Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What Is Your All?

I am part of a Women in Science group at my work where the conversation often turns to the topic of family-work balance and if women can really have it all. Usually the all is implied as maintaining a rewarding full-time career (usually in a high profile position, but not always), while still spending ample time with your children and partner, and being happy, chipper and stress-free at the end of the day. A quick Google search will supply you with hundreds of articles on the topic with people on all sides of the debate. Nope, sorry, you can’t. Yes, yes you can! You can….just not at the same time. But what’s the real answer? Can we have it all or can’t we? Should we work harder or just stop trying? If I don’t want it all is that OK?  If I don't, will they take away my Feminist pin? What kind of stress are we putting on ourselves trying to achieve it all? And what kind of message are we sending to the young women and men who will inevitably fill our shoes?

While searching for some answers I came across this article: Why It's So Damaging To Tell Women They Can't Have It All (And Why I'm So Tired Of Hearing It) written by Kathy Caprino, a Women’s Career Success Coach. In her article, Caprino suggests a more positive way to frame this discussion. She says “Thinking about ‘having it all’ is a waste of time and a negative way to view your life. Think instead about, ‘What do I love, what do I need to do to be happy, and what decisions can I make today that will honor my needs and wants'?"  This really resonated with me, because, as an employee, mother, and wife, I feel like I am constantly trying to make someone else happy and I often neglect how I feel about something in order to placate a tense situation at work and sometimes even at home.

About a year ago, the Women in Science group hosted a presentation that was advertised as Join us while Mrs. X shares her secrets for finding that work-life balance! I was really excited to attend because I was newly pregnant and was already wrestling with how I would manage wanting to spend as much time as possible with my baby and husband while still working a full-time, sometimes demanding job- in which I was looking to climb the ranks-coupled with a long commute. The guest speaker was a woman who works for our company. She is the head of her division, is married with one child, and over the course of her career has been in charge of starting offices all over the country for various companies. During the presentation she told us that her career was and is very demanding. She has moved all over the country. She works a lot of hours. She was often gone for long periods of time on work travel. But she didn't regret it all because she wanted to have a career and she was exactly where she wanted to be.

When asked for advice on how to pursue a career while still having time to spend with family, her advice was as follows. Never work part-time because you wouldn't be taken as seriously as a full-time employee in your office. Never become a stay-at-home-mom because it would take you out of the work force for too long and it would be really hard to get a job when you were ready to work again. If you want to get ahead in your career, she suggested working hard and ‘playing with the big boys.’ Sometimes that means working long hours and missing soccer games. Sometimes that means your child spends more time in daycare than you would like. She also informed us that her husband had a very flexible schedule and he was able to work from home a lot. He often had the responsibility of picking up their child from school, staying home if their kid was sick, helping with homework and doing much of the day-to-day stuff that comes along with having children. She took a two-to-three week vacation with her family every year to relax and bond and after that was over she was back at work. When I left the presentation, I was kind of upset. I felt like she didn't really give us any useful advice on how to put equal energy into both work and family because her husband was responsible for most of the day-to-day childcare. I also felt like she was judging people like me who were thinking about doing some of the things she was suggesting we not do.

After stewing about this for a bit, I eventually just got mad at myself for thinking badly about this woman. Why was I judging her when she was clearly just telling us what worked for her and her family? She wasn't giving bad advice, in fact she touched upon some very important issues that mothers face when they have children and work. In her situation, her husband's job was more flexible.  Hers wasn't flexible at all.  They both had to make sacrifices, just on different levels. She had a clear vision of what her all was and it was just different than mine.  I eventually had my son and I realized what my all was.  I also realized that every women's all is different. 

I’m passionate about my career, but I am more passionate about my family. Right now, for me, my all is being able to stay at home with my son while still pursing a career I am passionate about on a part-time basis.I went back full-time for a month and I had a very hard time being the employee and the Mom I wanted to be. For me, full-time means a lot of travel and long hours. When I was at work, I was anxious about not spending enough time with my son. When I was home, I was tired, a little stressed and anxious about travelling for work. So I decided that for now, working part-time is my best option. I could be making more money and taking on more responsibility but I am simply not OK with the extra demands of travel and full time work now that I have a child. So for now, the career part is on the back burner. It’s not on hold, but it is moving a little more slowly than it would if I didn't have a child. And that’s OK, because I made that choice with my husband and I have the full support of my family and (most of my) colleagues. It's a choice many of them made when they were raising their kids. I know that working part-time is not an option that many employers offer and I consider myself very lucky that I am able to work at a job I love with people who aren't concerned with the amount of hours I work as much as the quality of work I do. (I think more companies should take this approach, but I suppose that is an entirely different post).

I should be a little more clear on something.  I guess I should say that I have the support of most of the women and men in my division who have children. There are a few women who I work with (who have not had children) who have actually questioned me as to why I decided to have kids and not work as much, in a very audacious and brazen way I may add (and it is only women who have questioned me, likely because they wrestle with the same questions).

The following are questions that I have fielded within the past year, and my answers:

What is the point of getting your degree if your career is just going to take a back seat? I still get to work in the field I obtained my degree in and I contribute on a high level to research projects going on in the division- I have the best of both worlds, really.  And furthermore- even if I chose to stay at home full-time---higher education doesn't just prepare you for the workforce.  It helps you make informed decision in your daily life regardless of what you decide to do after college! 

Isn't your research important to you? Yes.

Aren't you bored? No.  My little guy keeps me on my toes from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. I get to play, sing, act silly, and teach him all about this wonderful world. I get hugs and kisses and giggles all day long and  I LOVE IT!

I think that even if  daycare costs more than I made, I would still work. Good for you, but that's not for me! (Thanks, Amy Poehler!)

Why is your career less important than your husbands? It's not. We both make sacrifices. If there is a day that I work and we need to take our son to a doctor's appointment or he is sick, or whatever, my husband takes him. On the days I don't work, I take him.  If we both have busy days we figure out whose day will be less likely affected by staying home and we go from there. We both make sacrifices. We had a child. It's no longer about me or him. It's about all of us.

Aren't you bored??? Nope. Really. Come spend a day here and I guarantee you'll have more excitement than a day in the office.

I suppose I had the same feelings before I had children, but I have since realized that it doesn't do anybody any good to judge your female coworkers or male coworkers for that matter. At the end of the day, we are all Moms and Dads who are trying to set strong examples for our children while honoring our own needs and wants and we shouldn't be judged by the path we take to get there. (As long as that path isn't harming anyone).

Looking back, I think the presentation on family-work balance would have been better with a panel of women who are in a variety of different situations. It should have been more of a discussion and celebration of the number of choices we have rather than one person addressing the group because there isn't just one way to do it. It should have directed the discussion to the fact that there are many different alls and women shouldn't be judged for the decisions we make when it comes to bettering ourselves and our families. Everyone has different wants and needs, especially after you have a baby and I no longer care if the new postdoc looks at me and thinks I’m wasting my education or doesn't understand what all the "fuss about babies is." Carpino suggests re-framing our mindset to think “I know what matters most to me, and I’m honoring that, every day, with every choice and decision I make.” And I feel like I'm doing that.

What about you? Are you honoring what matters most to you? What is your all?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

My son's open heart surgery to repair a VSD/ASD (a short memoir)

Dennis and I spent the better part of our relationship not wanting kids. We discussed it at great length. We didn’t want the responsibility. We wanted freedom. We wanted to maintain our lifestyle. (Like we were jetting off to Paris every other weekend…ha!) Then, one day, I felt it in my bones. I wanted a baby and I couldn’t think of anything else. So we tried. And I got pregnant. And we had our Weston. Our beautiful, happy, baby boy.

The next day, after being examined by the hospital pediatrician, we found out he had a heart murmur. Three days later our pediatrician referred us to a pediatric cardiologist. About a week later, she diagnosed Weston with a congenital heart defect- a Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD) and an Atrial Septal Defect. Two holes in his heart.

In many cases, VSDs and ASDs close on their own. Sometimes, they never close, but the individual can lead a normal life with little worry. It all depends on the size and location of the defect. In Weston’s case, the VSD was very large and extremely close to a valve, and if left untreated could cause serious damage to his heart and lungs.

Two weeks after he was born I should have been home relaxing, laying with him in my arms, recovering from giving birth. Bonding. Instead, I found myself driving around from pediatrician to cardiologist to surgeon to track his development and prepare for open-heart surgery. The day we found out he would eventually need surgery we felt anxious, sad, broken. We didn’t understand. It was Halloween. We went home, disconnected the doorbell and hid downstairs cuddling our little man and crying, scared out of our freaking minds.

We were suddenly thrown into the life of parents with a ‘sick kid.’ Blood tests, diuretics, liquid vitamins. Round the clock feeding. Extra pumping sessions. Ultrasounds, EKGs, weight checks. Back to work. Weight loss. Failure to thrive. Family Sick Leave. Two and half months later, it was time.

People ask me how I got through it. How I stayed so strong and stoic. How I didn’t cry every time I thought I about what could happen. They couldn’t imagine. The truth is, after the reality of the situation sunk in, I never thought of him as a ‘sick kid.’ Yes, I knew that he had a heart defect. That he wasn’t gaining weight or growing at the proper rate. But after talking extensively to our pediatrician, the cardiologist, the surgeon, and our nurse practitioner case manager, I knew he could be fixed. His condition was scary, but once we calmed down, researched the condition, and talked at length with the doctors it became more manageable. We were lucky. He had something that could be fixed. Easily. Well, if you’re a pediatric heart surgeon that is. Every time I talked to the doctor or surgeon they did not seem worried. Of course there is always a risk, but as they explained, that risk is so small with this kind of procedure. VSD/ASDs are common and this procedure is performed by pediatric cardiologist surgeons daily across the country.

Don’t get me wrong. I was scared. In his two and half months of life my baby boy had brought me more joy and love for him and my husband than I could have ever imagined I would feel. I couldn’t imagine losing him. We never even uttered the words ‘risk of death.’ We never had to. The doctors could see the questions in our eyes as I am sure they do with every patient and they did everything to reassure us that the risk was so minimal that we didn’t have to think about it. I tried not to, but of course I did. In the weeks preceding the surgery, during our morning nursing session I would talk to him and tell him that he needed to eat as much as he could and rest as much as he needed. That I would literally let him nurse round the clock if I had too. That I would do anything for him. I told him all the wonderful things he had done for me and his daddy in his few short months on the planet, how happy he made us and that he couldn’t leave us. I only allowed myself to dwell on it for that morning nursing session. I cried. I held him. I nursed him. And then we went about our day. I think allowing myself that short time to process the unknown but not let it linger throughout the day was important. At the end of the day, I put my faith into science, modern medicine, and some of the best surgeons in the pediatric field.

On December 19, 2013, Weston went in for surgery. His Grandma Deb-Deb, Grandma, Papa, and Aunts and Uncles were there to support us. The nursing staff walked us through the paperwork, the risk of surgery, what we would we would see in the NICU post-surgery. We put on his little hospital gown and kissed him a thousand times. He smiled as they wheeled him away into surgery. The surgery was performed by Dr. Michel Ilbawi and Dr. Sujata Subramanian and a team of highly skilled nurses and nurse practitioners. We went to the waiting room and three and half hours later he was fixed! They were able to patch the larger VSD with gortex and the smaller ASD by simply sewing it together. Muscle would eventually grow over the gortex and his heart should grow normally.

I know it sounds funny, but I think I was most distressed when I saw Weston in the NICU. He had tubes coming from what seemed like every hole in his body. He had a drainage tube coming out of his chest. He had a little O2 monitor on his baby big toe, glowing a bright red, which we nicknamed Rudolph toe. As he was coming out of anesthesia, he had these extremely heavy breaths and his eyes would sort of pop open, roll to the back of his head, and then close. As soon as I walked in, I broke into tears. The next day, I was finally able to hold him. And again, I broke down in tears. I’ll never forget Dr. Nader, the cardiologist on staff that afternoon. She let me hold my baby, encouraged me to nurse him, and told me the best medicine for our little Weston was lots of love, smiles, and cuddles. The staff took amazing care of our son.  Every single member of the staff we encountered was genuinely concerned, answered our questions, extremely respectful, and just plain nice. We ended up having to spend three days in ICU, because there was a shortage of beds in the children’s hospital. In most cases, the child is transferred to a regular hospital room about a day later as long as there are no complications and everything checks out. We were encouraged to stay at the Ronald McDonald House across the street. I cannot say enough good things about that place either.  Beautiful, comfortable rooms, a wonderful staff, snacks, food, coffee.  An amazingly comfortable bed.  It was the perfect place to relax and sleep after long days and evenings in the hospital.

We took him home two days before Christmas Eve. We had some restrictions- we couldn’t hold him under the armpits, we could only cradle him, and we had to sponge bathe him for a few weeks- but that was it. They instructed us how to care for his chest tube incision, what to look out for in terms of infection and healing and sent us on our way. Follow up appointments were a breeze and almost a year later, he’s doing wonderfully! He has a scar on his chest that we keep covered in the summer. According to the Nurse Practitioners- as long as we keep it out of the sun, by the time he hits puberty, there will be almost no scar left.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of and/or sing the praises of Dr. Ilbawi and the staff at Advocate Children’s Hospital. They saved my baby and for that I am forever grateful.

I recently was contacted by our pediatric cardiologist's office to see if I would talk to another mother whose son was recently diagnosed with a similar condition.  I am very thankful that I was able to share our positive story with her and if you stumbled upon this post looking for some answers, I would be happy to share more of our story with you.  I know there are people out there who are not so lucky and I cannot even begin to understand the pain and suffering that some families go through and my heart goes out to those families. We are fortunate enough to be a success story and I acknowledge that every day. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Dry Brushing

As parents, we know its hard to keep any kind of personal grooming routine together.  Sometimes I really have to think, "When was the last time I took a shower?" And don't even ask me when the last time I was able to spend an extra 5 minutes in the shower to shave my legs was (my poor husband!)! We all know it's important to take care of yourself, but it can seem so hard to find the time, especially during the holiday season. For that reason we've teamed up with our friend Meg at White Orchid Spa in Bartlett, Il for some simple beauty tips to incorporate into your routine. Every so often we'll check in with Meg for some simple beauty tricks and tips to make you feel like a million bucks without spending a fortune or taking a huge chunk of time out of your day. Taking time for yourself (even if its only 5 minutes) will not only help you feel better, but you'll reflect that positive energy onto your partner and kids!


Tis' the season! For dry skin that is! Winter can be so hard on even the toughest of skin which is why it is so important to pay extra attention to the largest organ of the body this time of year!

One of the best things you can do for the skin (and your whole body) is dry brushing! Dry brushing is a pretty simple routine that buffs away dead skin cells, boosts circulation and lymphatic drainage, and helps to eliminate toxins. It has also been said to smooth away imperfections such as cellulite, and hey, every little bit helps as far as that goes!

The process itself is incredibly easy and only takes a few minutes! Here's how it's done…

Dry brushing can be done daily and is best done right before taking a shower. I recommend doing it while standing in the tub before you turn the water on. Start at your feet and move up towards your legs making long sweeping motions along both sides. Always brush towards the heart and not in back and forth motions. Work your way upwards around your tummy in clockwise motions only. (Clockwise is helpful for digestion). Finish with the arms starting at the hands and working up towards the underarms. Keep in mind not to brush too hard. The skin will be stimulated and a little pink but should not be red and irritated. Then, shower off as normal keeping in mind to keep the water temperature luke warm as hot showers have a tendency to dry the skin out. Finish with a nourishing moisturizer while your skin is still damp.

When choosing a body brush look for one with natural bristles (do not to store the brush in the shower. The bristles will deteriorate if they stay damp), and look for one that has a detachable handle for hard to reach areas. I like this one from amazon!

                                                                       Brush-Natural Skin Tampico Yerba Prima 1 Brush

Dry brushing is one of the cheapest, easiest, and healthiest things you can do for your skin. Brush away and get glowing!

Meg Griffin is a licensed esthetician and owner of White Orchid Spa in Bartlett, Illinois. Any questions? Contact her at 630-659-7772 or email at megwhiteorchid@gmail.com