Monday, July 28, 2014

Meet Your Happy Chemicals Introduction

This is a summary I made of the introductory chapter to the book Meet Your Happy Chemicals by Loretta Graziano Breuning, PhD. Founder of the Inner Mammal Institute I wrote it because I feel like this information is incredibly helpful to help me parent more peacefully and understand my triggers, but also prevent me from giving in to my negative vicious cycles. I've always had a hard time with candy because it's one of the cycles I have created. This knowledge has helped me get over my cravings for it more easily than anything I've ever read. I have lost over 20 pounds in two months (which also has a lot to do with breastfeeding) because of this knowledge. I take no credit for the following, it's just a summary with mostly direct words from the book. I put it here on my blog so I could have a link to spread. If you want to purchase it yourself here is the link (I really don't get anything out of this, this isn't an advertisement. I have no affiliation with the author, I just appreciate the message):

The feeling we call happiness comes from four brain chemicals: dopamine, endorphin, oxytocin, and serotonin. Dopamine produces the joy of finding what you seek, "I got it!", Endorphin produces the oblivion that masks pain, often called euphoria. Oxytocin produces the feeling of being safe with others, developing trust, and bonding. Serotonin produces the feeling of being respected by others, pride. These chemicals work without words. It's easy to believe that your verbal inner voice is your whole thought process, and ignore your neurochemical self.

Happy chemicals are controlled by a collection of brain structures that all mammals have in common: the hippocampus, amygdala, pituitary, hypothalamus, and other parts collectively known as the limbic system. In humans, the limbic system is surrounded by a huge cortex and the two work together to keep us alive. Your cortex looks for patterns in the present that match patterns you stored in the past. Your body doesn't always act on the messages it receives from the limbic system because your cortex overrides it. So it tries again. The cortex can override it temporarily, but the limbic system is at the core of who you are.

The mammal brain motivates you to go toward things that trigger happy chemicals and avoid things that trigger unhappy ones. You can restrain yourself from acting on a neurochemcial impulse, but your brain keeps generating more. You're always using neurochemicals to decide what is good for you and what to avoid. Your cortex helps by directing attention and sifting information, but your limbic brain sparks the action. None of these actions come from verbal logic so we struggle to make sense of them.

Happy chemicals are not there to be on all the time. They're there to promote survival. It relies most on early experiences even though children can understand survival realistically. It cares as much for the survival of your genes through reproduction as it does your own body. But if you know how the system works it becomes easier to get more happy chemicals and to avoid unhappy ones. If you want to be happy, you have to get it from the limbic system.

The limbic system can't process language. All talking is in the cortex. So it never tells you why it is spurting happy/unhappy chemicals. Other animals accept their impulses without expecting a verbal rationale. So understanding what motivates them and how they act on them helps us to understand ourselves.

Your feelings are unique because you built neural pathways from your unique life experience. When something made you feel good as a child, the happy chemicals built connections. When something felt bad your unhappy chemicals seared that information too. Over time, some of your neural pathways turned into superhighways because you activated them a lot. The brain builds on the pathways it already has. We store experiences and don't delete them. This helps us go toward things that helped us in the past and avoid things that endangered us. The bigger the surge of happy chemicals the easier the circuit is made.

You built circuits effortlessly when you were young. Building new circuits in adulthood is like trying to slash a new trail through a dense rain forest. Every step requires a huge effort and the new trail disappears into the undergrowth if you don't use it again soon. Such trail-blazing feels inefficient and downright unsafe when a nice superhighway is nearby. That's why people tend to stick with the pathways they have. You can build new trails. It's harder than you expect, but easier when you understand your equipment.

When unhappy chemicals flow, you don't usually respond by thanking them for promoting your survival. Instead, you think of ways to trigger happy ones. But their purpose is to get your attention fast. Bad feelings are produced by cortisol. Your response to cortisol depends on what it is paired with (low blood sugar, social exclusion, the threat of a predator, etc). When it flows it links to the neurons active in your brain at that moment. This wires you to recognize danger cues in the future.

When you have a cortisol alert, your brain looks for a way to make it stop. Sometimes the solution is obvious like pulling your hand off a hot stove, but they're not always obvious. That "do something" feeling promotes survival, but it also causes trouble. It motivates us to do anything that stops the cortisol. Can eating a donut fix a career or romantic setback? From your brain's perspective it can. Consciously you know the donut does not solve the problem, but when something changes unhappy chemicals to happy ones your brain learns from that experiences.

Each brain has a network of connections built from experiences that felt good in the past. These connections represent simple things like donuts and complex things like social trust and practical skills. By the time you are old enough to choose your own course of action, you already have a brain full of circuits that turn your neurochemicals on and off.

Viscous cycles occur when there is shame attached to your happy trigger: You're unhappy -->  you eat a donut --> you feel better --> then you feel guilty because you know donuts are unhealthy --> you're unhappy again --> you eat a donut --> you see where this is going. But you can stop a viscous cycle in one instant. Just resist that "do something" feeling and live with the cortisol. It's not easy because cortisol screams for your attention. After 45 days of doing this consistently the bad feeling eases and a new habit forms. A viscous cycle is easy to see in someone else. That's why people are often tempted to take charge of other people's happiness. Even while doing nothing about a vicious cycle of their own. But each person much manage their own limbic system. No one else can reach into your brain and trigger your happy chemicals for you.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

First Year of School

Today Nate graduated from Kindergarten!!! Or was it yesterday? Maybe it was a few months ago. He hasn't brought home any homework, participation awards, or grades so it's hard to say. Though he learned a lot this year. 

He learned how babies grow, how they come out, and got to see first hand what an umbilical cord, and placenta looks like. 

He learned how to calculate money in his head based on the relative unit of how much a Nintendo 3DS costs (which he finally gets to buy tomorrow!!!).

He practiced reading by slowly clicking through the directions on Mario Party 9.

He learned about capitalization at the beginning of a sentence and where apostrophes go through autocorrect on his ipod added for him. 

All kidding aside, he has really learned a lot this year and amazes us every day. His reading is astounding, autocorrect really has taught him a lot about grammar and he carries it over even when he types on a computer that doesn't autocorrect for him, the way he does math in his head surprises us (I joke about the DS because one time Phil said "this couch costs the same as 3 nintendo DS's" and he goes "oh! It's $600?"). We have these words on our fridge that are "smart" word magnets. He reads them and actually looks up their definition! The other day he tried to tell me what vicissitude meant, but he actually looked up visceral and clicked the wrong word so he didn't have quite the right definition, but it made me laugh when I asked him where he learned that and he told me he looked it up! We love love love unschooling and watching the way both him and Audrey learn naturally is so much fun! We survived our first year, but it wasn't really surviving because we loved every minute. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014


I feel like I just need to vomit out some of my thoughts into this blog. I was using Tumblr for a while for this type of thing, but I feel like I'm using that site wrong so it's back to good ol' blogger. Some things I've been thinking about for a while. 

The biggest problem I have struggled with, not just since becoming a parent, but my entire life is feeling inferior to others. Being the youngest child with siblings 5, 8, and 10 years older kind of does that to you. So I've become accustomed to a LOT of second guessing myself and criticism. So naturally I have become pretty unsure of myself with everything I do. My coping mechanism for this has been research. I can't use my own experiences to make points because historically they have been shot down and minimized. I would never say that any abuse I have experienced (primarily emotional) is a positive thing, but I am grateful for the drive I have had to do the research and actually become so sure of myself that I can be liberated. I can actually say that I DON'T CARE!!!!!!!!! If someone disagrees with the way I parent, I have enough confidence that the choices I make are well thought out, researched, and are NOT based on just what I grew up believing that it doesn't matter to me if you think I am crazy! I can finally understand what free thinking is. Free from the thought prison others are trying to put me in by telling me I am young and stupid. 

I grew up with a deep understanding that experience is everything. You can be knowledgeable, but without experience, your knowledge is useless. I could never have more experience than the people around me being younger, so I think that's what drove me to look different directions. Subconsciously I set out to have different experiences than those around me. My first step was moving away to go to college. Different. I met someone that didn't grow up in Utah which was a big reason I was drawn to him. Different. Then I decided I wanted to try natural birth. Different. That didn't happen so I decided in order to achieve that, I had to have a home birth. Different. I didn't reject the idea of home school when Phil brought it up the first time when Nate was 1, I was unsure, but didn't reject it. Different. I couldn't stand the republican ideals everyone around me preached, nor the liberal ideals everyone else preached and immediately clung to the libertarian/anarchist ideals the minute it was presented to me. Different. I started cosleeping with my daughter. Different. I breastfed her past 1 year. Past 2 years. Different. The minute I heard the phrase 'peaceful parenting' I knew I never wanted to spank or intentionally hurt or punish my children again. Different. When the doctor asked me if I wanted to circumcise Isaac I told her no. Different. Nate never had a first day of kindergarten. Different. 

I will always be younger, but I will always be more experienced in the things I have chosen to do and that matters to me. And I'm not scared. I'm not scared to be different because I feel deeply about what I am doing. And let me tell you a not-secret. I don't care if your different is not the same as mine. I do NOT care how you parent as long as it is non-violent. I don't care how you feed, clothe, sleep, birth, play, school, etc. I don't. Just as long as you are not hitting your kids. I don't think it's ok for you to hit your pets, your spouse, your neighbor, and especially not your kids. But however else you decide to care for them is your business and you should feel confident and wonderful that you are taking care of your kids! Relish the idea of being different because different is interesting and makes the world a better place!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Isaac's Middle Name

I haven't been very public about Isaac's middle name (I know Phil posted it once when he was born, but other than that...) because it takes an explanation for the different spelling. So I'm here to give that explanation.

Over the past 5, almost 6 years Phil and I have learned a lot about parenting. We've learned a lot about many things, but parenting has been something we are always trying to improve on. We hear new ideas, we research them, we try to implement them, we suck at it sometimes, other times we're really good at it, but the point is we're always trying to do better and we are always trying to make sure we are doing what we feel is right even if we suck at it sometimes. I think most of us go into parenting thinking we know what we're doing. I have 3 older siblings that all finished having kids before I even had my first. I went into parenting pretty confident. But I got my awesome star pegged child that doesn't fit into the square shaped hole that most children do. So here we are almost 6 years later just now feeling like we might have some of the right answers, but are fully aware that we have SO many more answers yet to discover.

When Audrey was born I was new to the idea of attachment parenting and pretty timid about it at first, but have since learned that cosleeping is absolutely one of my favorite practices (she still sleeps next to me every night and I love love love it! I'm a sucker for snuggles and so is she) as well as extended breastfeeding and babywearing. We decided that circumcision was an unnecessary dumb choice to make for a body part that doesn't belong to either of us. And most importantly we discovered Parent Effectiveness Training and peaceful parenting.

There are a lot of changes we have made. There's nothing more I would give than to go back and do all these things from the beginning. Unfortunately, we can only do better from this point on. But Isaac is our fresh start. We can raise a child from the start with the knowledge we have now (and pay for Nate's therapy later! haha). His middle name is a symbol of this new beginning. But with emphasis on the idea that we are always going to keep trying to improve. To never think we have all the answers, and to stop and question ourselves from time to time. Because we are NOT perfect, we make mistakes all the time, and don't let the internet fool you into thinking I'm some sort of super mom because you'd be thoroughly disappointed.

I really wanted Isaac to be named after my family. As Phil and I were driving around one night we were throwing around some different middle name ideas and it popped into my head that Morgan sounds a lot like the German word for morning. So I looked it up and found that it was spelled Morgen. Our last name is also German so it seemed fitting. We loved the fact that his middle name means morning as it's a fresh start to every day. A chance to start anew and make that day better than the last. Isaac is our chance to start over and be better parents and make better choices, not just for Isaac, but for Nate, Audrey, AND Isaac.

So there you have it. His full name is Isaac Morgen Eger.

The explanation was necessary so people didn't think it was a typo and I spelled his name wrong. Or so family wouldn't be offended to see it spelled strangely. Obviously the explanation could have been shorter, but now you have the full version! Your welcome...? :D

As an added bonus, Isaac means "he laughs" or "laughing one" so his name means "he laughs in the morning" I'm sure we could fit eager in there somewhere too!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Isaac's Birth Part 2

I wasn't ready to share the second part of his birth story because it has been very difficult emotionally to deal with and I wasn't ready to answer questions from a bunch of different people, but today I'm feeling much better and much more at peace with it all.

The story continues after his actual birth. When I sat down with him against my skin he was crying a lot. He wasn't settling down very easily. He seemed a little distressed and his face was very purple. We were worried it was because he wasn't getting enough oxygen, but he was crying hard so we were confused. The more I looked at his face the more I thought it looked like bruising. Especially since he was breathing well and it wasn't labored. We both listened to his heart and there was no swishing (we were concerned it could be a heart defect that wasn't caught on the ultrasound). His heart sounded very strong. His lungs sounded normal. But he was crying a lot more than usual and a lot harder. I couldn't get him to settle down. I stayed calm and felt like we would figure this out.

I really needed to readjust because I was still in way more pain than usual after birth. Usually the pain is mostly gone once the baby is out, but my bottom was really really sore and I couldn't sit up to breastfeed him very easily. So I handed him over to Phil for a few minutes and he did skin to skin with him. He stopped crying once we took him off his face which made me think it was bruising even more. We cut the cord and checked it for 3 vessels which it did have. Then I took him back and breast fed him. He latched right on no problem! We passed him around a bit more and kept an eye on his face. He was acting like a normal newborn and nothing really too out of the ordinary was showing up. But my midwife kept noticing how purple his lips were and his hands and feet were a little purple too. Even though his face showed signs of bruising, because his lips were so purple she recommended that we go to the hospital to make sure he is ok. As much as I dreaded going to a hospital right after having a home birth I knew it was the right thing to do and have always firmly believed that there IS a time and place for medical care. I never questioned her judgment, if anything I just wished so bad that it wasn't true, that we didn't need to go, and that he was really just ok. But it just didn't look good, we needed to get there to be safe.

The ER doctor put my mind at ease. Of course the first thought on your mind is "are they going to tear me apart for having a home birth? Are they going to over do things to make a point?" You hear horror stories you know? But not one person did that. The ER doctor told me that his sister had several home births, the NICU nurse told me her best friend had a couple, not one person judged me. But I'm getting ahead of myself. So the ER doc looked at him. His vital signs were great and right off he said it was definitely bruising, but to be safe they were going to admit him to the NICU for overnight observation because the color was definitely a concern. They said they'd draw some labs and once those came back we might even be able to go home early.

Ok, this sucks, but we can do overnight, we'll live, no big deal. I was disappointed, but had no control over it, we had to do what was best. So they got us a room to sleep in. I was exhausted having not slept all night and not having the chance to sleep since I powered out a 9 pound baby that wouldn't move down the birth canal (it's really indescribable how tired I was while pushing. All I wanted to do was lay down because I was SO tired. I actually did lay down through a bearing down contraction, I just didn't have the strength to keep going. I'm emotional thinking about it because it was really just so indescribably hard).

I tried to get some sleep, but was woken up by a phone call about an hour after we got to our room. I needed to come feed him, and some of his lab work came back abnormal and they needed to talk about it. So I walk down there, slowly, still in so much pain from the birth. My room is all the way in the back of postpartum in the overflow area out of the way too. I get down there and the neonatologist explained that his labwork came back abnormal showing signs that he was fighting an infection and that they had to start antibiotics. My heart sank. All I could think about was all his wonderful brand new gut flora being destroyed. Still breaks my heart to think about. Then she told me he'd have to be in there at least 2 days. I broke down and cried. I tried not to cry so hard, but I cried and cried. That's not what you want to hear when you just had a home birth. You want to be at home snuggling with your babies enjoying skin to skin. Kissing their soft cheeks and sweet lips, rubbing their bellies, singing them lullabies. But I knew it was the right thing. The infection was unrelated to the purple face, but a nurse did say that it can happen with difficult deliveries, another neonatologist said it's just luck. We're SO lucky they caught it because he had no signs or symptoms of infection. If we would have waited for a sign, he would have been a lot sicker and it would have been more difficult to recover from and possibly life threatening.

That night was a long night. I got almost zero sleep. The next morning I went down and the day neonatologist talked to me about his second lab draw. His blood work was still abnormal. He said sometimes the first one is abnormal and they just treat right away and the second one will be back to normal and he could still go in 2 days. However, since it was still abnormal they had to do a full dose of antibiotics which would be 7 days. I cried and cried again. I started to feel like they would keep extending the days forever. It was just really difficult to hear.

It's been 48 hours since his birth now and I'm feeling a lot better about it all. It's going to be a really long week, but knowing I have friends that have been through having NICU babies has helped a lot. I never thought I would find myself in this situation ever. My kids never get sick. I mean, I can count on one hand how many times both Nate and Audrey have gotten sick total combined. This is a new concept for me.

He's going to have to be put on bili lights tomorrow which I knew would happen as soon as I saw his bruising after he came out. He hasn't gotten worse, but the doctor said around day 3 is when they start to fight the infection and get better. The nurses have been absolutely AMAZING! I'm feeling good about it all now. Just tired and anxious to sleep in my own bed with my own baby by my side. The NICU is uncomfortable and awkward. I want to wear him around all day and I look forward to this being a distant memory!

Bonus for making it this far, pics!:

My loves! 

Day of birth, note the purple face

1st day, his face started looking way better. 
2nd day (today) his face is perfect and beautiful! 

Isaac's Birth

Through out the night (morning of the 24th) I was having painful contractions. I had a feeling he would be born that day because I was losing my mucous plug (TMI sorry). Around 6 am I decided they were getting more serious, but they were short contractions so I knew it would be a while still. I knew it was real labor. I called my mom to come over and texted my midwife to let her know that it would be that day and that I’d call her when I was ready for her to come. 
Contractions continued through the morning. Very easy laboring. We talked and laughed. At around 10 I decided to take a shower which turned into a bath. I laid on my side and had Phil put a wet towel on top to keep me warm. It felt SOOOO good! While I was in the bath my water broke. I knew it because when I pushed out I could feel an incontrollable gush of fluid. It’s hard to explain how it feels, but I knew that’s what it was. When I got out, my belly was smaller and you could feel his parts easier. It was weird! 
So I called my midwife and my sister. Since my last birth went so fast (dilated to a 5 to pushing in 15 minutes), we were worried that I’d go really fast once my water broke. So they hurried over. 
Contractions were slow moving. They slowed down enough for me to take a nap so I did. I slept for an hour or so. Then I got up, we all hung out in my living room, I helped Nate and my nephew Austin play Super Mario Galaxy. We relaxed. My contractions weren’t too awful. Painful, yes, but I could just close my eyes through them and breath and I was fine. This continued for a couple hours. At around 4:15 ish I started to feel like laboring in my room. They were getting a little longer which was a good sign. At around 5 I started to transition. They got longer and I had to moan through them. They really still were very manageable. No big deal at all. I didn’t love them, but a little moaning and i was good. After about 15 minutes of transition I could feel that pushing was coming soon so I got ready for pushing. It felt like I was complete and that his head was going to start moving down. 
At this point the contractions got VERY painful. They were working SOOOOO HARD trying to get him to move down. I didn’t quite feel the urge to push like I had with Audrey. But the contractions were more intense than anything I’d ever felt in my life that I felt like I had to push to get him to move down. So I used those contractions to get him down my birth canal. It was the most difficult thing I had ever done in my life. It was so far from what I was expecting and extremely painful. Worse than any pain I’d ever felt in my life. Really quite indescribable. I was planning to breathe through the contractions and let my body push naturally, but it wasn’t happening (I know now it’s because he was in a bad position). Finally I felt it burning and I was SO happy to feel the ring of fire. I knew it was almost over and I could feel what was happening and that I wasn’t just pushing nothing. I reached my hands down and felt his head, my mom helped push my perineum out of the way  and his head popped out. I still had my hands on him. My midwife helped me grab him and somersaulted his body around the cord while I held his head and she handed me the rest of his body. I grabbed him and pulled up up to my chest and walked over and laid down on my bed. 
Because of the crazy pushing, I didn’t feel quite as much of relief as I should have. It burned bad and I was still in quite a lot of pain. My uterus still hurt a lot till I pushed the placenta out. I felt a lot of relief after that, but was still in a lot of pain. 
He nursed like a champ. It was so crazy! He didn’t do the breast crawl because I hurt so much I had to hand him to Phil to do skin to skin so I could get better get readjusted because of the pain I just let him hold him for a while then took him back to feed him. He latched on like you would not believe! It was insane! No struggle at all whatsoever. I could not believe it! 
We are so in love!