Kids’ Music

Our tyke has always loved music, and he’s started to bop along and “dance” so I’m dead from the adorableness. A friend of mine introduced us to Raffi, who I’d never heard of previously, and now he’s a frequent Spotify play in our house on the Alexa/ government listening device.

Raffi is hokey kids’ music- I’ve already got all the lyrics down to “Banana Phone”!- but our son loves it, so I guess this type of music exists for a reason. So many pregnancy advice books told me to find a song we could play to the kid in utero that would be his favorite when he burst forth, but we’re not hugely musical people and never found the “right” one. Poor kid did listen to “Rain On Me” by Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande at least 100 times during my pregnancy, though, so maybe we should revisit it??

I try to play him Fleetwood Mac and Simon & Garfunkel and his dad plays him The Beatles a lot because… I don’t know, we’re trying to culture him? Make him a really cool, old soul seven-month-old? Or probably because he’s too young and impressionable to actually be exposed to my garbage music preferences of Fall Out Boy songs popular in high school, explicit Cardi B, and “Bulls on Parade.” I should play him the Space Jam soundtrack more since that’s hands down the best movie soundtrack of all time.

Babies do love a full musical performance, so if you know the lyrics, I can recommend ELO and Meatloaf, though you’ll feel positively ancient and that you’ve already turned into the embarrassing parent you promised yourself you wouldn’t be. So, Raffi. Thanks, Rachael, for the music tip. I now pass it along to you, dear reader.

Peri Bottle Uses

I thought most people had heard of this, but occasionally I’ll talk to a new parent whose mind is blown when I pass on this advice, so now it’s going on the blog for all to access!

Hang on to your peri bottle after you no longer need it for it’s intended use,** and utilize it during your baby’s baths. It’s great for gently washing shampoo out of their hair without dumping water down their face, and it’s a lifesaver to spray out all the hidden milk/drool that accumulates under their chin(s). Now that my son is older and more playful during bath time, he thinks it’s hilarious to get sprayed in the face with it.

Shout out to previous guest poster Morgan for the tip that peri bottles can also be fun, cheap toddler toys! Let them use it to squirt the driveway on a hot summer day– you can “draw” smiley faces, their names, etc. onto the cement. It dries quickly, then repeat, because repetition to the point of insanity is what kids are best at.

**If you’ve yet to give birth, the hospital provides you with a peri bottle to use during your stay and to take home (Frida Mom also makes a popular version.) Because things are probably, um, super delicate (sore, enflamed, possibly torn, gnarly as hell) down there, you can’t immediately resume your normal toilet paper routine. The peri bottle is a way to gently clean yourself without making matters worse. TIP: fill it with lukewarm to skin temperature water unless you want quite the *shivers down the spine* downstairs wake up. Leave it to the Tucks pads or padsicles to provide you cooling relief, if needed.

Normal? Usually Always

The amount of Googling a pregnant person does cannot be overstated. Almost all of the posts in my online due date group started with, “Is it normal…??” When you’re pregnant, the answer is usually yes.

Yes, it’s normal to get bloody noses & have toothaches & be insanely thirsty. It’s normal for your nose to get visibly wider, both your shoe size and eyesight to change, and a bunch of other just weird/ gross/ foreign things to happen to your body because you’re cooking an entire person.

It seems most of the “what is happening?!?!” freak outs can be attributed to the pregnancy fact that your body is literally creating and circulating at least 50% more blood than normal. All those super visible veins you couldn’t see beneath your skin anymore? So much more blood flow now!

Unfortunately, the “am I dying or am I just a parent now” questions don’t end after birth. Don’t underestimate the amount of truly bizarre things that will come out of your body postpartum. My baby turns seven months old this week, and just this morning I was like, “What IS that?!?!” in regards to my own body. The glamour train does not stop rolling, my friends.

In honor of my college roommate’s kid turning one this month (a baby I’ve yet to meet! Thanks, pandemic!) I’ll leave you with one of my friend’s favorite sayings. NORMALIZE IT. Specifically, in her case, she wants to normalize “the size of the pads they send you home from the hospital with.” She has a photo of her lil’ newborn bub laying next to one of the postpartum pads from the hospital, and they’re the same size. When I showed the picture to my (dear, sweet, naive because I hadn’t yet given birth) husband, he assumed it was a pee pad the hospital had given her to put the baby on. Lololol nope– it’s basically a placemat she has to wear around to catch the insides falling out of her.

Mother’s Day

I’m probably supposed to be thinking about my own mother and not myself on Mother’s Day, but I’ve had my kid and our relationship on my brain a lot this weekend. I’m a mom. That’s bananas. (Unrelated note: you capitalize Mom when you’re using it as someone’s name, as in, “Hi, Mom!” but leave it lowercase when using it as a noun that’s not proper, like “My mom came to my house.” I know we’re all adults and you probably already know that, but the amount of people who don’t bothers me.)

In so many ways, I don’t at all feel different. I’ve heard many people remark, “I don’t even remember what life was like before I became a mom!” …really? Are you just saying that because you think you’re supposed to or are you grossly exaggerating? Because I remember– life was so much easier! I remember having worries, but what were they about?!

But, obviously, I feel super different, though not in ways that can be greatly articulated. I’m more patient with my son than I ever knew I had the capacity to be. He’s here, and it’s like, “Well this makes sense.” I remember thinking a few weeks after he was born, “I have two arms, two legs, one son,” like he’s a part of me just as my hair or kneecaps are. I wasn’t a person who always knew she would be a mother. Early on in adulthood, I was very anti-procreating. Then I got sort of ambivalent about it, then I met someone who would make a great partner and biology took over and I needed a baby now. Now that I’ve met that baby, of course I’m his mother- it’s the most logical thing in the world.

And moms are, like, amazing. That adjective is heinously overused, but so appropriate to use when you sit back in amazement over the sheer amount of things we can accomplish. Physically, emotionally– the mental load moms are capable of carrying could cure this world of everything that ails it. [I’m not saying dads are terrible or that parents or guardians who don’t identify as mothers are any less amazing. Lifting up one doesn’t automatically negate any others!]

So Happy Mother’s Day, friends. Whether you think it’s a dumb Hallmark holiday or are grieving because your mom has passed or will be celebrating with Momosas all day, I’ll be thinking of you. Happy first Mother’s Day, real Natalie (and the katrillion other people I know who popped out babies since last May.)

PPA Advice

Congrats on making it through this tome about my experience with postpartum anxiety. Below is the promised list of things that have helped me manage my anxiety- some days are better than others! While you won’t see therapy on this list (due to the pandemic & not making time for it in my schedule) I love therapy and certainly see how it would be beneficial during this time. I’ve had both in-person therapists and done chat therapy through Better Help, which I highly recommend if you’re open to online options!

  • Sleep. As previously discussed, when sleep goes, so does everything else. I’m more short with those around me when I haven’t slept, and little things become WAY bigger deals in my mind. It’s certainly a catch-22 because with you have anxiety and racing thoughts, you can’t sleep; when you’ve haven’t slept, it makes the anxiety worse. I’ve had to implement no phone before bed and try to read every night before lights out. I also go to bed stupidly early. I’ve been listening to ASMR videos to fall asleep on and off for 10 years (it’s only recently that you can tell someone that without them getting totally creeped out. It’s not weird!!) My current favorites are WhispersRed, ASMRvelous & ElaineSMR.
  • Exercise. Getting back to my barre studio of choice has been vitally important to making me feel more mentally well. 85% of the reason I show up for class is the boost to my brain. The other 15% is for the physical aspects of wanting to get toned and chase my pre-baby weight, but even that helps because when I’m more confident in how I look, I feel better.
  • Tossing the scale. I recognized around three months postpartum that I was letting the scale dictate how I felt about myself, and that felt like an unhealthy mind prison I’d put myself in. Now I truly have no idea what I weigh, thus there’s not a number for me to get anxious about.
  • Medication. I don’t know if I would have been slapped so hard in the face by PPA around the four month mark had I kept taking Zoloft as first prescribed at my six week appointment. I’ve tried post-baby life both ways, and right now, medication is a tool that helps me live a better life. I enjoy the experience of being a mother, a wife, an employee & myself more. I don’t feel unlike myself; I feel like a more calm version of myself.
  • Talking about it. White knuckling what I was going through helped no one. Giving voice to my feelings without letting them rule my day helps me recalibrate, whether it’s writing them down or saying them aloud. Huge love to my husband for never diminishing what I’m going through. I even let my mom know I was on medication- a big deal for me!- because I wanted to be transparent with our support systems about what’s going on.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine. I know, right? Me! Telling you this! I love coffee and greatly abused it when running my business and in those first sleepless months, but there’s no doubt it heightens my anxiety. I’m down to one spoonful of caffeinated grounds in my pour over in the mornings; the rest is decaf, then no more for the rest of the day. As much as I hate that it’s true, alcohol is a depressant, and I’ve had to get honest with myself about how it’s no longer serving me. This isn’t a big announcement of lifelong sobriety, but it’s my next self-improvement hurdle to be more conscious about when I’m drinking, why I’m drinking, and if it’s just out of habit (it is.) I don’t like parenting when I’ve had alcohol, and it certainly isn’t beneficial to my brain- especially on meds!
  • Gabby Bernstein. Gabby’s been my guru of choice as of late. I’ve read her book Super Attractor multiple times, and she just launched a podcast that helps me remember to take deep breaths and let go of allllll the ways I try to control everything in my life. I’ll put on a YouTube video of hers in the morning when getting ready if I’m feeling especially anxious. I mentally make a gratitude list when I wake up before grabbing my phone, I try to lean in to what feels fun vs. what I think I “should” be doing, I incorporate things I love into each day because that’s the point of life, right? (Avocado toast! Trixie Mattel videos! Long stroller walks!)

Not sure any of these are groundbreaking, but again, it’s what works for one person! Always happy to chat if you’re struggling or have suggestions of things that helped you or you have great decaf coffee suggestions.

A Long One about PPA

I contemplated breaking this up into two posts, but whatever. If it’s too long, take a break & come back later. Or skim it for the most interesting parts! Godspeed if you’re on mobile.

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and some states also recognize it at Maternal Mental Health Awareness or PMAD Awareness Month. PMAD stands for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, most commonly postpartum depression, anxiety, and/or psychosis. Is it as fun as National Ice Cream Month? Probably not. But it’s vitally important to talk about so the stigma and shame are removed from parents going through it. I was officially diagnosed with postpartum anxiety at my first postpartum check up, and as with everything else on this blog, I can only speak to my experience.

I’m incredibly thankful to have a forthright group of friends who became moms before me, and I’m grateful to be a patient of a hospital system that is putting continually more resources towards parental mental health education pre- and postpartum. PMADs don’t just affect the birthing person; partners can absolutely suffer, often silently, as well. I wouldn’t say I had negative expectations about my mental health after becoming a mom, but I had realistic ones. I was definitely more versed in the signs of postpartum depression, however, so when my provider first said “postpartum anxiety,” I tried to brush it off as hormones and a lot going on in my life.

In retrospect, I suffered from anxiety my whole pregnancy (and, let’s be honest, my life.) My husband had his pay permanently cut by 25% due to COVID two months after we conceived, and my small business was greatly affected by the uncertainty of quarantine. We’d had our house listed for sale then took it off the market. We went for a month without health insurance (not recommended when pregnant AND in a pandemic!) Thankfully my business stabilized, he found a new job with insurance, and we moved when I was 36 weeks pregnant. In those final few weeks, I laid awake at night ruminating over how we were going to keep our baby safe from COVID, mass shootings, and being bullied by other kids while trying to not outright have a panic attack any time I glanced at news about the upcoming election.

All of this is relevant because at my six-week postpartum appointment, when the conversation turned to my mental health, I reported that I was “back to normal,” and I meant it. I was now in the process of selling my business and transitioning to a new job while figuring out how to be a mother to an unsleeping newborn with a husband who only had five days of “if HR asks, tell them you’re working from home” under the table paternity leave. We had supportive family nearby, a new home with tons of potential and a healthy baby. Nothing to actually complain about! Situational anxiety was my normal.

What wasn’t my normal was the panic I’d feel leaving my son with my mom or husband if I had an appointment. I’d get shaky in the Trader Joe’s parking lot thinking about how I had to rush home because they’d be mad at me for being away too long. (They weren’t. They would never be. This was something I’d made up in my head.) I thought it was “just hormones” that for the entire 12 minute drive to my son’s first doctor’s appointment with just me taking him, I was convinced he wasn’t breathing in his car seat. On more than one car trip, I’d pull over to check on him in the backseat despite having a mirror where I could see him while driving. During the really gnarly first week of baby blues home from the hospital, my husband went upstairs to take a shower, but I had insanely dark thoughts that he was doing something else up there and would never come back down. I had terrible insomnia, and it would take hours to go to sleep even when it was my husband’s turn to be up with the baby.

I didn’t realize that when I got up to do anything away from my son, I wasn’t breathing. (I mean, technically my brain stem was doing what it needed to in order to keep me alive, but it was the shallow breaths of a panicked person. I probably didn’t take a full, deep breath his entire month of life.) I was constantly waiting for him to need something from me and anticipating his cries. He’d meltdown during diapers changes his first two months of life, he hated getting dressed– I was constantly on edge. I thought since my anxiety wasn’t always about him, though, it wasn’t PPA. Since I felt confident as his mom and had bonded right away with him, I figured this was just how I handled life now.

My doctor finally convinced me it didn’t have to be this way. She prescribed me a low dose of Zoloft which I took for a few weeks. I shared on Instagram that I was taking it for a PPA diagnosis and so many other people commented or sent private messages that they, too, had been there. But I didn’t want to be medicated. I know, I KNOW. I believe in medication for other people, I believe there should be no stigma around medication for your brain, and yet I’ve got a lot of subconscious baggage from being raised in a “tough it out” (or drink through it) environment that had me wanting to get off the meds. So I decreased my dosage and eventually stopped taking them after maybe a month.

Things were fine; nothing crazy happened. The business transaction closed, I got more comfortable in my role at my new job. I stopped breastfeeding and tried to embrace formula feeding. Most of my clothes started to fit again. Things got even worse with his sleep, but then we Ferber-ed and our lives were suddenly *clouds parting, angels singing.* Out of the woods, baby!

Oh, boy. It was like once my brain knew he could actually sleep through the night and would be fine, it came completely unglued. This was not the situational anxiety of before; this was full on PPA. Did you know that PMADs can happen any time the first year postpartum? I didn’t! So many of the other parents in my Reddit monthly bumpers group were experiencing the same right around that four month mark. Did you know your body has another insane hormone surge (or drop, I don’t remember which- I’m not a doctor) around 16 weeks after birth? I was a ball of panic. I had to leave Walmart because I couldn’t find Total in the cereal aisle but couldn’t take the time to slow down and look again for it because I had to get home to my baby.

Thankfully, I’d kept picking up my prescription when it auto-filled and this time, I felt no shame in using it as a tool in my mental health toolbox. My son is now over six months old, and things are a lot better than they were two months ago. In the next post, I’ll share the litany of things that have helped get me to this place, fully realizing that this really is a journey I’m not at the end of (and I loathe when things are described as a #journey!!)

Baby Sleep

The real, actual Natalie texted me this weekend– not pics of her kid, as I would have appreciated, not to ask how I’m doing as a person, but to demand “Do a sleep blog next.” Apparently her baby is a pretty good sleeper, she’s just “curious about your experience.” And I didn’t even pay her to say that! So here we go. Baby sleep: a touchy subject for anyone going through the absolute hell of sleepless nights.

People tell you babies don’t sleep well (but shouldn’t they be really great at it because they need so much of it??) It’s one of those things pre-motherhood that I conceptually had knowledge of, but truly had no idea about until living through it. I’d had a few nights of little sleep in college, we’d be fine- right? IT WASN’T FINE.

Day one, my kid didn’t sleep. We even asked one of the nurses, “He should nap at some point, right?” She said on their first day of life, things are kind of exciting out of the womb so it wasn’t that unusual. Him not napping on the second day should have been a red flag. Him not sleeping for the next four months was truly hell. My brand became Exhausted Mom Who Complains About How Exhausted She Is on Instagram. It wasn’t cute. But when you’re going through it, when you’re falling asleep during middle of the night feedings and don’t feel safe operating a vehicle during the day because you’ve had so little sleep, you don’t care about cute.

“It’ll get better.” It’s what we heard from everyone. When? HOW?! How do I make it better tonight?? We tried all kinds of swaddles, we tried rocking, we tried him in a bassinet, we tried him in a cradle, we bought online sleep courses, and he slept way more nights on his Boppy than the “don’t let your baby sleep on this” tag on the Boppy Lounger would allow. Just never a great night of sleep. He’d be up every 2-3 hours to eat, long after everyone including his pediatrician said he should be able to make it much longer than that. After eating, he wouldn’t exactly conk immediately back out. Plus he had bad reflux, so we were instructed to hold him upright for 20 minutes after eating.

The longest stretch we once got was four hours, then it didn’t happen again. On the worst night, he was up crying about every 45 minutes (so never really sleeping) and I lost. my. shit. I entered our guest room, where my husband was attempting to get some sleep before work, sobbing so hard he thought something really horrible had happened to the baby. Headaches from lack of sleep were my constant companion. He wasn’t clocking a ton of daytime nap hours, so I truly was concerned that this kid was missing out on very important sleep.

I spent so much time awake at night with him thinking there’s no way in the world we could ever have another child because I didn’t want to experience this again. When you haven’t slept, everything else goes to shit. Lack of sleep absolutely contributed to my postpartum anxiety. My husband and I would do shifts between our room with the baby and the guest room, and I stewed in resentments towards him at 4 a.m. that he was in there getting good sleep because he had a job to report to in the mornings.

There’s not really glamorous advice for this period of your life, other than to ask for help and prioritize getting sleep when you can. If you have relatives or a neighbor who can watch the baby so you can attempt a nap during the day, don’t feel bad making the ask. It will make you proud and sad how you’re able to adapt and function on so much less than you ever thought possible.

Things did change for us at four months we when decided to try the Ferber Method. There’s many kinds of sleep training, and there’s many vocal opponents of it online, but it’s what worked for us. Our kid took to it so much more quickly than we’d imagined, and it completely changed our lives. As my husband said about a week in, “If there was a Ferber Foundation, I’d give them all of my money.” (If someone from the real or imaginary Ferber Foundation is reading this– that was a joke. You cannot have our money.)

We transitioned him to a Merlin Magic Sleep Suit at about three months, and while it wasn’t the panacea everyone promised it would be, it did help him create a sleep association with being put in it before sleep. He now sleeps in a sleep sack at nights and clocks about 11 hours at night with 3-4 naps during the day. It was absolute hell to get here, but like so many other things with parenting, the only way out is through. It’s not like we could give him back to the hospital because we’d created a sleep-hating demon (a cute one, at least) so we just did what we had to do. If you’re currently where we were and know me IRL, I’m not joking when I say you can shoot me a text and I will come hold your baby while you sleep. If you’ve got a guest bedroom, I can even do some night hours if they’re drinking out of a bottle (though that might cost you a six-pack of beer as payment.)

Induction Advice

I know someone super pregnant who might have to be induced very soon, and I so badly wanna be my Know-It-All self and DM her this advice. But! That would be just as annoying as everyone was to me the day before my due date. Instead, I’ll put it here publicly so anyone in the future who might be getting induced can also access it.

First, think positive. I know being induced isn’t usually at the top of most people’s ideal birth scenario, but if it’s really happening- so many reasons it could be!- get on board with it. Instead of the rush of “Is this labor? I think so!!” and laboring around the house, calling your partner excitedly to get their booty home, scrambling to get your neighbor to watch the dog, you get to leisurely check your hospital bag, make the bed, and head to the hospital cool as a cucumber (well, relatively.) Every baby comes into this world differently; yours get to show up for an appointment!

My biggest piece of advice is to move your body. Once you’re admitted and the induction method is placed, you’ll likely have to lie prone for at least two hours. If this happens before bed- Yahtzee! I wish you the best possible sleep one can get while lying in a hospital knowing they’re hopefully meeting their baby the next day. There will be a limited window of time you’re off the monitors before you get checked and hooked up to Pitocin– this is the time for movement! I was lucky and got a full two hours to shower and eat breakfast before the doctor started her rounds. I didn’t take a seat until that doctor was at the foot of my bed, ready for my first check. I squatted in the shower, I did lunges across the room, I did high knees while eating toast. Help the induction method help you! If at all possible, don’t just lay there waiting for it to do all the work. Due to COVID, most of us can’t walk the hospital hallways, so make use of whatever space you have.

Finally, know that not all inductions end in the “cascade of interventions” you’ve likely read about if you’re trying to avoid a C-section. Sometimes the baby just needs a little nudge- even if you walk in zero percent dilated- and then it’s off to the races. Try to incorporate as much as possible about your original ideal birth scenario into your new induced one. Be open to pain management techniques you might not have originally wanted to try because, reader? Pitocin contractions are not messing around. I have nothing to compare them to, but Mamma Mia Pizzeria, they’re the real deal. No matter how your induction ends, there will be a baby at the end of it! No birthing person has ever been sent home with a baby to live inside of her forever because they just wouldn’t come out. By hook or crook, the time has come!

P.S. Hydrate. Even if you’re not getting induced. Pack a couple Gatorades.

Ow

Just when the bulk of your postpartum hair loss seems to be subsiding, baby will start developing their reaching and pulling skills. My kid’s favorite new toy? Any stray wisp of hair that dares to escape my top bun. He yanked out a full fistful the other day. Should I save it? Does that go in the baby book?

A “mom cut” would not look good on this face of mostly cheeks, so I guess I’ll be investing in many of those wide, stretchy headbands from my youth soccer days. Oh, and he’s finally discovered my glasses and has as personal baby mission to use them as a teething aid. Basically my head is a constant, painful (for me) source of entertainment. Which is probably my fault since my favorite pastime is putting my face constantly near his to smell it, kiss it, or generally gobble him up.

Pregnancy Laughs

One thing I miss about pregnancy (there isn’t much!) is the extra hormones that cause big emotions. It wasn’t super fun when it ended in tears- my husband has a video of me happy crying over the announcement that Big 10 football would be returning in the fall (???!!)- but they can also make you have laughing fits over things that, looking back, probably weren’t that funny. I realized a few weeks after the baby was born, “I haven’t laughed in a while… I miss that.”

Old People Facebook was a constant source of laughing to near tears. I also watched a ton of inappropriate best of Eric Andre compilations. If you’re currently pregnant, enjoy your giant laughing fits. You’re not losing your mind; it’s a normal side effect. If you’re postpartum and need some levity, I can’t recommend enough the book Sh*t, Actually by Lindy West. A friend sent it in a new mom care package for me (Rachael, you da real MVP) at a time when I thought I would never be able to have alone time to read a book again. Each essay was a source of true belly laughs, including my new favorite line from any book, ever, when she’s recapping the movie Top Gun: “It was Goose’s last honk.”