Do you celebrate your period?

An interesting sidenote: When searching Getty Images for "menstruation," only negative images came up.

Earlier tonight I was in a room filled with women who were all talking about one thing: menstruation. Sounds like every guy’s worst nightmare, right? Well actually, it was by turns funny, insightful, inspiring, and frustrating. And no men were hurt in the process. See? We come in peace. Or rather, we menstruate in peace. (Hee hee, I couldn’t help myself.)

The event was the Vagina Warrior’s First Annual Vagina/Period Party, held at the Center for Social Justice at UNLV. The evening was moderated by presenter Visher Redmond, who offered a thought-provoking presentation about all things menses — from the celebration of the onset of menses by the Navajo people to the ostracization of women as tainted and unclean in many other cultures (even in present day). There was discussion about personal hygiene products and alternatives to conventional brands (check out a classic SCS post on the same subject). There were even slides of paintings one artist made using her own menstrual blood. Now that’s taking the idea of celebrating your womanhood to another level!

This short film about the Navajo celebration of a girl’s first period was very interesting:

Maybe it’s because I am now the mother of a daughter and I will one day have to navigate helping her cross the threshold into womanhood or maybe it’s because I still get my monthly “visit from Aunt Flo,” but the event did make me consider some long-held feelings and truths I have about the female body, body shaming, and a cultural aversion to gynecological issues. I’m not saying I want to shout from the mountaintops how much I love my period, but it did give me pause that having a negative attitude about it does transmit a certain idea about womanhood to my little girl.

Should we be shunning a regular and natural part of ourselves to placate a cultural paradigm that we had no part in creating? Or, to put it another way, are periods really that gross?

This got me thinking about something that happened with my daughter recently. Like a lot of one-year-olds, she’s at a stage where she is constantly trying to get her diaper off. This is very common (albeit highly frustrating for the adults in her life) and a phase that is also often accompanied by body exploration. Something that happens a lot — and this will sound familiar to anyone who is or has been the parent of a toddler — is that she wants to put her hands inside her diaper or will try to put her hands in her soiled diaper during changes. This requires some precision work by the diaper-changer, of course. You’re already handling a dirty diaper. You don’t want smeared poop involved.

So, the other day I was changing her diaper and she almost got her hand in some poop. I grabbed her hand quickly and said, “No. Dirty.” This is something she is used to hearing in other situations, like touching garbage or trying to grab dog poop off the ground. The concept is simple enough: Don’t touch things that are dirty. I have a friend who used to say, “No. Caca,” to her kids. Now, when I said “No. Dirty,” to my daughter the other day I was referring to poop being dirty. But in that moment, I had a little epiphany: Is this where it begins? Is this where Genitals = Dirty comes from? That was not my intention, of course. I would much rather my daughter feel about herself the way another friend’s daughter feels about her genitals, which we all learned when she proudly told us, “I love my crotch.” But how does my 17-month-old navigate the complex social nuances of language and development? Maybe she thought I was trying to tell her that her crotch is dirty. Maybe she totally got that it was about poop. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess. I will say this: I’m not going to use that phrase in that way again.

Now, you might be thinking, what does baby poop have to do with menstruation. It’s simple, really. It’s all about the messages that females get about how they should feel about their bodies and their gender across the entire spectrum of their lives. At some point in her life, my daughter will encounter the societal concept that her genitals are dirty and her sexuality is to be feared. At some point in every woman’s life, she has been made to feel ashamed of her menstruation, which is an intrinsic function of womanhood. Somehow, to me, the fact that shame is attached to femininity in our society seems connected in these experiences. And many, many others.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that I am not going to start celebrating my period every month. But I, and all women, could do with less shame about our bodies. So, thank you Vagina Warriors. I’m already looking forward to the next party!

Cross-posted on The Sin City Siren.

At least 10 things I never thought I’d do, that I’ve done since becoming a mom

While I am recuperating, here’s a classic post on new motherhood that I originally posted last summer on The Sin City Siren. I hope you enjoy!

The Motherhood Make-over:

There are many things I have come to realize now that I am a parent. The chief among these is that before now, I did not understand. There’s just no way to.

Let me illustrate by sharing some examples of things I never thought I’d do (or at least, not all at once):

  • Left the house in my pajamas having not brushed either my hair or teeth because we were in dire need of diapers.
  • Went five days without showering.
  • Remained in the same clothes for five days.
  • Went any number of hours before realizing I had baby poop on my person. It might have been there all day. I have no idea.
  • Been pooped on, peed on and thrown up on and not changed clothes.
  • Enjoyed grocery shopping because (a) it was out of the house, (b) away from a crying baby and (c) amongst adults.
  • Used baby wipes on my armpits because my own stink was so horrible and yet I did not have the energy or time to shower.
  • Looked upon my saggy, jiggle, stretch-marked belly and cried.

Parenthood is hard, with0ut question. I knew to expect worrying about her, frustration when I did not know how to make her stop crying and an extreme lack of sleep. (Although, I did not understand how the extreme lack of sleep would feel.)

What I find surprising is that nobody tells you about how you’re going to feel as a woman. Or at least nobody told me. My body just did a biological triathlon. Pregnancy is a bitch. Giving birth is almost impossible to describe. But people talk (at least a little bit) about the physicality of all that. People allow you to bitch about pregnancy’s less-fun moments. People focus on the part about becoming a mother, the new baby and the joy. And these are good things to focus on. These are big-deal things. But what about the transition back to being just yourself, a woman in a world that worships stick-thin idols and Playboy bunnies who can morph back into bikini babes in the blink of an eye? What about us average gals who don’t have personal chefs, personal trainers, nannies, maids, personal assistants and the like to help us deal with the enormous new challenges in our lives?

It’s hard enough worrying about being a new mom. Am I going to fuck this up? Will she have to get therapy someday because of me? How will I afford to send her to college? What will her first word be? Am I holding her too much or letting her cry too much? Am I a bad mother because I don’t like breastfeeding? When will she sleep through the night? But on top of all that I have to somehow be fashion-forward, sexy, perky, firm in the right places and all that?!

Nobody I know likes to talk about these things but the fact is, when the baby comes out you look down at your body and it’s alien. It’s been transformed from top to bottom. There is nothing familiar about my body these days. It’s been streched beyond all stretchitude and there is a road-map of stretchmarks and folds of jiggly, slack skin to prove it. At this point … my body looks nothing like it did before. All the skin is droopy, saggy, dry. The belly still juts out enough so I look about 4-5 months pregnant. The maternity clothes are getting too big but the regular clothes can’t deal with the belly pooch situation.

I have never felt more outside the social beauty standards than right now. I see how people look at me when I’m in line at the grocery store. I understand it (and resent it). I used to be them, judging the disheveled lady in pajamas with a rats nest where hair should be. I get it. But when do I have time to go clothes shopping? And where could I go? I am well outside acceptable fashion-industry norms. I’m lumpy, bumpy, pudgy. And I want whatever I’m wearing to be comfortable and quick. I don’t have time to think about coordinating this and that when my 2-month-old is screaming. And, well, I need something where I can get my boobs out in a hurry — so my baby can eat (don’t be a perv). I would love it if somehow all that could be accomplished in a way where I look human and not like a spit-up-covered zombie. But it doesn’t seem possible. Or if it is, it’s just too damn much work these days.

The good news is that I am starting to find time to work out, which feels good. It feels good to move my body and get my strength back. It’s hard because everything is weak and stretched out of place. But it feels right to move. I can see a 5K in the distance.

What I think is wrong with all the crap put on women to snap back to sexpot immediately after giving birth (besides that in itself) is that it implies you will be back to your old self eventually. What I am discovering is that it’s a one-way door. You’re never going back. You’re never going to be who you were before — physically, emotionally. You’re going to be who you are now. It sounds obvious, but I don’t think it actually is. I have to accept that this is the body and whirlwind life I have right now. And my body has been forever changed by the act of making a baby. And just because I love my baby doesn’t mean I have to love every physical price I paid to have her. That’s okay. I’m accepting the now and I’m keeping my gaze looking forward toward the horizon. Toward what is next. I believe I will get into shape enough to run again. I believe my body will become a space I love again and can feel sexy within again. But I am also accepting that what that looks like and how that comes to be will be different than what I was before.

Until then, if you find yourself standing in line behind a woman who looks like she hasn’t bathed in days, smells a little like baby poop and whose hair is sticking up on the top of her head — be kind. It might be me. Or it might be some other new mom just trying to make it through the day. Chances are, she just realized what she looks like, too. Chances are she has to fight back tears when she thinks about how much her body has changed and how unpretty she feels.  Be kind, my friends. Be kind.

Some quickies to start the week

Here are some stories that have caught my eye recently, to gently get this week rolling (hey, sometimes I have a hard time coming off a weekend, too):

  • Same-sex couples, like these women who’ve been together for 20+ years, started getting married in New York over the weekend.
  • Speaking of romance, let’s look at how heteros don’t always get it right: Five Romcoms You Should Side-Eye (PS: I completely agree with #2. I love a John Hughes film like any good Gen Xer, but the “romance” of Sixteen Candles is total bullshit.)
  • A really good breakdown and conversation about Slutwalks, the good, the bad and the ugly truths.
  • I owe the sisters behind UK’s PinkStinks with inspiring my TMF: Tired Marketing FAIL! series.
  • And here’s an excellent post on how to help our girls deal with beauty standards and feeling like they don’t measure up.
  • The internet and social media were buzzing all weekend regarding the death of Amy Winehouse. RIP.

Raising confident girls with healthy relationships to their bodies and their sexuality

Right after providing for her basic needs, one of the important tasks I have as the parent of a daughter is how to raise her to love herself, her body and her sexuality. How do I raise her so that she feels confident in herself and respects herself? So she knows her worth and is confident enough to demand it from those she has relationships with (and especially those she decides to share her body with when she grows up). Hell, so she knows how to ask for a raise without pausing because she’s afraid someone will think she’s “not nice.” How do we do that in the age of sexting, reality shows featuring Playboy pinups as role models and … maybe especially this … when you live in a town like Las Vegas?

The Ms. Blog has an interesting interview with Joyce McFadden, who’s written a book Your Daughter’s Bedroom: Insights for Raising Confident Women. While I have not read the book, I found the interview to be eye-opening, validating and a little uncomfortable. (I never said being a feminist mother was easy.) To wit:

I think the most important thing, by far, is beginning to talk about sexuality simply and naturally when she’s a toddler, so that right off the bat, she knows it’s part of a dialogue the two of you can have. Keeping her ignorant about the fundamentals of her own body will set the stage for shame and guilt over her sexuality as she ages. If she’s old enough to know what her earlobe is, then she’s old enough to know what her vulva is, because it’s all pre-sexual in her understanding.

Part of me is screaming “Hallelujah!” And another, quieter, part of me is saying, “Do I really have to teach my daughter the word ‘vulva’ at the tender age of one?” And I am a bit ashamed to admit this, in all honesty. Because, I am not afraid of the word vulva or vagina (or penis) in almost any other context. But somehow, it’s hard for me to teach it to my daughter. I think it has to do with the loss of innocence I perceive. (Not her perception of the world. Just my perception of hers.) Knowing those words is the first baby step (pardon the pun) toward what will be her sexual health and expression some day. I want her to have a wonderful, healthy attitude toward sex and sexuality when it comes time for her to blossom in that direction. Why would I want her to have shame or any kind of negativity? I think I just wish I didn’t have to know about it.

But I’m a grown woman! And I know just how hard it is to come back from the weight of intense shame and pain regarding sex. As the survivor of sexual abuse, it took me years to feel confident in my own skin. And, I am glad to say, that at least I knew the correct terms for all my body parts, thanks to my mom teaching me the birds and bees when she was pregnant (when I was eight). I never, ever want my daughter to experience shame in the bedroom. Or shame while getting undressed to step in the shower. Or shame in a dressing room, for that matter! I may not be able to protect her from all the ills in the big, bad world. But at the very least, shouldn’t I prepare her with the tools to talk about her body? And to do so without making it dirty or shameful? I owe her that.

And maybe this is a healing opportunity for me. In teaching her to love her body and to know all her body parts, maybe I can shake off these last vestiges of shame that I didn’t even know I was carrying around. To that end, here are some tips that McFadden gave in the Ms. Blog interview:

What are some small things a mother can do for her daughter when it comes to nurturing a sense of confidence and bodily comfort?

Some of the things I’ve done to nurture healthy sexuality in our home have been:

  • teaching my daughter about her anatomy from the time she was little
  • answering honestly any question she’s ever asked me
  • explaining menstruation in the years before she would likely start
  • more recently, covering issues of safe sex and discussing the emotional components of sexuality–like mutual respect, an understanding that women’s pleasure is no less important than men’s, encouraging her to listen to her own instincts, and so on

I’ve also shared with her stories of my own mile markers—my first period, my first sexual encounter. In a lot of these conversations over the years I’ve explicitly conveyed to her that I want her to have a happy, healthy life that includes valuing her sexual vitality.

Cross-posted on The Sin City Siren.

Shedding layers

From reluctantly going vegan to my ever-changing ratio of working/stay-at-home-momness, things have been changing  a lot in my personal life lately. Another area in my life that has had a lot of changes — my waistline! But before you roll your eyes (too late!) and get annoyed, this is not going to be that kind of post. Trust me.

In fact, this post is all about perceptions. How we perceive ourselves. How others perceive us. And how we move in the world based on all those perceptions, both internal and external.

So, as I’ve already shared, I’ve lost a lot of weight over the past year. Well, I did have a baby! I’ve lost about 90 pounds from my peak pregnancy weight, or roughly 20 pounds from my pre-pregnancy weight. But this process of shedding pounds has had the interesting side-effect of causing me to confront some ideas about who I think I am — how I perceive myself. And there’s been some happy and not-so-happy discoveries there.

Let me explain what I mean…

Size matters:

I have never been one of those people who feel like they have to fit into a certain size. I have always felt that what was most important was fit. If your clothes fit, are comfortable, and are functional for your life, that’s the key. For me, clothing choices have always had more to do with what I think a piece of clothing is saying about me more than what department I shop in. For the better part of the past decade, I’ve been wearing plus-size clothing. It bothered me a little in the beginning but over time the only thing that bothered me was that it was so hard to find things that I liked because most plus-size clothing is aimed at middle-aged and senior-aged women. (Thank God for the internet!)

Even when during pregnancy, my weight gain did not bother me. I accepted it as a natural part of the journey I was on. Indeed, I kind of relished a respite from having to worry about “looking fat.” Who cares if you look fat when you’re pregnant? (Well, I guess some people do. But I think those people are a little delusional.)

So, it came as more than a surprise to me a couple months ago when a size large fit. Perfectly. I had taken a handful of XLs into the fitting room with me and they were all huge! But rather than do a little happy dance, I had a weird feeling about this development. (And yes, I recognize that this is evidence that I am really neurotic.)

I know I should have been feeling really happy that my weight loss had resulted in going down so many sizes. And in some ways I was happy.  But I also had this weird panicky feeling. It was almost a sense of loss. I’m not plus-size anymore? Where do I shop now?  I almost had the inverse of the size attachment that so many women struggle with. But instead of stubbornly insisting that I was a size 4, I couldn’t quite let go of the mental image of myself that I was plus sized. Even if the image reflected back in the mirror gave me instant proof otherwise!

You can’t just give it away:

I know some of you may be getting annoyed that it sounds like I’m complaining about weight loss. But, stick with me on this.

So, all this size changing necessitated shopping for new clothes. And that led me to a lot of stores I had never been to before (not for myself anyway): H&M, Banana Republic, The Loft, J. Crew, et al. It felt like a scavenger hunt. Where can I find clothes that feel like me? This new me? Who is the new me, anyway? A mom…but not an old, preppy mom. A career woman…who works at home. Someone who wants to be appropriately covered up but not a nun. A former punk rocker who feels silly wearing punk rock clothes now that I’m in my mid-30s (rocking out to Social D in the car, however, totally still viable). All these stores were foreign to me. And on top of that, considering I had been wearing maternity clothes for about a year, I have no idea what is current. But, I admit, these aren’t horrible problems to have.

What came next was a little more intense — donating my old clothes. The mantra around my house is that if something has no more usefulness to you but is still perfectly good, you give it to charity. And I live by a philosophy of donating in balance to what I buy. I don’t count it out item-for-item, but if I bring in a bag of new clothes, a bag of old clothes has to go. This is not just good karma, but good for the earth, too.

But at first, I really had a hard time letting go of the old clothes. Some of those pieces I had for years! Some of those things were well-loved favorites, things I turned to time and time again when I needed a sartorial pick-me-up. These clothes had been the proverbial needles in haystacks of so many plus-size stores. They represented hours of painful hunting and gathering. And, deep down, I felt that these clothes represented me. I felt a kind of grief as I looked at the pile on my bedroom floor. And, I felt like The Jerk. I don’t need [any of these things]! Except this pen… Because I kept wanting to pick up those two or three pieces that I really loved and save them from the donate pile!

But, I did donate them! And I did it for a few reasons: (1) What good are they doing in a box in my closet? (2) Someone out there who is plus-sized is going to be really, really happy to find these things (because larger sizes are so hard to come by in thrift stores and donations to shelters). And (3) …

Out with the old, to make way for the new:

I can’t move forward if I keep one foot anchored in the past. And it’s the same with these weight/body image/identity issues.

One of my best friends was at my house when I went through my clothes. Like me, she had gained 70 pounds while pregnant. And, like me, she has had tremendous weight loss. She knows how hard it has been to lose all that weight. She knows how hard it is to get used to your body after having a baby. (Because I may have lost a lot of weight, but my body composition is TOTALLY different now.)

At one point, while emptying my closet, she looked at me and said, “If you don’t get rid of it, it’s like saying you know you’re going to gain the weight right back.” And that was the kick in the ass I needed.

I believe in back-up plans. But holding on to old clothes that don’t fit is just a self-fulfilling prophecy in waiting.

From past to present:

Perhaps the biggest piece of this is that living in the present is not as easy as it sounds. It’s easier to hang back and remain with what is comfortable and known. But even something as simple as cleaning out your closet can be a cathartic release of the old memories or old personal identity that you are hanging on to. Isn’t that what the mid-life crisis is all about — the disconnect between who you were and where you are now in life?

And the weight loss, which has come from really hard work and has happened so much slower than it might seem (sorry, no short-cuts here: eat right, exercise), comes with an emotional price, too. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad I have lost the weight! But it has challenged me to think about some old issues from my past.

For a long time, I kept weight on to make myself feel safe. I was a really skinny kid and adolescent. As the survivor of sexual violence, being fat was a way for me to avoid thinking about certain things. Putting weight on my bones made me feel like I was less sexually desirable to predators. And I was just bigger. I felt less like a frail, little girl. And that made me feel less afraid. Unfortunately, I think it also contributed to a lot of my bad health issues (which have improved dramatically with the weight loss). So, not only was the weight a crutch in my emotional healing, but it was a liability in terms of my overall health.

The “wrap it up” sign is blinking:

I’m not going to lie. It has been rewarding to lose all this weight — and all this baggage! It has come with surprises and unforeseen challenges, too. But now that I have shed so many layers, I can finally see myself, again. I was buried for a long time — under so much emotional baggage and then so much physical weight and then so much sickness. And I think the journey to undo all that has kept me looking backwards — looking into my past — for a long time. It’s good to finally turn to face the present. And the future. I’m really grateful for that.

And it’s about time! After all, I have things to do! For instance, I need to get it together and start modeling healthy habits and healthy body-accepting behavior for my smart, happy little daughter. So she can stay happy, healthy and loving herself and give her the tools to deal with all the crap that is going to come her way, trying to dismantle her self-esteem and body confidence.

The vegan minefield

It’s been a strange ride since I became a vegan a couple months ago, because of health reasons. It’s amazing how a change in your diet can have such a domino effect on the rest of your life! And it’s even more amazing how saying the word “vegan” can cause such a wide range of (sometimes dramatic) reactions!

The decision to go vegan wasn’t really one I made on my own. My body made the decision for me. As I have shared, I was having severe digestive issues and even had to go to the hospital. Every time I ate meat, dairy or eggs, I would get violently and painfully ill. I would get sick on other foods, too, but nothing was ever as bad as when I ate meat, dairy or eggs. I even tried the all-natural, additive and antibiotics-free turkey and wild Alaska salmon from a natural food store. Nothing made a difference! And after I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, I learned that meat, dairy and eggs are major triggers for IBS (other triggers include fatty foods, coconut, chocolate and nuts). And since I am allergic to honey, I just sort of happened into being a vegan by way of giving up foods that triggered sickness. I mean, if you have a choice between spending hours in the bathroom, incapacitated by pain and sickness, wouldn’t you make a dietary change that could help control that?

As it turns out, I think a lot of people have a higher opinion of diarrhea and vomit than of veganism!

There’s the I Hate Vegans. I’d Rather Hang out with Cannibals facebook page, Nine Reasons to Hate Vegans and Vegetarians, and Hold the Meat: Vegans which starts, “Dude. I hate vegans.” The irony? I sort of agree with them. Well, not the Nine Reasons to Hate Vegans post. But that’s because it talks about how we’re disrupting the food chain if we don’t eat meat. And that’s bullshit. Whenever anyone talks to me about cavemen, humans being at the top of the food chain or our incisors, my eyes glaze over. But…that’s kind of the mentality about veganism, right? It was for me until I got, mmm let’s say forced into it by way of desperate need to be able to keep what I eat inside me and not erupting violently from me for hours on end and intermittently laying in a heap in agony on my bathroom floor. (Grossed out? Yeah, digestive disorders are shitty like that.)

Yes, the universe or karma or fate or whatever thing that inflicts irony upon our puny lives has a very twisted sense of humor because I have pretty much always made fun of vegans. I have openly mocked vegans to their faces. Even when I was a vegetarian, I was always cognizant of keeping my reasons to myself. Nothing is worse than a preachy vegetarian! Well, nothing that is but a preachy vegan. In fact, I think the Hold the Meat: Vegans post by Kona Gallagher is pretty funny and not too far off how I used to feel about vegans.

So, I totally get the vegan disdain. Smugness sucks. Nobody likes to be around someone who is openly judging how you live your life!

And there is nothing more primal about who we are than what we eat. We humans don’t just eat food to live, we love food! We worship certain foods (chocoholics, wine snobs, etc.)! We embrace rituals about food from the big (Thanksgiving, Christmas, et al) to the small (must have popcorn at the movies!). Believe me, I get it. Hell, I miss it.

But all this makes it that much trickier for me to navigate this new mantle of veganism. I sort of cringe every time I tell someone. I feel the need to make an excuse – it’s because of a health issue — so that people won’t immediately hate me. And I talk readily about how I’m not one of those kinds of vegans because I still totally wear leather (you will pry my magenta Marc Jacobs bag from my cold, dead hands) and would eat a piece of bacon right now if I didn’t think I would vomit. It’s hard to make a whole dietary change and feeling a sense of anxiety about it in social situations isn’t helping. (Plus, you get judged by not just non-vegans but vegans, too! Lame!)

Look, I’m human. I still crave chocolate. But every time I eat it I get really sick. And that just makes chocolate less and less appealing. There’s a part of me that is heartbroken, in a way. I really, really love chocolate. It is my ultimate comfort food! When I was a kid growing up in Wasilla, I used to walk a mile to a little convenience store to buy the biggest bag of chocolates I could get with my allowance. And then I’d walk a mile back home. And when I’d get there, I’d go to my bedroom, pour the bag out on my bed and count all the shiny pieces. It was like Halloween, whenever I wanted! And I would ration that candy out as long as I could until I had more money to go buy more. And even as an adult, I just always have liked chocolate. If I was on deadline and had to choose between candy and lunch, I’m afraid I chose chocolate more times than not. Celebrating? Let’s get some chocolate cake! Bad day? Let’s drown our sorrows in a pint of ice cream! As I dealt with different food allergies over the years, I’ve sometimes had to be creative to still get my choco-fix.

But what has that stubbornness to keep certain foods in my life really gotten me? What has an allegiance to my comfort foods done for me? In truth, it contributed more to my health problems than helped. Before I got pregnant I was about 30 pounds over weight (based on a healthy BMI for my height). And that was after I had lost 45 pounds and took up running! I gained about 70 pounds when I was pregnant. (Yowza!) Now, part of that was the baby. So, if you take away 9 pounds for the baby and then the associated embryonic fluids and such, I probably gained somewhere around 50-55 pounds. (I did not step on a scale for about a month after I had my baby, so I don’t know exactly what I weighed afterwards. Nobody wants to know that!) I actually got back down to my pre-pregnancy weight rather quickly (about two months), mostly because I was breastfeeding. However, now I weigh 20 pounds less than that! To put it another way, I am now about 10 pounds away from what I weighed when I got married (in college). I am certainly not saying that if you become a vegan you will lose weight. All I am saying is that it has helped me lose weight and that probably has more to do with the fact that I was eating pretty badly before and now I eat pretty healthy food almost all the time. And the fact is, I am healthier now that I weigh less.

So, there is another side to this vegan journey that is emerging. (Ugh, did I just say “vegan journey”?) The longer I go as a vegan and the better my health gets, the more I embrace the vegan thing. Not so much that I’m going to try and convert people to it. But enough that maybe, in time, I can just be at peace with the food lifestyle that works for me. After more than a decade dealing with food allergies, digestive problems and a host of other health issues, the one thing I’ve learned is that fighting what works is a lose-lose proposition. Do I miss my favorite foods? Hell yeah! But the other day I took my daughter to the park and it was so much fun! And the joy on her little cherubic face and the memories I’ll have of that time wouldn’t have happened if I was stuck in the bathroom again, sick for hours. That is so much better than any chocolate, coffee, bacon, ice cream … any food in the world!

All of this reminds me of the Buddhist principle that our attachment to things is what causes suffering. And in many ways, I have had unhealthy attachments to food over the years. When I was surviving abuse as a child, I connected with food as a coping mechanism. I would binge food to fill the emptiness inside. (I was never a purger.) I would walk a mile to get a bag of candy (and yes, sometimes it was in the snow). In my 20s I became a vegetarian for political reasons and it became a big part of my personal identity. When I had to give it up — you guessed it, for health reasons — I was heartbroken. And now that I am forced to give up meat and dairy, I am heartbroken. The recurring theme seems to be that I place too high an attachment to food and what my diet says about me. But now that I am a mother and I am experiencing the world through my daughter’s excitement and curiosity, I find it less and less difficult to detach from foods that hurt me. And maybe that’s the bigger picture. And if that picture includes being a vegan, well, maybe that’s a label I can learn to love.