Mother’s Day, 2016

Daughters of mine.  I am going to talk at church on Mother’s Day. Mom doesn’t know and I want to keep it that way.  Anyway, I would like each of you, as you are now Mothers and Wives, to write a paragraph about mom, looking from the perspective that you now have as daughters, mothers and wives.  Thanks, Dad

I used to think that the greatest gift I had ever been given was my life. My literal, physical life. Now that I have my own children, I know what a sacrifice that literal, physical life is to give to another person, but I’ve since realized that the greatest gift I’ve ever been given was my LIFE – in the grander sense of the word.

My children are very young – six months and three years old – and so I have had but a VERY SMALL glimpse into what it is going to take to give two people a LIFE beyond life itself.

See, motherhood is not just in the life-giving, motherhood is in the every day, the choices made in the every moment. It is soothing that cry in the middle of the night followed by that 6:00 AM bright-eyed-bushy-tailed-toddler wake up call. It is in the grocery shopping and meal planning and meal making and meal clean up and you know, ALL the diapers. It is in the work to make the money to buy the food in the first place. It is in the bathing and the getting dressed and the laundry. The packing of the bags to make the memories. And then the unpacking of the bags. And then, well, more laundry. It is in the reading of the books every single day. It is in the singing of the nursery rhyme songs. It is in the dress up box and at the top of the slide at the park. It is in the painting of the tiniest fingernails, the brushing of the hair and the teeth, the kisses, the hugs, bandaids on scraped knees, and taking a deep, DEEP, DEEEEEEEEP breath during the tantrums.

I try not to think too hard about the fact that this is the simplest it is ever going to be for me as a mother. That we haven’t even started school, and friends, and alcohol, and the internet, and love, and sex, and jobs and the world. I just try to work hard and hope that my capacity grows along with theirs.

And the thing about being a mother is that it never stops. I firmly believe that the older your kids get the more they need you. At least, that’s how it is for me. I just turned 40 and I need my mother for everything from taking care of my kids while I’m laying on the bathroom floor, sick as a dog while my husband is on shift, to asking for the upteenth time how long it takes to cook an artichoke.

Every day Alek and I do what we like to call “the sweep.” After the kids are in bed we go around picking up toys, doing dishes, talking about how things went that day, how we could do better and be better and generally pushing the “reset” button in preparation for the next day. And every day at the end of “the sweep”, I feel SO grateful for my parents. So grateful for all of the moments and the days and the years and the choices that gave me my LIFE.

Thank you mom, for my LIFE. And for extending all of that infinite love to my babies, the life you give goes on and on.


Estelle Turns One

Watching Estelle turn the big 01 was so…surreal. And amazing. We have felt so much love and received so much support from everyone in our lives that I couldn’t bring myself to do a toast at her party. I knew I would burst into tears and I wouldn’t have the excuse that I was pregnant and it would just be a big hot mess.

ANYWAYS, I received the loveliest letter from Alek’s sister Leanna. She is supremely smart and supremely funny and her letter summed up how I felt about Estelle’s birthday (and our lives in general) so perfectly, I had to share.

From Lone Star guacamole and chips brought to my postpartum recovery room to the surprise balloon arch waiting when we showed up at the big birthday bash,  thank you, thank you, thank you, for the last year.

Alek + Natalia,

It was so much fun hanging out with you this trip. I’m pleased that you finally got some heirloom furniture in my room, but I will always have fond memories of sleeping on your couch.

I loved being there for Estelle’s first birthday. You surround yourselves with such fun, remarkable, interesting people: like the center of this perfect, glowing universe. I’m so lucky to be a part of it, and I love that your friends are always automatically my friends. Even Especially the ones I made out with.

I love Alek’s rambling stories and firehouse BBQs and leaving me with crying Estelle. I miss being a part of your everyday lives, but I always feel like I fit right in. You two mean a lot to me, and one of these days, Nat will actually visit me instead of playing with my emotions. (I’ll make you do the 5K freedom run again as punishment).

Love you!


So, this is what I look like now.

I have to preface this post with a couple of things:

1. Re-iterating, again, how incredibly blessed I feel to have had a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. So please don’t misinterpret any of this as complaining. But after having a baby I now realize how much we DON’T say when it comes to the postpartum body. So this is my attempt at being honest.

2. Alek has never, and I mean NEVER made me feel less than beautiful. Every day. Every time he sees me, no matter the state I am in. I always feel loved. I always feel desired. He is an incredible partner. I don’t know how you do this with someone who makes you feel lesser. And if you happen to be with someone who ever makes you feel less than beautiful, DO NOT have a baby with that person. And if you see a pregnant or freshly postpartum lady around, give her a compliment. Trust me, it will be well-received.

Alright! Onward!

The questions I get asked about most from my girlfriends who have not had babies all have to do with the postpartum body: Did you get stretch marks? How much weight did you gain? Etc. etc. All of these are asked of me in low tones with pleading eyes. And there is nothing you can say to make these women feel less apprehensive.

Yes, I gained weight.
Yes, I greased the shit out of my belly with the best prayer creams money could buy from the moment I found out I was pregnant until the day I went in for an induction and yes, I got stretch marks.

[SIDEBAR: To my point above, when my stretch marks hit, I was, on a range of mildly disappointed to pretty upset, more on the upset side of the scale. And Alek found some meme or article or chain email or Facebook something something about an African tribe where women with stretch marks were the most desirable in the tribe because stretch marks were considered the ultimate sign of womanhood. And then he kissed my belly, told me he loved me, thanked me for carrying our baby and, well, the stretch marks haven’t really upset me as much since. See what I mean about the right partner?]

Here is the thing that I don’t feel like we women talk about: you will have a completely different body after you have a baby. I am surrounded by women who have BEAUTIFUL bodies AND also have kids. So I am in no way saying that you will have a “bad” body after a baby. But you will have a DIFFERENT body. And that is just a fact.

You will always feel tired. [I don’t know when this part ends. Maybe when they go to Kindergarten?]
Your hair will be different. [Nothing falls out your entire pregnancy and a few weeks postpartum and you’re standing in the shower holding a clump of hair in your hand that takes your breath away. I have more gray hair now than ever. Much of what laser hair removal did has now been undone. The list goes on…]
Your skin will be different.
Your belly will be different.
Your breasts will be gone, and they are never coming back.
Your lady business will be different. [TIP: Maybe wait until a few weeks after you’ve had that gorgeous baby before you get all curious and check out your lady business in a mirror…just saying…]
Your feet will be different. [And by different I mean bigger. And sure, you’ll squish those big bastards into your stilettos for in important presentation at work one day, but you’ll pay for it.]
You will be…softer. That is the only way I can describe it.
Your body will have done what it was made to do. And pretty much all of that “doing” is driven by hormones. Hormones that come into play when you get pregnant, when you enter new phases of pregnancy, when you go into labor, when your labor is over, when your milk comes in, while you’re breast feeding, when you STOP breastfeeding. [Are my hormones now back to where they were pre-pregnancy? Do they ever go back? Is this just the new normal? I really have no idea.]

We are culturally fixated on postpartum baby weight. How much weight did you gain? How quickly did you lose the weight? How much weight did Kim Kardashian gain? And OMG have you SEEN Kate Middleton? She looks AMAZING!

So let’s just get it out there about my weight gain – ~16 pounds. OF COURSE I ballooned up to ~50 pounds of weight gain by the time I gave birth, but after birth, losing water weight, breast feeding, some light walking around the neighborhood, not eating ice cream every single day, etc. etc. I really netted out at about ~16 extra pounds. And if I’m being honest I had about 25 pounds to lose BEFORE I even got pregnant so ~16 pounds in exchange for THIS:

SO not a big deal. And when you really start to think about what you GET for that weight gain – A F**KING BABY – any amount of pounds put on is SO not a big deal.

I have a friend who said to me “If you’re planning two kids back to back, you just need to know that you’re not going to feel like yourself for a long time.”

This is, BY FAR, the best piece of pregnancy wisdom that has been shared with me. Because the reality for me is that my postpartum body experience has not been about the weight or the hair loss or the big feet, it has been about finding myself again, and finding well-being for ME, not for the baby.

See, if you are planning a pregnancy, there is the lead up to the unprotected sex part. Where you start looking at yourself as a potential baby making machine. You take up a healthier lifestyle so that when you get pregnant, you’re in a good state. [Well, in my case, I probably needed to lose that 25 pounds, but I did lose all those prescription medications and soft cheeses and never missed a prenatal vitamin so…] This is when you start to distance yourself from, well, yourself. And the choices you make and the lifestyle you’re living become less about you.

When you get pregnant, every choice that you make when it comes to your health and well-being is about the well-being of your baby. And there’s also the part where you’re just trying to figure out what the hell is going on down there.

Then you have the baby and you’re STILL figuring out what the hell is going on down there. And that doesn’t really matter because you’re now smitten and fascinated by this whole entire person that just came into your life and making sure their needs are met.

Then you go back to work and there’s THAT.

And time with Alek.

And time with friends.

And time with family.

And grocery shopping.

And life.

And then suddenly it’s the holidays.

This year our Christmas Card photo was taken by Justin Hackworth, a photographer that is known for creating very real, very NOT-Photoshopped, #nofilter -type portraits. We have our shoot, and everything seems great. And we go back to look at the photos and when he shows them to us I am kind of in a state of shock, because I really felt like I was looking at a stranger. I kept thinking “So, this is what I look like now?” And I was forced, literally, to take a good look at myself.

And it was really, really hard to face how disconnected I felt from my own body.

But I had to face it, and then quickly choose one of these photos to mail to 175 of our closest family, friends and colleagues.

I’m not gonna lie, it took some time to love these photos. I am so so grateful to have them though. All extra-41-pounds-tired-wrinkled-bad-hair-no-boobs-soft-belly single one of them. Because FINALLY, after six months, I SAW MYSELF.

One of the many reasons I wanted to have a baby was to evolve who I was as a person. To challenge myself every single day with something I had never experienced before. It was just so unexpected that the first evolution was a physical one.

So as I go into this New Year, YES, I KNOW, I need to lose 40-ish pounds. Sheesh.

But more importantly, I want to focus on this when I look in the mirror:

Being grateful and MARVELING in the fact that this body [THIS BODY!] brought life to a new person.
A daughter.
My daughter.
My body [THIS BODY!] channeled a human being with a heart and a soul and a smile and a demeanor that totally and completely surprises and delights me every single day.

I am NEW.

This is an EVOLUTION.
This is an AWAKENING.

I am becoming the person I was meant to be.

And this is what I look like now.

all photos by Justin Hackworth

It’s Like Christmas Day, For Adults

When I first found out I was pregnant, I thought “Oh, I am going to blog like CRAZY. I’m going to document EVERYTHING that I’m feeling and going through in a totally open and honest way and it’s going to be AMAZING. Future Natalie is going to be SO GRATEFUL to have all of this written down.”
WELL, that was like 12 months ago.
Then I got really really really busy.
Sorry Future Natalie.
ANYWAYS, the wee one is here! I am sharing her birth story because I really appreciated reading other people’s birth stories. So, you know, karma.

I want to state a couple of things up front:
1.     I am incredibly, incredibly grateful that I was able to get pregnant, stay healthy, carry a healthy baby to full term and have a healthy delivery for both me and the baby. I have friends that struggle with fertility problems and miscarriages. I have friends that cannot have biological children. I have friends that have hard pregnancies and difficult deliveries. I have friends whose babies came too early. And I have friends whose babies passed away too soon. While I may make mention of complain about something like buying shoes that were 2 ½ sizes bigger than usual to house my incredibly swollen feet, please know that I know that this whole process is miraculous and that I am very VERY lucky.
2.     From the moment you tell people you’re having unprotected sex trying to get pregnant they have an opinion. ON EVERYTHING. And lots of these people that are giving you advice telling you what to do don’t even have a vagina! (What? You’re NOT taking an extra iron supplement with your prenatal vitamin??!!! OHMYGOD!! And it just goes on and on from there.) So please know that I chose the birth plan that was right for me and I am just sharing my experience. I’m in no way telling you what I think you should do or that I am SO RIGHT because believe me I am as sick of other people’s advice as you are.
Whew! OK, here we go.
From the beginning I really wanted a natural childbirth. For me, a natural childbirth meant no medical interventions throughout the labor and delivery – waiting for the baby to come on her own (no induction), no pain medication and no epidural. However, my “natural-ness” ended there. I utterly and completely adore my Doctor and after my sister’s great birth experience with him (which ended in an emergency C-section) I wanted to have the baby under his care and in a hospital. (P.S. If you are interested in natural childbirth, I would recommend watching The Business of Being Born series.) 
I told my Dr. I wanted a natural birth and he recommended a hypnobirthing coach who he lovingly referred to as “Yoda.” He was very positive about hypnotherapy not just as a pain management technique for childbirth, but for life.
So we signed up for hypnobirthing classes. Sidebar – if you are a first time Mom I would recommend signing up for some sort of birthing class. I really had not done any research into labor and delivery and as they say, knowledge is power.  It was very comforting to understand the ins and outs of how this baby getting outside of my body was going to go down.
Sidebar on the sidebar – even if you are planning to get an epidural, I would highly recommend looking into hypnobirthing classes. There are two reasons for this. First, the whole hypnobirthing/natural childbirthing movement is centered around changing your perception of pregnancy and childbirth, which has no doubt been shaped media portrayals of childbirth (screaming and crying and PAIN) as well as the horrible birth stories everyone likes to tell you (and people don’t stop telling you these stories, ever.) The hypnobirthing philosophy looks at pregnancy and childbirth as completely natural. Something your body was built to do. It is incredibly empowering and takes a lot of fear out of the unknown. It teaches you to acknowledge those horrible experiences, say “that is not going to be my experience” and set them aside in your mind. Second, the relaxation and breathing techniques that are taught in hypnotherapy were incredibly helpful to me throughout my pregnancy. They helped me calm down if I started feeling overwhelmed, they helped me fall asleep, and they helped when the baby was breech and had to be turned via an ECV
And even if you get an epidural, you will still be laboring before it kicks in, so you’re going to need SOMETHING. 
Many people have asked me what hypnobirthing is exactly. It’s basically a shorter way of saying “pain management through guided meditation.” You’re not “hypnotizing yourself.” You won’t be running around dilated to a six bock-bock-bagaaaaak-ing like a chicken or anything. Hypnotherapy uses a combination of breathing techniques and guided meditation to bring your focus completely inward, centered on a singular purpose. It also guides you into as relaxed a state as you can possibly be in. Even though you are in a sort-of trance, you are aware of what is happening around you and can make decisions.
For me, someone who has an incredibly hard time stilling my mind, being able to go into this type of state took a lot of practice. To prepare, I attended hypnobirthing classes, read this book, listened to a hypnobirthing script AT LEAST once per week and attended about ten private, hour-long sessions with a hypnotherapist. I also did A LOT of prenatal yoga. Yet another sidebar: the yoga was EXTREMELY helpful when it came to accepting and loving my ever-changing body and practicing different breathing techniques.
I also got a lot of prenatal massages. But I don’t think that really has anything to do with anything other than a real prenatal massage from someone who specializes in maternity massage feels SO GOOD. Three words: TREAT YO SELF


Coming out of this experience I am a total hypnotherapy and meditation convert and as my doctor predicted – the techniques I learned will help me throughout my life.
So, I’d done the work. I was becoming a Zen master-ish. And then a wrench was thrown into my grand plan: I had to be induced.
It sort of runs in the family that our babies arrive late. From the minute I found out I was pregnant I always had it in my head that my pregnancy would go 42-weeks and the due date was just a date-ish.  And that was good for me because the last four weeks of my pregnancy I went from being dilated to a 1 to being dilated to a 1.7. And let’s face it, my doctor probably added the 0.7 to make me feel like something was happening.  (AND YES EVERYONE – I had spicy food, drank teas, went on walks, had lots of sex, etc. etc. etc. ) In other words, without medical intervention I would probably still be pregnant.
ANYWAYS, I was scheduled for an induction at 41 weeks. I REALLY REALLY didn’t want to be induced. All of my hippie-natural-childbirth stuff said inductions were to be avoided at all costs. The baby would come on her own. Your body and your baby knew what they were doing. Most importantly,  an induction was a very slippery slope to all sorts of medical interventions that you couldn’t control and didn’t want.
This was on Thursday. The induction was scheduled for Monday morning. I spent Friday feeling very blue about the whole business. Then my lovely lovely friend Estelle called on Saturday. I think she could sense from my texts that this was stressing me out. Estelle was the one who inspired me to go for a natural childbirth in the first place and what followed was an incredibly comforting conversation during which she reassured me that 1. I HAD to let go. I  HAD to be flexible. You can’t “plan” childbirth. 2. It didn’t really matter in the end HOW the baby arrived, as long as she and I were healthy. And 3. “Remember, no one is going to give you a f**king medal for natural childbirth.”
This is why I named my baby after her.
Since I had let go and accepted this process, I will say that it was nice to know that I was going to have my baby on Monday or somewhere thereabouts.
They pushed the Pitocin at about 9:00 AM. 
Shortly thereafter my doctor broke the amniotic sac (which sounded horrible in theory but in actuality was not painful in any way and provided some immediate relief from pressure) and we were a go.
Because of the Pitocin I had to be hooked up to an IV and I also ended up with an internal electronic fetal heart monitorThis meant that I could not use the tub, which was fine because I wasn’t really planning on using it anyway. If you’ve ever read my blog you know of my hideously dry skin. So getting out of the tub and greasing myself up with lotion in the midst of hard labor just wasn’t going to happen.
I asked Alek if he would remind me every hour or so to get up and use the bathroom. I’d read something about damage to your bladder if you had to wee during pushing (or maybe I had just totally made that up) and I also didn’t really want to end up doing a number two in front of Alek and everyone.
Since Alek is familiar with all of the medical equipment, he could hook-up and unhook everything. So, I really lucked out because I didn’t have to call a nurse every time I had to go to the bathroom.
My first order of business was to relax. We turned off all of the lights. I turned my phone to airplane mode so there wouldn’t be any interruptions. I started by listening to a couple of meditation scripts to get rolling.
After a little while I couldn’t really concentrate on the voice and the script so I switched over to music for the rest of the day. I listened to our wedding dinner mix, which was a compilation of all of our favorite sort-of-quiet songs. (Think The XX, Sia, Miike Snow, Passion Pit, Coldplay.) And at the end of my labor I listened to the soundtrack of my adult life, Alice In Chains Jar of Flies two or three times. 
In the hypnobirthing classes there were a lot of discussions about options for pain management during laboring – walking around, getting in the tub, using a birthing ball, having your birth partner give you a “light touch” massage, etc. Other than Alek reminding me to get up to go to the bathroom every once in a while, I didn’t really move around or get out of bed at all. I just wanted to lay there in the dark and the quiet and listen to the music. I liked Alek being close enough to the bed so that I could touch him or we could hold hands, but I did not want any kind of stimulation like a massage. I felt bad for Alek, because I thought it was probably pretty boring.

Let’s just talk about Alek for a minute. One of the reasons I was so confident that I could handle a natural birth was knowing that he would be my partner. I knew that I could completely surrender myself to this process and that he could handle everything else. I trusted him completely and I knew that he would be there for me in every way and would be the best possible advocate for me and our baby. And just like everything else my life, labor and delivery rolled out smoothly because he was so helpful and so loving and so present. I have a vivid memory of looking at him when it was time to push. He was at my side with his hand on my head. He was looking at me and tears were rolling down his face. I guess I was surprised at how emotional it was for him. And I knew in that moment that the stretch marks and the sleep loss and the weight gained were so worth it to give Alek a child and that I would do it all over again in a heartbeat for him.

Everyone was very respectful of my process. I have vague recollections of my doctor and nurses checking up on me but the day was pretty quiet. I remember Alek telling me my Mom and Dad were on the way because they were too excited to wait at home and thinking “Oh man, but it’s SO BORING in here!”
Besides staying in a calm, quiet state, in a calm, quiet environment, there were a few things that were very useful during my laboring:
  • Good music that took me to a happy place
  • Simple yoga breathing. In-2-3-4-5-6-7-8, Out-2-3-4-5-6-7-8…
  • My hypnotherapy coach had given me an anchor.” When I touched my thumb and forefinger together it brought me to a calm, centered, place of power.
  • The hypnobirthing script I was most familiar with had a line “There is no pain, only pressure.” I repeated this over and over. That very simple twist on what I was supposed to be feeling was very powerful. Thinking back on labor I don’t really feel like there was any pain, only pressure.
But the most helpful part of the process was visualizing my baby. With every contraction she was making her way into the world. With every contraction she was even closer. We were working together and I needed to stay very connected with her. I found it comforting to see the heart monitor and know that she was with me all the time. It was up to the two of us and I wanted her to know that we were so excited for her to be here and I was going to to my part to try to make her entry into the world as peaceful as possible.
You are pregnant for SO LONG. (I had an app that told me how many days I had been pregnant and let’s just say it’s not a good idea to look at it in terms of days.)  It is hard to picture what it will be like to not be pregnant, and for your baby to be here and for your new life to begin. At one point after a strong contraction I was hit with a powerful wave of emotion and I started to cry. Alek was worried that I was in too much pain, but it was just finally…REAL. Our baby was going to be here soon and I was so happy.
Time was totally a blur. I only had some context when I got up to use the bathroom and glanced at the clock. At one point I felt like I was going to throw up with every contraction. I asked Alek to find something I could throw up into, just in case. Not only did he do that, but he ordered up some Zofran
The hardest part of labor for me was getting the urge to push, but not quite being dilated enough. So for the next few contractions I had to actively hold back from pushing, which was a lot more difficult than just relaxing through a contraction.
And then it was time to push. And everything changed. Lights were on, my doctor was there, my Mom and Janaan were there and everyone sprang into action.
DAMN, it felt good to push.
This is the part where I talk about pooping. Let’s just get it out there. If you have never had a baby, you have absolutely no context for what labor and delivery are like. And as previously mentioned, people LOVE to tell you how painful it is and LOVE to tell you their horror stories. I’ll tell you what it was like for me. It felt like taking the biggest poop ever. That’s the closest approximation I can come up with. So don’t let the fear of the unknown get to you. Get EXCITED. Because it’s just like a big ol’ poop. And everyone knows how good it feels to take a poop, it’s just not polite to talk about it.
But I digress… 
Alek had a great relationship with my doctor and my doctor knew that Alek was not going to be the guy that gets grossed out or passes out. He made sure that I didn’t need Alek with me “up top” and about 40 minutes later, at 5:01 PM, our baby was born into Alek’s arms. 
I wouldn’t change a thing about my birth experience. The hypnotherapy. The music. The amazingness that is Alek. My incredible doctor and the labor and delivery staff. My loving and supportive family.

If you are pregnant and considering a natural childbirth – know this: YOU CAN DO IT. You absolutely can. Believe that. And if in the end, you don’t have a natural birth – that’s perfectly wonderful too. Estelle was right – stay flexible and do what it takes to stay healthy and get your baby here safely.
When the wee baby Estelle was born she was put right up on my chest. All I could manage to say was “Hiiii!” Even now when she is lying on my chest I go right back to that moment.
Remember when you were a kid, waking up on Christmas morning was like magic? It was a different feeling than any other day or any other event of the year. And all too soon you learned about the magic behind the magic and no matter how many times you read the Polar Express and TRIED to believe, you could never get that magic back?
Well,  a friend of mine told me that the moment her children were born was “Like Christmas for adults.” And that’s really and truly the best description.

It was magic. It felt like Christmas again. 

File This Post Under TMI: The Greatest Irony of Pregnancy

One night Alek and I were snuggled up in bed and — as he is often wont to do — Alek grabbed a handful.

Man, your boobs are SO awesome.”

“I know, right??!! They’re the greatest irony of pregnancy.”

“Um, what?”

“From the minute you find out you’re pregnant your boobs start to grow. But the first few weeks, when you basically still have your thin(ish) body with these fascinating, ever-changing ever-bigger boobs, you’re just not up to the task of enjoying them, you know? The heart is willing, but the body just wants to sleep and/or puke. By the time you’re feeling SO MUCH better and have SO MUCH more energy your belly is catching up, and then quickly surpassing, your ever-growing breasts. Then, when your boobs are at their most luscious and ripe state and your body is back(ish), you’ve got milk leaking out all over the place – or so I’ve been told. Meanwhile, your baby is sucking them dry, never to return to their former glorious state.” 

[Alek is now curled up in a ball on the other side of the bed, laughing hysterically.]

“Please please PLEASE tell me you will write down what you just said, word for word. Just like that. Aaaaahhhhhh, I love you Babah.”

You’re welcome.

And I love you too.

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