I'm A Broke (& Happy) Stay-At-Home Mom

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“You’re so lucky to be able to stay at home.”

“Some of us have to work for a living.”

“Homeschooling is not financially possible for my family.”

I've heard this so many times that I feel the need to make something very very clear: We don’t have any money. 

In fact, both my partner and I have been unemployed for several months now, while he continues to search for a job. Yes, that’s right: Two stay-at-home parents with only a few thousand dollars in savings. 

Let me rewind a little, though. 

Before I became pregnant with Elan, I didn’t know a thing about children. Still, I somehow managed to charm my way into getting hired in the infant room at a very reputable daycare in my city. So there I was, holding six-week-olds and watching their parents walk off into the distance each day. And after just four months of being with those babies, it was settled. I would never — could never — put my children in daycare. 

Fast forward to less than a year later, when I stopped by a clinic and took a free pregnancy test (because I couldn’t afford to buy one myself). This is where I first learned of Elan’s existence. It is where I first saw a glimpse of my life with him. And the image in my head was clear: It was him and I, at home together. My partner was nervous about supporting the three of us on one income, but I told him that there was just no way in hell that I would leave my baby. It simply was not an option. 

So, like many other families, we made it work. 

And it hasn’t been easy. In the first two years of Elan’s life, we’ve been through a lay-off, two new jobs and eight moves. We’ve had to lean on family for support during some of this time, living with them while we figured out our next plan. We've had many financial ups and downs (mostly downs) and have often arrived at the question, “Okay, what now?” 

But each time, we figured it out. And we won’t stop figuring it out, because there is nothing in this world that is more important than me being home with our babies in their early years. My initial gut feeling at that daycare is what led me to make this decision, but in the time since, I've only found more information to reinforce it. Even beyond the loads and loads of child development research, my biology tells me that I belong here with her. I give her milk, comfort, safety. I am home to her.

When people tell me that staying home for a year or two is "not possible", I wonder what they really mean by this. Is it really "not possible"? Do you really need that nice house or car? Do you need to make it on your own to prove some kind of point, or can you get support from family during this time? Do you really need to be a two income family right now? Is it really impossible to find enough money to get by for a year or two? 

It can be hard for me to gauge whether someone genuinely thinks it's impossible, or if they just don't want to be at home with a baby. But for those of you who do feel a pull to stay home, here's a glimpse at how my family makes it work. 

 

Minimalism

We made the conscious choice to value relationships over material possessions. This means that we spend with intention. Minimalism has not only enabled me to be a stay-at-home mom, but also a happy one because I'm not wasting my time picking up toys. When you really break down your spending habits and take a closer look at the source of your purchases, you may find that many are culturally driven. The mortgage, the nice car, the expensive clothes, the hair appointments, the TV bill. None of that is necessary. I guarantee every baby in the world would be happiest in a tiny studio apartment if it meant they could see their mama all day, every day.

Family

I have every intention to write a post about why the nuclear family model has ruined parenting for so many of us, but for now, I'll say that it's okay to lean on family when you need them. There is a lot of shame around this. We're made to feel like it's only acceptable to need your parents for 18 years, and then you have to leave the house without looking back. And honestly, I'm still struggling with this subconscious belief. The four of us are currently staying at Grandma's house for a bit and even though the time here is short, I sometimes feel that shame. But what is more important here? My ego, or that my children's needs are met? 

Start A Business

During my first pregnancy, I was busy brainstorming how to contribute financially. I had just created a pretty incredible skin serum that had worked wonders for my skin, so I decided to start selling it on Etsy. I didn't dedicate a lot of time and energy to my business, but I did make enough to help with our food costs. Anyone can do this. Think about it: What do you do well? What skills do you have to share with the world? Write about it, make and sell it or teach it! 

Celebrating one year in business!  

Celebrating one year in business!

 

Nannying

This is one of the few jobs where it's okay to take your child to work every day. Or even better, you could arrange it so that you watch the kid(s) at your own house. Join some local mom groups and put yourself out there. Or create an account on Care.com.

Government Assistance

There's a lot of shame around this one, too, but that shame is misplaced. We all know that the United States is one of the worst countries to be a new mom (or dad). Most companies only give you a few weeks with your baby before you're expected to come back to work. Our government downright disrespects the biological and emotional importance of the mother-baby dyad. This is shameful. Our mothers needs support. So please, know that it is okay to ask your government for that support. Especially if it means that you'll be at home raising a healthy, secure, emotionally-stable child who will eventually become an adult out in the workforce. Most applications can be done fairly quickly online. 

Other ideas: Live with other families (single parents, this one is especially for you!). Find a work/trade opportunity on a website like WWOOF, Workaway or HelpX. Rent out a room in your house/apartment on Airbnb. If you want to unschool or homeschool, gather other parents and create a co-op in your community. 

 

I'm not writing this to put down working parents. I'm fully aware that every situation is unique. And yes, I recognize my "privilege". I'm just sharing my experience with you because I want everyone to know that much of the time, it is possible. When you value something so incredibly much, you make it possible. Creative solutions can only come about through a deeply-felt need and once I realized just how much my baby needed me, I knew I needed to be home with my baby. Since then, the ideas and solutions haven't stopped flowing.

5 Things We're Doing Differently With Baby #2: Newborn Period

dad actually took a candid photo of me! (This never happens)

dad actually took a candid photo of me! (This never happens)

 

A few months ago, I posted 5 Things We're Doing Differently With Baby #2: Pregnancy and Birth. Now, I'm going to share what we've decided to do differently during the newborn period. Though our values remain the same -- attached, biological parenting -- this time around actually looks and feels so different. We've tweaked some things here and there, and it has made for such a sweet first few months (for all of us!). 

 

We Finally Figured Out The Sleep Thing

In my first few weeks with Elan, I had no clue as to what normal infant sleep looked like. No clue. I thought I was supposed to put him down for naps in the dark, at certain times, for a certain amount of time. I thought we were supposed to swaddle him so that he "slept better" and didn't cry. I thought nighttime was supposed to be a struggle, one that every mom just had to push through. It was honestly a mess and I felt miserable most of the time.

But then Ruby arrived, and I was armed with knowledge and confidence. From Night One, she slept in the crook of my arm or on my chest and I nursed her throughout the night. No annoying side-car bassinet thing and no swaddle. It was just her and I in a queen bed. And guess what? I actually woke up feeling rested. Ruby's needs were met and so were mine. During the day, I nursed her around the clock. Sometimes (most of the time) she fell asleep right there on the couch in my arms, with the sun pouring in and her brother dancing around to Justin Timberlake. Or I'd wrap her up in my stretchy wrap and she'd doze off in there. Some were cat naps, some were longer naps. And when she got a little older, I'd sometimes manage to transfer her to the futon couch in the living room. We were all in the room with her and she'd usually sleep right through the noise. Her sleep changed a lot as she grew, but the point here is that I never tried to analyze or control it. 

By two months old, a pattern started to show up. She clearly wanted a solid nap in the morning and a solid nap in the afternoon, with the occasional cat nap in between. If we were out and about, she spent that time sleeping in the wrap. If we were at home, I'd nurse her to sleep in the king bed and then slip away. I also noticed a pattern with her nighttime sleep. She usually fell asleep around 9pm and would stay asleep for 3-4 hours, then wake up to nurse. Most nights average 2-3 wake-ups, but I honestly don't really notice them because all I have to do is roll over and offer my boob. 

In Summary:

  • No expectations and no attempts at forcing sleep. Instead, we let her guide us, watching for a pattern and reading her cues.
  • No swaddling and no bassinet. She just sleeps next to me. During naps, she likes sleeping on her belly and I'm okay with that because I trust her instincts. 
  • Side-lying breastfeeding from the start! Game-changer! It took me months to figure this out with Elan.
  • We're mindful of her circadian rhythms. Bright light during daytime naps, so that her body doesn't get confused. Low light in the evening and definitely no blue light. 
  • Trust. I know she'll get the sleep she needs, even if it doesn't look like a perfect routine every day of the week. 

 

No Numbers

No measurements, no tests, no clock checking, no quantifying anything. We haven't weighed her since she was born and we don't know the size of her head. Because who cares? I don't. I'd much rather sit back, feed her my milk, and then watch her grow and develop on her own terms. Things are much more relaxed this time around and I am thankful for that.

Also, the biggest lesson I learned with Elan was to stop looking at the clock. When he went through periods of waking throughout the night, I would always check the clock to see what time it was. I'd wake up only feeling slightly annoyed. But then I'd see "11:00" on the screen and think, "I only slept ONE HOUR before being woken up?!" That's when "slightly annoyed" would turn into something much less pleasant. One day, I finally made this connection and vowed to keep my phone in another room. From that night on, I felt so much better.

 

Babywearing From The Start

I didn't put Elan in the wrap until he was over a month old and when I finally got around to trying it out, he was not happy about it. He immediately protested and it scared me away from using the wrap until he was a bit older. So with Ruby, I made sure that she grew accustomed to the wrap from the very start. I wore her for short periods at first and they eventually grew longer and longer. And anytime she starts to get restless or upset, I offer to nurse her -- no matter where we are or what I'm doing. (Yes, even if I'm in the middle of eating a meal myself). 

 

A Healthy Relationship With The Car Seat

First of all, we decided not to purchase an infant car seat for Ruby. I didn't want to fall into the habit of lugging her around in the carseat instead of taking her out and wearing her on my body, close to my heart. That closeness is biologically and emotionally important, and I knew I might get lazy if I had the chance. So we opted for a convertible seat instead.

Second, I won't let her scream alone in the car seat. Here's why:

  • It's not fair to her. Imagine this. You're an infant who just spent many months safe in your mothers womb. She's all you know and you want to be near her, on her body, at her breast. Then she straps you into a plastic seat, backwards in a metal box that is flying down bumpy, curvy roads. You start waving your arms, looking for Mom, wondering when you'll see her again. This just breaks my heart.
  • If she has one or two traumatic experiences like that, it could create an association between fear / distress and being strapped into her car seat. Her survival instincts would tell her, "Red alert! The last time Mom strapped me in here, I thought I might die!" This could snowball into an outright fear of the car. 
  • I don't want her to ever think that I won't come to her when she needs me or that her crying doesn't elicit a response from me.

It took me a few weeks to really understand this with Elan and from then on, I made sure to avoid car trips as much as possible. We scheduled errands for when my partner could drive us and I could sit in the back with Elan. Yes, it isn't fun staying home all the time, but it's only a few months out of my life and my babies are worth it.

 

We Really Got Minimalist This Time

You probably know that we chose not to have a nursery and we didn't purchase any of the common "must-haves", for good reason. And most of what we did need, we had leftover from when Elan was a baby. We were plenty happy with the following: A wrap / baby carrier (the most important item!), a few hand-me-down or thrifted onesies, one pair of cotton pants, one pair of socks, cotton blankets, cloth diapers and a baby potty. With Elan, I had an elaborate registry. Here are some of the things we had with him, but ended up getting rid of:

  • Buckwheat Nursing Pillow. This was useful, but not necessary. And honestly, kind of bulky to keep around. Not to mention that nursing pillows can negatively impact positioning when nursing your baby. I preferred to keep Ruby on my body, using pillows under my elbows for support. 
  • Arm's Reach Co-Sleeper. No, just no. This huge thing ended up functioning as storage for blankets and pillows and clothes. Everything is so much easier when I share the same sleeping surface as my baby. I can roll over to nurse her without fully waking and I can even do quick changes in the bed without disrupting her too much. 
  • Changing Table. I know some people say they love their changing table, but it's really not for me. I don't see the point. There are a million other surfaces in the house, and chances are, Baby isn't going to poop in the room with the table anyway. 
  • Diaper Covers. With Elan, we bought several PUL diaper covers because I heard they were great. But then I realized that a) I don't want to put plastic on my child, and b) We don't need diaper covers if we change her consistently or use Elimination Communication. 
  • Glass Milk Bottles. We got these bottles in a small and larger size, but I only used the small bottle a handful of times and never even touched the larger size. This time, I have no intentions of leaving Ruby until she's old enough to last several hours between feeds. 

 

Bonus: We Watch The Way We Talk Around Her

It took us a long time to realize that our words impact our babies, whether or not they can use words themselves yet. Many of us seem to think that babies can't understand what we're saying. We complain about them or parenting, or we talk about our financial anxiety, or about how scary the world is. What we don't realize is that the first six years of a child’s life are spent in delta or theta brain states -- also referred to as "hypnagogic trance" -- during which they are absorbing everything. Bruce Lipton says, "A child’s perceptions of the world are directly downloaded into the subconscious during this time, without discrimination and without filters of the analytical self-conscious mind which doesn’t fully exist. Consequently, our fundamental perceptions about life and our role in it are learned without our having the capacity to choose or reject those beliefs." Because of this, we try to choose words that help her feel safe and loved. (Though it is very tough sometimes, I'll admit!)

Aside from her internalization of our words, I also choose to use language carefully because I know that my words create my reality. If I continually say "This is so hard!", then it will feel and be hard. I'll be reinforcing that feeling and making it stronger. If I, instead, say "I'm so grateful for my family" or "I love having a toddler, it's so fun!" -- my reality will look a lot more like that. 


What about you? What did you do differently with your second or third or fourth child? I'd love to hear what lessons you learned!

 

How Homeopathy Changed My Life (And Made Me A Better Mother)

Before I begin my story, here's a little about homeopathy. If you want to learn more, I highly recommend joining this Facebook group and watching the videos.

"Homeopathy is a natural healing modality that uses extreme dilutions of substances from nature to stimulate a healing response. It's based on the Law of Similars (also called Like Cures Like) which states that if a substance can cause symptoms in a healthy person in its crude form, then it can stimulate self-healing of similar symptoms in a sick person when prepared homeopathically.

Although often confused with herbal and nutritional medicine, homeopathy is distinctly different. Herbal and nutritional medicine are primarily physical forms of medicines, whereas homeopathy is an energetic form of medicine. Like other forms of energy medicine (e.g. acupuncture, acupressure, reiki, somatic emotional release, flower essences, etc.), homeopathy helps dissipate blockages in an individual's subtle energy that may be preventing the individual's body wisdom from healing the chronic or acute illness. When the blockages are released, the individual's body wisdom is freed up to do what it needs to do - restructure, reorganize, release, reconstruct, realign, etc.

It's this innate body intelligence that really brings about the healing that results from energetic healing modalities. I often compare this process to pushing a boulder over a cliff. It only takes one big shove in just the right place and then gravity takes over. Likewise, an individual may need only one homeopathic remedy to stimulate a deep and long lasting healing response.

Once a homeopathic remedy stimulates a healing response, the process often involves a release of thoughts or emotions that the individual may have suppressed in the past. This may come in the form of dreams, moodiness, flashbacks to the past, or even just a heightened awareness of negative thoughts and emotions. In homeopathy, as with other forms of energetic healing, this type of emotional release is typically followed by an innate restructuring process in which the body wisdom resolves chronic symptoms." (Laurie Monteleone)

I was introduced to homeopathy at the beginning of this year.

Like many of you, I was already familiar with a few common homeopathic remedies -- teething tablets, Camilia, Arnica and Ocscillococcinum. Though oddly enough, I never thought to dig deeper. In fact, there was a huge part of me that dismissed homeopathy altogether. All I had ever heard on the subject were things like "placebo effect", "sugar pill" and "it doesn't actually contain anything". I think another major block for me was the feeling that homeopathic remedies too closely resembled pharmaceutical drugs. The Western concept of "pill for every ill" didn't resonate with me and I was determined to avoid this approach. So we used our teething remedies on occasion and I didn't ask any questions.

Then I became pregnant with Ruby. Those first weeks were some of my darkest. I was depleted, emotionally and physically, and every day was a struggle. For the first time in my life, I was experiencing actual rage. The tiniest thing would bring so much anger to the surface and after releasing it (usually in the form of yelling at my loved ones), I would just curl up into a ball in the dark and sob, my body hot and red with emotion. It honestly felt like I had no control of myself, none. It was as if someone, something, would take over in those moments. I didn't look at all like the "gentle parent" that I so desperately wanted to be and I was determined to change that.

So I reached out on social media.

A friend of mine read my post and said, "I was skeptical but I just saw an amazing homeopath and she changed my life. Totally worth the money if you can swing it." I trusted her opinion and was ready to try just about anything, so I emailed the homeopath and made an appointment for that week.

My First Appointment

On the morning of my appointment, my partner dropped me off in front of a two-story brick house in a suburban neighborhood. A woman invited me in and we climbed the stairs to get to her office. Once there, she sat cross-legged in a big arm chair, with a clipboard in her lap. I sat across from her on the sofa, without even the slightest clue as to what might happen next. She asked me if I was familiar with classical homeopathy (nope) and then began explaining the concepts. I nodded my head. Everything made so much sense. Why hadn't I looked into this earlier?

Once I had a basic understanding of homeopathy, we were ready to get started on my case. I told her what I had been experiencing -- the depletion, the rage, the lack of control, my inability to end the cycle and be the parent I wanted to be. We were only minutes in and I was already in tears, telling her how much it breaks my heart to yell at my son. She asked me about my childhood, my relationship with my parents, with my partner and with myself. I rambled on and on in complete honesty, spilling my heart out to a stranger. Part of me wondered, "Is this supposed to feel like an appointment with my therapist?" But she didn't stop me, so I kept talking.

After an hour or so, she started asking me more specific questions. What foods do I like or dislike? What is my sleep like? Did I have any childhood illnesses? She looked over her notes and then grabbed a book from a nearby shelf. I watched her put her glasses on and thumb through the book until she got to the page she was looking for.

Magnesium muriaticum. My constitutional remedy. The remedy that matched my symptoms perfectly.

She explained that this remedy would work to release deep emotional patterns and trauma, then she put some tiny white pills into a tiny brown envelope and sent me on my way. I was to report back after a few days of taking the remedy.

The Results

This is when it really got interesting.

Within four days, I felt like an entirely different person. I mean it. The rage was gone. It was almost as if it had just disappeared. My entire emotional state had shifted and I actually started enjoying my son again. While this was happening, I kept thinking, "A tiny sugar pill did this?!"

I spent the rest of that week convinced that I was "cured", until I experienced something like a relapse. All of those familiar symptoms came back with a vengeance and I began to question homeopathy again. I was frantic, emailing my homeopath and asking her what to do. She responded, reassuring me that the remedy was correct. My symptoms disappearing and then reappearing -- this was a good sign. She just needed to increase the potency of my remedy. So I stopped by her office, grabbed a new brown envelope and gave homeopathy another try.

My symptoms only reappeared one more time after that, and I've been clear ever since.

Reflections

It has been almost 10 months now and I can honestly say that I have been transformed by homeopathy. It helped me with the issues I talked about here, but even beyond that, I feel so much lighter. Layers that do not serve me -- generations of negative patterns and beliefs -- they're continually being released. The way I see it, this pregnancy brought intense unprocessed emotions to the surface so that I could face them head-on. And once I did, I felt myself move beyond that feeling of being "trapped". I could be anyone I wanted to be! Gentle parenting now comes so naturally to me, whereas before, it was a constant effort.

Most of all, I was able to spend the rest of my pregnancy feeling peaceinstead of anger. Every bond in our family was strengthened and I am so thankful for that. Not to mention the fact that Ruby got to experience that peace while she was in the womb. This will have a lifelong impact on her personality and the way she feels in the world.

I'll be talking more about homeopathy going forward. In fact, my partner and I are even considering attending school to study more in depth. It is a fascinating, life-changing practice and I hope to share it with everyone I know!

Your Baby Doesn't Want Anything On That Registry

Really, they don't.

All your baby wants is you -- your skin, your smell, your milk, your voice.

I've noticed a destructive pattern growing in Western society and it is the wide-scale replacement of human connection withlifeless gadgets. And it starts at birth. This unhealthy pattern is encouraged in the detached parenting styles found here in the West. In noticing this, it's easy to see why children grow up to become adults who continue to seek comfort in other non-human objects, such as drugs, food, money, etc.

So this is where I dare to question The Great Modern Baby Registry "Essentials". You know, the items that we all automatically assume as necessary. When we begin to understand human development, attachment and bonding, and the importance of connection, it is clear that these "essentials" are worse than unnecessary -- they're potentially harmful.

I'm not writing this post to shame any parent for their choices, and if you read this and still feel like buying everything on the list -- do it! But I hope you'll do it with awareness. I hope every one of us can put aside our material-driven dreams of what parenthood should look like, and instead, get down to our baby's level. What do they really need? How can we give them the gift of a strong, loving foundation for the rest of their emotional life to grow upon?

And it isn't just the well-being of the baby that we should be concerned with. It's a well-known fact that parenting is easier and more enjoyable -- even profoundly healing -- when we have a strong bond with our children.

*Note: This is mostly in reference to the "in-arms" period, from birth to about one year old. And up to 18 months, ideally. Current research stresses the importance of the resonance of the heartbeats between mother and child during this period. 

Crib

I already wrote about this in a previous post, but babies aren't designed to sleep in isolation.

It makes absolutely no biological sense to separate a baby from it's mother and there is plenty of research to back this up. Co-sleeping expert Professor James McKenna emphasizes that sleeping close to your infant regulates breathing, body temperature, absorption of calories, stress hormone levels, immune status, and oxygenation. It also gives them access to nutrition -- in the form of mama's milk -- all night. While the last sentence may seem like a major inconvenience, it really does pay off in the long run if your goal is to raise a physically and emotionally healthy human being.

Abandoning the crib might also save you from a lot of the frustration that modern parents face when caring for babies. Typically diagnosed as "sleep issues" in need of "sleep training", what we're really dealing with are age-old instincts in need of respect. It's easy to understand that the more we stray from our biological roots, the more likely we are to come up against problems. In essence, parenting in our culture has become a great act of swimming against the current. When you surrender and flow, letting nature guide you, every "problem" melts away. Problems are almost always unrealistic expectations in disguise.

Babies do not want to sleep alone. They want to be safe, near their caregivers. They want to be close to your heartbeat, sharing the air that you breathe, dreaming next to you, knowing that you'll be there when they wake up.

There are several creative ways to keep your baby close at night.

  • If you're set on a crib, at least keep it in the same room as you. Crib or no crib, the goal remains the same -- Stay close.
  • Try a co-sleeper or side-car. These can be safely pushed up against your bed, creating a little separation but not too much.
  • If you have a queen bed, you can create more space by adding a toddler or single mattress to the side. We did this for a few months before we got our king bed and it allowed us all to get more comfortable sleep while staying within an arm's reach from each other.
  • My personal favorite: Put a giant mattress or two on the floor and you're all set!

Baby Contraptions

Bouncers, Swings, Vibrating Things, etc

I'm finally at the point in my life where everyone I grew up with is having a baby. Every week, there's a new arrival on my feed and as I've watched the photos roll in, I've noticed one very sad pattern emerge: The baby is almost always in some type of contraption. 

A car seat, a bouncer, a swing, a vibrating thing, a stroller, and later -- one of those awful Bumbo seats.

Believe it or not, there is an actual name for this recent phenomenon: Container Baby Syndrome.

Container baby syndrome (CBS) is a collection of movement, behavior, and other problems caused by a baby or infant spending too much time in a "container".

Staying in the container for a prolonged time and over days and weeks can even cause severe, possibly lifelong problems, such as:

  • Head and face deformities, including “flat head syndrome”
  • Decreased muscle strength and coordination
  • Speech, sight, hearing, and thinking problems
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Obesity

Chiropractor Andrew Dodge explains these physical problems in greater detail.

Structurally, your newborn baby’s spine is a big c-shape. Her posture is completely flexed, just like it was inside the womb. 

When babies lie flat on their back for a prolonged amount of time, the gravitational effects on their spines begin to straighten the developing curves. [This] can affect a child’s proper spinal joint alignment and weight-bearing biomechanics, ligament development and strength around the spine and hip joints, muscle tone and biomechanical development, and neurological development. 

And they get more clever by the day! Now there are even products that feature a heartbeat and vibration setting to mimic the sounds of a mom. Our babies spend over nine months nestled in the womb, hearing and feeling our heartbeat around the clock. We, as mothers, are their only environment. Why, then, do we think it's okay -- even beneficial -- to separate ourselves from them as soon as they're born? When a baby makes the transition from womb to world, our goal as mothers should be to maintain the connection that we had while they were in utero. To do that, we cannot have a stand-in lifeless device holding them around the clock.

What to do instead?

Wear your baby! A wrap, sling or other baby carrier is by far the best investment you can make in that first year. With your baby safe and snug against your chest, your hands are free to do pretty much anything.

If you need a break, put your baby on a blanket. Seems like a no-brainer, doesn't it? Without being strapped into anything, the baby is free to explore their body -- to move their arms and legs and look around at everything. And you can stay close, making regular eye contact, ready to pick them up to reconnect at any moment.

"But what about when I need to pee or take a shower? What would I do without a bouncer to put my baby in?" 

I've heard this a million times and each time, it sounds even more ridiculous. So, if you've heard the same thing, or if you're honestly wondering what to do in these situations, here are some quick ideas:

  • Take a shower when your partner comes home.
  • Bathe with your baby.
  • Pee with your baby in your lap, or in a carrier. It's easy, really.
  • Put your baby on a blanket for a few minutes while you shower or use the toilet.
  • Don't worry about showering in the first place. We're all over-washed these days anyway. ;-)

Stroller

Another baby contraption that separates mama (or dad!) from baby -- and adds a lot of unnecessary bulkiness to your life. First I will say that they're a great invention for those of us with back pain, or several children, or some other special situation that calls for the help of a stroller. But in most cases, there really is no reason to be strapping your baby into yet another contraption. Baby-wearing is quick, convenient and biologically ideal. Just like co-sleeping, wearing your baby regulates many of their biological rhythms while also tending to their emotional needs. You can see and feel your baby at all times, making it easier to keep them safe. It's also great for those first precious weeks and months, when you don't want strangers (or even family) touching your baby without your permission. Oh, and you can also nurse your baby in there -- a real game-changer once you get comfortable with it!

The benefits don't stop when you hit toddlerhood, either. In fact, baby-wearing can be such a valuable tool to support your toddler while they're navigating difficult emotions and developmental growth periods.

Try them out first! Did you know that many cities around the world have baby-wearing groups with lending libraries? Usually this means that you pay a yearly fee of $15-30 and in return, you can rent carriers of every kind. This gives you the chance to find the perfect carrier for you and your baby, because it really is different for everyone. (My personal favorite is our BabySaBye Mei Tai!)

Pacifier

It breaks my heart when I hear someone complain about being a "human pacifier", as if it's the worst thing in the world to be the #1 source of comfort for our little ones. Guess what? Humans were / are the original pacifiers. It's what we sign up for -- biologically -- when we become mothers.

Pacifiers can be useful, particularly in the car when you aren't capable of safely nursing your baby. But when you're trying to get some shopping done at the grocery store and your newborn whines, asking to be held? Maybe not the best idea to ignore her plea for closeness or milk by instead shoving a piece of silicone in her mouth. What does that communicate to our babies? That we meet their emotional and physical needs with material objects. 

Another note about pacifiers: They can alsohurt your breastfeeding relationship. More time spent sucking on a pacifier instead of at the breast means less opportunities to build or maintain your milk supply. It can also cause disinterest in the breast altogether, or even biting. When babies are used to playing with and biting pacifiers (or bottles), they sometimes end up doing the same thing to Mom. This can mean the end of their breastfeeding relationship entirely.

Connection is Everything

At first glance, many of these "essentials" appear to add convenience to your life. And we already have enough on our plates, so why make motherhood even more difficult, right?

Here's the thing though: That convenience is an illusion that we all pay the price for, to varying degrees, somewhere along the line. (It's no wonder that four in ten infants lack strong parental attachments!)

Dr. Karen B. Walant is the author of the book, Creating the Capacity for Attachment: Treating Addictions and the Alienated Self. She uses a term to describe these Western parenting practices: Normative Abuse. 

"Normative," because these are approaches that are sanctioned by society, therefore enacted without any moral discomfort. By normative, I mean practices which appear normal for our culture. First of all, normative abuse occurs when we avoid or ignore our parental instincts to be empathic and responsive to our children's needs. For example, parents are taught the best gift they can give their children is to encourage them to self-soothe at one, two, three months of age. Mothers frantically stick a pacifier in their babies' mouths or try to get their child to suck on his thumb, all in a well-meaning effort to wean their child from "needing" mom.

In the psychoanalytic literature, for example, one writer even criticizes a mother who "allows" her baby to become "addicted" to her - can you imagine that? A baby should be "addicted" to his real mother, not to a substitute, plastic pacifier or even to his own thumb! Again, normative abuse occurs when the child's needs for attachment and closeness with his parents are sacrificed for the cultural norms that insist on autonomy and individuation. Babies need to be held - as much as possible, as often as possible. Therefore, I consider the over-use of strollers, playpens, and even cribs to be normative abuse.

I know the "A" word might get some people fired up, but Walant's point stands: Infants and children deserve to have their age-old needs met with love and compassion. Ignoring those needs is an act of cruelty -- no matter how many people are doing it and calling it "normal".

So when you're writing a list of things to buy for your new baby, ask yourself: Does this product meet my baby's need for connection?

Most of the time -- as cute as it may be -- the answer will be an unavoidable "no". And if we can have the courage to say "no" to the objects that are designed to separate us, maybe we can finally begin to break the cycle and reconnect with our young,

5 Things We're Doing Differently with Baby #2: Pregnancy & Birth

I've probably been judged as something of a know-it-all who spends way too much time on Google.

Conscious parenting is no joke to me and since Elan was a little seed in my womb, I have committed myself to making informed decisions every step of the way. But I am human. I am growing and learning every day. And like everyone else, I have my blind spots. Now that I'm pregnant again, I've been giving a lot of thought to what I'm doing differently this time. Naturally, there are some things that I don't feel comfortable repeating.

But let me make something clear: This isn't "mom guilt".

Between guilt and flat-out denial, there is a middle-ground where real growth happens. This is where you receive new information -- no matter how uncomfortable -- with an open mind and heart. This is where you look at your past decisions with love and think, "Hm, how can I use this new knowledge to make a better decision next time." (Or if there isn't a next time, you can simply take that information and promise to help other mothers make conscious choices!)

So from this place of self-love and acceptance, I am choosing a different path for my second-born.

1. No Ultrasound

I'm writing this at 35 weeks pregnant and still haven't had a single ultrasound. No doppler exposure either. It feels like a major accomplishment, considering the "What If?" mentality that I'm faced with daily in this culture. "What if your baby is ____." "What if ____ happens and you don't expect it?" None of that has any impact on me because rare hypothetical scenarios are just not worth the risk of exposing my baby to this technology. If you're interested in learning more about my reasoning behind this decision, here's a link to a post I wrote, called "Why You Should Think Twice About Prenatal Ultrasound".

Instead: Fetoscope only, with possibility of doppler during labor. 

2. No Vitamin K

I posted about this on my Facebook page a few months ago. We gave Elan the Vitamin K shot and it is by far one of my biggest regrets. Do you have any idea what's in those shots?! It isn't just Vitamin K, that's for sure. We will not be making this mistake again. And we're opting out of the drops as well, because it honestly doesn't make any sense to me. None. Nature did not design every baby to be "low" in any vitamin.

Megan of Living Whole says it well:

The about four babies who get vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB) out of the four million babies born in the United States each year? That’s not due to the medications women take while pregnant, trauma women and babies suffer during a modern childbirth, early cord-cutting, the low levels of gut bacteria infants have because we wipe it out with antibiotics, infant circumcision, or the hep B vaccination given to your babe during its first 12 hours of life to “protect” it against a disease that’s transferred via sex and dirty needles. It’s just a coincidence that one of the many possible adverse reactions of all infant vaccines includes encephalitis, which coincidentally can cause hemorrhaging.

No, hemorrhaging is due to a vitamin K deficiency because a lack of vitamin K caused the bleed in the first place right? Wrong. But let’s pretend babies just randomly suffer brain bleeds at birth. In fact, it makes perfect sense to inject every single baby with something that could harm them to protect them from something that occurs so rarely we don’t even keep stats on it.

Instead: Eat my greens, drink my nettle infusions and demand delayed cord clamping.

3. No Antibiotics for Group B Strep.

Last time around, I tested positive for Group B Strep and my midwife somehow talked me into two rounds of antibiotics. And, whew, this one had long-lasting effects on both Elan and I. Months of gut issues for Elan and four cases of mastitis in one year for me. This time, I am standing firm against antibiotics for GBS. In fact, I'm most likely rejecting the test all-together. What's the point? I'd rather not jeopardize my baby's health (and my own) for yet another rare possibility, and did you know that "IV antibiotics make absolutely no difference to the outcome of babies born to Group B Strep colonized Mothers"?  Knowing that, there really is no point. 

Instead: Eat fermented food and trust in the process.

4. No Pitocin After Birth

I was dead set against Pitocin for my first birth, for these reasons among others. But I had no idea that it might be administered after the birth. When I delivered the placenta, my midwife saw more blood than she felt comfortable with and rushed to stick a needle in me. She didn't ask or give me any heads up -- at least not that I can recall. I didn't mind at the time, but then I read an article about the connection between synthetic oxytocin and post-partum depression and it prompted me to do more research. Now I think back to that unwelcome needle and I just feel violated. Many midwives have this in their toolbox in case of postpartum hemorrhage and I'm sure that it has saved many lives, but it isn't the only option.

Instead:I've been building my blood and drinking nettle infusions throughout my pregnancy, as well as chlorophyll. My labor will be hands-off again, especially in the Third Stage, when I'm delivering the placenta. No tugging, pulling or commands to "push". I'm also prepared with herbs and homeopathic remedies to use in the event of excess bleeding.

5. Undisturbed First Hours (Weeks!)

Within 15 minutes of Elan's birth, my family was walking into the building. As much as I love them, I wish I would've been more clear about my desire for space. I desperately wanted that undisturbed first hour to stretch into two or three hours, so that my partner and I could relax and just bond with our new baby. Well, that didn't happen, and it actually set the stage for the weeks to come. People were constantly trying to "help" me by offering to hold Elan. A few weeks in, there was even one point where I let someone close to me convince me to leave him with her while I went out to eat down the street with family. When we got to the restaurant, I was shaking with anxiety at being separated from Elan. I started crying and had to be dropped off back at home almost immediately. That is when I finally came into my power as a new mother. That is when I realized that my body knows where it needs to be -- with my child.

The Plan: Our baby will be born in a dark, quiet room. Uninterrupted. Skin-to-skin. Slow and calm. In the first few days and weeks, I will keep Baby near my heart around the clock. The only exception will be when I am having one-on-one time with Elan. And most importantly, I will communicate my wishes clearly and without reservation.

Head over here to read Elan's Birth Story in full. 

And soon, I'll be sharing what we're doing differently for Baby's first year. ;-)

LXMI Skincare: Simple, Effective and Socially-Conscious

LXMI Nilotica Melt
LXMI Nilotica Melt

Skincare is my thing.

Really, I've spent countless hours in front of my computer learning about and trying to heal my own skin. I've rid my bathroom of every beauty product that didn't fit my unusually high standards, and to this day I make most of my own stuff. So when I heard about LXMI, I was already typing away, trying to find out all that I could about this company. When I looked up the ingredients of their Pure Nilotica Melt, I was surprised to find only one. 

One ingredient, y'all!

 

Nilotica: What is it?

LXMI Nilotica Melt
LXMI Nilotica Melt

This smooth, luxurious balm is formulated with pure Ugandan Nilotica Reserve -- a rare relative of shea butter. At first, I thought Nilotica's properties were just the same as traditional shea butter, but I quickly learned otherwise. Here are some interesting facts about this super ingredient:

  • It is sky high in essential fatty acids -- over 25% more than traditional shea butter -- and noted for it's enhanced vitamin and nutrient potency.
  • These high grade nuts are harvested seasonally, from 20-year-old trees in the Nile River Valley. A little about the manufacturing process..
    • "Nilotica is pressed into a soft butter (vs. other botanicals that are typically pressed into an oil). The microcrystals found in the Pure Nilotica Melt will dissolve on your skin, and prove that the nuts were cold-pressed in temperate Uganda v. refrigerated lab conditions."
    • This butter is pure, natural and organic. Even safe enough to eat. (A top priority for me!)

 

The Company

LXMI Nilotica Melt
LXMI Nilotica Melt

LXMI -- pronounced "luxe-me" -- was born in 2016 after founder Leila Janah stumbled across Nilotica at a Ugandan market. She was so impressed by how this ingredient transformed her skin. And now, thanks to her and the amazing women she works with, we are also able to take part in the magic.

Leila started LXMI with the intention of creating positive social impact in the world. In fact, workers earn at least 3x the local average wage! Giving back is at the very core of this value-driven company and that driving force is reflected in every step of the process, from nature to consumer.

LXMI is dedicated to a high quality of life for the consumer and the producer

 

My Experience

LXMI Nilotica Melt
LXMI Nilotica Melt

I have sensitive "combination" skin that has always been easily prone to breakouts. For this reason, I don't typically use butters or balms on my face. But this time, I decided to experiment with the LXMI Pure Nilotica Melt. I've been using it mostly around my eyes, cheeks, lips and neck. And once a week, I wear it as an overnight mask. So far, no breakouts. Just soft, nourished skin. I really wish I would've known about this stuff in the winter!

Shop online or stop by your local Sephora and check it out for yourself. I look forward to watching this company grow and create positive change in the process. Keep it up, LXMI. :-)

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*This post is sponsored by LXMI via conscious influencer agency WTS Connect. Every opinion is 100% me, though. Guaranteed. I love connecting people with ethical products that work. 

Why You Should Think Twice About Prenatal Ultrasounds

Why You Should Think Twice About Prenatal Ultrasounds
Why You Should Think Twice About Prenatal Ultrasounds

The casual observer might be forgiven for wondering why the medical profession is now involved in the wholesale examination of pregnant patients with machines emanating vastly different powers of energy which is not proven to be harmless to obtain information which is not proven to be of any clinical value by operators who are not certified as competent to perform the operations. -- Sarah Buckley, MD

I'm now in my second trimester -- 14 weeks, to be exact -- and I have yet to hear my baby's heartbeat.

It's a weird feeling, to be honest. During my first pregnancy, I had no idea about the dangers of prenatal ultrasound. The second I saw those two pink lines, I knew I had to get an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible. I had to know that my baby was alive and healthy. I had to know that this was real.And for many of us modern mothers, that requires a heartbeat.

But then I got my hands on one of the most eye-opening books I have ever read: Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering by Sarah Buckley. She raises a question that nobody else is even bothering to ask.

Is it safe to expose your unborn baby to ultrasound? 

In short, the answer is "we don't know". Now I'm not sure about you, but that just doesn't cut it for me. Why would I want my child to be a human experiment for this technology?

 

Prenatal Ultrasound: The Facts

Ultrasound has never been proven safe.

To this date, there are absolutely no studies comparing the development of children who were exposed to ultrasound versus those who weren't. Despite the lack of safety studies, this technology continues to increase in exposure and intensity (from 46 to 720 mW/cm2 -- more than 7 times the limit in 1992!)

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists doesn't even recommend routine ultrasounds.

But there is plenty of evidence suggesting it could be dangerous.

If the actual data doesn't change their minds, maybe just reading about the other uses of the technology would help them connect the dots: It cleans rust off of pipes.It kills sperm. It heats muscles. It changes the migratory patterns of whales. - Carla Hartley, midwife

  • A University of Washington study found experimental evidence that early ultrasound could perturb brain development and alter behavior, and may contribute to Autism severity.
  • Another recent study done on mice found that fetal exposure to ultrasound can alter typical social behaviors, a conclusion that may be relevant for autism.
  • This study found that those who received 2 or more prenatal doppler scans had more than two times the risk of perinatal death compared to babies unexposed to doppler.
  • There's even an entire book, containing 50 human studies conducted in China that provide empirical evidence of ultrasound hazards to humans.

In summary, some of the major risks include:

  • Miscarriage and perinatal death
  • Intra-uterine growth retardation
  • Damage to the developing brain

Even at low levels, ultrasound can produce physical effects to fetal tissue such as a rise in temperature or jarring vibrations.

Temperature increases can cause significant damage to a developing fetus’s central nervous system. Among mammals, elevated maternal or fetal body temperatures have been shown to result in birth defects in offspring. (Hello, we avoid hot baths for a reason!)

Your unborn baby can hear the ultrasound and it's as loud as a subway train.

Could this be why ultrasound is connected to speech delay? In 1993, the Canadian Medical Association Journal published a study that examined 72 children between the ages of 2 and 8, who were suffering from speech delay of unknown cause. These children were twice as likely to have been exposed to ultrasound in the womb than those in the control group.

Can you imagine the intense fright and the spike in stress hormones the baby experiences from an ultrasound not to mention the likelihood of damage to the little developing ears from 100-120 decibel ultrasound waves?

Oh, and by the way, hearing loss begins with exposure to sound at only 90-95 decibels, much LOWER than the sound the baby would hear from a routine ultrasound or a doppler heartbeat check. -- The Healthy Home Economist

Doppler could be even more dangerous.

I read somewhere that 30 seconds of doppler is equal to a 30 minute sonogram because it uses continuous rather than pulsed waves. While I couldn't find the data to back this up, doppler ultrasound has been shown to cause significant heating -- especially in the baby's developing brain.

 

Guidelines for Ultrasound Use

  • Ultrasounds should never be performed during the first trimester in a low-risk pregnancy. They should only ever be conducted if there are specific medical indications.
  • The operator should have a high level of skill and experience, as well as an understanding of the potential dangers.
  • Minimum intensity settings only.
  • A session should last no more than 3 minutes, 5 minutes at most.
  • Women should avoid multiple sessions.
  • Stay away from non-medical 3D ultrasounds. There is a potentially higher risk to the baby, due to the higher acoustic output required for high-definition images. Definitely not worth a keepsake photo, in my opinion.

 

My Experience: A Mother's Intuition

With my first child, I received the following:

  • 1 vaginal ultrasound at 8 weeks pregnant.
  • A sonogram at around 14 weeks pregnant.
  • A way-too-freaking-long anatomy scan at 20 weeks pregnant.
  • Doppler at nearly every appointment with my midwife, including when I was in labor.

Agh. It's hard for me to even type this out, knowing what I know now.

What's interesting is that it didn't take me long to feel that something was off. Have you noticed that most babies move away from the wand whenever it's near? This was the first red flag for me. My son hated it -- as they all do -- and now I understand why.

The other time I felt my intuition at work was during my 20 week anatomy scan. The ultrasound technician wasn't very experienced and she took her time scanning every tiny part of my baby's body. As the minutes wore on, I began to feel anxious and hot. That energy flowed out of my feet, as they shook on the table, and I asked her "How much longer?". Something in my body was telling me to get the hell out of there, and it took every ounce of control to keep from jumping right off the table. Tears began to form as I looked over at my partner, communicating to him with my eyes that I would never subject myself or my baby to this again.

 

What I'm Doing Instead

There are plenty of other ways to check on my baby, they just require a little bit of patience.

  • We can use a fetoscope to hear the heartbeat at around 20-24 weeks.
  • Also around that time -- or even earlier -- I'll feel my baby moving around in the womb.
  • At future appointments, my midwife can palpate my belly to gain an understanding of baby's position. Kicks and hiccups are other helpful clues.
  • Connecting with my baby. Talking to my baby. Trusting my intuition. Having faith in my body's abilities. Modern technology is life-saving in certain situations, but it is also the cause of disconnection between ourselves, our bodies and our babies. Instead, many of us put our trust in doctors and their machines. It is incredibly healing when you make the conscious choice to take your power back as a woman.

For those of you who want to investigate further, Carla Hartley put together

this extensive list of resources

.

**Note: I fully understand that ultrasound does have it's place. If a major problem arose, I would definitely consider using it myself. The points discussed here are in reference to normal, low-risk pregnancies.

A Tour of Our Minimalist Toddler-Friendly Home

My partner and I have been chipping away at our belongings (and square footage) for a few years now. When our son joined our family, it became even more important to create a space where we could feel calm and clear-headed. Clutter creates stress creates more clutter. It's a dangerous cycle that I, myself, had been caught in my entire life, and making the decision to live with intention has given me the mental freedom that eluded me for so long. We now only buy items that we really need or that truly spark joy (a la Marie Kondo). Here are a few reasons why we've chosen this path:

  • Minimalism enables us to live distraction-free. We've been able to stop piling random objects into our home and instead focus on what we truly want out of life: Connection, relationship, living in harmony with nature, living our purpose instead of working non-stop to support a lifestyle that does not bring us joy.
  • We don't want to spend all of our time cleaning. Less things = Less things to pick up after our toddler throws them all over the place.
  • We don't want to derive happiness from material objects, nor do we want to raise our son in this way. Birthdays and holidays are spent together, enjoying each other's company. Material gifts will never be the focal point and we tend to keep them to a minimum (if at all). Other gift ideas: a mini-vacation, a visit to a state or national park, and other "experiences".
  • For financial reasons. Living minimally enables us to get by on one income, so that I can stay home and be with our son. I would honestly sell all of my belongings before giving this up -- it is too important. Most of our money goes toward rent, bills and buying high quality, locally-grown food.
  • To support Elan's mental, emotional and physical development. Allen Schore discovered that the mother of the 11-17 month old toddler expresses a prohibition ("No!" or "Don't!") on the average of every nine minutes. This is as much our son's home as it is ours and we keep it "Elan-friendly" so that we don't have to constantly shut down his natural desire for exploration. In this way, all of our needs are met.
    • "In human development, the early toddler stage is the fountainhead of cultural renewal. At stake is the activation and development of the child's sensory system and knowledge of the world, and the equally important building of his emotional-cognitive system's knowledge of what relationships with the world are like." This is a time when there needs to be more "yes" and less "no".

The Living Room

Minimalist Family Living Room
Minimalist Family Living Room
We have a floor couch for the time being because we're in a 6-month lease and didn't want the hassle of buying and moving a couch. It is wonderful! Elan can roll on and off as he pleases, and it makes for a very comfortable guest bed. Oh, and we covered it with a twin duvet cover for easy washing. (Pillows by my lovely friend Helga at Brunna.co!)
We have a floor couch for the time being because we're in a 6-month lease and didn't want the hassle of buying and moving a couch. It is wonderful! Elan can roll on and off as he pleases, and it makes for a very comfortable guest bed. Oh, and we covered it with a twin duvet cover for easy washing. (Pillows by my lovely friend Helga at Brunna.co!)
Where our TV would've gone, we hung our "Tree of Life" print. There's a basket on the shelf with Elan's books, and we keep our adult books to the left of that. All of Elan's "toys" belong in the basket on the floor. They're mostly random odds and ends -- Blocks, coasters, spoons, rocks, wool dryer balls. It's nice to be able to just toss everything in a basket when cleaning. We also keep his potty in the living room for using throughout the day.
Where our TV would've gone, we hung our "Tree of Life" print. There's a basket on the shelf with Elan's books, and we keep our adult books to the left of that. All of Elan's "toys" belong in the basket on the floor. They're mostly random odds and ends -- Blocks, coasters, spoons, rocks, wool dryer balls. It's nice to be able to just toss everything in a basket when cleaning. We also keep his potty in the living room for using throughout the day.

The Bedroom

Our Family Bed! We recently upgraded to a king mattress and we keep it on the floor for safety reasons. Elan sleeps in the middle of us and I nurse him 2-4 times throughout the night (more if he's teething or going through a developmental transition). We each get pretty good rest and I am so grateful for the closeness that we share every night.
Our Family Bed! We recently upgraded to a king mattress and we keep it on the floor for safety reasons. Elan sleeps in the middle of us and I nurse him 2-4 times throughout the night (more if he's teething or going through a developmental transition). We each get pretty good rest and I am so grateful for the closeness that we share every night.

The Kitchen

Elan loves to cook with me. We gave him his own little cabinet where he can bring "ingredients" to stir in the pots. Sometimes a sock, or a shoe, or anything he wants to cook up that day! This is his primary "toy" collection and I just grab pots as I need them.
Elan loves to cook with me. We gave him his own little cabinet where he can bring "ingredients" to stir in the pots. Sometimes a sock, or a shoe, or anything he wants to cook up that day! This is his primary "toy" collection and I just grab pots as I need them.
Our kitchen table is very bare these days because Elan recently learned how to climb on top of it. We let him do this because we really have no reason to say no and he is too young to understand. It isn't life or death and he enjoys using his body to climb to higher spots. Sometimes he'll stand in a chair by the counter while I wash dishes.
Our kitchen table is very bare these days because Elan recently learned how to climb on top of it. We let him do this because we really have no reason to say no and he is too young to understand. It isn't life or death and he enjoys using his body to climb to higher spots. Sometimes he'll stand in a chair by the counter while I wash dishes.

Not only is a safe space beneficial for your children, it will also keep you sane. Since Elan's birth, we've lived in 4 different homes. One of those was my mom's house, where we stayed for a month or two. E was one year old at the time and just starting to walk, so he was getting into everything. My mom's house is full of various decorations and things, and I had to constantly monitor his movements to make sure that he didn't break something. It was horrible. Now, back in our own space, I've been able to relax and give E more freedom. Win, win.

For more on how simple living can benefit your family, check out Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne. 

Also, on December 15,2016 --Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things becomes available on Netflix!

Why Our Baby Will Never Have a Nursery

Recently I saw a pregnancy announcement where the new mama said,

“Now it’s time to plan our nursery!” 

It's what everybody does, right? You can't have a baby without a nursery, right? The crib with the matching changing table, the glider in the corner, the cute letters on the wall. Oh, and the monitor so that you can see what’s going on in there at all times.

Well we don’t have any of that and I wouldn’t even purchase it if I had a lot of money and extra rooms to spare. Here are my reasons why, with links to great articles on this topic.

 

Babies don't need things, they need connection.

Pregnant mothers are bombarded with advertisements and images of baby items that will supposedly make their lives easier. The baby models are always happy as can be, but I'm confident that real life babies would trade in all of this junk just to be held a little longer (preferably with a boob in their mouth).

All they want and need is to be close to you.

And when they're close to you -- not in a bouncer or crib -- you're more in-tune with them and can better respond to their needs. No object will make your life more easy than it is when you're connected. When I was creating my list of "must-have" items, I used this question to guide me:

"What will foster connection?"

The entire nursery concept didn't make the cut.

 

Nurseries are not biologically ideal.

"Irrepressible (ancient) neurologically-based infant responses to maternal smells, movements and touch altogether reduce infant crying while positively regulating infant breathing, body temperature, absorption of calories, stress hormone levels, immune status, and oxygenation." - James Mckenna

Has anyone ever stopped to think about this one for a second? Babies and small children are vulnerable little beings who depend on us for their safety. Can you imagine our ancestral mothers out in the wild, sleeping anywhere but right next to us? Generations and generations of human beings depended on that closeness. We may be in big houses with locks on our doors, but the biological imperatives remain the same:

Babies need to be with their caregivers at all times

. Here are some other reasons why co-sleeping is healthy for babies.

  • The highest rates of bedsharing worldwide occur alongside the lowest rates of infant mortality.
  • It reduces the chances of an infant dying from SIDS or from an accident by one half.
    • Fires, sexual predators, animal attacks, suffocation after vomiting and other injuries can all be better prevented if a parent is nearby to help.
    • The increased exposure to mother’s antibodies which comes with more frequent nighttime breastfeeding can reduce infant illness.
    • The low calorie composition of human breast milk (adjusted for the infants’ undeveloped gut) requires frequent night feeds.
      • Frequent night feeds helps to maintain the mother's milk supply, which enables her to continue breastfeeding long-term. This is especially important for mothers who have to go back to work early.

 

There's also the psychological component.

"Cribs force babies to face the long night alone years before they are psychologically equipped to do so. Isolation teaches harmful lessons of mistrust, powerlessness, and despair, creating a deep sense of loneliness that no teddy bear can fulfill. Judging from the reports of adults in hypnotherapy, art therapy, and psychoanalysis, experiences of forced separation from parents in infancy and childhood are traumatic, with long-term effects on the adult personality." - Jan Hunt

A soft mattress and a stuffed animal cannot replace the warmth, smell and comfort of a human body.

 

I value my sleep.

"Research has shown that breastfeeding mothers who co-sleep get more sleep than both bottle-feeding mothers and mothers who breastfeed, but do not co-sleep." - Evolutionary Parenting

My son can just roll over and nurse, and usually I sleep right through it. Both of our needs are fulfilled and we usually wake up feeling rested. There are some nights that are harder than others (growth spurts!) but I know it would be significantly worse if I had to get out of bed repeatedly to comfort my child. And if you know me, you know I'm not okay with "cry-it-out" and that will never be an option. Never. 

 

I simply cannot imagine sleeping separately from my baby.

I spent almost ten months sharing a body with my son, and we've been strengthening our bond every day since his birth. He has also bonded with his father and wakes up every morning ready to see him. "Dadu!" is the first word out of his mouth. We are a family and we belong together -- Not Mom and Dad in a room and baby in another room all alone. No. The three of us together, keeping each other safe and warm and loved. Starting and ending each day together.

A Remedy for Sleepless Nights

Co-sleeping: A Remedy for Sleepless Nights I'm writing this at 6am, after one of the hardest nights with Elan that I’ve had in a while.

He nursed through the entire night and eventually woke up fully at 4am — restless and uncomfortable.

After giving him a potty break and a fresh diaper, I lay there in the dark with him on my chest, patting his back and praying that it would be enough. Truth be told, I was a wreck. Dehydrated and empty. The best way to describe this feeling would be that "all of the life got sucked out of me”. The image in my head was of a hollow, lifeless version of myself, aching for nourishment of my own. 

I couldn’t nurse him anymore. It was too much.

TJ tried rocking him, but he just cried and cried. So I drank a glass of water and took some deep breaths, knowing full-well that Elan wouldn’t rest until he was back in my arms (or on my boob, really). TJ then placed him next to me in bed and he latched with eyes closed.

At 5am this morning, I stroked my baby boy's head while he nursed to sleep for the 20th time in a row.

As we lay there together, I saw myself 10 years from now — sitting outside, watching him run around with a fierce independence that already shines through today. I saw myself missing this moment. I saw myself missing every night that he slept comfortably in the crook of my arm. I missed every morning, when I’d wake up and put my face right next to his. We'd blink and smile at each other and I’d kiss his cheeks a dozen times.

I saw myself missing these moments and that vision was enough to let love pour over my frustration. It filled me up as I exhaled and pulled him closer.

We fit together perfectly.

I kissed his head, whispered I Love You and imagined a soft glowing light holding us safely in that space.

This is how gratitude happens. It’s how I get through sleepless nights and long days.

Sure, it would be easier to stick him in a crib and "sleep-train" him. I could ignore his cries for a few nights. He’d get used to being ignored and then just give up crying altogether. Finally, sweet sleep would kick in and I’d never have to have another night like this one, right? People must think I’m crazy for choosing any other way!

But for now, I lay with him in the dark-- feeling at ease and deeply grateful for every second of this closeness.

I can sleep later.

 

Elan's Natural Birth Story

Our Birth Center When I first wrote my birth story, it looked more like a page of timestamped notes than a story. I recorded every minute that I could remember leading up to E's birth, because I knew I'd forget the details later. And, as I sit here re-reading it, I realize that I did forget those details. What really stuck in my mind were the feelings; the sensations.

Before I get into the details of the birth, I must first comment on the incredible timing of the whole thing. It was almost three weeks before my due date. TJ spent the summer in California, and he had just arrived home. On our calendar that week, we had plans to move into a new apartment, attend my baby shower, prepare cloth diapers, meet with our doula to learn comfort measures for birth, and attend my first breastfeeding class. Busy, busy week! But on Sunday morning--the day before our big move--I felt a trickle of water run down my leg. I brushed it off as normal, but the leaking continued into the evening, when TJ finally convinced me to call my midwife. We met her at the birth center, where she held up a red test stick and said, "Yep. It's amniotic fluid. We've got to get you ready to have this baby as soon as possible."

With those words, I felt the clock start ticking.

There was so much energy between the two of us, as we tried to prepare for the biggest day of our lives. It had never occurred to me that I would have an actual heads up before going into labor. But here we were, at Whole Foods, hurriedly gathering some last minute things-- knowing full well that we'd be holding our baby boy within the next 48 hours.

Early the next morning, TJ and I went our separate ways. He went to move some things into our new apartment, and I drove to the birth center to begin what would be a very long day of trying to induce labor naturally. My midwife Natalie was prepared to try everything before going to the hospital. I was, and still am, so incredibly thankful for that.

She gave me an herbal tincture to take while I used the breast pump to try to stimulate labor. 20 minutes left side, 20 minutes right side, 20 minute break--all day long. During those 20 minute breaks, I would get my headphones and take a walk around the neighborhood. I walked up and down the hills, rubbing my belly and breathing deeply to the familiar sounds of my "baby" playlist. I talked to E and told him what was going on; that we needed to work together to bring him safely and peacefully into my arms. The world around me seemed sharper, clearer. I saw life peaking through cracks in the sidewalk and felt a deep connection to everything.

But nevertheless, the day wore on without any sign of labor.

That afternoon I had an acupuncture appointment downstairs. All throughout my third trimester, I had been attending weekly acupuncture and chiropractic appointments to prepare my body for labor. This would be the last acupuncture session of my pregnancy, and it would be unlike any of my previous ones. I went into the room with one goal-- to induce labor.

After our session, she left a few needles in and told me to walk up and down the stairs 6 times. Nothing changed. So I went back to my room in the birthing center, where I resumed the pumping and herbs. TJ eventually joined me and we watched movies to pass the time. As afternoon became evening, I started to consider the possibility that this birth wouldn't be anything like I had imagined. My dream was to have a peaceful, quiet birth with only TJ and my midwife present. No hospital, no bright lights, and certainly no drugs. But if there were no sign of labor the following morning, I would get exactly that. My "nightmare" was about to come true. And yet, I felt oddly at peace with everything. Complete and total trust in the process.

At around 5pm, our midwife knocked on the door and offered us one last option before we went home for the night: Castor Oil.

"The theory behind using castor oil to induce labor is that it causes intestinal cramping and diarrhea, which stimulate the uterus, thus producing prostaglandins, which then cause contractions." source

Castor oil is a thick, unpleasant-tasting oil, so we mixed 4 ounces (double the standard dose!) into a bowl of vegan chocolate ice cream. I ate the entire thing in a matter of minutes and handed the empty bowl to her. She asked us to wait at the birth center for another hour or two, so that she could keep an eye on me while the castor oil took effect. And after a day of hard work, I left the birth center with nothing but a small tummy ache.

To celebrate our last night as two, we picked up our favorite meal (a vegan stir-fry from Bouldin Creek Cafe) and headed to our new apartment for dinner. On the way, I started feeling a cramping sensation in my lower abdomen. I didn't want to get my hopes up, but thought I'd time the cramps just in case.

4 minutes apart, lasting 1 minute each. 

*For those of you who are unfamiliar, there are 3 "stages" of labor. In the first stage, contractions are typically mild and spread apart. As labor advances, contractions become "longer, stronger and closer together." During the second stage--active labor--contractions are strong, lasting 45 to 60 seconds and occurring 3 to 4 minutes apart. Was I already in active labor?!

My contractions quickly gained in strength and eventually moved to my lower back. They only lasted about 20 seconds though, and because they didn't resemble the "normal" pattern, we were convinced that I was still in early labor. This terrified me because it was already so intense -- I doubted my ability to withstand much more.

We tried to get some rest in preparation for the next morning. But every time I would try to lay down, the intensity would push me to my feet. I needed to be upright, moving around. At this point, I was crying and screaming and moaning without a care in the world. TJ was an angel. He whispered encouraging words and massaged my back. We kissed and hugged and he made sure that I always had a glass full of water -- something he still does to this day. Our love for each other felt strong and clear, and I am deeply grateful that we welcomed Elan into such a powerful energetic space.

Of course, I look back at those moments with fondness, but the reality is that things were getting pretty unbearable. I told TJ that I felt like giving up.. I wanted a "hospital, drugs, anything but this". I finally began to understand how a woman could go from a planned natural labor to a medicated one, and I even remember thinking something especially outrageous: "I want them to just take him out of me!"

Note: Just before the point that you begin pushing, the hormone levels are so high that you will see undeniable physical signs. Observation of these signs alert you to the fact that you are in transition. You will recognize transition by the desire to give up. This is when women claim they just can't do it anymore. Most women begin to doubt their ability to go on, and it is in this part of labor that most women ask for medication. (source) 

I spent a great majority of the night on my birth ball, bouncing through the waves and listening to TJ remind me to breathe. I was quite inconsolable, though. I had expected this beautiful birth, where I breathed through every contraction with ease and grace. Wrong. I was shouting and hollering, and I can't imagine what that must have sounded like to everyone else in the house. I didn't give a shit about my breath, or about any of the things I had planned for this birth. I just had to get through each contraction.

One incredibly useful tool that my doula gave me was a rice sock. TJ warmed it up for me so that I could ease the pain in my lower back. And eventually, I found a sort of rhythm. I bounced on the ball, holding the rice sock to my back and actually focusing on my breath. Things got quieter, and TJ was able to slip into sleep while I labored alone. I took frequent visits to the bathroom, where I found the small, quiet, dark space oddly comforting. On one of these visits, I felt a strong urge to poop. I kept thinking that all of my contractions would feel more tolerable if I could only poop. My brain was telling me to PUSH for relief. So I did just that. Then, I felt something strange. I reached down and cried out, "Oh no!". I was fully dilated and could feel something gooey and fleshy... what I thought to be my baby's cord.

I was terrified.

I started bawling and panicking and telling TJ that we needed to get to the birth center ASAP. Maybe even the hospital. Fear had fully overcome me and I ran to the car without even bothering to put my pants on. On the way to the birth center, I kept feeling the irresistible urge to push -- the "fetus ejection reflex" that I had read so much about. It was so overwhelming that I was sure I'd have the baby in the car. Thankfully, at just the moment that I needed it, TJ reminded me to "breathe through it". Deep inhale, smooth exhale. I got through each wave this way and we finally arrived at the birth center.

The Birth Room

My midwife led us into the birthing room and immediately got out the doppler to check the baby’s heartbeat. I remember hearing the heartbeat and feeling the most relief I’ve ever felt.

He was okay.

She dimmed the lights and began to fill the big jacuzzi tub with water. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. With each breath, the moment of complete release drew closer. When the tub was full, I climbed in and felt my entire body relax. I could finally surrender and complete the process of birth.

TJ kneeled in front of me, outside of the tub, while I got on all fours and prepared for the next contraction. It was at this moment that I remembered something I had read in a book about syncing breath with body to prevent tearing. So each time that I felt a wave coming, I inhaled and pushed on the exhaleI didn’t strain too hard. I just pushed enough to get through the contraction. Elan was close to crowning, and I could feel him gently moving in and out with each push. 

No one was telling me to "push!".

In fact, the room was quiet -- just as I had wished from the beginning. A dark, quiet, peaceful space where I could let my body do it's work. And finally, on the fourth "push", he slipped out into the water. My midwife caught him and swiftly guided him to me, at which point I scooped him up and brought him to my chest. He let out a short cry and then relaxed into me.

Time froze. 4:44 AM.

I looked up at TJ, we kissed and then both took in our new baby. Those few seconds, sitting in the warm water, holding my Elan for the first time -- those were the best seconds of my life.

Elan Abel Vaughn weighed 6 pounds 6 ounces at birth. He stayed connected to his placenta for over an hour and I kept him on my chest during that time, skin-to-skin. There were no baths. In fact, we left the vernix on for as long as possible and didn't actually bathe him until over a month later. He never left my sight and we were on our way home by late morning.

My birth experience didn't go according to plan, but I left that day feeling so empowered. I gained a deep reverence for my body in all of her strength, wisdom and femininity. And beyond that, I realized the importance of surrender -- of choosing trust over the desire to control. “To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don't grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float." - Alan Watts

Elan Birth

Elan on the Porch Swing

Mom's Mexican Rice

Mom's Mexican Rice Recipe My mom has been making this rice since before I can remember and I still get excited every time I smell it cooking on the stove. It is crazy to me how it can have the same basic ingredients as most Mexican rice dishes, but still be so uniquely hers. 

So with her permission, I am sharing this recipe with all of you. Enjoy!

*This recipe makes a lot of rice -- about 8 cups -- so cut the ingredients in half if you want a smaller portion. I like to make this size batch once a week and spread it out for several meals. Tacos, rice and beans, buddha bowls, rice stew dishes.. the options are endless.

*The turmeric is optional, but it adds a number of health benefits and a beautiful golden hue.. so why not?!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups uncooked rice (we use sprouted brown rice)
  • 4 T oil
  • 1/2 bell pepper, sliced
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • 5-6 cloves garlic
  • 4 cups water or vegetable broth
  • 1 T cumin
  • 3 T tomato sauce
  • 1/2 T black pepper
  • 1 T salt
  • Optional: 1 tsp turmeric

Directions

  1. Add oil to pan and fry the rice until slightly brown.
  2. In a separate pot, boil the water/broth, cumin, tomato sauce, turmeric, pepper and salt.
  3. Once rice is brown, add garlic, onion and bell pepper. Stir for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add boiling water mixture and stir.
  5. Cover and simmer on medium heat for 20 minutes. Do not remove cover during this time.
  6. Turn off stove after 20 minutes and let rice sit covered for another 5 minutes.
  7. Remove cover and fluff rice with a fork.

How I Treated My Hormonal Imbalance and PCOS Naturally

Healing PCOS Naturally In my previous post, I talked about my struggle with hormonal imbalance (PCOS) before my pregnancy. In this post, I'm going to get into the details of what worked for me. Please keep in mind that this isn't a one-size-fits-all prescription. I put this plan together after a lot of research and close attention to my body and symptoms. My advice to you is to take some of my ideas, do your own research, and begin introducing these things into your daily routine. See what works and what doesn't. Journal and keep track of your symptoms. Get to know your body!

Note: A lot of the focus here was on healing the gut. This is absolutely crucial if you want to get your hormones back in sync. You have to work holistically and the gut is usually the best starting point.

Herbs & Supplements

  • Vitex also known as Chaste tree berry (I started with a tincture from a local herb shop and then moved on to capsules)
    • Supports the body in sustaining and increasing progesterone levels. Many women with PCOS have low levels of progesterone due to unopposed estrogen. Vitex helps the body to balance estrogen and progesterone for a healthy, regular menstrual cycle.
  • Maca Root (capsule or powder form)
    • Supports healthy progesterone levels in the body. Maca is an adaptogen. It helps to balance hormones, but does not contain any hormones itself. It is able to do this by nourishing and balancing the endocrine system. And it'll give you an energy boost!
  • L-Glutamine
  • Ceylon Cinnamon (organic; in my morning smoothie)
    • Increases the hormone progesterone and decreases testosterone in women, which helps balance hormones. It also stabilizes blood sugar and aids in the treatment of insulin resistance.
  • Coconut Oil (organic, raw, unrefined; 1 T in my morning smoothie)
    • The caprylic and lauric acid in coconut oil play a key role in protecting the digestive tract, helping with inflammation and the gut.
  • Vitamin C (prefer the powder because you get a higher dose without swallowing a handful of capsules)
    • Mood and immune booster. Beneficial for those with low progesterone. I could go on and on about C, really. It was a no-brainer to add it to my regimen.
  • Turmeric (capsules and powdered spice when cooking; you can also buy raw turmeric root and add slices to your smoothie)
    • Amazing, amazing, amazing. Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune-boosting, and a major digestive aid.
  • Probiotic (I used Garden of Life Women's formula)
    • (Duh!) Anyone trying to treat PCOS and build/maintain a strong, healthy gut needs to include a high quality probiotic and fermented foods in their diet.

 

Morning Green Smoothie

This was the most important part of my routine because it gave me a healthy start each and every day. I used berries as my fruit of choice, because they are low-glycemic and lower in sugar than tropical fruits like mangos and pineapples. This was an important shift for me and I still choose berries to this day.

  • 1/2 cup organic blueberries
  • huge handful organic greens (spinach, baby kale, etc)
  • 1/2 cup hemp or almond milk
  • 1 T organic, unrefined coconut oil
  • 1 scoop Vega Protein Powder
  • 1 dose of my L-glutamine powder
  • organic cinnamon powder
  • water + ice to desired consistency

 

My Diet

I stuck to my vegan diet, of course, with a bigger focus on organic whole foods. The main components were beans, whole grains, vegetables and seeds. Low sugar is a must for getting rid of candida and other issues surrounding leaky gut. Low to no gluten was important for me, as I noticed that it aggravated my body. This was clearly evident on my skin--and still is. I get little flesh-colored bumps on my cheeks and arms. No caffeine. It is highly acidic, elevates cortisol levels and isn't at all nourishing to the body. No alcohol. I don't even need to explain this one. For me, drinking alcohol is anything but practicing self-love.

If you haven't already been eating a whole foods, vegetarian diet, this might seem too "strict" for you. In that case, I would recommend that you simply focus on increasing your intake of whole, plant foods in the beginning. Veggies, veggies, veggies! Some meal ideas include the following...

  • Vegetables sautéed in coconut, avocado or olive oil. On a bed of brown rice, with your favorite spices. I love adding coconut aminos to the pan while cooking--yum!
  • Brown rice or quinoa pasta with your favorite sauce. Maybe marinara or avocado basil pesto.
  • Roasted vegetables. Add to a salad, wrap, rice, or just eat them up.
  • Veggie burgers with avocado and sauerkraut + a side of roasted or sautéed vegetables. I love oven baked fries!
  • Salads. (Skip the ranch dressing and cheese, though.)

Here are some blogs with great recipes: Oh She Glows, Cookie and Kate, Healthy. Happy. Life., Vegan Yack Attack, Detoxinista.

A note about hemp seeds: Hemp seeds contain a type of omega-6 fat called GLA (gamma-linoleic acid). Studies show supplementing with GLA can support healthy progesterone levels. They're also a great source of plant-based protein. I like to sprinkle them on pretty much anything-- salads, soups, baked goods, oatmeal, rice and beans.

 

Exercise

I have never liked intense exercise, running or gyms. In fact, I honestly don't think the human body is built for long-term, strenuous exercise and there is a definite connection between overexercising and infertility.

"Intense exercise lowers progesterone and throws off your hormone levels," says Sami David, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist in New York City. "Endorphins can suppress your FSH and LH, the hormones in your pituitary gland responsible for producing eggs, and the ovarian hormones estradiol and progesterone, making it harder for you to get pregnant or more likely to miscarry without knowing it."

It's important to get moving every day, but not to over-stress your body. In my case, I opted for yoga and walking around my neighborhood.

  • Yoga: There is no doubt that yoga can do amazing things for your health--body and mind. Because I felt so weak and unbalanced at the beginning of this, I opted for slow yoga. No crazy poses or heated rooms. Just deep, focused breathing and light movement.
  • Walking: My walking was more like an extension of my yoga practice. I took walks around the neighborhood and focused on my breath. Fresh air and sunlight are major components of true health, and they're often overlooked these days.

 

Environmental Toxins: Home & Body Care

I stayed away from conventional body care products and consulted EWG’s “Skin Deep Cosmetic Database” before purchasing anything. It might seem crazy, but this does matter. No more BPA or nonstick pans for me. Instead, I opted for a glass or stainless steel water bottle and cast iron or stainless steel cookware. Now, I try to keep plastic in my home to a minimum.

 


 

So that's it. After following this plan for only four months, I had my first normal cycle in November of 2014. A month later, during my second normal cycle, I got pregnant.

My pregnancy was such a joy! Absolutely no morning sickness. In fact, with the exception of mild fatigue and moodiness in the first trimester, I felt vibrant and healthy throughout. Elan was born naturally and I healed beautifully.

I realize that we all have different bodies, situations and histories. All I can say is that I noticed an enormous shift in my life when I chose to treat my body with the utmost love and respect. For me, that meant no drugs or "quick fixes". It meant getting to the root of my imbalance and having the strength to make the necessary changes to my lifestyle. I hope you'll give it a try. :)

My Hormone Story: Imbalance, Healing and A Big (Little) Surprise

I have kept things relatively private during my pregnancy and beyond, but there are a few topics that I believe are important to share--the first being my history with hormonal imbalance. In our world today, many of us are out of balance. Processed food, chemicals and toxins in our environment, lack of sleep, drugs and unhealthy habits lend a hand in creating this imbalance. To remedy this, doctors are prescribing more drugs. But with rare exceptions, I don't believe that any drug will ever truly heal your body. It takes big lifestyle changes and a whole lot of self-love. This is my personal experience with just that.


 

Less than a year before I got pregnant, my doctor sat me down and told me that I'd probably never be able to have kids. She said that if I did happen to become pregnant, the chances of miscarriage were high. Then--and I'll never forget this--she told me that I "better find a husband who will be okay with that." Needless to say, I left her office in tears, with no desire to ever see her again. To be honest, marriage was never in my "life plan"-- much less kids. But it was heartbreaking to have that choice taken away from me.

I had initially scheduled the appointment because I was desperate for answers. Ever since removing my hormonal birth control, my period was irregular, my skin was a mess, and my mood constantly fluctuated to the point where I didn't even feel like myself. I was so out of sorts that I self-diagnosed myself with Borderline Personality Disorder. Seriously, I fit nearly all of the criteria. (Now I'm fully convinced of the connection between hormonal imbalance and mental illness. But I'll save that for another post.)

Sure enough, the test results and an ultrasound confirmed that I had a hormonal imbalance that could be characterized as PCOS--Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. As to the cause, my guess is years of hormonal birth control and disordered eating. The birth control had been keeping my PCOS symptoms at bay, but the underlying imbalance had probably been there all along.

So when I got home from that appointment, I immediately started researching and drafting a plan to get my body back into balance. As usual, I avoided Western medicine in search of a more natural, holistic solution. It would consist of big lifestyle and dietary changes, as well as herbs and supplements. I got started in July of 2014. Instead of hormonal birth control (never again!), I opted for Natural Family Planning in order to learn my cycles and avoid pregnancy. [For those of you interested, I highly recommend the book "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" and the Kindara app for tracking your cycles.]

After a few months on my "plan", I finally had my first somewhat-normal cycle! I knew I had a long journey ahead of me, but this was a sign that I was headed in the right direction.

In early December during my second "normal" cycle, I started feeling uterine cramps. At first, I thought it might be a sign of my period, but the cramps only worsened and there was no sign of blood. They were unlike anything I've ever felt before-- intense cramps that required me to stop and focus on my breath. Could it be a ruptured cyst? Ovarian or uterine cancer?

One afternoon, I was alone at a stoplight and I felt a sudden urge to call my OB-Gyn. After hearing my symptoms, the nurse asked, "Have you taken a pregnancy test?". I froze. It had never occurred to me that I could get pregnant. Not this quickly. And to add to my internal freak-out, I couldn't even afford a pregnancy test. So I drove to a sketchy side of town, where they offer free pregnancy tests, and it was there that I first heard the words, "You're pregnant."

Christmas -- Two days after the news of my pregnancy. Funny timing, as usual!

After coming to terms with my surprise pregnancy, I focused all of my energy on loving and nurturing my unborn child. I kept up my routine and added a whole food prenatal, vitamin c and vitamin e. But no matter how healthy I felt, for months there was a voice in my head telling me that I would miscarry. In fact, I didn't even bother thinking about life with a baby, because I had assumed miscarriage as an inevitability.

But as you know, that miscarriage never happened.

I grew Elan in my womb for a little over 37 weeks. I felt his kicks and hiccups. I meditated with both hands on my belly, consciously sending him love. We were two souls in one body, and now I wake up beside him every morning. He is living proof that our bodies have an incredible ability to heal if we give them the right tools.

Our first ultrasound - 8 weeks pregnant!

I am writing this at almost 7 months postpartum. I don't know the exact state of my hormones, but I know that I feel good. My mood is stable, my skin is getting better everyday, and I am no longer struggling with fatigue. I am breastfeeding Elan with no issues, and my body bounced back to pre-pregnancy weight rather quickly. Correcting my hormonal imbalance changed my life. It not only gave me the gift of my sweet little boy, but it gave me my emotional and physical well-being back.

 


For those of you interested in the details of my plan, check out this post.

DIY: Turmeric Clay Detox Mask for Glowing Skin

Turmeric Face Mask I am not exaggerating when I say that turmeric is one of my favorite ingredients in the entire world. It's in my food, on my skin and I even have it in capsule form for when my health needs a boost. So naturally, when I decided to make a detox mask, turmeric was the first thing that came to mind.

A little background: In the East, turmeric has long been used for medicinal purposes. It has been used in Indian ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for years for the treatment of inflammatory and digestive disorders. The western medical community has been doing research into turmeric’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and its potential in the treatment of cancer and other diseases.

 

Turmeric Face Mask*Note: This mask will temporarily stain the skin. I use this mask in the evening and the color is usually gone by the next day. If the yellow tint bothers you, just use a bit of apple cider vinegar on a cotton ball or towel. Also, if you can find it, Kasturi turmeric (curcuma aromatica) is non-staining and has the same skin-healing properties.

Turmeric Face MaskIngredients

Turmeric Root Powder (2 tsp) - acts as an exfoliant and provides antioxidant protection from free radicals that damage skin as well as toxins that accelerate the aging process. Brightens complexion and evens out skin tone. Great for oily and acne-prone skin.

French Green Clay (2 Tbs) - gently draws out impurities and toxins, while smoothing skin tone

Frankincense Essential Oil (3 drops) - promotes healthy cell regeneration and reverses signs of aging

Filtered Water (3 Tbs) - It is important to use clean water. We have a Big Berkey Filter in our home, but any filtered or distilled water will work.

 

 

Directions: Mix all ingredients together and add water until desired consistency. Store in an air-tight glass jar (make sure it's closed or the mask will dry up!).

To Use The Mask: Cleanse skin and pat dry. Apply your favorite serum or facial oil. Apply mask and let dry for 10-15 minutes, or longer if you're like me and get distracted easily. Remove with warm water and follow with apple cider vinegar if desired. I usually add a few more drops of serum at this point.

My Vegan Pregnancy Diet

Yes, I'm 9 months pregnant and haven't consumed any animal products. My baby is dancing around in my belly, happily growing on a 100% plant-based diet.

The first thing my midwives (and the Internet) stressed to me was that I need to focus on getting adequate protein and iron. So here's what I did.

Protein & Iron Sources During Pregnancy

  • Hemp seeds-- in and on everything. Soups, smoothies, beans, rice, salads. 3 TBS has 10g protein and 20% of the RDA for iron.
  • I added plant-based protein powder to my morning smoothie. My favorite is Vega Protein Smoothie in Choc-o-Lot15g protein, 20% iron.
  • Granola, when I'm craving something sweet. Preferably with a healthier sugar alternative, like maple syrup.
  • Almonds! I like to bring these with me when I'm out and about, in case I get hungry. 1/2 cup has 15g protein and 15% iron.
  • Beans. 1 cup cooked black beans has 15g protein and 20% iron.
  • Dark leafy greens in my morning smoothie. I've been doing this for years, so I just had to be sure to keep it up during my pregnancy. Greens have a surprisingly large amount of protein and iron, as well as other vitamins and minerals. The most important part of any diet, in my opinion.

Favorite Meals

This has changed throughout the last 9 months, but some of my favorites have included:

  • Lentil Vegetable Soup. If you're feeling lazy and want a quick, healthy meal, I highly recommend Amy's soups. The nutrition label is pretty impressive, and the cans are BPA-free!
  • Gluten-free spaghetti with organic sugar-free marinara sauce. I try to avoid corn-based pastas, and instead prefer rice and quinoa. After searching far and wide, I've settled on Trader Joe's Organic Brown Rice & Quinoa Spaghetti. It's affordable and it tastes good. *Confession: I've eaten this every day this week.
  • Rice and beans with homemade sauerkraut. Simple and affordable. Not to mention, sauerkraut is amazing and fermentation is fun.

  • Lemon roasted vegetables. My 2015 favorite: Brussels Sprouts. (Lemon makes everything taste better. It really does.)
  • Gluten-free banana nut pancakes. A protein-packed variation of this recipe.
  • Avocado wraps, with veggies, sprouts and more sauerkraut. In a gluten-free brown rice tortilla. This one is my favorite and you can find it at Whole Foods.

With this diet (plus the occasional pizza and fries--whoops), I've gained a healthy 25 pounds and can honestly say that this pregnancy has been a breeze.*

 

*knock on wood, I still have a few weeks left.

 

Healthy Recipe: Quinoa Black Bean Salad

Quinoa Black Bean Salad
I have a few staple foods that I like to prepare and eat throughout the week, and this is one of them.
You can mix it with vegetables, put it in an (actual) salad, make a burrito, anything. And it's relatively easy to make, which is a requirement for me on account of I'm rather impatient in the kitchen.
Totally adjustable / interchangeable ingredients, so I encourage you all to play around with this one. When I cooked this recipe today, I actually doubled it... and then realized that I had run out of black beans. So, pinto beans it is!

Quinoa Black Bean Salad
Ingredients
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cup vegetable broth OR water
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • a heck of a lot of limes (or, 1 lime, for normal people)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional: 1 tsp olive oil for step one
  • optional: other veggies.. chopped carrots, zucchini or corn

Directions

  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat and stir in the onion and garlic. Cook for a couple of minutes or until onion is soft.
  2. Add vegetable broth or water to the pan, along with the quinoa and optional vegetables.
  3. Add cumin, salt and pepper.
  4. Bring mixture to a boil and then cover, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Mix in black beans, lime juice, tomatoes and cilantro.

Makes 4 servings. Can be served hot or cold.

Quinoa Black Bean Salad
Note: I don't know what your tastebuds are like, but for me, the lime is the most important part of this recipe. It transforms the taste and I cannot get enough! Love, love, love.

Why I Eat One Brazil Nut A Day

Selenium - This mineral is vital for a healthy functioning immune system. It works with other vitamins and minerals to prevent free radical damage in the body, and is thought to help prevent cancer as well.

Low selenium levels can contribute to the following: Autoimmune problems like psoriasis and thyroid disorders, mood disorders, progression of viral infections, etc.

Top plant-based foods with selenium: Brazil nuts, Sunflower seeds, Mushrooms, Grains, Onions

My choice? Brazil nuts!

The RDA for selenium for adults 19 and older is 55 micrograms per day. One Brazil nut contains around 95 micrograms. This means that just one brazil nut a day supplies me with well over 100% of my daily selenium needs.

(It's my favorite tasting supplement, that's for sure.)

Brazil Nuts and Selenium - Healthy Nutrition

Gluten-Free Vegan Chocolate Chip Banana Pancakes

These pancakes.

I cannot eat enough of them.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 Tbs Flaxseed
  • 5 Tbs Water
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 1/2 cups Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour (I use Bob's Red Mill)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk (or any milk of choice)
  • 8-10 drops stevia
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Chocolate chips (I used Linda's sugar-free Stevia Chocolate Chips)
  • Coconut oil for cooking

OPTIONAL

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Sometimes I add vegan protein to my pancake or crepe recipes. All you need to do is add more liquid until you get the right consistency. Make sure your pan is either non-stick or well greased, because adding protein can make pancakes stick.

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a small bowl, mix together the ground flax seed and water. Allow this mixture to thicken for about 10 minutes. For more info on making "flax eggs", check out this link. 
  2. Mix dry ingredients in one bowl, and wet ingredients (including flax egg) in another. Then mix together.
  3. Lightly grease pan with coconut oil, and cook. I like to use the 1/2 cup container to pour the batter onto the pan. And remember, don't flip until you see bubbles start to form.
  4. As soon as you cook both sides of the pancake, remove it from the pan and poke some chocolate chips all around it. The pancake is still hot enough to melt the chocolate perfectly, and this allows you to choose how many/where you want your chips! (For me, everywhere.)

Berry Superfood Smoothie

Berry Superfood Smoothie My morning green smoothies are always evolving, so here's a list of what I've been using lately. In the order that I add to the blender.

Engine 2 Unsweetened Almond Milk - Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn and Dr. T. Colin Cambell's research--featured in the documentary Forks Over Knives--is what ultimately moved me to become vegan. Imagine my excitement when I find out that Esselstyn's son, Rip, has partnered with Whole Foods to bring more healthy, plant-based foods to stores everywhere! If you have a Whole Foods nearby, I encourage you to go check it out. If not, any kind of unsweetened almond or hemp milk is a great substitute. 

Organic Power Greens - A mix of spinach, mizuna, chard and kale. I've been adding in huge handfuls lately. Greens are the ultimate superfood.

Organic Strawberries and Blueberries - Low glyemic and full of antioxidants, berries have been my #1 fruit choice for the last couple of months. I do wish they were in season, but frozen do just fine for now.

Organic Hemp Hearts -  One of the most important components of my plant-based diet, these little guys have 10 grams of protein and 10 grams of omegas per serving. They're also a great source of iron and various other minerals. I add these to every single smoothie that I make, as well as on top of cereal, salads, cooked food, and even in pancakes. Versatile and nutritious.

Chia Seeds - "Thousands of years ago, chia seed was a staple in the diets of ancient Mayans and Aztecs. The word chia is derived from the Mayan language, meaning “strength,” and Aztec warriors relied on chia seed to boost energy and increase stamina." Notable nutrients: Fiber (5g per Tablespoon!), Iron, Protein. 

Camu Camu Powder - This is the most recent addition to my smoothie. It's an incredible source of vitamin c--as much as 60 times more C per serving than an orange. Also a good source of antioxidants and other phytonutrients.

Garden of Life Raw Protein (Cacao Flavor) - I rotate plant-based proteins every month or so, and I'm currently trying out Garden of Life's line of raw protein. All sprouted grains, legumes and seeds, and it even contains live probiotics and enzymes. 17g protein.

 

And here's the nutritional breakdown for the entire smoothie...

Smoothie nutrition

This smoothie covers over half of my daily need for protein and iron.

(Protein: 53%  / Iron: 68%)

Not to mention that it contains 24 grams of fiber. 84% of the recommended daily amount.

 

If you're too busy or unsure about what to cook throughout the day, green smoothies are a great way to ensure that you're getting the nutrition you need for optimum health. New to smoothies? Check out this great resource.