Monday, August 11, 2014

My Mommy Body: A Love Letter


As I write this, my laptop is perched on my ever-growing belly.  Swollen with life, moving when the sweet girl inside of it decides to awaken, larger than I can ever recall it being….and as much as I truly believe that pregnancy, birth, motherhood and all of the changes that come with these things are beautiful and remarkable, there is still a small part of me that misses what once was.

On our wedding day, almost four years ago

I was never overly thin, but was certainly always slender.  Like many young women, I struggled with self-acceptance and wished that I could look like a supermodel.  I would point out the flaws that were so obvious to me. I’d dream up ways to try and lose those “last 5 pounds”. And as much as I was okay with my body prior to children, I couldn't embrace it.

When we got pregnant with E, I experienced a lot of frustration with my changing body.  I was sad, not at the impending arrival of our daughter, but at the body I no longer recognized.  I stretched, grew and changed shape. My breasts became heavy. The scale climbed 40 pounds. My face became round. I felt swollen everywhere. And as much as I embraced the changes, I also mourned.  These were not things I had prepared myself to face quite yet. My body was no longer that of a young newlywed, but that of a mother.  When E was born, I struggled to lose the weight, even with breastfeeding and even after the weight was gone, I did not recognize the body in the mirror that stared back at me.

36 weeks pregnant with E

But, as time went on, I began to worry less about the body that was not back to pre-baby size or looks.  Yes, I would have moments where I would mourn what once was like the time my husband took me on a date shortly after our daughter was born and I spent the entire time at the Cheesecake Factory sobbing because I didn’t own one pair of pants with a zipper that fit (he took me shopping after dinner to buy me pants with a zipper), but I would also have moments where I could see glimpses of beauty in my stretched and tired body (nursing boobs, anyone?).

This is what a 4 day postpartum tummy looks like....but even here you can see that the furthest thing from my mind in this moment was the fact that I was still in maternity pants.


I wouldn’t say that I reached a place of full acceptance before we conceived V.  Some days were better than others, but I knew I was living healthy, eating right and taking care of myself, which is something I could be proud of even if the standards of Western society wouldn’t agree that my body was something to wear with confidence.

Now that I am almost 30 weeks into my second pregnancy, I have noticed the same insecurities as before creeping back into my thoughts and perspectives.  Compared to my first pregnancy, I am much bigger (although I have gained significantly less-thank you, chasing a toddler).  My body, already stretched once, is comfortable in this place.  I am seeing the tell-tale lines of stretch marks weaving their way around my hips and belly-a mockery to every lotion and potion I have tried in vain to thwart their plans to decorate me skin.  As much as I tell myself not to worry, knowing that I will lose the weight, the stretch marks will fade, the swelling will disappear….no matter how confident I feel in word, to others or in my thoughts….I am still human and I still struggle with the changes that are taking place.

24 weeks with V (with a gorgeous henna design from a very talented local artist)

However, as I walk through recognizing that I love pregnancy and everything that it brings while still being sad at some of the changes that go along with that, I am also making a conscious choice to love my body as it is.  And so, as part of that decision, I have decided to write my mommy body a love letter.

Dear Body,

You are remarkable.  Science tries to define you, explain you on every level and even with as much as we know, there is so much more we can’t and won’t ever understand.  You have the ability to make me ill, but also have the profound skill of healing yourself.  You function on the big levels and on the small. You are the physical representation of me. And I love you.
You have changed with me.  From the little girl with the skinned knees and the bare feet to the awkward teenager who hasn’t quite grown into herself.  From the young woman with the tiny waist and flawless skin to the heavily pregnant and about to deliver. You have adapted, grown, changed right along with me.

And now, as I see every inch of you in the mirror, I choose to see beauty.  I see white, pink, and red lines where you stretched to hold my daughters.  And just as all scars tell stories, each line speaks to the joy, frustration and sadness that is motherhood. One line for the day I first held my daughter in my arms. Another for the late nights when I would cry with my newborn, exhausted and unsure of how to fix whatever ailed her.  More lines for each time my child would break my mother’s heart.  You are helping me to remember these moments, these stories.  Yes, with time they will fade to white or silver, but just as time will fade intensity of a moment’s emotions, their effects will never truly go away.  Oh stretch marks, you are beautiful. And I chose not to be ashamed of you.

I see your middle, my belly, round with life, stretching to its limit. And it is beautiful.  For the lives I have been fortunate to carry, I am thankful. So many women would desire to see the same, and it breaks my heart that they may never experience it….I am thankful that you are able to conceive, nurture and grow my children within my womb until the time comes when I can hold them with my arms.  I see my heavy chest, beginning to fill again with milk for my coming child, and I am thankful that you have helped me to feed my children and grow them in the way that I had hoped to, in the way nature intended.

Your legs are thick, but strong. Able to run with a toddler but bend gently over her at night and lift her back into her bed. Your arms are soft and cushioned with time and the weight of pregnancy. They make a safe and comfortable place for my daughter to rest.  Your face is rounded, but sparkles with your smile-warm and inviting to all.

You are not flawless.  But I love you. Every inch of you was knit together in the womb of my mother, designed by the Creator Himself. There are no mistakes in your design. 

I accept that you will never again look like the 21 year old me. I embrace that I will never again have the same shape or skin that I did before my children came into this world. And, even so, I am thankful for you.  Because you are beautiful. You are beautiful because you helped me become the woman I am today.  You will continue to change, just as I will. Hairs will grey, skin will wrinkle, muscles will weaken in time….but you will always be beautiful.

Because each line, imperfection or flaw tells a part of a story. My story.

And that story is beautiful.



So, here’s to you moms who are struggling with how your bodies have and are changing. I pray that, just as I am walking this journey of self-acceptance, you can do the same.  Whether you are right where you want to be physically or if you are a long way off, start loving your body now.  It has done so much and it is helping to tell your story.  Care for it, love it, embrace it.

You’re worth loving.

28 weeks pregnant with V and carrying 18 month old E
Photo courtesy of Ashley Rutland Photography


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What you're doing is important

I had a "moment" today.  Fellow moms will be able to relate.  It's one of those moments where you just "get it" all of a sudden.  An epiphany of sorts, I suppose.

It was in the parking lot of our local grocery store.

Throughout my life, I have recognized that the vast majority of my "ah ha" moments actually come in the strangest of places.
I suppose, then, that this one happened right where it was supposed to.

E is very much a toddler now.

See? Not a baby anymore :(


And with her toddler status comes the many joys and frustrations that accompany this stage.  
So, we were in our local HEB parking lot this afternoon, and I was attempting to get her out of her car seat so that we could go get groceries and get our buns home.  Grocery shopping is not one of my favorite things.

E was not happy with me.  She was kicking and screaming and all sorts of discombobulated.  Surprisingly, I had been able to keep my frustrations hidden and was gently talking to her explaining the importance of getting out of our seat so we could get our food.
Then, a little old lady came up to the car next to us.  If you're a mom, you know that inner sigh that happens when you're trying to get your child in or out of the car and the person who had parked next to you shows up and wants to get in your car.  You want to hurry up because you're certain they don't appreciate having to wait for you. If mind reading was possible, you're certain they're silently cursing you out and mumbling to themselves about how inconvenient car seats and frazzled mommies are.

With E still screaming her head off, I quickly turned my head to the woman.  She was likely in her late 70s or early 80s.  White, fluffy hair and round cheeks.  I smiled tiredly and said, "I'm so sorry.  I'll hurry!"

Usually, when I offer the "mom apology", people will wave their hand and say "no problem", but you still get the feeling they're not appreciating the need to wait.  This time was different. This woman didn't say, "No problem."

"Take your time, dear.  What you are doing right now is important."

What you are doing right now is important.
Wow.

She truly meant it based on the tone of her voice, and I shortly thereafter had E out of her seat and we were both on our way.  But that phrase, "What you are doing right now is important" hasn't left my heart or mind all afternoon.

As a mom, especially as one who has the opportunity to stay at home right now, I often find myself rushing through my days, working on my to-do list, constant routine of wiping sticky fingers, rocking to sleep and trying to negotiate with  a toddler.  Not glamorous at all, although I love it.

Before I became a mother, I worked a wonderful full-time career.  I was doing something meaningful and important with my life.  I was a productive member of society.  I got dressed up every day. My hair and make-up were done.  I was using my college degrees and proud of my accomplishments in my young life.

See? I used to clean up really nice!


Then I became a mother.  My skin stretched in ways I didn't know were possible.  My breasts became heavy with the milk that sustained my daughter for so long.  Make-up was replaced by under-eye bags from nights spent rocking a child who couldn't sleep.  My long hair was swept into a ponytail.  Jeans and t-shirts became my new wardrobe staple.
And, still, I was happy.

Over the past year and a half, though, I think I've forgotten the divine significance of my role as a mother.  It is so easy to fall into our daily routines of getting up, eating breakfast, wiping sticky hands, cleaning the kitchen, playing, rocking to sleep, reading stories, singing songs, blowing bubbles, wiping tears, diffusing tantrums....
This is ordinary calling.

What we do as mothers, whether we work outside the home or not, is important.  And I was reminded of that today.

It is important because we are shaping the next generation.  It is important because we are modelling for our children what it means to love others.  We are instilling a desire for learning and fostering the passions we see in them from a young age.  We are developing their spiritual foundations and teaching them about things of eternal value.
What we are doing is important.

Yes, even today in the parking lot of the grocery store, my role as a mother was important as I helped my toddler recognize her emotions. As I helped create predictability and boundaries. As I helped her understand that it's okay to be disappointed that we weren't going to the park.
and I will forever be thankful to the kind old woman who saw the beauty in that moment that so easily could have been lost in the mundane of my day.

Because, as a mom, especially as a mom who is human, who gets tired, who loses her temper, who gets frustrated, who is far from perfect, I needed to be reminded that what I am doing each and every day is important.

Because we won't get these days or moments back.

So, if you're tired today.  If you're at the point of breaking. If you're questioning giving up a career to stay home with your children. If the sight of sticky hand prints or muddy foot prints makes you want to run for the hills, remember this:

What you're doing, right now, is important.

Our society often fails to recognize the value of a mother.
Regardless, it's there.  Look for it in the little moments and in the big moments.  Look for it where you'd least expect it.




Being a mother is more than giving birth and having a child.  It is an honor, a privilege.  We are speaking into the lives of our future world.

And what we are doing is important.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Tasting the Rainbow...or not

As you are well aware, I have a toddler who is incredibly busy and likes to destroy things.  She is, after all, your typical toddler.

A little while ago, I posted about some easy sensory activities that we have tried with great success in the past.  Knowing, then, that my little one likes to make messes (and I like to justify my Zulily purchases), I decided to expand our play into something fun, full of learning and that could easily be cleaned up (and/or digested....knowing my daughter).

Browsing on Instagram, I saw a picture that a friend had posted of her daughter playing with colored rice.  BINGO!  I knew what our next activity would be.

I searched the web for various recipes/instructions on how to make "rainbow rice" and more or less, the instructions were all the same.  If you're one to enjoy dying Easter eggs, the concept is pretty much the same.

For the record, my Easter eggs have NEVER looked like this....


Going off of the recipes I found, and tweaking them just a bit to fit our needs (such as using vinegar rather than alcohol to dye them--because I have a toddler....and everything goes into her mouth), here's how to make the colored rice:

Rainbow Rice (AKA: Your kid can totally eat this and you won't have to call poison control rice)

Ingredients

2 cups white rice
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
1-2 teaspoons food coloring
drop of peppermint oil

Directions

Measure out the rice into a ziplock bag (make sure it's the large freezer ones so you don't have spillage).  In a small dish, combine the food coloring and the vinegar.  I wanted my colors to be super bright, so I used a good amount of food coloring.  It's not an exact science, so play with it until you're happy with the color.

I added peppermint oil as well to help with the vinegar smell.  This is optional.

Pour the vinegar and food coloring and oil mixture into the ziplock bag and seal it.  Knead to mix well.

Now, if my daughter was older, having her mix it could actually be a fun part of the activity.  Unfortunately, my daughter just likes to destroy things, so this was a mommy project for now.

When the mix is well combined with the rice, lay it flat on a cookie sheet to dry.  I used wax paper underneath to help with any mess.

As you can see, I ran out of cookie sheets. 

Repeat for however many colors you want to have.

I let the rice dry for about 3 hours on our counter.  If you need it faster, you can always put it in the oven for a bit, but I don't trust my non-cooking but using the oven skills, so I let the air handle the hard stuff.  Once it's dry, you can store it in an air tight container (we use a rubbermaid tin).

We mixed ours together right away, but this activity could be a great way to introduce colors to kids.  Talking about texture, color, shading, etc is a really great way to incorporate learning into this kind of playtime activity.  Experiment with letting your children mix the colors, or if they're older, let them do the food coloring part of creating the rice.  Seriously, the possibilities are only limited by patience (and trust me, mine wasn't very long for this one...hence why my daughter was napping during the creation of this activity)


So, what did the toddler think?
Rainbow rice is such a fun activity, because you can make it as messy or as big as you want it to be.  We kept it pretty contained in our mini sensory table since it was raining and we didn't' want to be outside, but you could definitely take this outside for more messy fun!

The rice feels really cool against your skin, and it can be a great thing to talk about with your child as they play. 

We buried things in the rice, and then I asked E to find them.  It's fun for them to dig and find things! If your child is younger and just starting to learn about object permanence, this can also be a great activity to do in a mixing bowl or something similar.
Pouring the rice with measuring cups can also be a fun way to play.

My favorite part about this activity for my daughter was how it helped with her pincer grasp.  She's had a pretty good one, but it's a great way for them to really build some dexterity.

The best part?  If she ate it, there's nothing in the rice that would be concerning to me about her ingesting.  The vinegar still lingered a bit, so the taste wasn't too appetizing for her anyway.

This is an awesome activity for a rainy day (or if you don't have a sandbox)!

My toddler gave it two thumbs and foot up!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Butternut Squash and Carrot Cream Soup

I have a confession: I don't bake or cook nearly as much as I did before I became a mommy.  Perhaps it's because I spend so much of my time cleaning up after our small tornado, that the thought of cleaning up a mess of my own making isn't as appealing as I'd like it to be.
Perhaps it's because a nap trumps browsing Pinterest for fancy dinners.
Perhaps it's because I've learned that my daughter and husband are perfectly content eating whatever concoction of chicken I've thrown together for that evening.

But it's safe to say that I also want to keep our recipes varied and healthy.  Lately, my goal has been to eat more vegetables.  So, when I went to our local grocery store, I loaded up on veggies galore, not knowing for sure what to do with all of them, but darn it, I had veggies in my cart, so I looked like a health nut.  Winning.

And just like a New Years Resolution, those veggies sat unused last week....and the rot clock was ticking.

I managed to throw most of them in a chili, but there was this giant butternut squash that looked very forlorn in our fruit and vegetable basket and I decided to tackle the task of figuring out a recipe that would use it before it went bad that we would actually eat.
Crock pots were also a plus.

So, a-googling I went.  Nothing sounded particularly tasty, and then I stumbled upon this recipe for a butternut squash soup.  I tweaked it a bit and here is what I came up with:

Butternut Squash and Carrot Cream Soup

Ingredients

2 tablespoons margarine
1 large onion, chopped
1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
5-6 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 cup water
2 cups chicken broth
dried marjoram, to taste
dried parsley, to taste
ground black pepper, to taste
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 1/2 packages (approx 10-12 ounces) cream cheese

Directions

1. Chop your onion
I have a confession, I hate chopping onion

A dear friend gave us the "Chop Wizard" as a wedding gift.

Best. Gift. Ever.

2. In a pan, melt the margarine and saute the chopped onion until cooked
Note: Use a bigger pan than I did.....

3. While the onion was cooking, I went to peeling and chopping my butternut squash


mmmm, butternut squash.
But seriously, have you ever peeled one of these suckers? Not as easy as I thought it'd be....

Poor, naked butternut squash....

I made my cubes about 1 inch each

4. Repeat with the carrots
5. Mix everything except the cream cheese in a large crockpot/slow cooker
I promise it's tasty....

Now comes the hard part

6. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours
or....if you're like me, you have a "OH CRAP" moment and realize you started dinner at 1....so on high for 4 hours is okay too

 7. After your waiting period, divide the crock pot concoction up into thirds and blend each third in the blender until smooth.  Once you're done with each, pour back into the crock pot.

Note: It's HOT so be careful!

This is me not making a mess in my kitchen...

You can see the blended mixture in the purple bowl

8.  Stir in the cream cheese.  I used two packages because I like things particularly creamy and artery-clogging
mmmmm, cheese....

9. Cover and cook on low for 30 minutes to one hour.  Beat together with a whisk to make sure all lumps are out

oh hi, pink KitchenAid

10.  Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with fresh parsley.  Serve with crackers or toasted cibatta bread.

See? You can eat your veggies and enjoy it!

Friday, February 7, 2014

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!

As a parent to a toddler (first of all, wow that feels strange to see in print), my mind is constantly running with trying to find activities that are easy to put together quickly that will hold E's attention for more than a nanosecond.  Often, I feel like most of my days are spent chasing my small tornado and begging her for the umpteenth time not to play in the dog's water bowl.

Pinterest has some wonderful ideas and if I had more time in my day, I'd gladly spend my time perusing it for brilliant ideas that could put me in the race for mother of the year.

Alas, my one-year-old has other ideas.

So what's a mother to do?

Earlier this week, I was particularly frustrated with E's fascination with our dog's water bowl.  No matter what I did, short of moving it to the counter top, she would find it and splash with delight, regardless if Meshka was using it at the moment or not.

Exhibit A

So what's a parent to do?  I certainly don't want my child playing in a puppy-infested water pool, but I also recognize that she is learning about the environment around her and want to facilitate that as best as I can, even with limited resources.

As I stood there pondering what options I had (the bowl had been moved to the counter at this point), I had an "ah ha" moment.  I looked down at my large mixing bowl (I was making these tasty snacks) and realized that if I couldn't beat her curiosity, I should facilitate it!

I grabbed another large bowl, put a towel down on our tile floor and placed several kitchen items in the bowl.
Note, if you don't have kids yet, allow me to let you in on a little secret: you don't need fancy toys.  Measuring cups, wooden spoons and tupperware containers are just as entertaining as the store-bought stuff.

At this point, little miss curiosity decided to meander in to see what mommy was up to.  I started pouring water into the bowl and she looked at me as if to say, "Seriously, lady? You've been telling me for months not to play in the water bowl and now I can play in the water bowl?"
I think I confused her toddler brain there for a moment.

It took some splashing on my part before she realized that, in fact, she could splash away happily without the "stop that" coming from mom.


I used this play time to talk with her about wet and dry, stirring and pouring.  She was particularly fond of the spoon and spent most of her time playing with that.
After about 15 minutes of this type of play, I grabbed some ice cubes for her to touch, feel (talked about hot, warm and cold) and swish around in the lukewarm water as well.  She wasn't a big fan of the ice cubes until she realized she could toss them onto the floor and our dog would chase them (our dog has a few bolts loose, apparently).

A few days later, I decided that water play was such a success, that we needed to do it again.  Even though we live down south, it's been particularly cold lately, but the great thing about water play is that you can really do it anywhere, just adapt your bowl, or dish to the size of space you have available.
You can always put baby in the bathtub with a bowl so there's less worry about clean up.

We have this awesome mini water/sensory table that I got on Zulily that I was able to pull out from the garage for additional water play.  Same concept as before:

This time, Everly had fun getting wet and she blew bubbles into the water.

The great thing about water play is the versatility in it.  I am a firm believer that children learn through play and that simple things like splashing in the water can do so much for brain and motor development.  If you're looking for a great activity for a stuck in the rut kind of day (let's face it, all moms hit that point sometimes), this is a great and relatively easy to clean way to keep your kids busy for a little bit, while also opening the opportunity for interaction and learning.


And, let's just be honest, these  faces make any mess that is created worth it.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Blue Dress

I've mulled over this blog post for a couple of days for several reasons.  I am fairly private about some things, especially when it comes to my husband's career.  I don't like pulling the pity card nor do I think that complaining about frustrations is very fruitful.
To write this post, I have to delve into those areas I tend to keep to myself.

I love my husband.  He loves his career.  I love that he loves his career.
I don't always like what he has to do in his career--this applies, of course, to the deployments that take him so very far away from our family.
Now, with that said, I fully and completely support him in what the Lord has called him to do.  He is following his heart and where the Lord has lead him and it is my duty and delight to support him in that.

But, being honest, sometimes it stinks.

I have, in essence, been a single mother for the past six months.  I am blessed that I am currently nearby family, so I at least have that help available most days if I need it.  But, for all intents and purposes, I am a single mom.  I work full-time.  I volunteer several places.  I try to stay social.  I do my best to keep my house clean and running smoothly.
and sometimes, it gets very, very hard.

Comparing this deployment to our last one would be like trying to compare apples and oranges.  We were childless and had been married less than 4 months when he left last time.  We lived in a one bedroom apartment.  I worked in a job I didn't particularly care for.  I was also a full time student.
That one was hard, but we learned a lot through the process.

This deployment, if we do want to compare, has been leaps and bounds easier.  These last six months have flown by, mostly in part due to our adorable daughter.  Most days, I feel like I've blinked and the time has disappeared.
But, it's also been harder in different respects.  A child changes everything.
My husband is doing significantly more things during this particular tour.  We are blessed if we get a phone call once every two weeks.  Skype has been unreliable, and I could probably count the times we've gotten it to work on my fingers and toes.
But I also felt more prepared this time around.  I have consciously chosen to cherish the moments.  I don't dwell on the sadness that, on some days, threatens to overwhelm me.  I actively chose joy and rely on the Lord to be my strength and husband.

But there are times  when I just want to give up.  There are times when I get tired.
and I'm not one to ask for help or pity.

Most military spouses aren't looking for handouts or attention or "poor you".  We are happy to stand by our military husbands and wives without much fanfare.
As a wife who is called to support her husband, I gladly do this on a day to day basis.

This is why the story I'm about to tell you matters so much.

This past week, I was burnt out.  My daughter hadn't been sleeping.  I hadn't heard from my husband in a couple of weeks.  Work was busy.  I was tired.  I felt, for a lack of a better word, invisible.  Usually, I am good at hiding it, but it had been a trying few days and I was exhausted of fighting it anymore.
On Wednesday this week, my mom was watching my daughter while I was at work and needed to keep her late, so I decided to go look for a homecoming dress for my husband's return that is going to be here soon.  While I have lost a lot of the baby weight, none of my old, cute dresses fit very well and I wanted to feel pretty for when he returned.  I decided to take the extra couple of hours for myself and do some shopping.

I went to several stores and couldn't find anything that I liked (or that fit).  I finally found some dresses I liked at JCPenny's so I went to try them on.  Again, nothing fit, nothing stuck out to me, but I kept trying.
Finally, I found a light blue one I "kind of" liked.  I went out to where the three way mirror was in the hallway and was checking my image to see if this was "the one".
An older woman and her daughter (who was about my age) were also in the dressing room so I asked them if I could have their opinion on my dress.
The mom asked what the occasion was so I told her.
The daughter peeked her head out of the dressing room and said, "Oh no, you need to look sassy.  That dress isn't sassy".
I laughed and explained that I had a baby recently so I wasn't feeling very "sassy".  The two women smiled and said they would help me find a dress that was perfect.

We spent 15 minutes having me try on different dresses.  We talked and I found out the daughter was pregnant with twins!  We conversed about babies, pregnancy and twins, and they asked about my little family as well.
Finally, we found THE dress.  It was dark blue and very much my style.  I felt good, they loved it, and we all agreed my husband would like it. I thanked them over and over for taking time out of their busy evening to help me find the perfect outfit to welcome my husband home in....and they went on their way.

I got dressed, browsed a bit more and then headed up to the register.  The two women were four people ahead of me in line and already checking out.
The mother waved at me and said, "Would you come here for a moment?"
I walked toward them, not sure why she wanted me to come up there.
She took the dress out of my hands before I could say anything and said, "We're paying for this."

Knee-jerk reaction. "No! You don't have to do that! Really!"

She smiled, placed her hand on my shoulder, and looked me in the eyes, "Yes. We do.  People so often forget about the spouses left behind.  Supporting our troops goes beyond those overseas.  Let us thank you and your family in this way."

I didn't know what to say.  My eyes started welling up with tears.  The daughter was already crying.  I could see the mom getting misty eyed too.

"No, really, it's okay", I said.

The dress was already bagged up, the mom had swiped her card.

"Let this be our thank you," she said.  "Really, it's the least we can do".

I was sobbing, "You have no idea how much this blesses me," I said.

The daughter looked at me and smiled, "You blessed us tonight."

The transaction ended.  They handed me my bag and gave me one last hug.  I tried to thank them again and they wouldn't let me.
"People need to tell you thank you," they said.

Then they left.
I stood at my car and wept.  God had sent those women to me, of that I am fully convinced.  They were shopping for maternity clothes the same night I chose to look for my homecoming dress because God knew that I felt forgotten.  He knew I was tired.  He knew I felt lonely.
And through that blue dress, He reminded me that I'm not alone and that it's okay to admit to hard days and that, even when it's hard, there are people in the world who support us and who can show us love.

My blue dress is hanging in our closet where I can see it until the day K comes home.  I never asked for someone to pay for my dress.  I would never expect a thank you or recognition for our life that we live.
but by someone blessing me in that way I'm reminded that we aren't forgotten.

I wish I knew the names of those two women.  They appeared in my life right when I needed it.

Next time you meet a military spouse or family member, please thank them.  We would never, ever, ask for that....
but you never know if they would need to hear it that day.

I will never forget what happened this week and it is my hope that I can one day run into these women again so that I can thank them and let them know that the Lord used them that day to brighten the tired heart of a young military wife.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Carry Them: A Babywearing Primer


Back when I found out I was pregnant, it never crossed my mind that there were other ways to transport babies other than a stroller, car seat or parents’ arms.  When creating my registry, a friend told me to put a Moby on my list, but I honestly had no idea how to use it, or even when I’d make use of this stretchy jersey material (and thinking to myself the whole time, how in the world does it even work?).

When we found out my husband was going to be deploying shortly after the birth of our daughter, it sent me into panic mode.  How was I going to get things done?  What if baby needed to be held all the time? How was I going to manage snuggles while also keeping up with the house solo?

Then I remembered that silly long piece of fabric I received as a shower gift.

I distinctly remember the first time I used that wrap.  I followed the instructions in the booklet as well as I could and was pretty proud of myself when I managed to create something that looked similar to what they had shown.

               


Looking back, it was not the best wrap job ever, but it was a step into this wonderful world that I enjoy and enjoy sharing with other parents now.

E was born in January, so we weren’t outside, but I had two main complaints about my Moby wrap:

1.       It was HOT

2.       It was SO long and hard to wrap while running errands

Then I met M.  M is a certified baby wearing educator that helps lead our local BabyWearing International group.  I talked to her briefly about my concerns and she offered to help me learn other ways to carry my baby that would work best for our lifestyle.

I went to one meeting and I was hooked.

M let me borrow her ring sling, a much shorter piece of fabric that creates a “pouch” of sorts for the baby to sit in that is ideal for quick shopping trips or an itty bitty newborn.  Within 4 days, I had gone out and bought one of my own.

                

I began to see the benefits of wearing E.  She was always pleasant.  I was able to accomplish tasks with my hands free while still holding her.  I didn’t have to lug around her giant car seat.  It was all too good to be true.

But it got better.

I had seen pictures of M wearing babies on her back.  Who knew this was possible?!  So I asked her to show me how to do it.  M said that I would need to use a woven wrap instead of my Moby, since it is not considered safe to do a back carry with a woven wrap.  I made my very first woven purchase (a lovely Didymos Indio Lilac) on a local Facebook sale page and then we got together and M taught me an easy to learn back carry when E was just shy of 3 months old.




And it still got better.

I joined a Facebook group where other mamas who wore their babies would talk and swap helpful tips or hints.  There were so many other ways to carry the babies, so many types of wraps and carriers, so many options.  So many choices!

It was overwhelming!

I began inviting my friends who were interested in wearing to the Facebook Swap Page and soon realized that the lingo that I had become accustomed to was not as colloquial as I had originally thought.  My fear was that all the terms and options would eventually turn off my friends to wearing, which is the opposite effect than what I would have liked.

So, knowing this, I have created a very basic primer of all the things I wish I had known when I started babywearing.  This is not an exhaustive list, by any means, but it will hopefully be helpful to those of you who might be interested in entering into the world of babywearing.  Please keep in mind that I am by no means an expert or an educator, I am only speaking from what I have learned in my own research and experience.

Ready?

Stretchy Wraps





Brands: Moby, Boba (Sleepy Wrap), Wrapsody (Gypsymama)


These wraps are long pieces of jersey fabric that you wrap around your body in various ways to create “pouches” of sorts where baby can sit.  These can be used for hip and front carries and should never be used for a back carry
              *Wrapsody is the exception to this rule

These are great for when baby is a newborn and still in the “squishy” phase.  These wraps are also considered the “gateway” carriers into the world of wearing as they are readily available at most major retailers.  Another plus to these carries is that they are truly one size fits all and can accommodate a variety of body shapes and sizes.

While they are often touted as being good up to 20+ pounds, many users find that it becomes uncomfortable and not as supportive after about 15 pounds.  Other complaints I have heard (and experienced) is how hot these particular fabrics can be.  The Moby and Boba wraps are not going to be very comfortable during hot weather.

I personally own a Moby and will definitely hang onto it for future babies, but we are not currently using it now that E is 15 pounds and we prefer to do back carries.

Ring Slings (RS)





Brands: Maya Wrap, SweetPea, Psling, Sleeping Baby Productions (SBP)


These are shorter pieces of fabric that are looped through two rings that create a pouch for baby.  One side of the sling is over your shoulder and the other comes down around your arm.  You can easily adjust the tightness of the fabric around baby by pulling on the fabric through the rings.  Ring Slings (RS) come in a variety of fabrics, lengths and thickness and can be used with babies and toddlers of all sizes.

Ring slings are my preferred carrier for newborns.  In my own experience, these are by far the easiest carrier to nurse in, and the tail of the sling is a handy cover for if you’re out in public and want to cover while nursing.  Ring slings have very little learning curve as well, which makes them a great option for people just starting out.

As far as price points, it varies on the carrier.  The Maya wrap is easily found in baby boutiques and online for around $65-$70 new.  This is one that I own and I have found them easy to break in and use.  They don’t get as hot as the Moby and are much easier to throw in the car and use for shopping trips and quick ups and downs.

Ring slings can also go for significantly more.  When you get into wrap conversion ring slings (WCRS), which are woven wraps (see below) that have been professionally turned into a ring sling, the price will often be more—anywhere from $85-$150+ depending on the fabric.  There are several converters that are reputable, but the one I’ve heard of most is SleepingBaby Productions (SBP).  I have used a WCRS before and I find them even more comfortable and easier to use than my Maya.

You can also make your own RS, but it is important to ensure you are using a quality fabric (Osnaburg is the one typically recommended—you can pick it up at a Jo Ann’s fabric or similar store for fairly cheap).  If making your own, it is also important to get your rings from a reputable seller.  Sling Rings are tested up to something like 300 pounds and will not break.  Do not use plastic or crafting rings if you plan to make your own ring sling.

Personally, I own two ring slings (one Maya and one SweetPea).  I love them, but haven’t reached for them much lately as E and I prefer wrapping for now.  I have heard that as baby becomes more mobile that RS are great for quick ups and downs.  A good friend of mine still uses her RS for her 18 month old, so these will last you quite a while.

Woven Wraps





Brands: Girasol (Gira), Kokadi (KKD), Oscha, Natibaby (Nati), Didymos (Didy), Easycare, Ellaroo, Lenny Lamb (LL), Dolcino, Vatanai (Vat), Hoppediz (Hopp), Little Frog


Wovens are made by a variety of retailers/manufacturers and run the gamut of price and materials.  Similar to the stretchy wraps above, these are long pieces of fabric that you wrap around you and baby to secure them to your body.  Unlike the stretchy wraps, these come in a variety of sizes which can be used for different carries, depending on length.

The most common size woven to start with is a 6.  Much like the stretchy wraps, these are also one size fits all, although depending on the size of the wearer, they may not be able to do all carries with one particular size (for example, my base size is actually a 5, but I can do pretty much every carry with a 5 or 6).

Depending on the manufacturer, the size of the wrap will be listed differently:

                         Size 2=2.7 meters
                         Size 3=3.1 meters
                         Size 4=3.6 meters
                         Size 5=4.2 meters
                      Size 6=4.6 meters
                        Size 7=5.2 meters
                      Size 8=5.6 meters

Sizes 2 & 3 are considered “shorty wraps”

Sizes 4-6 are generally considered mid-length

Sizes 7 & 8 are considered long wraps

The beauty of wovens is in their versatility.  I can do front, hip and back carries (as well as tandem carries) with a woven.

                

Wovens come in a variety of fabrics, patterns and weaves.  You will often hear discussion of the woven’s “weft”, which is reference to the horizontal thread that runs through the fabric.  The color of this thread determines how a wrap may look.  Fabrics can be cotton, linen, hemp, bamboo, silk, alpaca, gauze or a mixture of these fabrics.

Weaves also play a part.  For example, Girasol has a particular weave called a Diamond Weave (DW) which is known for being much cooler and more supportive than other weaves.  Didymos Indios are another example of a specific weave.

Just like going shopping at the store, most wovens are not one size fits all.  Much of it comes down to personal preference, budget and needs.  I also have several sizes and prints that I use for different things.  For example, I don’t use my 100% cotton wrap to mow the lawn, I use my 100% linen one, as linen is much cooler and more supportive than cotton.  Not everyone is going to like a particular brand or weave, and that’s perfectly fine as well.

Woven wraps have the longest “shelf life” that I’ve seen.  There are pictures circulating around the web that have mothers wearing their husbands just to show that they can be supportive up until it is comfortable for the wearer.  It is not uncommon to see a 3 or 4 year old being worn in a woven wrap.

Price points run very differently with wovens.  Some work at home mom (WAHM) vendors like WrapNap Fairy sell them new anywhere from $45 and up (I have a Wrap Nap Fairy one and love it) and others that are Hard to Find/Highly Sought After (HTF/HSA) can go for upwards of $300 or more.  I have even seen some go for well over $1500!  Like the ring sling, you can also make your own wrap using the Osnaburg fabrics.  There are many tutorials on YouTube how to do this.

I own 6 wovens: 2 Easycare, 1 Girasol, 1 Wrap Nap Fairy, 1 Didymos and 1 Kokadi.  I really do like all of them and haven’t found a specific preference.  I use different sizes for different carries and have a “beater” wrap that I don’t mind getting dirty.  All of mine except for 2 were bought used, which I highly recommend doing so you don’t need to break in your wrap.  You can also save some money by buying used (usually).

Another perk of wovens is that they keep their value even with use.  It isn’t uncommon for people to sell their wovens at 75%-90% retail value.  This sometimes helps with the sticker shock you might experience.

Right now, wovens are my favorite and we use ours daily.  Babywearing Faith on Youtube has some awesome tutorials if you are wanting to learn how to wrap using a woven. 

Soft Structured Carriers (SSC)





Brands: Ergo, Boba 3G, Beco, Kinderpack (KP), Tula, Action Baby Carrier (ABC)


Soft structured carriers are perhaps the most user friendly of the babywearing carriers.  These already have the seat for your baby and all you have to do is set baby in the seat and buckle the carrier onto you.  You can do front and back carries and some hip carries with these as well.  My sister has claimed our SSC as “hers” since it’s so easy to use and they’re usually padded, making them very comfortable for both baby and the wearer.

I most often use our SSC for long periods of wear (zoo trips, hikes, etc).

Most SSCs come with a hood that you can snap over baby if they fall asleep or if it’s particularly sunny.  If they don’t come with one, it’s usually easy to find one to buy separately.  These are also great because they can come in so many patterns (mine is a pink design, perfect for my princess!)

Soft structured carriers are not one size fits all.  If you can find one to try before you buy it, I’d recommend that, as each carrier fits a bit differently and it comes down to preference (for example, I don’t care for how the Ergo fits me, but the Boba 3G fits me great).  Some carriers can have waist extenders to accommodate for plus sized wearers. 

You also have to watch how the carrier fits baby.  The base of the carrier should go knee to knee* and the child should not be falling out of the top.  Some brands (Tula and Kinderpack for sure) have standard and toddler sizes to aid in getting a proper fit for your baby/toddler.  Boba 3G carriers also come with stirrups that a child with longer legs can put their feet in for comfort.  Fit does matter and will play a role in how comfortable wearing is for you.

                *A word on Bjorns/Infantino carriers:

These carriers are not classified under the SSC category.  Most babywearing educators will discourage the use of these carriers as they are not ergonomically correct (knee to knee support).  Whereas the weight is supported in a sitting position in most SSCs, in the Bjorn type carriers, the weight is supported with the pelvis/groin.  Most wearers complain that these carriers are not comfortable and much of it has to do with the weight distribution.  These carriers aren’t awful, but, for the same price, you would be able to find a carrier that would be much more comfortable for both you and for baby.

                **A word on facing baby out in a SSC:

While, in theory, it would be great to face baby out in a SSC (like what is encouraged with the Bjorn type carriers), there are several reasons not to do so, especially for long periods of time.  This article does a great job of explaining why.

Price wise, SSCs are going to cost around $120 new, but you can often find them used for less than $80.  A word of caution, especially with Ergos: there are a lot of knock offs on the market, and while they might be safe, they are not guaranteed in their structure/stitching/integrity of the fabric.  If you buy an Ergo, please call the company directly to confirm its authenticity.

I have one SSC (Boba 3G) that I really like.  As I said above, my sister has claimed it as “her” carrier because of its ease of use and how cute it is.

Mei Tais





Brands: BabyHawk, Bamberoo


Mei Tais (pronounced May-Tie) are the best of the wrap world and soft structure world rolled into one.  They are a hybrid of these two and come with a structured seat for baby and then straps you wrap instead of buckle.  Straps can be padded or unpadded and a variety of designs are available.  I have personally never used a Mei Tai, but I have heard nothing but good things about them.

You can do front, back and hip carries with a Mei Tai.

Price wise, you can get a quality mei tai at Target for around $30 and the price can go up from there.  Conversions will cost a great deal more and are often custom, adding to the cost.

Wrap Conversions (WC): Wrap Conversions are when a wrap is given to a reputable manufacturer and they are then converted into a mei tai (or ring sling or SSC).  Conversions can come with full buckles (FB), half buckles (HB) and can be made from wraps (WCMT) or even a well-made tablecloth (TCMT)

Cost of these conversions can range anywhere from $100+ which is why you might see a conversion going for more than $300+ on a selling page.  You factor in the original cost of the wrap plus the cost of conversion.

As I said above, I have not personally used a Mei Tai, but I have many friends who swear by theirs.  These work great for both babies and toddlers and are easy enough to use for people who like the support of wrapping but want the ease of a SSC.

Are you confused yet?

Yes, there are lots of options out there and it can be hard to weed through what you want and what will work best for your needs.  I highly recommend finding a Babywearing group or a Babywearing International Group in your area.  Experienced wearers and educators can then help you narrow down your choices.  Paxbaby.com also has a resource that can help you find a good carrier for your needs.


So you want to give it a try?


There are several places to buy.  If you want to buy used, I recommend going through the Facebook Swap Page.  There are several “rules” pinned to the top of the page, so please read through them.  They also have an acronym list pinned that will help you as you learn to navigate the swap.

You can also buy carriers online at these websites:
                             Paxbaby
                          Heart-Hugs
                          MarsupialMamas
                             PurpleElm Baby
                             Risaroo
I have also gone directly to the manufacturer and bought from them (just prepare for a long shipment length from this direction, as most of these are European companies).

If you’re on the Swap, below are some terms you will come across:
                FSO: For Sale Only
                FTO: For Trade Only
                FSOT: For Sale or Trade
                BNWT: Brand new with tags
                ISO: In Search of
                DISO: Dream/Desperate In Search of
                MMARO: Make me a reasonable offer
                PP: PayPal
                PPD: Postage Paid Domestic
                PM: Private/Personal Message

 One, final word on cost.  As you begin your search for the right carrier for your family, you may face some sticker shock.  Yes, some of these can get very pricey.  I had a difficult time with that at first.  It was hard for me to understand why a mama would drop $300+ on a "piece of fabric".  As I got more into the community, it became much clearer why these are pricer than what we would normally think to pay.
These are quality products and created to last.  They are designed to be comfortable for the wearer and the wearee.
Many of these wraps are hand woven or limited edition.
These keep their resale value.
now, with that said, spending lots of money isn't a requirement to babywear.  It is very possible to do on a budget.  While I personally haven't spent several hundreds of dollars on a wrap, I know several people who have.  Do what works for your family and budget.

Ultimately, think of it like people who collect purses or coins or designer items.  At its roots, many mamas really just like having these wraps as well, many self proclaiming that they "collect" them in a similar manner. 
Cost should never keep you from wearing.  There are many affordable options available so that you can enjoy having your baby close to you.
It’s a wide, diverse world of wearing.  I will do my best to update with some hints/tricks/carries/reviews in the future, but hopefully this gives you a good starting place so that you can come to enjoy babywearing as much as E and I have!  Let me know if there's a topic I missed or something you want to see in the future.  Thank you for allowing me to share my love of wearing with you!




Merry Wearing!