Must-(not)-haves for the first-time mom

March 5, 2013 at 1:43 am

“Most children’s shoes ought to come with a government health warning.” -Tracy Byrne (podiatrist)

When I was pregnant for the first time, I was fresh out of college and my husband was starting graduate school. We answered phones after-hours as live-in caretakers in a mortuary (seriously) for four years so we didn’t have to pay rent while my husband finished his schooling. He worked in addition to his graduate school responsibilities, but we had very little money.

Not all families start out as low on funds as we did, but I know many of them do. The marketing targeted at first-time moms is overwhelming. Magazines, television, internet ads, and sometimes friends and family can fill our heads with so many “must-haves” for our babies. After 9+ years of motherhood, I think often of all the baby paraphernalia that seem so essential when you’re pregnant for the first time but really aren’t necessary at all. It’s astounding how much stuff you can accumulate once a baby joins the family. And when we had our first baby, space was at a minimum in our tiny apartment.

If you’re looking for ways to keep your stress levels at a minimum, simplify, and cut clutter and costs as you enter parenthood, here’s my personal list of items you may want to leave off your list.

1) Changing tables. We got by just fine with a towel (for leaks) on the floor or on our bed. My goal was always to not leave my bed for night-time feedings and diaper changes… none of this going to a changing table in the middle of the night thing. They may be nice to store all the diapers and wipes, but a nightstand, closet, or cupboard works just as well for that. I’d also include the entire “baby nursery” as unnecessary, but that could be a whole other blogpost in itself. ;-)

2) Baby lotion. We got bottles and bottles of the stuff for baby shower gifts as first-time parents. Most of them got re-gifted to other new parents… you know, let’s spread the useless wealth, right? Here’s the reality… babies have lusciously soft skin as it is, and baby lotion may actually be harmful. If you’d like something to use for baby massages or skin irritations, I’d recommend coconut oil or olive oil.

3) Pacifiers and bottles. I realize that these are life-savers (or absolutely essential) for many moms, but if you’re certain you want to breastfeed, you probably won’t need them. My babies simply wouldn’t take any size or shape of pacifier (except our pinkie fingers or my own real-life nipples). And they wouldn’t take bottles either. We wasted a lot of money trying different brands and styles in search of “the one.” In the end, it was just easier to breastfeed exclusively… and the good news was that we never had to break our children of their binkie or bottle addiction.

Inward Rivers

February 25, 2012 at 4:53 pm

“Let everyone be swift to hear, slow to speak.” -James 1:19

The following is something I actually started writing seven years ago. While it’s not at all birth-related, it’s a subject near and dear to my heart, and it’s been on my mind a lot lately. I do have several birthy-type blogposts (good stuff!) lined-up to write, but writing time is rare for me these days. Alas. Anyway, I thought I’d share this condensed and tweaked version of that long-ago-started essay in case there were some folks like me out there who needed it.

“How come you’re so quiet?”

“Don’t be shy!”

“You should talk more!”

These words were spoken to me quite often when I was growing up. And I can’t tell you how irritating it was. I hated those words. I still hate them. I think it’s probably safe to say that there’s nothing more annoying to an introvert than to have an extrovert loudly make a point of how “quiet” she is.

Many view shyness as a negative trait, something to be “fixed.” So, when a child appears hesitant to interact with others, parents often feel that they must give an explanation or even an apology. This preeminence of the extroverts has been a part of western culture for quite some time. Quieter people stand out largely because they are like square pegs in a society that clearly favors round ones. Why is that so? What’s so bad about being reserved? I believe we ought to ask ourselves in this loud and often insensitive western culture—is it really in our best interest to try to turn all the quiet folks into talkers?

I've got one of each (so far)

On Friendship

February 22, 2012 at 8:01 pm

I’ve been reflecting on friendship over the last couple of days. I’ve been looking around myself, recognizing that I have been blessed with an overwhelming abundance of friendships. I have so many people, near and far, that I love and cherish. So many people in my support network who would step up and help me with an emergency on a moment’s notice. So many awesome people. Yet I am also recognizing a problem with that great blessing. When you’re friends with everyone, what that really sort of translates to is that you’re friends with no one.

I stopped calling anyone my “best friend” before I even got to high school. I guess I learned a long time ago that it just hurts too much to lose a “best friend,” so I tend to play it safe and keep people at a distance. That way losing one isn’t as catastrophic because they’re not the “one and only,” they’re just one of many. Chalk it up to my abandonment issues, I guess.

But, at the same time, I crave close friendships. A mom needs a girls’ night now and then. A mom needs a close friend she can call or email when she feels like she’s going bonkers, someone who will give her just the right blend of validation and encouragement. A mom needs someone who’ll drag her out of the house for some fresh air, sunshine, and adult conversation.

Finding my valentine, part 4

February 15, 2012 at 4:53 am

There I stood… Reid to my left—mysterious, humble, thoughtful, older man with a stunning smile. Isaac in front of me—silly, loud, hilarious, younger man who was much less threatening to my carefully-laid plans for my future. Should I accept Isaac’s invitation for a drive and enjoy an evening of laughter and silliness? Or should I decline the invitation and continue my conversation with Reid?

The truth is, it wasn’t really a tough choice at all. I knew the instant that the words came out of Isaac’s mouth that I was going to disappoint him. Remember, I was high on those giddy twitterpation hormones, and I was dead set on getting into Reid’s head, so it only took me a moment’s thought before I looked at Reid and then looked at Isaac and said, “Umm, I think I’m actually going to stick around here.”

I’ll never forget the look on Isaac’s face. He was clearly shocked. He had been given no warning that anything inside my head had changed. I am sure he had expected me to smile and cheerfully accept his invitation. He was stunned into silence for a minute. Then he looked at Reid and back at me, and I watched it dawn on his face that he understood what must be happening. He said something like, “Oh, okay,” and slowly turned and walked away. I felt a little bit bad, but mostly I was relieved to have Reid to myself again.

Finding my valentine, part 3

February 15, 2012 at 1:52 am

Reid smiled back, and then he said something that stopped me in my tracks. He said…

“Hello, Lani!”

And, for a moment, the world stopped spinning. Really! Or maybe not, but that’s kind of how it felt in that instant. From Reid’s end of things, he’d say that there wasn’t anything particularly significant about his remembering my name. He just used to be really good about remembering people’s names. But I tell him that he’s lucky he did, ‘cause, the truth is, I don’t know if we’d have ended up getting hitched if it hadn’t been for his excellent name-recall. For me, it was that very moment, hearing those beautiful words—“Hello, Lani”—that really catapulted Reid onto my radar screen.

I’m not really sure why those two little words had such a profound impact on me, but they really really did. It wasn’t just that he remembered my name. I think it was the fact that I didn’t expect him to remember my name. I was really taken by surprise that someone who had barely made a blip on my radar screen was greeting me personally. It shocked and enthralled me. All of a sudden, the cogs and wheels in my head started spinning and speculating and reading into things. All of a sudden, I was determined to get inside of this Reid character’s head. Unlike Isaac, he was a quiet, mysterious, keep-to-himself sort of guy, so there was so much I suddenly wanted to know about him. I don’t think I thought of anything else for the next few hours.

Finding my valentine, part 2

February 14, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Never ones to pass up an opportunity to converse with new friends, we decided to chat with his roommates (whom we had never met) instead. At first it was just one or two of them, and then a third showed up… some kid who liked to run. I think his name was Reid or something…

He was a scrawny one. Looked like a high school kid rather than a college student. He was nice, but I think I forgot his name two seconds after he told us what it was. I have a way of doing that with names.

And I continued to hang out with Isaac off and on. When I was with Isaac, I don’t think I ever stopped smiling (or laughing). But after several weeks of silliness, it was starting to wear me out a bit. I often thought to myself… umm… Okay, Isaac, enough fun and games. Let’s be real for a change. I don’t think I ever did feel like we had a real conversation.

A Moment

January 18, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Watching this beautiful HBAC birth video last night reminded me of some important things I learned at my neonatal resuscitation training back in December. I want to share them here, in part because my own experiences have been a reflection of them. Let me explain.

Many of you have probably seen the beautiful video Birth in the Squatting Position depicting women in Brazil giving birth. After those Brazilian women’s babies emerge from their bodies, there is always a moment (or two or three or four) where the babies are lying on the floor in front of their mothers. Those mothers do not instantly grasp their babies into their arms, enraptured. Those mothers (and most mothers who give birth normally) need a moment to breathe and allow themselves to process what has just happened to them. Likewise, their babies benefit from those few moments in a place below their mothers, allowing gravity to aid bringing all of their blood to them from the placenta (<–this wouldn’t be wise in water, however). Then, once these physiological and emotional processes have happened, once these mothers have come back into their bodies, then these mothers begin to gently touch their babies and finally claim them and bring them into their arms. It is beautiful to see these things happen without interference. No one hands the baby to her. She claims her baby herself when she is ready to do it.

The birth that changed the world

December 14, 2011 at 6:43 pm

I love that one of the most celebrated events in earth’s history is a birth.

I’ve posted before (Away in a Manger) about what that miraculous event might have been like, based on Jewish laws and customs from Biblical times. Of course we don’t know exactly what happened when Mary gave mortal life to her Son. Sometimes laws and customs are laid aside when circumstances require. But how wonderful it would have been to witness that birth! I fantasize about it often.

I love the following new videos depicting the events surrounding Christ’s birth. One of my only laments is that we aren’t privileged to see Mary laboring or giving birth. Below you’ll find links to the videos and a few of the things I loved about them. Each one is only a few minutes long. If you like them, you can download them to share with your friends and family too. Enjoy!

Angel Foretells Christ’s Birth to Mary-  I love the casting of Mary. I love how she seems to live and move and breathe on a higher plane. I love her humility.

Happy birth day, Mom

October 21, 2011 at 4:46 pm

I started writing this yesterday (my 31st birthday!). Some of you may remember reading about my mother-daughter history. My mom and I have gone through a lot over the years in our relationship and our personal lives. In the past year, especially, we’ve had lots of ups and downs. But, I’m happy to say, I think the deepest “downs” in our relationship are behind us. And I feel really good about our future. Healing comes little by little, but it comes. And it feels really good.

I think it’s easy to forget, on our birthdays, what our mommas went through on this particular day we are celebrating.  So, today, I want to honor the woman who (despite darkness and difficulties surrounding her) gave me life 31 years ago.  I hope that my arrival was a bright spot in that darkness, Mom.

A few days ago, I was suddenly struck with the thought: “What if Mom died?” It was like my life flashed before my eyes (the past and the hypothetical future) and I realized what a huge blessing she is in my life… how much she does for me, how much her presence in my life means to me, what an effort she makes to ensure that I know she cares and wants me to be happy. I’m getting choked-up just thinking about how much in my future life would feel empty with her absence.  I’m so glad you’re alive, Mom.  I’m so glad you’re a part of my life.

Mate selection

September 22, 2011 at 6:51 pm

“As we act out the complex rituals of courtship, many of them inscribed deep in our brain, scent-based cues help us zero in on optimal partners—the ones most likely to stay faithful to us and to create healthy children with us.” (“Scents and Sensibility,” Psychology Today)

You already know that I love new baby smells and believe that our sense of smell plays an important role in the bonding process.  Since making this discovery a couple of years ago, I have thought off and on about the subject as news stories or ideas have come up on my radar.  Then, a couple of days ago, I had an experience that brought smell and bonding onto my radar again.


As my husband was saying good-bye to all of us to leave for work, he came over to hug and kiss me like he always does.  It was an ordinary hug, no different from every other hug on every other morning.  But this time I noticed something I had never paid attention to before. When we hugged each other, both of us, simultaneously (instinctively?), drew in a long breath through our noses, smelling each other deeply. As I watched this exchange, almost as an outside observer, I was absolutely fascinated.  When he came home from work, later in the day, it happened again… hug… deep breath in through our noses.  Maybe we’re not so different from our dog-friends after all? I’m becoming more convinced than ever that our sense of smell plays a far more important role in our relationships than we realize.

I was telling my husband about this observation last night.  He had never noticed our smell-hugs before either.  And then I was telling him about the blogpost I was planning to write.  During our conversation, I told him, “I used to think that the most important factors in choosing a mate were spiritual and emotional, but I don’t anymore.”  Yes, they are important, but I would now say that physical chemistry comes first, at least if you’re planning on reproducing (and giving those children stronger/healthier immune systems) and remaining faithful to each other forever.  Here’s why…

Treasure box

August 8, 2011 at 1:11 am

After my first baby was born, the love and appreciation I felt for my husband expanded and intensified in ways I hadn’t expected.  But. Our marriage would never be the same. Suddenly our time and energy were divided, leaving (what seemed like) only tiny fleeting specs for our marriage. I can distinctly remember, during those first weeks and months after my first daughter’s birth, recognizing that I needed to allow myself to grieve the loss of my former life, including the time and freedom I once had to bond with my husband whenever I wanted to.

A long-term study published in March of 2009 showed that a deterioration in marital relationship functioning was common following the birth of a first baby. It reported:

Compared with prebirth levels and trajectories, parents showed sudden deterioration following birth on observed and self-reported measures of positive and negative aspects of relationship functioning. The deterioration in these variables was small to medium in size and tended to persist throughout the remaining years of the study [eight years]. Mothers and fathers showed similar amounts of change after birth. The amount of postbirth deterioration in relationship functioning varied systematically by several characteristics of the individual, the marriage, and the pregnancy itself. (Source)

So, if you find yourself feeling dissatisfied with your level of postpartum marital bliss, you’re not alone. This is normal. Even after babies #2, 3, 4 or more. But, of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about it.

The Science of Parenting

April 23, 2011 at 9:32 pm

In February of 2010, I heard about The Science of Parenting by Dr. Margot Sunderland (director of education and training at the Centre for Child Mental Health in London) in a Canadian news article with the headline ‘Crying it out’ may damage baby’s brain. Now that’s a heavy headline, eh? I was definitely intrigued, so I decided to dig further into this.

My initial reaction to the book was: it looks and feels like a text book. Lots of pictures, sidebars, bullet points, etc. The tone of the writing also reminded me of a text book–one that was giving you basic information without personality or fluff. But I was sort of disappointed because the book repeats phrases like, “There is a mass of scientific research showing…” but it only speaks in very general terms about what those studies actually show. I guess I expected a book called “The Science of Parenting” to delve more deeply into the science of parenting.

Surrender, part 4

March 28, 2011 at 12:43 am

With my three previous births, the transition from 7 to 10 centimeters took me deeper and deeper into the inner recesses of my consciousness.  As I pulled further and further into myself, I would dig for any reserves of strength and endurance.  Simultaneously I would be taken up and outside of myself to distant spaces somewhere between earth and heaven, almost completely oblivious to my actual physical surroundings and anyone in them.  Between contractions, I was typically extremely relaxed and motionless with my eyes closed.  Basically, during transition, I’m usually simultaneously high and sedated from the influence of massive amounts of natural opiates (endorphins).

But there I was… nine centimeters with baby #4…  and my head was still firmly on this planet?  I’d never experienced anything like this before.

After checking my cervix, Mary suggested that I get up on my knees, leaning over my birth ball, to encourage the baby to descend, and do some nipple stimulation to get some good “mean” contractions coming.  In retrospect, I can tell you how wise and merciful it was for her to encourage those “mean” contractions.  Endorphins are an important part of the birth process, and they’re released in response to pain.  Minimal pain, in my case, translated to minimal endorphin release—not the ideal way to prepare for a mini-person to squeeze through my lady parts.  Pushing has always been the easiest part of childbirth for me because I’m usually swimming in natural opiates.  This time, Mary could tell (and I could tell) that I was most definitely not swimming in opiates.  So, nipple stim we did.  That’s when my doula arrived with her camera and started snapping pictures.

Knowing how soon the birth would be upon us, we also called for my five-year-old daughter to come upstairs.  Before I even became pregnant, she told me she wanted to be my doula the next time I had a baby.  She’s my little “birth junkie” and could watch birth YouTube videos with me all day long. 

Building a better bond

February 19, 2011 at 7:28 am

It is now officially my “due date.” I’ve never been pregnant this long before. My other children came 9 days, 5 days, and 10 days early. All of my mother’s six children came either 9 days or 6 days early. I’m not certain, but I think all of my sister’s kids came early as well. I was under the impression that the women in my family “cook ‘em fast.” So my husband and I have been quite surprised to see this pregnancy continuing as long as it has. But I’m totally OK with that. I’ve learned some important things over the past week, and I feel I have God’s and my baby’s wise choice of timing to thank for those valuable blessings. I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned.

You may be aware from prior blogposts (Pitocin on the Brain, On loving baby slime, Mothering my children, healing myself) that bonding with my freshly-born babies has been a struggle for me in the past. With each child, the bond has come more quickly, but it has still never happened as quickly and strongly as I would like it to. My past experiences have led me to believe, at times, that I’m not capable of experiencing that instant “love at first sight” some parents speak of. But it doesn’t keep me from fantasizing about experiencing it. Especially when irrational fears creep up in the recesses of my consciousness filling me with doubts that I’ll even be able to love this new baby at all.

Nesting and Prolactin

January 8, 2011 at 7:35 pm

On Monday I started “nesting.”  A sudden urgency to prepare for the arrival of baby #4 hit me like a ton of bricks.  The first project I tackled:  pulling out all the gender-neutral baby clothes and blankets and washing them (even though they were already clean).  I also threw our stash of cheap washcloths for the home birth into the load as well. Later we got the last few supplies we needed from our home birth supply list.  And then I started cleaning my bathroom (the room I anticipate spending most of my labor in).

32 weeks (Christmas Day)

I couldn’t help wondering, as I busied myself, is this “nesting” thing just a logical consequence of my realizing how little time I have left before my baby arrives, could it simply be that I’m motivated by the New Year and its attendant resolutions, or is there really something within my body chemistry triggering my need to ready our nest? There’s no question that the nesting instinct exists within the animal kingdom, but what about within us? Is the human nesting urge for real? Are we, too, being governed by instinct as we prepare for our babies’ births?  Questions like those always get my blogging juices flowing.

I hoped to find some scientific studies of the nesting instinct among humans, but my search brought up mostly studies among animals.  For instance, one of the first things I found was a really old study suggesting that nest-building in rabbits is triggered by a change in the ratio of estrogen to progesterone. 

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