Monday, September 25, 2017

My Journey into Minimalism

I have always enjoyed getting rid of things. I would go through the house, usually once a year after Christmas, and toss a few things in a paper bag to bring to Goodwill. Since our family's four birthdays run from October to December by the time January comes around I am feeling very overwhelmed with material items. This annual purging always gave me a sense of lightness and relief. But I never thought I would become a "minimalist" in the trendy, millennial sense of the word. Even though I had a walk in closet bulging with clothes, my daughter's toys were spilling out of the toy room, and my kitchen cupboards were filled with things I didn't use often, if ever. I thought that I liked all the clothes for variety, my daughter would be able to stay occupied more easily if she had lots of toys, and I might use those kitchen tools one day.

Isn't this what minimalism looks like? Boring white walls, uncomfortable furniture, and definitely not kid friendly.

Then I had my second daughter. My pregnancy and birth was amazing, beautiful, and soul feeding. (If you're curious to read my birth story or posts on pregnancy and postpartum those are right below this post.) But as I lay tucked into bed with my newborn during my postpartum baby moon I felt this nagging sense of anxiety that crept into the edges of my happiness. It was hard for me to push away. Even from the bedroom, the house felt too full. Not with people but with stuff. There were several large boxes of maternity clothes and baby clothes in the walk in closet that had been there for months. My home birth supplies sat in a corner of the room. My daughter's plethora of toys, which had only grown recently when she had her fourth birthday, were scattered around the room. Gifts for me and our new baby were sitting on the dresser. It was hard for me, a neat person by nature, to ignore the mess and concentrate on resting and nursing the baby.

Some of this chaotic mess may be inevitable with a new baby and a woman who greatly values the under appreciated art of rest in the postpartum time. But I knew something had to give when I got up from that bed a few weeks later. My husband was in his final year of his master's degree and would be gone from the house six days a week for his full time job and internship, plus homework in the evenings. My good friend told me about how she had started to get into minimalism. I knew a few other people who had done that but I didn't know how feasible it would be with a husband who had a lot of trouble letting go of things and two young children. She suggested we watch the documentary Minimalism. We did and our perspective totally changed.

The documentary doesn't focus so much on the how to's of minimalism but more the philosophy behind it. After watching it we had a long discussion about this minimalism concept and how we could adopt it. 

For us it came down to: what would we really miss if there was a fire and our house burned up? Would we miss all those hand me down knickknacks? The books we kind of liked but hadn't read in years? The extra stuff we kept in the closet "just in case?" 

Or maybe, our life would be better, richer, more full of meaning and less stressful if we pared down the excess and kept only what was truly useful, meaningful, or beautiful to us?

We prioritize what we value most and remove everything else that distracts us from it. 

We started our minimalism journey in ways typical to us. Ryan dumped a bunch of his stuff into boxes for Goodwill. I watched more documentaries and read several books. I definitely don't recommend starting minimalism when you have a newborn, a preschooler, and are in the final year of your master's program! But I knew this was going to be a journey and not a race. I would go through things gradually and have probably taken over ten trips to Goodwill with the van full of stuff. We've been purging things for about nine months now and we're still not "done!" I don't know if we'll ever be "done" though. Again, the whole journey thing.

This was actually a trip to my friend's house for a garage sale, but you get the idea

Another important aspect of our minimalism journey is the prioritizing of how we spend our time and what we focus on. I've realized that I would really love to take horseback riding lessons again. Horses were my whole life during my much of my childhood. At one point I thought I wanted to become a professional rider. Although I don't think that will happen I do want to get back into that passion. So for my birthday and Christmas I am going to ask for money for riding lessons instead of material items that I don't want or need.

We've probably gotten rid of about half of our material items at this point. And it feels great! In my next post I will talk about how we did this: my thought process while going through things and how I figure out what to keep or what to toss.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Lying In: A Traditional Postpartum BabyMoon

Ahhh, is there anything better than snuggling skin to skin with your newborn in an oxytocin soaked state while others wait upon you and do all the monotonous daily tasks that keep a household running? I think not! If you're never experienced a traditional lying in (also called a baby moon) you are missing out. It's one of my favorite things about giving birth.

After my gentle, unhindered births I enjoy all the lovely hormones that facilitate optimal bonding between mother and baby in my own environment with my own (very few) people. I settle in my own bed for days, only getting up to use the bathroom. Baby stays skin to skin with me, except for when she's being held by other family members, even at night. This can also enable a great start to breastfeeding. Both my babies had gained above their birth weight a few days after birth and my milk supply was plentiful. Vaginal birth, skin to skin, and breastfeeding are also three ways to help baby establish an optimal microbiome.

From the birth tub to the bed, and there I stay!

Sweet baby, skin to skin the following morning.

Ideally I like to stay in bed for about a week. Then I wander out to the living room couch for another week or so. After that I might venture downstairs or right outside to get some fresh air. It's usually a few weeks before baby and I even go in the car anywhere or take a walk. I wear pajamas or comfortable lounge clothes. My favorite is those flannel pajamas with the button down tops so baby and I can stay skin to skin but my arms stay warm.

I also took it easy after birth because I was healing a second degree tear without stitches (again). That meant: bed rest, soaking my bottom twice a day, frozen herbal compresses made by my midwife, and no stairs for a few weeks. Once again, I healed great and am very glad to not have had stitches!

Even if you aren't healing a tear, it's very important to rest as much as you can after birth and have others mother you. It's essential for optimal physical and emotional recovery after pregnancy and birth and also to adjust to the new family dynamics.

We expect way too much of women after they have a baby.

First postpartum days. Baby is skin to skin, I have my flannel pajamas on, and Audrey is keeping me company along with the stack of books on the shelf.

Daddy and his girls (Mommy was taking a shower). Baby moons are for partners and siblings too!

What do I do during all this time in bed? Watch movies, tv (I watched Dr Quinn this time), read books, sleep, nurse the baby and change diapers, eat, play with Audrey (so much coloring and Sofia the First!) I really enjoyed the slower pace and all the time to rest and cuddle my family. I also had a few visitors but I am very picky about who I allow in during this special time. Our immediate family visited and a few of my close friends when they came to drop off meals. I love to post a lot of pictures on social media but prefer to keep my postpartum environment like my birth environment.

Birth is a very spiritual and sacred experience and that naturally carries over into the postpartum time.

One of my first meals from a wonderful friend, complete with a baby skin to skin and flannel pajamas.

A few weeks later, now I'm in the living room and baby has clothes on.

Ryan has been very fortunate in being able to take several weeks off for both girls. It was a bit more difficult after Deidre was born because he was also doing an internship for his master's program, so we hired a postpartum doula to help on those days. She was amazing and did laundry, meal prep, dishes, took care of Audrey, etc.

My awesome postpartum doula, Jessica!

After Ryan went back to work my mom, who is retired, came up from Florida. She stayed for two weeks and took over doing everything Ryan was doing: housework, errands, meals, taking care of Audrey and the dog, etc. I gradually started doing more and going out more at the end of her stay.

 My mom taking Audrey and the dog to run off some energy.

My favorite thing to eat during this baby moon was breakfast sandwiches I made and froze ahead of time and placenta smoothies! My friend Jody, who was Audrey's sibling doula at the birth, prepared my placenta for raw smoothies. She drained the blood, pureed it in the blender, and froze it in an ice cube tray. Ryan put one cube in each smoothie along with strawberries, banana, and juice. I tasted no placenta, just fruit. But I did crave those sandwiches and smoothies every day I woke up during the first week postpartum. Then my placenta was gone. And so were my cravings for them.

I ate all of this, except for the cord. Doesn't it look delicious?

After my mom left I felt pretty confident in resuming my usual tasks and taking care of two children. Here is a picture of a typical day when Deidre was young: babywearing in lounge clothes, hair in a messy ponytail, toys all over, Audrey painting at the table. Gotta love the #momlife

I know this kind of postpartum isn't possible for a lot of women. Especially if they don't have help from partners or extended family. But if there's anyway you can take a traditional baby moon, do it! It's such a short, sweet time during your life. You won't regret it.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Thoughts on Turning 30

I turned 30 three weeks after Deidre was born. For many people, 30 is a big deal. It's when you start feeling more like a "real grown up" and less like a young, carefree "pretend grown up." Most millenials spend their 20's having fun, establishing careers, discovering who they are, and so on. This is the decade you're supposed to be out partying with your friends and not worrying too much about the future or being burdened by big responsibilities.

I never fit into that category of the "typical" millenial. I couldn't wait to grow up, move out of the house, graduate college, get married, and have babies. Ryan and I started dating when we were 17. A year later he gave me a promise ring and we told our parents we wanted to get married, eventually. Of course they didn't take us seriously - what 18 year old ends up marrying their high school sweetheart these days? But we knew. So we went to college, had some fun, but stayed together and committed. He proposed the summer before our senior year and we got married a few months after graduation when we were 22. I remember feeling done with the party scene early on in college. I just wanted to grow up, get married, and have babies. Oh, how I wanted those babies!

Ryan and I at 20

In college I even jokingly referred to my hormonal birth control as "happiness prevention." I knew it wasn't a good time to get pregnant but if it had happened despite birth control I would have been overjoyed. I was quite the anomaly of my generation and wanted to start trying for a baby only six months after getting married. This was common knowledge about me. In fact, Audrey and I were watching my wedding video recently and in my maid of honor's speech she talked about how "Stacey has wanted to be a mom since I've known her, so here is a few dollars to start your kids' college fund. She wants a lot of kids, so you'll need it!"

Well, we all know how that turned out. 2 years of waiting, countless hours of heartache and desperation, hundreds of dollars spent before being blessed with Audrey. Not the typical ending for a healthy young couple in their 20's.

And this brings me to my point. For most people their 20's are a super fun, amazing time. For me they were a very difficult decade filled with heartache and hardship, although mixed with the wonderful blessings of two babies.

I sometimes wish I could go back in time and warn my former, very young and naive self: hey this is going to be really hard. You are in for quite an epic journey. And not only for this baby, but for the next baby. And the in between time will be so difficult too: your first baby will be very ill for months and you won't know why. And your husband will be getting his master's degree for 3 years which will be so stressful and difficult on everyone in the family. The years ahead are going to rip you apart and you'll question everything: life, your faith in God, your relationship with your husband. But you will come out the other side and be a new, stronger person. You will discover that you can do hard things. You will learn to depend on others. You will learn, truly, about the fragility of life and not ever take your children for granted. Ultimately, these experiences will make you a better mother, wife, and human being. Just like in birth, the journey is as important and essential as the destination.

Would I have still wanted to grow up so fast and have babies so young? Yes, I think so. The pull of my birth and my babies was so strong, and even now I already feel the pull of my future babies. When you've found your vocation it's not easy to push that aside and wait in order to experience life as society says you should. But when I look back at pictures of myself, I do feel sad for the young girl who had no clue what difficult journey lie ahead, and who was not at all prepared for so much so young.

I was relieved to put my 20's behind me. And although I know you can't escape all suffering in life, I do hope my 30's will have less hardships of such magnitude. But when life inevitably brings difficulties, I will look back and remember that I can do it.