The Whole Truth: Planning a Pregnancy + Mood Disorder = Change, Part I

My heart rate is often abnormally high in the mornings. I know this because I tracked my pulse for awhile, determined to understand this feeling that I’ve just run a mile in my sleep. Sure enough, sometimes, when I wake up and sometimes when I’m lying in bed trying to sleep unsuccessfully, my pulse hovers around 100 bpm, which is at the very high end of healthy. Why does this matter? My pulse goes down soon enough. What’s the big deal? Well, this:

“According to the American Heart Association, mornings are really the best time for women to measure their resting pulse rate.” via Normal Resting Pulse Rate For Women | LIVESTRONG.COM.

Yeah, okay, but… not for me. For me, it’s upside-down, Wonderland-style. I knew the answer to this riddle before I even asked the question: my brain. I live with what psychiatrists classify as three different “disorders”–Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder. I use the example of my “resting” heart-rate to illustrate how my anxiety is different from that of your garden-variety worrier. I regularly feel panic in my sleep, in the absence of any specific circumstances that might explain anxiety-ridden dreams or nightmares.

When my psychiatrist told me about my diagnoses in late 2006, he put it something like this: “These words don’t seal your fate or define you. We use these terms so that we can establish categories useful for everything from research to insurance claims.” To which I replied, “Those are actual medical terms? Because I could have told you that, in general, I feel more anxious about everything than other people. I hyper-ventilate about things like doing my laundry and panic about going to the grocery store and the ATM. And after awhile, it all makes me really exhausted and really miserable.” He told me that this was a pretty accurate summary.

At this point in time, all three of my diagnoses are considered Highly Hereditary (I don’t have a source for you, but my doctor does have an MD and a PhD, and he graduated from both Harvard and Columbia). I also learned that because of the large hereditary component, I had probably been experiencing symptoms all my life. Suddenly, the tantrums I threw when I did not want to go to school (I was not being a brat, I tried to explain, I really was inexplicably terrified of going to school), the insomnia that plagued me throughout elementary and middle school, the childhood stomach aches that came and went seemingly without reason–it all makes sense now.

Not everyone in my family wakes up feeling like she’s run a mile. More of us do feel this way, though, than people in families with no history of anxiety or depression. That seems to be how it works, but doctors don’t know why. Again, I cite my doctor with fancy degrees in neurology and psychiatry–all we can tell from looking at brain scans is where we see the highest blood flow. We can learn a lot from that, but despite what you read in the newspapers, we can only guess at why I feel crippling anxiety while my sister just doesn’t. But I do not see this as an inheritance split unequally or unfairly. Obviously, I love my sister and wouldn’t wish any of this on her. But she was also eleven-years-old when I was born. It’s hardly surprising that we turned out a little differently. And, for purely selfish reasons, I love having a sane and usually calm sister. She helped raise me. She came out of our crazy, chaotic family with an uncanny ability to stay calm in a crisis. Scientists are a long way off from isolating the precise factors that produced these differences, but it is proof that genetics are not fate. At the moment, I really need that assurance.

At my baby shower: Mom, Dad, Sister & Me as a fetus made up my immediate family of four. Now that I'm married, my sister is married with children and my parents are re-married to other people, it's much more complicated. But when we're talking heredity, this is where it starts.

The whole truth behind my new whole foods diet and supplement regimen is this: in order to become a parent, I need a non-pharmaceutical alternative to the treatment that has been working so well. Just to be clear: these pills helped SAVE MY LIFE. But one drug in particular is simply not safe for a fetus. In my next post, I’ll write more about that drug, why I take it and why it’s been so difficult to stop taking it. I’ll also explain how Jan, The Amazing Nutritionist, gave me new hope and energy when she explained some science behind how diet and nutrition can help me.

Breakfast: Protein & Peace of Mind

The biggest change in my life lately is BREAKFAST. This has always been my favorite meal of the day, maybe because I have a major sweet tooth. Almost two weeks ago, during my first consultation with Jan, The Amazing Nutritionist, I learned a bunch of science that added up to the following: I will feel better and promote better health in the future if I can get a super-high-protein breakfast every day.

Well, Mom, I hope you’re sitting down as you read this, because you probably never saw this coming: I get up early, now, so that I can cook a real breakfast. I would never have believed that this would happen if you had told me a year ago, but this night owl has learned to love her mornings.

Here are my specific breakfast goals:

  • Eat 20 grams of protein.
  • Do nothing but eat, slowly, during this meal. Do not read. Do not check email. Sit and be “present.” Psychologists call this “mindfulness”and there are truckloads of research that tell us that practicing mindfulness makes human beings happier.

(If this sounds like hippie nonsense, just read this article before you make up your mind.)

Avoiding my computer and my books and newspapers during breakfast is HARD! I sometimes end up talking to my dog. He listens because he’s hoping I’ll drop some food. I think we are now closer than before… But the real goal is to make sure that I start my day with calmness and mindfulness and that I eat all this protein slowly so that my body can do a better job absorbing it.

I don’t eat the same thing every day, but I’ve been eating some variation of this meal each day this week.

  • Creamy Fruity Oatmeal, with pepitas (delicious mexican pumpkin seeds, roasted and crunchy and nutty)
  • Coffee + almond milk
  • Peach Berry Smoothie

Here’s what I added to my oatmeal this morning:

Organic dried black Mission figs, chopped; pepitas, roasted and salted; organic candied ginger with natural cane sugar (those are the only ingredients--no sulphur).

Finished product! Trader Joes Quick Cook Steel Cut Oatmeal. When this runs out, I'll switch to Bob's Red Mill slower cooking version because it has more protein. I don't know why. Both are delicious. I also added toasted wheat germ and stirred it up; I can't taste it and it adds, you guessed it, more protein.

Cascadian Farms Organic Harvest Berries; (same brand) Peaches; Trader Joe's original almond milk; Bob's Red Mill Hemp Protein Powder; sweetened with 1 tbsp agave syrup.

Today’s breakfast was vegetarian and even dairy free. Is it vegan? I guess so… I am not a vegetarian, but have not yet gotten around to purchasing the grass-fed beef I am supposed to add (with beans) to scrambled eggs for another high-protein breakfast option. Another day! About the hemp powder: it looks and smells vile in the bag, but I really can’t taste it in the smoothie. I’m trying to do this whole thing without too many supplements and as many unprocessed ingredients as possible, but this stuff is minimally processed and made from a whole food. It’s also organic, which is really important with seeds. And, about the dairy–I’m trying to keep the glycemic level low, and cow’s milk is not great for that. I have now made the switch to almond milk even in my coffee and find that if I add enough of it, it cuts the bitterness of the coffee in the way that milk used to and adds a lovely almondy flavor without any chemical flavorings.

Here’s the breakdown of the nutrition I got this morning, thanks to a lovely iPhone app called, as you can see, “My Fitness Pal.” It’s online, too, if you don’t have an iPhone and like it. It seems to be primarily marketed towards people trying to lose weight, but I use it to keep track of things like protein and iron, not calories, which matter less in my case, especially since I’m eating less meat and almost no processed foods.


Note the high levels of iron, calcium and Vitamin A, as well as my 21 grams of protein. Success! 20-25 grams, achieved!

I love this meal. It’s warming, comforting, delicious and filling. It’s also really easy and takes about fifteen minutes, because all these whole foods just get thrown together. Aside from a bit of chopping, boiling some water, stirring and using a blender, I don’t have to do much. It hardly feels like cooking at all. It’s July, yes, and hot, yes, and I’m eating oatmeal, but it hasn’t bothered me yet! This is better than any (homemade) breakfast I’ve had since my family used to make whole grain banana walnut pancakes for me in the shape of Minnie Mouse.

Pre-Conception Confusion

I had never heard of “preconception planning” before this summer, but when my mother put me in touch with a nutritionist who specializes in preconception, prenatal and pediatric nutrition, it seemed like a brilliant idea. The idea seemed brilliant because changing our eating habits *after* a baby would obviously be impossible. We eat pretty well, but hey, an expert opinion sounded pretty good. I had no idea what I was getting into, and I am so glad that I accepted help as early as I did.

Our baby plan, before I ran headlong into this preconception planning world, consisted of the following: talk about it in 2012, probably in March. If we decided “yes,” we’d get try to get pregnant. If we decided “no,” we’d talk about it again in three months. Why 2012? That is a story for another day, but, basically, there are some prescription medications that I would really like to live without before I get pregnant.

So what’s our baby plan, now? Eat, learn, read, buy even more groceries, eat even more things I have never heard of, try to get used to swallowing lemon-flavored cod liver oil (with extra vitamin D). That covers THIS WEEK. Maybe this month. Next month? I don’t want to think about next month.

Why am I overwhelmed? As it turns out, and I’ll be posting more about this, I could potentially manage my chronic migraine headaches as well as my anxiety and depression with food. *This applies to ME, to my lifestyle, to MY SYMPTOMS, and is NOT general medical advice!* So there’s a lot of information about why and how that works. Then, there’s the baby. I thought I had already made my eggs, Nathan had already made his sperm, done and done. Not true?! What we eat 100 days before conecption has a huge impact on the fetus?! Whoa, do I need time to understand *that* science.

My goals for this blog include:

  • Record my thoughts and experiences, which seem to be speeding by far too quickly, so that I can go back and look at them later.
  • Share my thoughts and experiences with anyone else trying to make sense of this mountain of information–chances are, you could use a “friend” to confirm that, yes, this is really that confusing.
  • Learn even more from anyone willing to read and comment here.
One more thing: I want to post a Nutrition Question once a week. Please keep in mind a few restrictions placed on my diet because I suffer from chronic migraines–no nuts, no cheese, no chocolate, no alcohol. Also, I hate raw tomatoes, beets and peas (unless they’re still in the pod). This week’s Nutrition Question is… Can anyone add to my list of protein-rich foods? I’m trying to cram protein in at every possible opportunity, so I’d like as much variety as possible.
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Steel cut oatmeal
  • Grass-fed beef, organic chicken
  • Salmon, cod and other cold-water fish
  • Beans
  • Eggs
  • Pumpkin seeds (roasted, no salt)
Thanks for your help! I hope my questions can help anyone else out there with baby-related confusion. If you’re looking for professional help (with nutritional questions) by all means, read this lady‘s book and get in touch with her! She’s amazing!