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Mental Health Awareness Week + Ways to Take Care of Your Own Mental Health

Physical health receives a lot of attention, especially in the midst of a pandemic (hello, COVID-19). It feels like mental health continues to be stigmatized and take a back seat in comparison. For instance, here in 2020, there is a LOT of concern about catching/spreading COVID-19, and significantly less attention is being given to the mental illnesses that can take hold in a time like this (depression, addiction, etc.)

Mental and physical health go hand in hand. We can’t have sustained physical health without being healthy mentally. Let me start by saying, if you are going through something and battling your mental health, you are not alone. I am always available to chat with anyone in need! And in some cases, I would recommend seeking professional help. This is not something to be ashamed of – I sought therapy for help getting through two occasions so far in my life and could not recommend it enough.

My husband and I saw a marriage counselor together prior to getting married to help me navigate my relationship with my parents, who did not approve of us living together before marriage. I was keeping a lot of who I was bottled up inside and keeping secrets from my parents to avoid confrontation. Seeking therapy helped me break this cycle, and Colin coming with me helped him learn how to best support me through a difficult time. This was a HUGE breakthrough in my life. Colin and I couldn’t move forward and start our own family until I was honest with my family.

I also sought therapy after moving to Charlotte. About 6 months in, I was really missing my friends, not loving my job, and questioning our decision to move. I was unable to sleep at night and crying regularly because of the stress of it. Seeking therapy helped me learn to trust myself, fall in love with this city, connect with local friends, and get back into the fitness community. If I hadn’t gone to therapy, I would probably be back in Syracuse (loving time with my friends and family who I miss!) but not on the growth path that I want for my life.

Neither one of these situations lead to a “diagnosis” — it doesn’t need to. Therapy is for everyone and anyone who could benefit from it. But if therapy isn’t in the cards for you right now, there are still steps you can take to improve your mental health (not a replacement for therapy, just some daily practices that I have found helpful in my own life to keep my low-level anxiety at bay).

Practices for Mental Health

  • Meditation. You knew this was going to be on here. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably heard about the benefits of meditation by now. I used to think meditation was just sitting silently for a period of time (which sounds sooo not fun). This isn’t the most helpful for me – my mind wanders and I am easily distracted. This is why I prefer guided meditation using an app. I like insight timer for free meditations for a variety of purposes, but I loved headspace when I was struggling through my sleep issues. The sleep course gave me my sleep (and life) back.
  • Get enough sleep. Set a bedtime routine and schedule and stick to it. If sleep is hard to come by, might I once again suggest the headspace course I listed above? I also found blue light blocking glasses make a big difference here, or even reduced screen time. Which brings me to my next point..
  • Reduce screen time. Set app limits or try a digital detox. There is SO much noise and distraction out there and it can lead to comparison syndrome and overall just be so draining. I took a 24 hour break from social media a couple months back and felt great, which reminds me, I should schedule another one!
  • Exercise. This is another one you knew would be on here, and if you don’t know where to start, might I suggest HIIT at Home, Get Strong at Home, or Virtual Personal Training?
  • Gratitude journaling. I have been gratitude journaling for close to 2 years now, and it’s amazing to me all the little things I can find to be grateful for. It really helps me see the good in every day and in my life overall. I credit my journal for keeping me sane when quarantine first began and every day started to feel like a “waste”. I found joy in the little things like more money saved, more time for my morning routine, working from my screened in porch, etc. It’s a quick practice to write down 3 things I’m grateful for every day and it helps me start my day on the right foot.
  • Connect with those around you. In COVID times, there’s a lot of shaming for people spending time together in person, but this is absolutely VITAL to my mental health. And it turns out, having strong mental health can boost your immunity. Please keep that in mind next time you are judging/shaming people who are meeting up in person. Anyway, a strong sense of community and connection is great when it comes to support. Meet a friend for a hike, give them a call, or hop on FaceTime. It makes a world of difference, and feels sooo much better than texting, I promise.
  • Set boundaries. This can be uncomfortable in the moment, but in the long run, it’s important and impactful to say no to what doesn’t feel good for you. That means saying no to people who aren’t supportive and keeping your priorities straight. For example, if work is always bleeding over into your family time, is that really what you want? Find a solution that stops this from happening (offload some of your work, find efficiencies, or find a new job).
  • Make time for fun. When is the last time you played, or did something just for yourself that makes you smile? Put on your favorite song and dance along. Carve out time for a hobby you’ve been neglecting. Life is too short to not emphasize joy.
  • Go outside. It’s amazing what a little fresh air and sunshine can do. Even if the sun isn’t out, you could kill two bird with one stone and “make time for fun” on a rainy day by splashing in the puddles.

These are just some of my favorite ways to take care of my mental health. What are some of your practices/what’s missing from this list?

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How To Work Out With A Baby

Before I became a mom, people would learn about my love of fitness and say things like “just wait until you have kids..”. Has working out become more difficult with a baby? Yes, of course. And we’re still working through the kinks of scheduling. But it hasn’t made things impossible–we’ve just had to get a little creative.

The reality is: if it’s a priority to you, you’ll make it work! And fitness is a priority to me, because it fills my cup and helps me show up better in everything else I do. So, at 7.5 weeks postpartum, here are my tips for getting your workout in with a new baby to take care of.

The first step, prior to using any of the below tips, is to schedule time for your workout. Otherwise, the day can easily pass you by. Since babies notoriously resist adhering to schedules (especially in the early days) you will likely need to be flexible and get a little creative. Here are some ideas to make your scheduled time work:

  1. Wake up earlier. I currently take the 6AM slot to workout, at which point my daughter and husband are still sleeping for at least 30 minutes. They will wake up during my workout, and she will usually take a bottle at this time (which means I pump on my drive to or from the gym, shout-out to my freemie pump for allowing me to pump on the go!). Getting my day started before the baby can be tough due to waking up for night feedings, but ultimately, it adds an extra window of time to get things done. PS – my husband take the 4PM slot, so it’s not just me who needs to schedule my workouts!
  2. Ask for help. Since I am on maternity leave, it is “assumed” that I will be on baby duty most of the time. It can feel hard to ask for help (#momguilt) but ultimately, taking an hour for yourself isn’t selfish if it helps put you in a better spot as a caretaker for the rest of the day. I know if I didn’t ask for help, I’d hold resentment, and that doesn’t benefit anyone! Unfortunately, since we are in a pandemic, my options for help are limited, but my husband is here. And it’s nice that he’s able to get quality time in with his daughter by me asking for help.
  3. Wait until they baby is napping or occupied playing. This is a tough one, because naps are not consistent when babies are young (they can range from 20 minutes to 2 hours!) and they don’t quite “play” yet. But, if help is out of the question, and you had a rough night of sleep, this is definitely an option. I’ve put Stella in the SNOO and brought her monitor into the garage while I worked out, and I’ve put her on her play gym or swing next to me. This is where that flexibility comes into play! There have been times where she starts to lose it mid-workout, and I just take what I can get. In this case, something is better than nothing.
  4. Invest in a jogging stroller. The nice thing about this option is that you don’t have to ask anyone else for help or wait until the baby is occupied. They’re with you and they can be awake or asleep. If your baby is anything like mine, they’ll find the stroller soothing, so you won’t have to worry about them losing it/crying during your workout. The downsides are: if running isn’t your thing, this option may not be appealing to you, it’s not ideal to use in crappy weather, and they can be pricey. Oh, and pushing a stroller uphill while running is quite the challenge (but that’s not all bad, since it is a workout!). PS- a lot of jogging strollers require the baby being ~6 months old before use, but the one I have allows the infant car seat to click into it, so we were able to use it right away.

Ultimately, it’s about how important fitness is to you (and if it’s not that important to you, there’s nothing wrong with that!). Where there’s a will there’s a way (most of the time).

Do you work out with a baby? How did you fit your workout in?

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How To Get Out Of A Rut

Is it just me or has 2020 felt like a rut? Nothing like a global pandemic during an election year to force you to take a hard look at the way you live your life! Being in a “rut” can feel pretty icky – when I’m in one, I feel completely stagnant. But it also provides an opportunity. Coming out of that rut is a new trajectory. So what’re you waiting for? Here are a few of my tips to get out of a rut.

  1. Create a routine and/or to do list and stick to it. This one is especially helpful if you’re struggling to find purpose in your days or stick to healthy habits. I find it helpful to put pen to paper in my planner. I outline my intentions and everything I want to accomplish in a day. Identifying what I want to do and actually doing it helps me believe in myself and builds momentum to help me out of the rut. If you don’t know where to start, I recommend something as simple as a guided meditation or a morning walk/run/bike ride. I find that these activities allow ideas to pop into my head and give me clarity on the path forward.
  2. .. Or don’t! Shake it up. This is helpful if the monotony of your routine is getting to you. Sometimes routine is freeing, sometimes it feels like a prison. If you’re feeling the latter: shake things up. When’s the last time you did something new for the first time? Get out there and do it! In a pandemic there might not seem like many opportunities to “get out there” but you could hike somewhere new, or sign up for a virtual class. It could even be as simple as picking up a different book genre and finding that you love it. While routine tends to bring me comfort and purpose, adding novelty to my days helps me feel like I’m “living life to the fullest”.
  3. Connect with loved ones. Sometimes all it takes it talking it out. Tell someone how you feel. I recommend specifically choosing someone you relate to, whose advice you value or who makes a good hype man! If we’re still in the pandemic when you need this, ask a friend to have a socially distanced or virtual coffee date or happy hour. We’re meant to communicate and connect with others – a little bit can go a long way when you’re in a tough spot.
  4. Treat yoself! Make today special. Pick up a nice bottle of wine, takeout from your favorite restaurant, whatever is a “treat” to you. Find a little reason to celebrate each week (maybe you checked off your to do list every day this week?). In my daily journaling I have a prompt: what am I doing to make today special? Often it’s little things like “a great workout” or “walking to get a Starbucks pumpkin cream cold brew”. Identifying those little opportunities in everyday life helps me have something to look forward to.

How do you get out of a rut?

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Healthy Snacks Roundup: My Current Go-To’s

I’ve always been the hangry type, but breastfeeding seems to have amplified that, and having a newborn means I have little time to prepare snacks in-the-moment. If you’re like me, not prepping snacks in advance means you’re raiding the pantry for goldfish and cookies. In an effort to eat a little healthier than that, here are the healthy snacks I keep on hand:

  • Cut fruit + veggies: Simple and refreshing. I find it helpful to buy a lot of fruits and veggies and prep them all for the week during one of Stella’s naps. We usually have watermelon, strawberries, carrots and cucumbers washed and cut up in the fridge. Note that if they were not washed and cut previously, I’d be far less likely to grab them in a pinch.
  • Cheese sticks: I don’t like mozzarella, but I love colby jack. I buy cheese sticks for when I’m craving a salty snack but want real food rather than something out of the pantry.
  • Rice cakes with peanut butter + cinnamon: I love this as we’re heading into fall. Plain rice cakes topped with peanut butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Light but filling, and super quick to throw together.
  • Smoothies: when I have a few minutes (aka Stella has been fed recently and is asleep), I love to make smoothies. My favorite combo is frozen banana, almond butter, almond milk, and chocolate protein.
  • Energy balls: These need to be prepped in advance, but are super quick to make so I usually make them when I’m finished chopping fruits and veggies for the week. My go-to recipe here is:
    • 1 cup almond butter
    • 1 scoop chocolate protein powder
    • 1/4 cup honey
    • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 2 tbsp flax seeds
    • and lately.. I’ve been rolling them in sprinkles!
  • Yasso bars: I love the chocolate fudge flavor to get my dessert fix but without going gangbusters on calories.

I’m always looking for new ideas to throw into the mix! What are your go-to healthy snacks?

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My Postpartum Journey: The First 4 Weeks

Motherhood has been quite the journey already, and I’m only 4 weeks in. There’s a reason the first 12 weeks are called the 4th trimester. I want to keep it real about the ups and downs, so here’s my experience so far!

Postpartum: Week 1

ICYMI, I had a c-section (in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic) so this meant I was in the hospital for about 2.5 days. After surgery Wednesday morning, Colin, Stella and I were in a room by ourselves until Friday at lunchtime, when we were released. In that time, we had a lot of medical visitors: nurses, lactation consultants, pediatricians, etc. It was helpful because the nurses did a lot of her diaper changes and we were able to ask a lot of questions, but it was also tough because we weren’t able to sleep much. Colin was on a couch and I was on a hospital bed, and Stella’s glucose levels were being monitored, which meant I needed to feed her at LEAST every 2 hours. I still found this time helpful, as I was pretty confined to my bed after having major surgery, and it was nice to easily ask any questions we had.

Speaking to my physical recovery, I didn’t get out of bed to go any farther than the bathroom in my hospital room for the first day. On day 2, I walked a few laps around the wing of the hospital I was in. I have heard from a lot of people that post-c-section, sitting up and walking were difficult activities. I did not experience this, though I was moving slower than usual and did feel pretty out of it.

When we were released on Friday, there were mixed emotions. We were excited to get back to our own space (and out of a COVID hospital), but nervous to take our baby home for the first time. Most of the first few days are already hazy, but there are a few things that stand out:

  1. I was feeling well enough to go for walks outside (which helped my mental and physical health). I truly think walking has made a difference in the speed of my recovery from surgery. I walked less than a mile on our first day home (very slowly) and built up my distance little by little every day.
  2. Postpartum hormones hit me in a big way. I sobbed when we tried to put Stella down to sleep in another room and watch her on the monitor – I wasn’t ready for her to be out of my sight. I also cried for no reason at all almost every night for the first week. The combination of plummeting hormones, a lot of lifestyle changes, the weight of responsibility and lack of sleep really come at you fast. If you’re in this stage of postpartum right now, know that it’s very common and it gets better!
  3. Breastfeeding was challenging. It still hurt a lot at this point and the feedings were long and frequent. I questioned my decision to breastfeed many times during this week. Again, know that it gets easier!
  4. We had our first pediatrician appointment where we learned that Stella had surpassed her birth weight (very quickly for a breastfed baby!). This was great news, as it meant we could stretch her night feedings to 4 hours (equating to ~3-hour sleep stretches if she didn’t wake us sooner).
  5. I learned that a lot of the postpartum journey involves fluids leaking everywhere. From bleeding (for weeks) as your uterus returns to it’s pre-baby size, to milk leaking from your boobs, and insane night sweats.. there’s a lot going on and it isn’t the most comfortable.

Overall, the first week was a rollercoaster. In the low moments, I was gritting my teeth through the pain of breastfeeding or crying for no apparent reason. In the high moments, I was snuggling Stella, staring at her, or out for a family walk.

What Helped Me Get Through Postpartum Week 1

  1. Movement and sunshine (get outside if you can!)
  2. Naps (I tried to take one every afternoon while Stella napped)
  3. Netflix – in the early days, it’s helpful to have a show to watch as you nurse. Mine was Schitt’s Creek!
  4. Talking to other moms – this was the most helpful, as it helped me realize this is temporary

Postpartum: Week 2

Week 2 was still challenging, but less so. We had our first visitors (family and very close friends), went on our first walk in a park outside of our neighborhood, and I started to get more comfortable with breastfeeding outside of my bedroom. Every day started to feel a little easier. I found myself feeling more confident thanks to the following highlights from week 2:

  1. Breastfeeding was less painful and more efficient. I moisturized after every feed and Stella and I had both learned a little more, making it easier. It also helped to not be confined to my room every time I fed her. I knew what breastfeeding items I needed and kept them with me (although we no longer *need* the boppy). There were a couple rough days when I think she was having a growth spurt, as she wanted to be fed non-stop. Luckily this didn’t last long!
  2. Nighttime feeds started to take less time. We went from being up for an hour each time she woke up to being up for about 30 minutes to feed, burp, change her and get her back down. This is because my milk started letting down faster and she was more efficient at eating.
  3. I was walking 3 miles at once at this point, and by the end of week 2 I was feeling good enough to start incorporating some slow bodyweight movements into my day (ex: wall sits, bird dogs). Daily movement helps me feel like I am accomplishing something and gives me endorphins. Even though I’m not “working out” yet, this has done wonders for my mental health.
  4. The random crying subsided as did the sadness that had been hitting me every evening. My hormones started to feel like they were evening out.
  5. I got comfortable with Stella napping in another room while I watched her on the monitor. This just required time for my fear to subside. Even though I’m now comfortable with this, I still keep her in whatever room I’m in when she naps most of the time.
  6. I learned that while leaving the house with a newborn is more difficult, it is not impossible. When we went to the park for our walk, we did 1 lap (1.5 miles) and had to stop at the car to feed and change her before going on lap 2. It wasn’t very difficult since we had a diaper bag packed with a diaper, changing pad and burp cloth. It helped me feel more like myself to know I could leave the house and all hell wouldn’t break loose!

A little bit of time spent learning each other made a big difference. Hang in there, it gets easier!

What Helped Me Get Through Postpartum Week 2

  1. Experimenting with different breastfeeding locations so I felt less confined/tied down.
  2. Trying hard things: taking our Sunday walk to a park and seeing it could be done with a newborn.
  3. Movement and sunshine (always).
  4. Talking to other moms (again, always).

Postpartum: Week 3

You may be picking up a pattern here, but we continued on the path of things getting a little easier every day. Here’s a little bit about how week 3 went:

  1. Stella had another great pediatrician appointment and we could stretch her feedings to every 5 hours at night (although her waiting that long for a feed is a rarity).
  2. We started giving Stella one bottle of pumped milk a day at exactly 2 weeks post birth. Our pediatrician recommended that we start as early as possible (you may have heard of Nipple Confusion as a reason not to do this, I encourage you to read Cribsheet by Emily Oster as the data does not support this). As I write this, we’ve been doing this consistently for 2 weeks, and it still has its ups and downs. Some days she guzzles down the bottle, other days she is very agitated by it. We try to have my husband give her the bottle and I leave the room to pump so that 1) I can get some “me” time and 2) she isn’t agitated by the usual source of feeding being so close. We’ve tried different bottles and different times of day to try to get a system down, as it’s important that she gets used to a bottle so that I am not the only option for feeding her.
  3. This week, I started trying to wear her in my wildbird ring sling at least once per day. Even if it’s for a quick walk outside or just to get stuff done around the house, I love having her so close to me but having my hands free to do things. I also want her to get used to being worn so that I can feed her from the sling when she’s a little older!
  4. At first, I thought Stella was resistant to being swaddled. I could hear her fighting the swaddle in the SNOO, she regularly fought her arms free, and she napped unswaddled during the day. She does love to self-soothe with her hands, so I purchased a Love To Dream SwaddleUp and started using it this week. Now usually naps in it during the day, and I’ve had much better luck with this than a traditional swaddle. We also have the Ollie Swaddle which we will transition to when she’s truly ready for arms-out swaddling.
  5. My physical recovery continued to progress, so I committed to walking 3 miles each morning with Stella, post-lunch and post-dinner walks as a family, and 15 minutes of bodyweight movement. I did have a slight scare where my uterine bleeding seemed to tick up. I called the Doctor and we determined there was nothing to worry about, it meant I was getting near the end of my postpartum bleeding (yay!).

What Helped Me Get Through Postpartum Week 3

  1. Reminding myself daily that consistency is key for a newborn to understand. This is why we keep trying with the bottle even when she gets frustrated. This is also good practice for when we sleep train her later on.
  2. I stopped watching so much TV while nursing and opted to spend more time on the screened in porch, reading and creating content.
  3. Movement and sunshine (always).
  4. Talking to other moms (again, always).

Postpartum: Week 4

Time is flying! At this point, we got into a better groove and not much changed week over week (besides Stella’s continued growth). Here are a few highlights from week 4:

  1. You can pass a lot of time just waiting on baby to do something (not knowing when they will) and it makes you start to really crave a schedule. This was our last week of being completely unscheduled: feeding on demand, sleeping on demand, etc. This is because she’s still too young to really learn habits and adhere to a schedule. Next week, we’ll start trying to push her feedings to every 2-3 hours (sometimes she still wants to be fed hourly). We’ll also start paying attention to her wake windows and try to keep them within the average range for her age, so she’s awake often enough to sleep longer at night, but not awake so long that she’s getting overtired. We’ll be using Taking Cara Babies system – you can follow her on instagram @takingcarababies to learn more 🙂
  2. While we still left this week completely unscheduled, we started implementing a few of the sleep tips from Taking Cara Babies. Usually when she fussed, I rushed to feed her. This week, I swaddled her, gave her a pacifier, and put on white noise to see if those soothed her prior to me feeding her. I learned that sometimes she was fussing because she wanted to sleep, and even if she was hungry, these tips sometimes allowed us to delay back to back feedings and get her to take a larger feeding when she did eat.
  3. Stella will likely be in the SNOO until the 5-or-6-month mark, but I wanted to get her used to her room and her crib well before we transition her into it. This week, I started putting Stella down in her crib during some of her naps.
  4. Bottle feeding is finally starting to catch on. She’s finished a few bottles and is visibly less agitated by them, though there are still times she rejects it. If your baby won’t take the bottle, start early and stick with it!
  5. My physical recovery continued to feel good. I felt ready for more, but knew I was a few days away from my postpartum appointment and waiting a few more days before diving more into things wouldn’t matter much in the long run. I continued with bodyweight strength training and lots of daily walks (with Stella in either the stroller or the ring sling). I also went on a light bike ride since it’s low impact.
  6. I spent little bursts of time alone. My bike ride was solo and I left Stella with Colin to go on a quick grocery run. I miss her whenever I’m away from her, but it felt really good to know that I can be away from her and she will be completely fine. If you’re hesitant to leave your baby with anyone else (which I completely understand with breastfeeding) – I can’t tell you how freeing and helpful it is for your mental health. People have been having babies forever – just look how many adults there are! Your child will be fine, take some time for you.

What Helped Me Get Through Postpartum Week 4

  1. Knowing that a schedule would be possible soon, which would help my sanity.
  2. Seeing progress with bottle feedings.
  3. My upcoming postpartum appointment.
  4. Letting my husband take more alone time with Stella.
  5. Movement and sunshine (always).
  6. Talking to other moms (again, always).

What’s Next?

As I write this, we’re in Postpartum week 5. This week we are focused on:

  1. Spacing out daytime feedings (minimum 2 hours in between, unless she is clustering before bed at night). I’ve found that a pacifier and her stroller or swing can be helpful to keep her calm when I need to stretch the feeding 15-30 minutes. More stimulating activities, like tummy time or playing with mom and dad don’t seem to be distracting enough 🙂
  2. Customizing our SNOO experience for Stella’s needs. For the first 4 weeks, I had the motion limiter on so that the rocking didn’t get as aggressive as it could (this is recommended for very young babies). In week 5, I turned that setting off, and after a few nights, I also turned up the sensitivity one notch up from normal. This is because from 4-6AM, she gets very loud due to her sleeping lighter than the other hours of the night. She is loud enough to wake me up, but not crying/agitated enough to trigger the SNOO to rock harder or the white noise to get louder, and not awake enough for me to actually need to get her out of the SNOO. So far, this adjustment seems to be beneficial – we are down to 2 night feedings most nights.
  3. My postpartum appointment went really well, and I am cleared for resuming all physical activity! I am starting slow with short runs and light dumbbells, then progressing over time. I couldn’t be happier to receive clearance at 4 weeks 2 days postpartum! Stella has enjoyed her first couple of jogs in the jogging stroller 🙂

How was your postpartum journey? What do you wish you knew prior to having your baby?

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My First Time Mom Birth Story

I welcomed my first child on July 29, 2020. This is the story of how she entered the world! If you prefer video, I shared her story on IGTV (linked below). If reading is more your thing, scroll on!

Stella’s Birth Plan

First things first: what was our birth plan? There are mixed opinions about having one. Some will say “kids will do what they want to do, so what’s the point”? But, as a first time mom, I wanted to go into the situation feeling informed and empowered, so I opted to make a loose “birth plan”.

My plan/hope was to have an unmedicated birth: spontaneous labor, no pain meds, and a vaginal delivery. This was for a few reasons:

  • I don’t take much medication (prenatals and the occasional allergy tab)
  • Women have been giving birth since the dawn of time, and no one has been pregnant forever – I was confident the baby would try to come out on her own
  • I don’t like being numbed or feeling out of control
  • I wanted the experience to feel empowering

I knew there was a chance that birth would not go the way I had “planned” but after doing my research and putting thought into it, this was the experience I was hoping for.

Induction Plans Leading Up to Stella’s Birth

Stella was due July 20, 2020. When I first got pregnant and was given my due date, the Doctor told me they don’t let patients enter a 42nd week of pregnancy, and they would want an induction scheduled by 41.5 weeks. Fast forward to my due date and Stella did not arrive. Since I didn’t want to induce if at all possible, I scheduled an appointment for 4 days after my due date, where I would get an ultrasound to check on her development and my amniotic fluid levels. She still hadn’t come by then, so I went to my appointment. The midwife I saw told me everything looked good, but they still recommended induction at the 41 week mark. This meant I had a few less days than I expected (as the Doctor had said 41.5 weeks). She asked that I come in 2 days later for cervical ripening, which would be followed by labor induction the following day (at exactly 41 weeks).

I was so surprised by this suggestion since I had just been told that everything looked good for me to continue on with my pregnancy. But since a medical professional gave the recommendation, I went with it and scheduled an induction. Long story short, as soon as I left the office I didn’t feel right about it and called back to push back the induction date 2 more days. We then got to my induction date (July 28) and I still didn’t feel quite right about moving forward with induction, so I again called to switch my appointment. I scheduled a non-stress test on July 29 to determine if I could continue with pregnancy rather than an induction. It may sound like a lot of back and forth, but I was proud of myself for advocating for what I wanted. I was trying to give Stella every opportunity to come on her own.

Mind you, I was very ready to be done being pregnant – just not enough to compromise the hopes/plans that I had in place. This means I spent a lot of time trying every natural labor induction technique out there. Eating dates and pineapple, drinking red raspberry leaf tea, walking (5+ miles/day), sex, nipple stimulation (I used my breast pump). Since none of these things were too taxing to do, I had no problem doing them daily, though I can say from experience that none of them worked 🙂

Laboring at Home

Anyway, after all of the induction drama, on the night of July 28, around 7PM my contractions started (seems like Stella had heard that her induction was scheduled to start on July 28 at 8PM and she waited until the last minute to make sure she tried to exit on her time!). The contractions started off pain-free, but felt like a consistent tightening in my stomach about every 10 minutes, so I started timing them (if you are in your 3rd trimester I highly recommend downloading a contraction timing app). By 9PM, they were getting closer together and became uncomfortable, so I started laboring on my birthing ball. My husband knew we could be in for a long haul, so he suggested we go to bed and try to get some sleep. We headed upstairs to our bedroom, and I called my OBGYN to ask if trying to sleep would slow down labor. They said I could try to sleep but recommended a warm bath and taking tylenol first. I took the bath then laid down and realized the contractions had become far too uncomfortable, there was no way I could sleep through them. When I called the OB, they also said I should call back when my contractions were coming every 6 minutes for more than 2 hours. From 10PM-12AM, I had painful contractions every 6 minutes or less, so I called back and they told me to head to the hospital.

Labor at the Hospital

When we got to the hospital, things moved pretty slowly due to the pandemic. We usually would have had valet service so we could get straight up to our room, but Colin had to drop me off, then find parking and come back into the hospital. We also had to have our temperatures checked and fill out paperwork sharing that we did not show symptoms. This all took quite some time, so I didn’t get up to labor and delivery until 1AM and my contractions were getting worse and worse.

When we got up to labor and delivery, Colin was sent to the family waiting area and I was sent to triage where to get checked for dilation. It took about 15 minutes for the nurse to come check on me in triage, in which time I was by myself and starting to get EXTREMELY uncomfortable. The contractions had reached a 9/10 on a pain scale and were coming every 2-3ish minutes. I was having very uncomfortable bowel movements (and had been since I was at home), and I was exhausted as I neared 24 hours without sleep.

When the triage nurse arrived to check me, she found that I was 4cm dilated and asked if I wanted an epidural. I said no, but also told her I was potentially reconsidering given the level of pain I was in and knowing that at only 4cm dilated and running on empty, this was becoming really challenging. There is no “estimated time” to get from 4cm to the full 10cm of dilation (where you have to be in order to start pushing). Knowing this and knowing the pain wasn’t likely to get any better, I opted to take the epidural, even though it wasn’t in my original plan. I was surprised to make the decision because the pain outweighed my fear of being numbed, but in the end, I know I made the right decision for me at the time.

Once I agreed to the epidural, I was moved to my own labor and delivery room and Colin joined me there. The anesthesiologist came to administer the epidural (closer to around 2AM). As soon as the epidural started working, I no longer knew I was having contractions, which was helpful so I could try to rest. They were being monitored using a strap around my stomach, so we could see when they were coming, I could just no longer feel them. Stella’s heart rate was also being monitored using a strap around my stomach.

A few minutes after I was given the epidural and got settled in bed, the room suddenly flooded with people. I didn’t know it at the time, but Stella’s heart rate was dropping during some of my contractions (from about 160/170 bpm to 60ish bpm). The nurses flipped me onto my side to see if her heart rate would pick back up, and it did for a bit. The thought was that maybe the umbilical cord was getting pressure in the position I was in, and moving me would relieve that pressure allow her heart rate to come back up. Unfortunately, her heart rate continued to drop during later contractions. About an hour into this happening, the Doctor came in, broke my water and placed a monitor on her head to see if we could get a better read on her heart rate. She explained that if this dip in heart rate continued, she would need to call for a c-section. I understood, but was hopeful that if we continued to shift my position everything would be fine. Around 4AM, the doctor came back and made the call for a c-section, as her heart rate continued to drop without an identifiable reason and I was not at 10cm dilated so was not cleared to start pushing her out.

It was considered an “urgent” c-section, but not an emergency, so my husband was able to be in the room with me. It was also a blessing in disguise that I got the epidural, because this meant that I could receive additional numbing medication rather than getting knocked out for the surgery. We had a curtain up so I couldn’t see anything, but cutting her out was a very quick process. She was taken, checked and cleaned by the nurse, and I was told there was nothing identifiable wrong. We don’t know why her heart rate was dipping. Then she was given to Colin and me as I was getting sewn back up. Seeing her for the first time was a mixed bag of emotions: nerve-wracking, exciting, beautiful.. and so much more.

As sad as I was to have the experience stray so far from what I was hoping for, it was more important to me that my baby was healthy and in my arms. It was still traumatic and has taken a lot of processing on my end, but it helps to remember that birth is one small part of having a baby, and I have a lifetime of happy memories to make with this girl!

What was your birth experience?

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How (And Why) to Put Yourself First

ICYMI, I recently read Untamed and since then, have had near constant reminders of the importance of honoring yourself and your needs.

I don’t want to speak on behalf of all women in saying this, but I was raised to believe that the “right way” to be a woman is to put others’ needs in front of my own. That through sacrifice and suffering, I am doing my part to make the world a better place. A “good girl” doesn’t complain or speak up or cause conflict. I spent years of my life succumbing to this school of thought, but now, I couldn’t disagree more. I’m no longer interested in competing for a “she-who-suffers-most” award or pleasing everyone around me at the expense of myself.

Why It’s Important to Put Yourself First

I now believe that the best thing I can do is bring my best self into the world. No one can be me but me. By putting my thoughts and needs to the side in order to please others, I’m not only sacrificing myself, but I’m sacrificing the gifts that I could potentially be giving to the world. People pleasing is draining–it takes away my energy, emotionally and physically. You can’t pour from an empty cup. By giving away your energy to “people please” you end up not bringing your best self to the relationships that matter most to you, so who is actually benefiting?

If the idea of pursuing your desires sounds foreign or selfish to you, you may be thinking: but what about all of the things I want to do that I actually shouldn’t? What about my desire to have a bottle of wine at home by myself instead of attending a family event? To which I ask: is that really putting yourself first? In those situations, you may need to dig a little deeper to uncover where that desire comes from and have a different course of action in mind. Putting yourself first does not mean to self-sabotoge.

It’s also worth noting that if you choose to take this path, it is not the easy path. It requires work to get to know yourself. Standing up for yourself, especially at first, can also take energy you don’t want to spend (even though this is energy you’re spending for yourself–it leads to a payoff). Putting yourself first also causes conflict. You may lose relationships (in favor of strengthening the ones that matter). It takes work to change like this, but I have decided it’s worth it.

So, who’s with me on this journey? Here are some examples and action items I’m using.

Recognizing When You’re Abandoning Yourself

Do you notice when you are putting your own wants and needs aside to please others? Here are some of the signs that clue me in.

  • General agitation. Do you feel like your energy is drained and you’re quick to snap? Something may not be in alignment. Instead of trying to distract yourself from those feelings, examine them.
  • Rumination. When I ruminate on a situation after it passes, it is a sure sign that I did not act in alignment with how I felt. I will keep replaying the situation in my head and trying to rewrite the outcome. Why put myself through that mental torture? I did this recently when the doctor suggested an induction date earlier than I was comfortable with. I agreed in the moment because who am I to tell a Doctor what should be done? Then when I left the office, I cried. I knew I hadn’t honored myself and I wouldn’t feel better until I spoke my piece. So I called the office and asked to push the date back–they agreed and I can breathe easy again.
  • Defensiveness. If you find yourself explaining and defending your actions, you’re giving your power to the person you are trying to convince. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for doing what’s best for you. You do not need external approval. I find myself doing this often–I’ve asked my husband to call me out when it happens, and I know I need to examine the situation a little further.

Getting Back to Yourself and Your Needs

Once I’ve identified that I’m abandoning myself or people-pleasing, I find the following to be helpful.

  • Meditation. Sometimes quiet and stillness gives my brain room to let ideas come forward. You can go into meditation with a question in mind, or nothing in mind, or even look for a guided meditation to help you visualize what you’re seeking. I find use in each of these approaches depending on where my head’s at.
  • Journaling. This can have similar effects to meditation, though sometimes my thoughts flow more freely when I am putting pen to paper. You can approach journaling similarly to meditation by coming in with a question, or nothing at all in mind, or look up prompts to give you a place to start.
  • Movement. While stillness has its perks, I find that some of my clearest thoughts come when I am out for a walk or run. When my body is occupied by putting one foot in front of the other, my brain has a little space to wander and my truths float to the surface.
  • Embrace conflict. When you start putting yourself first, you may surprise and upset people who have gotten used to you putting their needs first. But why are others’ wants more valuable than yours? Are these really the kind of relationships you want to fight to keep? This is a huge challenge for me, but conflict over something that’s important to me is conflict worth having.
  • Set boundaries. Once you have an idea of yourself and your needs, set boundaries around them. Know the ways you won’t accept being treated and make them clear as people approach or try to break those boundaries.

How do you put yourself first?

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How (And Why) To Switch To Natural Deodorant

About a year ago I started exploring natural deodorant options to limit the amount of chemicals I’m putting on my skin. I had read about how traditional deodorant/anti-perspirant combos could interfere with hormones and decided it was worth it to try something new. I wish I had continued my research a little further, because then I would’ve also seen that there are steps to take to make the transition easier. Instead, I went cold turkey on my Secret deodorant and swapped it for a natural brand with some not-so-successful results. A year and multiple brands later, I can say I am very happy I made the switch. So don’t let the bad bits I start off with discourage you–read on, this story has a happy ending, I promise!

What’s Wrong with Regular Deodorant?

Most traditional deodorants are a combination of deodorant and anti-perspirant: designed to stop you from sweating and mask odor. Problem one is that you should sweat. It’s a natural function of the body, and to limit it can prevent the proper elimination of waste. In addition to that, some of the ingredients are questionable.

  1. Parabens. These preservatives used in deodorant may interfere with estrogen production and regulation. Given how close the armpits are to estrogen-sensitive tissue in the breasts, this was a risk I didn’t want to take, even without conclusive evidence.
  2. Aluminum. There have been similar links to aluminum deodorant and breast cancer, although again, without conclusive evidence. While waiting for that research to come in, it seemed worthwhile for me to switch.
  3. Phthalates. It’s suggested that Phthalates may be an issue among pregnant women as it can impact fetal development. Research has linked phthalates to lower IQs and higher rates of asthma.

While most of these are anecdotal and lack conclusive evidence, there is still a risk factor that I felt better mitigating. So, what did I find as problems when I pursued the natural route?

Hesitations About Natural Deodorant

  1. Initial skin irritation. After years of conditioning your skin to expect aluminum and parabens under your arms, it can take awhile for your skin to detox. That detox presents itself in the form of skin irritation, which happened to me. Read on for ways to combat this!
  2. Continued skin irritation. Just because ingredients are natural doesn’t mean your skin will agree with them. My skin had irritation/rashes well beyond the initial transition phase when I tried love, beauty, planet. This may work for you, but something in the ingredient list did not agree with me.
  3. Not as strong/doesn’t last as long/you may smell. Some varieties of natural deodorant wear off quickly or don’t mask B.O. as strongly as you may be used to. I found this issue with Native, and living in a climate where it is often hot and humid combined with working in the fitness industry.. this was less than ideal.
  4. Pricier. In this case, I think of it as an example of you get what you pay for. If you want something made with quality ingredients, you should expect to pay a little more for it (and when it comes to things I put in and on my body, I am willing to pay that price). Also–keep scrolling and you’ll see a discount for my favorite brand!

While these hesitations sound like a lot, I still felt better about using a safer option. So, how do you make this transition smoother?

Ways to Ease the Transition

  1. Detox your pits. I didn’t try this myself, but I trust anything Laurie Christine King recommends. See her detox recipe here.
  2. Don’t apply deodorant right after shaving. Some people shower and shave at night then apply deodorant in the morning. This was something I tried when I had continued skin irritation that I called out above. Broken skin that has just been shaved tends to react more harshly to anything applied to it. Ultimately, this wasn’t the solution for me and I now use a brand that I can apply right after shaving.
  3. Try different brands. I tried love, beauty, planet, then Native before ultimately trying Primally Pure. I had heard great things, but I’m conditioned to convenience and free shipping, so it took awhile for me to accept heading to a website other than Amazon to purchase–but I am SO glad I did.

Why Primally Pure?

A few months ago I tried Primally Pure charcoal deodorant and haven’t looked back. I have had 0 skin irritation since trying it, and it lasts all day without wearing off. I also love that it doesn’t have a strong scent attached to it. When I used to use regular deodorant, I often felt like the fake scent coming from my deodorant was as overpowering as B.O. would’ve been. Rather than a scent that “masks” B.O. I find I just don’t smell at all, which is quite a feat when fitness-ing in North Carolina.

I wasn’t sure if I had found something that just worked for me, but since making the switch and sharing my experience, I’ve heard from multiple people who were compelled to try it and had the same experience. After seeing how well it’s worked for me and friends, I reached out to become an ambassador (my first time approaching a company vs the other way around) and now you can get a discount with code STODDS at checkout.

If you decide to make the switch, I hope you learn from my mistakes and have a much smoother, shorter journey!

Do you use natural deodorant? What brands have you found success with? If you haven’t made the switch why not? What questions do you have about making the switch?

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My Breastfeeding Must-Haves

ICYMI, I gave birth to my first child on July 29! In the land of all things newborn, some things have been easier than expected and some have been harder. Breastfeeding falls into the “harder” category, largely because it means feeding relies solely on the mother (for at least the beginning), it can be painful, and the scheduling aspect gets very time consuming. Since it’s World Breastfeeding Week, it’s as good a time as any to discuss my journey with feeding Stella so far.

Let’s back up: why did I choose breastfeeding in the first place?

Why I Chose To Breastfeed

A quick Google search will list so many benefits that you may think breastmilk is liquid gold and formula is poison. This is an extreme exaggeration, but among those who feel “breast is best” you may hear of a lot of benefits that aren’t actually valid. While pregnant, I read Cribsheet by Emily Oster. She’s an economist that evaluates available data and shares what studies are done well and have conclusive evidence (as well as why other studies and data sets aren’t as useful).

One section of Cribsheet breaks down breastfeeding vs. formula feeding. She shared that among the best data available, most breastfeeding claims are not true. There are a few additional benefits, namely lower GI issues and lower risk of infections/rashes for baby, and a pretty sizable reduction in breast cancer risk among moms, but these were among the few substantiated benefit claims. Breastfeeding does also burn calories, so if you are not eating those additional calories, it can help with weight loss.

I chose breastfeeding because it’s free, burns calories, and leads to less GI issues and infections for baby. Even though the number of benefits is small, I would take any leg up on health I could give my little girl. I also did not want to have to venture from my bedroom to the kitchen in the middle of the night every time she needs to be fed – I like the “convenience” of sitting up in bed and feeding her.

Is Breastfeeding More Convenient?

I believe that it is more convenient in some ways, though I haven’t tried formula feeding. It’s nice that I don’t need to make a bottle every time she wants to eat, which would mean heading to my kitchen when I’m home or packing lots of supplies while I’m out. I do feel that the “saved” time is easily taken up by her learning to latch (having some inefficient feedings) and by me setting up my “station”, since you’re pretty confined to wherever you’re seated when breastfeeding.

That said, I’ve found certain products at my “station” make breastfeeding a little more convenient. Scroll on to see what they are!

Stella + breastfeeding supplies

Breastfeeding Station Setup

Keeping these items close by has made breastfeeding a little easier.

  • Haakaa – this silicone breast pump catches milk from one side as you feed from the other. It has allowed me to catch and store milk for future bottle feedings without needing to pump, which is a godsend. If you know someone planning to breastfeed, this is truly one of the most valuable gifts you can get them! So simple and so effective.
  • Boppy – this pillow helps elevate baby to the right height and allows you to rest your arms as you feed. This is especially handy at night when I’m tired and feeding.
  • Yeti(s) – feeding makes me extremely thirsty. I keep this water bottle on me and love that the handle makes it easy to carry when I also have the baby in my hands. At night, I also keep a yeti tumblr with me at night so I have enough water to make it through.
  • Swaddle/burp cloth – feeding and burping can get a little messy. Milk gets everywhere, so I keep a swaddle handy to clean up any mess and use as a burp cloth.
  • Nipple ointment – the lactation consultant at the hospital recommended against the use of nipple ointments since they’re not regulated by the FDA, but my nipples could not handle it. I honestly don’t think I could’ve kept up with breastfeeding if the nipple pain continued as it had, but this ointment helped so much.
  • Kindle/remote – I keep my kindle and/or a remote nearby as something to do while feeding. It takes up a lot of hours every day, so entertainment is necessary.

In addition to this setup, there are a few other “hacks” I’ve implemented. I use a nursing bra (with nursing pads attached) and a button-up nursing nightgown for easier access. I’ve found this so convenient that I recently purchased a few non-nursing button up tanks and dresses to wear out and about!

At night, I also pack a cooler to bring to our room that includes a bottle, a bag, and the Haakaa. Each time I feed Stella, I catch some milk in the Haakaa, pour it into the bottle, then pack it in the cooler. The next time I feed, I empty the bottle into the bag and pour the next round of milk into the empty bottle. This is because you should not mix warm milk with refrigerated milk. It only takes an extra minute to each feeding and the amount of milk I pack away is worth it.

Overall, I still find breastfeeding to be a positive experience and as of now, the benefits still outweigh the inconveniences. That said, I am looking forward to the day where my husband can use that stored milk to feed her with a bottle and it can be more of a shared responsibility/experience.

How has breastfeeding worked for you? What are your must-have products?

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Supporting Black-Owned Businesses in Charlotte

I won’t pretend to be an expert on all things anti-racist, but I know when it comes to creating change, the way you use your dollars counts. Buying black helps put a dent in the systemic racism that has oppressed BIPOC for years. Here in Charlotte, my husband and I have made it a focus to step out of our usual habits and seek out black-owned businesses with this in mind. For a comprehensive list of Charlotte black-owned businesses, check out this article from the Charlotte Agenda. I’ll focus on businesses we’ve tried lately to give you a little background on why we love them!

Two Scoops Creamery

To be fair, we loved and supported Two Scoops for 2 full years before learning anything about their ownership. They have the best ice cream in town and we used to live a very short walk from the Plaza Midwood location. It’s on my list to take any out-of-town visitors to.

My go-to order is 2 scoops on a waffle cone: batter up (cake batter) and cookie monster (blue vanilla ice cream with oreos, chocolate chip cookies and vanilla wafers). I also recently tried Stew Brew (coffee ice cream with caramel and oreos) and Tom Foolery (chocolate cake batter ice cream with brownies and chocolate cake piece). Both were SO GOOD!

Worthy + Badass

I looove this shop for minimalist designs with a great message: you are worthy + badass. It’s hard not to buy everything Justine makes, but I really love my worthy + badass necklace. I get an instant confident boost when I put it on!

Popbar CLT

Popbar is a national chain of shops that offer gelato on a stick, and our Charlotte location is black-owned. The first location is in NoDa but there’s a shop going into Camp Northend as well. The NoDa location is in a purple brick building, perfect to snap cute pics for the ‘gram. I got hazelnut gelato half-dipped in white chocolate with rainbow sprinkles and was not disappointed!

Coordinates Coffee

I learned about this coffee truck in the Charlotte Agenda. The truck travels around CLT, so be sure to check their Instagram for this week’s schedule and location. I pre-ordered on the cloosiv app and found it so easy to use. I chose a Lavender Vanilla Latte with Almond Milk and it was delicious (bonus: if you order in the social justice pouch, it’s a double!)

I have a lot more on my list to try (like Stats, which is right down the road from my house!) but we’ve admittedly been a bit limited thanks to our rising COVID cases here in Charlotte. What else needs to go on my must-try list?