Sort of obvious disclaimer: This post is about breastfeeding. If Google brought you here because you searched for “breasts” and now you’re sorely disappointed and regret clicking through, that’s okay. You do you, boo… no judgement.
Slightly less obvious disclaimer: I am not, like, a breastfeeding specialist. I am grateful to be able to breastfeed my daughter. It is what I hoped for, and it is what works for our family. With that said, it is not the only way people care for and feed their children. And I feel like that’s important to acknowledge. Something I think all parents need to hear more of: You are doing a good job. You are making good choices. In other words: You do you, boo… no judgement.
Real talk of the day: Being a parent means being on a permanent learning curve. (I guess that’s true for all humans, though, right? Life is one long learning curve.) Now that we’re past the newborn phase, I figured I’m semi-qualified to share a bit about what I’ve learned along the curve.
I was very fortunate to have access to great lactation consultants when Grace was born. Expectant mother friends, if you have access to lactation consultants while you’re in the hospital, I think it’s totally worth meeting with them. I was hesitant, I thought it would be weird, and I kind of just wanted to stay in my Craftmatic adjustable hospital bed. It wasn’t weird. It was actually quite, well, normal. They taught me very helpful things like how to hold my tiny baby like a football (but first, I needed to learn how to hold a football), how to tell if she was actually eating, and what hunger cues might look or sound like.
Someone’s ready for their 22nd meal of the day.
It didn’t long for us to establish a BF relationship (in this case, I like to think BF stands for both breastfeeding and best friends… but I guess that last part is sort of up to Grace). Because Grace was born with jaundice (I initially thought she was just super Portuguese…) and lost weight rather quickly, our pediatrician encouraged us to feed Grace at least every 2 hours during those first weeks. Needless to say, by the time she was a month old, I felt like a seasoned BF pro. I also felt like my bum was permanently attached to the rocker in Grace’s nursery, but hey.
I rarely had time to pump when I was on maternity leave, so when I went back to work, I felt acutely aware of being on that learning curve again. I stared at the woman on the package of my pumping bra and wondered, Who the H looks that casual and yet perfectly put together while pumping? Why is there no spit up in her hair? Why does she look so well rested? When did she have time to get a manicure? And those were just my questions about a bra. You can only imagine the inner monologue about the actual pumping process.
If this is what it looks like to pump “in style,” I can only imagine what the pumping while frumpy version looks like. Also: Thank you, Obamacare.
Eventually, I figured out how often I needed to pump in order to have enough milk for Grace while she is at daycare. I (mostly) learned how to avoid spilling milk all over myself five minutes before a meeting. I even managed to pump in an airport bathroom while a work colleague tried to engage in conversation (I have a strict no talking in the ladies’ room policy).
And so, of course, just as soon as started to feel comfortable pumping, it was time to introduce solids. I think solids warrant a post of their own (Cliffhanger! Just kidding… but seriously… stay tuned.), but I will say this: I was terrified of feeding Grace anything that didn’t, like, come out of my boobs. Everything new is scary. It’s been about two months now, though, and our little lady loves to eat. And we’re having quite a bit of fun with it too. OK. But back to best friends breastfeeding.
I am really happy that I was able to exclusively breastfeed Grace until she started solids at approximately 6 months. (I am still nursing her, but we started supplementing with one bottle of formula a day at 8 months, just a few weeks ago.) I was worried I wouldn’t make it to 3 months, so when we made it 8 months I nearly erected a breast-shaped statue in my own honor. For the most part, I’ve had a very good supply. There have been days, though, where I’ve had to pump at home in the early morning or late evening (when I’d much rather be doing, well… anything) in order to have enough milk to send to day care. Without fail, those have been days when I’ve slacked on water, eaten like a bird, stressed too much, or slept too little.
I am obsessed with Ball jars. Like, I would live in one. If I could fit in there.
Which brings me to this:
How I’ve kept my supply up
Drink water. And then drink some more.: It’s so important to stay hydrated while breastfeeding. Your body needs fluids to, you know, make fluids… plus it needs fluids to perform its normal functions. In other words, you need to drink more. I keep a giant mason jar on my desk (complete with an adorable drinking straw #targetdoesitagain) and refill it every time I pump and every time I get up from my desk. At home, I make sure to drink up after nursing Grace. It’s helped to associate the two (feed the baby, hydrate thyself).
Eat more, not less.: While I’ve felt the same pressure I am sure most new moms have felt to get back to their pre-pregnancy weight, restricting calories seems like a surefire way to decrease milk supply. I’ve tried to focus on eating healthy, quality food, but I am still eating more rather than less. One day, I’ll fit into my skinnies again. But in the meantime, I’m busy taking care of my girl.
Nurse often.: We’re fairly scheduled on week days. We’re like a cellphone plan during nights and weekends, however: unlimited texting and minutes breast milk! It’s the best. Come Monday, I definitely see an increase in how much I am able to pump.
Think positively.: I find that when I focus on Grace and the health benefits we both receive from breastfeeding, that milk flows like water. (Or is it wine? How does that saying go?) When I worry about having enough milk, however, not so much. I’m no scientist, but I don’t think this is a coincidence.
Supplement with herbs.: This may sound a little hippy-dippy, but several people recommended herbal supplements when I first started breastfeeding (the facilitator of our moms’ group swears by fenugreek). I worried that my supply would drop off when I went back to work and stumbled upon Delta Labs Postnatal formula during some late night Instagramming.
In addition to fenugreek, their postnatal formula also contains glucomannan, white kidney bean, and marshmallow extract (herbs proven to help enhance lactation, and in a combination safe for babies and mothers as determined by the FDA’s current Good Manufacturing Practice guidelines). An added bonus: The capsules also contain decaffeinated green tea, CLA, L-Carnitine and vitamin B6 to safely and naturally increase energy and promote weight loss (though it’s not a substitute for a healthy diet and exercise… if only obvi).
I’ve used this product for several months (and was running low when Delta Labs kindly sent me a complimentary bottle) and would definitely recommend it for mothers looking to increase or sustain their supply.
Giveaway: Delta Labs Postnatal formula
Fellow new moms: Would you like to try Delta Labs Postnatal formula for yourself? I’m happy to be hosting a giveaway, thanks to Delta Labs and FitFluential. One winner will receive a bottle of Delta Labs Postnatal formula. This giveaway is open to US residents only (sorry, neighbors to the North). To enter, please leave a comment below ANDLike @DeltaLabsUSA on Instagram. A random winner will be chosen and contacted on October 20th.
Delta Labs Discount Code
Use code FitFluential to save $5 on any item from DeltaLabs(one time discount; no expiration date).
Thanks to C. Columbus, his holiday and his poor navigation skills (He was headed to India, right? …Also: The same day is celebrated as Native American Day in South Dakota and Indigenous People’s Day in places like Seattle and Minneapolis. These seem like much more worthy holidays.), my office was closed on Monday. I kept Grace home from daycare (“We’re havin’ a Diva Day!“) and joined my parents and younger brother for a walk in the woods.
We bundled up the baby and headed down to the Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Norfolk (about a 40 minute drive from the city) and followed a two mile loop through the woods and marsh and across a few streams. Most of the pathways are flat and there are designated trails for strollers and wheelchairs.
I picked up all kinds of gorgeous fallen leaves (and, feeling inspired, got out my watercolors as soon as we got home) and then convinced myself during the drive back to the city that I had poison ivy. I did not. In other words: A normal day, but with fresher air, fewer people flipping me off in traffic, less noise, and more vibrant scenery.
A walk in the woods
We used my parents’ Audubon membership (which seems like a very grown-up thing to have) to access the wildlife sanctuary, and I remembered how much fun we had at places like this and the Trailside Museum when we were younger. There are a number of Massachusetts Audubon sites close to the city, so I figured it was worth checking out. I didn’t realize how much programming (including art classes, yoga, and something called an Owl Prowl…) they do at individual centers.
And how’s this for timing: Memberships are currently discounted ($32 for a family or individual membership) through the end of November. I am now one membership card closer to becoming America’s Next Top Nature Model a fun parent.
I showed some serious restraint in not naming this post Goaltoberfest. This month, I am committing to some much needed life adjusting. With fall and the back to school rush being one of my busiest times at work, I’ve found myself feeling spread more thin than usual.
I’ve caught myself cutting corners (I ate a donut for breakfast the other day and barely lived to tell that sorry tale) and I’m only slightly exaggerating about the effects of gluten on my fragile digestive system. I could eat bread by the loaf (and sometimes did) while pregnant. These days? No. I’ve been making convenient choices rather than good choices.
There are days lately when I feel particularly sluggish and slow, both physically and mentally (not a shocker: the donut day was one of these days). Case in point: Last week, I drove all the way to daycare before realizing that I had left Grace’s bag (and bottles and food and extra onesies and a love note and whatnot) at home. I don’t forget anything. Like, anything. (I know what you did last summer and in the summer of 1988.) The security guard saw me whip a safe-ish u-turn and jokingly asked if I had forgotten the baby. I almost cried because Oh, my Lord! What if I had forgotten the baby? I’m still recovering from that panic.
Even my dreams are telling me I need more sleep (just in case the dark circles under my eyes weren’t sending the message loud and clear). In the wee hours of Saturday morning, I dreamt that Nick and I decided we should skip Grace’s swimming class and sleep in a bit. When my alarm went off, I silenced it. When Nick’s alarm went off, he wondered why everyone else was still in bed and not running around the condo yelling “Swimmy time!” Fortunately, getting ready for parent and baby swim class requires little more than a diaper change for Grace and shimmying into a bathing suit for me. No hairdos. No makeup. No six hundred outfit changes.
Oh, and that pesky back and hip pain I was feeling after each run? Apparently that’s not normal. So instead of enjoying three blissful runs each week, I’m hauling my sorry ass bum to PT until that’s resolved.
Are you regretting attending my pity party? I wouldn’t blame you. And at the same time, I’m making a concerted effort to not blame myself. With so much pressure to have and do it all, it’s easy to get wrapped up in a quest for that ever-elusive balance. Being a wife and a mother and a friend and a career lady with cool outfits is both incredibly fulfilling and incredibly challenging. Lately I’m seeing (more than ever) how important it is to take care of myself in order to take the best care of everyone else. I feel like I’ve said that before. Many times.
Simply put, my big goal for October (and like, for life… because LBS, important things usually take longer than 31 days) is to get out of my own way. When I think about what would make my days more blissful and less stressful, it’s clear that I am often my own worst enemy.
If I want more peaceful mornings, I need to change my evening habits.
If I want to spend more quality time with my family, I need to make plans and stick to them.
If I want to make better food choices, I need to have better food ready and available.
If I want to reap the benefits of physical activity, I need to commit to what I can do and stop bemoaning what I can’t do.
If I want more space in my life, I need to make the room.
Don’t things seem so simple when you free them from the chaos of your busy brain and write them down? Man. After thinking about what I want and how to get it, the practical, smaller steps came easily.
I will pack our bags (and meals) the night before.
I will not wait until I have a smidge of gas in the car to fill my tank.
I will plan several dinners at home with Nick each week, along with a few weekend plans to look forward to. Oh, and we will dance every day (we forgot to do this for a little bit and my moves have seriously suffered).
I will not let the laundry back up to the point of becoming an international underwear crisis.
I will embrace the fall weather and take more frequent walks with my favorite little lady and our favorite little Frenchie.
I will practice more yoga (even if it’s for 10 minutes between meetings in a dress and control top pantyhose).
I will carve out time each day for religious practices that are important to me and central to my wellbeing: prayer, reflection and gratitude.
I will ask for help when I need it.
You may have been expecting something more along the lines of “Do 3 workouts a week.” Or “Go leaf peeping.” (I love the expression leaf peeping. Love it. It sounds both creepy and enchanting. Also: I accidentally typed “leaf peeing” and laughed so hard that I almost left it. Almost.) Or maybe you saw me walking into work yesterday with my fly unzipped and thought, “This lady needs to get her act together before she even thinks about working out or leaf peeping.”
Either way, there you have it. My grand October life plan. Octoberlifeplanfest!
Reasons why I am the least enjoyable person to be around this time of year (an abbreviated list):
The only pumpkin-flavored things I like are pumpkins. I don’t want my coffee to taste like a gourd. I want it to taste like coffee. Same goes for my M&M’s and my gluten-free beer.
And don’t get me started on fall colors. I love our condo. I don’t want to make it ugly with brown and orange stuff.
I am allergic to wool. Your sweaters had best keep a safe distance from the hives that are about to creep up my neck.
I’m not ready to say goodbye to tomatoes. If summer tomatoes were a person, and that person was my boyfriend and that boyfriend broke up with me, I would not give his stuff back.
Nick (who is very much a real person and was once my boyfriend) and I were married in the fall of 2012 and our caterer nearly sent me to a home with her “festive” dessert display at our menu tasting. I like to think I was a pretty easy-going bride (don’t we all?) and also thought I had made my firm “no fall colors” policy quite clear, so when she rolled out a table festooned with fake leaves and plastic pumpkins, I barely contained a simmering rage.
This year, though, I can’t help but look forward to cooler mornings, crinkling leaves and carving pumpkins. I am guessing I have my daughter to blame thank for that. Seeing her experience new things is just the best, whether it’s her first time in the water, her first time eating solids, her first time being held by a strange man dressed as the Easter bunny or yes, even her first Fall (I felt like capitalizing the season would help you see that I meant that, and not that I delight in watching her tumble over and potentially become injured). Watching Grace reach for a giant pumpkin and squeal in delight as she grasped its stem has me changing my ways. All those adorable fall outfits hanging in her closet don’t hurt either. And if I really dig deep, I guess I could cop to an affinity for soup and scarves.
This weekend we took advantage of the late summer (very-nearly-fall) weather and spent the afternoon at Ward’s Berry Farm in Sharon, Massachusetts. It’s about 30 minutes from the city and not far from where I grew up. After walking around a bit, we ventured out to the pumpkin patch to find that their healthy, growing pumpkins were bigger than our healthy, growing child (and too big, frankly, to fit underneath her stroller… or like, in my handbag). So instead of picking one up there, we took 100 photos and then ventured back to the farm store and purchased a smaller, much more portable, sugar pumpkin.
I also picked out a few of these gorgeous heirloom gourds and white pumpkins. They’re like the gateway drug of fall decor… fall-ish, but not brown and orange. I am dying to make one of these succulent topped pumpkins I saw in the fall issue of Country Gardens (side note: I am 900% obsessed with Next Issue… which is how a city dweller with no garden comes across such gems as Country Gardens.) Perhaps I can make green and white the new blackbrown and orange? And then maybe I will get a show on Netflix about my life as an over-tired working mom who wastes time making succulent topped pumpkins when she should be, like, sleeping?
In addition to a tremendous selection of farm fresh produce and local treats, Ward’s is also home to Sunny Rock 4H Club’s barnyard animals. Grace was sort of ambivalent about the goats, but Nick got right in there. The man never misses a chance to feed the animals.
Did I mention they have mini horses?
If you asked me who my all time favorite television mini-horse is, my answer would obviously be: It’s a tie between Lil Sebastian + Mini. Duh.
You know, fall’s looking pretty good, after all. (But do not tell that caterer I said so.)
We’re heading into Labor Day Weekend, so why not talk about having a baby? (I couldn’t resist.) I know the holiday is technicallya tribute to the American workforce (and feels mostly like a symbolic end to summer), but it’s nearly impossible for me to hear Labor and not think of… labor.
It’s been nearly seven months since we welcomed Grace. I’ve come this close to sharing about her entry into the world several times now, but always stopped short of clicking publish. (Can I just say, the expression “birth story” creeps me out? It reminds me of that TLC show that one of my college roommates always watched. Terrifying.)
My labor and delivery were rather uneventful (which was sort of the goal), but ultimately, I think that’s why I want to share it with you. I can’t tell you how many horror stories I heard while pregnant. So-and-so was in labor for 89 hours.My friend’s cousin’s yoga instructor’s neighbor delivered a 16 lb. baby. That woman that I sometimes see at the dog park, her sister had a really great birth plan… and it went completely to hell. My uncle’s third cousin’s dog groomer got a flat tire on the way to the hospital and delivered her triplets in the back of a Subaru. (It’s always a Subaru.) Sound familiar?
At one of my postpartum check-ups with my midwife, I told her that I felt sort of awkward when people asked about our experience with childbirth — that I felt a bit guilty (and yes — grateful, most of all) that things went so well. She told me that people need to hear the good stories too. And I think that’s true. Remember when I talked about fear being unproductive? Those horror stories produce a lot of fear. I hopeful that hearing a good story about childbirth will have the opposite effect.
So, with that longwinded intro aside, here’s one of the good stories.
Oh, important note: I’m not going to talk about body parts, really, or like measurements or anything that might make you (or me) faint. That’s just not my style. And I’m 103% certain I’m wrong about at least a few times and timing and hours, so please don’t check my math. And I’m sure you understand my desire to maintain at least a bit of mystery privacy, especially when it comes to my family.
My first Labor Day and welcoming Grace
About two weeks before Grace was born, I was sitting in my office with our auditor (which is one of the 45,000 places I didn’t want to be when I went into labor… and yes, I had spent 9 months fine tuning that list) when I started getting sharp pains in my lower back. They were bad enough that I couldn’t stay seated, but when I stood up, they sort of got worse. It’s a life goal of mine to not to be shady (especially in the presence of an auditor), but I had to keep coming up with excuses to duck out and attempt to walk waddle it off.
Grace at 1 month
After a couple of hours of coming and going, the pain subsided. I figured I was dehydrated. Or maybe my maternity pantyhose was too tight. Grace wasn’t due for over a month, and I assumed what I was feeling was normal for late pregnancy. Truth be told (with the exception of dragon-level heartburn), I felt really good during my second and third trimesters. (The first trimester was sort of a blur of morning all-day sickness, sleeping for 20 hours at a time, subsiding on a diet of crackers and lemonade, and feeling extremely frumpy.)
The next day, though, I just felt off. The back pain had returned (it turns out these were actually contractions and not random back pain… evidence that I did not read any childbirth pamphlets), my feet were swollen, and my appetite was gone. I stupidly waited all day to call the doctor, and instead Googled things. If I can impart any wisdom to future parents (or just, people in general) it is this: When it comes to pregnancy or childbirth or labor or really anything medical or important or not related to cute dog photos, don’t Google it. Just don’t.
I spent the following day hooked up to a fetal monitor, drinking gallons and gallons of water, calmly reading US Weekly one minute and freaking out about the big work event I had coming up the next. If Grace arrived today, what would my colleagues need to know? What was left to be done? What imaginary scenarios could I cook up and then create solutions for? Again, the contractions subsided and I was sent home with strict orders to relax. (Bhahahahaaha)
The work event went off without a hitch the following Thursday. I wore sequins. I wore heels. I did not go into labor. I did eat 5 desserts. For the next few days, it was business as usual. I still had a feeling Grace might come early, though, so each night before heading home, I cleaned up my desk and laid out detailed “just in case” instructions (which I would then promptly recycle the following day, only to begin again).
On Monday night, I woke up in the middle of the night with a start, and sat bolt upright. I vividly remember this moment in particular, because for the previous month or so, sitting up was nothing short of a workout. I must have gone back to sleep, because the next time I looked at the clock it was 5 A.M… and my water had broke. (Is that grammatically correct? I have no clue. But I am sticking to my own rule of no Googling body part things.)
I have never seen Nick bound out of bed so quickly. In the span of three minutes, he was somehow dressed, his teeth were brushed and his contacts were in, and he was assembling our co-sleeper/mini crib. Meanwhile, I followed our midwife’s instructions and called the office’s after hours number. They told me to call back at eight. Um… what? Knowing me (and I do, quite well), I am still surprised at how calm I remained. I took a shower. I blew out my unruly curls. I painted my nails (yes, really). I ate a snack. I un-packed and re-packed our hospital bag (which is good, because we didn’t exactly ace it the first time around).
By 8:30, I was back on the fetal monitor at our doctor’s office, but not before riding an elevator with a bunch of gentlemen in sharp suits headed to work, while my water continued to break. There’s nothing quite like the sensation of actively peeing your pants (that’s kind of what it feels like) in public. I wasn’t sure what the protocol for being in labor in a rush hour elevator in the Financial District was. Should I press the alarm button and make an announcement? Instead I tried to be cool (wholly impossible), but continued to look at Nick like, Oh my word, I am sort of peeing. And he continued to look at me like, This is the greatest day ever. And it was.
We checked into the hospital around 10:30 and when the attending midwife asked if we had a name picked out for our daughter, I cried as Nick answered, Grace. Saying her name, one we had kept secret for so long, made her pending arrival feel more real than any contraction (or awkward elevator ride) could. Saying her name made everything feel so holy and sacred and good.
Once we knew for certain (I mean, I knew that at 5 AM, but it helps to have the hospital bracelet to prove it), we called our parents and siblings and let them know that we were at the hospital, that we were all doing well, and that Grace would likely be born today.
Our birth plan was pretty much this:
We will be open minded
We will trust our our midwife, doctor and nurses to help us make the best decisions
In other words: We didn’t really have a birth plan. I wanted to labor without medication, but um… I had never been in labor before, so I didn’t want to rule anything out. We spent the next six hours managing my painful (real talk: they were painful, but I survived… obviously) back contractions by taking short walks around the labor floor, getting checked by the midwife and nurses, and sitting and standing and leaning and bending and bouncing. We never broke out the deck of cards we packed, nor the crossword puzzle book.
At the nurses’ encouragement, I gave the shower a try. I had heard that many women find showering during labor to be really comforting. Meanwhile, I spent about three minutes in there before throwing in (and asking for) the towel. It was sort of the opposite of comforting for me.
All I could think was:
Great, now my hair is frizzy again
The shower curtain is touching me
Why is this shower so small?
And why is there so much plastic furniture in here?
Everyone can see my bum
By now, I was uncomfortable enough that I was having trouble relaxing between contractions. Our labor was progressing, but it could still be hours before Grace was born, so we talked with our midwife about options. An anesthesiologist joined us to answer any questions we might have about an epidural, which we decided was the right choice for us.
As with all things labor and delivery related, I’m not sure how accurately I can describe what getting an epidural feels like, or how it feels after. I could still feel everything (including my limbs), but the pain was much less intense and I was able to relax between contractions. I hadn’t eaten more than a few crackers (I was nauseous much of the day), so as soon as the nurses told me I couldn’t eat after getting the epidural, I basically wanted to eat everything in sight. I started getting restless, but going for a walk was no longer an option, so we watched a little TV. I could barely contain my jealousy (nor my lack of sensitivity, apparently) as a Biggest Loser contestant devoured an entire pizza in his “before” footage. TV was a bad idea.
Grace at 2 weeks
At some point (and this one is entirely on me — Nick now has a firm “no voluntary studies” policy), I agreed to participate in a study about epidurals (how they are administered, and if that affects their, well, effectiveness). At some regular interval, a doctor would come into the room and ask me about pain and nausea and then (this is the absolute truth) poke me with one of those little cocktail swords (not something that looked like a little cocktail sword, an actual little cocktail sword) to determine where I did or did not have feeling. Being in labor is surreal on its own, but this sword thing? It was really bizarre. The nurses (and my husband) kept reminding me that I could opt out of the study at any time. Meanwhile, I had developed a strong craving for maraschino cherries.
Nick went to grab some coffee and as 11 o’clock approached, I wondered if Grace would, indeed, be born today. I talked to my parents and siblings (and was denied my requests for an entire pan of baked ziti and two bags of cool ranch Doritos) and focused on the affirmation that seemed so silly a few days before, but that helped me so much during those last few hours: Grace will come at the perfect time.
I repeated this over and over in my head and soon enough, I felt like that perfect time was upon us. A new midwife had just come on shift (I feel like I could write a whole book about how wonderful these women are) and she and the nurses started preparing for Grace’s delivery. She got sort of close to my face and said, “You have carried this baby inside of you for nine months. Are you ready to bring her out? Are you ready to get started?” Part of me was like, Um… I don’t think I could stop this if I tried and the other parts was like, Yes! I want her here so badly! In my emotional memory (which is likely not fully accurate), Jock Jams started playing and Nick and the midwife high-fived.
Nick and Grace
Remember when I told you that a blizzard prevented us from completing our childbirth class? This is where that missed information would have been helpful. One nurse asked if I remembered my breathing. I had no clue what she was talking about (it turns out, you kind of just… well, breathe). We were similarly surprised to find out just how active a role Nick would be playing in Grace’s delivery. I guess we sort of imagined he’d gently stroke my perfectly coifed hair and tell me I was amazing, but instead he was holding one of my legs and coaching me through the pushing (and telling me I was amazing). Another surprise (sorry, this is kind of unpleasant, but I am feeling like it might help to know this): some people throw up, like a lot, when they’re delivering. Apparently I am one of those people. Also, I somehow managed to get a (clean and very much empty) bed pan stuck inside my hospital gown. So there’s that.
Everything felt so charged and intense during the delivery. I remember melting into the hospital bed between pushes, and asking Nick to cover my face with a cold cloth. I have never prayed like I prayed that night. I felt weak and exhausted, and at the same time, stronger and more powerful than ever. It was nothing like the movies (and I mean that in the best possible way). There was no yelling or screaming (though I did kind of involuntarily roar at one point), no real dramatics.
It was very fleeting, but I did have a quick rush of panic that I might not be able to do it. That I was too tired. Or too weak. I thought (this is so, so ridiculous… but also so, so funny to me), Maybe I can skip this next contraction and rest a little. Nick saw right through that one and encouraged me to be a normal person keep going. Our midwife calmly whispered, “Don’t be afraid.” Just then, the miniature sword wielding doctor entered the room for our next round of the study, and Nick (politely) told him to hit the road. For a million reasons, I am so grateful for my husband.
I am sure the nurses and midwife were talking to me, but at this point I kept my eyes on Nick and watched his posture change as the energy in the room intensified. I hadn’t noticed that a baby nurse had come in, and that the midwife and nurses had put on masks. “She’s coming so soon,” he said. “She’s really coming.” It was 12:16 A.M. on Wednesday.
Grace (and her adorable nose) at 6 hours, Elizabeth in need of a flat iron
I used to think that if I had a baby, I’d want him or her “cleaned off” before holding them. I thought I’d be squeamish about all the, you know, stuff. I thought I’d want everything to be neat. In reality, I couldn’t get my hands on her fast enough. I reached for her and Nick, desperate to have our little family together for the first time. I kept saying “I love her so much” over and over, and then turned to Nick with the biggest smile of my life (he just reminded me of this – I wanted him to read this whole thing before I sent it out into the Universe) and exclaimed, “I would do this a million times!” So… there’s your proof that happy, pain-killing hormones are real. Or, that I am delusional.
Once Grace was on my chest, and I could see her tiny nose and eyes and fingers and cheeks, I cried for the millionth time since first knowing I was pregnant with her. I felt like my heart was outside of my body. I couldn’t see anyone else, I couldn’t hear anyone else, I couldn’t think about anyone or anything else. I had no idea my love for her would feel like that. And still, when I think that love can’t get any bigger, it somehow grows.
Grace at 6.5 months
Just this week Grace started putting both her hands up and reaching for me. I can’t help but think, every time, about that night when I first reached for her. That night is my favorite story.
It’s the story I tell myself when I miss her during the day, or when feel discouraged about my “body after baby” (whatever that means), or when people ask if she’s sleeping through the night, or when I have to pump in an airport bathroom while traveling for work (the glamour of life abounds), or when I find spit-up on the back of my dress halfway through Mass, or when there is not enough time to do it all or be it all.
Because that story and how it ends and what it gave us, that is it all.
As I shared shortly after the Dirty Girl Mud Run and approximately fifteen showers, I started following the Couch to 5k program in an effort to get back in the running groove in a smart, sustainable, strategic way (i.e. not in a “Hmm, I wonder how far and fast I can run today?” way).
Going from marathoner to beginner is both exciting and humbling. Humility: that’s sort of my life’s keyword these days.
I’ve run two marathons (Disney and New York: click through for the world’s longest, most emotional race recaps of all time), and yet here I am, proud to be able to string together a few minutes of running at a time.
For the past four weeks, I’ve followed the Couch to 5k plan to a T. I’ve walked when I am supposed to walk, even when that meant passing by a group of bros playing KanJam at the M Street Beach, who took notice of my walk break and started chanting “Don’t give up now!”
I’ve run when I’m supposed to run, and continued to keep my pace right around 8:30/9:00 (solid for a lady who thought she’d always be a 10 minute miler). I’ve resisted the temptation to quit approximately 56 times over the span of each 30 minute workout. I’ve tried to talk myself into quitting, and then talked myself into sticking with it.
Being a beginner is different the second time around. And in many ways it’s more challenging than when I first started running and training with any real purpose seven or eight years ago.
Many of those differences hinge on being a new mother. My hips don’t lie, nor do they move the way they used to move. I have sports bras in three different sizes and yet, on any given day, none of them fit. I often feel a pang of guilt as I head out the door, wondering if I should stay with Nick and Grace rather than being out on the road alone, trying to ignore the KanJammers. The closer I get to home, the more desperate I am to be home. I’m exhausted. I haven’t slept through the night since… maybe, last September? I’m hungry. I can’t find any of my old workout gear. I’m always a bit out of sorts.
But most of the things that feel different this time around hinge on being a regular person who has done what regular people do as seven or eight years lapse: we get older. And the older I get, the more myself I’ve become, for better or worse. For better, I am more confident and self-assured than ever before. I care less who is passing me, or what I’m wearing, or how long it takes me to get where I am going. Mostly because I’m doing my best… just to get where I am going. For worse, well, I somehow managed to both drop and kick my own iPhone during a run last week.
Above all, I am more grateful than ever to be able to run. Running longer and faster each week, especially after months of feeling sort of like an alien in my own body, has been so gratifying. More importantly, I’m learning to make peace with being a perpetual work in progress. I have the deepest appreciation for my body and all that it can do.
I cherish those minutes and miles alone with my thoughts and prayers, especially during a week such as this one, when there is so much going on in our world to be sad, worried and upset about. I am thankful to have an outlet for the stress and anxiety that builds up over the day and follows me home. I am proud to be making time to take care of myself, so I can do a better job taking care of my family.
In life, we get very few chances to begin again. And these days, being a beginner feels just as good as being a marathoner.
Also On Tap for Today:
Fellow fitness enthusiasts in the Boston area: Check out tonight’s episode of Chronicle (7:30PM, WCVB-TV Channel 5) to learn about BMAX, boxing and bootcamp
You know that saying, A little goes a long way? That’s the theme today. Got a little paint leftover from a bigger project (say, that time your husband painted the nursery while you spent the day eating ice cream)? Or maybe you can’t bear to throw away a nearly empty bottle of nail polish? Or perhaps you’re simply making room for creativity(Yes, my people! Yes!) and want to use what you have hanging around. Like… your keys. Or your roommate’s nail polish.
I’ve got just the project (or two) for you.
Easy paint projects
It could just be me, but um… most plants sort of look alike. Until the flowers or fruit or vegetables show up. But until then, I’m like… Is this the cilantro or the jalapeño? Does it need moderate or full sun? Should I water this today or in a week? And while I’m busy pondering, the thing dies. Sad, but (kind of) true.
Super easy solution: Dip a popsicle stick in paint, wait for the paint to dry (obvi) and use a Sharpie or label maker to, you know, label the plant… and you’ve got yourself a semi-cool looking plant marker. I like to pretend I ate four Yasso frozen Greek yogurt bars just for the sake of this project, but I ate them… for the sake of eating them.
Color code your keys
Another case of mistaken identity: Most of my keys, whether for my office or home, look like the other keys on my ring. For months, I’ve spent the better part of five minutes trying to get into my own office each morning, branding myself as either super-unorganized or super-likely to be a robber.
While it may be tempting to label your keys something like “front door” or “office,” that seems unsafe and you know my motto (safety first, fun second). Instead, I broke out a few bottles of nail polish and color coded my keys.
I used 2-3 coats for each key, and found it only took a few minutes to dry. With that said, I wouldn’t tempt fate and start this project right before you’re headed out the door. Also, my office keys read “duplication prohibited.” I am hoping decoration is okay.
DIY memo board
This project is a tiny bit more involved, but it’s a fun way to repurpose an unused or mismatched picture frame. I was hoping to find a little memo board for Grace’s room, but I couldn’t find a non-hideous white board, so I picked up an inexpensive frame and made my own.
After removing the glass from the frame and carefully cleaning it, I applied three coats of mint green paint to the backside, letting each coat dry for an hour or so. I used an oil paint pen to draw a little note on the frame, and up on the wall it went. Right now we use it to keep track of library due dates and packing lists for day care, but eventually I’d like to use it to leave little love notes for my girl. You know, once she can read.
ID your sunglasses
My family has precisely five things in common with the Kennedys:
We’re New Englanders.
We enjoy politics.
We love the Cape.
We wear Wayfayers.
We all spent the 4th of July together, and I accidentally stole my sister’s sunglasses at least four times. I probably wore my dad’s glasses to the beach. Who knows. I might be wearing my brother-in-law’s glasses now, were it not for my semi-clever solution. When we got back to Boston, I broke out the nail polish again, and painted a little dot of mint candy apple on the inside arm of my glasses.
A little bit of paint and suddenly I’m wearing my own glasses, opening all the right doors (with the right keys), and packing precisely what Grace needs for the day. Oh, and yes. I can safely distinguish between our jalapeno and cilantro plants. Mostly because we now have a hearty crop of peppers.
I first started blogging in 2006 or 2007 because I was feeling a bit stuck and needed a creative outlet that didn’t require expensive supplies or an expansive workspace. I’ve always gravitated toward writing and other forms of expression and thrive when I have projects to keep me busy, challenged and creatively engaged. If I don’t have at least 56 projects going, I get bored. And when I get bored, I get cranky. And when I get cranky, welp… I’m sorry.
Lately, I’ve been craving something a little messier than writing. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen the recent snapshots of my sketchbook. I was hesitant to share those photos at first, but something I’m working on lately is letting go of perfection (Lord, is that ever a process.). Like, in all facets of life. So far, that’s not going perfectly so well.
As a student, I had a tendency to re-do and re-re-do and re-re-re-do drawings and paintings, trying to “fix” every imperfection. A certain drawing professor (whom my sister and I grew to both love and be terrified of) once called my drawings overwrought. I would have been upset, but I was too busy fending off that random girl in our class who kept stealing our artists tape.
Now that I’m a grown-up (and no one’s after my tape stash), I get it. Also: I consider myself more of a casual dabbler than an artist, and I’ve decided casual dabblers can make as many mistakes as they want.
Back on topic: I need room to be creative. Like, even more than I need Junior Mints. Or Diet Coke. Or clean socks (we all know I hate socks, so that was kind of a bad example). You don’t need to be a painter or an opera singer to be creative. And often times that creativity comes naturally. Other times you may be stuck when working on a new recipe or article or trying to problem solve at work.
Believe it or not, creativity can be learned. (and, according to this Forbes article “creativity is far and away the most important skill needed to ‘thrive.'”) You don’t need to wear all black, or have some sort of emo haircut, or be in the drama club (though all those things are perfectly good). You don’t need to be a “creative type” to be creative or to benefit from creative thinking or practices.
Hopefully these ideas will help you make a little bit of room in your brains (or day, or spirit, or whatev) for creative solutions and projects.
Making room for creativity
Rethink your routine
Like most humans, I’ve caught myself making the old “I don’t have time” excuse. Real talk: If “x” (whether that’s doodling, or running, or eating well, or calling your mum) is important, you can make time. I promise. It’s possible.
If you’re adding something new to your day, like a sketching routine or revisiting the piano lessons of your childhood, you may need to reconfigure your schedule a bit. I wish there were a magic way to add an hour to your day, or a day to your week, but let’s be serious. I am not a magician (and frankly, they creep me out). There are only 24 hours in the day. If you want more time, you need to either wake up earlier, or stay up later. Or you know, skip 20 minutes of television watching (that’s not an admonishment, I’m thinking specifically of my undying devotion to Jeopardy!).
I’m a fan of that quiet time in the morning when Grace has gone back to sleep for a bit (hopefully) after eating at 4 or 5 AM and the sun is just starting to rise in Boston (…it was less lovely this winter when it was still pitch black, but hey). If I am not dead tired, I’ll putter around the condo a bit or grab some tea on the deck and watch the sky put on a show. For me, everything feels possible in the morning. For others, this may be true at night.
Carve our your time and protect it.
Carry a sketch pad, or journal, or violin, or wooden birdhouses and paint… or whatever with you. That way, when inspiration (or a free five minutes between meetings) strikes, you are armed and ready. On second thought, leave the birdhouses and paint at home. That project got a little messy.
A note about sketchpads: If possible, I recommend buying a few in person (like, in a real store rather than buying them online) mostly so you can get a feel (literally) for the paper quality. Inexpensive is good, but cheap and flimsy is maybe not so good. Check out a few different brands and be sure you like the weight and texture. If you’re using ink or watercolors, you may want to invest in a sketchbook designed for mixed or wet media.
I have a little travel watercolor set that I just love, some pens and a few sketchpads that fit easily into my handbag (which, in truth, is gigantic – but I think they’d fit in a normal sized bag too… especially if you remove the diapers, the wipes and Sophie the giraffe). I usually draw first, and that add color later.
Accept a challenge
It takes all of two minutes on Pinterest or Instagram and you’ll find enough doodle-a-day or photo-a-day prompts to last you ’til 2033. While participating in challenges like these can be fun in real-time, I always feel a wee bit guilty when I lose momentum and forget to post a photo… on the second day. Using challenge prompts for inspiration, instead, eliminates the guilt factor. Scroll through a list the next time you find yourself asking, “What should I draw?” or “What should I write about?” or “What should I name my new harmonica jam?”
You might also consider creating your own sort of challenge. Maybe you want to commit to writing daily, even if it’s a line or two. Or perhaps you’d like to blog or vlog (I will forever think those two words are weird) for a month. Deadlines and due dates and schedules can be helpful to some, but limiting to others. As Plato and a bunch of other old people used to say, Know thyself.
Set it to shuffle mode
Yes, I am talking about music. And yes, I am talking about other things too. Lately I’ve been both enjoying and being overwhelmingly mortified by my digital music library. I got bored with my playlists and started defaulting to shuffle, so my commute usually sounds something like this:
Weird Christmas song
A song about (but not by) Tupac
The soundtrack to Summer Heights High
Ambient Reiki or yoga music
Sad Whitney Houston song
More Michael Jackson
Another weird Christmas song
An awesome Christmas song
Three different versions of Raffi’s “Baby Beluga”
Another sad Whitney Houston song
A HIDDEN GEM!
Those hidden gems – the songs you haven’t heard in ages – make the embarrassment of having downloaded an entire Glee album (But seriously, when did I do that? I never liked the show.) worthwhile. Those songs might remind you of a specific time, place or person and may help to inspire your next project.
Other ways you can embrace shuffle mode: Open the newspaper (they still exist, I assure you) and read the first article you land on. Scroll through your phone and call the first person you see (it helps to maybe do a clean sweep of your phone and delete those randoms — you know: first name “Mary”, last name “From Yoga Class 2011″– first). Close your eyes, point to the menu, and order (disclaimer: not safe if you have food allergies).
Enjoy a change of scenery
I’m a big believer in the power of a simple change of scenery. We’re lucky that we can see the ocean from one side of our condo, and skyscrapers from the other. If you look directly out the front of our building, you’ll likely see one of my neighbors running some sort of insurance scam involving a neck brace and various other medical accessories, but that’s another story.
Regardless, one way to get creatively “unstuck” is to move. Duh. Take a quick walk, make a day trip to the country, visit a farm and pet some animals, enjoy a friend’s garden, spend the afternoon in the library or a bookstore reading through travel books, go for a hike, take a nap on the beach. When you’ve got new or different things to look at, your perspective is bound to change.
Oh, and this should go without saying, but… please don’t be like,
“Elizabeth! I took your advice! I saw sort of a weird, dark, kind of dangerous looking alley… and, um, I thought it might inspire me… so I walked down it. And now I am missing my wallet. AND AN EAR!”
Very Van Gogh, but also very NOT OKAY. Be careful and be safe. Think with your right brain while using your left brain. Please.
Pick up your camera. Or don’t.
These days, quite a bit of life is experienced from behind the screens of our smart phones or tablets (do I need to mention Google Glasses? Does anyone out there wear them?). On one hand, I love being able to take a quick photo of something that grabs my attention or type a quick note about a book title or upcoming event. On the other hand, I know I miss all kinds of things by being glued to my phone. I try to use my actual camera as much as possible for this reason. I only dig it out when I want to capture something… and I see those “somethings” because I am not preoccupied by looking at my camera. Mostly because it’s just a camera. It can’t text my sister a sloth pic.
Wheewwww. This was a long one. Think of everything you could have created and accomplished if you didn’t bother to read this post. My apologies.
Six months ago, we were waking up (from–maybe–an hour of sleep, but waking up nevertheless) for the first time as a family of three. Grace’s basinet was wheeled up against one side of my hospital bed, and Nick was on a cot on the other side. My arm was stiff from having slept with it draped ever so carefully across Grace’s tiny, swaddled body. We had only know her for a few hours, but I couldn’t bear to not hold Grace, even for a minute. I peeked over at her little round cheeks, her button nose, and dark lashes and cried the happiest tears of my life. I couldn’t believe she was ours.
Six months have passed, and I still can’t believe she is ours. She’s sleeping (more like, cat napping) in her own room. She’s rolling from one side to another and trying to scoot. She’s got three teeth on their way. She’s eating solid foods. She can babble and yell and squeal. She’s sits up on her own… until she tips forward… and then she tries again.
She makes us happy, she makes us whole. These have been the best six months of my life.
Let’s be serious: It was time for the sleep-deprived lady to ditch the Roman numerals.
The Weekend According to Instagram #29
1. Our little deck garden has really taken off this week. We’ve got more cherry tomatoes and basil than I know what to do with… so I am eating all of them.
2. As I shared last week, I recently started using the Couch to 5k app and am embracing the opportunity to start fresh. I woke up Friday and thought “Yes! It’s Friday (standard Friday thought)! I get to run tonight!” I can’t remember the last time I felt that way about running. I think I stopped running and switched to rowing at CrossFit two months before Grace was born, but long before that I hadn’t run for the sake of running in ages. I broke out my KIND tank (given to me by the lovely KIND folks at FenwaYoga) and was thankful for the opportunity to be kind to my body and brain while out on the Harborwalk by myself for a little bit. Speaking of KIND, they are launching a really great program in Boston tomorrow. As the “official snack partner” of the Boston Red Sox, KIND is working with Red Sox Nation and the rest of the city to spread kindness this summer. #KINDBoston launches tomorrow and fellow Bostonians are invited to share their ideas for making Boston a kinder place to live and work.
For every kind act submitted, KIND will donate a piece of sporting equipment (up to $5,000) to the Red Sox Foundation’s RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program, which teaches inner-city youth the importance of being kind on and off the field. KIND will also bring select kind acts to life in August to demonstrate how small actions can make a big difference.
#KINDBoston will debut at Fenway Park on Tuesday, July 29, with KIND honoring an RBI player and coach who embody kindness. Fans attending the Red Sox game that evening will be able to share their ideas before exiting the ballpark. Anyone not in attendance will be able submit via Twitter using #KINDBoston until August 31.
3. Now that Grace is a bit more mobile, she and Clark have become fast friends. She loves to roll towards him and reach for his wrinkly mug, and he is being as patient as I could have hoped. They spent Saturday morning cozied up together, surrounded by various baby maracas, tambourines and stuffed monkeys.
4. It would seem my Instagram feed was very food-focused this weekend. We went to see my parents on Saturday afternoon and brought some strawberries, blueberries and blackberries with us. You can’t go wrong with berries. (You know how if you type a word too many times, it totally looks weird… that just happened. Berries.)
5. On our way back to the city, we stopped at the farm stand in my parents’ neighborhood and filled up a basket of carrots, Romaine lettuce, cherries and onions.
6. More food: After seeing this recipe for yogurt breakfast popsicles on The Kitchn, I thought I’d give it a try. I mixed Greek yogurt, gluten free granola and some raspberry preserves in an ice cube tray (which, technically, I bought for freezing baby food… but hey) and let it freeze overnight. The result: messy, but tasty. Perhaps they would make a good addition to a smoothie.
7. This is what Clark (my official snack partner) looked like while I sampled the aforementioned frozen yogurt bites. #gimmesome
8. And this is what Grace looks like when she’s being a goofball, which is quite often lately. She has been such a smiley girl these past few weeks. I think she’s enjoying all her newly acquired skills (yelling and rolling are her favorites).
9. Oh… and she ate her first solid food this weekend! It was so much fun to watch her reaction (she mostly looked horrified) as she tasted her first few bites of pureed sweet potato. I promised Allison a post on feeding Grace solids and look forward to sharing our experiences with that… once we have… a bit more experience with that. In the meantime, I highly recommend Lucy’s List and their series on starting solids. Oh, one thing I know for sure: You do not need to bake and puree three whole sweet potatoes for one small baby. That’s, like, two and a half too many. Trust me.