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motherhood, twinspiration

Twice the joy: a celebration of my sons’ births


Two years ago today, my heart swelled to the size of the moon when I delivered my two sons, Leonardo and Rocco, into this wondrous world. Maria and I wanted them more than we could ever explain, and our journey to pregnancy was peppered with challenges but ultimately we triumphed in becoming mothers.

31 weeks and counting

31 weeks and counting

Carrying twins is not for wimps, and though I’ve always been impressed with the human body in general, I developed a massive amount of respect for my own body during my 36 weeks and five days of pregnancy. I experienced the usual suspects of issues associated with most pregnancies, from backaches to heartburn that required about half a bottle of Mylanta a day to an insane appetite that would rival any high school soccer team. But I really never was bothered by any of this. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I reveled in my pregnancy. I was practically euphoric knowing these darling little lives were growing inside of me, cradled in a little cocoon that my body made for them, and that soon my two sons would enter the world, our family and our home. I was giddy with anticipation. When I was laid off at 8 months pregnant from my metropolitan newspaper editorial position, I was worried sick about insurance until my company offered to keep me insured until after I gave birth. And I was able to get back to my toe-tapping excitement.

Twelve days before I gave birth, and one day after my 33rd birthday, my specialist OB (a maternal fetal medicine doctor assigned specifically to high-risk pregnancies) sent me to the hospital because of high blood pressure, spotty vision and protein in my urine. I had developed a potentially fatal condition called preeclampsia. I laid in an emergency room bed with multiple monitors attached to me for a couple of hours, my concerned wife holding my hand, until finally the doctors decided to admit me for hospitalized bed rest.

My closest friends and family members were worried about my comfort and boredom during this time, but I really didn’t mind because I would do whatever it took to keep our bambinos safe. My only sadness was caused by the fact that we weren’t going to have the “it’s time” moment that other parents get. You know, the one where you rustle your partner awake in the middle of the night and they get so mixed up trying to run around gathering your suitcase and your pillow and your meditation CD and the camera and whatever else you have ticked off in that screaming instant.

After laying in a fairly comfortable bed, away from the cozy home I shared with my wife and our dogs, for 11 long days filled with visits from friends, family, and crazy amounts of doctor and nurse checks, I woke up on the 12th day feeling different deep down in my soul. I waddled the short distance to the bathroom–the only trip I was allowed to take–and lo and behold, my water broke. It was a shocking rush of ohmygodohmygodohmygod this is really happening! And the best part? My wife had spent the night on that ungodly sliver of plastic cushion decoy (we’re pretty sure it was a slab of cement beneath) so she could be present for an early morning ultrasound. I was able to tiptoe in my hippopotamus-like state over to my sweet wife, rustle her awake, grin at her like a kid in a massive candy store, and say, “It’s time.”

If labor begins when your water breaks, then I was in labor from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., when the more “active” labor began. Before this time, everything from the horrifyingly painful epidurals (the doctor hit a vein the first time and had to redo it) to the bed-rail-clenching waves of knife-stabbing contractions was clinical and made for a hard day of waiting. When it came time to push (the classic 10-centimeter signal), the lights went bright, as if my wife and I had stepped out to center stage on Broadway, and teams of militant baby generals marched in, pushing big, tall carts made for baby warming, washing, weighing and measuring. They were ready for us. For Leo and Rocco.

But just as suddenly as the lights had shone into my eyes, they dimmed to a softer, more subdued level of brightness. I was encircled with a team of women, two nurses and my OB and Maria, my wife. The hospital moment had transformed into what felt like a home birth with female power and love and goodness and encouragement. I felt like a warrior goddess in the bed, curling my head toward my stomach (not a far distance with that small Mini Cooper growing from my midsection), gripping my thighs, listening to various women’s voices coach me with pep, love, cheering and maybe a little militant direction, too. Before that last push for baby A, my eyes filled with tears as I knew what was on the horizon: I was about to be united with this sweet darling who had been bouncing on my bladder, I was about to meet my son, face to face. With one last push of the unknown (I pushed as hard as I could, but I blessedly and tragically couldn’t feel a darn thing below my waist), Leonardo Vincent Palladino was out of my body and into the world at 11:31 p.m. on March 14, 2011, weighing in at 4 pounds 15 ounces. He was blitzed over to his assigned warming station before we could even blink, because I had another child to deliver whose life hung in the balance. Six concentrated pushes later, Rocco Bruce Palladino arrived at 11:38 p.m., weighing in at 6 pounds 9 ounces. With both boys safely delivered and the knowledge that they were healthy and we’d not have any NICU time, we were able to allow the euphoric rush of bliss and raw heart-thumping emotion to overwhelm us. Maria was invited to cut Rocco’s cord, and cameras were whipped out, phone calls were made, and our lives took on a new form that we will forever be grateful for.

baby Rocco

baby Rocco

baby Leo

baby Leo

There’s no role I love more than being a mother, and I love my children more than I love myself. I believe that I was made for Leo and Rocco, that they are the perfect culmination of my loving relationship with Maria, and that they make life make more sense than ever was possible before they arrived.

Our first professional family photo, at 5 weeks after birth

Our first professional family photo, at 5 weeks after birth

the vivid life

If you’re not happy, change something



This graphic is both accurate and absurd to me. Happiness isn’t that simple, but yet it is. We might not be 100 percent happy with everything in our lives, but if we’re fairly content with most parts of our lives, does that mean we’re happy?

However, the beauty in the simplicity of this is that everything is changeable when you’re an adult. If you hate your job, find a new one. If you’re unhappy in a relationship, work to change it or get out of it. Don’t like your body? Change it or learn to love it. The same principle applies to any problem you’re having.

Maybe you’re thinking “Yes, but ….” And that’s a toxic game to play with yourself or anyone who’s trying to offer you advice. It was first identified by Eric Berne in his best-selling book, Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships. Essentially, you always have an excuse to why you’re not fixing the problem that you’re complaining about.

Here’s a classic example:

Sally and Jane are chatting over coffee, and Jane says, “I’d love to order one of those scones, but I’m overweight as it is. I don’t need extra calories.”

Sally: “You could always just work out to counteract the extra calories, if you really wanted the scone.”

Jane: “Yes, but I don’t have time to work out.”

Sally: “So don’t eat the scone.”

Jane: “Yes, but I really want it.”

Sally: “So make time to work out. Perhaps you just take the stairs in your office today.”

Jane: “Yes, but that hurts my knees.”

Cue awkward silence.

Sally is so frustrated at this point that she’s fuming inside, and maybe even visibly. Jane feels smug because she thinks she won the argument and that Sally just doesn’t get it because she’s _________________________ (fill in the blank with accusatory excuse, such as already skinny, has loads of extra time to hit the gym, so fat it doesn’t matter if she eats a thousand scones a day, has so much money she could afford lipo). But Jane doesn’t ever think to herself that she’s the problem.

So back to getting happy. You can do it. The only obstacle standing in your way is you.

the vivid life

Martin Luther King Jr. chose to love


Since the dawn of time, good has been combated by evil. Martin Luther King Jr. fought hate with love by being an optimist, a visionary, someone who wouldn’t back down. He changed our world for the better, and the lessons he taught are timeless.

Choosing to love instead of hate isn’t easy sometimes but it is the better road for your own journey. Hate hurts everyone, but most of all, it hurts you. Are you carrying around feelings of animosity and hatred? It doesn’t feel very good, does it? Justified or not, I have found it takes more energy to stay mad. And I mean the soul-stirring, anxiety-producing agitated state of mind that pure hatred causes, not the fists-in-the-air-we-won’t-take-this-oppression-anymore anger. I think that kind of passion can be good. But the festering in a dark place of madness doesn’t do anyone any good.

Anger isn’t all bad, of course. It incites change and action. Anger also can deliver you to a new sense of awareness. “Anger serves a variety of positive purposes when it comes to coping with stress,” writes W. Doyle Gentry, PhD from Anger Management For Dummies. “It energizes you, improves your communication with other people, promotes your self-esteem, and defends you against fear and insecurity. (Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr., were all angry men — but they turned that anger into social reform that made the world a better place.)”

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about compassion and forgiveness. Compassion is ultimately the opposite of anger. Breathing compassion toward your enemies is important, as it helps to release the anger you’re feeling. It helps you to step back from your emotionally charged actions and realize that we are all human. We’ve all been through the good, the bad, the beautiful and ugly parts of life, just in different ways.

Today on Tiny Buddha, the author quoted Mother Theresa, who once said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

But focusing on depressing your anger for the sake of others might get you all jittery and mad again. So let’s think about what feeling love for people rather than being angry with them will do for you.

When you’re angry you are likely to have “blame thinking” going on in your head. Inside of “blame thinking” you have emotions and these are caused by unmet needs. When you can get conscious of your “blame statement” you can begin to explore your feelings and use these feelings to get clear about which of your needs are going unmet. Source: The Center for Nonviolent Communication

Love makes us feel happy. We see the world as a better place, and we feel like we belong in it and we want to do more for it and the people around us.

There is relief and release in choosing love, too. Martin Luther King Jr. demanded love and compassion while fighting for equality and rights. He did this by speaking about love and not putting out more hatred into the world, but rather more compassion.

He didn’t just turn the other cheek. He fought hard. He worked hard. “You can’t be a doormat unless you lie down first,” wrote the recently departed Pauline Phillips in 1973 under the pen name Abigail Van Buren for her column, “Dear Abby.”

I bring this up because many people think that being loving, nonviolent and compassionate means letting people walk all over you. And that’s not at all what I am advocating, and neither did MLK.

Quite simply, I think the moral is to mindfully live your life with love in your heart, not hate, and you’ll have a deeper, richer life.

the vivid life

Wishing happiness for others

In order to achieve the highest form of happiness, we must first wish it for others.

I wish everyone well, even those who have been unkind to me. It’s not always easy, and it’s something I struggle with even now. But it is for me that I do this, not for them.

healing, moving on

Forgiveness is a gift to oneself


“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Lewis B. Smedes

In order to achieve mind-blowing, heart-fluttering, so-many-weights-lifted-I-feel-like-a-fluffy-cloud happiness, I need to learn how to forgive.

I’ve been working a great deal on the idea of forgiveness. The trouble for me has always been that no one has asked me for it. The people who have hurt me the most in my life – and I’m talking about heart-wrenching-this-shit-is-against-the-law type of hurt – haven’t begged for forgiveness. They haven’t even apologized. And one person is still active in my life, much to my psychological detriment, and I can’t get rid of them. Not currently, at least.

I always thought that to forgive meant to excuse, as if to say, “It’s OK that you hurt me. I don’t mind. I’m not worthy enough to be angry with you for hurting me. Heck, I probably deserved it. Maybe I was even asking for it.” I’ve known cognitively for quite some time that forgiveness isn’t about excusing someone’s behavior, but sometimes it is terribly hard to get your heart to believe what your brain is trying to tell it.

I can be pretty dense sometimes. Flighty. Head in the clouds. You know the type. But it has finally sunk in that in order to set myself fully free of hurt caused by someone else’s actions, I must forgive them. It isn’t a gift I’d be giving them. It will be for me.

Isn’t it interesting how when you’re enraged with someone for slighting you in some way, oftentimes it seems like they don’t even give you the pleasure of noticing or acknowledging your frustration? That’s because the only person you’re hurting with your anger and resentment is yourself. And so it’s time to bless and release. Let it go. Move on. Forgive.

So what does it mean to forgive?

Ever the English nerd, I looked it up on my favorite dictionary website: To forgive is to cease to feel resentment against someone or to give up resentment of or claim to requital for, meaning you’re not looking for retaliation.

Can I do this? It’s such a tall order. But that’s what I’m looking for so that my own heart can feel better. I only seek peace. Of course, I’d like to tell the people I’m angry with why I am angry with them. But I’ve gone through countless scenarios in my head of how that might go, and it never ends well. Even if they’re groveling at my feet, I will still feel horrible because it doesn’t take away the pain they caused me.

Only I can take it away from myself. Only I can free myself of the pain.

Psychologist Peter R. Breggin addressed this in an article in The Huffington Post last week, writing, “Forgiveness, as I understand it after all these decades on Earth, is about an attitude toward both ourselves and others. Forgiveness is an attitude of letting go of enmity and resentment and encouraging ourselves to feel genuinelove and empathy. It begins with kindness and understanding toward ourselves.

Forgiving ourselves allows us to recognize our own faults and then to correct them as much as we can without languishing in unforgiving guilt and shame. Guilt and shame actually make us less able to examine ourselves. We try to relieve these self-punishing attitudes by denying responsibility for any wrong actions. In a state of denial that protects us from guilt and shame, we cannot identify what we need change about ourselves.

Further in regard to ourselves, to forgive others is to make peace within ourselves. We give up anger and resentment and thereby become freer of spiritually-corrupting malice. We no longer give those who have hurt us the power to continue to do so by preoccupying us with their deeds.

In regard to others, forgiveness relieves us of the motivation to gratuitously harm others. We may still feel the necessity of taking self-protective actions that end up harming them, for example, by excluding them from our lives, but we have not done so out of malice. We have acted to protect ourselves or our families and not for the purpose of inflicting harm.

Similarly, people may be harmed in our political lives if we fight against their interests, but we are better off if we are motivated by the pursuit of ideals and principles rather than resentment. If we are trying to improve the world in some way, this difference in attitude enables us to behave more rationally and often results in our having a better impact.

Forgiveness also leaves room to welcome back friends or family when they have changed and are no longer a danger to us or our loved ones. The same is true in our political lives where, whenever possible, we try to let go of old resentments in order to accomplish a greater good.

Forgiveness ultimately empowers us by clarifying our minds. Unclouded by resentment, jealousy, or hate, it is far easier to make rational decisions about who can be trusted and who cannot be trusted, and about how to best improve our lives and the lives of others.

Forgiveness goes hand in hand with empathy. Empathy involves a caring and even loving response to another’s viewpoint and experience. It does not, however, mean that we approve or reward another person’s viewpoint and behavior. In my experience, when we approach other people in an open and receptive manner, if these people have bad intentions, it becomes much more readily apparent to us than when we approach them with suspicion and callousness.

People who are forgiving do not become vulnerable to individuals who have harmed them or have the intent to harm them. Forgiveness involves seeing people for who they are, both the good and the bad, while letting go of spiritually-corrupting negative emotions that make us anxious and keep us up at night, wasting our energy, which can be turned to better uses.

As a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, it’s apparent to me that the most forgiving people are the happiest and most effective, and that the least forgiving people are the most miserable and ineffective. A great deal of personal suffering, including what gets called mental illness, is rooted in an angry, unforgiving attitude toward oneself, other people, and the world.”

For years, I have counted myself among the happy and forgiving. But lately I have been struggling in a place of being unforgiving, tormented by anger and anxiety.

I know why. I know the source of all of it. But knowing why doesn’t make it go away. I have empathy toward the person I have anger for. I have compassion for them, too.

Writing this post makes me feel less anxious, as I call upon what it is that I want to do. I want to forgive one of the people who have hurt me the most. But it won’t be an easy journey and writing it down is only the first step.

Have you forgiven someone for something hugely terrible? How did you do it — and really make it stick to your heart for good?

the vivid life

May we all be well, happy and peaceful

jewel of the lotus



As I work toward being more compassionate, I found this lovely Buddhist meditation to repeat to myself as I breathe compassion out to all people, not just my loved ones or people I know are suffering. It’s not easy at first, but I find that it helps me be far less angry with anyone if I concentrate on sending them compassion.

When I do this, my frustration with them dissipates, and I am able to move on from the emotion I don’t want to feel. I get terribly anxious when I am angry or upset with anyone. Sending compassion toward someone doesn’t alleviate what someone may have done to have brought on my reaction, but it helps me from wasting my time and energy feeling bad about someone else’s actions.

Here’s the poem:

May I be well, happy, and peaceful.
May my teachers be well, happy, and peaceful.
May my parents be well, happy, and peaceful.
May my relatives be well, happy, and peaceful.
May my friends be well, happy, and peaceful.
May the indifferent persons be well, happy, and peaceful.
May the unfriendly persons be well, happy, and peaceful.
May all meditators be well, happy, and peaceful.
May all beings be well, happy, and peaceful.

the vivid life

Can we make ourselves happy?


Winston Churchill said, “I like things to happen; and if they don’t happen, I like to make them happen.” So can we make ourselves happy by making things happen?

Perhaps there is not one particular path to happiness, yet happiness is the way, meditated Thich Nhat Hanh.

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote:

Happiness is a butterfly,
which when pursued,
is always just beyond your grasp,
but which,
if you will sit down quietly,
may alight upon you.

I have decided to choose happiness for myself. That’s not to say that I’ve been suffering from a terrible depression under which I could not be happy. I’ve chosen happiness all along, sometimes to my own detriment. How could choosing happy be destructive, you might wonder? When it’s the choice you make despite something giant and terrible in your life–when it’s the choice you make to be blind to the bad things in your life rather than dealing with them.

But I’ve worked through many toxic demons from my past in the last few years, and I think the fog is finally lifting. I can now bravely say that I have a lighter heart, a brighter future and am making smarter choices when I say that I choose happiness.

For 2013, my goals are fairly simple in terms of individual pursuit of happiness:

Practice being more compassionate toward others.

Meditate more.

Spend more time doing less, rather than wasting time doing nothing.