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On the healing power of breastmilk…

After college, while in grad school, I developed a scarcity mentality. My annual income was around $10,000. My weekly food budget was so low that I lost 40 pounds in less than a year. Eventually, I started to worry constantly about whether I would have enough. Will I have enough food for the week? Will I have enough money for bills? I only lived in poverty for two years, but the impact still lingers.

After Carly was born, she did not latch for five days. Eight to ten times a day we’d try to breastfeed in every position we could. When that failed, we fed her formula through a syringe. Her weight dropped. I was terrified she wasn’t eating enough and would end up in the hospital. Eventually, things got better. Carly latched! She gained weight. Now, she is super healthy, chubby, and happy.

Out of fear I started building a stockpile of breastmilk. I’d feed Carly, then pump. Feed. Pump. Feed. Pump. I pumped so much milk we bought a freezer.

Then, a strange thing happened. The expiration date on the milk crept up. I realized I would either have to: unfreeze the milk and freeze more fresh stuff, let it go bad, or I could donate it.

I was adament when I was pregnant that I’d try breastfeeding for three maybe weeks, and I’d quit if I hated it. But the moment Carly finally latched, after 100+ unsuccessful attempts – I knew I loved breastfeeding. I never ever thought I’d love it as much as I do.

However families choose to feed their babies is a decision I respect. It’s hard and emotional. For our family, breastfeeding has been our main choice. But when we needed formula it was a blessing to have.

Yesterday I donated 60+ ounces of breastmilk to a mom in need. Del and I drove to Starbucks with our cooler, and I handed the family my milk. Then we got in the car and cried. Before Carly’s birth so many people gave us so much. We didn’t have to buy diapers for Carly until she was three months old. We won’t need to buy clothing for her for another three months. I was terrified at every step of my pregnacy that something would be scarce, but that never happened. My breastmilk was scarce a few days, but then it came in abundance.

As others gave to us, we give to those in need. For a few days, my milk will help give life to a beautiful baby. I’m beyond grateful to God for that opportunity.

I came home from exchanging the milk and thought about my scarcity fears. For the first time in years I felt a sense of peace. In giving away something so personal, I felt healing for an old fear. I never thought breastmilk would bring so much healing to my life.

Maybe my milk will dry up tomorrow. Maybe the freezer will go out. Maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe. But God has always provided. Thanks to breastmilk, my fear of scarcity is subsiding.

On the end of maternity leave…

I’m going back to work Thursday, July 5th after twelve weeks of maternity leave. Over the last few days I’ve felt every stage of grief. On Monday and Tuesday I called my mom sobbing with mom guilt. I thought about asking my boss whether I could take off Fridays, or work from home on Thursdays. Then, yesterday, I was so burned out I felt like I could start working at 8am and feel 100% okay.

This leave is coming to an end. It’s been wonderful, and stressful, and full of life. There has been poop, pee, spit-up, giggles and glorious snuggles. As I move back into working I thought it would be cathartic to write about what I will miss and what is coming next. When I volunteered at hospice (yes – tragic) they taught us to always say good-bye when we left a room. Although no one is dying, we are moving from the “mommy is always with me” stage to the “daycare time!” stage.

This blog is dedicated to saying good-bye to old things, and saying hello to new things.

Good-bye 24/7 Carly time. Without a doubt, I will miss our snuggles, naps, and cute poops. Carly – I love you so!

Hello 30 minutes of eating lunch!

Good-bye 8+ times a day breastfeeding. Although, I will miss Carly’s constant warmth and sweet suckling sounds. However – we still have mornings and nights.

Hello to (some) body freedom!

Good-bye raw fingers from Desitin applications, wiping, and “I seriously JUST changed you.”

Hello to missing changing diapers three times in a row. Carly’s chunky baby butt is just the cutest!

Good-bye to morning stroller walks. I’ll miss these the most. Watching Carly’s sweet face as we walk around our neighborhood is the best.

Hello adult conversation! My how I’ve missed you. Vocab, words, thoughts, oh my!

Good-bye seeing everything new Carly does. Another person will see it first, and that breaks my heart.

Hello mental challenges… my my how I love thee. Coordination. Formuli. Brain gymnastics – my sweet love.

Good-bye knowing Carly is unlikely to get sick at home with mommy.

Hello colds, ear infections, and a slew of weird S#$& from daycare. But also hello to an immune system that is learning to survive. This will suck, but we can do this. Kids get sick. A lot.

Good-bye safety of mommy’s perfect schedule (Ug). We worked so hard on this. Carly is sleeping well and growing so big. Pray we adapt well.

Hello socialization. Carly is going to get to meet so many people! She’s in a safe place with people who dedicate their lives to loving children. Hello to meeting more little friends we can hang out with. We’re going to learn so much from each other.

Good-bye taking a gazillion photos a day. Now it’ll just be a few hundred.

Hello to getting photos every day from daycare. I hope they take good pictures!

Good-bye mommy guilt over…. everything. Hello new mommy guilt over…. who knows? If the FDA makes a drug for mommy guilt I’ll line up to buy it.

Hello to a new trust. Trust in daycare. Trust in daddy. Trust in myself. Trust in God that we’ll all be ok. It’ll be ok. It’ll be ok.

Good-bye to whatever I’ve forgotten to mention.

Hello to those things I can never see or imagine.

Good-bye maternity leave. Hello career and daycare. I am so thankful for this leave, what I’ve learned, and my time with Carly. May we greet what is next with grace, endurance, love, and humor.

How I survived suicide…

I’ve tried to kill myself twice. Thankfully, I failed.

Suicide has been in the news twice in the last week. Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain are two talented people gone when the world wanted more time with them.

My brother posted this article. It inspired me to talk about life after suicide attempts.

Don’t kill yourself. When you die more people are sad then you will ever know. Live for yourself. Live for your children, your friends, and those silly third party people we friend on LinkedIn. Death is forever.

It took me thirty years to find happiness on this earth. I’m melancholy by nature and went through some tough stuff as a child. Trauma shapes you by forcing your body to believe things will always be bad. You have a small stressor and your cortisol levels shoot through the roof. Emotions hurt mentally and physically. A trigger sets off a large ripple. Anxiety kicks in and you think the pain will never get better. Death seems better than the pain, but trust me – it isn’t.

I’m here to let you know that I found the light. It takes work to get here but it is real. I haven’t had a depression episode in three years. I am – actually – deeply happy.

More than that, I no longer worry about depression overcoming me. I see that I am surrounded by people that love me and would do anything for me.

People. People will get you though. People are how you survive suicide attempts. There are light in the dark and Jesus in a fallen world. Rely on people. Trust in people. Tell people you need them, because they need you too. The secret of life is that we need to live for others. Culture may tell us to live for ourselves, but it’s living for our loved ones that make everything worth it.

Depression does not have to be forever. There is more beyond this short time of sadness. There is so much to live for. If I had succeeded in my attempts I’d never have known the love of my husband, or have gotten to hold my perfect daughter the moment she was born. I would have missed morning walks, mango sorbet, and Lake Michigan in summer.

Lift yourself up. Dust off the broken bits. You can do this. I did. There is so much to live for.

On the pace of Carly…

I never knew how much I did until I couldn’t do much.

Carly was born on April 12. Perfect. Screaming red. An Apgar 10.

However, she didn’t do one thing – latch. Try after try she wouldn’t eat. So I spent 5 days manually expressing. What I didn’t know for my body, is that squeezing honey through a dot is back breaking. So after 5 days my back actually went out.

I was down. The only thing I could lift was Carly to feed her. In between sides my husband or mom would burp her. I couldn’t lift her to change diapers. I couldn’t make meals. I could barely walk.

This is the pace of Carly.

I spent the last few years at a 10. The day before I delivered I walked 5 miles. Up at 6, work, work out, food, clean, sleep. Do it again.

But there I sat. Feeling sad, and sore, and tired and helpless. I cried again and again.

But this is the pace of Carly.

Not a 10, but a 1.

And God knew better than I. The only way to make me slow down, is to actually force me to stop.

So I stopped. I watched TV. I played on Facebook. And… I learned to enjoy the pace of Carly.

She’s little and sweet and slow. She naps a lot. Likes breastfeeding. And just started lifting her head. I look at her perfection and it makes me cry.

At a 10, I would have missed these things. But at a 1, I saw them all. A new life, my perfect daughter, starting her paces.

At my worst, moments from breaking, God spoke to me. He didn’t say to run or to work. He said “Stop. Stop now. You’re only job is to take care of Carly.”

So I’m taking care of her. My mom, my husband, and my mother-in-law are helping take care of me.

Because this is the pace of Carly.

Chuck it in the F#$% It Bucket…

If “winning” at motherhood is getting approval from a majority – the attempt to win would be futile.

I was a few weeks pregnant when I was told breastfeeding was stupid and breasts were “for my husband.” I was 34 weeks pregnant when I was told that if I did not breastfeed my baby would be unhealthy. When I mentioned I might use formula one person gave me an audible gasp. You know what is best? A fed baby. However you feed your baby – I support you!

One person told me epidurals were for the weak. Another told me if I got an epidural I would hate it. And two other women told me an epidural helped them go through labor successfully. You know what is best? A mother and baby alive and healthy. Natural, epidurals, water – I support your choice.

One nurse said that childbirth should be all natural and that she’d prefer no one gets a c-section. Yet, I think of my mother and my mother-in-law – who both had c-sections. Without that medical intervention who knows what might have become of Del, our mothers, or myself? Thank God for c-sections, because they save lives!

Yes, it takes a village to raise a child, but the majority of the time I did not ask nor seek the opinion of everyone in the village. I’m 39 weeks pregnant, and no choice I could possibly make is good enough for any group of people. If I google it, I’m wrong. If I ask advice, there are 10 different opinions. It’s a losing battle in a war that can never be won.

Against all of these odds I’m taking the best advice I have ever heard a co-worker doll out: “Chuck it in the fuck it bucket.”

I have a doctor and a husband and a brain. I’m going to do me – and you just do you. Every person is different, every pregnancy is different, and every family has different needs. Let’s all agree to let each other be adults and trust that we are making the best choices we can with the information we have. I know I’m making good choices, and I’m sure that you are too.

And if you don’t like what I’m doing – well – quite frankly my dear…. I don’t give a damn. I just took your advice/opinion/thought and chucked it in my fuck it bucket. Support in an era of tough decisions is the thing for which we should all strive. Motherhood is hard enough, so let’s not make it any harder on each other.

Maternity Pics…

It took me over 30 years to get here.

Where is here? It’s at the corner of pregnant, and embracing the beauty of my body.

A few weeks ago we did a babymoon. We wanted to do maternity pics, and Del is a fantastic photographer. So we merged the trip with the photos and below is what Del created. I love how these turned out. I feel like they capture how amazing growing a human is, how beautiful I felt (most of the time), and how much Del and I are excited to share in this new journey.

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36 weeks along
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Hours. I spent hours staring at my growing belly. I would touch it, talk to our sweet girl, and pray that she grows up to be big and strong.
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My Dellie. When people ask what I’m most excited about becoming a parent my answer is always “Seeing Del become a father.” I have no doubts he is going to be amazing.

On stopping…

I’m good at doing things. I mean, I’m good at getting things done. If asked whether I would want to nap or do stuff – I would pick doing stuff 99% of the time.

There’s a lot of stuff you need to do before you have a baby. For planners like me, it’s a great time for checklists and ideas. As 20 weeks turned into 25, and 30 into 35, we are now at week 47. I am not certain when the “to-do-list” should have everything checked off, but my lists are all done.

The house is spotless, the go bag is packed, the pediatrician is selected and 100 kegels a day. I have checked to do lists, and I cannot find anything left on any of them.

All that is left now – is stopping. When I typed the word ‘stopping’ I started to cry.

I have not stopped…. ever. Yes, I know new motherhood will be a time of big change. I know I will get less sleep, I will be tired, and life will be hard for a while. I have always expected my life to be difficult, so the majority of the time I come out surprised that I made it through. I’m not 18 and having a baby. I’m 32, and I listen to my friends. I’m not expecting roses and candy; I’m expecting a new life.

I think of all the times I probably should have stopped and looked around and enjoyed the moment. I probably should have rested for a moment after grad school, but instead I started working full-time. A doctor would have likely told me that I should not work out after I hurt my knee doing split squats, but why would I stop when the pain was only a nine? I started working as soon as I could, while playing sports and running clubs. Since I was a teenager, I have been moving and doing.

In a moment of silence this morning, a rarity for me, I took a moment to look around and see what my life has become. My family is humble, and it feels arrogant to list my accomplishments. Yet, I’m 32 with a fantastic husband, amazing house, great job, and I made it through most of pregnancy at a healthy weight. I earned my MA at age 23, I’m on the board of a local non-profit where I just redid an entire website, and I have the most amazing group of lady friends I could ever wish for. Most importantly, my husband, myself, and our incoming baby are healthy. The grace of God got me here. Oh yes, and sacrifice, hard work, eating well, exercise, not being an ass-bag, and making good life choices. I’m scared that if I say out loud how happy I am with my life it could all be taken away. So rather than stop and acknowledge where I am – I keep going.

When it comes to babies, babies stop. They live, they breathe, they eat, they poop, and they stop. They have no skills for working, no muscles for moving, and no grasp of how to talk. I believe this is as God intended. My list and my life, for this season, will stop just to do this one thing. All I need to do is take care of this precious life that God has given us. I’m terrified to stop, and grateful for the opportunity to learn what our life with a baby will become. I’m open to what is next, and terrified.

There is nothing left to do, but to stop.

The 5 best things I bought for my pregnancy

Having a baby is exciting, nerve-racking, amazing, terrifying, and full of new body changes. I’d written about trying to get pregnant a while back, and I’ve written some other posts since that time. In this post, I wanted to do something a bit lighter. I thought about what to write, and came up with what I thought might be helpful to others. Without further ado, here are the 5 best things I’ve purchased during my pregnancy. Enjoy!

  1. A man-sized pillow and this wedge pillow

I have a bad back, and a bad neck, and I’ve always wanted an excuse to buy a pillow larger than my husband. So I bought this monster-sized pillow on Amazon, and this little wedge pillow to go under the bump. At night, my husband helps me roll onto my side and I shove my arm underneath one section and my legs wrap around one of the sides. Then, the wedge goes right under the bump. We got some weird looks from family when we brought the pillows to Christmas, and the looks are probably going to keep coming when I insist we bring them on every trip for the rest of our lives.

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Yes, the cover is washable. Yes, I will be buried with this pillow.

2. Three of these shirts from Target

“Ruching” is a French term for “Buy these shirts because they’ll fit forever.” I bought three of these from Target, and I love them. They fit me when I started popping out a little at 12 weeks, and they fit me now that I’m 33 weeks. I wear them under stuff, over stuff, and… whatever… it’s a shirt – you get how it works.

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Thanks Target.

3. Flat shoes that go with everything.

I’ve decided nightly leg cramps are my body’s way of semi-preparing me for the pain of labor. How do you make it through a level 8 cramp? Breath, visualize something else, and then yell at the top of your lungs “I think I’m dying.” Anywho, I have a massive shoe collection (seriously, they’re beautiful), but if I wear anything over 1.5 inches my calves attack me at night. So I bought some flats that go with everything, because… I had to.

4. A King-sized bed.

I’m what people call “cheap.” The phrase “you pinch pennies til they scream” has been uttered in my direction. I’m also rarely impulsive. But over two years ago I put a king-sized bed and a king-sized frame into my Amazon cart. Then, after I hadn’t slept well in days I messaged my husband and said “We’re 32. We’re almost like… adults. Let’s get a big people bed.” Before I could re-think my decision, my husband clicked “Proceed to check out.” I think he’d had enough of trying to get comfy next to a rolling pregnant lady and her monster-sized pillow. I realize buying a new bed is a big purchase. But if you’re in the market and ready to feel more like an adult – I’d like to suggest buying a King-sized bed.

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This is where the adults sleep. At least, that’s what we tell ourselves.

5. Stool Softener

Why are some people cranky? It’s because they haven’t pooped in days. I thought I knew suffering, and I then I realized my pregnant body decided it cannot both grow a baby AND have regular poops. Enter: stool softener. I tried to fight the urge to feel like a 70-year-old, but after weeks of trying everything else I finally gave in. There is no joy like the joy of regular pooping. Everybody poops, but when you have trouble pooping – stool softener.

How about you, dear reader? Anything you bought you’d recommend?

On finding positives in weird places…

There’s always that little moment I have before I say something vulnerable. My brain quickly questions, “Do I say this and risk it? Or do I change the subject to something more palatable?” Today, I risked it on something new. I let myself speak in public with an acquaintance on a topic I’ve written about, but never discussed in person outside of close circles.

I openly talked in detail – with specifics – about being molested as a child – as I was getting my hair done.

Larry Nassar is in the news. I’ve been seeing my hairdresser for five years, and I adore her. Midway through the hair cut she brought up what a tough time it is to be an MSU fan, and then we started talking about Nassar. We talked about how difficult it was to believe he got away with molesting girls and women for so long. Then, we talked about how important it is to believe children when they tell you’ve they’ve been attacked. My hairdresser mentioned that only a very small percentage of children ever lie about being molested, so believing children is important.

Then, I flashed to being five-years-old. I remember telling my mother, and I remember her believing me. I remember that she never doubted me. I’ve always felt grateful for my parents, but in that moment my gratefulness erupted into my experience.

“You know, I was molested as a child.” I told Abigail. Then, we both waited a moment for the admission to land.

“Really!? I’m so sorry to hear that.” Then, we waited another moment.

“Who was it” she asked.

“My babysitters” I told her.

“Boys or girls?”

“Girls.”

More questions followed. In a room with other people, I openly and honestly shared my experience. Maybe the #MeToo movement brought it out of me, or maybe it was talking with an amazing friend last night about sexuality. After decades, I’ve become comfortable with every question. My shame has fallen away, and by the grace of God, it has been replaced with a stillness that only the peace of Christ can fill.

Being molested as a child is a horrific experience. Living with the shame is even worse. But in the words of my friends, “In order to become a fully actualized adult you have to see the positives.”

I have a greater amount of empathy and understanding for those that molest children. Do not mistake my words here. Hurting children is wrong, and I am fiercely protective of children. When I see or meet people that hurt children, I flash to my babysitters and think, “They learned this from their parents.” Yes, many people are sociopaths, or psychopaths, or narcissists and they make the existence of others hell. But many monsters are also made. When we quickly deny the humanity of others, I believe we fall further away from understanding why people harm each other in the first place. And if we fail to understand, how can we ever stop these things from happening?

I feel incredibly comfortable and open talking about sex. A few months ago our church did a great sermon on sex. When the pastor began talking, an entire room full of adults giggled. Talking about sex does not make me giggle, and I don’t mean to ridicule those that are not comfortable with the topic. Yet, so many men and women I meet do not know how to talk to their own sexual partner about the sex they’re having. I do not struggle with that. Words like penis and vagina do not make me uncomfortable. I’m comfortable with the topic, because I was introduced to it at an early age.

I learned very early in life that bad things just happen to good people. In every news story I see, I read comments on social media that blame survivors for things that people have done to them. Blaming the victim feels nice, because it helps you feel like you could have control over every situation. Sure, be smart and make good choices. But drunk drivers hit cars. Babysitters can hurt your children. I’m grateful I did not have to spend my entire life thinking I could prevent the evils of the world. Sometimes, against all odds, shit happens.

With time and with grace, we can grow from these things. And today, I feel grateful that I got to grow from my experience.

And of course – to my parents – thank you for believing me.

On #MeToo and Aziz Ansari…

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably read the Babe article about Aziz Ansari.

And if you’re reading this, you may have read different takes from The Atlantic, the New York Times, a few other smaller blogs, and perhaps even a few fascinating Twitter threads.

In this blog, I’m not going to do one thing: judge the guilt or innocence of Aziz Ansari or ‘Grace’ (the anonymous woman in the Babe piece).

This morning, my husband and I were talking about how quickly discourse on sexual assault has changed in our culture. A few years ago there was detailed evidence that Bill Cosby spent decades drugging and assaulting women – and to date – Cosby has spent zero time in jail for his actions. Now, within a few days, people openly discussing sexual assault is enough to bring down the careers of men such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacy, and Louis C.K.

Like most people reading about the Grace/Ansari account, one question keeps swirling in my mind: What does this add to the current dialogue about the #MeToo movement?

What I appreciate most about the #MeToo movement is that for the first time in my adult life there has been more open discourse about sexual assault. As with other movements, we are not all going to agree. While I champion open dialogue, many others disagree with me – as is their right.

The power dynamics implicit in the Babe piece deserve to be noted. Ansari is a racial minority, which adds a deep layer to the conversation on speaking up about assault. Although he is a racial minority, Ansari is a well-known and well-liked celebrity, which likely gives him some power in one-on-one encounters. Women in our culture are often socialized not to speak up for themselves, and to go along with the crowd. So although Grace has agency, her sense of being able to speak up for herself may have been diminished due to her gender.

We talk about sex a lot in our culture; and the conversations seem simplistically binary. On one hand, we have boobs and butt cheeks on billboards giving the message that women are sexual objects whose value is determined by how much men want to have sex with them. Then, on the other hand we still have states that promote abstinence only education – because obviously talking about condoms leads to people doing it (rolls eyes).

Amidst the imagery and the lack of safer sex conversations – one thing is obviously getting left out: having open and fluid conversations about sexual consent.

Like many, Grace seems uncomfortable speaking up about her discomfort at Ansari’s actions. Like many, Ansari seems oblivious to the fact that the person he is about to stick his penis into is totally uncomfortable.

Hindsight is 20/20, power dynamics here are crazy, and I don’t want to diminish Grace’s voice. Yet, to me, this article adds to how we need to have more and better dialogue about adults having consensual sex.

“Hey Grace, do you want to have sex? It’s your body and I respect you if you feel uncomfortable.”

“Aziz, can we discuss what we’d like to do tonight – sex wise? I think I’m okay with our shirts being off, what are you ok with?”

I’ve brought up to others that I find our lack of discussing sexual acts to be strange – especially once we’re in our mid to late twenties. I’ve gotten responses like “Yeah, but it’s weird” or “Yeah, but it kills the mood.”

I get that, but you know what else really kills the mood? Feeling like you were sexually assaulted after a date – or getting day after texts knowing someone you went on a date with was uncomfortable with your actions.

My friends James and Carrie taught their three year old about consent with a simple phrase, “This is your body – and you get to decide what happens to it!”

By the time we move into teenage years and adults years, I suggest we start having better and deeper conversations about how we share our bodies with other people.

My husband and I have been married five years, and we’re expecting our first child in April. Yet, we still talk about the sex we’re okay having. It’s a dialogue we should be having with our partners – from the first time we hook until the last time we hook up.