Why Didn't Anyone Tell Me?

We talk about all the beauty and the precious moments in the fourth trimester - the first few months following birth...but as a society we fail to share and prepare new parents for the hardship. Is it because the topics are a bit uncomfortable or “inappropriate”? Is it because by admitting that this phase of life is challenging when nobody else does, we feel alone in these feelings - like failures? Is it because we see our friends and families happiness in their pregnancy and we don’t want to alarm them or bring them down?

The hormonal shifts. The physical changes. The lochia. The nurturing of a newborn. The lack of sleep. The breastfeeding obstacles. They are all things that this birth and postpartum doula struggled with hard. My birth was beautiful. I prepared myself for that. Others prepared me for that. But then a baby was placed on my chest and other than the very basics of breastfeeding and postpartum care - I was a fish out of water. I quickly realized how little I had prepared myself for this phase and how little others had talked about this very joyful, yet very challenging phase. I could have used a lactation consultant and a postpartum doula both prenatally and during those early weeks/months following my birth but like most, I was unfortunately blindsided by the reality of postpartum and too overwhelmed and exhausted to realize there were professionals who could help me.

So let me talk about it a little bit here and now and remind those new parents that THIS IS A PHASE and IT WILL NOT BE LIKE THIS FOREVER.

The deflated balloon that is your belly. Such a strange sensation, I know. This will slowly subside in time (like a few months time) but you can support and encourage it along by binding your belly or using a post-pregnancy support band and doing certain exercises. We highly suggest reaching out to Carrie Koziol at Pilates by Carrie for her postpartum education and exercise class! She will not disappoint!

Lochia. You will bleed 4-6 weeks on average following your birth. When my midwife nonchalantly mentioned as long as the clots are no larger than an egg - A chicken egg - and there is no foul odors or colors - all is likely fine, I was a little surprised to say the least. Lochia - it’s just not very fun.

Newborn care. I had this perfect little picture in my mind. My daughter would sleep in her little bassinet as my husband and I admired her and rested ourselves. But the reality is that every baby is different and ours was pretty fussy and needed constant holding. Quite literally. My arms, neck and back were very sore. This is why as a postpartum doula I offer massage if and when there is time as well as education on healthy positioning and techniques that take a load off these specific muscles. All the little nuances of a newborn were just a bit overwhelming. How do we position her? What does she find calming? How do we effectively change her poop-splosion without making an absolute mess? How can I get my hands free to get anything - ANYTHING - done? I once made a full blown taco dinner one handed while nursing her...this was before I realized baby wearing was my best friend. It’s just a lot on top of healing and finding time to rest myself. Postpartum doulas can help with all the above. They can advise on ways to expedite healing, they can ensure rest by being an extra set of hands around the house, in the kitchen and with the baby or older siblings, and they (just like labor/birth doulas) are a calm presence in the turmoil that can be the postpartum period. Do not hesitate to reach out!

Lack of sleep. I purchased an Arms Reach Cosleeper which quickly became a second nightstand for all my junk. I tried. I really did. But I hated the barrier between my daughter and I and having to physically sit up for every feeding. We became a bedsharing family after I read up on the research presented by Dr. James McKenna at Notre Dame. I also attribute this to just wanting everyone to get the maximum amount of sleep. Insert king-sized bed. Every family will find their own way and their own rhythm. Do what works for you and your baby and don't allow anyone to make you feel bad about that choice. An overnight postpartum doula can be critical for many families, even when breastfeeding is a priority.

Breastfeeding Obstacles. Again, this will depend on baby and circumstances. With my first-born, I quickly realized why the US has a deplorable average weaning time of 3 months. This was by far my hardest challenge in life. But I was determined. We went through engorgement, oversupply and overactive letdown, breast refusal, reflux and strange baby poop - hello dairy allergy!, lip tie, thrush, clogged ducts, mastitis, leaking for 2 full years, etc. We recommend Heather Dvorak, an IBCLC independently servicing the Chicagoland area. She comes to your home or the hospital and assesses issues while providing solutions. Her services have saved many of breastfeeding relationships and our clients are so thankful.

In those first few months there was so much joy and so much hardship. There were smiles and many many tears. I remember thinking, what in the world have I gotten myself into...and why didn’t anyone tell me?

You will get through. Seek help when it’s needed or desired! Family and friends but also professionals. Build your tribe before the baby arrives to ease the transition. A mistake I made and I hope to help other women avoid. So here I am -- telling you!

Cesarean is Strength

It finally clicked for me. You see, I have been struggling with nonjudgmental care more than I feel comfortable admitting. I was brought up very natural minded and followed suit in my own birth experiences and parenting style. I see the value in a lot of these methods and techniques and so I enjoy teaching natural birth and I enjoy sharing about breastfeeding and attachment parenting. There is nothing wrong with that as long as I’m not pushing unsolicited advice or education on clients or people who don’t care for it AND as long as I’m not shaming or making those who birth and parent differently feel inferior. Only the problem is that I unknowingly was. 

A few months ago I worked with a couple whose goal was to have a natural birth experience. After laboring for almost 36 hours and getting little to no sleep, this mom was understandably deliriously exhausted. Her eyes were dark and closing and she was unable to walk and barely able to talk. Her body was so tired that her contractions became less effective and eventually ceased to exist. I had to do a very hard thing and acknowledge that if this mom continued down this path, she would no longer be experiencing healthy pain — she would be suffering. We discussed her options and she decided she needed an epidural. Here is where my working life crumbled before me. After making that decision - a decision that I knew was very much unwanted but truly needed, this poor mama looked me dead in the eye with a trembling voice and said, “I feel like a failure. I’m so sorry.” and wouldn’t unlock her tear-filled stare. It hit me like a ton of bricks. There was no escape for me here. This amazingly strong woman felt like she failed and worst of all, she felt like she had to apologize due to her “failed” efforts. In that moment, I felt so disgusted with myself. So sad. So ashamed. So angry. She could have never failed no matter what decision she made but I had failed her. I had failed to make her feel like my support was unconditional and non-judgmental. I failed to explain that birth is almost never a perfect picture. It’s so unpredictable with so many variables and aspects. I failed to make sure she knew no matter what intervention took place or what route her birth experience went in, whether this baby was born vaginally or abdominally, she was included. Included in the “I am strong and I rocked my birth” club that all mothers, no matter how they birth, fit in! I am sure of one of two things:

1. Birth and Motherhood are hard. 

2. Women are strong.

We need to stop the shaming and the mommy wars. We need to put differences aside. We need to be more considerate, understanding and inclusive. We need to love and support one another. We need to raise each other up rather than make one another feel ashamed or inadequate.

This baby was later born via cesarean after every trick up our sleeves was utilized, 6 hours of actively pushing, and baby’s heart decelerating frequently upon position changes. It was discovered she was posterior, asynclitic with a nuchal cord x3. 

A good doula removes her own opinions and agendas and she offers her support whole-heartedly. I never want another woman — a woman who entrusts emotional and physical care during her labor to me - to mumble those words. I drove home in tears. Not because of the cesarean (although disheartening because of this mom’s wishes), but because of how she felt. 

The vast majority of women can have spontaneous labor, low or no intervention vaginal births. However, there are times when we medically cannot. For those who experience the OR table - You are strong. You are brave. You are amazing. 

I Didn't Realize...

I didn’t realize when you found out you were pregnant, it was joy but it was also worry. Worries of (another) miscarriage. Worries of providing the best start of life.

I didn’t realize the day I was born, it was happiness but it was overwhelm. Overwhelming feelings - some insecurities and overwhelm wondering how you will split your time and attention between your children.

I didn’t realize that in the postpartum and newborn phase, it was love but it was hardship. Amongst the immense bonding came sleepless nights, breastfeeding obstacles, and tears. Many tears.

I didn’t realize that as I learned to crawl, walk and talk, it was awe but it was exhaustion. It was baby-proofing, it was distractions, it was the constant chase.

I didn’t realize that throughout the toddler ages, it was fun but it was challenging. Tantrums, non-listening ears, and never-ending questions.

I didn’t realize that on my first day of school, it was excitement but it was sadness. You smiled to let me know it was okay to let go but you cried your eyes out as you sat back in your car.

I didn’t realize that as you witnessed me grow, it was beauty but it was heartache. Part of guiding me was allowing me the space to make my own mistakes and waiting with open arms as I did.

I didn’t realize that at every major adult milestone, it was pride but it was fear. Graduations, marriage, childbearing, career-finding. You had to let me find my wings and remain confident in all my decisions, even the ones you wouldn’t necessarily make yourself.

I didn’t realize all that you gave and continue to give until I became a mother myself.

I didn’t realize what a gift you would be to my children. The ones you held tightly in your arms so I could take a shower. The ones you make belly-laugh so hard they can hardly breathe. The ones who proudly call you grandma. The ones who on their tippy-toes peer out of the window awaiting your arrival...because you bring treats, you play, you kiss, you love and you adore.

The compromises tremendous. The love unconditional. You are my mom. I am forever grateful for you.

 

"I would love to hire a doula BUT..."

“…I’m planning on an epidural/cesarean section and doulas are only for natural birthers.”

              This couldn’t be further from the truth. A doula’s job is to provide education as well as continuous physical and emotional support. Last time we checked, support and judgment are two entirely different things. Every woman and family have a different set of goals and ideals when it comes to their birth experience. We are there to inform and empower. We are there to work with your birth team and help you process risks, benefits and alternatives when it comes to potential interventions and medical techniques. We are there so that when you walk away from your birth experience, you look back with a sense of pride instead of feelings of confusion or overwhelm.

              Whether you wish for a completely natural birth experience null of medical interventions or you have decided an epidural or other intervention is best for you, we are there to guide you through it all and we are saddened that this misconception exists.

“…my husband is afraid the doula will overshadow his role in our birth experience.”

              One thing we always make a point to discuss with our potential clients at consults is that it is not our role to push dad aside, but rather to help him best support his partner in their birth experience. Sometimes this means allowing him to take a much-needed break for a nap or meal but other times it means stepping back and working on the outside looking in. If we see that the two of you are working really well together, we know that this is what keeps oxytocin flowing which progresses labor. We can do other things in the background or quietly make suggestions. The truth is that this is one of the most important days for the both of you. Together, you are welcoming your baby into this world and stepping into parenthood. The husband knows and loves his partner. We know and love birth. We work together to provide the laboring woman with an amazing team. We pride ourselves on being mindful of the both of you and never overstepping boundaries.

“…the cost is too high.”

              Although doula support can seem rather expensive, and is, there is good reason for this. As birth and postpartum doulas, we invest a lot of time and money into our practical training and continued education to best serve you. There is a lot of unseen background work behind doula support – on top of births and postpartum shifts, a lot of our time is spent tackling administrative work, emailing/texting/talking over the phone to answer questions at any given time, attending prenatal and postpartum appointments and driving. My goodness, the amount of driving. Living an on-call lifestyle and being available at the drop of a hat is extremely hard on both the doula and her family and for those of us that provide these services as a profession and not a part-time hobby, there are only so many clients we can take on responsibly without overbooking and doing a disservice to all involved. On top of all of this, we are mothers ourselves and due to our sporadic work schedules, child care can be difficult to find and expensive. Missing out on important family functions and holidays and attending births that well surpass our point of exhaustion (typically around 18 hours) can be tough but the passion and love for what we do coupled with proper compensation get us through and leave us wanting more.

              The birth of your child is likely the most important day of your life and leaves a lasting impact on the entire family. The postpartum period is equally, if not more important. If all you do is hire a midwife/OBGYN without even considering childbirth education, doula support, placenta encapsulation, chiropractic care, lactation support, photography, etc. – you truly are doing the bare minimum. It’s like hiring a venue for your wedding and doing nothing else. If we spent even a fraction of the amount we do on our wedding day on the birth of our children and the postpartum periods following, we would all be in much better shape in this season of life. The good thing is parents are starting to open their eyes to this, they are starting to become more informed and take back control of their birth and postpartum experiences with more education and more support.

“…my OB/midwife is enough. They will help me through labor and birth.”

              You very well may have chosen the right provider, one that is on the same page and is supportive of your wishes, but care providers (including midwives) are increasingly busy. If no interventions are necessary or asked for and you are in the low-risk category, it is common for them not to make an appearance until closer to the second stage (pushing). Research also shows that nurses are only in the room 31% of the time on average. They are often running from room to room monitoring several laboring women. It is their job to ensure both mom and baby are healthy but if they offer physical and emotional support, that is them putting in extra time and effort.

 “…I’ve read one too many stories where a hired doula is not hands on enough and therefore, not worth the cost.”

              Every industry has bad eggs and it is extremely unfortunate that any family would feel a lack of support or gain after investing in their birth and/or postpartum experience. There is a solution to this issue. Probe! Ask your potential doula specific questions to better understand exactly how they plan to enhance your experiences. If they can’t tell you, that may be a red flag but if they can provide you with various examples of what their support looks like and it fits what you are looking for, you likely won’t need to worry about this concern moving forward.

Your Cloud Nine Team

Have you ever heard that there’s power in numbers? Two are better than one? Teamwork makes the dream work? Well, when it comes to your birth support we happen to agree! We are so incredibly honored and excited to be partnering up with Kelsey Haliti, a childbirth educator, doula and mother who has been actively involved in the birth work community for over 4 years. We have been working diligently to prepare for this partnership, and are over the moon ecstatic to tell you all about it!

Kelsey and Tina met when we sat hip-to-hip at our ProDoula labor support training. The connection was instant and over the long weekend of intense learning and practical training a bond began to form. A few months later, the idea seed of a partnership was planted. It grew, slowly but surely, into a mutual excitement and love for the idea of working alongside each other.

As partners in a team approach, we are looking forward to supporting even more women and families in a wider geographic area. With different backgrounds and trainings under our belts, we are now able to offer a greater variety of support to expecting parents. As a Bradley Method® instructor of multiple years, Kelsey has a deep knowledge and passion for birth and its physiological processes. As a childbirth educator, birth and postpartum doula with a love for all things natural, she brings a whole new facet of options to growing families. With Tina’s experience in consulting, Evidence Based Birth®, as well as birth and postpartum doula care, she’s able to holistically guide expecting parents towards educated and empowering decisions for their prenatal, birth and postpartum experiences. Both Kelsey and Tina share an ever-growing love and passion for all things birth and postpartum. Our focus will always remain ensuring our clients feel supported, informed, and empowered as they navigate childbirth and the journey of growing their families. We consistently challenge each other to widen our knowledge base through continual research and training in birth work. To learn more about us, please see our bios here.


Even more growth is imminent, both in the realms of services offered and the expansion of our team. We are so thankful and grateful to all of you along on this journey with us! We look forward to supporting more families as they grow, and could not be more honored to walk alongside you during this special time in your lives.

To those of you who have offered us your unwavering support and encouragement, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You are simply the wind in our sails!

Much doula love,

Kelsey & Tina

Mind Over Matter

We have all been programmed to believe labor and birth is this horrific event. We see it in movies -  mom’s water breaks at the most inconvenient of times, she’s doubled over in pain instantaneously, goes to the hospital immediately, dad is clueless, and everyone is a frantic mess. Then we hear all the horror stories from our own mothers to the grocery store clerk who just happens to notice your protruding belly and feels the need to terrify you with her own awful experience(s), including the most intimate of details to boot.

Yes, labor and birth can take crazy, unexpected turns and although we strive for our birth preferences to be seen through, it sometimes just doesn’t play out that way – whether there is a medical issue or mom has a change of heart in the moment. However, the majority of women can and should have a labor and birth experience far from what the media portrays to be the norm.

Here are a few tips to get your desired birth experience:

1.       Choose the right birth place. Some women feel best in a hospital/birth center and others feel most comfortable at home. Whatever place speaks to you, make it happen!

2.       Choose the right birth team. This includes your care provider (obstetrician or midwife), your doula, and your family and friends. Include those who you feel comfortable being your most vulnerable with and those who you know have your best interest at heart.

3.       Be proactive and prepare yourself. Get educated on birth – take classes, read books and articles, watch documentaries and videos. Prepare your body with regular physical exercise for stamina mixed with additional pregnancy exercises for birth and postpartum. Practice relaxation techniques regularly.

4.       Create a birth plan. There are so many aspects of labor, birth, postpartum and newborn care that one must think about and decide on. Know what your options are and make decisions based on the science/evidence as well as your gut instinct and desires. As your doula, we will guide you through your options and help you prepare a birth plan bias and judgment free!

5.       Don’t allow horror stories and the media’s exaggerations to worry or persuade you. Trust in yourself, your baby and the process that is childbirth. Women have been doing this since the start of time.

The truth is, labor almost never starts with the bags of water breaking (<10%), the contractions and pain that accompanies them is gradual and manageable in early labor, you don’t leave for the hospital until you are in the active stage of labor (likely hours after labor begins), and the birth team has the ability, and furthermore, the responsibility to remain calm, present and supportive of the mom through her entire labor and birth experience. Another truth is that every single birth is different because every baby is different and every woman’s body is different. So the next time you see Katherine Heigl screaming at the top of her lungs for an epidural in the movie “Knocked Up” or notice a grocery store clerk gearing up to share your worst nightmare in a nutshell - take a deep, diaphragmatic breath. This is not YOUR story. Mind over matter.

5 Tips for Beating the Wintertime Blues

By Amy Mason
Please learn more about Amy by visiting her website at www.amyemason.com.

Hi Mamas! Today we want to give you a mid-winter boost with some tips on improving your mood and beating the wintertime blues. As moms, it feels more natural to us to care for our families and our needs sometimes come last. However, in the middle of a cold and dark February in Chicago, I often found myself feeling worn out, empty, and frankly a little down in the dumps. Here are some tips for feeling your best even in the dead of winter.

1. Get enough sleep! Easier said than done right? Sleep is when our bodies heal. A new study recently revealed that our brains actually wash themselves at night clearing away toxins. You can see the study here .  Sleep is essential for brain restoration. Our brains are the operation center for everything in our bodies - including our emotions. It makes sense that we give ourselves optimum time so our brains can regenerate, rest, and heal.  So how do we do that? Here are a few tips: Set a regular bedtime and stick to it. Implement a calming bedtime routine to prime your body for sleep. Turn off electronics at least 1-2 hours before bedtime. Last but not least, make sure your room is as dark as possible. Getting more sleep can literally refresh the brain, thereby refreshing you!

2. Get 30 minutes of sunshine a day! Getting 30 minutes of direct sunlight is important for maintaining healthy hormone levels and circadian rhythms. If it’s not sunny, that’s okay, even being outside for a short walk is enough. In Chicago and other places where winter days are often cloudy, a sun lamp is another great option.

3. Stay connected. It’s tempting when the weather is cold to stay indoors where it’s warm and cozy. Make sure you make time to really connect with people who fill you up. Whether it’s your spouse, or a dear friend, relationships can help give us a sense of love and belonging. Touch is important too! Hug your kids! Hug your friends! Hug another Mama who needs it. This is another important way of staying connected.

4. Move your body. Even a few minutes of exercise can provide a major boost in your mood. Whether you can get outside for a walk or spend a few minutes doing yoga, moving your body is so important for our health and our moods. It doesn’t have to be as hard-core as a spin class. In fact, there is some evidence that moderate exercise is most helpful for hormone regulation. If you work, try switching to a standing desk or getting up and moving around every 20-30 minutes. Here is a fascinating article on both sleep and exercise.

5. Try a new scent! This last tip is the most fun. Smells have a powerful impact on our brains. Trying an essential oil, especially in the citrus family, can help boost your mood. Grapefruit, lemon, tangerine, and orange are all bright and sweet smells. Dilute if necessary and dab a little on your wrists or behind your ears. Put a few drops on a cotton ball and put it in your car. You can also diffuse it to make your house smell like summer. You can find great oils here and here .

Spending a little time to help you feel your best is one of the greatest investments of time you can make! It will help you have the energy to be a present and loving Mom to your precious kids.

Remember, Motherhood is a sisterhood. Let's get through these long winter months together!

Finding the Light After Postpartum Depression

We are honored to feature a Guest Post this month, honestly and beautifully written by Lisa Jensen of Woodstock, IL. Lisa is a loving mother of three children, a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister. She is also a sufferer of Postpartum Depression, and has gracefully opened up about her struggles and healing.

 Lisa and her son Bennet

Lisa and her son Bennet

“The darkness is complete." I wrote that seven times in my journal just a few months after my third child was born. Depression and I have had a relationship for over a decade so we are not strangers but until that day, on which I wrote those words, I had never known the sadness to be so powerful, so suffocating, so hopeless. 
My baby boy came into the world in one of the most stressful fashions, an emergency c-section. He was breech and his heart rate had spiked to a dangerous level. After a few hours at the hospital for observation and testing it was determined that he needed to be born as soon as possible. On a Tuesday, I had gone to the hospital for routine testing and didn't leave until Saturday. In that time, I had a beautiful baby boy taken from my body and I endured pain and fear like I had never known. I left him at the hospital for three more days and then I was able to bring him home to complete our family of five. 

Just like with his older brother and sister, my heart exploded when I saw him for the first time. He was sick and needed intensive care but he was mine and I knew him and he knew me and we were connected long before I held him in my arms. I never imagined needing a c-section. I had two vaginal births and was ready to prove that I could push my third baby out in record time. I looked forward to the birth. The labor and delivery and even the pain that precedes the most unbelievable joy. When I was told I needed a c-section, I wanted to stop time. I wanted to help my baby move out of his breech position. I realized it was not about what I wanted and absolutely about what he needed. One day, while feeding him in the NICU, I was visited by a Psychologist who informed me that women who experience c-sections, especially emergency c-sections, are more prone to Postpartum Depression than woman who deliver their babies vaginally. I was intrigued by this and grateful for her time and words that served as a warning for me.

When my little guy was two months old, and I started to feel better physically after the c-section, I started to endure a different pain; a pain in my heart, my mind and my soul. A darkness I later realized was indeed Postpartum Depression. Day by day, the darkness seemed to grow taller, consuming my body and mind until there was no light to guide me to places of love or joy. I could not remember the names of my dearest friends. I could not move through my house without feeling like everything was out of place and my whole body ached. I remember sitting at my desk in my room, crying so hard and so loudly that my husband checked on me a dozen times and begged me to respond to his questions. "What can I do?" "Do you plan on hurting yourself?" "Do I need to call someone?" I continuously just shook my head "No." I had hoped that I would fall asleep and the darkness would just carry me away somewhere. I knew I did not want to die but I wanted to disappear. After crying and journaling for a while I finally did fall asleep and I woke up in the morning knowing I needed help.

I called my doctor and got in to see her right away. After a few weeks of treatment and counseling I started to feel the light again. I started to see it in my sweet little girl's eyes and in her older brother's smile. I could look at my brand new baby and see how miraculous his life was and how precious his little fingers looked wrapped around one of mine. I started to come back from a place of pain and into a world of possibility.

Postpartum Depression almost consumed me. It told me that I was not good enough or strong enough to handle motherhood. It tried to rob me of the joy and magic that was my new baby. Postpartum Depression told me that I was alone and no one else in the world could understand my sadness. People who loved me asked, “But why can’t you be happy?” They followed that question with “You just had a baby and that should give you enough reason to be happy.” This Depression was not about choice or an inability to love, it was about me. Me needing time to adjust as a person with a soul and dreams and to adjust to being a mother of three. My body and mind needed to adjust to the reality of a small, precious being whom I carried from the time his life began, vacating my body and leaving me with my heart much bigger and much more vulnerable. Postpartum Depression is one of my most memorable teachers. I will never forget the pain and I will never forget the darkness and I am grateful every day that I did not let it win.

 Baby Bennet

Baby Bennet

Written by Lisa Jensen

 

 

Loss During the Holidays

By Amy Mason
Please learn more about Amy by visiting her website at www.amyemason.com.

For most, the holidays are times for pure celebration and rejoicing. In the midst of the busy holiday bustle we want to stop for a moment and address, recognize and respect one of the saddest realities that some of us face in our pursuit of motherhood: losing a baby. It may seem a little strange to be talking about this topic during the holidays but for some women, this Christmas will mean coping with the grief of a miscarriage or the loss of a child. At Cloud Nine, we truly believe that motherhood is a sisterhood and sometimes we need to come around our sisters who are heartbroken. While we all wish it were never so, pain and loss can be a part of being a mom. If you’re experiencing this kind of loss this season, we want to extend warmth and love to you this Christmas.

It was six years ago, a week before Christmas, when I lost a baby. I was blessed to be a Mama already to a beautiful boy, but my husband and I longed to grow our family. We tried and tried. For almost a year I was disappointed month after month to find out I was not pregnant. Then November came and I started to feel weird. I just had a period, I thought, but I felt pregnant!? I was shocked when the test came out positive! However, at my doctor’s appointment, things didn’t look right. For a few weeks we did blood work and the numbers weren’t climbing fast enough. Finally I was referred to a specialist. I should’ve been about 8 or 9 weeks pregnant by this point. The ultrasound showed no sac but instead a huge cyst on one of my ovaries and it was diagnosed as an ectopic pregnancy. I went from the expectation of a new baby to the uncertainty of a precarious pregnancy and the almost certain loss of this baby. My doctor called me that night to talk about the seriousness of this situation and that I needed to go to the hospital the very next morning to terminate the pregnancy. All the time I felt the panic rising up in my chest and my dreams of a baby disappearing into the darkness.

I wanted this little baby so badly. I didn’t know how I could force myself to go through with terminating the pregnancy, even though I knew the outcome would be critical for both of us. The next morning was December 18th, exactly one week before Christmas. It was a beautiful, crisp clear and sparkling morning. But inside my heart was heavy, dull and dark.  My husband and I drove to the hospital and tears streamed down my face the whole time. I didn’t know if I could go through with the procedure. My body was in motion one way but my heart was pulling another. I knew the severity of the situation. This was a morning where I had to walk by faith and not by sight. I couldn’t see the path ahead, not with my eyes blurred with tears or my heart blurred with pain.

Right away, my blood was drawn by a technician and my numbers checked again. Then I was brought into the exam room. I tried to pull myself together as I waited for the nurse. I’m convinced now, she was an angel. She walked into the room and took one look at me and threw hear arms around me in a warm understanding embrace. Her presence was like sitting next to a warm cozy fire. Her name was Dawn and I’ll never forget what she said to me. She told me my numbers were already dropping, my body already beginning the process of miscarriage. She also told me she could never ever do this job if she thought for a moment there was a chance this was a viable pregnancy. Then she said this, “This time next year, you’ll be back here with a little baby.” I dared not even hope.

I had the chemotherapy shots. I cried and grieved. The week leading up to Christmas was slow and difficult. And then, Christmas Eve morning I woke up puffy-eyed and stumbled to the kitchen to find it was snowing. The ground was already covered and huge white puffy flakes were falling from the sky. Everything was washed clean in that beautiful white snow. My heart was still in deep pain but that Christmas ended being so magical. The darkness of my grief in contrast with the beauty of fresh snow and bright white lights - it was the season where my grief turned to hope of fresh life.

One year later, I sat in my living room looking at the lights and watching snow fall fresh again but this time with my newborn son cradled in my arms. Out of the emptiness of my womb came the possibility for new life. The grief in my heart for the child I lost grew in me a capacity and enjoyment of the preciousness of the gift of another son. I thought about Dawn. I smiled as I remembered her words.

For some of you, you may be grieving in this season where everyone else is celebrating. I know what that’s like. You may be wishing for the gift of life and finding emptiness instead. Mama, I know. It is so hard to give when you feel empty, to receive when you feel broken, to celebrate when you feel loss. The hope of Christmas is that into the emptiness, came a baby.  Into the darkness, came life and warmth. Into the brokenness came hope of healing and new life, new love, new joy. I hope for those of you experiencing loss in this season that the firelight is a little warmer for you, the twinkle lights a little merrier, the gifts a little sweeter, and that hope falls fresh on you like soft snow.

Simple Ways to Teach Your Kids to be Grateful

By Amy Mason
Please learn more about Amy by visiting her website at www.amyemason.com.

Hi Mamas!

As Thanksgiving approaches, we wanted to share with you a few simple ways to grow grateful kids. Isn’t it refreshing when someone says “thank you”? I often find myself surprised and thrilled to get a thank you note in the mail. It’s such a wonderful thing to be able to give and receive thanks. There is a wealth of information about why gratitude is important. For a great read on why teaching gratitude to children makes a positive impact, take a look at this article by Ann Voskamp by clicking here.

I know for me, I cringe when my kids act entitled. We’re working on that. I really hope to raise children who are grateful and who express appreciation for what they have. I want them to feel content and full so they can celebrate the possessions and successes of others without feeling lacking and less-than. I hope to help train their brains to look for the good in this world. I’m sharing with you some of what I’m learning and what we’re practicing in our home. Here are some ways that we try to make gratitude part of our family culture.

We try to model gratitude. Sorry Mamas. But monkey see, monkey do. Our kids watch us. I am constantly stopping to assess my own attitude. Do I try to find things to be thankful for or am I looking more at what I lack? It’s so easy to focus more on our problems than our possibilities. We mamas have the power to set the tone in our family. I’m learning that when we need a family change, it often starts with me.

We talk about what we’re thankful for. We ask our kids often what they are thankful for. The dinner table is a great place to talk about gratitude. Ask what was beautiful about today or what made them feel special or what made them laugh. Share your thoughts too. This was awkward at first for us. Once our kids knew we would be asking them to share what they’re grateful for, it will encouraged them to be on the lookout for good things throughout their day.

We say “thank you” a lot. Do you find yourself complaining about what didn’t go right today? Sometimes I catch myself getting negative. When this happens, I try to shift the conversation to focus on the good things that happened to me. There are lots of other ways to verbally express your gratitude. Tell your husband “thank you” for helping. Look your kids in the eye and thank them when they do something kind or thoughtful. Be intentional to thank the people who check you out at the store. These are small actions that have a big impact.

Write a thank you note. A little note is a tangible way to express gratitude. It’s not about a perfect or elegant thank you card, although it can be. You can write words of gratitude in an email to a co-worker thanking them for their contribution on that project. Send a text to your mom to thank her for helping you with the kids. Put a sticky note in your kids lunches telling them you’re so glad thankful they cleaned up their room without you asking. If your kids are old enough, you can encourage them to write thank you notes for gifts they receive. It may seem annoying, but it’s a great way for them to pause and focus on the people and gifts in their lives.

Teach gratitude intentionally. There are so many opportunities to express gratitude if you know where to find them. Think about where your kids can learn to say “thank you.” Maybe you can encourage them to look at their teacher and say “thank you” at the end of the school day. Maybe you can teach them to tell their friend “thanks for having me over today.” And don’t forget, they can say “thanks” to you for that great meal or for help on their homework!

You don’t have to feel like you have to do it all at once! I certainly don’t practice all of these every day! I’ve found it helpful to pick one or two areas that are meaningful to our family and focus on growing gratitude there. Practicing gratitude gets easier over time. Good luck raising those grateful kids! We’re working on it here too and we’re cheering you on!

Mamas, we are so thankful for you. Like we always say, motherhood is a sisterhood and we are so thankful for the support and friendship we have here at Cloud Nine.

Wishing you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving!

XO,

How to Safely Trick or Treat When Your Child Has Food Allergies

By Amy Mason
Please learn more about Amy by visiting her website at www.amyemason.com.

Hello Mamas!

Halloween is right around the corner! I bet you are starting to plan parties and getting your children’s costumes ready (or purchased, if you’re like me)! Halloween is such a fun and exciting day for our kids! Let’s face it, what’s not amazing about getting free candy? However, the candy, for many families who struggle with food allergies, can be a source of anxiety. There are many families who struggle with trick-or-treating because their children have allergies to wheat, dairy, nuts, eggs, and soy - all foods prevalent in Halloween candy.

In our family, both of my children have allergies and sensitivities to certain foods. When we realized this, we adopted a very strict diet to avoid them eating foods that could make them sick or that could cause a reaction. As our first Halloween approached post diet, I worried about them getting candy or foods that would cause them to react and I wondered if we should skip trick-or-treating altogether. I felt conflicted because I loved this tradition as a child and wanted to enjoy it with my own children. I also worried about them missing out on conversations and fun times with their peers.

Over the years we’ve learned a few tricks to help our children with food allergies have a fun and safe Halloween. I’ll share with you some of our favorite resources and strategies for enjoying Halloween with our kiddos. If your children don’t have food allergies - this post is for you too! One in 13 children have food allergies! Your awareness can help these children stay safe and be able to participate in the fun of trick-or-treating as well!

Since our boys love trick-or-treating with their friends and, we couldn’t avoid them collecting candy, we decided to use the candy to help them earn something more exciting. We turn it into a game so they could be equally as excited about getting candy as their friends were. Each piece of candy becomes worth 5 cents, 10 cents, or 25 cents, depending on the size. At the end of the evening, my kids love dumping out their Halloween candy and counting up how much money they’ve earned. Most years they’ve never exceeded $10-1$15 worth of candy. Then they exchange the loot for money. In past years we would take them to the store the day after Halloween so they could purchase a toy with the money they earned from trick-or-treating. Last year, we estimated how much they’d earn, and had already purchased the toys (without the boys knowing) so they could exchange their candy immediately for the toy they just earned. This has worked so well for my kids. In our case, there really isn’t any candy that would be safe for them, and I’m not overly worried they will sneak some because, in this game, every piece counts!

Another great resource is called the Teal Pumpkin Project. It was started by Food Allergy Research and Education and has become a movement to include children with food allergies in Halloween festivities by handing out non-food items, such as small toys and games. You can place a teal pumpkin by your door as a sign that you are including kids with food allergies and have an alternative to candy to offer. My kids get so excited when they see a non-food item in their candy bag. To participate or for more information click here. You can also check their map here to see where there are participating neighborhoods in your area.

I’ve talked to other families who have decided to host their own party and have children trick-or-treat in different rooms of the house for allergy-free foods or even non-food items. By having the party in their own home, the parents were able to provide a safe environment for their children and friends and ensure the foods and snack items wouldn’t be harmful to their kids.

Alternatively, if your children are attending a Halloween party, offer to provide safe snacks and make sure the host is aware of your child’s allergies. I have found that many people are very happy to be accommodating to friends with food allergies. This may seem like an awkward exchange, but you are your child’s greatest advocate and it’s okay to speak up when there is a real health issue at stake.

Whether this is new for you or you’re old pros, remember to talk with your children about your expectations for that day -- what is safe for them and what is not. Help them think through how to respond if people offer them candy at school or at a party. The better prepared they are ahead of time, the more likely they will make wise and safe choices.

Do your kids have food allergies or sensitivities? What strategies do you have for keeping Halloween safe and fun?

Make It Sweet! Alternatives to Refined Sugar

By Amy Mason
Please learn more about Amy by visiting her website at www.amyemason.com.

There is nothing better on a fall day than a warm piece of zucchini bread and a pumpkin spice latte! As the weather turns colder in most places it’s the time where most of us long for some baked goods and look forward to the treats of the coming holidays. Your littles probably appreciate these yummy snacks as well!

Most of us have heard that refined white sugar and high fructose corn syrup aren’t good for us or our kiddos. White sugar and high fructose corn syrup are culprits that cripple the body’s immune system, impair the body’s ability to regulate appetite, contribute to weight gain, and over time decrease the body’s ability to produce insulin which eventually leads to cardiovascular diseases or type 2 diabetes. (Find more information here).

The good news is that there are many great alternative sweeteners that not only add incredible flavor, but also contain some nutrition. Keep in mind that the more refined something is - like bleached white flour or refined white sugar - the more empty calories and the less nutrition there will be. (Disclaimer: these alternatives to processed sugar are still forms of sugar and will still cause a spike (although smaller) in blood sugar and should be used sparingly. Also, although these alternatives do have more nutritional value, there is no substitute for a nutritious diet that includes lots of healthy greens and a variety of vegetables). With that said, here are some delicious and nutritious options for your fall baking needs!

Coconut Sugar: This is my favorite swap for recipes that call for sugar. It is an easy and accessible substitute. Coconut sugar comes from the sap of cut flowers of the coconut palm. It has a lower glycemic index (meaning it won’t cause as great a spike in blood sugar) as refined white sugar. It is more coarse than white sugar and smells more like brown sugar but can be used in place of either white or brown sugar in baking recipes. Trader Joes now sells their own brand but you can also find it at most health food stores as either Coconut Crystals or Palm Sugar (a variant made from a different kind of palm tree). You can take a look at the link to Trader Joes here.

Maple Sugar: Maple sugar is another alternative that has a very low glycemic index. It has a mild maple flavor but is absolutely delicious in baking recipes. It is lighter in color than coconut sugar and has a finer texture. It’s another easy and delicious substitute for white or brown sugar. Find my favorite brand here. The downside is that it's a little bit pricier than coconut sugar.

Maple Syrup: It’s not just for pancakes! “Not only does maple syrup taste fantastic, but it’s an awesome source of micronutrients! When you buy grade B maple syrup, you get a lot of minerals, including manganese and zinc. Other trace minerals include calcium, potassium, and iron. Another amazing thing about maple syrup, especially grade B, is that it contains up to 24 antioxidants!!” (Source: Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, and here.) 

Honey: Honey is a fantastic sweetener - a little bit goes a long way! It’s mild taste makes it a wonderful alternative to white sugar. Tip: You may have to make adjustments to the ratio of wet to dry ingredients to get your recipe just perfect. If you’re embarking on a baking project that requires yeast, you can swap honey for sugar to proof the yeast.

Molasses: Blackstrap Molasses is probably the most nutritious choice when it comes to sweeteners. It is actually a by-product of the sugar-making process but it is packed full of vitamins and micronutrients. It has more nutrients per calorie than other sweeteners. It has a rich, but strong scent and flavor. You can peruse this article from ThePaleoMom.com about the benefits of Molasses if you’re interested.

Fruit: Fruits get their sweetness from the natural sugar fructose. Many products today are sweetened with fruit juices. However, you can also use whole fruits in baking such as bananas, dates, pears, pineapples, and apples that will add sweetness. The benefit of using whole fruits is that the sugars stay attached to the fibers of the fruit, slowing down the digestion of the sugars so there isn’t as great a spike in blood sugar. Try soaking dates in hot water for 20 minutes, draining, and blending into a sweet paste with a food processor. Use in place of a liquid sweetener. You can also purchase date sugar but I have not found that to be as sweet or tasty as using whole dates (pits removed of course)!

When we think of feeding our kids, let’s look for ways to include foods that are packed with nutrition rather than merely avoiding bad stuff. When we do this we find that even some sugars can have nutritional value in small amounts. I hope this opens up a whole new world of possibilities for your fall menus! Hopefully you’ll be able to give you kiddos some treats (in moderation!) you can feel good about.

Here’s to healthy moms and healthy kids!

To the Nursing Mom at 2:00 AM

By Amy Mason
Please learn more about Amy by visiting her website at www.amyemason.com.

Hey sweet Mama. Here you are, up again in the middle of the night, half-asleep, holding your precious child and nursing. You are probably hoping and praying that this feeding will give you at least a 4 hour stretch of sleep (or longer)! You look enviously at your husband sound asleep and wish you could conveniently sleep through shrieking baby cries like he can.

This is written to the mothers out there who are exhausted, whose night time feedings leave them wondering why it doesn’t come naturally or why it is so much harder than they expected. Getting up at night is stressful and hectic. Once you finally lay your head back down the tears are flowing down your cheeks because you know you’ll be up at it again in about 45 minutes. This was my experience with breastfeeding. The best advice someone gave to me was this: This is a season.

This season can at times make you wonder if you’ve lost your sense of identity. Maybe you’re so tired you can hardly function and you think baby-brain has reduced your once sharp mind to mush. Maybe you look in the mirror at the dark circles under your eyes and the way your body has changed and wonder if you’ll ever get back to normal.

This season is bittersweet and it’s okay to feel that it’s hard sometimes. Motherhood will challenge you for sure. Right now it’s mostly the physical challenge of surviving erratic (if any) sleep and nursing when you’re SURE there is not one more drop of milk left in your body! This season is the aching arms and stiff neck from holding your baby who by some force of their 8 pound body absolutely will not let you put them down. It’s going to bed at 7:30 PM because you sleep when the baby sleeps. It’s lazy mornings in bed adoring your baby’s angelic face even though at 2:00 AM you were sure he was a spawn of the devil and not your child. This season is a blur of days and nights and feeding, sleeping, changing diapers, and doing it all over again. But it’s a season where your baby loves you unconditionally and needs you fully. It’s a season of wonder over how all 10 toes came out so perfect and tiny. It’s scrumptious baby smell and how soft their skin is next to your cheek. It’s chubby little thighs and whole conversations of sweet cooing. This is a precious season.

Suddenly, just as quickly as you became a mother to this baby, you will become a mother to a toddler. Toddlerhood has its beauty in the curiosity and questions and messes. It is the next season full of wonder and challenges of its own.  

Will your life ever get back to normal? Well, no. You will never go back to who you were before you became a mom. But you will be a better person than you who you were before. You will know the beauty of sacrifice and the distance you would go for love of your baby. You will be ever loved by this little person who one day will thrill your heart when he finally says, “Mama” for the first time. You will be stronger than you thought as you walk your child through their own struggles. And physically? Those stretch marks and loose skin aren’t scars to abhor - they are beauty marks to adore. They are witness to your participation in the miracle of bringing new life into this world. Your new title “Mom” ushers you into so many possibilities for sisterhood as you meet and share friendship with other lovely ladies who hold your same title! It’s the season that gives birth to all the blessings that come in every season of motherhood.

If you are waiting for this season to be over so you can get a good night of sleep for the love, you will get there soon enough. I promise your child will probably be sleeping through the night before they go to college. The challenge in this season is to be present with your baby despite the difficulty. For now try to soak it all in. Engage all your senses fully in this moment so that when this season does pass you can be at peace knowing you savored it as best you could.

So, for now it is quiet in your room. It’s just you and baby snuggling close. Your little one is safe and you are nourishing them as best you can. These quiet moments with just the two of you go by so fast. Soak them up, smell their soft hair and marvel at their little toes. As they grow so do their problems. For now, you can handle a night time feeding because you know a new season is just around the corner.

Remember, you are a wonderful Mom. You’re never alone. You are surrounded by sisters who are up holding vigil on the night shift with you!

Say Goodbye to Mommy Guilt

By Amy Mason
Please learn more about Amy by visiting her website at www.amyemason.com.

Hey Mama. Let’s talk about a bad friend that’s been hanging around for way too long. Her name is Mommy Guilt. You know her by her accusing tone and condescending voice that whispers things like you’re not good enough, you’re not doing enough, you’ll never be as good as a mom as so-and-so. She’s the friend who likes to park your thoughts on your failures and stay there for way too long. Do you know her? I do too.

It’s no wonder so many of us put up with Mommy Guilt every day. We live in a world where only the best of mothering is put on display. Pinterest shows us the most creative and most fashionable moms in the world. Facebook and Instagram bombard us with pictures of beautiful families with well behaved children enjoying perfect moments of marital and sibling bliss. How can we see these incredible pictures and not feel “less than”? Oh how Mommy Guilt loves to feed on that feeling.

Here’s the thing - it’s time to break up with Mommy Guilt. It’s an important step toward being content as a mom. I certainly don’t want to mother from the place of fear she brings me to. Deep down, I desire the confidence to fully embrace the family I have and be the woman I want to be. I truly want to enjoy this beautiful gift of being a mom.

Over the years, I’ve realized that Mommy Guilt has no value in my life and I’ve been learning there are ways to put her off. Here are three ways to help you say goodbye to Mommy Guilt.

Embrace good enough. There is a whole theory of parenting called Good Enough parenting that says that it is actually better to raise children as a good enough parent, rather than a perfect parent. The best parents are involved enough but are flawed enough too. Supermom is a myth and nothing feeds Mommy Guilt like trying to make yourself and your children live up to an impossible standard. One of the best things you can do for yourself and your children is to learn to embrace your humanity and see your limitations as part of the package of good parenting traits you already have. Your limits can be opportunities to teach your children about how to deal with failure and mistakes. Plus, eventually your children will become aware that you are not perfect; that they are not perfect. They might as well know that sooner than later and learn to how to embrace their strengths and weaknesses. This helps children cope with disappointment and learn to roll with the punches. Isn’t it a relief to know that your “good enough” is actually better than perfect?

Focus on the Good. Mommy Guilt loves getting your train of thought stuck on your failures. One way to escape feelings of guilt is to spend some time each day listing or journaling what you did well that day. Even if it’s as simple as gave my kids a hug, or kept my children alive - celebrate it! It can also include took care of me, or showed affection for my husband. Try to think of any positive example set, gift given, words said, healthy snacks consumed. Set aside time each day to only think about what you’re doing well as a mother. This is not a time to think about what you should be doing or what you want to be doing better. This is a time to remember what you have done and are doing well. You will be amazed at how this list grows over time and each day you will become more aware of your strengths as a mother rather than your failures.

Share the love. A great way to fight Mommy Guilt is to turn the attention to someone else. Motherhood is a sisterhood and we all need each other in order to do this thing well and to raise our beautiful children into functioning, caring adults! Who are the moms in your life that you admire? Who are the women that inspire you? Take some time to let them know. Text them some words of encouragement. Write them a note. Send them a gift. Your encouragement might be a healing balm to their soul - and maybe even the boost they need to break up with their own Mommy Guilt.

Friends, let’s make a pact to leave Mommy Guilt in the past. Let’s be okay with being real moms, let’s focus on where we are succeeding rather than failing, and let’s give each other a little TLC so we can be great moms who raise the next generation of caring kids!

Moms on a Mission

By Amy Mason
Please learn more about Amy by visiting her website at www.amyemason.com.

Welcome to the Cloud Nine Baby Planning blog! We are so glad you stopped by! There is a lot in store for you but first we want to share our vision with you.

We are Moms on a Mission! We believe that Motherhood is a Sisterhood and that as women, we need each other on this journey of mothering. If you are a mom or mom-to-be, you need to know we are on your side! Our mission is to provide a place where you can find both support and practical advice to help you thrive as a mom. Our desire is to come alongside you and be your cheerleaders, and your fellow travelers in this great adventure of Motherhood.

Becoming a mother is one of life’s most beautiful experiences but it can also be overwhelming. Although most moms will say they don’t believe in a Supermom, many of us find ourselves still striving to be her. Here at Cloud Nine, we are real moms with real kids. Both Tina and I have all boys so you can bet we have our share of crazy! We don’t claim to be perfect and perfection is not our goal. Our goal is to love motherhood, and to help others love motherhood too. We aim to embrace our beautiful children and our important role in their lives, to laugh at the mess, and give each other permission to drink wine at 3 pm if necessary. You can learn more about Tina and Amy here.

 Amy and Tina, circa 1999

Amy and Tina, circa 1999

Tina and I been the dearest of friends for over 20 years! We are excited to bring this blog to you from a place of friendship, and invite you stay connected here for lots of laughs, amazing stories, and practical tips to help you thrive. Stay tuned for lots of practical posts from Tina including baby care tips, postpartum care for mom and baby, and her favorite baby gear picks. We also want address other areas of motherhood such as mommy guilt, what real moms look like, nutrition, and special need parenting.

We are so honored you stopped by!

In it together,