Books I’ve enjoyed reading during my pregnancy

Madelyn's nursery is full of books. This past weekend, I bought her a doll (her first one!) and found a spot for her on one of the bookshelves.
Madelyn’s nursery is full of books. Earlier this month, I bought her a doll (her first one!) and found a spot for her on one of the bookshelves.

For the past nine months, I’ve been drawn to pregnancy literature of all sorts — books, newsletters, birthing class handouts, and more. Sometimes it feels like information overload, but in general, I would rather have more information than not enough.

I’ve bought a lot of pregnancy and childbirth books in hopes of learning more about Madelyn’s development in the womb and what to expect when she finally arrives. Some of the books have been hard to put down. Others have struck me as too preachy, dated, or one-sided.

That said, here are six books I enjoyed reading and would recommend to other pregnant women:

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 6.57.24 PMPregnancy Day By Day,” edited by Maggie Blott: I bought this book just a few days after I found out I was pregnant. I stumbled upon it in a bookstore and was drawn to the idea of reading daily updates about my pregnancy. Every night, Troy and I take turns reading the updates, which start off with a countdown to Madelyn’s due date. (We’re down to four days!) Troy’s already familiar with a lot of information in the book because of his medical background, but we still enjoy reading it together. It’s a shared experience that I’ve come to love.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 5.47.05 PMBaby Bargains,” by Denise and Alan Fields: Creating a baby registry is fun, but it can also be overwhelming. There are so many brands and products at various price points. Should you get a Boppy or a My ‘Brest’ Friend nursing pillow? A bumbo seat or a high chair? An Ergobaby or a Baby Bjorn? (I could go on and on…!) It’s hard to know which products are the best, and whether the more expensive ones are really any better than the cheaper ones. The Fields’ book, which offers reviews of thousands of baby products, was a lifesaver. A book about product reviews doesn’t sound all that compelling, but it’s a worthwhile guide that’ll save you money (and lots of headaches)!

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 5.46.34 PMExpecting Better,” by Emily Oster: I’ve written before about this book, which I found to be especially helpful in my first trimester. Early on, I was so worried about doing anything that could potentially harm Madelyn. I wouldn’t eat certain “off-limit foods” like soft cheeses, and I stopped doing things that relaxed me because I read about the possible side effects they could have on fetuses. This included painting my nails, taking a bath, lying on my back, using essential oils, and lighting candles. Oster, an economist, debunks a lot of the myths surrounding what women should and shouldn’t do during pregnancy. Her book helped put me at ease and made me realize that most of the “rules” you read about aren’t as black and white as they’re made out to be. (The majority of soft cheeses in the U.S., for instance, are pasteurized and perfectly fine to eat.) I didn’t follow all the information in Oster’s book, but it helped me make more informed decisions about what I did and didn’t want to do. Sometimes it just comes down to what feels right to you.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 5.51.57 PMWhat To Expect When You’re Expecting,” by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel: I couldn’t help but buy this classic. The cliches in the book made the writer and editor in me cringe, but I found it to be a helpful guide nonetheless. It’s broken down by pregnancy months, and it’s formatted as a series of questions and answers, making it an easy read. When I was trying to get pregnant, I read “What To Expect Before You’re Expecting,” and waited for the day when I could buy the follow-up. When that day came, I bought the book soon after and thought about how grateful I was to be pregnant.

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 10.03.40 AMBrain Rules for Baby,” by John Medina. This book is a fascinating read filled with scientific research and practical advice about how to provide the best environment for your baby’s brain development, inside the womb and after birth. (Here is a roundup of related tips.) Medina explains why praising your children’s efforts is better than praising their intelligence, and why self control — not IQ — is a better predictor of your child’s academic performance. Medina offers insights with a dash of humor and without sounding too didactic. I learned a lot from his research.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 6.59.20 PMIna May’s Guide to Childbirth,” by Ina May Gaskin: I’ve found this earthy-crunchy book to be a good pick-me-up whenever I’m worried about labor and delivery. I’ve heard so many stories about how painful childbirth is. One woman told me it was like a scene out of “The Exorcist.” My OB said it felt like “a knife was being stabbed” into her bladder. Others have claimed there’s “no way” you can get through the pain without an epidural. I don’t let these comments worry me too much; I know every labor is different and that a lot of factors go into it, including the size of your pelvis, the size of your baby, and the duration of your labor. Gaskin’s book features dozens of empowering stories from women who gave birth naturally and who chose to focus on the beauty of the experience rather than the pain. I’m hoping to give birth naturally, so I’ve found these women’s stories to be comforting. I know anything can happen in labor and delivery, so I’m open to an epidural or a C-section if I truly need one. I’ve told myself, though, that as long as Madelyn is ok, I’m going to try to push through the pain. I’m going to remind myself that it’s pain with a purpose and that each passing contraction means Troy and I are one step closer to meeting Madelyn.

*****

I have another stack of books I’m planning to read once Madelyn gets here: “Whole Child/Whole Parent,” “Touchpoints,” “The Gift of Failure,” and “Caring For Your Baby and Young Child.” (Tip: If you live near a Publix and join the store’s Baby Club, you’ll receive a free copy of this last book; it’s a 960-page tome!)

I also have a few “me” books that I’m hoping to delve into while I’m on maternity leave: Mindy Kaling’s “Why Not Me?“; Sara Bareilles’ “Sounds Like Me“; Drew Barrymore’s “Wildflower,” and Brigid Schulte’s “Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time.” (We’ll see how much reading time I actually have once Madelyn’s here!)

What pregnancy/childbirth/parenting books would you recommend? You can make recommendations in the comments section below. 

 

 

How the last few weeks of pregnancy are teaching me to embrace unpredictability

I’ve found the last few weeks of my pregnancy to be the hardest.

Physically, I’m feeling pretty good. I have some aches and pains, and sleep is getting harder to come by, but I still have energy to go on walks every afternoon and work full days. I’ve found it really difficult, though, to come to terms with the fact that I don’t have any say over when Madelyn arrives.

Troy and I at a wedding last weekend. At 37.5 weeks, I still managed to dance for a couple hours!
Troy and I at a wedding last weekend. At 37.5 weeks, I still managed to do a lot of dancing!

Every morning, I wake up wondering, Will I go into labor today? … What will it feel like? … When will Madelyn arrive?  Every cramp, every tiny change in my body, leaves me wondering if today will be the day.

People like peering into the proverbial crystal ball and sharing predictions. “February babies are the best, so I think she’s going to wait until then.” … “I have a feeling you’re going to deliver early.” … “Statistically, first babies arrive late, so you won’t give birth until at least the second week of February…” Others have asked: What was your mom’s pregnancy and labor like? And when do the women in your family typically deliver? The truth is, I don’t know. My mom died when I was 11, and I never got to ask her these questions. I never got to ask my Gramz, either.

Madelyn is due in exactly two weeks — on Wednesday, February 3. Only about 5% of babies are actually born on their due date, so “the big day” is more or less a guesstimate. Madelyn could be here tomorrow or three weeks from now. Three weeks is such a short amount of time, but to me it feels like an eternity.

I’m a planner. I plan a lot for work and like knowing when and where big events are going to take place. I’ve done as much planning as I can leading up to Madelyn’s birth. I finished her nursery three months before her due date, and my hospital bag has been packed since early December. I’ve washed all of her clothes and organized them by size; I’ve read pregnancy books galore; I’ve taken childbirth, carseat, and infant CPR classes; I’ve created detailed plans outlining how work will get taken care of while I’m on maternity leave; and I had even found a nanny to take care of Madelyn once I return to work. My plans haven’t worked out lately, though, and I’ve been reminded that sometimes life tests our ability to figure out a Plan B, to surrender control.

Surrendering control has been especially hard professionally, as I get ready to take my maternity leave. Work is such a big part of my identity. Thinking about letting go of that for 11 weeks and taking on a new identity as a mom is both exciting and scary. There’s a certain sense of loss that comes with handing over something you’ve overseen and nurtured, even if it’s a temporary hand-off. You can’t help but wonder: Will those projects and labors of love still be there when I get back? What will change while I’m gone? What will these changes mean for me once I return? Fortunately, the work will be in good hands while I’m away. It’ll get done, and what doesn’t get done can wait.

I’m grateful to have nearly three months to care for Madelyn — to get to know this little being that Troy and I have created. I realize that being a mom is going to be the ultimate lesson in learning how to let go. Madelyn is going to sleep when she wants to sleep and wake up when she wants to wake up. Some nights, she’s going to start crying just as my head hits the pillow after a long day. She’s going to poop her pants and throw a tantrum right when we’re about to meet a friend for lunch, or in the middle of church.

But she’s also going to make me giggly and giddy when she looks up at me and smiles. She’s going to warm my heart when her tiny hand grabs mine. She’s going to remind me that motherhood — with all of its unpredictabilities — is going to be the most rewarding and challenging role I’ll ever take on.

My dad recently sent me this photo, which I had never seen before. It was taken at my Gramz's house in the late 80s. I love how playful my mom and I look.
My dad recently sent me this photo, which I had never seen before. It was taken at my Gramz’s house in the late 80s. I don’t know what Mom and I were doing, but I love how playful we look.

I suspect motherhood will remind me that unplanned moments often end up being the most beautiful ones. When you try to follow a detailed schedule, you can develop preconceived notions and set yourself up for disappointment when things don’t go according to plan. Unplanned moments allow room for serendipity, laughter, and new discoveries. And they make for the best stories and life lessons.

Ever since my mom died, I’ve tried to avoid unplanned moments. My mom had a long battle with breast cancer, which spread to her bone-marrow, her liver, and her brain. As a little girl, I didn’t realize how sick she really was. I believed what my mom and everyone else told me — that she was going to survive and everything was going to be ok. Until it wasn’t. When my mom passed away, I felt like I had lost all control. I sought it in other ways — by controlling what I ate and how much I weighed. This yearning for control led to a long struggle with anorexia and disordered eating. Ironically, the more I tried to control my food intake, the more out of control I felt.

I love this photo, which I recently came across. This was my mom's last Christmas, two months before she died. I look so happy to be in her arms!
This was my mom’s last Christmas, two months before she died. She hugged me after opening a gift I gave her. I look so happy to be in her arms!

Births and deaths are two life events that we can’t ever really control. We may know they’re coming, but we don’t know exactly when. As I think about my mom and my own entrance into motherhood, I can’t help but think about the fact that Madelyn’s due date is just a few days before the 19th anniversary of my mom’s death. I’ve found that when one life ends, another often emerges to help ease the pain and fill the void. Any day now, I’m going to give birth to my very own daughter, my mother’s granddaughter. When I do, I’ll remember my own mom and grandmothers — the women who made me who I am today.

There’s an array of feelings that come with knowing you’re about to bring a child into this world — a tiny being who will be totally dependent on you for its care and well-being. This reality seems simultaneously real and surreal. I can’t control what day Madelyn will arrive, hard as I try. What I can do is find comfort in knowing that life will be infinitely more beautiful with her in it.

 

A note to my sweet daughter

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I have a feeling I’ll be writing lots of letters to Madelyn, and journal entries about her. I always wish I had more letters from my mom, who passed away when I was 11. My hope is that Madelyn will find comfort in them when she’s older.

My dear Madelyn,

Your due date is quickly approaching, and Mom and Dad can’t wait to meet you.

For nine months, you’ve rested under and in my heart. You’ve been my source of inner strength, my motivator for eating healthy and treating my body with respect. I find myself rubbing my belly all the time; it makes me feel closer to you and reminds me that the mother/daughter bond is already very much formed. Lately, when I’m sitting on the couch at night, I’ve been able to feel your little hands (or are they feet?) pressed against my skin. I grab dad’s hand and hold it against my belly so he can bond with you too. Every morning before he goes to work, he talks to you.

“Hello cutie,” he says, kissing my belly. “You and mom have a good day, ok? I love you.”

You wriggle at the sound of his voice.

As the days pass, it’s getting harder to sleep and stay active. I finally stopped going to prenatal yoga this week at the 36-week mark. But I still go for walks along the water every day. I’m preparing for when we’ll get to go for walks together — you in your stroller, me pushing you and introducing you to dolphins, ducks, and flying fish in Tampa Bay. For now, I’m focused on pushing through all the stretching, pulling, and squeezing taking place inside my belly. I like to think that the aches and pains are the result of you tugging at my heartstrings, making me fall more in love with you each day.

Sometimes you move around so much that my belly turns into a mini roller coaster, moving up and down and all around. You’re preparing me for the ride of motherhood — and all the ups, downs, fears, and thrills that will accompany it. As I toss and turn in bed at night, you move with me.  A lot of moms-to-be say that their babies kick when they’re resting or sleeping. You tend to sleep through the night, then begin kicking and moving once you hear mom and dad’s voices in the morning. (We’re secretly hoping you keep a similar schedule after you’re born!)

I feel like I know you so well already, and yet I still have so many questions. What will you look like? Will you have hair? Blue eyes? A button nose? What will your cry sound like? Will you recognize my voice and your dad’s? What will it feel like to finally hold you in my arms?

You’ve already given me so much — most importantly the gift of motherhood and a greater sense of gratitude. As much as I’ve struggled with the expectations that come with being a woman — especially when it comes to body image — you’ve given me a newfound sense of confidence and a renewed appreciation for womanhood. It’s remarkable that my body has enabled me to carry you, nourish you, and get you to the point where you’re healthy enough to enter this world.

“To be pregnant is to be vitally alive, thoroughly woman, and distressingly inhabited,” Anne Christian Buchanan once said. “Soul and spirit are stretched, along with body — making pregnancy a time of transition, growth, and profound beginnings.”

Your dad and I are ready for this new beginning. You may be here in one week, or two, or three, or four, depending on when you decide to make your debut appearance. As the nurse in one of my childbirth classes said, “Only your baby knows her birthday.” I’ve taken birthing classes and have read lots of books about pregnancy and baby care over the past several months. I’ve learned plenty from the experts, but I know you will be my best teacher — showering me with new lessons that I can’t find in books.

You, me, and dad will learn together, as a family. We will give you all the love we have in hopes that you will grow up to be a strong, confident woman with a generous spirit and a desire to always keep growing and stretching in new ways. I hope you’ll sing in the sun and run in the rain. I hope you’ll appreciate the satisfaction of solitude and the comforts of company. I hope you’ll inherit your dad’s affinity for taking risks, and that you’ll embrace failure as an important ingredient for success.

One of my favorite authors, Anna Quindlen, writes: “Failure is terrifying to the young. So is unpredictability. They’re afraid they’ll get it wrong. You have to use cookbooks for a long time before you realize that you can leave out the beans, throw in some tomatoes, substitute rosemary for basil, jettison the formula, try something different. Sometimes the improvisation is better than the original recipe, sometimes just as good, and sometimes you pour it down the disposal and make a nice fettuccine Alfredo, which never hurt anyone.”

My dear Madelyn, may you stray from the original recipe when creativity calls for it, and may you grow to love life as much as mom and dad love you.

See you soon, sweet pea.

xoxox,

~Mom

A sneak peek at Madelyn’s nursery

The last month has been filled with preparation for Baby Madelyn. Troy and I have been visiting pediatricians’ offices, interviewing nannies, and taking childbirth classes. (I have one more eight-hour birthing class to go this weekend!)

Of all the prep work we’ve done, decorating the nursery together has been the most fun. I picked out everything for the nursery, along with the theme, while Troy assembled the crib and dresser and hung all of the wall art.

We finished this joint labor of love last weekend. Now all the room needs is a baby! I’m 33 weeks pregnant, so Madelyn could be here anytime in the next month and a half. When she does arrive, we’ll be ready.

A lot of friends and family have asked to see photos of Madelyn’s nursery. Here are some snapshots with captions:

A growth chart to keep track of Madelyn’s height!
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The nursery is pink and grey, with elephants. (For my friends who worry: Troy bolted the elephant cutout to the wall, so it’s secure.)
Love her crib.
Love her crib.
Naturally, Madelyn's room needed to have lots of books. The bottom shelves are filled with kids' books. I organized the other books accordingly. The classics, for instance, are on the middle shelf; I figured she'd be about that height once she's ready to read them.
Naturally, Madelyn’s room needed to have lots of books. The bottom shelves are filled with children’s books. I organized the other books accordingly. The classics, for instance, are on the middle shelf; I figured she’d be about that height once she’s ready to read them. Also note the cart of diapers and the Diaper Genie; we’re mentally preparing for lots of diaper changes!
The shelves are decorated with sentimental trinkets. The "M" is made out of a book and is a souvenir I bought when Troy and I went on our "babymoon" to St. Augustine in October. The fairy is a gift that my mom bought for my maternal grandmother years ago. My grandma gave it to me a couple years ago. The stuffed elephant is holding onto a silver cup that holds some of Troy's baby spoons. And the Precious Moments figurines are mine from when I was a child.
The shelves are decorated with sentimental trinkets. The “M” is made out of a book and is a souvenir I bought when Troy and I went on our “babymoon” to St. Augustine in October. The fairy is a gift that my mom bought for my maternal grandmother years ago. My grandma gave it to me after my mom passed away. The stuffed elephant is holding onto a silver cup that holds some of Troy’s baby spoons. And the Precious Moments figurines in the right-hand corner are mine from when I was a child.
This shelf has a framed Jane Austen quote, a crane and butterfly (I've always loved cranes and butterflies), a tiny ladybug my dad bought me last year for good luck, a photo of Madelyn at 18 weeks, and a nightlight that my dad and stepmom bought for Madelyn.
This shelf has a framed Jane Austen quote; a crane and butterfly (I’ve always loved cranes and butterflies); a tiny ladybug my dad bought me in Boston after my paternal grandma passed away earlier this year (we’ve always believed ladybugs are good luck); a photo of Madelyn at 18 weeks; and a nightlight that my dad and stepmom bought.
There are lots of toys we still need to put together. They're in the closet for now, along with Madelyn's adorable clothes.
There are lots of toys we still need to put together. They’re in the closet for now, along with Madelyn’s adorable clothes.
A dresser drawer filled with cute socks and bibs.
A dresser drawer filled with cute socks and bibs.
A collage of prints in Madelyn's nursery. I'm a sucker for quotes, especially literary ones and ones geared toward women!
A collage of prints in Madelyn’s nursery. I’m a sucker for quotes, especially literary ones.

I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude as I look through these photos; we are lucky to have a room for Madelyn and to be able to make it so special for her. I hope she enjoys it as much as her parents do!

Learning to develop the ’empathy reflex’ as a parent

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When you’re pregnant, your brain plays tricks on you. I’ve had my fair share of “pregnancy brain” moments and have been curious as to why pregnancy causes women to be more forgetful and absentminded than usual. The related research I’ve read has helped me realize that pregnancy brain is a real (and normal) symptom. It has also taught me the importance of empathy in parenthood.

When you’re pregnant, a surge in hormones affects neurons in the brain, grey matter increases, and your spatial memory gets altered. As a result, you become more forgetful and distracted.

“It’s not reasonable to think that a woman could go through all the hormonal and physical changes of pregnancy and not have it affect her brain just as it affects her body,” neurologist Louann Brizendine and author of “The Female Brainrecently told TIME Magazine. The article went on to make another important point: “At the same time … a pregnant woman’s brain doesn’t become somehow deficient or less capable.”

Despite the less appealing neurological changes, the brain also undergoes changes that better prepare women for motherhood. Regions of the brain that control empathy, for instance, experience an increase in activity during pregnancy.

I tend to experience empathy the most when I’m with my husband Troy. Earlier this year when we were on a trip in North Carolina, Troy thought it would be fun to touch an electric fence at a goat farm we were visiting. The inquisitive daredevil that he is, he wanted to see what would happen. As he touched it, I experienced what felt like a shock run through my body. Troy didn’t get shocked, but my body nonetheless reacted as though he had. When he’s ostensibly in pain, I feel that pain. When he’s happy, angry, frustrated, I feel those emotions too.

I have no doubt this empathy will carry over into my role as a mom. In the book, “Brain Rules for Baby,” author John Medina encourages parents to embrace what he calls the “empathy reflex.” Rather than jumping to conclusions about why someone is doing something, he says, try to imagine what they must be feeling in that moment. Medina encourages couples to develop the empathy reflex amongst themselves so that they can embrace it once they’re parents.

“The most common source of conflicts is the gap between a person’s unknowable intentions and observable behavior,” Medina writes. “That gap can be bridged by empathy.”

So how do you develop an empathy reflex as a parent? It takes practice. One way to start (so I’m told) is to try to understand what your child must be thinking and experiencing so that you can better understand her actions. Kids often throw tantrums because they’re feeling a certain way and they don’t know how to verbalize it. As parents, you can label the feeling for your children and, in doing so, teach them to acknowledge their feelings.

So, say for instance your 2-year-old daughter is sobbing because she wants her favorite teddy bear but can’t have him because you’re out running errands. Instead of yelling at her to stop crying, it’s better to say something like: “I know you must really want your Teddy, and you’re probably feeling frustrated that you can’t play with him. I wish I could give you Teddy right now, but I can’t. We’ll be home soon enough and you can cuddle with him then.”

Empathizing with your child calms them down, Medina says, because it signals that you understand and that you care. Medina has found that parents who empathize with their children and who have a “demanding but warm” parenting style raise happier kids.

You don’t need to have all the answers to empathize with your child; you just have to try to understand them. I’m guessing you need a fair dose of patience, too.

I’m sure there will be times when I lose my patience and when the empathy reflex will be the last thing on my mind. I’m going to try my best, though, to embrace empathy and equanimity — and to approach motherhood as an invitation to me my best, imperfect self.

Taking a break from running during pregnancy

Earlier this year I ran my first marathon. Now I probably couldn’t even run a mile. It’s been seven months since I last ran – the longest stretch I’ve gone without running in 15 years. Running has always been an integral part of my adult life. It’s been my outlet for stress, my connection to the outdoors, my time to reflect.

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Feeling strong during my marathon at Walt Disney World earlier this year.

Soon after I found out I was pregnant, I tried to go running. Something about it didn’t feel right, though. Maybe it was my first trimester nausea or my motherly instinct already kicking in and telling me to slow down, to stop sprinting through life.

Early on, I realized I was embarking on a new marathon of sorts, a nine-month one that would push my body and mind in ways they had never been pushed before.

I’m seven months pregnant and people still ask me, “Are you continuing to run?” I’m often surprised by the question, especially when I look down and see my growing belly — a protrusion that sometimes makes it difficult to walk, let alone run.

“No,” I tell them matter-of-factly. “I haven’t really run at all during my pregnancy. It just never felt right.” Surprisingly, I haven’t felt any shame or guilt when admitting this. I thought I would, given my tendency to cling to my identify as a runner, a marathoner.

I think I'll be eager to return to running after Madelyn's born. Already looking forward to using my new BOB jogging stroller!
I think I’ll be eager to return to running after Madelyn is born. My aunt and uncle bought me a BOB jogging stroller, which I can’t wait to use around St. Pete.

Pregnancy has been an ongoing lesson in learning how to be more gentle and patient with myself. Instead of running, I’ve been walking, swimming, and taking prenatal yoga classes. Exercising every day helps me maintain part of my routine in the midst of so many physical and emotional changes.

Sometimes, I get frustrated during prenatal yoga. It’s a flow class, so the instructor keeps us moving throughout the entire 75 minutes, with the exception of a few minutes at the beginning and the end.

Some nights, my belly feels huge, my body heavy.

Another downward dog??? I’ll think to myself after the 10th one in class.

I don’t want to bend down and touch my toes again; my belly won’t let me.   

Is it shavasana time yet? 

Despite my frustrations, I’ve been thinking a lot about how yoga and pregnancy have helped me to become more accepting of my body’s limitations. I’ve learned to embrace modified poses, realizing I don’t have to fuel my ego and my competitive side by always doing the fullest expression of every pose.

Madelyn seems to like yoga; she kicks a lot after each class.
Madelyn seems to like yoga; she kicks a lot after each class.

So what if my dancer pose isn’t quite as graceful as it used to be? Or if my tree pose is a bit lopsided? Instead of lamenting my imperfect, sometimes wobbly poses, I’ve embraced other ones. During every class, I channel my inner goddess, warrior, and happy baby.

I’ve sunken into child’s pose, not with guilt but with gratitude for a pose that gives me a temporary reprieve. I’ve also challenged my body, doing poses that strengthen my arms, my legs, and my pelvic floor (a body part that becomes a greater part of your vocabulary when you’re pregnant!)

“Breathe into the discomfort,” my yoga teacher says, reminding me that discomfort is not the same as pain. I know that in two short months, I’ll have to breathe into a lot of discomfort during labor and push through pain.

I’m almost 30 weeks into my pregnancy and I wonder how much longer I’ll be able to go to yoga. I plan to go for as long as I can, so long as I feel safe and (mostly) comfortable. Everything I’m doing now is preparation for the big day.

This nine-month marathon is challenging, but it’s the most rewarding physical endeavor I’ve ever endured. The finish line is getting closer, and I’m walking toward it with more excitement each day. 

We can't wait to meet Madelyn!
Troy has always been my cheerleader during my races. That’s now the case more than ever during this nine-month marathon. This isn’t the best quality photo, but I love how happy we look in it.

In the wake of tragedy, the hardest question to answer is ‘Why?’

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As a child, I was always in search of answers. I was curious about the world around me and my favorite word was probably “why.”

Aware of my inquisitive nature, my mom bought me a series of books titled “Tell Me Why: Answers to Hundreds of Questions Children Ask.” I recently flipped through the books, which are now sitting on the bookshelf in Madelyn’s nursery, and saw dozens of questions popping off the pages.

Who invented the pencil?

What caused the Tower of Pisa to lean?

When did people start cutting their hair?

Where did dolls originate?

Why was the Great Wall of China built?

How can a snake move without legs?

I loved finding answers in books as a child. But there came a time when I realized that my mom and dad didn’t have all the answers, and that some questions will always remain answerless. Why? is no doubt the hardest question to answer, especially in the wake of tragedies like the terror attacks in Paris.

I try to live in the present, but I often think ahead to the future, anticipating what’s to come. I wonder how I’ll answer the tougher questions Madelyn will ask me — about why people die and where they go after, whether the world ends, why people with different colored skin don’t always get along, why people would want to hurt one another.

Sometimes the best answer is “I don’t know.”

What I do know is that most people in this world are inherently good — a message I’ll try to relay to Madelyn. I hope to teach her about the the everyday people who commit small unnoticed acts of kindness, not violence. I know I won’t be able to shield her from tragedy and trauma, but I’ll teach her what it means to develop strength in the face of weakness, to become resilient in the aftermath of hardships.

In the wake of the attacks in Paris, I’m reminded of a Mr. Rogers quote I’ve always loved:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

Someday, I’ll read Madelyn this quote and will encourage her to look for the helpers in the world. They’re there, I’ll tell her, even if it feels like they’re sometimes playing hide and go seek. And even though I won’t be able to answer all her questions, I’ll let her know that mom and dad will always do their very best to make her feel loved, to keep her safe.

 

Three months to go before Baby Madelyn arrives

27weeks

Today marks the beginning of week 27, also known as the start of the third trimester! (Some measure the start of the third trimester at week 28, but I’m sticking with week 27.)

With each passing week, I feel more confident about Baby Madelyn’s health. She is at the age of viability, meaning survival outside the womb would be possible. At 27 weeks, she’s the size of a rutabaga, or a bunch of bananas. She’s about 14 inches long and a little over 2 pounds.

Her tiny lungs are developing, and she’s practicing breathing by taking in amniotic fluid. She has just started opening her eyes at this stage, and her eyelashes have formed. Her brain is rapidly developing, too, and will nearly triple in weight during the third trimester. (Can you tell I’ve been reading a lot about her development?)

I recently finished the book “Brain Rules for Baby” by molecular biologist John Medina. It’s a fascinating read that’s filled with scientific research and practical advice about how to provide the best environment for your baby’s brain development, inside the womb and after birth. (Here is a roundup of related tips.) It’s a pretty easy read, so I’d recommend the full book. It’s the one baby book I’m encouraging my husband Troy to read.

Thinking about Madelyn’s brain development and growth motivates me on days when fatigue follows me around like a shadow, and when my protruding belly makes it uncomfortable to walk, sleep, or eat a hearty meal. Despite these and other not-so-fun symptoms, I’ve loved being pregnant and haven’t had too many aches and pains. (We’ll see how I feel at the end of the third trimester…)

My desire to have a healthy baby motivates me to make better choices — about how much rest I get, what I put into my body, and how much I work. I still have to watch my stress levels, and I need to make a conscious effort every day to not let weight gain distort my body image or my relationship with food. But overall, I’m amazed by how my pregnancy has helped me to be healthier and happier. It has also helped bring me and Troy even closer together.

“We’re going to be parents … eeeeek!” is a common refrain in the Tarpley household these days. I’ve always wanted to be a mom, now more so than ever. I recently learned that I’ll be able to take 11 weeks of maternity leave once Madelyn arrives. I love knowing that I’ll have so much time to focus on my daughter — to care for her, to get to know her. Until then, I’ll keep playing her music, reading to her, and patting my belly when she turns it into a punching bag.

Less than three months to go, my little one…

10 things I’ve learned during my pregnancy

Troy and I on our recent BabyMoon -- a honeymoon of sorts before Madelyn arrives.
Troy and I on our recent Babymoon — a weekend getaway trip before Madelyn arrives. It was one of our only free weekends before Madelyn’s due date, so we took advantage of our time together. We stayed at an adorable B&B, explored the various historic sites in St. Augustine, had good convos, and ate lots of tasty food. 

Pregnancy has taught me a lot — about my body, self-care, and the early stages of mother-daughter bonds. I could easily think of 50+ pregnancy lessons, but I’ve narrowed it down to a Top 10 list…

1. The human body is pretty remarkable.

Pregnancy is so common, and yet it seems so miraculous. I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the changes that are happening in my body, and I love reading about Madelyn’s ongoing development. Over the past 18 weeks since finding out I was pregnant, Madelyn has grown from the size of a peppercorn to the size of a cantaloupe! In thinking about my baby’s development, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for what it takes to grow a baby inside of you. You realize that every choice you make about how you treat your body and what you put in it is not just a choice for you but a choice for two.

2. Babies are a beautiful motivator to listen to your body.

Just months after my mom died of breast cancer when I was 11, I developed anorexia. I underwent hospitalizations, residential treatment, and years of therapy, and I made tremendous progress throughout the years. But for all of my adult life, I continued to struggle with disordered eating habits, often yo-yoing between restricting, binging, and exercising obsessively. At various times, I would temporarily split up with my eating disorder – most recently while training for my first marathon earlier this year. It wasn’t until I realized that I was going to become a mom that I finally decided to sign the divorce papers. The fear of passing on disordered eating habits to Madelyn was enough to scare me into healthier eating behaviors – for both Madelyn and myself. It hasn’t always been easy. I’ve had a few slip-up days, and the weight gain sometimes gets to me, but I’m making meaningful progress. All those baby steps I’ve taken throughout the years have mattered.

One night after a long day away from home without access to good food, I got back to my hotel and ordered a whole pizza for myself. (I ate it all.)
One night after a long day away from home without access to good food, I got back to my hotel and ordered a whole pizza for myself. (I ate it all and I’m ok with that.)

3. The word “hangry” is suddenly a lot more relatable.

I used to think “hangry” was simply a fun word to say. Since becoming pregnant, it has taken on a whole new meaning.  To fend off nausea in the first trimester, I started eating every three to four hours – a schedule I’ve maintained throughout my pregnancy. When I don’t eat enough, because I’m traveling or in a situation where I don’t have easy access to food, I get irritable, agitated, and cranky.  Now, I bring lots of snacks with me wherever I go.  (Granola bars and individual packets of Trader Joe’s trail mix are key!)

4. Pregnancy can make you really clumsy. 

It’s not a myth. Pregnancy hormones loosen your ligaments and joints and can cause you to retain extra fluids, making you more apt to drop things. I’ve dropped a lot, including my phone. The screen shattered in dozens of pieces, to the point where I was getting shards of glass in my finger when I tried to swipe it. I ended up having to get a new phone. I’ve also dropped a lot of food – on my shirt. Stain removals have come in very handy lately.

5. Pregnancy can make you a lot more nurturing.

I seem to see babies and children everywhere these days. Of course, they were always there, but I didn’t pay as much attention to them before. When I hear a baby cry, my ears perk up. Even when my cat meows, I want to pick her up — something I didn’t do as much in the past. When I see a child ostensibly in need of something, my nurturing tendencies kick into high gear. While in Portland, Oregon, recently, I saw a little boy walking around the street shirtless in 55-degree weather and immediately thought about how cold he must have been. He needs a sweater! Where is his mom? Is he ok? He soon after went into a store, where I hoped he’d find warmth.

Here I am trying to take a nap after some encouragement from Troy (and Clara).
Here I am trying (emphasis on trying) to take a nap after some encouragement from Troy (and Clara the cat). I’m not a very good napper…

6. You’ll never again take a good night’s sleep for granted.

The majority of pregnant women have trouble sleeping. I can’t help but think it’s the body’s way of preparing us for life with a newborn. I’ve always slept on my back, which is unfortunately discouraged during pregnancy. You’re supposed to sleep on your side to help increase blood flow to your baby, so I’ve been trying to fall — and stay — asleep in the fetal position. I inevitably end up tossing and turning a lot, and I always have to get up to go to the bathroom. I seem to wake up even more throughout the night when I’m traveling, which I’ve done a lot lately. I always look forward to returning to my own bed — and my funny-looking but oh-so-comfy Snoogle pillow.

7. You’ve got to make time for self-care.

I realize that once Madelyn is born, I won’t have much, if any, time for myself. So I’ve tried to carve out time for guilt-free pampering. I recently got a manicure (with natural nail polish, to ease my fears about the chemicals in regular nail polish); and I got a haircut (with highlights, after my OB convinced me that getting highlights is ok). I also treat myself each week to prenatal yoga – a class that helps me maintain my physical strength and gives me an opportunity to meditate in the company of other moms-to-be. I’ve been wanting to get a prenatal massage for months but keep putting it off. Sometime in the next month, I’ll get one. It’s hard to make self-care a priority; I’m at least trying to make it less of an afterthought.

I think it's important to challenge yourself, too. During our Babymoon, Troy and I climbed one of the tallest lighthouses in the U.S. 216 steps up a winding staircase, I started to worry about falling and became really emotional. Pregnancy hormones are weird little buggers. I pushed through the tears and fears and kept climbing. Here we are, together at the top.
I think it’s important to challenge yourself, too. During our babymoon in St. Augustine, Troy and I climbed one of the tallest lighthouses in the U.S. As we ascended 216 steps up a winding staircase, I started to worry about falling and became really emotional. Pregnancy hormones are weird little buggers. With Troy’s support, I pushed through the tears and fears and kept climbing. I’m glad I did. Here we are, together at the top.

8. You develop a secret language of sorts.

A couple years ago, I was in charge of writing down all the gifts that my friend got during her baby shower. Several times, I had to ask the mom next to me: “What was that thing called again?! A boopie? A snoopie?”

I now know about all sorts of baby products: Boppies. Snoogles. The Bob Revolution Flex. ErgoBaby. Moby Wraps. Boba WrapsDiaper Genies. Snotsuckers. I can casually mention these words in conversation with other pregnant women and they won’t flinch. We’re part of a “discourse community,” a fancy scholarly term for language clubs. I’ve found that I increasingly gravitate toward women who speak my newfound language – other moms and moms-to-be who understand and share my interest in talking about pregnancy and parenting.

Shorter hair, growing belly at 24 weeks.
Shorter hair, growing belly at 24 weeks.

9. From the moment you find out you’re pregnant, you form a bond with your unborn baby.

I find myself talking to Madelyn at various points throughout the day. Since she can now hear sounds in the womb, I play baby lullabies for her and read her books. (I love having an excuse to buy and read children’s books!) Studies have shown that babies who are read a specific book while in the womb will suck their pacifiers harder when they’re read the same book as a newborn. It’s a clear sign of recognition, researchers say.

Every night I read Madelyn the same book, “The Wonderful Things You Will Be,” by Emily Winfield Martin. The narrator is a parent telling a child that she will love and support her no matter where life takes her. “I’ll look at you and you’ll look at me, and I’ll love you, whoever you’ve grown up to be,” the narrator says in the book’s closing line. 

With every song I play and every book I read to Madelyn, I feel like I’m strengthening my bond with her. I like “introducing” her to others, too, especially when giving work-related talks. “I’m Mallary, and this is Baby Madelyn,” I’ll say, cupping my belly. The audience usually smiles and laughs, and I immediately feel more at ease. I silently tell myself and Madelyn, (“we can do this!”) and that confidence carries me through. 

10. Even when you’re by yourself, you’re never really alone.

As much as I love traveling and having time to myself, I don’t like being away from Troy. I get lonely when flying solo and hanging out in hotel rooms by myself at night. When it’s late and it seems like the whole world is asleep, I divert my attention to Madelyn. I’ll look down at my bulging belly and remember the life that’s emerging inside. Sometimes when I need it most, I’ll feel a kick from within. I pretend the kicks are Madelyn’s silent way of saying, “Hello! I’m still here! Love you!”

I didn’t think you could love someone you never met, but above all else pregnancy has taught me it’s possible.

Highlights from Madelyn’s first baby shower

Gratitude. That’s the one word that keeps coming to mind as I think about the baby shower my mother-in-law threw for me and Troy in Texas last weekend. Everyone showered us with gifts, well wishes, and encouragement.

With each gift we opened, I got excited for Madelyn and thought about how lucky she will be — to be born into a supportive family, to have adorable clothes to wear, to have toys to play with and blankets to snuggle with. To be loved.

Troy and I will be lucky, too, to have Madelyn in our lives. I’ve been soaking up as much knowledge as I can leading up to her arrival. I’ve been reading books about pregnancy, labor, infant care, breastfeeding, and more. I realize, though, that for as much as I read, I still won’t have all the answers. There will be a lot of on-the-job training, a lot of learning by doing.

To help us out, my mother-in-law asked our family and friends at the shower to partner up and write down parenting tips. Part funny, part practical, the tips had me nodding my head in agreement. I know some parents-to-be get annoyed when people give them advice; I like hearing it, though, keeping in mind that I don’t have to heed it all! Here is some of the hand-written advice that family shared with us:

  • “Make noise all the time so Madelyn doesn’t need deep silence to sleep!”
  • “Remember, babies are very resilient. You will survive your caring parenting. Enjoy every moment; it goes so fast!”
  • “Take a little time each day just for yourself.”
  • “Get the baby on a schedule, but don’t force it until at least six weeks. Then chill.”
  • “Move next door to your mother-in-law.”
  • “Go to the park every day; it’s good therapy for you and good activity for kids.”
  • “Make sure you write down the stories or funny things she does. Right away. Before she’s born, write down your experiences during pregnancy.” (I’ve already started doing this!)
  • “Whenever she falls off the changing table, it’s ok!” (Um, we’re planning to avoid this at all costs!)
  • “SLEEP!” Whenever and as often as you can!!!”

Here are some snapshots from the shower. (Thanks to Troy’s Aunt Mary for capturing them!)

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Madelyn’s first (chocolate and caramel) cake!
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Lots of colorful presents.
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Troy’s mother-in-law’s friend, who we’ve never met, knitted Madelyn two blankets and a hat. So thoughtful!
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Naturally, a family friend bought Madelyn a Texas lone star bib.
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Still can’t get over the cuteness of baby girl clothes.
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Troy will have fun reading this Jimmy Fallon book to Madelyn.

We’re thankful for the shower (which is number one of three!) and are looking forward to celebrating with more friends and family in Florida and Massachusetts later this fall.