A Guidebook for Dealing with PMS {Part 3: Movement and Rest}

by Elizabeth

exercise

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed possible dietary changes for managing PMS more effectively, and in Part 2, we discussed supplements. Today in Part 3 we’ll discuss movement and rest.

Again, I’ll mention that I’m not a doctor. I’m not a physical trainer. I’m just a fellow human who needs exercise to cope with the stress of life. If you’re not already exercising, you should probably talk to a doctor first, and always be sure to modify any movement to fit your own personal fitness level or to accommodate past injuries.

 

1. Cardio and Weight Training for Irritability, Anxiety, and Menstrual Pain

Exercise helps with anxiety, stress, and sleep and hormone regulation. This is another area of our lives where we can’t just pop a pill. We have to do the work of getting our bodies moving.

Here’s what my OB says about exercise: “Moderation daily — it helps endogenous endorphins which can overcome the negative effects of progesterone.” (Remember that pre-menstrual syndrome is really post-ovulation syndrome, when our bodies are feeling the effects of progesterone.)

I’ve known for years that I need regular exercise to keep my moods level and manage my inner grouch. I need hard exercise to accomplish this. No half-hearted cardio will do. It needs to be high intensity cardio (though not necessarily high impact), or it needs to be strength/interval/circuit training with weights. Some research shows that exercise, when done well, can be as good as anti-depressants.

Even though I know I need the exercise to battle my stress and anxiety, it’s all too easy to let exercise slide, either because I’m too busy, too tired, or simply too hot (hello Tropics!). In the past year, however, I’ve realized more and more that I simply cannot afford to skip regular exercise. I make it even more of a priority than before, especially in the week or so before my period.

I’ve also concluded that weight or strength training is even more efficient than cardio in producing the endorphins/happy hormones. So I’ve increased my weight-bearing workouts.

When I sense I’m beginning to come unglued, I tell my husband, I need to workout right now. He smiles and nods and says, “I hope you have a good workout. You’ll feel better afterwards.” And I do. I fare much better doing the exercise than laying in bed and watching Netflix.

As to the moderation, here’s how I handle the scheduling of exercise. I aim for 5-6 workouts a week, but I’m satisfied with 4-5. Some weeks, depending on our schedule, I have to make peace with 3. I do the strength training 2-3 days per week and always give myself 48 hours in between strength training sessions.

I alternate difficult workouts with lighter workouts, and I will not do difficult workouts two days in a row. When you workout hard, you have to give your body time to rest. I usually plan at least one day a week where I don’t exercise at all. Your body can’t keep going, going, going all the time.

I’m not a fanatic about workout length, either. I workout about 30 minutes at a time, and sometimes only 20. What I’m saying is, you don’t have to workout for an hour or two every day to reap the mental health benefits. Twenty minutes really can suffice, if you’re putting in the effort to make it intense enough.

While I have to work out hard in the pre-menstrual days, I need to take it a bit lighter during my period. That doesn’t mean nothing; getting moving with some light cardio helps with the cramps. We think we want to stay in bed when we get cramps, but in reality, movement is better. Cramps start to dissipate when we start to stretch and move.

Walking is another good exercise option. When I lived in the States, I went on a lot of walks. Walking is truly moderate exercise and can be done every day. But the streets of Phnom Penh are dirty and crowded, and in general I choose not to walk here unless I can get to a safer, cleaner area. I love to walk and talk with my husband or with friends, and I do miss it while living here. But if it works for you, I hope you enjoy it!

 

2. Yoga and Stretching for Anxiety, Headaches, and Menstrual Pain

I’ll just mention this up front: I know yoga can be a sensitive subject for Christians. I’m not here to debate; I will merely tell you my experience. You need to make your own decisions.

First of all, I’ve never been drawn to yoga. I tried it a couple times in my 20’s because it was supposedly so good for you. I found it utterly boring, just laying there in uncomfortable positions, doing nothing. If I were going to set aside time to exercise, I wanted to be burning calories. I didn’t bother myself with any theological concerns because I simply wasn’t interested in it.

That was before last year, when my anxiety rose to unmanageable levels. It prompted me to do a lot of research into ways to manage anxiety. Yoga is one of those ways, so I tried it again. This time, I was surprised at how effectively the yoga reduced my anxiety. I could feel it dropping even as I moved into the positions.

Yoga requires a lot of concentration on your body and on your breath. This is in itself distracting from your anxieties. It helps you get in touch with the body God made for you, a body that God declared good.

I personally found that yoga videos for neck and back pain seemed to be pretty user-friendly. They stretched my body in new ways, releasing the tension that caused pain in my neck and back and even increasing my hip and leg flexibility.

I didn’t like videos with too much spiritual mumbo-jumbo or Eastern sounding talk, which is where people’s main concerns arise, I think. The way I handled this was to find and learn the yoga positions that helped my specific bodily concerns. (I mostly found videos for neck and shoulder pain, but I also discovered yoga positions for menstrual pain that really, truly work.) Then I would perform them either in silence or with worship music.

For me, this approach handled any religious or faith-based concerns I might have. If ancient people stumbled across ways of stretching and moving the body that help with pain or anxiety, I consider that general revelation (as opposed to the special revelation we find in the Bible).

This is how I feel about acupressure and acupuncture (which can also help with headaches – google it) and even modern medicine (which might not be full of Eastern mystics but certainly has non-Christian practitioners, and most of us still feel comfortable with Western medicine).

If a drug or non-drug treatment can help to heal these bodies that God made, then I simply choose to thank God for the options and reject any religious talk that conflicts with my worldview.

In recent months I’ve been neglecting the yoga/stretching, and I can feel a difference in my mind and my body. I have more tension and anxiety. Last year when my anxiety was at an all-time high, I did yoga regularly. As the anxiety lessened, I stopped getting on the mat in the morning when my body was at its stiffest and the day was at its quietest. It’s a practice I need to return to.

 

3. Breathing for Anxiety and Irritability

I’ve said it in other places before, but breathing is like a drug:

Some drugs are free.
Like breathing.
I love breathing. It’s my favorite.
I recently announced this to my kids.
Some of them thought I was crazy, but one agreed.
It’s true though. I just love breathing.
Pause.
Inhale, exhale.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Release, receive.
When I stop to close my eyes and breathe deeply and slowly, I immediately calm down.
My body relaxes.
My thoughts stop swirling.
My emotions stop pressing.
So take a deep breath. Maybe take three.
And remember, some drugs are free.
If only we will use them.

Last year I looked into other breathing techniques beside this kind of simple, slow, deep breathing. My favorite breathing technique turned out to be triangle breathing. My husband first told me about it; he uses it himself and regularly teaches it to clients.

There are several ways to do triangle breathing; you can google them. One is to breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and exhale for 4 seconds. Or you can choose 5 seconds, or 6, or whatever. Another method is to breathe in for 4 seconds and breathe out for 8 (basically taking twice as long to exhale as to inhale).

But my favorite form of triangle breathing — and the one I use most frequently, especially when I can’t sleep at night because of anxiety — doesn’t rely on counting. I actually get stressed out if I try to count. It just feels like one more thing I need to do right and could possibly do wrong. That’s not helpful for my anxiety!

So this is how I do it. I breathe in deeply through my nose for as long as it takes to get a full breath. Then I hold it. I might hold it for awhile. I might hold it only one count. I might even count during the breath-holding phase, but not usually. Then I release my breath slowly through my mouth, for as long as it takes to empty my lungs. In this way, I don’t feel the pressure of a time table for the inhale and exhale.

I like to triangle breathe in traffic, in between errands, or whenever I realize I’ve just been rushing through life forgetting to breathe. It helps me to purposely slow down and calm down.

Breathing exercises can reduce heart rate and blood pressure. It’s kind of wild to think about, but simply taking control of our breath can change our heart rate. (You can prove this to yourself with a pulse app on your phone.) We have more control over our minds and our bodies than we sometimes assume (which is what this series is all about!).

There are other forms of breathing, too. Some people have spoken highly of alternate nostril breathing, and though I’ve tried it, I’ve never gotten the same results with it that I get through the triangle breathing. But you can google alternate nostril breathing if you like. Whatever method you choose, just remember to breathe.

 

4. Sleep and Rest for making everything in life seem better

When you cut the caffeine, you may suddenly find that you need more sleep. This is your body talking to you. (Yes, she talks to you.) (And yes, PMS is one way she talks to you.)

It is way too easy to silence our bodies’ needs for sleep with caffeine, screen time, and a busy schedule that is always producing excess adrenaline in us. Too many of us are ignoring our bodies’ need for sleep.

When I cut the caffeine, I started taking naps again. When I was in college, I napped. When my kids were babies and toddlers and everyone had a naptime or quiet time, I napped. But over the years, as I drank more and more coffee, and the kids slept during the day less and less, I gave up the naps. I would tamp down my need for sleep on Sunday afternoons with coffee and some screen time.

I don’t do that anymore. Now I always take a nap on Sundays, and sometimes on Saturdays, and occasionally on weekdays if I absolutely need it. I know not everyone can do this. You may work outside the home, or you may have small children in the home who can’t be left unattended.

Thankfully at this stage of life I can sneak in a nap if I really need it. My kids are older, and they can work on some of their school work on their own, and the older ones can keep an eye on the younger ones. (Interestingly enough, I’ve found that when I do this, my younger children get really creative and imaginative in their play. Sometimes a little parent-free time is good for them!)

I’m so much happier now that I have reclaimed my naps (I really look forward to my Sunday nap).

But I’m not just talking about naps here. I’m also talking about resting from the exercise, at least one day a week. And I’m talking about getting good nighttime sleep too. My OB says this about sleep: “Regular sleep hygiene (going to bed and waking up at same time daily) with avoidance of electronics in bed helps.”

I have my husband to thank for a good bedtime routine. He gets up earlier than I do and wants to be in bed by 10:15 pm. If left to myself, I would stay up later than that, wasting time on Facebook or Youtube. It’s not that I have anything I’m accomplishing at that time of day. It’s that my brain is so tired by that time, that I don’t have the self-awareness or motivation to put myself to bed for the next day. Because as we all know, a good day really begins the night before.

Getting enough sleep means we’re less crabby, and it means we can think more clearly, because we are getting the rest we need. So it’s good to have some accountability in this area, because we all really need consistent bedtimes.

I still struggle not to check Facebook and email that “one last time” before bed. I have in the past kept the computer completely out of the bedroom. Lately I haven’t been very good about that. I know that when I stay away from the computer before bedtime, I have fewer distressing things on my mind as I try to fall asleep.

Instead, reading a light fiction book in bed can help put my mind to rest. My brain can’t function very well at that time of night, certainly not well enough to read difficult fiction or non-fiction. But light fiction, I can do. It puts me to sleep. Pretty quickly actually.

One sleep problem I have not yet solved: waking up to go to the bathroom! Nighttime bathroom trips are big sleep disrupters in our house. I try to monitor my water intake in the evening, but it’s not easy when it’s hot or when I exercise in the evening.

When I’m in a season of higher anxiety, as soon as I wake up to use the bathroom, my mind starts going. That’s when I use triangle breathing or sing hymns to myself (this one in particular has gotten me through a lot of bad nights). But I honestly wish I didn’t wake up in the first place.

 

 

As you can see, I’m still a work in progress when it comes to these practices! I’ve used them all to good effect in the past and want to keep using them in the future. Hopefully some of these approaches will work for you, too.

In the final installment of this series, we’ll talk about tracking our emotions and our cycles.

 

Part 1: Dietary Changes

Part 2: Supplements

Part 4: Emotion and Cycle Tracking (link coming soon)

On Living in Terrible Times

by Jonathan

The sword hangs by a thread, suspended above the throne, pointing down. Threatening.

One strand of horsehair, fastened to the pommel, is strong enough. Barely. One breeze, one bit of weakening fiber, and death is certain.

And so, no matter how powerful the king becomes, no matter how many successes he has, the sword remains above him, ominous, looming, damning.

What’s the sword hanging over your head, threatening to snap loose and cleave? What’s the thing that’s unresolved and maybe even unresolvable? What’s the impending doom that’s imploding joy?

Is it the politics of your passport country or your host country? Visa issues or money problems? Social unrest and violence where you live or where you’re from?

Is it the well-being of your church or your children? Your health or your marriage? Is it an imminent deconstruction?

Do you drown in a deep awareness that one tiny thing could shift and it would all come crashing down?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We live in an ever-more connected age, which seems to be resulting in an ever-more frightened age. Things seem to get scarier and scarier, more and more unstable. Darker. A U.S. news site just ran this headline: It’s Hard To Not Be Anxious When Nowhere Feels Safe Anymore.

Governments fall, global alliances splinter, trusted institutions falter and misstep. Racism blooms like a mushroom cloud and injustice rains down unchecked.

It’s exhausting and terrifying and oftentimes paralyzing.

 

How should we then live? How should we then minister and love across cultures?
C.S. Lewis speaks to us, cautioning against a common (and paralyzing) error. Lewis writes, “[D]o not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation.”

He continues, speaking of his very atomic circumstances, the sword his generation lived under:

“Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors – anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.”

OK. Depressing.

But somehow, it’s not depressing for Lewis; it doesn’t lead to numbness or retreat or despair. Instead, for Lewis, this awareness leads to LIVING. He goes on to encourage the fearful of his time, and us too:

“If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts – not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.”

So may I encourage you, my dear reader: don’t forget to live. Plant yourself where you’re at, scratch your name into the land, and connect heart and sinew with the people of God and the people God loves. Live!

 

Chase the Light & Notice the Life
We need to know and remember, deep in our gut, that we can face this darkness and not die. It’s a hard sell, I know, but notice how Paul juxtapositions death AND life in the same verses. They’re both there, and they’re both weighty:

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the DEATH of Jesus so that the LIFE of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we LIVE under constant danger of DEATH because we serve Jesus, so that the LIFE of Jesus will be evident in our DYING bodies. So we LIVE in the face of DEATH, but this has resulted in eternal LIFE for you.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-12, NLT)

My best friend recently pondered this collision of life and death, musing about our desperate need to chase the light, especially when it’s dark. She wrote:

So what can we do when we’re confronted with all the darkness within, and all the darkness without? I mean, we know the end is good. We know the Bridegroom is coming back for us. But our eternal hope doesn’t always translate easily into our everyday moments and hours.

I think we need to chase the light. To DO something to help scatter the darkness. These days this is how you’ll find me chasing the light. . .

Singing a worship song.
Kissing my husband.
Chopping vegetables and preparing a meal for my family.
Reading a book to my kids.
Laughing at my husband’s jokes.
Going for a walk.
Drinking coffee with a friend.

These are the things that are saving my life right now. The small, menial acts that remind me that I’m still alive, that I’m not dead yet, and that the world hasn’t actually blown itself up yet.

No matter how sad I feel about everything on my first list, I can’t change any of them. But I can live my tiny little life with light and joy. With passion and hope. I can chase the light.

I chase the light, and I remember that this life is actually worth living, even with all the sadness in it. I chase the light, and I remember the Giver of these little joys, and I give thanks in return.

I refuse to let the griefs and evils of this world pull me all the way down into the pit. I will revolt against this despair. I will chase the light. I will grasp hold of the ephemeral joys of my itty bitty domestic life. And I will remember — always — the Source of this light. 

~ Elizabeth Trotter

Conclusion
Living under the sword of Damocles is draining and terrifying. But even there, Christ is.

And because Christ is, we can dance in the light as much as we fight in the dark; we can laugh as much as we mourn. Our lips can crack into smiles as often as our hearts crack into pieces.

As long as this age endures, the sword will remain. And yet.

The lone strand of a horse’s hair, weakly holding back death, has been replaced by the strong mane of a Lion’s love. And we are saved.

So live, dear one.

Chase the light and remember the King.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

*More on the Sword of Damocles

This article first appeared on A Life Overseas

A Guidebook for Dealing with PMS {Part 2: Supplements}

by Elizabeth

water

In the first part of this series, I discussed the changes I’ve made to my eating habits over the last year to make PMS easier to deal with. In this installment, I’ll discuss supplements that can help with PMS.

And this is where it gets tricky – because supplements can be like drugs, and I’m not a doctor. So again I’ll say, do your own research and talk to your own doctor about any supplements you want to take.

I’ll also tell you up front that I don’t use a lot of supplements. They tend to be expensive here, and it can be hard to find the specific supplement you want. A lot of friends who use supplements need to buy in bulk and bring them from their passport country – or have friends bring them on visits.

Additionally, the more I researched the specific vitamins and minerals I needed for my main symptoms, the more I realized that the healthier food I was eating was already providing most of what I needed. I do, however, take a few supplements.

 

1. Magnesium for Headaches and Anxiety

Everywhere I looked, magnesium seemed to be a highly recommended supplement. Magnesium is a mineral (as opposed to a vitamin) that’s supposed to help with anxiety and sleep. Interestingly, when I looked for natural remedies for migraine headaches back when I was pregnant and nursing, magnesium was a recommended supplement for treating headaches.

Some nutritionists believe that most people are deficient in magnesium. Whether that’s true or not, I felt like my symptoms (anxiety and headaches) did point to a magnesium deficiency, and I was able to find some magnesium here in country. It’s not the “most bioavailable” form that all those nutrition experts claim you need, but it seems to alleviate my symptoms. I try to take one pill a day for most of the month. If I can feel anxiety rising in the post-ovulation period, I’ll take an extra one each day.

I also take extra magnesium when I have a headache. That’s usually on the day before my period starts or the day it starts. It can also happen if I stay up too late watching a movie with my husband. I carry extra magnesium pills with me in my purse. (I’ve learned helpful stretches for both headaches and cramps that I will share in a later section.)

Another tactic I use for dealing with headaches is peppermint oil. Please note that essential oils need to be used topically and that they need to be diluted. We’re talking a couple drops here, diluted in water or some other carrier oil like coconut or jojoba. I dilute peppermint oil with water and rub it into the base of my neck, where my migraine headaches originate. You can also rub a bit into your temples if you get tension headaches. (And yes, I realize that essential oils are controversial, but topically applied peppermint oil really helps with my headaches.)

Another way I treat my headaches is with green tea. I know I said I gave up caffeine, so let me explain the back story here. I had menstrual cramps as a teenager, and even then I had difficulty finding an over-the-counter medication to help. Sometimes Aleve (naproxen sodium) helped miraculously, but sometimes it didn’t help at all. Tylenol (acetaminophen or paracetomol) rarely helped either headaches or cramps.

I landed on Advil (ibuprofen) as my cramp and migraine drug of choice. The only thing was, I kept needing to use more. 400 mg was no longer cutting it; I needed 600. I was a little nervous I would eventually need 800 mg per dose. And I needed to take it more often. I didn’t just take it in the morning; I needed more in the afternoon too.

But the thing was, the ibuprofen was tearing up my stomach. If I wasn’t careful to eat a lot of food with it, I had terrible stomach pain. Ibuprofen use is linked to a lot of stomach issues, and I knew I needed to stop using it. So the first thing I did was try to switch back to Tylenol and see if it would work. Turns out, it does, though over the last year I’ve been able to wean myself mostly off the Tylenol too.

I didn’t only take increasing doses of ibuprofen for the cramps and headaches; I was also washing down that ibuprofen with a cup of strong coffee. Caffeine can treat headaches; it’s a component of some over-the-counter headache medications. But as I drank more and more coffee throughout my days, that meant that when I needed to treat a headache, I would swallow 3 ibuprofen pills and wash them down with an extra cup of strong coffee. Ouch!

Now that I’ve eliminated the coffee, I’m sensitive to caffeine again. The small amounts of caffeine in green tea are enough to help with the headaches when they happen a couple times a month. Or I might drink some green tea after I’ve had a particularly bad night’s sleep. I don’t need to use the caffeine in green tea very often, but it’s nice to know it’s available should I need it.

 

2. Probiotics for Anxiety and Gut Health

Some research suggests that the “good” bacteria in our digestive tracts manufacture some of our feel-good hormones. It also suggests that the “bad” bacteria makes us crave sugar, and that when we eat sugar, we contribute to the overgrowth of bad bacteria or yeasts. We always have some of both, but they’re supposed to be in balance.

So if we don’t have enough of the good bacteria, either because we took antibiotics and killed them off, or because we eat a diet too high in sugar and not high enough in healthy fiber, the bacteria in our guts can get out of balance, and we can tend toward anxiety, sugar cravings, and even weight gain.

I was guilty on both counts. There are way too many opportunities to need antibiotics in a developing country, and as discussed before, I consumed way too many hidden sugars.

Research has shown that something as simple as eating more live-cultured yogurt (regardless of whether it’s sweetened of unsweetened) can reduce anxiety in women. I know this gut-brain connection sounds kind of weird, and it’s a newer area of research. But I definitely needed help with the anxiety, and probiotics are also good for keeping all kinds of female infections away (this has been shown in other studies).

So not only do I consume probiotics in yogurt and kefir, but I also try to purchase probiotic supplements. I can’t just hop over to a health food store like I could in America. But when people have come to visit, I’ve sent them probiotics to bring me, and I know a couple people in country who sell probiotics, too. I’ve been able to get some from them. I don’t know if the pills are as effective as food, but they seem like a good idea for my symptoms, and I take them faithfully.

 

3. Vitamins A, B, C, D, E

Basically all the vitamins, right?! Different sources cited all these vitamins as potential helps for PMS. However, I have chosen not to supplement with extra vitamins. As I explained in the beginning, the more I looked into the vitamins and minerals my body needed, the more I realized that my new eating plan should be providing most of these necessary vitamins.

I’m not opposed to taking vitamins, but at this point I’ve seen enough improvement through diet alone that, with the exception of magnesium and probiotics, I don’t feel the need to spend the extra money.

If you are going to take extra vitamins, I would recommend discussing with a doctor. He or she can administer blood tests and give you recommendations, because you don’t want to overdose on vitamins. The exception to this rule might be a regular multivitamin, which should be formulated to have safe levels of vitamins and minerals if that’s the only supplement you are taking.

 

4. Herbs, Amino Acids, and Essential Fatty Acids

There are a lot of other herbs and supplements sold for various PMS symptoms. So far I’ve chosen not to use them. However, I do feel comfortable with the small amount of herbs in herbal teas. Teas that are supposedly good for anxiety are peppermint, chamomile, lavender, and red/rooibos. I drink all these teas and like them all, though rooibos and peppermint are my favorites.

But I have a lot of friends who’ve found great success with various supplements. So if you want to look into other herbs, amino acids, or essential fatty acids, I would recommend doing your own research and talking to your own doctor. And if you find one that helps, by all means, use it!

 

5. Prescription Medications

Here is what my OB-GYN had to say about medications when diet and lifestyle changes are not enough:

“Low dose OCPs (oral contraceptive pills) suppress the surges of hormone (that get more drastic peaks and troughs as we get closer to menopause) and replace them with steady state hormones, which is why they are effective for PMS depressive mood/anxiety disorder. 

“SSRIs can also help, and can be taken cyclically rather than every day. Hormones and/or SSRIs are a reasonable short-medium term option if the severity of effects are driving you nuts.”  

So if hormonal issues are affecting your relationships and your daily life, and your other lifestyle changes don’t seem to be helping enough, definitely talk to your doctor about prescription options.

 

6. Perfumes and Fragrances

This doesn’t exactly fit into the supplement category, but it doesn’t fit into food, exercise, or cycle tracking either, so I thought here would be the best place to discuss it. I think it’s too important to leave out. The more I looked into ways to naturally balance your hormones, the more recommendations I found to reduce or eliminate exposure to artificial fragrances and perfumes.

Maybe these things don’t affect you, but they have always affected me. I have never done well with perfumes. They have always given me headaches. I would wear them, trying to convince my body to get used to them and stop reacting. But I never stopped having headaches with them.

I sometimes react to the scents in makeup or hair care products, and I always know when the neighbors are doing their laundry, because the fabric softener wafts up through my windows and hurts my eyes and gives me a headache. Even sitting behind someone wearing perfume in church can give me a headache, and I can barely walk by the detergent and cleaning supplies aisle in a store (in Asia or America), the smells are so strong.

(What is up with our obsession with scented cleaning products?? As a friend of mine likes to say, “Clean smells like . . . nothing!”)

There are a lot of reasons to suspect that fragrances and perfumes interfere with our hormones, too. They may smell nice, but they are not natural. Those good smells come from a concoction of artificial chemicals, and most of the time they are also skin irritants (eczema, acne, etc).

If we’re doing all this hard work to eat and drink better and to take helpful vitamins and supplements, then why would we deliberately put something on our bodies that could be irritating our skin or interfering with our hormones?

Fragrances are also hiding in our menstrual products and personal lubricants. It’s frustrating that in this day and age, companies are still putting fragrances and irritants in our personal care products, because the skin in that area is super sensitive and deserves to be treated with care.

Scented menstrual products are a big trigger for my skin issues, and that’s been really frustrating in Cambodia. I can’t tell you how many products I’ve purchased over the years, only to bring them home, open them up, and realize they were scented. Finally in the past year I’ve been able to find a brand that seems as unscented and non-irritating as I’m going to find here.

It’s can be hard to find fragrance-free soap, makeup, and laundry detergent, but I stock up when I can, or I use the least fragranced products that I can find. I just know I feel better when I use as few fragranced products as possible, and this step might help you too.

What I’m saying here again is, do what you can to avoid irritants and other chemicals that trigger headaches and skin rashes or that potentially destabilize your hormones, but if there’s something you can’t change, try not to stress about it. You don’t need the extra stress in your life that this kind of worry will bring.

 

Part 1: Dietary Changes

Part 3: Movement and Rest

Part 4: Cycle and Emotion Tracking (link coming soon)

A Guidebook for Dealing with PMS {Part 1: Dietary Changes}

by Elizabeth

PMS

From the title you can probably guess that this one’s for the ladies. (All you guys out there can take a pass.)

And truly, I never thought I would blog about this. But someone recently asked me for advice on dealing with PMS. I didn’t know the specifics of her situation (PMS symptoms run the gamut of the physical and emotional), so I just threw everything I had at her, hoping something would stick. My husband looked at my list and told me that it could help a lot of people and that I should turn it into a blog post.

So here we are, talking about Pre-Menstrual Syndrome in a public forum.

First let me give you all the caveats. I am not a medical professional. I am not a nutritionist or dietitian. I am just a 38-year-old woman who has had to get better control over her physical and emotional states in the past year, because the situation had become desperate. I dreaded half of every single month, and so did my husband.

I’ll simply be sharing things that worked for me. I recommend that you do your own research and talk to your own doctor before making any changes. I talked with both my nurse-midwife and a friend who is an OB-GYN about most of these things, and I’ll note their advice in each section.

I would also recommend that you start slow. You want your changes to be sustainable over the long run. I’ll be sharing a lot of options here. Starting small and getting a handle on just one or two things first, before adding anything new, can go a long way in making these changes permanent lifestyle changes. And that’s what you want – permanent changes. You won’t be able to sustain the benefits if you can’t sustain the habits.

I would also encourage you to be patient. Your mind and your body will improve in response to your changing choices, but it takes time, sometimes a lot of time. In my experience the physical symptoms improved long before the mental symptoms improved, but they did improve over time. Some sources say to wait at least 3 months before expecting meaningful change – that’s how long our hormonal systems need to adjust.

Everything is cumulative, so there’s a sort of snowball effect that happens when you’re able to implement a bunch of strategies at once, but it’s also true that every small change can be helpful. So don’t lose heart in the beginning.

Ok, now that that’s done, here’s a little medical definition of PMS, according to my OB-GYN friend: “Ovulation is marked by massive progesterone surge, and progesterone stays elevated until just before the next menses.  Hence the ‘premenstrual’ syndrome is more accurately a ‘post-ovulation-syndrome.’ Progesterone causes fluid retention, can be associated with irritability and depressed mood, and in general is a pain in our heads!”

Here are the main pre-menstrual (or post-ovulation) symptoms I was dealing with: anxiety, moodiness, snappiness, irritability, recurrent female infections, breast tenderness, and to a lesser extent, acne.

I was also dealing with menstrual cramps and migraine headaches on first day of my cycle and/or the day before.

In this article I’ll be discussing diet. In the following articles in this series, I’ll discuss supplements, movement & rest, and emotion/cycle tracking.

I’m starting with diet because that’s a place where a lot of us fall short. I don’t think we can just pop a pill or swallow a supplement and watch our symptoms magically disappear, not if we are dumping garbage into our temples. We have to do the work of changing how we eat.

I have a history of an eating disorder, and for years I ate a highly unbalanced, carb-heavy, nutrient-light diet. However, I paid very careful attention to my eating when I was pregnant and nursing, because someone else’s well-being was depending on me. But when I was done with those precious childbearing years, I let a lot of my healthy eating habits lapse. This has been especially true in the midst of stressful overseas living. So believe me when I tell you, I had a lot of room for growth.

Here’s a list of some changes you can make, along with the potential symptoms they relieve, according to what I’ve read and experienced. Explanations and plans for implementing the changes can be found in each section, along with my personal stories.

  1. Decrease caffeine intake: reduces anxiety, breast pain, and sleep disturbances.
  2. Decrease sugar and refined carbohydrates: reduces mood swings, acne, and female infections.
  3. Increase quality protein, fats, and fiber: reduces anxiety, acne, and mood swings.
  4. Decrease alcohol: reduces sleep disturbances.
  5. Decrease dairy: reduces breast tenderness.

 

1. Decrease caffeine

I had developed a dependence on coffee in language school and over the years had increased my intake to 3-4 cups per day. That’s how much I needed to get through a day. Now that I’ve given it up, I realize what a large amount of caffeine I was consuming.  And interestingly, now that I don’t drink coffee, I actually have the energy to make it through my days without coffee.

Caffeine can be problematic for many reasons including sleep, anxiety, and breast tenderness. Caffeine is a stimulant – that’s how it keeps you awake. It can make your heart race and worsen your anxiety. With all the extra stress and screen time in our modern lives, the last thing most of us need is an extra stimulant.

And indeed, I initially decided to cut out caffeine because of my rising anxiety. I had anxiety every day of my cycle, but it spiked really high after ovulation (mid-cycle) and didn’t drop until my next cycle began. And even then, the anxiety didn’t really disappear. It was just less than the anxiety of the pre-menstrual period.

But it was so hard for me to give up the caffeine! It took me a full 2 months to cut out all the coffee. I cut out a cup at a time and waited for my body to adjust. It basically took me two weeks to adjust to every cup (or half cup) that I cut out. I was tired all the time and got a lot of headaches. Eventually I was able to switch to decaf coffee.

I love a hot drink. It’s so comforting. But these days you’ll find me drinking either that decaf coffee or various herbal teas. My favorite herbal teas are peppermint, spearmint, chamomile, and rooibos (red). These teas are all supposedly good for anxiety. Even if they have no positive effect on anxiety, at least they are all caffeine-free and thus have no negative effect.

It’s important to note that decaf coffee still has caffeine in it, but it’s greatly reduced. I seem to do fine on the decaf, though, even when drinking it at night with my husband. I also still eat dark chocolate and will occasionally drink green tea (but I’ll explain that in another section).

After I gave up coffee, I drank black tea (which has less caffeine than coffee) on vacation and noticed a marked increase in anxiety that week/month. And then there was that one boiling hot April morning without electricity when I drank an iced coffee trying to cool off. I thought I would be fine, but my body reacted really badly to the caffeine. My heart began to race, my breathing sped up, and I felt flushed all over (the opposite feeling from what I was going for), so I really do avoid regular coffee.

 

2. Reduce sugar and refined carbohydrates

Just like the coffee, the sugar and processed food consumption sneaked up on me. I was busy homeschooling four kids and running a website. I began depending more and more heavily on packaged foods for myself and my kids, simply because it saved time. Super sweet yogurt drinks, packaged crackers or cookies, lots of white pasta and canned sauces.

But sugar wreaks havoc on our hormones, beginning with blood sugar dysregulation and ending with terrible moodiness. When we consume sugary or sweet things, our blood sugar levels spike, forcing our pancreas to pump out a bunch of insulin to shuttle that unnatural amount of sugar out of circulation and into our cells.

Unfortunately, the pancreas usually overshoots. That’s because it is sensing the rate of the blood sugar rise, not the amount of sugar. (I will refrain from geeking out over calculus here.) Our bodies don’t know that the sugar intake will stop; they just know that the blood sugar is rising too rapidly for safety. So the pancreas dumps too much insulin into our systems.

This leads to a blood sugar crash. Blood sugar drops below the normal level, making us hungry again very quickly and also making us moody. So we reach for something sugary again. When we eat this way, we are willingly putting ourselves on an emotional roller coaster. We end up snapping at our families, and they don’t deserve to be snapped at simply because we haven’t taken the time and attention to nourish ourselves well.

Alternatively, if we can’t get to food when our blood sugar drops low, our adrenal glands will work to increase our blood sugar without food consumption. This is quite an elegant system, but when we abuse it by depending on it on a daily basis, we can wear our adrenals out. (Caffeine is another one of those adrenal stressors, and depending on it to get through your day is another way of wearing out your body.)

Additionally, sugar consumption (in all its forms) tamps down on our immune systems. So even though we crave sugar and may even claim that we feel better when we eat it, it’s just bad for us, all around. As my OB-GYN says: “You have insulin jumping in here to help confuse the picture, so take the avoidance of simple carbs part seriously.”

Practically speaking, cutting out sugar can be harder than it sounds. Sugar lurks in a lot of places, including cereal, yogurt, peanut butter, pasta sauces, salad dressings, and salsa. I didn’t even have a sweet tooth. I wasn’t craving or eating a lot of desserts. I just ate too many simple carbs.

So I had to find and eliminate the hidden sugars and refined carbohydrates (which are so broken down already that they act nearly like sugar in the body). I was really dedicated to eliminating sugars because of repeat infections in the pre-menstrual period. I was losing my mind and could not handle any more of these painful infections.

Here are a few examples of the changes I made.

  • Boxed cereals. Oh how I loved Cinnamon Life and Cheerios (when I could find them on the shelves). Now I will occasionally eat cooked whole grains like buckwheat, millet, quinoa, or oats, but not every day.
  • Refined grains. I stopped eating packaged crackers (there are some really yummy ones here, but they are all made with a lot of white flour and sugar). I stopped eating Pringles (in years past I could down half a can in one sitting, especially when I was really hungry). I will occasionally eat popcorn with a movie. I eat tortilla chips with our favorite bean soup probably once a week.
  • Pasta, rice, and bread. I stopped eating white rice with our Khmer lunches and just eat the main dish by itself. I stopped eating pasta, couscous, and bread. {If you’ve known me since adolescence, you’ll know what a big change this was for me.}
  • Yogurt. I stopped drinking sweetened yogurt drinks and stopped eating regular sweetened yogurt. I started buying an unsweetened yogurt (made locally here). It was so sour at first I could hardly stand it, but I forced myself to keep eating it. Now it tastes only slightly sour to me. I’m sometimes able to find unsweetened kefir here locally too. (Kefir is a fermented dairy drink with more probiotics than yogurt, but it definitely still tastes sour to me.)
  • Peanut Butter. I love peanut butter! But I stopped eating regular peanut butter and started buying natural, unsweetened peanut butter (also made locally). I also started eating nuts for snacks.
  • Salad dressings, pasta sauces, salsas, and seasoning packets. I still use these on occasion, but I’ve also made my own sometimes. Since I don’t use them very often, this hasn’t been an area of too much concern for me, although it is another way to cut down sugar if you want to.
  • Coffee creamers. Yes, I used to put these non-dairy coffee creamers in my coffee. Yuck. They contain extra sugars and bad fats and are full of strange-sounding chemicals. It’s shocking to think about how many of these little creamer packets I used to use! Now I stick to plain coconut milk.

 

3. Replace the junk with quality proteins, fats, and fiber.

I’ve heard it called “carbage” — a clever combination of “carbohydrates” and “garbage.” But you can’t just cut out sugar and refined carbs; you have to add in the good stuff too. Protein, fat, and fiber blunt your blood sugar response to any carbs you might eat. They keep you feeling full longer and supply sustained energy over several hours. This will help with the moodiness and irritability.

There are other reasons for protein, fat, and fiber too.

  • You need a sufficient amount of amino acids (which are found in protein) to make your neurotransmitters (happy chemicals in the brain). Eating a lot of protein is therefore especially important for dealing with anxiety. In fact one counselor told me that “anxious brains need a lot of protein.”
  • You need enough healthy fats for your body to produce and stabilize your female hormones as well as build healthy skin and tissues.
  • And you need fiber (both soluble and insoluble) to feed the good bacteria in your intestines, keep your digestion regular, and to eliminate excess hormones in your body.

I will be honest with you. I made mistakes on this road. When I first cut the carbs, I suddenly couldn’t find enough to eat. Everything I had been eating was processed or taboo in some way. I was afraid to eat nearly everything except eggs, yogurt, chicken, and nuts. I was afraid of the dangerous, hidden carbs in everything. I wouldn’t even eat complex carbs. That made for a hungry, hangry momma.

It also made me accidentally lose some weight, weight I probably shouldn’t have lost. (I have since regained it.) I was so afraid of foods that could potentially make me sick again. I developed so much anxiety around food, and that just added to all the anxiety in my life. I kept thinking of food as potential poison rather than nourishment. It took me a while to relearn how to eat complex carbs.

So this is where I will quote my midwife: “Complex carbs are fine.”

And here’s what constitutes a complex carb: beans, vegetables, and the occasional whole grain. Complex carbs are not, as I thought in high school, a dish of pasta or a bowl (or bag) of pretzels. Complex carbs are slow-burning. The fiber in beans and vegetables is especially nourishing to our systems. (In my opinion, whole grains don’t offer the same amount of nutrition as beans and vegetables.) But when I first started on this healthy eating journey, I was even afraid to eat them. Now I find that I feel so much better when I do eat enough plant foods. So don’t be like me. Eat your veggies and beans.

In fact, my anxiety and breast tenderness spiked even higher when I first cut out the carbs. I could tell the very instant I ovulated, because my hormones shifted, my progesterone soared, my anxiety spiked, and strong breast pain appeared out of nowhere. What I eventually figured out was that I was depending too much on animal products. The first form of plant fiber/protein I added back in, as a way to counter all those animal foods, was beans. I found that when I put the beans back in, the breast tenderness very quickly subsided.

This is the advice my OB-GYN friend gave me: “Eat many anti-oxidant foods (blueberries, spinach, kale), other veggies, legumes, complex proteins.”

And here is where I get my protein these days:

  • Yogurt, kefir, and cheese.
  • Beans of all kinds. (Hummus and other bean dips, along with bean and lentil soups.)
  • Chicken and eggs.
  • Nuts, seeds, and nut butters. (I like walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, and flax seeds the best, but I can’t always find them cheap enough or at all, so I take what I can get, when I can get it.)

Here is where I get my fat these days:

  • Eggs.
  • Yogurt and cheese.
  • Nuts, seeds, and nut butters. (Notice how several of these items do double duty here? Nice.)
  • Butter (for cooking eggs), olive oil (for dressings and hummus), and coconut oil. (Yes, I know that last one is controversial, but I’m sufficiently comfortable with it to eat it, especially when mixed with a nut butter and some cocoa powder – yum!)
  • I eat 85% dark chocolate when I can find it. I still consider 70% too sweet.

Here is where I get my fiber these days:

  • Beans
  • Vegetables (My go-to veggies are carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, bell peppers, cucumbers, and leafy greens.)
  • Garlic and onions (They’re good for the immune system and have a special kind of fiber that feeds the good bacteria inside us.)
  • Flax seeds (They also do double duty on fats.)

I know that we are “supposed” to get a lot of our proteins and essential fatty acids from fatty fish, but I will again be honest and tell you that fish is not one of my favorite things. I wish I could like it, but at this point, I don’t, and it’s not worth it to me to try to force myself. Neither do I like taking fish oil. It makes me gag and burp. I figured that out several years ago when I was looking into natural ways to prevent migraine headaches. But if you like fish or fish oil, more power to you.

Something I’ve noticed is that if I eat a lot of fatty meat in a month (like sausage), or if I don’t eat enough vegetables, I have more pre-menstrual breast pain. So while I’m not afraid of eating fat, and while I get a lot of fat from my nuts and seeds, I have noticed that the fatty meat affects my body. So watch how various animal products affect you, and cut down on the ones that most noticeably make your symptoms worse.

The upside to all this protein is that for the first time in my life, I can grow long, strong nails without the help of polish. I wasn’t going for that, but it’s a nice side benefit.

Another upside to all these dietary changes (and I don’t know whether that’s the reduced sugar intake or the increased healthy fat intake or both) is that pre-menstrual breakouts have lessened. My main complaint wasn’t acne, but I did break out in the week before my period, sometimes painfully so. That happens much less now. I never would have undertaken such extensive life changes just for the acne, but it sure is a pleasant side effect.

(Full disclosure: For years I have used a topical salicylic acid lotion once a day to treat and prevent acne. I still had monthly breakouts in those years. And I also still use that lotion, even while eating differently.)

All these personal changes mean I’ve changed the way we eat as a family too. I don’t force my children to eat the unsweetened yogurt or nut butter or to stop eating cereal, but I do cook them a whole lot more eggs and beans (and sometimes eggs and beans together), and we eat a lot more fresh veggies.

I use a lot more spices in my cooking, especially garlic and onions which are good for the immune system, as I mentioned. I also use a lot of turmeric and cumin. (I adore cumin.) That’s something else that’s happened — learning to use more spices means food tastes a lot better than before. And the children have definitely noticed that.

A note about some things I haven’t done: I haven’t asked my helper to change the way she cooks. She makes us one Asian dish per day, and know she puts sugar and maybe even MSG in the chicken, and she cooks the chicken in soybean oil. I have not known how to approach this issue from a culturally appropriate standpoint. Friends who have tried to have these conversations with their helpers have often run into difficulty. So at this point I just eat the meat dish without the rice and figure I’m doing the best I can in other areas of my life.

A word about eating out: I don’t stress about this either. I just choose the best option I can find. That usually means something with either a lot of protein or a lot of vegetables, or both. For a time I found that it was best for me to take little containers of nuts everywhere I went just to be on the safe side (and because I was constantly hungry). Or I ate something with protein before I headed out to a meeting that might only serve carbohydrate-rich foods. But I stress less about it now. What I’m saying is, make the changes you can feasibly make, and celebrate your successes. Then don’t worry about the rest.

 

4. Decrease alcohol.

Why is a Christian missionary even talking about alcohol on her blog?! Well, because some missionaries drink alcohol (shocking, I know). Some of them even drink alcohol as a form of stress relief. And my readers aren’t just missionaries, either. So I really felt I should mention this one.

I had never even tasted alcohol until I was 27. I was afraid to try it, convinced even one sip would inebriate me. There are some alcohol addiction issues in my extended family that made me want to avoid it altogether. In the years since first tasting alcohol, I only ever drank wine a few times a year, and the most I ever drank was 1/8 of a cup, which felt like plenty for me. I also love a good gin and tonic, ever since a friend introduced the drink to me.

However, alcohol was never something I “needed” for stress relief. So when I explained all my symptoms to my OB-GYN friend, and she told me that the “best natural remedies are diet: avoid high salt, processed carbs, artificial sweeteners, MSG, alcohol, caffeine,” I had no trouble giving up the alcohol. I do occasionally miss the gin and tonic, but with all the sugar in it, I simply don’t want to consume it.

Other women have told me that alcohol affects their sleep. Alcohol seems to relax us and even make us feel sleepy, but it actually interferes with the deeper cycles of sleep. So if sleep is an issue for you (especially if the fatigue makes you grouchy the next day), and you consume alcohol from time to time, you might consider stopping.

 

5. Decrease Dairy

A lot of sources claimed that dairy exacerbates PMS (specifically breast tenderness and acne) and recommend that people keep it to a minimum. I did not end up cutting out dairy. I love the protein and probiotics in my yogurt and kefir (not to mention the taste of cheese!). I’ve gotten such great results from all the other changes I made that I never made this one.

But I do have to watch the cheese. I usually eat cheese about once a week (it’s kind of pricey here), and I’ve noticed that, similar to the fatty meats, if I eat more cheese than that, I do notice more breast tenderness that month. So I can do yogurt and kefir daily, but not cheese. The moral of the dairy story? Find what works for you, and do that.

I think that’s enough information for now. Here’s a summary of the potential dietary changes I discussed and their potential benefits:

  1. Decrease caffeine (to reduce anxiety, breast pain, and sleep issues).
  2. Decrease sugar and refined carbs (to reduce mood swings, acne, and infections).
  3. Increase protein, healthy fats, and fiber (to reduce mood swings and anxiety).
  4. Decrease alcohol (to improve sleep quality).
  5. Decrease dairy (to reduce breast pain and acne).

 

Part 2: Potential Supplements

Part 3: Movement and Rest

Part 4: Cycle & Emotion Tracking (link coming soon)

A Baby’s Life Story | A Mother’s Journey, part 9

May 9, 1988

These are notes I wrote on paper that I planned on transferring to a permanent place. For some reason I feel it is extremely important to document Laura’s life and our experience. Time will bring a certain dulling of events, and that is fine, but I need some sort of semi-accurate record of that time.

~~~~~~~~~~

October 11, 1987

There are so many things and feelings that I feel the need to record for my own self. Time has a way of erasing and dulling even very painful and acute feelings. For some reason I feel I should record things so that I will have some accurate record of what we went through.

The moment Laura was born and was tiny, I knew something was wrong. My nurses, my OB, the pediatrician, were all saying she was 2-4 weeks early. I knew she was 10 days late and it wasn’t until a week later, when the chromosome study came back, that the doctors could validate that all the characteristics that made her look premature were actually characteristics of her syndrome: Trisomy 18.

That first week is sort of a blur. We woke up, drove to the hospital, stayed all day, drove home. We went to the cafeteria and saw residents laughing at a table nearby. Mark commented that life still goes on for others while ours had come to a screeching halt.

Our feelings were so sad and bleak. At this point I wondered if life could ever be happy again. In retrospect that seems ridiculous, but at the time we couldn’t’ see any further than the next day.

Waiting for the chromosome study on Friday was frightening. We expected the geneticist to have an answer by then. He wouldn’t give us a clue as to what it might show. Again, in retrospect, we should have known it was a probability of chromosome abnormalities, since they were running the test. After assimilating this, I think maybe on Saturday I had accepted the fact that it was going to be bad news.

Saturday the doctor and resident met with us and told us the results of the study. The study wasn’t complete, but they were fairly sure of the diagnosis: an extra chromosome on the 18th pair — trisomy 18. Brain damage, heart defect, possibly lots of other things. The sun was pouring into the room, we were sitting there with them telling us our baby would die within six months; trying to figure a plan — surgery? what? I remember trying to hold back the tears so we could finish our conversation, decide on what course to take with this badly defective baby that had no hope for life; about the siblings involved, the surgery involved.

We decided on surgery for Monday morning. Hopefully we could control the heart failure and get her home. The neonatologist guide us in this effort. He felt if we could get her home and let our kids stimulate her, she could develop as much as was possible with her ability. That seemed like a reasonably practical and ethical course to take.

On Monday we held Laura most of the day in the parents’ room. We had a run-in with the cardiologist who questioned our “no code.” He didn’t even know the baby he was getting ready to operate on had trisomy 18 syndrome. He almost attacked us until I told him about all her problems. He backed down quickly and offered an apology.

I was a wreck.

We couldn’t believe so large a misunderstanding could have occurred. She made it off the ventilator Tuesday morning but started having real problems Tuesday afternoon. She was dying. We had to decide to re-ventilate her. The doctors made it very easy though, saying that after two days she would either live on her own or die.

I was glad for their decisiveness. I was afraid we might get into a situation where she would be kept alive indefinitely on a respirator. For the next two days I sat by her in intensive care. A beautiful 18 month old boy was beside her, in a coma, suspected child abuse.

On the other side was a beautiful 5 week old girl who had had heart surgery. As I stood over Laura on Thursday night, Dr. Ashcroft came by and told me “you can’t breathe for her, she has to do it on her own.” I cried as I looked at her and said, “I would if I could.”

We were able to hold her about 10 minutes each evening. It was a big ordeal to get some of the monitors off so we could hold her. Thursday morning I had told the kids he might die on Friday. I asked them, “Would you rather come home if you were Laura, or would you want to go to heaven and live with God?” Jonathan said he would rather go to heaven and live with God, Kathryn said she would want to come home. Thursday night Kathryn prayed, “Dear God, please let Laura come home and have good friends like I do.”

Friday morning was a beautiful day. As we drove to the hospital we were both ready for her to die when they took her off the respirator. The nurses, doctor, and technicians expected her to die then. They moved us into a room so we could be by ourselves. We took our tape, “A Mighty Fortress” by Steve Green and A Capella’s “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” Those words became so real: “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.”

“Let his little child come in.”

We were holding our baby as her heart rate dropped and dropped. By late afternoon she was still alive. I asked the neonatologist to please assess our situation. The neonatologist, his resident, the heart surgeon and the nurse went out in the hall. They came back in and told us we could go home. All day were expecting her to die and I kept thinking of Kathryn’s sweet prayer. While I was at peace with her dying that day, I knew that Kathryn had begged God to let her come home.

They ordered portable oxygen and got us ready to go home. I’ve never been so happy. Even if she died on the way home that would be OK. A friend came to the hospital and drove home with us. Holly helped us out of the hospital. When we got home, we found Mark’s mom, Jay and Shelly and their kids, and our kids.

They were all on our bed wanting to hold her. Three huge oxygen tanks were bubbling in our bedroom. Saturday I called the Burkets, the Pryors, and the Thomassons. They all come over and held her. The Burkets brought 18 hamburgers. It was a party!

We were so happy. Saturday night we took her to Jim and Sandy’s for another party. Everyone was there — all the cousins. We knew this would be a one-time thing and we were glad for the opportunity. There was no reason to be nervous or afraid. We knew she was going to die.

Sunday, neighbors came over. I took my first nap in three weeks. A four-hour nap. That evening the Brackens came over. We were all dead tired. We sat on the bed and visited. Them with their healthy baby, our baby dying. Monday, Mark went to work. That evening he told the kids to hold her and tell her goodbye because she probably wouldn’t live that night.

She died about 2am Tuesday morning in my arms.

We called the funeral home and then waited about two hours for them to come. I read Catherine Marshall’s account of her husbands death. Mark listened to worship music. We talked about what we had been through and how it had ended. It was really a pleasant ending — no struggle for life. We were with her. I was so glad she didn’t die in the hospital.

Jonathan got up and wanted to go to school. It was his 2nd day of first grade. We had to go to the hospital and sign Laura’s birth certificate — how ironic. I had to get a Rhogam shot. No one at the doctor’s office even asked about the baby.

Then we made funeral arrangements.

As a 33-year old it seemed unreal making funeral arrangements. I did what I always said I wanted to do — got the cheapest casket. I couldn’t stand the thought of throwing away money to preserve a dead body. She wasn’t in that body anymore.

Tuesday evening Mark and I selected songs and Scriptures. We wanted every word to be exactly what we wanted. Words that would minister to us. The “protocol” of funerals seemed totally irrelevant. It was just for us and we wanted to do things exactly like we wanted them. Hymns and Scripture, that was all. No big black cars, we set up the chairs ourselves and had no tent to separate us from others.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Of Tulips and Death, part 1

When Your Baby Dies, part 2

“Malformed Babies” and Dust, part 3

Waiting, part 4

Still Waiting, part 5

Romans 8:28 and C.S. Lewis, part 6

The High Cost of Growing, part 7

Power in Praise & Corrie ten Boom, part 8

A Book Giveaway!

We’re doing our first book giveaway over on the trotters41 Facebook page!

**A Book Giveaway!**

Elizabeth and I would like to gift a couple of folks with a free Kindle version of our new book, Serving Well: Help for the Wannabe, Newbie, or Weary Cross-cultural Christian Worker.

Serving Well has over 100 chapters that cover everything from how to prepare for the field all the way to how to return well. It includes reflections and insights on transitioning overseas, taking care of your heart, marriage, and children well once you’re there, communicating with senders, common pitfalls, grief and loss, and what to do when things don’t go as planned.

To be entered into the drawing, either share this post to your timeline (set to public) OR tag someone in the comments below. If you tag someone, we’ll enter your name AND their name into a drawing that will happen on Saturday, August 10th. NOTE: The comments must be on this post (trotters41) for us to see them.

Have a fantastic day!
~ Jonathan & Elizabeth

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Find Serving Well on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2yCJFJr

Read more reviews: https://trotters41.com/2019/07/30/serving-well-more-reviews/
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Elizabeth Trotter is the editor-in-chief for the missions website A Life Overseas (alifeoverseas.com). She writes regularly at trotters41.com and velvetashes.com and is the author of Hats: Reflections on Life as a Wife, Mother, Homeschool Teacher, Missionary, and More.

Jonathan Trotter spends his days providing pastoral counseling at a local counseling center in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He also serves as one of the pastors at an international church. In addition to writing regularly for A Life Overseas, he has written for the IMB (International Mission Board), Velvet Ashes, The Huffington Post, and The Gottman Institute.

Jonathan and Elizabeth have lived in Southeast Asia since 2012. Before that they worked in local churches in the United States for ten years.

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Serving Well — more reviews

As our book goes out into the world, it’s been so encouraging to read about how it’s encouraging and blessing people, from the Marshall Islands to Kentucky, from India to Central America.

Find Serving Well on Amazon. And if you’re interested in bulk orders (5 or more) for your ministry, church, or organization, contact our publisher. Note, our publisher has partner companies in the UK and Australia for local printing/shipping needs.

Read more about Serving Well here.

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