The smell of fresh baked, oatmeal, chocolate chip cookies wafted through the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) every afternoon at three o’clock. I sat there in the mother’s room expressing milk for my preemie son for the fifth time that day when I first discovered this daily bit of tasty comfort. After completing my milk maid duties, I took great comfort in enjoying two, whole, soft, chewy delicious cookies, and washing it down with a small carton of whole milk that accompanied every cookie delivery.
Over our three month stay in the NICU watching our son grow and develop into a full fledged baby, I took comfort in the daily cookies-milk ritual with no regard for nutrition. It wasn’t about nutrition. Well, maybe it was a little about nutrition. I did revel in the fact that generating and expressing as much milk as possible for my little guy was the only thing I could focus on and my body needed hearty, whole, and real nutrients to do that. My afternoon ritual was literally feeding my journey through this uncertain and changing time. Cookies and milk were a small delight to my day and there was no shame in needing them.
Eventually, I cut back to one cookie then, no cookie, and went back to two-percent milk. My natural instinct is to stay at some sort of equilibrium. I was born a dietitian you see, and these things come naturally when I pay attention to what I need and what I am working towards.
Eric came home from the hospital in December of 2006. After two months at home and no cookies, running was calling me back. In fact it was running that brought ME back to me. I am so well-trained in the science and art of nutritious behavior that it is my normal. I am also so well-trained to the ritual and habit of being active that my body began asking me back to that natural equilibrium as well.
I remember so clearly stepping out the door of our San Francisco flat in the Richmond district wear running clothes. At this point I hadn’t been out of the house much let alone on a run. I surprised my neighbor who said to me with a sigh of relief, “Oooh, sooo good to see things getting back to normal.” It was normal for him to see me run-ready. Off I went, ten whole blocks before I was huffing and puffing. It had been at least seven months since I had much physical activity other than walking to and from the hospital and expressing milk. Running had not felt like this since I began running for the first time at age twelve! I was starting over and I was grateful. In fact, I was so full of gratitude for legs that moved, lungs that could breath in air, and blood to transport oxygen to my muscles that running was now more than I function of getting in shape. It was a practice of gratitude for being right where I was. I began running up the big hill into the Presidio once a day, probably no more than one mile out and back. At the top, I would breathe, give thanks, then stretch maybe add some push-ups to the mix and charge back down the hill. Sometimes on the way back I would be so flooded with gratitude tears would stream down my face literally while I was running.
Cookies and milk rebuilt my strength. Running brought me back to me, overflowing with gratitude for the strength to face the big mountain climbs.