Our Battle with Eczema

Well, if you’re reading this, I’d bet you’ve either encountered eczema yourself or in your family, or know someone who has! For some reason this and many other awful skin conditions are on the rise. And Oliver’s showed up right at 6 weeks old, along with baby acne and cradle cap… yay! Aren’t newborns attractive enough?! (;

So, I wanted to share some photos and talk about our journey 6.5 months in because I’m I know so many of you have been praying for us all these months, empathizing with us, sending us the best advice about creams, allergy testing, laundry detergents… you name it! You guys have been a faithful village.

I’m going to try and keep this as short as possible, but I’ve pieced together some good information during our quest for health.

As some of you know, I dealt with major itchy skin after about week 35 of my pregnancy. My midwife said I could go to a doctor and get tested for PUPPPS or Cholestasis but since she did not believe it was a serious condition, I did not want to bother. It was misery, and the worst of the itchiness felt like I had a major yeast infection. The rest of my itchy skin went away a few months after Oliver was born, but the “nether regions” stayed extremely itchy. I was tested by an OB for yeast/bacteria which came up negative. Itchiness always worse at night - drove me so mad, I often itched raw. Sorry for TMI… but still currently dealing with this.

Now. Another clue that things weren’t right with me internally was severe engorgement with my milk supply from about day 4 to maybe week 3. We started seeing an IBCLC (lactation consultant) when Oliver was 2 days old, and she said engorgement is often due to inflammation in the body.

Clue #3… Oliver began to have green poops. They looked like green algae. My LC continued to have suspicions of inflammation in the body, a food allergy/sensitivity or an imbalance in foremilk/hindmilk (which we thought was highly possible due to my severe engorgement).

Since Oliver’s eczema showed up at 6 weeks and only began to get worse, we asked our pediatric chiropractor (very holistic and knowledgeable in many areas besides chiropractic care) to do the IgG allergy panel for me. When you have an allergy/sensitivity you may or may not know about, you often pass that same sensitivity to baby through the breastmilk, and the baby reacts to it. My allergy results were shocking to me - I was really not allergic to anything; everything was low to insignificant. But, one thing off the charts: Candida. Candida is a good bacteria that naturally lives in your body but too much refined sugar and processed foods can cause an overgrowth which lead to a host of super fun symptoms! Candida often goes undetected in the cultures the OB does for yeast/bacteria testing so would make sense that those results were negative. Bingo! We thought this was the cause of my itching for sure, and the cause of Oliver’s eczema.

So, around month 4, we started our Candida Diet. I went gluten-free and cut all refined sugars completely. It was… beyond overwhelming. Learning an entirely new diet in basically a day made me feel like I was instantly drowning! But, you do hard things because you have no choice. And so I did! We both had “candida die-off” (when symptoms get worse and toxins are clearing out) about a week into our cleanse and the doctor reassured us that was great news. But, as the weeks went on, I did not believe either of us were seeing any improvements. However, Oliver’s poops turned from always-green to totally normal mustard-yellow (isn’t being a mom so fun when you analyze your baby’s poops?!). But, I contributed that to the fact that my milk supply had finally regulated and any foremilk / hindmilk imbalance was likely resolved.

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After 8 weeks on the Candida Diet, my doctor suggested that even though my sensitivity to dairy was low, we should try cutting it out to see what happens. Two weeks of being gluten-free, sugar-free and dairy-free, and Oliver still had THREE flare ups and his eczema seemed worse than ever. HOW?!!?! I was about to pull my hair out! I was so disheartened, cried out to God so many times for healing (still do) and just was so burnt out on being insanely strict with my diet and having basically 0 results. So, little by little I started adding gluten and sugar back into my diet. Within two weeks of adding gluten and sugar back in, my itching got even worse, Oliver’s poops went back to being green… and his eczema is worse than ever before! See below for photos of what it currently looks like.

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His skin currently feels like sandpaper pretty much everywhere! The ONLY cream I’ve found to help is Manuka Honey, but still it only helps keep the eczema a little less red and a little less rough. My poor baby! Somehow, the fact that he’s literally always been the happiest baby ever is a miracle in itself. THANK YOU GOD.

Okay so now to piece it all together:

Clue #1 My itching

Clue #2 Severe engorgement

Clue #3 Oliver’s Green Poops

Clue #4 Oliver’s Eczema

Clue #5 Reintroduction of gluten and sugar makes itching worse, poops green again, eczema worse than ever.

Soooo… according to my incredibly brilliant wellness doctor… what’s the culprit of (hopefully) all of this?!

DYSGLYCEMIA. A fancy word to describe an imbalance in blood sugar, which results in Candida overgrowth and a billion other symptoms I probably don’t realize are connected. Had I not learned about the candida overgrowth, I’d have never cut out gluten/sugar and then never had to reintroduce them to realize they were in fact, making things worse! So… it isn’t that either of us has an intolerance to gluten or sugar (although they do cause inflammation), but rather that there’s a major imbalance in me and Oliver’s body is unable to handle it. He’s only gotten worse because I only cut gluten/sugar but not also starches and grains (potatoes, beans, even quinoa etc). All these types of carbs turn to sugar in the body. So I was a LITTLE better but still eating tons of brown rice, potatoes of all kinds, gluten-free foods (still carbs) etc.And since our bodies are INCREDIBLY inflamed, it takes basically very little to cause a flare-up for both of us. So, we’re both in one big, ugly, constant flare-up that can’t be blamed on any one specific food. Does that make sense?

So what’s our plan? Something called a Reset Diet, which I think is similar to Whole 30. You can read about it here. My Wellness doctor suggested this diet when I was already burnt out on the Candida Diet so I did not try it. But… once we are home from vacation in a week (and I eat all the things) I’m going to jump in! I believe that this is a HUGE part of the problem and I am praying so hard that once we got my blood sugars balanced and everything is working properly again, that will be it! No more itching for me, no more eczema for Oliver. It seems impossible to think he could actually ever have soft baby skin but we will continue to pursue it! And believe in our body’s ability to heal itself through food (and prayer!!). Let me know if you have any questions and thanks for reading!

This Is Home Birth

At 41 weeks and 3 days on a Thursday, I waved my white flag of surrender. I had been dealing with extreme itching for 6+ weeks all over my body, including the most unmentionable, god-awful areas. And although Oliver was mostly anterior (perfect position for labor and delivery), at the top of 41 weeks he flipped to posterior which meant he was back to hitting the nerves near my cervix, giving me the pleasantly-named “lightning crotch” that sends a sharp, searing, nerve pain down the inner thigh out of nowhere. I was trying to “walk the baby out” for weeks and now I couldn’t walk very far at all without practically collapsing from this debilitating pain and my itching was so extreme that it was keeping me from sleeping. So, on our walk that day, I had two of those searing pains and I just stopped in the middle of the street and had a total breakdown. And I sobbed as I hobbled the rest of the way home. I text my midwife, Kate, that between the itching and nerve pain, I could not handle it anymore and was ready break my water. Since I had been closely monitored and had 7+ membrane strips within the previous two weeks (my choice but supported by my midwife), she already knew internally, everything was R E A D Y, and agreed that if Oliver didn’t come by Saturday morning, we could break my water. I called my mom to fill her in and sobbed some more. I was so mentally and physically spent and felt I had done everything in my power to coax baby out with teas and supplements and walking and sex and membrane strips and literally everything you can think of.

41 weeks, 4 days pregnant.

41 weeks, 4 days pregnant.

The evening of 41 weeks 4 days, I started to have very mild surges over night, but by morning they had stopped. I bounced on the ball, did the Miles circuit and went for as much of a walk as I could handle to try to get the surges going again but nothing was happening. So my midwife came around 430pm that day, did an NST (non stress test) on Oliver to make sure the placenta was still functioning correctly and said that she would only break my water if conditions were safe; he passed all her tests with flying colors. Once your water breaks, it is not quite as easy for baby to shift positions, and since he was still posterior (great recipe for back labor, which I had with Lucy - no thank you!), we did what’s called the Rebozo technique. I got on my hands and knees and my midwife wrapped a scarf around my belly and from the top, proceeded to “shimmy” my belly back and forth gently. I felt Oliver scurrying around a little so I knew he was moving, and after maybe 5 minutes, we checked his position and he had flipped 180 degrees to anterior! So I hurried and hopped on the bed to keep him in this ideal position and we broke my water at 5pm. Weirdest feeling ever. (; Before my water broke, I was somewhere around 3cm dilated (but able to be stretched to 5cm since my cervix was so pliable and soft) and about 50-60% effaced.

Kate left and advised me to keep in very close contact with her. We knew things could begin immediately or could take a day or two to get going. But, for weeks everyone had predicted that because of the early work my body did internally, once labor did decide to start, it would likely not be a very long labor.

It took about 15 minutes to get my first surge. I called my parents who were at Jamba Juice and asked if they could come bring me a smoothie and have dinner with us to keep me company so I wasn’t just sitting there thinking about starting labor. I then had 3 surges within 9 minutes, so I text Kate, unsure of what was a normal response to breaking the water and unsure if the surges were only a result of messing with the cervix. She responded, “I’m turning around.”

My parents arrived at 530pm and my surges had quickly reached 4 minutes apart, lasting about 45-60 seconds in length. At about 6pm, I made my way to my birthing ball and told Sam that since Kate was on her way and I was pretty sure I was officially in labor, that he could get the birth pool up. Of course… we completely forgot the liner for the pool so after getting the pool almost full, Sam and my dad had to use buckets and hoses to drain it completely, dry it completely and refill it again. There was officially a pep in their step since they didn’t know how quickly this was going to go. (;

Filling the birth tub and then praying over the labor and delivery

Filling the birth tub and then praying over the labor and delivery

This labor felt completely different than my labor with Lucy, which you can read about here. Because Lucy was a posterior baby, something we did not know at the time, I had back labor my entire 22 hour labor. My contractions were on top of each other, never giving me a break in between. I couldn’t take two steps without having a surge and only had very slight relief when Sam or my mom squeezed my hips together. I moaned like a bear through every surge until the end; it was the only way to deal with the intensity of my surges. But with Oliver, I was able to meet each surge only with my breath, a mantra I repeated to myself over the course of my entire labor. It reminded me to keep my hands unclenched, brows unfurrowed, and jaw soft. At no point did I ever feel out of control or like I could not handle my surges even when they began to grow in intensity.

My doula, Lisa and I. Doulas are so UNDERRATED! Also, this photo makes me look much bigger than I actually was! Haha! / Photo by  Ellice Anne Photography

My doula, Lisa and I. Doulas are so UNDERRATED! Also, this photo makes me look much bigger than I actually was! Haha! / Photo by Ellice Anne Photography

Somewhere around maybe 630 or 7pm we decided to see what progress I had made. I had made it to 5cm but progressed to 75% effaced. I was only a tiny bit discouraged but remembered how I was only dilated to 3cm with Lucy for 20 hours of labor, so mentally turned off the negativity and went back to breathing. I was able to laugh and smile in between surges, something I could never do during Lucy’s labor because my body was constantly trying to right her malposition by giving me one surge on top of another, for hours on end. The rest in between surges was new to me and was incredibly refreshing, giving me a break to prepare for the next one. Also I was so insanely happy labor had finally started, so of COURSE I was all smiles!!

Sam, probably trying to talk me into a vasectomy. HA! /  Photo by Ellice Anne Photography

Sam, probably trying to talk me into a vasectomy. HA! / Photo by Ellice Anne Photography

Mid-surge. You can see the belly tensed. / Photo by  Ellice Anne Photoraphy

Mid-surge. You can see the belly tensed. / Photo by Ellice Anne Photoraphy

Checking baby’s heartbeat constantly. / Photo by  Ellice Anne Photography

Checking baby’s heartbeat constantly. / Photo by Ellice Anne Photography

Resting between surges. / Photo by  Ellice Anne Photography

Resting between surges. / Photo by Ellice Anne Photography

Lucy was home for the entire labor, and so my mother and father took turns playing with her in her room! Around 815pm it was time to say goodnight. Sam and I cried as he brought her in to give me my goodnight kiss; it was our last moment together as a family of 3 and that was a big, wonderful, overwhelming feeling. Also, labor hormones, amirite!?

Explaining that brother would be here to meet her in the morning! / Photo by  Ellice Anne Photography

Explaining that brother would be here to meet her in the morning! / Photo by Ellice Anne Photography

Until that point, I had labored solely on my birthing ball. I remember how painful it was to walk through labor with Lucy and decided I was going to rest and breathe a lot more this time around. My doula, Lisa, encouraged me, when I was ready, to sit on the toilet and move through some surges that way. Since I know the “toilet surges” are a bit more intense (the position moves the baby down in a very effective way), I really had to get up the courage to welcome more intensity. It took about 15-20 minutes before I agreed and sat on the toilet for maybe 20 minutes. Although, my times may be skewed of course because I was in labor. (;

Lisa then asked me if I was ready to do some walking. Again… walking is another level up in intensity because you’re moving baby down with the movement of your hips and the help of gravity, so I had to get up the courage to do that, too… and I did.

Photo by Ellice Anne Photography

Photo by Ellice Anne Photography

Feeling very glamorous at this point with my bulging belly, cellulite and very cool diaper. (; And holding my  Cuddle + Kind Oliver bear  because I wanted something tangible to remind me that I would be holding my son in its place very soon. / Photo by  Ellice Anne Photography

Feeling very glamorous at this point with my bulging belly, cellulite and very cool diaper. (; And holding my Cuddle + Kind Oliver bear because I wanted something tangible to remind me that I would be holding my son in its place very soon. / Photo by Ellice Anne Photography

Sam and I, and then my mom and I, walked down my hall into Oliver’s room where I labored in the dark.

Featuring: a photo most of you would never post! And my insanely cool Depends diaper. I had to wear a diaper since we broke my water and I was continually releasing fluid, and was way too overheated to put on pants! / Photo by  Ellice Anne Photography

Featuring: a photo most of you would never post! And my insanely cool Depends diaper. I had to wear a diaper since we broke my water and I was continually releasing fluid, and was way too overheated to put on pants! / Photo by Ellice Anne Photography

It didn’t take long for me to feel that oh-so-familiar “rectal pressure” that meant baby had descended significantly! My body was beginning to push on it’s own. My transition period overall lasted maybe 20 minutes total! This next picture is one of my absolute favorites… the look on my mom’s face as we all realize “it’s time” makes me want to sob… but then I see Sam’s hands behind me in celebration that we’re about to meet our son and I just crack up! Amazing moment captured, Ellice. Haha!!

I told my midwife, “If his head isn’t right there, then I don’t know what I’m feeling!” I jumped on the bed for a quick check, although my midwife was in and out in seconds. She did not confirm 10cm (completion) because she confirmed that his head was definitely right there! It was time to hop in the tub. But, as I walked out of my room, I had another very intense surge and thought for sure he was about to be born in my hallway! Thanks for helping me with censorship, husband! (;

My midwife quickly called for her assistant to bring all the items needed to basically have a baby on the floor. HAHA! I was a bit frazzled and didn’t even know what position to get in if his head was about to come out. Luckily… the surge passed and his head stayed put, and according to my friend and photographer, I hurried on over and jumped in the tub! The warm water greeted me like a hug and I breathed a sigh of relief. It was very comfortable for me to labor on my knees and I knew immediately this is how I wanted to birth. It’s a good thing I jumped in the tub when I did because he started to crown on my very next surge.

SO happy to have made it to the tub. So relaxing throughout the most intense moments of labor. / Photo by  Ellice Anne Photography

SO happy to have made it to the tub. So relaxing throughout the most intense moments of labor. / Photo by Ellice Anne Photography

Waiting for the next surge. / Photo by  Ellice Anne Photography

Waiting for the next surge. / Photo by Ellice Anne Photography

Breathing up with the next surge. / Photo by  Ellice Anne Photography

Breathing up with the next surge. / Photo by Ellice Anne Photography

Stages of crowning. / Photo by  Ellice Anne Photography

Stages of crowning. / Photo by Ellice Anne Photography

I did not “bear down” during the entire surge this time, like I did with Lucy. I breathed up with my surge, and as my body pushed on its own, I went with it, and did small “grunty” pushes with breathing in between. I believe NOT bearing down was the reason I did not tear. Oliver’s head peaked during one surge, then crowned halfway on the next surge, and on the third surge his head was completely out. It took one more surge for the rest of him to fully emerge.

Oliver Stone Ciurdar was born at 930pm in the water, weighing 9lbs. 14. oz and measuring 22.5” long. Pure, chunky, bliss.

Bliss. / Photo by  Ellice Anne Photography

Bliss. / Photo by Ellice Anne Photography

Pure relief. / Photos by  Ellice Anne Photography

Pure relief. / Photos by Ellice Anne Photography

When Oliver first came out and for about a minute, he was quite limp and did not cry. I had seen births in videos where this happened and so I did not panic, but we waited anxiously for Kate to check his heartbeat and when she signaled all was well, we breathed a sigh of relief. If my midwife wasn’t worried, neither was I.

First cries. / Photo by  Ellice Anne Photography

First cries. / Photo by Ellice Anne Photography

About a minute or so later, he let out his first cry. No suction or stimulation needed.

I then delivered the placenta and crawled into my bed to be cleaned up. Daddy did skin to skin, and then we did!

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Rest, at last.

Yes… chunky baby!!!

Yes… chunky baby!!!

I continued to lose quite a bit of blood and began to feel very faint, which happened with Lucy, too. Luckily, my midwives had me drink a ton of orange juice with some pills they gave me to help me begin to clot and slow the bleeding. It took awhile for me to feel like I wasn’t going to pass out, but the pills really helped a lot.

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We guessed 8.5lbs… so imagine our surprise to find he was nearly 10lbs!

We guessed 8.5lbs… so imagine our surprise to find he was nearly 10lbs!

Oliver’s labor and delivery was 4 hours long from start to finish. What a difference from a 22 hour labor with a posterior baby for my first labor! I prayed and prayed for a redemptive labor this time around and I would not change one single thing. I thank God for working every intricate detail, including Lucy sleeping peacefully in bed by 830pm and Oliver being born at 930pm! It was absolutely perfect. Thank you Lord, for our miracle #2. He is more than we could have ever asked or imagined.

One day old.

One day old.

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Our entire world.

Our entire world.

Purgatory

Greetings. I come to you as a hula-hooping maniac from my birth ball.

This whole pregnancy I’ve looked forward to Mondays. Every Monday I got to celebrate the milestone of making it to another week, pregnant and growing a healthy baby boy! With our infertility journey not ever far from my mind as well as constantly hearing other’s stories of pregnancy and infant loss, I never took those Mondays for granted because they were blessings.

The anticipation of reaching your baby’s due date can be both a combination of fear, excitement, anxiousness and even misery, am I right? But what happens in your mind and body when said due date comes and goes with no squishy newborn to have and to hold?

This pregnancy has been so much different for me than my pregnancy with Lucy’s, right from the very start. I was a lot sicker (had HG) and swollen with Lucy, but this pregnancy has brought more aches and pains than I ever imagined. I’ve suffered from sciatica and “lightning crotch” (if you know, solidarity sister), rib pain and tingling radiating to my mid/upper back, high blood pressure I’ve had to maintain with constant Epsom salt baths, ketones in my urine indicating a possibility that baby wasn’t getting enough calories (can get scary, QUICK), and an issue with my liver since 37 weeks that has left my nether regions and upper body more itchy than I can communicate with words. Sigh… the highs and lows of pregnancy, hey? All a blessing and I’d not trade any of it for the WORLD because I know the prize it brings. I have been on the end of desperately wanting a baby so bad that I’d take any of these things and then some, just to experience pregnancy and birthing a child! So my gratitude maintains constant perspective and does not run dry.

So why am I writing this blog? Honestly.. because I’m 41 weeks and 1 day pregnant with a body that’s apparently ripe and ready and a baby who is just… apparently not. So this is purely for therapeutic reasons for me and I hope you’ll have grace with me in all my venting. It’s always helped me emotionally to journal - to get things out of my head and onto paper. So I’m sharing it with you today because I know so many of you have been here! Overdue and out of your mind.

From 37 weeks I was on it. I’m very VERY type-A and I think a certain proactiveness comes with that (ahem need to control ahem). Hey, at least I’m soberly aware of that. (; I’ve been drinking raspberry leaf tea daily, upping my dosage at 38 weeks as soon as I was given the green light from my doula. Dates? Ate 6 of them every day. Evening primrose? One orally and one… “up there”… (are any guys reading this? Yikes). Yoga twice a week. Walking 1+ miles every day. This is the week my itching began. I figured it was just some dry skin or razor burn or a hormone shift but it continued on. Itchiest belly button alive. And dare I say it… dare I tell the world? Hemorrhoid. Thanks Ollie. (You’re welcome all you pregnant mamas who always wondered if that was normal. Who wants to talk about that one? They are frightening and straight from hell.)

Anyway, here comes 38 weeks for my first check: 1cm dilated, 0% effaced. Bummed but its still early. I’ve been reading too much about how dilated some women can be at 38 weeks. I’m not one of them, but it doesn’t seem to mean anything even if I was because apparently women can be crazy dilated for weeks on end and still not go into labor as quickly as you’d think. Itching increases and has now spread to my stomach all over. Night sweats at an all time high - I wake up in an Amanda-shaped puddle every 2 hours or so. Sweet.

Enter 39 weeks: 1cm dilated, 60% effaced. A bit of a trigger for me emotionally because as a second time mom, I expected my body to have done a lot more “pre-work” this time around when in fact I was in the exact same spot with Lucy at 39 weeks. Itching is spreading more now and I’ve developed a small rash on my chest. Midwife and doula agree we are okay to start coaxing baby out by doing a membrane sweep. I am beyond miserable so I agree! We do a partial sweep since cervix is still posterior… nothing happens - no cramping, no spotting, no changes. We also get me drinking dandelion tea and taking the supplements Yellow Dock and Burdock to get my liver some extra support. It hadn’t turned into PUPPS or Cholestasis and we wanted to keep it that way. Two days post-sweep, midwife comes to do another. Surprising that my cervix has made great progress! I needed this good news so much. She does a full sweep. I’m somewhere between 2-3cm dilated, still 60% effaced and very soft and stretchy! Baby in perfect position and so low she can feel his head! WOWZA. That’s a thing?! I’m contracting the rest of the night but nothing too crazy, walking as much as possible. I hit the hay… contractions stop. Night sweats continue, itching peaks at night so I’m scratching my skin off for 10-15 minutes at a time between 3-4am. No creams or anything helps. Positive news: no more ketones in urine, blood pressure stabilized and no more UTI! Downside, I probably have a yeast infection now due to all the night sweats. Gross. Tack it on.

HELLO MARCH 11TH… OLLIE’S DUE DATE! I have mixed feelings to be here. The itchiness is clouding my ability to think rationally most of the time though so I’m bouncing between grateful that Oliver is full-term and healthy, and frustration to not be showing ANY signs that labor is near. I relax a little when I remember I had 0 signs of labor until labor began with Lucy. I know often it is spontaneous and just happens! One night I wake up at 430am “clearing out”. I have major indigestion all the next day and am barely able to eat. It’s got to be tonight….this is exactly how Lucy’s labor started and 2 hours later contractions began. But… Nope. So, we do another sweep. Partial again, cervix is posterior and too slippery to keep hold of (apparently a good thing?). Still maybe 2.5 cm, still 60% effaced. Still doing the teas, the supplements, the walking, the curb-walking, the hula hoops on the ball… birthing affirmations constantly, praying constantly. Fighting to stay peaceful. More random indigestion, more fleeting nausea.

Drags feet… oh hello 41 weeks. This is what you look like? Hmm. Feelings of peace and gratitude are almost non-existent. I can’t sleep for all the reasons… night sweats every hour now, itching still peaking at night… peeing every hour and if I haven’t had any contractions by 6am I’m wide awake trying to accept that another night has come and gone and not brought me my son. Two nights ago brought some mild contractions but nothing I couldn’t sleep through. Then, another sweep that brings very mild cramping despite all the walking I do afterward and no contractions at night. Everything is still. Cervix is in excellent shape. I’m at a solid 3cm now and cervix is so pliable she stretches me nearly to 5cm! If I don’t hold it there, I won’t have any issue getting to 5cm once active labor begins. Still 60% effaced, Oliver is at a station +1 and she can still feel his head. He is only that low when he’s on my left side because he can engage properly. Hello bowling ball in my pelvis, enter the waddle. Whatever, I welcome it. Like… fall out in the toilet without my knowledge at this point… I welcome it.

Meanwhile… the pressure is on. The whole world is on Ollie-watch it seems.. I’ve had to ignore some texts and messages to avoid putting anymore pressure on myself - I’ve done plenty of that for myself at this point. Everyone is so kind to be thinking of us constantly, I’m beyond grateful. Just in a bit of self-preservation mode with a mix of denial. Ever been there? (; Every day I wake up with the head-knowledge that “he can’t stay in there forever” but somehow that isn’t at all encouraging at this point? What’s happening in my head? So much I don’t even know how to write it out. I feel the home birth I’ve been planning could be threatened if labor doesn’t start by 42 weeks. We can manipulate dates based off my last period if we need to, and since my cervix is so favorable, we could even proceed to breaking my water. But I am against that and castor oil in a big way until we absolutely have to… which would basically be “hey you have this baby tonight or you have to go deliver at the hospital tomorrow”. None of the natural things work at all unless baby is ready.. did you know that? So… if you swear by walking or sex or spicy food or cleaning your house… even a membrane sweep or two… if any of that “sent you into labor”, your body and baby were already ready! This I’ve learned the hard way. There’s been no shortage of coaxing this boy out and even as ready as my body seems.. he is not. Midwives and doula are almost positive I’ll never make it to 42 weeks but of course, can’t promise anything. What’s Oliver waiting for? I’d give anything to know. I must continue to trust my baby and my body and ultimately the Lord that if it was his time, he’d be here by now.

Do I know to soak up these last days with Lucy as an only child? I do, and I have. I breathe her in and laugh and play with her and take in all of her isms. Do I know that the newborn stage is going to be anything but easy, bringing on lots of things I’ve forgotten about that stage along with challenges I’ve not seen before? I do. But… no amount of teas or vitamins or sex or walking or full moons or big storms or membrane sweeps has brought this boy into my arms and so… today I had donuts and coffee for breakfast and a banana and peanut butter for lunch at 4pm. Today… I gave up. I’m done with all the inducing until I absolutely have to.

Repeating the following affirmations constantly:

I release my birth over to my body and over to nature.

I am prepared to calmly meet whatever turn my birthing may take.

I trust my body and my baby to work together in harmony.

Big breath. So here we are. Forty one weeks and a day. Which may as well be 41 years! Purgatory. The days are long, the nights are long. The itchiness is maddening, the Braxton Hicks are insanely tightening. My emotions are A to Z (pray for Sam!).. and I have no words of encouragement for myself other than some bible verses I’m hanging on to. I wish I could end this on a peppy and positive note about how strong my faith is and how I’m trusting the Lord despite my seemingly never-ending waiting period butttt I’m still working on that part minute-by-minute! Your prayers have carried me through, honestly. I covet every one of them; you are my village.

Best Items for Baby's First Year

I recently did a poll on my Instagram stories to see if any of you were interested in hearing about the toys and various items Lucy fell in love with her first year of life! There were tons of you that wanted to know... so see below for our absolute must-haves for the first year (in no particular order)! 

1) White Noise Machine (aka OLGA) - This. This this this. When Lucy was born, she had colic. She screamed most of the hours of each day and night and we barely survived (I seriously need a bumper sticker that reads "We survived colic".) (; Anyway, a friend recommended us to watch a video called Happiest Baby on the Block (available on Amazon), and it just pumped fresh hope in us! One of the things Dr. Harvey Karp recommends in this video is white noise. He mentions that the womb is louder than a vacuum and the sound of white noise is extremely comforting to babies -- and he was right! We were shocked at her immediate response to it. So we bought the Dohm which we kept (and still have) in our room and also bought the portable Rohm so we would never be without it. We have a video of 4-week old screaming Lucy and within seconds of turning on the white noise machine, she was completely calm (couldn't figure out how to upload it here since there's no URL for it, sad face). But this became our go-to in order to calm her and she responded almost instantly nearly every time. Not only that, but as she got older, it became a sleep cue for her. She knows its time to nap/sleep when we turn on "Olga" (a name we joke Lucy said repeatedly when she was a few months old). To this day, we NEVER leave home without Olga - she's a permanent member of our family! Lucy used to contest Olga whenever she was on, see below. (; 

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2) DockaTot - Lucy has been sleeping in her DockaTot since she was 10 weeks old. There is no product on the market like it, that I have found! With some hard work in the sleep scheduling realm and other than a few development-related sleep regressions, she's been sleeping through the night since 4.5 months. We strongly believe a lot of this has to do with her beloved DockaTot! She finds comfort in it so much so, that we have to travel with it. We take it with us and she sleeps solid through the night in ANY environment, or she wakes every 1-2 hours without it. We've tested it many times. It is her comfort and her safe space and I will be using this with all my children! 

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3) Indestructibles Books - I had never heard of these until a friend gifted them to Lucy! They are rip-proof and washable and really fun textures for the babies to play with. Very colorful, too! Best gift ever! And a great option for car rides. 

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4) Sit-to-Stand Learning Walker - I am a huge fan of investing in toys that babies don't grow out of after a few months, and this was one of those!  Lucy showed ZERO interest in sitting unassisted for what felt like forever! Until.. we were at a friend's house and they had this walker. She finally sat up on her own for a long time just playing with the face of the toy, and I was just floored! I went home immediately and ordered one. Lucy played with this toy from probably 5 months and on. There are so many songs and sounds to play with, and you can even remove the face of it to be set on the floor or elsewhere. When Lucy could pull to standing, she fell in love with this even more. It's definitely a must! 

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5) Stackable Wooden Rings - This is another toy that Lucy has loved for several months. I know there are plastic versions available, but I'm so glad I chose the wooden set on a whim, because she loves the sound the wood makes when she clinks the pieces together! And, after lots of hard work on our part, she now knows how to get each ring on to the stick (though, we're still working on the top piece)! Now, we will continue working on learning the colors. (:

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6) VTech Remote Control - What baby doesn't love a fun remote?! I see all the babies gravitate toward them. Of course, she knows the difference between the real TV remote and her remote, but this is a close second. (; We take it with us in the car, too, and it keeps her busy for a good while! Honest moment: the songs get old really fast. BUT. What parent doesn't say that about their kid's toys? (; But I'd take annoying songs over a cranky baby any day. 

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7) Wonder Weeks App - OK this is not an item but an app that I could not live without! Lucy is a child who feels everything very strongly, both emotionally and physically. She's my sensitive girl. That being said, I could not have lived without this app! Much like babies go through several growth spurts the first 2 years of life, Wonder Weeks (WW) explains the mental leaps they also go through, and its all based on each week of life. Each WW brings a significant amount of brain development, often leaving babies to cry more, be extra clingy and extra cranky. Each WW lasts about 5 weeks, and for Lucy, the first week was always the worst. She would be extremely cranky and fight her naps all week and even in to the second. It was a tremendous help to know that a WW was coming because we weren't left wondering why she was so derailed. Plus, you can follow along with all the things their brains are learning! Lucy has hit every big milestone (rolling over, crawling, pulling to standing, walking) during the first week of various WW's. It is incredible! Something just clicks in her brain. So it was super helpful to follow along and even know what to look for. (: There is also a book but I have not read it.

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Happy 1st Birthday, Lu

Lucy Margot,

I can hardly believe the words I'm about to say: You are ONE!

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Do you know how much you are loved? Do you know how much you were prayed for, thought of, imagined -- even before you were growing in Mommy's tummy? I used to go to bed at night thinking of you, wondering if I'd ever get to meet you in real life. You were the brightest dream in my heart for so many years. I would wake up thinking about you, too. The longing I had to be your Mama ran so deep, my heart could not contain it.

And now all of a sudden, here we are... and you're a whole year old! Three hundred and sixty five days ago I became a Mama -- YOUR Mama. And for 365 days I've been your Mama. You can't even imagine how much joy you've added to my life, baby. I don't know how my heart hasn't completely burst with all the love it has for you!

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A friend asked me recently what legacy I want to leave for you. It was a big question I had not taken the time to think through yet! But it didn't take long for an answer to pop in my head.

The legacy I want to leave for you is that you would grow up knowing your tremendous worth. Not by mine and Daddy's standards, not by your friends or the world's standards, but by Jesus' and what He says about who you are. Whenever you feel lost, unsure or afraid, come back to your identity in Christ; THAT is why you will always be enough, just as you are. You are a daughter of the Most High -- the King who created the stars and the universe and every wonderful aspect of life that you love so much. You are chosen. He is where you get your compassion, your creativity, your zest for life and your adventurous spirit. He is worthy to be praised! 

Photo by  Allie Marion

Photo by Allie Marion

Photo by Allie Marion

Photo by Allie Marion

You are a miracle, Lucy. Don't you ever forget how much purpose your life holds. Your name means "Light", so continue to be a lamp on a hill and you will live a life more richly than you can imagine.

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Mommy loves you and I hope you always find me to be your safe place because I'll always be in your corner.

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XO,

Mama

 

My Water Birth

“Dilated to THREE… I’ve been in labor for TWENTY hours!” I thought frantically to myself. My body had been pushing through every contraction for over an hour; I physically could not stop it from happening. It was 830pm and my Hypnobirthing training seemed to fly out the window, panic swiftly taking up residence in my once very-controlled thoughts. I was paralyzed by the information my midwives had just given me, feeling more exhausted than at any other moment in my entire life. My midwives and my mother stood around me and I’ll never forget the looks on their faces as they stared blankly at me, wishing to offer comfort and encouragement but coming up empty. I laid there still, staring into space in disbelief, replaying my reality over and over again in my head. “I’m not going to make it through this…"

Photo by  Kandis Marino

Photo by Kandis Marino

Rewind to 12am the previous day. Let’s just say my body had began the “cleansing” process. I’d experienced Braxton Hicks since about 31 weeks, but this was different. They said I’d know, and I did. The shivering began almost immediately. Apparently shivering during labor is a hormone thing but I’d never heard of anyone having experienced shivering through the entirety of their labor like I did. My contractions were just strong enough that I couldn’t sleep through them; they stayed consistently around every 10 minutes, and they didn’t slow my entire labor. 

I tried to labor quietly so my husband could sleep, I knew he was going to need it. But 2am rolled around and my breathing had become labored. He sat up and said, “Is this it?” Without any hesitation I blurted out, “YES, this is it."

Fast forward 13 hours later to 3pm and I had made it through the night, shivering almost violently, moving my hips in circles on the exercise ball, walking up and down the hall of my home with my incredible husband, Sam, my amazing doula, and my mother and sister. I was making noises I’d never heard myself make; labor was so animalistic for me, something I did not expect. I played the Lucy playlist I had made specifically for labor, as well as my birthing affirmations; those two playlists were on continuously throughout my entire labor. My contractions moved to somewhere between 3-5 minutes apart. I got the green light from the doula and the midwife to go now. We hopped in the car and headed 20 minutes up the freeway to our birthing center. My husband ran all the lights and my sister sat in the back massaging my shoulders - it was the longest drive of my life; I wonder now what the neighboring cars were thinking - me topless with a sports bra and my belly taking up most of the front seat! My mother also describes Sam’s driving that day like “a bat out of hell”. That still makes me laugh.

We finally arrived, 14 hours into labor. Expecting to be dilated to 5 or 6cm at the very least, I was really bummed that I was only dilated to a 3. Took the wind out of my sails just a little, but no matter, first-time-babies come slow; it’s what I’d been told and what I’d come to expect. I hadn’t been able to eat anything because of the nausea but was given strict advice to eat a couple of honey sticks upon arrival. I was feeling tired but still in control. I climbed into the warm bath my midwives had prepared for me. After about 40 minutes, my contractions slowed from 3 minutes apart to 5 minutes apart so they pulled me out. I bounced and I walked up and down the hall leaning on my mom with my husband squeezing my hips during every wave. Every single move I made triggered a contraction, sometimes two or three on top of each other. I never felt the contraction come all the way down, it always seemed to hover in a semi-contracted state, so I never had any “rest” in between; I continued to shiver. I focused on the affirmations playing in the room:

“I am not afraid.”

“Every surge brings my baby closer to me.”

“I was made for this moment.”

“My body and my baby know what to do."

Photo by  Kandis Marino

Photo by Kandis Marino

I fought with everything I had to keep control of my breathing, of my mind. To stay relaxed. To keep my jaw soft, my hands soft, to keep unclenched and to move through each contraction however I needed to.

Twenty hours in, body bearing down with every contraction…and still dilated to 3cm.

Photo by  Kandis Marino

Photo by Kandis Marino

I looked up. “God, help me.” That was the only prayer I could seem to muster out loud, though I know we often pray through strife and tears and the Lord hears them just the same. I did not understand why my body was pushing when my cervix was still basically closed. Later on, I would learn that a minor procedure I had on my cervix years before was preventing it from opening due to scar tissue, something my body had worked tirelessly to move past. Nonetheless, everyone seemed to buckle down as it was shaping up to be a much longer night than any of us had anticipated. I had never felt so defeated in my life. I looked at my mom and my husband and said “I can’t do this anymore. I have nothing left.” I’m getting emotional as I write this because I wonder how many of us have come to a crossroad in life where we’ve thought the same thing. We choose to continue or to give up.

Photo by  Kandis Marino

Photo by Kandis Marino

Well, I had the choice to get in the car and go to the hospital for the epidural, or to get in the tub and try to focus on relaxing as hard as I could - I chose the tub. My father ran to get me a smoothie as it was the only thing I could stomach and it had been over 24 hours since I’d last eaten. My midwives helped me into the tub and had me labor in a circuit in case Lucy needed help getting into a better position. I labored sitting up, on each side, and on my hands and knees. Toward the end of the circuit and during a push caused by a very intense contraction, my water broke - FINALLY! I hadn’t realized how important that was until I saw my sister’s face, beaming with excitement. The midwives rushed in. Everyone’s excitement gave me renewed hope and strength. 

Still dilated to 3. 

My body continued to push and I was advised to “blow it out” - a term used to try and direct the energy elsewhere; it was tremendous energy and felt nearly impossible to redirect. I sounded like a horse! I was making a sound my 1 year old nephew had just learned how to do with his lips - I felt ridiculous but had to laugh! About 30 minutes later I couldn’t withstand the energy anymore. The midwife came to check my progress again in what seemed to be a mere attempt to appease me. It had only been 30 minutes, what could have changed? I’ll never forget what she said next:

“Oh HI head!!!” 

What? You can feel her head? Emotions overtook me and I began to sob cries of relief. I had gone from 3cm to 10cm in 30 minutes time and it was finally time to push. I had learned something during my Hypnobirthing training that I only understood post-delivery: your body releases different hormones and chemicals to help you through each stage of labor, something I’d learned can be stifled by medications given during labor. So, as I began to push, my body released hormones that allowed me rest - the first true rest I had had in nearly 21 hours. In between contractions, I felt no pain. I could breathe deep, wonderful breaths. I had many minutes in between each contraction, as if my body was giving me time to prepare to bear down for the next push. Lucy’s head was finally out and stayed under water for 6.5 minutes before I had another contraction; I sobbed most of that time, feeling her hair move through the water, feeling her tiny ear. I believe my body knew the next push would be the final so it gave me that incredible and much-needed break. 

Five or so pushes total and Lucy shot out. My husband yelled, “Oh my God!” Ha! I hadn’t remembered that until I watched the video my mom spontaneously decided to film on her iPhone. 

Lucy was placed on my chest and the emotions that came over me cannot be explained in words. I sobbed harder than I have ever sobbed in my entire life. I was broken in the most beautiful way; my life was no longer my own. Two years of infertility, heartbreak, broken dreams, uncertainty, grief. Twenty one hours of labor and my mini-Sam was laying on my chest, the most beautiful human I’d ever laid eyes on; Sam sobbed. For years I’d dreamt of this exact moment and it was infinitely more than I ever could have imagined. There is no life experience I have had or will ever have again that could compare to the magnitude of what I felt when I first laid eyes on Lucy. 

Photo by  Kandis Marino

Photo by Kandis Marino

Photo by  Kandis Marino

Photo by Kandis Marino

Photo by  Kandis Marino

Photo by Kandis Marino

Labor was ethereal, a proper out-of-body experience. I left saying, “I’ll never do that again”, and today I say, “I can’t wait to experience that again”, because there is no experience that holds a candle to the ride that is labor. And I am eternally grateful I was able to birth my daughter in the water. God-willing we have another one, I wouldn't change a thing.

Photo by  Kandis Marino

Photo by Kandis Marino

No matter how or where women birth, there will never be a word that can describe how freaking awesome we are and how insanely miraculous our bodies are. Labor and delivery are the wildest ride and I find myself humbled and honored to have been able to experience such a holy moment.

Photo by  Kandis Marino

Photo by Kandis Marino

Stop Trying to Fix Me

When Lucy cries, my senses are alerted that there is a need. As a mother, my nurturing instincts take over and I immediately seek to "find and fix" the problem. Well, most of the time.... Sometimes she's just got to sit tight while I use the restroom, feel me? (;  But this girl goes 0-100 before you can even say the words "holy buckets". Her high pitch screams set both Sam and I into a frenzy instantly (I also think we have PTSD from her colic days -- that's definitely a thing). Though we're saying the words, "Dude, chill" out loud... our hearts really do just want to scoop her up and make it all better. 

I believe that these instincts are intentional design by God. I believe they are woven into us for a reason. But what seems to happen is we carry those well-meaning nurturing instincts and wills-to-fix into adulthood, and bring them out at some of the worst times. 

We seem to have a society that's at a loss for empathy. We don't know what it looks like because maybe, we've never been taught, or worse, maybe we've never received it. By the grace of God, I was born to an extremely empathetic mother, who is truly moved by the burdens in my life and in those around her whom she may not even know. Growing up with her as my example, I had some semblance of a foundation for what true empathy looked like, not to mention I grew up learning the ways of Jesus, the ultimate when it comes to empathy. But I would venture to say that I never really had my empathy skills put to the test.

And then, a dark cloud came over my life as Sam and I struggled to become pregnant. And all of the well-meaning fixers skipped by dropping their "everything happens for a reason"s and "it'll happen in God's timing"s and then continued along their merry way. What was meant to be encouraging actually felt like taking a bullet at times. It got under my skin, made me angry and bitter and resentful. Made me want to close up and never share anything with anybody. How could that be? They were so well-meaning. Well, it's simple: because sympathy doesn't know how to be empathetic.

 

I think we have to learn to live in the space where others need to simply feel.

What I needed in my season of darkness was to be given the space to feel. The space to allow myself to acknowledge that sometimes, I was not okay. The space to know I was heard and validated regardless of how ridiculous I may have seemed. I did not need to be fixed. In this trial is where I learned the true meaning of empathy, and I'm not sure I would have understood its depths unless I had been put through fire. So, how can you take better steps toward empathy?

1) LISTEN. And I mean this in the most loving way: close your pie-hole. When someone close to you chooses to confide in you or share something vulnerable, give them your undivided attention. Do not check your phone, do not look around and do not interrupt to bring the story back to you. I am terribly guilty of all of these and vow to myself to be so much more intentional in being present so the people I'm with know that they're valued. Eye contact is everything.

2) VALIDATE. If you have nothing helpful to say at the moment, thank them for sharing something so personal with you and recognize that their perspective is their truth -- two things I've learned from the incredible Brené Brown. Acknowledge their feelings instead of shoving them down or dismissing them. Do not expect them to handle this the way you think you would or the way you think they should. Do not use the words "at least" to shine a light on some other part of their life as if their blessings should somehow cover up the painful seasons that life also brings. Two things can be true; you can feel extreme gratitude while also feeling pain so give both space to exist and manifest how they need to. And above all else, do not say the words "Everything happens for a reason." Imagine you just lost your spouse, suffered a miscarriage, found out you have cancer; would these words be comforting for you? Refrain from slapping a bandaid on their issue. 

3) ENCOURAGE. Sometimes this is with words, sometimes in action. Remind them that they're not alone. That you're going to be with them through this, even if just in spirit from afar or through prayer. Knowing someone is in your corner can be life-saving. Proverbs 16:24 says, "Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones." Remind them that no season of pain lasts forever. What would you need to hear if you felt a dark cloud following you through life?

Ultimately, take the words of Brené to heart, "Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection."

Why seek to learn and practice empathy? Because we must... else, how have we any connection at all? Our relationships would be nothing but superficial and meaningless. We were created for connection; we cannot survive without relationships. I would love to hear some of your tips on how we all can be better empathizers! Or even some more "do not's" in the field of incorrect empathy aka sympathy. (; Leave them in the comments below. 

PS - I've seen this video a hundred times and shared it with everyone I know who would appreciate it. It actually makes me cry because I can relate to that little fox so deeply. If you haven't read anything by Brené Brown, make sure you at least start with Daring Greatly and she will rock your world.