing.  Need proof?  I am lunching on crock pot salsa chicken over mixed greens and avocado right now.

I am now a meal-eater.  My husband and I were revealing in that fact last night. I have nearly cleaned my plate at every meal since January 4th when this began.  I know my metabolism is revved up, but I am also not filling myself with needless snacks. I am incorporating protein in every meal as well, which keeps me fuller longer and helps my body break down the fats and carbs I do consume.  Last night’s dinner–which I am calling Baked Chicken ala Yummy–was a perfect example of all of my new habits coming together. I ate chicken. I finished my meal. I woke up still full. 🙂

In full disclosure, this is an old recipe I happened upon years ago, maybe from a cooking show or online, that I tweaked to make my own.  I hadn’t cooked in ages, though. When Mom doesn’t want to eat chicken, Mom hardly cooks chicken.  Perhaps the best part of this dish is just how yummy your house smells while you bake it, hence the name.

I served this with a side of zucchini spaghetti, so I’ll include those directions as well.

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Baked Chicken ala Yummy

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A tasty, simple chicken dinner the whole family can enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 chicken breasts, cut thin (or 4 cutlets)
  • 1 slice nitrate free turkey bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 large garlic clove, thinly slice
  • 1 tomato on the vine, diced
  • 1/3 cup part skim shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 lemon for juicing, halved.
  • 1 large zucchini, spiraled into spaghetti (I use the Veggetti)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray the bottom of a large baking dish with non-stick spray.
  2. Place the 4 cutlets into your baking dish. Top with bacon, tomato, and garlic slices.  Sprinkle evenly with cheese.  Squeeze the juice of one-half of the lemon over the chicken.
  3. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes uncovered, then cover with foil for another 20 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and your home smells good enough to eat.
  4. During the second phase of baking, bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add zucchini spaghetti and boil for 6-8 minutes, depending on the consistency you prefer.  Drain, and top with the juice of the other half of the lemon.
  5. Serve warm.  Enjoy!

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You can play around with this recipe in countless ways: use traditional bacon, eliminate the lemon juice and drizzle everything with olive oil, add onion as well, you name it!  Before I was eating clean and trying to avoid as many processed foods as possible, I would serve this with a side of pre-packaged mashed potatoes or refrigerated crescent rolls or something of that sort. I have really been able to eliminate much of these types of foods and feel less bloated and overall much healthier. Give it a try and I am sure you will have similar benefits.

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Please comment below with ways you made this recipe your own! Happy cooking!

Salute the sun

Mornings. The sun rises.  The birds sing.  Chaos ensues? As a mom, I know this reality, the way a morning can make or break a mood–be it mine, my husband’s, my 5-year old’s.
I am writing this after a particularly “loud” morning that arose out of a particularly “restless” night. Our daughter, who is in kindergarten, woke around midnight with a bad dream. Cuddles in her own bed did little to calm her nerves, so I relented and allowed her to follow me to my room.  The biggest flaw in this plan is that our 9-week old son is still sleeping bedside. Each time he woke last night–which was more than usual, go figure!–my daughter woke up, too.  And each time that happened I knew we were blowing one of his big sister’s already short morning fuses.
When my alarm went off, I jumped out of bed as quietly as could be to simultaneously shuffle our daughter into her room to get dressed while keeping the finally-settled newborn asleep. The rest is crazy morning history.
To give you an idea of how the morning went, I’ll reference a conversation I had with a neighbor this weekend.  She has two school-aged sons.  When I told her our 3-year old son loves waving to them when they head to the bus stop in the morning, her response was refreshingly honest and comically familiar. I’m sure he hears us yelling from your house as well! I knew exactly what she meant.  Why don’t they put their coats on the first time we ask?, she questioned. My response?  Or even the second time.
Any mom who has tried to get a kid or even a husband or even herself out of the door on any given morning has experienced at least one that fits this description.  Oddly enough, though I hate to admit it, these chaos-infused mornings seems more prevalent now that I am on maternity leave.  I’ve spent the past hour wondering why that’s the case. I think I know: lack of routine.
Since I am not leaving the house in the mad rush, I am sleeping later than usual. Yes, I’ve been prepping lunches in advance and my kids pick out their clothes the night before, but that doesn’t mean our morning has any structure.  Sometimes my husband can sleep later, so I sleep later.  Sometimes my 3-year old wakes me up, sometimes my daughter does. And as a result, I have been skipping an important part of my mornings that I know keeps my mood even and my patience strong: I have not been saluting the sun.
A sun salutation is a simple series of yoga poses. It allows all of your muscles and your mind to greet the day with openness. It also builds strength and flexibility over time.  For over a year, I performed at least two sun salutations upon waking for the day. I would complete one traditional series and one non-traditional series by adding Warrior poses or leg lifts. I even did this throughout most of my recent pregnancy, with some modification, of course.  My three-year old son would often join in and mimic my poses.  The added giggles of his involvement further brightened my mornings.
Once my husband and daughter left for work and school this morning and my two boys were fed, I walked into the living room, stood in front of the sunniest window, and saluted the sun. I plan to do the same thing tomorrow–before I let the chaos in.

Below, find a wonderful step-by-step video I found online. Maybe one day I’ll make my own.  Why did I pick this one? It was posted on my birthday. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6IUyY9Dyr5w