Travel Essentials

I know I haven’t written a recent post in a long time, but when I looked at the date of my last entry (October 30, 2018) and hovered over today’s date, I was shocked that it’s nearly been a whole year. Yes, I had to check today’s date because I really can’t keep track of the calendar. I also can’t believe I am already 32 weeks pregnant with our third baby. We are intending to have our child in Istanbul this time. Trying out a different country each time around 🙂

We also moved into a new home back in February, so that was a very busy period. Ramadhan, a few trips to Cyprus and back, just being already extremely busy with my two toddlers who are a handful – I can barely respond to my WhatsApp messages during the day unless it requires a simple response – so that explains some of the lack of activity on my blog. Also, recently we visited the US as we normally do every summer. We were there for a little over a month and a half, and we traveled quite a bit by car, twice to Chicago and once to Canada from Michigan. We stayed at anywhere from a friend’s house who was out of town, to hotels, a motel, a couple of Airbnbs, and at a camp site.

I try to go ‘minimal’ while traveling in regards to shoes & clothing (we don’t own a lot in that department anyway) but I had to keep a bag of home remedies with me everywhere we went, especially considering we were traveling with small children. I’m going to list most of what we had and mention how they were useful during our travels!

  1. Black Seed Oil – my go-to remedy for sore throat, ear aches, and overall immune boost. Both the kids developed a sore throat during part of our trip abroad and we used quite a bit of this remedy, a teaspoon every other hour but especially at the onset and first thing in the morning. Black seed oil may sting a bit if the sore throat is severe and may taste too bitter for some people (and especially kids) so what I usually do to convince my kids is mix a bit with honey and give them that way. On the contrary, some people love the taste and I am one of those people. In case of an ear ache, I give both internally if it may be related to a sore throat, and I rub in and around the ears. After we arrived in Michigan, my son who had fallen asleep after a very long flight woke up screaming in pain and it seemed he had an ear ache perhaps from pressure, I wasn’t sure, but I rubbed some of the oil into his ears and massaged his body with it too to calm him down and not too long after he was asleep again. Thankfully he was fine in the morning and it wasn’t an infection.
  2. Lemons – whole lemons to squeeze for fresh juice as natural vitamin C. At some point I realized it wasn’t very practical to travel around with whole lemons and no easy access to knives, but I ended up peeling one with my hand during a car ride and just eating the lemon pieces. My daughter loves lemons. If you can carry around some rock/sea salt and sprinkle a teeny bit on the lemons, it’ll taste even better. Yum. A shot of freshly squeezed lemon juice is also a great pick-me-up, and excellent for breaking up a congestion, or for sore throat.
  3. Raw Honey – again, good for sore throat. Even better with powdered cinnamon, ginger &/or marshmallow root. You can carry those spices/herbs in those tiny resealable bags. Kids usually love honey so that’s also a plus. Honey is also good in case of cuts and scrapes and on burns.
  4. Herbal Tea Bags (Camomile, Fennel Seeds, Lemon&Ginger) – I told myself I wouldn’t be having any coffee or black tea during the plane ride this time and I carried around a bunch of herbal tea bags with me. I stuck to my intention and believe it was the right decision. Caffeinated drinks can also be dehydrating and you don’t want that on a plane ride which is already dehydrating in itself. I carried herbal tea bags without during the rest of the voyage too and prepared the kids tea when they caught a cold several times. My son at some point developed diarrhea for a few days and other than cutting down most foods that may have aggravated his problem, I found that fennel seeds helped him the most from all the herbs I tried, and maybe thyme but we stuck with fennel seed the most. I got whole fennel seeds that I carried around with me, as well as some anise seeds (you can also get them in tea bags as that would have been easier or put them ground in tea bags yourself), simmered about 2 teaspoons per cup for a few minutes and then had him sip that throughout the day.
  5. Homeopathy Kit – I carry with me a combination of homeopathic remedies, from Arnica to Belladonna, Apis Mel, Nat Mur, Mag Phos, Kali Mur, Lycopodium, Hypericum, Camomila and so on. I’m no homeopath by any means but I get advice from my mother usually who has quite a bit of experience with homeopathy herself considering she raised 5 children on homeopathic and herbal remedies, or consult one of several homeopath friends if I must. I tend to most commonly use the remedies I have on hand for falls, allergic reactions, insect bites, colds with congestion & runny nose, and fever. My son fell and hit his eye and forehead during our camping trip, so Arnica for that. I predict both my children caught the flu towards the end of our camping trip, with sudden onset of fever, sore throat, runny nose and whatnot so I used some homeopathy in combination with herbal remedies to ease their symptoms and help them recover. Our camping trip in Canada was at the Seekers Guidance Retreat, so there were a lot of other brothers & sisters with us. A sister who got stung by a mosquito experienced an aggressive reaction and her hand was extremely swollen. She didn’t react well to Benadryl and experienced some of the side effects associated with it, so somehow my youngest sister who was also with us told her I might have something for her if she’d like to give it a try. Luckily, I had Apis Mel as well as lavender EO and I gave her both remedies. She came to me at the end of the next day to show me how much better her hand was and said she would be buying the homeopathic remedy as well as the lavender essential oil because she was so pleased with the results, whereas initially she was always a bit skeptical of ‘natural remedies’.
  6. Arnica Gel – I’m not here to prove whether natural remedies work really well or not, it’s your call. I wholeheartedly believe so myself, and being a mom for the last few years with my kids bumping their heads quite a few times and developing anything from a goose egg to a small bump, this thing really works in bringing down swelling when applied immediately. Do not apply on cracked skin. Only bumps or achy areas.
  7. Lavender Essential Oil – as mentioned above, really useful for insect bites and excellent for burns when applied immediately. This is all I use on burns when I am in the kitchen. I never apply ice, and I never get those burns that develop water retention. Another sister at the camp was also stung by mosquitos and experienced some swelling. The other sister who happened to have the remedy gave her the essential oil, and she said she’s never seen something work so well on insect bites.
  8. Extra Virgin Cod Liver Oil – excellent for the immune system, being a natural source of Vitamins A & D, as well as Omega 3. I only get Dropi. Rosita is also another brand I can suggest, just a little more expensive than Dropi. Otherwise, if it’s not extra virgin (i.e. raw) it’s either going to be low on the vitamin content, or have added vitamins which defeats the whole purpose and makes no sense at all. If I want added synthetic vitamins, I might as well just get a synthetic vitamin and not some smelly fish oil. (It does smell. Somehow my kids love it, though.)
  9. Magnesium Citrate/Glycinate – I like to use Magnesium even when I’m not pregnant, but especially being pregnant, I find it really helps with the restless leg syndrome I experience sometimes as well as being regular if I’m having some difficulty. I don’t tend to use any vitamin or mineral supplements but Magnesium is an exception. It’s so essential. Get citrate or glycinate for optimal absorption and best form.
  10. Mama’s Chest Rub, Vapor Balm – I find this at Whole Foods and you can also order via Amazon, to rub on the kids’ chest and/or upper back to ease up congestion. It’s a perfect size for travel and smells so good I always smell my fingertips after rubbing it onto their skin. An alternative is eucalyptus essential oil (which I didn’t have during this trip and never got, but used rosemary instead with some desired results) which you can use in combination with a carrier oil as a massage oil on the upper torso, or in a steam bath (no. 5) to help break up congestion, get that mucus moving out of your system, and to ease coughs. I had both my kids get in the shower and used rosemary essential oil at one point when they were ill just before bed time. They washed up while inhaling the scent of rosemary that filled the entire bathroom. Maybe eucalyptus would have been a better option for this particular case, but it was quite soothing to say the least.

 

My Most Frequently Used Essential Oils

Essential oils are highly concentrated aromatic substances extracted from plants most commonly by using the distillation method. A by-product of distillation is the leftover aromatic waters which we refer to as hydrosol. Hydrosols are also very valuable and can be used in a wide range of ways. They are less concentrated than essential oils and are much cheaper too. I’m not an aromatherapy expert by any means but I like to include them in my daily use, from cosmetic purposes to cleaning and healing. Personally, from time to time I will use an essential oil directly on my skin as well as internally (I will mention examples below). However, generally for the beginner, it’s best to dilute essential oils before use and it’s also best to avoid internal use unless under the guide of a professional aromatherapist.

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Copper distiller dismantled

Before I begin, I want to just go over four hydrosols that I use frequently. I usually get all three from my mom’s apothecary. She has a copper as well as a glass distiller and collects most of the plants herself to be used in the distillation process.

  1. Damascene Rose: This is such a beautiful flower with delicate petals and a fragrant scent. It truly causes a blooming of the soul. It takes a lot of roses to produce a substantial amount of essential oil and therefore hydrosol is a great alternative to benefiting from this flower. I use it in cooking such as in basmati rice, rice pudding and other desserts, I use it to wipe my children’s faces in the morning and before bedtime and I use it to clean my face in combination with castor oil (apply castor oil first, then wipe with cotton & rose water). I also use it as a spray in hot climates to cool down.
  2. Neroli: This is another incredible flower, taken from the bitter orange tree. It is also known as Orange Blossom. Just the act of picking these little blossoms is uplifting. As is the case with Rose, it takes a lot of blossoms to produce essential oil. I use this in similar ways to Rose hydrosol, except not as much, and another way I use Neroli hydrosol is a few teaspoons into a glass of warm water. Very calming and satisfying.
  3. Thyme: This is a champion when it comes to stomach issues as well as lung infections. I usually like to dilute it with some warm water because it is very strong, albeit not an essential oil.
  4. Lemon Eucalyptus: This is not a combination of lemon and eucalyptus but a plant of its own. I use it as a spray on the body to avoid mosquito bites. I’m one of those lucky ones who aren’t savored by those annoying insects but having kids, it comes in handy. Avoid the eyes when spraying.
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Damascene Rose

As for the Essential Oils…

I have a wide range of essential oils in my kit but these are at the top of my list:

  1. Tea Tree: I’ve used tea tree in a wide range of ways including to treat yeast rash, to dry out that annoying puberty related pimple (back in the days), as well as in cleaning. In my experience, I’ve had no problems using it directly on my skin but if you tend to have sensitive skin and/or if you are a beginner, go ahead and dilute some with a carrier oil such as coconut oil which is also an anti fungal.
  2. Lavender: I like lavender in cleaning – I add a few drops into a spray bottle along with some water and vinegar and use it as an all-purpose spray. I sometimes use sage instead or in combination. I find lavender also works wonders on burns, applied directly. If you prefer to use a carrier oil to apply lavender, I would avoid using it on a burn that is recent and inflamed because oil traps in heat and you don’t want that. (Essential oils won’t have the same effect of trapping heat). Maybe you can try applying a compress to the area with lavender hydrosol or infusion instead.
  3. Eucalyptus: I use this whenever someone in the family is experiencing a respiratory tract infection. It helps especially with congestion. I will dab a couple of drops onto the sleeping pillow, or make a steam inhalation. Bring a pot of water to boil. Remove from heat and add a few drops of eucalyptus EO. Cover head with a towel and inhale the vapor but close your eyes. Be cautious not to burn yourself.
  4. Myrrh: In combination with clove bud, this was an amazing remedy for my husband’s chronically aching tooth. He never got around to going to the dentist although he tried making an appointment multiple times but after a few applications of myrrh and clove on the area, as well as some changes in the diet, he hasn’t had any recurring issues. My myrrh is from a gentleman who runs a small batch distillery and it smells truly unique and wonderful. Speaking of small batch distillery, this is a lovely article written by a dear friend who runs her own distillery and apothecary about ethical business practices.
  5. Jasmine Absolute: I just use this as perfume. A couple of dabs here and there and it’s my current go-to scent as it’s the most appealing to me at this phase of my life. I’ve used it in cream making too but, going a little off topic, lately I find I prefer to simply use oils on my skin such as rose hip seed oil. I have very dry skin in the winter and this has been very helpful. Also rosehip seed oil (and other oils like pomegranate seed oil and argan oil) are already full of properties that help and nourish the skin so I don’t see much point in going through the hassle of making cream. Currently I am using Mountain Rose Herbs’ rose hip seed oil but once I run out I will stock up from my mom’s own rose hip seed oil. Her last batch was from the rose hips from her garden, all picked by hand, cleaned out from the flesh and left to dry before extracting into oil.
  6. Sweet Marjoram: I haven’t used this in a while but I wanted to include it because it was my friend during my last pregnancy. Meditating everyday while I inhaled it, even for just 5 minutes a day, really helped me through the pregnancy. It was a time of day that I looked forward to. After giving birth, strangely, it didn’t appeal to me as much. I believe we are called to what our mind and body needs most in their own time. It was relaxing and comforting, and it eased my mind. Mine is from Eden Botanicals.
  7. Cardamom: I take a dab of this right onto my tongue as often as once a day (first on index finger then onto tongue). I find it awakens me. Cardamom is said to ‘kindle the fires of digestion, stimulate the activity of the heart, and refresh the mind.’ [Rätsch, Christian. Plants of Love, 1997, pp. 56, 134.]
  8. Helichrysum: Highly reputed for skin healing properties, I included this in my postpartum healing oil combination (in addition to Calendula and St. John’s Wort oils).

A final word on essential oils… With all due respect to big essential oil businesses, I don’t buy into ads that praise their products as THE ONLY pure essential oils out there. I don’t want to mention names but in short, I don’t stick to only one brand. I’ve used several brands before as well as essential oils from small batch distilleries but most commonly I use Mountain Rose Herbs and Eden Botanicals. As a word of caution, please do not buy cheap essential oils over Amazon and whatnot. First of all, essential oils are not cheap and secondly, essential oils bought from unidentifiable and questionable sources can be harmful to your health.

 

Disclaimer: All content in this article is intended for educational purposes. No information in this article is intended to replace professional medical advice, nor to treat or diagnose a disease. Consult your primary care provider for any concerns you have regarding your health before making any decisions.

My Second Childbirth & Postpartum

I was 10 days past my estimated due date, frustrated and tired that I was still pregnant, having expected to give birth a very long time ago, when I felt the first contractions around 2 a.m. in the morning. I had gone to bed around 11 p.m. At first I didn’t realize it was a real contraction and I went back to sleep after using the restroom. I woke up again about 15 minutes later and that’s when I realized I was in labor. I texted my husband who was at the time in Istanbul telling him to start looking for tickets. I didn’t want to make the same mistake as I did the first time, not taking the time to rest before the long labor ahead. I texted my mom a few minutes later too informing her I was in early labor and that I didn’t need anything at that moment and that I was going to try to go back to sleep. She joined me in bed not much later. I was able to doze off and on between the contractions, breathing mindfully through them. I used my small Sweet Marjoram sample to help me relax and go with the flow. A couple of hours later, I got up to pray Fajr  and felt like this might be the last prayer for a while. After texting my grandmother to ask for her prayers, she decided to walk up to our house to join us. Soon later, everyone was awake except for my 19-month-old daughter.

A day earlier, I had had it with the built up emotions. I needed to cry for a long time, and I did. Unable to put my agitated daughter to nap, I came downstairs furiously, left her with my mother, grandmother and sister who were cleaning some dried Moringa seeds, walked out the door and found a spot near the Myrtle bush heavy with her berries, behind our large walnut and olive trees, and let it all out. (I managed to eat a couple of berries as I sobbed too). I tried to reason in my head what I was exactly crying about, and I didn’t have a clear reason. I was simply frustrated, physically and emotionally tired, and scared. I didn’t know what to expect, both in regards to how my birth was going to take place and the postpartum experience. It wasn’t going to be my first time but I knew every time is a different experience. Every time a child is welcomed in to the family, the family gets permanently re-configured. I had, on multiple occasions during my second pregnancy, felt that I was not ready for a second child. I was dreading the unknown. After some minutes of letting my tears flow freely, my grandmother approached me. Long story short, after some discussion, she told me I needed to have stronger faith in that God knew exactly what I wanted and needed as an outcome of this upcoming birth and postpartum and that He would not leave me alone. She told me I should pray that His hands would be above theirs and that I’d be protected by His angels. It was a comforting conversation to say the least. For the longest time during this pregnancy, I entertained the idea of having an undisturbed birth, dreading the idea of going to the hospital. I imagined that I would have to argue and fight during labor and thought of all the unnecessary routine interventions that are done during and after labor. I did not want any of them.

After having a small breakfast around 6.30 a.m., we decided to call the obgyn and tell her that I was in labor. She said she would call the hospital and notify them that I was coming and when I’d arrive, she’d join soon after. We decided I’d be leaving with my mother and grandmother, and everyone else would remain home. We left the house around 7-7.30 a.m., my contractions now much nearer. The roads were open, there was no traffic, and the ride was a lot more comfortable than I was fearing it to be. I sat at the back seat with towels covering the seats just in case my water broke during the ride, (or even better in case I gave birth) facing the back of the car on my knees, holding onto the headrest. I was almost falling asleep between the contractions, and during the contractions I was very careful to let my facial muscles including my jaw to relax. Instinctually low moans were what I found to help me through as well. I was very much in the moment. On the contrary, I was a lot more quiet during my first birth but I was also a lot more tense. During the other half of the ride, I had to change positions because my legs were numb so I leaned against the couch sitting somewhat sideways and held onto the handle above the window. When we got to the hospital I told the nurses and the midwife that I was Dr. so-and-so’s patient. One of the midwives asked if I was even having contractions and I told her yes. I think we got there around 8.30 a.m. A nurse led us into my room, the room I thought I’d be giving birth in. It had a bed, a couch, a wardrobe and a bathroom with a shower. After leaving my stuff inside the room she led me to another room where I thought she’d just have me change into a hospital gown. Instead I was tied onto a fetal monitor and for a short while panicked that I would have to remain that way until I gave birth. The nurse didn’t do much explaining. I was clearly not happy though and after some clarification, I understood that she needed a few pages of a graph reading of my contractions and baby’s heartbeat. Obviously I didn’t think that was necessary and it was not a comfortable position at all, but I was glad it was temporary. After she was done and I got into the hospital gown, I labored in the room I was initially taken to. Soon after the obgyn walked in. I tried to say hello but I was in the middle of a contraction. When she heard the accompanying moans I heard her encouraging me to continue that way. She checked how far I was dilated, and I was surprised to hear her say ‘nearly there’. They did another but much shorter fetal monitoring. I was then told that my membranes would be artificially ruptured once dilation was complete. I was moved into another room, the labor room, a very small room with a laboring couch/bed of some sort that I was not familiar with, two midwives and the nurse in addition to the obgyn. At that point I was fully dilated and the obgyn proceeded to break my water. Then she  told me she’d like me to walk around holding onto the IV stand to allow gravity to do its thing and encourage the baby to descend into the birthing canal. They would later transfer me onto the birthing bed last minute when the baby was close to crowning. I started laboring in that way. Soon transition hit me and it was so intense, so much more intense than my first labor – I did not fight it, instead I allowed myself to deal with it however way felt best instinctually. I found myself being very vocal with each contraction and I found that standing with knees slightly bent felt best. I could barely breathe between the contractions because of how fast they came and went. I was so looking forward to the fetal ejection reflex (FER) because during my first labor, that was the most relaxed phase for me. I could talk between the pushing contractions, I was no longer in pain, it was coming to an end. But this time, I wouldn’t be getting a break. When the FER kicked in, I found that I was still overwhelmed with how powerful each contraction was. My body was pushing with full force and I couldn’t help but push along. I couldn’t breathe mindfully through them, I couldn’t breathe my baby out the way I hoped I would. I was overtaken by this incredible force of bringing a soul into the worldly realm.

They transferred me onto the birthing bed, legs up in stirrups, and the obgyn accurately predicted a nuchal cord because she felt the baby was taking a while. (Well, he was actually MUCH faster than my first who didn’t show any signs of difficult positioning or nuchal cord or whatnot). My mother was allowed into the laboring room last minute. She stood behind me and rubbed fresh sage near my nose during every push while she called onto Mary the Mother of Jesus, whose birth story is mentioned in the Qur’an like no other. At around 11.20 a.m. my baby was finally born and placed onto my skin. His purplish face began to change into his pale skin color almost immediately and he let out some small cries. I felt exhausted. I was trembling from exhaustion. I didn’t feel the euphoria I felt with my firstborn. I remembered how my mom would tell us that by the time she was done with laboring, she wouldn’t want to hold us from the amount of exhaustion she felt. I always thought that was so strange because when I saw my firstborn, I forgot everything. The 30-hour labor that left me sleepless, the 5 hour pushing, the transfer to the hospital from my dream home birth. I could barely hold him. I gently rubbed his back before they took him from me to carry out the routine procedures on newborns. I can’t remember if they clamped his cord before or after placing him on me. I do remember my mom attempting to ask them to delay it but everything happened so fast, and I just remember his precious cord blood splashing onto his body.

Fast forward, everything developed fine after that. I managed to avoid an episiotomy and had a second degree tear. The obgyn also allowed me to birth the placenta without manually removing it like they had done in my previous birth. We haven’t had any issues related to hemorrhaging, nursing, milk supply and so on. I left the hospital later in the evening. They had already prescribed me a bunch of medication that I was to get from the pharmacy including antibiotics, pain killers and uterotonics – none of which I wanted to use. I was given antibiotics during labor. Before I could leave the hospital, they injected me with a dose of pain killers and some uterotonic medication. I wanted to avoid getting any more of that. I took Shepherd’s Purse tincture in my water after labor to decrease the likelihood of hemorrhaging. I also took Arnica homeopathy to reduce swelling. I had prepared a combination of Calendula and St. John’s Wort oils with Helichrysum essential oil prior to giving birth and I began using that on the laceration. After a couple of days, I began belly binding using the bengkung method. I started drinking nettle tea and enjoying the broths that my grandmother kept sending over to nourish and restore my depleted reserves. I felt less sore in comparison to how I felt after my first labor but my afterpains which lasted for 2-3 days were definitely more prominent. Albeit not as careful as I needed to be and not as easy as it seems with a demanding toddler, I tried to remain laying down for most of the time and avoided strenuous work.

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St. John’s Wort oil – the picture quality doesn’t do the crimson color of the infused oil justice

This time I favored postpartum help over choosing the birth that I prefer and feel safest with. Yes, it’s possible that just like last time, I would have arranged for the birth that I want and ended up not experiencing it. Some things in life are not in our hands and I had to accept that. I was forced to accept that twice in regards to childbirth and to let go of hard feelings. That’s not to say that I don’t advocate for women to demand what they want and feel safe with most in regards to their birthing experience – I do whole-heartedly – or that I find it acceptable for professional care providers to violate women’s bodies, that of their newborn’s, and their wishes. I didn’t want to be on IV fluids that left my hands swollen and pierced at three different locations,  I didn’t want the antibiotics, I didn’t want to be deprived of water and food during labor, I didn’t want my water to be broken, I didn’t want the fundal pressure they applied while pushing, I didn’t want to have to change positions in the middle of pushing, I didn’t want to be coached to push, I didn’t want my baby’s cord to be clamped prematurely, I didn’t want any of the drugs I was given following birth. But it is what it is, and I also had to get over this idea that our birthing experience – both as the mother and the child – is what shapes who we are primarily. It is an important experience that plays part in who we are, but it’s one out of many. I also want to mention a few notable positives, other than the obvious such as the fact that I had a healthy, beautiful baby that I’m increasingly falling in love with every day and can’t wait to watch grow up and become friends with his older sister and that I also am in ‘one piece’. The doctor, midwives and nurse were all cheerful during the labor. For the most part, they let me be as vocal as I want and get in whatever position I wanted without making me feel like I was being watched. They didn’t say anything hurtful to me during labor, which should not even be a matter of concern for a laboring woman but unfortunately happens often. I also heard the doctor and one of the midwives ask the nurse if this was her first time witnessing a natural birth i.e. one that didn’t involve an epidural or one that was not a C-section. She said it was her second time and that the first time she actually left the laboring room before the birth ended. Later when I called her into the room to tell her that we were preparing to leave the hospital, she told me she thought my labor had went by very well. I laughed and asked if she wasn’t traumatized, because it might have appeared too intense for her liking. She told me, not at all. It made me happy to hear that, especially since it was pretty much the only natural birth she had experienced (as natural as could be in a Turkish Cypriot hospital with the craziest C-section rates of all time).

Having said that, I still hope to experience a home birth some day… They say third time’s the charm 🙂

Till then.

*~*~*

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