Q&A: Dogs & Babies, Maternity Leave, and the DockATot

Soooooooo, let me paint you a word picture (accompanied by an actual picture.) Here I was, sitting on the sofa, browser open, Penny napping peacefully in her Rock ‘n’ Play, the dogs snoozing away nearby, and with absolutely no idea what to write.

It’s not that I don’t have things to write about. I mean, I had a baby six and a half weeks ago. I’ve had a lot of learnings and really do have a lot to say, haha. But it’s like there’s so much I want to say, I can’t figure out how to say any of it! Tough though it may be to believe now, there used to be a time when I posted daily to this here blog — sometimes even twice a day! Shocking, I know. And back then, I had no problems coming up with something to write about every day, but it seems that the longer I go between posting, the harder it is for me to get back into it. Conundrum.

So being the internet-dependent person that I am, I turned to you guys to help me figure out and narrow down what I should write about with regard to what life has been like over the past several weeks. And boooooy, did you! Thanks to you all, I now have a whole list of topics to to dig into, specifically for those who might be interested in the nittier, grittier side of newborn momming. Since some of your questions are pretty big and deserve posts of their own, I figured I’d start off by tackling some of the easier-to-answer questions I’ve received.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

How are Harry & Daxter adjusting to life with their new baby sister?

Thankfully, bringing Penny home has been a total non-issue for the dogs! Harry has been completely nonplussed by her presence since we took her home, and Daxter continues to warm up to her more and more. I was a little bit worried about how Daxter in particular would take to her, as he had exhibited some jealous behavior towards my nieces when they were babies, but thankfully those issues have yet to surface with Penny. Yay!

I definitely tried my best to prepare the dogs as much as I could prior to Penny’s arrival:

  1. I made sure a bunch of the baby stuff was all set up and placed the house long before I actually went into labor, so they could get used to all the new furniture and “stuff” that would be encroaching on their space.
  2. The dogs stayed with my parents while I was in the hospital (where they stay frequently), and I sent my parents home with the hat that Penny wore in the hospital to let the dogs get familiar with her smell.
  3. When the dogs came home, I went outside and greeted them by myself without the baby since it had been several days since I had seen them.
  4. Lastly, upon the advice of my friend Lara, who is a dog trainer, I made sure not to make a big deal of trying to get the dogs to “meet” Penny. I didn’t force them to go up to her, or hold her up to them to sniff, or anything like that. Penny was sleeping on the couch in her Boppy lounger when they came in, and it actually took them a little bit of time to even notice her.

All those things combined led to a very uneventful introduction, and things continue to go quite smoothly! Daxter still doesn’t love it when she starts crying and fussing (he’ll just get up and sulkily leave the room, lol), but he loves curling up in her Boppy lounger when she’s not using it, and both he and Harry (as well as my brother’s dog, Pixel) all seem to be generally unaffected by her presence. And Penny can sleep through their barking and yapping too, so win-win!

How’s breastfeeding going?

I feel very fortunate not to have had any real issues with breastfeeding thus far. I know that’s not the case for many people, and I’m incredibly grateful to have what seems like a good milk supply, as well as no issues with Penny latching (nor with her taking the occasional bottle). I have dealt with pretty regular engorgement issues (I don’t think my supply has really regulated yet), but fortunately have not had any complications from that, like mastitis (and praying it stays that way!)

 
That said, breastfeeding in and of itself is not without its mental and emotional challenges, even if the physical aspect has been pretty smooth for me. After all, just because it has been going well so far, doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to continue being that way, so the possibility of my milk supply dwindling in the future is sometimes on my mind. Also, I’ve been super grateful that Sean’s able to give her the occasional bottle of my pumped milk, as it can be emotionally draining to be her only food source, but we were also constantly second-guessing whether or not we were giving her too little, or too much, when we bottle fed her.

I ended up getting the Hatch Baby Grow scale and changing pad which, in addition to letting us keep track of her weight and growth (something that the data-freak and crazy first-time-mom in me L-O-V-E-S), it has also allowed us to see roughly how much she has been taking from me as well by weighing her pre- and post-feeding. Doing so has really helped alleviate a lot of my worries with her feeding, and I can definitely say that she’s getting enough to eat because she’s packing on the pounds like a little champion: 11 pounds 12 ounces as of yesterday!

What was it like leaving the house by yourself with Penny for the first time?

Thankfully, it was very smooth, but probably only because I ramped up my outings with Penny VERY slowly. Sean and I had taken her out with us together several times (to the doctor, to lunch, etc), and when my sister was in town we took both Penny and my nephew Alex out together as well.

So by the time Sean was back at work and it was just me, I felt relatively confident in handling her carseat and stroller… but I still took it one baby step at a time. Pretty sure our first time out solo was just to the Chick-Fil-A drive-thru, lol. Then to Target. Then finally to meet a friend for lunch, and now getting out of the house is easy as pie… as long as I don’t need to be too punctual. Punctuality is definitely not my strong suit now.

What was it like leaving Penny for the first time?

The very first time I left Penny was just to run some quick errands while Sean was home on the weekend — this only happened a couple weeks ago. It’s actually kind of crazy to think that I wasn’t more than a room away from her for almost six entire weeks, heh. I did pretty well since it was a short trip and I was actively doing something the whole time — driving, running into the store, etc.

The first time Sean and I both left Penny was last weekend when we went to see Blade Runner 2049 and my parents watched Penny for a few hours. I did less well that time — even though I know my parents had everything totally under control, it was still hard to be away from her, of course. She’s my tiny human, after all! I’m obsessed with her. I did okay during the movie itself (it was really good!) but I was ready to get up and race out of there the second it ended. Also, I burst into tears when Sean poked fun of me for checking my phone as soon as the credits started to roll, lol.

How long are you on maternity leave, and when do you go back to work?

I’m very fortunate to work for Yelp and receive twelve weeks of maternity leave, fully paid. If you’re outside of the US, that probably doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but believe me, it’s above and beyond what most people get in the States and I’m very grateful. Since I was induced three weeks early, I used my PTO to add to my maternity leave as well to beef up my leave time and keep my original return-to-work date in mid-December.

What are your childcare plans for when you go back?

I’m also very fortunate to currently work from home (though Yelp is soon opening a DC office! Exciting!) and have an ever-changing but pretty flexible schedule, which gives me options for Penny’s childcare that I might not otherwise have with a traditional 9-5. We are also lucky ducks in that we have lots of family close by! So the plan is for my parents and Sean’s mom to watch her a couple days a week, and I’ll be enrolling Penny in a part-time daycare for the rest of the time. On nights when I have an Elite Event happening, she’ll either be home with Sean, babysat by family (in addition to our parents, we also have my brother and sister-in-law and Sean’s sister in the area), or with a sitter.

How are you sleeping?

I’ve saved this for last because it’s kind of a doozy to get into. The simplest answer is: I sleep in three hour chunks. Sometimes it’s slightly longer, sometimes a little shorter, but for the past week or so she has been pretty consistent.

The (much) longer answer is that over the course of the past 7 weeks, that amount has ranged from one hour (which, yes, is just as horrible as it sounds) to 3.5 hours (which feels AMAZING to get that much sleep at once, ludicrous as it sounds), and we’ve only made it to a three hour average by finally throwing money at a sleep solution that seems to really be working for us — the DockATot.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was very resistant to getting a DockATot initially, for a few reasons. One, it’s pretty expensive for what many have described as a fancy dog bed. Two, it’s most commonly utilized for bedsharing, which is something I swore up and down and left and right that I would never do (but don’t worry, I have an entire post I plan on writing about things I said I’d never do before actually having a baby, lolololololol). Three, it’s not technically approved in the US for use as a crib nest (in a crib or bassinet), even though it is marketed as such overseas (where it goes by the name “Sleepyhead” – 100% positive this distinction has to do with )

But, as you can see, I ultimately got over my reservations and made a conscious, informed choice to try the Dock-A-Tot, and I’m gonna be honest: I am soooooo glad that I did.

A little backstory: when we first brought Penny home, I was adamant that we strictly follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations for safe sleep (to reduce the chance of SIDs). That meant she was to sleep alone (no loose bedding, blankets, or toys), on her back, and on a flat, firm surface, so we had a bassinet set up in our room which fit all those criteria. What I didn’t really consider, however, was that it would be so difficult to get her to sleep in said bassinet! Go figure.

Yup, pretty much.

Trying to put Penny down to sleep in her bassinet was a challenge every night. More often than not, her eyes would shoot back open the second she touched the mattress even if she’d been fallen asleep elsewhere. She’d also only stay down for about an hour to an hour-and-a-half most of the time she was in her bassinet, but would sleep soundly for much longer in the other sleeper products we have — her Boppy Lounger or Rock ‘n’ Play. However, since only products labeled “crib,” “bassinet,” or “pack ‘n’ play” “count” for the AAP’s safe sleep recommendations, I didn’t want to let her sleep overnight in them and started experiencing tons of anxiety that she wasn’t sleeping safely enough (on a somewhat related note, I highly recommend that new moms NOT Google things like “SIDs Death Stories” at 2 in the morning.)

So, suddenly I was either spending hours at night trying to get her to go down, and then back down, in her bassinet (often the only way to do so was by letting her fall asleep on her side or tummy whilst on my chest and then transferring her, sigh), or simply staying awake all night while she slept in her lounger or Rock ‘n’ Play. Obviously, neither of which were real solutions as they both required me to be awake all night and frankly, it started to feel dangerous as my exhaustion started compounding upon itself.

Cause darling she’s a nightmare dressed like a daydream

More than once, I accidentally drifted off while nursing or holding her in bed or in my glider, only to awaken in a total crazy-freak-out-panic each time because it felt — and was! — so unsafe. That was the reality check that finally made me realize we desperately needed to figure out a different sleep solution, as I felt the benefits of strictly adhering to the AAP guidelines were now outweighed by the risks our total exhaustion was posing (and to be clear, its not like I was suddenly intending to disregard the official recommendations, I just realized they could still be applied whilst allowing me to get some rest.)

I like to think I’m pretty tuned into all the trending mom stuff on Instagram (#dockatot, #freshlypicked, #littlenomad, lol), so I’d heard about the DockATot a while ago (plus I have friends who really love it), but was hesitant to jump in due to the price. So I initially tried out a cheaper alternative, the SnuggleNest, which I found on Amazon as an Open Box deal for only $30.

The SnuggleNest did work better than putting her in her bassinet alone (and also allowed us to bring her into bed with us more safely), but didn’t seem to make that big of a difference in her sleep as she was still waking very frequently, and I also kept waking to find her all sidled up against one side which made me slightly nervous (even though the sides is mesh/ventilated.) Clearly she was looking for the security of feeling more snug and “boxed in.” (Which I’m pretty sure is also what makes Daxter only want to sleep smushed between my legs at night, and makes Harry cram himself into Pixel’s teeny tiny dog bed when he visits instead of his appropriately-sized one… but I digress.)

I already knew that a big part of what makes the DockATot so popular was the idea that it makes your little one feel snug and secure on all sides (their tagline is “reinventing the womb”) so I finally started researching it in earnest. And as I did, it began to appeal to me more and more — not only did I have friends who swore by its magical, sleep-inducing powers, but the more I looked into it, the more sense it seemed to make from a safety, security, and sleep perspective. Then, after one particularly sleepless night, I had a crazy mom moment and literally ran out of my house to go get one, lol.

Since using it, I’ve found that it’s not just a soft, fluffy pillow, but is structured, quite firm and, in my experience, does live up to its claims of breathability. (I stuffed my face into the bumper for over a minute and could still breathe through it.) Plus, it keeps Penny so snug that she has yet to get her face anywhere close to the sides even when she turns her head.

The most important thing, of course, is that it helps her — and thus, us — sleep. Penny goes down quite easily in it when it’s time for bed, and far more amazingly, returns to sleep so quickly after waking up to nurse in the middle of the night. Plus, from the very first night in her DockATot, Penny started sleeping 3 to 3.5 hour stretches with consistency (barring any extenuating circumstances like her coming down with a little cold this weekend ::cry::). It’s not a magic bullet that has made her suddenly start sleeping through the whole night, of course, but honestly just getting consistent periods of 3+ hours of sleep makes such a huge difference, and obviously it’s my hope that those stretches will continue to get longer as Penny is able to go more time between feeds.

We primarily use the DockATot in her bassinet (it fits perfectly), though I do bring it into bed occasionally (especially after Sean leaves for work in the morning so she and I can nap together, hehe.) And I look forward to hopefully being able to use it to help transition her into her crib when the time is right for that as well (acknowledging that if she starts rolling before then, we may need to reevaluate since the danger of using a DockATot in a crib is the potential for baby to roll out and become trapped between the side of the crib and the DAT. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it though.)

I could probably keep talking about this forever and go into even more detail as to why we made this decision and why it’s working for us, but this has already been a super long post, so if you have specific questions or would like more details about our sleep sitch, feel free to leave a comment or reach out to me!

I’ll take my leave for now, though, with the promise of coming back to address some of the other questions/topics you guys had for me — most of which deserve posts of their own. On the docket are posts about my postpartum body image, product recommendations, a day in our life, my new mom skincare and beauty routine, all of the emotions that motherhood has brought with it, and, as mentioned above, all the things I’ve had to take back about motherhood once I actually became a mother, lol.

I also intend to talk about my plans for weight loss and getting back on the health train, but I want to make it clear that this is unrelated to the concept of “losing the baby weight” because A) I think the societal pressure to do so is utter crap and B) I’m already back at my pre-pregnancy weight because I only gained like 10 pounds during my pregnancy. It’s just since I was overweight when I started out, I’d still like to lose some libbies and start focusing on my health again (especially if I’m to be expected to keep being able to carry my little chunkmonster at the rate she’s gaining weight, bahahaha.)

WHEW! Hopefully all of that should keep these blog wheels turning for a little while, at least! Penny and I are headed off to Atlanta today to visit my sister (so I guess you can add a “my experience traveling with an infant” post to the list!), but I promise to try and get back to blogging more regularly once we return! And in the meantime, you can let me know if there are any additional topics of interest that seem to be missing from the list. 🙂

Penny: One Month of Moments & Milestones

I had the below post scheduled prior to finding out about the shooting last night in Las Vegas, and I am simply despondent over what happened.

My heart would have broken and my tears would have fallen for those who lost their lives due to this senseless violence no matter what, but as a new mother every casualty feels more cutting, every incident like this is more terrifying.

I want nothing more than for warmth, love, and happiness to fill Penelope’s life. How can I keep her safe forever?

******

Happy one month to our little Foxlet!

I’ve learned a lot of things over the past month, one of the most glaring being that I now basically speak in nothing but cliches. So, given that fact, I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way: I can’t believe it’s been a month since our Lucky Penny was born! (And on a similar note: how is it already October?!?)

Penelope turned one month old this past Saturday, and it has truly been the best, most exhausting, most exhilarating, most phenomenal, and, above all, fastest month of our lives.

To celebrate, my parents came over for a little Naming Day celebration — part of a Chinese tradition where a child’s name is officially chosen on her one-month birthday. We had already been talking about her Chinese name options, but finally settled on Mei Ling (美玲), which translates to “Beautiful Bell.” My mom has already taken to calling her “Ling Ling” as a nickname. 🙂

Now, for those of you who have reluctantly stuck through me posting about absolutely nothing but my pregnancy and, now, new mom status, rest assured: I’m relatively sure that these 100% Penny-centric posts won’t continue forever. I mean, I recognize that with time, my life will indeed return to a level of normalcy and I’ll focus back on other aspects of my life. She’s been successfully kept alive for over a month now, so I am starting to at least think about returning to my blogging roots and talking about my health and weight loss goals at some point, heh.

But, that being said, Penny is my new normal now, and so I’m afraid the constant barrage of cuteness is not going to stop just yet. In fact, I thought that it’d be good to mention some of the ways that she’s crushing the whole growing thing, as well as toss up some of the baby items we’ve taken to over the past month.

Milestones & Developments: Penny seems to be growing in leaps and bounds every day! She’s gone from being a little potted plant that does nothing but eat, sleep, and poop, to a real, actual baby, lol. Her neck strength has gotten to the point where she can truly hold her head and even part of her upper body up for multiple seconds before going all floppy, heh. She’s sleeping slightly less and having longer periods of alertness, and definitely seems to recognize both Sean and me by sight and sound.

She can hold eye contact with me and has started cooing — the best little sound in the whole world!

It’s been so exciting to watch her change in front of our very eyes — her one month doctor’s appointment is tomorrow, so we don’t know her exact height + weight measurements just yet, but I can already tell she’s getting nice and hefty (yay!), and she seems really long — her legs are almost dangling off of her Boppy lounger already! It’ll be fun to see if she ends up nice and tall like her dad and me, or if she ends up petite (like her grandmothers) instead, heh.

Alas, what she is NOT doing is sleeping more than 2.5 to 3 hours at a time, even at night, but, hey, you can’t win at everything all at once, and I know that we’ve still gotten incredibly lucky with this little one so far. She has been having a bit more trouble with gas pains and has started spitting up a little more, too, which is definitely contributing to the sleep thing. But the good news is that she’s been going down much more easily in her bassinet (praise be!), and even thought her spurts of sleep are still short, she’s been getting better about going back to sleep right away after eating in the middle of the night, which makes the frequent waking so much easier to deal with.

And it doesn’t hurt that she’s so darn cute that, awake or asleep, I sometimes just can’t help but waste away the hours watching her anyway. 🙂

Things We’re Loving: Aden + Anais Super Soft Swaddles

I was incredibly fortunate to be gifted a bunch of goodies from Aden + Anais by an IG follower of mine who works for the company, including these Silky Soft Swaddles which I am loooooving. They’re so pretty (a soft pink print with metallic gold details woven throughout!) and really are incredibly soft, and also have the slightest amount of stretch to them which makes swaddling Penny nice and tight a total breeze.

Skip Hop Silver Lining Cloud Activity Gym

I really like the entire Skip Hop Cloud line, but am digging the activity gym in particular for Penny right now. I know that as she gets older she’ll be able to interact and play with the actual toys more, but for now it’s perfect for her daily tummy time sessions, as well as providing her with a few more interesting things to look at when she’s awake.

 
Boppy Newborn Lounger

The Boppy Newborn Lounger that I inherited from my sister has been a total godsend. It’s light and portable, provides a great place to hold Penny especially when we’re out in the living room and need to set her down, and she took to it right away. The only problem is that the dogs love it a little too much too, ahahaha. That, and the fact that because Penny’s getting so long, I fear she won’t really be able to use it for that much longer!

NatureBound Silicone Manual Pump

I found out about this silicone breast pump via my birth group on Facebook and am loving it as a breastfeeding aid. I don’t use it as a pump, but rather like a milk catcher – you suction it to your breast and it collects your milk while you’re nursing — feed your baby on one side, stick this thing on the other. Without any actual pumping effort at all, I’ve been able to get up to an ounce easily each time (and definitely still have plenty of milk left if she wants to nurse on both sides.) Since I’m trying to keep a small supply of milk in the fridge at all times for Sean (or whomever) to be able to give Penny a bottle, this has been a super handy little device. And as a bonus, this thing actually sticks to your boob and lets you use both hands, unlike a regular breast pump flange that you have to hold in place (or use a pumping bra.)

Monica & Andy

My colleague introduced me to this clothing and gift brand, and needless to say I am obsessed. They have the best prints (unicorns, rainbows, donuts, oh my!), design super cute and pretty unique styles, and the fabric just feels amazing (they use organic cotton if you care about that sort of thing). I got a really cute kimono-style romper (pictured above), a gorgeous little dress (that she’ll be able to wear around 6 months), and a blanket with her name embroidered on it. <3

Okay, okay, okay, that’s enough baby-ness for now, I suppose. I’ll give y’all a break, but hopefully seeing some smiley pics of my happy little girl brightened up this Monday for at least some of you?

For those of you who aren’t totally turned off from all this incessant cuteness, let me ask: are there any topics that you would like me to discuss with regard to my adventures in new mommydom? I’m obviously not an expert on anything, nor will I be anytime soon, but I do love talking and typing about my life, so let me know what most you might like to read about: dogs and babies, my feelings on my postpartum body, breastfeeding, how things have been emotionally, a day-in-the-life…? Let me know!

Penny: 4 Weeks Old

Sooooooo, I actually started this post as her three-week update, but as you can imagine, blogging has taken a bit of a backseat these days as my main priority is keeping my tiny human alive every day. And since she’s not actually four weeks until tomorrow, maybe we can look at it like I’m actually coming in early with this post… instead of almost a week late, yes? Either way you look at it, Penelope’s accomplished quite a lot in the first four weeks of her life!

You guys already know about the drama surrounding her first few days, but thankfully her jaundice issues have since totally resolved, and things have been progressing pretty normally (as far as I’m aware) since. Whoo-hoo for normal! We looooove normal.

Our little Penny is just, well, awesome. I don’t have much to compare it to, of course, aside from my experiences with my nieces (not quiiiiite the same), but I do think we’ve gotten pretty lucky in the baby department. She’s a good nurser, seemingly happy little girl when she’s awake, and a great sleeper. She can conk out no matter the noise or situation…

 
…during the day, at least. We’ve dubbed her our little milk vampire, both for her nocturnal nature and her very strong latch, haha. She’ll sleep pretty much all day long, save for a couple of stretches of being awake where we’re able to get in some tummy time or spend time talking to her. Her neck strength has been developing awesomely — she can legit hold her head up for what I consider a significant amount of time, especially when being burped over my shoulder or carried upright, and she’s a little tummy time champion.

 
Nights are, unsurprisingly, kinda rough — as I imagine they tend to be with a newborn, for both new parents and seasoned parents alike. I think it’s a combination of the fact that she does sleep so much during the day (we are working on trying to get her to stay awake more during the day… it’s a work in progress, but she’s already getting a bit better), and just the fact that for me, being woken up out of a sleep at night to tend to her is very challenging.

Having a newborn doesn’t really let you have days and nights in the traditional sense anymore — you’re basically just on a constant 24-hour cycle of sleeping, waking, and feeding. Which was all fine and dandy in the beginning while Sean was on paternity leave and our personal schedules didn’t really matter. But now that he’s back at work, I feel guilty waking him up in the middle of the night (even though he still tells me I should — he’s the best), and so it’s more isolating to be waking up every 2 hours to feed her, or dealing with her when she’ll just be awake for no reason from 1 to 4 AM.

 
The main difficulty is that it’s so hard to get her to go to sleep, and especially stay asleep, in her bassinet. She’ll fall asleep during or after nursing pretty much every time, lol, but the second either Sean or I go to transfer her to her bassinet, she wakes up and cries. It seems to be bassinet-specific, too. She’ll sleep away the hours in her Boppy lounger, or her Rock ‘n’ Play, or her Snuggle Nest napper in our bed, but the second her head touches her bassinet mattress?

My tendency to be a bit of an alarmist + what I think is probably pretty common first-time mom anxiety also makes me super paranoid about SIDs, and therefore I try to be a stringent follower of safe-sleep practices: on her back, in our room but in a separate crib, pack ‘n’ play, or bassinet, no loose blankets, etc. So while she’ll actually get pretty significant stretches of sleep — even at night! — in the aforementioned loungers and nappers, they aren’t approved for unsupervised/overnight sleeping (if we’re also sleeping = unsupervised). So basically my stellar solution right now is pretty much just not to sleep, lol.

All the sleep that she manages to get, however, is clearly working n her favor. Penny is growing like a weed — at her 2 week doctor’s appointment, she measured in at seven pounds, ten ounces and 20.25″ long, and I’ve weighed her at home a couple times since (with my kitchen scale + a mixing bowl, heh) and last time I checked she was already eight and a half pounds!

She’s really long, too — I haven’t been able to measure her length myself, but she’s definitely outgrown all her newborn clothing (as evidenced by the photo above, lol) and while most of the 0-3 and 3 month clothing I have for her is quite baggy around her middle, she’s already tall enough to fill them out length-wise (especially her footed sleepers!).

Some other exciting developments from the past few weeks include having her first real bath (and several subsequent ones) — she seems to really like being bathed, just not so much the part afterwards where she’s wet and cold, heh.

I’ve also successfully managed to take her out of the house on my own a few times now — just for very short little errands really, but each time I successfully leave and return to the house with her intact, I feel pretty proud of myself.

A big highlight of the past couple of weeks was my sister coming into town with my nephew Alex — he’s only 3.5 weeks older than Penny! It was so great going through our pregnancies together (even though Alex is Jenny’s third child, so our outlooks and perspectives are just a smiiiidge different, heh), and having a partner during this newborn stage has been crucial as well.

 
Naturally, we had to have a photoshoot to commemorate getting these two together. I can’t wait ’til they’re old enough to actually play with one another!

 
We tried to do a little shoot of the babes on their own, too, but funny thing — turns out thgat getting good shots of two newborns at the same time… not so easy! Newborn photographers, you have my respect and sympathy.

 
I also had my first nursing-in-public experience when my sister and I went out to lunch – I used a cover and was pleased that Penny was willing and able and willing to nurse under it (I’ve heard some babies hate doing so!), but it was hot as balls under there so maybe one day I’ll be comfortable enough to try nursing without it, lol. The other couple times we’ve taken her out with us to a restaurant, I brought a bottle of pumped milk for her instead.

So yeah! Things are generally running pretty smoothly so far! We’ve almost made it an entire month, which only goes to show how insanely fast time is flying! It seriously feels like I was just in the hospital. I feel very blessed that things have been going well, and despite all my complaints about nighttime and sleeping, all of that really has more to do with my issues, and I do recognize that she’s really a pretty easy baby. She isn’t colicky, doesn’t really fuss too much, barely ever spits up, has no issues with eating yet, is developing and growing well… is basically a little baby rockstar!

Best of all, she doesn’t seem to mind getting dressed up! (Not yet, least!) She doesn’t even cry out when her onesies go over her head and face, which brings the stage mom in me endless joy. Here’s to the next few weeks of life, and many more firsts, with this awesome baby girl!

Dear Penny: Happy Due Date!

Dear Penny,

Happy due date, Princess! It’s hard to believe that you weren’t originally supposed to have joined us out here in the world until today — or possibly even later! Just thinking about not having had you around this entire time makes me want to cry — I fell in love with you so instantly, so completely. It’s like we’ve gotten three bonus weeks with you, and as cliche as it is to say, they really have been the best (most sleep-deprived, but best!) weeks of our life.

The circumstances surrounding having to bring you out early may have thrown us for a loop at the time, but getting to see you, hold you, hug you, and love you all this extra time has been the greatest gift your dad and I could’ve asked for. We feel like we’ve won the jackpot with you: you’ve adapted to life on the outside so well, and while each day is, of course, challenging in different ways (and while we know things could easily change, hehe), you are still such a good baby. You sleep like a pro through barking schnauzers and constant Scrubs reruns alike, you nurse easily and are growing like a fiend, and I never thought I’d be so happy talking about poop as much as I do these days (because you do that a little too well!)

I know I complained a lot while I was pregnant with you, but I can definitively say that every bout of nausea, every ache, and every pain was worth it. I would give up marinara sauce 1000 times over for you, that’s for sure. And while I haven’t completely forgotten about the pains of my pregnancy just yet, the pain of childbirth itself has already almost disappeared from memory (having been replaced by the pain of putting my retainer back in last night, after forgetting to wear it for an entire week. #mombrain). You’re just that awesome!

Suffice it to say, you’ve brought us so much joy in your three short weeks of life. I’m officially eating my words from when I used to say that I wouldn’t be one of those annoying moms who is overly obsessed with her baby and who posts nothing but baby photos, because, kiddo, I am so obnoxiously, annoyingly, absolutely, utterly obsessed with you.

Here’s to you, little one!

All my love,
Mom

Penny’s Birth Story

Huzzah! We’ve successfully managed to keep our tiny human alive for over two weeks! Though we are still getting the hang of this whole parenting thing, and the lack of sleep is definitely catching up to us, I didn’t want to wait too much longer to jot down the details of Penny’s birth story lest I forget anything.

So, first off, let me say this: every totally annoying, super cliche thing you’ve ever heard about childbirth and motherhood is 100% accurate: it is incredible, entirely life-altering, and no matter how much I’d read or heard or felt I’d prepared (and truly, I thought I was prepared!), there’s no way I could fully understand it until I, well, went through it. The act of giving birth was, for me, a truly transformative experience. Trite as it sounds, I honestly can’t believe I’d lived my life for 29 years without this little nugget — or that I was so scared of the changes that becoming a mother would bring. Penelope has indeed rocked our world, but in only the best, most positive way.

Now, I’m sure this will come as no shock to those of you who’ve been following my pregnancy, but I don’t tend to hold back the TMI details here when it comes to her birth story. So if you’ve come across this post as my casual Facebook acquaintance and decidedly do NOT want or need to know all about dilation, contractions, and all the other nitty gritty labor details, here’s the tl;dr version:

Much to my surprise (I am the girl who got married in a blizzard, after all), my induction went exactly as planned — smoothly and without complication! I was officially induced at 7 AM on Wednesday, August 30th and at 6:07 PM, Penelope Spencer Fox was born!

For those of you interested in hearing juuuuust a little more (lulz) than that, go ahead and strap yourselves in. Or, you know, scroll and skim through, because this is probably going to be overwrought and overly detailed to the point of serious annoyance.

As we all know, I was diagnosed with pregnancy-induced hypertension (high blood pressure) 34 weeks into my pregnancy, which eventually progressed to preeclampsia. As a result, my doctors recommended we induce labor at 37 weeks due to the risks to both baby and myself. The plan was pretty simple: I was to go to the hospital the night before I hit 37 weeks (Tuesday the 29th) to start ripening my cervix (dilating), then would be officially induced the following morning.

Now, knowing the exact date that you’re going to have a baby (and basically picking her birthday!) ahead of time was quite the mind-twist for me. I will say, however, that despite any anxiety I was feeling with regard to my medical issues and the process of induction itself, it was kind of nice in a Type A, love-to-plan kinda way to know exactly when I’d be going into labor, lol.

In fact, my day leading up to going to the hospital ended up being pretty nice! I tried to keep myself busy so that I wouldn’t dwell too much on what was to come, so I went for my final prenatal massage, got a pedicure + my eyebrows waxed, and enjoyed a visit from a friend. I also made sure to take a shower, washed my hair, triple-checked my hospital bag, got in some final extra pre-baby puppy cuddles with Harry & Daxter, and took care of the final items on my work to-do list.

When Sean got home from work around 5 PM, we packed up an overnight bag for him, loaded the dogs into the car, and headed into Falls Church to drop them off at my parents’ house. My doctors all told me to make sure I ate a good meal before checking into the hospital, so I made arrangements for my parents to pick up food from my favorite restaurant, and had dinner with my entire family before heading off to the hospital. I did experience a burst of emotion when Sean and I arrived at my parents’ place, as what was about to happen started to hit me, but I didn’t have too long to fixate on it. After all, we had a very important appointment to keep!

We arrived at Inova Fairfax for our 7:30 PM appointment and checked in at the Labor & Delivery registration desk. We were led to room 123 — same as our wedding date! — and I had a chance to settle in and change into the labor gown I brought from home (it’s this one, if you’re interested!) as the nurses prepped.

A few pokes and prods later, I was set up with a saline-lock IV so that they’d later be able to administer my induction medications and intravenous fluids. Alas, getting an IV is never a fun experience for me, as I have deep, hard-to-find veins. They had to stick me twice, ultimately putting it in on the side of my wrist because there was no other good vein they could find — ouch! I was also set up with fetal + contraction monitors, as well as a blood pressure cuff that went off every 15 minutes.

It took quite a while to get all of that set up, plus I had to answer questions about my medical history and go over what would be happening. My doctor had me set up to receive a drug called Cytotec that would help dilate my cervix in anticipation of being induced, and I was to receive a low dose pill every 3 hours. Unfortunately (don’t say I didn’t warn you about the TMI thing!) I had to receive the pill vaginally — which means exactly what you think it means. Every 3 hours, the nurse would give me a cervical check to see how dilated I was and  then shoved a little pill all up in there — not gonna lie, it was a very uncomfortable process.  I tell you, the cervical checks at the hospital were not nearly as quick or gentle as the ones I had received previously at my OB’s office.

ANYWAY.

The first dose of Cytotec was administered around 9 PM, and I received another two doses at 3 hour intervals — midnight and 3 AM. My nurse disconnected me from my various monitors to try to allow me to get some sleep but, given that I was always waiting for the next, er, rather invasive dosage (not to mention all the general excitement and anticipation), I only ended up getting like two hours worth of sleep in total. Sean was able to conk out though, despite his less-than-stellar sleeping arrangements (a chair that pulled out into what we’ll generously call a “bed”), which was good because I needed at least one of us to be well-rested and level-headed for what was to come!

I didn’t feel much different after the first dose of Cytotec, which made sense because nothing really happened in those first three hours. After I received my second dose, however, I started to feel very mild contractions. They weren’t painful, and it made me happy that it felt like something was happening! These contractions really just felt a lot like Braxton-Hicks at this point, and they continued as I got my third dose, increasing very slightly in intensity as morning came. They were still so mild, though, that in addition to watching lots of Scrubs reruns on my iPad overnight, I was also able to do my makeup as I waited for things to really get kickin’ in the morning. Priorities, y’know? 😉

 
A little before 7 AM, my nurse came back in to check me again and informed me that after all that work the night before, I was at… 1 cm dilated and 50% effaced. Womp womp. I was kind of discouraged to hear that I had only progressed a single centimeter overnight, but my nurse informed me that it was actually good progress considering my cervix was completely closed and long when we started.

Doctor’s orders were to begin my Pitocin drip at 7 to officially start my induction, so they hooked up my IV and we were off to the races! Pitocin is a synthetic form of oxytocin — the hormone that is released during labor that tells your uterus to contract and your cervix to dilate. Basically, it’s what lets your body know that it’s baby time! And the Pit definitely works, I tell you what. They started me off on a very low dose and increased it every 15 – 30 minutes, and my contractions began ramping up in frequency and intensity almost immediately! While it took 10 hours for that first centimeter, by the time my doctor came in to check on me at 8:30 AM, I’d gone from 1 to 3 cm!

My doctor was happy with how things had been progressing, so she went ahead and broke my water. They use a plastic hook thing that looks alarmingly like a crochet hook, and it was a painless procedure — just made me feel like I was leaking, haha. My doctor suggested that I put in my request for an epidural at this point as well, as breaking the water really tends to increase the intensity and pain of contractions. Plus, it could take upwards of an hour for the anesthesiologist to get to you once you put in the request. I followed her advice and was sooooooo glad that I did, as my contractions ramped up VERY rapidly, to the point where I was now doing the whole comical HEE-HOO-HOO type of breathing and closing my eyes to get through them.

As soon as I got that epi though — sweet, sweet relief! I couldn’t feel a single contraction anymore and it was absolutely fabulous. My mom and mother-in-law arrived at the hospital and I was just happily chatting away with them – that stuff really is magic, ahahaha. The process of getting the epidural wasn’t bad either — the worst pain was from the initial needle poke that you get when they put numbing stuff into your back. I won’t lie, that did hurt (made my eyes well up with tears, and I feel like I have a relatively high pain threshold for needles + shots), but I didn’t feel the epidural needle or catheter going in at all.

The medicine started working within like, 5 minutes, and I seriously felt like a whole new person! You hear a lot of epidural horror stories out there, but I think it worked pretty well on me. No more contraction pain, and it didn’t give me dead legs or make me feel all doped up or anything like that. I felt some numbness at the tops of my thighs but still had full control over my legs and could easily turn from side to side, etc. My only negative side effect was that my skin got quite itchy — which is apparently a very normal, if slightly uncomfortable, reaction.

Once the epidural was in, it was really just a matter of hanging out and waiting for things to progress. The doctor came back in around noon, and I was excited to see how much progress I had made in the four hours since she broke my water. Came to find out I had dilated… a whole whopping centimeter more. 4 cm and 60% effaced, wooooooo. I was, once again, a bit discouraged by this, but my doctor once again reassured me that things were looking good, and told me that labor progresses kind of exponentially. It can be very slow to get those first centimeters, but you can progress very quickly the further along you get. She’d be back to check in on me again in — you guessed it — four more hours.

The hospital provides a peanut ball in each delivery room — basically an exercise ball that’s literally shaped like a peanut — which I also started utilizing at this point. It’s supposed to help open your pelvis, encourage dilation, and help get the baby to slide into position, all of which I was definitely aaaaall for. You keep it between your legs, and I alternated laying on my right and left sides to change up my position. Then I just kept my fingers crossed that things would start moving along a little more quickly — I think I was getting impatient, heh.

I’d now been at the hospital for like 18 hours, and the previous night’s dinner was becoming a distant memory. Now that my contraction pain had dissipated, I could focus on the fact that I was HANGRY, and the hospital-approved consumables of water, popsicles, and jello were simply not cutting it. Now, I’m a big believer in following doctor’s instructions and hospital rules, but I do think it’s total bullhockey that you’re not allowed to eat anything while you’re in labor. As if, you know, pushing a watermelon through a bagel-sized hole doesn’t REQUIRE STRENGTH OR ENERGY OR ANYTHING. So I totally had Sean sneak me bites of Panera mac ‘n’ cheese while the nurses were out of the room, and also plowed through my stash of contraband granola bars while we were waiting around.

At around 3:30 PM, I started feeling a lot of pressure down there, paired with the feeling like I needed to take a biiiiiig ol’ poop. My baby books, the internet, and the hospital nurses had all prepared me for the fact that feeling you have to go to the bathroom is a sign that you’re getting really close. I wasn’t at I’m-gonna-crap-my-pants-immediacy yet, but I let the nurses know, and since the doctor was supposed to be coming back to check on me around 4:30 anyway, we decided to wait for her.

Well, shockingly, patience has never really been my strong suit, and after about 20 minutes of waiting, things started to really feel like they were escalating. I very quickly started to feel some serious downtown pushdowns, so the nurses called the doctor to let her know that things were speeding up. Alas, my doctor still wasn’t able to make it back to me until almost 4:30, which was about the time she was supposed to come back around anyway, lol. She checked me, then had one of the nurses who was new & still in training check me as well (with my permission, of course) to see how much of my cervix she could still feel. Well, turns out it was kind of a trick question, because I was fully dilated to 10 cm and what she was actually feeling was baby’s head!

Despite having held it together really well (especially considering it’s, you know, ME) since checking into the hospital, this was the moment where I promptly started freaking out and crying. After all, I knew what 10 cm meant! And despite having been in the hospital for 20 hours at this point, and in active labor for 9 or 10 hours, it really didn’t feel quite real until that moment.

Alas, I’d have plenty of time to check my emotions, as my doctor informed me that all three of her laboring patients had reached 10 cm at like the same time (ha!), and she had one mom she wanted to deliver before me (she referred to her as her “troublemaker,” so I assume she had some complications.) “Can you wait 20 or 30 minutes?” she asked me, as if A) I had a choice, and B) I had any idea if I would be able to wait or not, lol. I’d never done this before, after all! I nodded meekly and proceeded to turn onto my back… where I stayed basically just trying not to move until the doctor returned almost an HOUR LATER for fear of, like, accidentally sneezing and pooping out my baby. In retrospect, of course, I realize that my rationality may have started escaping me at this point.

I had Sean turn on my delivery playlist (which, sidenote: I received lots of compliments on it from all the nurses and my doctor, so if anyone is interested in putting something similar together, here’s a link! It’s full of super chill music that really helped me remain calm and focused leading up to and during the actual delivery) and after a while, the nurses came in and told me that my doctor was on her way back, and I was allowed to start pushing now!

I gotta say, despite all my prep work, all the research and reading and forum-surfing and obsessing I had done, I still was not prepared for what the actual experience of pushing would be like. I knew that you were supposed to bear down as if you were going #2, but the reality was still just nothing I could have expected. You lie there with your legs held back, do a stomach crunch with your chin to your chest, and push literally as hard as you can for ten seconds at a time, three times in a row — trying to time your pushes with the contractions that you can’t really feel (although I did feel the down-there pressure increase each time I was having a contraction, so I tried my best to go with that.)

I don’t know what I was really thought, if I was expecting that just you got to 10 cm and — whoosh! — suddenly your baby slides on out of you, but it was definitely a lot of work and it was really exhausting both physically and emotionally. I was straight up sobbing for the last five or ten minutes of pushing, partially from the effort I was expending, partially from the pain (the epidural had gotten rid of my contraction pain, but I could still feel a lot of what was happening “down there,” especially as she actually came out — urk!), and, of course, mostly from the sheer emotional weight of it all. I am happy to report, however, that unlike some 80-90% of women giving birth, I did NOT poop on the table as I was pushing — it’s the little victories, y’know?

 
After pushing for about forty minutes, at 6:07 PM on Wednesday, August 30th, amidst huge, heaving sobs, our beautiful daughter was born!

They placed her on my chest immediately for a minute of skin-to-skin contact while Sean cut the cord, and then she was whisked over to the baby scale to take her measurements while I delivered my placenta (didn’t even notice this happening) and my doctor stitched me up (kinda felt it). I had a second-degree tear, which, according to my doctor is pretty normal for first-time deliveries. And as we already know, Penny herself was pretty perfect at 19.75 inches long and 6 pounds, 15 ounces! She was born still covered in vernix, the cream-cheesy-looking substance that protects babies’ skin while in the womb (it is usually gone by the time full-term babies are born), so they also wiped her down a bit and gave our little Penelope Spencer back to us to keep.

We didn’t have her name picked out going into labor, but had a list of our top 5 choices that I was planning on “trying out” on her once she was born. As soon as they placed her on my chest, though, I just knew right away that she was our little Lucky Penny — didn’t even give a second thought to the other names on our list.

Her middle name comes from my paternal grandmother, Gretchen Spencer Powell, who I was named after. I also have an uncle and a cousin Spencer, and the Powell side is big on family names, hehe. She also has a Chinese name that my mother bestowed upon her: 美玲 (Mei Ling). It means “beautiful bell” which is accurate IMO. 😛

And who knows, her name might end up being the most Chinese thing about her, since even though Sean and I are both half-Asian, Penelope popped out with — I’m not kidding — a head full of golden peach-fuzz hair! We, along with our families, our doctor, and all the nurses, were pretty surprised at that one! I mean, even my quarter-Asian niece Mia, who now has light brown locks, was born with black hair, hahaha. Penny’s has already gotten a bit darker though, so we’ll have to see where she ends up! (With her eyes too — she was born with dark grey-blue eyes, like many newborns, and they still haven’t really changed so I can’t wait to see what color they end up either!)

Anyway, after a bit more time getting cleaned up, we were transferred up to our recovery room, where Penelope got to meet our patiently-waiting family members!

And just like that, our lives were changed forever — and immeasurably for the better. I can’t believe Penny’s already been in our lives for over two weeks! It’s also so weird to think that, under “normal” circumstance and had I not been induced early, we wouldn’t even have met her yet, because I already can’t imagine what my life was like without her in it.

And that’s the whooooole story, in far more detail than you were probably expecting or wanting. You already know about the bit of extra drama we experienced upon bringing her home, but otherwise she’s a really great baby. Sleeps well, nurses well, doesn’t cry much — I know all of those things can change in a heartbeat, but for now we’re just grateful to have such a great little girl and are really enjoying getting to know her! Basically, she’s awesome and we feel really fracking lucky that she’s, well, ours.