How I Survived Postpartum Depression

Let’s be honest. Being a mom is hard. Being a person is hard. Sometimes it’s hard just to “be”. Period.

I am not perfect. I am not happy all of the time. Sometimes I even totally lose my shit…but you might not know that about me because I have a tendency to mostly share just the positive…because that’s what we do. We celebrate what we’re proud of, and we sweep the rest under the rug.

I was at a MOPS meeting the other day and felt such a profound connection with all of the women there as we started sharing stories of postpartum depression. To be honest, I was completely floored when I heard story after story that kept sounding like my story, and as I looked around the room, I noticed not just a room full of tears, but a room full of love and support. It made me realize that none of us really have the answers, but by sharing our stories, we feel connected, we feel like we’re not alone, and it made me feel, well…ok, almost normal even.

The bottom line is that it made me want to share my story. I have tried to write this blog for a long time, but I could never find the right words, and then I realized, there are no right words. There are just words – words that come together to form a story, and that’s what I’m going to do now; I’m going to share my story. Just know that yes, I’m happy now, and I’ll share that part of the journey too, but first I want to take you to some of the darkest moments I’ve ever experienced in my entire life.

Postpartum Depression Round #2

About 9 months ago (when Julian was 13 months old, Ophelia was 2, Elliot was 4, and Ruby was 6), I started writing a blog called, “I’m Choosing to be Happy Today”, as way to work through some of the depression that I was feeling. But while everything I was writing was completely real, raw, and full of emotion, there was no happy ending, and so I had to put it aside until things weren’t so bleak.

Now that I’ve been able to crawl out of the depths of postpartum depression (for the second time), I think I’m finally ready to share my story.

It was the middle of winter and yet another cold and flu season was upon us when I noticed a little bit of spotting, and then a bit more, and pretty soon, I was experiencing the first period I’ve had since…gosh, I don’t even know how long! (4 births in 6 years…hello!) My mom warned me about fluctuating hormones, but I brushed her warning away thinking,

“I’m too tough to get emotional. I’ll be okay.”

At the same time as I got my period, it seemed like my milk was drying up. Julian was up to feed in the night just about every hour, and he would get really rough, pulling on my nipple, hitting me with his arms, and flailing his legs. (On a side note, I think this is what led to my nursing aversion.) When he woke up with a practically dry diaper after an all night nursing marathon, I knew that it was the beginning of the end of our breastfeeding relationship.

This made me so sad – desperately sad. The only way he would go to sleep was with me nursing him, and even though he ate food with us at every meal, I never really had to worry about how much he ate because he would just nurse him all. the. time. (In hindsight, I wish I would have started this bedtime routine with him a little sooner.)

The thought of not being able to breastfeed Julian anymore, the ongoing lack of sleep, the constant busyness and business of our daily lives, feeling overwhelmed and constantly behind, and now these hormonal changes with the onset of my period absolutely turned my head upside down. It was a gradual change for sure, but one day, it felt like a switch had been flipped. Everything that used to make me happy was suddenly driving me bat-shit crazy.

The way that everyone needed me every single moment of every single day made me want to run and hide. I felt like a failure, a loser, and a fraud. I started fantasizing about going back to work and putting them all in day care. I just didn’t feel like I could handle it for one minute more…and then I remembered feeling this same way when Elliot started to wean. I tried hard to pinpoint why I was feeling this way. Was having two little ones 2 and under just too much for me to handle? Did I need to work on creating more of a balance in my life? Did I need more things just for me? I just couldn’t figure it out.

Usually, I’m pretty good about seeing what I’m doing well and planning new areas of growth for my future, but with everything going on…

My self-doubt started to outweigh my self-worth.

I started feeling like I was failing everyone. I started feeling like I was doing everything wrong. I started feeling like I wanted to quit being a mother. I started feeling like I wanted to find someone more capable to take care of my kids and just get a job where I knew I would be able to succeed (as if that would be so much easier).

Whenever I would hear the little voice of self-doubt in my head, the one that said, “You’re not good enough. You are a fat, frumpy, disheveled mess. You are a failure.”

I would scream, “NO!” and I would try to quiet that little voice and instead look at my sweet little darlings, and I would choose to be happy.

I felt like I was at the edge of a precipice and could go either way. With one more little negative event or thought, I knew that I would tumble into the abyss of sadness, but with every conscious choice placing me into the world of “happy”, I saved myself from that doomed path.

Then one day, I woke up, looked in the mirror, and noticed a giant zit on my chin. That was it. It was the zit that broke the camel’s back so to speak. Everything came crashing down around me, and all of those little walls of happiness that I had worked so hard to build suddenly came crashing down.

I tried to choose to be happy again like I did before, but I just couldn’t. Every little thing was making me cry, and I felt like a complete and utter failure.

Usually, I have a long list of things that make me happy – things like making a healthy meal from scratch, cleaning out and organizing a drawer or cupboard, designing a new learning activity, cuddling up and reading with one of the kids, getting the house clean and organized, writing, or researching a new blog topic,- but no matter how many times I went through the motions, NONE of these things were making me happy.

And then I couldn’t even go through the motions.

I would find myself just sitting there on the floor, looking out the window with a blank stare while the kids played around me, feeling like I was in a fog, and like I could just start bawling at any second.

When my husband came home for lunch one day and didn’t say the right thing, I snapped. I got angry and told him to LEAVE. We fought via texts until he came home hours later, and I just bawled about all of the things that were making me sad.

He was very kind and supportive, but he said,

“It doesn’t make any sense. None of these things were making you depressed a few weeks ago. Where else could this be coming from?”

Those words really struck me because he was right. I didn’t have a reason to be depressed. My life was good, and I was surrounded by things that should make me happy. Why couldn’t I see that? Why couldn’t I feel that? And of course…that just made me even more depressed.

But I kept thinking over and over again about choosing to be happy. And even as the tendrils of depression tried to reach out and pull me into oblivion, I kept thinking, “NO! YOU’RE NOT TAKING ME!!!”

I tried thinking about all of the things that were spiraling me into depression in a positive way, and so instead of thinking, “When will Julian ever sleep through the night?” I started thinking about his sweet little smile, the feel of his body tucked into mine, and how I was the only one who could comfort him at night.

That evening, I cracked a beer, slipped into a warm bath, and just thought about all that was good in my life. Then I pulled my daughter Ophelia into the bath with me. She was so happy to pour water and to “swim” in our sitting Jacuzzi tub. I looked at her face, really looked, and noticed how she was happier than ever just by being with me. She didn’t need any special activities or toys, she just needed me.

The more I started to think about how I was enough, how just the mere existence of me was enough to nourish and sustain all of my children, I could feel the veil of sadness begin to lift.

Where before every thought had been in a muddled in a fog of sadness, suddenly everything started to look so clear, so simple, so…attainable. And just like that, I felt my breasts fill up with milk. I almost wept with tears of joy! It was almost like all of my worry, self-doubt, and depression had inhibited my milk supply. I was overjoyed to feel my milk let down as Julian nursed hungrily. In the times of nursing him after that, I noticed that if I wasn’t present in the moment, I couldn’t make any milk, but as I became aware of his warm body, his sweet eyes looking up at me, and my love for him, I could feel that old familiar fullness of milk.

And that was that. It wasn’t a long list of things that helped me to lift my head up, it was a moment. I forgot about my insecurities, my fears, the future, and my past, and just really and truly tried living in that moment. Noticing the smells, the sounds, the textures, the sensations…just being in the moment…it was my life preserver.

Now, it wasn’t a completely magical fix after that. I still felt like I was at the bottom of a deep dark well, but it was like the sun finally came out and illuminated a step that I never noticed before. Every day, I worked hard to see the sunshine at the top of the well and the light that illuminated the way, and brick by brick, I found a way to climb out.

Postpartum Depression Round #1

Now, before I delve more into what helped me come out of my postpartum depression for good, I want to step back in time to my first experience with postpartum depression because this was truly my darkest time, and I never even thought that this could be connected to postpartum depression until my experience after Julian.

Before we had children, I loved being a teacher, and I mean LOVED it. After I got my Master’s degree in Linguistics, we were blessed with our first child, and the year after that I landed my dream job as an ESL coach working with teachers to help make input more comprehensible for English language learners. Little did I know, however, that I was pregnant again. After only one year on the job, I knew that I just couldn’t leave my sweet babes in daycare anymore, and so I quit my job to be a stay at home mom. (Read more about that story here.) We decided to move back to our home state, lived with my parents for 8 months, and then finally moved into a rented house in the city (which we would later come to find out was a pretty rough neighborhood) while my husband worked over an hour away.

Instead of feeling like we had made it, I felt completely lost. Who was I? How would I fill my days? And what was there to stimulate me besides poopy diapers and preschool activities???

I mean sure, I was loving being home with my little ones and really enjoyed challenging them with creative learning opportunities, but I started to get depressed…and I mean REALLY depressed. I thought that by moving “back home” we would be surrounded by the positive support of friends and family, but what they had to give just wasn’t enough to fill the deep whole in my heart. I longed for adult interaction and the need to be challenged intellectually, I wanted to own a house in the country, I wanted a good friend group, I wished my husband worked closer to us, I felt like I was missing so many parts of me…and then, just like with Julian, my period returned, my milk started drying up, and I started slipping into a really really deep and dark state of depression.

Because it was so long after giving birth, I never thought of it as “postpartum depression” or even “depression”. (I think technically it’s called postpartum distress syndrome.) All I know is that I would cry…a lot. I would check the mail ten times a day hoping for something exciting to happen. I felt listless, restless, lost, and worst of all…empty. I hated that I couldn’t lose the last 10 pounds of belly fat, and I hated how I looked in the mirror. I used to have all of these dreams and aspirations, but then, I felt like I had nothing, and then I would feel so GUILTY! I mean, I was able to be home with my two golden treasures, wasn’t that enough? I got to cuddle them, read to them, take them to play groups, build forts with them, go to the library for story hour, put them down for naps, feed them healthy food, and just BE with them.

But it wasn’t enough. I didn’t feel whole, or complete, or even like me really.

Then one night, my husband and I got into a HUGE fight that ended up with him driving away. I wasn’t sure if he would come ever back because he’s usually never the one to leave. I was so relieved when several hours later he came back. We were finally able to talk without screaming, and we decided that we didn’t want to end our marriage. I also knew that I wanted to find happiness as a stay at home mom, and so that’s what we set out to do. It wasn’t always easy, but we just took things one day at a time.

After that conversation, I started discovering the new me. I read Nourishing Traditions like it was my Bible, got really into feeding my family healthy food, I started working out and eating a better diet, we found out we were pregnant again, we moved one mile away from my husband’s work to a beautiful home in a safe neighborhood where he could come home for lunch every day, and I started my blog about embracing the new me…embracing motherhood. After Ophelia was born, I was prepared. I encapsulated my placenta into pills and started taking them after she was born. Whenever I felt the first signs of depression, I would take a pill, and I would immediately start to feel better.

Now, as you know, postpartum depression did find me again after our fourth child, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the first time, and somehow, I found my way out of it once again.

What is Postpartum Depression?

After going through all of this, I started to realize that it was more than just a choice of being happy or not. Yes, that was a battle going on in my mind, and yes all of the chaos of my life made me more susceptible to depression, but there was something going on with my hormones that made it the perfect storm.

When you’re pregnant, your body produces extraordinary amounts of estrogen and progesterone to help you grow your new baby. The moment the placenta leaves your body, however, estrogen and progesterone return to pre-pregnancy levels. This hormone crash is why up to 80% of women feel the “baby blues” in the first few weeks after pregnancy. About 10% of women will suffer from a more severe form of the “baby blues” in the first year, and this is what is known as postpartum depression (PPD). After the baby is a year old, postpartum depression is actually called postpartum distress syndrome (PPDS), but is still primarily related to fluctuating hormones. A more serious form of postpartum depression is postpartum psychosis (PPP) in which the mother may suffer hallucinations, thoughts of suicide, and thoughts of harming the baby. This is more related to a bi-polar disorder and should be treated immediately.

The reason why postpartum depression can affect mothers so long after birth is because many of the hormones present during pregnancy still remain afterwards. Relaxin, for example, takes about 5 months to leave, which is why you are more prone to sprains at that time, and prolactin, that hormone that produces milk, will stay present during the entire phase of nursing. Proloctin is also what suppresses the production of the fertility hormones estrogen and progesterone (which prevents ovulation and menstruation). Once the baby starts to nurse less, estrogen and progesterone levels will increase, ovulation will resume, and the menstrual cycle will return. If there is an imbalance with these hormones and there is too much progesterone, anxiety can occur, and if there is too much estrogen, depression can occur.

The bottom line here is that after you have a baby and when your period returns, your hormones can get out of whack and make you feel crazy, especially if you already have a history of depression.

Tips for Overcoming Postpartum Depression

These are the tips that have helped me to completely pull away from postpartum depression, or postpartum distress syndrome, or just plain old depression, or whatever the heck you want to call it.

  1. Find happiness in the moments. At first, you just have to find the happy moments…the moments that make life worth living, the moments that make you smile, and the moments that make you see that being on this earth is where you need to be. After awhile, you can find the happy days, and then the happy weeks, and eventually they will lead to happy years and a happy lifetime, but you have to start small. Baby steps. Find the happy moments first.
  2. Build a support system. Talking with other women who have experienced the same thing is so valuable, and something I simply can’t even express enough. Now, if you talk to someone about what you’re going through, and instead of listening to you, they try to “fix” you and tell you all of the things that you “should be doing”, RUN! You need to find someone, anyone, who can just listen to you and let you talk about every feeling you have, every thought, and every idea without judgement, and without trying to fix you. All they need to do is listen. Sometimes, the best option might be to speak to a therapist or psychiatrist about what you’re going through.
  3. Know that the cause of (and the solution to) your depression lies within. Does it seem like your husband, your kids, your job, your appearance, etc. are all contributing to your depression? If you fall into this trap of thinking, it can make you think that if you leave these things, then your depression will simply end, but it’s not that simple. The way you perceive the world and interact with the world is controlled by you and only you.
  4. Have open and honest communication with your significant other. My husband has been there with me through the good times and the bad, and through it all, I have learned that he cannot read my mind, he cannot always pick up on subtle clues to figure out what I am thinking and feeling, and that I need to share my feelings openly and honestly on a regular basis. If I bottle things up, they will eventually explode, but when I share my feelings often, it helps me to figure out why I’m feeling what I’m feeling, and that’s what open communication is all about.
  5. Feed your intellectual adult brain. Yes, being a stay at home mom is a very rewarding, thrilling, and amazing experience, but I needed something to stimulate my adult brain too. By creating a reading system for young children and blogging, I feel like I have an outlet, a voice, and a form of expression. It continuously motivates me to research, learn, stretch myself, and grow.
  6. Accomplish something. Sometimes you need to see something checked off a list that isn’t part of your daily routine. For example, once I found my niche of blogging and creating a reading program for young children, I have continuously needed to see myself making progress in order to be happy. Sometimes, I need to complete something as small as making a list of blog ideas in One Note, collecting some research based articles online, drafting an outline for a blog, or perfecting the rough draft of a flashcard sketch. But whatever it is, I need to feel like I’m moving forward.
  7. Know that sometimes you might need a life preserver. Have you ever physically felt what it’s like to drown before? I have. When we lived in Colorado, we stupidly went tubing down a river that was full of spring rain with no life jackets and cheap little inner tubes. As I went over a mini rapid, my tubed slipped out from underneath me, and I was immediately pushed to the bottom of the river by the very powerful pressure of the rapid. I tried desperately to reach for the surface, but it was so so hard, and I thought, “This is it”. I could feel myself slipping, ready to let go. I could literally see my life flashing before my eyes, and suddenly I thought, “NO!!! I’M NOT READY TO DIE!!!” With every last bit of strength, I reached for the surface, and as if by some miracle, my hand latched onto something. It was a kayaker, my guardian angel, there to save me. As my head exploded to the surface, arms flailing and mouth gasping for breath, he yelled at me to STOP panicking, to hold on, and to kick my legs. When he brought me to shore and then disappeared down the river as if he were some sort of apparition, I felt as though I had been given a second chance at life. That story is pretty much the best analogy I can think of to describe depression. When you’re in the depths of depression, it literally feels like you’re drowning, and sometimes you just need a life preserver, something to rescue you so that you can tread water again. Maybe it’s a trip to the spa, maybe it’s making a big change in your life or many small ones, maybe it’s seeing a therapist and/or taking some medication, but the important thing is that you need to grab ahold of something so that you can tread water again.
  8. Don’t be afraid to facilitate change. If it bothers you that your house is continuously messy, find a way to keep it clean! Get rid of the clutter, get your kids and spouse to pitch in more, or hire some cleaning help. If you hate your body, find a way to work out, cut out the sugar, or count calories. If you’re upset that you haven’t accomplished anything, find something to accomplish! Try a new recipe, sign up for an online class, or do a paint by number. If you’re mad at your husband because he won’t help out enough, TELL HIM!!! How else is he supposed to know? If you are frustrated that your kids don’t help out enough, TEACH THEM HOW! How else are they supposed to learn? Anyways, you get the point. 😉
  9. Create healthy habits. This may sound simple, but it is so so important. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep and plenty of sunshine, eat a healthy and well balanced diet, make time for mediation/yoga/reflection, and find something to be thankful for every day. Before you can take care of everyone else, you have to take care of yourself.
  10. Take placenta pills. I didn’t learn about encapsulating my placenta into pills until my third pregnancy, and boy what a difference that made! Whenever I would start to feel a little depressed, I would pop a couple of placenta pills and feel like a completely different person. Now I just to remember to save some to see if they’ll help when my period comes back.
  11. Know that sometimes, it’s just hormones. Sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes, it’s just hormones. After Julian, when I realized that it was actually the hormones making me sad and not my entire life, it was a lot easier to mentally switch gears.

In Conclusion

I have been very hesitant about sharing my experiences with postpartum depression because I don’t want people to judge me or feel sorry for me. I don’t want people to look at me like I’m weak, and most of all, I don’t want people to look at me with pity and say things like, “Are you really okay,” while touching my arm in a consoling but also slightly condescending way. I’m tough, I’m strong, and I’m capable, but I’m not stronger than postpartum depression, and I think I’m finally okay with that.

I’m glad to share my story because I think that we all need to share our stories. It’s the only way we can feel – it’s the only way we can know – that we’re not alone. So, if you have a story that you’d like to share, share it. Share with your loved ones, share it with your girlfriends, or share it here. If you’d like to submit a guest post about your experience(s) with postpartum depression, that would be awesome! You can even post it anonymously if you want. The important thing to remember is that you’re not alone, you’re not a failure because you’re depressed, and there is a way out, you just have to find it.

Additional Resources

  • Click here to see a map of the United States to find someone to talk to about what you are going through.
  • Tools for Mom – Here you’ll find checklists, questionnaires, support groups, and more.
  • Postpartum Support International – This is a great portal to learn more and to find many additional resources.
Embracing Motherhood How to Establish a Bedtime Routine with a Baby (or What to Do When Your Baby Won't Nurse to Sleep Anymore)

Establishing a Bedtime Routine with a Baby Who is Used to Nursing to Sleep

I usually just like to nurse my babies to sleep, but at some point this starts to not work, and instead of panicking and thinking that the world as you know it is over (like I may or may not have done), just know that this probably means your child is ready for a bedtime routine.

Julian, My 4th Child

Julian (my fourth and the recent inspiration for this article) didn’t all of a sudden stop nursing to sleep one night. It was a gradual progression that began when he was about 15 months old.

At this time, our nightly nursing sessions were getting longer and longer, and I remember one night after flipping him from side to side and nursing him for like an hour, and he just looked up at me and said, “Hi!”

I was dumbfounded, I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t have a plan.

All I knew was that I couldn’t let him keep nursing, and I didn’t want to just let him stay up later. He was tired. I needed to do something. (Also, I was starting to experience what I later learned was nursing aversion…more about that here.)

1. The First Time I Put Him to Bed Awake

Feeling like I was out of options, I decided to just lay him down and see what happened. When I placed him in his crib, he SCREAMED bloody murder. I knew that he wasn’t sick, teething, hungry, or needing to poop, and I also knew that he was tired, so I expertly tucked him in, whispered, “Nigh-night, I love you!” and closed the closet door (where he sleeps). As I sat back on the rocking chair to see what would happen, my mind felt blank. Usually I go into these situations with a plan, but I just felt helpless as I listened to him wail.

Then, a miracle happened. After about 90 seconds of crying…it stopped.

I sat there waiting for awhile until I was sure he was settled in, and then I went out to the living room to enjoy some much needed alone time with my husband. 🙂 He didn’t make a peep until he woke up for his usual 12 am and 3 am nighttime wakings. When I nursed him at these times, he went right back to bed.

With every child, I have always been determined to never let them “cry it out”, but inevitably, a few tears are usually shed during this transitional phase.

2. New Bedtime Routine: Reading Stories

The whole “nursing and nursing and nursing, hoping he would fall asleep, and then putting him down awake if he popped off the breast” became our new bedtime routine for about three months.

Finally, when the nursing aversion made it practically impossible for me to nurse one second longer, I knew that I would need to get him going with a bedtime story routine as soon as possible. The first night I tried it, it was super successful!

When I remembered how well bedtime stories had worked for all of our other children, I kicked myself for not starting this routine sooner!

Even if he was nursing to sleep some nights, on the nights that he didn’t fall asleep nursing, we could have read some stories and made this transition even easier. But alas, it is so hard to change!

3. Setting the Scene for a Successful Bedtime Routine

By getting everything prepared ahead of time so that the environment can be the same every night, it will make the nightly routine that much easier. This is what has worked for me. You will have to find what works for you, but this might be a place to start.

  • Rocking Chair: I have a nice comfy rocking chair in the corner of our room that I always nurse him in before putting him to bed in his crib.
  • Books: Next to the rocking chair, I put a stack of his favorite books.
  • Salt Lamp: I love the reddish glow of this dimmer lamp, plus it purifies the air by releasing negative ions!
  • Sippy Cup of Milk: I love using sippy cups with handles like this so that my babies can hold on to them and feed themselves. I fill it up with raw milk, but you could also use water or a glass sippy cup like this.
  • Silky: Every night, Julian sleeps with this special silky that I hand made for him. I’ve always wrapped him up in it while we’re nursing, and I tuck it over his legs while we read bedtime stories.
  • Fan: I like the white noise of a fan. It’s helpful to have a sound buffer since he sleeps only a few feet from our bed.

4. Julian’s Bedtime Routine

Children love and crave routines, especially with something that predictably happens every day…like bedtime. Each activity precipitates the next, and it makes the entire process predictable, fun, and easy.

  1. Big Kids’ Bedtime Routine: I’ve been wanting to write a blog about this for quite some time, but basically, we get our pajamas on, wrestle, cuddle, have family time, eat a snack, brush our teeth, and then begin a series of reading everyone stories and tucking them in. Julian has always tagged along with one of us during this process until I’ve been ready to nurse him to sleep.
  2. The Rocking Chair: When we were just starting to wean, if he would try to wiggle into a nursing position, I would nurse him briefly (or distract him with one of his favorite books), and then sit him on my lap. After that, I cover him up with his silky, give him his sippy cup of milk, and get ready to read.
  3. Reading Books: Sometimes I’ll read a whole stack of books, but if he’s really tired, I like to stick with just three. Before I read the last book, I say, “After this book we’re going nigh-night.”
  4. Sing a Song: Once he realizes he’s going to bed, he sometimes starts to cry so I try to distract him with a song and maybe even a little dance/spin move. (For some reason, I started singing him, “Boom, boom goes the little green frog one day, boom, boom goes the little green froggie, pee-i-pickle-i-pee-i-pickle-i, boom, boom goes the little green froggie.” With each child, a different song has emerged.)
  5. Drop and Run: If I can lay him down, cover him up with his silkies, get out of the room, and shut the door in less than 1.5 seconds, then there is a much better chance he won’t cry!
  6. Milk Cup: Julian and Elliot never did get into pacifiers like Ruby and Ophelia did, but Julian has really liked taking his milk cup to bed with him. It’s got a child safety top, so it usually doesn’t spill unless he sucks on it, but if it does, I’ll just wash the sheets.
  7. Wake Up Time: When Julian wakes up in the morning or from naps, sometimes I like to let him linger in bed, especially if he’s still laying down and stretching. I will sit by his bedside, rub his head, sing him songs, make funny faces, or whatever. I also like to let him play in his bed sometimes during the day. This helps him to become familiar with his little space during a time where he isn’t focused on going to sleep.

5. What if He Cries?

  • If He Cries Right Away: Sometimes he screams and cries really loudly when I first lay him down. My first instinct is to just pick him up and comfort him, but I want to give him a chance to fall asleep on his own. He usually never cries for longer than 15-30 seconds. The first few times we went through this routine, I think he cried for more like a minute or two.
  • If He Cries After Being Quiet: When babies try learning how to fall asleep on their own at first, they may be quiet at first, but then get frustrated if they don’t fall asleep right away. What I do here really depends on the nature of the cry, past behaviors, personality, how our day has been going, etc. Typically, I like to give him a minute or two to see if he’ll settle down on his own. If he starts happily babbling, I know he’ll be okay, but if his cry escalates, I will get him and quickly go through our bedtime routine again.
  • If He Wakes In the Night: When we were first weaning, I would still nurse him in the night with gradually shorter sessions. That worked pretty well at first, but then he got frustrated by the short nursing sessions, and so one night I just stopped altogether. Now, when he wakes in the night, I quickly go through our bedtime routine and lay him back down. If he cries for a long time, I’ll get him up and go through the routine again.
  • Naptime: Since I’ve been doing this routine, he’s been up pretty early every day and has needed nice long naps. (*Before I started this routine, sometimes he would fall fall back asleep after our morning nurse and then be able to go through the rest of the day without a nap.) I go through the same routine at naps as I do at night. I wait to put him down until he shows signs of being tired (gets really clingy, cuddly, and says nigh-night after I do), and then we go through our routine. Many times I can hear him talking or singing quietly for quite a bit of time, but if he’s not crying, I leave him in there. Many of our children have been in a transition out of naptimes, and if they were awake for awhile and then started to get fussy, I would get them up. So far, Julian has always fallen asleep.
  • Laying Little Babies Down Awake: In my experience, it’s always easy to lay a little baby down when they are awake yet sleepy and let them fall asleep on their own. “Experts” say that this will help to train them to fall asleep when they are older, but this has never been the case for me! Things like teething and illness usually mess up even the best of sleepers 🙂

In Conclusion

Every baby is different, but after having four, I’ve started to notice some patterns. Even though babies are ready for a bedtime routine at different ages, they all eventually crave one. By establishing a good bedtime routine from a young age, it will make bedtime that much easier as they get older. Our two older kids sleep soooooo good and do sooooo well at bedtime. Sometimes these baby/toddler years of sleep seem like they will be endless, but babies who learn good sleep habits eventually turn into young children who have good sleep habits as well.

Sweet dreams!

*You might also like my article about nursing aversion and weaning tips and my 15 month old who still wasn’t sleeping through the night.

Embracing Motherhood My 15 Month Old "Baby" is Still Not Sleeping Through the Night

My 15 Month Old “Baby” is Still Not Sleeping Through the Night

It’s 2 o’clock in the morning, and it feels like my head just hit the pillow, but now he’s crying again. I wait for a minute to see if it’s just a quiet whimper and he’ll fall back asleep, or if it’s more of a full on cry and he needs me.

His cry gets louder and takes on a shrill brassy tone. I jump quickly to my feet keeping my eyes still half closed because I don’t want to fully wake up.

He’s sitting up in his crib, and I pull up my shirt over my right breast so that I’m ready to nurse before I even scoop him up. We plop down onto my tower of pillows (that have been there since he was born), and as we nestle under the covers, my head tips back, my eyes close, and I drift back to sleep.

I awaken to little fingers tickling at my neck, and before he can fully wake up, I cradle him in my arms and tuck him back into his crib.

As I walk through the closet door, take one step, and plop immediately back into bed, I wonder once again why I didn’t just leave him in our king sized bed in between us, like I did when he was smaller. There’s definitely plenty of room, but for some reason, I just sleep better when he’s in his own crib. And even though I know I’ll have to go and get him again in a few hours, the time in between I will be sprawled out on my belly hugging my body pillow (that is now just a part of my side of the bed after four pregnancies) and sleeping HARD knowing that there’s no one next to me that I might squish or who might kick me in the face.

I nurse him again at 4:30 a.m. and wonder if I should just get up for the day. I’ve already gotten about 5 hours of sleep, which is pretty much par for the course these days, and there’s so much to do…

But against my better judgement, I decide to close my eyes again just for a moment. Before I know it, I am startled awake by a small little cry. I know that I must have been sleeping because the remnants of an intense dream still dance across the backs of my eyelids, but it doesn’t feel like more than two minutes have gone by. When I look at the clock, I realize it’s been about two hours since I’ve last nursed him.

As I meet him in front of his crib, he starts babbling, “4, 5, 6, 7..” and I know that he’ll want to be awake for the day. Still, I cuddle him up in bed and nurse him one last time. When he’s done, he pulls away and smiles happily at me, “A, B, C, D…” he says in his sweet little voice, and then proceeds to chant through the entire alphabet as I rock him in my arms, turning up the red glow of the salt lamp beside my bed as I look at him, smiling, and nodding the entire time.

He eventually he squirms out of my arms, slides off from our mattress on the floor, and heads over to the door happy and ready to start his day.

Not every night is this peaceful. Some nights he’s up every hour, and I feel like the walking dead as I shuffle through our nursing routine or try to bounce and rock him to sleep when he’s teething, sick, or really gassy. Other nights, Scott awakens to hear me cursing or crying as I gather my phone, Ophelia’s monitor, and Julian’s silky knowing that we’ll be out in the living room for the next few hours when all I want to do is just close my eyes and drift away.

But still, even when things are at their toughest, I’m glad that I can be there to rock him in my arms as those sharp little daggers of teeth torture his gums, help him breathe by sucking out all of his boogers with a Nose Frida, rub his tummy and pump his legs to help him with his gassy tummy, and give him nourishment and sustenance with my body’s milk.

Lack of sleep is like a badge of honor that I wear as a mother, and I’m proud of it!

On days when I’m really tired, I close my eyes for a few minutes after story time, or I might get a quick nap when Scott gets home (Napping when the baby naps doesn’t happen when you have four kids!), and I always get to sleep in on the weekends! (Thank you love!)

This idea that babies should sleep through the night at some certain age is completely arbitrary, and seems kind of fishy the way that this abnormal fallacy is spread throughout the major “parenting websites” out there as “normal”. Sleep train your baby before they can stand you say? Don’t let them fall asleep breastfeeding because it’s a bad habit you say? Make them cry it out because a baby needs a well rested mommy you say?

Hogwash! It is an HONOR to nurse my baby to sleep every night! I love being in tune with his needs! I love how his nighttime nursing keeps my milk supply up!

I don’t want to turn my mommy heart off while I listen to him scream himself to sleep every night, I don’t want him to stop needing me, and I don’t want him to stop telling me that he needs me.

Already, he is starting to show signs of not needing me anymore, and it’s scary! After 15 months of nursing to sleep every night, he is starting to pull away before he’s done, preferring instead to burrow his face in the silkies tucked in the crook of my arm and fall asleep that way. And sometimes after we do our bedtime routine and nurse, he squirms away from me until I lay him down in his crib, ready to fall asleep on his own.

The mistake I made with Ruby and Elliot was thinking that there would be some magical day that they wouldn’t need me in the night anymore.

Now, with Ophelia and Julian, I realize that the progression with sleep is just as gradual as the progression with any other milestone.

2 and a half year old Ophelia didn’t just start reading one day. It was a gradual sequence of events that began with daily flashcards at 8 months old and progressed a little more every day from there. Ophelia still needs me in the night a few times a week. Sometimes she wants some milk, sometimes a pacifier, and sometimes I think she just wants to be covered up again. Heck, even Ruby and Elliot still need to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water in the night sometimes! It’s never over. It’s never done. Having kids means that you’ll probably always be sleeping with one ear open, and IT’S WORTH IT! It’s so worth it!

I have finally learned (after 4 children) to stop Googling so much and to start listening, really listening, to what my mommy heart has to say. My mother’s intuition has more answers than any book on the shelves, and I know that when I trust in it, the answers are always more individualized and nuanced that anything some Dr. Sleep with a doctorate could have ever written.

It’s time that we all listened to our mommy hearts. It’s time that we stop trying to perpetuate the idea that there is ONE right way of doing things and that there is some unrealistic standard that we are all somehow failing. I get that it feels good to be supported by the attachment parenting group or the cry it out group once you’ve made those decisions, but neither group knows what’s best for you in every possible scenario. Maybe your mommy heart IS telling you that if you don’t have your child cry it out you are going to straight up lose it! If that is what you need to do then do it! You DO know best! Read the blogs, look at the forums, skim through the books if you must, but know that they are only there to kickstart what’s inside.

When we listen to our mommy hearts, when we respect our intuition and demand that others respect it to, it will give us the confidence to own this thing called motherhood.

Because sleep issues are just the beginning of this journey of motherhood. Before we know it, our little ones will be teenagers, and then adults, and someday (maybe) mothers and fathers themselves. And when this happens, I want to share with them how I loved these nights, how I cherished this time, how I gave everything I could, and how I loved it.

Embracing Motherhood I Need to Take a Break

I Need to Take a Break

If you’ve seen my pictures on FaceBook, you’ll know that our family just had an incredible vacation at Wolf Creek Lodge. While it’s true that we had a great time and really bonded as a family, the bottom line is that it left me feeling physically and emotionally drained.

Ruby and Elliot are so sweet and independent…ready to take on the world with us as their guides. But Ophelia and Julian are still a bit timid and afraid, needing us to hold their hands a bit more. Going out into the world on this vacation was really fun for the older kids, but it was completely overwhelming for the little ones…and for me.

Cuddling with Julian (15 Months)

Cuddling with Julian (15 Months)

Being so close in age, Ophelia and Julian seem to constantly need me and compete for my attention. Being on vacation just exacerbated their needs, and now they are even more fragile and seem to need me even more than before we left!

Cuddling with Ophelia

Cuddling with Ophelia

The bottom line is that I am feeling completely overwhelmed. I need a break. And so I’m taking one!

As much as I enjoy Embracing Motherhood and as much as it fulfills me and gives me joy to create and share the things I am learning and creating, being there for my family gives me EVEN MORE joy! And so I am going to take a break from blogging. I am going to take a break from FaceBook, Instagram, Google Plus, and Twitter. I am going to unplug from these things so that I can focus on the most important aspect of my life. My family.

I will still be working on my “Teaching Your Baby How to Read” flashcards and videos because they are a part of my daily homeschool routines, but I will not be blogging about them until my hiatus is complete.

If you need to get ahold of me in the meantime, my email is

Thank you in advance for understanding!

The Metamorphosis of Motherhood Embracing Motherhood

The Metamorphosis of Motherhood

By Guest Blogger Lisa Hogan

Bio: Little sister of Stacey Maaser. Mother of a tender-hearted 2-year-old boy. Resting somewhere between an all natural hippy, and a modern, super clean city girl.

Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a mother. It’s what I wanted to be when I “grew up”. Then I graduated college, got married, and my husband informed me that we were broke and had to work a few years until we could have children. That was hard, but I threw myself into my work and learned to enjoy the flow of it. It took longer than I wanted, but finally my husband said we could start trying for a baby. One month went by, then another, then another. Every month was a let down. I eventually thought we were infertile and became a bit depressed. But I just decided to focus on work, fashion, recipes, and travel, and time passed by. I liked my life.

After one year it finally happened. I was pregnant! I could hardly believe it. It was what I had always dreamed of. I was ecstatic! Everything was wonderful.

Then reality hit. I couldn’t exercise like before. I had to cut down on caffeine and sugar. I couldn’t eat all sorts of other things that were dangerous during pregnancy. Harumph! Besides that, I started to “show”. Everyone was telling me how my face looked different. They wanted to touch my growing bump. Then I started getting forgetful, gassy, bloated, and my acne got worse. Call it hormones, but it was a big reality check. As I approached the due date this baby made it hard to sleep, caused cramps in my legs, and I couldn’t even walk very long before I started to ache all over. I retired from work the last month and a half and tried to read all I could for the future that awaited me.

Then the day arrived. Labor! It was everything I expected and more! After trying for a home birth, I ended up in the hospital, and after 36 hours we finally got to meet Tristan. I was now a real MOTHER! It was amazing. I felt all those mama hormones start to surge through me. I loved this boy. He had been a part of me, and now on the outside he felt like he was still part of me. It’s like the umbilical cord was and is still there.

Again, reality soon set in. I didn’t get my body back as fast as I thought. I could no longer leave this little boy without leaking milk, feeling anxious about him, or missing him terribly. Going out to eat was no longer fun and relaxing. While at a restaurant, he would start to cry, we would get embarrassed, I would try to nurse him, the nursing cover would fall off, no one really got to eat their meal, and we realized that it just wasn’t working anymore. Don’t even get me started about sleep! That didn’t happen much with a small baby. Also, talking to other adults would typically end in some sort of small catastrophe with a crying baby at the end.

Anyways, this is where I think new mothers can learn a thing or two from the butterfly. A caterpillar might be happy and carefree, eating away, focused on herself and the needs of the moment for awhile, then at some point the desire for something more switches and she encases herself and becomes a pupa. In this stage the caterpillar sacrifices EVERYTHING from it’s past life. To move to the next stage, the caterpillar, and a new mother, has to sacrifice everything. There might be a bit of sadness and nostalgia as you realize you can never really go back to those carefree days of just eating leaves. A mother really does transform too. She becomes something totally different. Those first few months are crucial as she becomes forever bonded to this new little person. When the butterfly emerges after it’s encasement there’s a lot to learn and do. A butterfly now can dart around on the wind, pollinating flowers, finding a mate and producing more caterpillars. It’s an exciting new stage.


Metamorphosis of a Butterfly (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, by Merian Maria Sybilla, 1705)

Being a mother I feel like I have changed in so many ways. As my baby started to be content to stay on the blanket for while, and as he slept more, I could start to gain some of my “old” life back, but all of it with a different focus and appreciation. There is a different goal in life, and a lot of it revolves around this new little baby. There is so much to learn and do as a mother. It is difficult, and you do have to change the way you do just about EVERYTHING. But after this transformation, there is a new sense of duty and excitement to life. There’s so much fulfillment in wearing an outfit that suits crawling around on the floor above any expression of fashion.

Bottom line, once a baby is on the way, your life is beginning to change, and it’s a wonderful journey. Don’t yearn for the caterpillar stage once you’ve become a butterfly. Embracing motherhood means SO MUCH when you let it really change you. When you embrace these changes, you love your new wardrobe. You love dancing with your baby. Rocking them to sleep. Delighting them with a peekaboo or a tickle. When they are peacefully asleep after a day of adventures you feel so accomplished. I never thought I would find someone I would be so HAPPY to share my raspberries with (and I love raspberries by the way).

I am a mother, and I absolutely love that it defines me now.

The Metamorphosis of Motherhood Embracing Motherhood

The Metamorphosis of Motherhood

How Motherhood has Changed Me: A Testimony

By Guest Blogger Renee Washburn

Author Bio: Renee is a married stay at home mother of one sweet 10 month old boy. She loves learning new things, living a natural life, and is passionate about her faith.

How Motherhood has Changed Me: A Testimony

Up until the point where my husband and I considered starting a family, I never really gave motherhood that much thought.  However, when I was just a baby, I had a great infatuation with other babies and children.  One of my first words was “baby”, and I always migrated to other babies throughout my childhood and my preteen years.  I began babysitting on my own at 11 and tried starting my own babysitting business.  From that point on, I always had a job each week until I graduated high school.

It was just in me.  I loved babies and children and I felt like I could relate with them.  Throughout my 20s, I was always involved in the youth programs with our church, and to this day still have many young people around me.  I always thought that when the day came for my own baby, it would just be second nature, but there was something that I hadn’t thought about.  Pregnancy.  Labor.  Delivery.  Oh crap, I have heard nothing but horror stories!  I was scared to have a baby inside me growing and then have to “deliver” it?!  But it seems as thought God knew before the foundations of the world how much I would learn and learn to love this phase and the passion that would develop to help others see how amazing it truly is.

Planning for a Baby

About a year before our first born was conceived, I had inherited a whole stack of baby books from a friend.  She knew I had been thinking about having a baby so she thought it would be nice for me to understand a little of what I was getting into.  I was sure thankful for that!  I read the beginning of “What to Expect When You Are Expecting” and what options are available for expectant moms.  I did have some clue as to the options in regards to pain management, and I had heard that my mom was able to give birth naturally.  She spoke about it a lot while I was growing up and her choice of breastfeeding and how it was the most natural.  Well, me being a person who chooses the natural, God supplied route, I was interested in learning about natural birth.  I had heard about such a thing as “midwives’ and thought that might be nice since I didn’t really like medical doctors all that much.  In this section of the book I saw that there was such a thing as a “birth center” and a “certified nurse-midwife.”  I liked both those options so I instantly decided this was my choice.
Now to see if Dallas, Texas had either of those options.  (I am a planner, and I feel like I need to have a plan set before I start the actual journey.)  So sure enough, Dallas had both of those, and it seemed somewhat affordable.  But we first needed my husband to get a good job that would allow me stay home with our children.  This process lasted for months and months and months until it just became clear it was not available.  Then we found out that my mother was sick and my dad was having a challenging time taking care of her, my grandmother, and working full time.  Time to move.
So we packed up what we had and headed across the country to New England to live with my parents and grandmother!  It was a great change from the tiny apartment we were living in to a large 3,200+ square foot home with an apartment attached for my grandmother.  One evening after we had settled in, my husband and I were watching “Call the Midwife” (a show that we had both had grown to enjoy) when an advertisement for midwives in Connecticut came on the screen.  My heart warmed and I immediately knew this is who we would have a baby with!  Little did I know that they were indeed Nurse-Midwives, but they did ONLY home births!!!  Home birth?!?!  What age are we living in?  The early 1900s?  I didn’t know of anyone who had a home birth and thought it was a little crazy.  But I knew how God worked in me and I knew that I needed to give this a chance.  So I set up an appointment to visit their home quarters down on the shoreline and asked a million questions..and I wasn’t even pregnant!  But as I left, I felt peaceful and knew this was it.  I trusted them. I believed they knew what they were doing and had my best interest at heart.  So the next weekend we got pregnant and the journey began.


After the 7 weeks of morning sickness (which I now know is due to a lack of protein in my diet), I began my research on how to best grow this being inside me, take care of myself, and have a successful delivery at home.  One of my midwives suggested looking into a birthing class when I was about 12 weeks along because I had so many questions!  So I found the closest Bradley Method teacher, for the best price, and boy did I find the BEST teacher!  She was a mother of 4, had a home birth, and was studying to become a midwife!  She had loads and loads of information and really just helped my husband and I immensely.  I felt so blessed to have had her.  God is sure good!!  Every time we learned something new, I felt like my brain grew and my eyes were enlightened.  And each time I gave glory to my Heavenly Father because I knew that this is His will for all women and He knew how bad I wanted it!
As the months crept along, the anticipation grew, and we were more prepared than ever.  I would only let positive images and thoughts and stories into my mind and heart.  I would not listen to anything negative, and I really believe that this is why I had such an amazing birth experience.  I just believed and trusted God whole heartedly for everything to be the best, and not just me, but my husband as well.  We were completely like-minded about everything which in turn helped our marriage by being more on the same page about just about everything than we ever had been.  This “baby” was bringing us closer together!
My due date came and went and Baby Washburn did not show himself until 2 weeks later. (We did not know it was a boy at the time. We stayed away from all ultrasounds because it has been proven to affect the fetus, and health insurance did not cover them.)  So we were surprised when we found out it was a boy, although we both deeply wanted a boy and internally knew it was one.


My active labor lasted less than 10 hours, and everything moved along at a nice pace.  I was in the shower, in the kiddie pool, and then standing over the toilet pushing!  There was one moment when I said while sitting up in the pool, “Now I understand while people want epidurals!”  But I was glad I didn’t get one because I would rather have this beautiful experience than lying on my back in a bright hospital room pushing whenever the doctor says to push.


Breastfeeding went extremely well.  Again, I read credible books, and I trusted God that I would be able to do it. My milk came in early and my son gained all the weight he needed. He was and still is incredibly happy and healthy.  I have never pumped or given him a bottle.  I have never left him with someone else.  I strongly believe that breast is the best and my needs are second to his needs right now.  It is only for a short period of time and I would rather have this time with him now than regret that I didn’t spend enough time with him when he was a baby.  I rarely get tired.  And if I do need a shower or bath break, my husband or my parents are in the house to spend some quality time with him.  When he has weened himself then I will treat myself to a spa day.


There was a debate between my husband and I about whether or not to circumcise.  I really did not see the need as I had heard and read that in the Bible they were circumcised on the 8th day because that is
when Vitamin K was being produced. But when was this circumcision happening?  In the Old Testament, and we know that this was for this specific group of people.  It does not say in the New Testament, after Jesus Christ, for us to circumcise.  There was a significance for this ritual, and we do not need it now.  But what about keeping it clean?  Why not just teach him to clean it!  Why would God have the foreskin there to begin with if He wanted you to cut it off?  And why aren’t girls circumcised?  They have foreskin too… So yeah, there is a big debate in the world about this.  But I am glad my husband realized the unnecessary means for this ritual and decided to keep all my baby’s body parts.


Sleep arrangements have been another debate in our family.  We have a large dog and in my mind there was no way a baby was going to sleep in our bed because of him.  Over and over I had heard mothers telling me that co-sleeping is best, but I could not fathom it!  I did not want my dumb dog to accidentally sleep on him.  How horrible!  At first, we had a bassinet that would be next to me, and I planned that I would just pick him up whenever he needed to nurse.  But then 3 days before he was born, I had this thought that I needed to sleep with him in the bed, for at least the first few days.  So we trained our dog to sleep in the living room, and it worked!
A few days of baby in bed with us as turned into weeks, then months, and now he is almost 10 months old and still sleeps with us.  I have thought about moving him to his crib because it was getting a little uncomfortable for me, but really, he is still feeding at least 2 or 3 times at night and it just didnt’ seem right.  So he is still with us and I enjoy every night with him.  I have read and have heard from other moms that they will leave the bed, eventually, on their own, then they are ready.  So I am still learning about this one.


Boy that was a hard choice to make.  I read for weeks and prayed for months to find the best information and advice on whether or not to vaccinate, and this is what we decided.  Since I am a stay at home mom who plans on home schooling my children, there is really no point to inject them with a serum composed of mercury, formaldehyde, aluminum, and cells from monkeys.  Again, my philosophy of God had it figured out in the beginning of how are bodies can fight and fend for itself.  Go natural- go God’s way.  “We are fearfully and wonderfully made…”

In Conclusion

In my day to day life as a mother, I really just go back to simplicity and doing it the natural way.  God’s way.  Everything from our marriage, to personal decisions on finances (living debt-free and living within our means), to being a stay at home mom, to daily time in God’s Word, to daily prayer, meditation, exercise, walking, yoga, stretching, home school, having a naturopathic pediatrician, eating an organic, balanced diet, drinking and making kombucha, avoiding processed foods and sugar…
This new role of motherhood has changed me for the better.  It is something that I love and feel confident about. It’s like my whole life up until the day I gave birth to my son was for this purpose.  So why not do it RIGHT.  Every day I pray that God will show me how to do it the right way the first time.  I don’t want to have to correct a whole bunch of bad habits.  I want to do it right.  I am not saying that everything that I do is the right way, but so far it has worked for me incredibly.
I am not someone to just do it my own way and close all doors to what other mothers are doing.  I seek, I ask, I explore, I observe, and I absorb.  I want to be the mother that God originally designed from the beginning.  This is my desire and this is my quest.  Initially my husband and I wanted 4 children, but not really knowing what that means, we will take it one at a time.  We love our first child with everything we have and do have room for another in our heart.  So we will just take it from there.
Embracing Motherhood The Story of How I Became a Stay at Home Mom

The Story of How I Became a Stay at Home Mom

I worked full time until my children were 6 and 18 months old, and choosing to be a stay at home mom was the best decision I ever made. I often wonder and regret why I didn’t do it sooner, but I did it nonetheless. Here’s my story.

I’ll always remember what it felt like the first day I went back to work after spending a glorious three months uninterrupted with my sweet first baby girl, Ruby. As I walked down the long hallway to my classroom, I was greeted with hugs and sympathetic sentiments.

One teacher said,

“It’s okay to cry. I cried at first too.”

And I thought, yes I probably should cry. But oddly enough, I didn’t feel any tears. I wondered what was wrong with me that I wouldn’t be crying at the mere thought of leaving my sweet, precious, exclusively breastfed little infant in the arms of someone else.

I mean, it was my mom watching her, but still…

So, as I stood there in my classroom, all set up and ready for the students that had been waiting patiently with a substitute during the first three months of school for me to return, and I tried to see if I could cry.

But before I could get at my true feelings, I had to peel back a few layers that were covering them up.

First, I peeled back the excuse that I had to do this because we couldn’t afford to make ends meet any other way, then I scraped away the sentiments that she was in good hands with my mother, and finally I sloughed off the guilty feelings about how bored I sometimes felt being home without any adult interaction, and how hard it actually was to be a mother.

What I found buried underneath was a very fresh wound that was very sensitive to these probing thoughts.

Just poking at that wound brought back a sudden flood of memories. And as I stood there remembering what it felt like to hold her the moment after she was born, the way she was always happiest to lay inbetween us cooing early in the mornings, the sweet smell of breast milk that was always on her skin, the softness of her little fingers as they would grasp at my face, and the way her eyes would widen and how she would reach for me desperately even when she merely glanced at me from across the room…

I suddenly felt like I couldn’t breath and the tears started to flow noiselessly in a stream down my cheek.

I was just about to start heaving and sobbing when I heard the shuffle of footsteps in the hallway. As I looked at the clock, I noticed that I only had a few more minutes to pull things together before I needed to greet my students for the day.

So, I took all of those memories and all of those feelings, and I buried them deep down into the pit of my soul.

Then I packed all of my excuses back on top until the feelings of pain became but a vague memory. And I felt something grow within me that would only grow stronger as time went on. It wasn’t really a feeling of anything, but the absence of feeling. It was a numbness that allowed me to focus on the tasks in front of me while burying an instinct that I just couldn’t let out.

A teacher who saw me crying ran in for a quick hug.

“Don’t worry,” she said expertly. “It will get easier.” And she was right. It did get easier.

With each passing day, I got better at burying my true emotions, and the painful wound of our separation began to heal into a weird disfigured scar. Every time I would hear my sweet precious daughter cry as I slipped out the door to go to work in the morning or back to work after nursing her at lunch, I would pack more excuses like a salve onto my wound.

Everyone that watched her at our home during the rest of the school year would always tell me,

“She always stops crying a few minutes after you’re gone,” as if that was supposed to console me. But it did.

I knew she was in good hands and that she was being loved and cared for. My mom would even bring her into the classroom for me to nurse her during every break that I had and would even hang out for hours in the back of the room playing quietly for the first month that I was back to work. But they weren’t MY hands taking care of her, and that was a fact that gnawed at me constantly.

When the family was done caring for Ruby and she had to be put into daycare, it really was the best possible scenario. A coworker’s mother in law did day care one mile from where I was teaching, and I was able to go and breastfeed her to sleep during my lunch break every single day. But even though Ruby was happy there and well cared for, I felt like I was missing out.

I would try to linger after dropping her off just to be able to spend a little more time with her, but the pressures of work were calling me, and I had to go. She still cried every day as I left, and it never stop hurting to leave her.

At the end of the day, the eight hours we were apart were summarized in a few sentences.

As I got a report of what she ate, whether or not she pooped, and any other milestones she accomplished, my mind was really only half listening because all I really wanted to do was just whisk her away so that I could be with her as much as I could for the remainder of the day. But there were always errands to run, dinner to prepare, and things to do around the house, and it just felt like there was never enough TIME.

After a tough and emotional return to work, I decided that a position utilizing my Master’s degree in Language Acquisition at another school would allow me more flexibility and freedom to be a better working mother. In my new job as ESL Coach the following year, I found that it was definitely a better blend of my two worlds.

But little did I know that even as I was interviewing for this new job, I was pregnant with our second child, and he was about to change everything.

Elliot was born peacefully in front of the fireplace of our little one bedroom condo in December, and after only four weeks of maternity leave (we couldn’t afford to have my pay docked like we had with Ruby), I went back to work. (Did you know that every other industrialized nation except for America mandates full paid maternity leave? Go figure.)

Elliot was quite different from his independent, happy-with-anyone big sister. He was born ten days overdue, but he probably would have preferred to stay in there indefinitely. Even after he had been earthside for over a day, he still didn’t want to open his eyes and preferred instead to bury himself in my bosom and nurse constantly.

If a little bit of me died having to leave Ruby behind, leaving Elliot behind almost destroyed me. He needed me so much and my only consolation was that he slept most of the day and was up with me to nurse constantly throughout the night.

I almost didn’t even want to sleep inbetween feedings because I just wanted to hold on to each moment where the two of us could be snuggled up together soaking in the feel of his skin against mine and feeling his little body rise and fall with each breath.

Just as with Ruby, we had an onslaught of family visitors who moved in with us and helped take care of Elliot during my first six weeks back at work. After that, I only had to put him in day care for three months until the end of the school year. Throughout it all, he was always really close to my work and even though he would never take a bottle, I was able to go to him and nurse him every four hours.

Right up until before he was born, I had assumed that he would be taken care of by the sweet grandmotherly lady who lovingly took care of Ruby. But due to some unforeseen hip problems, she told me that she wouldn’t be able to take care of a new baby after all. That left me scrambling at the last minute to find someone else. I thought I found the perfect place right next to the school with a busy day care mom who had room for both Ruby and Elliot. I was sad to take Ruby out of her current placement, but happy to have both of my kids together.

When I came to nurse Elliot (10 weeks old) on my first break during their first day at this new place, I noticed that Ruby (17 months) was in her high chair eating food. I thought nothing of it until I came back at lunch only to see her nodding off, still in her high chair. When I came back at the end of the day, she was STILL in her high chair.

I was very upset, and the day care mom tried desperately to console me saying that she fell asleep there and had only just woken up. I was just like,”Why didn’t you put her in bed after she fell asleep in the high chair?” but she had no response.

The next day, I knew that I couldn’t take Ruby back there again, so I called Ruby’s sweet grandmotherly caretaker in tears and asked if she could take Ruby for the remainder of the year. She graciously agreed, but reminded me again that she wouldn’t be able to take care of Elliot too. Elliot seemed to do fine with the busy day care mom because he pretty much slept all day, and I had no other options, so that was that.

I’ll always remember the African lullaby songs that I would listen to every morning as I first dropped off Ruby, then Elliot to a parking lot near his drop off home where I would nurse him. When I hear that cd to this day, it brings tears to my eyes.

I was desperately trying to juggle having a career, being a mom, being a wife, and taking care of myself, but I never had enough to give to everyone and so it felt like I was failing in all areas of my life.

When summer break finally came, I was in total and absolute heaven! I could finally be with my sweet babies all day and all night without any interruptions. We got into a nice little routine, and I really started to feel like not only was I surviving; I was thriving!

Instead of just worrying about our basic needs, I could actually spend time each day thinking of new ways to arrange our little house for the best play and learning opportunities, I had time to cook healthy meals for everyone, I could sleep when the kids slept without worrying about a clock, and most importantly, I could nurse my 6 month old Elliot on demand. He was VERY happy about that!

When we traveled back to our Michigan stomping ground that summer, we fell in love with being a family and being surrounded by family. When we came back to our Colorado home and our third floor condo with no air conditioning in 100° F weather, it just didn’t feel right. It felt empty and lonely, and I just couldn’t imagine what it would be like trying to get through another year while working. When we looked at our finances and saw that with two kids in daycare, it was hardly worth it for my husband to work, we made a big decision to have him be a stay at home dad and take care of the kids while I continued to work.

After those wheels were set in motion, and with the start date of my next school year quickly approaching, I just woke up one day and knew I couldn’t go back. Elliot was just getting used to me being around all the time, and I couldn’t bear to be apart from him again.

It felt like my heart would most certainly break into a thousand pieces if I couldn’t continue breastfeeding him on demand.

And then there was my sweet little Ruby who was already growing up so fast! At 18 months, she knew all of her letters and numbers and she was already starting to read. I wanted to be with her during every milestone, every cuddle, every naptime, and every tear. I wanted to be there for both of them, and I wanted to ENJOY my time with them, not just get through it.

After I made the phone call resigning from my position, I felt giddy with excitement! I was so happy to have finally made the decision to be with my little ones and set up a new life as a stay at home mom, but this in itself is another journey with its own story. 🙂

While we waited on the short sale of our condo, we packed up all of our things, said goodbye to the beautiful state of Colorado, our family there, our friends, and what had been our home for the last 6 years and moved into my parent’s house in Michigan.

After a few months, Scott got a job as a computer tech in a little rural town we had never heard of. He commuted over an hour every day until we finally accepted that even though it was a little farther from family than we would have liked, it was still a heck of a lot closer than Colorado, and it was really a great job in a nice location. So, we moved there. Now, we own an amazing house on a nice piece of land that’s much much cheaper than our condo in Colorado, and with two more kids, we couldn’t be happier!

I’ll always be a little bit sad about the times that I lost with Ruby and Elliot, but it was all a part of my journey and a part of our story, and I am so proud of how far we have come and what we have become.

At first, we tried to make our kids fit into our lives, just like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. But now that we have centered every aspect of our lives around our children and me being a stay at home mom, I couldn’t imagine a simpler, happier, or more fulfilling way to spend these years.

Our babies are only babies for a short little while. Why is there so much pressure and such a hurried rush for women to “get back to work”?

Now, I totally understand that the life of a stay at home mom isn’t for everyone, and I am completely and totally fine sharing the same arena with mothers who choose to work or have no choice but to work, but

I feel like the voices that are out there cheering on the working mothers are MUCH LOUDER than the voices cheering on the stay at home mothers.

When I was struggling as a working mom, I got A LOT of encouragement from co-workers, family, friends, strangers, and the internet that what I was doing was ok, that it was hard but it would get easier, that my kids would be fine, and that I would be fine.

Only one brave soul, one of those grandmothers who become a mother again due to unfortunate circumstances, told me the truth.

“You never get those years back,”

she said to me one day. I felt offended and angry that she would suggest something that I felt at the time was impossible, but her words haunted me and were possibly the catalyst for me leaving my job to begin this wonderful career as a stay at home mom.

Comments like, “I could never do what you do.” or “Don’t you feel like you’re wasting your Master’s level education?” are sentiments that my husband and I have heard on more than one occasion. But worse than the negative comments are the absence of comments.

At times, my voice is soft, too soft perhaps, because I don’t want to offend anybody. We live in an age where everyone is fighting for women to have equal rights and equal pay, but who is fighting for the moms who want to stay home and raise their families?

We are looked at as ancient relics from our grandmother’s era, something that our progressive society has tried to do away with.

But I don’t want to be silent anymore. I want to shout from the top of a mountain (or at least blog through the channels of the Internet) that it’s okay to be a stay at home mom.

I’m not saying it’s better than being a working mom or that all moms should be stay at home moms, I’m just saying that being a stay at home mom isn’t a step down, or something we all do because we couldn’t do anything else. I see it as a privilege, an honor, and the best career move I could have ever made, and something I will never ever ever regret.

What It’s Really Like to Be Up in the Night with a Baby and a Toddler

Like a late stage Alzheimer’s patient, I feel my mental clarity slowly slipping away more and more every day. So while I’m still lucid, I wanted to at least get down some of my thoughts.

It all started many weeks ago when I noticed the same thing happening to my husband. Like how little things that used to come easily to him were slipping his mind, whenever he would sit down he would “rest his eyes” for just a minute, and the bags under his eyes just kept getting darker. Scott had been taking care of our toddler, Ophelia, in the night ever since Julian was born eight months ago, and when Julian started sleeping a bit better, we decided that we would give it a go with me taking care of both of them in the night. He was very reluctant to let go of his special time with Ophelia, but he was willing to give it a try.

I was overly optimistic at first, especially when Ophelia (27 months) slept beautifully through the first night. But she has been cutting her two year molars for what seems like months upon months upon months and having a real bear of a time with it, so it was no surprise when she woke up several times the next night and the night after that and the night after that.

I handled it pretty well at first. When Ophelia gets up in the night, it’s usually only a matter of minutes until she’s back in bed again, and I usually fall asleep while nursing Julian. But getting up a few times in the early part of the night to take care of Ophelia, a few more times in the latter part of the night to take care of Julian, and throw in couple of bed wettings or nightmares from the big kids, and the sleeplessness began to add up fast.

Meanwhile, my husband started to feel better than ever! Not only did he look amazing and chipper, but he had energy to burn and can often be found doing various projects until it’s time to settle down for the night. This really works out in my favor though, because by the time he gets home from work, I really and truly need his help and rely on him to get through the evening chores.

Our days are full and complete and when it’s finally our turn to go to sleep at the end of the day, snuggling into our bed feels like the most relaxing spa treatment I could ever ask for. But it seems like my head only just touches the pillow when I’ll hear her Ophelia’s little whimpering voice through the monitor (which I hardly even need since she sleeps in our walk in closet right next to my side of the bed), and my heart will immediately begin to beat faster as a heightened sense of awareness takes over my mind and I tenuously wait to see if the whimpering will continue.

If it does, I go into her room and pick her up out of her crib (she’s usually standing up at this point) and set her on my lap in the rocking chair right outside of the closest. The red glow from my bedside lamp illuminates the milk cup filled with room temperature raw milk as my tired hand clumsily fumbles to grab it. Neither of us speak a word as she drinks hungrily and snuggles into the crook of my arm. I smooth her head, cover her with kisses, and feel her body relax and soften as I give her a pacifier and wrap her silky blanket around her legs. As I tuck her back into her crib, I quickly arrange the blankets hanging over the side of the crib just so and tuck the other silkies under her arms as she rolls over and hugs them. When my head hits the pillow again, I almost immediately fall back asleep, and my heart is full of a warmth that I’m sure I will remember long after this night.

Thankfully, Ophelia and Julian seem to have some unspoken agreement about taking shifts. Ophelia usually only wakes up in the first part of the night and Julian gets the latter. (If they both wake up at the same time, then I’ll nudge Scott who quickly jumps up and takes care of Ophelia while still half asleep.) Most nights, Julian falls asleep in his newborn bassinet in the living room while Daddy plays him guitar during the final part of our beautifully orchestrated bedtime routine, and then we’ll carefully carry him through the labyrinth of our house and place him next to my side of the bed. Other nights, he’ll fall asleep in my arms as I nurse him in my rocking chair. If this happens, I’ll gently place him in his crib which is just a stone’s throw from our giant king sized bed that can’t fit his 26 pounds of chub and flailing arms amidst my tower of pillows that I need for breastfeeding him in bed during the night.

At the first sign of a whimper, I’ll bolt out of the deepest of sleeps and stand tentatively over his crib waiting to see if he’s really waking up. As I approach his crib, I’ll notice the position of his head, and I’m reminded of which side I need to nurse him on next. Before I pick him up, I’ll lift up my shirt, scoop him and his silky up in the crook of my arm, and he’ll hungrily latch on before I can even fall back onto my tower of pillows. Since he’s been teething, he will nurse far longer than I am able to stay awake. With my head resting sideways on my softest pillow, I’ll startle awake when he finally pulls himself off my breast.

This change makes him a bit unsettled, and so I’ll have to get out of bed (each time reminded of how weak my abs still are I try to throw the weight of my legs down in a pendulum and try to lift the top half of my body and Julian at the same time) to walk, rock, and bounce him until he is completely settled. I try to keep my eyes shut and hang onto the dream that was just starting to dance in my head until I am sure that he is in the deepest of sleeps. I am often too hasty and he lets me know with a whimper if I set him back in his crib too soon. Sometimes, I have to take him back to bed and nurse him on the other side and sometimes a few more minutes of me walking, bouncing, and patting his back will settle him down.

By the time it’s morning, I almost feel a sense of relief. Sometimes both of the little ones will sleep in long enough for me to get breakfast ready, do my 8 minute ab exercises to heal my diastis recti, take a shower, or sit down at the computer to blog a little (like what is happening right now, yay!).

I used to try to count how many times they woke up so that I could tell Scott what kind of night I had, but now it seems like more and more often, the night just all blurs together the more awake I become, and if I don’t actively try to hold onto the details, they slip away as the day moves on.

I always start my mornings so dreadfully tired, and I love to fantasize about how I’ll try to take a nap when Scott comes home for lunch. But after I drink some water, wash down a big spoonful of coconut oil (which is helping tremendously with my candida issues), and start to putz around, I start to wake up more than I thought possible. It usually takes me all morning, but at some point, I’ll find time to shower and get dressed, and at that point I feel pretty darn good!

I mean, my brain is progressively degenerating to the point where I often can’t think of simple words to describe things and often end up just pantomiming or giving vague descriptions of things that used to come to me so quickly, but other than that and my slightly more disheveled and unkempt appearance, you would hardly know how sleep deprived I really am.

But somehow, I’m able to not just get through it, but be thankful for it. Maybe it’s because I used to be up in the night with my first two babies while working full time and I really and truly appreciate being able to sleep in and wear pajamas as long as I need to, or maybe it’s because I’ve visualized myself as an old lady looking back at these moments and know that my future self will cherish these moments as some of the most precious ones of her life, or maybe it’s just because I really am a superior human who can survive with less sleep. 🙂

But the bottom line is that I don’t mentally approach these sleepless nights as something to just get through. I am truly and deeply honored to be able to go through them for my children, and I wear them like a badge of the highest honor. I am thankful that I don’t need to resort to making them cry it out or slowly wean them from me as so many forums, books, and blogs seem to suggest to tired mommas. I know that these days are fleeting, that these times are precious, and how I treat these moments now will lay the foundation for not just the rest of their lives, but mine as well.

Because in the end, when we add up all of the moments of our lives, these are the ones that I am sure we will cherish in our hearts forever, these are the moments we won’t want to forget, and these are the days that we will want to relive over and over again as our bodies let go of this earth and our minds start to fade into that sweet state of dreaming where I will finally be able to get enough sleep. 🙂

How I've Found Happiness as a Stay at Home Mom

How I’ve Found Happiness as a Stay at Home Mom

Being a stay at home mom has been the hardest and most rewarding job I’ve ever had in my life. When I was a working mom for two years, going to work actually felt like a break. I had a scheduled lunch time, I was given challenging tasks and completed them, and I got to interact with other adults. As a stay at home mom, I am working (or on call) 24 hours a day, I am constantly multitasking and busy doing a thousand things at once, and I am in a sea of children. All. The. Time.

BUT, I am truly and deeply happier than I ever thought possible. Being with my children during these formative years is not only rewarding for me, it is deeply beneficial for my children too. I get to be there to see every smile and to soothe every frown, I get to nurse on demand and see first steps, I get to see what goes in and what comes out of them all day long, and I get to just BE with them. They are my favorite little people in the whole world, and words cannot express the joy that I feel upon seeing them every day in my role as a stay at home mom.

But it hasn’t always been peaches and cream. We had to really think about our lives differently in order to make everything “fit” around me being a stay at home mom. When we just had one child, we could easily cart her around and make her a part of our former lives. But when we had two, and then three, and then four, we had to let go of our old lives and start living a new normal. These 13 tips are what have helped me to battle some of the low points and find a happiness greater than anything I thought I was capable of experiencing.

Also, let me be very clear in that I am NOT saying, “Follow these 13 tips and you will find happiness!” I am saying, “These are the 13 things that have helped ME to find happiness.” I believe that we are each on our own journey and we each have to decide what things actually DO make us happy versus things that we feel like we are “supposed” to do for x number of reasons. You, dear reader, might actually be happier working, or unschooling, or living in another country…who knows! The important thing is for each of us to support each other in this wonderful journey of motherhood.

1. I Found a Way to Make It Happen

When we had our first daughter Ruby, I wanted more than anything to just keep staying with her after my 3 month maternity leave, but I just didn’t think it was possible. We were upside down in our condo, both working full time, and barely making ends meet. When I expressed my desire to stay at home with my daughter, a very well meaning grandmother (who actually adopted her daughter’s son who was in my class) said to me, “You never get that time back.” I just threw up my hands in exasperation and said, “I make twice my husband’s income, I don’t have any choice but to work.”

But I did have a choice, I just didn’t see it at the time. It took having another child, trying to juggle two different child care providers for my two children (that’s a whole other story), and spending a summer vacation at home with my two little angels (Elliot was 6 months old and Ruby was 21 months old at the time) to make it happen. I don’t know how I ever managed going back to work when Elliot was only 4 weeks old or how we managed to be apart until he was 5 months old, but after spending the summer with him attached to my boob, I couldn’t imagine him ever making it without me nearby. Not to mention that I was crazy in love with my daughter Ruby and enjoying spending every minute with her as well.

So we decided to go for broke. We made some radical decisions that led to us both quitting our jobs, doing a short sale on our condo, and moving 1,200 miles away to live with my parents for 8 months while we sorted things out. Now, flash forward four years later, and we own our own home on an acre of land with a fenced in yard minutes away from my husband’s amazing job that provides very nicely for our family of six (even though he makes about what I did when I was working). A blog that will be coming soon: How Our Family of Six Makes It On One Modest Income.

If you really want to be a stay at home mom, you can find a way to make it work. You may have to really think about your choices from an “outside of the box” perspective, but sometimes those crazy hair-brained ideas that you think will never in a million years work, well they just might be the best ideas you ever had.

2. Finding My Identity

When I chose to stay home, I was riding high on cloud nine at first, but then after the routine set in, I felt lost. I felt like I had lost a part of myself when I quit working, like I had lost my identity. Taking care of my children was an amazing honor, and I cherished every moment that I was there to cuddle them and love them, yet for so long I had worked towards my career, and it kind of felt like I had just thrown it all away. More than once, I fell into some pretty serious bouts of depression as I struggled to find my new normal.

I knew that I needed something just for me that was separate from the kids, but I couldn’t seem to find what that could be short of finding a part time (or even full time) job. But, it wasn’t about needing money, it was about finding something for me…something that I could work on, something that I was passionate about, something that would stimulate my mind, something that I could accomplish, and something that would make me feel whole.

It took many years of trial and error until I established what this blog is now (even though I still feel like I am at the beginning). I knew that I was passionate about learning new things, discovering the best health options for our family, cooking healthy food, learning about the science behind health topics, educating our children, being a mom, and writing. It just took me awhile to put all of those things together and find my voice at Embracing Motherhood.

I don’t write this blog with any intention of making money, I just do it because it completes me. I love finding time to write when all of the kids are happily playing independently or sleeping. I love having a voice and a platform to learn new things and record them. I love sharing what I’m learning with others. I love having something to talk to other adults about besides just surface level topics. This blog has helped me to find my identity and give me purpose. It is also a great bonus that everything I’m learning and writing about also benefits our family.

If you are reading this and wondering what your passions are and what your identity could be beyond being a mother (which might just be enough for you, and that’s ok too), then I encourage you to think about what it is that you enjoy doing that makes you really really happy. What do you enjoy learning about? What do you enjoy doing in your free time? What completes you? If you can find a little bit of time every day to work towards figuring out what you are truly passionate about, it can actually be the most liberating thing ever. So many times, we fill our time with what can make us money, and to be a mother and not only be able to spend time with your precious angels but to also look into the deepest regions of your soul and figure out who you are without the burden of earning an income, well, it is truly a blessing. (If you’re interested in doing a guest post on my blog, contact me!)

3. Owning It In the Kitchen!

When I read Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, it changed my life. I realized that everything that I thought I knew about health and nutrition was wrong, and I made it my new mission to learn everything I could about Weston Price and what a healthy diet meant for our family. I’m still learning more and tweaking our diet as our health continuously improves, but this journey and this knowledge have really given me confidence in the kitchen. It really helps that Scott has been learning right beside me and is totally on board with everything I’m doing.

After I learned what our family needed to eat, I had to learn how to cook it! I’ve had fun sharing my recipes that give my family healthy nourishing meals that they enjoy eating. It seems like each child has a certain list of foods that they will or will not eat and that list is constantly changing. By planning ahead and having the fridge stocked with things like my sourdough waffles, whole wheat pancakes, steel cut oats, homemade cereal or healthy oatmeal cookies it makes the day much more manageable.

Even though we eat mostly organic foods and pastured animal products, we are still able to stick to a pretty good budget because I am always planning ahead and buying in bulk. Country Life Natural Foods is one of my favorite places to order dry goods in bulk and we live near many Amish farms where we get our raw milk and pastured eggs and grass fed beef all at reasonable prices. I also save us money by making my own laundry detergent, toothpaste, deodorant, and more!

We are also not crazy obsessed about eating the “perfect diet”. We try to eat mostly good most of the time, and we don’t worry about eating a little birthday cake or fast food every now and then. We just try to make the things that are routine pretty consistently healthy.

4. Creating a Morning Routine

The rest of the day is always different depending on what we need to do or how everyone is feeling, but our mornings are always pretty much the same. During the summer, when I have all four kids at home, we get dressed, eat breakfast, brush our teeth, and then do three activities before they are allowed any screen time. Having this routine in the morning takes the guess work out of the beginning of our day, and it allows us all to sort of run on autopilot as we wake up.

Now, that being said, there are many days (like today) where I’ve been up with 7 month Julian multiple times in the night, and all I want to do is sleep in. When the kids (Ruby – 5 and Elliot – 4) wake up, they know where their iPads are and how to turn on the TV and find their favorite shows, so I have no problem at all when they do this and let me sleep in a bit. We have have food like apples and my healthy oatmeal cookies within easy reach, and the kids will often get themselves snacks when they need them.

5. Filling Their Tanks First 

Throughout the day, I take turns giving each child as much attention as I can. Sometimes they want to do something, like coloring with us sitting side by side and other times they want to tickle, wrestle, fight, and get as much physical contact as possible. Whatever it is that they need, I give it to them until their tanks are full. Once their bellies are full of food and their tanks are full of love, they are able to go off and play on their own, and THEN I get some time for me. 🙂

6. Finding Time for Me

There are little pockets of time throughout the day when I’m caught up on food preparation, cleaning, and all of the children are either playing independently or sleeping. Sometimes this happens multiple times a day for extended periods, and sometimes it happens less often and for short durations, but when that time comes, I seize it!

When I do get this time, this is what I like to do:

  • Take a shower
  • Work out (When I had one child, I would do these deep medatative yoga videos for an hour and a half, but now I do a 10 minute yoga video and an 8 minute core workout when I can.)
  • Work in the garden
  • Read
  • Take a nap
  • Eat
  • Blog (This is what I usually end of doing!)

7. Making It Fun…For Me!

Do you like schedules? Do like organized activities? Do you like spontaneity? Do you like playing outdoors? Do you like go to museums and learning new things? Are you a homebody? Do you enjoy gardening? Whatever it is you like to do…if you can get in touch with your deepest passions and find things to do with your children that makes your heart sing, then everyone will be happy.

There’s no such thing as the perfect routine or the perfect way to raise your children. It’s so completely important to be happy and enjoy what you do. That is what matters, and that is what your children will remember when they’re grown and on their own. They will remember the happiness, and it will comfort them and give them confidence at the same time.

8. Learning Goals for the Kids

I like to set learning goals for each of my children so that I can be aware of what their needs are. I like to keep it simple and stay in their zone of proximal development. For example, Julian, who is 7 months old, is ready to start building a relationship with reading, so we watch Your Baby Can Read videos (which sadly went out of business, so we created our own video here) and read the same books over and over. Ophelia, who is 2, is reading single words and simple sentences, so we’re doing lots of flashcards and repetitive reading of her favorite books. Elliot, who is 4, is developing his reading skills and working on math concepts, so we play a lot of online math games and spend lots of time cuddling and reading his favorite books. Ruby, who is 5, is already a voracious reader, so now we are working on her writing skills by writing lots of stories, letters, and books together. (Here are some videos of our kids reading over the years.)

When you have really little ones, it can seem like you are spending all of your time wiping butts, making food, and cuddling, but by setting aside a little time every day for learning activities, you will be so pleased with the results in the long run. You don’t need to spend six hours a day or really any set amount of time, just wait for teachable moments and do it for as long as you both are interested.

To learn more about setting learning goals and creating activities, check out my blog: How to Set Up a Summer Routine That Keeps Kids Productive.

9. Creating a Stimulating Environment

When I’ve got a crying baby in one hand, a screaming toddler in the other, and two young-ins who are looking for something to do, I’ve got to have some things ready to go at a moment’s notice. I spend a lot of time creating play and learning stations that will keep my children engaged in independent and self directed play for extended periods of time. Read more about how I do this in my blog: How to Create an Environment That Encourages Creative Play and Learning.

10. Educational Screen Time

When people see our 2 year old reading and hear that I used to be a teacher, I think that they assume that I spend hours doing elaborate lesson plans, but the reality is that while I do spend a lot of time with children on my lap reading books and such, I rely on a lot of educational screen time supplements to help me teach the basics. (To learn why we DO allow our children under 2 to have screen time, check out my blog: Why We Shouldn’t Ban Screen Time for Children Under 2.)

The important this is to have a balance. I find that the older kids do really well with these limits that we have in place. (Of course, the limits wouldn’t work if we didn’t have a good management system in place.) I love putting on these educational YouTube Playlists with my little ones (and the older ones love them too!) to teach them letters, numbers, vocabulary, nursery rhymes, and more! I also have loved using these educational apps to teach my young  children the fundamentals.

Instead of having cable TV, we’ve connected our TV to a computer so that we are very purposeful about what we watch. Using Netflix, YouTube, Network websites, and DVDs, we watch programs like Dora, Super Why, Little Einsteins, Preschool Prep videos, Your Baby Can Read videos, and Leapfrog videos that are all great learning tools.

By having these educational screen time options set up, I am able to use them as a babysitter if I need to put the baby down, make some food, cuddle a crying toddler, or whatever other “emergency” that might pop up. This definitely saves my sanity.

11. Living Close to Scott’s Work

The best thing we ever did was move really really close to where Scott works. And I’m not talking close like 15 minutes away, I’m talking like two minutes away. 15 minutes away means a 30 minute trip home and back and so lunchtime visits will be out of the question. 2 minutes away means that he can pop home whenever he can without wasting any time in the car.

We have lived together for many many years where Scott had over an hour commute each way, and that in comparison to this was horrendous. Now, the time he is away from us, he is earning money, not just sitting in a car. We also have more time together in the mornings and evenings, and he can get me something from the grocery store if I need it without too much hassle.

An added bonus is that he’s able to come home for lunch every day. How can spending time with co-workers compare with that? Not only am I able to make him a nutritious lunch every day, but he’s able to pitch in and give me a hand while he’s here. We also enjoy napping together from time to time. 😉 What could be better than that?

12. Dealing with the Boredom

It’s a weird juxtaposition because when I was working full time and had two little ones, I never had enough time, and now, here I am, still very busy, but also, well…bored (sometimes). It’s a crazy feeling to be bored when you’re not used to it. When I was working, I was so used to scheduling and filling all of my time, and then when I became a stay at home mom, I felt like there was this pressure to go to play groups, get involved in activities, sign up my kids up for things, and cart them around to avoid the boredom.

I tried this for a little while, and it didn’t work for me. The kids just do better (the little ones especially) when we can stay home. When we’re here, I don’t need to worry about what food they are going to eat, and they can nap in their beds whenever they need to (rather than falling asleep in their car seats). So yes, rather than feeling stressed, I sometimes feel bored, and honestly…I LOVE it! I mean, are you kidding me? I can just lay on a bed for an hour playing mouth bubble games with Julian, spend time cuddled on the couch reading books with Ophelia, really focus on building towers with Elliot, and get really creative doing art projects with Ruby…um, yes please!

I know that these days are passing by quick and that I don’t need to have everything in my life balanced all the time (i.e. 25% of my time for me, 25% of my time for work, 25% of my time for my husband, and 25% of my time for the kids). I know that while they are little, children demand an insane amount of attention, and so I balance out time for everything else after that. I know that someday I’m going to be an old lady remembering these as the “good old days” and I will have more than enough time “just for me”. (Which is also why I love taking tons of pictures and movies and keeping memory books!)

13. Find Ways to Relax

There is certainly nothing wrong with cracking a beer or having a glass of wine from time to time (if that suits you), but if this is the only way that you can “unwind” or “relax” after a long day, you’re asking for trouble. See, kids don’t take time off for you to drink, and as soon as you crack a beer because you finally got them to sleep, you just know that they will wake up in half an hour to nurse or need to use the potty. Plus, when we put the kids to bed, that is the time when my husband likes to work on his programming or music side projects, and I like to work on blogging. We’re not just looking to veg out and deaden our minds…ok, sometimes we are (Game of Thrones anyone?).

Here are some of the things that I do that help me to relax:

  • Kombucha: Not only is kombucha good for helping to build a healthy gut flora, but it can help to relax you too. There’s about as much alcohol in a kombucha as a non-alcoholic beer, but unlike drinking beer, the euphoric “high” I get from drinking a kombucha is nothing like the buzz I get from drinking a beer. It feels uplifting, invigorating, and relaxing all at the same time. In Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon states that it’s even more hydrating than water. Check out my kombucha recipe to learn how to make your own.
  • Bath: We inherited this crazy sit down Jacuzzi tub from the previous owners of our house, and we all just love it! At times, you can find either Scott or I piled in there with three kids. But I really love getting the water as hot as possible, putting in some bath salts, putting my Enya mix on, dimming the lights, closing my eyes, and enjoying a good soak.
  • Massage: Sometimes a quick shoulder rub or a foot massage can just make the problems of the world melt away. My husband is always so generous to give me the attention of his hands when I need it, and I like to do the same for him.
  • Alone Time: After a long day cooped inside with the kids, sometimes I just need a half an hour to myself. I might go out and weed the garden or hop in the car to go drop some books off at the library. Just having a few moments to catch my breath without anyone needing me is all I need to reset my clock.
  • Being Intimate: Sometimes we get so busy taking care of everyone else’s needs that we forget to make time for us. Enjoying a good cuddle on the couch wrapped up in each other’s arms is a very good way to relax.

In Conclusion

My husband encounters a lot of older women at his job who tell him how amazing it is that I’m able to stay at home with the kids and how they wish they could have done that with their little ones too. But he’s never once met anyone who has said that they stayed home to raise their little ones and have then regretted it ever since. (Can you imagine?)

Personally, I don’t think that staying at home with the kids is something that I will ever regret. In fact, I think that it is one of the greatest things that I have ever done. I can’t imagine being a grandmother forty years from now saying, “The one regret I have is putting my career on hold while I raised my children”. All I can say is that after much soul searching, self reflection, and following these steps, I love my life, I am completely happy, and I feel like every day is a gift.

I'm Up in the Night to Nurse My 6 Month Old Every Hour...and I'm Okay with That

I’m Up in the Night to Nurse My 6 Month Old Every Hour…and I’m Okay with That

Now that this is my fourth baby (in the last five years), I really and truly SEE how fast time flies, and rather than spend hours combing the Internet looking for ways to get my six month old to “sleep through the night”, I’ve just decided to enjoy it.

I look at my oldest daughter Ruby who is five, wise beyond her years, so independent, and asserting her personality boldly into the world, and I remember those days when she was a tiny little babe cuddled in my arms and nursing into the wee hours of the morning.

As I pull her close now, she melts into my arms, and as our skin touches, I am intoxicated by the electricity between us. It’s not that I long for the days when she was a little baby again, because I have these incredible moments with her now that are just as amazing, but when I remember the days of long ago, and my mind drifts to the Zelda song Scott and I would sing to her every night before putting her to bed, how I would look at her a thousand times in the night to make sure she was still breathing, and how much we loved her laying inbetween us in our Saturday morning bed as we would ooooohhhh and ahhhhhhh over every little sound and motion she made, I feel a sense of honor and a sense of pride about how I hung on to each of those moments rather than pushing through them to get to the next stage.

All of the sleepless nights that I was up with her and all of the tired mornings that I slugged through, they all melt together into one big insignificant blur. And as I look at my little one now, finally asleep on his own after I held and rocked him all night long, I know that the memories of tiredness are not only but a flash, they are an honor.

When I look at each of my four children and remember our special moments in the night, the thought of it practically brings me to tears. They are only these little helpless babies for but a fraction of their lives, and before we know it, they are sleeping in their own beds and then we are left alone…with empty arms.

The other morning, my husband, who is always so wonderful and supportive as he not only thinks about what’s best for the children, but me as well, saw me asleep on my pile of pillows with Julian tucked in my arms, asleep on my breast, and my head bent back in an awkward angle and my body twisted in a half sitting, half laying position, and he just thanked me for that. And of course I started overthinking things (like I always do), and I thought, “He’s six months old, maybe he should be sleeping on his own.”

So that night, I was determined to get him to sleep on his own, and as soon as he drifted off, I placed him in his crib (two feet away from our bed on the floor). “Well, that was easy!” I thought. But as I climbed into bed, I felt lonely. I missed him being near me, and I could only half sleep because one ear was pricked up listening for any little sound of rustling. But eventually, I drifted off into a very very deep sleep, only to be jarred awake an hour later by Julian’s little whimpering voice.

So I got out of bed, picked him up, cuddled him close, and nursed him until he fell asleep once again. Still determined to have him sleep on his own, however, I placed him inbetween Scott and I in our giant king size bed, and was pleased to see that he layed there peacefully. But that only lasted briefly before he started to stir again, and so I cursed and angrily picked him up wondering what I was doing wrong. Scott woke up to ask me what was wrong, and I complained that he just wouldn’t sleep without me holding him.

I awoke the next morning feeling unfulfilled. All of the getting up and down, all of the strategizing and worry, and all of the anger did not make for a very restful night. As Scott and I chatted about it on our two hour weekly milk run, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to try to do anything differently than I had been in the night. (Do you ever get the feeling that you’re doing everything wrong and that you need to scrap everything and start completely over only to realize later that what you were doing before was actually right all along? Yeah, me neither.) So I decided that if he slept best with me holding him all night, than that was just what I was going to do.

It’s now the second morning after my little epiphany, and I’m sitting here typing on a quiet Memorial Day morning while everybody sleeps. Am I tired? Yes. Am I happy? Incredibly. Am I stressed? Not a bit. Last night, and the night before, I held Julian while he nursed on one side and in the process, we both fell asleep. An hour later, he woke up, and I sluggishly maneuvered him to the other side where he nursed and once again, we both fell asleep. All night long we did this dance of nursing and falling asleep from one side to the other. Never once did I have to get out of bed, never once did I awake fully, and every time I easily and quickly drifted off to sleep. I didn’t worry if I was doing it right, I didn’t fret about not getting uninterrupted sleep, and I didn’t allow myself to think, “Is it going to be this way forever?”

Because the realization is that it’s NOT going to last forever! My husband and I always joke about how every milestone we encounter with our children such as potty training, illness, and sleepless nights have one remedy… TIME. Time will pass, it slips through our fingers now like puke spilling down the middle of my bra, there is nothing we can do to stop it, and there is nothing we can do to slow it down.

If we approach each milestone as something to “get through” and  something that will “pass”, we miss the fact that these are the moments we want to remember, the moments we want to cherish, and the moments we will reflect on and look back on when we are old and gray in an empty house with only our memories to keep us company in the wee hours of the night when ironically we are the ones who can’t sleep through the night.

And so I’ll hold my little Julian all through the night, feeding him as often as he needs, knowing that sooner than I think, he’ll be eating solid food and there will come a time when he won’t even want to nurse anymore, and I’ll look back on these nights of ours together with a warmth and a fondness in my heart that I will cherish for a lifetime.