Thursday, March 31, 2011

Overivew of Montessori Mobiles

Image courtesy of goosedesigns

From what I've learned through my research, mobiles are central to a Montessori infant environment for the first few months of an infant's life. They help children start to develop focus and concentration, which are critical components of the Montessori approach.

Black-and-White Mobiles (at birth)
  • The first mobiles are black and white. They are hung 8-10 inches above the infant's head. The mobiles are changed out as necessary to maintain the infant's interest. These early black and white mobiles help infants develop visual discrimination, tracking, and focus.
  • The first black-and-white Munari mobile can be ordered here
  • A black-and-white whale mobile can be ordered here
  • A mobile hanger can be ordered here

Gobbi Mobile
  • When the infant is ready for the next level of challenge, a Gobbi mobile (named after the creator) is hung within the range of the infant's random arm movements. Over time, the infant begins to realize that his/her hands affect the mobile. S/he then starts to attempt to impact the mobile intentionally, which helps to deepen concentration and arm control.
  • A Gobbi mobile can be ordered here
  • Directions for how to make your own Gobbi mobile can be found here

Wooden Ring on Elastic
  • When the baby is ready to work on grasping, a wooden ring (approximately three inches in diameter with a thickness of half an inch) is hung from elastic. It is hung at a height that allows the infant to practice grasping it and pulling it to his/her mouth. This work allows the infant to unify tactile and visual interaction with objects.
  • A wood ring on elastic can be ordered here

There's a great overview of the mobile series on the At Home with Montessori site. It's amazing to me how so many infant toys seem like too much stimulation when compared to the simplicity of these Montessori objects!

Henry seems to get more and more interested in mobiles every day. We bought a $12 wire mobile with clips from the Michael Olaf company, and I made some simple black and white cards to hang from it. I also bought the wooden arch from the same company and printed some black and white clip art cards (Editor's Note: pure Montessorians would've only used flying animals to go above the child's head, but at least I used real images).

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

To Pacify or Not to Pacify?

That's been the question around these parts. Matt and I have been trying to adhere to a Montessorian parenting philosophy, which advises against the use of lots of external props like pacifiers, swings, bouncy chairs, etc.

But we've been struggling because the only way to soothe him to sleep right now is to walk him around in the Moby or the Ergo carriers (don't get me wrong--I'm thankful that we at least have one reliable method--for the moment!). But it has been difficult because I'm still bleeding a lot, and I'm supposed to take it easy on the walking.

It's also difficult if Henry needs to be soothed back to sleep in the middle of the night. Most of the time he will fall asleep while breast feeding, but occasionally he doesn't. If he's already been eating for an hour, then I don't like to let him keep suckling, just to soothe him to sleep. My nipples are way too sensitive for that! That means we have to get out of bed, walk him around in a carrier, get him to fall asleep, and then pray to the gods that we can successfully transfer him to the bed without awakening him. If he awakens, we have to start the whole carrier soothing process again.

So a pacifier seemed like a good transitional kind of prop, while Henry works to develop some self-soothing skills. I've read a lot of arguments against pacifiers, but I feel like most of them don't apply to the way we intend to use it.

First, we waited four weeks, which means that Henry has learned how to breast feed successfully. Secondly, we will try to never use it when he's actually hungry. Third, we will plan to transition him off the pacifier as soon as it seems developmentally appropriate. Fourth, we will try not to use it to "shut him up;" we will try to just use it strategically when he needs more support falling asleep.

I start going to a Montessori parenting class next week, so perhaps I'll find the teacher's anti-pacifier arguments compelling.

We'll see!

REMINDER: Registration is now open for the next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy, which starts on April 3. Register today!

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Letter to My Son Henry: One Month

Dearest Henry,

At this very moment, you're asleep on my chest, looking as cute as can be. Even though these early days of transitioning into life with a newborn have been difficult, we are trying to savor every moment. In three short days, you will already be a month old. A whole month! You are growing so fast. You had already regained your birth weight (plus several more ounces) a few days before the two-week mark. Plus, you truly have "Texas-sized" hands and feet.

We started calling you piglet early on because when you're hungry you start snorting and squealing. You are the cutest little piglet with your bed head and your kissable cheeks. We also call you "The Bellagio" because you love, love, love to pee on us when we're changing your diaper.

You've already met so many of your family members: Grandma Cotner, Uncle Dustin, Grandma Bradford, Grandpa Bradford, Uncle Mike, Uncle John, Great-Aunt Elizabeth, Great-Uncle Jeff, and your Great-Grandma Bradford.

Your main hobbies are breast-feeding, burping very loudly, staring at the chickens, being outside, and napping (but only if we are carrying you around or if you are sleeping right next to me). If I move even an inch to the side, you figure out a way to scoot yourself closer to me.

Even though you aren't even smiling yet (unless you are passing gas or peeing on us), you have already taught me so much. During the first nine months that you were growing inside me, you taught me that I can control the inputs, but not the outputs. Now that you are here, you are teaching me that life passes quickly and we must appreciate what we have while we have it. You are also teaching me that sometimes you can't get around or over or under the hard parts of life (like giving birth or raising a newborn); you just have to accept it and plow straight through it.

It's only been 25 days, and my love for you is already sinking its roots deep into the soil. I can only begin to imagine how tall the stalk will grow with each passing year!

REMINDER: Registration is now open for the next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy, which starts on April 3. Register today!

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Monday, March 28, 2011

How Do I Love My Partner?

And if you do head over to his blog, please click on the Facebook "Like" button. It would make his day. Seriously.

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How I'm Keeping Myself Quasi-Sane

Things are definitely starting to look up around these parts! Looking back on it, I think last Monday, the three-week mark, was the start of the upswing in our trajectory. The day before, on Sunday, I called a dear friend (and former colleague) of mine to chat about the difficulty of being a new mother. Our whole conversation was helpful, but she said something in particular that really resonated with me. She said, "You know, Sara, we're the kind of people who typically get good results when we put in a lot of hard work and effort. But being a new parent isn't like that."

From that point on, I made a concerted effort to connect with other new moms every day. So on Monday, I invited myself over to my neighbor's house. She's a second-time mom who delivered in January. We did prenatal yoga classes together. She explained that she uses the BabyWise approach to creating a rhythm to the day, and she let me borrow the book. Although there's lots that I disagree with in the book (like the use of play pens, which are not used in Montessori environments), I really appreciate the general recommendation to follow a feed, play, nap routine every 2.5-3 hours. The book explains that if your baby needs to eat more frequently, then, by all means, feed him/her, but, in general, babies tend to fall into a routine pattern.

In general, Henry does follow this pattern, and I enjoy having a sense of flow to our day. Reading the book really helped me realize that there's more for me to learn that can help me navigate new parenthood. I'm not suggesting that I'm subjugating my instincts and intuition to the "expert" advice in books; instead, I am simply exposing myself to different ideas to try out, especially since things might work a few days with a baby and then stop working. I like reading books to build up my toolkit. Then I can pull out whatever will seem to work in that particular situation.

Our biggest issue right now is that Henry cannot soothe himself to sleep in any way, shape, or form. For example, after he breast feeds and then plays for about 15 minutes, he starts yawning and indicating that he is ready for a nap. However, the only way for me to get him to fall asleep is to strap him into the Ergo (with the infant insert) or the Moby wrap. In general, he will fall asleep right away, but then Matt or I have to wear him for the duration of his nap (usually another two hours). If we try to transfer him out of the carrier, he wakes up and cries. Once, after he woke up this way, we tried to let him cry himself back to sleep, while I laid next to him--talking and touching him, but he cried for an hour and fifteen minutes. Clearly, he's not ready to soothe himself through crying.

So our two carriers have definitely helped us stay sane. Additionally, here are some things that have helped:
  1. Seeing Other New Moms Every Day: I now make it a point to see someone every day, preferably another new mom. Because of my prenatal yoga class, I was able to meet a ton of new moms in my neighborhood. On Tuesday, three of us met up at a coffee shop. Wednesday, I visited one of them for lunch. Thursday, I met back up with the two from Tuesday, but we went to someone's house to breastfeed together and then eat lunch. I even got a breast pumping demonstration! Friday, a dear friend of mine brought lunch over to my house. Getting out every day and connecting with others who are going through a similar experience is absolutely invaluable. I cannot underscore this enough. I think it's completely absurd the way we tend to isolate new mothers within nuclear families.
  2. Getting Outside: I'm still bleeding, so I'm not officially supposed to be walking a lot, but I definitely get outside every day for sanity's sake. I take Henry into the backyard during his brief intervals of awake time (although I have to vigilantly keep the chickens from pecking at him!). We also go for short little walks around the neighborhood.
  3. Watching Bad Movies: Matt and I don't have a TV, which I have never regretted until this point! There was one day when Henry breast fed for a total of seven hours. How I wish I could watch a little DVR! However, I started watching instant movies on my computer via Netflix. Really bad (but good) movies, like Message in a Bottle. Matt and I still watch good movies together almost every night, like Lars and the Real Girl.
  4. Taking Naps: I really do try to take one nap every day. It's hard because I want to use my free time to do things like write blog posts or read, but I know I absolutely have to nap to keep myself as physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy as possible.
  5. Showering Every Day: Just like taking naps!
  6. Working as a Team with my Partner: Matt has been an absolute gem throughout this entire process. We work together day in and day out. We are always offering to take over for each other. We try to be as supportive and loving as possible throughout it all.
  7. Appreciating the Little Things: As I type this, little Henry is nestled against my side, napping. If I move away from him even an inch, he scoots his body over to close the gap. His hand is resting on my belly. Now I'm crying as I think about the amazing opportunity that I have been given to nurture another life and help him find his way in the world. I know this will all go by so fast. I need to savor each stage to its fullest.

I am so happy to report we are on the upswing (for now!). I was worried that I was developing post-partum depression. For a few days, I was erupting into tears a lot and having a difficult time mustering the motivation to do anything with the little free time that I did have. I think it was just the "baby blues," instead of full-out post-partum depression. But I'll keep you updated if the blues come back and turn into anything more.

In my free time, I'm planning a women's retreat like this one. I can't wait! It gives me something fun to think about when I'm breast feeding in the middle of the night.

REMINDER: Registration is now open for the next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy, which starts on April 3. Register today!

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Parenting Book Recommendations

Wow. It really is hard to be new parents. I just went back and reread my List of Why It Will Be Hard to Have an Infant, and I think those challenges are pretty spot on. I think it's also been hard because I haven't experienced a lot of joy in these first few weeks.

Wow. As I write that, I feel like that's an unfair thing to say. I have had a lot of joy in the past three weeks. I guess it's the ratio that's off. I have had a lot of good moments, but the number of difficult and challenging moments has simply overshadowed all those joyful moments. And as bad as it sounds, I will go ahead and say that most of the joyful moments come from my interactions with my partner, my friends, and my family--not my newborn son (yet!).

Don't get me wrong. I am incredibly happy to have Henry in my life. And with each passing day, he does things that bring smiles to my face and heart. But, in my limited experience, newborns definitely take way more than they give (although I know this will start to change).

Another thing that has been difficult about this process is that I didn't do enough to learn about what to do with an infant. I learned all about infant care things related to diapering and bathing and monitoring their health signs (see my notes here), but I didn't learn enough about the different philosophies related to creating a rhythm to the day.

For example, one of my friends follows the Baby Wise routine, which includes cycles of feeding, playing, and then napping (based on an infant's natural pattern of eating every 2-3 hours). Of course that book is very controversial, but my friend swears by it (her new baby is her second child).

I have another friend who follows the Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child recommendations. I tried reading that book, but it's very difficult for me to follow. I do appreciate, however, its advice about monitoring a baby's awake time to make sure they don't get overtired.

I have two other friends who are following the attachment parenting approach and just giving their babies what they want on demand.

I understand that each of us needs to find an approach that resonates with us and follow our inclinations with confidence. However, I would like to read several different books to expose myself to different ideas and then piece together my personal philosophy.

What recommendations do you have for books that address life with a newborn?

REMINDER: Registration is now open for the next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy, which starts on April 3. Register today!

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Henry's Radio Debut

Our family was interviewed on the KPFT Whole Mother radio show on Monday morning (at 6:30 am!) to chat about our hybrid home/hospital birth. If you're interested in listening, you can search for the Whole Mother show on the archives page or play the show directly to your audio player.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Update on Family Mission Statement

Last week, I was trying to figure out the best way to frame our family mission statement. I was looking for an inexpensive option that could be revised and updated as the years pass.

I decided on a very easy option. I bought a three-panel frame from IKEA (each picture is 5 x 7), ordered one of my favorite Etsy prints, turned one of our photos into black-and-white in Picasa, ordered a 5 x 7 print of it on Snapfish, and typed our family mission statement into a Word document, and printed it on gray resume paper.


I love that we can very easily revise our family mission statement over the years. I also love that the photo can be easily updated as our family changes.

I decided to put it right over the toilet, so Matt can visit it frequently (since he pees in that direction), and I can review it whenever I brush my teeth.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Letter to My Former Life

Dear Former Life,

I just wanted to write you a quick note (I don't have much time these days) to let you know how much I miss you.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am so, so thankful for my new life with my beautiful son and our expanding family. Not only does my love for him take shape and solidify more and more with each passing day, but my fondness, love, and appreciation for my life partner, Matt, also grow in mass and density day in and day out as he works so hard to support me and our family.

But I miss having jurisdiction over my time. It's so hard to be on someone else's [unpredictable] schedule. And I miss the way my body used to feel good and could run, walk, and do yoga. It seems like something is always hurting these days. First it was my perineum and now it's my breasts. And I'm scared, Former Life, that when Matt goes back to work that you will slip even farther away from me.

But I need to remember that you are not gone for good. I need to remember how much of you I still see around these days when our friends come over for dinner, when I talk to my best friend on the phone (while breast feeding, of course), or when we go to the Japanese Garden for a picnic.

I need to stay focused on the beauty of this stage. My job is to help my son develop a solid foundation for the rest of his life. He is developing his muscles and his brain pathways and his attachment to his family. He grows so much with each passing day. This stage will be over before I realize it.

So I give myself permission to cry when I need to mourn the parts of you that are gone forever and the other parts of you that are simply in hibernation. But then I need to remind myself to focus on the beauty of this period--the symbiotic relationship between my baby's body and my own, the fact that we have a healthy baby, the slow pace that allows for reflection and mental wandering.

With nostalgia,


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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Register Now: Purposeful Conception Course!

As I settle into life with our new baby Henry, I am so thankful that Matt and I spent time preparing our lives for a child before we conceived.

For those of you who are thinking about conception or are actively trying, this online course will help you position your mind, body, and life for pregnancy. Over the course of five weeks from April 2 through May 6, a new lesson will be uploaded each weekday. The lessons will address a comprehensive range of topics, such as preparing your body through solid nutrition and exercise, finding balance between what you can and cannot control, making space in your life for pregnancy, deciding whether to track your cycle, building a solid partnership as a foundation for your future family, and much, much more. As a participant in the course, you'll receive information, tips, reflection exercises and prompts, access to interviews, and a community of like-minded kindred spirits who are on a journey similar to your own.

The course doesn't presume that doing x, y, and z will lead to pregnancy. Instead, the idea is to focus on the things we can control in order to create a solid foundation (e.g., nutrition, stress levels, relationships, finances, etc.) and to make peace with the things we cannot control about the process.

Interested in learning more? Visit the Course Overview or About the Author. Spaces are available on a first-come, first-served basis and will be limited to the first 100 participants. The total cost is $99 USD. Register Now! Or e-mail me with more questions. Happy Conceiving!


Please consider spreading the word by sharing this post via the buttons at the bottom of the post (especially the Facebook "like" button) or by reposting the information on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Thank you so, so much!

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011


I know this post sounds like another vapid maternity leave post, but I'm actually here, typing next to my sleeping (although he's in the process of waking) baby.

But I really want to talk about shoes.

It's a funny topic for me because unlike many bloggers I know (and non-blogging women, too), I am not a shoe person. I spend a lot of money to get durable, comfortable shoes, and then I wear them for years. For real. Case in point: the shoes pictured above are pretty much the shoes I wear on a daily basis. The picture was taken in India in 2005 (and I actually got the shoes a year earlier!).

For the past seven years, Dansko--the shoes of nurses and teachers--has been my go-to brand. They are expensive, but the clogs last forever, and they are good on my feet. I'm convinced they've helped me avoid the Curse of the Bunions that plagues the rest of the women in my family.

But now I'm on the lookout for new sandals, and Dansko is totally letting me down. Everything looks so dowdy! I'm thinking it might be time to branch into a new brand.

But, I still want shoes that are comfortable, durable, and good for my feet.

Any shoe brand recommendations that fit the bill?

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hints of Normalcy

Last Thursday, I tried to introduce some normalcy back into my day. By "normalcy," I mean doing more than lying around in my bed topless all day long. In these early days of breastfeeding, I find it tremendously difficult to muster the motivation needed to put on a bra and shirt.

Anyway, we started the day like we normally do with our herbal bath (one of the exceptions to my "pretty much just stay in bed" pattern). After the bath, I take a shower while Matt watches Henry. However, on the day I was most striving for normalcy, I started to feel really faint. I had to get out of the shower and lie down (this time, soaking wet). I'm pretty sure this brief spell was brought on by low blood sugar (I hadn't eaten in 14 hours because I have been trying to get a lot of sleep). I quickly put some food into my system and felt a lot better.

But then the stomach cramping and diarrhea started. Argh!

Needless to say, Thursday did not turn out to be the day that any sense of normalcy returned to my life.

I followed my midwife's advice and ate brown rice with honey for dinner. The next day, my stomach cramping and diarrhea had stopped, and I was once again determined to inject a little bit of normal into my routine. First thing that morning, I breastfed Henry in his room on the couch (sitting up!) and even studied Spanish while I was doing it.

On Saturday, I ventured out of the house for an "express" pedicure down the street, while Matt watched a sleeping Henry and then took him for a walk. Ironically, pedicures are not part of my normal routine at all, but I was really craving a little pampering. I was back in time for Henry's next feeding.

And then last night, while I was walking Henry around in our Ergo carrier, trying to help him realize that he didn't actually need any more food, I decided to pull out the list I made a while back of all the things to do while on maternity leave. The list isn't meant to overwhelm me with tasks and action items. Instead, it's meant to give me a sense of rhythm and help me remember my priorities.

I transferred the list to the whiteboard on our bathroom door. Every time I do something on the list, I simply put a check next to it. At the end of the day, I can leave all the list items there but erase the check marks so the list is ready for the next day.

Here's the current list:

  • Stay in bed until I have slept 8 hours (I got this idea out of a book; basically, I wake up and feed the baby all night long and into the morning, but I don't actually get up and out of bed in the morning until I have slept a total of 8 hours, no matter how long that takes!)
  • Shower
  • Practice Spanish while breastfeeding (using these CDs)
  • Write one blog post while Henry naps
  • Spend time out in nature with Henry
  • Give Henry tummy time and lie-on-your-back-and-stare-at-mobiles time
  • Read Henry a story
  • Read my own books while breastfeeding
  • Do laundry, tidy up the house, and talk on the phone while wearing the baby
  • Nap (during one of Henry's naps)
  • Spend quality time with Matt

It's only day one with the list (see, I'm writing a blog post!), but so far it feels great to emerge from the cocoon of my bedroom and try to resume some normal activities.

I'm just really looking forward to the day I'm allowed to go for hour-long walks again!

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Monday, March 14, 2011

What Makes a Good Parent?

My mom and me, circa 1983

In my Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy, we spend a day thinking about what kind of parents we want to be. I wanted to share my personal list (it's really just a rough draft brainstorm) with all of you to get your thoughts (and, by the way, the attributes are not in any sort of prioritized order):
  1. Patience: Children require an amazing amount of patience. Developmentally, they pass through stages and need different things. At each stage, they need adults who understand what they're going through and can respond with patience. For example, when babies are learning to walk, they want to walk! They throw fits if someone tries to carry them when they would prefer to walk. They aren't trying to be difficult (even though it is much less efficient to let them walk!); they are simply trying to practice walking.
  2. I think adults need to have high expectations for children. As a teacher, I see parents make a lot of excuses for their children. If their children are disrespectful or overly aggressive, they say things like, "Well, they're just kids, right?" Alongside high expectations, I think good parents set reasonable/fair/respectful boundaries and enforce those boundaries with reasonable/fair/respectful consequences.
  3. I think children flourish within routines. I'm not saying every day should be rote and there shouldn't be spontaneity in life, but I believe that children can develop more independence and creativity when they know what to expect within a predictable structure.
  4. Stimulation: Children need lots of varied experiences so they can cultivate a love of learning and so that their natural curiosity can be cultivated and expressed.
  5. Love, love, love!
  6. Children need affirmation and celebration
  7. Children benefit from a solid nutritional background and exposure to lots of different kinds of food.
  8. Good parents don't take out their own issues on their children.
  9. Good parents let children follow their own paths and find their own place in the world.
  10. Good parents act as coaches and guides through life.
  11. Good parents actively try to cultivate independence in their children (which translates into good self-esteem).
  12. Good parents model effective conflict resolution for their children.
  13. Good parents parent as a team.
  14. Good parents make time for family. They prioritize it and give their children plenty of attention.
  15. Good parents give their children freedom to explore. They are not overly protective, and they don't seek to eliminate every disappointment and discomfort from their child's life.
  16. Good parents don't overbook their children in too many activities.
  17. Good parents constantly model the kind of person they want their children to be. They embody the idea that actions speak more loudly than words.
  18. Good parents cultivate a connection to and appreciation for the natural world.
  19. Good parents parent with fun and humor.
  20. Good parents consciously help their children cultivate values and good character.
  21. Good parents actively cultivate respect for all people and an appreciation for diversity in the world.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Week One Post-Partum Advice

I hope these little snippets of advice don't seem like I'm trying to proclaim myself some sort of expert.


I'm just trying my very best and jotting down my thoughts about it, in case it's helpful to any of you out there.

I've been at this motherhood thing a little over a week now. I was taken off-guard by some things and well-prepared for other things.

Here are some of my thoughts about how to have the best possible first week at home with your infant (of course all of our babies are different in many ways, so take my advice for what it's worth!):
  1. Plan to Stay as Horizontal as Possible: I was shocked by how much pain I was in after the delivery. Maybe my pain was more severe because a) my baby was 9 pounds, 4 ounces and 23 inches b) my labor was 45 hours c) I had a small vaginal tear that required stitches and the local anesthesia they use causes swelling or d) all of the above. Or maybe my pain was similar to others' pain, but people just don't talk about it a lot. I'm not sure. All I know is that my perineum and vagina were incredibly sore. It hurt like nobody's business just to get out of bed. Seriously, I would waste five solid minutes trying to come up with a strategy for how to get to the bathroom in the least painful way possible. To promote healing, it's important to stay in bed, as horizontal as possible, according to my midwife. In those early days, the uterus is still pretty heavy, and every time you're vertical, it puts more pressure on your sore parts and leads to more swelling and a longer recovery time.
  2. Figure Out the Support You'll Need to Prioritize Your Own Healing: Because I tried to limit my movement between the bedroom and the bathroom, it was so, so helpful to have my mom and brother here to help that first week. Matt also needed to rest after such a long labor and his own sickness (by the way, he had to drive himself to the emergency room last Thursday during the middle of the night because he was feeling so awful). When I asked my mom to come stay with us after the birth, I explained that I really, really wanted her to take care of Matt and me, so that we could take care of the baby. I tried to convey that it wouldn't be very much fun at all. She agreed to come and spent the week preparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner for us, doing dishes, running the dishwasher, emptying the dishwasher, preparing my herbal baths, holding Henry when we needed a break, watching movies with me, etc. It was super-helpful. Matt felt overwhelmed by how much he already had to do to take care of me. It helped that my mom and brother were able to bear a lot of the burden.
  3. Learn How to Breastfeed Lying Down: If you're going to breastfeed, it's important to learn how to breastfeed on your side as quickly as possible. If you have to sit up every time you breastfeed, you're again putting too much pressure on your perineum.
  4. Meet with a Lactation Consultant and Apply Lanolin Religiously: Again, this one only applies if you're going to breastfeed. I had done a ton of work to prepare for breastfeeding, but meeting with a lactation consultant on the second day was still very, very helpful. She was able to watch my baby feeding on my breast and make suggestions. It's so important to get the latch right from day one. I was able to avoid severe nipple pain, cracking, etc. I feel so fortunate! I really think it's helped to apply lanolin after every feeding. Also, I followed my midwife's advice to breastfeed early and often. After the first "sleepy baby" day (during which she said I didn't have to wake Henry to breastfeed him), she told me to breastfeed him whenever he wants it. She said he's trying to communicate to my body how much milk to produce. Luckily, it totally worked for me. Henry doesn't really fuss at all (unless I can't get my nipple into his mouth fast enough). His primary need right now is to eat, and when we satisfy that need for him, he is a very happy baby. Following my midwife's advice seems to have led my body to produce the right amount of milk. Henry is peeing all the time, and he's already gained eight ounces of his weight back after the initial drop when he was only eating colostrum. Of course I am knocking on all the wood I can get my hands on because I realize that I could still run into problems at any moment.
  5. Take Herbal Baths with Your Baby: Both my midwife and the back-up physician recommend that I take a Sitz herbal bath every day. My midwife recommends that I take them twice a day, with our baby. The herbal bath promotes healing in the mother and helps heal the baby's umbilical cord (contrary to the advice that you should never get the stump wet). Henry is completely soothed by the bath, and I love that skin-to-skin time with him. I also think it helped his cord fall off within the first week.
  6. Regulate Visitors: This issue has been a major source of stress for me. I really wanted my family to be here right after the birth because I figured we would need someone who was willing to do whatever we needed. Also, I pretty much spent the entire first week naked (must air-out those nipples!) and they are the only people I feel comfortable enough around to do that. However, Matt also wanted his family to fly into town for that first week. Although I absolutely adore and love Matt's family, I really think hosting two families would have been too stressful for me. In addition to family, there are also friends who want to visit. Don't get me wrong: Our friends have been a godsend! We've had two different sets of friends come over for dinner and conversation (in our bedroom, with me still flat on my back!). But it has had to be on our terms (which sounds so selfish, I know!). We've had to be honest with people and say, "I know you're trying to do something really nice for us, but that day just isn't good for us."
  7. Eliminate All Obligations: I have a surprising amount of time on my hands as I lie around and heal, breastfeed, sleep, and eat. However, I am still so, so thankful that there's nothing I have to do. I don't have to check my e-mail unless I want to and feel up to it. I don't have to write a blog post unless I'm inspired to say something. Clearing my plate of all obligations has really helped me stay as relaxed and stress-free as possible during this transition period.
  8. Stay Hydrated: Our bodies need a ton of water to perform optimally. At the beginning of the day, Matt fills up two, 40-ounce water bottles for me. We pour them into a cup with a straw all day long. My goal is to drink all 80 ounces each day.
  9. Get as Much Sleep as Possible: Matt and I try to go to bed at 9pm every night and stay in bed until 9am every morning. We're not perfect at adhering to the schedule, but it does work for us when we do (at least for now!). Henry breastfeeds on and off all night long, but I'm still able to accumulate a decent amount of sleep during that 12-hour period. Also, I try to force myself to take at least one nap while the baby is napping during the day.
  10. Try to Have Everything You Need in Advance: Having almost everything we need has been so helpful at reducing our stress level. We have our cloth diapers (which had to be pre-washed 5-7 times before use), disposable diapers in case we run out of cloth, cloth wipes (which I also use to wipe the lanolin off my hands), baby outfits, baby hats, extra food, lots of maxi-pads, extra sheets, a plastic fitted sheet to protect our mattress from bleeding, a comfortable cushion to sit on when I take baths, a thermometer, an Ergo carrier, extra thank you cards, etc. The one thing I didn't think to get was a thermometer for the bathtub.
  11. Make Adjustments as Necessary: Matt and I had two different plans for co-sleeping, one which involved a small infant bed on our bed, and another than involved an infant bed next to our bed. We definitely realized we prefer having our baby in the bed with us, but we quickly ditched the little infant bed because it takes too much room while I'm breastfeeding. Now we just let Henry sleep directly on our mattress, cradled safely between my body and my arm.
  12. Have Confidence: As a new parent, there's a lot to learn and experiment with. We just have to do our best and have confidence in the fact that our best is good enough. Being nervous about making a mistake is only going to detract from the experience.
  13. Focus on the Positive: I had one really down day when Henry breastfed for something like ten hours, and Matt was itching to get out of the bedroom so I was alone a lot. He was getting tired of my incessant needs, and I was frustrated that I couldn't take care of any of my own needs. I cried a lot. I decided, though, that after I let myself feel what I was feeling, I was then going to focus on the positive and be grateful for everything I have in my life. Yes, being a mother is hard but it's also an amazing opportunity--one for which I am eternally grateful. This particular time in our lives is very fleeting, and I should appreciate it while I have it.

Man, oh man. Every time I start making one of these lists, I start to realize that I can't possibly make it exhaustive because my own perspective is so limited. Then I start to question whether I should publish the list at all. Oy vey!

Please add your own ideas in the comments section. I would greatly appreciate your help with making this list more comprehensive. Thank you!

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Henry J.'s Birth Story

It seems that writing one's birth story is a little like looking at a piece of Pointillism art, something along the lines of Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. The closer you stand (to the painting and the birth experience), the more raw, unfinished, discrete, and incoherent the separate pieces are. The farther back you stand from the painting (and the more time and emotional distance you put between yourself and the birth), the more it starts to blend into a cohesive whole.

By writing about the experience so soon, I worry that I haven't given myself the distance and space I need to smooth out the experience. With each passing day, however, I feel the discrete pieces blend more and more into a coherent whole. As my love for my son sinks its deep roots into the soil of my heart and sends its strong stem up toward the light, the rawness and difficulty and pain of birth start to blur into the background.

Matt and I chose a home birth with a midwife because of this idea:

"If we hope to create a non-violent world where respect and kindness replace fear and hatred. We must begin with how we treat each other at the beginning of life. For that is where our deepest patterns are set. From these roots grow fear and alienation~or love and trust."--Suzanne Arms

Although I had a clear vision of how I wanted the birth to unfold and did everything in my power to bring that vision to fruition, I also went into the experience with the understanding that we can only control the inputs--not the outputs--of our lives. In a letter to myself, I wrote:

If, at any point, the birth deviates from the plan, you will rest assured that you have done everything within your power. You will relax into the Universe’s intentions and embrace the expertise of your team.

At the very end of my pregnancy, my liver started to malfunction. It's a rare disease of pregnancy, called intrahepatic cholestasis, that usually clears up right after delivery. However, it does come with an increased risk of still-birth, so as the days started to accumulate past Henry's due date, the midwife had many conversations with the back-up physician. He started to push for a "timely delivery of the baby." My midwife, Matt, and I were encouraged by my lab work and didn't want to invite the risks associated with induction into the experience.

Still, it was a scary place to be. We wanted to make the very best decisions for the baby, but the path was never very clear. We didn't want a tragic outcome and then have to look back and think, "We should have made a different decision."

Natural induction was always an option (like Castor oil), but any type of induction is still a potentially risky intervention (not to mention the fact that I really didn't want to go into labor with severe gastrointestinal cramping and diarrhea). Once I hit my due date, the midwife recommended that I start taking Evening of Primrose to help prepare my cervix. As we approached the second week past my due date, she recommended that I start taking a homeopathic remedy that would help "nudge" labor along but wouldn't be as drastic as Castor oil. Both of these approaches were very mild, since we really wanted to let the baby come when he was ready.

When my labor started Saturday night with contractions (at 41 weeks and 4 days), Matt and I headed to Whole Foods to distract ourselves and finish some last-minute to-do items. After we checked everything off our "Birth Day" action plan, we headed to bed around 11:30pm to try and get as much rest as possible.

Around 1am, the contractions got to the point where I had to sit up in order to really relax into them. I concentrated on relaxing my shoulders, face, and the rest of my body while I coached myself with messages like, "This pain has a purpose. My baby is coming to me." and "Open, open, open." I reminded myself to work with my body, not against it and tried to breathe deeply into every contraction to make it count. I welcomed deep, powerful contractions to make the birth as efficient and effective as possible.

At that point, the contractions were about five minutes apart. I was counting down the hours until I could call our doula. I didn't want to call her too early because I wanted to section the labor into discrete parts (Matt and I alone, us with the doula, all of us with the midwife), in order to help the time pass more quickly. She was actually the back-up doula because my original doula was at an out-of-town event (during which she got the flu and had to go home anyway).

The doula came in the morning, but she said I was still very early in labor and that we should just focus on resting. Since my contractions were coming consistently every 5-6 minutes, resting was not much of an option. She got me set up on the couch with pillows everywhere, but I still wasn't very comfortable. Meanwhile, Matt came down with something that seemed like the flu and was in miserable shape himself. We spent all day Sunday alone, trying our best to ride the waves of my contractions and his sickness. Getting in the shower helped a lot, as well as sitting on the birthing ball and leaning onto a pillow on the bathroom counter.

Late that evening, I asked the midwife to come over and check how dilated I was. Right as she arrived, my water broke, which was very encouraging to me. However, I was still only 3cm dilated. The midwife went home to rest, but the doula came back over to provide more support. While Matt tried to cope with his sickness through sleep, the doula helped me work through different positions. For example, I walked around a lot, swayed through contractions, walked up and down stairs, and sat on the toilet.

At various points throughout the process, she would hook me up to the fetal monitor to make sure Henry was handling the labor okay. Once we started nipple stimulation as a way to speed up the frequency of the contractions, the doula got worried about not seeing enough accelerations in Henry's heart pattern. She called the midwife who came right over. The midwife wasn't as worried by the results of the fetal monitor, but she stayed to support the rest of the labor.

We continued the nipple stimulation and then tried an herbal stimulant. Although my contractions were intense and painful, they were only coming about 6-7 minutes apart and I was only 7cm dilated. I did get in the birthing tub a few times, but the contractions seemed to slow down even more.

Around noon on Monday--after 40 hours of labor at home--the midwife suggested that we go to the hospital for some Pitocin. She explained that she was worried that we would run into problems during the delivery if we couldn't get the contractions any closer. For example, we might deliver the head but then need to wait a long time to deliver the rest of the body, which could put the baby into distress.

Although I was completely dejected by the idea of going to the hospital, I had complete trust in my midwife. I knew she would not recommend such an intervention unless she really believed it was necessary. Still, I was in a really bad place as we drove to the hospital. I was scared of what would happen there. I was frustrated with every painful contraction that I had to endure in the car during the long drive to the hospital (plus Matt missed the exit), since they didn't really seem to be helpful to me.

At the hospital, we had to go through a long check-in procedure. While my doula pushed me around in a wheelchair, a woman said something to me. My doula said, "Oh, how nice. I think she said a prayer for you." I said, "That's funny. I thought she was telling me to close my legs because my underwear was showing."

When we finally got into the room, everything I feared started to come true. I was immediately hooked up to an IV, which I had to stay attached to for more than 12 hours, even though I was already fully hydrated and nourished from drinking and eating throughout my entire labor. I was also hooked up to a fetal monitor for constant monitoring, as well as a contraction monitor, which was very tight and uncomfortable around my uterus. Then I had to wear a blood pressure cuff that seemed to deploy and check my blood pressure every minute and a half. When I needed to use the restroom, we had to wheel the entire IV cart with me.

My midwife asked the nurse for a birthing ball, but there were none. My midwife then called her husband to bring us a birthing ball from their house.

At that point, I tried to rouse myself out of my despondency and remind myself that I needed to do this for our baby. The nurse pretty much left my midwife and doula in charge of helping me labor. There are pieces of this part of the story that I hope time and distance begin to whitewash away, like being asked by the nurse to lay on my back through a contraction so she could insert her fingers and try to push back the lip of my cervix. I just kept telling myself that I needed to do it for our baby.

Throughout the entire process of labor, time went by surprisingly quickly. Every time I looked at a clock, hours had gone by. The nights turned quickly into the days. I endured very painful contractions (in my butt, since giving birth to a baby essentially feels like you are pooping it out), for 3.5 hours with Pitocin at the hospital. Then my back-up physician came in for the delivery. I pushed with all my might because everyone kept staring at the fetal monitor, and I desperately did not want to have a c-section. I knew I had to hurry.

I'm still not entirely sure how I managed to push a 9-pound, 4-ounce baby out of my body, but he came to us safely and perfectly. In retrospect, my midwife thinks his position was just slightly off, so that each contraction wasn't quite pushing his head into the cervix in a way that would help it dilate the way it needed to. The back-up physician thinks Henry was completely backwards (i.e., face-up), but that explanation doesn't really make sense, since the baby was never face-up in any of my prenatal exams, and I also never had any back labor. My original doula thinks the fact that the cord was wrapped around his neck twice led my body to undergo a slower and more prolonged labor as a way to prevent the baby from going into distress.

The hospital had a "no separation" option that allowed us to keep our baby next to us the entire time. He was never taken away to the nursery. We opted out of the newborn bath and as many tests/procedures as possible. For all the mandatory things, the staff came to our room. We checked out as early as we could the next day and quickly made our way back to the comforts of our own home.

At the end of the day, I am so thankful for the birth experience we had. If we had gone to the hospital any earlier, I probably would have ended up with a c-section because of hospital protocol around how long you are allowed to labor without making "adequate progress." If we had gone in much later, I would have run the risk of being too exhausted to put in as much effort as the pushing process required or the baby could have gone into distress.

I feel so, so grateful and fortunate and immensely lucky that all the choices and decisions we made took us down a path that had a safe and healthy outcome for our son, while maintaining as peaceful and natural birth as possible.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Implementing Change in Your Life

I have two areas in my life that I'm really working to change:

  1. I want to do a better job of keeping our house clean throughout the week. We do a good job of doing our chores once a week, but we let things get cluttered throughout the week.
  2. I want to put forth a concerted effort to speak Spanish fluently, so I can communicate better with many of my students' families.

Unfortunately, I've made a habit of telling myself that I want to change these things, instead of actually making it a habit of doing them.

I tried to think back to times in my life when I have successfully changed my habits, and I realized there are two key components that are necessary for making a change:
  1. Delineating the specific actions that must be undertaken in order to implement the change: It's not enough to say "I want to exercise more." It has to be more specific like, "I want to walk 3 times a week for 30 minutes and do The 30-Day Shred twice a week for 20 minutes." If the goal is too vague, it's easier to make excuses, and it's more difficult to actually do it.
  2. Making it a routine with specific days and times: Again, it's not enough to say "I want to walk for 30 minutes 3 days a week and work out for 20 minutes two days a week." It's better to say, "On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I'm going to walk before work from 6:00-6:30am. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I'm going to do the exercise video after work from 5:00-5:20." If your schedule is variable, then you could try sitting down at the beginning of each week to plan out what days/time will work for that specific week.

Following my own advice, here's what my plan needs to look like:
  • Every morning before I make breakfast, I will put away the dishes from the night before. After dinner, I will spend ten minutes picking up the house.
  • Before going to bed Sunday through Thursday, I will spend 20 minutes working through my Spanish CDs on my computer. I will set the timer on my iPhone to keep track of how long I have been working.
With very specific actions and specific times, I feel much more likely to actually implement these changes!Numbered List

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Monday, March 7, 2011

Montessori Resources

As a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade teacher at a public Montessori school, I use the site, Montessori Print Shop, quite often. I can download a material (like informational cards about the planets) for a couple bucks, turn around and upload the pdf on the FedEx Kinko's website, and then pick up the material printed in color on cardstock the next day.

I recently learned that they also offer entire teaching manuals. I added the Practical Life one to my baby registry. It's only $18 for lots of cool activities.

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Adorable Handmade Mobiles

Image courtesy of petitcollage

Oh, I am weak in the knees for these bamboo mobiles. So precious!

Etsy is a godsend. I get a little overwhelmed if I am trying to look for something specific and have to browse through page after page, but I like just going to the homepage and taking a peek at the featured items. People are so gosh darn talented!

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Ta-da! Our sweet boy is here!

After traveling to 20 states in utero, our little Henry Jones Cotner-Bradford decided to see the light of day on February 28, 2011. He weighs 9 pounds, 4 ounces and is 23" long. We feel ecstatic and exhausted and exhilarated all at once. I will update you on all the details of my 45 hours of labor as soon as we're back on our feet…

Sending smooches and other love to you!


{ Photos }

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{ Matt’s Blog }

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DIY Microwave Popcorn

I'm a huge fan of eating popcorn for a snack. I love that it's full of fiber but not calories! I've already talked about how easy it is to cook on the stove-top, but sometimes I need to cook it even faster. I recently learned that you can make your own super-quick popcorn by dumping some kernels in a paper lunch bag, adding a tablespoon of olive oil and seasoning, squeezing the excess air out of the bag, shaking to distribute the oil and seasoning, closing it with a little piece of tape, and popping it in the microwave (following the same directions you would for a traditional bag of microwavable popcorn).

Deliciously easy!

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Indulging Children's Fantasies

The "Easter Bunny" on Matt's lap at Whole Foods

I read an article in Mothering Magazine about a mother who decided to nurture her daughter's interest in fairies by responding to her daughter's letters to fairies, from the perspective of a fairy.

When the daughter learned the truth several years later, she felt completely betrayed and cried and cried.

I remember having a similar reaction when I discovered my old teeth in my mother's underwear drawer. I remember finding those little packages of tissue and tooth that I so carefully prepared for the tooth fairy. When I found those packets, I immediately made the logical leap that my mother must have also been faking Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I, too, felt completely betrayed, and I did lose a bit of trust in our relationship.

I guess parents have to decide what is better: years of anticipation/fun/excitement and a potential, powerful betrayal years later or not indulging in any of the fantasies and being honest the whole time.

For me, I think my answer is that I choose to be honest the whole time. I won't actively say, "Santa Claus doesn't exist," but I won't put packages under the tree and sign them as if they're from Santa. I won't set out cookies, eat them when the children are sleeping, and intentionally leave crumbs on the floor.

I understand why people help children dwell in the magic of childhood, but I can't help but worry about the underbelly of such practices. I want our child to trust our words and our actions. I want to model living with integrity and honesty. I don't want our child to have the rug pulled out from under his feet when he discovers that we've been lying to him for so many years.

I imagine that this approach will be quite controversial! I don't mean to sound like I'm judging others who choose to cultivate fantasy in their children's lives. I just wanted to share my perspective and start a dialogue.

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