How a Germaphobe Survives Preemies

If you saw my twins in the yard, you would never know that almost a year and a half ago we were in a self imposed quarantine and didn’t leave our bedroom or allow others to come in for about four months. No, I’m not joking. For four months, I obsessively monitored every object that came past my bedroom doorway, washing and sanitizing teethers, blankets and pumping equipment, and avoided physical contact with anyone that was not my husband or my mother. I nursed and pumped around the clock. I did this all in the name of the premature immune system, and avoiding cold and flu germs from school aged nephews and nieces, and commuter family members. By the spring of their first year, my girls came down to the living room and played at a distance from my young nephews.

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When my girls were born eight weeks early and at the start of cold and flu season, I did not hesitate to establish rules of contact and visitation with family and friends almost immediately after leaving the hospital. Family members would describe me as a germaphobe even before having children, so it was no surprise to them that I would be hyper sensitive to hand washing and contact when they realized I would be bringing home not one, but TWO fragile humans from the NICU.

As I pick up spoons caked with avocado and beef off the floor and wipe them on a paper towel before returning them to the lunch bowl, I reflect on what a journey this has been. I have never feared fresh air and sunshine, just germs from other people and their tiny people. From the time the girls were a month old we were bundling up and taking regular walks all over the neighborhood, but we hung a small plastic stop sign from their stroller that we received as part of our exit packet from NICU, that read, “Please wash your hands before touching mine.” It was awesome. It stopped everyone from reaching in a grabbing baby fingers (which immediately go into their mouth,) and many people shared with us that they wished they had something like that when their children were small, because it becomes an awkward task asking strangers not to stick their hands in a baby’s face. Some people don’t mind at all, and some talk about how these encounters build up immunity. I kept telling people, one day they will be sneezed on, they will eat dirt, and will roll around with all of the other kids-their immune systems have some extra developing to do now though, even more so than a full term newborn. We’ll get there.

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When spring arrived and my girls were about four months old, I gradually allowed young cousins to interact closely with the babies. We set out a large blanket on the floor and big kids and babies could play on hands and knees or crawl and giggle next to each other as long as big kids washed hands and no one was sick. I did not allow any toys that went into the girls’ mouthes to be touched by the kiddos though. Unfortunately at this point, that was usually every object they encountered. If cousins wanted to hold babies, we’d wait till after bath time or when they were out of their school clothes and sports uniforms and washed hands. Kisses were on top of the head. Even with adults, I would place a burp cloth over clothing so the girls weren’t licking or laying on a dirty shirt. I continued to breastfeed, and we avoided several stomach bugs and upper respiratory infections. By the time it was summer, our requirements were simple: wash your hands before touching the babies, and if you’re sick, stay away. The baby toys were handled more, and the girls started playing off of their blanket and on foam squares or the carpet.

We ate lunches and dinners on the front porch in our camping high chairs and spent a lot of time outside. In late summer, we took a big family trip and enjoyed floating in the lake and playing outside with our cousins. For their first birthday in November, we had a big birthday party withIMG_0931 lots of family and friends. I was still nursing. The girls were passed around to everyone, but I still kept a close eye on anyone that looked ill. I would gently usher the girls away from a coughing adult or send kids to wash their hands when I saw them wipe their noses.

Once H&G were walking, things got interesting! Walking and teething will break a mother that fears germs. Especially when there are twins and you cannot make your eyeballs move in two different directions simultaneously. Not only are they putting everything imaginable in their mouthes, but now they can get to it on their own, and sometimes in that instant you’re not looking!

Things that I’m pretty sure my toddlers have eaten:

-Hair
-Dirt
-Leaves
-Shoes
-Bird Poop <—-I thought I was going to have a heart attack!* But they were fine, and so was I 🙂
-Books
-Paper
-Lint
-Twigs
-Pebbles
-Really, REALLY old food that they managed to find deep down in the crevices of their high chairs
-Old Almond Milk
-Plastic
-Clothing tags
-Each others boogers <—Twin life
-Bugs

And one time I pulled a PENNY out of my daughter’s mouth. That could have been very dangerous, but luckily she gave herself away. We’re STILL teething, so I know the fun isn’t over yet!

My reactions to toddler noshing have mellowed, because I really have to pick and choose what is going to take up time and attention. Not everything can be earth shattering or send my blood pressure through the roof. So these are my hard NO’s:

-Don’t touch or eat poop
-Sick people stay away

-Avoid chemicals/pesticides
-No touching/eating garbage, whether on the floor or in the can.

Even if we’re under the weather, we will always get sunshine and fresh air. We still want people to wash their hands when they come home from a store, a school, or any busy public place. We eat mainly organic foods, and my girls and I have been dairy and soy free because of allergies. I very recently (at 18.5 months) stopped nursing my twins. This was bittersweet and I definitely cried. It marked a new stage for my growing girls and made me feel like my security blanket of providing that little extra immunity for them disappeared. I’m happy to say though, that at 19+ months we have lived alongside several flus, stomach viruses, upper respiratory infections, and croup, and have never been sick with any of them. I hear that we’re bound to catch something between now and 24 months, but I feel like my girls have strong immune systems now. I’m so thankful that we were able to give that extra time to develop and ease into interactions with a very large circle of family and friends, and I am so thankful that I was able to breastfeed twins for as long as I did.

You know you’ve made progress when other people are running around, pulling all sorts of things out of your toddler’s hands, and you’re like, “ehh, it’s fiber.”

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Eating for Three: Making Food Choices while Nursing a Baby with a Dairy Allergy

Bubble Tea at Ten Ren Tea House in Chinatown, NY

It can be frustrating till you get the hang of it, but there are foods you can still enjoy! Bubble Tea at Ten Ren Tea House in Chinatown, NY

Before I had my girls I ate a healthy, balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, meats, grains, dairy, and sweets. As a creature of habit, I would thrive on eating certain foods every day around the same time. After work I’d rush home to devour a greek yogurt with crushed walnuts as an afternoon snack. During a two month span of time I ate a chicken and apple sandwich with mixed greens and balsamic on whole wheat bread everyday for lunch. For breakfast, I ate two eggs with fresh fruit and a green smoothie. This lasted an entire spring. While typing this, I’ve dropped some oatmeal and fresh blueberries on my daughter’s head as I’m nursing her (the oatmeal is my latest breakfast kick.)

Hubs likes to point out my ability to intensely focus on things for months at a time, and then wake up one day and sit at the table, crinkle my nose, and push a favorite food away from me in disgust. The level of saturation has been reached.I guess I can understand how this unnerves him.

There’s a word for what I have, and we hear people use it all the time. It’s called: efficiency. Oh, is that not the word you were thinking of? What were you thinking?

Look up the definition of efficiency, and you’ll see that this makes perfect sense. Eating efficiently means that by consuming the same foods everyday I am able to plan and organize in a certain way, provide the right amount of fuel for a body that is working full-time or teaching classes at the gym, and create a smoother meal flow without having to think much about it.  Figure out the formula, keep the house stocked with those foods, and pack the same thing every night in the refrigerator. I knew exactly how long it would take me to eat my sandwich, and didn’t waste time buying drinks from vending machines or hunting down utensils. When my needs and my schedule changed, my meals adapted. Totally efficient.
I don’t mean to suck the fun out of food and variety. I love dining out, trying new restaurants, and taking impromptu trips to China Town for bubble teas and Italian cookies. These things were reserved for dinners or weekends though. The rest of the week’s meals happened like clock work.  That’s not a rule or anything, that’s just the way it worked out.

Dining out is a bit trickier now, but it can be done! Call ahead to find out about allergy friendly options.

Dining out is a bit trickier now, but it can be done! Call ahead to find out about allergy friendly options.

I think my eating habits prepared me for the day I was changing one of my daughters’ diapers and saw blood.

There’s something about your own child’s blood that creates that flush of prickly panic. The twins had their blood drawn from them in the NICU for testing, but those were very controlled and planned instances. Nothing had prepared me for this. There weren’t any cuts or scratches, and at 4 weeks old, surely it was too late for a mini period ( see #3 http://www.parents.com/baby/care/newborn/newborn-worries-not-to-worry-about/ .) I immediately called the pediatrician, and was informed that this could be the sign of a dairy allergy triggered by dairy in my breast milk.

After the call I went on the internet (that was a great idea,) and scared the hell out of myself. Fortunately, I did come across some excellent resources for moms of babies with dairy and soy allergies and intolerances. I throw soy in there as well, because soy can elicit similar reactions from babies with dairy issues, so many times the alternative recipes out there exclude both of these ingredients. Sites such as MSPI Mama provide recipes you can check out here http://www.mspimama.com/p/recipe-index.html . MSPI stands for milk soy protein intolerance.
In the months following, I took more photos of poop than should ever be taken.  I will spare you the graphic images-you can be responsible for your own nightmares by googling them yourself. I went on an insane elimination diet. I call it insane because it seemed to drive everyone else around me crazy-especially my mother and husband who were trying their best to be helpful by providing home cooked or store-bought meals for me while I nursed around the clock. First, I cut out dairy, then soy, and still saw blood so I had to look for “hidden dairy” and really start to read the labels of all the foods I was consuming. It wasn’t enough to not eat cheese or yogurt. I had to make sure there wasn’t any butter, lactose, or casein in my meals too. I stopped eating all nuts. I gave up citrus and also avoided broccoli, cauliflower, beans, onions, peppers, and spices because I suspected these were causing gas or reflux.

So what did I eat you ask? Well, it was a fortunate coincidence that my family was trying out a Paleo diet at the time. Paleo excludes dairy, grains, processed foods and added sugars. Many of the foods available to me at the time were perfectly safe for me to eat.

Now remember, I am a creature of habit and efficiency, so once I found the magic formula for creating a dairy/soy/nut/citrus free meal, I ate it frequently and in large quantities.

My mother, who is a complete ROCK STAR, and cooked for me EVERY SINGLE DAY, could barely keep me fed and satisfied, bless her heart. I ate like two large men. She would cook for me and hubs, and I would eat both portions and be famished an hour and a half later. Twin breastfeeding burns a ton of calories! Hubs joked that keeping me fed required an extra income and was a part-time job for my mother.

Apple pie a la mode? Not so much, anymore.

Apple pie a la mode? Not so much, anymore.

These are my go-to foods.  With the exception of some of the meats, all the other items are almost always stocked in the kitchen.
Meat:

Bison
Chicken
Beef
Pork
Venison
Duck                                                                                                                                                Lamb

Vegetables:

Sweet potatoes
Turnips
Kale
Spinach
Romaine lettuce
Carrots
Beets
Plantains
Artichoke hearts

Fruits:

Apples
Pears
Bananas
Blueberries
Dates
Avocados
Grapes
Watermelon

Grains:

Rice
Oatmeal (gluten-free)

Oils:

Coconut oil
Olive oil
Avocado oil

I also researched companies that made dairy and soy free treats and compiled a list of them to save you the trouble! 🙂 Ooh, I’m so excited to tell you about them! Sweets! 🙂

So Delicious brand coconut milk ice-cream http://sodeliciousdairyfree.com/product_groups/dairy-free-desserts
Luna and Larry’s organic coconut bliss ice-cream http://coconutbliss.com
Alternative Baking Company cookies http://www.alternativebaking.com
Nana’s cookies-oatmeal raisin was the one I loved http://www.nanascookiecompany.com
Enjoy Life products http://enjoylifefoods.com/?gclid=CK7tkJTwq8MCFUpp7AoddGgAtA
Select Udi’s cookies http://udisglutenfree.com
Cybele’s cookies http://cybelepascal.com

I can’t lie to you, friends.  Some of these alternative, allergy friendly treats are pricey! In fact, paleo eating can be very pricey because of all the organic, grass-fed meats that are used, and the amount of fresh produce purchased weekly. There is definitely a discussion in here for another time about accessibility to quality foods for all. But I would say this: if you can stretch your budget, isn’t good, quality food a great investment? Food is definitely a huge monthly expense for us now that we have two babies to feed and we feed them organic meats and produce.

Chocolate truffles? Nope.

Chocolate truffles? Nope.

And for those of you out there doubting that a coconut milk ice-cream can taste like regular ice-cream, I’d say don’t compare them.  Appreciate the new, allergy friendly version as its own wonderful treat. Cheese and milk replacements? Ehhh, I’m not personally interested in those.  It was easier to say goodbye to pizza and bagels entirely than eat poor imitations of them. I live in New York after all, I can’t be eating fake pizza and bagels. As for the Alternative Baking Company cookies though-I rave about them all over my website.  They are amazing cookies, allergy friendly or not.

It has now been 14 months of an altered diet, since I’m still nursing.  I have reintroduced all except dairy and soy back into my meals, but have decided that pastas and most breads don’t need to make a comeback, at least not yet. For now, this new food routine is working and has been totally efficient. I hope if you find yourself in a similar situation, you figure out what works for you and your babe, and find some foods you love!

This post made me realize just how many photos exist of me stuffing my face. Please enjoy them.

Fancy food truck cupcakes in Chicago.

Fancy food truck cupcakes in Chicago.

Lobsta rolls in New Hampshire.

Lobsta rolls in New Hampshire.

Paninis in Rome.

Paninis in Vatican City.

Falling in love with artichokes all over again in Rome.

Falling in love with artichokes all over again in Rome.