This November, my wife and I checked off a depressing anniversary: one year of trying for a baby. As two halves of a same-sex marriage, both of us women, we’ve been in doctor’s offices for the past year undergoing IUI, or intrauterine insemination. A year might not sound like a long time in that sense, but in terms of money and effort and knowing we’ve had perfectly timed attempts again and again, it feels like an eternity. When we first started this process, technically there was no “infertility” diagnosis; we were just a same-sex couple who always knew we’d at least need assistance in acquiring sperm, if nothing else, or so we thought. But it’s become more complicated than that.
The procedure of IUI is performed in a doctor’s office. The short story of what happens is that when your body is ready for ovulation, which can mean medications for days before that to stimulate the ovaries, an injection is performed that prompts ovulation and you release one or more eggs depending on how many have grown to maturity (typically one, but sometimes more on medication). About a day after that injection is given, a doctor uses a speculum to open the cervix and a catheter (flexible, tubey thing) to insert the sperm directly into the uterus, not just into the vagina. So fun! The goal is for those sperm to swim up into the Fallopian tube, meet the egg, and then for the fertilized egg to descend, implant in the uterus and grow. We are using donor sperm purchased through a sperm bank, which is pricey and can be hard to acquire (our donor has a waitlist that took us months to get on), so we decided to basically get straight into a fertility center to make sure we had professional, medical support as we tried to conceive.
It’s hard to talk about this process for a variety of reasons; mostly, because it hasn’t worked yet, but also because trying to have a baby is incredibly personal no matter how you go about it. It’s intimate and important whether you’re at home or in a doctor’s office. Also, most stories of infertility are told at the end, after success has been achieved. I want to share from the middle, the dead center of the mess, still trying to navigate through the storm. We’re not at the finish line yet and I don’t know how long it’ll take or what method will finally get us to the other side, where we get to become parents. I’ve stopped trying to guess. But this isn’t a situation that is valid only once you’ve achieved the goal. We’re in the hard part, and that’s an important perspective to be standing in. We are in crying-on-the-couch, going-through-it mode. We always knew we would need some help getting pregnant since we’re both women and lack “access to sperm,” as our doctor hilariously put it, but we were not prepared for the length of time it’s taken, the ups and downs of the process along the way, and how much of the unknown we would face that I had absolutely no concept of before we started.
The Doctors Know A Lot, But Not Everything
Even with two uteruses, great doctors, and good odds, every case is different and the treatments aren’t foolproof. There is a lot of guesswork involved about how your body will respond to certain treatments and hormones and it doesn’t always happen the way you, or your doctor, expect. Even with drugs, and ultrasounds, and doctors we trust, we’ve had round after round of failed intrauterine inseminations. And the worst part is that, most of the time, the exact reason why is unknown. It could be the egg, or an insufficient uterine lining, or something else entirely. The egg could have been fertilized but failed to implant, or the egg and sperm could have failed to fertilize at all. Even when you know the exact day of ovulation, the size of the follicle down to the millimeter, or the precise thickness of the uterine lining, the reason it still doesn’t work isn’t always clear. It can take time and a lot of effort to create the perfectly balanced cocktail of medications, timing, and internal environment to make things work, and there are more factors than I ever realized.
The Roller Coaster Your Month Will Become
It’s not just the infamous TWW that’s difficult, which is the two-week waiting period after insemination is performed when you’re waiting to get, or miss, your period. There are doctor’s visits to check your follicles to make sure they’re maturing at the right rate, evaluate uterine lining levels, and did I mention every single one of those visits involves a vaginal ultrasound? None of this is happening in those cute abdominal ultrasounds like in the movies where they squeal and giggle because the gel is too cold. It’s way too early on for abdominal ultrasounds, which means every single appointment, there’s a probe inserted vaginally. The doctors are good at it, but even so, it’s like having a Pap smear three times a week. Most people don’t even mention that part in the struggle to get pregnant, which is a testament to the fucking strength of people with uteruses. It’s such a hard process already that being subjected to invasive vaginal examinations day in and day out just becomes part of the gig. But I’ll tell you about it, because I’m not tough, and I love to complain. And it’s not just uncomfortable and inconvenient: it’s an upheaval of your whole day-to-day life. I kind of just thought we’d live normally, come in on the day of insemination, and then get pregnant and move on. And for some people I’m sure that’s true, but not for us. There are consults and tests, and meds that work and meds that don’t, and then appointments and procedures, and more tests. Each little piece of news, good or bad, can derail your day, or week, or month.
Expect The Unexpected
If someone had told me that after a year of attempts, we’d be moving on to other even more expensive, invasive methods because no one was pregnant yet, I would have cackled. Two healthy women, both under the age of 30 when we started, using high-quality donor sperm. It seemed like we’d get pregnant in the first few rounds. Then, we didn’t, and half a year had somehow passed by. We had another unwelcome surprise when blood tests and ultrasounds diagnosed me with PCOS, which stands for polycystic ovary syndrome, and can manifest in different ways but for me tends to result in my body ovulating on a very irregular schedule, or not at all, which means I need more help getting pregnant and probably would even if I were in a straight relationship. We always knew we’d need sperm, but to need this much medical help in trying to conceive is unexpected. And those are big picture surprises. Smaller picture, there have also been roadblocks. One medication resulted in me developing between four and six mature follicles, which is so many my cycle was nearly canceled. Another medication resulted in me having an ideal uterine lining measurement for pregnancy, but no follicles ready to release a mature egg, so back to square one we went, reversing all the gains made in my uterus in the process. Every person with a uterus is different, and while I may be especially tricky, I have been consistently and genuinely surprised by how difficult it’s been to wrangle my cycle and my body. Coming into this with an admittedly casual mindset, adjusting to the big picture reality as well as riding the smaller waves, has been intense.
The Most Difficult Part Isn’t The Money, Although That Part Does Suck
You know the quote, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? That sums up going through infertility treatments. It’s the biggest leap of faith out there. You are trying to make something out of basically nothing, or at the very least, out of microscopic body parts you can’t even see, and then hoping it sticks. You are trying to create actual life over and over again. And when it doesn’t work, that loss is felt like just that: a loss. You technically can’t lose something you never had, but that carved-out feeling of pain is still there as the future you’re trying so hard to move toward just takes another step away from you. The more times you try, the harder it is, because you start having to deal with problems you could easily avoid if you were already pregnant. Just shipping donor sperm to our clinic alone costs hundreds of dollars. Ordering new medications for another attempt. Trying to calculate how much sperm is left, how many more vials we’ll need, trying not to panic at how many we’ve gone through already just in the process of trying, with nothing to show for it until someone is pregnant. There’s no moving on to the next step of our lives until we can surmount this one. If we were already pregnant, we could start thinking about buying baby stuff and telling our families and moving on to the fun parts. Instead, every negative test is like a step backward. It means another try, another month—at least—of money and time and procedures. Yet, we do it. We try again and again. And I’m proud every time. It’s brave to try again where you’ve just failed. If I’d known how long this would take and how complicated it’s been, I might have been afraid to try at all. A lot of the adjustment has just been accepting that I don’t know when it’s going to happen or when it’s going to work. There is some comfort in knowing we’re doing the best we can.
My wife said the other day that you cling on to the good stories, the ones you hear about where couples get pregnant the first try or early on, and you push the bad ones away and just hope your story will be one of the easy ones. I’ve lost faith many times this year and there have been times it felt like I was free-falling into an abyss. What I’ve tried to remember is that we are not on the edge of a cliff. We’re on a bridge. We’re taking steps to get to the other side. That’s sometimes all you can do.
Image: Sergey Filimonov /Stocksy.com
When I was pregnant with my first baby, a friend cautioned me, “listen, right after birth you’re going to look like a deflated balloon and you’ll think you’re doomed to look that way forever, but trust me: it isn’t permanent”. She was right (on both fronts: yes, I looked like a deflated balloon, and yes, it went away). As my due date with my second approached, I readied myself for the changes ahead, assuming they would also be short-lived. Maybe subsequent pregnancies have a cumulative effect on the body, or it is the fact that this was a “geriatric” pregnancy, but it seems this time around, things weren’t bouncing back so quickly.
And it really bummed me out.
At a time when body positivity messaging is omnipresent and self-acceptance inspiration is finally mainstream, I’m struggling to admit that I miss my pre-baby body.
Years ago, magazines and tabloid sites were full of horrible sanctimonious criticism of celebrities and who got their post-baby body back the quickest. It felt awful to watch the physical toll of motherhood be reduced to such pettiness. And sure, that commentary still exists, but there’s also a brilliant and powerful body-positive counterculture, stunning women who wear their stretch marks like beautiful badges of honor. If these responses to post-pregnancy body imagery are on opposite ends of a spectrum, I struggled with where to put myself. It prompted me to ask some uncomfortable questions: Was I a lesser feminist for missing how my clothes fit before I had children? Was I shallow for wanting to devote some of my very limited time trying to claw back a bit of my old self? How much of my motivations are rooted in health versus vanity? And, at my deepest, most insecure self, I wondered whether “good” mothers still care about their appearance or is that also sacrificed at the altar of motherhood?
Beauty, as they say, is skin deep. The changes that I readied myself for were swift. Soon after delivery, I went from pregnancy glow to oh no. In a matter of days, my forehead looked like a blotchy spray tan gone bad. After scrubbing it raw with a washcloth and then eventually turning to concealer, I sought out the help of a dermatologist who said the culprit is likely pregnancy mask, ie., melasma. For some, melasma can be caused by a myriad of factors and is chronic. For others, it will disappear on its own months after pregnancy, along with the line running down one’s stomach in pregnancy, linea nigra, another hallmark of pregnancy hyperpigmentation. Time is the deciding factor in whether or not it is chronic. Short of getting in a time machine and seeing what the future holds for my skin, I just try to ignore it. You read that right: I literally try to ignore the upper third of my face when looking in the mirror. Instead, I gaze upon the plump, perfect little faces of my children, so full of promise and collagen.
I thoroughly enjoyed two pregnancy’s worth of bombshell hair but know that it is a good time, not a long time. After giving birth, 40 weeks of good hair days went down the drain (literally), like a ginkgo tree dropping its leaves.
Hairstylist and salon owner Jason Lee explains that hair has a natural life cycle which includes both a growth stage (anogen phase) and a shedding phase (exogen phase). “Pregnant women experience a continual anogen phase where they describe their hair feeling thicker and fuller and growing longer than usual”, Lee says. While nothing can speed up how quickly hair grows, I can’t pull off the cool mom top knot, so I invested in a very, very good haircut that doesn’t make me feel like I’ve given up. It feels, I don’t know, almost French? With the hair situation under control, imagine my delight when my eyelashes and eyebrows started falling out, too. I don’t wear a lot of makeup and feel oddly naked without lashes and brows.
The cause of this is the exogen/anogen cycle back on its bullshit. Ashley Woodroffe founded Extra Goodie lash serum after her own experience of motherhood set her on a path for clean ingredients. “Eyebrows and lashes go through the same type of growth cycles and can also be impacted by the new balance of hormones that comes with having a baby,” she explains. Aging compounds this, as growth phases naturally decrease and the diameter of hair shafts shrinks. With a lens on clean, non-synthetic ingredients, Woodroffe created a serum to give hair follicles the nutrients they need to yield thicker, longer lashes. Would age eventually rob us all of our lashes and brows, with motherhood simply fast-tracking the process? Maybe, but this feels like a very low-stakes, potentially high-return situation. Gimme the serums, please and thank you.
In addition to once having fairly good if not low-maintenance skin and hair, I used to enjoy the metabolism of a hummingbird. Two children later, my once-athletic build now looks like Mr. Burns: rounded back and shoulders, in a permanent hunch. I saw a chiropractor and acupuncturist with a focus on perinatal care, Dr Aliya Visram, who assured me this is common, albeit uncomfortable. “Pregnancy strains joints and shifts one’s center of gravity, causing rounded shoulders, a tucked-in pelvis (or flat bum) and a hunched neck”, she explains. Then of course, after the baby arrives, the hunching continues as we feed, hold, change and wear them.
My posture is a hill that I’m willing to die on. I feel like my joints are made of concrete when I’m sedentary and exercise is the cornerstone of my postpartum mental health. I’ve resolved to move my body, in any way that I can, every day. It won’t exactly wind back the clock, but it goes a long way for boosting my mood. Plus, I want to role model an active lifestyle to my kids.
Ah, right. My kids. The family that I wanted so badly that I feel guilty for wanting to replace one lost hair on my head because I love them so fiercely. There is no hiding that motherhood has impacted every part of my life, including what I see in the mirror. Mirrors, however, don’t always tell the truth. I met Karmen LaMer, founder of The Tight Clinic. We both had cancer as young women and talked about the dichotomy of never being more grateful for your body and health, whilst also being accurately aware of bodies inevitably change (and not always in ways that we like). She points to Forma as a very effective treatment to rebuild collagen, which she credits with replenishing her own skin after cancer treatment. “I exhausted EVERY technology, the risk of complications from some are scary as fuck. For Forma, there’s no pain, no downtime and no risk – effective as rebuilding collagen anywhere in the body, particularly for firming the face and tightening tummy tissue after pregnancy,” says LeMer. FORMA EVERY INCH OF ME, I was thinking as she spoke. She delivers her dose of optimism with a chaser of realism. Sure, some treatments can help with some things here or there, but she’s often left asking women what’s really behind their motivations for certain treatments or procedures. She sadly sees many women who have developed dysphoric relationships with their appearance. She would rather turn away potential customers than perpetuate unhealthy self-imagery. “This industry is happy to take women’s money and promise them results they can’t deliver. I have integrity and am honest about what a treatment can and can’t do”, explains LaMer.
When it comes down to it, am I losing sleep over a thinner ponytail or curvier body? Heck no. I don’t have any of that to spare (no, literally, I need every minute of sleep I can get). I’ve decided to enter the next phase grateful for the miraculous work that my body’s done, and with a heaping dose of reality about what changes will unearth pieces of the old me. If I thought it was so horrible to see celebrities’ bodies picked apart for how they look on the beach after having a baby, why would I ever do that to myself? Now more than ever, I see that getting to know my postpartum body is a perfect metaphor for motherhood: being uncomfortable and never more confident at the same time.
Image: Brat Co / Stockys.com
So you’re having a baby! Congrats! Have you considered what this change will do not just for your body and lifestyle, but for your brand? In the ever-changing media landscape, it’s not enough for brands to be brands. Brands are brands, but people are also brands, which can only mean that the people who come out of those people are also their own, smaller brands—so small, in fact, they don’t even know they’re brands yet. Kind of like, micro-micro brands. And when you own and are a brand, you must be constantly ensuring that your branding is consistent, which is why you need to maximize your micro-micro-brand’s integration into your umbrella brand from day one. Actually, before day one, depending on who you’re asking. Consider this your comprehensive guide.
The Pregnancy Announcement
First of all, if you think the branding begins with the sonogram post, then it brings me no pleasure (okay, it brings me some pleasure) to inform you that you are already weeks behind. Do you think wedding planning begins after you get the ring? Silly, no, you have to have been keeping multiple binders, bookmarks, and Pinterest boards months, if not years, before the question was popped. Otherwise, you’ll simply never catch up on the latest trends (and you could get caught wearing a flower crown, can you imagine?). When it comes to introducing your new
heir little one to the world, it’s all about the lead-up. Half the publicity fun is having people guess that you’re pregnant before you actually reveal that you are. Start wearing more flowy tops. (If you used to be a crop top addict before this, great—stop that altogether, suddenly, without addressing it.) Crop your photos from the chest down, no matter how awkward it looks. Post photos where you’re (gasp) eating. When you go out to group boozy brunch, don’t order an orange juice to blend in—make it a club soda, and make no effort to obscure it on your Instagram stories. The more comments in r/blogsnark you can rack up speculating on whether you’re pregnant or just gained quarantine weight, the better! That way, when you finally do post a carousel of your (so-tiny-it’s-barely-noticeable) bump and sonogram, you’ll get maximum engagement congratulations.
The Gender Reveal
This is a tough one, because of course you don’t want to kill anyone… but at the same time, you’d get a lot of free press for that. Maybe just injure someone–only superficially, you’re not a monster. Nothing above the shoulders. After all, what better way to say congrats on your baby boy/girl than a quick trip to the hospital? It should go without saying that you will not be returning the gift of the injured party. Why should your innocent
moneymaker baby suffer for your mistake?
The Instagram Reveal
Oh right, I mean the name reveal. You must consider your brand identity when choosing the name that’s going to represent your company for the next 18+ years. And while some might think incorporating your business’s name into your child’s is weird, narcissistic, and a nightmare only capitalism could spawn, those people are missing out on crucial synergy. Whether you decide to post about your baby’s dedicated Instagram account before or after birth is a personal decision between you, your engagement metrics, and your lawyer, should you need to send any cease-and-desists to the person or people who own your desired username. Who cares that she was born in 1972, that handle is in perfect symmetry with my branding. That lady only has 134 followers and is private! Plus, we already trademarked the name for the baby clothes line!!
The Birth Post
As much as it may almost literally kill you, this is the time to forego the glam (obviously discounting the requisite eyelash extensions and touch-up of subtle foundation and highlighter) and show your followers the real, raw, unfiltered* you. The caption should be equally vulnerable, detailing the difficulties you experienced during pregnancy and labor. The photo, meanwhile, should look messy but still pretty. The goal is to leave your followers wondering how did she do it? No, literally, I need an itemized list of all her products and steps. Which, for a small affiliate commission, you’ll be happy to provide!
*as far as we’re concerned, playing with the brightness, contrast, shadows, highlights, and tint does not constitute filters.
Baby’s First Instagram
If you can’t get it sponsored, don’t even bother. Until you can secure an environmentally friendly baby wipe company; dairy-, cruelty-, and pain-free free formula company; sustainable, reversible carrier company; or recycled, reusable waste-free diaper company to partner on your baby’s debut, fill the void by posting pictures of your post-pregnancy body, which is somehow even more lithe than your pre-pregnancy body. Make sure your captions discuss the societal pressures to return to said pre-pregnancy body and include your coupon code for laxative tea.
We know this sounds like a lot of pressure. But when it gets too tough, remember what’s important. It’s not likes or engagement. It’s not even follower counts. It’s the fact that you have a happy, healthy, cute brand manager who can one day take over your empire.
Images: Treasure & Travels / Stocksy.com
What is the fourth trimester anyway? No, it’s not an extra three months of pregnancy (praise be). The fourth trimester is defined as the 12-week period after the birth of your baby, and is definitely more taxing on your body and mind than pregnancy itself. It’s a time when you are adjusting to being a first-time (or second-, or third-time) mom and your baby is adjusting to the fact that they are an actual person. There isn’t much talk about how difficult this trimester is on new moms, probably because the new baby is way more interesting to people than the woman sitting on ice packs and walking sideways.
There Will Be Oh So Many Tears
Tears from the baby, tears from mom, probably even tears from dad. Remember those hormones that made you cry at every dog commercial during pregnancy? Those are now being flushed out of your body at an alarming rate, making you somehow even more emotional than you were during pregnancy. Even if you aren’t really a touchy-feely person, prepare yourself for some big emotions as your body tries to regulate itself. 70-80% of moms experience these postpartum blues, including you non-sensitive types. Not to mention, sleep deprivation will make anyone want to cry.
There’s A Weird Combination Of No Sleep And Lots Of Sleep
When I say lots of sleep, I mean your newborn. Newborns average around 16 to 17 hours of sleep a day. So why do you hear that new parents are sleep deprived when the baby is only awake for 8 hours max a day? Probably because your baby uses torture tactics like waking up every hour to eat, and you’ll be too paranoid to sleep anyway. Most have day/night confusion as well, which basically means they’re ready to party at midnight. Fortunately, with lots of light during the minimal amount of time they’re awake during the day, this issue should resolve itself over time. While your baby is snoozing away endlessly during the day, watch all the Netflix (unless you’re napping) and don’t feel guilty about it. Your baby has no clue and the mental escape is needed.
There Is No Sense Of Routine And No Rules
There are zero rules or routine in the 4th trimester, which may make your head spin if you’re a control freak. It’s sort of like the airport, where you can get a sh*tty glass of red wine at 9am for $25 and not be judged. Similarly, in the 4th trimester (partially due to the ’round-the-clock sleeping/not sleeping), do whatever you want and don’t you dare clean. Snacks that require cutting? Forget about it. Even reheating all those homemade freezer meals you ambitiously made while 39 weeks pregnant may feel like a stretch. Let yourself be lazy AF.
Recovery Takes A Long Time
Your day or two hospital stay is not a good indicator of how long you’ll actually be recovering from the birth for. You’ll probably be hobbling out the hospital doors at one mile per hour with an adult diaper on (friendly reminder to wear the baggiest sweatpants you own). You’ll likely be bleeding for a month or two, and taking some form of painkillers around the clock for weeks. For some reason, another thing that people don’t talk about enough is the fact that you’ll experience contractions after giving birth. Yep, you heard that right. Your uterus is trying to shrink itself from two pounds to two ounces, and does so by pretending like you’re in labor again for a couple of days after birth. Usually they’re not nearly as bad as regular contractions, but they may take you by surprise.
The bottom line is that it’s important to take care of yourself during the 4th trimester as well. It’s not selfish, it’s necessary.
Breastfeeding May Be Natural, But It Definitely Isn’t Always Easy
Did you ever go to a breastfeeding class offered by your hospital while pregnant? If so, you may have seen a video of a day-old newborn baby naturally finding its mom’s breast and learning how to feed on its own. The reality will look more like two nurses and your partner squishing your boob just right while simultaneously opening your baby’s mouth and slamming it into you. Yet even with all that effort, your nipples still bleed.
A mom’s milk supply takes a couple days to come in as well, so new moms get to worry if their baby is starving every time they cry until the next check-up. When it does come in, you may produce so much that you give yourself mastitis, or you may not produce enough. Sometimes it gets better (usually by the end of the 4th trimester), and sometimes it doesn’t (formula is totally cool too). If you are agonizing over the decision, remember that you have no clue which of your coworkers were formula fed vs. breastfed and it would be really weird if you did.
Feeling Isolated and Totally Overwhelmed is Normal
Some moms hate the newborn stage, or at best are totally overwhelmed for weeks and feel guilty AF for it. So if you know someone in the 4th trimester, can we make a pact to ask about how mom is doing first? And maybe bring a meal or clean the house while you’re at it? That would be great.
If you are in the thick of it, remember it’s a stage that will pass. You will eventually form a bond that is absolutely unlike anything you’ve experienced, like a weird “I’d kill for you” type of bond. On the other hand, if you love the newborn stage, don’t feel any shame in taking in those newborn snuggles and not sharing your babe with anyone else.
Don’t feel any obligation to anyone or anything besides you and your baby during this time. Fortunately, your body and mind have a funny way of blocking it all out so you probably won’t remember much of the hazing anyway. It does get better, and seemingly out of nowhere they’ll turn into this funny, smart toddler that you couldn’t picture life without.
When life gives you a pandemic… some of us get pregnant, apparently. I realize this outcome was also a recurring joke on social media: the fact that if we were collectively sheltering in place with our partners, one of two things could happen: we’d either destroy each other or make a baby. I guess my husband and I were the latter (although we sometimes dabbled in the former on our off days). Real talk, though: while the timing was funny, my pregnancy didn’t come as a surprise to either one of us—my husband and I had planned to start trying for a baby this year, pandemic be damned. However, the element that caught me off-guard was my initial reaction when I saw that positive pregnancy test result: disappointment. It was pretty much a WTF moment.
Let me rewind and set the scene for you. My husband and I began to “seriously” start trying in mid-September. My family physician, Dr. Tina Chanchlani, informed me that, statistically, about 50% of women get pregnant within 6 months, and 85%-90% would conceive within about 12 months of trying. Sounds reasonable, but based on my volatile health record (mental health issues which include trauma, anxiety, depression, an eating disorder which resulted in my losing my period for about a decade), I fully expected to have trouble getting pregnant. And I was completely okay with that—in fact, I had mentally prepared for the likelihood of my needing to seek out a fertility specialist.
So, plot twist—within a month of trying, my husband asked if I had my period in October, and I informed him that I had missed it. He hastily went out and purchased First Response. I thought he was being an eager beaver, but I indulged in his curiosity even though I was thinking, “there’s no way I could be pregnant so quick”. Then, boom: I took the test, and a “YES” and “+” sign were staring back at me. I was pregnant.
What hit me next was unexpected: a tidal wave of anxiety cascaded over me, leading to a full-fledged attack with blood rushing to my head and my brain going numb and body feeling like a floundering jellyfish.
“Sh*t,” I thought to myself. I then found myself swimming in a sea of guilt and disappointment. I felt like an asshole for not having a more positive reaction.
“What’s wrong with me?” I thought. I should feel euphoric, grateful, and overjoyed—not freaking out and having panic attacks. Right?!
Don’t Buy Into The “Right” Or “Wrong” Reaction. It Doesn’t Exist.
Society and pop culture have royally f*cked us over. Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, a part of us has subconsciously absorbed the so-called norms and reductive scripts regarding a woman’s relationship with pregnancy and being pregnant.
“There is an expectation that has been perpetuated in our society that women should be blissfully excited upon discovering a new pregnancy. However, many women do not have that reaction, which is completely normal. This idea of blissful excitement and anticipation is unrealistic,” explains Dr. Megan Gray, an OB-GYN with Orlando Health Physician Associates. Because there is this undeniable societal pressure to exhibit the “correct” feelings, there’s not much flexibility and understanding of alternative reactions: “there is not a lot of room on the emotional spectrum—the ‘right’ emotion is ‘HAPPY’. That’s it.” adds Behaviorist, Author and Confidence Coach Shane Kulman, Founder of The Awkward Academy. In reality, there are many emotions one can feel upon receiving that life-changing news, and it’s time we acknowledge them.
Expectation Vs. Reality
Part of my disappointment stemmed from the realization that I had fallen prey to one-sided depictions of how a woman “should” react when getting positive pregnancy news. The thing is, it’s unavoidable—we’re all human and susceptible to this kind of societal brainwashing, whether we intend to or not. And that’s okay, so long as we remind ourselves that these narratives are rarely ever accurate displays of real life.
Dr. Barbara Frank, OB/GYN and medical advisor to sustainable wellness brand Attn: Grace, explains, “there are so many factors that play into the way a woman feels during pregnancy. If you find yourself comparing your bump online with other moms or scrolling through ads of smiling new moms who look like they all have it locked down and under control, remember that you are only seeing one side of the picture.”
Dr. Frank does note, though, that there is a small and growing community whose authenticity should be spotlighted: “I applaud those moms that share the real pictures, the real, raw emotions, the ugly-crying (in love and sadness), the trouble getting out of bed in the morning, the fear of harming your newborn walking down the stairs…” Ultimately she advises mothers-to-be to “be honest with yourself and try to manage your expectations.”
Recognize & Accept Your Feelings With Thoughtfulness
My anxiety attack was followed up with harsh self-talk that I had pretty much failed right out of the gate. I was consumed with self-sabotaging thoughts like, “wow, does this mean I secretly don’t want to be a mom? Am I going to be a bad parent because I wasn’t initially overjoyed?” This subsequently led to an anxiety spiral of overanalyzing and replaying every little second of the hows and whys to understand what was going on in my brain. Take it from me: this is hellishly exhausting, both mentally and physically. If you ever find yourself in a similarly destructive thought pattern, Dr. Gray advises the following: “The first step is recognizing the feeling and giving yourself the grace to feel the emotion. Then trying to nail down the source of the anxiety. Why are you anxious? Write it down.”
It’s also important to realize that you don’t have to be alone on this journey. Dr. Gray says, “don’t be afraid to seek out a professional who wants to help you. Talking to your physician about any medical concerns you may have associated with pregnancy may allay some of the fears. I would encourage women to talk with an obstetrician or certified nurse midwife about the ins and outs of pregnancy and avoid relying on the internet for information.” Lastly, and an important FYI, Dr. Frank explains that if you find that your mental health issues are affecting your quality of daily living, it may be advisable to seek out a mental health professional.”
A Baby Is A Big F*cking Deal
Creating life is pretty incredible and a big f*cking deal. You definitely know that there are going to be a LOT of life changes, and that knowledge can feel distressing and overwhelming. These are legitimate sentiments to have! Dr. Gray assures us, “It is completely normal to feel anxious about a new pregnancy for so many different reasons. These feelings may be completely different and valid for each individual woman.” In addition to worrying about changes in career, friendships, etc., it’s also normal to be thinking about your well-being: “other women worry about the risks involved in pregnancy for themselves and for the fetus.” Regardless of the trigger, Dr. Gray cites that all of these worries are valid and normal.
Self-Care & No Negative Vibes Allowed
Kulman says that in this scenario, it’s okay to think of yourself and prioritize your needs first: “the best practice is to become as selfish as ever, take on no obligations, to bow out or say ‘no’ gracefully, and have no qualms about using the sentence, ‘I’m sorry I have to say no, it’s best I rest’, with no other explanations necessary.” Kulman follows this up with a self-care plan of action: “self-appointed rest, and moving through life with slow and gentle care is best.”
She also advises, “put the nap times on the calendar, and be purposeful in actions when in productivity mode” and to tag-team it up with your significant other. “Ask for help, help in practical ways, and emotional ways. Have a set time or meeting with your partner about expectations, get excited together and talk about fears and worries—always begin and end the communication time with positivity.” And don’t forget to document your pregnancy adventures. Kulman encourages women to keep a daily journal: “it can be something as simple as bullet points, but regardless of how you choose to express yourself (e.g. draw/write) it’s healthy for many reasons to document this process, or it will be a blur.”
In building upon your self-care regime, it’s also great to have a game plan in mind when you are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant. Surrounding yourself with nurturing support systems and people is an essential best practice to help you deal with feelings of worry and anxiety. Dr. Gray suggests that soon-to-be moms set up a checklist.
“For mild symptoms (e.g. not affecting daily living, not causing distress), here are some options to help cope with new pregnancy anxiety/issues:
- Find support: primarily trusted friends, family members, partners.
- Get outside and move! Both exercise and being outdoors has shown to improve mood.
- Practice gratitude: keep a journal of what you are thankful for. This practice has also been shown to improve mood.
- Talk to your doctor: find an obstetrician or certified nurse midwife that you feel comfortable with. Ask LOTS of questions. Keep the answers in a notebook or on your phone. Refer back to the answers when you need reassurance.
- Take one day at a time. Don’t look too far into the future.
- Talk with a mental health therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist.”
When I found out I was pregnant, I feared that I was being an ungrateful “debbie-downer” and “ruining the moment” when I informed my husband that I was freaking out and having an anxiety attack. Additionally, everyone else that I spoke to told me that they were nothing but elated (especially those who had struggled for a while to get pregnant in the first place). So I’m not gonna lie: I was worried about what others would think or say about my reaction. What genuinely helped was that I didn’t keep these thoughts trapped inside and shared them with someone I trusted and loved (my hubby), and the fact that my husband didn’t judge me for how I felt. Instead, he told me that he was kind of freaking out too. But he had this reassuring glow to him, explaining that, “yeah holy sh*t—our lives are going to be different, but we have each other to explore this journey together. So while it’s scary and unpredictable, it’s also kind of exciting.”
Dr. Frank offers, “Like most things in life, and even more so in this case, it’s not all going to be or feel like you might want it to or even expect it to. That baby in your belly didn’t read some master manual, and you and he/she/they are going to have to get through things together, learning as you go.” So she says to not be too hard on yourself.
With so many changes afoot, it’s important to keep afloat of mental and emotional hijacking. Nothing is static and each person’s pregnancy is an unpredictable, yet exhilarating fluid ride. Dr. Gray says, “finding out you are pregnant can induce a multitude of emotions, and it is not always like what you see in the movies or on Instagram or TikTok. However, just because your first emotion is not complete elation does not mean that over time you will not develop some sense of excitement throughout your pregnancy.” Ultimately, it’s about shifting perspective and being honest with yourself without reservations when it comes to your own experiences in being pregnant.
Images: George Rudy / Shutterstock.com
Listen, I don’t care what any of the upbeat bloggers say, having kids during a pandemic is f*cking hard. Frankly, I’m in survival mode. I went from baking cookies and doing “fun” science experiments in March and part of April to hating my kitchen and anything involving crafts or corn starch. My snack drawer is the bane of my existence; it’s usually empty or doesn’t contain what one child wants at a particular time or whim. I mean, I thought I was part of the TV generation, having grown up in the 80s, but now? Sh*t. These kids will be the TV watching, YouTube subscribing, mug cake-microwaving, TikTok-making idiots of our future. Whoops! Let’s just get through it. Right?
But how? How are we supposed to get through it when we can’t get away from it? Between work, homeschooling, the endless task of making f*cking dinner, finding some alone time is as easy as finding a unicorn swimming in a pot of gold over the rainbow. Amiright??? So, how do I do it? I prioritize. MYSELF. MOI! ME! Yup! It feels selfish, but if I neglect my needs, I tend to get really whiny and pissed. Remember how they used to say, “Put your oxygen mask on first before helping others” as the plane was pushing back (God, I miss flying!)? You, mama, are no good to anybody else if you’re no good to yourself. So, embrace putting your damn oxygen mask on first. I’m not saying every day needs to be a spa day, but at the very least, drink some cucumber water and take some calming breaths. Here’s what you need to be doing to make sure you don’t burn out.
1. Make Time For The Things That Are Important To You
Like I said, prioritize yourself. I know you’re probably reading this right now thinking, that’s f*cking great, Deb, but there’s not enough time in the day, let alone time dedicated just for me. I know! I feel that way every day! But, I always make time for myself. Between writing, podcasting, Zoom calls, homeschooling, snack-making, lunch-making, dinner-making, I somehow find a way. I make sure to get a workout in or read an article I’ve been looking forward to, or do anything else that has the potential to put a smile on my face for at least 10 to 15 minutes. And sometimes that means getting up at the crack of dawn, but it’s worth it. And, once you get used to it, it’s not that bad.
2. Have Sex
Remember that you actually love your significant other. Remember that you chose to spend the rest of your life with this person. Remember that you have a partner and that even though your kids need you (all the f*cking time), getting some QT with your partner is just as important as taking time for yourself. Yes, I know that we’re 100% in competition over who is doing more work (and of course we are), but sex feels good, for both of you! And, it’s a great reminder that no matter how hard things are right now, you’re not alone. No S.O.? No problem! Quality time with your hand or personal massager—seriously. You’ll release those same endorphins and help you let go of the stress.
3. Work Out
Not for a damn six-pack or a beach bod, but because it’s another one of those things that just feels good. It’s kind of like sex… You know how sometimes you don’t feel like doing it, but then about a minute into it, you’re reminded how much you love it and how great it feels? It’s the same thing with working out. I mean it! No time? That’s bullsh*t. See number 1. We make time for the things that are important to us. And especially now, during the pandemic, there are a ridiculous number of workout apps that range in level and time. Make it a habit, a non-negotiable part of your day (like all of those annoying Zoom calls).
4. Two Words: Play Date
Schedule weekly play dates—for you, not for your kids! Obviously, I’m talking about Zoom play dates considering we’re in the midst of a pandemic, but a Zoom cocktail is a pretty incredible mood-booster. I know that we’re all pretty Zoomed out, but it’s different when you have a cocktail in your hand, some chips (or cheese or cookies or cake) nearby, and the kids are asleep. Catching up with a friend (even over a screen) can be powerful, and allow for those happy hormones (dopamine) to release.
5. Set F*cking Boundaries
We are so used to being “on” and available that we don’t have any idea how the hell to turn “off”. It’s especially bad now that we aren’t leaving our houses as frequently. We used to be out and about, busy doing errands, etc., which would oftentimes excuse us from instantly answering a text or email. But now that we’re home 24/7, we feel as though we don’t have a reason to be “off” because people know we have nowhere to be. Well, you do have a reason. It’s called self-care. And, it’s okay to be home and unavailable. It’s okay to not be accessible all the time. So, walk away from your phone. Walk away from the urge to respond immediately. Just walk away, and come back when you’ve had a change to regroup. Permission granted.
More than anything else, you are not alone. There are millions of moms (and dads, but we’re not talking about them now) struggling through how to raise our kids in a pandemic. It’s not easy. And it feels almost unbelievable that this is our reality. But it is. And, one way or another, we have to make the best of it. So, start with YOU! Because YOU are important. You are worth it. And, your kids need you to be their pillar of strength. So, get after it!
Images: 4dgraphic / Unsplash
When my friends started to get pregnant, even before being a mom myself, they’d ask me endless questions of what to buy or do. I noticed how scared they all were because they had no idea what to do with a human baby. I thought that with all my experience working in early childhood, I had something to offer: I wanted to empower moms to become their own experts. Having a background in psychology and education, I thought I could refine motherhood in a way that allowed moms to breathe and be confident that less is truly more. I could encourage children’s natural abilities through meaningful play right from the start in a way that wasn’t overwhelming.
That was all well and good, but even with my background, the truth was, I had no idea just how hard motherhood would be—that playing with your infant would be the last thing on your mind amidst healing, recovering, hormonal moods, breastfeeding, and well, just surviving. Two months into launching my blog, I gave birth and figured out that even with my experience, this motherhood thing—well, it’s hard AF and lonely. Moms need each other. So at eight weeks postpartum, I wrangled some new moms together, we dragged ourselves to meet, and I pretended I knew what I was doing by leading a moms group. Really, I just wanted to hang out with moms so I could feel more sane! Moms came to me for guidance on what to do with babies and I kept going, thriving off this community of moms supporting moms. Eventually, it turned into a physical space called Union Square Play. USP is not only a place for moms; it’s a space where young children come to feel a sense of “home away from home.”
Something that is very apparent both at USP (where we have now moved our entire brand online through moms groups, an app, and play materials) and on my blog is the importance of play in a child’s life. Children are born with a deep desire to explore and learn, and they do so by playing. When choosing the right toys, it comes down to providing opportunities for children to be engaged rather than entertained. I always say that busy toys = passive babies. Do we want them to sit and watch when they play or immerse themselves in learning and fun? I also think it’s important that the things children play with have no right or wrong use for them. That way, when toys can be anything, children can feel confident using them in ways that they come up with.
Here are my favorite play recommendations by age:
Babies On Their Back
By far the best first toy is a cloth bandana. Seems pretty lame, I know, but trust me on this one. The reason it’s so great for the youngest babies is that a baby who hasn’t discovered their hands yet can accidentally brush against this, maybe grab it, even before intentionally grasping it.
You can put it in a “peak” so that a baby on her back can see it by just turning her head. Through these types of head movements, gross motor development is encouraged because you’ll see your baby begin to notice what’s next to them and then begin to reach across their bodies and stretch. A bandana or cloth can also be strung through some play objects to prevent frustrating toys from rolling away from an immobile baby and also to allow them to bring a toy to them more easily by grabbing the bandana.
For Babies On The Move
RAID THE KITCHEN. (No, I don’t mean to satisfy our endless snacking cravings while working from home.) Your kitchen is FULL of ways to engage your kids. Trust me. One of the ones I found to be the most intriguing was this random cheese board. The reason I got this was because I actually needed a place for cheese with all the wine I was drinking in quarantine. Then one day I put it on the ground to set up some toys on it and noticed that it was light enough for Nell to move around and that she loved peeking under it too. She now even pushes it around as a walker! What’s so cool is that nothing else in their toy box looks like this or serves the same purpose.
Another great thing for babies who are sitting up is to make a Shaker Station to get the party started through noise-making. I used empty Altoids boxes and put in metal beaded chains for my daughters to shake. You can also use old spice jars or find metal utensils from your kitchen to get the beat going. I specifically love metal cupcake trays and metal condiment cups for music making too: Your baby will love knocking over the metal cups, watching them roll, and clanging them into an orchestra of sounds. A note: You may want to avoid any Zoom calls during this type of play because it can get noisy real quick.
Toddlers: Keys and Planters
Toddlers love seeing what “fits.” This experimenting is part of a schema for behavior called enveloping—you may see your toddler trying to fit themselves into every crevice possible. My daughter tried to fit into a shot glass, I kid you not. So by giving them an “invitation” to explore this behavioral urge, they’re not only exerting this urge, but they’re also learning about the properties of objects. (This is evident when you put out “suggested” activities like I did above by presenting the slitted planter and never-been-used keys—but a shoebox with cut slits and metal spoons from your kitchen can serve the same purpose).
3+: Post-Its and Washi Tape
Your kids will love getting into a sticky situation with these play materials. Post-its are awesome, not just because they can be used by moms to stick motivational mantras on their bathroom mirror, but also because toddlers can stick them anywhere and have a blast taking them off of surfaces too. You can use washi tape for the same purpose while also making paths on the floor to jump, tiptoe, hopscotch, ride toy cars on, or simply to box yourself into a corner of your home and declare it your “office space”. This tape (or painters tape, if you need a substitute) is the definition of multi-purposeful.
Beyond 3: Color Tablets
Use these tablets to amp up bath time by changing the bathwater different colors. My kids love dropping them into the bath and mixing the water with giant ladles. They make colored soup in the bath and love it. It’s non-toxic and does not dye the skin. You can also have your children play with color mixing by filling different glass cups or water bottles with water and having them drop tablets to see what color combinations make what colors.
I could literally write pages upon pages of different ideas by age, but my goal is to empower you to look around your home at what you already have and think creatively and resourcefully. I even model this for my 3-year-old. When I sense that she’s feeling bored (or just asking incessantly for snacks) I’ll say, “hmmmmm what do you think we can play with in this cabinet?” And we’ll pluck things from the kitchen and make up ways to use them. The other day, I kid you not, she made up her own version of beer pong with those metal condiment cups, and I could not have been more proud.
This is how we raise the future thinkers and innovators: we think and innovate.
Images: @sigmund / Unsplash; Jennie Monness (4); Michelle Rose Photo
If you’re pregnant, you’re likely familiar with the not-so-fun phenomenon that is unsolicited advice. Everyone wants to tell you what you need to pack in your hospital bag (I personally used nothing in my bag but my toothbrush), how to handle those first few sleepless weeks, and the items you absolutely need to buy before your baby is born.
As a minimalist who lives in a very small New York City apartment, I found that a lot of items people told me I absolutely needed were nice to have at best, and useless and space-sucking at worst. In order to save you space, money, and do the environment a little favor, here are the things you actually need to buy before your baby is born.
1. Newborn Onesies And Pajamas
While my daughter spent a lot of time in her diaper in those early days, newborn onesies and pajamas are essential for both walks and warmth at home. Look for pajamas with little mitten-like ends to the sleeves so they can cover the baby’s hands—most babies are born with very sharp nails, which they love to use to scratch themselves and you. Because their hands are so tiny at first, cutting their nails is scary, and this is a nice solution. Baby mittens do exist for this purpose, but I found my daughter just pulled them off. And when it comes to PJs, opt for zippers over snaps—they’re so much easier to deal with in the middle of the night. Here are some onesies to get you started.
Gerber Baby Organic Cotton Long Sleeve Onesies, $7.99
2. Diapers And Wipes
While you will get a few diapers at the hospital, newborns go through a lot of diapers. So whether you’re doing cloth or disposable diapers, make sure you have some waiting at home for you—a month’s supply is probably a good bet. And don’t forget wipes! My favorites are Water Wipes, which are made with 99.9% water and great for your baby’s sensitive skin.
WaterWipes Baby Wipes Original, $42.99
3. Adult Diapers And/Or Thick Pads
I wouldn’t suggest going totally crazy with this one, especially because if you end up having minimal tearing they may not be necessary. Just getting one pack of adult diapers and thick pads may be enough, and the hospital will send you home with some as well.
4. A Bassinet
While your baby will do a lot of their sleeping on you, they do need somewhere to safely sleep when it’s your turn to get some shut-eye. You don’t need to get a crib ahead of time, but a bassinet is crucial—we actually ended up having our daughter sleep in the bassinet that attached to her stroller in the first weeks, and it worked out just fine.
5. A Swaddle
While you can use receiving blankets for swaddles (see more on that below), I personally found the process of trying to learn how to swaddle while also recovering from childbirth and taking care of a newborn to be exhausting and impossible. These Sleepea 5-Second swaddles are incredibly easy to use, and keep your baby snug and cozy so they sleep better and longer.
Sleepea 5-Second Baby Swaddle, $27.95
6. Burp Cloths
Babies spit up a lot, and if you want to semi-spare your clothes, sheets, and furniture, it’s important to invest in a few burp cloths. These muslin cloths are my favorites!
Muslin Burp Cloths, $20.99
7. Receiving Blankets
As mentioned above, you can certainly use receiving blankets as swaddles, but I personally used them a lot to change my daughter’s diapers in those early days. I’m not knocking the changing table—I do have one—but I kept a receiving blanket in each room for when I had an emergency blowout situation on my hands, which was quite often. So while changing tables are nice to have, I’m not sure I’d call them a necessity when you have the inexpensive convenience of a receiving blanket to work with.
8. Baby Wash
Babies have super-soft, sensitive skin, which means that whatever body wash or soap you’re using for yourself won’t work for them. The Pipette Baby Shampoo + Wash worked great for my daughter’s skin. And while you can use a baby bathtub, I personally found the one I got to take up way too much space—it was much easier to bathe my daughter in the sink or hop in the tub with her.
Pipette Baby Shampoo + Wash, $12
9. A Carseat
If you want to leave the hospital, you’ll need a carseat. And hey, this is important to have anyway if you want to go anywhere that isn’t walking distance from your home—like the pediatrician, for example.
10. A White Noise Machine
I was skeptical of actually needing this until I realized what a difference it made in my daughter’s sleep. The womb is very loud, and it helps lull the baby to sleep. A white noise machine serves the same purpose. I’m a huge fan of this machine by Vanzon, but I’ve heard people like the Hatch Restore as well.
Vanzon by ONSON White Noise Machine, $35.99
11. A Breast Pump
Unless you’re very sure that you won’t breastfeed, it’s helpful to have a breast pump on hand. It’s hard to know exactly how latching will go in those initial days, and if you want to encourage your milk to come in and keep your supply up, it’s important to pump if your baby doesn’t quite get it at first. Or, if you’re like me and you’re struggling with breastfeeding and need a break, pumping can provide that. Most insurance companies will send you a free pump, so if you’re insured, this won’t cost you anything. Alternatively, if you don’t have plans to breastfeed, make sure to order about a month’s supply of formula.
Whether you’re formula feeding or breastfeeding, it’s nice to have the option of a bottle. I used these Philips Avent bottles quite a bit from day one to feed my daughter pumped milk so I could get a solid four-hour block of sleep while my husband stayed up with her—a true game-changer.
Philips Avent Natural Baby Bottles, $28.90
13. A Breastfeeding Pillow
The My Brest Friend breastfeeding pillow is possibly the reason I was able to stick with breastfeeding at all. It was the perfect shelf for my daughter when she was so small, and made it so that I didn’t have to hunch toward her at every feed. While this isn’t a necessity if you don’t plan to breastfeed, it can still be a nice spot to place your infant when they’re drinking a bottle or when you want to let them sleep on you.
My Brest Friend Original Nursing Pillow, $34.95
14. Nipple Butter
Nipple butter isn’t a necessity if you’re not breastfeeding, but your nipples get so, so sore at the beginning—and nipple butter helps a lot. Once the soreness eased up, I simply used my nipple butter as lip balm. This one from Earth Mama Organics is my favorite!
Earth Mama Organics, $12.99
15. Something To Carry Your Baby In
Whether it’s a stroller or you like the idea of “wearing” your baby, you’ll need something to safely transport them in so you’re not totally housebound. And trust me, sanity walks are very necessary for mental health at the beginning. I used the Ergo Baby, which is incredibly comfortable once you get the hang of it.
Ergobaby Carrier Omni 360, $179
Image: Lucy Wolski / Unsplash
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