Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The One Weird Thing I Always Bring to an Airbnb

Our Montmartre Airbnb from 2015 ($75/night!)

Most well-run Airbnbs provide the basics for guests—linens, toiletries, coffee/tea, etc. But there's one thing I always make sure to pack, even though it's often included:

A sponge!

Yes, there's probably already a sponge hanging out in your rental's kitchen, but you literally have no idea how old it is, and whether the previous guest used it to scrub the floor or sop up chicken juice. Not to mention kitchen sponges are known to be some of the dirtiest items in people's homes—even dirtier than toilets.

I buy the pop-up sponges from Trader Joe's, so it's easy to toss a few in my bag.

What about you—do you pack anything weird when renting an apartment?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Oliver's Birth Story

When I was pregnant with Oliver, I read so many women's birth stories, searching for clues as to what I could expect in the delivery room. Of course, every woman's story was different, and my own was nothing like I expected.

I didn't plan to share our story on the blog, but as the first six months have zoomed by, my memories are already getting foggy, so I decided to write them down. I doubt this will interest anyone but maybe a few expectant mothers, and to you I just have this to say: Your story won't be anything like mine, but it will be one of the greatest stories of your life—just like mine is.

Oliver's due date came and went at the end of August, and I slogged through each muggy day, feeling desperate for his arrival. My doctor scheduled me for an induction September 6, and up until then I did everything I could to nudge the baby out—long walks, eggplant, herbal teas—you name it. Of course, nothing worked. We woke up at 5 a.m. on Induction Day and drove to the hospital, where I was checked in and shown to my room in the delivery ward.

My nurse came in and introduced herself—she was a soft-spoken redhead named Melissa. She gave me a gown to change into, brought me some juice, and answered my nervous questions as I crawled into bed and she hooked me up to the Pitocin drip, which was supposed to kick-start my contractions. If all went well, she said, I'd be holding my son by dinner time. I prepared myself for the intense contractions Pitocin is said to cause. But nothing happened.

Hours passed. I heard women in labor screaming in other rooms as I traced a small path up and down the hallway, awkwardly dragging the heavy cart with my fluids behind me. My doctor stopped in several times to check on my progress—though my discomfort had increased, I had dilated very little. They kept upping the dosage of Pitocin, and I started to swell up like a balloon animal. Todd and I played cards to pass the time.

When my doctor came in at 5 p.m., she breezily recommended that I prepare myself for a C-section. I cried after she left the room, feeling that the entire day had been in vain. Melissa unhooked me from the fluids for the first time that day and told me to go get something to eat (also for the first time that day). Todd and I slowly walked down to the cafeteria, where I got a sub and some ice cream. When we returned to my room and they checked me, I had dilated just enough for my doctor to feel comfortable continuing with the "natural" birth approach—natural being Pitocin-induced. I got back into bed, and Melissa hooked me up to the fluids again.

As my doctor went home for the evening and Melissa's shift ended, I met my night nurse and doctor. Surely they'd be the ones to help me welcome my son into the world? I prepared myself for action. And sure enough, my contractions quickly intensified, and as the hours passed, I experienced regular waves of full-body pain. At some point after midnight, I told the nurse I was ready for some help with the pain, and she hooked me up to yet another drip. I passed out immediately, and blissfully, yet stayed conscious just enough to hear the beat of Oliver's heart on the heart rate monitor. If it slowed or stopped at any point, I'd wake myself slightly until it got normal again. When the pain meds wore off several hours later, I had dilated quite a bit more, the pain was intense, and I was ready for my epidural.

The anesthesiologist entered the room, and I was instructed to sit on the edge of my bed, leaning over. Todd held my hands as the doctor stuck a giant needle into my spine—I didn't watch, but Todd's eyes told me everything I needed to know. The bottom half of my body went numb, and the nurse helped me lay down on my side—and periodically helped me switch sides. I'd heard that I wouldn't feel any pain after the epidural—just pressure. Unfortunately, that wasn't true for me. I laid in bed bracing myself against the waves of pain, wondering how horrible it would feel without the epidural.

Eventually my night nurse left, and Melissa returned, surprised to see me still there. I was beyond exhausted, but happy to see her sweet face. She told me I was close, then told me how to breathe through the pain, and how to time my contractions so I could tell when it was time to really push. It was then that I learned that pushing a baby out uses the same muscles as pooping, when she told me to push as if I was taking the biggest BM of my life anytime I felt a contraction. My fears of pooping during childbirth intensified. With that, she left the room and told me to call her in when I was ready.

When the pain got dizzying, and the contractions got very close together, I told Todd to get Melissa in there—now. She checked me and confirmed that I was ready to go. She sat on one side of me and instructed Todd to get in position on the other side. Todd and I had both expected him to sit quietly beside me without too much involvement in the action, but that wasn't the case. He was very involved, whether we liked it or not. He and Melissa held my legs up as I pushed hard against their hands through each contraction. I tried not to feel self-conscious, but I was at first, and I didn't push as hard as I should have. Still, it only seemed like a few minutes before my doctor came in and donned her gloves, ready for the final moments. I couldn't believe it when they told me it had been an hour and a half.

It was right around lunchtime, and I wanted to scream as several other nurses entered the room for assistance and started chatting about their lunch as I laid there spread-eagled, pushing as hard as I could. Instead, I worked hard to center myself, to strengthen myself, each push getting me closer to meeting my son after 42 long weeks and however many hours of labor. His head started to appear—I felt its searing pain, but as I watched the shock on Todd's face I couldn't help but feel a little bit amused. The head was the hardest, most painful part—once that was out, it just took one more big push for the rest of his body to slither out like a wet frog.

They immediately placed him onto my chest, and I struggled to focus through the pain, craning my neck down to see him while trying to catch my breath. I reached up and felt his tiny slippery body as he started to cry, and somehow I moved him to my breast and he immediately started to nurse. I felt so grateful that he latched on so naturally. I tried not to fall asleep as I cradled him. We laid like that for over an hour. I was barely aware of the cleanup going on around me, the stitches, or when they took him away for a moment to weigh him and make sure he was alright. I was told that he was in perfect health, and again I felt so relieved.

Before having Oliver, I didn't know if I could do it. I didn't know if I was strong enough for childbirth. It was the hardest thing I've ever done, but I would do it again in a heartbeat—and in fact, I do hope to do it again one day, if I'm lucky enough to bring a sibling into the world for Oli. I have a newfound admiration and understanding of my own mother, and all the other moms out there that I know. Pregnancy and childbirth is the most insane experience—I can't think of a better word. And I don't think you can truly comprehend how insane it is until you've gone through it. As painful as it was, I feel so lucky that I got to experience it.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

8 Non-Frumpy One-Piece Swimsuits

OK, so you don't actually have to be a mom to wear a one-piece swimsuit. Obviously. But that's why, for the first time since I was maybe 5, I'm in the market for something a little more modest than my usual bikini. Maybe something to do with my still-soft belly or the grabby baby who's following me around everywhere. Whether you're in a similar situation, or you just like the look, I'm liking these surprisingly cute alternatives to the ol' two-piecer.

(left to right, top to bottom) 1. Tavik Chase 2. Jessica Simpson Under the Sea 3. Nanette Lepore Mayan Mosaic 4. Beach Riot Bali 5. Billabong Tribe Time 6. Splendid Chambray Cottage 7. Laundry by Shelli Segal Medallion 8. Kate Spade Marina Piccola

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Planning Our First Big Trip with Baby

When Todd told me he might have to go to a tournament in England this summer and asked if I wanted to make a family trip out of it, I don't think he expected me to say yes. Oliver will be barely a year old, and the thought of flying overseas with him is intimidating, for sure.

But then I thought about it: It's not gonna be much easier a year later, when he's a toddler. Or a year after that, when we might have added another kiddo to the mix. Or for several years after that. So do we put travel on hold for the next decade, or do we make it work with our new reality?

We won't be walking for miles and miles each day, or spontaneously dropping into a cafe to share a bottle of wine, or lingering over romantic meals in candlelit bistros. We definitely won't be hopping between destinations every other day, trying to cram as much into our trip as we possibly can. But we're going to keep feeding our love for adventure and travel even if it is a little challenging and inconvenient, and I can't wait to bring Oli along for the ride—even if he won't remember a thing.

At this point, we're planning to do London and a bit of England, Edinburgh, and Paris with maybe a few day trips around France if we're feeling ambitious. As usual, I'm going a little overboard with the planning already, and discovering some distinct differences between trip-planning pre-baby and trip-planning now:

  • Travel Time — Our last trip to Europe, we flew to Boston first, then to Paris with a middle-of-the-night layover in Iceland, then to Portugal. Back then, it was worth it to travel as cheaply as possible. Now, I'm more focused on getting there as quickly as possible and minimizing time in the air—which is why I've chosen destinations that are easily accessible via train from London.
  • Apartments — We almost always rent apartments rather than hotels when we travel, which makes even more sense now that we have a baby—we need a kitchen, laundry, and room to spread out more than ever. But it's also a little tougher to find baby-friendly places, especially in these old European cities. That fifth-floor walk-up apartment with a creaky balcony may have seemed charming before, but now, all I see is potential danger for the baby. It's also more important to find a nice apartment that we enjoy hanging out in since we will be staying in more than usual due to naps and early bedtimes. (Better to be realistic about our expectations, right?)
  • Research — Trip-planning is one of my absolute favorite things to do, and there are a few resources I always fall back on during my research—the New York Times' 36 Hours series, Travel + Leisure, Rick Steves, Anthony Bourdain. But now that we have a baby, so many of the recommended restaurants, stops, and itineraries just aren't practical for us. At the same time, I find most "family travel" articles and websites depressing—I don't want to build this trip around playgrounds and restaurants that serve chicken fingers. It's a little tougher to piece together plans that will work for us, and I realize we're going to have to be a lot more flexible.
The trip is still a ways off, but in the meantime, I'd love to hear all your baby travel tips and any recommendations for the places we'll be visiting!

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Essentials: What You Really Need in Baby's First Month

In my previous post, I shared my "new mama must-haves," highlighting some of the products that have helped us get through this first month of little Oliver's life. But the truth is, none of these are truly necessities—if you don't buy a swing or a Wubbanub, for instance, you're going to survive. They're just nice to have.

I've always loved the idea of Finland's government-sponsored maternity packages, which have been distributed to new parents since the 1930s. They include clothing, blankets, toys, and other necessities—baby can even sleep in the box! With that in mind, I thought I'd write a follow-up with the items that have been truly necessary for us—and those that aren't.

Things We Used 
  • Blankets — These are strewn all over our house. These include large muslin swaddles, small felt blankets, and big fuzzy blankets. We throw them down for tummy time, wrap him up when he's fussy, and cover his car seat when he's sleeping. 
  • Burp cloths — For nursing sessions and the occasional spit-up, you'll want these close at hand—which is why we also have these hanging out all over the house. We just bought a 10-pack of plain cloth diapers, which are super absorbent.
  • Pacifiers — I realize some parents choose not to use pacifiers, but they really do soothe him when nothing else will. Also, I like the idea of controlling the situation as opposed to letting baby control things via thumb/finger sucking. (I've seen way too many kids carry on that habit way too long). That said, the cheapies are just as good as the expensive blogger-favorite Natursutten.
  • Breast pump (manual and electric) — I've really appreciated being able to pump and allow Todd to take on feeding duties, especially at night. It gives him a chance to bond with Oli, too. The electric pump gets things done quickly, but the manual is key if you're out and about and need to relieve pressure (as I learned the hard way). 
Things We Didn't Use
  • Cute clothes — When you're changing baby's diaper 10+ times per day, you don't want to be messing with excessive layers, buttons or snaps—or even pants. That's why Oli has basically lived in onesies. I do look forward to putting him in separates soon, though.
  • Cloth diapers — Besides the fact that his Bumgenius diapers are way too big for him (even at 10 pounds), we've decided to wait until he's stopped peeing and pooping so much to start cloth diapering.
  • Dr. Brown's bottle — Now, some parents/babies might love these bottles, but the point is, Oliver didn't, so I'm glad I didn't get one of the packs with multiple bottles that we registered for. Instead, I bought a few different styles to try out and we found one that he really likes.
  • Wipe warmer — He really doesn't seem to care if his wipes are warm.
  • Bottle warmer — Place it in warm water for a few minutes and you're done.

Monday, October 17, 2016

My First-Month Mama Must-Haves

When I was still pregnant, I heard so many horror stories about the first few weeks of motherhood. A broken body in recovery. Sleepless nights. A constant barrage of dirty diapers and painful breastfeeding. And while I've experienced all of these things at one point or another, these first weeks have been some of the sweetest of my life. Oliver is a pretty laid-back babe, but I think it's helped so much that we were prepared with lots of gear to get us through the early days. Here are my 10 new mom MVPs:

New Mama Must-Haves

1. Fisher-Price Cradle 'n' Swing. There are certain times of day when putting Oliver in the swing is the only thing that will calm him down. It allows us to get a bit of work done, too. That said, it's kind of massive, so if you have a smaller house you'll need something more compact.
2. Wubbanub. Newborns are soothed by sucking, and unless you want to use your boobs as a pacifier, you may want to consider giving him an alternative if he gets fussy between feedings. The Wubbanub, a ridiculously named and admittedly overpriced pacifier accessory, helps keep the thing in baby's mouth so you don't constantly have to rush in and replace it when it falls out. It's key for when he's in the swing or car seat (but we don't use it when he's sleeping).
3. Boba wrap. Oliver loves taking walks in the wrap—he usually falls asleep immediately. Also, it's good exercise to walk around with a 10-pound infant strapped to your belly.
4. Bluetooth speaker. Breastfeeding takes up a lot of time, so I set up a little corner with a speaker where I can play music, podcasts etc. It's helped me look forward to "boobie time."
5. Nursing tanks. Whether worn alone or under a shirt, they just make the whole breastfeeding process much more comfortable. I like the ones from H&M.
6. Water bottle. Because breastfeeding makes you ridiculously thirsty.
7. Miracle Blanket. This makes it so easy to swaddle him, which helps him sleep soundly. He starts yawning the moment I start wrapping him, and he's often out by the time I'm done.
8. Not pictured: Sleep Sheep. But any white noise device will do. This is also a really effective way to signal that it's time to sleep.
9. Baby Tracker app. This has been so useful, especially in the early days, for keeping track of feedings and dirty diapers. Without it, I'd be lost because I have no memory for those kinds of things.
10. Cherish the First Six Weeks. I mentioned this book before, but it's been even more helpful now that Oliver's here. It answers so many questions you'll have in the early days and helps you create a non-stressful sleep schedule from day one, which has been crucial for us.

Every parent—and baby—is different, so I'd love to hear: What's on your list?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Baby Books: The Good, the Bad, and the Judgey

Soon after finding out I was pregnant, I did what many women do: I went online and ordered a copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting. Then the Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy, then The Happiest Baby on the Block, then about a dozen more books on pregnancy and babies and parenting.

Yes, I went overboard. I filled my head with so many different facts and philosophies that I didn't know what to think—but ultimately I don't regret it. In a way, it's what I've needed over the last 10 months to help me feel even just a little more confident and educated as I approach my due date. I know some women who didn't crack one book during their pregnancies—and I respect that, too. But if you're interested, these are the books that I most enjoyed—and the ones that I thought were a waste of time.

The Best

The Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy — If you want one straightforward, fact-filled pregnancy bible, this is it. I bought both this and the classic What to Expect, and found Mayo to be more straightforward and less judgmental. Todd also enjoyed reading it cover-to-cover—and I'm so glad he did, because my pregnancy-addled brain has struggled with remembering things.

Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother — This is a light, easy read based around letters written from a poet to her young friend during her first pregnancy. It's sweet and emotional and it made me cry happy tears more than once.

Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong—and What You Really Need to Know — Written by an economist (and new mom), this book looks at the data behind all of the rules imposed on pregnant women—from not eating sushi to not drinking alcohol. It was definitely an interesting read that conflicted with a lot of the leading literature out there, but ultimately I went with my doctor's advice on everything instead of this book.

Cherish the First Six Weeks — At around eight months, I realized I'd mostly only read books on pregnancy, and I didn't feel prepared for actually bringing our little one home. This book set my mind at ease, particularly when it came to calming our babe and (hopefully!) getting him to sleep. It's all about creating a sense of structure early on, which is definitely a philosophy that appeals to both me and Todd.

The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep — This book echoes a lot of the ideas in Cherish, but because it's written by a doctor, it has a bit more of a scientific tone—though still very approachable. You'll learn all about the five S's and how they can be used to calm a baby.

Bringing Up Bebe — I really loved this book, and not just because I secretly wish I was French. Written by an American living with her family in France, it's all about how French parents care for their children from the time they're born (breastfeeding and sleep training) to early childhood (education and discipline). Ultimately, it's a very practical, almost old-fashioned approach to parenting that focuses on mutual respect and independence. It also highlights a lot of problems with American parenting, from dependence on tech devices and overstimulation to the "child king" syndrome. More than anything, this book made me recognize that this is a parenting philosophy I've been piecing together since long before I was pregnant.

The Worst

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding — I bought this later in my pregnancy after getting spooked about how hard breastfeeding could potentially be. This guide from La Leche League just scared me even more with its preachy attitude. I know that "breast is best," and I certainly hope that I'm able to breastfeed my child for a reasonable amount of time, but this book seems to focus on how doing the "wrong" things—getting a C-section, putting your baby on a sleep schedule, stopping breastfeeding before age 2—can scar your baby for life.

From the Hips — A favorite blogger recommended this one, saying it was a more conversational, honest look at pregnancy. Turns out, I hated all of the "real mom" anecdotes and found myself wanting just the facts. Plus, the cluttered layout is high-school-yearbook-ugly.