Check out my post on The Lil’ Mamas!

More on this later, because I want to write an entire post about the fabulous mama community I’ve been a part of… but in the meanwhile, check out a guest post I wrote about baby products for The Lil’ Mamas blog:  THE LIL’ MAMAS DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO ALL THE SHIT NO ONE TELLS YOU TO PUT ON YOUR REGISTRY.

Enjoy!

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Nursing in public? Don’t mind if I do…

To cover or not?

I was on the plane after spending a few days in Arizona, dreading the return flight to New York. Our trip to Phoenix was one for the record books (read all the gory, puke-covered details here) and while I had done a ton of laundry once I got there, I failed to wash my nursing cover. A beautiful hand-made, hand-dyed nursing cover that I simply didn’t have time to hand-wash (weird, right?…. no time to wash something by hand with a baby around?).

Anyway, the cover reeked like it had been sitting in puke for four days so I didn’t even bother to bring it in my carry-on – I figured I would just use a blanket to cover up and make do. As the baby started getting hungry, I started setting up logistics in my head – I had to juggle a nursing pillow, blanket/cover, baby, and myself in the cramped airplane seat. It was already uncomfortable enough, and with the Arizona heat and poorly circulated airplane air, I was sweating and not looking forward to layering up just to feed the baby.

My thoughts turned to a few days prior at JFK when I saw a woman nursing her baby, sans cover, in the middle of the airport. If I was just a passer-by, I would never have even noticed. But I knew what she was doing, and I knew she was my people – a nursing, traveling mother who just wanted to get to her destination without anyone losing their shit. I thought if she could do it, why couldn’t I?

Want to know why nursing in public is such a big step for moms to take in our fair country? Because people react like total assholes, and the last thing a tired mom wants to do is deal with someone outside of her family giving her a hard time (is it not enough that she deals with pint-sized tyrants at home – must she deal with adult-sized idiots in public?). Look at the search results for “breastfeeding discrimination” or see how many women have “nurse-in protests”  for stupid shit like someone being asked to stop breastfeeding because she was “scaring children.”  These were news stories I never really paid attention to until they pertained to me directly – I began to wonder, as a breastfeeding mother, when I might be impacted by this type of discrimination – not if. It seems inevitable.

My rant beings

For whatever reason, we’ve gotten away from breastfeeding being the norm and it’s seen as the exception to the rule or something people do “in private.” It offends people, it makes people uncomfortable, boobs are “private” parts, the library is no places for nipples… and so on. But really, how could you justify taking offense at a mother feeding her child? It’s like, one of the most harmless, selfless acts EVER to share your nourishment with a baby. Amiright… or amiright? 

How often do people excuse themselves from an activity to go eat “in private”? Do they put blankets over their heads to eat a sandwich simply because it’s lunchtime? No, and no. So why would we expect these beautiful, tiny babies and their lactating mothers (who, quite honestly, have enough to worry about) to hightail it out of the room/restaurant/wherever when hunger strikes or literally take cover? (And before anyone jumps down my throat – I recognize that there are cultural/religious/personal views that require covering up in public. This post isn’t about that.)

I wish I knew what about breastfeeding makes normal people turn into awkward, bumbling fools because their totally unsupportive (and dare I say… selfish?) reactions to maybe seeing a nipple for 3 seconds can send a shy nursing mom into corners, under covers, and into closets. There are so many double standards going on it makes me sick. When someone gets all weird the second they see a mom expose 3 square inches of flesh to feed their baby, I hope they don’t think they’re fooling anyone into thinking they’re modest and really truly offended because in today’s day and age, I seriously doubt that they offered a blanket to cover up the scantily clad woman walking down the street, someone wearing a string bikini at the beach, the man without a shirt on playing basketball at the park, or had a hissy fit when an ad for Victoria’s Secret comes on during the commercial break of their favorite television show.

Guess what people? It’s a boob and there is nothing “scary” going on. It’s nothing sexual, or “adult,” or XXX happening. The 3-second flash of a nipple you might see if you’re looking close enough while baby latches is not going to blind you or cause any lasting damage. In fact, it’s probably going to calm the fussy, hungry baby and allow everyone to get on with whatever they were doing in the first place – shopping, taking public transportation, or enjoying the park.

But if this all isn’t sad enough, it breaks my heart that our society is so ass backward that we had to go and pass laws protecting nursing mothers – stating that they have the right to nurse their child in a place where they have the right to be. While I’m glad the laws are there – because people harass nursing mothers kind of a lot – I can’t help but think it’s pretty pathetic that breastfeeding is such a hot button issue that we spent money passing legislation to protect something that mammals have been doing since the dawn of time. Breastfeeding isn’t new. It’s not deviant. It’s not harmful. In fact, it’s healthy, normal, and natural.

How can we fix this? Do better next time!

OK, I’m done ranting. It’s time to figure out where we go from here. Maybe you’ve been a total ass to someone without even realizing it – whether it be gawking, offering a cover, leaving the room/business, or otherwise being a totally unsupportive human being/family member/friend. Maybe you thought you were making mom more comfortable by offering a cover – or whatever you did – but probably not. It’s time to do better next time.

Try this: act normal. Be yourself. Don’t turn into a bumbling idiot because ohmigod there’s a nip. Smile, make eye contact, continue your conversation, and for pete’s sake… don’t gawk. Bring that mom a glass of water or maybe a little snack because nursing is exhausting, and dehydrating, and literally sucks the nutrition out of her body for another human being (I told you it was selfless). At the same time, it’s also breathtaking, and beautiful, and amazing so let her know that, and let her know what a damn good job she is doing. Take the opportunity to teach your children, your husband, your friends that breastfeeding is how babies eat – just like kittens, puppies, and baby mammals of all kinds  – and there’s really nothing offensive or scary about a lactating human.

Basically, if I had to sum it up in a nutshell, I’d say: OFFER SUPPORT AND DON’T ACT LIKE AN ASSHOLE. It’s that easy, folks.

A Phoenix returns (oh please, I couldn’t help myself)

So I went for it on the plane – coverless. I popped my boob out of my shirt, latched the baby on, and much to my surprise, no one had a hissy fit or called the authorities (but I was ready to go all mama bear on them if I had to). It was pretty much a non-event; I switched sides, put myself back together, and the baby went right to sleep for during the red-eye back to JFK. And you know what? It felt AWESOME. I didn’t have to mess with the cover, neither of us started to overheat, and I didn’t feel like I was very publicly hiding something that I wasn’t ashamed of to begin with. We were both happier, and so were all of our seatmates on the plane. Since that moment, I’ve never looked back and nurse freely all over the place – restaurants, airports, parks, parties, while I’m walking the dog around the neighborhood, wherever. I can only hope that another mom will see me and think, “I can do that too.”

Because she can, and dammit, she should.

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Maternity Leave (or training for my new job)

It was never a question of if I would return to work after having a baby – it was a fact. Like many working mothers before me, I would return to work. I would take the U.S. standard of 12 weeks postpartum before jumping back into my day job and resuming the new normal of life as a family of three (well, four if you count the dog). Before going out on leave, 12 weeks sounded like forever. Looking back, it went by in the blink of an eye (and it’s not nearly enough time… but that’s something I can tackle in another post).

Maternity leave was tough – after 10 months fraught with physical changes, crazy hormones, emotional challenges and more – she was finally here. And it’s different for everyone, but I had kind of a rough time postpartum. Between our breastfeeding challenges, PUPPP, and taking care of a newborn, I felt a little bit crazy. Add to all of those things normal, every day necessities like eating a meal, taking a shower, or finding time to pay bills and I felt mentally maxed out. It was easy to think, “Nursing will get better once she can hold her head up,” or “When I’m not itching myself until I bleed I will enjoy the weather more,” but I promised myself I wouldn’t wish it all away because all those people who’ve said, “It goes by fast,” when they talk about their children growing up are right. Time moves differently when you’re a parent, quicker than you can ever imagine and in a way you don’t understand until you actually are a parent.

Going from having a pretty normal everyday routine – work, gym, family time – to having a completely open and unpredictable schedule was jarring. There were times when I literally did not know if it was day or night. Some days I stayed in bed with the baby nursing for what seemed like the entire day, only to climb in to “sleep” at night which was more like a series of catnaps with hour-long nursing sessions in between. It was a total haze but looking back, it was the routine things that helped anchor me when I was feeling really turned around. Brushing my teeth twice a day reminded me that there was a morning and night, eating regular meals reminded me that yes, my body needed nutrition and paying bills reminded me what day of the month it was.

I think It was the latter that stressed me out the most – my leave was comprised of short-term disability, paid time off, and unpaid leave – meaning that my usual income took a decent hit over those three months. I planned as much as I could, and had plenty to bridge the gap between paychecks, but I constantly worried, “What if?” Looking back, I wish I would have started to plan even sooner. So soon-to-be mamas take heed and plan as much as you can! Here’s a link to some good tips about preparing financially for maternity leave.

But by far the biggest challenge about maternity leave was its inevitable end – I felt like the minute our daughter was born, the countdown to my return was on. Throughout my leave I vacillated back and forth between wanting to spend every waking minute of every single day with our daughter and really missing, and craving, the challenge that comes with pursuing a career and getting some mileage out of my degrees. There were days when I said to my husband, “I could never stay home full-time. That’s just not me.” There were other days when I simply couldn’t imagine dropping her off at daycare and returning to work, days I thought I would chain myself to the bassinet and refuse to budge.

It feels like as soon as leave began, it was over. My first day back at work came and went and I’ve been back for about two months that have completely flown by. I jumped right back in and picked up projects, started new ones, and caught up on what I’d missed. I’m still adjusting, for sure, but now I look forward to my days at work. On top of giving me an outlet to channel my professional energy, being back at work also allows me to eat at least one meal a day with both hands, put on grown-up clothes on a regular basis, and shower much more frequently. And let’s be honest here – at this point, those are all pretty major accomplishments.

I dutifully go to work now with new goals on top of my general career aspirations. Working means I can provide my daughter with the best and most amazing opportunities that i can. Whether it’s swim lessons or music class or traveling or saving for college – she’s my new motivation to work hard every single day.

Every minute I’m not working is devoted to our family – fun-filled weekends and evenings, special snuggle time in the mornings before the day gets going. We laugh, walk, play, go for walks and more. Of course we miss each other a lot during the day, but it makes the time we do spend together that much more precious. Quality over quantity never rang more true. In a way, maternity leave was never something with a set end – it was really just training for my new full-time gig: being a mom.

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I’ve thought long and hard about this…

It’s been a while since I’ve posted (and I think that phrase is on repeat on this blog). Sure, I have been a bit of a crazy person since I went back to work but also I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this blog and where I want to go with it. I started to wonder if I had strayed too far from my original intent with the mommy and parenting posts as of late. It got me thinking – should I start a new blog? have two blogs? retire this blog all together? I was at my writer’s block blogging crossroads when I saw this post from Muskoka Baby. Not only were Annie’s words incredibly flattering, but it really renewed my energy for sharing my experiences as a mom as honestly as I can.

So right then and there I decided to carry on with this blog. To help ground my thoughts, I looked back at my very first post:

I am determined to lead a better balanced life. I want it all (or at least, as much of it all as I can get): a successful marriage and (at some point soon) children, a satisfying career, a healthy & fit lifestyle, fantastic relationships with my family and friends, a full night’s sleep, and more… not in any particular order. I’ve been learning the hard way that as lovely as it sounds, your life won’t just “fall into place” without a lot of hard work.

As it turns out, I’m not so far from my original intent. I’m still determined to have a better balanced life it’s just that all of the things I’m balancing have shifted around. Now that I’m a mom, I feel like a different (better) version of myself. Everything has changed – from the intangibles like my attitude, perceptions, and judgements to the physical like my body and disposition. Yet, in all that change, I’m still the same person. It reminds me of that quote, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” – which translates to “the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.” Well Monsieur Karr – you were damn right.

There is so much balancing going on in my life right now that I would be a fool not to write about it. So here we go: Better Balanced Life 2.0 – stick with me as I navigate the territory of balancing all of the things I was trying to balance before just with the most wonderful addition in the world: our new baby girl. Stay tuned for stories of the good, the bad, and the ugly – coming soon…

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Tips for flying with a baby (or how not to smell like roadkill by the time you arrive)

traveling

So I decided to pack up Elizabeth when she was two months old, get on a plane, and fly across the country. Call me crazy but it was the quickest way to get to Phoenix and we had some really important business there! Anyway, we made it about 30 miles into our 2,500 mile journey – approximately to the runway at JFK – before she puked all over me and proceeded to cry her face off for the next two hours while we were then delayed and continued to sit on the runway. And when I say “puked all over me” I mean all. over. me. I brought an extra shirt in my carry-on, just in case, but I hadn’t anticipated the volcanic eruption of projectile vomit that necessitated an extra pair of pants and bra.

Let’s just say that I smelled pretty ripe by the time we arrived at midnight local time and looked like a wild animal – my hair was a mess, my shirt was half on/half off from our last nursing session, and of course Elizabeth woke up screaming with a vengeance by the time we arrived at the rental car counter. The guy working the night shift did us a solid and used his car rental powers to give us his employee discount, plus upgraded us to a really nice SUV. But I’m pretty sure he would have done anything to get rid of the crazy lady who smelled like roadkill and her screaming, smelly spawn at that point.

This being my first time traveling with the baby, and solo to boot, I learned many lessons very quickly. Some things I did worked out (like shipping things to my destination ahead of time); other things left much to be desired (like why the hell did I bring 3,000 onesies?). If you’re getting a plane with a baby, here’s my advice:

Before you leave:

  • Look up the airline’s policy before you book a ticket. Many airlines offer discounted infant seats so you can bring your FAA-approved car seat on board instead of flying with the baby in your lap.
  • Cut in half what you plan to bring. Lay out what you want to pack ahead of time. Cut it in half. If you are going somewhere that has a washer/dryer…. cut it in half again. Seriously – take as few things as you could possibly need. The less you have to carry, tote around, and retrieve at security or the baggage claim… the better. Bring only a couple of your child’s favorite toys.
  • Do a dry run. I had never used our car seat without the base, but was not bringing the base on the trip. The day before we left, I practiced putting it in (and taking it out) of my car at home with the shoulder belt. I also practiced rolling my suitcase (full of our crap) while pushing the stroller before we left. I was glad I felt comfortable doing these things because I was pretty frazzled by the time we landed and didn’t have much mental capacity left. I was glad to know “it worked” beforehand.
  • Make sure you have all your essentials and don’t sweat the rest. Chances are you can purchase anything non-essential that you might have forgotten at home once you arrive at your destination.
  • FedEx! Send out what you won’t need until you get there – like all the OTHER diapers and wipes you’ll use – ahead of time.
  • Take only one carry on. JUST ONE! And pack an ENTIRE extra outfit on there for you and some layers for the baby in case temperatures fluctuate between the airport, plane, etc. I also put everything in clear plastic bags – from onesies to pacifiers – in case they searched us going through security. Security agents are constantly touching tons of things, so when they paw through your bag they won’t come into direct contact with your baby’s pacifiers, clothes, etc.
  • Track your flight before you leave. You don’t want to arrive too early!
  • Pick your travel outfit wisely. Pants with big pockets to stash stuff, slip on shoes, you know the drill. All those tips about how to get through security quickly become way more pertinent when you are trying to get through with a baby.
  • A note about expressed breastmilk or formula/baby food. You can usually bring these items as a carry-on in unlimited amounts. Check with the airline first.

At the airport:

  • If you are traveling solo, assume you will be doing everything yourself. A lot of fellow travelers are parents themselves, and were even in your shoes one day. They will likely take pity on you and offer help, but you can’t count on anything. If you assume you have to do everything yourself, that second set of hands from a kind stranger sitting next to you is a welcome relief, but not necessary.
  • Hand wipes and sanitizer. All the time, on everything. I’m not a germophobe until I walk into an airport. I wiped the hell out of everything I touched and wherever I put the changing pad down. We made it through the trip and neither of us picked up any bugs.
  • Anticipate delays. Bring enough diapers, wipes, etc. in your carry-on for a potentially long haul.
  • Wear your baby. I really like using the Ergobaby for traveling because it has the sleeping hood AND a pocket for your things you need to have accessible. They will make you take the baby carrier OFF when you are going through security, but I put Elizabeth in the Ergo while I broke down the stroller and car seat (which also need to go through the x-ray machine), then sent the Ergo through the machine while I carried the baby. By the time we got to the other end of the line, the car seat had come out and was ready for her to sit in while I gathered the rest of our belongings.*
    • *This lovely story is from when we went through security on our return trip. Our voyage through security before we departed? Horrible. Not only did I lose Elizabeth’s blankie, but I also had to shove her under my arm like a football (Elizabeth, if you’re reading this one day: I’M SORRY) while I broke down the stroller and car seat with one hand which is umm next to impossible because I didn’t realize the entire stroller had to go through the x-ray machine. Let’s call that a “lesson learned.”
  • Gate check your stroller. For most airlines you can check the car seat/stroller travel systems at the gate. Having use of your stroller through the airport is awesome for carting carry-on(s) and you know, actually holding your baby. We only have one stroller and car seat**, so I bought these big red gate check bags to put them in to protect from scuffs. If you’re solo, wear your baby at the gate when you are packing these up as well. I was glad I bought the bags, because there were scuff marks on them and it was raining when we arrived so the car seat would have been soaked when I picked it up at our arrival gate.
    • **If you are going to travel a lot, you may want to consider getting a second travel system that you don’t care that much about getting scuffed and skip the gate check bags. One less thing to worry about bringing and doing!
    • Also, you can check your stroller before even going through security if you don’t want or need it. For that, I would suggest getting the luggage bags for whatever brand you have – they are generally sturdier and protect the stroller better while it’s getting tossed around on conveyor belts and such.
  • Get to your gate a bit early, about 30 mins before boarding. Talk to an airline rep – they might be able to get you a better seat, provide assistance boarding, or even hook you up next to an empty seat to give you a bit more room. Or, in my case, they could kind of be bitches about everything but I think those were two isolated employees at JFK who fed off one another’s misery.

In the air:

  • Nurse, nurse, nurse… or do something that comforts your baby. I found that Elizabeth was unsettled by the experience at first, but nursing brought her a lot of comfort and on the first leg of the journey that’s pretty much all we did.
  • Water, water, water. Not only to hydrate yourself (especially if you are breastfeeding), but you can also use the water for mixing formula, etc. Most flights will have this on board and you can purchase once you are past security.
  • Use the seat back pocket. Stash anything you want to have easy access to there. Since you packed everything in plastic bags in your carry on, this makes it easy to keep everything clean and organized within easy reach.
  • Relax. Baby will pick up on your stress and respond in kind. It’s not fun traveling with an infant, but you can pretend.
  • Pat yourself on the back. You made it through security, through boarding the plane, and are on your way. It’s almost over.

Once you arrive:

  • Wear your baby, again. Before you deplane, get situated with the baby carrier of your choice so that you can collect any gate checked items before proceeding to baggage claim.
  • Ask for help, if you need it. I can only assume flight attendants want to get the hell out of there as much as you do. They will probably be more than willing to help expedite your exit so whether it’s getting a bag from the overhead (which you don’t have, because you only brought ONE carry on, right?) or holding the baby for a second, ask for help and usually ye shall receive.

That covers all of the wisdom I can impart from our trip. Any other traveling parents out there? Since I’ve only done the plane thing once, I bet there are a LOT of other tips out there. Leave a comment with your two cents!

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Happy World Breastfeeding Week!

Happy World Breastfeeding Week! In honor of this week, I wanted to share our own somewhat tumultuous journey over the past couple of months. It has a very happy ending, so if you’re facing challenges breastfeeding, stick with it. It’s worth it!

Three days after Elizabeth was born, my milk “came in.” Right on cue. But wait, I was in serious pain when she latched (or tried to latch) and things didn’t feel right. I knew she needed to eat, I could tell by her wails, and I needed to get my milk out somehow. I figured I could pump and we could give her bottles until we could see an LC (it was Memorial Day), so I opened up my breast pump and for some reason (ahem… pregnancy hormones… ahem) I was completely overwhelmed. Between all of the fun post-partum stuff happening, plus the pain and lack of sleep… I didn’t have the brain capacity to clean the parts, put them together, and read the damn manual. So I did the next best thing: hand expressed milk into a Pyrex bowl while sitting on the side of our bed and then gave it to Elizabeth with a spoon (it made sense at the time and got the job done!). I was still in a lot of pain, and at one point saw blood-tinged milk come out of my breast. Crying baby, crying mom. YIKES!

This wasn’t exactly the peaceful, angelic picture of breastfeeding I had envisioned. While I was hand expressing like a boss, I couldn’t help but think back to one of my early prenatal visits when my midwife asked me if I planned to breastfeed. The obvious answer, to me, was “Yes! Of course!” She then threw me a curveball and asked, “Do you feel like you have the support you need to breastfeed?” I asked her what she meant by that – support? I was just going to breastfeed, simple as that. I even thought (which now seems ironic), “How hard could it be?”

Anyway, I needed support that morning, and I needed it immediately. I reached out to a local La Leche League Leader and she helped me wrap my head around what to do next, including how to get through the next couple of days until we could see a lactation consultant. She was a lifesaver and talked me off a ledge that morning but I got really sad thinking that maybe there was something wrong with me, that I couldn’t provide for my daughter, and felt like I was headings towards failure – my goal had been to breastfeed for a year and here I was, a few days in, and having doubts.

To cut to the chase, it turned out I had a nipple infection (yes, OUCH!) because Elizabeth had a posterior tongue-tie and was basically using her gums to breastfeed. It prevented her from latching properly (read: chomp chomp!) and was a relatively easy fix once our LC figured out what was going on. We saw a specialist, Dr. Dahl in New York City, who was great – she clipped the tie for us in mere seconds and had me feed Elizabeth right in her office, moments after the procedure. It took us longer to get off the FDR and across town than it did for us to have the entire office visit. It felt immediately better, and it was there that I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

It took about six (long) weeks, multiple sessions with the LC, and lots of time dedicated to nursing until we hit our stride. I’ve nursed her everywhere – from restaurants to the car to airplanes – and every way – standing, in the baby carrier, lying down, sitting. It’s pretty cool now! But back to that “support” my midwife asked me about… having the support of the LLL, lactation consultant, and midwives was indispensable but what really meant the most to me was having support from my husband. Not once did he tell me to give up, suggest we switch to formula, or say he didn’t think we could get through it. Instead, he was right next to me as I spoke to the LLL leader, sat for hours in our lactation consultant appointments remembering everything the LC said so that I didn’t have to, drove the family down to Dr. Dahl’s office in NYC, reminded me to treat the infection in my breasts, cooked for me, brought me glass after glass of water, made sure I was taking care of myself so I could take care of the baby, and held my hand when I cried out of frustration, pain, hormonal mood swings, and finally out of pure joy once things started to get better.

But, most importantly, he frequently reminds me how cool it is that my body, quite literally, keeps our baby alive and he thanks me for feeding her. In those “thank yous” I know he means much more – thank you for being dedicated to feeding our daughter, for the time you spend nursing, for the time you will spend pumping back at work, and on and on. I never thought he would be anything BUT supportive, but just hearing him say it out loud makes me feel great.

To all the pregnant mamas planning to breastfeed – my best advice is this: have a support system in place before you give birth – talk to your doctor, your pediatrician, go to La Leche League meetings, watch women breastfeed in real life, and learn how to use your breast pump, you know, just in case you need it right away.

Cheers to all you mamas out there who breastfed/feed your babies, and cheers to all the support people who help along the way. It’s a labor of love but hey, I hear that’s what parenting is all about anyway!

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What the… PUPPP?

Well, it’s been a little while since I posted. And there’s a reason (other than having a newborn). It’s called PUPPP – an acronym I have grown to loathe in epic proportions over the last few weeks – that stands for pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy. Or, hell on earth.

It all started with a little itch on my belly about a week postpartum. Just a little itch. Within minutes I was scratching my belly so hard that the stretch marks that had popped up during pregnancy turned into raised and angry looking welts. I figured it was kind of weird, but I chalked it up to the fact that my skin had gone through a lot of changes. Then my breasts got itchy (not fun when you’re breastfeeding), my legs, and my arms. I broke out into a rash that looked like mutant chicken pox and if that wasn’t enough, it itched to a maddening level. The only thing that made it feel better, temporarily, was itching. The itching, in turn, made it all worse because then it itched MORE. The most vicious of vicious cycles… I quite literally could. not. stop.

My mind started racing (cue freak out). What could it be? Chicken pox? Shingles? Poison ivy? Poison something else? By the time I was able to see my dermatologist, I was covered in this rash. He asked a few questions, took a peek at the damage, and broke the news: it was PUPPP, a condition that most commonly shows up in women while they are still pregnant and it generally resolves at birth. Well… since I was no longer pregnant, I could not count on it going away at any particular point.

Just a glimpse of the gorgeous PUPPP on my legs!

Just a glimpse of the gorgeous PUPPP on my legs!

As if trying to take care of a newborn, dealing with all of the fun postpartum stuff that happens to your body physically and emotionally, trying to manage the itching was ridiculous. I had a steroid ointment from the dermatologist that I wasn’t crazy about using while breastfeeding, so I used it very sparingly and only when things were so bad that I was driven to tears of frustration, discomfort, and pain. I spent a fortune on lotions and potions and became even more of a regular at our local CVS (I’m really glad that place is open 24 hours).

One of the midwives suggested that this might resolve around the six week postpartum mark and lo and behold… it did! Judging from what I read online about other women’s experiences, this is not always the case. I can only hope it is on its way out and never, ever, returns. The itching started to subside, the welts calmed down, and the areas I had itched until they bled started scabbing over. I still have periods where I am itchy, but nothing like it was during the height of my PUPPP-induced insanity.

I’m writing this post because I hope other women who desperately scour Google for PUPPP information will find this. And if that’s you, there are a few things I want to share with you:

  1. IT WILL GO AWAY. It cannot last forever. But I know… when you are itching your body to complete ruin, it is really hard to see an end in sight. But it’s only temporary!
  2. Feel bad for yourself. Go ahead! Bitch, moan, complain, cry, whatever you need to do! Whether you are pregnant or with a newborn, either way it SUCKS. Wallow in your own misery for a bit, but try not to let that take away the joy of pregnancy or of a newborn – not easy to do, but also time you’ll never get back.
  3. No one, other than women who have had PUPPP, will understand the depths of your insanity as a result of this rash. Adding the discomfort and downright pain of the rash and itching on top of pregnancy (or in my case, caring for a newborn) is a recipe for crazy town. (If you need to talk to someone who can relate – even if it’s to bitch, vent, and cry about it, email me: betterbalancedlife@gmail.com. Seriously.)
  4. It seems that what brings relief for some women does not work for others. Don’t get discouraged… just try something else!

I took everything I found on the web and sifted through to identify products I would be willing to try. Here goes the list, ranked in order of helpfulness – I will add that I’m not a doctor or any sort of medical professional. This is just what I found worked for me:

  • Sarna lotion. worked really well to relieve the itch. I put it in the fridge and put it on cool – felt SO nice.
  • Ice. Perhaps the most effective relief was simply numbing the itchy area. This is hard to do if your entire body is itching, but for “spot itching” it’s a miracle. I literally slept with ice packs rigged to my legs.
  • Dandelion root tincture. Picked some of this up at the local health mart and took it 2x a day. About 4-5 days after I started taking it, the rash started to go away. Coincidence? Maybe! But I think it helped.
  • Cortisone cream. Worked somewhat, but not enough.
  • Gold Bond Medicated Lotion. Was good for when the rash started drying up, since it has a moisturizing component to it.
  • Oatmeal baths. It was too soon postpartum for me to soak in the tub, so I made a paste out of the Aveeno oatmeal bath mix and rubbed it all over my body. Biggest mistake ever…. it burned, burned, burned. Others found the oatmeal bath helpful.
  • Grandpa’s Pine Tar Soap. I bought this, but didn’t use it. It smells like campfire and I hate that smell… others have found it very helpful though! 

Elizabeth gave me enough time to write this post, but now she’s crying and hungry so… that’s all folks! Over and out – and good luck with the PUPPP, if that’s why you’re here!

*UPDATE – July 2016. We welcomed our second child, a baby boy, last December. I am so pleased to share that the PUPPP didn’t come back with this baby. I was so terrified that it would… and every itch, scratch, etc. I was sure it was going to flare up. I wish everyone the same luck on the next go-round! ❤

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Elizabeth’s Birth Story

We welcomed Elizabeth Suzanne late on Friday, May 24th after a lovely labor and hypnobirth! It’s been a wild few weeks, and we’ve been having a great time as parents so far. We started the pregnancy going a rather traditional route, through an OB, and quickly changed course to midwifery care through the Connecticut Childbirth and Women’s Center. We felt they respected our needs, wishes, and wants while providing the most compassionate care we could have ever imagined. A thousand thank yous to the entire staff are not enough!

Without further ado, here is Elizabeth’s birth story.

Thursday, May 23. I was 40 weeks, 4 days and getting a little bit impatient and anxious. My husband debated going to the firehouse for his shift that day – I encouraged him to go because sitting around to wait for me go into labor wasn’t going to make it happen any sooner. I went to bed around 11pm and woke up at 1am to our dog staring at me and whining.  He wouldn’t leave me alone, and had been acting strange towards me all week… he knew something was going on. After he hounded me for a few more minutes, I caved to taking him out in the middle of the night. I rolled my pregnant self out of bed to find my bathrobe but as soon as my feet hit the ground, I realized he had simply been trying to tell me something: my membranes had ruptured (water broke) and it was go time!

After getting over how cool it was that the dog woke me up for this, I could think of nothing else other than how happy and excited I was that our baby was finally ready to meet us and immediately started talking to the baby about what a nice labor we were about to have. At that point, we still didn’t know if we were having a boy or a girl. I spent a lot of time prior to Elizabeth’s birth day preparing for her birth – whatever that was going to be. So much of that mental preparation came from the Hypnobirthing class we took (pregnant mamas in Fairfield/Westchester… click the link and sign up to take Muneeza’s class!). After spending hours learning how to fully relax, reciting affirmations about birth, and taking in as much information as possible about labor,  there was no reason for me to be anxious or nervous about anything.

The CCWC is about 50 minutes away from our house without traffic, so I prepared the car for the possibility that things could get messy. Chris got home from work and by the time we got on the road it was 2:30am and free of the Memorial Day traffic that would surely block the roads later on that day. By the time we got there, around 3:30am, I received the first round of antibiotics for my Group B strep. The on-call midwife informed us that with GBS mothers, they like to see the baby birth within 24 hours. I tucked that into the back of my head, and we were on our way to a nearby hotel to get some sleep instead of driving back home.

It was next to impossible to sleep (how could I sleep when something SO exciting was happening?!) but I got a few hours of shut-eye in between what were very mild surges (contractions). We woke up, had breakfast, and went for a walk later that morning until we went back to CCWC for a mid-morning check-in. Turns out I was only 2cm dilated which didn’t bode well for our baby to be born within the day. Our midwife discussed options with us – continue to get rounds of antibiotics and risk infection for baby and/or mom, or change our birth plan and head to the hospital for a Pitocin drip.

There was that word. Pitocin. The only part of our natural birth plan where the word Pitocin appeared was in a sentence that read, “Absolutely NO offers of Pitocin or pain meds unless a medical necessity or emergency.” In the moment, I went back to one of the most important takeaways from class – that as much as you can try to plan something, there are still unexpected turns. This was one of them.

Most importantly, I felt very safe and confident in the hands of the midwives at CCWC. If one of their most seasoned midwives was telling me we needed to seriously consider pit, then we would consider it. I knew she wouldn’t steer us wrong, and she wanted to see us have a birth as close to our plan as possible. I also reminded myself that we were prepared to handle whatever turn Elizabeth’s birth would take – whether it meant Pitocin, pain meds, or in the worst case scenario, an emergency C-section. Together, we decided to head over to the hospital in a couple of hours, and I held it together until we got in the car.

To be honest, I was worried. What if it made my surges crazy? What if it put the baby in danger? What if things didn’t go smoothly? What if, what if, what if. After a few deep breaths, I put on my big girl pants and we moved on with our day. We fueled up on a big lunch at a nearby diner, and then checked in at L&D at the hospital.

Once we got set up and started the Pitocin drip, I made a point to stay as as calm and relaxed as possible. I listened to the Hypnobirthing CD, relaxed, and settled in for the ride. Luckily, my body cooperated with the Pitocin as my surges increased fairly rapidly in intensity and frequency. I had to wear the fetal monitor throughout labor which felt a bit like a tether, but the upside was that the soundtrack to labor was Elizabeth’s heartbeat. I was so worried beforehand about what music I would want to listen to while I was laboring, but it turned out that while being hooked up to the fetal monitor was a bit of a pain… it meant that the soundtrack to the day was Elizabeth’s heartbeat and I didn’t want to hear anything else. The steady drumbeat of her heart was enough to relax me and help me focus on the task at hand.

I moved around a bit – walked the halls, labored in the tub for a little while, made trips back and forth to the bathroom. I relaxed through each surge as much has possible and relied on the breathing techniques we learned in class as well as reaching back to every single yoga class I’ve ever taken. I reminded myself that if I had successfully held complicated yoga poses in a sweltering hot yoga class for much longer than any of the contractions lasted… this was going to be more than manageable. My husband was my rock – he was with me every step of the way, holding my hand and encouraging me to work through each surge. He didn’t flinch, once!

After about six hours of increasingly frequent and intense surges, I knew Elizabeth was ready to start making her way into the world. I gave my body up to the birthing process – putting all of my energy into each surge to help her birth. It took about two more hours, but Elizabeth did a great job of moving and twisting and turning when she needed to, and I was able to reach down and touch her head as she was crowning. They put the mirror up and I caught a glimpse of what was happening. I spent a couple of moments thinking, “Holy s&#! that’s my body and there’s our baby’s head and OMG what a beautiful, crazy, emotional thing is happening!” I heard the encouragement of my husband , our midwife, and L&D nurse all saying the same thing, “You’re so close. This is it. Almost here!”

A few incredibly intense surges later, she emerged into the world and our midwife put her on my chest. I could not stop smiling and kissing and smelling this little baby and saying to Chris, “We have a baby, we have a baby!” Our midwife reminded Dad that we were all waiting to know if it was a boy or a girl, and he beamed with pride when he announced, “It’s a girl!” To boot, she was born just shy of midnight on my maternal grandmother’s birthday. It’s pretty cool how life works sometimes.

Over the last few weeks I have felt a whole new level of love – emotions beyond anything I could have imagined. If it’s even possible, I am more in love with my husband every day – I see him holding our daughter and being an awesome dad; and when I see our daughter I am overcome with love and  joy and gratitude and excitement for what’s to come. Cheers!

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15 Tips by Trimester for First-time Pregnant Moms

The countdown is on – the final days are here! I’ve nested, prepped, packed, organized, re-organized, and been thinking and reflecting a lot. Over the last 40 weeks (and even some time before that) I received a lot of advice about being pregnant – some good, some terrible – but thought I would pay forward some of the most useful tidbits. So, here goes!

15 Tips for first-time pregnant moms

First Trimester

1. Find the right care provider for you.  Just because you’ve been going to the same OB for the last 10 years doesn’t mean they are a good fit for you and your baby. For us, we found great midwives and a hypnobirthing coach. They have made this whole experience 10,000 times better than I ever could have imagined. So, explore your options… and don’t feel guilty about it!

2. Don’t read pregnancy books (or internet discussion boards) that cause you anxiety. Sorry, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, but you are kind of scary. And Google? You are way too quick to lead me to believe that there is something majorly wrong with the little cramp I just felt “down there.” There is such a thing as too much information, and it’s really hard to avoid but… try to stay away. If you really think something is wrong, call your care provider before trying to self-diagnose.

3. Buy a nightlight for your bathroom. During the first and third trimesters I’ve spent more time peeing in the middle of the night than I can count; the overhead light in the bathroom was too jarring and I found it hard enough to navigate my way there without stepping on the dog, any of his toys, or walking into the wall half asleep. That little beacon of light coming from the bathroom has saved me many times… best five dollars I’ve spent!

4. Go easy on the maternity clothes. I mean, maternity pants are kind of amazing and I never want to wear anything with a normal waistband again but… save some money this trimester. Pick up very few essentials that you really need (for me, it was a pair of black maternity slacks and a new bra) and wear the hell out of them until you have a better idea of how your body is changing as you go.

5. Find your support system. Find family, friends, a new mom group, La Leche League, whatever works for you! Make a point to stay engaged, ask questions, and meet new moms. Having the support as you go through pregnancy and beyond is invaluable. As one of the midwives at the birthing center said, “When you grow babies together, you form lifelong friendships.” Truth!

Second Trimester

6. Go away – no, really! Whatever it is that will help you relax – time away with your partner, your friends, or just you… make a point to get away and enjoy it.

7. Cross major items off your to-do list. Get the nursery set, finish projects around the house, and tie up loose ends before third trimester exhaustion creeps up.

8. Take a childbirth class and learn about your rights as a patient and parent. The more you know, the better off you and your baby are during birthing and beyond. Decide what type of birth experience you want to have, learn everything you can about the procedures in place where you’re birthing (from what you can do during labor, what tools do they have available to help you, to what their procedures are for the baby after birth including tests, vaccines, etc.) and then decide if it’s a good fit for your family.

9. Sleep a lot (and write down your crazy dreams). Sleeping was one of my favorite parts of the second trimester – for me, I was still sleeping comfortably and wasn’t peeing as often as I was during the first or third trimester. And those crazy pregnancy dreams? Write them down and share them with people (if they aren’t too weird) because they are hilarious.

10. Back to those maternity clothes. It’s probably time to expand your wardrobe – see what you can borrow from friends or find second-hand; save your money to buy a really cute outfit for your shower or maternity photo shoot if you’re doing one. Other than the hand-me-downs I received, my go-to shopping spots for a few necessities (which I’ve worn to death) included the clearance racks at Macy’s, Target, and Kohl’s.

Third trimester:

11. Everything is harder on your body so celebrate the small victories – and ask for help. Honestly, I didn’t even feel that pregnant (other than my bout with morning sickness) until I hit the third trimester. All of a sudden everything was harder and I needed help with things… I hate asking for help. My low point came at the end of a long day at work when I found that I could not comfortably reach down to unclasp my sandals; I decided my small victory for the day was getting them on in the first place, and then sucked it up and asked my husband to reverse-Cinderella the shoes off my feet. 

12. Savor the time your baby is in your belly… it’s almost over! I have felt nothing but amazement every time I feel the baby move (OK, and a little bit of discomfort during those kicks and punches to the cervix) or wake up and see that my belly has grown. It’s just SO cool! As excited as I am to meet the little guy or girl, I’m a bit sad that pregnancy is almost over. Baby is safe and always with you when they’re in your belly. It’s a special time – so take every opportunity you can to soak it in.

13. Put a waterproof pad underneath your fitted sheet. Your body will continue to do things that are out of your control, and you will appreciate the waterproof pad saving your bedding if your boobs leak/you pee yourself/your water breaks at night/etc. at any given point in time from here on out. After baby comes, use it for any and all of the inevitable messes you’ll be dealing with. 

14. Stock up! It’s helped me mentally prepare for a big change knowing that I have easy-to-eat-with-one-hand meals in the freezer, ready to go, and that I’ve stocked the house with necessities and recommendations from friends like:

  • Post-birth goodies: chux pads, maxi pads (yes, like the ones you used in middle school), mesh underwear (the least sexy underwear you’ll ever put on, or so I hear), Preparation-H wipes (in case that happens, again)
  • Baby essentials: diapers, wipes, shampoo, gentle laundry detergent, clothes
  • Kitchen goods: paper towels, dish soap, napkins, dried & canned goods
  • Bathroom supplies: toilet paper, shampoo, soap
  • Other important stuff: bottles of wine, cheese, updated netflix queue for middle-of-the-night feedings

15. Make a wishlist – plenty of people (family and friends, near and far) will ask what they can help with. Be ready with an answer (or two). Don’t be afraid to take someone up on their offer of walking the dog, throwing in a load of laundry, or even picking up a few things for you at the store. People want to help, but sometimes don’t know what to do so… help them help you and be ready with that wishlist!

If nothing else… enjoy every minute of your pregnancy – the easy days and the hard ones. This is just the beginning of a fantastic journey so keep a journal, take pictures, and savor it.

What did I miss? I know there’s more great advice out there from moms and mom-to-bes! Leave your advice in the comments!

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Never-ending piles of … things.

As soon as we learned we were having a baby, I knew it was time to get rid of the crap that had accumulated in the soon-to-be nursery. Unfortunately, most of it belonged to me so I couldn’t even avoid the responsibility. Books, clothes, boxes of miscellaneous stuff… ugh.

Around the same time, I read this piece in the NYT, “Living With Less. A Lot Less,” and it really struck a chord with me. Graham Hill started out with a lot – a lot of money, a lot of things, a lot of excess but today finds himself living with everything on a smaller scale by choice – from the square footage of his home to the number of dishes in his cabinets to the amount of books he owns.  I also came across a piece about the prized possessions of immigrants who could not bear to leave something behind when they came to America – read and see more about it here. It made me wonder – what would I take with me, if I was leaving? Other than family and pets… I realized I have very few material possessions that I wouldn’t want to live without. Keeping that in the back of my mind while I cleaned out the house made getting rid of things that much easier.

So, what started out as a “clean out the nursery” project became a “clean out the entire house” project. Hellooo nesting – let the purging begin!

So much crap… 

I realized I had been carrying a lot of crap with me everywhere. I wondered if now, in my late 20s, I really needed to continue bringing it all with me. The answer was no. I started with boxes from high school and college – kept a few things, but got rid of a lot. Essays and papers from that undergrad history class that I absolutely hated? GOODBYE. A random collection of parking passes and other things that would never be any good again? Gone, gone, gone. The trash bags in the picture were just a sliver of what I tossed, recycled, or donated.

In the middle of cleaning...

In the middle of cleaning… it was a little precarious to walk in there.

Once I tackled the a life’s history worth of stuff, I began reaching my purging tentacles into other areas of the house. Nothing was safe – much to my husband’s frustration, as there were a few times when I threw out relocated things he might have been keeping for a reason. (Sorry, hon!) By the time I finished up, I had overhauled every cabinet, closet, nook, and cranny. I became a regular at The Container Store which is conveniently located right next to my office  (no seriously, it’s right next door) and I spent a small fortune on storage containers and organizing accoutrements. For the record, these are awesome. 

One of the biggest challenges was the kitchen. I tackled it not once, not twice, but three times from top to bottom. We spend a lot of time in the kitchen/dining room area, so naturally it has a tendency to accumulate things in a way no other room in the house does. Plus, we seriously had enough kitchenware to stock at least two and a half kitchens. Luckily, my sister-in-law was able to use some of it and what she didn’t need went to Goodwill. I cleaned out cabinets, purged expired goods, and I even went as far as writing the names of the spices on the LIDS of each jar to take the guesswork out of finding the right spice. (I then snapped a picture of it on my cell phone so that I could see what we had… and will refer to it the next time I’m at the store thinking it’s a good idea to get another container of garlic salt. Seriously, no one needs that much garlic salt.)

A winter project 

After I had attacked everything I could control, I turned my attention to a very neglected part of the house – the “entertainment center” corner. This needed more help that I could give it on my own… it needed help from someone who was good at building things… like my husband! We had two windows to nowhere, aka directly into our neighbor’s home. They didn’t want to see us lounging around, and vice versa, which meant that we rarely opened the curtains. On top of the view (or lack thereof), we needed to replace the windows themselves. The “entertainment center” was a folding bookshelf with all sorts of electronics piled on top of one another, and the other corner was a black hole for things that had no other place to go – like my free weights and exercise ball. The whole set up made me kind of crazy.

The windows to nowhere... before. Also note the precariously perched entertainment center... not so kid-friendly!

The windows to nowhere… before. Also note the precariously perched entertainment center… not so kid-friendly!

And then… I found some pinspiration – we needed built-in shelving there instead! Why spend the money replacing the windows, when we could make that entire wall super functional? I gently suggested this to my husband and planted the seed of the idea. After all, he had been saying he wanted to put up new sheet rock and rewire the living room as it was the only room in the house he hadn’t renovated when he bought it…

To my joy, renovating the living room turned into the winter 2012-2013 house project. It was win-win – I would get my shelves and he would be able to make the updates he wanted (and in the process, install speakers into the ceiling and other stuff that guys love). The only stipulation he gave me was that I was not allowed to complain about the dust. I took a deep breath and agreed (plus, given that I was ripping apart the rest of the house… I was really in no position to criticize anyone else’s dust). With my husband at the helm, and the help of friends and my father’s painting skills, they wrapped up the entire project pretty quickly AND it looked great.

During demo...

During demo…

Shelving built and installed!

Sheet rock up, shelving units built and installed!

After!

After! I’ve been having fun obsessively rearranging everything on the shelves.

Books… the final frontier

So, that covers pretty much all corners of our house except for… my books. My beloved books! Over the years I had accumulated a lot of books (mostly when I went through my “I should own this book because I’m an English major phase”). Don’t get me wrong – I love them! – but they are heavy, they take up space, and they are a bitch to dust. Also, I had somehow convinced myself that I would have enough time to re-read ALL of them again and again. As it turns out, I barely have enough time now to read a new book, let alone one I’ve already read before.

I accepted the fact that by the time I have enough down time to read all of them again (read: during retirement), most of the paperbacks I have been obsessively alphabetizing for fun would likely be disintegrated and falling apart. After some difficult decisions, I kept my absolute favorites, but I was really happy to give the rest of them a second life at the book exchange in town.

So… now what? 

It only took me three years after moving in, plus a baby on the way, to light a fire under my ass to organize everything from the last ten years of my life. One recent weekend morning, after vacuuming up enough dog fur to make three sweaters, I took a moment to look around and felt pretty proud of all of the work that had gone into everything.

I also made sure to take a mental picture of what would likely be the last time the house felt so clean, organized, and completely under control…  because just a couple of days later we started the next project: setting up the nursery. Stay tuned for more… because that adventure deserves its own post!

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