November 9th was #WorldAdoptionDay, and the entire month of November is set aside as National Adoption Month. Our family remembers this month in an extra special way because November  was the month we chose to grow our family through the miracle of adoption. And this sweet face is the face we fell in love with thanks to Reece's Rainbow, an advocacy group that helps families adopt children with special needs. You might be wondering what adoption has to do with BE WELLness. Well, this week I'm going to share the rest of the story (as Paul Harvey would have said).
We knew nothing about "Toby" [his former fake name that was used for privacy protection] other than that he was in Ukraine, had been in institutional care since birth, had Down's syndrome and had a heart condition. Despite being told all of the reasons why adopting a special needs child from a foreign country was crazy and impossible, we persisted. We were in love and were strongly convicted that "Toby" was meant to be part of our family. We started our paperwork in November 2010 and the process began. If anyone is interested in reading the full story of our adoption journey, feel free to start at the beginning and read your way through the process. We blogged the whole adventure! For the purpose of this blog, I'm going to skip around a bit.
One of the unique challenges of international adoption is that you rarely get in-depth medical information or family history. That was certainly the case with our Mikha [what we named our son]. When we arrived at the SDA office in Ukraine we were given the same information we already knew from our facilitators. And when we were leaving the country and did his medical clearance, we were told nothing useful. In fact, the doctor giving the clearance told us he has many problems and will likely die soon. It was so discouraging.
So on July 3, 2011, I arrived back in the US with our baby boy knowing only that he was 20 months old, weighed just 13lbs, had Down's syndrome, and had a heart condition that we knew no details about. To say I was feeling overwhelmed would be a huge understatement, and I wish I could say going to his first pediatric doctor appointment was reassuring, but it was quite the opposite. We had a really negative encounter with the first pediatrician we tried and then had a cardiology appointment in Iowa City that was equally bad. Long story short, after just a month of being home we found out Mikha needed open heart surgery, and he needed it soon. We opted to do the surgery the week of Thanksgiving at Mayo Clinic in Rochester with one of the top 5 pediatric cardiac surgeons in the country. Mikha did wonderful during the surgery and his recovery was speedy and without complication [largely due to homeopathic complimentary care in my opinion]. We were later told by his cardiologist that it is a miracle he stayed alive as long as he did in Ukraine because he was missing a pulmonary heart valve and the other 3 valves were all leaking significantly. We were very thankful to have had such a skilled surgeon, as the surgery was considered to be 100% successful, meaning there was zero leakage after surgery. We were told that was nearly impossible, yet it was Mikha's outcome.
With his heart fully repaired, we assumed our little guy would start thriving. But that didn't happen. In fact, despite his heart functioning perfectly, he was getting sick frequently and wasn't gaining weight no matter what we tried. He was also very anemic. By December, Mikha was throwing up and experiencing diarrhea constantly. In fact, his first Christmas morning he threw up all over the table. I had a feeling [some might call it mother's instinct] that what we were feeding him was somehow connected to his health troubles. Keep in mind we were eating Standard American Diet [S.A.D.] at this time and hadn't heard of gluten free or Celiac disease. I hate to even admit this, but our first stop on the way home from the airport when we got back from Ukraine was McDonalds, and Mikha ate an entire double cheeseburger and fries. Skip ahead to sometime between February and April 2012. I decided to see what our new pediatrician had to say about my suspicion that food was involved. She advised us that he was most likely still adjusting to a new diet here in the U.S. since his diet in Ukraine was very bland [mostly potatoes, fish and fruit juice]. When I mentioned that I had started reading about gluten sensitivity she didn't rule it out, but definitely did not encourage us to pursue that further. I didn't listen. Instead, I went into full force research mode. One of the very first books I read was Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis, MD. I was fascinated. It seemed like a far-fetched solution, that simply removing gluten could eliminate symptoms and enable better nutrient absorption, but I was willing to try anything. I was pregnant with our third at that time and we had already transitioned to eating a "whole food diet," so processed foods were no longer part of our home diet. However, I was still grinding wheat and making homemade bread products and we were all still eating some gluten away from home. Yet, I was paying close attention to how we were reacting to certain foods.
I was consistently noticing that Mikha had no digestive issues when we avoided gluten and dairy completely with him. I told the pediatrician this and was told that perhaps that was true, but I should not get too wrapped up in it. I continued researching. It was like I could not learn enough about food and the body. This went on for months. In October 2012, Mikha turned 3 and was doing fantastic. The day after he turned 3, I gave birth to our daughter, Gabriella, and decided to try an experiment. I was going to attempt to lose 52lbs in 52 weeks doing no exercise other than my normal activity of chasing toddlers and nursing a baby. The only thing I was going to do was eat an unprocessed diet without gluten. No calorie counting allowed. Skip forward to 2013. It worked! I was 159lbs immediately before giving birth in 2012 and on October 23, 2013 I weighed in at 107lbs. During that year I had created a structure for the "way to eat" that I found most beneficial. I most closely identified with a Nutritarian way of eating, which is focused on nutrient density [nutrients per calorie] and is dominated by plant foods rich in phytonutrients. I followed an 80% plant diet with 20% quality animal products, and was also using The GAPS Full Diet as a guide. Mikha and I were both thriving eating 8+ servings of organic vegetables daily, organic fruit, small portions of meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, a few legumes and little to no dairy (only kefir and goat cheese if any). We ate absolutely no gluten and hardly ever ate gluten-free grains or any sweetener other than honey, coconut sugar or pure maple syrup. [This decision came after reading Grain Brain by brain doctor, David Perlmutter, MD and The Blood Sugar Solution by doctor Mark Hyman, MD.] We also ended up doing genetic testing at Mayo with Mikha and discovered he did in fact have the gene consistent with Celiac Disease. After the diagnosis, our pediatrician agreed that we should probably keep doing what we were doing with our diet after all :)
Another important milestone that happened in 2013 was Shea getting medically discharged from the military due to a knee injury. This huge life change gave him the opportunity to decide what he really wanted to be when he grew up. He had always had an interest in fitness, and I was really getting into health and nutrition, so we decided to pursue the idea of self-employment. Shea started a certification with the National Academy of Sports Medicine to become a personal trainer. Meanwhile, in March of that year I began conversations with Dr. Connie Arispe, a local practitioner who had heard about me through a patient of hers who had lost 50lbs and drastically improved her health after meeting me in the park for an hour to talk about a gluten and dairy free diet. Dr. Arispe was just getting involved with something called Functional Medicine and we realized that what I was learning and teaching people about aligned very closely with the Institute for Functional Medicine's approach. In fact, I discovered that what I had done without even knowing it was an elimination diet, followed by food testing to discover what worked for Mikha's body and what worked for mine, and [more importantly] what didn't work with our bodies. In May 2013, we officially formed an LLC and Shea began training some clients in our garage while continuing to work on his degree at Iowa State. Soon after, he leased a warehouse in Clear Lake and transitioned his classes to that location. Although we were excited about the possibility of this new family business, things weren't working out logistically by early 2014. Extremely high utility bills forced Shea to have to give up his dream of having a gym [at least for a bit].
Those of you who read last week's blog, know this next part of the story. In the Spring of 2014, we sat down with a good friend and decided to start dreaming bigger for this business of ours. After many conversations, we came to an agreement that there was a real need in North Iowa for a holistic wellness network, a cooperative of educators, practitioners and providers who were dedicated to advocating for preventative health practices, functional medicine protocols and complimentary care options--mind, body, soul wellness. In May 2014, our LLC began doing business as BE WELLness, and the rest you could say, is history in the making. Opening the market (now Simply Nourished) in December 2014 was a way for us to make the food we were feeding our family more accessible here in Clear Lake. The mission and vision from day one has been to bring wellness within reach here in North Iowa. We pray we are able to continue for many years to come.
And we owe it all to that sweet little 13lb 20 month old, and the miracle of adoption.