Learning how to help our baby sleep better, one night at a time

I've taken the week off to unpack and spend some time with Madelyn before she starts daycare next week (eek!) Yesterday, we went to the Round Rock Public Library to get a library card and explore the baby book section.
I’ve taken the week off to unpack and spend some time with Madelyn before she starts daycare next week. (Not sure who that will be harder for — her or me!) Yesterday, we went to the Round Rock Public Library to get a library card and explore the baby book section.


Madelyn slept through the night for four consecutive nights this week!

She woke up a few times and cried for a bit but then went back to sleep. I don’t want to jinx it, but this feels like a victory, considering she has been waking up two to three times a night to nurse since she was just a few months old.

During the move, we bounced from St. Pete to Fort Worth to Austin over a two-week period. Madelyn was so disoriented that she began waking up four to five times a night and was often inconsolable. I was tired and frustrated and wondered why my 11-month-old baby still had the nighttime sleep habits of a newborn. My go-to coping mechanism was to empathize with her — to think about how unsettling it must have been to wake up at night in a different place with different sounds, surrounded by unfamiliarity.

I also turned to my favorite mom-related Facebook group — Precious Little Sleep — which has more than 31,000 members who post dozens of updates a day. The moms in the group seek and offer advice about how to help babies get the sleep they need. They vent and post funny pics of their babies looking wide-eyed into the baby monitor camera, or sleeping on their knees with their little butts up in the air. The posts are a reminder that there’s no silver bullet, and that even though you hear about all of these magical babies who sleep through the night, you’re not the only one who has a seemingly nocturnal child.

Sleep deprivation leads to desperation.

Companies realize this, which is why there are countless products aimed at helping babies sleep better. The variety of choices feels both comforting and utterly overwhelming. Early on, Troy and I blew so much cash on swaddle blankets that other parents swore by. They had words like “miracle” and “magic” in the descriptors — language that inspires a fleeting glimpse of hope. Some of the swaddle blankets looked more or less like baby straightjackets, so much so that when we bought them we were convinced there was no way Madelyn could ever wriggle out of them. But our determined baby girl always found a way out — one toe, one fist, at a time.

At various times we tried the “cry it out” method, but to no avail. When your baby continuously cries for 30 minutes during a cry-it-out session (and simultaneously breaks your heart), it’s honestly just easier to go into her nursery and nurse her.

Breastfeeding is the one thing that has always pacified Madelyn, but it’s not an ideal solution when you want sleep. With newborns, around-the-night nursing is to be expected. But by the time your baby is almost a year old, you can’t help but yearn for a different remedy that won’t require ongoing, interrupted sleep.

As a mom, breastfeeding feels like a superpower. It can also feel all-consuming and lonely knowing that you are responsible for all the night-time feedings and the only person who can give your baby what she wants and needs. Troy is an amazing nurturer and would help at night if he could, but Madelyn won’t take a bottle, which makes sharing nighttime duties difficult.

Troy and I were worried about how Madelyn would do at night when I was out of town last week for a four-day work trip (one of a few I’ve taken since she was born). We assumed she would wake up a lot and be inconsolable. But in fact, the opposite was true. She slept like a champ.

Since Madelyn won’t take a bottle and realized I wasn’t there to nurse her at night, she simply stopped waking up as much. I’m not sure why this particular trip has that effect on her, but I suspect it’s because I’ve been weaning her off breastmilk and onto more solid foods, so she’s not as reliant on me for nourishment. She has also been eating more food lately and goes to bed on a more full stomach.

The trip signaled a turning point, and what I hope will be the start of better sleep for Madelyn (and mom and dad). Babies have a way of constantly switching up their routine. Just when you think you’ve figured them out, they find new ways to surprise you. They are our best teachers, constantly reminding us what it means to be patient, selfless, and grateful for small victories.

For now, I’m grateful for the extra sleep (and for our healthy, loving, and strong-willed baby!) and I’m staying optimistic.


Madelyn at 9 months


Madelyn is now 9 months old and I can hardly believe it. She’s been learning and growing so much lately and has been bringing me and Troy so much joy.

She likes crawling, standing up while holding onto furniture for support, reading (aka chewing on) books, throwing toys (in the air and out of her playpen), going for runs in the jogging stroller, exploring every nook and cranny of the house, giving high-fives, and blowing kisses and raspberries. Some days she blows dozens of kisses at a time, which makes mom and dad feel very well-loved.

She still gets up twice a night and usually won’t go back to sleep unless I nurse her. I’m hoping she’ll start sleeping more soundly — for her sake and mine — once she begins eating more solids!

Here are a few fun photos of her from the past week…

All smiles!
A sweater and no shoes. #FashionStatement.
Car seat lounging (before getting strapped in)!
Standing tall!
Our little love.
Mom loves big bows.
Mom loves big bows.
Love her laugh!
Post-run! She’s my favorite running buddy.
Family fun time at sunset.

The Tarpleys are moving to Texas

Here we are standing under the sign that Troy engraved and painted when he proposed to me four years ago. On the other side, the sign reads: “Will you marry me?” We’re celebrating our third wedding anniversary next week and are excited about our next steps as a family of three.

Troy and I have some exciting news: we’re moving to Austin, Texas!

Ever since Madelyn was born, we’ve wanted to live closer to family. This move makes that possible. Troy, who’s from Texas, has accepted a great new job at a hospital north of Austin. He’ll be starting in early January. I’ll continue working for Images & Voices of Hope — a job that affords me the flexibility of working from anywhere.

We have a lot to figure out between now and mid-December when we move. We’re in the thick of a time-consuming transition, and the weight of it all has admittedly left us feeling overwhelmed. But we’re making progress. In the past week, we’ve found a daycare for Madelyn and a home that we want to buy. Next up is trying to sell our townhouse and figuring out how we’re going to pack and move our stuff and ourselves cross-country.

I love St. Petersburg and will miss it dearly. It’s the city where I launched my career, got married, and started a family. It’s my home. Lately, though, I’ve gotten the same feeling I had my senior year of college — the feeling that it’s time to step outside my comfort zone and establish new roots in a different place. Time to embrace all the beautiful uncertainties that inevitably come with big life changes.

Doing so takes courage.

It helps knowing that Troy and I are making this decision together — with and for our baby. We want to raise Madelyn in the company of family members instead of having to travel 1,000+ miles to see them. We want Madelyn to grow up playing with all the other kiddos on Troy’s side of the family. We want more built-in babysitters so that we can go on date nights and occasional weekend getaways. It goes without saying that we love being with Madelyn, but we need “us time,” too.

The move to Austin doesn’t bring us any closer to my family (I miss you, dad!) but we’re going to make it a point to visit Massachusetts a couple of times a year. Madelyn may be a southerner, but we can’t let her forget her New England roots. We don’t want her to forget her friends in Florida either, so we’re expecting y’all (did I just say that?) to visit once we’re settled in Austin.

The next few months are going to be crazy and fun. Kind of like parenting. We’re hoping for a smooth-ish transition, and we’re excited about writing this next chapter in our family story. It’s my favorite story — one that’s marked by auspicious beginnings and audacious love.


Tips for creating your baby registry

All of the items on this list are Madelyn approved. 🙂

With so much baby gear on the market, it’s hard to know what to register for. Should you get a Zippadee Zip or a Merlin Magic Sleepsuit? An Ergo carrier or a Lillebaby wrap? It can begin to feel like you’re speaking another language. To help with the language barrier, I created a list of recommendations that I’ve sent to some pregnant friends over the past couple of months. I think the list might be helpful for others, too, so I’m sharing it here …

Strollers: We have the Bob Revolution Flex, a jogging stroller that I absolutely love. You can buy an adapter that lets you attach your baby’s infant car seat to the stroller. So convenient. The Bob is pretty big, but we use it all the time. We have a smaller and more affordable stroller — the Summer Infant Lite — which we recently started using for walks around the block. Cheap umbrella strollers are also good to have on hand, especially when in airports.

Car seats: We bought the Chicco Keyfit 30 and really like it. We registered for this particular one because it’s affordable and was rated one of the best car seats in 2016.

Baby carriers: We use the Ergo 360, which is front and back facing. (With the regular Ergo, your baby can only face inward.) The Ergo can be good for traveling and for when you need to get stuff done around the house while watching your baby. I’ve always liked the idea of a carrier, but I rarely use ours, partly because it’s uncomfortable for outdoor use in the Florida heat. There are lots of baby-wearing Facebook groups where you can get recommendations about all sorts of wraps, slings, carriers, etc.

Furniture: I’d recommend buying furniture at Buy Buy Baby, if there’s one near you. You can use 20% off Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons there and save a lot on furniture. We used 20% off coupons on our crib, dresser, and glider and saved a few hundred dollars. Another tip: Pottery Barn Kids offers free interior design consultations in which a designer will come to your house and create a suggested floor plan and a wishlist of baby items. I took advantage of this service and got a lot of good ideas about how to organize and decorate Madelyn’s nursery. I didn’t use the wishlist (the items on it amounted to more than $5,000!) but I did order a rug and curtains through the consultant and got a 15% discount as a result.

Madelyn "reading" at seven months. She's in a book destruction phase, where she eats and tears the pages out of books, so we've learned that board books like the one in this picture are best at this age!
Madelyn “reading” at seven months. She’s in a book destruction phase; she eats the corners of books and tears the pages out of them. We’ve learned that board books like the one in this picture are best at this age!

Bathtubs: We have the Calming Vibrations Fisher-Price tub, which Madelyn used until she was about six months old. Now we just bathe her in a full-size tub.

Diaper bags: I use this one from Pottery Barn and love it. I keep a blanket, burp cloths, bibs, diapers, wipes, pacifiers, etc., in it and like knowing that everything is in one spot. For the first several months after Madelyn was born, I took it everywhere and wore it as a big purse. Now that Madelyn doesn’t need quite as much stuff, I use a smaller purse for day-to-day use and leave the diaper bag in my car so that I’ll have it when I need it on the go. Tip: Pack a change of clothes for both you and your baby, in case your baby’s diaper leaks while you’re holding her. It’ll happen at some point — probably multiple points.

Changing pads/tables: We bought a changing table pad that sits on top of Madelyn’s dresser, rather than buying a separate changing table. We have fleece covers for the pad and put these waterproof liners on top of the fleece.

Boppy Pillow and Boppy Lounger: For the first six months, I used the Boppy Pillow every time I nursed Madelyn. The Boppy Lounger (a bigger version of the Boppy that’s shaped a bit differently) was one of her favorite napping nooks early on. At about four months, she got big enough to kick herself off of it, so we transitioned her to a Gracco Pack ‘n Play and put the Boppy Lounger in it. The Pack ‘n Play helped Madelyn get used to sleeping in a larger space and proved helpful when transitioning her from the bassinet to the crib. (She slept in a bassinet at night until she was about four and a half months old. She now sleeps in her crib — mostly soundly, although she’s still waking up in the middle of the night to feed. We hope she’ll start sleeping through the night soon!)

Playmats: Get this playmat. It’s a little bigger than most, so your baby will be able to use it for awhile. Madelyn absolutely loved it, and it was perfect for tummy time, which we started as soon as her umbilical chord fell off.

Swaddle blankets: It was a struggle to swaddle Madelyn, who always found a way to wiggle her arms and legs out of the blanket. We tried dozens of swaddle blankets and techniques along the way and found some that worked and a lot that didn’t. We stuck with swaddling, though, because it ultimately helped her sleep more soundly. We initially used plain swaddle blankets and then transitioned to the Miracle Swaddle blanket at two months. The Miracle Blanket worked well for Madelyn, unlike these SwaddleMe Pods. At three months (the recommended time to stop swaddling babies), we transitioned Madelyn to the Baby Merlin’s Magic Sleepsuit, which basically looks like a snowsuit for babies! It weighs babies’ arms and legs down so that they can’t flail their arms and wake themselves up. At five months, we transitioned her to regular footed PJs, which she’ll fortunately be in for awhile.

Clothes: I wouldn’t recommend buying or registering for clothes. You’ll get so many, especially if you’re having a girl. If you put clothes on your registry, you’ll inevitably get them and may be less likely to get the practical stuff you need. I go to consignment shops all the time to buy and trade in clothes for Madelyn. We’ve also benefited from lots of hand-me-downs. (Thank you, friends!)

This Fisher-Price bear, which makes music and vibrates, is soothing for both Madelyn and mom!
This Fisher Price bear, which makes music and vibrates, is soothing for both Madelyn and Mom and Dad!

Diapers: We went through a lot of different diapers before finding the ones we liked: Pampers Premium Care. They’re soft and contain a lot but can only be purchased at Wal-Mart. It’s best to register for size 1 and up. Your hospital room will likely be stocked with lots of newborn diapers, so make sure to take the remaining ones home with you when you get discharged. (We asked for extras, which they gave us.) We have a Diaper Genie and like it.

Swings: If you can, invest in a nice baby swing. We got the 4moms mamaroo swing, which we loved. It used to lull Madelyn to sleep as a newborn when nothing else would. She outgrew it at about five and a half months. It’s a bit pricey, but so worth it. Great gift idea if family and friends want to pitch in for something together.

Nursing covers: I bought a nursing scarf early on, but it didn’t give me full coverage. I ended up purchasing an En Babies cover and use it comfortably when nursing in public. I also recommend nursing bras and tanks, Bamboobies, and Medela pumps. I have the Medela Pump In Style and a smaller manual pump for when I need to pump quickly and don’t have access to an electrical outlet. As my friend pointed out after I published this post, insurance companies are required to cover the cost of a breast pump, so make sure to take advantage of this. (Here are some related tips I compiled for moms who need to pump while traveling.)

Just for fun: I’m a fan of these teething necklaces, which are designed for moms to wear and babies to chew. I also recommend Wubbanubs — pacifiers with stuffed animals attached. They give babies something to hold onto and don’t fall out of their mouths as easily as regular pacifiers. Lastly, invest in a Zany Zoo.

For more ideas, check out “Baby Bargains,” a book that has hundreds of baby product reviews. At first, it’ll feel like you need a lot of stuff for your baby. You’ll feel tempted to buy whatever you can to help your baby sleep better and feel more comfortable. As time passes, you’ll get a better sense of what you (and your baby) need, and you’ll find that you actually don’t need as much stuff as you think you do. Have fun looking, and don’t get too caught up in buying the best of everything. Of all the gifts your baby gets, the greatest by far will be you.

Do you have other recommendations? Please share them in the comments section…

Madelyn turns 7 months today

I often think about this blog, and you, my readers.

I keep telling myself I’m going to set aside a few hours to write a lengthy personal essay, but then motherhood and work fill up my days and I find myself scrambling for time. I’m going to change my approach and start posting shorter pieces here more frequently, the idea being that it’s better to write short pieces than to not write at all.

I have a lot of longer essays in mind, so I’ll write and publish them here as time allows. But I’ll also experiment with shorter posts in hopes that the variety of writing will help tone my writing muscles and keep them strong.

With that in mind, I’m going to close here with a few photos of Madelyn, who turns seven months old today. She’s my little bundle of joy, my daughter! Here are some of my favorites from the past month …

img_8445 img_8425 img_8301 img_8286 img_8179img_8138

Tips for pumping & preserving breast milk when traveling

Some of the milk I pumped. Our freezer has been taken over by milk...
Some of the milk I pumped. It’s beginning to take over our freezer… 

Traveling has taken on a new layer of complexity now that I’m a mom.

Over the past month, I’ve taken four trips — two with Madelyn and Troy, and two by myself. I knew it would be difficult being away from Madelyn during the solo trips, but I didn’t realize how difficult it would be until I was getting ready to walk out the door. I left the house both times in tears, hoping she wouldn’t forget me. (She didn’t.)

For months leading up to my first work trip, I pumped every day and night so that Madelyn would have enough milk while I was away. I know this isn’t realistic for everyone; some breastfeeding moms may not have the time or ability to pump that much, and some moms may (understandably) not want to. Others may decide to stop breastfeeding altogether before going on a trip to avoid having to pump or maintain their supply.

Keeping up your supply when traveling can be difficult, but I’ve learned a lot over the past month to make it easier. Based on tips from friends and my own experiences, I’ve put together a checklist and related pointers for traveling moms who want to pump and preserve their milk. If you have additional tips, please let me know or share them in the comment section.


Electric and hand-held breast pumps. An electric pump is the best option when you have privacy and battery power/access to an electrical outlet. The manual handheld pump (I use this one) comes in handy when you need to pump on the plane or in bathroom stalls at the airport. (Be prepared to do your fair share of bathroom pumping…)

Breast pump parts, plus bottles for milk storage. I typically pack four bottles per trip so that I have enough bottles to pump milk into. Some moms prefer “pumping and dumping” to avoid the hassle of having to travel with milk. I never liked the idea of throwing my milk away, so I try my best to preserve it.

A small cooler with an ice pack. This Medela cooler bag holds four bottles and comes with an icepack that’s specially designed to keep the bottles cold for up to 12 hours. I use the small cooler bag to store milk on travel days, or when I don’t have easy access to a refrigerator or freezer.

A bigger cooler bag with several ice packs. If you’re only going to be away for a day or two, you don’t have to freeze your milk. Both of my solo trips have been three to four days long, so I’ve frozen the milk to make it last longer. A few related tips:

  • If you’re checking luggage, put the cooler bag and ice packs in your checked luggage and carry on the smaller Medela cooler bag. TSA will test your liquid milk, but they don’t open the bottle or put anything in the milk during this process.
  • If you’re only bringing carry-on luggage, make sure the ice packs in the coolers are all frozen. If they’re not, TSA will likely confiscate them. Before you leave on your trip, put a small bottle of milk, or a bag of frozen milk, in the big cooler with the ice packs. This way, there won’t be any question as to why you’re bringing frozen ice packs onto the plane.
  • Before you go on your trip, take a look at this webpage, which outlines TSA guidelines for traveling with breast milk and formula. I always keep it pulled up on my phone so that I can refer to it if need be. I’ve been to eight different airports in the past month and fortunately haven’t run into any issues with TSA agents.
A family pic from our trip to Texas to visit family. Troy’s been a Super Dad when I’ve been away!

Breast milk storage bags. Once you have up to 10 ounces of breast milk, pour it into a milk storage bag and put it in the big cooler, surrounded by the ice packs. If you’re staying at a hotel, call ahead and ask if the mini fridge has a freezer. (Most of them do.) The freezers are typically small compartments that only hold a couple bags of milk. If you need more freezer space at the hotel, ask for it. When I stayed at the Marriott and the Hilton, I told the front desk staff that I had a cooler of breast milk and asked if they could store it in a bigger freezer for me. They accommodated my request, no questions asked. (I’d recommend asking them which freezer they put it in. During one of my trips, a hotel staffer took about 15 minutes to find my cooler because he wasn’t sure where to look.)

Breast pump cleaning wipes and a disposable micro-steam bag. At home, I clean my breast pump parts in a microwave-safe sterilizer. While traveling, I use these quick clean wipes, or soap and water. (I try to avoid soaps that have a lot of scent; sometimes the scent stays in the bottle and alters the taste of the milk.) If you have access to a microwave (some hotel rooms have them), you can use a disposable micro-steam bag. These Medela bags can be used up to 20 times.

Gallon-size plastic bags. I typically pack about half a dozen Ziploc bags to store both clean and dirty breast pump parts. Inevitably, there are times when I don’t have time to clean the parts – usually because I’m running off to my next meeting or I’m trying to catch a flight – so I stick them in one of the Ziploc bags.

A nursing cover. I always keep my nursing cover in my carry-on bag in case I need to use it while on the plane. I try to time my pumping sessions to where I don’t have to pump on the plane. If I don’t have another option, I either pump from my seat or the airplane bathroom. I tend to pump from my seat — with my nursing cover — if there’s a long bathroom line or if I’m engorged and the fasten seatbelt sign is on for an extended period of time.

A hands-free pumping bra/apparatus. I bought this $10 one off Amazon after a friend recommended it. It’s lightweight and compact, so it’s perfect for traveling. I wear it every time I use my electric pump so that I can multitask while pumping.

Photos of your baby & relaxing music. I often look at pictures of my Madelyn when pumping to help boost my supply. Studies show that looking at photos of your child and listening to relaxing music can significantly increase your milk output and even the fat content. Avoiding stress and finding time to relax is also important, though easier said than done when traveling for work. Setting expectations ahead of time – for yourself and others — helps. During one of my recent trips, I had to pump every two-and-a-half to three hours while running a four-day work event and board meeting. I prepped my colleagues ahead of time so that they wouldn’t question why I was stepping out every few hours. Doing so made me feel more relaxed when pumping.

Bottled water and snacks. As a vegetarian, I often have trouble finding adequate protein sources while traveling. If I don’t eat enough protein, or enough food in general, my milk supply drops. To avoid this, I’ve started packing a water bottle and extra snacks — almonds, Kind bars, raisins, etc.

Change of clothes. Let’s face it; pumping isn’t always graceful. There have been plenty of times when I’ve admittedly gotten milk on my outfits while pumping. If you spill milk on yourself and your clothes end up appearing wet or smelling like sour milk, it’s comforting to know you have a backup outfit!


When you get home from your trip, first give yourself (and your little one) a big hug. You did it!

From there, stick the milk from your small Medela cooler in the refrigerator and put the frozen bags in the freezer. (I’ve traveled for up to 10 hours with frozen milk. As long as the milk still has frozen crystals in it, it’s technically still considered frozen, so you can refreeze it without risk of contamination. (Some articles I’ve read advise against refreezing partially thawed milk, so check with a lactation consultant or your child’s pediatrician if you want a second opinion.)

Pumping while traveling takes courage and commitment. It can be awkward, uncomfortable, and super inconvenient. But keep reminding yourself why you’re doing it – to provide nourishment for your little one. When it comes to feeding babies, food is love.

Learning to eat, feed, and be ok

My mom holding me on the day I was baptized, and me holding Madelyn the day she was baptized. Madelyn wore the same baptism dress that I wore 30 years ago.
My mom holding me the day I was baptized, and me holding Madelyn the day she was baptized. Madelyn wore the same baptism dress that I wore 30 years ago.

Earlier this month, The Washington Post published one of my personal essays about motherhood. I pitched the essay to the editor of the Post’s On Parenting website last month and was happy when she wrote back to say she wanted to publish it.

I was even more moved by all the positive feedback the essay has received from friends, family, and readers who I didn’t previously know. The essay focuses on the arc of loss, struggle, and recovery that has defined my life story. In doing so, it shows how motherhood has changed me.

Here’s an excerpt:

Before my daughter was born, I pictured what it would be like to nurse her. Ever the optimist, I imagined her latching well and smiling up at me as we bonded over feedings. I had read about the benefits of breastfeeding — as well as the challenges. But c’mon, I thought, how difficult could it really be?

Fast forward to Feb. 6, when Madelyn entered this world. The first thing I noticed about my daughter was her tongue. She kept sticking it out and staring up at me, imitating the goofy faces that her father often makes when posing for photos.

“She’s hungry,” my obstetrician said. “You can start feeding her now.”

Unsure of myself, and in a post-labor haze, I put Madelyn’s lips up to my breast and watched her gently latch. Okay, this feels a little weird. But it’s not so bad, I thought. It doesn’t really hurt, and she seems to be doing okay …

Click here to read the full essay

Finding my voice as a mother


Lately, I’ve found myself wanting to write a lot about my daughter Madelyn. “So many stories to tell, so little time to write!” I often think. Gone are the times when I could write personal essays for hour-long periods without interruptions.

Being a mom forces you to learn how to be patient as a writer, to take advantage of 15-minute chunks of time when you actually have a hand to spare. For me, that usually means typing with one hand on my phone while nursing Madelyn in the other. For the first two months after Madelyn was born, I hardly wrote about her, but I thought about it all the time. I chalked it up to being sleep-deprived and scatterbrained and busy. But once I started being honest with myself, I realized it was because I felt lost as a writer.

I’ve written about motherhood for years, but I’ve always done so from the perspective of a daughter — one who lost her mom at an early age and then struggled with disordered eating for almost two decades. My writing was often rooted in sadness. Now, I’ve had to find my voice as a mother, one who is writing mostly from a place of newfound health and happiness.

A good friend once told me that it’s easier to write when we’re struggling. I’ve always found this to be true, maybe because writing helps me make sense of hard times. But it can also help us make sense of new adventures.

I’m finally finding my voice as a mother, one who’s life isn’t defined by loss but by love. As a writer, I’m learning to embrace humor, explore new topics, and find depth in happiness. The themes I’ve always written about — motherhood, food, love, loss — are still present in my writing, but they’ve taken on new meanings. They show up in an essay I just wrote about the connections between my mom’s breast cancer, my history with anorexia, and my experience breastfeeding. (The Washington Post will be publishing it later this summer). And they show up in a “lighter” essay I’m writing about parenthood and sleep (or the lack thereof!)

At some point soon, I’m hoping to do more research and writing for my memoir, a labor of love long in the making. I have new ideas about how to approach it, and I’m excited. I just have to find the time. Don’t we all?

I’ve always believed that if you have a story to tell, you’ll find a way to tell it. For now, I’m taking it one paragraph at a time.

Becoming a mom made me love Mother’s Day again

Dear Madelyn,

Growing up, I loved Mother’s Day. It was an excuse to draw pictures for my own mom, a reason to ride my bike around the neighborhood and find freshly picked flowers for her. I didn’t know that the flowers I picked — usually dandelions and Queen’s Anne’s lace — were actually weeds. Mom never let on. She treated every gift I gave her as though it was the best.

“You made my whole day!” she’d say.

After my mom passed away, I hated Mother’s Day. From age 11 on I tried to avoid it — which is nearly impossible, given all the Mother’s Day ads that seem to start appearing earlier and earlier each year, and the mother-daughter photos that flood my Facebook feed. For a long time the holiday was symbolic of what I didn’t have, a reminder of the void that gnawed at me from within.

Then you came along.

This is you last weekend, just before you went into the pool for the first time. You were crying, but it almost looks like you're laughing!
This is you last weekend, just before you went into the pool for the first time. You were crying, but it almost looks like you’re laughing!

This Mother’s Day feels so different. I’ve gotten cards and gifts and I’m going out for a Mother’s Day brunch with you and Dad. Instead of thinking about being a motherless daughter, I’m in awe of the fact that I’m your mom.

I’m a mom! I’m actually a mom! And you, all 12 pounds of you, are my precious daughter. You’re only three months old, but you’ve changed my life in so many ways and have already taught me so much.

Here are a few things I’ve learned and observed since becoming your mom:

  • Becoming a mom doesn’t make me miss my own mom any less. If anything, it makes me miss her more. But since becoming your mom, the void doesn’t feel as deep or as dark as it once did. I’m lucky to have lots of maternal figures in my life, which has also helped.
  • I don’t think there’s one word that accurately sums up the complexities of motherhood. It’s a continuous mix of grit and grace, pride and patience, humility and humor.
  • Before I became a mom, I never realized how much time I’d spend talking about poop — and washing it off clothes, swings, and car seats. I’ve become a breeding ground for bodily fluids, and I’m surprisingly ok with it.
  • Breastfeeding was initially one of the biggest challenges of early parenthood. It was painful, and your difficulty latching left me feeling frustrated, especially when you would cluster-feed. But we grew and learned together. Now you latch better and I’m more patient. Feeding is bonding.
  • You gave me the best surprise Mother's Day gift -- a painted butterfly flower pot with the sweetest message: "I'm as lucky as I can be -- the best mom in the whole world belongs to me." If you look closely, you'll see that the butterfly wings are actually your footprints! Thanks to you, Madelyn, for my first Mother's Day gift. It made my whole day! (And thanks to our wonderful nanny for being so thoughtful and creative.) 😊
    My first Mother’s Day gift was a painted butterfly flower pot with the sweetest message: “I’m as lucky as I can be — the best mom in the whole world belongs to me.” If you look closely, you’ll see that the butterfly wings are actually your footprints! A little birdie must have told you that I love butterflies because they remind me of my mom. Thank you, sweet Madelyn, for the gift (and thanks to your wonderful nanny for helping you with it). It made my whole day!

    Whoever came up with the saying, “I slept like a baby last night” probably didn’t have a baby. Similarly, as I read somewhere recently, whoever said “don’t cry over spilled milk” probably never breastfed.

  • You’ve made me realize that not all cries are created equal.
  • You’ve taught me what it means to be totally responsible for another human being 24/7. I used to think my Gramz was being insensitive when she would say: “Your life is not your own when you have a child.” Now I understand what she meant.
  • You’ve motivated me to set boundaries as a working mom — to stay focused at work and be fully present with you and your dad at home — so that I can fulfill both roles. I don’t always succeed, but I’m trying.
  • You’ve given me a confidence boost by showing me I’m capable of calming you down and making you smile. Nurturing you didn’t come naturally at first, but now it’s second nature.
  • You’ve helped my heart grow. Every time I see your dad care for you, I’m reminded of why I fell in love with him. (I’ll probably embarrass you with my cheesiness as you grow older. Just remember it’s fine to be cheesy as long as you’re genuine, too.)
  • You’ve deepened my appreciation for silence and the rare moments when I have uninterrupted time to myself.
  • You’ve taught me that it’s ok to mourn the loss of free time, date nights, and sleep when you’re a new mom. More importantly, you’ve shown me that not all losses are tragic or permanent — and that what we gain is often far better than what we lose.

With you in my life, sweet Madelyn, I’ve gained so much. I have so many reasons to feel grateful this Mother’s Day — and every day. Time with you and dad is always cause for celebration.



Celebrating the fact that you're three months old!
Celebrating the fact that you’re three months old!

Why I love Pantene’s ‘Dad-Do’ Super Bowl commercials

It’s not often that you see a NFL player doing his daughter’s hair. In a series of new Pantene commercials, three players do just that.

The commercials, which are set to air this weekend during Super Bowl 50, show how meaningful it can be when dads bond with their daughters in unconventional ways.

In one of the ads, the Steelers’ DeAngelo Williams tries to twist his daughter Rhiya’s hair into pigtails.

“You know what’s easier for me?” Williams asks his daughter. “Running through a defensive line because I have help running through that defensive line.”

In another, the Cowboys’ Jason Witten attempts to give his 3-year-old daughter Landry a “ballerina bun,” but settles on bow-studded pigtails after a few failed attempts.

“I think the difference between a mom-do and a dad-do [is] the end result is a whole lot different,” Witten says. “But to me, I wouldn’t trade a dad-do for anything else in the world.”

The commercials end with the line: “Girls who spend quality time with their dads grow up to be stronger women.”

It’s true; I spent a lot of quality time with my dad when I was young and like to think that I grew up to be strong. My dad believed in sharing parenting responsibilities with my mom — something I’ve developed a greater appreciation for now that I’m about to become a parent. He was the gentle, sentimental soul,  the dad who never raised his voice or said an unkind word. My mom, the loving but strict disciplinarian, had a quick temper. Whenever she and my dad would argue, I would side with my mom because it felt safer. I knew that no matter how many times I sided with her, my dad would never yell or hold it against me. He’d still love me unconditionally.

When I was 8, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She got sicker as time went on, and my dad had to take on a greater share of the parenting. It was then that I realized how emotionally strong my mom and dad were and what a good team they made. Through their strength, I found mine. Cancer eventually took my mom’s life, leaving my dad to fill the void. Truth is, he could help fill it, but neither he nor anyone else could make it go away. I felt empty for a long time after my mom died.

With time, though, I found comfort in my dad’s endearing efforts. He started making home-cooked meals, he ironed my dresses, and he attempted at least one or two dad-do’s. Sometimes, he even let me be his hairstylist. I have vivid memories of putting colorful clips and bows in his hair, then laughing at how goofy he looked.

One of the nights I did Dad’s hair…

As I think about my dad’s role in my life, I think about how influential Troy will be in our daughter Madelyn’s life. I already know that he will be a thoughtful, fun-loving dad — one who will help with late-night diaper changes, bath-time, and bedtime reading. I won’t be surprised if he even puts some bows in Madelyn’s hair.

I remember the first time I saw Troy interact with children — his little cousins. He squatted down so he could be at eye-level with them, then asked them questions and showed genuine interest in what they had to say. When we go to church and children in the pew ahead of us turn around, Troy sticks out his tongue and makes goofy faces. He almost always gets a smile in return, or at least some wide-eyed stares.

I think about Troy’s natural ease with children whenever I read parenting books and articles. Some of them make false assumptions about fathers — characterizing them as aloof, out-of-touch guys who will be clueless once the baby arrives. Sure, some dads don’t have a clue, but the same can be said for moms. I think pregnancy and breastfeeding are experiences that cause some women to be more nurturing, but I know plenty of dads — mine included — who are also nurterers.

Earlier today, I sent Troy a link to the Pantene commercials and pointed out the line about dads helping their daughters become strong. His response? “Madelyn will be a strong woman because of both of us!”

It’s comforting to know that we’re in this together. We don’t see parenting as a division of labor that’s defined by gender stereotypes. We see it as a shared experience — a team sport that will have its fair share of fumbles, handoffs, and time-outs, but also lots of wins. And hopefully lots of dad-do’s.